DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter belongs to J.K. Rowling. This fiction is purely for my own enjoyment and yours. No money is being made by me or anyone else from this fiction.
Author Note: Thanks so much to everyone who's been reading this story. Your support is invaluable. Hope you enjoy the chapter, and if you have suggestions/requests for upcoming chapters, please don't hesitate to let me know in a PM or review!
Also: The text in bold are direct quotes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Breakfast the next morning was a somewhat tense affair. Hermione, as usual, got up long before the boys and was already sitting at the Gryffindor table, her Ancient Runes book open before her when they finally arrived in the Great Hall. Hermione felt their eyes on her immediately and gave them a haughty look. Don't think I'll just forgive you if you refuse to give Draco a chance. They paused on their way to the table and whispered something between them before approaching Hermione, looks of forced casualness on their faces.
"Morning, Hermione," Harry said. "Mind if we sit with you?"
Hermione raised her eyebrows nearly to her hairline. So that's how you want to play it? Fine. Still mistrustful of their casualness but wanting to move on, she nodded. "If you can keep your temper." Harry's mouth momentarily tightened as though he was holding back a retort, but he sat down without comment. Ron was much quicker to join her at the table, immediately piling his plate with the usual mound of sausages, eggs, toast and chicken.
She let the boys get their breakfast for a few moments before turning to Harry. "I was wondering," Hermione said suddenly, "whether you'd thought anymore about Defense Against the Dark Arts, Harry."
"Course I have," Harry said grumpily. "Can't forget it, can we, with that hag teaching us―"
"I meant the idea Ron And I had" ― Ron cast her an alarmed, threatening kind of look; she frowned at him ― "oh, all right, the idea I had, then ― about you teaching us." She looked at him expectantly, and even Ron paused in stuffing his mouth with food to hear his answer. We've had enough lost time with this potions business, and it's past time for us to be doing something about this Umbridge woman. Hermione took that moment to throw a scowl in Umbridge's direction at the staff table.
Harry did not answer at once. He suddenly became very interested in his breakfast. Hermione sighed internally. Of course he doesn't want to answer. I just hope this means he has been thinking about it.
Finally, after what felt like ages, Harry answered. "Well, yeah, I ― I've thought about it a bit."
Which basically means a lot. Hermione grinned in spite of herself. "And?"
"I dunno," said Harry, playing for time. Hermione forced herself to be patient. He looked up at Ron.
"I thought it was a good idea form the start," said Ron, who seemed keener to join this conversation now that he was sure that Harry was not going to start shouting again. Hermione felt a surge of gratitude for Ron's perfect timing. She needed his support in this, especially after what had happened when she first brought the idea up.
Harry shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "You did listen to what I said about a load of it being luck, didn't you?"
Hermione forced herself not to beam in triumph. Harry was just making excuses now. She was sure she could talk him into it. "Yes, Harry," Hermione said gently, "but all the same, there's no point pretending that you're not good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, because you are."She continued on what she thought was a quite good motivating speech, which was only briefly interrupted when she mentioned Victor ― honestly, will I never be allowed to interact with another boy without Ron being bothered? She felt a small, guilty pang at this thought, but quickly quashed it down and continued speaking to Harry. After a few minutes of arguing, Hermione got Harry to agree to the idea, albeit a bit grudgingly, and they decided to have a meeting with a few interested students during the next Hogsmeade trip.
With her goal accomplished, Hermione wolfed down the rest of her now cold toast, gathered her books, and hurried away, claiming to want to knit a few hats for elves before class. It's not entirely a lie, she told herself. She did need to do some knitting. She was horribly behind after her two-week "nap." I'll just do that later. First I need to talk to Draco. In her rush, she didn't see the contemplative looks on Harry and Ron's faces as she left, nor the suspicious way they whispered to each other as they watched her progress out of the Great Hall.
Once outside the Hall, Hermione headed for the library, hoping beyond hope that Draco would be hanging around to meet her. They would have to be extra careful in their meetings now, to avoid suspicion. Especially if Draco agreed to Dumbledore's outrageous plan. Hermione frowned. She knew, if Draco proved to be anything like Harry or Ron that he would. Striding purposefully into the library, Hermione first headed for the Charms section; there was a book she needed in preparation for their Hogsmeade meeting, then walked back to the back corner of the library.
