Hermione, laden heavily with a shoulder bag of text books and munching happily on a banana muffin, tracked the perimeter of
"Dammit all, Malfoy, I'm going to bloody kill you..." she mumbled to herself, dropping her bag with intention of returning at a later date to retrieve it, and stopped at the corner of the castle. She shielded her eyes from the autumn sun with a flattened palm and attempted to see past the greenhouses to the Quidditch pitch. Apparent by their bright blue uniforms, the Ravenclaw team was deep in a practice and Hermione sighed with exasperation as she decided Draco would not have interest in watching or playing with them, and therefore would most likely not be at the pitch.
Just as she was about to continue her way around the castle and again pass the doors to the main hall, a rustling of leaves attracted Hermione's attention and she turned on her heel, eyebrow lifted and hands on her hips. Beside the grand stone steps that led to the entrance hall, a very large pile of said pot-marks of autumn had been raked by the Youths Against Wilting Nature Commission, founded by Professor Tamara Sprout and known fondly throughout the school as YAWN. At the time of her arrival the commission's pile of leaves, a picturesque symbol of the changing seasons, was being violently desecrated by one blond student who seemed to have either lost something of great value, or simply lost his mind. Hermione couldn't hold back less than a smile and approached him quietly.
"Malfoy?" she asked, voice betraying her amusement. "What are you doing?" He jumped, startled by her voice and sudden appearance, and made to roll from his position on all fours. Unfortunately for his knees, the leaves were slick with morning dew and led to a painful slip onto the extremity which had, moments ago, been pointed to the sky. Somehow, throughout his amazing defeat by rotting foliage, Draco Malfoy managed to maintain his pristine demeanor and unfazed countenance. Hermione, much less sophisticated, allowed herself to laugh out loud at his expense; an act which Draco blatantly ignored.
"Granger," he stated primly in greeting, as if he had been interrupted from no more than a trivial conversation with an acquaintance. "Just the girl I was looking for." Hermione smirked, nodding to humor him and placing a finger to her chin.
"And you thought your best bet would be to look in the dirt? I'm flattered," she stated wittily and Draco rolled his eyes.
"For your information, your sarcastic-ness, I was looking for you so that I could tell you that I can't find the thing that I was looking in the dirt for," he explained, crossing his arms as if his point had just been proven and he challenged her to find evidence against him. Hermione, with the tip of her finger still placed placidly on her chin, nodded.
"And why, pray tell, Mr. Emphatic, would I care about this item that you have misplaced somewhere akin to a pile of leaves?"
"Because," Draco began assertively, then frowned and looked nearly embarrassed. "It's my badge." Hermione's playful smirk dropped immediately with her jaw, which hung open for a moment in absolute shock before she overcame it enough to lash out at him. Which she did, with her fist, directly into his collarbone. "Hey!" he shouted, covering the area with a palm and crossing his eyebrows at the discomfort. "What was that for?"
"How could you be so irresponsible?" she asked, or moreover shouted, throwing her hands to the sky. "You're supposed to be Head Boy, in charge of the wellbeing of the student body, and you can't even remember where you put your sodding badge? How am I supposed to work like this?" she demanded rhetorically and spun on her heel in the direction she had come from to retrieve her forgotten book pack. Draco followed her like a lost puppy.
"When am I going to get a replacement?" he asked in complete seriousness and Hermione, who had just picked up her bag, stopped still.
"Please tell me you're joking, Malfoy. I'm not in the mood to play games with you; I'm late for a meeting," she said, then spun to face him. "Which, incidentally, is why I came looking for you in the first place."
"Which, incidentally, is also why I've been looking all bleeding morning for my badge! I've checked everywhere; it's no where to be found. Someone must have stolen it; I need a replacement."
"Ha," Hermione piped, smiling though she found no humor whatsoever in the situation at hand. "All morning? Malfoy, it's . I happen to know for a fact that you didn't get your lazy arse out of bed until quarter of, and by the time you finished your bathroom rituals, it'd have been at least quarter past. Assuming you didn't go to breakfast, which I highly doubt, you've been looking for a grand total of fifteen minutes. Considering the size of the castle, I'd say there's a fair chance you haven't looked everywhere. You'll have to find it for yourself."
"But Granger," he whined, facade of higher stature forgotten in a moment of desperation. "I'm tired of looking. It's boring and hard and... I just don't bloody want to." Hermione shook her head, laughing to herself, and pushed past him to make her way past the desecrated leaf pile and back into the castle where, no doubt, the prefects thought them no-show. Probably formulating rumors as she walked, about her forbidden love affair with Malfoy. She shuddered and sighed.
"Honestly, Malfoy, you don't want to? That's the best you can come up with?"
Draco, who was following close behind her, stopped for a moment.
"Well," he said after a brief period of thought. "It's the truth, isn't it?" She paused in her ascent of the stairs to drop her face into her hands and shake her head in pity of him.
"You've never done a good day's work in your life, have you?" she asked him, peeking over her hands, and Draco looked completely insulted.
"How dare you," he said tartly, pursing his lips and following her path up the stairs. "I earned my grades, just like you did. I earned this position too; how, exactly, could I do that without working." Hermione waited for him to catch up before entering the heavy wooden doors.
"Studying isn't work, Malfoy," she said once they were inside. "There's an immense difference."
"Quidditch doesn't count either," she said, finishing his sentence for him and continuing on her way. Draco sighed in exasperation and continued to trail her.
"Granger," he griped, but she paid it no attention.
"Come on, Malfoy. The Prefects will give up on us and leave soon," Hermione pointed out, quite accurately, and led the way to the Head Commons.
"But Granger, how am I supposed to intimidate them if I don't have my badge? You have to get me a new one."
"What makes you think that I have the power to get you a new badge? If you're really that lazy, you'll have to take it up with Snape or McGonagall, being that they are our heads of household. They can get you a new one, but I strongly advise you not to bother. McGonagall wouldn't even give me one if I lost mine, much less you. And Snape spilled coffee all over the front of his robes at breakfast, so there's a bet against you on that end. He'll be in a fouler mood than he would on a normal day. Just suck it up and go find your bloody badge on your own. Right now, I could care less-"
"I'll just wait until tomorrow," Draco said, resting his chin on his elegantly curled fingers, and speaking more to the ceiling than Hermione. She fumed at being interrupted, but allowed him indulgence in fantasy. "Or," he said. "Better yet, I'll wait until the day after. Uncle Sevvie can never deny me anything when I'm right there on his premises." Hermione stopped in her tracks, wide eyed, and turned to face him.
"Severus is your uncle? Please tell me you're joking."
Draco stopped a few paces ahead, turning around with a lifted eyebrow and letting his fist fall to his side.
"Actually, I am. He's... my... well, it's actually quite complicated," he admitted, face donning a pensive look for the umpteenth time that morning. Hermione took a step toward him and Draco nearly thought she planned to take him by the robes and force out his secrets.
"Please," she said, trying with obvious difficulty to keep herself calm. "Tell me exactly how you're related to Snape." He stared at her as if she'd grown a second head. "Malfoy, it's important."
"Erm... right," he said, almost at a loss for words, "but, we should probably-"
"Walk and talk, it's called multitasking," she said, closing the space between them and continuing on her way. Draco followed.
"Well," he started, eyeing her curiously from the corner of his eye. "In the realm of high profile purebloods, those with money and influence, everyone sticks fairly close together. There's an endless parade of parties and dinners to attend so that everyone knows everyone- I think it's mostly to make business deals among one another and arrange courtships between their children. Anyway, through this whole thing, my mother became best mates with Agatha Putershmit Snape, and when I was born made her my godmother. She drowned when I was six, so the title was passed down to Sev. He's remarried now, though; why so creepily adamant to know about my family relations?"
