Okay - before you start reading I just wanted to say a couple of things.
Firstly, this is a very long chapter and it does include a little bit of Dramione at the beginning, albeit a slightly different sort than previous chapters. However, there is a lengthly description of the competition. I hope this holds your interest - I know we all want each chapter to be filled with Dramione but I felt that the storyline deserved some attention because it has taken a back seat for several chapters.
As much as I enjoy writing the Draco and Hermione scenes they wouldn't hold as much meaning without the story behind them of which the competition is an integral part. Also, the competition helps bring home Hermione's feelings towards the Malfoys and brings Hermione and Draco closer together. So, hope I do a good job and that you enjoy reading it. I promise a bit more Dramione next chapter - see ya at the bottom!
"Oh, Draco..." Hermione began but he held up his hands.
"I know, I know! You're with Erik - he's my best friend...blah, blah, blah," Draco gave another shrug. "I'm not chatting you up - I told you you'd know when I was doing that." He smiled and it lit up his face. "So you and Erik can go on with all the snogging and whatever else it is you do - I'm trying to be your friend, that's all."
"You're not chatting me up?"
"No - but I have to warn you that I'm a virgin."
Hermione's eyes opened wide. "A virgin?!" Her voice conveyed her disbelief of his statement."
"Not that sort of a virgin, of course," Draco chuckled. "I mean I'm a friendship virgin - at least friendship like this."
"A friendship virgin?" Hermione laughed. "Listen Draco, about Erik and I..."
"I've done something else."
Hermione stared at him as he interrupted her. "Sorry? You've done what?"
"Since we've had our chat...about me getting on with my life."
"Oh - you really did listen to me, didn't you?" Hermione asked. "But you don't have to start making drastic changes..."
"I'm meeting McGonagall after the competitors leave to come to an agreement about adding Wand Making to the curriculum."
Hermione gaped at Draco. "You're going to start the lessons?"
"As long as we can arrange it with McGonagall to suit everyone," Draco confirmed with a nod.
Hermione acted completely unthinkingly and flung her arms around Draco's shoulders. "That's fantastic Draco! I'm so pleased!"
She felt Draco hold himself stiff for a moment, obviously surprised by her enthusiastic reaction and then he relaxed, his arms sliding around her and resting on her waist. She almost started to pull away, suddenly aware of their position but as she did, Draco's arms tightened and pulled her closer against him.
Hermione already had her arms around his neck, so there was nothing in between them, allowing their bodies to touch completely. It could have been a highly charged, sexual situation but somehow it didn't feel like that. It felt comforting, warm and wonderful. Hermione leant against him willingly, as he pressed her to him and her arms slipped further around his neck, her head falling onto his shoulder so that they were touching from head to toe.
Draco lowered his head so that his cheek was against Hermione's and she felt a wave of hot sensation wash over her. She felt like she'd been waiting for someone to hold her like this forever. This felt about as intimate as it could get with someone and yet it was so full of emotion that the usual trembling excitement was just a rumble in the background. She felt Draco tighten his hold even further, his cheek pressing against hers and she began to melt against him. It seemed as if they were floating in a huge bubble because nothing but Draco's warmth against her existed. She could almost feel Draco's emotions running through him and straight into her. He didn't have to speak to tell her that he was grateful to her, that he cared about her and that every barrier had dropped, because the almost desperate way he was clinging to her told her all of this.
Draco might have been the one who had needed an emotional rescue but Hermione knew that she'd been missing having this relationship with someone for a long time. At school, she'd always had Harry and Ron as her emotional (and sometimes physical) crutch and then as their lives had moved on she'd had Jay until she'd ruined it by being idiotic. Since then, she'd felt alone, despite her numerous friendships. Every moment that they continued their embrace, Hermione felt that feeling sliding away from her. It was as if she and Draco were making a connection and despite their encounters at The Lodge, which had been highly charged, this connection went beyond attraction. It was as if Draco opening himself up to her had also allowed her to do the same.
What he'd just said to her - that he'd rather spend time with her as a friend than engage in a romantic encounter with Celia was touching and astounding, especially considering Draco's reputation. It was ridiculous and yet also incredible that she found herself feeling this way about Draco Malfoy.
