Chapter 32 – Caveat Emptor
Quick Note: I do not own anything from the wonderful world of Harry Potter by JK Rowling. That includes any scenes I may have derived or paraphrased from the original text.
Hospital Wing – 04/13/1995
Hermione could feel the change in her body as soon as she swallowed the potion. Snape had kept his explanation of it simple – it contained a form of magical anti-venom found in a rare species of viper in Albania. How they managed to procure her a cure this quickly was a mystery, but she was exceedingly grateful. She would have asked more questions, but the enraged look she'd woken up to when Snape saw her and Draco sleeping on the same bed was enough to keep her quiet.
Her body had felt continually drained since she'd awoken yesterday – like she was always just shy of death – and the cure warmed her skin. Her body tingled from head to toe as the corpse-like frigidness she'd felt dissipated, and strength began to return to her body.
"Thank you, Professor," she murmured, relief on her features as she looked at Snape gratefully.
He sent her a brusque nod.
"Try not to gallivant off like a Gryffindor next time," he replied, his eyes narrowing and flickering to the man beside her. A sneer curled his lips and he turned and left the wing before either could reply.
"That didn't go as horribly as I expected," muttered Draco. Hermione turned to look over at him and tried not to laugh. He was cocooned in his blankets – the only visible thing being his wild hair and sleepy eyes. He'd been incredibly irritated when he woke but that gave way to relief when she'd taken the antidote.
"I suspect he cares more about keeping his position as Potions Professor than hexing fourth years," she teased, smirking as she laid back on the bed and snuggled under her own blankets. The high from the pain potions was slowly wearing off, and she could feel a tell-tale soreness beginning in her torso. Just as she closed her eyes and wondered when Pomfrey would come to administer more pain potions, her question was answered.
The nurse came out of her office and looked between the both of them severely, a tray of medicine hovering behind her. Hermione eyed the blood replenishing potions with disgust before glancing back at the matron pleadingly.
"I'll administer the replenishing potions when you fall back to sleep and get more much needed rest," she emphasized sourly, her eyes trailing to Draco, who was watching her with narrowed eyes from under the sheets. "There are two pain potions, two blood replenishing potions, a sleeping potion, an organ repairing potion, and one to help with wound healing that Snape concocted for you as well as this," she picked up a small bottle with brown liquid within it that looked incredibly familiar... in fact... "There's a lot of covering up to be done with the stunt you both pulled, so the faster you recover, the better."
"Covering up?" she asked, frowning.
"The Headmaster will explain once you are well enough, Miss Malfoy."
She nodded, curious about Dumbledore's plans for them both.
"Is that Dittany?" Draco asked, moving the blanket away from his face in shock as he recognized the brown liquid.
"Correct, Mr. Granger," said Pomfrey after a quick pause, surprised he was able to recognize it. "It is from Professor Snape's personal stores. It is quite fortunate he had some on hand."
With that, she started opening the potion caps.
"The Dittany will be used tomorrow since the organ and wound healing potions need at least a day to work. Everything other than that will be taken today."
Hermione took the potions in quick succession, trying hard not to focus on their taste or smell. The one for her organs, however, was absolutely revolting. Draco clapped her on the back as she gagged at the horrendous taste.
She just closed her eyes and shook her head, a grimace on her face. She didn't trust herself with words right now. This situation reminded her so much of when Dolohov cursed her – she was loaded with potions then, too, and it was just as horrible.
Pomfrey eyed her warily and held up the sleeping draught before placing it back onto the tray.
"The last one, Miss Malfoy. It should knock you out until tomorrow so don't drink it until after you've eaten breakfast. It should appear shortly. I'll come out in a few hours to administer the blood replenishing potions once you've fallen asleep." Pomfrey nodded at them both before going back into her office.
Hermione took a few sips of water from the glass beside her on the table before laying back on the bed and closing her eyes.
"Breakfast should be here in about ten minutes," mumbled Draco, yawning as he checked the time. He snuggled back under the covers as well and a comfortable silence ensued until the food arrived.
"Dumbledore is planning on covering this entire situation up," began Draco slowly, "But his influence over the Auror Department is what's most important..." he glanced up and they locked eyes in silent understanding.
Hermione swallowed her toast before replying.
"If it gets out that we did this, I doubt I could go back to Malfoy Manor at the end of the year and you'd have a target on your head worth almost as much as Harry, I'm sure. Lucius would... well," she paused, her chest feeling tight. "I don't know what he'd do, but it surely wouldn't be good. You have my wand, right?"
