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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 6 : 6.
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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"Oliver, Miles." The Sorting Hat called a small, whey-faced boy to the stool and Draco sighed in disgust. It would be at least a half hour before the Sorting finished.

"Drakie, what's wrong?" Pansy asked.

Draco shrugged. "Just bored. And don't call me that."

"I know, bloody worthless First Years," she pouted, ignoring his request. "How was your summer?"

"Fine. Same." Draco didn't elaborate. He didn't feel like talking about Yaxley's cold laughter or Bellatrix's intense, hysterical gaze. Or any of the others. There was nothing to say, anyway. Nothing that wouldn't be seen as an invitation for ridicule.

He scanned the room with cold grey eyes. Sneered as Zacharias Smith held court at the Hufflepuff table, Terry Boot and Cho Chang at Ravenclaw…as though any of them could compete in the same kingdom as the Slytherins. Still sweeping the hall, his gaze lighted on the Gryffindors. They were clapping enthusiastically as a little blonde-haired girl joined their table. His sneer froze as the girl was called over to Granger. She smiled, patting the first year's back and brushing a cluster of curls from her shoulder. Granger. Had she truly killed Mulciber? Draco watched her eyes sparkle as she laughed at something Weaselby said. His own narrowed maliciously. Blackmail. He had seen the color leave her face on the train – she knew he knew. No matter that he didn't intend to turn her in. She wasn't aware of that. "Ha," he whispered under his breath. "Finally, something the know-it-all doesn't know."

"What, Drakie?"

"Nothing, Pansy. And stop calling me that."


Hermione nudged Ron playfully as they wound their way up to Gryffindor Tower. "Well, that wasn't so bad this time," she said.

"Nah, but they're such squigee little…Hey! You lot, how hard is it to follow the tall lads, eh?"

"Ronald Weasley!" Biting back a smile, she called commandingly to the First Years. "Over here, follow us, please stay with your group and don't wander down any side passages. Almost there."

Back in the common room, the Weasley twins were in full party mode, wearing enormous purple wizarding caps and dishing out punch spiked with firewhiskey. Ordinarily Hermione would have protested, but her mind was still reeling from the meeting with Malfoy on the train, and she suddenly felt like being alone. As Ron and Harry greeted Dean and Seamus, Hermione slipped quietly up the stairs and into her room.

Thank goodness Prefects get their own quarters, she thought. Only bloody Malfoy could get her into such a state. They'd been feuding since Second Year, ever since she embarrassed him in front of his pathetic Quidditch team. They'd have been at war regardless, she knew, but he may have just generally disdained her rather than developing a personal vendetta had she not humiliated him. Well, she couldn't do anything about it now, and she wouldn't choose to either, she thought with a smirk.

It faded as she considered the blackmail potential attached to the knowledge that the Malfoys knew she had killed Mulciber. 'But it's not as though they could prove anything!' she thought fiercely. Who would believe that a 16-year-old model witch (for the most part) had slipped into a grotesque old pub and committed murder against a full-grown, dangerous wizard? It was crazy. She nodded resolutely and settled deeper into her silk covers, determined not to think of the incident again.


"Do you think McGonagall will notice if I wear a bit of taupe eyeshadow? I mean, it's practically the same color as my skin."

"Then is it really going to enhance your eyes?"

"Parvati, you know it's all about subtle illusion. It'll make my eyes look wider and more deep-set. Anyway, do you think she'll notice?"

Hermione woke to Lavender and Parvati chatting outside her door. "Merlin, if they get more vapid they'll disappear. At least they'll have a handle on Apparition lessons," she grumbled, grabbing her towel and heading for the shower. Twenty minutes later she walked into the Great Hall, plopping into a seat across from Harry and Ron, who were still half-asleep and attempting to navigate forkfuls of hashbrowns to their mouths.