When she rounded the corner, her heart lept as she caught sight of a familiar head of blond hair, and she couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face as she took his in tall form, lounging lazily at their table. He noticed her at once and gave her a disapproving look. "Granger," he said curtly.
"It's alright, there's no one in here," Hermione said quickly, sensing there was a derisive retort to come. Draco looked annoyed at being cut off, and for the smallest fraction of a second Hermione worried she had misjudged the whole situation and he was reverting back to his old ways.
"Thought you might turn up here," he said, his voice taking on a light, teasing tone. Hermione relaxed.
"I was hoping to find you here," Hermione said earnestly. "How did it go? With Dumbledore, I mean."
Draco snorted. "You certainly don't waste any time. No, 'good morning, Draco, it's nice to see you,' or anything. I'm disappointed."
Hermione's face fell for a moment, but just as quickly her resolve returned. "You know well as I that we might only have minutes to talk. I just wanted to know―"
"What I decided," Draco finished for her. He stood. "Of course. But I think you already know that answer, Hermione," he said, fixing her with a firm gaze.
Hermione bit her lip. Damn you, Draco. "Of course," she said quietly. "But..." she hesitated for a moment, thought of the secret defense group she and Harry and Ron were planning, then steeled herself. Draco's got a right to fight too. And since I know Harry would never consent to teach him... "Just promise me you'll be careful, you know, when you do start this madness."
Draco smirked. "I've already begun," he said smoothly.
"What?" cired Hermione, forgetting to be quiet. "But how..."
Draco stepped forward and put a finger to Hermione's lips. "Ah-ah," he said, still smirking. "A spy never reveals his plans, or his secrets. And I am the soul of discretion."
Hermione brushed away his hand and tried not to blush at the feel of his fingers on her lips. "You're incorrigible, you mean" she said exasperatedly.
"What else did you expect?" Draco asked cheekily.
Hermione shook her head. "Nothing," said answered in the same exasperated tone. "Well, since I can't stop you, I should be heading to class..." she stopped when Draco took hold of her hand.
"And just where are you running off to so quickly?"
"I just said I need to get to class." Hermione tried to pull her hand away, but Draco held fast.
"No, you've got that wicked gleam in your eye, the one when you know something no one else does. And you're strangely complacent about my new activities," he remarked. "What little rebellion have you got planned now?"
Does he really know me so well? Hermione mimicked his smirk. "I am the soul of discretion," she said vaguely, throwing his words back at him. Impulsively she stood on her tiptoes and placed a kiss on his cheek, then slipped out of his grasp before he could react. "Goodbye,' she called lightly, disappearing around the corner.
She laughed to herself when she heard him mutter, "Minx."
Draco hadn't been lying when he told Hermione his work had already begun. Almost as soon as he had left Dumbledore's office last night, he had started mentally reviewing everything he knew about his classmates and their families. His father had always taught Draco the value of information, and it was one lesson Draco was grateful for.
He knew for instance, quite a bit about the state of the Ministry. His father was very close to Fudge, so naturally he got all the latest information about its inner workings. The minister was terribly paranoid now, refusing to believe in the Dark Lord's return and choosing to see enemies on every other side. This of course was all part of the Dark Lord's plan, and Draco had to admire the brilliance of it. Let them destroy themselves first. He's just letting them do the work for him. Then when he's good and ready, all he'll have to do is walk through the doors and the Ministry will be his.
The Ministry was also in control of the Daily Prophet, which helped spread Fudge's madness even further. Draco was well aware of the effect the media could have on the masses. He need only look at Potter. Since the Prophet had spent all summer declaring him a basket case and a liar, students were more wary of him than ever. Serves the prat right, Draco thought to himself, not being able to contain his smirk. Almost immediately Naomi and Evanna's disapproving faces appeared in his mind, but this time he shooed them away. What hasn't he done to stop this? Certainly not behave in class. He keeps letting his temper get the best of him and that only adds fuel to the fire.
Once Hermione had gone completely out of the library, Draco followed her. Class would be starting soon, and gossiping beforehand was an excellent place to get information. He could find out if Parkinson or Nott or any of the others had gotten any interesting news in the mail. His father sent him regular updates, usually before the Prophet printed it. Draco liked having that advantage.
