|If It Was You
Author: attica PM
The fabulous sequel to Basketcase. “Malfoy,” she found herself saying, and not very nicely, either. “I love you.” To which he then promptly responded by slamming the door right in her face. DracoHermione.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Draco M. & Hermione G. - Chapters: 15 - Words: 138,487 - Reviews: 1,488 - Favs: 687 - Follows: 747 - Updated: 08-03-07 - Published: 04-08-06 - id: 2881579
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Summary: The Sequel to Basketcase. One year later, Draco Malfoy returns, and proving that every action has its consequences, a horrible chain of events goes awfully awry. The Death Eaters are quiet. A residential fire erupts. Two wizards are killed. A new potion is brewed. An annoying, new Auror is in the trio's midst. Lives are shaken and broken love is stirred up again. Get the gist? Here's a bit more: more secrets uncovered while people go undercover, jealousy makes its second debut, relationships are questioned, misconceptions get a boom, and Polyjuice Potions galore! Now, if only those two kids would get over themselves already and just get together…
Disclaimer: Title only borrowed from indie lovelies Tegan and Sara's record, If It Was You. And, no, it's J.K. Rowling who owns all of HP, not me. Flattering mistake, though.
Dedication: As was the first, as is the last. To Pookie. You. Rule. You go kick college's butt, yeh hear?
A Draco and Hermione Fanfiction.
I'm not too fond of post-Hogwarts stuff (it creeps me out), so this is only a year after their seventh year. So that makes Hermione nineteen, and Draco eighteen, if I'm correct. This is also COMPLETELY disregarding HPB, so a warning for all of you out there. Which means: no dead DD, no horcruxes, and all that jazz.
"No End is really the end. No, my friend. It is only the beginning."
The Return of Draco Malfoy
Today started out like any normal day for Hermione Granger.
Last night, though, had been a horribly wild evening – more rambunctious than any of the events she remembered attending at Hogwarts. George and Fred, to celebrate the massive hit that was their brand new joke shop, had thrown a just-as-massive party. Of course, it was mandatory to come (as said on the invitation) or else any wet blanket would receive some very deceivingly pleasant but unwanted sweets through owl, or maybe even personal delivery from the makers themselves. It also suggested they bring a date, though Hermione hadn't a clue why – but reckoned it was so George and Fred could charm said date and immediately whisk them away. They served the word "Sly" more justice than anyone else, really.
Hermione and Harry went together, as friends. They were both without dates and reckoned they needn't bother since it was last minute anyhow. It was unlikely they'd get dates so quickly.
It was an epic party; there were no objections about that. They'd rented out a great hall, blasted music with a thumping bass that made almost every girl's skirt fly up (not coincidentally, Hermione knew), and carted in sweets that filled five whole tables. Everyone knew that it had some amusing side affect at their own expense, but in the spirit of the jolly high, they consumed them anyway. And so the room was filled with people that shone like newly polished trophies, hair that blinked colors similar to the rainbow variety, tentacles growing from their ears, and hair growing from their ankles – and, once grown out, inexorably tripping people.
To answer that burning question, yes, it did produce a fair amount of laughs. It was like a circus show by midnight.
There were more, but that was when Hermione found her memory blanking out, quite oddly. She hadn't remembered eating any of the sweets, instead inspecting every assortment for anything humor relief-free. She found punch that Seamus insisted that he'd brought, and therefore wasn't Weasley-infected in any way, so Hermione trusted him. She filled herself up a happy cup of punch, and she sat herself down to enjoy the night's festivities.
Little did she know, not even Seamus knew that George and Fred had added a little something to spice the punch up. After all, punch that was Just Punch was awfully dull and did not abide with the motive of their party. So they slipped in a little something, eager to try it out.
Imagine Hermione's shock when Harry had told her in the morning that, after downing immense amounts of Just Punch, she'd started to giggle like a school girl drugged all the way to Pluto, shamelessly insisting on conjuring a Karaoke machine so she could sing some horrible Madonna song about virgins and touching. Harry had to carry her away before a riot could break out, and he did not fail to inform her that it wasn't exactly the easiest task when she was still teeming with laughter and singing that awful Madonna song.
"George and Fred want to thank you, though," said Harry early in the morning, yawning. His black hair was mussed to the extent that he almost resembled (the respectable) Robert Smith that her cousins were always raving on about. "You were the funniest of the lot. They want to give you an award. They also want to know if that song – you know, the Madonna song – had a very special meaning to you." He began to flush brightly, suddenly feeling very self-conscious about passing along the quip, but immediately started to chuckle to himself. "Virgins and getting touched for the very first time."
"Harry!" she'd exclaimed in a shrill pitch, banging her coffee mug on the table, causing her plate to rattle in front of her. "Honestly!"
And so she'd had to endure her whole morning with the knowledge that she'd blurted out Madonna's 'Like A Virgin' in a "sparkling performance" (as scored by Fred and George Weasley, the instigating gits of the whole situation) in between laughing herself to death and looking remarkably like she'd gone and lost all her wits. She'd told Harry to drop it, had even threatened him, but he still laughed whenever he looked at her.
Now she was really regretting staying home from work today. And so, in an effort to elude Harry Potter's jokes (they were quite unbearable), she pulled on a coat and told him she'd be popping by the bookstore and would be staying there until he could contain his immaturity.
This was before lunch.
And then, God help her, she got home, forgetting all about the Madonna rubbish. Hermione didn't know what she was thinking, or what spell somebody had cast on her or what evil brew someone had mixed into her drink – all she knew was: she'd skimmed through a Martha Stewart book that someone had left lying on the floor in the Philosophy section of the bookstore and felt the surge of sudden confidence in her cooking skills. What cooking skills, she hadn't even the fuzziest clue, but she reckoned she must have some buried deep inside her. After all, all females were born with that special ability, right? Even females who had recently just gained the tendency of singing an awful eighties song when drunk silly? Just like how men had been born with their laughable fancy for power tools and violence?
Hermione Granger, then, could and should be a fantastic cook.
And so she'd brought out her mum's dusty cookbook, cleaned it off, and flipped through its yellowed pages for a recipe. She finally came upon a page that included a salmon bisque and chicken. It looked fairly hard, and Hermione wasn't very well acquainted with cooking lingo, but she was enticed by the challenge. She was fairly excellent in Potions, how hard could cooking be?
