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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 8 : 8.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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Hermione woke in a fog. Ouch. Her head was killing her. She rubbed her temples and slowly sat up, breathing deeply before finally opening her eyes. Merlin, what happened?? The bookshelves came into focus, then the arm of the faded couch. The light in the library was grey and hazy. It must be very early. I should leave before Filch finds me. She was starting to piece things together. There was the bookshelf she had almost fallen into before Malfoy caught her. Malfoy! That prat! He’d stunned her. That was why she felt like seven hells. But he hadn’t meant to, the voice in her head whispered. It was an accident.


She remembered everything now. His hands around her waist, the smell of him as he held her against his chest. His heartbeat. Hermione bit her lip and flushed. He must have carried her to the couch as well. Well done, Hermione. Way to show weakness in front of the enemy. Angrily, she sat up, shoving her blanket aside in a rough movement. Wait – blanket?? She looked at it confusedly. Her eyes lit on the small embroidery on the left breast. A serpent. Malfoy had covered her with his school robe before leaving. “What is going on??” she asked, holding her aching head in her hands. Why were the Malfoys suddenly acting human? Maybe the Malfoys had been ok all along, and she just hadn’t seen it. And the way Malfoy reacted whenever she mentioned his future as a Death Eater…


He’s still a pretentious Slytherin prat. But clearly she had to redefine her definition of “Evil.” Sighing, she fingered the soft black fabric of Malfoy’s robes and stood up, wincing as her head throbbed yet again. Time to face another day. But first, a Headache Potion from Madame Pomfrey. Rolling Malfoy’s robes into as small a ball as she could (being particularly careful to hide the mark of Slytherin House) Hermione left the library.


Hermione slipped through the portrait hole just as Harry and Ron came downstairs.


“Hermione! You’re up early, as usual.” Ron mumbled blearily. Harry gave up attempting to flatten his hair and nodded at the robe balled up in her hand.


“You going to put that on? It’s time we got to breakfast.”


“Oh, yes of course!” Hermione said shrilly. “I just realized that I forgot my Arithmancy essay upstairs. Be right back!” She jetted away, cursing herself for acting so nervous. Fortunately, Harry and Ron were both too tired to give her forced behavior a second thought. Breakfast found them chatting about the upcoming Quidditch tryouts.


“Well, Ginny’s a shoe-in for Chaser,” Harry was saying. “And the Weasley twins are Beaters…Angelina, Katie, Seamus and the rest of the upper-classmen…that leaves two spaces that need to be filled.”


“Dean’s gonna try out, and a few Third Years,” Ron said.


“Oh, I hope Dean makes the team!” Hermione exclaimed.


“Hermione, don’t go influencing the captain before tryouts,” Ron warned.


“Please – like you didn’t spend a week last year whispering in Harry’s ear about tryouts being an outdated ‘formality.’”


“Ok, ok, drop it you two,” Harry said.


Ron and Hermione went back to their breakfasts, muttering under their breaths.


Hermione forced herself to stop huffing and looked around. She felt eyes on her. Unconsciously she glanced across the Great Hall to the Slytherin table.


Malfoy was staring at her, apparently lost in thought. Hermione studied him warily. Merlin, how am I going to give him back his robe? She wanted to hand it to him, thank him (as curtly as possible) and then go back to comfortably hating him. She had his robe stuffed in the bottom of her bookbag, waiting for a choice opportunity to return to its rightful master. Hermione did not want to carry around a symbol of Malfoy’s humanity any longer than was necessary. She bit her lip as she remembered his heartbeat, his strong hands around her…Enough, Hermione! Merlin, you’re acting like Lavender or Parvati. So Malfoy was attractive. So were Harry, and Ron (‘In his way,’ she thought with a grimace as she watched him attack his pancakes) and a lot of men. It didn’t change anything. She nodded resolutely and glared at Malfoy for good measure. He suddenly snapped out of his daze, eyes widening when he realized Hermione had been looking at him. And was now glaring. He glared back, but neither his nor Hermione’s hearts were in it, and both went back to their food feeling more confused than ever.


*********


“A’ight, today we’ll be learning about an exciting species, newly discovered…”


“Exciting? Yeah, right,” Blaise Zabini snorted, and the other Slytherins laughed condescendingly.


