This story has been revised. I recommend reading my Bio before continuing.
Face to Face to Face
She took the long way down to the dungeons. She wanted privacy to think and knew she wouldn't find that in the Slytherin common room. Seventh-years were allowed to stay out the latest but it was nearly eleven o'clock and her classmates would soon be forced to return, so seeking solitude in her dorm would be a wasted effort. Of the many things she missed about home, not having her own room was right at the top of the list.
The faded red runner with frayed gold edging that traversed the long, stone corridor was somehow the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen and Sarah studied it with single-minded resolve as her feet guided her down the well-worn path. She watched the tops of her shoes and swung her satchel side-to-side. Musing over the trials and tribulations of her life, she gave a half-hearted wave to one of the castle ghosts as he drifted across her path and through a wall; the pleasant gentleman bid her a fair evening. Rounding a corner she came to a sudden halt at the sight of the person down the far end of the corridor. Of all the people to run into late at night in an empty hallway….
She scowled at him and he scowled right back, coming to a stop in the middle of the passageway, effectively blocking her path. She briefly debated turning around and avoiding him altogether, but decided on taking the less-cowardly route. Sarah raised her chin in a move of determination and prepared to pass him, hoping he would go away and leave her be.
"Williams," he greeted.
"Malfoy," she acknowledged while trying to keep as far away from his still figure as she could. He took her by surprise when he reached out and grabbed her arm, long fingers wrapping tightly around her wrist. His grip wasn't painful, but it gained her attention.
She jerked her arm down in a rapid pull and twist that broke his grasp and set him off balance. Eyeing him warily, she hastily backed away and dropped her bag, pulling her wand from a robe pocket. "Don't ever grab me, Malfoy," she warned. "What do you want?"
"A chat," he explained, crossing his arms. His grey eyes focused on her wand only briefly before turning back to her face. "I've been looking for the name of Williams in the wizard registries. Your family was not listed."
"So?" she asked, not understanding the problem. "Williams is a popular name. Maybe you were researching the wrong registry."
"I didn't. I had every wizard registry checked," he paused and Sarah had the sense that he was drawing out the moment. She gave a theatrical gesture for him to continue, which caused his frown to turn into a full-out scowl. "You're a half-blood," he spat, voice dripping with disgust. "A filthy half-blood in Slytherin."
"Oh, for the love…" Sarah exclaimed, practically throwing her hands up in exasperation. "Do you honestly believe everyone in Slytherin is a full-blood? This school is over a thousand years old, so I'm pretty sure there's been more than one half-blood during that time span."
Draco sneered at her. "Perhaps half-bloods are more common now," he grudgingly allowed, "but that doesn't mean you should be celebrating the fact."
"You don't seem to understand the very simple concept that I could care less about a person's blood status."
"You may not, but someone in your family does."
"And what does that mean?"
"I had my people look into you and no one could find a thing."
"I was home-schooled. On the other side of the world. Of course there isn't going to be any information on me over here. And what sort of 'people' could you possibly have?"
"Don't, for even one moment, think the Malfoy name is tainted beyond repair," he snarled at her, his hands clenched into fists. "I have my own ties in the world, half-blood!" In a portrait to Sarah's left, an elderly woman in brown homespun jerked awake at the sudden noise, her knitting falling to the bottom of the picture frame and rolling out of sight.
"Look, Malfoy," she ground out, tightening her grip on her wand, upset with how the conversation was going, "I don't know anything about your family and honestly, I don't care about them. But I care about mine—why are you so concerned with me?"
"Because you're an unknown. The Nivanos Es had no record of you until two years ago, when your schooling should have begun at age eleven. Because you have one of the highest guarded accounts in Gringotts and my contacts were turned away directly for enquiring about it. No one I've asked has any information on you. Because," he enunciated carefully, "you're protected wherever you go. Your father might be some lowly Muggle, but your mother is definitely a witch and one with very high connections."
"So my family has connections," she said, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with his attempt at detective work. The less he knew about her family, the better. "We're of no consequence to you. Leave us alone."
"Who are you?" he suddenly demanded, frustration clear upon his face. His eyes were hard and searching, as if he could will her to answer.
"What?" she exclaimed, caught off-guard by his question.
"Who do you work for?"
"I'm not…I don't have a job, you nitwit. I have no idea what you're raving about," Sarah declared, shaking her head at the absurd situation.
"You're not part of Potter's posse?" he asked, sounding disbelieving. "You're his friend; I'd have thought you'd be siding with those pathetic do-gooders and their altruistic little gang."
