< >"Dinner," someone walking by called snappishly to Draco, startling him.
< >"Coming," he muttered, setting down his quill. Draco pulled his stuff together, hurried to his dormitory, and dumped his work onto the top of his chest, then hurried out again to dinner.
< >When he entered the Great Hall, his eyes slid quickly to the Gryffindor table where Hermione glanced up at him. Their eyes locked for a second, then Draco strode to the Slytherin table.
< >"Draco," Pansy Parkinson called to him suddenly.
< >"What?" Draco snapped, turning to her.
< >She merely smiled at him and pointed to the seat at the head of the table. "Sit!"
< >"Why?" Draco demanded of her.
< >"You always sit there," Pansy replied.
< >"Not these last few days."
< >Pansy shrugged and with a sigh, Draco slid into the seat in which she had gestured. She looked satisfied when he had done so and smiled at him. Their arms were three inches apart from each other, Draco realized, as he strummed his fingers on the table, which was far too close for comfort. He snatched his arm back.
< >"What's wrong?" Pansy asked, surprised at his quick movement.
< >"Nothing," he replied sharply.
< >Pansy smiled at him again. "I'm glad you're staying away from her now."
< >Draco stiffened slightly. "Who?" he asked blankly.
< >Pansy laughed. "No one, silly," she crowed, batting her eyes lashes at him playfully.
< >Draco forced a smile, then began to eat, half-listening to Pansy as she chattered along, saying nothing of any slight interest to him. He spent his time trying to eat, ignoring the last few pains in his back, and trying to keep his eyes from wandering to the Gryffindor table.
< >When Draco got up, Pansy jumped up, snatching his arm. He nearly recoiled in surprise, backwards kicking an empty chair, and stared at her. The commotion he had made had made half the hall look over at them.
< >"Walk me back," Pansy said, snuggling against him.
< >The Slytherin table broke out in loud laughter and cheering. The rest of the hall, hearing them, turned, and just stared. If anyone had looked at some of the teachers, their faces were smug with content.
< >Draco was too stunned to really notice. Pansy flashed him another smile and tugged him along out the Great Hall doors, the hall slowly quieting as the Slytherins turned back to eating and talking, and most of the other people losing quick interest.
< >Pansy held his arm protectively, her head resting against his shoulder until they were about twenty feet from the closed door where Draco shrugged her off and moved away angrily. As she tried to get hold of him again, he grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her as hard as he dared.
< >"What were you thinking of?" he shouted at her angrily, glaring spitefully. "Making a spectacle of me! You little - "
< >Pansy put a finger to his lips and he jumped back defensively. "Ssshhh, Draco," she said soothingly, stepping toward him again; Draco took another step back. "I've already gone through what you're going through and - "
< >"Why does everyone think it's puberty?!" he yelled anguishly, turning, and dashing away from her. He ran to his empty common room, stormed across the room, and literally flew to his dormitory.
< >"You again," the mirror muttered dryly. "Will I ever get my beauty sleep?"
< >Draco ignored the mirror, picked up his homework, and flung it on the bed. He crawled onto the bed then, closing the curtains so he would no be disturbed. "Lumos," Draco muttered to his wand.
< >In the morning, he was the first Slytherin awake, and first to breakfast out of the whole school. One of the kitchen cooks - a plump, cheery faced one - was in the Great Hall, directing a few broom to sweep up collection dust.
< >"Oh, 'ello," she said with a slurring, thick accent. "Early, ain't yeh?"
< >Draco shrugged. "I guess."
< >"Yeh guess, aye?" The cook laughed, muttering at the brooms. "Yeh can't guess if yer early or 'snot!" She spit as she spoke and Draco was glad she was twenty feet away from him.
< >"I guess - er - I'm early then," he replied distantly, seating himself at the head of the Slytherin table. He strummed his fingers on the table impatiently.
< >The cook shook her head, smiling to herself. She now had her back to Draco. "Breakfast won' be 'eady fer twenty minutes," she called to him.