He nodded, turning back to his eggs. "I managed to Accio it before we left Crouch's mansion. It's in my dormitory, I'll bring it here later." Relief spread through her at the thought of being reunited with her wand once more. "How much should we tell Dumbledore?"
"He's left us alone for the most part, which has been nice," she commented, finishing up her food and grabbing the sleeping draught. She took a quick sniff and winced. It was very potent. "Although it's mental, I think he planned to just observe us when we first got here to see what we'd do and where our loyalties lie... but after everything that's happened and our involvement with Harry, I believe he's come to trust us, somewhat. I suppose we could tell him quite a bit of what we know at this point," she shrugged, "Besides, it's not like it'll matter, anyway. The future isn't going to be the same, regardless."
Having finished his breakfast as well, Draco magicked the tray along with her plate back to its place at the foot of the bed.
"So," he said conversationally, snuggling under the blankets once more, "I'm guessing we omit the part about him dying in our sixth year, give a simplified version of the events beyond fourth year, and mention the Horcruxes, including the one we've already destroyed?"
She gulped down the potion, grimacing at the taste.
"Sounds good enough to me. How much do you know about Occlumency?"
He raised an eyebrow.
"He's a Legilimens?" he huffed, shaking his head, "That explains why he believed me, then."
"Believed you?" she echoed, turning to look at him.
"Remember when you had me meet Dumbledore by myself in our first year?"
She rolled her eyes.
"I didn't force you to see him by yourself," she shot him a look, "I forgot–"
He waved her off, a lazy smirk on his face. She rolled her eyes again.
"Anyway, keeping up Occlumency walls requires some effort, even for someone like me."
He seemed almost hesitant to continue – his smirk disappearing from his face – and Hermione's curiosity piqued.
"Go on," she urged softly.
His grey eyes found hers again before they slowly became distant.
"After Lucius was imprisoned, Voldemort took up residency at our house, as I'm sure you know." He paused for a moment before continuing, "Snape immediately began helping me and teaching it to me as a safety precaution. Although I was bloody frightened, I wanted to prove myself and correct my father's mistakes. That was what probably kept me alive that summer – Voldemort knew I was genuinely dedicated at that time. It wasn't until I improved my Occlumency skills and was given my task that I started realizing how fucked up the entire situation was."
Hermione's hand moved to cover his, and his eyes focused back on hers, more intense than usual. Warmth spread through her as he slowly entwined their fingers together, and for the millionth time, it crossed her mind just how intimate this situation was, especially now. He was telling her more about himself than she ever thought she'd know, and for someone like Draco, that was monumental.
"You didn't have your Occlumency walls up when you met Dumbledore that day, did you?"
He shook his head.
"I wasn't thinking about it at the time. He would have been able to just barely see into my mind – only small flashes of our fight and the fairy, confirming the truth behind our story, since I was thinking about that."
"That does explain why he believed you so easily then," she murmured, closing her eyes as the sleep potion began to take effect. Forgetting why exactly she wanted to talk about Occlumency in the first place, she bid him a hazy goodnight and let her mind drift, faintly registering Draco's quiet laughter as she quickly slipped into a deep sleep.
"I'm positive I can walk. Just let me try, at least–"
Draco rolled his eyes as Pomfrey glared at Hermione. He could tell the nurse would rejoice once she was officially discharged.
"Just listen to Madam Pomfrey, would you? It's only for two days."
She pressed her lips together stubbornly.
"Yes, we know you don't like being treated like a bloody invalid, but this is so you heal properly," he snapped. "Now get in the fucking wheelchair otherwise we'll be late to meet Dumbledore."
She said nothing, settling with glaring at him as Pomfrey helped her from the bed and onto the chair. He shot her a satisfied smile, causing her to scowl deeply in return. He knew she hated being coddled, but it was for her own good. She needed to heal, and it had to be soon and without any complications. This was the only week they had to get her back into shape and no risks could be taken with her health.
A good few nights of sleep and Hermione regaining her strength had helped assuage the guilt Draco felt. Despite that, however, he found himself wanting to help her in whatever way he could. It was uncomfortable seeing her like this, and the sooner she got better, the sooner she'd be back to normal, and he could relax.
He cared for Hermione, he truly did, but underneath that concern for her well-being was the alarming possibility of her leaving him here all alone. It made a sort of blind panic crawl up his throat whenever the thought so much as flitted through his mind. The implications of it all scared him. He was growing incredibly attached to her, but whether it was due to self-preservation, her, or a mix of both, he wasn't entirely sure. All he knew was that four years by her side, fighting with her, laughing with her, and helping her had made Hermione a near-permanent fixture in his life. He wondered how long it would have taken him to realize that if she'd never gotten this badly hurt.