She'd never cooked before. At least, not really. But she found most of the necessary ingredients in their refrigerator and cupboards and just as she was trying to read the cookbook, she faced another distraction. Really, how was she going to ever cook if Harry kept bloody pestering her? First about last night, and now this? Now she really wished he'd gone to work today.
Hermione eyed him, her brown eyes darkening with suspicion. "What are you doing?"
"I'm going to owl Ron," Harry informed her. "He's going to wet himself with laughter once he hears about you cooking."
"Harry!" she exclaimed. "Why is it such a bloody big deal? So I want to cook – you should be ecstatic! You haven't had a home-cooked meal since we went to the Burrow a month ago!"
Harry stopped. Then he turned around, grinning. "You see, Hermione," he tried to explain quite seriously – but failed miserably. "You're good at reading, studying, scolding, hitting, test-taking, shouting—"
Hermione raised the ladle to her shoulder, scowling at him. "I hope you're going somewhere with this."
"I am," Harry insisted. "It's just that… well, it's just common knowledge that… you can't cook."
"And how would you know? I haven't even tried!"
"Exactly. We didn't want to give you the opportunity to burn the house down and possibly harm yourself and others in the process," Harry said.
"Harry Potter, get out of the kitchen and do not owl Ron or else I will chuck this at your face" – she fetched the serving knife and held it up for him to see, gleaming immaculately in the light – "and not miss."
Harry only laughed. "All right then, Hermione. Just keep your wand handy. We'd only just gotten this flat last year and I wouldn't want to be homeless at eighteen."
Hermione scoffed, giving him a final glare, before turning back to her cookbook, mumbling to herself about the idiocy of the male species. Where did Harry get off, anyhow? He couldn't cook to save his life. How could he possibly know that she didn't harbor any fantastic cooking skills – that she couldn't even possibly be the next household phenomenon right after Martha? He didn't, that was how! Besides, Martha was getting quite off on her years. After getting chucked into prison, there wasn't much interest in her creations on her show anymore. People just watched it to see if she might finally crack on national television or perhaps throw one of her infamous fits.
Apparently, people got quite a laugh from celebrity tempers.
"Right," Hermione muttered, trying to gather all of her concentration. She was determined to make Harry Potter eat his words. "Half one lemon and squeeze over the chicken…" She reached for a lemon and retrieved the knife from one of the drawers, dividing it precisely in the middle. She carefully squeezed the lemon halves over the chicken before tossing them out, brushing off her hands and looking on for the next set of directions.
And so she continued to prepare the uncooked chicken, frantically fussing over the ingredients and the measurements. Her genuinely finical nature made it tremendously disastrous. She'd thought it wouldn't be much different from Potions, what with the directions and following them, but what was it about cooking that sent her into such disorder? Could Harry possibly be right? Could she have been possibly born without the special ability to cook – unlike most girls? This frightened her. Suddenly she felt the need to do it so perfectly that she pounded her fist and it pummeled a lemon half lying on the counter and it spurted lemon juice into her eye.
After all, that was how it was in the world, right? Proving people wrong? Proving that they were better than the judgments and misconceptions formed every single day by haughty, self-assured people?
Well, today Hermione Granger was going to climb her Everest.
She was going to cook this chicken so perfectly that Harry Potter was going to shed tears just eating it and fall to his knees and apologize and beg for her to cook more.
Okay, maybe that was going a bit too far, but still.
Alas, she finally finished cooking after an hour's worth of prepping. She read over the directions again, re-read, and then looked to make sure it was how it should look (though how she could know how it should look, she didn't know, since there wasn't a picture of that). She couldn't help but smile proudly at her great accomplishment as she slid the chicken in the oven (especially after Harry had come by and laughed at her again and she'd wanted to throw the ladle at his face), although she was a tad nervous for reason that she'd had to estimate the minutes to let it bake for the lower part of the recipe had been severely blotted with some unknown – though questionable – substance, and was therefore unreadable.
NowHermione had been going to rub it in her flatmate's face in the light of her proud glory, but it was then he'd chosen to go to the loo, and, while waiting for him, she'd picked up the Daily Prophet. She was rather amused to find the headline on the front page: Newly-Established Auror Captures Death Eater. She was highly skeptical of it at first, looking at it curiously yet her face appearing immensely perturbed, since it was rather rare any Auror at all – let alone a newbie – caught a Death Eater. She supposed it was just some scam, especially once she observed the picture of the so-called Auror.
He was tall and skinny, even a bit awkward-looking, and seemed to be around the age of her, Harry and Ron. But his smile was so wide and massive (and arrogant) it was almost frightening. He stood straight, shoulders broadened and perky, showing off his medal with his gangly arms protruding from the loose sleeves of his expensive robes. He held a trophy in the other hand as it gleamed from the flashes of the photographers' cameras, beaming so haughtily at the public that it made Hermione want to laugh at him and scorn him at the same time.
"Bloody show-off," she mumbled as she read the other articles. After twenty minutes, however, it was clear to her that Harry had occupied himself by taking a bath. He'd always been one to take his time showering. Hermione preoccupied herself by rearranging the picture frames in the living area (which only consisted of a fireplace, two couches, a coffee table and some shelves since it was rather small). She also began dusting. She was finical about dusting as well, if that was not already a given.
She was fixing all of her books on the shelf (apparently, the last time Ron had visited, he had muddled it up just to infuriate her) alphabetically – and by color sometimes if there were two versions – when she heard knocking. Unfortunately, she was still trying to decide which Hogwarts: A History would be appropriate to put first. She had six different versions, including one in French and Italian. It was quite a mind-numbing activity to her, since she had to take into account how the rest of the bookshelf was arranged as well. There was a special particular order she liked it in.
Biting her lip and looking at the covers of each one, she told them to hold on.
The knocking resumed.
"Hermione, who is that knocking?" she finally heard Harry say as she heard the familiar rusty creak of the bathroom door opening. Sometimes she got the gist that their flat was older than they were. That noisy hinge had been bothering her for months now.
"I don't know," she told him, not looking up from the books. Which edition would only add to the soigné advantage of her bookshelf? A query, indeed, for Hermione who was now nibbling on her bottom lip – a habit from her early days that she'd never been able to rid herself off.
"Don't think you could answer it, then?" Harry said amusedly. "I'm just going to go dry up. Answer it, will you?"
"Who is it?" Hermione called out, rather irritated with the perpetual knocking, still struggling with her uncertainty.