< >"I don't mind waiting," Draco replied quickly.
< >"Why, Mr. Malfoy, what a surprise!" came Albus Dumbledore's loud voice behind him suddenly a minute later, making Draco jump nearly out of his seat. He turned around and not five feet away, stood the old professor, smiling.
< >"Malfoy?" the cook squeaked, her eyes widening in a sort of fear-anger-malice mix. "Not Lucius' son?"
< >Neither Dumbledore or Draco answered her. Dumbledore strode over to Draco, his smile increasing even more. He looked strangely delighted to see Draco.
< >"What a surprise to see you here this early," Dumbledore said cheerily. He abruptly looked up at the cook who was still staring. "Martha, dear, the dust will just collect again . . ."
< >"Righto, sir," she replied, the broom dropping to the floor. Martha then hurried away to the kitchens, snapping her fingers twice. The three old broom lifted off the ground and followed her in a straight line.
< >Draco glance up at Dumbledore.
< >"That was quite a spectacle last night," Dumbledore said, seeming quite amused. His blue eyes twinkled like the tropical seas on the clearest of days, holding who knew what beneath its cool untraversed waters.
< >The sea can kill, Draco reminded himself, thinking of a Muggle poem entitled Sea Lullaby where the sea played a beautiful Greek nymph of sorts, almost seeming to live to take the lives of children . . .
< >"I - I - " Draco started, then stopped, wondering why he thought he owed Dumbledore an explanation. He knew he did not and was insulted that an explanation was expected. "Yes, sir, as Pansy would be enchanted to remind me, it was quite a spectacle."
< >Dumbledore blinked twice, not anticipating such a reply. "Ah, yes," he said a tad uncomfortably, striding away to the staff table. He had expected Draco to become very uncomfortable himself and say he didn't want the whole evening before to have ever happened.
< >Draco knew this - it was quite obvious to him. He thinks he can make everyone be his little party favor, Draco thought, suddenly vicious, as his eyes grew intense and dark. Well, I refuse to be his.
< >The Great Hall soon filled and plates of food appeared on the table. Hermione rushed by the Slytherin table, not even glancing at it. She seated herself next to Harry Potter and began a conversation.
< >Pansy - yet again - sat next to Draco, chattering away like nothing had happened between them the night before. Draco ignored her and checked his bag to see if he had everything, then picked up, and left the Great Hall to his first class.
< >At the end of the day, Draco felt miserable. His back didn't hurt anyone - thankfully - but he didn't think he could look Professor Snape in the eye without screaming. He trudged to his last class of the day, Potions, of course, looking down at the floor. He barely noticed that he treaded onto the back of Ronald Weasley's shoe, and mumbled him an apology. Weasley sniffed in response, but he luckily said nothing. They both walked to opposite sides of the room.
< >"Today," Snape began, looking particularly smug, "we will be working on a new spell." He proceeded to lecture about the potion for ten, long minutes while the class tried their best not to yawn in his view. Finally, "You will work in partners. Boy and girl. No, Weasley, you can't work with Potter."
< >Most of the Slytherins in the class burst out laughing. The Gryffindors looked down at their shoes, embarrassed and angry, though they would never dare object to this professor.
< >"All right, all right," Snape snapped after a moment. "Partner up."
< >Draco stayed at his seat, not moving, and noticed Pansy moving toward him.
< >"Ah, ah, Miss Granger," Snape said coldly to Hermione suddenly, "you are not going to be working with either of your two . . . friends. You will be working with Mr. Malfoy." His face became smug again.
< >"But, sir - " Pansy and Hermione began at the same time. Snape's look of pure fury shut them up and Hermione trudged across the room to Draco, dropping her bag in the seat next to him.
< >"Get to work," Snape snapped at the class, and ten fires lit up instantly.
< >"I need that - no, that," Hermione said irritably to Draco as she snatched a root from his hand. She diced it quickly and dropped it into the cauldron heavily, making it splash.
