OMG! Here we are! The first new chapter for this story since its initial posting. Who's excited? This chick! . . . . And also mildly terrified, but here we go 😉
"Horns?" Ginny asked, her ginger brows shooting up into her hair. "As in . . . ?" She perched her hands atop her head, her index fingers curled upward.
Hermione laughed, nodding as she returned her attention to packing her trunk. She hadn't said a word until Ginny had given a solemn oath not to breath a syllable of what she was about to hear to anyone, but then, once Hermione did have that oath from her, everything came spilling out. "Exactly. And he's terrified. His parents will be here tomorrow afternoon to discuss lineage with Professor McGonagall and a representative from the centaur colony, if you can imagine that." Hermione knew precisely who that 'representative' was most likely to be, and she kept the wince over the idea of having Draco and Firenze in the same space to herself.
Frowning thoughtfully, Gin flicked her wand, helping Hermione get the rest of her things neatly tucked away without actually moving from where she was lounged on her bed. "I think I'd be a little more terrified of this exam you're going to with Madame Pomfrey. I mean, imagine that meeting and having to break it to Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy that you're carrying about their pure-blood grand-bun in your Muggle-born oven?"
Her shoulders slumping, Hermione tossed back her head and groaned. "I'm really trying not to think about that."
"Oh, I'm sorry, 'Mione. I don't mean to make you worry more, just . . . this is a lot to handle. I can't imagine actually being in the middle of it."
"Thanks, Gin." Sighing, the brunette stood and reflexively dusted off the bum of her school robes. "I suppose there's no delaying this checkup. I'm sure one of the elves will be by for my trunk later."
Exhausted as she was, Ginny pulled herself up from the bed and crossed the floor to throw her arms around her friend. "I know it's silly, as you're not really going anywhere, but I'm going to miss you."
Hermione drooped a bit in the other witch's embrace even as she hugged her back. "I know! It is silly, but this was fun, being roommates with you. Like summers at the Burrow."
There was a flash through Hermione's mind, then. Just a flicker, really, but there was a terrifying glimpse of memory. Blaise, crimson-skinned and black-eyed, exactly as Ginny had spoken of from her nightmare.
The girl had not mentioned another bad dream since that one, yet something about it stuck in Hermione's head. But then, she did have plenty to worry about as it was. Ginny was a big girl. Hermione could be a shoulder for her, but she couldn't protect her from her own imagination.
Pulling back, she circled Ginny's upper arms with her fingers in a gentle grip. "You will tell me if you've any more of those awful nightmares, yeah?"
Ginny smiled, though she was aware the expression was tired and not quite as strong as she'd hoped. She knew the nightmare had rattled her, despite that she'd still agreed to spend the day in Hogsmeade tomorrow with Blaise. She suspected that bad dream was nothing more than her own subconscious, acknowledging a spark of attraction to the wizard that she'd refused to realize when she'd tended him in the hospital wing the other morning. His sharpened and feral features in the dream nothing more than a . . . a twisting of her mind brought on by guilt. Certainly she and Harry were no longer together, but that didn't change that she felt a little bit as if she was being unfaithful to him, and guilt was an ugly emotion; in a way it made sense that an ugly emotion would have an ugly affect.
She was almost positive once she got past that feeling, there wouldn't be anymore nightmares, but she understood Hermione was worried for her.
"Of course I will. I promise."
Madame Pomfrey had been unexpectedly understanding during the examination. She'd patiently listened to everything the pair had said—which was bit uncomfortable for both of them, as they'd had no choice but to be more complete in their honesty with her than they'd been with Professor McGonagall—and had delivered an answer that had taken a weight off of both of their shoulders.
"You're not pregnant, Miss Granger."
The relief that swept through Hermione was so strong, she nearly collapsed backward. Meanwhile Draco, who'd been pacing like, well, like an expectant father as they waited for the results, stopped in his tracks and whirled on his heel to face the witches.
"Oh, thank God," he said, moving over to drape himself beside his mate on the hospital bed. He dropped his head onto Hermione's shoulder. "Sorry, I know that's not very supportive, but I don't think either of us would be prepared for the other possible answer."
She laughed, reaching out to lace her fingers through his. "It's fine. Believe me, I feel the same way."
Madame Pomfrey nodded, making some notes. "I'm going to whip you up a special contraceptive concoction that will take into account both of your unique physiologies. I'll run the ingredients past your centaur friend when he visits the school next, just to ensure that I'm not doing anything incorrectly. Do you two think you could, well, how to put this delicately? Hold off until I have it ready?"
The couple shared a look, both wincing.