"Because Severus remarried Margaret Brown Anthrop," she said, and Draco looked surprised.
"How did you know that?"
"She's my grandmother."
There was a long silence in which Draco Malfoy, known wizarding world wide for his exceptional upbringing and ability to take to any situation with utmost poise, stood before a middle-class muggle-born with his mouth cocked open like a fish.
"But..." he started, "but Maggie's not that old."
"Yeah," Hermione said, shrugging a shoulder. "And my mother's thirty four." If possible, the space between Draco's top and bottom lip grew wider. Hermione laughed, shaking her head, and started toward the meeting again. "I'm just glad he's not your uncle. That's something I really couldn't take." As if just realizing she had left him abandoned in the hallway, Draco made a few quick strides toward her and took her by the arm.
"Wait just a fucking minute, Granger," he said, and she lifted a finger.
"Tisk, tisk, Malfoy. Language, language. You should be setting an example for the students, not giving them ideas," Hermione scolded, then looked down at her watch. "Shoot. We've really got to go."
"I'm not finished talking with you, yet!"
"I don't care," she said, and took off at a full run for the stairs, Malfoy hot on her heels, and didn't pause until she made it to their commons portrait, where sixteen prefects (eight from sixth year, eight from seventh, and four from each house) waited quite impatiently for them. "Sorry!" Hermione called out as she hurried down the hall. "It took me ages to find the sodding Head Boy," she said, paused a moment to catch her breath, then grinned. "Shall we?"
Hermione then opened the door and let in all the prefects, who made themselves comfortable on the numerous couches, chairs, and stuffed seats which littered the room. There was a fireplace, a large rug, one tea table, two study desks, and a staircase which started at the center of the far wall and branched out to each side before coming straight down to the floor. At the top of the stairs were the doors to the Head Dormitories.
Draco made his way through the portrait just as it was closing, nearly slicing off his left foot in the process, and collapsed into the nearest chair which, thankfully, was unoccupied. Hermione eyed him oddly, as did the room full of students.
"Really, Malfoy, we should get you into shape. And here you think Quidditch is work," she sighed, ignoring his glare, and turned back to the prefects, who gave their full attention. "Anyway, on to business. Show of hands on people who think we should plan something for after the Halloween feast. All right... six. Settles that, then. We'll have the feast, go to sleep, and be fresh for the train in the morning, agreed?"
"Agreed," chorused the prefects, and she gave a nod.
"Good. One less thing to worry about. Are any houses planning parties for tomorrow evening? If you want to avoid detention, you'll have to be approved..."
The meeting went on in a relatively organized manner. Most conflict was avoided because Draco was still dwelling on how a girl could beat him at anything, and the remnants of shock her claim of relative had caused. Why hadn't Severus ever told him? They spent practically every vacation together. He was supposed to be his second father. He should know to tell him when he was unorthodoxly related to a mortal enemy. Hermione kept talking and talking, and taking votes, but Draco quickly lost interest and stopped listening. He didn't vote for or against anything, and he had a feeling Hermione knew so and counted him out of majority.
"All right, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your time, and again I apologize for my unpunctuality. Remember, the feast is tomorrow, October twenty ninth, as per every year, and the train will be leaving at sharp the following morning. Be sure to be at Kings Cross on the second to catch a ride back. You are dismissed."
The prefects filed out of the room quietly, chattering softly with each other about their duties and plans for the short and annual Halloween holiday. Hermione smiled in a small twist of haughtiness; were she still a muggle, she'd be having classes all week, even on Halloween day. In the wizarding world, it was almost as fun as Christmas, if not more so. True, there were no presents, and no candy, like she would receive as a muggle, but Bewitching was something she definitely didn't ever want to miss.
As Hermione allowed herself freedom of her dream world, she remembered that Draco had sat like a great lump the entire meeting and sent him a cool glare before throwing a pillow at his head.
"Oy!" he shouted, being shaken from his stupor. "What the hell, Granger?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, as if she had had no intention of nearly knocking him unconscious. "I was just cleaning up a bit; I figured that since you've acted the part until now, I should just continue to treat you like a piece of furniture."
"Well, I'm sorry if your spewing of life altering information to me just minutes before I'm supposed to devote my entire being to rational thought has left me a bit dazed," he said sarcastically. "How would you feel if someone told you out of the blue that you're practically related to someone you've spent your pre-pubescence insulting and your adolescence annoying? Hell, Granger, you expect me to be perfectly all right with this?" Hermione blinked in sheer surprise of his harangue.
"I am," she pointed out, then paused for effect before continuing. "And I've just learned of it as well. Not to mention have had my life flipped around when a man I falsely accused of attempted murder, set on fire, and, let's be honest, have pretty much hated since I first met him became, this summer, my grandfather. And my only one, at that."
"Just how fucked up is your family, Granger?" he asked. "I already know your mother was a whore, no need to explain that, but-"
"How dare you," Hermione stated through clenched teeth and beat him nearly off his chair with an overstuffed pillow. "My mother is not a whore. Having a child at an early age does not make you a whore, Malfoy, and even if it did, I would expect you to keep your judgments of my family to yourself. I, sworn on my life, have never spoken an ill word about your mother or your father, despite what I may think of them, and I would expect someone of your upbringing to have the same professional courtesy." Draco, slightly intimidated by her choice of words and more than simply angry attitude, held his hands up in defense.
"All right, all right- I'm sorry. But, in the same, if you don't mind, I'd still like to know. If you're not lying, and I don't think you are, because that would take some serious forethought and I don't see a plainly painted motive, I expect I'll be spending some time with your family, possibly in the very near future, and I'd like to know some background before I meet them." Hermione sighed and sat herself on the couch, clutching the pillow tightly in her fingers and willing herself to calm down.
"All right," she agreed. "I guess that's justified. Grandma Maggie was raped when she was sixteen and ended up pregnant; we never found out who the man was, even with my mother as proof of it, though. My great-grandmother was an ornery sort of woman and was convinced the incident was somehow Granny's fault, so she made her keep the baby- not that she would do anything else, mind you. Later on she married a man whose first name was Nicholas, but I don't know anything about him except that they had twins boys about three years after my mother was born, and another daughter about seven years after that. Nicholas and the twins died in the Gulf War and my aunt Dorry was trampled to death at a rock concert when she was fourteen.
"I'm told I was conceived out of a severe depression on part of my mother, but my parents really are in love and are still together. Happy from what I can tell. That's less than can be said of my grandmother; she's quite a different story. I only allowed Severus to marry her because I thought he'd make her happy, and as far as I can tell, he has. She'd like him to be home more, but she's understanding." She sighed. "The only memories I have of my aunt and uncles are vague and dreamlike. They live on, though; Mum locked me in my room for a week when I even mentioned the thought of military school, and to this day I've never seen a mosh pit. Probably for the best."
At a point in time when Draco would normally have found something about her speech to dwell upon and ridicule (possibly the thought of stick-like Hermione attempting to stop Severus Snape, a man who beat her in height by at least sixty centimeters and probably doubled her weight, from marrying the beautiful and timeless Maggie Anthrop), he sat in a complete silence, jaw purposely glued to the roof of his mouth by way of tongue, to keep it from falling at an inopportune time. Hermione released her white-knuckled grip on the pillow and slouched slightly, as if a burden had been lifted from her shoulders, then turned to him wearily.
