Chapter 25 : 25.
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“…So I gathered the breeze to me and threw it into the creature,” he said. “It was strange, I felt like it wasn’t even me. A more powerful version of me, somehow…” Draco trailed off.
Hermione was making him explain everything that had happened in detail, from the moment she’d been taken by the Acromantula.
“And then??” she asked impatiently.
“And then I focused on the storm clouds above us and directed all my energy into them. I brought my fist down over there – see the hole? I didn’t know what would happen, I just felt like that was the right thing to do…and giant hail fell from the sky. I was able to direct them right into the spiders.”
“Wow,” Hermione breathed.
“Jealous, Granger?” Draco asked with a smirk.
“Please. I set the Gryffindor common room on fire only two days ago,” Hermione said airily.
“You set your common room on fire?!”
“Yes. I put it right again of course, so there’s no need to look so scandalized. I was just letting you know that you’re not the only one with power.” She lifted her eyebrow and shook her hair back from her shoulders.
“Everything’s a competition with you, isn’t it?” he said.
“And it isn’t with you? ‘The Malfoys this, the Malfoys that….My great-grandfather invented seven different potions…Malfoys are notoriously good at map-reading,’ blah blah blah.”
Malfoy narrowed his eyes and glared. “You know Granger, most people are grateful to the person who saves their life, not insulting. Maybe next time I’ll let any blood-sucking monsters have you,” he said.
“I’m sure you would, if you didn’t need me to help save your father,” Hermione said.
Malfoy looked at her furiously. “Oh of course, I nearly forgot. I’m evil, aren’t I? I don’t do anything if it’s not for personal gain.”
“Of course you don’t! You’re a Slytherin, and a…a…”
“A what, Granger?” he spat.
“A Death Eater,” she said in a whisper.
Immediately his eyes shuttered. To Hermione it seemed he grew in stature and the hollows of his cheeks became more pronounced.
“How do you know that?” Malfoy asked tightly, every word hissed through clenched teeth.
Hermione suddenly regretted the whole exchange. Was it only a moment ago that they were laughing together?
“Just a guess,” she said softly, watching him with apprehension. This Malfoy made her nervous. He was so tall and foreboding, with stormy eyes and skin pale as snow against his coal-black cloak. “You’ve changed, that’s all. Not just because of your father…”
“Well go ahead, then. Tell Dumbledore and your little friends in the Order. Have them throw me in Azkaban with my father. Here – I’ll even show them the Dark Mark myself,” he said, yanking up his left sleeve to reveal the serpent, black and wriggling within a sinister skull. Hermione stared at it in horror. It’s so stark against his skin. “Malfoy…”
“Don’t!” he yelled. “Don’t you dare feel sorry for me. I wanted this. This is who I’m destined to be, Granger.”
With a fierce tug he drew the sleeve down over his forearm and turned away, breathing heavily.
Hermione watched as his shoulders rose and fell passionately. Guilt twisted her stomach. I shouldn’t have provoked him like that. Gathering her courage, she stepped closer to him, knowing he could hear her footsteps crunching through the crusty snow. He didn’t move away as she laid a gentle hand on his arm and slowly turned him around.
His jaw was clenched, the muscles straining in his neck. Boldly, Hermione laid her free hand on his cheek. He leaned into it with a sigh, the tension in his jaw releasing slightly. When he lifted his eyes she could see they were bright with unshed tears.
“I don’t think you’re evil,” she whispered.
“But I have the Mark,” he whispered back.
“But it doesn’t have you.”
He stepped closer to her and unconsciously she brought her other hand up his shoulder to graze the back of his neck, slipping her fingers into the downy hairs at its nape.
She didn’t breathe as he leaned into her, lowering his face until his forehead touched hers. She felt him slip his hand into her wild hair to cradle her neck, his thumb resting on her pulse point.
Drawing back ever so slightly, he met her eyes in a silent question. The warmth in her gold-brown stare gave him his answer. Tenderly he lifted her chin and lowered his lips to hers. They were a hairsbreadth away when a raven cawed loudly. Startled, they both jumped and looked around.
“Merlin, it’s getting dark,” Hermione said.
Heart sinking, Draco nodded. “You’re right, we need to get moving – find our way back to the path before nightfall.” The spell was broken. Awkward and businesslike, he helped Hermione put the books and medicine cabinet back in her purse and led the way, cursing himself for the confusion he felt. She’s a Mudblood, you’re a Death Eater…he argued in his head, glancing sideways and taking in her untamed hair and soft skin; the light freckles on her nose. I know it’s wrong, but I want to kiss her so badly.