The relentless pounding persisted on the door. It had even seemed to strengthen in force if she had the sense to listen closely. There was urgency vibrating from the knocker's – sore by now, she rightly assumed – rapping knuckles.
"Who is that?" she mumbled to herself as she got up, finally deciding to put the English versions first, then the Special Editions, then the French, then the Italian. She hastily shoved them in, one after the other as the knocking became boisterous. She grabbed the insentient glass figurine Mrs. Weasley had sent them from the shelf, using the base of her shirt to rub away the dust, heading towards the door. "Seems perfectly intent on murdering our door… Who is it?" she called again, before reaching for the doorknob with the ornament still in her hand, unlocking the door, and pulling it open.
Perhaps it was one of those door-to-door salesmen again, selling encyclopedias or hokey cleaning tools. Though Hermione did like going through the encyclopedias, she shooed out the other sorts of salesmen. There were quite a lot in this area, especially those from real estate.
But it wasn't.
Oh, no. It wasn't at all.
She felt as if the breath had been brutally knocked out of her as she stared at what the door revealed, standing on their doorstep. The fine-spun spool of thought she'd been relying on for the last few months gave away, flailing in the air in front of her like a lost ribbon in the wind, quickly unraveling as it spun out of her hands and out of control. And here she thought she'd just tucked each and every one of her loose ends back in for certain this time. She lost control over her jaw, hence its becoming instantaneously slack with shock, her eyes widening at an extraordinary size and her head suddenly pounding with a ferocity she didn't recall she'd ever felt before. Her heart, she assumed, had possibly frozen itself in surprise, but as seconds passed and she simply stared at the image in front of her, refusing to believe that this was real, or even a mere semblance of reality; she felt blood begin to rush through her body again.
It was Draco Malfoy.
Somehow, it just seemed too surreal. It was if she could reach out to him, but she'd only feel the air of nothingness slip through her fingers, and he would simply vanish, like a mere but painful figment of her longing imagination.
And Hermione, in all of her shock, felt the porcelain snowman slip from her fingers. She supposed it shattered, as it would only be logical to assume so, but she didn't hear the strident, dominating sound of it shattering against the hard wooden floor. No, there was a white noise roaring inside of her ears now, like the bellow of an unforgiving sea, and she reckoned that that had easily swallowed it up. Or, perhaps, in her cruel momentary shock of seeing what she only hoped was a ghost from her past and not really an actuality she was going to be forced to face yet again, she had gone deaf. The howling in her ears – something she concluded was only another trickery of her cerebral functions, perhaps a malfunction or the sort – overwhelmed her. She felt jolts of electricity leaping within her veins like sprightly dolphins in the Caribbean.
He, apparently, hadn't been expecting to see her either, if the look he had on his face was any indication. With his silver eyes remarkably enlarged, his face as white as a sheet (then again, he'd always been that pale so the difference was questionable), and a look of pure shock molded on the handsome yet treacherous features of his pure-blood face, he looked at her as if he was having difficulties mulling over this reality, as well. And, well, she couldn't blame him at all for that, could she? Who would have thought he'd be standing on their doorstep after one entire year? One entire year of nothing, absolutely nothing at all – except of trying to get her life back on track (after he'd sadistically derailed her) and trying to forget all about that supercilious prick?
Hermione knew that seeing him again was inevitable, especially with the legendary Hogwarts reunions she kept hearing about, but she would have been lying if the thought of running into him if she didn't have to hadn't fueled the idea of moving back to the Muggle world. Even now, she felt tinny wires of fear thread through her petite, bookish body just thinking about it. Some extensive measures had been taken to avoid seeing this bastard's prat-face again.
Yet here they were. Only a few feet of distance betwixt them. How ironically this world worked.
She blinked furiously, failing to believe this was their palpable dimension. No matter how hard she tried, she was still incredulous. How couldn't she be? Draco Malfoy was standing in front of her. She didn't want to believe it. Not now. Not ever. What on earth could Draco Malfoy be doing on their doorstep? In fact, what was he even doing in the Muggle world? Seeing him here, like a terrible nightmare gone wrong, had to be the worst. The undeniable, atrocious incongruency of his sophisticated clothes and blond hair in the Cheshire Fox vicinity was just too cruel. It couldn't be real. Could it?
"Malfoy?" she found herself spitting, her head pounding, still reeling from surprise. As she said his name her lungs jerked from its place, colliding against her ribs and giving her a sharp impression of pain for the quickest of seconds. She even almost felt her knees buckle underneath her. She hadn't uttered his name ever since she'd left Hogwarts exactly one year ago. Never felt the need to. In fact, she hadn't been planning to say his name ever again.
Leave it to fate to muck all that up.
For a reason far too unfathomable for her to even admit, she felt a burst of pain in her chest. Like little internal fireworks that tore all of her arteries to grotesque pieces, slowly wrecking havoc on her body, inside out. All at once, she was tackled by a turbulent tide of furious emotions like a crushing wave, leaving her with a heavy feeling stacking in her lungs, a horribly dry throat, and a spiraling, monstrous whirlwind in her skull. There was a little tornado causing chaos in that little cranium of hers, she simply knew it. After all, how could her head suddenly pummel itself inwards and outwards at the same sodding time with such viciousness like an awful hangover? How could her body erupt with shivers just at the wintry familiarity of his eyes, yet instantly warm with humming heat?
Quickly composing herself, she took a deep breath and shoved all unnecessary thoughts and feelings away. She tried to hide her shock like a true professional and looked at him, massively disturbed by his presence. Looking at him more, his astonishment rapidly skittering behind his structured cheekbones and scowling lips, she felt a tumor of bottled anger begin to leak and fizz like a badly shaken soda can. She clenched her hands beside her, feeling the slight moisture in her skin as she did, swallowing hard with growing impatience and annoyance, glowering as effectively as she could.
"Granger," he acknowledged her in his imperious drawl.
There, hearing his voice, she felt almost her entire body shake. She didn't know why. Or how. But she wasn't feeling the most stable right now and all of her riotous emotions, like a swarm of insects led by a warm desert breeze, felt as if they had crash-landed inside of her.
And Hermione, hearing his intonation, so indifferent from the last time she had heard him that it was utterly offensive, felt her blood boil. She knew that if she were to consider her rational side, she wouldn't have any reason to hate him. After all, what had happened, happened. There was no undoing it. She'd long gotten over him and his malicious ways, and the crippling pain that came with her memories of him had faded with time. All it took was time. All it took was knowing how to refocus on the path she wanted to take and how to finally begin her new phase in life. She shouldn't be angry with him anymore.
