Disclaimer:  The characters from the Harry Potter universe in this story remain the property of JKR.

Reminder: OotP never happened. Heh.

Chapter 14

Severus woke up to the mid-morning sunlight filtering through the magically charmed windows in his bedroom.

The previous night's Death Eater meeting was little more than another potions class designed to test his patience.  If number 67 did not pay attention to his instructions one more time, he just might give into temptation and allow for a first in his potions class – his first pupil to fall victim to a fatal potions accident.

He grimaced, remembering how after the Dark Lord had called him over to praise his dutiful work, he had the class work on a snake venom antidote in case their Revelus charm did not work.  Number 67, the equivalent of Neville Longbottom in his Death Eater potions class, had added too much Equisetum arvense into his antidote, and instead of neutralising the effect of the venom, had severely accelerated the rate of tissue death caused by the poison.  Fortunately for 67, Severus had already foreseen that an accident of that nature might happen and had been prepared for that contingency.  Then again, the application of the correct antidote now rendered 67 mute for at least a month.

'Well, at least some good came out of that fiasco,' Severus smirked, as he got out of bed, stretching his muscles, as he headed for the bathroom.

If it were not for the fact that Voldemort still had immense power over his Death Eaters, Severus would have easily created situations in his Death Eater potions class to decimate the Dark Army with fatal potion accidents.  A lovely thought, but flawed, nonetheless.  He might get away with one fatal 'accident', but it would be all too suspicious to have his Death Eater students consistently dying in his class.

Splashing water on his face, Severus looked up into the mirror, still drowsy.

Voldemort.

The Dark Lord was in an off-mood last night, he mused.  There was something – he sensed – something melancholic about the brooding creature, staring into space, observing his class.  Just what was the Dark One thinking of?

"No, Severus," he murmured to himself, regarding his obsidian eyes reflected in the mirror, "the labyrinthine mind of that half-human is not worth delving into."  'At least, not on a Sunday morning,' he mentally added.

There were other things to put his mind to – not least the night-vision potion he had to perfect by Halloween in two weeks' time.  Well, he would tackle that bit of fun after working on the coming week's lesson plans and marking the essays, which were due for returning to the students tomorrow.

'What joy,' he sneered.

At least he had the company of his godson for dinner to look forward to tonight.

Changing into his Sunday robes – which differed from his usual teaching robes in the dark green trim in its collar and hem, Severus walked over to the fireplace to place an order with the House Elves for breakfast and a secure owl to be delivered to his study.  He sat down at his desk and quickly jotted down a standard report on the potions he taught the Death Eaters last night and his general observation of the other classes he had the brief opportunity to glimpse for Dumbledore.  With the report completed, he started arranging the paperwork on his desk to get down to the business of illuminating the minds of the future mover and shakers of the Magical community.

Well, one could always dream, couldn't one?

Then it suddenly struck him – he had no dream last night!

Well, of course he hadn't!  He had taken the improved dreamless sleep potion, hadn't he?  And naturally, the potion had worked, as it should.

But he had taken the potion the previous night, and he had dreamt of Her!

What made the difference?  He frowned.  Could the potion have interacted with what he had had for dinner?  There was precedence for such cases, after all.  Perhaps the vial that potion was in was contaminated, changing the make-up of the potion, resulting in that dream of Her.  It wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened.  Perhaps the potion worked differently when taken during the Waning Gibbous or the Last Quarter of the Moon phase.  Some potions – like the Wolfsbane – are affected by the lunar phases, after all.   Perhaps the ambient temperature of the potion taken the first time made the difference.  Perhaps… perhaps… perhaps…

He was sorely disappointed, despite the fact that his new brew was a resounding success, as far as having dreamless sleep was concerned.

~*~

"Hermione."

The girl in question was bent over her extra-curricula reading, her head of untamed brunette curls creating a jungle curtain obscuring her face.

"Hermione," the boy repeated, raising his voice.

Still, the girl did not move a muscle – almost if Hermione were a victim of a Petrificus Totalis curse.  Ron knew better, having been a close friend of Hermione for the past six years.  He knew well Hermione's modus operandi when she was caught up in reading something very interesting; a personal trait of Hermione that never failed to irritate him.

