Authors Notes: I apologise for how long this took to write, I hope no intention of abandoning this fanfic so please be patient. If you'd like to see notes on when on when I'll be updating simply visit my livejournal under polarthestral :)

Chapter Six: Revenge Comes in Threes

To my son,

Your letter distressed me deeply but not for the reason you feared it would. Am I to understand you feel threatened by this muggle? This thing that should be nothing to you but an annoyance? Your neurotic hesitations never fail to amuse me but this time you have gone too far. First you allow this filth to photograph a romantic liaison between yourself and the unflappable Miss Parkinson, then you wrestle her in public and are overpowered by a girl, then you cry in front of all of Hogsmeade and run whimpering from a female clothing store? Did I miss anything my very own magnetic charm for family embarrassment? Do not think you are the only one who keeps in correspondence with me, and do not think I am the only one who has heard news of your disgrace.

This unfortunate event that, due to your childish temper, occurred two days ago will go no further. You were always of a rather delicate condition; nothing I have done has been able to clean your body of this illness. If she has further damaged you (though even Salazar would have considered this impossible) you will remain as far away from her as possible until I can trust you to handle the problem. Do nothing. I do not want her irritating tendency to interfere in our business encouraged by your fumbling attempts to deflect her attention.

Use whatever Slytherin spirit still resides beneath your robes. Retribution for her disrespect must come at the opportune time. You will be told when to act.

L. Malfoy

The parchment and its even, crisp lettering crumpled easily in Draco's hand. The rage that had caused him to kick his legs and scream for ten minutes on end when he was younger was welling up inside him. He could hear his fellow slytherins at work behind him, he could see them in the glass of the window he was leaning against. Halfway open, the crisp Winter air cut across his torso, his hard gaze looked fiercely at the reflection. For a target.

Pansy was showing Crabbe the wand movement again. Some fifth year was pointing and laughing as Crabbe dropped his wand. Goyle moved behind the fifth year threateningly. He stopped laughing. Crabbe dropped his wand again. Draco's fist clenched around the paper then flicked it aside, counting the seconds in his head until…

The paper incinerated. Nothing but a pile of ash remained. With one vicious swipe the ash tumbled from the windowpane and was swept up in the wind outside, dispersing and disappearing from the livid boys view.

The curses continued to fly behind him, as his eyes fell on the smoke billowing out of that run down shack by the Forbidden Forest. They were in there. But he was to leave her alone. Draco's hand tightened on the windowpane. He wasn't accustomed to quelling his temper.

"Drakie. Darling." A breathless Pansy came up behind him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she nuzzled between his shoulder blades. "Good news I hope? Is your father glad to be out of that horrid place?" Draco stiffened beneath her grip. She laughed softly, playing with the back of his robes. "Drakie, Darling….Vincent is a dunderhead."

"Channelling Professor Snape today are we?" He bit down on the urge to mock her more intensely; it was getting harder and harder.

"Seriously how he's still in school, I…" she laughed, shaking her head, "he has dropped his wand five times, Merlin Draco, I thought he was going to take out my eye."

"I was hoping the voice would go first." He pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Ok. What's wrong with you?" She glared at him, pulling her arms away. He turned around finally, fast enough to make her back a step away warily.

"Nothing. I'm just standing here wondering what's wrong with everyone else in this room. Slytherins are supposed to be intelligent, we'd all be ravenclaws if we didn't have a sense of humour and a lot more cunning."

Pansy scoffed. "Yeah, Crabbe and Goyle certainly were Ravenclaws in their past life."

"Don't leave yourself out, Pansy dear, the kettle and the pot might need a wet rag to keep their nozzles polished up." He snarled and charged past her looking about the room in disgust. He hadn't heard a single body hit the ground, it wasn't as if this was a boring old stunning hex either, they should have dropped like a load of bricks if they were doing it even slightly right.

Behind him Pansy was only just registering how insulted she should be, but Draco liked to hear his own voice when he was feeling self righteous and she had no chance to bite back.

"Since when was slytherin just another term for a demented hufflepuff? If I wanted the AK made up of loyal badgers who'd sooner trip over a stick than wave their wand without dropping it," he glared at Crabbe, "I would have asked Potter if he had spare time between twitching and talking to himself."

A strange sound emitted from the congregated mass of slytherins, somewhere between a snigger, choke and gasp of insult.

Malcom Baddock glared at him, his gang of third year slytherins stood around him smirking as he began to mouth off. "We heard Potter could teach you a few things himself Malfoy."

Draco stopped talking mid-tirade and turned to the young slytherin. A tight grin split his face and it was anything but pleasant. Crabbe and Goyle immediately shuffled to his side, flexing their muscles dangerously behind him. Draco didn't immediately say something, his eyes glittered as if he had been waiting for such an interruption—

"Potter could never take me in a fair dual. He's so mentally unhinged that you can't even have a civil conversation without him whipping out his wand like the dementors are coming for him." Draco pulled a face and shook all over as if he was hit by a sudden frenzy. The group laughed, enjoying as they always did Draco's particular talent for cruel mockery. "What can I say? If I want to deal with crazy people I'll go visit Longbottom's parents in St Mungos." The room echoed with laughter and anticipation, anticipation that Malcom was too young to recognise.

Pansy looked at Draco appealingly as she clutched the roll of members to her chest. They didn't need this…

"You talk a lot Malfoy. Nott says you're all talk."

"Does he now?" Draco smiled over his shoulder at Vincent as he pulled his wand from his sleeve. Malcom's friends took a step backwards. Everyone else in the room was shuffling slowly to the side behind him.

"He says the reason why I can't get these hexes quite right is that you can't even do them yourself." Malcom chuckled and looked around at the slytherins surrounding him. "You couldn't curse the hair off a clabbert." (1)

"Thankyou Malcom."

The younger boys face screwed up into an ugly pout of confusion. "Huh?"

"For volunteering."

Draco pointed his wand. The wizards in the room scuttled to the side.

"What are—"

"Crucio." Draco muttered, boredly.