History of Magic was their first class, and Draco slid into his usual seat near the back of the classroom, followed by Crabbe and Goyle. Nott arrived soon after with Pansy hanging off his arm. Nott sent him an arrogant smirk and glanced down at Pansy. Draco resisted the urge to roll his eyes. As if I would be jealous. He should be thanking me, it was me who sent Parkinson his way in the first place. Maybe I can use that.
"Got a new fan, have you, Nott?" he drawled.
"One of your previous admirers, I think," Nott sneered.
Wanting Nott to think he was somehow gaining something over him, Draco sneered back. "I'm much better off," he said haughtily. When Nott looked pleased with himself, Draco knew the deception had been accepted. He continued. "I could have any girl I wanted, just like that," he bragged, and had to force himself not to look to the front of the room where Hermione was currently poised in her seat, paying rapt attention to Professor Binns and taking notes.
"You had your chance, Draco," Pansy purred, slipping her arms around Nott's torso. "And Theo treats me so much better than you ever did."
Inside Draco was cheering. Maybe I've finally rid myself of Parkinson's attentions after all! The pair of them seem happy enough. "My loss," he said airily.
Nott leaned back in his chair, looking like cat who got the cream. "Indeed," he drawled, then sighed in disgust. "Ugh, this class is so boring I could almost lower myself to asking one of the Weasley's for a Skivving Snack Box. Did you hear about those? The Weasley's might be the worst kind of low-life blood traitors, but Fred and George have come up with some clever stuff. For Gryffindors."
Draco leaned forward, interested. Now here's an opportunity. "Would you?" he asked, curiosity coloring his voice.
"Why not? The candies actually work. And not for a bad price," Nott said with a shrug.
"A Gryffindor would never sell to a a Slytherin," Draco pointed out.
"I'd get a Hufflepuff to buy them for me. They're easy enough to bully, and I've got dirt of a few of them."
That's interesting. "So you would help support a Weasley, then? Or two of them, at least," Draco asked pointedly.
"If it helped me, yes," said Nott a bit defensively. "Who cares who's selling it? They wouldn't know they would be helping Slytherins anyway. I could get some private satisfaction out of that."
"I see," said Draco. "My father would never do it, but I say use what resources you can, especially if it spites your enemy." He watched as Nott relaxed minutely and smirked.
"Your father is a ponce, Malfoy," Nott said, but in a light tone. Draco knew better than to take offense. Not that I am offended. Theo's right. My father is a ponce.
"Better than your rat of a father, Nott. Listens at doors, I hear."
"Yeah, to my own mother, no less," Nott said, his face souring. "He'd sell his own mother if he thought it would get him some higher rank."
"Would you?" Draco asked.
Nott hesitated for a moment, looking suddenly wary. "No," he said finally. "I have a bit of honor in me, and pride in my blood." He said this last bit with a haughty look.
"Oh Theo, you're so noble sometimes," Pansy simpered. Draco tried not to gag. At least it's not me she's simpering over. Did I really preen over that before?
"Of course, said Draco noncommitally.
"Oh come off it, Malfoy, you wouldn't sell your mother either. You adore her," Nott accused.
Draco relented. He had to. From the sounds of things, he could probably get Nott on his side if he needed to. "Of course I wouldn't," he said as if he was scandalized anyone would think anything else. Nott nodded, seemingly satisfied.
Their conversation dropped off then, and Draco contented himself with studying Hermione as she took notes. She really gets into it, doesn't she? It's like she doesn't do anything by halves. This line of thought lead to Draco wondering about what Hermione and the Potter-Weasley duo were planning. Soul of discretion, hmm? We'll see about that. Another Hogsmeade weekend was coming up, Draco wondered if there was a way he could spend some time with Hermione then and get some information out of her.
In no time at all the class was over and Draco was left to his thoughts and his cronies. Hermione, Potter and Weasley had disappeared almost immediately, heading to their next class. Draco scowled. Divination was next, and there would be no Hermione to pass the time. Ah well. At least I can get a laugh out of Trelawney's next death prediction. Or maybe Umbridge will be there. She was a downright foul woman, but always got a rise out of the Gryffindors. He frowned as he realized this no longer seemed to give him as much pleasure as it used to. Merlin's pants, I'm going soft. With that thought he made sure to trip a first year on his way to class. I'm a Malfoy, after all. I've got an appearance to keep up.