Chapter 31 : 31.
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“Bloody good thing, too. We need to do some research at Honeydukes,” Fred said.
“For what?” Harry asked.
“Our business venture,” George winked. “We’re going to open a joke shop in Hogsmeade.”
“And Diagon Alley, of course,” Fred added.
“Well of course,” George said.
“But where did you get the money??” Ron demanded. Hermione saw Harry shake his head at Fred and George. Ahhhh, she thought. So that’s where his Triwizard winnings went. I had wondered…
“If you’re involved in some illegal…”
“Oh come off it little brother, we’re not doing anything shady. And you’re one to talk…how many Hogwarts rules have you broken so far?” George demanded. Ron glared.
“Oy! All obnoxious redheads out of the way,” Malfoy sneered, pushing through the crowd to read the Hogsmeade notice.
“Did you hear something Fred?”
“Can’t be sure George, it sounded like a series of squeaks to me…”
“Well what can one expect from a ferret?” George said.
The crowd assembled in the hall laughed as Malfoy flushed pink. Ginny elbowed Hermione with a sly look. “He deserved that I suppose,” she whispered to Ginny. “Too right he did,” Ginny whispered back. Her smile faded as Dareon Balthazar appeared behind Malfoy. Stepping around some 3rd years, they read the notice. “Hey! We can’t see!” A small Hufflepuff piped up. Balthazar turned around, eyeing the 3rd year distastefully. The Hufflepuff shrank under the tall Slytherin’s gaze.
Hermione opened her mouth to say something, but Ginny beat her to it. “Balthazar!” she said. He looked at Ginny, startled.
She nodded at the Hufflepuff. “You and Malfoy are taller than everyone here, let them in front of you so they can see.”
“Oh sure, like bloody h…” Malfoy sneered.
“Malfoy!” Hermione interrupted sharply. Dareon’s eyes were locked on Ginny. He tugged Malfoy’s robes. “Come on, let’s stand over here,” Balthazar muttered.
Malfoy nodded, glancing at Hermione as they moved to the left of the crowd.
“Ginny, Hermione, what just happened?” asked Harry when Malfoy and Balthazar had moved on.
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked.
“Uh – Malfoy and Balthazar just did what you asked them to without putting up a fight…? Care to explain?” His eyes flashed curiously behind his glasses.
“We’re in the Great Hall, Harry. They probably just didn’t want to jeopardize their chances of going to Hogsmeade by getting in trouble,” Hermione said.
“When has that ever stopped them from being complete gits??” Ron demanded.
“Look, can we just forget it? We’ve got to get to class,” Ginny said.
“Bugger it all! What time is it?” Ron asked. “McGonagall’s gonna kill us if we’re late for Tranfiguration!”
Harry shouldered his bookbag to follow him, but not before giving Ginny and Hermione penetrating looks.
“Finally! That was a brutal week,” Harry said. He, Ron, Lavender, Ginny and Hermione were packed into a carriage, bound for Hogsmeade.
“Oh Ronnie! How romantic! Our first Hogsmeade together.” Ron shot glares of warning at the other three. Hermione snorted, but managed to disguise it as a coughing fit.
“Harry, what’s wrong?” Hermione asked.
“You’re fidgeting, that’s all.”
Harry sighed, checking to see that Ron and Lavender were glued together, totally oblivious. “Well, Cho’s single again…”
“– she broke up with whatshisname, that Ravenclaw chaser?” Ginny cut in.
“Yeah,” Harry answered. “Last year she was still working through all the Cedric stuff, but lately she’s been smiling at me in the halls, and – I don’t know, I just have this feeling that we should try it again…”
Ron pulled himself away from Lavender, nodding vigorously. “You should go for it, mate! She’s a ten.”
“EXCUSE ME??!” Lavender’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Oh no – not to me, I mean, I don’t think she’s a ten, what I mean is: other people think she is, and um…”
Hermione shook her head furiously at Ron.
