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Where Two Raging Fires Meet

Chapter Text

“Why, that is nothing: for I tell you, father,
I am as peremptory as she proud-minded;
And where two raging fires meet together
They do consume the thing that feeds their fury:
Though little fire grows great with little wind,
Yet extreme gusts will blow out fire and all:
So I to her and so she yields to me;
For I am rough and woo not like a babe.” 
   ― William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew


 

Early October, 1997

Hermione grips her wand tighter in hand, straightens her spine, lifts her chin, and mentally prepares for the coming confrontation with some measure of eagerness.

“It's fifteen minutes to curfew, Malfoy. Shouldn't you be on your way down to the dungeons, not up the Grand Stairs?" she chastises, hoping he'll stop to argue just so she can dock him House points.

The truth is, she's been itching for a row all day, feeling irritable and out of sorts, especially after the rather heated disagreement at breakfast this morning with Seamus and several of her other Housemates over discussing in front of the younger students the war they all know is coming. Frightening impressionable eleven and twelve-year-olds with talk of Killing Curses and tortures involving the Cruciatus – what had her friends been thinking? Honestly! She'd expect horrid, lurid things to primarily come from the mouths of Slytherins, not Gryffindors!

Not that Malfoy, the king of all snakes, has been particularly offensive to her this year. In fact, he hasn't once dropped the 'M' bomb her way. Not yet, anyway. She knows it's only a matter of time, however. He's nothing if not predictable.

To her great surprise and immense irritation, Malfoy ignores her jab, passing her by without a word. He does spare her an inscrutable sideways glance, though, and strides so close she can smell his expensive cologne as he steps past and heads up the stairs, despite her warning.

Hermione’s immediately suspect, of course.

She follows him, keeping a discreet distance, nattering at him the whole way. "I'd hate to take House points from you," she calls, peeved by his purposeful snub. "This early in the year… one might call it a bad omen, if one believed in such nonsense. It could cost you the House cup come June, though. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes if that were to happen."

He pauses at the fourth floor landing, and turns to watch her climb the stairs after him. She's a bit out of breath trying to keep up with his longer-legged, faster stride, but she does manage to keep up – and to toss him a decent glare to boot. He still says nothing, but turns to go into the fourth floor corridor, heading towards the library. Hermione hurries to catch up, curiosity egging her on.

The reference centre is somewhat busy for a Thursday night, with a dozen heads bent over parchment and page, but there are still plenty of empty desks and study nooks indicating that not everyone in the school takes their lessons as seriously as they should. It vexes Hermione to some small degree, to be honest, as she's been expecting (hoping, really) to find more of her fellow seventh years in the library this term. With N.E.W.T.s coming up in only seven months, one would think this room would be bustling with interest, but to her disappointment, only a handful have made this place their regular haunt outside of classes (including, to her great astonishment, Pansy Parkinson).

Behind the front desk, Madam Pince gives her and Malfoy the stink eye as they enter at such a late hour, and abruptly reminds them that it’s nearly time to close up by calling out the ten minute warning.

Hermione nods to the Librarian before turning to follow her quarry deeper into the room. They bypass students who are hurriedly packing up their books and putting away their inkpots, and heads towards the back left corner of the room.  

Wherever could he be leading her?

To her wonder, Malfoy stops near the end of an aisle marked 'Muggle Literature' and reaches out to take down a book from the middle of a shelf.

Instantly, Hermione recognises the red leather-bound classic. She’s traced the stylish, gold-etched diamond design on the cover and the spine’s calligraphy many a time herself, and she’s carefully turned its ancient pages, aware all the time of the edition’s true value. It’s the First Folio – the true originally collected print of William Shakespeare’s works (unlike the second copy at Oxford, which Muggle historians incorrectly believe to be the first print ever made of the edition)…

…and it’s in Draco Malfoy’s hateful, bigoted hands.

A terrible dread fills her. What if he starts ripping into it, tearing the pages and breaking the spine? What if he casts an Incendio on it, burning it to ash? What if-?

She is about to go roaring down the aisle, a Petrification spell upon her lips just in case, when Malfoy does something completely unexpected: he opens the book to a specific page, as if he’d previously memorised its number and location, and begins reading aloud:…if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all, We died at such a place,” some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle...”

Hermione pauses, recognising the passage from Henry V, her favourite of Shakespeare’s historical plays. Why would Malfoy be reading such a thing, and more importantly, does he even comprehend its meaning? Is there a hidden message here about Harry leading her side astray in the coming fight, or is this just Malfoy playing a lark upon her, one she doesn't yet comprehend?

Well, she figures, there is one way to find out.

With perfect recall, she recites the remainder of the line: "…for how can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument?”

The emphasis she places on that last bit is purposeful and proud, and she thinks, There, pick up on that allusion, you git!

Mafoy's slate-grey eyes narrow and slant her way. He looks very much like a viper considering its prey for the right time to strike.

Raising her chin again, Hermione gives him no chance to land his intended bite. She finishes the paragraph:“Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it...

She is, of course, referring to Voldemort.

With a snap, her rival closes the book and puts it back on the shelf. "Are you always such a bitch?" he snarls at her.

"Are you always such a foul-mouthed git?" she counters.

"Do you like being a know-it-all swot?"

"Do you like being a bigoted, cruel bully?"

"Why don't you run along and help Weasley find his magical talent? It's about that time, isn't it?"

"Why don't you stick your head in the toilet and flush? You'd be doing the world a favour!"

He grumbles something about 'giving you fair warning', as he marches past her and out the door just as Madam Pince calls the two minute warning. This time, Hermione does not follow him, taking a minute longer to wonder about tonight's odd confrontation with Slytherin's prince.

She leaves the library that night with no more answers than when she'd earlier stepped in. She is, however, thirty seconds behind Madam Pince out the door before it closes and locks for the evening.

 


 

Mid-November, 1997

For the first time since fourth year, when she'd exhausted herself trying to support Harry all through the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Hermione has decided to call it a night early. She closes her books and packs them into her satchel, preparing to leave the library despite the fact there's still thirty-five minutes until closing.

Hiding a yawn behind her hand, she slings her bag over her shoulder and starts to head out…

…only to walk past Malfoy on his way in.

One suspicious, sideways look from him, and she pauses, turning her head to watch him make his way back to the Muggle Literature section again. As he takes the same aisle as the last time, he flips a glance at her from his peripheral vision, and this time flashes a nasty smirk before disappearing from sight.

That hollow feeling in her gut returns, and she silently berates herself for not having the foresight to have told Madam Pince about the value of that Shakespearean tome. What if, in the intervening weeks since their last run-in, Malfoy has discovered its unique worth? Its value is easily as much as Geographia Cosmographia or The Gutenberg Bible. What if he steals it or decides to use it as leverage to win something in exchange for its safety?

Dropping her satchel on her recently vacated table, she grabs her wand and heads to the back of the room, tracing his steps.

Just as she suspected, he has the First Folio in his hands again, and this time, he's flipped to somewhere near the front of the book. 

"Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the rang'd empire fall!"

He's reading from Anthony and Cleopatra, and it's obvious he's calling for the fall of the Ministry. He's been angry since his father's arrest at Halloween for what the Prophet dubbed the Samhain Sweeps, when the new Minister, Rufus Scrimgeour, had sanctioned the Auror's office to raid the homes of former Death Eaters (and those suspected of the title), seeking dark artefacts. It had been a response to increasing public demand that something be done to stem the sudden wave of objects of dark magic that had appeared on the black market since the year's start. Several such pieces had been found in Lucius Malfoy's home during the raids, of course. The man had insisted they'd been family heirlooms, kept strictly for sentimental reasons. Scrimgeour hadn't bought that fanciful tale, though, and had trussed Draco's father up and hauled him into one of the cells beneath the courtrooms to await his turn for trial. Draco and his mother had been humiliated in the papers as a result, and he'd been toting around a dark cloud over his shoulders ever since.