"You. Are. Not. Making. Any. Sense," she emphasized, hoping the boy would somehow become intelligent and understand what she was saying. His circular logic was frustrating and she was tired of his nonsense. "I'm not on anyone's side but my own, Malfoy. I'm Harry's friend, yes, but whatever feud you two have going on, leave me out of it and just leave me alone. In a few months when school is over, I am going home. Which, in case you hadn't understood before, is waaay," she used a few hand motions to indicate just how far a distance it was, "on the other side of an ocean. So, in all likelihood, and with any luck, I will never see you again. And I'll probably never see Harry again, either, so you really, really don't need to stick me in the middle of your guys' issues. You can hate each other all you like, from here to eternity, but don't make me a part of it, okay?"
He seemed to consider her words and Sarah had a moment of hope, but it was dashed to little pieces when he gave her that smirk she was coming to passionately hate. "Well, well," the boy drawled at last. "Unwilling to stand by your friends in a fight, Williams? Maybe you have some Slytherin in you after all."
She briefly considered stabbing him with her wand and yelling that he was being purposefully obtuse. "I'm no coward, Malfoy," Sarah tried to explain with what she felt was sainted patience. "Just because I choose not to fight, doesn't mean I won't. I just don't like getting pulled into someone else's mess."
He laughed a sharp, humorless sound that sent a frisson of unease clawing down her spine. "Well, you're in the thick of it now, Williams. By trying to stay out of everything, you brought yourself right into the middle." The look he gave her was amused knowing. "You caught the attention of certain people…."
"Yes," she interrupted, rolling her eyes, the tension in her shoulders suddenly flowing away. "I know all about that meeting, Hermione told me."
"Did she really?" was his murmured reply. He folded his arms across his chest and gave her a cocky grin. "You'd best watch yourself, Williams, because, never doubt, others are."
Sarah frowned at him as she suddenly recalled how long she'd been standing in the corridor arguing. "As much as I'm enjoying this conversation, Malfoy, I'm leaving now," she stated, but didn't move.
"Go on, then," he prodded. "It wouldn't do to be caught out of bed after curfew," his soft tone belied the innocuous statement.
"You're blocking my way," she declared, knowing it was a gross overstatement because the hallway was wide enough to allow the passage of several students arm-in-arm. Sarah was being overly-cautions because Draco was not the sort of person you wanted to turn your back to—ever.
He lifted a sardonic brow and made a show of looking about the empty corridor. "Perhaps not so naïve," was his observation as he turned his attention back to her, "just nice. That's not a good thing to be." His expression as he strolled past was of pure, condescending amusement. Sarah turned to watch him go, wanting to be sure he really left.
"There's nothing wrong with 'nice,' Malfoy," she called.
"Compassion is for the weak, Williams, and the strong destroy weak. Survival of the fittest, and all that," he lectured, strolling down the hallway, his back to her in an act that clearly proclaimed he didn't consider her a threat.
Sarah shook her head as he turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Looking down at the wand in her hand, she gave a rueful laugh and shook her head again. "You're wrong," she told the empty passage, "it's my compassion that made me strong."
Her head snapped up at her name and a relieved smile appeared as she watched Harry jog toward her, wand in his hand and bookbag over his shoulder.
"I just saw Malfoy come from this direction. You okay? I heard voices and I know he's not the most pleasant person to meet late at night. Or ever, actually."
"Yeah, I'm fine, thanks. He just felt the need to stop me and act all superior," she explained, putting away her wand and picking up her bag. "I didn't hear any curses fired from your direction so it must have just been me he was out to antagonize tonight."
"Ah, no," Harry explained, "he didn't see me actually. Malfoy isn't one to pass up a Harry-harassing opportunity."
"What is it between you two?" she asked as they headed toward a stairwell, the torches along the wall flaring to life at their approach and settling back to slumber as they passed.
Harry shrugged. "We've hated each other since first-year and every year the hatred grows. He's a stuck-up git and dislikes anyone who doesn't meet his ideals on what a wizard should be. 'Bout it, really."
"So blasé," she commented, making a wry face.
Harry shot her a tired grin. "I've had seven years around the prat and Draco Malfoy is a nasty piece of work and he will be that way until the day he dies. And when that happens, I'm going dance a jig on his grave, get roaring drunk, and do it all again before I sober up."
"Don't sound so happy at the thought," she admonished, a little startled at the vehemence in Harry's voice. "He is a human being."