"So," she said to conversationally break the silence. "How close are... you and Snape?" Draco shrugged a shoulder to buy him the time to pry his teeth from their cement.
"He looked after me a lot when I was a kid. I still spend most of my vacations with him- excepting last summer of course," he said with considerably less difficulty than he would have imagined. Hermione nodded mutely, then allowed herself an amused 'ha'.
"I'm surprised you haven't told the whole school by now; hell, by day one. I can just see you bragging your little heart out to the other Slytherin-"
"I didn't want anyone to know," Draco admitted, cutting through her teasing with knife laced in spite. "I didn't want them to think I was favored. Potions is my best subject, I excel by my own accord and I didn't want that dismissed."
"Hate to break it to you, Malfoy, but Snape favoring Slytherin is not a new prospect."
"Well, he doesn't favor me, Granger- that's the whole bloody point," he snapped, crossing his arms over his chest. "He's ten times harder on me than the other Slytherin. That's the way it should be- I've been apprenticing since I was old enough to read the labels on the vials; I want to be the best. It's all I know."
"Well," Hermione said, searching her brain tirelessly for a comment which would redeem her previous button-pushing. "Good for you, Malfoy. I don't know anything- I envy of you your dedicated direction." He looked up from his frosty glare, which was directed toward the carpet, and seemed quite surprised. Hermione smiled a silent reply to his unspoken thanks and gleefully changed the subject of conversation, though only slightly. "So, do you have plans for Halloween?" Draco casually dipped his fingers into he liquid silver of his hair and let the strands slide between them.
"I do," he said, then continued after a sigh of discontentment. "With Sev." Hermione lifted an eyebrow.
"I'd think you'd be happy about that," she said. "After missing last summer."
"Yes, well, I expect I'll be seeing you then, won't I? Not at the top of my list of 'causes for extreme happiness and celebration'." Hermione's breathe-easy countenance hardened and she glared, standing up and throwing her imprisoned pillow back at the sofa.
"You're a smarmy clot, Malfoy. Imagine. After all the effort I make to be nice and get along with you, you still can't access the part of your brain which filters large particles of arse," Hermione said, quite off-set, before spinning and ascending the staircase to her room. From the balcony-like landing, she glared down at him. "I suggest you look for your badge, Malfoy. Severus will surely have a field day with you when I tell him you've lost it."
"Wouldn't you like to think so. We'll just have to see about that, Granger."
-x- -x- -x- -x- -x-
"Hermione!" Parvarti and Padma Patil chorused as she opened their compartment door. Hermione smiled at their enthusiasm and checked their names off of her list, as well as those of the three other girls which occupied the small room.
"Come sit with us," Padma pleaded, moving over in her seat to create room for the Head Girl.
"Yeah!" Parvarti agreed. "It's been ages." Hermione laughed lightly.
"We just had a sleepover last night! Six hours isn't ages," she protested, hugging her clipboard and leaning against the doorframe. "Besides, I've got to finish checking off names. The sooner I'm done, the sooner we can leave." She paused. "That, and Malfoy'll tear me apart if I take too long. "
"Aw, come on, Hermione," said Susan Bones, who was seated next to Padma and across from Parvarti. "You work too much."
"She's right!" This comment came from Hannah Abbot, seated between Parvarti and Morgan Shiffer. "Even at the sleepover you were working!"
"Well, there's a lot to be done before a holiday like this! I have to make sure everything is as it should be before I can relax with assurance that everyone is safe and where they are meant to be. I'd never forgive myself if something went wrong, or someone was forgotten."
"What's your Arithmancy homework have to do with that?" Morgan asked, with a smirk worthy of a slap. "You've got all bloody holiday to finish it, and you couldn't spare our last night together having fun?"
"Arithmancy is fun," Hermione defended, straightening and lifting her nose slightly toward the ceiling. "And besides, the lot of you will see me tomorrow night for Bewitching, won't you?"
"Well, yes, we will... but that isn't the point," Padma said, intervening.
"Well," Hermione said briskly, before the twin could finish her thought. "Think up a point and tell me tomorrow. I've got to finish my rounds. Have a nice trip." She closed the compartment door and left the girls to huff, gently shaking her head and reading over the list for anyone she might have seen. After a thorough scan, Hermione emitted a soft sigh and went about continuing her work, opening the next compartment and viewing those sitting inside.
"Herms!" Ron said immediately and Hermione audibly groaned.
"I'm just here to mark you off so we can bloody go and maybe get home before Halloween. Ron, Harry, Neville, Seamus; check. Thank you for your time. We'll be disembarking shortly."
"But Hermione-" Ron started again, after sharing a look with his cohorts. Hermione doubled over in her exaggerated misery.
"Why does everyone want to have a conversation with me? Talk amongst yourselves," she pleaded and the boys looked blankly to each other for advice.
"Um," Ron noted, somewhat hesitantly. "So does that mean you didn't talk to Parvarti for me?" Hermione blanched and slapped a hand to her forehead, child-like fits forgotten.
"Oh, Ron, I'm sorry," she said. "I completely forgot! I'll talk to her tomorrow night, all right? Show up a bit early so I can hide you." Seamus snickered into the arm of his seat, but Ron seemed completely beside himself in joy, regardless.
"Thanks, Herms. Erm, you can, uh... do your thing, if you want," he said. "I really appreciate your help."
"Sure," she said absently, closing the door and continuing down the hall. She finished marking the next few compartments with little difficulty, simply peeking through the blinds to see or opening just a crack of the door. Those who noticed her surveillance eyed her oddly, but thought better than to comment. Draco met her halfway, as they had instructed, and looked impatient though he had only been waiting for about thirty seconds.
"What took you so long?" he asked quite nastily, lifting one side of his lip in a completely unattractive fashion. Hermione scrunched her nose at him.
"What do you mean 'what took me so long'?" she asked. "You took nearly as long as I did."
"Yeah, but I stopped to watch a cat fight and broke up two couples who were doing more than should be allowed on school transportation. Six detentions in fifteen minutes; I think that's a new record for me."
"Technically, Malfoy, you can't give out detentions," she noted, taking his clipboard from him and comparing their lists to make sure everyone was accounted for. He neglected to comment on this, as his mind was still reeling from her insinuation.
"What are you on about? Of course I can. I'm Head Boy," he stated professionally, straightening himself and lifting his nose slightly. Hermione showed outstanding constraint as she managed to avoid rolling her eyes, and handed him both clipboards.
"Well," she began. "In the hand book it states that 'As carrier of the head of students badge, one is given the responsibility of...' blah blah blah 'issuing detentions' blah blah blah. Without your badge, you've no power- just like, a bobby can't make an arrest without a badge. No one can drive without a license, or apparate; you can't buy alcohol without an ID... even if you've gone to an academy, taken courses, and passed your required birth date. None of it means anything without your badge. If one of the students should object and ask to see it, you'd have to pardon them."
"You liar," Draco accused, but it was apparent in his voice that he read her loud and clear. Hermione smiled softly and shrugged her shoulders before moving past him and enclosing herself in an empty compartment just one door down. The blond Head of students stood paralyzed in thought for a moment, wondering if a student's inquisition could really sweep his rug of power out from beneath his feet. Just as he was about to search out a handbook, Draco was disrupted from all thoughts by a distinctly loud thump from the compartment in which his counterpart had disappeared. Without much forethought, he took the necessary step and threw open the doors in a panic. "Granger!" he said aloud, half expecting to find her lying lifeless and gutted on the floor of the boxcar or, for some reason unbeknownst to himself, an image of her hanging from a noose was quite vibrant in his mind.