“Oh look!” Ron shouted. “Hogsmeade, we’re here!” Relief was plain on his face as he threw open the carriage doors. He was out before it came to a full stop.
“Hahahahaha! Did you guys see that?” Theodore said.
“No, what?” Pansy was adjusting her purple scarf.
“Weasley just tossed himself out of that carriage,” he laughed.
“Sheesh, I wonder why,” Dareon said drily, shaking his head as Lavender launched into another furious tirade.
Pansy watched happily. “That’ll teach him to date the likes of Lavender Brown.”
“I wonder when he’s gonna hook up with Granger,” Theodore said.
“What?!” Pansy and Draco exclaimed at the same time.
Theodore blinked at them. “What? Granger’s been crushing on him since like, Second Year, and sooner or later Weasley’s bound to get his head out of his arse and realize she’s grown into a, well…”
“A what, Theo? A what?” Draco demanded tightly.
“You know, I mean, I know she’s a Mudblood and all, but you can’t deny she’s pretty…I mean, it’s not just me. Everybody says so!” he finished defensively, flinching under Draco’s gaze.
“Well that doesn’t change the fact that Weasley clearly doesn’t want her,” Pansy huffed, turning around and marching toward Honeydukes.
“Merlin and Agrippa! What’s gotten into those two?” Theodore muttered to Dareon after Draco stalked after Pansy.
“Hmmm?” Dareon asked. He’d been watching Ginny laugh with Hermione. Has her hair always been that shiny? It was a river of red, coursing in sunlit waves down her back.
“Never mind,” Theodore said angrily. “Apparently everyone’s got their heads up their arses today. I’m going to The Three Broomsticks.”
“Can you believe what a perfect day it is?” Hermione gushed to Ginny. The town was blanketed in winter snow, but the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky. “Oh hey!” she elbowed Ginny. “Look who’s standing all by himself…”
“Shhhh,” Ginny whispered back. “He’s looking over here.” Ginny tossed her hair over her shoulder, peeking through it to study the dark Slytherin. He was staring at her, but his expression was inscrutable. Maybe if I look him in the eye…Ginny gathered her courage. Then she shook her hair away from her face and raised her head.
“Ssssss!” Dareon drew in a sharp breath as Ginny caught his gaze, staring boldly. Dareon found himself unable to look away.
“Ginny… GINNY!” Harry was practically yelling at her. “We’re going to Honeydukes, are you coming?!”
“What?” She wrenched her eyes from Balthazar’s.
“I said, we’re going to Honeydukes…” Harry followed Ginny’s gaze to where Balthazar stood, looking bewildered. The Slytherin suddenly turned on his heel and strode toward the village.
“Ginny, what is going on?” Harry asked suspiciously.
“Nothing, Harry. Let’s go to Honeydukes. Where’s Ron?” she asked.
“Didn’t you hear? You were standing right next to them…Lavender dragged Ron to Madame Puddifoots.”
“Oh! Right, of course. I remember,” Ginny blushed.
Harry caught Hermione’s arm as she walked by him. “Hermione, what is going on? And don’t say ‘nothing,’ I’m not daft. Is there something between Ginny and that Slytherin Balthazar?”
Hermione shook him off. “Look, Harry – there’s nothing really going on between them, they just have a bit of a…I don’t know. I can’t tell you anyway. Ask her,” Hermione gestured at Ginny, who was walking a few paces ahead of them, obviously distracted.
“I knew it!” He whispered. “There’s something going on with them!! Merlin, Hermione, what’s Ron going to say?”
“NOTHING Harry. Ron isn’t going to say anything, because Ron can’t know! And there isn’t anything going on with them…”
“But there’s a crush.” Harry said slowly.
Damn it, Harry. When did you become so observant? Hermione thought. “Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t,” she said.
“Merlin, Hermione. I’m not going to attack her; I just want to know what’s going on with my friends. Is that too much to ask?”
