Title: The Hard Way
Rating: Eventually M, I think.
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned herein belong to JK Rowling and not me. There is no infringement intended – I'm merely borrowing her characters to play with.
Author's Note: Well, it's been a very long time since I updated this. It might give some hope to the Bones readers to know that sometimes I do revisit my unfinished stories. Please send me a review, Dramione fans, and let me know what you think of this story, so far. Thanks so much!
Outside of Transfiguration, Hermione struggled to arrange a pile of textbooks in her arms, lost in a world of mental note-taking. Quidditch practice had Harry and Ron rushing through the castle corridors, their black robes billowing behind them as they absently bid her goodbye over their shoulders. She rolled her eyes.
What gentlemen, she thought. Helping a laden-down girl with her books. As if. Ron and Harry, she was pretty certain, saw her as one-of-the-guys. If she expected chivalry from them she'd be waiting a particularly long time.
Carefully balancing the books, Hermione blew a tuft of hair from her face and started off down the hallway towards the common room. Neville would have helped her, she knew, if only he wasn't bed-ridden with an especially bad case of the flu. Neville would never have seen a girl in trouble, unlike her cavemen friends. Thanks a lot, boys, she fumed. It's all about Quidditch.
"Granger!" The cool voice met her ears and she stilled. A confrontation with Draco Malfoy was all she needed today. Three complex assignments to complete – not to mention that tonight was her night for patrolling the castle. Malfoy stepped in front of her, blocking her path with his expensive broomstick. "I need to speak to you," he told her in brisk, low tones. "Not here. The walls have ears. Meet me outside by Hagrid's pond in fifteen minutes. Don't be late." Hermione opened her mouth to protest, but he was gone in a flash of green and black, jogging in the same direction that Harry and Ron had departed. She frowned, perplexed.
In three days he hadn't spoken to her – firmly denying that she even existed. He ignored her when she entered their shared common room and refrained from his usual brand of taunts in the classroom. Potions saw him keep his head bent, his silvery-blond hair falling over his face as he studiously chopped ingredients. He'd been oddly quiet, too, even with his loyal followers. Pansy chased him like a dog in heat and Crabbe and Goyle, with their childish pranks, failed to elicit even the hint of a sneer from him. The atypical behaviour had Hermione stumped but if she was truthful, she neither cared nor wanted to know.
She did want to know, however, what he needed to tell her by the pond. The reason was surely a big one for Malfoy's hatred of her stretched beyond the realms of normal. His skin seemed to visibly crawl when her proximity was too close and for him to willingly request a meeting with her... Hermione felt a tightening knot of apprehension in her stomach as she reached the common room and recited the password to the Grecian witch.
Hagrid's pond was where he bred frogs and magical fish. The dark water shimmered orange where speedy Hornback goldfish – a special breed – wove through the pond-grass. Hermione bobbed anxiously, her eyes scanning the tree-line for any hint of Malfoy's approach. The air was cool, slipping through the branches and permeating her thick wool robes. Hermione pulled the heavy material across the chest, folding her arms as she shifted. The Quidditch players wouldn't notice the chill in the air this evening, ducking and diving as they did – swishing left and right to avoid bludgers and chase the golden snitch. In the distance she could hear the players calling each other vulgar names, out of earshot of the teachers. Sometimes the teams would play each other – unofficial games that would aid in their practice. Today Gryffindor shared the field with Slytherin and that, Hermione suspected, was probably why Malfoy was late.
A bloody cheek, too, since he'd insisted on her punctuality.
The sun was setting, turning the sky a sombre shade of ominous grey. Darkness crept in like an unwelcome visitor. Hermione knew that as each moment passed, her homework was unfinished. As cheers erupted on the field, a rustle of leaves drew her eyes to the forestry. Draco stood in the murky shadows, his silver eyes luminous as she beckoned her.
"What is with all this secrecy?" she demanded, annoyed. "Couldn't we have talked in the common room?" It was too cold for clandestine meetings by the Forbidden Forest and Hermione had no time for Malfoy's games.
"Your parents aren't safe," he told her, devoid of formalities. "An attack is planned on eight muggle families this weekend. Your parents have been named as targets." His eyes shifted nervously, his movements jerky. Hermione felt a claw of frigid ice encompass her, fear mounting as her eyes widened. "Don't," Malfoy said, "and I mean don't, under any circumstances reveal to anyone that I told you." His pupils were huge, revealing the extent of his fear. Their eyes searched one and other, she profoundly grateful despite the terror filled her and he deeply confused about why he felt the need to protect her family. To protect her. "Do I have your word on this?" he asked her, his knuckles white around the shaft of his broomstick. The hood of his Slytherin Quidditch uniform kept his platinum hair concealed and only his ghostly pale face peaked out from the darkness. His lips were thin – tight.
"Yes..." she replied, her voice a croaky whisper. She needed to warn her parents immediately. Her mother and father, so blissfully unaware that a murderous attack was being planned for them. She choked back a sob, turning to flee for the castle. Draco's cold fingers encircled her wrist – so tight that his grasp hurt. When he pulled her towards him, she stumbled, fear tightening in her chest. For a frightening second she wondered if it was a trap – if luring her here was all part of some elaborate plan to kill her.