"Professor Granger?" A voice said from the doorway and Hermione quickly jumped away from Draco, turning to find one of the students looking into the room. "Professor McGonagall wants to see you."
Hermione nodded and then turned back to Draco but he had his head bent, staring at the floor. "I have to go," she said, quietly and he glanced up at her quickly and nodded. "I'll see you at the competition?"
He nodded again, his eyes a deep shade of grey, his face a little flushed. Hermione turned and left the room feeling a little shaky on her legs.
"So, if Sarah comes in first or second place, she could win - dependant on where Bernhard places," Celia was analysing a piece of parchment that was balanced on her lap. The competitors were in the Grand Hall, in front of the audience, waiting to be given instructions for the transfiguration test.
"The judges give extra points at the end, Celia," Hermione reminded her. "We can't really tell who will win."
"I know but I'm working it out on what we know," Celia insisted.
"Scorpius could do it, you know."
"Of course!" Hermione nodded. "I've believed he could win all along."
"So why is your bet on Ella?"
"Because I like her - she's amazing," Hermione confessed and Celia stared at her friend for a moment.
"That was a lovely thing to say," she said and Hermione smiled.
"I hope they all do well."
Celia grinned. "How very Gryffindor of you!" she quipped.
"Now you sound like Draco," Hermione pointed out.
"Who sounds like me?" Draco's voice came to them from the row behind as he settled himself on the seats.
"Celia does," Hermione answered him, glad he appeared to be back to his normal self and happy to continue as usual.
"She just told me I was being very Gryffindor in hoping that all the Hogwarts students to do well."
Draco grinned. "She's right - that is so Gryffindor it's nauseating!"
Celia chuckled and then bit her lip when Hermione stared at her. Hermione was smiling too, though. "Well at least we have a heart - not like Slytherins."
"Ravenclaws have a heart - we just don't let it rule our heads," Celia said and Hermione pulled a face at her again.
Draco leant forward. "Yeh but let's be honest -Ravenclaws are just pale imitations of Slytherins, aren't they?"
Celia whipped round in her seat and glared at Draco, who smirked at her, unperturbed. "Pale imitations? I don't think so!"
"Ah come on! Ravenclaws never really carry through with anything do they?"
"Of course we do!"
Draco chuckled deeply at Celia's reaction and Hermione shook her head, also giggling.
"He's just winding you up, Celia. Ignore him," she said.
"Good advice." Celia agreed and turned her back on Draco who just laughed again.
Hermione heard another voice and turned back again to find Erik taking a seat next to Draco. She wasn't sure if she should meet his gaze or not but before she could make up her mind Erik caught her staring at him and grinned widely at her. She returned his smile readily, feeling a rush of affection for him.
"What have I missed?" he asked. "Has the test started?"
"No no yet," Celia answered him. "And all you've missed so far is Draco insulting us."
Erik looked at his friend and then back at the girls. "Really? Sounds interesting."
"Gryffindors are nauseatingly fair minded, evidently," Hermione explained.
"And Ravenclaws are just pale imitations of Slytherins," Celia said with a huff of breath. She folded her arms across her chest and managed to look supremely put out.
"Ah - the old school house battle. I enjoy it very much. Hogwarts school houses they are the best at this because each house is very specific to a student's personality traits," Erik gave a little chuckle.
"Exactly my point," Draco said. "Only Slytherin house has uncompromising traits."
"I see it differently," Erik said.
Draco rolled his eyes. "Here we go..."
Erik ignored him and continued. "You say that Ravenclaws are imitating Slytherins? I see it that Ravenclaws have simply selected the best traits of Slytherins and maybe the best traits of Gryffindors and then applied them."
Erik was rewarded with a large smile from Celia but Draco groaned.
"Oh please! What a cop out!" he said. "Which leads me back to Gryffindors. They have no backbone..."
"Despite bravery being one of the selections for any Gryffindor," Hermione interrupted him. Her voice was laced with sarcasm.
"They're too easy to crumble on their principles and try to see the best in everyone," Draco shrugged at Hermione who was twisting her lips and glaring at him.
"What's wrong with seeing the best in everyone?"