“Ahem, as I was sayin’,” Hagrid said gruffly. He lumbered toward the Dark Forest. “Erm, follow me.”


Zabini raised his eyebrow and nudged Malfoy, who gave him a distracted smile. He turned to follow Hagrid, getting no more than six paces before Hermione drifted past him and surreptitiously stuck her foot out. Zabini went sprawling. The Gryffindors roared, and even a few Slytherins had to work to hide grins.


Spitting out bits of grass and dirt, Zabini lunged at Hermione.


“Blaise, leave it,” Malfoy grabbed hold of Zabini’s robes and hauled him back before he reached Hermione.


Zabini shrugged him off furiously. “You wait, filth. When the Dark Lord catches you I’m going to personally request the honor of torturing you until you break.” His eyes were deadly serious. In the shade of the Dark Forest, there was a sudden hush. Slytherins and Gryffindors alike glanced uneasily at Zabini. Malfoy was staring at his friend incredulously. “Blaise? Come on, man. She’s nothing to us. Not even worth the time.”


Hermione stared coolly at Blaise. She’d never paid much attention to him before, but she read the cruelty in his dark eyes and heard the promise in his voice with almost-expected ease.


Harry and Ron were staring openmouthed at the tall Slytherin. They snapped to at once, pulling out their wands and stepping in front of Hermione. Both were so angry they were shaking.


“Harry! Ron! Enough, it’s not worth it. I’m fine,” Hermione said sternly.


“That’s right, Mudblood, keep your dogs in line,” Zabini sneered.


“You bloody bastard! I’ll kill you!” Ron lurched toward Zabini, but Hermione and Draco threw up shields before he reached him.


“I said NO! Leave it, both of you! And you…” Hermione finished, turning to glare at Zabini hatefully. Gryffindors and Slytherins were grouped around the four students, watching.


“I have no doubt we’ll go wand to wand when this war starts, but you’d best prepare now – I take no prisoners, and I will destroy you. That is not a threat. That’s a promise.”


A flash of hesitation crossed the Slytherin’s face, before it twisted into a sneer. He snorted. “You Gryffindors, you’re all too pathetically noble to harm anyone. I’ll have you screaming for mercy by the end, but you’d never get farther than a stunning spell if it comes to a fight.”


Everyone’s eyes were on Hermione as she leaned closer to him. Her gold-brown stare was unrelenting. “You have no idea what I’m capable of. But before the end, you – and all your ilk – will know, and you will rue the day you challenged me.”


“OY!” What’s goin’ on ‘ere? I’ve been waiting fer ya for 10 minutes, now FOLLOW ME!” Hagrid grabbed Malfoy at the scruff of his neck and threw him into the Dark Forest.


“All o’ you! GET IN ‘ERE!” Hagrid’s voice boomed out over the forest.


Students rushed to obey.


No one learned much that day. Hagrid was angrily distracted, and the altercation between Hermione and Blaise had left an anxious taste in the air. Students from both Houses glanced fearfully at Blaise, and studied Hermione with new interest. She felt their whispers follow her into the castle, and decided to cool down in the library for the afternoon. “Hey, guys, I’ll see you later, ok?”


“Where are you going?” Harry asked.


“We’re coming with you,” Ron insisted, looking around at the Slytherins as they filed into the Great Hall.


“That’s not necessary – really, I just want to be alone. I’m not going to hover around the dungeons or anything. Plus, not to brag or anything, but you know I’m a great dueler.” Hermione kept her tone light and playful, trying to put her best friends at ease. Other Gryffindors came up and patted her on the back.


“Can you believe that prat?”


“I thought Malfoy was bad, but that creep…”


“Good on you, sticking it to ‘im like that!”


Hermione gave a forced smile and pushed her way through the small crowd.


“I’ll see you later!” Hermione said, giving Harry and Ron a small wave.


Ron and Harry waved back halfheartedly.


*********


Walking back from the Dark Forest, Blaise grabbed Malfoy’s arm and spun him around.


“What was that about? Why’d you stop me from attacking that filthy Mudblood?” he fumed.