"And how are we to go up and down the steps?" she asked scathingly once they were out of the Hospital Wing.
"I'll levitate you, of course," he smirked, focusing back on the witch huffing in the chair as he wheeled her closer to the staircases. It was far past curfew now, allowing them to make their way through Hogwarts unseen.
"Preposterous and unnecessary," she muttered under her breath.
It was a quiet trek and when they finally reached the gargoyle, Hermione halted him, placing a hand over his before he could say the password. So lost in his thoughts was he, that the gesture nearly caused him to jump out of his skin.
"Thank you, Draco," she turned slightly and looked up at him. There was a tentative, but genuine, smile on her face and it made warmth spread through his body. There had been a clear, underlying attraction between the two for a long time now, however, things had changed drastically over the past few days. As much as he might not have wanted to admit it, he was growing incredibly fond of her despite their bickering, and by the way she was looking at him now, he could tell the feeling was mutual. "You don't have to wheel me around, you know–"
He let that statement sink in for a second, enjoying the way a slight blush formed on her face, before turning to the gargoyle and muttering the password. He moved them forward and to the revolving staircase, grateful for the landing at the bottom as it began to rise. Once they reached the top, the door opened for them and Draco wheeled them in, glancing over to where the Headmaster sat. Dumbledore was waiting for them with an expectant look on his face. His features were kind, but Draco could sense his slight unease at the image of them both. He could only imagine how much restraint Dumbledore had exercised leaving them to their own devices for so long, but it was clear the last of that restraint had disappeared after they showed up so unceremoniously in his office those five days ago.
"Miss Malfoy," Dumbledore looked at her with a smile, "It's wonderful to see you're recovering well."
Draco sat down in the chair next to Hermione as she returned the greeting and they exchanged pleasantries.
"It's good to see you're recovering as well, Mr. Granger," Dumbledore addressed him now, "Madam Pomfrey told me all about your escapades in the Hospital Wing..." he glanced at him over his half-moon glasses, a humorous glint in his eyes.
He shrugged, not willing to explain. Dumbledore gave him a knowing look that made him shift uncomfortably and ensure his Occlumency walls were strong, but not strong enough to draw suspicion.
"Headmaster, if I may," began Hermione slowly, "Why exactly have you asked us here tonight?"
His blue eyes shifted to her.
"I'm sure you both have realized by now that there is quite a lot that needs to be discussed about Crouch Sr. and Crouch Jr..." he got up from his chair and began to pace. There was a long moment of silence that ensued and Draco's eyes flickered all around the room in an attempt to redirect his nerves. "I will be quite frank with you both," Dumbledore paused and glanced at them, "I have taken what you've told me – whatever little information that may have been – in stride and have attempted to look into your situation. This was, of course, during your first year. Had I found a solution to your situation then, I would have made it a point to talk to you both sooner. However, I clearly have not and that has brought us to where we are now. I have never wanted to pry, as much as I'd have liked to, which is one of the reasons I kept a great deal of distance between myself and you both. Meddling with the future is not wise, but I do believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you've both meddled quite a bit yourselves."
His blue eyes became penetrating as he stopped his pacing and eyed them both, waiting for an affirmative.
They nodded, glancing away.
He let out a sigh.
"As you know by now, meddling with time is a nasty affair, however, this particular circumstance of yours is not something one can research. Books are useless for the magic that has caused you both to come here, wherever 'here' is. Quite possibly, a very vivid dream occurring in the confines of both of your minds," Dumbledore seemed quite happy about that fact and discussed it as though it were the weather. Draco frowned. "It's an interesting thought that I am, in fact, nothing but a thought, but I digress. Discussing that wasn't what I had in mind for tonight. Tonight, we need to discuss what to tell the general public and Ministry."
"You're not going to chastise us on our behavior, Headmaster?"
His eyes twinkled.
"Despite the dangers of what you both did, a little rule-breaking, especially for the greater good, has never been something to chastise students for. Certainly you know that by now, Miss Malfoy?"
She gave him a slight smile.
"I suppose I do."
"Has the Daily Prophet gotten wind of this?" hedged Draco.
"They have not, thankfully," responded Dumbledore, sitting down in his seat once more. Relief spread through him at that knowledge. They were in the clear... for now. He heard Hermione let out a breath of relief as well. "A statement needs to be released by the Auror Department and soon, however. It is imperative we keep both of your names out of this entire situation, especially for you, Miss Malfoy."
Hermione nodded immediately.
"Will the Aurors take full responsibility, then?"
Dumbledore looked grave.
"Yes... but I must ask you... did anyone see you?"