"O, that way madness lies…" she quoted King Lear back with an emphasised seriousness, letting him know exactly what she thought of his brash plan.

Undaunted by her rebuttal, however, he licked his thumb and flipped through the book, finding a particular passage he liked. 

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

Hermione scoffs. Her wand taps against her outer thigh, letting him know she is becoming irritated with both this ridiculous shenanigan and with his reckless implications. "You are no Hamlet, Malfoy, and Britain is not your personal kingdom to ingloriously reclaim from those you'd incorrectly consider usurpers."

He flips back to where he was the first time she'd seen him here, reading from this book – to Anthony and Cleopatra's tale of woe."Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me," he says with a wolfish, feral grin. More pages flip, and their dry rasping reminds her again of how very old and potentially fragile the book in his hands is. When he finds what he's looking for, he seems quite pleased, slapping his finger down on the spot. "The world's mine oyster…"

She snorts a bit inelegantly and rolls her eyes. The Merry Wives of Windsor is hardly a tale to use when discussing the topic, but it does tell her that his entitled attitude hasn't changed, despite his circumstances. "So wise so young, they say do never live long," she quotes with heavy sarcasm. Richard III seems a much more appropriate play for the topic anyway.

Draco's reply is to return to Hamlet. He feigns an arrow shot to the chest, gripping the area with one hand while holding the book with the other. "A hit, a very palpable hit." He sneers and shakes off his 'mortal wound'.

Hermione sighs. She's had enough of this foolishness. This is the same Malfoy as always – cruel, intolerant, stubborn in his unwise beliefs, and in need of a good cuff to his jaw. Reading such beautifully written and enlightening Muggle literature as written by Shakespeare has done nothing to open his eyes it seems, so she doubts anything she has to say will change his mind either.

She turns to go, but leaves him with a parting shot. "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf…" The tragedy of King Lear is a lesson he should take to heart, if he decides to join Voldemort's cause. She prays he doesn't drift towards darkness, but something tells her his father's brainwashing has done its job well and there may not be any reasoning with him.

As she nears the end of the aisle, she hears him hiss an unsurprising comeback from The Tempest:

"… this thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine."

Hermione does not sleep well that night, her dreams filled with the repeated image of Draco ripping open his chest and showing her his black, icy heart just before raising his wand to cast Avada upon it.

 

Chapter Text

Late-December, 1997

Hermione is back in the Muggle Literature aisle, staring at the First Folio, wondering how it came to be there at Hogwarts, of all places. She's been reassured by Madam Pince that the book has been spelled with protection enchantments to assure its pages can never be soiled, ripped, aged by the years, or burned. Apparently, its true worth is well catalogued by the staff, and long ago, they'd taken steps to assure the book's safety.

She reaches out and with great reverence strokes over its spine, letting her fingers follow the stamped letters. Here is a work of true art that can never be replicated. It is one of a kind.

It is safe from destruction, but what of theft? What if it is stolen away one night and hidden in someone's home, never to see the light of day again? What will become of it now that the war's die has been officially cast?

"The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite, that ever I was born to set it right!"

It seems appropriate to quote Hamlet's resolve now, especially after this morning's news in the Prophet.

Poor Susan. Her aunt, Amelia, the last surviving member of her family and a trustworthy and solid face within the Ministry, was murdered by Death Eaters just last night. Voldemort's mark was in the sky above her home, claiming responsibility.

There had been four others as well – names Hermione didn't recognise, but knew had been members of the Wizengamot. The war has stepped up. This is the Dark side's response to the Samhain Sweeps: one of the Light for every one of ours they put in shackles.

She does not brush away the tears from her cheeks. She lets them flow, allows her knees and her heart to shake, and gives herself a few moments to feel the fear and the frustration in this, her sanctuary spot. She has chosen this dark corner of a mostly abandoned library specifically so she can hide from the rest of the school – to prevent scaring the younglings and so she does not dishearten her friends.

Bending her head, she cries in silence, muffling her sobs behind a hand.

"Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war."

Hermione's wand is in her hand and pointed at Malfoy in a heartbeat. He has snuck up on her during this sacred moment, and is now defiling it. "How dare you!" she snarls, her depressed emotions giving way before her anger. Her hand shakes for an entirely different reason now, a hex resting on the tip of her tongue and eager to be of use. "How could you be so despicable? This is not one of Shakespeare's plays, Malfoy. There's no jest here. People actually died!"

His smirk drops away. "Thou know'st 'tis common: all that lives must die. Passing through nature to eternity."

He's quoting Hamlet again. She wonders doesn't he ever get bored with such melancholy wisdom? "The difference is this was done for no reason other than for the sake of doing evil! You're smart enough to know why that makes it more important than common natural selection."

He pauses, considering her words, sizing her up from between the fringe of his champagne-coloured bangs. His eyes are dark, unfathomable things that alarm and scare her. Has he fallen so far already, caught up in the bite for vengeance?

She isn't sure why she keeps talking, or why she's bothering at all to try to reach the humanity that she's hoping still exists somewhere deep down inside him, but the words are out of her mouth before she can take them back, salting the air. "This matters, Draco. This darkness…it's a cancer that boils the blood and poisons it, and it's spreading. It'll kill everything once it grabs hold and gains momentum, not just the flesh in its path. Don't you feel the wrongness of it?"

He is quiet and still for so long, she wonders if he's waiting for her next move (especially as she still has her wand pointed at him). When he finally does break their stalemate, his MacBeth soliloquy causes her to grind her teeth with disappointment.

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

He turns on his heel and struts off with his hands in his trouser pockets.

"Cowards die many times before their deaths," she calls out, finding his answer as wanting and weak as he has apparently become. "The valiant never taste of death but once."

He pauses at the end of the row and looks back at her over his shoulder. His eyes are still too dark to see.

"Julius Caesar died screaming and wondering what it was all for, Granger…just as everyone else eventually does."

He is past the aisle and out of sight before she can reply.

His parting words haunt her throughout the Christmas holiday.


 Late-January, 1998

She does not see Malfoy outside of classes or during meal times at the Great Hall this month. On the occasions she does spy him, she notes how he sticks to the shadowy corners of rooms and is oddly silent and withdrawn – as are his cronies, Goyle, Crabbe, and Zabini. She doesn't go out to the Quidditch pitch, however, where Harry insists Malfoy still haunts during times Gryffindor's been scheduled to practise there.

His eyes follow her everywhere, though. At least, it seems so. Every time she glances over at him, he's peeking at her, too. She does her best to ignore him.

Many students did not return from the winter break, among them Susan Bones, Hannah Abbott, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Helen Dawlish, and Pansy Parkinson. As she has not read of their deaths in the papers, she wonders where in the world they might be now. Most likely in hiding, the same as her parents (thanks to Dumbledore's assistance).

Still, she checks the stacks every day that she goes to the library – not looking for Malfoy, she privately insists, but just checking to make sure the First Folio is still there.

It isn't until the end of January that it goes missing. When she reports that disturbing fact to Madam Pince, the woman divulges that the book has been checked out by Draco Malfoy.


 Mid-February, 1998

It's been two weeks, and still Malfoy has not returned the First Folio to the library. Apparently, he's checked it out for another two weeks. Hermione starts to suspect that he's taken it just to irritate her.

She confronts him about it on Valentine's night, of all times, when she finds him as she does many other couples: stashed away in a hidden, dark nook with someone of the opposite sex. Docking double House points from both him and his partner, the impressionable Astoria Greengrass, for being out after curfew and for engaging in rule-breaking activities, vindicates her for missing the chance back in October.

Escorting them both back to Slytherin's House portal to assure neither of them 'get lost' on the way, she trades glares with Malfoy. It's only once Greengrass enters and Hermione turns to leave that her rival decides to prick her temper.

"O, beware, my lady, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster."

