The first week of classes had passed without a hitch for almost the entire student body; only a few first years got lost on their way to Potions, but they were found quickly enough and sent in the right direction. For War and Peace, I taught the first two lessons with Dean and Luna. She didn’t want to give us all terrible workloads so she suggested the curriculum be more discussion and activity based rather than writing essays and doing research. Professor McGonagall wanted Malfoy to catch up for Advanced Ancient Runes before he began teaching with us, which was understandable.
Surprisingly, Malfoy was caught up almost immediately in Advanced Ancient Runes, and was giving me a run for my money for the top grade in the class. However, my competitive streak was going to rear its ugly head sooner or later, and with the way things were progressing between us, I hoped to Merlin it was later. We’d finally reached a sort of semi-routine every day where I’d go to the loo before he could get in the shower in the morning, and I’d be ready to go by the time he was out of the shower and dressed. It was actually a fairly decent compromise.
Currently, I was meandering towards the library to study and finish up the essay on Amortentia for Professor Imohera. I gave Madam Pince a polite nod as I entered, immediately making a beeline towards my study place, a cozy chair and small table tucked away behind a bookcase full of muggle literature. Settling in one of the chairs at the table, I spread out all of my notes and books for Potions and began writing the last paragraph of my essay.
I didn’t get very far into it, though, when I felt another presence nearby. Cautiously, I put up wards around my little area, hoping no one would try and scare me, because they’d be knocked down in an instant. My wards gave me little peace of mind, so I gave up on actually finishing the essay and turned to one of the texts I was debating on incorporating into the curriculum for War and Peace. I merely skimmed the page, not really reading it, as I listened for movement around the bookshelf. Nothing came, and I resigned myself to it being a remnant of constant suspicion from the war.
Sighing, I put all of my books and parchment away, hating the loss of a good study session. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I disarmed the wards and left the library, heading towards the moving staircases to go to the dormitory.
A distant boom accompanied by shouts forced me into a run towards my destination. As I reached the entrance to the moving staircases, plumes of stone dust blew out of the archway, and a few students covered in it and coughing it up came out of the dust cloud. Instantly, I went into authority mode and began helping more students out of the moving staircases as the dust cloud settled until I could appraise the situation. Thankfully, no one had been seriously hurt in what appeared to be one of the staircases collapsing out of the blue.
As I was assessing the damage, I heard an intense shout of “Head Boy, out of the way!” from one of the upper levels. I looked up and caught eyes with Malfoy, two floors up.
“What the bloody hell happened, Granger?” he demanded.
“Staircase collapsed. It must not have been repaired properly after the Battle,” I deduced loud enough for him to hear.
Just then, Professors McGonagall, Tawley, and Dragoran appeared one floor above me. “Miss Granger, please enlighten us about the situation,” Professor McGonagall instructed calmly.
“One of the moving staircases collapsed, and no one got seriously injured. It must not have gotten repaired correctly after the Battle, I’m guessing,” I recited.
“Very well,” said McGonagall. “Dean, Tatiana, would you assist me in cleaning this up?”
All three professors pulled out their wands and began waving them in complicated patterns. Mesmerized by the magic they were performing, I stood with my mouth hanging open as the staircase came back together, piece by piece. Finally, Professor McGonagall completed a very intricate pattern of wand work that caused the staircase to glow a bright teal color for a few seconds before fading. Almost instantly, the staircase began moving again like it hadn’t just collapsed ten minutes ago.
“Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger, you may return to whatever it was you were doing before this, your work here is done, thank you,” McGonagall called out to us before turning and engaging Professor Tawley and Professor Dragoran in quiet discussion.
Taking my cue to leave, I began the ascent to the seventh floor—using a different staircase, though—and glanced up at Malfoy. I did a double take because he was looking at me worriedly. Hurrying up the last few steps to the landing Malfoy was standing on, I stopped too fast and tripped over my own feet again. His warm hands caught my biceps as I fell into him.
“Why do I always have to save you, Granger? Isn’t the cat supposed to land on its little feet every time?” he teased, helping me upright before releasing his grip on my arms.
I brushed off my clothes and his comment, not wanting to start an argument while still in earshot of Professor McGonagall and two other professors. “You gave me a weird look just before I tripped, why?” I asked.
He looked around furtively before roughly grabbing my wrist and pulling me down the corridor with him. “We can’t talk here. I have a place we can talk in private,” he whispered.
Slightly terrified, I was pulled along in his wake. I ignored the way his hand felt around my wrist, ignored the pulse I could feel beginning to race in something similar to fear, ignored the glittering eyes floating by the suit of armor in the dark alcove behind it following our path down the corridor.