"What the hell, Malfoy? Scare me half to death," Hermione said, pushing herself up on her elbows as she laid spread out on the floor. Draco breathed a sigh.
"You wouldn't believe."
"What do you want?" she demanded, somewhat sour faced, and stared at him through narrowed lids.
"I thought... something happened. I heard you fall," Draco admitted, poise lost in his moment of weakness.
"Well, I thank you for your thought, Malfoy, however disturbing it is, and I assure you that I fell of my own accord as there are no seats in this particular compartment, being that it is in fact a luggage car which I emptied prior to your infringement. May I ask why you cared to check up on me? Afraid you'd miss the gore?"
"N-no..." he stuttered, before shaking himself and regaining his suave composure. "It's just that if anything were to happen to you, Severus would blame me. And trust me; you do not want an angry Snape tagging behind you."
"You don't have to tell me that," Hermione agreed, dropping back into a flat sprawl and pressing her cheek to the carpet. "One time last summer, I spilled peas in his lap and he happened to have been wearing his 'best black robes' though I can't tell the difference, anyway. It wasn't the peas that bothered him, it was the fact that I told him I couldn't tell the difference between his Italian Riviera set and the ones I bought him for his birthday, which I got for half price at an outlet mall." She shuddered. "Will never say a word about his fashion, ever again."
"Good deal," Draco said, sitting down in front of the doors and leaning back against them. He was quiet for a while, trying to work out everything that was happening. The silence was broken all too soon as Hermione once again interrupted his thoughts.
"Why are you still here?" she asked; she didn't seem angry or annoyed so much as surprised and slightly depressed. Draco lifted an eyebrow, though she couldn't see through closed eyes.
"Well, I'm sorry," he said. "Is there some rule about luggage cars that I should know about?"
"Yeah," Hermione said, playing along with a playful smirk, though she kept herself distanced with the wall of eyelid kept between them. "No mortal enemies allowed to have silent and/or spoken conversation. Didn't you hear? They posted flyers everywhere." Draco allowed himself a smile in amusement.
"No," he admitted. "I must have missed the memo. You should keep me updated on things like that." This jostled Hermione; she opened her eyes and propped herself on her elbows again.
"I write you thousands of memos," she said as if calling him out on a lie. "You never read any of them."
"That's because I can't read your chicken scratch," Draco teased, and she allowed herself to smile.
"Oh, I've seen chicken scratch," Hermione started. "And my handwriting is far from it." Draco smirked, but couldn't bother himself to respond and instead crawled into the corner and followed Hermione's example by leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. He drifted in and out of consciousness for nearly ten minutes, but was abruptly jerked into reality when Hermione reinstated the conversation.
"Why do you suppose we haven't started moving?" she asked with naïve curiosity. "I'd have thought we would have. Perhaps there's a mechanical problem." Draco sneered, annoyed at being disturbed, and shifted slightly against the wall.
"There wouldn't be a mechanical problem on a magical train, Granger," he noted quite nastily. "Maybe they're missing someone."
"No, everyone who signed up to leave is on the train; I noted it on the attendance sheet," Hermione said, more to herself than to her boxcar companion, and opened one eye quite widely. "You did give the list to McGonagall, didn't you?" she asked, rolling her eye toward Draco, who opened both his own and turned to look at her. Hermione groaned in protest and lifted herself off the floor, dragging both her left and right foot to the door and sliding the sheet of metal away.
"Miss Granger, thank goodness," came the tired and froggy voice of Minerva McGonagall. "I've been looking everywhere for you." Hermione noted that she was beginning to tire of people exaggerating their efforts of locating.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I was under the impression that Malfoy had given you the list of attendees and he seemed to believe that I had. Everyone is here and accounted for."
"Oh, that's good. Thank you, Miss Granger. We should be off soon," she said, and Hermione nodded before turning back into her compartment. "Severus! She's over here!" came the voice of the old woman again, and Hermione cringed slightly, moving to hide in the corner opposite that of Draco, who looked at her oddly. Within seconds, Snape appeared in the doorway of the compartment and did a once over of the room, stiff countenance softening at the sight of his crumpled granddaughter.
"Hermione," he said, leaning against the doorframe. "I thought I told you to see me before the train departed." Hermione winced and gently tapped her head with a palm.
"Oh," she cursed. "I'm sorry Pappy. I forgot." Snape set his jaw and looked briefly to the ceiling.
"I also thought I told you never to call me that, wretched girl."
"So it is true," Draco said in astonishment, causing his professor and mock-uncle to turn to him in surprise. "Sev, why didn't you tell me about her?" he asked, pointing an accusing finger at Hermione, who squirmed slightly under his scrutiny. "Of all the things to keep a secret!" Snape looked between the two of them, at a momentary loss for words, then exhaled in a heavy sigh.
"Draco, I was going to tell you-"
"When?" he demanded, eyebrows knotted at the base of his nose. "Twenty, thirty years from now? Leave her to me in your will?"
"Excuse me, Malfoy," Hermione stated, standing up from her crouch and placing two very distinguished fists at her hips. "I am not a piece of property to be given away as inheritance!" She hit Snape lightly on the arm. "Tell him that was out of line," she demanded, but he ignored her completely.
"Draco, I was going to tell you at the wedding... but then your father goes and sets you your mastery exam for the same day-"
"I know what happened, Severus. When did you plan to tell me, then?"
"Will you stop interrupting me, boy? I was going to tell you today, as Maggie wants to spend the holidays with family, so we'll be joining the Grangers in
"Yes, sir," Hermione said, silently sore at his disregard for her honor. Snape nodded his approval and stepped into the hallway.
"Maggie and I will see you both tomorrow morning," he said, looking to each of them individually. "We've some things to take care of before we leave. I don't want any trouble from either of you." Snape closed the door and disappeared down the hall without waiting for any semblance of answer, and the compartment was again bathed in silence.
Hermione took a step toward the wall behind her and slid against it to the floor. Draco, at a loss for words and slightly embarrassed at his weakness toward his professor, mimicked her on the other side of the compartment, and the train ride was spent without words.
The Grangers were more than happy to provide transportation for Draco to their rural home and he did his best to bite any ill comments back. Hermione would never admit it, but she was pleased and almost proud of him for doing so. Throughout the ride out of the city, Livinia Granger attempted futilely to fuel a conversation between the two children, instructing Hermione to tell Draco about a certain aspect of their home, or their lives, or her hobbies. After much trial and error, she gave up and allowed the bland radio station to fill the car with vocal pitches.
The drive from
"Why?" she asked, slightly suspicious, and Draco shrugged.
"I'm not much for cars. The train is bad enough," he admitted, placing a finger to his temple. Hermione, not naïve to the feelings of car sickness, pitied him.
"Not much. Maybe five minutes," she said, and he sighed in relief, moving back into his own personal portion of the car. Hermione's guess was off by about two minutes, but it left Draco in high spirits nonetheless. Once the car had been nestled safely into the garage, and the trunks given directions, Hermione followed her mother's orders and gave Draco a tour of the house, starting with the foyer and ending in the guestroom. Draco fell immediately into the bed and curled into a ball, ignoring Hermione's presence though she was quite wholly in the room. "Malfoy," she started, fingers fidgeting. He grunted a response. "I have something to tell you."
"What?" he asked, grabbing at a pillow from the other side of the bed and wrapping himself around it.
"Nanna and Sev are sleeping in the guestroom," she admitted, and Draco seemed not to have grasped her meaning, as he seemed unaffected. After a moment, he shifted.
"I thought you said that this was the guestroom."