Hermione bit her lip guiltily.
“That depends,” she said.
“Look, he’s a Slytherin. And he’s friends with Malfoy. I don’t like the guy. But he’s never done anything too horrible as far as I can tell…it’s not like I’d try to stop anything if something did happen between them. I just want to be kept in the loop, that’s all.”
Hermione shrugged. “I understand.” She pushed open the doors to Honeydukes and let the intoxicating scent of candy wash over her.
The little shop was packed with students. Hermione turned around to show Harry a blood-flavored sucker, only to discover that they’d been separated. Craning her neck, she turned on a dime, accidently knocking into someone.
“Ow! Watch it,” a sharp voice said.
“I’m sor… Oh, it’s you!” She was nose-to-nose with Malfoy. “Ouch!” she exclaimed, as someone in the jostling crowd elbowed her sharply in the ribs. In a fluid movement, Malfoy grabbed her waist and spun her around, switching places with her so that her back was to the shelves and his to the crowd.
It was the first time she’d been this close to him since he’d kissed her Christmas morning. His eyes softened into a look she recognized. “Malfoy,” she whispered, ignoring the crush of people around them. “Don’t look like that, we can’t do this here.”
“Look like what? Do what?” he whispered.
“You’ve got that look…”
“– What look?”
“The look you get right before you kiss me,” she said the last part so quietly he had to watch her mouth to catch it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Granger,” he mouthed back. His features were hard and cold as usual, but his eyes were a deep, smoky grey, dark with desire.
“Right, I’d better go,” he said.
“It might help if you let go of my waist.”
“Oh, er, right,” he lifted his fingers from her robes regretfully, giving her a last smoldering glance before pushing his way through the throng of people. Hermione breathed out, leaning back into the shelves of sweets with a groan. Merlin, that boy. If only he wasn’t quite so attractive, she thought. She could handle it if he was average-looking, like Harry, or Ron, or… “Cormac!” she said.
“Well hi there.” He was leaning into her face, wearing his usual smarmy smile. She fought a grimace.
“Hi Cormac, how was your Christmas?” she made her voice sound as cool and disinterested as possible.
“Oh you know, went hunting with the Prime Minister, got a few gold watches, nothing too exciting…so anyway, how about you and I head to Madame Puddifoot’s for some…” he paused and gave her a lascivious look. “Alone time?”
Now she did grimace. “Um, sorry, I’m actually going to Rosmerta’s with Harry and Ginny.” She started to step around him, but he threw his arm out.
“Hey, there’s Hermione!” Ginny nudged Harry. They were on the top floor, out of the hustle-and-bustle of the main crowd. “Who’s that with her?” Ginny asked.
“Mclaggen,” Harry growled. “What’s he doing??”
Down below, Hermione tried to duck under Cormac’s arm, but he grabbed her wrist. “Let go!” Hermione said. “Ow! Stop it Cormac, you’re hurting me!”
“That filthy bastard,” Harry said furiously. He and Ginny ran for the stairs, but were stopped by the wall of people.
Hermione’s wrist throbbed with pain. “For the last time Mclaggen, LET. ME. GO.”
He smirked and stepped into her. “I will. But first you have to kiss me.” She struggled, but he was too strong for her.
“I’ll curse you into the next millennium for this,” she hissed.
“Come on, just one kiss…if it meets my expectations, maybe I’ll let you go.”
Suddenly Mclaggen’s head was wrenched back. He howled in pain, and the noise in the packed shop faded. “Let her go, Mclaggen.”
“What do you care?” Mclaggen said, staring at Malfoy in shock.
“Mudblood or not, you don’t treat a girl that way. She said stop. Now let. Her. Go.”
“Ahh!” Hermione cried out as Mclaggen gave her wrist one last painful squeeze before dropping it. Hermione gasped, looking at Malfoy in alarm. His eyes were swirling with fury.