Instantly Malcom's body went into violent convulsions, his twitching body fell in a heap to the ground and Draco nodded to himself. That's the sound he should have been hearing for the last twenty minutes. Malcom started to sputter, incoherent words tumbled from his mouth, his hands opened and closed then began to claw at his own skin. He was breathing heavily, but his pride would soon die and the wailing would start. Sure enough within seconds he was screaming. Screaming and clawing, screaming and clawing.

Crabbe and Goyle covered their ears, grimacing at the horrible sound.

Draco looked about the room. "See this is why the silencing charms were necessary, I could always mute him I guess but it would completely lose its effect if I did," he began conversationally. "And the reason dear Malcom you haven't cast these hexes properly is because you have a high level of squib in you."

"ARGHHHHH!"

"Shhh Malcom, I'm trying to teach the class. I thought you wanted to be helpful?" Draco took a step closer and Malcom gasped out as the hex increased in ferocity, his blood felt like it was boiling, melting his veins until he was bleeding out everywhere. "Notice how his eyes are getting a little blood shot, that's because his capillaries are breaking down. If I do this long enough he'll go insane, or he'll die. Let's see shall we?"

"PlleaARggease—stop!"

"Let's think, could I use a squib? Hmmm…."

"ARRGHHHH!" His legs kicked out, his body convulsed.

"Hmmm…"

"Draco, you'll kill him." Pansy said nervously.

"Ah, I have it." Draco lifted his wand and removed the curse. Instantly Malcom's writhing body stilled and slumped into a foetal position. His friends didn't dare to help or even stare down at his sweating body – they all looked at Draco who was grinning mildly at them.

"Any questions?"

The question was met with vigorous shaking of little cronie heads. Draco's ego swelled with delight, his Father's remonstrations incinerated at the back of his mind just like his blasted letter.

"Now you…" Draco pointed his wand at Malcom again. The boy instantly flinched, his hands moving up to cover his splotchy face. "Don't go all Potter on me, I'd hate to have to draw a poncy scar on your head and start worshiping you." He lowered his wand to his side and smirked. "I have a special job just for you my squibish friend."

"Yes…of course…" Malcom crawled to his knees, trembling. He looked up at Draco trying to smile confidently.

From a pocket inside his robe he pulled out a small potion vial, filled with a swirling orange liquid. He offered Malcom the vial but just when the younger boys hand touched it, the potion was withdrawn.

"If you fail…we'll try this little demonstration again."

"Y-yes, Draco."

Draco again pulled the potion away from him. "What was that?"

"Yes, S-Sir."

"Better."

"Now…do you know the way to the kitchens?"

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

"I don't know about this." Hermione bit her lip nervously, a noticeable flush to her cheeks.

"It'll be quick." Ron said breathlessly back.

"No, I don't think we should rush—" she touched his arm, "I just don't….I'm being stupid."

"Hermione." Ron tilted her chin up. "Shut up."

He turned away from her and knocked on the door in front of them twice. Her eyes had narrowed rather dangerously but all she did was cross her arms over her chest and hold her head up indignantly.

The door opened quickly. "'Allo there, what are you doin' down 'ere this time of day?" Hagrid beamed, he didn't look upset about their surprise visit at all. "Well come in, come in – no sense lettin' the cold air in, eh?" His sizable body shifted to the side and let both of his younger friends dart around him.

He turned to the large copper kettle and immediately poured them both a cup of tea (it looked more like a blacker version of polyjuice potion to Hermione). She marvelled at Ron's bravery when he took a sip, grinning through a grimace at her. She smiled tentatively back.

"I'm glad you stopped by, I wanted to tell you 'bout Grawp—"

"Hagrid!" Hermione said with a trace of panic, "I mean Hagrid, we can't stay long, we just needed to talk to you." She coughed, blushing slightly at her rudeness. She might think Hagrid was harmless, but she was terrified of his half brother no matter how many times he tried to tell her that Grawp loved 'Hermy'.

"Oh. What's tha' then?"

"Um…" she looked at Ron.

Ron glared at her and took another sip. She rolled her eyes; well, if he'd rather drink tar….

"It's about, Harry."

Hagrid sighed and put his own bowl of tea down.

"What about 'arry?"

"We want to stage an intervention." She said with a nod.

"Hermione, wants to stage an intervention." Ron amended.

"A what?" Hagrid said, blinking his beetle-black eyes in confusion. One ham like hand rose to play with his beard.

"An intervention. It's when friends get together to um…address their concerns." Hermione went on.

Hagrid looked to Ron for a translation.

"It's when friends get together to tell their pal everything that sucks about him."

"Ron!"

"What? It's true." He shrugged; her glare made him take another hacking sip of his tea.

Hagrid shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't do that Her-mione, Harry just needs a bit'a time tha's all." He smiled sadly. "Sirius was a good man. Good dog too, but a better man."

"He doesn't need time, he doesn't have time." She said in exasperation. "He needs a kick in the backside! What he did to Malfoy was…." She bit the words off; she was starting to sound hysterical. When they looked up at her in surprise, she sighed. She was being dramatic, but she'd been on edge for a week now. "I'm sorry…"

"S'allright." Hagrid grinned tremulously. "Have a cake." He trudged heavily across his hut and removed a large rock cake from a bin in his cupboard. He slammed it down on the table in front of her. Ron covered his teacup to stop it shaking.

"Um…no, I don't want to spoil my lunch."

Smooth, Ron thought.

"Somethin' the matter, Hermione?" Hagrid asked.

"Well yes, I'm really concerned about Harry. He should have…I know it sounds trite, but he should have snapped out of it by now. I'm concerned because he's having nightmares," she looked to Ron, "bad ones and I don't know if that means You-Know-Who could still effect him. There is no recorded case quite like Harry's, I tried to read up on it…I don't know what to do to help him and I feel so stupid! You should have seen what he did to Malfoy; I've never seen him so…so…"

"Violent?" Ron said helpfully.

