Chapter 30 : 30.
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Satisfied, she skipped down the stairs and made her way to the Great Hall.
“Ah! Miss Granger. There you are. You’re just in time for a cheery game of Christmas-themed Exploding Snap. Severus here is particularly looking forward to it,” Dumbledore said.
POW! CRACK! SNAP! A series of small explosions started the game early.
“Bloody hell…damn, I’m sorry. Stupid bloody…” Draco scrabbled to control the game pieces, which were now snapping away down the table, setting off more explosions as they went. Finally the noise stopped, leaving behind it a wake of silence. Draco was as red as his pale skin allowed.
“Well! That was the most exciting game of Exploding Snap I’ve seen yet. Well played, Mr. Malfoy.” Dumbledore clapped enthusiastically as the rest of the professors tried to regain their composure. Only Snape looked relatively happy, clearly glad he hadn’t had to participate.
Hermione bit down on a smile and seated herself at the great table.
“My! But you’re looking absolutely exquisite this morning,” Dumbledore continued pleasantly, smiling at Hermione.
“Students are not supposed to wear jewelry or makeup, Miss Granger,” McGonagall said with pursed lips.
“Oh lighten up, Minerva!” Professor Slughorn said happily, munching on a piece of Christmas cake.
“I should think that as the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, you’d be loath to advise anyone to ‘lighten up,’” McGonagall retorted sharply.
“Come, come! It’s Christmas!” Dumbledore exclaimed. “I, for one, intend to enjoy it.” There was a POP! and his wizard hat was replaced by the most enormous Santa hat Hermione had ever seen. She giggled.
McGonagall and Snape were wearing identical unamused looks.
Grinning, Hermione snuck a look at Draco, but he was staring stonily into his coffee. His cheeks were still pink.
Hermione cleared her throat and helped herself to some cake. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d such fun on Christmas, what with Dumbledore regaling everyone with stories of Christmases past (“I’ll never forget the year I tried to cook a turkey the Muggle way…”) and raucous toasts from Professor Slughorn, who was getting more boisterous with every glass of punch – much to the dismay of Snape and Professor McGonagall.
“Well, Merry Christmas everyone!” Dumbledore said at last, getting up from his seat.
“Here, here!” Professor Slughorn tried to tap his fork on his glass, but ended up flinging it at Snape, where it pinged off his head and landed in the sausage gravy.
“Professor Slughorn! This is not the Hog’s Head!” McGonagall said indignantly.
“Oh, I’m sorry old boy,” said Slughorn with a good-natured wink at Snape. “No harm done! We’ve always been pals.”
Snape curled his lip, looking as though he’d very much like to dispute that claim. Preferably with a well-aimed hex.
“Well,” McGonagall huffed. “I’m going back to my office to enjoy the rest of Christmas alone – in peace.”
She marched out of the Great Hall, followed by a very amused Dumbledore. Hermione got up too, saying her goodbyes as she went. She was halfway to the Gryffindor common room when someone grabbed her arm.
“Granger!” Malfoy panted. “Merlin, how does someone with such short legs walk so fast?”
She turned around, eyebrow raised. “Yeeees?”
Malfoy looked at her, seeming to lose his train of thought.
“Uhhhhhh, well, the thing is, um…. Merry Christmas.” He ended abruptly.
“Er, Merry Christmas,” she returned.
“Um, was there anything else?” Hermione asked hesitantly.
“No! I mean, no. No.” He struggled for a moment.
“The thing is, what I was meaning to say, was that – uh, ummm. Did you get anything good for Christmas?”
“Yeah, I got chocolate frogs from Ron, and a book from Harry, and my parents gave me this necklace, see?”
He stared at her throat. “It’s beautiful. You’re…” he stopped. “It’s beautiful.”
He turned and walked back down the hall, leaving Hermione staring after him.
She shook her head and sighed. Ok. That was weird.
Feeling unsettled, she started up the stairs.
She heard a sudden quick step behind her and then someone grabbed her hand, whipping her around.
He was out of breath again.
“There was something else I needed to say,” he panted.
“What is…” she started.
And then he was kissing her. She was just getting over her shock enough to kiss him back when he pulled away sharply, his eyes darkened with passion.
Then he spun on his heel again and disappeared around the corner.
“Hey! Harry, Ron! Ginny!” Hermione pushed through the sea of students to where Harry, Ron, Ginny and the Weasley twins were standing with their bags.
“Hi Hermione! We missed you this Christmas,” Ginny said as Hermione threw her arms around Harry. Ron shuffled awkwardly behind him.
“Hey Hermione,” he said.
She nodded. “Hi Ron.”
“Ronniekins!!!!!” Lavender’s shrill voice cut through the noise in the Great Hall.
Ron blushed scarlet as Lavender shoved her way over.
