Chapter Sixteen: Wednesday Afternoon

The characters and canon situations in the following story belong solely to JK Rowling, Scholastic, and WB. I am not making any money from the publishing or writing of this story.

Beta credit: Remember back when GE made submission nigh unto impossible because of their #@*!$ automated filter? Yeah; I won that war thanks to bunnyhops.  Since then, CK has made a neat basketful of edits.

 

Arithmancy was Hermione’s favorite subject, and Advanced Arithmancy Studies was, without doubt, her all-time favorite class. Today, however, Professor Vector’s lecture seemed to drone on and on. Eventually she couldn’t contain her mind within the classroom. Her thoughts went everywhere and nowhere at once. Images of Draco, the sensations of curling up in Lucius’ arms, the scent of them both, and wedding planning questions flowed together with the memories of being fed and kissed. Her body thrummed pleasantly and she felt slightly overheated. Her hand went to her pocket several times to touch the rose from Lucius.

 

Finally the students were dismissed, and Hermione was free to go back to her room and do nothing but daydream. First, though, she needed to find a chaperone. She waited patiently, using the time to begin a mental list of things to ask Minerva and Molly about pureblood weddings. Harry still hadn’t shown up when the last student left the classroom, and she turned to ask Professor Vector for help.

 

The professor was distracted as usual, and only slightly sympathetic when Hermione explained her plight. “I understand. However, there is a faculty meeting this afternoon, and I must be there early to set up for my presentation. We meet in the dungeons today. You may walk with me in that direction and hopefully Mr. Potter will find us along the way.”

 

Hermione decided to send Harry another Galleon message. It was a less than perfect way of communicating sometimes, given the limited number of characters that could be used at one time. Finally, she settled on pls dungns now.

 

Professor Vector was quite possibly the second fastest moving faculty member after Minerva McGonagall. In fact, it took an unbelievably short time for the two witches to cross the castle and descend to the dungeons, and there was no way Harry would have been able to meet her in time unless he was already nearby. The hallway outside of the Potions classroom was empty when they arrived. She’d worked up a light sweat along the way, and her heart was pounding when they finally stopped.

 

Professor Vector was one of Hermione’s favorite instructors, but this had nothing to do with her personality. At best, she was reserved and absent-minded, and at worst, cold and snappish. She was leaning toward her worst at the moment. “This is really quite inconvenient, Miss Granger. Surely you have a contingency plan for such situations?”

 

“Perhaps I could help you set up, and then when Professor McGonagall arrives, she can-”

 

Professor interrupted, “She and the Headmaster won’t be attending today, and I don’t need help. Let me think . . . Oh, I know!” She gestured to someone behind Hermione impatiently.

 

“Mr. Weasley, isn’t it? Come here at once.”

 

Hermione froze. What could he possibly be doing down here? It’s not as if he’s taking Potions! Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ron shuffle her way. Her heart rate picked up to an even faster pace. She snapped to action and began hissing, “Professor, you don’t understand! I can’t go with him. Anyone but him!”

 

Ron was at her side now, looking curious. “Go where with who?”

 

To Hermione, Vector said simply, “Nonsense,” then turned to Ron and said, “Please escort Miss Granger to your dormitory. Thank you.”

 

With that, Professor Vector entered the classroom and shut the door, leaving Hermione alone in the hall with Ron and her now galloping heart. She was in violation of her courtship rules, in the company of the most inappropriate person in the school, and for some reason her brain felt all pins-and-needles.

 

Ron was speaking, and for some reason she found it difficult to decipher his words. They seemed to be echoing in her head. “What’s she on about, ‘Mione? Look, I’m right in the middle of something. Why d’you need someone to take you back to the tower?” As he spoke, he took a step toward her.

 

Hermione could feel herself begin to sway, and the hall took on a dreamlike quality. A split second thought raced through her head that she was fainting like some helpless fictional heroine. Just as quickly came the argument that she had just raced across the castle, increasing her heart rate, then stood very still, and then increased her heart rate yet again. It was all very logical. Still, she was fainting. Just as her knees buckled and the hall went sideways, she heard someone call out “Aresto Momentum!”

 

Her head landed on something soft. When the vertigo passed, she opened her eyes. Ron was still standing in the same spot, looking at her with the same vacuous look, and her head was resting in the hands of none other than Draco Malfoy.

 

“Are you all right?”

 

“Mmmm.” She closed her eyes again and lay quietly for a moment. “Head rush.”

 

“Good thing I forgot my notes in Potions.” He helped her to her feet and said darkly in her ear, “Where’s Harry, and what’s he doing here?”