"Out of control." She said sadly. "Hagrid, you were the first person Harry ever became friends with. You have to help us. We want our friend back."

Hagrid smiled slightly with pride. Hermione gazed into his eyes solemnly.

"He's pulling away from us and I think it's…I don't think he's going psychotic like some people," she glared at Ron, "I think he's protecting us."

"What from?" Hagrid's brogue made him sound even more confused.

"Sirius is dead. His parents are dead. Ron has been…" she looked to the scars on his arms, he covered them self consciously, "scarred forever, I was…nearly killed. You-know-who tricked him into losing someone, maybe more than someone…who's to say he couldn't do it again?"

"Don't think like that Hermione, don't you think it—"

"I'm not saying he didn't learn, I'm not, nor am I saying it's his fault but…but why would Harry take the risk? Don't you see? He's pushing us away! He's trying not to care. So You-Know-Who can't use us…" Hermione's eyes were wide in her face; sad. She looked across at Ron, whose face was strangely blank – eyes fixed on her face.

"Mione, you think too much." Ron said tenderly, shaking his head with affection.

"I think we should tell Harry that no matter how much he tries it's not going to work. It's our choice, of course we'll stand by him, it's not his fault…" she breathed in deeply, "we can't let him keep losing control. Like he did with Malfoy."

"Let up with Malfoy." Ron said. "From what I hear Harry was not the only one who took out his anger on the snarky git last week."

Hermione flushed, casting an embarrassed look in Hagrid's direction.

"Um…lunch time!" She stood up briskly, brushing down imaginary wrinkles in her robes. "Um…best be off." She smiled. "Think about it Hagrid, we could bring Harry down and have a little chat." Why did she need to get outside so badly? She couldn't breathe, but that wasn't it…

"Perhaps I could take him down to see Grawp – he's gettin' along quite well now." Hagrid beamed proudly.

"Perhaps."

Ron followed Hermione with a lazy stride, closing the door behind them. Instantly the mood between them matched the temperature of the snow crunching beneath their feet. She glared at him, whipping her head around for full effect.

"What?"

"Did you have to bring up Malfoy?"

"You're the one who mentions him every five seconds." Ron snarled.

"I'm concerned!" She pulled her wand viciously from her pocket and began steaming a path in the snow for them. Immediately she knew she shouldn't have used those words.

"Oh, well that's perfectly normal. Save your concern for Harry like you normally do." The bitterness at the end of that statement made Hermione stare across at his clenched profile. He continued to walk briskly, but never fast enough to lose her – she was powering the charm that was clearing their path after all. She could see his breath shimmering in a white cloud before his face. His cheeks were flushed a red more vibrant than his hair. For some strange reason she felt guilty.

"I shouldn't have been so careless."

"Let it go! You made him cry, big deal! I plan on making him cry when Quidditch starts again, I'm looking forward to it. Why do you care so much?"

"I don't care but, Ron, he was bleeding from his eyes and...it was my fault, not that I cast a charm or anything but I shouldn't have even—"

"It could have been a trick of the light."

"It wasn't! Do you think I'm dumb enough to fall for that excuse? I don't brush away my mistakes!"

Something felt horribly sticky inside Ron's chest. He remembered all those nights he'd let Harry suffer alone, he remembered all those times he couldn't apologize after he'd been such a git to his mate in fourth year. He remembered every argument with Hermione, the yule ball, the words sticking…

"Are you saying I do?"

"No, but stop patronising me by ignoring the fact that this is serious!" Her eyes were dangerous.

In truth it wasn't brushing away the problem that was irritating her. For a week she'd been in a constant state of panic. It was like that time in first year when Draco had known about Hagrid's dragon. He'd kept the secret, not disclosing it, waiting for the perfect time to let it slip. He was a Slytherin to the core and she was terrified of those looks he had given her in that alley. When he'd let his grip slip from her wrist and his face contorted to a strange awareness, mouth pulled into mirthless amusement. She'd been sure – when she'd finally reached her dorm and locked Sparky away – that he'd known. He knew. And he would somehow use that knowledge to hurt her. Lucius Malfoy was out of prison; Draco's clout had returned in the powerful oak of his father, the very father who'd had Buckbeak sentenced to death for making his son bleed.

She hated herself for taking out her panic on Ron.

"Why are we fighting?" The fatigue in her voice punctured his anger. She started climbing the steps toward the entrance hall.

"It's what we do." He said, teasing her. She frowned at him disapprovingly, but her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were sparkling again. His heart skipped.

When they entered the Great Hall they were grinning at each other (their friendship could swing from boiling anger to jubilant laughter in the space of fifty seconds – she'd timed it once). That grin spread even wider when they noticed who was sitting at the end of Gryffindor table. Sure, only Neville was sitting with him (desperately trying to engage him in conversation while other Gryffindors slid far, far away) but it was a start. He hadn't been there for days, weeks…she couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him. She was filled with an impulsive happiness and gripped Ron's hand, giving it the slightest squeeze. He stiffened beside her but didn't pull away.

"Harry!" She beamed, dragging Ron quickly behind her. She sat beside him and let Ron's hand go so that he could sit across from them with Neville. "How are you?"

His jaw clenched at the question but he looked up and gave her a patient smile. "Good."

Hermione opened her mouth but…she had nothing. She couldn't think of a single thing to say. Oh God what a terrible friend am I…oh God…

"We've just been down to see Hagrid, he says Grawp's missing you." Ron's eyes sparked mischievously.

Harry snorted, throwing down the fork he'd been toying with over his lunch. Hermione's eyes fell immediately to his plate. It looked like he'd been mainly pushing the pieces of sausage around, though he had eaten some.

"So what made you decide to have lunch with us?" Hermione asked too cheerily. She stiffened her shoulders to prevent a flinch. Stupid mouth.

"I'm expecting an Owl."

"Oh?" Hermione reached for the pumpkin juice and poured herself a glass. "Who from?"

Ron tried to kick her under the table.

"Ow!" Harry said, but the glare turned into amusement when he saw Ron's face flush.