"No one, sir. Draco managed to Accio my wand to him before we left, as well. Those who know would be Crouch himself or anyone you and Professor Snape have told... other than Madam Pomfrey."
"What about the other Headmasters?" asked Draco, frowning as he glanced between them both, "The Auror Department was present as well when I came back that night."
"They only know you were involved, Mr. Granger," said Dumbledore calmly, clasping his hands on the table and leaning forward, "I found it unnecessary to divulge Miss Malfoy's interference in an attempt to protect her from her family. Her condition afterward was also kept between us, Professor Snape, and Madam Pomfrey. According to the Auror Department, only you were responsible for capturing Crouch, and Miss Malfoy was down with a nasty case of Dragon Pox, explaining why you and I were worried for her health those few nights ago."
Draco eyed Dumbledore in an unreadable way as the news sunk in. If anyone pried into the Auror's minds, it would be him and only him they'd see as responsible. A very selfish part of him would have rather he and Hermione deal with the blame, while another part of him was satisfied that he could protect her just a bit, even if it meant putting a target on his back. That latter part of him found itself growing larger and larger the longer he thought about the situation, and he found himself somewhat alright with being thrown to the dogs.
"But sir..." Hermione's voice was respectful, but filled with quiet anger as she frowned deeply, "That's unfair! If it were to get out that Draco had anything to do with this, he'll be targeted just as much as Harry! It was my idea in the first place, too! I deserve just as much blame–"
"Miss Malfoy," he interrupted, his eyes shifting from Draco – who had remained quiet – to her. "I have an unfortunate hunch that your father might be more deeply entwined in this situation than we know. Of course, no further judgments can be made until Barty Crouch Sr.'s memory comes back... At the moment, he is struggling heavily with a form of memory loss due to his imprisonment and torture under the Imperius for so long. In the event that your father finds out that you were involved, it would mean grave danger, especially if he is the one behind this. You have chosen a path separate from him... and although he claimed the Imperius when Voldemort first rose to power, I believe there is much evidence to doubt he did what he did because he was forced. You do agree, do you not?" he looked at her meaningfully over his glasses. She crossed her arms and huffed, not responding. "As I mentioned before, keeping you both safe is my priority at this time. No one will find out about Draco's involvement because I will do all I can to keep it hidden. This is merely a contingency plan to keep you safe. The position you are in, Hermione, is one that will greatly affect what is to come for us all."
"And what is to come, might I ask?" she retorted, still frowning at him.
"An excellent question," he smiled, looking cheerily between them both, "I was intending to ask that one, but it seems you beat me to it."
"I think we all know what is to come, Headmaster," sneered Draco glumly, his dislike for the man spiking once again, "Voldemort will come back. It's just a matter of time."
"Am I right in presuming Crouch Jr. had something to do with his return... originally?" he queried, interest flashing through his eyes.
"Voldemort has been thwarted... for now," she began hesitantly, "But his eyes are set on Harry. They always are and will be."
He nodded, more to himself than them.
"I have been toying with an idea..." he began, getting up to pace once more. "From what you've told me, Draco, you have both lived through this all, correct?" They nodded solemnly. "Then perhaps you would be able to answer this particular question for me..." he paused in his pacing to eye them both speculatively. "There is a bit of dark magic... quite dark, in fact, that most do not know about it, most do not seek out its knowledge... Ever since Mr. Potter brought to me Tom Riddle's diary, I've speculated and tried to look at my own memories for hints or clues..."
"You're speaking about Horcruxes, aren't you, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore gave Hermione a sad smile.
"It is true, then? Tom has split his soul?"
"We..." she paused, glancing at Draco who shrugged in return. "We've already found and destroyed one... a ring."
Realization dawned on him and his eyes became distant.
"Was it crudely made? With a black stone in its center?"
"Yup," answered Draco, remembering the gaudy piece of jewelry. "Like a blind troll crafted it."
Hermione snorted. He sent her a satisfied smirk. At least they could still make light of the situation.
"What of the others?"
"Different trinkets that held a lot of value to him," said Draco evasively. "Objects the Founders themselves treasured."
He nodded in understanding, "I would expect nothing less." There was a moment of silence where he seemed deep in thought before sighing deeply, "It seems we have much work to do."
"Understatement of the century," mumbled Draco. Hermione shot him a half-hearted glare.
Hospital Wing – 04/18/1995
The blonde watched as an absurd amount of happiness shone on Madam Pomfrey's features as she checked her stomach wound to make sure it was almost finished healing.