Hermione's jaw drops at such an outrageous comment. "First of all, it's 'my lord', not 'my lady'. Iago was speaking to Othello, who was most definitely male. As to the rest… Me, jealous of you?" She chuffs with cynical amusement. "Please, you're making my sides split. Ha. Ha. Ha-rdly."

A strange glint enters his eye, and he steps closer to her, making her wand hand twitch. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." He takes another step, closing the distance between them and making her slightly uncomfortable in the doing. "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps."

She pauses in what would have been a scathing and much satisfying rejoinder to really consider what he's just implied. The insinuation is comical. "Are you saying you were intentionally in that nook with Greengrass tonight hoping I'd come by on my rounds and see you two together? Why? So I'd be hurt by the fact that it's Valentine's and I'm on patrol, alone and dateless?" Genuine laughter bubbles forth from her lips. "I'll have you know I turned down Cormac McLaggen tonight to meet at Madam Puddifoot's. I'm lacking for company by choice, not the reverse." She waves him off.

His expression turns dangerous in a flash, and the next thing she knows, she's being pushed up against the stone wall, and her wand is easily deflected by his hand gripping her wrist. His nose presses near her ear and his breath is hot on her throat. "Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?"

This one she knows well, as it comes from the story of her namesake. "Where you're concerned, yes, because I know you're doing it for no other reason than to be cruel." She glances down at the long, strong fingers wrapped around her wrist and considers the best way to break his hold. "Tell truth and shame the devil," she says by way of distraction, and attempts to yank her limb from his.

Malfoy's inexplicable (confusing, nonsensical) anger evaporates in a beat, but his grip tightens, refusing to let go of her. "I don't know that one," he confesses as casually as stating he thinks the sky would be better green, rather than blue.

"Henry IV," she supplies, strangely calm despite the awkward situation. "Not my favourite, but still a solid piece of work. Now, would you like to let go of me and step back before I decide to hex you so hard, you will never be able to reproduce?"

He doesn't budge an inch. "Why don't you make me?" he challenges her instead.

Squaring her shoulders, she raises her chin again and stares him dead in the eye. "Manhandling me is a mistake, Malfoy. Head Girl or not, don't underestimate my willingness to sit in detention just for the opportunity to whack you across the mouth again. And this time, I'll follow it up with a spell I swear will make you think twice about attempting this again on me or any other girl."

As unpredictable as Mercutio, Malfoy's weird mood shifts again. His wicked grin has returned. His hold on her does not ease, though, and his hip is now pressing into her in a way that seems far too intimate for their established hate-hate relationship. Clearly, he's trying to unnerve her by testing her physical boundaries. As if he's the first man to press the advantage of his gender and upper body strength upon her. McLaggen lives to try this same trick on her as often as he can work up the nerve, and every time she disabuses him of the notion.

Hermione stays her automatic knee-jerk reaction (very literally, keeping her heel on the ground), and refuses to be intimidated by the likes of the school bully. When he starts quoting a Sonnet, she works hard not to roll her eyes, too.

"Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame is  lust in action, and till action, lust i s perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame, s avage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust, e njoy'd no sooner but despisèd straight, pa st reason hunted, and no sooner had, p ast reason hated as a swallowed bait o n purpose laid to make the taker mad."

She stared up at him, unimpressed. "You memorised that passage just so you could toss out the word 'lust' at me to see if it made me flinch."

The game up, he snickers and releases her, stepping back. "There's no taking the bitch out of you, is there, Granger?"

Hermione gives him a tight smile. "As profanity will cost you five more House points, you meant 'witch', I'm sure."

"Sure. Slip of the tongue."

She snorts, disbelieving anything that comes out of this man's mouth. "That seems to happen a lot with you snakes. On a side note, tell me if this reminds you of anyone in particular: None but libertines delight in him; and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villainy. Care to make a guess?"

Malfoy's grin fades, and the teasing glint leaves his eye. The lighthearted air of a moment ago is instantly gone, and he takes the moment to study her. His grey eyes trace her every facial feature, reminding her of how close they're standing and making her pulse race.

"It's from Much Ado About Nothing," she tells him, suddenly edgy for a reason she can't explain. "B-Beatrice is speaking of Benedict. He's in disguise when she…"

She lets the thought trail off, feeling awkward and unnerved by the way Malfoy is staring at her mouth.

"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,” he murmurs so low she has to turn her head slightly to catch his words in her ear, “and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain." He follows up Richard III with King Lear: "Villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion."

There is something in the way he is looking at her just then, with a concentrated focus that silently begs her to read between the cracks of his life, but Hermione doesn't understand what it is he expects her to see aside from that which has always defined him – his family's legacy.

The moment is lost as she hesitates a little too long to comprehend his secret meaning. The familiar guise of dark cynicism slides back into place upon Malfoy’s features, and he steps away from her, proclaiming, “O! I am Fortune's fool.”

Oddly, it is his quoting of the guileless Romeo that tips her off.

Is he actually confessing that he's a villain because he's being forced to be, and not because he wants to be? That would be…well, quite impossible to believe, really!

Still, in tonight's play, she glimpses something akin to Hamlet's duplicity in his words and actions-

-but no, such an act would be preposterous for the likes of Draco Malfoy, who is a prejudiced git, and a coward, and too much his father's son to ever want to be a better man.

She glances up at him again, noting a perverse twist to his lips, like he’s privy to a joke that she’s not.

Then again, he is Slytherin, and if there’s one thing she’s learned about their kind over the last seven years, it’s that you can never trust that their actions speak to their genuine intentions.

"What are you really up to?" she asks, curious as to his true agenda.

His smirk widens, and his eyes burn with amusement. "Well, well. It would seem Miss Know-It-All doesn't know everything after all." He turns away and breaks the spell that has held her enthralled for the better part of half an hour.

She doesn't hear him whisper the password to his House, but when the portal opens to admit him, he steps through it. Before it shuts behind him, he warns her, "Beware the ides of March."

It occurs to her on the way back up, to continue her rounds, that Malfoy hasn't called her 'Mudblood' once over the last two years.

Chapter Text

Late-March, 1998

“Your warning saved your cousin and her unborn child.”

Malfoy turns a page, carefully cradling the First Folio against his bent knees. “Don’t know what you mean. Now fuck off, Granger, I'm busy.”

“Tonks was born the fifteenth of March,” she reminds him. His Julius Caesar warning about ‘bewaring the ides’ had given her time to alert the Order that something may be in the wind around that time. They were therefore prepared when Death Eaters came knocking on Tonks’ door the night of her birthday, and had not only saved her and her baby, but also had routed a victory out of it, capturing both Thorfinn Rowle and Antonin Dolohov and delivering them into Auror hands for attempted murder.

He shrugs. “So? What do I care about my cousin or her blood-traitor family?”

There’s no heat in his conviction. He’s fronting.

“Thank you.”

Another page turns before he answers. “Don’t ever… Just don’t.”

She watches him in silence for a few minutes, trying to discern what his game is in denying he’s done a brave and good thing, but he seems entirely unaffected by her scrutiny or even interested in her presence. The light from the magical ball he’s conjured to float above his head makes his pale hair sparkle like starlight in the darkness of the sixth floor corridor.

“That seat cannot be comfortable,” she states, ignoring his rather rude request and noting how rough the stone is under him and against his shoulders as he leans back in the wide window seat. “Why didn’t you conjure yourself a pillow?”

He sighs and slams shut the book. "You have to butt in everywhere, don't you? Can’t just leave things alone, can you?"

“Not when there’s a riddle before me that needs answering, no,” she frankly replies.

He carefully sets aside the book and stands to confront her. His anger is now a swarm of bees gathered around his head and buzzing from his irate mouth. “I’m not some puzzle for you to break open and solve, you stupid bint! This isn’t a game!”

She meets his eye and says evenly, “No, it’s not.”

Shoving back the fringe from his face with a shaking hand, he glares at her. “You don’t get it, do you? You don’t get it at all!”

“Then explain it to me.”