"It is," Hermione validated. "That's what I had to tell you. Don't get too comfortable."
"Oh," he said, laced with annoyance, and sat up, looking groggy. "Where am I sleeping, then?" Hermione neglected to answer him as she walked silently out of the room. Draco, mentally cursing whomever it was that invented women, stood from his oh-so-comfortable berth and followed her. Hermione stopped in front of a brown door down the hall and waited for him to catch up before opening it and pulling the light string to reveal a cot, folded in half and taking up every square inch of the closet space. She turned to Draco, who was staring at the contraption as if it were the fusion of a blender and washing machine. "What the bloody hell is that?"
"Your bed," Hermione stated, and purposely left him without further explanation.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said, but Hermione was quite obviously serious. "I don't even know how to sleep on that thing! And it's in a closet! Who am I, Harry Potter?"
"Hardly," Hermione said, pulling the mattress from the closet and closing the door. "It comes out of the closet, your idiocy, and unfolds into a bed. You'll be sleeping in my room, for lack of more appropriate space."
"What?" Draco asked, but didn't seem as appalled as Hermione had anticipated. She assumed he'd take anything over sleeping on a folded cot in a meter squared closet. "When was that decided?" Hermione sighed and started for her room, pushing the mattress along without any help from her houseguest.
"Mother told me while Father was explaining the Garage Genie to you. She said that she didn't really want us sharing a bedroom, but Severus was confident that we wouldn't do anything and she didn't really have a choice but to take his word for it. It's not as if we're sharing a bed or anything. My room is a proper size; we won't even have to breathe the same air," she said, directing the mattress into her room and stationing it on an appropriate expanse of carpeting. Draco watched silently as she assembled the contraption, admittedly amazed that the odd looking thing really could turn into a bed. He wondered silently if there might have been some form of magic involved. "There," Hermione said when she finished. "You seemed keen on napping, so, because you're a 'guest' and all that rubbish, I'll hold off on chores for an hour, and no more. I don't want to be out there at dusk and if you know anything about insects, you'll get up when I tell you to."
"Excuse me?" he interrupted, lifting a finger to stop her. "Did you just say chores?"
"Yes, bloody chores; what did you think this was? A vacation? There's a lot to get done before Halloween, Draco, and that means we have to get all the boring routine stuff out of the way tonight, so we'll have the whole morning and afternoon to work on everything else. Happy sleeping, don't touch my stuff, I'll wake you in an hour." She left him, then, to ponder her words, and didn't return until his wake-up call.
"This bites," Draco cursed, stabbing at the ground with his pitchfork. Hermione laughed, despite the fact that she was covered in hay and manure, and turned to him.
"What did you just say?"
"I don't know," Draco said, glaring at the ground. "I heard that American bird- Nikki," he said with disgust. "Say that once in potions. I have no idea what it means, but it fits this situation to a fucking T," he said, slapping at a mosquito that had bitten his arm. Hermione shrugged.
"I told you that you didn't want to wait until dusk, but did you get up? No. You had to be a Malfoy about it. And don't say that word. There're innocents," she scolded, running her shovel along the floor of a stall that housed a small brown calf, which was munching happily at the corn provided in his tray.
"Innocents? I don't see any bloody innocents, Granger. You know what I see? Cows. Cows, and cow shit."
"Shuttup and fork your hay, Malfoy. I'm being nice, here. I could have made you my muck-bitch," she said, pushing the accumulated pile of manure into the trench behind the stall, before moving to the next in the row. Draco, who hadn't been working to begin with, rested the tips of his fork against the ground and stared. Hermione worked for a few moments longer before she felt his eyes on her, and looked up. "What?"
"Granger," Draco began. "If you ever use the term 'muck-bitch' in my presence again, note that I will not be held responsible for my actions."
"Just making a point. I'd gladly switch spots with you," Hermione said, smirking as she scraped the floor of her calf's stall. "Hurry up and fork, Malfoy. I'm getting ahead of you." Draco grumbled his disapproval, but went back to spreading hay over the floors of the stalls, so that the calves could stay warm in the October evenings. Hermione, who had finished her job, leaving Draco with two and a half stalls to fill, took a break for herself to pat down the Oreo calf which resided there. Her blond barn-mate eyed her curiously as she cooed to her beast of burden.
"Sprinkles? You named a bloody cow Sprinkles?" Draco asked upon learning of said calf's namesake.
"So what if I did?" Hermione defended, wrapping her arms around Sprinkles and letting him keep her warm. Draco shook his head and set down his fork as to pull his wheelbarrow full of hay a few inches closer to his current work-in-progress. When he finished, he turned to Hermione and Sprinkles' haven, as it was next on his list, only to find that the quadruped had at some point lain down and his owner was now draped over him as if he were her lover. Draco shook his head and tossed a mass of hay directly at Hermione, who pretended as if it hadn't bothered her, and allowed it to stay exactly where it was. Draco hid his amusement by starting conversation.
"I thought your parents were dentists," he said, tossing more hay onto the more empty of floor space. "How is it that they own a farm?"
"They're bovine dentists and dairy farmers," Hermione explained, digging her way out of the dried grass blanket. "They wrote 'dentist' on my transcript because they thought it would make us look better. I don't know why it mattered; I'd already been accepted."
Draco finished carpeting the final stall and took a seat beside his new friend, Sprinkles. After a period of silence in which nothing occurred except a staring contest between bovine and blond, Draco reached a calloused palm and rubbed at the crop of black hair between Sprinkles' ears. Hermione propped her head on an elbow and watched as he allowed her calf to lick at the fresh blisters that were forming on his palms from the hour of unanticipated farm work she had put him through. In truth, Hermione had instructed him more chores than her mother had asked them to complete, and she almost felt guilty at the sight of his clear white bubbles of skin.
"I have to admit, I'm impressed," Hermione said, burying her face in Sprinkles' coat. Draco lifted a silver eyebrow in response.
"I thought for sure that all I'd hear from you was 'I don't want to' and 'it's servant's work', and 'wait until my father hears about this'... but you haven't complained about anything but the bugs. Not your bed, not your room, and not the work. I'm surprised, and I apologize for my pessimism."
"Accepted, but please note that I am only being nice because Sev told me to, and I don't plan to get on his bad side before I can milk this whole 'Why didn't you tell me?' thing for all it's worth, and maybe get myself a new badge." Hermione frowned.
"Is that really the only reason?" she asked, unable to ignore the disappointment that was currently creeping up her throat. He shrugged nonchalantly and fitted a piece of straw between his teeth.
"I don't want to do all this crap. I'm not having fun, I don't like being here, if I did tell my father there would be hell to pay, and I certainly do not like the idea of sleeping without a meter wide stone wall between us. So, I suppose that is the only reason."
Hermione stared for a moment, searching for some spark of sarcasm in his explanation. When she found none, she pushed herself up from the ground, ignoring his questioning glance, and walked quickly toward the barn door. Draco leaned forward to peer down the hallway between the stalls and called out after her.
"Granger, where are you going? Granger!"
As she heard him call, Hermione broke into a full out run, pausing only to switch off the lights before crossing the field and barricading herself in her house. She took off her shoes in the foyer, crept past the room where her parents slept in anticipation of an early morning, charmed herself clean and into fresh clothing, and hid beneath her bedcovers. She couldn't understand the emotions that coursed through her at Draco's confession; Hermione had never felt such a weight of disappointment in her life. The moment he confirmed her suspicion that he truly was the conscienceless, conceited, selfish, spoilt little rich boy that she'd thought him to be, she nearly wanted to cry. After a few moments, her mind began to focus onto other things, and she felt a considerable amount better.