After the staircase was repaired and Granger and I were dismissed, I hesitated, having forgotten just what I had been on my way to do. As I looked upwards at a shadowy landing, I felt a faint itching on my left forearm, and my heart dropped. The feeling faded just as quickly as it had come, and I had no time to process if it was real or not before Granger fell into my arms again.
Even though I still didn’t trust her completely she was the closest person I had aside from Blaise, and I needed to tell someone my theory about Hogwarts and about what just happened with the moving staircase. I probably could have been nicer about it, but I really wasn’t in the mood, especially so due to the random collapsing of the moving stairs. Rather than take her to the meeting room Blaise and I used, knowing we could be barged in on at any time, I decided to take her to a secret place I’d never taken anyone before.
We wound through the corridors, our footsteps harsh and unforgiving as they echoed off the walls. Eventually my grip on her wrist loosened as I noticed her pulse begin to race from what I presumed was fear until I let go, praying to Merlin she didn’t try and run away.
We reached the tapestry depicting centaurs forming prophecies from the stars and I pressed a hand against the right-most centaur’s outstretched hand. A quiet hissing sound emanated from the tapestry and I ducked behind it, Granger following right behind me. Once the tapestry sealed itself against the wall once more, we were shrouded in complete darkness.
“Lumos,” I murmured, hearing Granger do the same. A flight of stone steps descending into darkness lay ahead of us. I took a deep breath and said, “Come on.”
Our wand light guided us down to the depths of something I knew Granger had never before experienced, and it made me anxious.
Ron and I were just leaving the common room when we, quite literally, bumped into Blaise.
“Whoops, sorry Blaise,” I apologized.
“Don’t worry about it, Po—er, Harry,” he said. “Say, have either of you seen Draco recently?”
We shook our heads no. “Have you seen Hermione?” Ron asked.
“Huh. Well, last I heard they were helping Professor McGonagall, Dragoran, and Tawley with repairing the collapsed moving staircase, but that was hours ago,” Blaise recounted.
My brows furrowed in confusion. If that had been so long ago, where were they now? “They’re probably just arguing in the Heads’ dormitory, if anything. Or McGonagall gave them something to do,” I reasoned out.
“You’re probably right. See you later,” Blaise replied, stepping through the still-open portrait hole.
Ron and I exchanged puzzled looks before shrugging it off—it was Zabini after all. He was a slippery fellow, so I chose not to bother myself with his personal life as much as possible. Ron and I walked down to the Quidditch pitch, wanting to get some practice in before tryouts were held in a couple of weeks. The whole idea of Malfoy and Hermione spending so much time alone together went straight to the back of my mind the minute we took to the air.
As the light at the bottom of the stairs grew bright enough we didn’t need wand light, I extinguished my wand. Granger followed suit and subconsciously crept closer to me. We reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped at a small wooden door in the middle of the wall.
“Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus,” I said, tapping my wand twice on the door. The sound of the lock being turned put a grin on my face. “Just you wait and see, Granger.”
I opened the door slowly and let her go first through the short corridor, wanting her to see the place I called sanctuary. She made it barely two meters in before she turned to look at me, an expression of pure wonder on her face. Closing the door behind me, I joined her and fondly looked around us.
“Oh, Draco, this is amazing! How did you find this place?” Granger questioned. My mind pricked at the name drop, and I became invested in her again.
“Fifth year, before I joined the Inquisitorial Squad, I was wandering the corridors one night after I’d finished my Prefect rounds with Blaise. I happened upon the tapestry and got lucky with the rest, I suppose,” I explained. “I don’t think this place had been touched for years until I found it; there was dust everywhere. Once I stepped into the room, though, it sprung to life. The walls came alive with secret messages scrawled with magic that faded in and out; twinkling lights that looked suspiciously like tiny fairies floated above my head and around the room. As I moved my feet, the lichen lit up a bright chartreuse.”
As I described the ‘underground courtyard’ to her, I watched as the things I mentioned began happening around us. Magical graffiti appeared all over the smooth walls, exploding in different colors and lasting for anywhere from five seconds to five minutes. I watched as Granger moved to the nearest wall, lightly touching the wall with her fingertips and jumping back when the words ‘Fate awaits’ sprouted from her touch in a mix of scarlet and silver, swirls enveloping the words until they were unreadable and faded from sight.
“Whoa,” she breathed, turning once again with childish delight towards me.