< >"Watch it," Draco warned darkly, stepping back.
< >"No, you watch it," Hermione snapped.
< >Snape shot them an angry look that growled the words Be quiet.
< >"What's your problem?" Draco muttered, stepping back next to her. He poured a foul smelling liquid into the brew slowly.
< >"What's my problem?" Hermione hissed darkly, throwing newt tails into the growing potion.
< >"Yes," Draco replied softly.
< >"Guess," Hermione said sarcastically.
< >"Last night?" he whispered meekly after a moment.
< >Hermione didn't say a word.
< >"Look, Hermione - " Draco started. He looked down at his shoes. "I don't know what the hell she was doing. She's just been grabbing my arm and following me everywhere I go, seeing everything I do. Look." Draco gestured slightly in Pansy's direction who was watching Draco very carefully.
< >Hermione looked up and Pansy narrowed her eyes at her. Hermione looked back to Draco. "Like that proves anything," she grumbled, her eyes snapping back to the potion.
< >"I guess it doesn't," Draco admitted, chagrined. "Snape spoke to me yesterday afternoon," he said softly after a moment. He dropped a small amount of lupine into the dark peach colored liquid.
< >"I know," said Hermione irritably.
< >"He - he said," Draco began quietly, almost uncertainly, because he knew he would be admitting something they both knew, "that since I am going through puberty what I am feeling for you is merely hormonal and I should be around you as much as possible so I know my body isn't right." He was seething by the time he finished. "That's almost exactly what Pansy told me last night before I escaped from her."
< >Hermione snorted.
< >"You don't believe me," said Draco certainly.
< >"Is it that obvious?"
< >"Hermione," he hissed, nudging her foot with his. She glared at him out of the corner of her eye, but waited for him to speak. "I have to know - if you hadn't, er, rather Pansy hadn't done what she did . . ."
< >Hermione looked down, knowing the question. "Get to work, Malfoy," she said defiantly after a moment, but her voice wavered a bit as she said "Malfoy," as if not wanting to address him that way.
< >Draco didn't move and Hermione looked up. "I said - " she began.
< >"I know exactly what you said," Draco snapped loudly.
< >Half the class looked over at them. Harry Potter and Weasley looked especially interested from their own areas. Snape glared at them from his desk.
< >"I know what you said," Draco said more quietly, as everyone turned back to their work.
< >"Then get to work."
< >"What's the point?" he demanded.
< >Hermione stared at him. "Our grade." She looked back down at the cauldron.
< >"Oh!" said Draco in a low tone, mock horror lacing his voice, "our grade." He scowled angrily at her. "Is that all you worry about? Your grade, your reputation, yourself?"
< >Hermione didn't answer, but he could see her eyes glistening. He was torn between anguish and fury. "You don't understand," she said softly. She said no more and began stirring the potion that was now turning a sort of sea green.
< >"Damn right I don't understand!"
< >Hermione slammed down her spoon and turned to him, ready to shout.
< >"Well, Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger," came Snape's sharp, sudden voice as he strode over to them. "Making progress, are we?" He smiled, seeming quite a self-satisfied man. "You seem to be deep in conversation."
< >"The conversation is about the potion," Draco said quickly and convincingly, smiling idly at Snape. "We do have our differences, professor, if you were not aware of that fact."
< >"I am quite aware, Mr. Malfoy," Snape replied distantly, peering into their cauldron. "Good, good." With that, he strode off to terrorize Lavender Brown and Neville Longbottom, Draco and Hermione staring after him.
< >"Why did you do that?" Hermione hissed.
< >"What? You actually think I would tell him the truth, even though I am his favorite," Draco sneered bitterly at her. He shook his head and dropped in the last ingredient - a vial of blood from a banshee.
< >"That's it," Hermione muttered, pulling out the spoon. "We have to wait now."
< >"I'm not an idiot," Draco snapped as they sat down.