Then, Draco stumbled into the bedroom and stubbed his toe on the unfolded cot. The choking disappointment returned in a rush and Hermione debated a dash to the bathroom for fear of vomiting in front of the boy who hated her so much. She managed to keep down whatever food she had last eaten, and laid still and silent as she listened to Draco change and clean himself up with magic, as she had. When he finished, it was completely obvious to Hermione that he was kneeling next to her bed, though she was facing the opposite direction and could not hear him there.
"Granger," Draco whispered, aware and careful of her potential sleep. "Granger, you left me in the bloody pitch-black barn with half a mile of concrete to walk before I could even see your house. You sure as hell better tell me what you were thinking." Hermione curled into a ball and tried to keep the bile from rising in her throat. The effort it took to do so kept her from simultaneously holding back tears, and they began to fall quite rapidly down her cheeks. "Graaaangerrr," Draco whined, then heard her sniffle and noticed the glistening wetness on her face. "G... Granger, I-" he started, at a loss for words, and shifted. "Hermione, what's wrong?" It was the first time in his recollection that he'd ever used her first name, and yet she made no response. "I'm sorry," he continued, picking his brain for any possible fix to the current situation. "I didn't mean to... to make you cry."
"Malfoy, just leave me alone," she choked, sniffling and wiping at her eyes with the corner of her sheet. "I have to get up early to meet Severus and I'm tired. Just go away." Draco opened his mouth to apologize, or explain, or say anything to make her stop, but his brain came up empty and left his mouth to close itself without use. He sighed and did as she asked, crossing the room to his cot and listening as she sniffled and sobbed herself to sleep.
Halloween, the following day, began with a drippy, grey skied morning. Hermione left the haven of her bed just as the sun came up, leaving Draco to fend for himself, and left the house to affix the yard. It had been decided amongst her friends that Bewitching would be held at her home that year, as Hermione was the only one of them graced with a large enough backyard.
By the time Draco staggered out of the house, her parents had left to go shopping and Hermione was knee-deep in magic. Her yard had transformed itself from a cornfield and barn to an acre wide pumpkin patch and cave. All the cows were transformed into bats for the evening, excepting Sprinkles, who was dressed in a vampire costume and allowed to freely roam the pumpkins and seek out weeds. As Draco approached the situation, Hermione had been perfecting Sprinkles' outfit; her wand was now embroidering 'Count Sprinkula' on the back of his cloak.
"You quite enjoy that wretched cow, don't you?" he said, and Hermione spun in alarm. Her gaze narrowed as she saw him and she averted her eyes.
"And you quite enjoy your wretched teasing, don't you?" she asked, turning back to her task of decorating her calf. Draco made no response, and almost looked ashamed of himself. Hermione sighed. "Malfoy," she said, pulling a massive book from her charmed-to-hold-anything pocket and hurling it with force into his chest. "Either help me, or bugger off. I'm busy." She stalked away, then, toward the barn that was now masquerading as a cave. Draco looked to the book in his arms; 6,554 Party Spells and their Origins by Jackie Candle. With a lifted eyebrow, he followed Hermione to the cave and watched in silence as she directed objects into their places and summoned tables and chairs and decorations. After a while of this, she sent him a cool glare over her shoulder, and Draco rolled his eyes before opening the book and searching for anything of interest. After finding a spell to make cobwebs, he placed the book on one of Hermione's tables and set himself to work. She took it from its place eventually, and began concocting some sort of drinkable mixture in a large glass bowl. For a while, they worked in silence.
"Erm, Granger?" Draco interrupted, halfway through her transfiguring of a rock into a rubber mouse, and causing the poor thing to turn itself inside out. She made a face and ended the spell.
"What?" Hermione asked, slightly venomous, but as if she needed to exert herself to do so.
"I'm... sorry. About last night," he said. "I didn't mean anything." She gave a disgusted 'ha' and breathed into a latex glove.
"You can stop apologizing, Draco. I'm not going to tell Severus; you've got nothing to worry about."
"Uh... thanks. I actually hadn't thought of that," he said, sounding surprised at himself. "He'd tear me to shreds. I forgot all about Severus."
"Bollocks," Hermione accused, glaring daggers at him. "You did not forget Severus. You can't forget a person like Severus."
"Well, I did," Draco restated, eyebrows knotting at her suggestion of dishonesty. "I had other things on my mind."
"Really," she said quite condescendingly. "What, exactly?"
"Well," Draco began, searching for words. "You, for one thing. You've been nice to me since I got here, and then I... made you cry. We've said and done a lot together, but I've never made you bloody cry before."
"Are you kidding?" Hermione exploded. "Between first and third year, I don't think there was a day gone by that I hadn't cried, or screamed, or hurt someone because of the things you said to me. I've just grown up since then, and realize that I don't give a fuck about what you think of me. I had a relapse; a lot happened yesterday. Get over it." Draco was left at a loss for words.
"Hermione, I... I'm sorry. Really; I didn't know-"
"You didn't care," she accused, and turned to leave. Draco followed behind her.
"Hey," he said, taking her arm to stop her. "That isn't fair. You don't know that."
"Leave me alone, Malfoy, or you'll regret it; I promise you," she threatened, tearing her arm from his grasp, and started through the pumpkin patch, to the house. Draco called after her, ignoring her promise and attempting to make up for at least a portion of his behavior, but she ignored him completely.
"Hermione! Draco!" Maggie Brown Anthrop Snape greeted with high spirits as the two of them entered the house. "Oh, how are you?"
"Fine, Nanna," Hermione said dispassionately. "Where's Pappy?"
"I'm right here, devil child," Snape responded from the next room before appearing in the doorway. Hermione turned to him with a grim expression on her face.
"Draco lost his Head Boy badge. He thinks you'll give him a replacement," she stated professionally, and Draco blanched.
"You..." he said, pointing a finger at her. "Oh, low blow."
"Draco, is this true?" Snape asked, crossing his arms over his chest and lifting an eyebrow in the direction of the blond. Draco neglected to answer, but stared at his shoes. Snape sighed. "Detention, both of you." Draco was unsurprised, but Hermione's jaw dropped nearly to the floor.
"You can't do that!" she protested, but Snape seemed unwavering in his decision. "We're not even in school!"
"I can do whatever I want, Miss Granger. Regardless of your location, I am still your professor, and I still harbor that authority."
"But what did I do?" she whined. He regarded her with a cold glare.
"You called me 'Pappy'."
Maggie, through some miracle of newlyweds, was able to convince Snape to give Draco a new badge and a second chance, as well as change their punishment from 'digging a new pond' to 'killing two chickens for dinner'. Draco was absolutely appalled by this idea, but Hermione pinched him quite roughly in the side and assured Snape that the chickens would be plucked and gutted within the hour.
She put her anger at Draco aside for the time being and led him past through the pumpkin patch, past the barn/cave, and to the chicken hutch beyond it. After consulting the egg count, which was clipped to the back of the hutch door, she pointed to their prey.
"Number thirty six, and number twelve haven't laid eggs this week. They're dinner. You take that one, she's bigger," she instructed and proceeded to demonstrate exactly how to catch a chicken. Draco watched with a raised eyebrow as Hermione crept up behind the sleeping bird, making very little noise, and grabbed the chicken by the neck. It let out a loud squawk and flapped its wings, but proved to be very little difficulty. Draco attempted to mimic Hermione's actions, but only proceeded to scare number twelve into hysteria.