"You don't know him like I do, Sarah. For whatever reason, his treatment of you has been relatively mild. For as easy a target you make, being in the same House and all, you should be in the hospital wing at least every other day for curses gone awry and spelled object mishaps. When we realized that you were a decent person, in Slytherin, and on his official 'people to torment' list, we were pretty worried about you, but he doesn't seem to be trying all that hard."
Sarah shrugged and pushed her hair off her face. "Couldn't tell you what's going on in his head. But if you say he can be worse than he is, then I'm grateful for the reprieve. When things do happen, most of the time it's Pansy, and she hasn't really done anything truly horrible since I threatened going to the Headmaster about my missing homework. Mostly, it's just been stuff the House-elves could take care of. It's annoying, but I can deal with it."
They stopped at a forked passage; on the right a stairwell curving up in loose spiral toward the Hospital Wing and on the left a short collection of steps that entered a narrow hallway and the dungeons.
"This is where we part, I think, we're entering Slytherin territory. What were you doing over here, by the way? I thought your dorms were about a mile in the opposite direction."
"Ah, well, I felt like taking a walk tonight. Had my own things to think over."
"I see. Well, thanks for the company. You should get going, though. You're going to have to sprint if you want to get back to your rooms before curfew."
Harry gave her mischievous grin but no explanations as he slowly wandered back the way they had come.
Once back in the Slytherin Common Room, Sarah spotted Blaise doing homework in the corner near the painting of Salazar Slytherin, the founder of their House. She nodded to some fifth-years she had been making friendly with since she discovered that they both had aspirations of the stage and flopped into an armchair across from Blaise who greeted her with a slight smile.
"Ready for the exam?" he asked, holding up Flora and Fauna to Beware.
"Not in the slightest. I ran into Dear Draco on my way back here."
"Oh? You look relatively unscathed; must have gone well."
"Just his usual posturing," she explained, shucking off her robes and relaxing into the comfortable chair. "If the day actually comes where he gets the gumption to attack me to my face, I think I'll die of shock. Not that I want him to," she quickly amended, rapping three times on the lacquered wooden table next to her seat and accidentally waking up a Monster Book of Monsters which immediately scuttled to the floor and tore into some poor third year's homework. The kid wrestled the tome into submission and pulled the tattered remains of his paper from razor teeth. Sarah winced and offered a weak apology.
"Don't ever underestimate him, Sarah," Blaise cautioned, drawing her attention back to the conversation. "He is certainly capable of hexing you, to your face or otherwise. Why he hasn't yet, I don't know, but consider yourself lucky—and watch your back."
"Only cowards attack from behind," she complained, sinking low into her chair and tracing patterns into the leather.
The contempt on Blaise's face was immediate and hurtful. "That's a very Gryffindor attitude you have there, Williams. If you can incapacitate your enemies without putting yourself in the line of fire, why shouldn't you? It saves trouble in the end."
"He's a seventeen-year-old boy and we are not at war," she reminded him. "Besides…there's nothing wrong with being brave and honorable, Blaise."
"There's no room for maudlin sentiments in this House."
"Apparently," was her only comment.
"If you were to discontinue your association with those Gryffindors, it would give Malfoy less of a reason to bother you," he offered.
"No. No, Blaise. No, no, no, and no. They're my friends and I could care less about trying to get on Draco Malfoy's good side." Sarah sat up and looked at the black boy to make sure he realized how serious she was.
"So you insist. Though you have poor taste in the matter of including Granger in that circle. She is a Mudblood."
"And in some cultures it's the color of your skin people hate," she snapped, incensed at the boy's hateful remark. "Look Blaise, you're my friend, but when you put down my other friends, all you're doing is making me incredibly angry. You don't have to like them, you don't have to get along with them, but I expect you to have enough respect for my feelings that you won't do this when I'm around."
Sarah stood, and gathered her bag from the floor and her robe from where she'd been sitting on it. She was so furious with Blaise she could hardly see straight. "Oh," she exclaimed suddenly, turning around to face the boy who was watching her with a frown, "as you'll no doubt soon hear, I'm a half-blood. In Slytherin. A half-blood in Slytherin, can you deal with that?" She walked away from him without waiting for a response.
When she passed in front of the door to the Common Room, Sarah made a decision. There was no way, no way, she was staying in the dorm tonight. Pansy was probably on Prefect duty at the moment but she would be back and no doubt spoiling to pick a fight about the whole half-blood issue. After the confrontations with Malfoy and Blaise, Sarah was not in the mood to deal with anyone else.
She quickly ran to her dorm, grabbed a few essential items, and left the dungeons without looking back.