"Sorry mate. Um, I have a twinge in my knee."

"He's been twitching all day." Hermione said archly, grinning triumphantly at Ron.

They all laughed except Harry, who smiled softly. His hands gripped the inside of his elbows, stroking softly against a sudden shiver.

"Snape." He said.

"What about Snape?" Neville asked, clearly confused about what question Harry was answering.

"Why would Snape send you an Owl?" Hermione asked.

"Why would you want it?" Ron asked.

"I'd try to kick you under the table but I rather think I have more sense." Hermione lifted her chin toward Ron.

Harry was glad that they never left each other alone. They didn't even seem to notice that he never answered their questions. It's like he was there to be a filter for their banter. Another reason to tease. He felt so tired.

"Harry…" Neville asked tentatively. "I was wondering if you were planning on starting up the DA again?"

The silence that followed was horrible. Neville flushed, unsure what he'd said. He'd never been on the end of Harry's fiercest glare before. Hermione was trying to hide her curiosity about the question; Ron was loading his plate with food pretending he hadn't heard. The noise of the room around them continued, but it was all a white buzz. Harry swallowed.

"No," was all he said. He tried to soften his face, even smile, but he looked so brittle and pale that Neville felt guilty. No one asked him to elaborate.

Excuses flittered through Hermione's mind. Professor Finnish was an excellent DADA teacher and had so far shown no sign of evil tendencies (crossed fingers), he didn't have time, the secret group had been exposed, they couldn't trust all of the members…but she was disappointed by his response.

"Hermione!" A cheery voice called. Hermione turned her head when she heard heavy footsteps running in her direction. There was Ginny Weasley, her eyes flashing with that famous Weasley mischief. Oh no…not again.

"Hi…" she said warily, noting the envelope in her hands. Behind Ginny she could see Dean Thomas arching his head toward them, when he noticed her gaze he turned back to his lunch. Only then did she take notice of Colin, hovering behind Ginny. He was blushing. Not a good sign.

"Hi, Colin."

"Hegh…I mean Hi, Hermione, sorry to interrupt – Hello Harry! You're looking well today, I meant to tell you about this new magazine I saw the other day in Hogsmeade it's called Seek and—"

"Er…thanks Colin but I—"

"I bought you some copies, they're up in my dorm would you like to see them? Dennis!" He shouted over his shoulder.

"No, Colin it's ok—"

But they'd already run off together.

Hermione was still holding her glass of pumpkin juice, she'd been too distracted to even take a sip and now her stomach was plummeting. Ginny had sat next to her, casting a conspiratorial wink her way. Hermione had managed not to look nervously across the room but she suddenly felt self-conscious, like someone was staring back.

"Colin finally got them developed." She giggled, nudging Hermione in the shoulder. "I saved them so we could look together."

"Look! No, put them away…" Hermione shoved the photos away as if they were contaminated. Ginny snorted.

"C'mon Hermione, how many times have you seen an evil strip tease?"

"I haven't seen a regular strip tease, what's the difference?"

"Much more leather and props." Ginny grinned.

Hermione strained out a laugh. So that's what a strangled goose sounds like? she thought. Props?

"What are those?" Ron asked, flicking a suspicious glance between his sister and his best friend.

"Oh, you want to see?" Ginny gave him an innocent look and picked the photos up to pass them—

"No!" Hermione snatched them back.

Ron frowned.

"Er…I want to see them first." She blushed.

"What are they?"

"We tried on a whole bunch of dresses for the Winter Festival and took photos. Do you want to help us decide which colours work better with our accessories?" Ginny opened her eyes widely, smiled her sweetest most boring smile…Ron was predictable.

"So Harry have you reconsidered quidditch?" He turned away.

"Easy." Ginny said with a smug look. "Don't worry Hermione, he didn't take off his robes and I only set the camera to go through one layer. Your pure, white innocence will feel not a single flicker of jade." All this whispering about a naked enemy felt horribly indecent and Hermione knew her face was not going to regain its natural pallor any time soon.

"You said you didn't look." Hermione said between her teeth.

"Pfft. Of course I looked." Ginny reached out for Hermione's glass and took a sip from it. "The best part is his bored expression; one of them must be a lousy shag and I'm hoping it's him." She laughed. "Rumours of his sex drive have been greatly exaggerated probably by himself."

"Ginny, I'm really not interested in Malfoy's sex drive."

"Well if you don't want to see them, I'll show Susan, I'm sure she'll—"

Hermione snatched the envelope of photos out of Ginny's hands and shoved them into her robes. "You can't go flashing them about. The whole reason you got them in the first place was to get Dean's sketch book back. You'll lose your leverage if you show them to everyone."

"You're right." Ginny grumbled. "But revenge was part of it too. It works both ways. Malfoy already showed half the school my ass, what does it matter if I get the sketch back?" But Ginny sighed and slumped forward. "Everyone but me anyway." She whispered softly.

Hermione watched as Ginny's head turned slightly, staring down the table. She didn't need to turn around to know who her friend was watching. Hermione was wise enough to say nothing. Any awkwardness ensuing by that moment was concealed by the arrival of a few owls.

Late mail.

Expectation pinched in Hermione's stomach and she remembered the stress of the week. It was harder not to look across at the Slytherin table now. She'd been desperately awaiting Viktor's response. She hoped the howler she sent him hadn't been too embarrassing, but she was frightened and—

"Oh…" her hands shook as an owl swooped in their direction, but it didn't drop anything in her lap. Instead it swooped toward Harry, dropping a tightly rolled parchment straight into the yolk of his fried egg.

He grimaced and wiped the sticky yellow substance from the bottom.

Hermione was about to say 'that's why you should always eat your lunch' but stopped when a letter dropped in front of her. She looked up to see a barn owl swooping over head.

Ginny coughed loudly beside her and Hermione absently patted her back, passing her pumpkin juice over to quell the itch in her throat.

"It's from Viktor, thank God!" She clutched the parchment to her chest, smiling with relief.