Rolling her eyes, Hermione passed her chicken off to Draco, who showed amazing effort to hold it as she had. Then, Hermione caught the other bird in a vice and trailed out of the hutch and into the slaughter house. Draco followed and arrived just in time to see Hermione press her body to that of the chicken, holding it against a wooden table, and secured its head with another. He was about to ask of her intentions when she took the handle of a chopping blade in her hand and pulled it toward the table, successfully severing the head of the chicken, as if slicing a sheet of paper.
To Draco's horror, the legs and wings of the bird began twitching madly and, as Hermione lifted herself from the slain animal, it fell off the table and cart-wheeled around the small room for a few seconds, before falling dead on the floor. Draco pried his gaze from the animal and rested it again on Hermione, who lifted an eyebrow at his fallen jaw.
"What?" she asked, and he mouthed silent words for a few moments.
"You could've told me you were going to do that!" Draco said. "This one needn't watch the other die!" He held up his chicken. Hermione laughed to herself and shook her head.
"Don't worry, she didn't see anything."
"Oh yeah? And how do you know that?" he challenged.
"Because," Hermione said. "You've already killed that one." Draco turned his chicken to look at him.
"It couldn't breathe with your hand around its neck, Malfoy. You've murdered that chicken of asphyxiation."
Immediately, Draco dropped his bird with disgust and it fell lifelessly to the ground.
Hermione shook her head at him and picked up the carcass from where it lay on the floor, then chopped its head off as she had the other, and began to pull out its feathers. After a considerable silence, she threw a severed head at her apprentice and told him to get plucking.
When all the feathers had successfully been pulled, Hermione then demonstrated how to disembowel the chicken. She found Draco's disgust completely hilarious and offered him a pair of latex gloves, which she had originally bought for Bewitching. He accepted gratefully.
"So," Draco said, after much a heavy silence. "Exactly what is going on here tonight?"
"Bewitching," Hermione answered. "Duh."
"What... what's Bewitching?" he asked, somewhat hesitantly, and Hermione stared in disbelief.
"What do you mean, what's Bewitching? You're an eighteen year old wizard and you've never been to a Bewitching? My Merlin, you were sheltered. What do you normally do on Halloween?"
"I'm tested," Draco admitted, absentmindedly uncoiling a sting of intestine. "For upper-class wizards, 90% of life is dedicated to etiquette and mannerisms for adulthood. On Halloween we are taken into muggle cities to attempt to blend in with them," he said. "After Hogwarts we are expected to be able to appear muggle in any situation, as it is often in our best interests to mingle with such, and Halloween is looked at as the absolute extreme of situations. What day a year is it harder to blend in?"
"So... you dress up? In costumes? And go trick-or-treating? And that's supposed to make you an upstanding citizen?"
"No, of course not. When we were children, yes... but as we grow older, we are expected participate in the activities of the other muggles of our age group. For the last five years, I've done cemetery stake-outs, and trust me- it's a lot harder to act as if you don't believe in ghosts and ghouls and poltergeists when you know they exist."
"So why aren't you doing all that this year?" Hermione asked, more out of curiosity than anything else. She was content to count the lobes of the chicken's heart and examine its stomach for foreign material.
"Because I don't need to anymore," Draco explained. "I took my final exam this summer; my practical, if you will. They took me to
"Oh," Hermione said, nodding. "I was wondering about that." There was a short silence before Draco brought them back to the topic of conversation.
"Oh," Hermione repeated. "I'm sorry. It's a big party, basically. Most of our year is coming; my friends more than yours... and we'll just dance and eat and do anything we wish to. Then, before , we each pull an assignment from a hat, and we have to go and find the person listed and scare them. The whole witch-y trip. Magic most definitely allowed. It's a blast, I promise."
"Well, I can't imagine it's more fun than this," Draco said with layered sarcasm, tossing to Hermione the chicken's lung. It hit her square in the cheek, and she retaliated by taking a step toward him and wrapping his own chicken's intestines around his neck. "Ugh!" he groaned, pulling the gizzard from his bird and shoving it down her shirt. To his disgust, she laughed, pulling it back out and stuffing it into his chicken. Draco found himself smiling unconsciously, staring at Hermione as she was covered in chicken blood and her eyes sparkled with her laughter.
"Hermione?" came a voice from the doorway, successfully destroying the freakishly light atmosphere. Both Hermione and Draco spun to view the doorway.
"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed, dropping her chicken in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"You told me to come early..." he said, eyeing Draco curiously. "Snape told me you were out here. I don't know how I'm ever going to get used to that."
"I didn't mean this early... what time is it?"
"Almost six. Why?" Ron asked, obviously confused. "What are you doing anyway?"
"Ah! I told Severus we'd have these for him hours ago!" Hermione exclaimed, grabbing both chickens by the feet and running for the house, completely ignoring the fact that their entrails were trailing behind her, and that she was covered nearly from head to toe in blood. Not to mention that there was a train of gizzard hanging out of her shirt.
"She certainly runs away a lot," Draco noted, casting a few charms on himself to clean up, and a few more on the cabin for good measure. Ron was still looking at him strangely, and Draco smirked as he pulled the intestines from around his neck and dropped them onto the table. "What're you looking at, Weasley?" Ron lifted a shoulder.
"Chicken shit," he noted nonchalantly, then walked out of the small hut and proceeded to poke around the pumpkin patch until Hermione returned. Draco glared at him the entire time, but held back any remark or serious action.
When Hermione did return to her men, she was clean and dressed in garb very suitable for a witch. She suggested Draco go change, but he opted for magic and fixed himself in the middle of the yard. Hermione rolled her eyes and hid Ron in the chicken hutch for safe keeping.
"What's all this about?" Draco asked, helping her to fill a basin of water for apples.
"Ron fancies Parvarti, and I promised him I'd ask her out for him, but I forgot so my new plan is to hide him until she gets here, explain the situation, and bribe her to date him. For this, Ron has to stay in the chicken hutch until she gets here."
"What if she doesn't show?"
"He's stuck there until the idea of leaving finally breaks through his love-solid rock of a head," she explained, and Draco smiled.
"You look a bit better when you're not covered in chicken blood," he said, teasing, and Hermione curtsied.
"Thank you. You're a bit nicer to be around when you're not covered in Salazar's shadow. Just because you're a Slytherin, it doesn't mean you have to be an asshole," she noted, and Draco mocked her curtsy with a bow.
"So generous a compliment. Thank you."
The guests of the party began to arrive shortly after six, and Hermione was ready for them. She brought a magically roasted chicken from the inside of the house, told Draco that it was his lucky number twelve, and allowed the guests to dig in at their leisure. She ran herself ragged with sprints to the house for napkins, or cups, or different shoes, or a hat, and Draco grew tired of trying to keep up with her. He struck up a conversation with some of the students he'd never met before, as he had nothing against them, and left Hermione to herself. When Parvarti and Padma arrived, along with Susan, Hannah, and Morgan, Hermione allowed herself a moment's rest and sat down with them in a circle, located directly in the center of the pumpkin patch.
"Hermione, everything looks great. Did Malfoy help you do this?" Hannah asked.
"A bit," she admitted. "But not of his own device, I assure you. He upset me last night, and he's been... trying to make up for it. At first I thought it was just so I wouldn't tell Severus, but now I'm not so sure."
"That reminds me," Morgan said, placing a finger to her chin. "What are you telling people about Snape being in your house?" Hermione shrugged.
"No one's asked, except Neville. And I told him the truth... I suppose they just think he's part of the decor."