He glances around, his eyes darting to every nook and cranny, seeking possible eavesdroppers. When he raises his wand, Hermione tenses, but he only non-verbally casts a Muffling spell before dropping his arm. “The sixth floor corridor is hardly a smart place for this conversation, you think?”

She turns and looks over her shoulder. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone else here.”

He smirks and it’s the same bitter expression he wears in public on a daily basis. “You sure? Not even Potter under his infamous cloak?”

The Invisibility Cloak is one of Harry’s greatest weapons in the conflict with darkness. That Malfoy knows about it disturbs her. What if his father were to use Legilimency on him one day and report this tidbit to the man’s Dark Master? 

Hermione purposefully blanks her expression. “What cloak?” 

Malfoy’s lids narrow and his dark amusement grows Grinch-like across his face, stretching from ear to ear and giving him a sinister pall. “Clever witch.” He steps towards her, and there’s something about his panther-like stalking that truly unnerves her. Her Mary Janes slide back a step before she can catch herself and rout her courage. 

Squaring her shoulders and raising her chin, she refuses to back down as he closes the distance between them and encounters her personal space. Leaning forward, he bends slightly and angles his face so they are eye-to-eye.

"The left corner of your mouth twitches when you lie,” he tells her. “You should work on that.”

“Technically, I haven’t lied once during this conversation…unlike you,” she points out, refusing to be cowed by his staring technique. “You drum your fingers when you fib.”

His cynical grin widens and she notices that his teeth are straight, white lines in his mouth and that his breath smells like the green apple candy that coats his tongue a funny lime colour. “Checking me out, Granger?”

“I could ask you the same,” she counters, arching a brow. “Why are you staring at my mouth?”

Grey, half-lidded eyes drop to her lips. “I often ask myself that same question.” 

Her chest constricts. Is he flirting with her? No, that would be absurd! Draco Malfoy does not speak nicely to her, much less flirt in her direction. He taunts her, curses the ground she walks on, sneers at her. He trips her up, calls her nasty names, makes her cry on occasion, but he never, ever… 

“What do you think you’re doing?” she whispers, shocked by how he seems to be swaying towards her.

His mouth trembles, as if he’s nervous. “Something ill-advised and very stupid,” he admits, pausing a breath away from kissing her. “Should I stop?”

Their eyes meet again, and Hermione feels all the air squeeze from her body, as if the space around her is attempting to suffocate her. Her heart pounds madly under her ribs, and her cheeks burn. “I…I’m not sure.”

The corner of his lip twitches upwards. “That would be a first.”

“No, I mean, I’m not sure I trust or could like you enough for…this.”

His gaze returns to her lips and regret tightens the corners of his eyes for a fraction of a second before he straightens and moves back to his window seat. Quickly, he collects the First Folio and then turns to head back down the corridor towards the Grand Staircase, his attention firmly fixed on the floor. His cheeks are as pink as hers, she notes.

He is half way to the exit when he stops, flips open Shakespeare’s masterpiece, and searches for something. When he finds it, he begins reading aloud: "…in my heart there was a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep. Methought I lay worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—and praised be rashness for it: let us know our indiscretion sometimes serves us well when our deep plots do pall, and that should teach us there’s a divinity that shapes our ends…" 

Hermione is floored.

Malfoy has just read from Hamlet – and not just any speech, but the one where Hamlet confesses to Horatio that he has warred within himself over the path of revenge he has vowed to complete. It is a significant, yet subtly layered moment in the text, informing the audience that Hamlet feels he is being guided by the hand of God in all things, and as such, his actions which may seem mad to others are, in fact, justified by the divine.

Piercing grey eyes looked up from the text, spearing straight through her. Oceans of silent intention reflect in their cold depths.

Before she can open her mouth to speak, he again snaps shuts the book and turns from her, continuing on his way. At the far end’s arch, he veers right and heads down the stairs, most likely to return to Slytherin’s familiar territory – his snake’s burrow in the deep underground of the dungeons. He has, it seems, poked his head up too far this time, and now he retreats.

Contemplating what has happened here tonight, and what Malfoy could possibly mean with his cryptic messages and his carefully chosen passages, Hermione doesn’t leave the sixth floor for a long while, even after the glow from his floating light spell finally fades, leaving her in darkness.


Mid-April 1998

It is her first Easter celebrated at The Burrow, and Hermione is overwhelmed by the noise and activity, as she always is whenever visiting the Weasley homestead.

To her great relief, it is not her this time that Molly turns her great displeasure upon, however (the egg incident from fourth year is still a lingering irritant sometimes, when she gives it thought). This time it is the twins. Their latest prank causes Molly’s traditional Easter bread to expand until it fills the entire kitchen and spills over into the living room. The aroma of braided sweet bread is everywhere throughout the house, causing Hermione’s mouth to water… and the sit-down meal moves outdoors, under the canopy of a magically warmed tent.

The clean-up of the pastry disaster delays Easter breakfast, and so the group–comprised of the entire Weasley clan, Harry, Tonks and her family, the Lovegoods, Professor Dumbledore, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minerva McGonagall, Mad-Eye Moody, Rubeus Hagrid, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and Hermione–are forced to make it a late brunch instead. This seems to suit everyone just fine, especially Ron and Harry who are both enamoured with breakfast in general. As her boys stare at the laid-out banquet, she giggles at the fact they can’t seem to choose between egg-in-the-hole toasties, cinnamon pancakes, or spicy beans and chips to start. They end up eating all three, plus a dollop of other dishes to try, and afterwards lean back in their chairs in a state of lethargic 'food coma'.

Hermione’s choice of fare is simpler: she satisfies herself with spinach baked eggs and parmesan crusted bread slices, chasing it down with a tall glass of raspberry lemonade.

As the group sits around, talk inevitably turns to the ‘shadow war’.

“Do we know where they might strike next?” Arthur asks. “Any clues?”

“Robards thinks it’ll be another high ranking member of the Ministry, maybe even the Minister, himself,” Shacklebolt replies. His deep tenor rumbles as he speaks, emphasising the gravity of the situation.

“Why not one of us instead?” Moody asked, pointing around the table. “We’re the easier targets, staying put as we have.”

He's referring to the fact that he’s been trying to convince the majority of the Order members to move into safe houses for the past few months, and has met resistance to that plan at every turn. Most of the group has stubbornly refused to be chased out of their ancestral homes and off their lands, but Hermione is now beginning to understand the wisdom of such an idea. Pride was a liability in war, especially with an enemy this sly and seasoned.

“I agree,” Bill spoke up, turning to Charlie on his right. His brother nodded in agreement, deferring to Bill’s lead. Both young men had been part of Tonks’ rescue party, and had been there to battle off the Death Eaters before escaping with their childhood friend and her mother and father to Grimmauld Place. “I think we’re playing right into the enemy’s hands by staying in our homes. We’re easy pickings.” He glanced at his parents. “Sorry, Mum, Dad, but I think we should close up the Burrow, ward it with curses, and go into hiding.”

Molly takes her husband’s hand, and it is clear she is beginning to agree with Bill’s reasoning.

“I, too, agree,” Dumbledore pipes in. “I think it would be wise to take stronger precautions. Perhaps we should reinstitute the First Order’s security provisions for good measure?”

“Designating a Secret Keeper for each home?” Sirius scoffs. “You saw how much that worked for us the first time.” His tone is bitter and he glances at Harry from the corner of his eye as if to reassure himself that his godson is still with them.

Peter Pettigrew’s betrayal is something Sirius Black will never forgive or forget.

Hermione feels it prudent to speak up and offer a suggestion then. “We could use the coin communication method I developed to thwart Umbridge two years ago. It's easy to create a charmed item for each of the Order members to use to send messages across the distance.”