The Medi-witch held up her hands and shook her head. "Forget I asked. It's to be expected, I suppose, given your conditions. After all, you did already try to keep away from one another and that seemed to blow up in your faces rather spectacularly."
"Couldn't we just use a charm?" Draco asked, feeling the way Hermione's worrying was causing her to tense up.
Again, Madame Pomfrey nodded. "Certainly, but given what you've told me, it seems that your wits aren't always about you. Something with a more long-term effect is a safer bet. Simply try to be more cautious for the time being."
The younger witch relaxed at that. It made perfect sense. If they'd had their wits about them at all since this began, they wouldn't have had reason to panic in the first place.
"Now, Mr. Malfoy, if your parents are able to reveal anything about your lineage that could shed light on all of this, I'll need to know straight away. I can't be gone from the school hospital too long, so I won't be able to attend the meeting with the centaur and Headmistress McGonagall, but I'll be here. As for you, Miss Granger, I understand your family wouldn't be of much help in this matter?"
"Most Muggles don't believe in faeries. Getting them to believe in witches is tricky enough. They had no idea about magic at all until I received my Hogwarts letter."
"Your family is from France, yes?"
Hermione nodded. She knew that was one of the few things the Grangers and the Malfoys had in common. Her parents had been born in the United Kingdom, but their roots were in one of the smaller villages in the French countryside. "Yes."
Madame Pomfrey shrugged, setting aside her pad after another few notes scratched onto it. "Well, there's a chance your magical lineage and your . . . well, the lineage we're seeing present itself now are from different ancestors, entirely."
"You think it has nothing to do with whomever in my family had wizarding blood?"
"Pretty sure she just said that, Granger," Draco said, his admonishment tinged with mild sass and amusement.
"It's been a long week, Malfoy. I was simply trying to clarify."
A grin curved his lips at her feisty tone.
"Are you two quite finished?" Madame Pomfrey asked with a sigh. Teenagers. Worse, magical, faerie-imbued teenagers. This crop of students really had brought an entire volume of troubles she'd never imagined she would encounter over the last eight years, hadn't they? "Yes, Miss Granger. But the reason it comes up is that quite simply, like much of Western Europe, the woodlands of France were once lousy with Fair Folk. It was not unheard of for one of their kind to become smitten with a particular human."
"So, one of my ancestors was seduced by a faerie?"
"More than likely, yes. That being said, it's equally likely that your parents won't be able to help you learn anything new. My suggestion is to find out what you can about your French heritage, and then research the sort of Fair Folk who were said to frequent that area over the centuries. Yes, the centaur told you that you carry wood nymph ancestry, but given how fast these changes are occurring, there might be something more there. You need to look for any other species of Fae that fit in with the changes you've noticed in yourself. Some crossbreeding over the generations might be to blame for the rapidity."
"Oh, I see. So not one of my ancestors was seduced by a faerie, but two? Possibly?"
"I could be wrong, but it is a possibility, yes."
Draco was snickering and Hermione fixed him with a glare. "What?"
"I was just thinking that maybe it's never been about me, maybe it's just something about Granger women that we 'Fair Folk' can't help but find sexy."
Oh, Hermione wanted to be cross with him. Yet, she understood. He was still so relieved that they'd not made their situation more strenuous that he couldn't help cracking jokes in the resulting giddiness.
Madame Pomfrey patted the younger witch's shoulder. "You've my sympathies in dealing with this one, Miss Granger."
"Oy," Draco said as Hermione laughed.
"Dear Lord," Hermione said, peering around the doorframe of the room Professor McGonagall had led them to. These quarters were a . . . well, to say they were a bit of a ways away from the more densely populated portions of the castle would not be an exaggeration. She understood the need for such a secluded area—less the chance of any students or other faculty spotting the two of them retiring for the night to the same room, or emerging from it together in the morning.
But the distance from the castle proper wasn't the cause of Hermione's awed whisper. It was the state of the room. Clearly the elves had been through and properly dusted and cleaned so the Medieval bedchamber gleamed as though everything in it was a newly crafted piece of furniture or freshly loomed fabric, but that was precisely the point. Their 'new' quarters were a Medieval bedchamber that, in itself, somehow managed to look new.
Draco stepped inside first as the lanterns placed around the room lit themselves. He knew he didn't exactly have a reputation for being brave—which was rubbish as far as he was concerned, since more than half the tasks he'd accomplished during his years at Hogwarts he could not even have attempted if he'd been as much of a coward as some seemed to think—but after everything that he'd faced over the last several days, alone, stepping inside ahead of Hermione to help set her jangled nerves at ease was indeed a small thing.