But she wasn't a bloody saint, now, was she? She couldn't help it. Deep down, no matter how much time had gone by and how conveniently she had healed herself, she still remembered how he hurt her. And the Dark Mark. She'd always remember the Dark Mark. And that, regardless of how much she tried to furiously deny it, hurt her all over again.
She was just to open her mouth to say something – what she was going to possibly say to him that didn't involve curses or bad names, she didn't know – when she heard footsteps behind her. She looked down immediately, flustered, when she knew Harry was behind her, as if ashamed to have kept Draco Malfoy's gaze for so long without attempting to kill him. Immediately, her body tensed even more than it had already been before. She felt wound tight, as if any time now, if she were pulled tighter and stretched more, she would snap.
Her head spun. She saw flashes of the Dark Mark imprinted on his ivory skin, permanently burned into his forearm, and she felt her throat tighten with such intensity that she wanted nothing but to turn away. She felt as if she would suddenly do something spiteful to him – not to mention harmful – if she kept to this spot. Memories of him yelling at her, of his angry, enraged face pummeled her. She looked down at her feet, breathing heavily.
I don't love you.
Of course that was to be expected. She knew that. She, herself, wasn't even certain if she'd loved him. She'd been young and naïve, and blind-sighted by the possibility of trite love.
She hated love.
"Malfoy?" he said, disbelievingly. Harry's green eyes were wide with surprise and suspicion. He neared them, stopping right beside a grim Hermione.
Draco immediately diverted his gaze to the purpose of this whole mission. He tried his hardest to conceal the fierce momentum of his heart, pounding against his chest like a ticking bomb, his mind hazy and inconveniently fuzzy from his unexpected surprise. However, as he looked at Potter's bothered face, adorned with a not-so-flattering expression that hinted physical danger, his glasses flashing like monstrous, oversized silver coins, he couldn't help but unfocusedly stare. By Merlin, he was too overwhelmed. His stomach was clenching spastically that it should have been considered a health hazard. Why on earth was Hermione Granger in Harry Potter's flat? Why now, of all the days, had she had to visit? And why, after one entire year, was he still feeling as if he had been hit with an outrageously strong stunning spell after seeing her? And what about that churning feeling in his stomach that sent provocative chills through his skin?
He fought to contain himself. Granger present or not, he would not make himself appear like a fool. He, after all, still had dignity.
However little it was.
Stupid Dumbledore. Stupid Snape. Stupid Mother.
He calmly addressed him, ignoring the woman staring at him with a stern blend of a look between anger and forced composure. He could feel her gaze burning into him, and that was enough for him to know that her dogmatic nature still hadn't changed.
"Potter," he drawled, his eyes grave on his. "We've got to talk."
Harry furrowed his brows at him, looking immensely disturbed. "What could we possibly have to talk about, Malfoy?" he said coldly. "Now, if you would just leave – what are you doing here, anyway?" he pried, stepping past Hermione and looking down the corridor to see if the he had led anyone there. He looked back at him. "How did you get our address?" he asked threateningly.
"Don't act stupid, Potter," Draco snarled, tired of this Brave Hero nonsense. It was getting to be too cliché for him to bear. "You only gave your address to one other person besides Weasley. It shouldn't be overly hard to figure that out."
Harry glared at him. "Malfoy, leave. Right now. I don't know what you're up to, but you have no business—"
"I was sent here on an important and urgent matter of business," Draco interrupted, trying to clarify his motive. Potter, he should have remembered, was particularly insufferable. He had a head as thick as wool. Maybe even thicker. He was already having a hard time trying to keep down his temper. He acted as if he was the Queen of sodding England, throwing his words about with such authority.
Harry stared at him. His expression was grave, and then, to Draco's surprise, transcended into one of exasperation. He sighed. "Bloody hell, Malfoy, you aren't trying to sell us a house, are you?"
"No!" Draco exclaimed, giving him a look of disbelief.
Oh, Good Merlin. This was going to be harder than he thought.
And all because Harry Potter was a dim-witted elephant. And this was a year later! Whoever said that with age came wisdom was apparently lying, because it seemed very clear to him that there were some people like Potter in the world who just got even dumber with each month that passed! It was so ridiculous that Draco – for the first time in his life – didn't even want to revel in his stupidity.
"No, Potter!" he shouted. "For Merlin's sake, I'd never be a damned home merchant in Muggle London! I have dignity, you know! Now, will you just bloody let me in?" he demanded. "Or does that hideous scar not only hinder your already wretched appearance but impair the functions of your brain as well?"
"Why?" Harry snapped. "For all I know, you could be some escaped mental patient and pyromaniac from St. Mungo's set on burning my flat down! As far as I can see, I owe you nothing to even let you step in here, you pasty bastard—"
Then, surprisingly, Potter was interrupted by someone else other than Draco. There was a hint of mystification and dawning urgency in her voice, her brown eyes flashing with realization.
"Speaking of burning," Hermione Granger irrelevantly interjected. "Don't you smell something?"
Harry broke off his rant, and both Draco and Harry looked at her, nonplussed. Draco almost wanted to step back from the violent gush of somersaults his stomach was performing, which he assumed was just another side affect of the violent shock of seeing her here after not expecting to at all. Being too close to her was dangerous, and he knew that Potter knew it too, for he looked up and caught the menacing glare he was sending him. His grimace was so heated all he needed was the crimson pitchfork and his look would have been complete.
Draco sneered at him. "It smells like smoke," he spoke clearly, shifting his gaze back to the brunette girl. "I advise you two to get your senses attuned, because it appears that something is—"
"Burning!" Hermione suddenly shouted frantically. "Oh Merlin! The chicken! The bloody chicken!" Frighteningly bug-eyed, forgetting all about the un-foretold drop-in of Draco Malfoy, she quickly bent down, her russet curls whizzing after her, trying to gather up all the shards of the broken snowman in her hands – not caring at all of the serious hazards of holding glass in your bare hands (which disturbed Draco) – before she stood up and dashed to the kitchen. Draco's stare followed after her, subconsciously trying to remember if she moved just as quick as she moved before, feeling a tinny ping reverberate off the sides of his hollow, rusting chest.