He rolled his eyes and raised his voice further, "Hermione!"

"Ron!" Hermione gasped, "You startled me!"

Heaving a theatrical sigh, the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain fell into the empty chair beside his best female friend, grumbling, "I was standing here for ages, calling your name!"

"Sorry," Hermione shrugged, unapologetic.

"Yeah," he shook his head.  "Gin said that you got up the same time as her, so I knew I'd find you here."

"And how was Quidditch practice this morning?" Hermione asked, arranging the parchments spread across the library tables into two piles.

"Same old, same old," the boy lounged in his seat, "Wot'cha doing?"

Hermione gave the boy an incredulous stare, an amused smile at her lips,  "You mean besides studying for NEWTs?"

"NEWTs' a long way off, 'Mione!"

"Ronald Weasley, I'll have you know that it's already October, and we have about seven months before the exams – not much time, you know!"

"Yes, mother."  He rolled his eyes, knowing that that would tick her off.

"What can I do for you, Ron?" Hermione sighed.  "What do you need?"

Ron gave her a lazy grin – a grin he'd perfected over the summer.  It was a grin that would cause any witch at Hogwarts to be tongue-tied if they found themselves a recipient of – with the exception of Hermione.  Ron was, after all, a boy that she had grown up with as part of a trio of closely-bonded friends; a trio whose friendship was tried and tested through a myriad of dangerous life-and-death circumstances, a friendship that was cemented by six years of fierce loyalty and support.  Together with Harry, Ron and Hermione had a love for one another that was closer than that of siblings.

"Hermione, you know what I need," he teased suggestively.

"Ron, you need a knock on your head," she volleyed back.

"Oh Hermione, you wound me!" he grabbed his chest, in a fake swoon.

Hermione merely folded her arms across her chest and narrowed at her eyes at her friend.  "Ron," she warned.

"Well," he drawled, "it's just that I heard a rumour at Quidditch practice this morning."

"So?" Hermione raised her eyebrows, "What has that got to do with me?"

"Oh it has everything to do with you.  Or at least half of it does," he amended with a wink.

"Ron.  Get.  To.  The.  Point," Hermione bit out, teeth-clenched, index finger jabbing at the boy's chest to emphasise her point.  Ron was obviously having fun at her expense, knowing just how to push her buttons.  "I'm too busy to play at 'I-heard-a-rumour-guess-what-it-is'!" she huffed.

Ron knew better than to get riled up at Hermione's tone of voice.  Earlier in their friendship, he might have escalated their 'conversation' and ended up arguing with her.  With age and a little maturity, he had learnt how to differentiate between Hermione's real anger and banter.  Moreover, he had learnt to see that when Hermione argued with him, her underlying concern was for both his and Harry's well-being.  Thus, with this understanding, their fights, which used to cause Harry some discomfort being caught in the middle, lost much of its sting.

"Apparently, our dear Hermione is not quite ours any longer," he revealed.  "There is talk that you have succumbed to the charms of a certain Slytherin."

Hermione blushed – what had Ron heard?  She knew that since she had confided in Harry about recreating the Magical Map with Draco, Ron would have heard about her working with Draco.  But Ron's implication is certainly more than that.

Biting her lips, she avoided looking at Ron, who was eyeing her reactions intently.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I heard from a reliable source that not only are you working together with him on a certain project, but that you have a thing for blonde-haired gits," he leered.  "Then again, why should I be surprised?  I seem to recall a certain somebody's crush on another blonde-haired git in her second year."

"Ronald Bilius Weasley!  That's totally unfair!  I was only thirteen then!"

"Still—"

"Ron," she growled in warning.

"Hermione," he mocked.

Hermione sighed.  "It's not like that, Ron—" she tried to explain.

"Hermione," he interrupted, "I'm fine, with it.  Really.  You're old enough to know what you're doing.  And though I might hate the guy's guts on the Quidditch pitch," he lowered his voice, glancing around to make sure that it was only Hermione and himself in the library, "I've talked to Harry, and he says Malfoy's on our side."

Hermione had her arms folded across her chest again, and with an exasperated look, she tried explaining to Ron regarding her purely professional relationship with Draco.