Dareon and Theo snorted. “Hey Ronniekins! Save some love for the rest of us, won’t you?” Draco said loudly, inspiring another round of laughter.
“I told you not to call me that!” Ron hissed at Lavender. She threw her arms around him and pouted. “Come on Won Won, I haven’t seen you for weeks and weeks!”
Pansy snorted. “What an idiot,” she sniffed.
“Well, you know the Weasleys…” Draco said.
“I mean she’s not even pretty!” Pansy continued.
“I was talking about Weaselby,” Draco said.
“What?” Pansy asked distractedly.
Theodore shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s kind of pretty, but her personality…” he stopped and raised an eyebrow. Dareon and Draco grimaced.
“Who wears bows in their hair anyway?” Pansy huffed.
“Um, Pansy, let’s go to the common room, yeah?” Theo was looking at her askance.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Let’s go.” They carved a path through the sea of students. The Gryffindors (except for Ron, who was trying to pry Lavender off his neck) watched them leave.
As he made his way to the Great Hall entrance, Dareon Balthazar turned around and accidently caught sight of the group of Gryffindors – his height allowing him to see over the crowd. Ginny flushed when their eyes met.
“Dareon? Dareon! Come on, man, what are you staring at?” Theodore’s voice crashed through Dareon’s consciousness. He shook his head. “Nothing,” he said sharply, following his friends down the stone corridor.
“Ginny?” Hermione asked.
“What?” she asked, startled.
“I asked how your Christmas was…” Hermione said, confused. “You ok?”
“Oh! Yes, of course. I’m fine. Just tired from the trip back. My Christmas was great, really nice.”
“Any fun presents?” she asked as Ron and Harry shouldered their bags and moved toward the hallway.
“The food was great,” said Ginny.
Hermione stared at her friend in consternation. “I asked if you got any fun presents...” Blank stare from Ginny. “Never mind,” Hermione said swiftly. “Let’s get back to the common room. I overheard the twins mention butterbeer.”
Back in the common room they circled around the fire, all of them clutching butterbeers. It was packed with Gryffindors standing in jumbled groups. Harry leaned over to Hermione. “Hey? You alright?”
“Yeah, of course!” Hermione said. “Why?”
“Well, what with the Ron-and-Lavender thing, and then having to stay here for Christmas all alone…and I don’t know, you just seem different.”
“Different?” Hermione asked nervously. “What do you mean? Different how?”
Harry’s glasses sparkled in the reflected firelight. “Dunno,” he shrugged. “Just…different. Older, maybe? Merlin – wait, not old – you look great, it’s just…something. I can’t place it.”
Hermione’s heart fluttered. He can’t have guessed that I had a hand in Lucius’s escape, can he? Or that I kissed Malfoy…no, not possible, breathe Hermione…
“I haven’t seen you in weeks Harry,” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, I guess that’s what it is.” He smiled back, but continued to study her.
“You know, Ron and Lavender won’t last. He’s already wicked annoyed.” Harry said.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said wearily. “You know what? I minded once, but I’m over it. Really. I did a lot of thinking…(and kissing, she thought with a guilty twinge) and I don’t mind, truly. Ron and I are better as friends.”
He nodded and went back to staring at the fire.
“…Can you believe it though?”
“No, I thought I was dreamin’ when the Prophet landed in my lap the other day.”
“That evil bastard! No doubt he’s back with his Death Eater friends, and no way will that slimy git Malfoy say anything.”
Hermione listened to the students discuss Lucius's escape and tried to look nonchalant. But she couldn’t stop her hand from trembling as she raised her butterbeer to her lips.
“Can you believe Lucius Malfoy escaped the Dementor’s Kiss?” Harry said, picking up on the conversation around them. He shook his head and took a swig of butterbeer.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” she answered.
“I mean – I don’t understand how it happened,” Harry continued.
“Well the Order said that Dementors have been defecting from the Ministry, so I’m sure…”
“But that’s not it! Officials investigated his cell, and they found the remains of two Dementors. Something destroyed them, but how? I don’t understand it. You’re not allowed to do magic anywhere on the island.”
Yep. I know, Hermione thought nervously. I wish I had some firewhiskey. What would Harry and Ron say if they knew that I was the one who saved Lucius Malfoy…let alone kissed his son, of all people. She fought waves of panic as she looked around the Gryffindor common room, suddenly feeling like she was behind enemy lines.
“Hey, are you ok?” Harry asked.
“What? Why? Yes, I’m fine. Of course.”
“You’re…shaking,” Harry said.
“Cold. I mean, not cold. Just thinking about Lucius’s escape. It’s scary, knowing that another Death Eater is on the loose.”
Harry nodded, satisfied. “Yeah, it is.”
They sipped their butterbeers, both silent.
Hermione studied Harry. The sadness in his green eyes, the weary set of his mouth.