But as Draco's ice-colored eyes flickered to the man standing before him (who was still shorter than him, by the way – and a year was more than enough for height growth), he noticed the threatening scowl Harry Potter had simmering on his face like the upshot of a bad day. Yes, the Golden Boy could look particularly mean if he put his back into it. But when Draco looked at him he still saw the same awkward, revolting Gryffindor, and so it still looked quite ridiculous to him.
"Look, Malfoy," he growled in an undertone, "if you're here about Hermione—"
At first, Draco hadn't a single fuzziest clue what the fool was talking about. But as his words struck him – predominantly the phrase "Here About Hermione" – he felt a great punch depressing itself right in his gut, almost overwhelming him. His words fled from his mouth before he even thought about answering him, his mind frantic.
"No!" Draco harshly said, his eyes narrowing with spite. "I'm not here for her!" He felt heat creeping along the back of his neck as he remembered Potter knew all about his past relationship with Granger. His hands balled into fists, his tensed shoulders squaring. He didn't know why he felt angry, or even betrayed, at the fact that Granger had told Potter. He had to have known that – didn't he? Potter had known about them. How else was she to explain the lack of her disappearances? How else was she to explain the simple detail that she hadn't shot him a look – not even one – that last week she had been in school? Or that for a boy she had been so smitten with, she hadn't even told him a measly goodbye? How was she to explain that to her best friend, Harry sodding Potter?
"Good," he said gravely, and Draco's wintry eyes narrowed. The word sent chills through him that he didn't like at all. But as they simply stared each other down in a sort of unspoken challenge, thick, crackling tension bound between them, both unwavering and unflinching, Harry Potter's sobriety was suddenly interrupted by his annoyance. "Then why are you here?" he demanded lowly. "And how in the bloody hell did you find me? If I ever find out you stole the information, Malfoy, I swear I'll—"
"What? Report me to Azkaban and lock me up?" he hissed. "Look, Potter, I can't talk about it out here." However, he did still want to punch him (outside or inside, it didn't really matter as the effects would not differ) because of his High and Mighty attitude. Draco Malfoy really hated Harry Potter – that was no lie. Couldn't ever be exaggerated, either. Nobody else saw it, but he did, oh yes, he did. While everybody else was busy drooling all over his stupid, ugly battle scars, Draco had seen the arrogance and superiority just festering beneath that wretched appearance.
Thus, it only further proved just how insanely hypocritical they were. Spitting at him for being arrogant and prejudice and malicious – look at Harry Potter! Did he turn the other cheek? Well, did he? As far as Draco could account for, there was no cheek-turning to be acknowledged. So, at the end of the day, no matter what Harry Potter did, he was just as bad as the rest of them. Lightning bolt scar (Draco did not concur with that depiction; he rather much thought it'd looked like a rooster had gone berserk on him – which, he couldn't say he blamed the animal for that, either. He had always heard roosters were a good judge of character)… or not.
Harry gave him a vicious glare before making to close the door on him. Draco stopped him, putting his hand right on the edge, preventing him from being able to. He wanted to mangle the idiot. "Bloody hell, Potter!" Draco snapped impatiently, reaching the end of his wire. Why on earth were Gryffindors so insufferable? "It's about the Dark Lord, all right? Now will you just—" but before he could finish, Harry had already pulled him in and hastily shut the door closed, the door frame rattling loudly behind them from his forceful aggression.
"Damn it, Malfoy!" Harry shouted, breathing hard. He looked frenzied, his glasses somewhat askew on the crook of his nose. "Someone could have heard!"
"And whose fault would that be, Potter?"
"Yours!" they shouted at each other, in unison.
"Malfoy, a year later, and you're still a git," Harry Potter said to him, scowling, all the while fixing his glasses, as if it would make him more menacing. Draco, meanwhile, wondered why he hadn't caught the uncanny resemblance between him and Sybill Trelawney before. Why, they looked almost like twins to him now! The hideous round glasses, scraggly, untamable hair… And then there was, of course, the personality so far beyond the pale to even consider bearing.
"Likewise," Draco retaliated with a scornful twinge to his voice. Who did Potter think he was, anyhow? Mother Teresa? What was he doing that made him so special? Living at a convent? Reading to the blind?
But as Harry was to say something – something unwittingly yet obviously dense, Draco reckoned – they heard coughing. Their heads snapped to their right, their attentions caught, where they discovered in horror that the kitchen was now completely bathed in obscuring billows of gray smoke. The strong smell of it, sharp and undeniably unpleasant, stung his nose and lungs and clung onto his clothes.
Harry headed towards the kitchen, his strides incensed with urgency, and Draco found himself heading to the smoke as well, not too far behind.
"Stay there, Malfoy!" Harry yelled, glimpsing behind him, yet not stopping to force Draco back into the living area when he found that he was doing the exact opposite of what he had told him to do.
"Like hell, Potter!"
The smokescreen immediately blinded them as they stepped into the pungently masked room. He couldn't make out anything at all, no furniture or anything to hint off his boundaries, as Draco covered his mouth with his hand, hearing coughs somewhere nearby, blindingly trying to make his way through the kitchen. But as he inhaled, the harshness of the smoke filled his lungs, and his body began to heave as he began to cough uncontrollably, too. His eyes began to water. Squinting through the murky white haze, feeling it almost burn his eyes, he searched for a head of wild brown tresses.
Finally, as he stepped closer towards his right, he could make out a blotch of darkness – another form. He stormed forward, relieved to see that it was indeed her. She was coughing fiercely, wearing ridiculous oven mittens that had yellow sunflowers sewn onto them. And as Draco looked at her, feeling almost as if he had stepped into one of his dreams again, he began to notice with a twisting inside his chest that she hadn't changed at all. Yes, he had never seen her surrounded in smoke before, and perhaps he was merely suffering from delusions that resulted from the smoke clouding his brain, but it seemed as if she was exactly the way he'd last seen her one year ago. Her hair was still the same – thick natural curls that had grown out into russet waves. Her eyes, uncannily, still sent tingles through his skin that jolted each and every one of his nerves to life. Somehow, knowing that no significant change had really affected her, he felt a slight latch of happiness clinging to him.
He didn't know why. He'd always had a fairly easy time letting go of the past, but for some reason he could not explain even if he was asked to, he couldn't ignore theirs. Swallowing hard, feeling the heat clustering up at the base of his throat, his chest tightened as he watched her through the stubborn smoke.
She appeared to be trying to communicate with him, and Draco listened harder through her hacks.