 

She shivered at Draco’s tone, and whispered with her back to Ron, “Long story. Please, this isn’t the right time.”

 

Ron was clearly in a hurry to be someplace else. “Is that why the professor asked me to help you – you’re sick? You know I’d help you if it was important, ‘Mione, but you look better already. You good to go?”

 

He seemed suddenly to realize that Draco was acting in a familiar way with her. “Hey, Malfoy – get your paws off her!”

 

I can’t be alone with either of them. I can’t be completely alone in the halls, either.  Hermione’s brain finally restarted, finding a solution to her quandary. “You’re not going anywhere! The three of us are going to walk —“ here she swayed on her feet and caught herself against the wall, “Sorry, still a bit woozy – we’re all going to walk to Gryffindor tower together. Or until we see Harry.”

 

Ron looked irritated, and was clearly itching to get away. “I still don’t understand why you need two people to help you.”

 

At that moment Draco planted himself in front of her, standing as a shield between her and Ron. She leaned far to her right to look around his torso and shot the redhead an annoyed look. Straightening, she looked up to see a stormy look on the blond wizard’s face. Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. He sighed in resignation, and his expression became stoic.

 

She addressed Ron. “Obviously I’m not feeling well, you lump! Come on—no, you don’t both need to help me walk! I’m woozy, not incapacitated! Just, just stay near me just in case.”

 

She brushed the redhead away when he tried to put his arm around her, and would have done the same to Draco, but he was having none of that. When she tried to pull her arm out of his grasp, he simply tightened his hold. He’s not happy that Ron’s here, and that I haven’t told him about our binding.

 

Draco held her left forearm in his left hand and curved his right hand around her right shoulder as they walked. She felt the warmth and weight of his arm and struggled against the desire to tuck herself into his side. If he was willing to let go, she didn’t know because she didn’t try to pull away from him again.

 

As obvious as it was that Ron wanted to be somewhere else, he also obviously didn’t like Draco helping Hermione. “She’s not a china doll, Malfoy. ‘Mione’s tough – she doesn’t need coddling.”

 

Actually, Hermione liked the ‘coddling’, as Ron called it. She realized he had never once treated her like a girl; never touched her tenderly, never reverently as Draco did. Once again she fought against the urge to snuggle into her wizard.

 

They walked on in silence, until Ron tried again. “I’ll take her from here. C’mere, ‘Mione.”

 

Her old friend tried once again to put his arm around her. Hermione looked up to see him shoot a nasty look at Draco over her head just as Draco stopped short to keep the redhead from touching her. “Leave her alone, Weasley. She’s fine where she is.”

 

Ron had continued moving when Draco had stopped, so he was now ahead of them in the hall by a few steps. He turned to face them, and he suddenly wore a suspicious expression. “What’s it to you how ‘Mione is, anyway? You two suddenly friends?”

 

Hermione had had enough. She channeled Ginny and snapped, “Enough! I don’t want to hear one more word out of your mouth!”

 

He looked somewhat chastened, albeit sulky, and walked beside her in silence the rest of the way.

 

They arrived at the base of the stairs to Gryffindor tower in time to see Harry approaching from the opposite direction. He was carrying his broom and looked freshly showered.

 

Of course – Quidditch practice. The Slytherins practiced this morning, so Gryffindor had the pitch this afternoon. That’s why he didn’t get my message. She felt like an idiot for not asking about his afternoon schedule earlier. Harry looked between the faces of Ron, Hermione, and Draco, and sussed the situation immediately. His face twisted in penitence, and he started to say something but was cut off by Ron.

 

“Good. Great. Vector asked me to take ‘Mione back to the dorms, and Malfoy latched onto her like some parasite. She’s not feeling well, looks like. Thing is, I’m on my way to meet- Uh, someone. You can help her from here?”

 

The redhead finished speaking over his shoulder as he walked back in the direction they’d just come. So much for his concern. He’s more worried about Draco getting too close to me than he is about actually helping me! And he obviously has a girl waiting for him near the dungeons.

 

“Hermione, I’m so sorry. I thought you knew I had practice this afternoon. What happened?”

 

Draco spoke quietly from above her head. “Yes, do tell.” He hadn’t let go of her yet.

 

“Evidently Professor Vector doesn’t understand the ramifications of a pureblood courtship. She handed me off to the first person to show their face, who just happened to be Ron. He was sneaking around in the dungeons, probably waiting for some girl.

 

“Ursula.”

 

She looked at Draco for clarification. “What?”

 

“Ursula Penkridge. I passed her in the hall. If the amount of perfume she was wearing was any indication, she was on her way to some assignation.”