I have to tell him. But what if he disowned her as a friend? Her stomach twisted. She couldn’t bear to lose him.
“Well, I should get to bed,” she announced. Merlin, I’m such a coward. But she couldn’t do it, not yet.
“It’s good to see you Hermione,” Harry said with a smile, squeezing her hand.
“You too,” she said quietly. She raised her voice to address the crowd. “Welcome back, everyone!”
A loud cheer echoed around the room as every student lifted their butterbeers.
“Hermione! Wait, Hermione,” Ginny came bounding up the girls’ staircase behind her.
“Ginny, hi! What’s up?”
Ginny shifted nervously. “Can I talk to you?”
“Of course, come up to my room. Will Dean mind that you’re leaving the party early?”
“Oh! I forgot, you don’t know – Dean and I broke up.” Ginny said.
“Ahhhh, that explains why he didn’t say hi to me today.”
“Yeah, I felt bad, but it just wasn’t right. He’s a great guy though.”
Hermione nodded. “He is. Cute too. He’ll find someone else in no time.”
Ginny smiled. “I think he already has. I saw him talking to that pretty Hufflepuff chaser today.”
They walked into Hermione’s room and sat on her silken bedspread. “Would you like another butterbeer? I have them here.”
“Sure,” Ginny said.
Hermione grabbed them both a bottle and waited as Ginny took a few nervous sips.
“Is everything ok?” Hermione asked.
“Well – that depends. Ok, you have to promise not to tell ANYONE this, especially not Ron.”
“I promise,” Hermione said confusedly.
Ginny took a deep breath.
“I have a crush on someone.”
“Ginny! Is that all?! Merlin, you scared me.” Hermione laughed in relief. “Is it Harry? Because that would be so cute! You guys would make such an adorable…”
“– It’s not Harry.”
“Oh, um…who is it?”
“Ok, so – you have to understand, nothing’s going to happen, so it’s really not a big deal…”
“Ginny! Just TELL me already!”
“Dareon Balthazar,” Ginny whispered cringingly. She buried her face in her hands and peeked out at Hermione between the splits in her fingers.
“Balthazar??! The Slytherin Quidditch player who’s friends with Malfoy?”
“Yes! Merlin I know. It’s so bad. Do you hate me??”
Hermione started laughing hysterically.
“Why are you laughing?? It’s not funny! If my family ever found out I’d be disowned!!”
“I’m sorry,” Hermione said, checking her laugh and trying to catch her breath. “You’re right, it’s not funny. I’m laughing because I like someone I shouldn’t too. But Ginny, how did this happen? Dareon Balthazar? I didn’t know you guys even spoke.”
“You’re not mad? You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“No, of course I’m not mad,” Hermione gave Ginny a quick hug. “And you’re not crazy, either. There’s no denying that he’s super attractive.”
“He is, isn’t he?” Ginny said wistfully.
Hermione laughed again. “You’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know! I have no idea how this even happened – one minute we’re fighting on the train on the way back for Christmas break, and the next he’s fallen into my lap and now I can’t get him out of my head! I was going CRAZY all break and there was no one to talk to about it.”
“So that’s why you were so distracted today!” Hermione said.
Ginny blushed. “Yeah…
“But he’s a Slytherin!” Ginny burst out.
“But he’s not bad – actually he and Theodore Nott seem like pretty decent guys,” Hermione said.
“You think so?” Ginny asked hopefully. Then her smile faded. “But it doesn’t matter. Nothing could happen, even if he did like me back. He’s a Slytherin Pureblood. And I’m a Gryffindor Blood Traitor.
“But wait a minute!” Ginny said. “You said you liked someone you shouldn’t, too! Who is it?” she asked excitedly.
Hermione bit her lip. Should I tell her? I can’t. No. But she told me about Balthazar…
“Hermione! Just tell me!! We’re friends, remember? And how bad could it be? I mean, I told you I liked Dareon Balthazar.”
“My crush is a bit worse, and honestly…I’m not sure it’s even just a crush anymore.” Hermione blushed crimson and bit her lip.
“Hermione Jean Granger!!” Ginny breathed. “Tell me RIGHT NOW.”
“Ok, here goes: Draco Malfoy.” She covered her ears at Ginny’s screech.
“Shhhhhh, Ginny! Keep your voice down, will you? Merlin!”
“Draco Malfoy? As in the Draco Abraxas Malfoy – Pureblood Slytherin git – who’s been the bane of your existence for the past 6 years? How? Why? WHAT?” Ginny stared at Hermione, where she lay buried in the covers after flinging herself facedown into the bed.
“Yes,” came Hermione’s muffled squeak of assent.
“You have to PROMISE not to tell ANYONE. I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone about Balthazar. Anyway, before you go to bed…”
Ginny leapt off Hermione’s bed and grabbed another butterbeer.