Dolores Umbridge had come to Hogwarts at the behest of her boss, Cornelius Fudge, to act as the school’s High Inquisitor during Hermione’s fifth year. The woman’s goal was to ‘weed out the chaff’ (read: expel anyone who didn’t go along with her new programs) and prevent any talk of the return of Voldemort. Hermione and her friends had rebelled against the odious woman’s strict reforms by creating an underground club without her knowledge. The guild known as ‘T.D.’ (short for ‘The Defiant’) had met in secret throughout that year, the times of their meetings conveyed through a series of coins Hermione had charmed. The coins also served as an early warning device for whenever Umbridge closed in on them or one of them was in trouble; all of them would vibrate and heat up when one of them was rubbed three times.

Dumbledore gives her a small smile. “An ingenious idea, Miss Granger.” He holds up a finger, as if to say, ‘wait, I’ve thought of something else!’ “It should be a token that is ordinary on the outside, but not one that cannot be easily passed around and that holds some special meaning to the owner.”

“That way, if it’s seen, it won’t cause suspicion, but it also won’t be mistaken for regular currency by us,” Harry chimes in with a nod. “And, the owner will take care not to lose it, too. Brilliant!”

“But how do you prevent the enemy from using it if they get their grubby paws on one of ‘em,” Ron asks, “or what if one of us loses it and someone else picks it up?”

A solution comes to Hermione on the fly as she stares at Harry. “We spell the items with the same modified charm as exists on the Marauder’s Map to keep others from knowing its secrets.” She turns to Sirius and Remus. “It’s a type of Anti-Cheating Charm, correct?”

They both chuckle.

“One of Remus’ better ideas,” Sirius admits.

Talk turns to how they should deal with the possibility of disguises and Polyjuice use, and then the meal and meeting come to an official end. The party splits up, and Hermione joins in clearing the table and securing the left-overs.

“Miss Granger, could I trouble you for a moment of your time,” the Headmaster requests, “to discuss those coins of yours.”

She sees the familiar twinkle in his blue eyes, and knows this is a ruse to lure her out of the hearing range of the others. Perhaps he has some news regarding her parents in Australia?

Excusing herself, she follows Professor Dumbledore out, and walks with him at a leisurely pace towards the edge of the Weasley’s wards. They are silent until the half-way mark, and then Hermione cannot hold her anxiety a moment more. “Professor, are my parents-?”

“Fine, my dear,” he promises her with a fatherly pat on her shoulder. “They are perfectly fine. Better, I dare say, than we are.”

They share a smile. No doubt her parents are enjoying scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef. Conservative they may seem in public and at the office, but on the weekends and during holidays… It is safe to say Hermione comes by her sense of adventure and curiosity honestly.

“They are not the reason for needing to pull you away from the others. I need to speak with you about Draco Malfoy.”

She feels a strange fluttering sensation in her belly at just the mention of the name. The memory of their last encounter is indelibly burned into her brain and has been haunting her for the last few weeks.

“I understand it that you’ve been on speaking terms with him since the start of first term.”

“It’s not really speaking, per se,” she explains.

He gives her a significant look, and she blushes under his scrutiny realising how that confession sounded.

“What I mean is, I run into him sometimes around school,” she tries to explain, feeling like a bug mounted on a Plastazote rectangle under the Headmaster’s perceptive stare. “I’ve discovered quite by accident that he…well, that he likes Shakespeare. We debate Muggle literature on occasion.”

Which led to him trying to kiss her.

She keeps that little bit to herself.

The old wizard’s smile is genuine and broad. “Indeed. That is excellent news. And I am excited to hear you’re helping him on his journey towards a broader appreciation for and an understanding of perspectives beyond those he’s been raised to believe.”

She considers that for a moment, recalling that his attitude has been slowly changing right under everyone’s noses since Umbridge’s reign of terror. The reason eludes her, but she cannot deny the fact that he’s clearly a different boy than just two years ago. “I don’t think I’ve had much to do with that, honestly.”

As they reach the edge of the wards, Dumbledore stops and turns towards her. Hermione can’t meet his eyes, staring instead at her fingernails as she plays at cleaning underneath them. She’s afraid that if she looks up at him, all of her confusion will show on her face and that will lead to questions. She doesn’t want to be interrogated about her odd feelings towards Draco Malfoy, not right now. Her mind’s still too muddled from indulging in the Easter pudding and her heart’s at war with her head over the subject.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Miss Granger,” her teacher encourages her traitorous-hopeful thoughts. He leans closer and murmurs low, passing something off into her hand at the same time, “Sometimes, the obvious is hidden in plain sight – especially where Slytherins are concerned.”

She puzzles over his words as he Disapparates, returning to Hogwarts she presumes.

When she opens her hand, she finds two lovely Trochus seashells. One is red and yellow striped, the other a rich green with black flecks. Both are no bigger than her thumb nail, and they weigh no more than a feather, but in her hand they feel as weighty as gold.

If she were to fathom a guess, she’d say they came from the waters around Australia.


Late-April 1998

Hermione finds Malfoy in the Astronomy Tower this time. He is sitting on the floor, leaning against the railing and reading from the First Folio. Apparently, he’s checked it out for the remainder of the term.

“You’re monopolising a very important piece of Muggle culture and history,” she accuses in a light-hearted tone, somewhat relieved to see him still curious about such things. She’s been worried that his going home for the holiday might have undone all of the good over the past several months, but now she sees that is clearly not the case.

“Maybe I am,” he answers, unfazed by her company or her commentary. “What are you going to do about it?”

She sighs. He’s still a challenging git, though.

“Would you believe me if I said I'll dock you House points?”

“For intentionally ignoring curfew, yes. For hogging a book and being out after hours reading, no.” He glances up at her through his hair's long fringe. “You’re not that hypocritical, Granger.”

She can’t help but chuckle with agreement and crosses the wooden floor to his side of the room so they won’t have to conduct this conversation in raised voices. “So, what’s on the roster for tonight?”

She means the tome in his hands. He knows it, but answers in typical Draco Malfoy fashion:

Taming of the Shew. Thought I’d give it a go.”

Rolling her eyes, she sighs. "You're insufferable and predictable."

He is quiet for a moment in the face of her pronouncement. "Is it possible for a villain to be anything else?"

"I take it back. You're not a villain."

Now that the words have left her mouth, she knows they are true. Malfoy had been a rotten brat for years, deserving of far worse in punishment than he's received, but she knows at the core of him, he is not evil. That he questions his father's belief system–one might say, he even defies it in the reading and enjoyment of Shakespeare's works–is proof enough of that fact.

He quickly shuts the book and sets it down on the floor in front of him, tracing the cover letters with a well-manicured finger. "You willing to bet your life on that?"

That’s the big question, isn’t it?

“I am excited to hear you’re helping him on his journey…”

Perhaps Dumbledore was right. Maybe she’ll be able to reach Malfoy now that he’s dropped his walls and is open to possibilities aside from pure-blood supremacy.

Stepping closer, she folds her legs under her tailor-style and takes a seat, assuring her skirt covers her knees. “Yes, I’m sure,” she says with conviction. “You respect a well-constructed play, and no one who does so can possibly be evil.”

He glances at her through a half-lidded, amused gaze. “But every Slytherin appreciates a good performance. It’s in our very nature.”

She thinks about that. “Is that what you’re doing, performing?”

His smirk mocks her very bones. “What do you think?”

Her eyes drop to the book under his hand. “I think I’d like to know what play you were reading when I walked in here tonight.” She is almost positive she saw the names Tybalt and Mercutio before he slapped the cover closed.

The way his lips drop into an instant frown and the defensive set of his shoulders is very telling. “None of your business,” he bristles. “Why does it matter anyway?”

“Why are you bothered by such a simple request?” she counters.

“Why are you so damned nosy all the time?”

“Why can’t you just answer the question?”

“Why are you here?”

“Why haven’t you left?”

He snorts a tad inelegantly. “You’re the one rudely invading my space and destroying my peace of mind. You should leave.”

“Do I really make you feel like that?” she asks, genuinely curious. How much power does she have over him, really?

