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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 27 : 27.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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“So that’s the plan?” Malfoy asked incredulously. He bit into a cream puff that was serving as a late breakfast (Hermione having filched them from the kitchens after they’d both slept in too late to make it to the Great Hall.)


They were sitting on the green velvet sofa in the back of the library.


“Do you have a better one?” Hermione fired back.


He hunched his shoulders and sighed, shaking his head and closing eyes that were still shadowed with exhaustion.


“It’s a long shot,” Malfoy said.


“We’re planning on smuggling a high-security prisoner out of the most infamous wizarding prison in the world. It was always going to be a long shot. We could have the best plan in the world and it would still be…”


“Alright, alright, Granger. Don’t make your hair bushier than it already is,” Malfoy said with his signature smirk.


“Ex-cuse me?” Hermione huffed. “If you don’t want my help, you can just say so.”


“I do want your help,” Malfoy said, suddenly serious. “And for what it’s worth, I kind of like your hair bushy.” He smirked again as Hermione blushed.


“Can we continue please? We need to go over the plan at least one more time.”


“What’s there to go over? You’ll use the rest of your Polyjuice Potion to disguise yourself as a gaoler and escort my mother and I to my father’s cell, and then I’ll slip him the Patronus stone. After he’s repelled the Dementor you’ll open his cell and escort him out, where I’ll be waiting with the Thestrals.” He stopped and frowned. “There are just a couple things that need to be figured out…like how we’re supposed to infuse our Patronuses into the opal, and how are you going to sneak my father out of Azkaban without being seen and stopped…?”


“Well we’re going to infuse our Patronuses – or one of ours – into the stone today, and you don’t have to worry about your father being seen. I’ve got that figured out.” I really hope Harry doesn’t mind if I borrow his Invisibility Cloak for just a teensy little while…to save a Death Eater…she bit her lip nervously.


Malfoy stared at her in puzzlement. “What’s figured out? How are you going to do it?”


She sighed. “I can’t tell you that. You just have to trust me.” She looked at him pleadingly.


“Trust isn’t a Slytherin’s strong suit Granger, but I suppose I’ll go against the grain. This one time.”


She smiled at him. “Thank you. You won’t regret it. It’s only that it’s not my secret to tell…so…”


“I understand. Now – this Patronus-in-a-magic-opal thing – did you bring that bloody pamphlet of yours?”


“Of course I did,” Hermione said.


“Always prepared, aren’t you?” Malfoy teased.


“And what would you do if I wasn’t?” she laughed.


“Die of violent wounds, most likely,” he said.


“Ditto,” she said ruefully, pulling the worn little book from her bag.


She flipped through until she found the page that depicted the black opal and recoiling Dementors.


“Hmmmm, ok. I think I’ve translated this part correctly. To harness a Patronus into a Nigrum opalus the wizard must first – ugh, no mention of a witch I see…”


Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “Because obviously only wizards are smart enough to pull off magic like this, Granger.”


“Bollocks!”


Draco smirked, watching Hermione’s face flush indignantly. She’s so cute when she’s mad.


He grabbed the book and continued reading her rough translation.


The wizard must first infuse his soul into the stone, etc. etc…”But how are we supposed to infuse our souls into the bloody thing?” he mumbled.


“It continues on the next page…it doesn’t really give step-by-step instructions though,” Hermione said.


“Of course it doesn’t,” Malfoy muttered. “Can’t make things too easy, can they? Meanwhile, my father’s sitting in a freezing cell in Azkaban waiting for the Dementors to take him.” He sighed despairingly and ran his hands through his tousled hair.


“Whoa, hey…it’s going to be alright,” Hermione said gently. “I did the translation, and as far as I can tell we have to hold the stone and conjure a wandless Patronus...”


“A WANDLESS Patronus??!” Malfoy exclaimed. “Granger – I can hardly conjure a Patronus with a wand, let alone without one – how in the bloody…”


“Look, a wand acts as a conductor for spells, right? So it makes sense that in order to infuse a spell into a stone we have to use the stone itself like a wand – a conductor, if you will. Only it’ll be trapped within the object of power instead of traveling through it.”


“No I will not,” Malfoy said indignantly. “Granger, that’s impossible. Wandless magic is hard enough…”


“Yes it is, but we can do it,” she said.


Malfoy stopped ranting and looked at her.


“Remember? Malfoy we’re elementals. Not to brag or anything, but we’re the FIRST elementals to be born within 100 years! And both of us have performed wandless magic. This should be no different, especially with the two of us trying.”


“What do you mean?”


“Well, the instructions here refer to a single wizard, but I bet that’s just because they never tried it with two.


