Warnings, disclaimers, blah.

TAKES PLACE AFTER: The Best Defense, Ch. 46.

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Hoarfrost

Hermione turned the page, looking at more wards, the captions and labels in a vaguely Asian calligraphy, and sighed. All the anti-demon wards worked because they hurt the victim, and these were no different than the last hundred pages' had been; no different than her Defense textbook's, than the library scrolls and books, than the other two books from the Restricted Section...

"You. Vixen." The demon brought his other hand out from behind the tree, twisting it to reveal blood streaming from the back. "Take this off."

Hermione shook her head, trying to shake off the memory of blood, the faint sizzling she'd heard once she'd taken the demon's hand... she, Hermione Granger, had attacked a dem-- no. A man, a person, who couldn't fight back.

"I didn't know..." she whispered.

It didn't excuse what she'd done. He hadn't been able to fight back. And the blood, and the soft sizzling; it had still been working, like acid on his skin. The pain he must have been in... all Hermione's fault.

The demon bent closer, gold eyes burning like hoarfrost. "A secret, then..."

But even despite that, the demon -- against all expectations, against all logic, against everything that she'd ever read about them -- had been kind, in a way. Hermione knew a teacher's corrections when she heard them. Snape would have been far nastier about her mistakes.

"Sneaky little vixen..."

Another page of wards, powerful to burn shadow demons... no.

"Too smart..."

Not smart enough... she couldn't find painless wards.

"Take this off."

Why did that sound more like a plea than a demand, in retrospect?

"A secret, then..."

The bells in the clock tower rang the hour, drawing Hermione's attention back to the material world. She found her hand pressed lightly over her school tie, warm and small and rubbing gently.

"Not again..." she muttered, pulling it away and firmly gripping the book with both hands. Every single time she thought about the demon, she found her hand splayed over the spot the demon's hand had been, right before she wrote her ward on him. "This is so stupid--!"

Hermione turned the page. She WOULD find a set of wards that didn't cause pain, or by Merlin she would invent them herself!

I won't torture someone who can't fight back. Never again. NEVER.

Unnoticed, her hand crept up to press over her collarbone once more.