Their trunks had been placed before a massive oaken wardrobe, the doors of which stood open to show the vast interior. On the space before the bureau's mirror were a wide, soft-bristled brush and a gold fine-tooth comb; odd that these items should come with the room, but he imagined whomever had occupied this bedchamber last had probably left them behind, and the elves had seen no reason to be rid of them over simply cleaning them so they could have use once more.
What surprised him was that there was a single bed. Four-post with a dark velvet canopy and drapes secured with matched rope. But there was just one. Even with his awareness that Professor McGonagall was only pretending she didn't know how far things had gone between the couple, he expected to come in and find separate beds to drive home that she was trying to remain unaware.
"It's lovely." Hermione's voice behind him gave him a start—he'd not heard her step into the room. "May I ask whose it was? Why . . . why it's no longer in use, I mean?"
"The records are unclear, but there are disciplines simply no longer taught at Hogwarts—either because they were deemed too dangerous and outlawed by the Ministry or the Wizard Council of the Dark Ages, or because they were what we would now consider lesser disciplines, and thus absorbed into other courses. As each professor's room assignment is dependent upon which class they teach, there are a few such quarters which have been out of use for some time. This was the one which required the least repair."
Hermione tried not to let her imagination and curiosity run off with that, but it was difficult. Did that mean there were classrooms long-unused further along this corridor? Possibly with scrolls or lesson work from their forgotten or forbidden subjects still there, covered beneath layers of dust?
No . . . no! The younger witch schooled her features and forced a deep breath. She and Draco really had enough to manage without her not-so-accidentally setting off some long-forgotten deathtrap charm or something.
When she turned her attention to Draco and Professor McGonagall, she realized from their expressions that they'd read her reaction to this information. Just like she should've expected from people who'd gotten to know her over the past eight years.
Professor McGonagall offered a patient smile, recognizing not just Hermione's reaction, but her visible determination to ignore that reaction. "Well, we're an hour past sundown, and you both still have to put your things away and get some rest. I will leave you to it, but I do expect you both in the Great Hall for breakfast—at a reasonable hour—tomorrow morning."
The couple had the decency to appear mildly abashed at what the elder witch was implying. "Thank you, Professor," they said in unison as she backed out of the room and closed the door behind her.
As soon as they were alone, Hermione went to the bed and threw herself down.
"Um . . . ." Draco started as he watched her burrow beneath the covers—still in her school robes—and curl up on her side. "Granger?"
"I'm going to worry about putting away my things tomorrow sometime. It's just been such a long day, Malfoy," she answered in a whisper, still fuzzy on when the last time was that either of them had gotten a good night's sleep. "And maybe it's better if we don't, well, you know, until we have that potion from Madame Pomfrey."
He nodded, pouting thoughtfully as he strolled over to stand beside the bed. "You're right. And getting some sleep—some real sleep—sounds amazing."
She popped open one eye, watching him. "If it sounds so amazing, why are you pulling the blanket off me instead of getting under it with me?"
Smirking, he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and tugged her to lie on her back. "Oh, I will be, but that doesn't mean I don't intend for us to be as comfortable as possible when I do."
Hermione couldn't help mirroring his expression, though her version was far drowsier as he started undressing her. "I suppose there's no harm in that," she answered, letting her eyes drift closed again.
By the time he finally lay down beside her and pulled the blanket back up over them, she was nearly asleep, only giving a soft, affirmative murmur as he pressed his naked form to hers and rested his head on the pillow, his cheek against the top of her head. In a few hours, he'd be awoken by his transformation, but at least tonight, he'd be able to peacefully let himself drift right back to sleep once it was over.
The next afternoon, Hermione and Draco saw Ginny and Blaise . . . and Neville and Pansy, for some reason, off as they departed for Hogsmeade. Ginny being the only one in the loop—apparently Draco had told Blaise that his move from the Slytherin dorms was actually a punishment for less than stellar academic performance, and outright missing classes, thus far this year—they were going with the same basic idea, that they were stuck behind as Hermione volunteered to help Draco catch up so that his marks wouldn't suffer.
While they watched the four wander down the road away from the castle, Hermione couldn't help a shiver. Something in Blaise's presence had once set her feeling off. Not having terribly much experience being around him, she could not put her finger on what it might be. It made her feel small to consider that maybe she was so hopeful about Ginny and Harry's relationship that any wizard Ginny might date right now would inspire negative feelings in her.
But then she felt herself shiver again and when she looked up, she noticed that Blaise had glanced back at them.