Hermione was having similar thoughts. She trembled to think how close they’d been. It didn’t feel like this with Victor. It must have been the Acromantula venom, she reasoned. Clearly the poison addled my brain for a moment. That’s why I feel so shaky. Nodding resolutely, she caught up to Malfoy and made sure to keep at least three feet between them. But she couldn’t help glancing to her left every so often. Each time she did he was staring straight ahead, marching stolidly forward, his face set in hard lines. He’s cursing himself for coming so close to kissing a Mudblood, Hermione thought painfully. She resolved not to be put down by it, and held her head a little higher. She missed the look Draco gave her as she did so.
He stared at her straight back and the strong set of her face. She regrets nearly kissing me, he thought. He was surprised at the pang of hurt that shot through him. It doesn’t matter, I don’t care...don’t get distracted from the task at hand. That was the most important thing. We’re here to save my father, nothing more.
He picked up his pace, forcing Hermione to keep up with him. After what seemed like an age, they found the path again. The light was now a deep velvety blue. Hermione panted tiredly, but her pride wouldn’t allow her to ask for a break.
Draco watched her chest heaving as she struggled along beside him. “We should stop. Nightfall’s upon us, anyway.”
“I’m fine. We should go as far as we can before it’s full dark. We’ve already lost valuable time.”
“I told you, I’m fine.”
He sighed and muttered something that sounded like “Bloody Gryffindors” but continued on, slowing his pace considerably.
An hour later they could go no further.
“Let’s stop here,” Malfoy suggested, turning off into a small clearing protected by giant trees and bushes. Hermione nodded, not having the energy to speak.
Malfoy swept his cloak off and laid it on the forest floor. “Here, you can rest on this, I don’t mind the cold.”
“Thank you,” she said, surprised at his generosity. “But I’ve brought a tent and enough blankets for both of us.”
“A tent?” he asked in shock.
“Yes – I didn’t know how long we’d be out here…. Do you think we should risk a fire? I have food also, but all of it is cooked already, so we don’t necessarily need one…”
Draco shook his head and chuckled. “Wow Granger. Did you pack a house elf as well?”
She rolled her eyes. “Well? Fire, yes or no?”
“Sure, why not? Might keep some beasts at bay.” He reached into his robes for his wand, but Hermione was ahead of him. Focusing her power, she pointed her arm at a small bush in the center of their camp, rolling her wrist open and swirling her fingers in a circle. The bush burst into flames.
Malfoy snorted. “Very impressive,” he said.
“Thank you,” Hermione said happily.
“But not as impressive as my giant hail.”
“You’re such an arrogant prat,” Hermione teased.
“Thank you. Family legacy, you know,” he said with a smirk.
“I don’t doubt it.”
Glad the tension between them was broken, they set about positioning the tent Hermione had Summoned from her bag.
Draco frowned at it, feeling his heart start to flutter. “It’s…it’s a bit small, don’t you think?”
Hermione blushed as she realized what he was worried about. “Oh! I should have told you, it’s MUCH larger on the inside.”
He stared doubtfully at the shabby canvas triangle, patched over where weather and mishandling had torn at it. From the outside it looked like it would barely fit one, let alone two people.
“Well go on, see for yourself,” Hermione said impatiently.
Eyebrow raised, he lifted back the opening flap and looked inside. “Whoa….” he exclaimed. Stepping over the threshold, he moved dazedly through the ‘tent.’
“Granger, this is incredible.”
“Told you,” Hermione said. She’d come in behind him and was surveying their surroundings with evident pride.
In one corner was a small kitchen table, a sink and an ice box. Two beds were set on either side of the large living space, complete with a plush couch. A radio stood on a nightstand on the left side, and tucked into another corner was a bathroom with a little shower. An ornate chandelier dripped from the vaulted ceiling.
She watched Malfoy and cocked her head. “I’m surprised that you think this is nice. I thought your family would have been camping in a mansion of a tent at the Quidditch Cup.”
“We’ve never stayed in a tent. There’s always a grand house set up on the Quidditch Cup grounds for the Minister of Magic and his officials…our family is always invited to stay in those quarters.”
“Of course you are,” she said with a sigh.
“Well, we used to be. Not anymore of course,” he said sadly.
To distract him from these thoughts, she said quickly: “Which bed do you want? And I brought towels if you’d like to shower.”
“Oh, I don’t care which. I guess I’ll take the left one if it’s all the same to you.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I’ll shower first. I’m frozen to the bone, and I want to wash off the memory of that disgusting Acromantula…” she shivered violently.
A vision of Hermione in the shower flashed through Draco’s mind and he blushed, stuttering, “Er, ahem, right, of course. I’ll just see to the fire then.” He jetted out of the tent, nearly tripping over the threshold as he did so.
Hermione stifled a giggle and pulled a towel out of her purse.
Tonight they’d sleep. Tomorrow they’d find the opals and figure out a way to get to Azkaban. Merlin willing, Hermione thought as she stripped off her robes. They still had a few hours to go before they reached the cave – and the Dark Forest hid more than giant spiders in its murky depths.
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