"Wand!" she yelled, but immediately lapsed into another fit of coughs, inopportunely obfuscating her message.
His silver brows hiked up his forehead in bewilderment. "What?"
Uncannily, even through the thick smoke, he could sense it when she was glaring at him. It was like dangerous radiation, or heat rays without the proper SPF sunscreen. All he knew was, he sensed the wave-like impressions of her annoyance and fraying impatience, even after one whole year of absence.
Yes, Draco Malfoy's abilities scared even himself at times.
This time, Draco caught what she had been trying to tell him. His ears ringing with an exceptionally shrill, faint tintinnabulation, he hastily plunged his hand into the pocket of his trousers, mentally reprimanding himself for not thinking of it before, and drew it once he'd grasped the slender wood. He instantaneously recited a spell, the words flying out of his mouth like a mad canary, and as if a massive gust of wind had swept into the room and flounced it away, the smoke cleared. He blinked furiously as his sightlessness vanished, slapping his hand against his chest as he let out one painful cough that swiveled against his scratchy throat.
Granger was in front of him, trying to calm herself down, while Potter was all the way across from them, which, Draco discovered, instilled a great deal of pride inside him. So Harry Potter wasn't a hero all the time. That comforted him.
Then, as they had finally composed their coughing fits, getting used to clean air once again, and sighed with relief, Draco noticed the… black thing, she had in a tray on the floor in front of her. It was sitting in an undyingly ruined metal plate that still had trails of smoke rising from its edges. One of its sides had a little purple flame dancing atop of it, which Draco had extinguished with a single water spell as soon as he had seen.
He furrowed his brows. "And what exactly is that?" he inquired in puzzlement. "A smoker's lungs?"
Hermione glanced up at him, a scowl gracing her pale, solemn face. Then she moved her scowl to the black thing on the tray, as if it had wronged her in some way. She looked as if she would have wanted to harm it if it weren't already dead, whatever it was. She looked extremely contemptuous.
"It's a chicken," she spat.
"You're joking," Draco began to laugh, amused with the turnout of this… chicken. It looked nothing like a chicken at all, it was ridiculous. He wanted to tell her that it was so nonsensical-looking she should sue, but he didn't. The vicious look scrawled on her face when she looked at him was already a clear-cut warning that he needed to watch his words. So, instead, he said nothing, his face falling into an impassive expression as she hoisted up the tray with her sunflower mittens (which he noticed had burn marks printed across of them) to the counter beside the sink. There she sighed heavily and Draco simply watched her, unmoving, for a moment.
"I take it that burning things isn't just for special occasions, is it?" he smirked.
"Shut up and stay here," said Harry Potter, obviously not in a very humorous mood. "I'm going to go owl Dumbledore. I'm going to find out what it is you're up, to, Malfoy, and when I do, I expect to see you in that same spot. Malfoy, don't go anywhere, do you hear me? And Hermione, if he tries anything, don't let him." And then, with one final bone-chilling glare, he disappeared into his room.
Thus, Draco Malfoy was left alone in the kitchen with Hermione Granger.
But as Draco watched her, bewilderment waved over him at the realization of Harry Potter's lack of a reaction towards his probable Death Eater future that he knew (it was no secret what Gryffindor House gabbed around the halls) they had all actively speculated about. Quite obviously, if Harry Potter had known about what he'd pulled on Granger (the fake Dark Mark) to cause such sore feelings between them now, he'd never have even let him step a single toe into this place, let alone leave him alone in the kitchen with a wandless Granger. Although, in all fairness, he wouldn't necessarily call her totally defenseless; she did have that burnt coal of a chicken that he assumed probably weighed as much as a small person, and he had a strong feeling that if she were just to throw it at him she could very well possibly kill him. Or just temporarily pin him down while she went into her drawers and whipped out her butcher knife.
He looked at her, a serious look dawning on his face. He tensed, not quite knowing what her reason was for hiding such a thing from her friend. Perhaps she hadn't told him everything, after all. But why? Why, out of everything, had she purposely neglected telling Potter about the Dark Mark on his forearm? Or had she forgotten? But even that seemed out of the question. He knew she couldn't have forgotten, not now, not ever. It was the sort of thing that Draco knew would stick to a person forever, like a bad scar. And while Hermione Granger was probably the single fiercest female of her age, she wasn't immune to things like pain. He knew that. He'd seen that.
Because, the truth of it was: no one was. Not even him, it turned out. Not even close.
"You didn't tell him, did you?" he asked her. He'd thought it'd have been the first thing she'd told him because it was only logical to think so – after all, it was a well known fact that nothing excited these Gryffindors like a justified reason to start a blood hunt for their favorite Slytherin. They'd have had the Ministry tailing his arse, not to mention Potter leading the massacre… but why hadn't it happened? Why had Granger chosen to keep his Dark Mark – even if it was fake, which, even if she had told the Ministry, they would have found out eventually and would've been forced to let him go – a secret? Or had she told Potter and he'd simply just forgotten? Although that was highly unlikely. He knew that they fancied keeping in mind his soi-disant enormity and would have actually pounced at the opportunity to chuck him behind bars with the soul-sucking Dementors.
She froze from his words, her limbs momentarily immobile. But then she commenced moving again, though awkwardly and stiffly, slipping off her sunflower mittens. She ignored his question.
"I see you haven't lost your touch for boorish hilarity," she said instead, rather coldly, her words frigid and biting in the tense air. They could have grown icicles in here if he'd had the sense to stick around all year long. "Never did miss that." She tried to dump the completely burnt chicken into the waste can, scraping it off the tray. The shrill sound of metal on metal screeched in his ears, causing him to impulsively grit his teeth. Draco's smirk vanished, feeling the aged wound inside his chest begin to slightly throb. He began to remember things he'd been too shocked to remember before. Flashes of hazy, Technicolor activity in his slurring skull, memories of the past he'd long buried. With her. And he felt as if, for some reason he did not know, he had been plunged back into his last year at Hogwarts.
He was suddenly at the corridor again, remembering the last time he had ever seen her. The way he had simply stared at her for moments easily mistaken for small increments of eternity, realizing what he had never wanted to realize – what could have inexorably be the death of him – and deciding that he would tell her the last thing any Malfoy would ever dare tell anyone. That he loved her.
But – and how brilliant was this – he never did. And he didn't know, couldn't possibly, whether he was jubilant about that or resentful. Couldn't one simply be both? Or was that cheating? Or was it brilliant?