< >Hermione glanced at him. "Yeah, well you made me look like a fool."
< >"How?" Draco demanded shrilly.
< >"In the hall . . ." Hermione said softly.
< >Draco snapped his mouth shut, stopping himself from yelling. "You did it."
< >"You allowed it!"
< >Draco narrowed his eyes at her. "Don't tell me that crap."
< >"What should I tell you then?" Hermione scoffed spitefully.
< >"Answer my question, if you'll dare say anything more to me," Draco retorted.
< >Hermione blinked in surprise, remembered the question, and looked down. "What's the point?" she moaned softly, more to herself. Her eyes began glistening again, but so were Draco's from the onion-smelling potion. "Professor Snape and Pansy are probably right."
< >Draco, stricken, wanted to scream. "How can you say that?" he asked in a low but shrill voice.
< >Hermione looked at him sharply, any trace of tears gone. "I did you a favor, Draco," she said with an edge to her voice. "I didn't have to bring you your meals, I didn't have to talk to you - I didn't have to do anything."
< >"But you did," Draco replied.
< >Hermione closed her eyes. "It's not as simple as you think it is."
< >"Tell me why not."
< >She shook her head vigorously. "No - not here."
< >Draco was taken aback. "Y-you actually want to tell me?" he sputtered, having thought his persuits were over and he was merely going to vent his bitterness for her unnecessary lead into hills he would have never otherwised ventured. Something like that, he lied to himself.
< >Hermione nodded slowly and turned her head to the front of the classroom where it stayed until Professor Snape came around again, grading their potion, and yelled at the class to clean up. He looked satisfied with himself - as he always did - when he was finished and waved the class out the door irritably.
< >"Tonight - after dinner," Hermione muttered under her breath as she stood up.
< >Draco opened his mouth, but Hermione cut him off.
< >"Near the front hall," she continued quickly. "There's a small corridor. Go down that way and we'll talk." Hermione glanced at him expectantly as she shoved a book into her bag.
< >"Hermione," Draco said slowly, "there is no small corridor - "
< >"Yes, there is," Hermione replied crisply. "It's there - tell yourself that and you'll see it." With that, she picked up her bag and hurried out of the room to catch up with Potter and Weasley.
< >Draco quickly put his things into his own bag, flashed Snape as innocent a smile as he could manage, and made his way quickly out the door of the room.
< >After dinner, Draco made his way inconspicuously out of the Great Hall - Hermione had long since left - leaving when Pansy wasn't looking. He walked carefully down to the front hall and stopped, looking around, doubtful.
< >There was no secret corridor. What was she playing at? Draco sighed and flexed his hand, trying to relax himself. Hermione said if I think it's there - it's there, he told himself reassuringly.
< >Suddenly, in the middle of a bare part of one wall, the wall shivered, and seemed to melt away, exposing a narrow corridor, hardly big enough for two people to stand in front of each other in.
< >Slowly, Draco stepped in, being tentative - it could be an illusion.
< >The walls instantly pressed in at this thought, as if it truly knew what Draco was thinking. It only relaxed when Draco chanted in his head that the corridor was real and it was not an illusion.
< >"There you are," Hermione said irritably, stepping into view at the end of the long, dark corridor. She put her hands on her hips and a small smile danced across her face at the sight of him.
< >"Well, no one told me that the damned thing could read my thoughts," Draco muttered, going as fast as he could without tripping down the passage, Hermione coming into focus more clearly with every step.
< >Hermione turned and strode away from the opening so he could follow her. She shook her head as she went. "It can't read your mind - that's quite impossible. It's the charm that knows what you're feeling."
< >"How'd you know this was here?" Draco asked as he trudged behind her. They were going a long way, he noticed quickly. Potter and Weasley must know about this place. "You couldn't have fallen through that."
< >"I have my ways," Hermione replied simply, beginning to climb a tall, sharp-turning stair case, Draco quickly following.
< >"Where are we going?"