Ron mumbled something under his breath but she was too excited to even bother asking for him to repeat himself. Harry was likewise distracted, reading his parchment. Over and over again.

7.30pm, tomorrow.

Don't waste my time.

It didn't indicate who it was from or where to meet, but was any of that really necessary? Harry wouldn't have bothered pretending Snape deserved to be addressed like a person either.

He folded the letter and placed it in his robes without comment. But in order to avoid questions he dug into his lunch with new enthusiasm, even going so far as to smile spontaneously at Ron's frown on the other side of the table.

"Somethin' wrong?" Harry asked.

"Vicky. What does she see in that guy anyway?" Ron snarled.

"Champion quidditch player, kind of a nice guy, lots of money, thought she was pretty, writes long owls—"

"Shut up, Harry."

Harry found a peculiar kind of joy in seeing Ron like this. He'd always had a suspicion Ron liked Hermione and it was amusing that Ron himself didn't seem aware of it.

They both looked across at Hermione who was reading through her owl with fierce concentration. One hand held the letter steady, the other drummed nervous fingers across her bottom lip, there was a wrinkle between her eyebrows growing deeper by the second.

"This can't be right…" She said and grunted with frustration.

"All right, Hermione?" Harry asked.

Ginny was coughing louder again but Hermione didn't try to calm her down this time. Instead she flicked her gaze to Harry, not even noticing that his green eyes weren't hard this time but concerned.

"Viktor! I specifically asked him to give me every single charm he put on that necklace and…is everyone incompetent?" She made a noise of frustration, "It's not that difficult, he should have just sent me the receipt from the jewellers charm specialist! I don't understand how he could leave something out!"

"Maybe he didn't." Harry said, agreeing silently that it would be odd. Especially in consideration of how much Viktor desired Hermione's approval.

"Well, I can't say I'm surprised. He disappointed me completely when I met him." Ron tried to be blasé, but it didn't work. Hermione clenched the owl in her fist and glared at him over the top. "I'm just agreeing with you!"

"Don't."

"What's wrong, Hermione?" Neville asked. "I thought you liked that necklace."

"How do you—" She started.

"Well Ginny said that…Ginny?" Neville leaned over the table slightly, forgetting about Hermione. "Ginny?"

Hermione quickly stood from the table, her mind was narrowing down to a single task, destination in sight. She hurried from the Great Hall turning left without a single look behind her. If these were the only charms Viktor had used (and they were harmless) there had to be something else that had set off the reaction. But what was it? Though she was frustrated at her ignorance, a balloon of relief was blowing up inside her gut. She felt spectacularly self righteous, if Viktor was right, it hadn't been her fault at all.

Ginny fell against the table, coughing with a desperation that was beginning to frighten her friends. She clutched at her chest muttering what sounded like "I'm burning…" but it was hard to tell through her wheezing.

"Ginny?" Harry joined in Neville's cry. He slid into Hermione's spot and placed his hands on Ginny's heaving back, rubbing up and down, patting her occasionally. The heaving didn't stop.

"Gin…" Ron stood from his seat, he reached across the table, brushing her hair from around her face to feel her forehead. His mouth dropped open, she was burning up alarmingly.

"What's going on?" Dean. Panting heavily in Ron's ear.

"What do you want?" Ron snapped using his anger to burn away the fear. He removed his hand from his sisters sweltering forehead and used it to shove Dean away.

"What's wrong with her?" Dean said fiercely.

"Ginny?" Harry's voice was soft. "What can I do? Do you want a drink?" He held her half-finished glass of pumpkin juice toward her face. She shook her head desperately and shoved the glass away. Harry didn't remove his hand, he could feel warmth beginning to build beneath it that didn't feel natural at all. Sickness didn't come on this fast, she wouldn't be burning up if she was merely choking on something she ate….he offered her the pumpkin juice again and she shook her head fervently.

"N-o."

Harry looked at the glass suspiciously.

"She doesn't need you! Just go away, you've hurt her enough!" Ron was screaming.

"I'm not worried about what you think, Weasley!" Dean shoved him in the chest.

Ginny's coughing attack finally petered out. She was clenching the table in her hand. She knew she'd started crying, she hadn't been able to breathe for a while there, her chest had felt horribly tight, like a fire had sucked all oxygen from her lungs. She could feel the dampness on her cheeks and sniffled, brushing tears away. The juice had probably just gone down the wrong way. For a while she'd thought she was poisoned but it wouldn't have worn off this quickly. She laughed tremulously.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked, his hand was shaking on her back. The glass of pumpkin juice was held tightly within his grasp; he sniffed it suspiciously.

"Y-es…I'm fine."

She looked up at him and the glass slipped from his fingers crashing to the ground. All attention was drawn away from the argument between Ron and Dean for a beat; silence descended. It quickly ended. Murmuring immediately picked up again but thankfully she was so far away that most of them couldn't see what Harry could.

"Gin…." He gasped.

"Harry, am I that splotchy?" She wiped at her cheeks again, confused by Harry reeling back from her.

"She's fine, you can go back now!" Ron snarled.

"JUST SHUT UP!" Harry snapped in his friends' direction. It was only then that Ron noticed.

"Merlin! Ginny!" He ran around the side of the table. "Just close your eyes, it'll be okay."

"Let's get her to the hospital wing." Harry said in full command mode.

And Ginny wasn't confused by the request because she'd finally looked down at her hands, those hands that had swiped her face. She screamed without restraint, her Weasley strength pouring terror out of her without inhibition.

"Ron!" She said, swiping at her face desperately, and she was gulping, gulping down the tears. The taste was metallic, unnatural, nothing like the saltiness of tears and it made her breathing difficulties return. She was hyperventilating within moments. She was sure she was going to die. Was she poisoned? Oh no, not like this... "Ron…" She couldn't stop crying, couldn't stop and she wasn't sad, there was no reason for her to keep sobbing, no reason to be crying. She wasn't crying at all, it was just streaming from her. So dark, so red….