“Hermione, what are you talking about? I’m not going to bed! We have things to talk about. You need to tell me EVERYTHING, from the beginning. How did this start? Why did it start? When did it start? Just – what?? WHAT? The world has gone stark raving mad!”
“Well there’s no need to sound so excited about it,” Hermione grumbled. “Wait – where are you going?”
“I have some firewhiskey hidden in my trunk. A forbidden romance deserves a forbidden substance.”
Five minutes later they were sitting crosslegged on the bed, sharing a tumbler of whiskey.
Hermione winced. “Ugh, this stuff is strong,” she said.
“I know! I like it,” Ginny shuddered with relish. “Ok, tell me everything. From the beginning.”
“Well…gosh, I feel like I’ve retold this story so many times in the last few weeks…ok. It started at the Quidditch World Cup.”
“WHAT? You’ve liked Malfoy for that long??”
“Merlin, no! That’s where the story starts though…I don’t really know how else to begin.” She took a breath.
“You remember when I went to take a walk at sunset?”
“Well I was ambushed by Malgrov Mulciber in the woods.”
Ginny gasped. “Mulciber?” She whispered the name like a curse. “That evil Death Eater who tortured and killed so many people during You-Know-Who’s reign?”
“Yes. Anyway, I’d stupidly forgotten my wand, and he hit me with the Cruciatus curse. I was just about to scream when Lucius Malfoy stopped him.”
“Lucius Malfoy stopped him?” Ginny repeated, gaping.
“Yes! He forced Mulciber away and walked me back to my tent. He even gave me his robe because I was shaking.”
“I don’t believe it!” Ginny breathed, taking another gulp of firewhiskey and passing the glass to Hermione. She took a sip and continued.
“I didn’t either. But it’s true. He saved my life.”
“What happened then?”
“I um, oh my gosh, you really can’t tell anyone this – I poisoned Mulciber at the Bloody Horse in Knocturn Alley.”
Ginny stared at her open-mouthed. Hermione nodded. “You’re shocked. But it’s true. I didn’t want him to harm anyone else. I used some of the leftover Polyjuice Potion from 2nd year to disguise myself as a hag, but unfortunately the Malfoys saw me as I was changing back into myself. Lucius Malfoy must have guessed it was me that killed Mulciber because I was so furious at the World Cup.”
“But they didn’t tell anybody!” Ginny exclaimed. “The Ministry still thinks that one of his old Death Eater mates killed him over a grudge.”
“Right. So, long story short, when Lucius was sentenced…”
“…You helped him escape. A life for a life.”
Hermione nodded again.
Ginny shook her head, trying to process. “Ok, but what about Malfoy? How did you come to like him, of all people?”
“Well, it’s been building for a little while…the crush, at least – but I think I really started to like him when we went to the Dark Forest to find this black opal…”
Hermione spent an hour detailing their quest for the opal and Lucius’s rescue from Azkaban. Finally, she stopped and took a swig of whiskey.
“By the beard of Merlin! That is the best story I’ve heard in ages!! And?”
“And what?” Hermione croaked, her throat dry from all the talking.
“And did you kiss??!”
“Ohmygosh. You did!!! You kissed Draco Malfoy! Tell me all about it. Is he a good kisser?”
Hermione shrugged, smiling shyly. “Yeah, he is. A really good kisser, actually.”
“Do you have any idea how many girls would envy you to know that?”
“Um, pretty sure he’s the most hated person in school actually.”
“Well, yeah, he’s a pretentious git, but anyone with eyes can see that he’s gorgeous.” Ginny said.
Hermione bit her lip and groaned. “He is, isn’t he? I’m doomed.”
“Because. I’m never going to be with him, Ginny. It’s impossible! He’s a Slytherin Pureblood – I’m a Gryffindor Muggleborn. And with You-Know-Who gaining power all the time…it’s just too dangerous. For everyone,” Hermione finished sadly.
Ginny sighed. “You’re right. As always. It’s just so unfair! Why’d I have to start crushing on a Slytherin? Of all the Houses in this bloody castle!”
“I know!! And at least we could have chosen Slytherins who didn’t happen to be Purebloods from powerful families.”
They both reached for the firewhiskey at the same time.
“Oh and don’t…”
“Seriously, Hermione? Did you really think I was going to tell Ron or Harry any of this? They don’t need to know.”
“You’re right, they’ve got enough on their plates, and it doesn’t matter anyway since we can’t actually be with Balthazar or Malfoy.”
“Exactly! Cheers, Hermione.”
“We can’t date them, but we can flirt with them, right?”
Hermione laughed. “I suppose. Discreetly.”
“Are you kidding? I’m the soul of discretion.”
Hermione raised a tired eyebrow and looked at Ginny skeptically. They both started giggling at the same time, settling deeper into Hermione’s pillows.
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