"You're set to go," she announced, relief apparent in her voice. The feeling was quite mutual. "However, be careful. The scar tissue will be sensitive for awhile longer. Do not stretch your torso or attempt any sort of taxing physical activity for the next week, understood?"
She nodded before getting off the bed carefully.
"Take your time walking to classes, and if possible, have Mr. Granger, here," she motioned to the boy leaning against the wall near the door, "hold your books," she shot them both knowing glances, and Hermione fought hard to stop the blood from rushing to her face. If she had a galleon for every time a professor looked at them like that...
Draco, the arse he was, merely shoved off the wall and smirked, sensing her irritation. He leaned down to grab her bag before she could, purposefully annoying her even more. At her bequest, he'd brought it to the Hospital Wing earlier in the week so they could finish up homework.
"Of course, Madam Pomfrey."
The nurse eyed him suspiciously for a moment – Hermione was quite sure this was the first time he ever easily agreed to anything she'd said over the past week – before giving them both curt nods.
"Enjoy the rest of your holiday and do try not to hurt yourselves."
Hermione felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders as she exited the wing with Draco.
"Thank bloody Merlin we're out of there. If we had to stay any longer, I swear I'd have gone mad," he muttered sourly, looking behind him to glare at the door.
"You didn't have to spend every waking moment with me in there, you know," retorted Hermione, stopping him to rifle through her bag, which was slung across his shoulder. They were standing quite close now as she looked for her wand, and she could feel his eyes on her.
"You didn't have to sleep in the same bed as me, either, and yet look at what we've been doing the past three days."
Hermione shouldn't have been surprised, but the shock at how entirely blasé he was about it still hit her. She could have sworn her heart stuttered. Whatever Gryffindor courage she had seemed to disappear whenever he was concerned nowadays, and so she decided to delay finding her wand for as long as possible. Anything to avoid looking up at him. It would be awhile yet until Harry and Ron returned from The Burrow, so they would be alone for the next few hours. A weird mixture of dread and excitement filled her at the prospect.
Something had changed between them a long time ago, but the events of the past week had somehow turned that entire situation on its head. As much as she didn't want to hope, she truly felt he cared... a lot... and that could end up snapping the last of her nearly non-existent restraint.
She cleared her throat and forced herself to look up at him, which was a mistake. His face was incredibly close and his grey eyes were focused completely on her. Hermione found it terribly difficult to remember why she was trying so hard to put space between them when he was staring at her like a man starved.
"Your point, Draco?" she managed to say, incredibly pleased with the fact that her voice didn't waver.
He took a step back and shrugged, silent but still looking at her. The tension continued to increase as she looked back, neither making a move. It wasn't until a few first years walked past them, whispering and staring, did Hermione look away. As she marched forward, heart hammering in her chest, Draco followed behind, a ghost of a smirk on his face.
"Is everything alright?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
Harry looked at her pointedly.
"I think what he means to ask," supplied Draco, "is why you haven't tackled them both to the ground yet with those hugs of yours."
"We had ourselves prepared, you know," complained Ron teasingly as the duo slid into the two extra seats next to them.
Soon after they left the hospital wing, Draco and Hermione had navigated to the library to finish up homework and had immediately settled into their usual routine of quietly studying and writing together. Over the years, it had become second nature for them both. As much as Draco would rather have spent the past few hours doing... other... things, he found that working with her was calming. Their problems slipped away for a bit as they focused on finishing up assignments for class, and it was a welcome distraction, especially now.
"It's just precautions," she waved off the situation, her eyes retreating back to her paper as she finished up proofreading. "My energy hasn't returned yet since the Dragon Pox episode earlier in the week and Madam Pomfrey said I could still be contagious. I just don't want to wear myself out."
"You're feeling better, right?" prodded Harry, his eyes flickering between her and the paper her eyes were still glued to.
She glanced up at him and sent him a reassuring smile, "I'm fine, Harry, honestly. I'm just tired, is all."
He nodded before turning to Draco.
"How was your break, other than visiting Hermione in the Hospital Wing?"
He shrugged, sitting back in his chair and watching as Ron pulled out a chocolate Easter egg from his robes – he and Hermione had gotten a package filled with a few from Mrs. Weasley, as well – a hungry glint in his eyes.
"Nothing for me either, mate. I told you in my letter, I just spent time relaxing."
He tried not to smirk as Hermione's eyes lifted from their intense scrutiny of her paper to flash Ron a disgusted look as he devoured the chocolate and released odd noises of contentment.
"Honestly, Ronald. You know there's no food allowed in the library. On top of that, I'm surprised you have any chocolate left."
"Piss off," he replied easily, still chewing.
She rolled her eyes before turning back to her parchment.