Swallowing hard, she leaned into Draco's side. "Remember when I asked you if you'd noticed anything unusual about Blaise lately? Well, I think there's something off about your friend."
He nodded, a pensive scowl marring his features as he looped his arm around her shoulders and turned them in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. They'd managed to avoid his parents, who would be venturing into the Forest with Professor McGonagall for this meeting with Firenze. He didn't think he could handle speaking to them alone with all that was happening. Somehow Lucius might find a way to blame him for this befalling him, and Draco couldn't be certain he wouldn't snap at his father with the state his nerves had been in recently.
"So have I, but . . . . I don't know. Maybe I should talk to him. I've been sort of a shitty friend lately. Trying so hard to keep this all to myself. Not like that's exactly new for me, but I'm supposed to be his friend and I'm never there for him. Not like you and Weasley."
"Maybe Slytherins just aren't so good at friendship."
His grey eyes narrowed at her quip. "Oh, ha-ha."
By the time they arrived at the meeting place, Draco's parents and the Professor were already there. The three turned at their approach, and Hermione stopped in her tracks, nearly causing Draco to trip over her.
As Professor McGonagall waved them to continue forward, Lucius clasped his hands before him. "Draco . . . Miss Granger."
Stepping ahead of her, Draco slipped his hand around Hermione's and gave it an encouraging squeeze. "C'mon, you knew this would be nerve wracking," he said to her in a murmur over his shoulder and she moved rather deliberately into his shadow.
Hermione missed the way Narcissa Malfoy would not meet anyone's gaze. She was used to the pale-haired witch being a bit chilly, so her reticence did not register as unusual.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mrs. Malfoy," she said with a quick, polite nod.
"Finally, you have all arrived." Firenze's voice filtered through the trees and the five of them looked about. "Follow me so that we may speak at length. Further away from the lands of humans."
Hermione and Draco needed not much else to guide them as they turned and started in the direction of the centaur's voice. Narcissa moved to follow them.
Lucius and Minerva McGonagall exchanged a confused glance. "Where are you two going?" They couldn't be certain where, exactly, the voice had come from.
Hermione shrugged as Draco answered, "We can just . . . tell."
"Narcissa?" Lucius' voice was cold and dripping with suspicion at how easily she trailed after the children.
His wife did not turn to look at him. This did not bode well—she had been a bit withdrawn ever since Draco had owled them to explain the extraordinary situation in which he and Miss Granger had found themselves embroiled.
His eyes narrowing, he strolled along behind her, and Professor McGonagall fell into step beside him. He noted that her wand was drawn, clenched tight in her right hand. The Headmistress claimed to trust the centaurs, but she did not trust the woods, and in that he could not say he blamed her. Seeing the wisdom in her caution, he, too, drew his wand.
Draco and Hermione led them through a thicket, their surroundings darkening beneath the fuller canopy as they drew closer to the Forest's heart. The witch paused, reaching out to tap her fingers against a tree trunk.
At the soft, dull sound, flickering lights appeared. Given their intermittent glow, Lucius understood what they were—fireflies. The darkness here made their internal clocks a bit pointless, he supposed.
The spots of flickering brightness led them a bit deeper in before breaking away, the fireflies drifting back to wherever they'd been. The tree-line broke, revealing vine-entangled ruins of a structure that could no longer be identified. Beneath a crumbling archway stood an impossibly tall figure, half shielded by darkness.
Hermione stepped forward and the figure lowered in a bow before moving out of the shadows. Firenze, looking all pale-gold and sun-kissed as was typical, Draco thought in a sour tone. Firenze's eyes flickered over the assembly as he walked toward them.
Nearing them, he drew to a halt as his gaze fixed on Narcissa's. The pale-blue of the creature's irises was eerily similar to hers. Hermione remembered thinking how there was a resemblance between Draco in his nocturnal form and the palomino centaur. Still, nothing prepared her for his words.
"It is you. You are the one who has barred your son from understanding his heritage."
Narcissa's lower lip trembled as she met the shocked eyes of her son, and then the angry confusion of her husband's face.
"I never thought my grandfather's stories were true," Narcissa whispered as though that were somehow explanation enough, looking the girl—to her son's mate, the recognized Lady of the Wood, herself—for support.
Hermione immediately moved to place herself between the Malfoy wizards and Narcissa. Professor McGonagall could only watch this play out with wide eyes.
"Please, Draco, Mr. Malfoy. Let's hear her out."
Lucius remained silent, while Draco folded his arms across his chest and looked off into the distance. "Of course. Mother, if you would? Please tell us what you know. Tell me how this centaur knows something about me—about you—that I don't."