“…Well,” Hermione asked hesitantly. “What do you think?”


In her excitement, she had stood up from the couch and was pacing in front of him. Draco stared at her, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.


“What?” she stopped pacing and asked again.


“Nothing Granger. It’s just that I can tell this is how your adventures with Potter and Weasley always start.”


She flushed. “Are you making fun of me?”


“Not at all. You’re just full of surprises. And I never thought I’d say this, but I admire your passion. You never give up, do you?”


“Not when there’s something important to fight for,” she said quietly.


Draco’s eyes glowed silver as he looked at her.


“Did you ever think you’d be fighting for the life of a Death Eater? For the lives of two Death Eaters?” he added more quietly.


“No. I didn’t. But I also never thought a Death Eater would save my life. That two Death Eaters would save my life.


“Plus, you’re not as big of a git as I originally thought,” she added matter-of-factly.


“What? Yes I am,” Malfoy retorted. “I’m a selfish, cold-hearted Slytherin, Granger. You’d better not ruin my reputation,” he said with a teasing smile.


Hermione rolled her eyes. “Point taken. Now, about this horribly difficult magic…”


“We might as well get on with it,” Draco said, pulling the opal out of Hermione’s bag. “Merlin knows it’ll take us long enough.”


***********


Two hours later they were both extremely frustrated.


“Think happy thoughts,” Hermione intoned.


“I’m bloody well thinking happy thoughts, Granger.”


“Yes that’s obvious. Especially when you’re wearing the expression of an axe-murderer. Very convincing,” Hermione snapped back.


They were standing facing each other, glaring fiercely, both with one palm (Hermione’s right and Draco’s left) pressed against the opal between them.


“Maybe if we do the same hand…” Malfoy started.


“No, no,” Hermione broke in. “The book said it has to be ‘the strongest hand’ which is my right and your left.”


“Says who?? Who was the quack that wrote this crock of bull? I’ve never heard of him, and I’m starting to doubt that this kind of magic can even be done.”


Hermione took a deep breath. “Happy thoughts Malfoy.”


“If you tell me to think ‘happy thoughts’ one more time I’m going to…”


“Ohmygosh! FINE! I can’t think any happy thoughts anyway with you being such a miserable Slytherin twit!”


She tossed the opal at the couch and sat down on it with folded arms, looking out under lowered brows.


Malfoy sighed heavily and collapsed on the couch next to her.


“Look, I’m sorry. I’ll try harder to think happy thoughts. It’s just…I’m a Slytherin. And a Malfoy. We don’t walk around smiling and laughing all the time like sniveling little Hufflepuffs.”


Hermione rolled her eyes.


“Sniveling Hufflepuffs? Slytherins whine more than any other House!”


“We don’t whine, Granger. We complain. There’s a difference,” said Malfoy with pride.


“You are truly unbelievable,” Hermione said.


“Thank you.”


“That wasn’t a compliment. Now – we have to go to Azkaban tomorrow morning, and it’s already 2 in the afternoon. Can we just try to get this done? I needn’t remind you that this is your father’s only chance…no one is able to conjure a Patronus inside of Azkaban. The Dementors’ influence is too strong. This opal is our only hope.”


Malfoy breathed out heavily. “I know, Granger. Like I said – I’m sorry. I just don’t know if I have it in me.”


“I don’t know if I have it in me either, but we have to try,” Hermione said.


Draco looked at her curiously. “What’s your happiest moment?” he asked.


Hermione blushed and shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean – I do, but it’s kind of personal, so…”


“I hate to get sappy Granger, but I think for this to work we’re going to need to help each other remember our happiest moment.” he grimaced.


“Fine," Hermione sighed. "Well, my parents work a lot. Like, all the time. Growing up I was always left alone or with our housekeeper. When I was really little I’d cry and beg for them to take me along to wherever they were going…medical conferences, the offices, charity functions…the answer was always no. As I got older I eventually stopped asking. I’d stay home and read all day long in our family library. When I was about 7 my magic showed itself, and I entertained myself by practicing in secret….”


“Is that why you work so hard in school all the time? To get your parents to notice you?” Malfoy interjected.


Hermione shrugged, blushing under Malfoy’s intense gaze.


“Anyway,” she continued. “It was my 8th birthday, and I thought Mum and Dad had forgotten it, so I was reading and pretending not to be sad, when they showed up in the library with flowers and presents. It turned out that they’d both taken the day off to celebrate my birthday at a lake outside of London. We packed a picnic and spent the whole day together. I remember thinking that I’d never felt true happiness before that moment.” She paused and bit her lip. “I don’t know that I’ve felt it since. I mean, I’m happy – at least content, and I know I’ve had happy times, but – it’s never just hit me like that, you know?”