"You don't need to explain, really, 'Mione," the obstinate boy insisted.  "You're always in his company—"

"Ron, for heaven's sake!  We share the same classes together!"

The Quidditch Captain brushed this aside with a flick of his hand, "And you were caught a few times meeting secretly with him—"

"It's all part of our proj—"

"—and he's been giving you these looks—"

"What looks?  What are you on about?" Hermione shook her head.

"You know, you've seen him – he looks a great deal at you during meals—"

"He does not!"

"So you say, 'Mione," Ron lifted his hands as if to ward off Hermione's glare, "but really, Hermione, why don't you just admit that Malfoy and you have something going on?"

"Ron.  There.  Is.  NOTHING.  Going.  On!"

"Of course, if he does step out of line—" Ron narrowed his eyes.

Hermione looked up at the library's vast ceiling, doing her best to rein her rising temper in.  "Oh, would you save your big brother rhetoric for Ginny!" she seethed.  "It's not like that for Draco and me!"

"I'm just saying," Ron shrugged with an impish twinkle in his eyes, "there's no smoke without fire."

"I'll give you fire—" Hermione flashed.

"Speak of the devil," the red-head interrupted, his eyes lighting on a familiar figure at the library's entrance, "I'm sure your early morning meetings in the library are totally innocent study sessions for NEWTs," he leered.

Draco stood at the library doorway, scanning the vast room.  Seeing the couple looking at him, he sauntered over to the pair.  From the couple's stance, he quickly ascertained that Weasley was enjoying Hermione's riled mood.  Giving himself a mental shrug, the Slytherin greeted Ron with a curt nod, which the Gyffindor Quidditch Captain returned with an uplifted brow.

'Boys,' Hermione rolled her eyes inwardly, knowing instinctively that they were little more than marking their territory with their subtle male gestures.

"Morning, Hermione," Draco drawled, "Weasley."

"Malfoy," returned Ron, and before Hermione could greet the newcomer, Ron affected her an obvious wink and continued with, "My, my, would you look at the time?  I'll see you at breakfast later, 'Mione."  Lowering his voice to a level he was sure the other boy could hear, he teased Hermione with, "Don't do anything I wouldn't do.  At least, not until after breakfast."  Grinning, he vacated his seat for the Slytherin, giving the boy a curt nod and departed the library for his usual post-Quidditch practice shower.

"What was that all about?" Draco asked, folding his frame languidly into the seat vacated by the other Gryffindor.

"Well, apparently, we've not been as discrete as we thought," Hermione rolled her eyes.  "Rumour's circulating that there's something going on between us."

"Really?" Draco tilted his head to the side, considering this turn of events. "As if I'd ever be interested in you," he smirked.

"Believe me, Draco," the brunette shook her head exasperatedly, "the feeling's entirely mutual."

"Although," the boy narrowed his eyes and looked speculatively at the girl beside him, "this… rumour… might work to our advantage."

Hermione waited silently for the Slytherin to explain.

"Let's just say that Pansy has been getting a tad too propriety for my liking—"

Hermione blinked.

"—And this would be a perfect cover for our working together."

Hermione frowned, unconvinced.  Lowering her voice to a near whisper, she argued,  "This… thing… might make meeting up easier, but what about your Slytherins?   What would those on the other side say?"

Draco smirked and fired his last salvo, "They would think that I've managed successfully to infiltrate the impenetrable Trio through you, and influence you for the Dark Lord's purposes.  The neutral ones would see it as a sign that Slytherin-Gryffindor unity might be a possible state, especially if we don't end up viciously quarrelling or killing each other," he grinned.  "Those that are working for us," he shrugged, "who knows?  Who cares?"

He allowed Hermione a few minutes to ponder over his points, then grinned, "So what do you say?  Up for a spot of acting?

Looking at Draco's mock leer, Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose, "Draco," she said, "have you considered the other implications if we really decide to go ahead with this?"

"Like what, Hermione?" he pouted.  "This turn of events is just what we need."

"Let's say we do this," her serious mien turned to the sulking boy, "and umm… and you meet someone—"

Draco stared incredulously.

"—it's possible, Draco.  Just hear me out!  If you met someone, you'd be tied down to me!"