 

Hermione snorted indelicately. “Sounds about right. Almost immediately after the professor slammed the door on me, I started feeling faint. I must have fallen right as Draco came round the corner, and,” here she looked up at him adoringly, “you caught me.”

 

She turned back to Harry. “Plainly, I couldn’t go alone with either one of them, so I insisted they both come along.”

 

“Potter, do you mind if I have a word with Hermione before you take her back to the dorms?” He was already steering her towards the corner at the back of the stairwell. Harry made a shooing gesture and sat down on the stone steps.

 

Her wizard pushed her up against the back wall and kissed her almost roughly, leaning his hands against the wall to bracket her face. He’s angry. “Wait,” she cried between kisses, “please!”

 

He continued to kiss her, but his mouth gradually softened its assault. She moved her hands up to stroke his face soothingly. Finally, he broke away from her mouth to lean his forehead against hers. He drew a ragged breath. “Please tell him soon. I need him to know. Please.”

 

Hermione pulled him back down for a kiss, which led to a dozen more. Draco’s hands wrapped around her waist gently, and his lips were once again reverent as they moved against hers. She sighed against his mouth and wrapped her arms up around his neck, letting her fingers comb through his silky hair. He pulled back to look at her expectantly.

 

I have all the power in this decision. No matter what Draco wanted or felt, it was ultimately up to her. Her heart was filled with tenderness for him, and she said, “I promise you that I will tell him soon. Something keeps telling me to wait – that the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet.   It’s such a strong feeling that I can’t help but trust it. Does that make sense?”

 

“In my head, yes. But my heart isn’t nearly as understanding. Actually,” he ducked to steal a kiss here, “maybe it’s the covenant.”

 

“How does that work? I’m not a Malfoy.”

 

Kiss. “You became one when you accepted the stake.” Kiss.

 

She was trying to fight the fog of pleasure that was creeping over her again. “How?”

 

“Didn’t you feel,” kiss, “the magic in the scroll?”

 

Draco’s lips were pushing and pulling at hers in the same undulant motion from earlier, and his hands were tighter now around her waist.

 

“Mmmhmmmm,” she murmured against his mouth. Suddenly her curiosity overpowered her desire. She pushed firmly against his chest and he complied, standing to his full height with a glazed look in his eye. Hermione smiled and reached up to pat his cheeks lightly. “Focus! I want to know what you’re talking about. Here, sit with me and tell me about the magic in the scroll.”

 

Draco growled in mock frustration and obeyed, sliding down the wall to sit beside her on the cool stone floor. He explained more fully as he played with her left hand. “The stake was imbued with the magic of the covenant. When you accepted it, I’m sure it responded to you. Did you feel it?”

 

“Yes! It felt like the magic was purring, and then running into my hands and arms. Then, at the acceptance ceremony, I felt that same feeling throughout my whole body.”

 

“That was the covenant. It’s now part of you.”

 

“So you think that maybe it’s the covenant that’s giving me that feeling about waiting to tell about our binding?”

 

“That’s the most likely. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll take your continued silence without protest.”

 

“I wouldn’t have expected that,” she laughed, “and I won’t make you wait much longer. I’m sorry I stopped . . . what we were doing . . . to ask you that, but there’s so much I don’t know. Do you . . . is that okay?”

 

His smirk told her it was. “We needed to stop at some point soon, in any case. Let’s get you to Harry.”

 

Draco helped her to her feet and led her back to the stairs with his hand on the small of her back. He likes to touch me. The thought made her give an involuntary shiver. Harry was waiting patiently in the same spot, and stood when they approached.

 

“Ready?”

 

“I guess.” She turned to her wizard and felt the room spin. “See you at dinner.”

 

She must have stumbled or looked unsteady, because suddenly both wizards were looking concerned and reaching for her. “Indeed you will. Perhaps you should lie down, though. You look flushed. Harry, will you . . .?” He gestured toward her.

 

Harry wrapped an arm around her and proceeded to drag her up the stairs.

 

I feel quite funny. I think I will lie down for a bit. She said accusingly, “He called you by your given name.”

 

“He does, sometimes. What about it?”

 

“I want him to call me by mine. Can we rest for a bit?”

 

He paused and looked at her oddly. “Right. As soon as I find Gin, you’re going to bed.” Hermione nodded compliantly and kept her eyes closed, fighting the swooping light-headedness that kept tipping the world at an angle.

 

 

“Incidentally,” he added when they had begun to climb the stairs again, “why don’t you think about using his first name? Honestly, the two of you are ridiculously perfect for each other.”

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