"Now, Granger," he said, humor no longer in his tone, "there's no need for hostility." The chicken landed inside the waste can with a solid thud, on cue with the leap of his heart, as she looked up at him. Her brown eyes were dark and just as fierce and defiant as he remembered them.
Underneath the murky exterior of her orbs that he could, unfortunately, recognize anywhere, he could see the toiling, breathing, and intoxicating hate she held for him. She could hold it in. Anyone could. But what Draco knew was that hate was sprouted and nurtured by many other things than anger or bitterness, or hurt. He could see all of them now, like a melting pot of every emotion one could possibly find, enmeshed into two counterparts of a tumultuous sea. He knew her. He knew that the last thing she had ever wanted to see in her lifetime was him standing on her best friend's doorstep.
And he understood. He perfectly did. After all, the feeling was mutual. He figured he himself could've done just fine without seeing her again.
Hermione clenched her jaw, her temper bubbling inside her like a reminder of what he had done. Her chest felt restricted and bound by thick, cutting rope. It then occurred to her that perhaps the kitchen wasn't the safest place to be when she was angry – after all, the sharp kitchen utensils were just two drawers away, within her arm's reach. Instant, easy access. Or was that a good thing? She didn't know, and so she tried to imagine him with a butter knife (blunt knives were much worse than sharp ones) sticking out of his forehead.
"Hostility?" she whispered to him, enraged. "You can't just show up here and expect that we're going to be friends." Hermione picked up the pan and threw it in the sink with a loud crash, almost making the entire house shake with the noise. "You're not welcome here," she said to him, ruthlessly. "Not by Harry, not by me, not by anyone, all right?"
Draco glowered at her. "For your information, I didn't expect anything," he said to her, his voice expertly mirroring her enmity. "And of course I'm not welcome here, but that isn't the case, is it? I didn't come here voluntarily, so you might as well stop acting as if I'd just crashed your party. I'm here because I was sent on some urgent and important business concerning Potter, not because I'm to give some bloody house blessing," he snapped.
"And what exactly is that?" she hissed. "Your business with him? What could you possibly have to talk about that you couldn't have owled? How did you even find us? God," she suddenly said, shaking her head as she tore her gaze away, slamming another kitchen utensil into the sink with another great clatter, "forget it, I don't even want to know! Knowing you, it's only probably something self-gaining or morbidly sadistic."
But before Draco could tell her exactly to sod off, it wasn't even her business to know in the first place, feeling a smart from her words; the ever-glorious Potter had stormed back in like an unwelcome winter draft.
He stood right in front of Draco, his square jaw set and his eyes tentative yet fierce. "While I'm waiting for a reply from Dumbledore, you're going to explain why you're here," he said seriously. "What do you want, Malfoy? What are you doing here? Obviously it's got to be something big, right? After all, you did come all the way here to Muggle London."
Oh, yes. It was definitely chilly in here; there was no doubt about that.
"Well, it's fairly simple, Potter," Draco drawled, still a bit teed off from Granger's biting retribution. "Let's skip the social niceties, shall we? Point is: I just happen to know a bit of news you might want to know. Of course, telling you would mean you'd have to cooperate with our plans. There's no such a price as free, after all."
"Whose plans?" Harry ground out through his teeth.
"Ours," Draco simply said, refusing to give it out. "I'm afraid I can't disclose that information until you've vowed secrecy and collaboration. Don't you get it, Potter? We're all in just as much danger as you are. And if they find out, then the world as we know it would fall into the hands of the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters. We want to help you, but by doing so, you've got to help us. We've the same motive," Draco said gravely, making sure he got the point. "And that's to help destroy the Dark Lord. So, what about it? Things are happening, and it'd be foolish to go and try to do this by yourself. To put it quite simply: you aren't ready. We've already rounded up valuable information and we've got spies to provide us with more. Dumbledore's been with this operation since it started, so you needn't concern yourself with that old koot."
"I don't believe you," said Harry, his eyes narrowing into miniscule emerald slits. "Since when do you get off wanting to help us? Since when," Harry annunciated, "did you stop running around with your little cloaked friends causing death and tragedy wherever you go? Since when did you stop kneeling before Voldemort yourself and doing his dirty work? Are you just some double-dealing bastard or are you something else?" His eyes darkened, not even attempting to hide his contempt and mistrust. It sizzled on his every word. "I want you to get out, Malfoy. Right now." Harry pointed at the door. "Dumbledore may trust you, but I don't. Leave now."
Draco's glower intensified, tightly gripping his wand. "Believe me, Potter, if I had any interest in killing you, then I would have left you alone with your burnt poultry and Granger's ghastly cooking skills, which would have quickly started a very nonsensical but tragic house fire, wounding, or, very possibly, even killing you both. But I didn't, did I? That must give you some clue about my intentions, unless you really are as dim-witted as they say, in which case, I wouldn't be surprised at all."
"Your intentions, Malfoy, are as seedy as you are."
"Now, if I had a sickle for every time somebody said that to me," he spat, feeling his temper rise.
"You liar," Hermione suddenly said, cutting in. "Get out." Draco looked towards her. She seemed shaken up, pale, and on the verge of tears. Her words were nippy and enraged, yet they wavered as she spoke. She was still in her corner, with the sunflower oven gloves thrown over in the sink. "Leave us alone." Her face was cold and firm, her skin stretched taut and tight. Her eyes were dark and she looked furious, glinting in the muted light. Outside, it began to rain, and Draco could hear the water tapping against their windows. "We wouldn't believe you if you came here selling Bibles."
"Well then, Granger, that just proves that you have very little faith in humankind."
"You, Draco Malfoy," she hissed, "shouldn't flatter yourself by accounting your coal of a heart and devil of a soul as a part of human kind."
"And what about you, Granger?" he suddenly yelled, infuriated. His fiery words surged through the kitchen, wearing the walls, causing the small metal spoons to quiver in their cases. A mitten fell over to the floor. "What makes you more special than the rest of us? Burning chicken and almost setting this entire flat on fire – you can't even cook! What is it? Do you think you're so safe beside Potter that Voldemort's not even going to think about touching you? That he's not even going to think about using you in his little plans? Well, you're wrong!"
Suddenly, Draco tensed as he felt something sharp and narrow jabbing into his neck. He was breathing hard, his chest heaving, as he saw from the corner of his eye that it was Potter. He had drawn his wand. His face was livid, his erect knuckles bulging underneath his taut skin as he forcefully stabbed his wand into his flesh.