His jaw sets with anger and his grey eyes flash like struck matchsticks. “You bloody well know you do!”

“Why?”

He tosses his hands into the air with frustration. “Because you like to fuck with my qi. I don’t know!”

“No, I mean, since when does what I do affect you in any fashion?” Therein lies the real issue, and she is determined to get to the heart of the matter. “You’ve always made it very clear in the past that I’m nothing to you. Less than your family's house-elf. Less even than the towels you use in the loo to dry your hands. Why has that fact changed this year?” She reaches out and strokes a reverent hand over the First Folio. “Is it because of the stories in the book? Have you finally decided something Muggle actually has worth?”

He is quiet for so long that she cannot help but be curious as to why. Peeking over at him from her peripheral vision, she finds him staring at her with an unfathomable emotion. Is it anger or is it longing, or is it regret tainted with both of those things? She can’t decide. What she does know is that it causes a serious case of fluttering in her belly.

“Maybe I have,” he finally admits.

“Does that mean you don’t subscribe to You-Know-Who’s agenda any longer?”

He gives her a 'shut your trap' look. Then, his hand twitches and his wand falls from his sleeve into it. With a barely perceptible motion and a powerful non-verbal spell, he Muffles the entire room.

When it's safe, he asks, “Would you believe me if I said I don’t?”

She arches at brow at that. “Does that mean you’re going to switch sides and join the Order?”

The corner of his lip curls upward. “I never said that.”

This whole conversation is exasperating; he won’t admit to anything, like the slippery Slytherin he is. “So you would stay at your father’s side and serve an evil madman even though you no longer share their values? Why?”

“I never said that either. Granger, not everyone walks in the light, but they may still serve it,” he states, stopping her cold.

Good God, he's going to go against Voldemort, isn't he? When the war comes, he's going to help the Order. He's just implied as much.

No, there is still wiggle room in that confession for him to back out. She must get him to admit it, out loud, for them both to hear. It will only be real then. “For once, Draco, just state your intentions,” she challenges him, her blood pounding in her ears.

He meets her eye and in a grim tone says, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.”

Iago's shocking confession employed here for Malfoy's purposes is as a lightning strike between them. Hermione is made numb by it, and there is a long silence before she can conjure any sort of response.

"That's… completely mental! It's suicidal, a fool's mission! You can't–!"

He interrupts her with a mocking smile on his full lips. "I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial…"

Fervently, she shakes her head. "That's not true! Your reputation may be, admittedly, a bit on the darker side, but that doesn't mean it can't be fixed or that you have to throw your life away to do so! Getting close to You-Know-Who just to stab him in the back could end with your death as well!" She stands up and puts her hands on her hips, staring him down much as she does Ron or Harry when they say something utterly ridiculous. "And you can't cite Cassio and Iago in the same series of breaths! They are as different as Gilderoy Lockhart and Professor Snape!"

Malfoy growls at her, picks up Shakespeare's tome, and rises to his feet. "I knew I shouldn't have… Just stay out of my bloody business!"

She steps in his path as he makes to leave. "Reconsider whatever you're planning. The Order can help you–"

He stares down at her with a fury she's never seen in him before. Something has happened, perhaps over the Easter holiday. Whatever it is, it has unhinged him.

"Come not between the dragon and his wrath," he advises her much as King Lear warned Kent.

She dogs him again as he tries to go around her, refusing to back down. "Let me help you, at least. Please, Draco, let me in!"

His breath is harsh as he leans forward and presses his mouth to her ear. "That's the whole problem, Granger: you are in."

Malfoy's words hover and flit around in her head like a kaleidoscope of butterflies for two whole weeks after that confrontation. He ignores her the entire time, and retains possession of the First Folio just to spite her, she's sure.

Chapter Text

Mid-May 1998

N.E.W.T.s are almost upon them, and Hermione spends much of her time in the library, revising. She hasn’t seen Malfoy except in classes since their last run-in two weeks ago, but then her rounds have been turned over to a sixth year Prefect to allow her more time for her studies, and so she hasn’t had much of an opportunity to wander onto one of his secret reading spots – if he still maintains them, that is.

That's why, when the First Folio appears on the table beside her one day, accompanied by a familiar set of hands, she sighs in something akin to relief.

Malfoy slaps the pile of books at her elbow and whistles with amazement. "What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?"

Hermione gives Malfoy an arch look over her shoulder. "Funny. Benedick you are not, either – although it is nice to know you're reading the comedies, not just the historicals and the tragedies.” She nudges her chin at the book he lays a possessive hand upon. “Any chance I might see that back where it belongs any time soon?"

His grin is slow and does silly, inappropriate things to her traitorous heart.

"Think I'll keep it. Does that bother you?"

"O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!" she quotes Much Ado About Nothing, appearing unfazed despite the fact his words imply a long-term ownership…which hints he'll be around a while. This slightly mollifies her worries where he is concerned.

As he takes back in his arms the book she's beginning to (improperly) consider his, he chuckles down at her. "If I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship."

What a sweet-talker.

What rubbish.

"You, sir, are an impertinent, flap-mouthed measel," she huffs.

"And you, lady, are a saucy, dizzy-eyed strumpet."

She gasps and stares up at him. "I am not!"

His gaze is heated and wicked, filled with impish pleasure. "No, you're not," he admits. "What a shame."

Before she can formulate a come-back, Cormac McLaggen rounds the aisle. A repeat seventh-year student for reasons Hermione still is unclear about (that knowledge is kept strictly confidential by the school board and staff, but she suspects it is because McLaggen failed the majority of his N.E.W.T.s due to contracting Dragon Pox the previous May), he frequently bothers her for 'homework advise' – which is really code for sexually harassing her.

From the way he slows and the expression on his face, it is obvious that McLaggen is taken aback seeing her talking with another boy – a Slytherin and a Malfoy, especially. That doesn't stop him from approaching and attempting to establish what he wrongly assumes is his territory where Hermione is concerned, however. "Hey, Granger," he smoothly greets with a fox's smile. "Wanna help me with my Transfiguration?"

She sighs and turns back to her own reading. "You'd be better off practicing your Charms."

Yes, the double entendre is intentional.

"Excuse us, will you?" Cormac addresses Malfoy in an impolite, dismissive manner.

Hermione glances up at Draco, but his concentration is focused on her Housemate. That familiar scornful-haughty expression he's worn off and on for years–the one that makes him appear to turn his nose up, as if he's smelled something foul in the air–darkens his features once again. It is a face she'd hoped never to see again, but it seems McLaggen has triggered it…and so she knows what comes next.

"Of course. Wouldn't want to stand in the way of unrequited love," he sneers and tosses McLaggen a nasty smirk before walking off.

Cormac seems unaffected by the insult and calls to his rival's retreating back, "Who says it's unrequited?"

Hermione's had enough. McLaggen's stalking and his crude innuendo has reached a boiling point, and that he's interrupted a potentially interesting conversation that she might have had with Malfoy only aggravates her all the more.

Her slap is loud in the hushed library.

Someone nearby sniggers.


End-May 1998

With N.E.W.T.s finished, Hermione has time to breathe…and to think. Which is never a good occupation when a war hovers upon one's door.

She is restless and nervous, and Ron and Harry are not helping. All they discuss is who will join their cause, who will run or hide, and who will be Voldemort's to command. Malfoy is, of course, expected to be amongst the latter, and her friends will not consider otherwise, no matter her arguments.

Keeping Draco's confidence has been difficult. She wants to shout at them that he's planning to go undercover and betray his father's Master, but a part of her worries that will jeopardize his life. What if she tells the wrong person and their mind is read with Legilimency? What if she says nothing however and Malfoy is killed in battle by an Order member by mistake? The thought haunts her, and she wrestles with her conscience as to what is the right course of action this time.

Wandering the castle, continuing to fulfill her duty as Head Girl until the last helps to distract her more morbid thoughts. She catches several couples out after curfew and sends them on their way. House points aren’t exchanged, and her bark lacks bite tonight. In all honesty, her heart just isn't in it.