"What about yourselves?" prompted Draco lazily, "Did we miss anything exciting?"
"You missed Mum's food," said Ron, "That's exciting enough."
"Oh and the Quidditch games, too," the red-head continued, grimacing as his eyes became distant. "Ginny's becoming a right nightmare on the field, but don't tell her I said that."
"She nearly knocked a bludger onto his head when he told her she should sit out the matches and keep score," Harry sniggered as a shit-eating grin materialized on Draco's face.
"You're only laughing because she was on your bloody team!" scowled Ron, flashing them both dark looks.
Hermione joined in and laughter at Ron's expense continued until Madam Pince scolded them, promptly noticed the chocolate, and kicked them out.
As the air became warmer and breezier, hinting at the approach of summer, tensions began to heighten. Draco had become more irritable and impatient as the Third Task approached – the only moment of relief being Crouch Jr.'s scheduled Dementor's Kiss. It had come and gone, occurring without a hitch two weeks prior, and they celebrated. Despite that, however, the stress the end of the school year brought with it continued to increase. Crouch Sr. was still out of his mind. His words were altogether unclear and he saw things that weren't there – it seemed almost as if his memories and sanity had been heavily and extensively tampered with. Thankfully, Dumbledore was privy to this information and kept them updated when he could.
Besides meeting him during the Easter Holidays to clear the air, the Headmaster had only bothered them one other time: to inform them that their plans could wait until the school year was over. They had barely discussed it – only enough to decide that the quickest course of action would be for him to allow them to search for the Horcruxes and aid them when necessary. Hermione's sights were set on Slytherin's Locket, which would require the help of Kreacher. It was imperative to finish that one off before anything could happen to it. Originally, Mundungus Fletcher had stolen it, and although the chances of him doing so while Sirius remained alive were small, there was always the possibility that Sirius himself might get rid of it without knowing what it was.
To blow off steam, Hermione suggested dueling to keep them on their toes and proficient at defensive magic. Draco and Harry had readily agreed, with Ron watching and joining every so often. They were currently finishing up another session in the Room of Requirement – Hermione had "discovered" it soon after they agreed upon dueling – before Draco and Harry were scheduled to meet with Ludo Bagman to be briefed on the Third Task. The four of them finally headed down to the grounds just fifteen minutes before nine. Hermione and Ron were trailing behind them under Harry's invisibility cloak.
Upon reaching the Quidditch Pitch, Draco nearly stopped at the sight of the little hedges that were beginning to grow, signaling that the Third Task would once again be the maze.
Before they could say anything, Bagman spotted them both and waved them over, a grin on his face.
"Come on over, m'boys!"
He and Harry exchanged unimpressed looks before starting towards him. It took awhile, but they finally made their way around the hedges and to the part of the field where he, Fleur, and Krum were waiting. Clapping them both on the back, Ludo's grin somehow managed to get even larger.
"Now that we're all here, who can guess what exactly this next task will be?"
"A maze," muttered Draco when no one made any attempt at speaking.
"Excellent, Mr. Granger!" he exclaimed, "It's a maze. Quite easy when thinking about it, if I must say so myself. The objective is to get to the middle and obtain the Triwizard Cup, however... there is a catch. You will assume both the role of the hunter and the hunted."
Draco frowned. This was different.
"Ze 'unter and ze 'unted?" repeated Fleur, confusion on her face, "What do you mean by zat?"
"I'm sure you are all well-versed in some areas of Greek mythology?" he prompted, nearly bursting to tell them all what the catch was going to be.
"Well, as you all know, one of the most famous stories in Greek mythology is of Theseus and the Minotaur. In a way to incorporate some creativity, we have decided to take the main idea of this wonderful story and adapt it to our maze."
Draco was slowly starting to understand what Bagman meant, and his hands clenched. This could not possibly be happening. Fleur looked aghast, Krum was frowning even more deeply than usual, and Harry seemed lost.
"Usually, we don't give much information about the tasks. It's important for you to figure it out as you go along, but considering the monumental circumstances, we've made an exception for this one. As you know, Minotaurs are incredibly rare creatures. Nearly non-existent... however, thanks to the Department of Mysteries, we were able to obtain one for this particular event. Although he is no longer of sane mind, Crouch Sr. is to thank for this wonderful and historic situation. There are a few caveats, of course. Each one of you will be assigned a random Headmaster or Professor to keep an eye on you as you find your way through the maze – safety precautions of course, for yourselves and the Minotaur."
He paused and no one said a word.