"Help me." They pulled her from her seat, all four of the boys around her, and dragged her toward the hospital wing.

The room had become silent at her scream, Albus Dumbledore had stood in his seat. He motioned for Minerva McGonagall to follow them while he restored order.

And across the room Malcom Baddock looked toward Draco Malfoy, palpable fear coiling like a snake around his spine.

"Close enough." Draco said with a smile but his eyes turned toward the door where the real target had gone. He folded the napkin across his lap and placed it beside his plate. "I have business." He whispered to Pansy, kissing her distractedly on the cheek.

She grabbed his wrist, stopping him from moving.

"What now?" He whined. She pulled him down beside her.

"I don't like this."

"Don't you care about what she did to me?" He hissed.

"Of course I do," her hands moved to frame his face but he flinched away from the public show of affection, scowling at her. "We have more important things to worry about." She gestured with her head toward Nott and Zabini at the other end of the table. "And…" she breathed in deeply, not having the strength to meet his cold eyes. "I don't like it when you're fixated on other girls."

Draco stilled. His silence, the fierce way he straightened his spine reminded her of a wild animal poised to strike. His hand cupped her cheek but there was no tenderness in the gesture, she could feel his nails bite into her cheek as he forced her gaze up to meet his. She gasped out at the anger she saw there, and more importantly the disgust.

"If you value your place in my heart you will not say something like that to me again."

He was gone, moving swiftly like a shark swiping prey from the surface of an ocean. He moved on fierce angles and he barely made a sound. She watched him storm away from her, breathing was an impossibility. She'd never been scared of Draco before. Across from her Vincent and Greggory were chortling with laughter. She raised her wand to hex their mouths shut and they almost tripped over themselves running after Draco.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

O – Temperature Stability Charm

O – Threat Counteractive Charm (instigated by a Cardius Crainte trigger spell)

O – Endophinus Charm

O – Soaked in a Bonheurius Draft.

These four different types of magic were used on most basic protective talismans. Hermione knew this as Viktor had assured her the spells were standard. But he'd also said they were not dangerous. Unfortunately he hadn't been specific about which temperature stability charm and threat counteractive charms he'd used and she needed to work out all of the variables. Perhaps the spells clashed and caused a violent reaction. Only research would be able to answer her niggling doubts. That is why she found herself walking about the library pulling books briskly from the shelves. She already had six waiting for her at her favourite desk.

It shouldn't matter what Temperature Stability Charm he used (but just to be sure Witch Your Weather and Charming Seasons were added to the pile). All Temperature regulation charms worked in similar ways to stabilise the body against extreme weather. Some only protected against Winter, others against the extremes of Summer heat. Some did both. It didn't matter because either way that charm was only a modulator.

The threat-counteractive charm could have caused the damage depending on how fierce it was. She had started to get irrationally panicked and that was when Sparky started to crawl around her chest. The Cardius Crainte spell, Hermione knew had something to do with the heart. Her educated guess would be that a threat was deduced from her increase in heart rate, but that would be dangerous because the heart can increase for other reasons. She nibbled her lip in thought, best to be sure.

She didn't know what the Endophinus Charm or the Bonheurius Draft was. Would it have killed Viktor to include footnotes? Yes. He probably knew she'd research everything anyway and he was probably upset with her for calling him a Bulgarian Bludger Brain. She winced. She tended to resort to alliteration when she was angry and he had sort of deserved that howler for not warning her that Sparky liked to make little boys cry…blood.

She was just pulling 1001 Charms from the shelf when something cold and fierce swiped under her legs.

"Ahhh!" She squealed tumbling to the floor in a heap of robes and books. She laid there dazed for a moment not even aware that she had dropped Viktor's owl.

"Tripping hex." A voice said cheerily above her.

She looked up and stiffened. Here was the boy she'd been avoiding for a week (even if that meant running like a crazy woman down the hall when she caught a glimpse of platinum hair). He was standing there, blond hair draping down into his pale blue eyes and imperious nose somehow tilted up even as he looked down on her. The long length of a black wand was pointed at her face. To distract herself she became conscious of the books she was lying on top of. She knew it was irrational – he'd hardly think she was researching her own necklace. And anyway, he might not even know it was her, he was blind at the time. She sucked in a breath, she couldn't focus on the books, his wand was right there and she was unprepared. To her surprised he lowered his wand slightly. She scrambled to her feet.

It took her a while to regain her footing because he didn't move when she stood up. She was forced to stumble backwards over 1001 Charms if she wanted more than an inch of space between them.

Finally, breathing hard, she tilted her chin and narrowed her eyes. "Yes, Malfoy?" She hissed.

"It's a bit late for dignity, isn't it? And don't worry, that fall didn't score a 0, I did give you two points for the highly amusing factor." He grinned coldly, eyes glittering over her flushed face. "Such… grace under pressure."

"Excuse me, I have work to do." She would just ignore him. He hadn't said anything yet, he was just staring at her in an alarmingly evil way. But he always did that. Just shrug it off, he's just being an immature twit playing at school-bully.

She quickly piled the books up that she hadn't yet put on her desk (five in all) and stood back to her feet. It was only when she went to move past him that she noticed the scrap of paper on his foot. She gasped, annoyed that her hands were full of books. Unwilling to do any more damage to them, she bent back down quickly to place them on the floor, then made a dart for the scrap of paper—

"Accio." Draco drawled and it flew up into his hands.

"Dammit." Stupid, stupid, stupid. She should never have made out like it was important. He wouldn't even find it interesting unless she wanted it.

On her knees she looked up at his face and he looked down at her. Quite intentionally he took a step closer and his height seemed to double, the air seemed to constrict and his groin was humiliatingly close to her face. Oh why did she have to be kneeling? Hermione felt like forcing her hips to sink past her knees and keep going through the floor. His eyes shimmered icy, pale blue. Matched with the smirk on his mouth she just knew he was going to say something horrible. He was close enough to her face for her mind to be in exactly the same place and it was no place she wanted it to be.