No! she insisted fiercely. He isn't this person. Not really. Hermione didn't know why she still believed that deep inside, Draco's allegiance to the Dark Side was not his own free choice.
His face was close to hers. "If you do," he told her, "I'll be dead." His words were not meant as a threat and yet they were completely terrifying. Hermione swallowed hard, stunned at the dread she witnessed in him. He was risking his life for her and her family, of that she was certain.
"Malfoy..." she breathed, barely able to find her voice in the torrent of emotion that threatened to suffocate her. "Thank you. I promise you my discretion." She knew, as she dashed away from the thicket of trees that she had sounded far too formal – almost stiff. The risks far outweighed anything good that could come of his betrayal to The Dark Lord. Regardless of anything that might happen, Hermione promised that she would never reveal her source.
A curl of smoke rose from Hagrid's chimney, alerting her to his presence. Hermione's fist thundered against the heavy wooden door, urgency close to exploding from within. Hagrid was unhurried as he slid back the bolts and peered out at her, his large black eyes wide with surprise.
"Well if it isn't our young Hermione!" She did not wait to be invited into his hut, barging into the toasty warmth and gasping for breath. Although she hadn't run far from the pond to Hagrid's home, she hadn't quite been able to breath properly since Malfoy had disclosed the dark intentions of the Death Eaters. "Merlin above, are you alright there?" Hermione's hands trembled under the large sleeves of her robe. She reached for the armchair, steadying herself.
"Hagrid," she began in a frantic whisper, "I can't tell you why, but I need you to trust me. I need an Anonymous Owl."
Unlike the owls from the owlery, which were carefully tracked and monitored, Hagrid had access to the kind of bird that the school did not have on their thorough list. She couldn't risk the letter being intercepted by someone at the school. Trust, Hermione knew, was not to be given lightly. She knew that Lucius Malfoy had plenty of influence at Hogwarts and he was an unabashed Death Eater.
"An Anonymous Owl?" Hagrid echoed. "Hermione, I can't just go givin' out Anonymous Owls, just like that, now." She felt a wash of tears prickle at her eyes and it required every ounce of her emotional strength to quell her emotions.
"It's a matter of great urgency, Hagrid," she insisted. "A matter of life or death." The giant man contemplated her words for a long time, watching her through a mass of wiry black hair. Eventually, owing to her trustworthy and sensible character, he agreed. "Thank you, Hagrid. You don't know how grateful I am." Her slender arms wrapped around his incredible girth, nowhere near long enough to encompass him.
"Now, now," he said quickly, petting her head. "Enough of that. I'll have an owl sent to your room in thirty minutes. You can't tell anyone, mind. The headmaster will have my keys, if he knows." Hermione knew it would take far more than an unauthorised use of an Anonymous Owl for Dumbledore to dismiss his groundskeeper. Hagrid was his most trusted confidante.
"Thank you," she said again. "Thank you."
The tawny owl with no name took to the skies at just after midnight. Hermione watched until the elegant bird had disappeared into the darkness.
She had avoided her two best friends all evening, afraid that her fear might tempt her into telling them what Malfoy had revealed. She felt numb, icy fear clawing at her heart as she tried in vain to warm herself by the fire. Even with her heavy clothes and woollen robe, the cold found her skin. Hermione's teeth chattered and she rubbed her arms fiercely, picturing the Anonymous Owl, soaring over hills and dipping into the valleys on its way to her parents modest home. She hoped the message was received and that her parents had ample time to find safety.
Swiping stubbornly at a rogue tear, Hermione turned her gaze towards the flames as the portrait swung open and Malfoy climbed in, still in his Quidditch attire. She caught a glimpse of him as he tossed his broomstick into the corner, far less carefully than he normally would handle his property. Draco's broomstick allowed him to perfect his abilities as a Seeker and it was a job he took very seriously. Hermione found herself wondering if he harbouring shame for his earlier good deed.
"Don't talk about it, Granger," his voice was cold and sharp, piercing her like an icicle shaved into a spiky point. There was a finality to his tone and Hermione didn't want to contradict the person to whom she was eternally indebted. The walls have ears, she remembered him saying just that afternoon. His cool grey eyes scanned the tapestry covered walls dubiously and she nodded once, indicating that she understood.
"Why, Malfoy?" she asked, although she didn't expect that he could or would provide an elaborate enough answer to satisfy her curiosity. He didn't speak at all, for a long time, unclipping his robe and removing the heavy leather boots he wore for Quidditch. Despite the coldness in his ever-metallic eyes, Hermione felt the a spark of warmth spread in her chest for the first time since that afternoon. There was something about him... something that made her almost yearn to comfort him. He had his parents, alive and well and yet Draco Malfoy had a deadness in his eyes of an orphaned child.
"It doesn't matter," he told her briskly. "Just don't get too accustomed to me playing hero to your damsel in distress." He began to climb the stairs to his bedroom, his usually perfect poise slouched and defeated. "They're not stupid," he added with his back to her. "Eventually they'll know it was me." When he was on the landing, Hermione broke their usual bitter form.
"Draco?" He stopped abruptly and she could see his pained expression reflected in the window upstairs. "Please be careful."
For a moment something human flickered across his face but it was gone in an instant, replaced by the hardened indifference he was so good at. Striding on, Malfoy slammed his bedroom door without either another word or a backward glance.