"So, the agenda today…Double Potions, ugh, that'll be a great start to the year…Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures…tomorrow is…"

"Hermione, next on my agenda is the conquering of these scrambled eggs, so could you please have mercy and not make this morning more miserable than it already is?" Ron whined. Hermione glared and turned to Harry, but he was nodding off into his porridge.

"Fine," she huffed, and busied herself pouring orange juice. Glancing up, her gaze fell on the Slytherin table. She started when she noticed Malfoy staring at her. She couldn't read his expression at the distance, but she could guess there was nothing pleasant in it. She held his eyes and glared haughtily, forcing a matching glare from him. Suddenly, as if by silent consent, they both went back to their food.

"Oh, I am so excited to learn about the Zunatius Curse in Transfiguration, it's supposed to be extremely difficult!" Hermione went on, ignoring Ron's scoff of derision.

In half an hour, far too soon (at least by Ron's count) the trio shouldered their bookbags and trudged to the dungeons.

"Another exciting start to the year," Ron mumbled. "Speaking of which…" All three grimaced at the entrance to the Advanced Potions classroom.

"And so it begins," said Harry.

With a collective sigh they pushed through the door.

Snape was in full Dracula mode, bearing down on them in the darkly-lit classroom like an overgrown bat, pasty as ever and looking more sinister even than Hermione remembered.

"Well, since I can't expect that many of you were intelligent enough to retain any information learned from last year, your Headmaster has suggested that we start with a basic Hiccupping Potion." Snape curled his lip in disdain as he swept from the back of the dungeon to his desk, glaring at the Gryffindor side of the room. "However, you did qualify for Advanced Potions…barely…so we'll move quickly. We shall see how long you last," Snape said in his deceptively soft voice, black eyes glittering as he glanced at Harry and Ron's table.

"There will be no dilly-dallying, no pauses of respite, and no mercy for those who don't keep up. This is Advanced Potions, and I need not tell you that I have no patience for those who expect this to be Professor Slughorn's class."

Waving his wand at the blackboard, Snape threw open the door to the ingredients cupboard. "Instructions are on the board," he tucked his wand into the tattered black sleeve of his robes. "You have an hour and a half. Begin."

Hermione moved with quick steps to the cupboard, eyes darting quickly over jars and loose herbs as she tried to block out the mixed mutterings of frantic students on either side of her; not excelling in Snape's class was a punishable offense.

Someone shouldered her aside, and she looked into Malfoy's sneering face as he grabbed the jar of beetle eyes. Narrowing her eyes, Hermione tossed a curl away from her face.

"Malfoy. I need those."

"Is that so? Well, in that case…" He tucked the jar into his robes and stalked back to the desk he shared with Blaise Zabini.

Glaring, Hermione cradled the other ingredients in her arms and walked calmly back to her own cauldron, arranging everything neatly as she loosely twirled her wand.

"Accio!" she suddenly whispered, causing the jar of beetle eyes to zoom out of Malfoy's grip. She caught them neatly in her right hand, pouring out the necessary number for her potion before sending them back to the store cupboard with a simple wrist-flick.

Malfoy and Zabini stared at her, both wearing identical looks of surprise. Hermione raised her eyebrows slightly and smirked, avoiding Snape's suspicious glare from the front of the room.

"Hermione, everything ok?" Harry and Ron were looking from her to the two tall Slytherins in concern.

"Everything's fine, guys, just a little friendly competition," Hermione answered, smiling to reassure them both.

"'Friendly' and 'Slytherin' do not mix, Hermione, and don't you forget it," Ron said, shooting daggers at Malfoy.

"I know, Ron, I was joking. Seriously, don't worry about me. If anything you should worry about the fact that your potion is currently emitting green smoke."

"Oh bugger it all!"

"Hermione, don't just giggle, what do we do?" Harry's angrily narrowed eyes were quickly disappearing behind fogged lenses.

"You probably forgot to stir the potion counterclockwise after adding the aspen root; put a pinch of the powdered moonstone in to stabilize the ingredients and repeat the third line of instructions. It'll be fine."