He struggled with himself, jaw throbbing, before turning slowly around.
“Coward,” Mclaggen spat.
Quick as lightning, Malfoy spun and gripped Mclaggen’s wrist, lifting it up and slamming it against the shelf. In an instant, Mclaggen’s arm turned black from wrist to elbow.
SNAP! “AHHHHHHHHH!” The scream echoed through Honeydukes. The surrounding crowd gave a collective gasp. One sharp twist, and Malfoy had broken Mclaggen’s forearm.
Cormac heard Malfoy’s words through a haze of pain. “You try and force yourself on a woman, and you dare call me a coward?” Malfoy looked at him with cold hatred. “The next time you lay hands on a girl without her permission, I’ll do more than break your arm – I’ll break your neck.”
He let Mclaggen go and turned his back on him. The crowd parted like the Red Sea, students pressing in on each other to give the Slytherin as wide a berth as possible. When the door slammed shut behind him everyone started talking at once.
“Did you see that?”
“I’ve never seen him so angry…”
“He’s terrifying. In a good way, of course.”
“A Slytherin, help a Gryffindor? Have you ever seen such a…”
“…But I thought he hated her!”
“Ohmygosh, Draco Malfoy is so hot…”
“Hermione, Hermione!” Ginny and Harry finally reached her. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, just a bit bruised.”
“Where’s that worthless bastard? Where’d Mclaggen go?” Harry growled, looking around.
“He slipped out a second ago. Some friends are taking him back to the castle to see Madame Pomfrey.”
“I think you should probably go to the Hospital Wing too, your wrist looks pretty bad,” Ginny frowned.
“Oh like hell!” Hermione exclaimed. “It’s just a bit bruised, and anyway, I’m not getting anywhere near that lout Mclaggen until I’ve had at least one butterbeer, or I can’t promise what I’ll do. Merlin, if we were allowed to do magic here…” she pushed herself away from the shelf. As with Malfoy, the crowd parted for her. Hermione forced herself not to blush under the gaze of a hundred people.
The Three Broomsticks was busy, but Harry, Hermione and Ginny managed to find a table in a back corner. They ordered butterbeers and sat in awkward silence. Finally Harry spoke.
“So, I’m just trying to wrap my head around something,” he began. Hermione’s stomach twisted into nervous knots. “Correct me if I’m wrong – but did Malfoy, pretentious Slytherin, bane of our existence, our school archnemesis – just defend you from Mclaggen?”
Hermione cleared her throat. “It would seem so…but of course he could have been disguised by Polyjuice Potion or …” she withered under Harry’s cool stare.
“Don’t lie to me, Hermione. Not you.” He took a swig of butterbeer. “Well, this is one for the books. A Gryffindor Muggleborn and a Slytherin Pureblood. The press would have a fieldday…”
“No!” Hermione exclaimed. She sighed. “No. No press. It would spell his death, I…” she broke off, running a hand through wild hair.
“You care about him.” It wasn’t a question. “Did you know?” Harry demanded of Ginny.
Ginny opened and closed her mouth. “I, well, I…”
“Look, Harry, it just happened,” Hermione said sadly. “I didn’t plan it, neither of us did. It just…” she broke off and sighed again.
“How? Tell me from the beginning.”
“Ok. The Quidditch World Cup…”
“Wait, what??! This has been going on since before the year started, and you didn’t…”
“–No! Harry, not at all. That’s just what started this chain of events.”
“Why? How? Malfoy was a complete git at the World Cup.”
“True, but his father saved my life.”
“Merlin, Harry, keep your voice down!”
“Sorry,” he whispered. “But what??! Lucius Malfoy saved you? How?”
“Remember when I went on a walk? Ok. Well, I was ambushed by Mulciber in the woods. He was torturing me when Lucius Malfoy showed up and stopped him.”
“He stopped him? Why?” Harry asked, intrigued.