"The objective is to incapacitate the Minotaur – no attempts at killing it, no illegal curses – of course... you all know this, but sometimes it's important to reiterate," he glanced at Krum, and the Bulgarian's eyes narrowed. "Once incapacitated, the cup will appear in the center of the maze. The first person to touch it wins. Due to the protective spells placed upon the creature, your magic will only work for so long. If the cup is not touched before it has shaken off any spells you cast to detain it, it will disappear once more until the Minotaur is incapacitated again. There will be other enchantments within the maze, as well. Any questions?"
There was a long, tense period of silence as they all processed the situation. Draco spoke first.
"Couldn't one of us just focus on finding the center of the maze and wait there until someone else incapacitates the Minotaur and take the cup?" Draco glared at the man – who was still smiling – and tried very hard not to wrap his hands around his throat.
"The other spells placed upon the maze itself will not allow such a thing to occur. Anyone else?"
There was another long bout of silence and Ludo clapped his hands together in delight.
"Wonderful, wonderful! If that's all, then the meeting is adjourned. Have a lovely night!" he sent them all another blinding grin before walking hurriedly back to the castle, the champions trailing behind him in silence. The sun had nearly set by now, causing the temperature to drop rapidly. They quickly made their way inside, Draco and Harry barely muttering goodbyes to Fleur and Krum as they parted ways.
Walking with purpose to the Room of Requirement once more, no one spoke until they were safely inside. As soon as the door shut, Draco dropped into the sofa with a grimace on his face.
"A bloody Minotaur?" exclaimed Ron, throwing the cloak off him and Hermione. Draco flinched. "You have to battle a–"
"We know," he snapped, cutting him off. "There's no need–"
"We will need to research defensive spells," Hermione began, a look of concentration on her face. A few moments later, a bookshelf appeared to her right, and she moved towards it. "Also spells to help you incapacitate the Minotaur – Stupefy should work, sleeping spells as well, perhaps. Maybe a strong Levicorpus, too..." They were all staring at her as she immediately grabbed Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5 from the shelf and flicked through it. "This book is perfect, thank Merlin for this room," she muttered, more to herself than them, it seemed. Ron was looking at her like he'd never seen her before as Harry began to pace agitatedly on the other side of the room once more. Despite Draco's stress levels being at an all-time high, he couldn't help but smirk. Hermione somehow always kept a relatively level head. It helped ground him. "Levicorpus as well as stunning charms and other useful defensive magic spells are all covered in this particular book," she glanced up at them now before walking over and sitting next to Draco. "Shielding charms and things to distract the Minotaur or keep it tied up will be the most useful," she continued, in a voice that reminded him quite a bit of McGonagall whenever she lectured them.
"How the bloody hell do you know all this?" Ron asked, eyeing her as if she grew three heads. "That's next year's school work!"
She rolled her eyes as she found the page about intensifying magic, but didn't respond.
"Are you honestly surprised?" asked Draco, leaning back on the couch and throwing his arm over the top, behind her, "You know she's mental about schoolwork."
Ron finally sat down across from them.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, watching warily as she flipped through the pages rapidly and marked important ones.
"We need to do lots of dueling over the next few weeks before the Third Task," she continued, glancing up from the book to look at Harry. "Harry?"
He stopped pacing and looked over at her.
"I have these pages marked," she gestured to the book, "You and Draco need to read them, and then, the next time we practice, use these," she gestured for him to sit down before passing the book to him. "It's just a few of the spells we'll be learning more about next year in DADA, but since you and Draco are both gifted with defensive and dueling magic, I'm sure it won't be difficult at all." She gave him a reassuring smile. He nodded tensely, his eyes moving across the parchment as he read, Ron looking over his shoulder. "You'll both be fine," she said pointedly, glancing between Draco and Harry, "We will practice and you'll know more than enough to keep yourselves safe in the maze."
"Bagman said nothing about working alone, per se. Therefore, if we can find each other, we can stick together." Draco shrugged as Harry looked up at him, "It would be easier."
He nodded, the tension leaving his shoulders just a bit at his words.
Hermione seemed to hesitate for a moment before glancing at Draco. He looked back at her, an eyebrow raised.
"I could cast a Protean Charm on two coins, but configure it to help you find each other."
He stared at her as Ron's mouth dropped. Even Harry paused in his reading to glance up at her weirdly.
"That... would be cheating," Draco said slowly, a cat-like grin curling his lips. "I didn't know you had it in you, Malfoy."
She rolled her eyes before slapping him on the arm, a wry smile on her face.