I smiled back, temporarily having forgotten the main reason I’d brought her here and just reveling in the relaxing nature of the room. Then, a group of the floating lights detached from the ceiling and flew towards us, circling closer to us until we bumped into each other. Our hands grazed and electric shocks jolted through me at the points of contact between us. A few of the lights settled in the loose curls of Granger’s hair, and I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful her face was, now that we were in such close quarters. Her big brown eyes now fit perfectly in her face, and her slender cheekbones almost rivaled mine. The lights in her hair made it look like she was glowing, and suddenly I had a flashback to my nightmare.
I looked away from her and stepped back, clearing my throat. “Right, well. Granger, I’ve got some things I’d like to say to you,” I began briskly.
“As long as you aren’t about to confess how much you’ve loved me since first year, go right ahead,” she smirked.
“This isn’t a laughing matter,” I snapped. That wiped the smirk right off her face; the brightness of the courtyard dimmed almost instantly, and the twinkling lights left her hair. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so rude,” I apologized. This was not how I wanted this to go at all. I took another step back so I could look her in the face without craning my neck.
“Listen to me very carefully. I don’t think Hogwarts is safe anymore. You were there for the staircase collapsing—it’s never happened before, but I don’t think it was just because of a failed repair job after the Battle of Hogwarts. Something seems off to me, but I can’t place it. I wouldn’t be telling you this if it wasn’t more relevant than you think. Today, after McGonagall fixed the staircase, I felt my Dark Mark tingle,” I pulled my sleeve up to show her.
The tattoo that had controlled my life for the past two years had faded after the Dark Lord had been killed with his own curse. Now, though, it was a dark shade of grey: something that worried me greatly. Granger stepped closer to me, peering at the mark.
“It hasn’t looked like this since just after the Dark Lord’s death. I don’t understand what it means, or why it’s happening. In theory, the Mark should have faded away completely, but obviously it hasn’t, which means something is going on I don’t know about, and it involves Death Eaters,” I said, my eyes flitting to her troubled face.
“Granger, something big is going on. I need to find out what it is, but I need your help to do it. If a Death Eater found a way to control the Dark Marks again, I could become a liability to our cause. I don’t want that to happen, and that’s why you’re here with me. I’ve never brought anyone else here. You’re the only person I trust enough with something like this,” I declared, my eyes searching her chocolate ones.
She thought about it for a few minutes, perching delicately on a smoothly hewn stone bench. I eased myself onto one angled perpendicular to hers, still observing her. She exhaled slowly, her body tense, organizing the last of her thoughts.
“While I do think you’re somewhat overly paranoid, I would have to agree with you. Hogwarts doesn’t seem like it should be, post-war that it is. Your Dark Mark vexes me because I don’t have a clue how any magic like that works. The staircase collapsing made me wonder too if there isn’t something going on at Hogwarts we haven’t found out about—yet, at least,” she said slowly, choosing her words carefully.
“Your liability as a traitor to Voldemort’s cause is something we’ll have to think about on a daily basis. I don’t doubt your loyalties now, but I’m sure if there’s someone out there messing with the Dark Marks, I’m almost certain they want to get to you and use you any way they can. Even though I don’t trust you hardly at all, really, it doesn’t sit well with me,” she finished, avoiding responding to my statement about being the first person here with me. For that, I was grateful.
I nodded and leaned forward, resting my forearms on my thighs. “So what are we going to do about it, then?” I asked the question we were both thinking about.
“We can’t take this to McGonagall yet; it’s too early for that to even be an option because we don’t know what we’re dealing with here, if we’re even dealing with anything at all. I think for now our best bet is to just go about our daily routine like usual and see if anything pops up that seems out of the ordinary. Until we have real evidence, there’s no point in not enjoying our regular school days,” she stated. “Besides, we’ve got a ball to plan, remember?”
A smile flitted across her face so fast I thought I imagined it. The tension dropped between us, and the twinkling lights began moving around with energy again.
“Unfortunately,” I replied sarcastically.
“Very funny, Malfoy,” she patronized me. “I’m going to put wards up in the common room and our bedrooms when we go back there later, just as an extra precaution against anyone who might have ill will towards either of us. Is that all right with you?”
Her thoughtfulness touched me. “Yeah, that’s actually a brilliant idea, Hermione,” her name rolled off my tongue before I could think about it. Her cheeks turned a light pink and I looked away.
“Come on, I’m sure Potter and Weasley are wondering where you are,” I said, making my way towards the exit. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone about this place. This one’s just between us,” I told her.
We left the magical courtyard and began the long trek back up the stone steps. The sense of security I’d had in the courtyard faded with each step and I quickly grew anxious about what lay waiting for us in the darkest depths of Hogwarts.
A/N: Dun dun dun! How'd you like that chapter? Who's the mysterious figure that keeps hiding in the shadows and behind statues? What do you think of Draco and Hermione's civility and working together? Let me know in a review! :)