“He said it was because there were too many people around, but…”
“…But he could have thrown up sound barriers or something,” Harry said.
“Who’s telling this story, me or you?” Hermione asked, smiling.
“Sorry, sorry. Continue.”
“Right. So he put Mulciber off and walked me back to the tent. He told Mulciber he was going to erase my memory, but he didn’t. Then…”
Feeling like she was reading lines, Hermione told Harry everything, with Ginny filling in the details Hermione tried to skip over.
“So, you’re the one who killed Mulciber, and rescued Lucius Malfoy from Azkaban?” Harry asked softly. “And Zabini?”
Hermione flinched. “Yeeeees. I’m sorry. But Mulciber was evil, Zabini too – and Lucius Malfoy isn’t a good person, but he didn’t deserve to lose his soul to the Dementors,” she said defensively. “See? This is why I didn’t tell you. I was scared you wouldn’t understand, and I didn’t want to lose you as a best friend. But I understand…” she took a deep breath. “I understand if we can’t be friends anymore.”
“Yeah, I think it’d be best if we went our separate ways,” Harry whispered. Ginny stared at him in shock. Hermione fought back tears, but couldn’t stop a sob escaping her lips.
“Hahahahaha! You should see your faces,” Harry laughed, eyes twinkling behind his glasses. “You bloody great fools, of course I’m not going to disown Hermione as a best friend. After all we’ve been through? Geez.”
“Merlin, Harry! You scared the life out of me.” Hermione slugged his arm in affectionate relief.
“And I won’t pretend I like that you and Malfoy like each other, but there’s no denying he cares about you. I thought he was gonna kill Mclaggen today.” He shook his head ruefully. “You two. You just had to start crushing on Slytherins, didn’t you?”
“Wait, what? Who said anything about me??” Ginny exclaimed. “Hermione! I can’t believe you told him!”
“I didn’t tell him anything! He guessed. And maybe if you hadn’t been making puppy eyes at Balthazar all week it’d still be a secret!”
Harry grinned. “It was pretty obvious.”
“Well, this has been a fun chat. Anything else we need to get out in the open?” Harry asked lightly. “Hermione, do you want to announce that Snape is your new favorite Professor? Ginny, are you going to go over to the Dark Side?”
They laughed. Hermione felt that a weight had been lifted from her chest. “Thanks Harry. But actually I do have one thing to ask…should we tell Ron?”
“NOOOOOOOOO,” Ginny said loudly. “We just had a really nice moment of show and tell, but that is NOT happening. Can you imagine? Ron would flip.”
“Well he’ll probably find out sooner or later…”
“Later!” Both girls said at the same time.
“Should we have another butterbeer before we head back to the castle?” Hermione asked.
“Sure,” said Harry. “Speaking of Ron, I wonder what he’s doing. I hope he didn’t get stuck at Puddifoot’s all day.”
“Yeah, poor widdle Ronniekins,” Ginny said.
“Oh Ronnie, isn’t this romantic! Look at all the cherubs, aren’t they cute?” Lavender gushed. They’d been at Madame Puddifoot’s for an hour, and Ron was at his wits’ end.
“Yeah, they’re adorable. Listen, I want to go to Honeydukes and The Three Broomsticks, so…”
“But I still haven’t eaten!” Lavender exclaimed.
Ron stared at her, confused. “But you said you weren’t hungry when we came in, which is why we just got tea.”
“Well I wasn’t hungry then, but now I am.” She looked at him like he was an idiot.
“Ok, then we’ll get food at The Three Broomsticks,” Ron said.
“Ron, no! I want to get food here. I don’t know why everyone loves that dirty old pub so much anyway,” she sniffed.
“Ok, ok,” Ron said, rubbing his temples as a witch in a lurid pink apron sashayed over.
“What is it Ronnie? Why are you looking at me like that?” Lavender pouted, ignoring the waitress.