She finds Draco sitting at one of the round tables in the Divination Classroom, drinking what appears to be a steaming cup of tea – and he is reading the First Folio by the light of his wand. Quietly, she shuts and locks the door and casts a Muffliato over the room, to assure their conversation can't be heard by outsiders. Tonight, she decides, she will attempt to talk him out of his mission once more.

A small smile hovers over his mouth as she walks up to his table, but he doesn't look at her, his gaze fixed on the book in his hands.

"May I join you?"

His smile blooms into a grin. "You're going to do it whether I want you to or not."

"True," she concedes, and takes the seat next to him, plunking her bottom into the chair. There's no pause; she comes right out with what she wants to say. "I really want you to reconsider your plan."

"And I want McLaggen to drop dead," he zips back. "We can't always get what we want. Although I hear you slapped him as hard as you slapped me that one time, so that does much to alleviate my need to murder him."

"Draco," she sighs, and presses two fingers to her forehead, frustrated by his flippancy over such a serious matter.

Just his name passing her lips is enough to gird him into action. He sets down the First Folio, and scoots his chair so that it abuts hers. With his knees splayed wide to either side of his seat, he leans forward and places a hand on the back of her chair, shoving his face into hers. "Forget trying to sway me and answer me this instead: what is this unnatural hold you seem to have over me?"

Their eyes meet and her breath catches. "I should ask you the same thing."

As if drawn forward against his will, he closes in on her. "I think I get it. You're her, aren't you? You're the Muse of Fire." His heavy-lidded gaze drops to her mouth again. "My muse."

Muse? Is he perhaps speaking of the opening line from Henry V – that unknown inspiration the Chorus cries out for, which they believe will save their play? Her eyes dart to the open book on the table, and she sees that, yes, it is opened to that exact first page of the story.

"Are you saying I'm your…salvation?"

She means it as a halfhearted joke, but the serious, concentrated look on his face has her reconsidering a smile.

"Maybe. Probably," he replies. "I'm not sure. I only know that what we're doing is the most dangerous thing I've ever done."

"Me, too," Hermione admits.

And she does. She recognises how foolish it is seeking him out time and again, allowing her curiosity to direct her closer, considering things about him that she really oughtn't. This driving need to understand him, however, to unlock each of his coded secrets is a kind of madness that has overtaken her this year, and now it is too late to put this doom back into Pandora's Box.

Glancing up at him, she can't decide if he is the fool rebel, Jack Cade, or the ambitious Sir Pierce of Exton, or the nihilistic Hamlet, or if is he all of those combined. And what is her part in his play? Does he perceive her to be the virtuous, but ill-fated Hermione from The Winter's Tale, the hellion Katherina, or–dare she even consider it?–his forbidden Juliet?

A corner of her heart fears knowing the answer, and yet…

"But I don't want to end this," she reveals, perhaps unwisely but honestly. Her daring side provokes her to tell him all, so she tosses her thoughts and feelings at his feet, just as she had at Ron after the whole Lavender incident and waits to see what happens. That hadn't ended well for her, but perhaps this time might not be such a tragic crash and burn. "I don't want to not find you reading that book. I don't want its stories and its messages to disappear from your life. I…" Recalling Dumbledore's words, she reaches out and places a hand over his. "I don't want to stop talking to you like this."

He seems tortured by her declaration, teetering on the edge of an abyss she can't fathom, much less save him from falling into. "You're supposed to tell me to bugger off," he hisses in gentle rebuke. "To slap my face and push me away. To hate me for…for everything I've done."

It's as close to an apology she's likely to ever get for their past. 

She'll take it. 

"I don't want to do those things."

He stares at her mouth again. "I almost wish you would."

"Why?"

With resigned determination, he moves in and there is no question this time what he plans. "Because your forgiveness changes everything."

Hermione shuts her eyes. It seems an interminable wait before she feels him against her, however, and then his cold lips do not go where she anticipates. They brush against the smooth expanse of her throat rather than cover her mouth. She's not sure if she's more disappointed than relieved, or vice-versa.

"What you do to me!" he confesses in a soft, but fervent voice into her ear. "What you make me think! How you make me feel! You and that bloody book... I've tried so hard not to–" He falters and expels a defeated sigh, his anger seeming to blow away like leaves under a strong, north wind.

As is their custom, she verbally nudges him. "Not to what?"

She doesn't think he's going to answer at first, but then he surprises her again.

"Give in."

"I wish you would," she admits.

"Maybe I will."

With a soft brush of skin, his mouth caresses over a spot above her racing blood's pulse, and that causes Hermione to tremble from head to toe. He does it again, and again, until the kissing becomes open-mouthed and wet, until his tongue laps velvety-smooth over her responsive flesh. When his teeth nip her, marking the territory, an unexpected moan slips from between her lips.

The sound of her consent is all he needs to hear.

The hand resting on the back of the chair lifts and tangles in her curls, holding her head captive as he changes the angle. He slips the other arm around her waist and pulls her forward onto him. She is half on her chair and half on his, sitting between his wide legs. With gentle suckling and licks and kisses, he explores the sensitivity of her skin at her throat, then her ear, following an invisible path under her jaw, until at last, he turns her head and claims her mouth.

His kiss is devastating and Hermione reels at its power. It washes over her like a wave of heat, liquefying her bones, compelling her surrender to the inevitable.

She does, without hesitation.

Draco groans with approval as she gives in, and it is a sound unlike any she's ever heard a male make: something between pain and arousal, and ‘thank God’. Solid shoulders bunch and move under her hands as he stands and lifts her from the waist. Their mouths do not unlock as he takes her to the floor.

Using the wand still clenched in her hand, he moves various chair pillows around so they cushion their bodies against the hard floor, and then he un-wraps her like a fine present, revealing and discovering every inch of her with wonder and gentleness. How careful he is, and yet at the same time, how passionate! When he enters her, he slides deep and true, filling her with the fine heft of him and having her as no one has before or will ever again.

He pauses, waits for her signal that all is well, and then he drops his head into her shoulder and goes for it, stroking boldly, powerfully into her. As they move together, uniting and withdrawing, it is all Hermione can do to catch her breath. Her heart in her mouth, she lives the experience, refusing to let her brain ruin this moment.

Anon, there will be time for doubts.

It seems forever that they make love, and yet it is still too soon for her when he finishes, gasping against her cheek. She cradles him in her arms in the aftermath, sore but pleasantly so, and tries not to let go of the moment.

Later, when they are redressed, there are no words of love and she leaves before him.

It is only when she is back in her dormitory minutes later, lying under her familiar blankets, that the enormity of their recklessness hits home: between her thighs, she can still feel his warm, sticky seed.


Beginning-June 1998

School ends without any resolution to this strange, new relationship she and Draco secretly cultivate.

In the two weeks since their first sexual encounter, he has made it his mission to hunt her down at random opportunities and to remind her of his hold over her. He pulls her into shadowy nooks, corners her against window sills, and takes her as he finds her. He recites something of Shakespeare's wisdom or romance in her ear every time he slides home into her welcoming embrace - and yes, she is always willing no matter the madness of it all. More than willing, actually.

As the days pass and the touches become more frantic, she finds that falling in love with Draco Malfoy has been an easier task to accomplish than she'd thought possible. 

To her great disappointment, he no longer carries around the First Folio. In fact, she is shocked to find it now, this last day of school, back on the shelf that is its home. He has cast it aside.

Will he do the same with her after today?

She gets her answer as he rounds the corner in a quick stride, coming at her like a freight train. He must have known she would be here, this last day, waiting for him, and now he has come for her for one final confrontation.

It goes differently than she expects. Rather than a shouting match, his mouth is on hers before she can utter his name, and then she is pressed against the wall so she cannot escape him. As he ravages her, all she can wonder is if Romeo’s kiss had stolen Juliet’s heart as thoroughly as Draco Malfoy's steals hers, and she finally understands the absolute desperation that drove the protagonists of that story to their doom.