"Are you going to stand up or do you like being in front of me on your knees?" He asked.

She blushed furiously; remembering the envelope in her pocket only made it worse. As she stood up he finally flicked his eyes over the piece of paper in his hand. On her feet, she stiffened, expecting the worst. No one was more shocked than Hermione when Draco Malfoy burst into spontaneous (and rather loud) laughter.

At first she was stunned…what the? Then she remembered he was slightly demented and only became worried that he'd get her thrown out.

"Shut up!" She moved to snatch the owl from his hand but he shifted too quickly pulling it behind his head. Clumsily she ran into his chest; she darted back like he'd elbowed her in the stomach and his laughter became mirthless. They did not like touching each other.

"What's so funny, ferret?"

"My delightful little beaver, I'm just amazed at how much I amuse myself."

"Aren't we all?" She mumbled.

"All this time I was thinking what a nasty little hex you pulled off. Why, I almost admired you for how utterly horrid it was to experience. So close to being Dark magic…" He chuckled again, and his eyes ran over the crinkles in her forehead as if she was a marvel he'd never beheld before. The humour drained from his face as if it had been smashed clean by an anvil. "I should have known a mudblood like you could never pull off wandless magic. It wasn't you at all but some necklace." He laughed again and she finally understood the reason for his amusement. He'd actually given her credit, something he'd never done before.

Hermione's hand clenched in the sleeve of her robe, it was only then that she noticed her wand had slipped from its usual hiding place. She tensed but didn't show anything to him in her facial expression. Without moving her head, she tried to flick her eyes around the ground, searching it out. No sign of it. Damn.

"I'm so ashamed that I almost respected you. And this list of instructions…" He chuckled again. "No witch in her right mind would ever wear a charm when she didn't understand its purpose. But then…you're not a real witch are you, Granger?"

"I'm a better witch than you're a wizard."

"You better hope you aim your wand better than your tongue…because the charm that so luckily saved your filthy little head is nothing in comparison to what I'm planning on doing to you."

"You're all talk. You have your wand, do your worst." She tilted her chin at him challengingly and he inclined his head, twirling her piece of paper in his pale hands.

Her eyes darted to the piece of paper before shifting back to his. Draco had noticed her preoccupation with his possession of her precious list, if she wanted his best...he slipped the piece of parchment into his robes and smiled.

"How's that?"

"You ca—" She stopped herself from stamping her foot only through an extreme force of will. "I'll make a deal with you." Her voice only barely managed to escape through her gritted teeth.

He scoffed. "I didn't expect you to start begging me so soon, we haven't even started."

She ignored him; she'd never be scared of his ability as a wizard, only his mouth and the knowledge he had.

"I'll give you the film. Isn't that what you want?"

He watched her with interest but said nothing. Her desperation was interesting considering she could get her precious Krum to send out the list again but he wasn't about to point that out to her.

"The Weaslette doesn't want her precious pornography back? Or did she finally reconcile herself to that illustrious profession? It is the oldest profession in the world, so at least she has respect for tradition. It can be quite lucrative too with a mouth like hers. A step up from the Weasel farm, I have to commend her."

Hermione didn't give him the pleasure of taking a bite out of his bait. She didn't want to spend any more time around him than absolutely necessary.

"Listen you selfish snipe, I have the photos with me. I'll give you them for the sketch you have of Ginny, but I'll only give you the negatives if you give me my owl."

"That's not a fair trade."

"Don't give me—"

"Why should I care if people see me making love to my betrothed?"

"Love!" she scoffed incredulously, "you call groping her behind the five-knut rack love?"

"It doesn't matter where you do it if you do it properly," he grinned lecherously and her skin crawled.

"I'm sure your father wouldn't appreciate his son's reputation being completely—"

Draco's wand whipped up and under her chin so fast that she stopped speaking in astonishment. Her eyes couldn't even seek out her own wand in her surprise. She'd never seen him move his wand so fast. And now she was meeting his eyes, unable to look away.

"Don't. Ever. Mention my father. It offends me to hear you talk about him."

"Sorry to shake your fragile sensibilities."

Hermione hissed as Draco's wand sent out a slight spark, burning the skin on her neck in a neat, red circle. She tried to retreat away from the pressure of his wand against her skin but he merely followed her. She stopped her retreat, the last thing she wanted was to end up in the middle of the aisle, with little chance of escape and further away from her wand than she ever wanted to be.

He grinned. "Now…your attack on me…that would be much more damaging to your reputation."

Her eyes widened.

"That head girl badge would just…float away….I can just hear McGoobagall now… I am so disappointed in you, Miss Granger. I thought you were my best student but you have turned out very bad, very bad indeed. Imagine, using dark magic on a fellow prefect, oh if my sense of humour hadn't died a century ago!" He cackled at his cruel imitation alone. The wand tip twisted against her skin for impact before he finally pulled it away. Her heart was pounding and she opened her mouth thoughtlessly—

"Nobody would believe you, there's nothing dangerous about that charm. Nothing that causes haemorrhaging! You're just so weak you can't take a stunning hex head on!"

"Bitch!" He raised his wand but didn't utter the words that burned darkly in his eyes.

Her eyes showed only disdain, he could hardly do any damage in a place so public. Anything he said about her hex would then be taken as complete and utter mendacity.

He tilted his head, eyes taking in her defiance with an equal and opposing measure of disdain.

"You have your deal." He said tightly.

She looked at him suspiciously – why had he given in so quickly? Paranoia raised prickles on the back of her neck. Hermione nodded her head.

"The photos," He put out his hand.

Hermione scoffed. "The sketchpad first."

"I don't have that in my possession."

Hermione raised an eyebrow, unimpressed.

"Goyle…" Draco said and Hermione flinched in surprise when the thug in question tramped up behind her. Crabbe appeared simultaneously from behind Malfoy. Hermione became aware of how boxed in she was, by people who would heartily enjoy seeing her corpse.

Draco smirked at her obvious fear (made apparent by how quickly she'd blanked her emotions from all of her face but her eyes).