"Nothing - if you want to always sit on the fence and never really stand up for what you believe in," Draco shrugged.
"Which is Slytherin for - ram your opinion down everyone else's throat and never be willing to listen to anyone who doesn't whole heartedly agree with you!" Hermione translated with venom in her tone."
"What happened to following your own advice, Granger and not letting me wind you up?" he asked before giving a hearty laugh. Hermione turned her back on him pointendly but she was grinning widely because he was being very amusing. She was sure that when he'd said things like this in the past that he had actually meant them, but now she knew him so much better, she could tell when he was just trying to stir things up.
Their attention was caught by Professor Wayburn standing up and clapping his hands.
"Welcome to the final test for our competitors," he announced. "The scores from this will be added to the rest. However, as I believe most of you are aware, the points are not the only deciding factor of who will win overall.
We take all the results from our main tests along with our impressions of the competitors in each section. Winning a section does not always mean that you are necessarily the best. Sometimes a competitor who comes in third or fourth place may have to work much harder and be far more ingenious than the winner. All of the previous events will be thoroughly analysed and everyone's good and bad points will be taken into account.
The winners prize is to be given the opportunity to receive personal coaching and to spend some time with each of our chosen mentors. They are all prestigious wizards, renowned for their skill in one or more areas of magic. We have invited them here to Hogwarts to participate in the final stages of our selection of an overall winner. They will be arriving tomorrow evening and everyone involved is invited back here, to the Great Hall, so that we can introduce them. There will be a small welcoming party so we would encourage everyone to attend."
There was a murmur around the hall and Hermione saw the competitors nodding to each other and grinning.
Professor Wayburn continued. "The following day we will be setting up some further, small tests in the castle and grounds of Hogwarts. These tests will be different in nature to the main competition, testing other parts of each competitors skills. The competitors will be invited to take part in each test so that the mentors can watch them in action. The mentors will then have a chance to talk to each competitor at length. After all this is complete, we will put all of the information together and decide the winner."
"Bloody hell!" Harry's voice came to Hermione and she turned around to see him a couple of rows back. He was sitting with Ginny who waved enthusiastically and mouthed 'see you afterwards'.
"We've got no chance of knowing who will win!" Celia whispered and Hermione nodded her agreement. Obviously, the competitor with the most points would start at an advantage, but lots of other factors would influence the final decision.
Professor Wayburn was still speaking. "So, without further ado, let us begin the final test. Each competitor must demonstrate his or her Transfiguration skills in several ways. They must start at the desk in front of them and work forwards, completing each task as they go. The tasks will increase in difficulty and also in the skill to work out how to do them. There are five tasks but no competitor may move on until they complete the one they are on. To complete the whole task the first item, must end up on the last."
Before anyone had time to work out what this confusing sentence might mean, a hooter sounded and the competitors approached their desks. On the first desk were a row of small stones. Hovering above each stone was a picture of a small object (like a button) or a small creature (like a beetle). Each of the stones had to be tranfigured into the chosen object.
The Hogwarts students all seemed at ease with this first stage and they completed the fairly simple test quickly. Hermione found herself sitting forward in her seat, the nervous tension that accompanied each of these tests, taking hold of her again.
The second desk had three cages on it. The centre cage contained two small mice, who were scampering around at speed. Again, a picture was hovering magically alongside the outer two cages indicating what the mice should be changed into. Hermione presumed that the mice not only had to be changed but also moved to the new cages. She hoped the competitors would work this out.
When she glanced over at Albus, he already had a dove in one cage. Hermione nodded to no-one in particular, glad he had worked it out. Sarah, Scorpius and Toby had all changed their creatures correctly but they were still both in the middle cage. As one creature was the dove and the other a snake this was not a good combination. All three of the children were frantically trying to move the creatures but Hermione knew that this would be more difficult than moving them whilst transfiguring them, as Albus had done.
She turned her eyes to Ella and was pleasantly surprised to see a snake in her right hand cage. Ella was concentrating intensely on the middle cage, which still contained one mouse. Hermione wondered why she was struggling with the fairly simple spell to change the mouse to a bird? She then noticed that Ella wasn't flicking her wand at the end of the spell. The little flick would be the part that gave flight -therefore, allowing the mouse to change to a bird.