Malfoy shot a look of cold fury at him and threw Blaise’s hand off. “You know why. What were you thinking, threatening her like that? Right before the Dark Lord makes his move – you fool! We’re supposed to stay under the radar until the proper moment! Not threaten Mudbloods and give away the fact that the Dark Lord’s power is rising. We need the element of surprise!”


Blaise sneered but nodded. “I suppose you’re right. I wasn’t thinking. But mark my words – when the time comes I’ll torture that Mudblood bitch until she screams for the mercy of death.”


For a moment Draco just stared at Blaise. Then he found himself reaching for his wand, feeling a slow, burning anger rise in him. No! His head screamed. Play along, play along…He fought the urge to hex Blaise into oblivion. But if I do, I may as well write my own death sentence, and my parents’. He turned and marched swiftly into the Great Hall. No one could know that he was having doubts about his future as a Death Eater. He’d always believed that Purebloods were better than Muggleborns, but he never wanted them dead. He knew inherently that he didn’t have the stomach for the kind of brutality Blaise spoke of. Before today, he hadn’t known that Blaise was capable of that either. “Uggghh,” he groaned aloud. His head was pounding. The Great Hall was crowded with people; Slytherins clustered on one side, Gryffindors on the other. Both talking in hushed voices about the same thing. Draco felt claustrophobic. “Oi – Draco!” Theodore Nott gestured from where he stood with Pansy and a few other Slytherins. Draco nodded at him in acknowledgment and slipped out of the Great Hall.


*********


Hermione pushed through the door to the library with a sigh of relief, then balked at the number of people there. ‘Ugh! Today of all days, the library has to be packed!’ she thought angrily. Moving toward the back, she abruptly stopped. The Third Floor is always empty.

*********


Draco wandered through stone corridors aimlessly. He needed to be away from people, away from responsibility, and Blaise…


Granger had been right, though. Blaise had no idea what she was capable of. But if her promise held true, he’d learn. Unless the Dark Lord gets to her first, a voice in his head whispered. He shook it to clear the thought.


*********


Hermione had found the perfect place. An alcove with a bay window carved into the stone, half-hidden behind a rusted suit of armor. She curled up with her back against the wall and watched heavy clouds gather over the lake. Her mind had just begun to quiet when she heard footsteps coming down the corridor. Merlin and Agrippa, is there no peace to be had?! Leaning closer to the window, she closed her eyes and hoped whoever it was would pass without noticing her.


********


Malfoy wandered aimlessly, eventually finding himself on the third floor of the castle. Merlin, what time is it? He walked swiftly toward the opposite staircase, passing a suit of armor on the way. He peered around it to estimate the time by skylight. And was startled to find Hermione tucked into the corner, her eyes resolutely closed.


“Granger?”


Her eyes snapped open.


“Malfoy! What are you doing??”


“I might ask you the same thing. Did Blaise scare you into hiding?”


Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. I came up here for some solitude, that’s all. Which I’m clearly not going to get.” She stared at Malfoy tiredly.


“Oh! But while you’re here…” she rummaged through her bookbag, drawing out a rolled-up robe. She held it out to him.


He scuffed his boot and took it, watching a faint blush shadow her cheeks.


“Thank you,” Hermione said softly.


“Well, I did hex you.”


“True. Though not entirely without reason,” she smiled ruefully.


“What’s up with you lately, anyway?” she asked on impulse.


“What d’you mean?” Malfoy’s voice was low and sulky.


“You know what I mean…freaking out when I mention Death Eaters, not wanting to hex me, giving me your robe, stopping Blaise from jumping me…” she paused, adding softly: “Not turning me in for Mulciber’s death.”


Malfoy looked up and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess – I just – don’t get me wrong, I don’t like you…but I don’t want you to die.” He snorted and assumed his usual haughty expression. “Plus, who would I torment if you were gone? Potter and Weaselby are too moronic to be entertaining.”


Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re a pretentious prat, Malfoy,” she said mildly.


“You’re an obnoxious know-it-all,” he said. “And I dare you to say ‘pretentious prat’ five times fast.”


Hermione laughed aloud before she could suppress it. She bit her lip quickly, suddenly aware of how awkward the situation was; how out of character for both of them.


He must have felt it as well, because he quit grinning and resumed his usual stony expression.


Meeting her eyes once more, Malfoy nodded quickly and continued down the corridor, leaving Hermione to stare after him in confusion.


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