"Get out," he whispered irately. "Get out now, or I'll kill you."
There was silence as Draco fumed, seething. His eyes flashed like daggers in the light as he looked at him, his upper lip curling in distaste. He stepped away, defiantly staring down his rival. It struck him as uncanny that they were still like this to this day, but then he realized that perhaps rivalry was one of those things not even time could rub away. Then there was obstinacy and foolishness, but he figured that Potter only needed to be taught a few lessons to jostle his spine. Of course, saying only "a few" was a lie. Ten billion, more like. Then an extra ten billion just for fun.
Sparing one last look at Hermione, he turned and began to walk away. As he exited the kitchen he could feel Potter on his heels like a bloodhound, as if making certain he really was going to be walking out of that door and out of their flat. Like Draco really wanted to stay in this Muggle home a second more. Honestly.
Harry Potter opened the door for him, his face only increasing in its radiating display of animosity. "Leave," he merely said, but even that single word held fire.
"With pleasure," Draco spat, as he stepped out. But then he turned, catching the door as Potter attempted to close it, yet again. His pale hand was clamped against the wooden edge of the door, forcing it back. Their gazes met, burning emerald to frigid silver, as Draco snarled at him.
"It isn't just you, you know, Potter. He's got his eye on someone else, too. Thanks to you, he's after Granger. And he isn't going to stop until he's got you both."
And then Draco let go of the door.
With a vicious glower from him, the door immediately slammed on Potter's face that – even as quick as it was, he was able to catch it – was slowly twisting in bewilderment. Draco turned on his heel and began to walk down the corridor, his feet pounding down on the green carpet with a vengeance, glaring ahead. Then he slowed down because of what seemed like a massive head rush. For a reason he could not fathom, he was suddenly overcome with a fusillade of questions that he wondered why hadn't appeared to him before. He slowed to a dead halt in the hallway, oblivious to the white walls and dull doors, his face mirroring exactly what was humming anxiously in his body now: confusion.
Was it just him, or had Hermione Granger been in the process of cooking Harry Potter dinner? An actual dinner? With chicken?
Draco's face gave way to slight – yet abundant – horror. He didn't know why he didn't like the idea. That perhaps Hermione Granger was not just visiting and was actually living with Potter and involved in some disgusting romantic relationship, thus the cooking dinner with sodding chicken issue – but it just did. Or maybe it was just a special occasion. Maybe she was cooking because she felt like it. Maybe they were just friends, and she was just being friendly by cooking him chicken. In his flat. With the sunflower mittens. No, Harry Potter did not own sunflower mittens.
After all, why would Potter own sunflower mittens? Did he even know how to use the Muggle oven? It was a well-known fact that Harry Potter was a pretentious elephant, yes, impaired in every possible way and even worse with a Hero mentality, but why on earth sunflowers? Why not rabbits or kittens or puppies or butterflies? Harry Potter just did not seem like a sunflowers kind of boy.
And, why would Granger be answering his door unless they were, in fact, living together?
Draco couldn't mull it over – no, he couldn't. He was horrified by the idea, and he didn't know why. Surely he knew that would happen, that the above scenario would happen… Potter snagging Granger. It was the premonition of all their peers of Hogwarts. They expected Granger and Potter to fall madly in love, get married, and pop out bespectacled, snappish, bucktoothed bookworms with insanely good Quidditch skills (although, the idea of all of those traits in one child was frightening). They were all counting on it. Hogwarts would be shattered if it didn't, in fact, happen.
But he still found it quite a mouthful to digest. In fact, he could not digest it at all. Regardless of how fitting it was, Granger finally finding love in the single most infuriating soul on the universe, he found himself literally reeling in a whirl of nausea. Suddenly, he felt sick. He felt like an idiot, standing here in the middle of a hallway like this, but he didn't care. Granger… living with Potter? He knew that he shouldn't care – should actually be rooting for them since there was no better match than a Hero and a nag together – for what they had was over. Way over. So over that it extended beyond the realms of Over. Into the next dimension. Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger had been over ever since he'd magicked that Dark Mark onto his arm.
So, he should be happy. Utterly, utterly happy. There was no reason why he shouldn't be, no reason at all. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger.
So then why did he find himself gritting his teeth? Why was he sneering even worse than before? Why did he feel like marching right back up there and punching the living daylights out of him?
Because anyone was better than Potter. Except Weasley, of course, but anyone else. He'd lost the Snitch to Potter. He'd lost the House Cup to Potter. He didn't need another rivalry; he didn't need another loss to tally beside Saint Potter. Why couldn't she have chosen someone else? There were loads of single men in Britain. Not all of them were good-looking, sure, and not all of them were particularly clever. Then again, neither was Potter. So why had she chosen him? Now, he was certain of it, just like everything else: she would just become another accomplishment to rub in his face. Something that Draco Malfoy had lost and something that Harry Potter had won.
He began to walk again, his fists clenching beside him. His mind was chattering like an angry swarm of bees, buzzing inside his head without relent, and he remembered the feeling that had erupted throughout his whole body when he'd first seen her when she'd opened the door. Strange as it was, she'd looked exactly the way she'd looked a year ago standing underneath that doorframe. It was peculiar, yet as her face flashed inside his head again like an image trying to burn itself into his brain, he felt sharp tingles race across his skin.
Then, Draco tensed as he heard the hard slam of a door behind him. He heard footsteps running towards him, beating against the muffling carpet, and before he could turn around to see exactly whom it was storming towards him like a goring bull, a steel grip had firmly wound itself around his arm. Draco's head snapped to his right, where he was met with a familiar bespectacled sight: Harry Potter.
His green eyes glinting, he growled something to Draco, but before Draco could register exactly what it was he'd said and rightfully jerk away from his righteous clutches, still feeling a thundering urge to really murder him right now for falling for Granger, he felt a sudden tug from his surroundings as if he was getting snatched right out of his place. He quickly glanced down at his feet, as with a resounding Pop! in his ears, they disappeared.
And Hermione Granger, hastily running out of their flat door, only found herself looking down an empty corridor.
P.S. I'd also like to thank the peeps that incessantly tagged my tagboard at my site, threatening me to update and saying all of these nice things – your loyalty means a lot to me. So, ten imaginary Galleons will be mailed to you via owl along with a lock of Draco Malfoy's hair, courtesy of – who else? – moi. (winks)