"Is this why you don't want to go through with this?" he asked quietly, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Wha—?" Hermione blinked.

"You have a crush on someone in school, and you're afraid that pretending we're together might put the guy off you," he stated.

"No.  No, no, NO, you prat!" she huffed.  "It's not that at all!  Have you forgotten we're in a siege?  I'm not interested in anyone in school—"

"Then, what's the problem?"

"I'm thinking for you, you dolt!  Precisely because we're at war, I wouldn't want to stand between you and a girl you might fancy!"

Draco expelled an impatient breath.  "Hermione," he bit out slowly, "If you aren't interested in anyone at school, what makes you think that I might be?"

"Well, you're Draco Malfoy, Slytherin Prince Charming, Most Eligible Bachelor in Wizarding Europe," she mocked, "there's probably a whole queue of girls awaiting your attention!"

"So?"

"So, it goes to reason that you might turn a fancy towards one of those legions of Draco-fangirls out there."

"Legions of Draco-fangirls?" he grinned at her.

Hermione blushed, crossing her arms in front of her, "You know what I mean!"

"Fine, I understand what you are saying, but the truth is I'm not interested in having a relationship right now.  Perhaps after the war—"

"Which may take ages."

"Granted.  Perhaps after the war, which may take ages, there might be a future for me to consider pursuing a relationship.  But not right now – not even if there is someone I'm interested in, which, to reiterate, there isn't."

The couple sat in silence for a while, letting what Draco said sink in.

"What about you, Hermione?" he asked, carefully neutral.

"What about me?" Hermione brushed her hair behind her ear.  "It's not like I'm like Lavender or Parvati – I'm just bookworm Hermione Jane Granger, Gryffindor Know-It-All.  Too tall, too brainy and all hair!  Who'll be interested in me?"

"You'd be surprise," Draco murmured cryptically.

"What's that?" she asked.  Draco just gave a slight smile and shook his head, brushing off his comment.  "Besides," Hermione continued, "you're talking about Hogwarts boys," she rolled her eyes derisively, "I'd sooner fall in love with Snape!"

Draco stifled a choke, and gave her a watery smile of agreement.  "I'm sure my godfather would be glad to hear that."

"Oh no, Draco," Hermione softened, "that's not what I mean and you know it.  It's just that… now that we're in our last year at Hogwarts, everybody's expecting us to pair off – and that's rather unrealistic, don't you think?"

Draco merely nodded.  They descended into silence again.

"So…" the boy began, "about our 'relationship'?"

"If you're sure," she looked up into his questioning grey eyes.

"It'll certainly be entertaining for the masses," he quipped.

"Not to mention it'll break a legion of fangirl hearts," Hermione raised a corner of her lips.

They grinned at each other at that.

"So it's a deal," he said, extending his hand out to her.

"What?  No magical contract to sign?" she ragged, shaking his hand.

"Perhaps we should seal this contract with a kiss," he leered.

Hermione laughed.  "As if I'd kiss you willingly, Draco!  Who knows what pureblood germs you might be harbouring!"

"Ah, but a few public kisses might go a long way to convince our audience of our passionate relationship," he teased.  "As long as you're my 'girlfriend', I might as well take advantage of it."

"Cross the line, Drrraco," she purred, "and I'll make sure that you'll be taking more than advantage – your godfather's healing potions will be what you'll be taking."

~*~

TBC.

A/N:

Equisetum arvense:  scientific name for Snake Grass.

A/N2:

4 months is a long time for an update.  *sighs*  But I'm glad this portion's ready to see daylight.

Whilst RL moves on, in Dream, it's just mid October 1997, and the next chapters will move quickly to the December hols and into the next year.  I'm slating a bit of Draco-Hermione 'courtship' and Severus' reaction to it in the next chapter, but know that unlike my DM/HGs, this story will end up SS/HG.  Who will Draco end up with?  Um… it's like what he said… *winks*

Again, the scene that inspired this kahuna-plot bunny hasn't been reached yet – it's slated to happen over the Easter hols (April 1998), so… it's back to writing.

A/N3:

Thanks Jodel for catching my blooper! *grins*  How could I forget Lockhart was second year? *duh*