It was supremely frustrating for Hermione to watch because she was powerless to help her. Eventually, Ella managed it but not before several Durmstrang and Beuxbaton students had overtaken her.
The third desk had a large board with small round studs pinned to it. The studs were in a rainbow of colours and Hermione bit her lip, recognizing the test. Changing the colour of a small item like this was notoriously difficult, especially when the item wasn't been transfigured into anything else. It seemed like a simple thing but it required a very detailed and very specific spell. The wizard had to precise, concise and skillful.
The Beuxbaton's girl who had arrived at the desk first was just staring at it in bewilderment. The Durmstrang student next to her was correctly changing each stud, but it was taking him several attempts to do each one. Albus was the first Hogwarts student to try the third test but Hermione could see that his wand movements were too general and she watched as several studs incorrectly changed colour all at once.
No student had left the third desk yet and now all the Hogwarts students were attempting the task to varying levels of success. Hermione was twisting her fingers - her frustration spilling over, her stomach churning.
"Sarah's not changed one yet," Celia commented. "What is she doing with her wand?"
Still no pupil had moved on and Hermione could feel the tension hovering around them all. This was tough. All of a sudden, two large numbers appeared above the Beuxbaton's girl desk and began a countdown from 30. The Beuxbaton girl began waving her wand frantically, not succeeding in changing any further studs and changing a few that she'd already done, back again. At the end of the countdown the large numbers turned to zero before flashing up another number - in this case 14. The wizard watching instructed her to move onto the fourth task.
"If they don't do it within a certain time, they must just get credit for the one's they've managed to change," Erik commented. "Ooh - that's tough."
The Beuxbaton's girl looked as if she was going to cry and now the Durmstrang student had a countdown above his desk. He too seemed to go into meltdown and his final number was just 10. By this time, Albus had a countdown above his desk.
Hermione watched him intently and was pleased to see him remaining calm. He kept methodically waving his wand and when the display flashed to zero, Hermione watched with anxious eyes for his result. The display flashed and 28 appeared. Hermione jumped out of her seat, along with everyone around her as they clapped Albus for his result. She glanced round at Harry and Ginny who were up on their feet cheering.
The other Hogwarts students were all standing by their desk, concentrating intently. It was hard to tell how well they were doing so all the audience could do was watch and wait.
"This is killing me!" Draco said from behind her and both Hermione and Celia turned to him.
"Me too!" Celia said.
Next up was Toby who scored 20 and he just looked relieved that he could move on. Scorpius was next, his counter ticking down from 30. Scorpius appeared totally at ease, ignoring the counter and flicking his wand in sharp, quick movements. Suddenly the counter stopped at 19 seconds and Hermione held her breath. What was happening? Why had the counter stopped?"
"Why has it stopped?" Draco said, his voice showing his anxiety. "What's gone wrong? Why hasn't he had the full 30 seconds?"
"Wait..." Hermione, who had half turned to Draco, stopped as she saw Scorpius step around his desk. Scorpius was smiling, his face beaming and seemingly all at once, everyone realised what had happened. A large 40 appeared above Scorpius' desk and the seats around Hermione erupted. Scorpius' timer had stopped because he'd completed the task. He'd changed all 40 studs. She felt Draco's hand on her shoulder and she turned to grin at him. She saw Harry lean over and pat Draco on the shoulder and she was glad for this gesture. If nothing else, this competition had definitely allowed them all to move on from their school days grudges.
"He did all 40!" Erik exclaimed. "Genius!"
Hermione turned back to see Ella, anxiously glancing at the competitors still at the third desks. She was using small wand movements but Hermione couldn't tell how she was doing. Her timer appeared and like her brother and Albus before her, she ignored it. When the result flashed up, Hermione felt her heart miss a beat, not quite believing her eyes. 29! Ella had done 29!
She turned to Draco who was also gaping over at his daughter. "Where did that come from?" he asked. "That's the second highest score!"
Ella looked pleased with herself but she was almost the last person to move on. Hermione wondered how much the score counted and if being behind everyone else would affect it. She didn't have time to mull over it because the fourth task was already well underway.