“Yeah, I do,” Malfoy said softly.


Hermione cleared her throat.


“Anyway it’s not a big deal. I don’t even know if that counts.” She laughed nervously.


“Why wouldn’t that count?”


She shrugged again, avoiding his eyes.


Draco watched the torchlight play across her face. He read the sadness in her eyes and felt a knot form in his stomach. “Granger…”


“Well. Enough about me.” She lifted her head and shook her hair back, hardening her features. “What’s your happiest memory?”


Malfoy dropped the hand that had threatened to reach for her.


“It’s stupid really. Probably why I’ve never been able to conjure much of a Patronus.” He took a deep breath. “My story’s a bit like yours I guess. I mean – you know my father…it’s not in my family’s nature to show affection. Anyway, when I was 6 I got my first broomstick. I still remember it. It was custom-made with a mahogany handle and my name plated in gold…” his voice went dreamy. “Father gave it to me and told me to try it. Didn’t instruct me how to mount it or fly or anything, so he was surprised when I got on and took off. I mean, not very far or fast, but I flew and it was as though I’d known how to do it my whole life. When I landed again he looked at me and I could see the pride in his eyes.


“He didn’t have to say anything, I just knew he was proud of me. It was the happiest moment of my life.” He quieted and his eyes grew dark. “I don’t know that I’ve seen that look since. I think that’s why it infuriates me that Potter always beats me in Quidditch and you’re always beating me in school…”


He gave a humorless laugh. “No wonder we can’t infuse our Patronuses into that opal. Our ‘happy memories’ aren’t all that happy, are they?”


Hermione grinned. “I guess they aren’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try! And for the record, you’re not beating me at school. We’re neck-and-neck. It’s just that I study harder than you.”


“So you agree I’m the smarter one?” Malfoy grinned at her.


“Shove off,” she laughed.


“Ok, I think I’m ready,” Malfoy said with sudden determination.


“Me too.” Hermione took a deep breath and stood up. Once again the two stood facing each other, one hand on the opal. The atmosphere was different this time. Hermione closed her eyes and focused with all her might on her memory. Not the sadness of it, but that one burst of joy. Unbidden, Malfoy’s memory stole into her head. She could see him now – less sharp, still hopeful – and that shock of white-blonde hair. The excitement as he mounted his first broom, and a much-younger Lucius glowing with pride. Her soul lifted.


“Expecto Patronum!” Draco and Hermione shouted at the same time, and Hermione felt the opal grow warm. Light spilled out of the stone, bathing them in a spectrum of color.


And then it was over.


They stood panting, staring at each other in wonder, the opal still pressed between their two palms. It pulsed with light, radiating power.


“We did it,” Malfoy breathed in awe.


Hermione was too overwhelmed to speak. With a deep breath, she let go of the stone and watched as Draco turned it over and over in his hands. Every so often a glowing shape could be seen flashing through the heart of the opal. What is that…? Hermione wondered. She thought she saw wings, and then – “Malfoy! Is your Patronus a dragon?”


“Nooooo….the one time I managed to conjure a corporeal Patronus it was a serpent,” he said, puzzled.


“But then…” Hermione started, staring into the stone. Another shape emerged – this one a large cat-like creature.


“Was your Patronus a lion or leopard of some sort?” Malfoy asked, looking impressed.


“No. It used to be an otter,” Hermione said.


Malfoy laughed.


“What?”


“Nothing Granger. It’s just that I can’t see your Patronus being an otter. I mean; they’re cute and smart and all…but not very fierce.”


“And I can’t really see your Patronus being a snake. Before I knew you, maybe…but not anymore. And I know that Patronuses can change – it doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen,” she said, thinking of Tonks.


“So whose is whose?” Malfoy asked.


“Well, I assume the dragon is yours, and mine is the…well, whatever that big cat is.”


“Wicked,” Malfoy said, smirking happily.


“You sound like Ron,” Hermione giggled.


“Merlin, Granger! What’d I do to deserve that?!”


“Just an observation. Keep your robe on.”


Malfoy rolled his eyes, but Hermione could see that he was fighting a grin.


“Well, I’m starving,” Malfoy said.


“Merlin, so am I. We’ve been working since 11!” Hermione agreed.


“I’m going to go wash up,” he said, stowing the opal carefully in his robes. “See you at dinner?”


“Yeah,” she said.


They stared at each other for a moment.


I almost forgot, we can't sit together, Draco thought. For some reason this bothered him.


“Everything ok?” Hermione asked him, frowning.


“Fine. It’s just…” he paused.


“What?”


“Nothing, Granger. I’ll see you at dinner.” From afar.


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