Chapter Notes: DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything of this story except the plot. It's all hers.
Draco Malfoy was really tensed.
For the umpteenth time he read the letter his mother had sent him that day. It said that the Dark Lord was getting impatient with Draco’s lack of progress. The task he had been given was nowhere near completion, even though it had already been more than a month into the school term.
“It is nowhere near inception,” he thought wryly.
And he knew that it didn’t mean well for her safety.
In the beginning, he had mulled over various ways to achieve what the Dark Lord desired of him. He had spent every minute of his waking day thinking over different tactics, weighing their pros and cons, arranging resources for the job, but only to back out at the eleventh hour. Try as he might, he knew that his efforts were heartless and thus futile.
It had been easy for Voldemort to order Dumbledore’s death, but it wasn’t easy for Draco to execute it. He had been raised better. He was well aware that the failure would mean his and his mother’s deaths. But sometimes sacrifice seemed better than servitude.
He was not a murderer.
Suddenly he heard footsteps nearing the tree under which he sat. Pullling out his wand, he hastily muttered ‘Incendio’, making the letter go up in flames. Taking out his Potions book, he pretended to read.
The footsteps seemed to come nearer and stopped directly on the other side of the tree. The rustling of the leaves suggested that the person had sat down. Ignoring the intruder, Draco prepared himself to be absorbed by his thoughts again, but he was interrupted by a sob. Curiosity getting the better of him, he peeked around and saw her.
She seemed very upset. Her cheeks were tear-stained and her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was violent, as always, and her nose was getting red too. Looking at her, he felt a twinge of sympathy. He was also surprised to feel a little bit of anger towards whoever had caused her the anguish.
He knew that he had always been bitter towards her but had never meant it from his heart. He had done so for the sole purpose of gaining his father’s approval and to maintain the pureblood façade.
Secretly, he had always admired her. Her brains, her courage, her loyalty... everything about her was praiseworthy. He admitted that he was even a tad bit jealous of her.
But seeing her that day, his heart went out to her. The usually studious and cheerful Granger seemed distressed.
Before he could make a move, another person approached her and gently lowered themselves beside her. It was Ginny Weasley.
Wrapping an arm around her, she said in a gentle voice, “They are fine, Hermione. You made sure of that.”
The older girl looked at the redhead and amidst her sobs said, “I know. But I can’t help but wonder. What if they attack them? How difficult it is to locate two dentists named Granger? They are my parents, Ginny. My family. I would never forgive myself if something happened to them. All because of me.”
“Nothing will happen to them. I am sure of that,” Ginny said encouragingly. “They have the brightest witch of her age as their daughter.”
Hermione gave her a weak smile, and they both sat there silently looking out at the lake.
Taking his cue, Draco silently got up and left. Normally, he would have made a snide remark or two, but he did not have either the heart or the energy to do so. Leaving the girls in their content companionship, he walked away.
“The impending war is affecting a lot of lives,” he mused as he slowly made his way up the castle.
Christmas was around the corner.
The whole castle seemed to be bathed in red and white. The usual twelve Christmas trees adorned the Great Hall. The decorations were a sight to behold. Everyone was overcome by the festive spirits. Most of the students had gone home for the vacations, leaving only a handful at Hogwarts. These included four from Ravenclaw and six from Hufflepuff whom Draco did not recognize. From Slytherin, he was the only one in his year, and there were a couple of third years too. From Gryffindor, there was a group of fifth-year girls and most surprisingly, Hermione Granger.
After the sumptuous breakfast, Draco decided to go for a walk. Suddenly, he felt somebody fall into step with him. Looking up, he was astonished to see Granger.
“Mind if I walk with you?” she asked, “You are the only one staying in the castle from our year and the only one I recognize.”
He was taken aback. Why would Granger talk to him of all people?
“Well, I know it’s a bit weird, me talking to you. But I am extremely bored. And you are the only option,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“I am not here to entertain you, Granger,” he spat. “Go fool around with your two bodyguards.”
Her face turned red instantly. “Firstly, they are not my bodyguards. Secondly, if you cannot see, they are not here.”
“Missing the twits, are we?”
“You know what, Malfoy? It was my mistake trying to be civil to you. You are a loathsome creature and always will be.”
“Thanks for the compliment, Granger,” he said, giving her a mock bow, his trademark smirk in place.
She huffed in response and trudged back the way she had come.
Draco found himself looking at her retreating figure until she was out of sight.
One more month had passed, and Draco was getting positively desperate.
His stunt with the necklace had backfired horrendously, and instead of getting Dumbledore, he had got Katie Bell instead. And because of that, Potter had smelled a rat. He knew that he was being watched. Sometimes, the Boy-Who-Lived had even followed him, but he had managed to shake him off. But he knew that it wasn’t long before he was caught. He thought of his mother and her latest letter:
“The Dark Lord has taken residence in our home, son. Stay away from the manor. Don’t try to send any letters even. In fact, this will be my last letter to you for a long time. I will write to you again if and when the opportunity presents itself. Stay safe and remember, do your heart’s bidding. It will guide you to the right path.”
That had been two months ago. He hadn’t heard from her since. For all he knew, she was a prisoner in her own home. They might be torturing her or maybe, she was already dea...
“No, Draco, stop right there,” he admonished himself.
Taking a deep breath, he focused on the concoction before him. He had been brewing the potion for the past week, and according to the book he was following, it would be ready by the next fortnight. That would be around mid-February. Even two drops of the potion were lethal for a man. Now all he had to do was to think of a way to ensure that his poison reached the Headmaster.
“Done for the day,” he muttered, checking the time. Gathering up his belongings, he stole out of the Room of Requirement and quietly made his way to the Slytherin dormitories.
“What are you doing out of bed at this time, Malfoy?” a familiar voice demanded. “It's way past curfew.”
Letting out a deep breath, he turned around to face none other than Granger. She was holding her wand aloft and from the soft light of it, he could make out her features. Her hair was gathered into a neat bun at the top of her head and her eyes were blazing. He could not control the chuckle that escaped him.
Aloud he said, “I could ask you the same question.”
“I am on prefect duties and before you say anything, I specifically know that it is not your night to patrol. Today is the turn of the Gryffindors and the Hufflepuffs.”
He just looked bored and casually leant against the nearest wall. He was going to enjoy this.
“Tell me, Malfoy. And the reason better be good, otherwise I will deduct points and report you to McGonagall.”
“You know what, Granger. Sometimes it is better to keep your nose out of other people’s business,” he drawled.
She seemed undeterred. “Spill.”
At this, he straightened himself and slowly walked up to her. When he was at wand’s length, he looked straight into her eyes and whispered dangerously low, “Make me.”
She simply stared back at him, her cinnamon gaze unwavered by his steely one.
He had meant to intimidate her, but here she was, challenging him. He found himself getting awed of her personality. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eyes he saw a stray curl falling in her eyes. Strangely enough, his hand itched to tuck it behind her ear. Inwardly cursing himself, he waited for her next move.
After what seemed like years, she lowered her wand and in the same low tone that he had applied, said, “Twenty points from Slytherin.”
Before he could react, she had walked away: the light from her wand slowly fading into nothingness.
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