As one of Draco’s hands slips down over her thigh, raising her skirt, a throat clears behind him. They both freeze.

“Hermione, Professor McGonagall is looking for you.”

Harry.

Oh, God!

Draco turns his head to look over his shoulder, snarling. “For fuck’s sake, Potter, would fifteen extra minutes have killed you?”

The Invisibility Cloak falls away, revealing Harry nearby. “No, but it may kill you. Your father’s at Hogsmeade already. He's waiting there for you to take you home.”

Draco swears up a storm under his breath.

“You’re sure?”

Harry pushes his glasses back up onto his nose and nods. "Bill sent his Patronus with the message a few minutes ago."

“Fuck.” Draco turns back to her. “I have to go. Just…” He looks at her with mountain ranges full of regret. “Just keep your head down, Granger, and don’t take any unnecessary risks. I mean it!”

“Wait-! What’s going on here?” she asks, sure she’s missing something.

From the looks tossed back and forth between Draco and her best friend, it almost seems as if they’re in collusion. Does Harry already know of Draco's plans? Is he helping him?

Harry holds a hand out to her. “Come on, Hermione, we’ll take the carriage together to the village.”

“One more minute, for Salazar's sake!” Draco growls at her friend, and grabs her harder around the waist. He presses his forehead to hers, stares her in the eye, and looks to confess something important. His mouth opens, but what he whispers is not what she expected either: Neither rhyme nor reason can express how much.”

She can't appreciate his confession of feelings for her, as she's too sad by knowing what it means – that he's bidding her farewell. “You’re not going to reconsider your plan, are you?” she murmurs, heartbroken.

He shakes his head once, confirming her worst fear.

"Then, this is goodbye."

He nods once.

It's unfair! It's foolish! It's wrong! She wants to shout as much at him, but it's clear from the iron in his gaze and the steel in his spine that he's made up his mind. Nothing she says now will sway him. All she can do is pray he survives what's coming – that they both do, and that when it's all over, there will be something left for them to salvage for themselves and for this thing between them.

Gripping him tightly, she kisses him with everything inside that she has to give. He responds with an equal passion. Their lips meld, joining them as their bodies have done just the night before. In those brief seconds, she tries to memorise the feel of his hard body against her bookish one, the exact flavour of the mint on his tongue, and the way they breathe each other in as their mouths reluctantly part as the kiss ends.

Tears wavering before her eyes, she begs him in a choked voice, “Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied.”

His answer is a last, quick kiss…and then he lets her go and is out of sight before she can call him back.

Pressing hands firmly over her mouth, she muffles a lamenting wail, her loss so overwhelming it nearly staggers her. It isn’t until Harry takes her into his arms that her knees give out and she lets herself fall.


June 1998-July 2002

It is a long war.

At the official start of it, she gives Harry the seashells Dumbledore had given her and tells him to use them as his Protean Charmed items for communication with Draco. Her best friend takes them from her trembling hand and she never sees them again.

Over the years, she hears of Draco's exploits on occasion, but she doesn't actually see him again…until the end.

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE

End-July 2002

His hair is shaggier, a jagged scar runs across his left cheek to his ear, and the corners of his eyes are lined from horrors she can only imagine, but it’s definitely Draco. There’s no mistaking that bright, platinum head of his, even dirty and speckled with blood as it is.

He has sought her out and finds her in Hogwarts' library, or rather what is left of it: shelves are collapsed into each other and books lie strewn everywhere. She is searching for the First Folio, worried that the enchantments upon it may have been broken the same as those upon the castle when Voldemort destroyed the wards.

“I took it back, soon after that day. I stole it back. It’s in a safe place.”

Her vision blurs as his beloved, familiar voice–matured with time and tinged with suffering–resonates in her ears. “That’s good to know. I’m glad.”

Her joy is only halfhearted though, as she is still too shocked by the day’s events. The war has ended, Harry has prevailed, and too many are dead for it. She has killed to protect her right to live, and in doing so has blackened her soul.

Was it worth it?

Yes, of course. If not for her, then for others like her.

And for him.

Draco is cautious in his approach, stepping with care over piles of burnt books. He does not rush to her side as he once had. The fire of their youth has apparently been burned out by the war, and there is no spirit for wildness left in either of them, surrounded as they are by the ashes of their former life.

“Are you injured anywhere?” he asks, perfectly polite.

Weakly, Hermione raises a hand to her chest, placing it over her heart. She does not need to explain.

“You?”

“The same."

They are an arm’s length separated, and yet it feels like miles to her as she stares up at him, painfully aware that neither of them is attempting to sew shut those final inches.

For her part, she knows why that is: over the years, she has occasionally woken up in strange beds, and not as a result of battlefield injury. She feels a bit of shame in not having waited for her first love, but the fact is there has been no guarantees, no promises made between them, and the need to reaffirm life after dangerous missions has been her coping mechanism for getting through the war. And although there has never been anyone who has made her want to let go of her memories of Draco, a part of her greatly fears that may not hold true for him. How many women has he bedded since they parted ways four years earlier? Is he married, as she’s witnessed many in the Order do just before major battles? Is there a witch out there who wears his ring and bears his name, and is that why he keeps his distance now?

There is only one way to find out…

“They’ll arrest you if they catch you,” she warns him.

He waves off her concern. “Potter will vouch for me, and for Snape.”

“Him, too?” She huffs a surprised laugh. Her former potions professor was a spy as well. Who'd have guessed? “The slippery eel. I should have known.”

And she very well might have if Harry had trusted her enough.

But then, that is the nature of a Secret-Keeper: Nemini dixeris –'Tell no one'.

She has her own vow just like it, so she can’t play the indignant without appearing a hypocrite.

The vow. Merlin, she's already feeling the anxiety of having that discussion in the near future with her baby's daddy. Draco's going to lose it once he learns he's a father to a precocious three-year-old daughter who loves wrapping men around her little pinky finger.

She runs a hand over her face, trying to wipe away the sudden wave of exhaustion that rolls over her.

O, that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek!” Draco quietly jokes.

Glancing at him, she realises he is attempting to bridge the gap between them with teasing banter, and to tell her he still cares.

Her hand drops to her side once more. “Are you free to? Touch me, I mean.”

His eyes widen as he comprehends her meaning, and then that mocking, sexy smirk of his appears on the scene…and suddenly it's as if they have started at the beginning of their tale, rather than picking up the pieces at the end.

"If I did want to touch you, would you let me?" he asks.

"If I let you, would you do more than touch?" she dares him.

"If I did more than touch, how far would you let me take it?"

"If I let you take it all the way, would you – right here, right now?"

His grin widens. "If I fucked you, would you stop asking me inane questions all the time?"

She is not amused. "If I slapped you a second time, would it finally teach you some manners?"

"No hitting," he negotiates, closing the distance between them. "You've got a nasty right hook, you violent harpy." He takes her into his arms and hugs her tightly to him. "Hell, I hear McLaggen's still bitching about that time in the library, the mammering, ill-bred pansy."

They are quiet for a long while after that, just holding each other, relief pouring off them in waves. They have survived against all odds, and they are as they were before – a little older, definitely more cynical, both well-seasoned, but their connection is as familiar to Hermione as the feel of her wand in her hand.

They are two raging fires, and this is how they smoulder.

"I love you," she tells him, simply, quietly.

Draco takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Doubt thou the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love... thee.”

With her heart pounding so hard it threatens to leap from her chest, all Hermione can think to say is:

"Is there a 'thee' on the end of that speech? Because I could swear there wasn't."

Draco arches an eyebrow at her, shakes his head once, mutters something about her being a 'know-it-all swot', and then dips his smiling mouth to hers to shut her up.

As the kiss deepens, Hermione realises she is finally all out of questions.

~FIN~