< >"Well, now," Draco said sarcastically, "isn't that obvious."
< >Hermione was silent for a moment. "Yes," she replied mysteriously. "Up."
< >Draco sighed, irritable, and kept following. Finally, after about five minutes, they reached a trap door in the ceiling. Hermione pulled down on the cord attached to it and pulled herself up. Draco did the same, pulling the trapdoor shut behind him.
< >Hermione muttered to her wand and it lit up. She tapped it to a single candle on one of the only pieces of furniture - a desk - and it lit up, filling the room with a golden glow.
< >Draco looked up and saw they were in a tower. There was only one window, but it was locked tight from the inside, a pillow, he noticed, shoved against its shutters, so it would block out the light. As small as it was, the window probably didn't need a charm.
< >"Sit down," Hermione said, gesturing to a large armchair in the corner. She sat herself in the one across from it.
< >Draco seated himself carefully, wary. "How did you get these up here?"
< >"They're from Ginny Weasley's old dollhouse." Draco stared and Hermione laughed. "The dollhouse was antique and had tiny, but real furniture - Ron found them when he went back for Christmas last year. We just put a potion on them and they enlarged." She shook her head, smiling as if remembering that second.
< >"What did you want to talk about?" Draco asked after a minute, strumming his fingers on the arm of the chair nervously. He stopped himself immediately, embarrassed, and clasped his hands in his lap.
< >Hermione lost her smile immediately. "When . . . when I saw Pansy and you last night, you should have been next to me. I was nearly shaking in rage. Harry snapped me out of it when he tapped my shoulder, but I . . . I couldn't believe I was so angry, so hateful, so . . . jealous."
< >Draco stared at her in amazement. "Hermione, I . . ." He was at a loss for words.
< >"Somehow, even though you wouldn't believe how much I have held against you for so many years," Hermione said softly, looking away.
< >Draco felt like she had slapped him again. He closed his eyes. "I don't deserve this," he said suddenly, jumping to his feet.
< >Hermione looked at him in surprise. "What?" she asked.
< >"This," Draco said, pointing at her. "I didn't deserve getting handed dinner, my books stacked back up on the nightstand, having a conversation with you, or anything you have done for me. I don't deserve you."
< >"No, you don't," Hermione agreed. "Sit back down."
< >Draco obeyed, falling back into the chair miserably. "Why is this happening?" he wondered aloud, staring up at the ceiling of the tower above them.
< >"How am I supposed to know?" Hermione demanded.
< >Draco ignored the last remark. "Snape and Pansy both told me I am only attracted to you because of puberty, as I said earlier. But Snape told me very clearly that opposites attract and I have no real feelings toward you."
< >"Do you believe that?" Hermione asked.
< >The two sat in silence for a while, until Hermione spoke:
< >"You know what we're doing is mad, don't you?" Draco looked at her and she laughed sarcastically. "Gryffindor and Gryffindor is great! As with all the houses - Ravenclaw and Gryffindor - okay - and also with Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw with a Hufflepuff - though I must say quite laughable. But Gryffindor and Slytherin? It's scandalous in this school!" She shook her head in disgust.
< >"It's a stupid rivalry taken out of proportion," Draco muttered.
< >Hermione raised an eyebrow. "That's not what you would have said a year ago."
< >"I know," Draco replied softly.
< >"You realize we have to cover this up from other people?" she asked.
< >Draco nodded solemnly.
< >Hermione looked at her watch. "Great," she mumbled.
< >Hermione sighed and stood up, Draco following. She blew out the candle, the room turning mostly dark, then turned back to him. "We have to go now. Filch patrols the front hall for an hour and we don't want to be stuck here for that long."
< >"Why not?"
< >Hermione glared at him and Draco shut his mouth. She stalked off and he followed her back to the corridor which had closed itself again, to Draco's eyes. He hadn't a clue where it was located in the wall, but Hermione did. She walked right through the wall, it seemed.