"It's not like I'm proud of it, but they don't exactly check you for charmed items before the events start, do they? They would be unaware and honestly, I'd just rather you both come back safe," she sat back on the couch, crossing her arms over her chest as her eyes met his. "If that requires a bit of cheating, then so be it." She stared at him in a defiant way, as if daring him to say something else. The heat between them rose to a boil when he didn't look away. She raised an eyebrow almost challengingly, and he found his pants tightening.
It wasn't until Ron coughed loudly that they looked away from each other and to the duo sitting across from them. Harry was determinedly reading the book on his lap as Ron eyed them both, slightly red but with a knowing smirk on his lips.
"Well!" Hermione cleared her throat loudly, causing them all to jump. "It's time I head back to Slytherin. Good night and see you all tomorrow!" she squeaked, quite nearly running out of the room.
Draco's eyes followed her form as she left before glancing back to see Ron and Harry staring at him meaningfully now. He just raised his eyebrows once before grabbing his bag and standing, a pleased expression on his face. It wouldn't be long now.
Headmaster's Office – 05/31/1995
Professor Snape gestured to the door in front of Dumbledore's office, signaling her to enter first. She did so anxiously, her eyes immediately finding Harry's. He looked worse for wear –his shirt damp and his hair clinging to his forehead. This image of him brought back concerning memories and did nothing to assuage the tension she felt. He met her eyes and swallowed before nodding in greeting. Dumbledore looked up as they entered, his face grave.
"Miss Malfoy, I hope you are doing alright?"
She nodded, feeling her stomach clench as she sat down in the chair next to Harry. Her hand automatically grabbed his tightly. She knew he would be having a premonition about Voldemort around this time, but the fact that both she and Snape had been called worried her. Originally, Harry and Dumbledore had discussed it alone.
"Fine, Professor. What's going on?" she tried to keep the worry out of her voice.
"As I'm sure you know, Miss Malfoy, Harry has had a reoccurring dream of Voldemort and a muggle man dying..." he paused and she nodded affirmatively.
"Your father was one of the men present in that dream along with Barty Crouch Jr., who was just recently apprehended and given the Dementor's Kiss. Harry identified him to me after the Easter Holidays. Due to the truth behind this dream, we have reason to believe that Harry's connection to the Dark Lord allows him to see into his mind."
Hermione nodded once again.
"Yes, sir. But what does that have to do with me?"
She glanced over at Harry, who was watching her warily.
"What is it, Harry?" her frown deepened.
"It's your father, Hermione. I-I saw him being tortured... by Voldemort."
Her eyes widened, and her fingers tightened around his. She turned to look at Dumbledore for affirmation as ice settled in her limbs. When he nodded – something she could only describe as pity on his face as he watched her – she froze. Concern for Lucius' safety, for Narcissa's safety, and a surprising amount of guilt when realizing he was probably tortured because of her were the only things crossing her mind.
"Is he alright?" she managed to choke out, "What do you mean... what do you mean he was... He's not–"
"Severus will check on him soon," said Dumbledore calmly, nodding at him. The man in question came up beside her and placed a supportive hand on her shoulder. "I must ask, however, is there anything at all that you know?" His eyes became penetrating as he stared at her, and she shook her head robotically in response, her thoughts elsewhere. "Barty Crouch Jr. gave no information about Voldemort's plans to the Auror Department when questioned. He only mentioned that he would rise once more, but they believe that to be a declaration from a mad man, Fudge especially."
"I only know that he's involved with Voldemort, but what they're doing is a mystery to me," she said, her voice sounding distant. Hermione wondered whether she could get Lucius and Narcissa to defect safely to the Order when the time came, or whether she'd be disowned for even asking. She was towing a very thin line at the moment.
Dumbledore stared at her for a few seconds more before letting out a sigh.
"Very well," he said, his striking, blue eyes still assessing her, "I want you to know we all trust you, Miss Malfoy."
He looked at her intensely over his half-moon spectacles. The meaning behind his words was crystal clear, as was something else she quite nearly missed – suspicion. Do not do anything to betray us.
And despite how firmly Hermione nodded her understanding, unease began to take root inside her.
Happy Holidays, everyone! :) It's been like a month and a half since I last updated (sorry about the wait!) but thanks for being patient~ If everything goes well, we have two (possibly three, if I get carried away lmao) more chapters of fourth year! I currently have a month off school (although work is crazy right now since Xmas is coming up) so I'm going to try and write as much as I can. It's currently like 4 am and I've edited this chapter three or four times so far so hopefully all errors have been accounted for, but please excuse anything that doesn't sound right. Also, a few people in Slytherin have been rather silent these past couple chapters, but it won't stay that way for long... *coughBlaisecough* OK BYEEEEEEEE LOVE YOU GUYS ;D
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