"Erm, girls... look over there; is Harry talking to the chickens?" Padma interrupted, nodding toward the hutch where Harry, as it seemed, was in fact conversing with the residing poultry. Fighting with them, more appropriately- and slipping them glasses of punch.
"Oh, I almost forgot," Hermione admitted, turning back into the circle. "Parvarti, Ron's hiding in the hutch. I told him I'd 'talk' to you, but I forgot, so he's hiding there while I do. Will you please bail me out and go on one date with him? He's been bothering me for weeks."
"Aw, sure I will. He's cute," she said, and Hermione rolled her eyes before giving Harry the O.K. to let Ron out. Harry nodded and said something to 'the chickens'; a moment later, Ron burst from the hutch, gasping for breath as if he hadn't inhaled in months. Parvarti giggled and stood from the circle, meeting Ron halfway and kissing his cheek before asking him to dance. He accepted eagerly and gave Hermione a big smile over his shoulder. She sent him a thumbs up, and proceeded to giggle with the other girls.
"Hey! You know what'd be fun?" Morgan chimed. "A séance! Who's in?" All of the girls chorused their approval, but Hermione interrupted.
"Actually- Padma, could I talk to you for a second?"
"Sure," she said, standing up. "You girls can do with three, can't you?" Hannah, Susan, and Morgan assured that they most certainly could and, as Hermione and Padma walked toward the party, began to argue over which spirit to contact. "So," Padma started, taking a seat at a picnic table in front of the barn/cave. "What's the problem?"
"Draco Malfoy," Hermione stated, quite bluntly, and Padma nodded with understanding.
"This again," she said, sighing. "Hermione, I've told you a thousand times. Just jump him in an ally way and deal with the repercussions after you have yourself a good snog. Don't just keep thinking about it." Hermione sighed.
"It's more complicated this time. I thought I only liked him because he was horrible to me- you know, that whole tease-your-fancy thing... but he's been nice recently and... well, it's getting worse. It's like I'm thirteen again, and he's calling me mudblood, and I want to go up to my room and scream my lungs out because I can't get him to stop hating me. Except he doesn't anymore. He doesn't hate me, and it only makes me feel worse." Padma heaved a heavy sigh.
"How can I explain this..." she started, looking around. "Oh, here..." Padma rose from her seat and took the few needed steps to the apple-bobbing bowl, then extracted two apples and brought them back to the table. "Boys are like apples, Hermione, and girls are oranges. Which one do you like best?" Hermione stared at her choices; a shiny Macintosh, and a plump Granny Smith.
"The green one," she said.
"Well, there's your answer, then," Padma said, as if her point was proven, and Hermione lifted an eyebrow. "Hermione, red apples are soft. They're bland, and ordinary, and the only thing they're good for is pie, if you catch my meaning. Green apples, your choice in this situation, are different. They're one-of-a-kind; sometimes sweet, and sometimes sour. Hard to bite into, hard to digest. Sometimes, you can make a half decent pie with them- but you'd rather not bother, and just eat them yourself. It's just like men. Draco is a green apple, Hermione."
"So, say I said red. Who would you suggest for me, then?" Hermione asked, entirely for research purposes. Padma lifted a shoulder and scanned the crowd with her eyes. Then, she smirked.
"Harry or Ron." Hermione made a face and her advisor laughed. "See? You're not meant for red apples, Hermione. You don't want someone just like you, with your hopes and your dreams. You want someone different, someone unique. Green and orange are about as opposite as you can get." Hermione chewed on her words for a moment, then nodded.
"You're really making sense, Padma. Thanks," she said, and Padma waved it off.
"It was nothing. I'm going to go join the séance. You in?"
"No..." she said. "I don't really feel like summoning the ultra-cosmic powers of the underworld tonight. Maybe next time." Padma shrugged and stood to leave.
"Suit yourself. I wish you luck."
Hermione tried her best not to sulk for the rest of the night, but she found herself constantly mulling over Padma's advice and trying to decide if she really felt the way she'd said she felt. As approached, she was sitting at that same picnic table, head propped on a wrist and a frown of confusion on her face. She was jerked from her reverie as the group of party-goers began the countdown and turned to watch them, but did not participate. As came, a great cheer erupted, followed by a variety of feminine laughter as their dates pinched the skin of their necks with gentle teeth.
"Granger?" came a voice, causing Hermione to spin in alarm. Draco was sitting across the table from her, and she silently wondered if he'd been there before the countdown or not; she honestly couldn't say. "Are you all right?" She smiled and lifted a shoulder.
"Are you sure?" Draco asked, though he didn't sound overly concerned. She couldn't rightly expect him to. "You've been sitting here by yourself for hours. I'd have thought you'd be having fun, what with all the trouble you went through to get this ready."
"I am having fun!" Hermione defended. "I'm just tired. It's late." Draco shrugged.
"I guess so," he said, but did not elaborate, and Hermione felt the nervous urge to start conversation.
"It's time for Bewitching," she noted, as couples flew into the air and diverted direction across the city. "Would... would you be my partner? I don't want to go with Harry. I went with him last year and he kept liking all my ideas to stuff
"Sure. I need a training course anyway," he said, and Hermione had to stop herself from smiling too outlandishly.
"Great. I've got 'little boy with dog on
At some point between their departure from the Granger farm and the near fatal mistake of chasing after the boy on their brooms, Hermione and Draco, who was sporting a very sore bottom, found themselves flying side-by-side over the moonlit pond of a local park.
"I had fun tonight," Hermione said, turning to sit side-saddle on her broom and lean against the shaft.
"Yeah, me too," Draco answered, quite sarcastically, rubbing at the spot where the puppy had latched onto his buttock. Hermione couldn't help herself and laughed softly at his expense, to which he gave her a smirk and sideways glare.
"Sorry," she said, smiling, "but that little thing was so cute, chasing after you like that. Do you have a dog, Malfoy?"
"No," Draco said, sounding disenchanted. "I wanted one when I was younger, but my dad wouldn't let me. He said that it wasn't in the best interest of an upper class wizard to sport dog hairs on his robes."
"I'm sorry," Hermione repeated, this time more seriously. "Every little kid should have a dog." Draco shrugged.
"Well, I did have the fastest racing broom on the market. I wasn't entirely disappointed... I almost taught it to play fetch, too," he said and Hermione laughed.
"Yep. But then Father bought me an upgrade and gave it to charity while I was attending an 'After Your Childhood' seminar. Then I was entirely disappointed."
"Was your childhood as bad as everyone says it was?" Hermione asked after a brief silence in which she built up the courage. Draco lifted an eyebrow.
"I don't know," he said. "How bad do people say it was?" Hermione averted her eyes.
"You've heard the rumors, Malfoy, I know you have. You don't have to answer me if you don't want to, but don't act stupid. It doesn't suit you."
"No," he answered. "It was fine. I mean, yeah, maybe my daddy didn't hug me and read me bedtime stories or tell me that he loved me, but he didn't have to. He gave me everything I'd ever asked for. I'm fucked up of my own accord; my parents have nothing to do with it."
"Well, that's good to hear," Hermione said, nodding. "I couldn't tell you what my problem is."
"I could," Draco said. "All that chicken blood is going to your head."
"Speaking of which," Hermione said, tying her eyebrows into each other and leaning toward Draco. "You've still got a little bit..." she trailed off, lifting a hand as if to wipe something from his face, but diverted her direction at the last second and pushed him off his broom and into the lake. He gasped on the way down and came back up with an ice cold glare.
"What was that for?" Draco demanded, setting his jaw, but he was granted no response but the tidal wave of water which cascaded over him as Hermione's body impacted the surface.
A/N: I do not own Harry Potter