“You know what? Here.” He piled sickles in the middle of the table and stood up. “Get her whatever she wants,” he told the waitress.
“What?? Ronnie, Ron. RON! Where are you going?”
“I’m sorry, Lavender. I can’t do this.”
“Do what? Eat here? That’s fine, we’ll go to The Three Broomsticks…”
“No Lavender. I mean – I can’t do – bloody hell this is hard.” He ran a hand through tousled red hair. “I can’t be with you. You’re a great girl, but I’m not the guy for you. I’m sorry.”
Ron pushed through the door and into the snow-bright street. He took a few cleansing breaths. The cold air was a relief after being in the stiflingly warm, perfume-scented tea shop.
“Ron! Ron!!!” Lavender came running after him, totally bewildered. “Come on, Ronnie. We’ll go to The Three Broomsticks, you can buy me a butterbeer and I’ll pretend this never happened.”
“NO. Lavender, It’s over. I’m really sorry. I’m just – I’m sorry.” He turned around and strode blindly through the snow.
“Shite, I’m sorry!” Ron reached a hand down to help Pansy up.
“Watch where you’re going,” Pansy said. She brushed snow off her bottom with a grimace.
“I’m sorry,” Ron said again. “Bloody hell, I’ve said that a lot today.”
Pansy looked around him. “Uh, where’s Brown?”
“Hmmm?” Ron asked distractedly. “Oh, she’s at Madame Puddifoot’s.”
There was a pause.
“I hate that place,” Pansy said abruptly. “I never knew there were so many shades of pink in the world.”
Ron laughed, surprised. “Right? I wondered the same thing. I about lost my mind. Might have done, actually,” he added ruefully. “I need to make it to The Three Broomsticks so I can get my bearings again. Sorry for knocking into you Parkinson.” He nodded and stepped around her.
“Yeah, well, I’ll hex you later,” she smirked.
“Lookin` forward to it,” he said with a smile.
“Pansy! There you are,” Dareon said. “We’re headed back to the castle. I can’t find Draco anywhere; I assume he’s already up there. Did you hear what happened?”
“Hmmm?” Pansy hummed, looking at Ron’s back as he walked up the hill to the pub.
“Draco broke that prat Mclaggen’s arm! Turned it black, too. People say it looked like frostbite, but I don’t know how he could have done it…” Theodore said.
“Wait, WHAT?” Pansy said, finally focusing on her friends. “What do you mean he broke Mclaggen’s arm?”
“Apparently Mclaggen was trying to force Granger to kiss him in Honeydukes, and he had ahold of her wrist – I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s badly bruised – anyway, Draco saw it and flipped! Wrenched Mclaggen’s head back to make him let go, and then turned his arm black and broke it! Everyone’s talking about it,” Dareon said.
“Holy Mother of Merlin,” Pansy gasped. “But I thought he hated her?”
“I know. I don’t know what’s going on with him,” Dareon nodded.
“But you know how he feels about hurting girls,” Theodore said.
“Yeah,” Dareon said, “But this was different. I mean, he was furious. Granted, Mclaggen would make anyone furious – the guy’s disgusting. But still…”
The three friends went silent.
“Is it possible that…?”
“Draco and Granger?”
“They were alone at the castle all break…” Dareon mused. “And she’s certainly pretty enough.”
“Plus Draco’s always been into smart girls,” Theodore added.
Pansy nodded. “Well, whatever’s going on with them will have to be kept quiet. If the Dark Lord finds out…” she broke off, shuddering.
Dareon and Theodore exchanged dark looks. They’d been worried about their friend ever since he’d been made a Death Eater. Now they had another reason to worry.
“You can’t help who you love,” Dareon said quietly, thinking of Ginny.
Theodore nudged him playfully. “Getting romantic Dareon? Should we swing by Madame Puddifoot’s on our way back to the castle?”
“Stuff it Nott,” Dareon laughed, scooping up some snow and packing it into a rough ball.
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