On each desk was a cat, tied to a small pole. The cats didn't look particularly happy to be restrained and they were each staring at their competitor in a typical feline, snooty way.
Toby and Albus were still reading a small piece of card that was in front of them, looking puzzled. As Albus had moved on well in front of the others, Hermione found this quite worrying. Why wasn't he attempting to do anything?
"What's the problem?" Harry asked from two rows back and Hermione shrugged.
"I don't know," she said. "But they did say that this test would mean them working out things as well as just simple transfiguration."
She heard Harry sigh in frustration and she was totally in tune with him. All the competitors except a Beuxbaton's girl were now standing at the fourth desk. No-one, as yet, had attempted anything. Finally, Bernhard raised his wand and flicked it lavishly at his cat, who continued to stare at him. Suddenly there was swift movement and the cat changed into a girl, dressed in Durmstrang uniform. Bernhard and the girl hugged and she climbed from the desk.
Hermione sat forward excitedly, as the other competitors stared over at Bernhard before re-reading their own cards. Scorpius moved first, flicking his wand. His small black cat, turned into a blonde girl with a petite frame. Camellia Greengrass! Scorpius grinned at his cousin and helped her off the desk.
"They've each got to turn the cat back into another pupil!" Celia said. "What a clever test!"
"The clue on the card must relate to each competitor and the person they have to transfigure - hence the use of brain power!" Hermione nodded.
One by one, the cats became human beings who climbed from the desk and then moved around it to stand a little distance away. The competitors again looked bewildered, wondering what they now had to do. It was the most difficult form of tranfiguration to change a human being and there seemed to be no instruction what they had to be changed into.
Scorpius was standing in front of Camellia, staring at her. Camellia seemed to be giving him no clue what to do. Scorpius looked around for inspiration but still nothing. Several other competitors had now joined him at the fifth stage but they all looked just as confused, staring at the student they'd just tranfigured.
"What do you reckon?" Draco's voice asked, close to her ear.
"I can't think!" Hermione said. She felt as desperate as the competitors looked. It was close now and whoever worked this out first would score big points.
"Change them back into a cat?" Draco suggested.
"No - that's too easy."
"What then?" Draco sighed. "Scorpius has lost his advantage unless he works this out first."
"What did Professor Wayburn say?" Celia asked.
"Something about the first and last," Erik answered.
"The first object must end up on the last," Harry said, leaning forward to join in the conversation.
"The first object was the stone they had to turn into a button."
"So they need to put the button on the students head?"
"How is that transfiguration?"
They all threw in questions and suggestions but Hermione knew they were missing something. The phrase that Professor Wayburn had told them was now hovering magically above the competitors heads but all they could do was stare at it.
Suddenly, Hermione caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and she turned to see Ella raising her wand. She caught her breath in her throat, wondering what Ella had thought of. Could she have solved it first, even before her brother?
Ella's wand movement washed over Stella Bentley, who was her best friend at Hogwarts. Stella looked relaxed and un worried. In a second, Stella seemed to crouch down and a moment later, in her place was a desk, identical to the other four used for the test.
As Ella ran back to the first desk to retrieve the button, all the other competitors were now copying her, Scorpius a close second. But Hermione was on her feet, her heart racing as she watched Draco's beautiful young daughter place the button on her newly created desk, a look of utter triumph plastered over her pretty face.
Her brother was second, grinning his head off at his sister, followed, incredibly by Albus and then Toby. Hogwarts had got four of the top five places and Ella had won!
It wasn't until Hermione felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see Draco offering her his handkerchief that she realised that there were tears of joy and pride streaming down her face.
"And here I was thinking I was the proud parent," Draco said, quietly and Hermione sniffed into his handkerchief.
There you go, hope you liked it. I do try to avoid cliche competitions where conveniently our favourite characters win truimphantly and so far I've made sure this didn't happen but I just felt that it was time for a bit of Hogwarts celebration - so forgive the convenient end. We still don't know who's actually won the whole thing anyway. Please review - I'd like to hear if this held your attention and was enjoyable. Finally - keep an eye out for the mentors arriving (I think you might like it!) and, of course, the mentors welcoming party. x