He moved his eyes from hers to somewhere over her shoulder, "I leant you the Weasel porn didn't I, Greg?"

Crabbe grinned over Malfoy's shoulder and Hermione grimaced with disgust. Greggory Goyle was nodding so eagerly behind her that she could feel it. She took a step toward Draco all the while glaring in between his perfectly clipped eyebrows. This was information she would not be passing on to Ginny Weasley.

"You didn't leave it in the bathroom did you?" Draco continued, uncaring of her disgust.

She heard Goyle fumbling with his pockets and then he shoved her aside, holding out a sticky looking wad of paper to Draco. Hermione darted forward and attempted to snatch it from Goyle's hand. He was much stronger than her and didn't let go. The tug of war was so poorly matched that he ended up dragging Hermione for a metre before Draco chuckled and said, "just give it to her, Goyle."

Breathing heavily she pulled the sketchpad close to her chest and glared haughtily at the wizard variation of a bludgeoned troll. When she started to think about why the sketchpad was sticky she held it less tightly.

"Happy mudblood? First me, now the Weaslette. You're a witch with such diverse taste and disgusting habits."

"I would relinquish these photos of you simply to part with them, no deal necessary. You should be glad you were so amicable or these photos would have been all over the school by tomorrow."

"Hand them over."

She retrieved the envelope from her pocket but didn't give it to him immediately. The negatives were inside. She opened it and pulled out the stack of photos. Desperately pretending she hadn't seen anything, she handed the stack to him.

"Like what you saw?" He intoned coolly, eyes measuring the embarrassment on her face with relish.

Crabbe was looking down at the first photo (Ginny's favourite) and he frowned. "I didn't know she could bend that way…"

Draco's head snapped to the side. Just when Hermione thought he was going to hex his friend, Draco smirked slightly and said, "Ballet." He and Crabbe shared a snort.

"Try not to pant so loudly in my ear." Draco continued.

"I'd like to test her out."

"Crabbe, under you the most elastic of girls would snap." They chuckled heartily.

"This is the woman you love? Merlin, I wonder how you treat the women you hate." Hermione hadn't realised she'd spoken out loud until Draco's eyes looked back in her direction, moving intimately over her face.

"Don't you know?" He said.

She blushed, swallowed and changed the subject.

"Hand over my owl."

He slipped the photos into his pocket. "I don't think I will."

"You can still tell everyone about my attack on you, that's enough for your twisted little games just give me the owl."

"Why do you want it so much?"

"Because it's mine, and it's from Viktor.." she tried to blush girlishly. It's what he wanted – her discomfit.

"Awww…poor ickle Gwanger wants her wittle wove wetter." Draco blinked his eyelashes and Crabbe and Goyle chuckled heartily.

"Give me the damn letter you bastard!"

Draco stopped laughing, no one insulted his heritage. "I'm charmed by your manners." He reached into his pocket, flicking her a folded piece of paper. "Enjoy your precious owl, mudblood! Academics are all you'll ever get from a wizard." Before she could respond he'd snatched the envelope and negatives from her hand. Then he shoulder barged past her and she darted out of the way before Crabbe could imitate him.

Her hard, brown eyes maintained a hawk-like vigilance of their backs until they were out of her sight. Only then did she open the owl again—

"Dearest Draco,

I've noticed a certain tension between you and your pet pug, I don't suppose we could—

"ARGHHH!" Hermione's hands fisted around the parchment, without even bothering to read on. She scrambled along the floor, fury pumping blood quickly through her veins. If Sparky was with her now she would not regret unleashing the fury. Beneath the stack of books she found what she was looking for and flicked the wand up into her grasp. Immediately she turned and trudged after them, hair whipping out behind her wildly, shoulders stiff with anger. But by the time she reached the main part of the library they had already gone.

"Blasted bugger and bastard!" She stamped her foot and glared, hoping Draco Malfoy felt the heat of it wherever he was.

TBC...

1) A clabbert is a hairless creature found in J.K's 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'.

Catelina: To own the truth no one was supposed to really understand what was happening at the beginning of chapter six so I'm not very worried about that. It was meant to be disorientating, only to be understood in retrospect.

QueenofIrony:Thanks for the reminder, I'm sorry to keep you waiting.

Lady Moofin: I hope you enjoyed the Draco/Hermione scene but I'm sorry I won't be getting rid of Pansy any time soon. She's really important for the story and the eventual pairing. If it makes you feel better Draco does treat her appallingly.

breeze3: Original is a really big compliment, I'm not sure if it sticks to this story, but I'll try to keep you thinking that way hopefully.

Rainmusic: The nuzzling was strange but there was a reason for it. The clue is in the first part of the chapter where past and future were kind of bled into each other.

lollylips3: Hmmm, I don't agree with you about Draco, I never found him particularly brave or strong. He always fought with words until violence was inflicted on him in retaliation. Harry had to completely overpower Draco in that chapter (and it has happened before re: Order of the Phoenix) this is because he was absolutely furious and not a little bit crazed at the time. Draco didn't know what hit him. As for Hermione, it's very hard to get something out of someones hand if they don't want to give it to you. Now, I didn't mind the fact that you wanted Draco to stand up and fight and maybe even win their battles. That's only natural for a Dramione shipper. My one point of serious contention is that I've never ever alluded that Draco was stupid in my story. Far from it. He just takes his time to get revenge, and don't worry - he will.

foxxglove: Thanks so much for the detailed review :) blushesYeah, Dumbledore. I haven't reread that chapter since I posted it but I had read Order of the Phoenix before I wrote that so...whenever I read the last chapters of that book I always get really angry with Dumbledore so some of that probably leaked through. A couple of people pointed out the nuzzling, there is a clue at the beginnig of the chapter to help you understand Draco's delirium and why he said what he said to Hermione. I hope you're still reading :)

Crystallized Snow: Heehee I'm glad it's confusing - hehe You're not supposed to have caught up with me yet, as Hermione has no idea what she's in for and I'd like for you to be in the same position as she is.