"Thanks, Hermione," Harry sighed as his glasses slid down the bridge of his nose.

"Tut, tut…what would become of you if you didn't have someone to hold your hand, Potter?" Snape's voice dripped sarcasm, his eyes glimmering with the special hatred he reserved solely for Harry.

The Slytherins laughed, delighted as ever that Snape had once again singled out their nemesis for ridicule.

Hermione spared a fleeting look of fury at the cackling Slytherin side of the room before watching Harry worriedly. Determined to ignore the jibe, Harry was stirring his potion, his mouth set in a tight, thin line. She knew him. His blood was boiling with the need to fight back, and very soon he would rise to Snape's bait.

"Harry," she breathed. "Just ignore him. Just ignore them.”

"Miss Granger, I do not believe I gave you permission to speak." Snape's voice was an icy shadow, potent with disdain and intangible as a mirage.

The room was silent now; both Slytherins and Gryffindors watching the exchange with undisguised interest.

"Oh, so now we need your permission, do we?" Harry said in a loud outburst.

"Harry, no," Ron and Hermione gasped at once.

"Is that the role you'll be taking on, as Voldemort's right-hand man? No one will be allowed to speak unless ordered to? I imagine you're familiar enough with enforced slavery, since you are a slave under Voldemort." Students on both sides of the room gasped as much at Harry's attack on Snape as in horror at Harry's bold use of The Dark Lord's name.

Draco watched the exchange with interest (and mirth) until Harry's final outburst. He frowned, remembering that Granger had said something similar to his family at the Quidditch World Cup.

'And you're a pathetic budding Death Eater set to become nothing more than a glorified house elf, branded as a maniac's slave. How fortunate that you have such an accomplished mentor.'

Yes, that had been it.

A maniac's slave. Draco shuddered. Remembering himself, he refocused his eyes on the Gryffindor side of the room, watching distantly as Snape bore down on Harry, jaw working furiously.

Hermione suddenly stepped in front of Harry, putting her hands on his chest to push him toward the dungeon entryway. As she swung her arm around to shove him forward, Hermione's eyes caught Malfoy's. They locked gazes and Draco felt an unidentifiable twitch in his stomach.

"GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM!" Roared Snape, and now Ron leaped forward to help drag Harry away, even as he tried to pull out his wand.

"Harry NO!" Hermione and Ron yelled simultaneously, managing to throw him out of the dungeon. To the friends' great relief, Harry stalked off furiously for Gryffindor Tower without a backwards glance.

"I'm going after him," Ron announced.

"But Ron! Snape's furious enough as it is, don't give him a reason to hate you too."

"I don't care about bloody Snape! I care about my mate. Snape can wed a Pygmy Puff and get eaten by a Hungarian Horntail for all I care."

Hermione sighed. There was no reasoning with him when he got like this; his loyalty was the main reason she loved him, and so she pressed no further. Besides, she thought with a tiny smile, there could be no reasoning with him regardless – Pygmy Puffs and Hungarian Horntails? Really?

Draco stared at his desk, trying to ignore Snape's furious stomping as he whisked about the dungeon in a blind rage.

What had that been about? Locking eyes with Granger had been weird. In fact, he didn't think there had ever been a point in their acquaintance when they had locked eyes without shooting hate-filled glares at each other.

This time she had been distracted, full of worry for her friend, and while Draco had seen her in such a state before, he had never met her gaze full-force when she was in the midst of any other feeling but animosity. He grimaced. Stupid Granger. Stupid heart-on-her-sleeve Gryffindor. And her eyes! They were gold. They were always golden, but normally when he looked into them they were like live coals, full of flame and retribution. This time they had been so vulnerable. And molten, but not like lava, no – like honey. Draco groaned aloud and shook his head to clear it. Whatever. So the Mudblood had ok eyes. So did a lot of people. He looked around for his Potions book and resumed the Hiccupping Draught, noticing (vaguely) that he could see Granger's bushy head poking through the gap between Seamus and Dean.

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