Chapter 7: Duels with a Dragon
Draco saw her leave, and he wanted to follow her right away, but thought that it might cause suspicion to see Draco Malfoy following Hermione Granger out onto the Grounds this early in the morning. It was already after 7 am, and people would most likely be leaving to gather their things for class in a few minutes. He’d simply slip out with the first big crush of people.
When it arrived next to his table, he stood and muttered some lame excuse to Pansy, who looked like she was going to spend the rest of the day either bothering him, or pouting. He only hoped that if she decided to pout that she did so well away from him. Her teasing and advances had been humorous to him once, but now they were just starting to get on his nerves. Her displeasure, however, was even worse, as it was usually accompanied by an expression that made her look rather like she’d sucked on a lemon. Not at all attractive.
He found her under the tree next to the lake, staring out at the glassy smooth surface of the water. Her back was turned to him, but she must have heard his approach because when he sat next to her, she didn’t even move.
“Are you really going to tell people that I can’t swim?” she murmured. Her toast lay uneaten in her lap, and Draco grabbed a piece for himself. He thought of an answer that would allow him to keep her near to him and still allay her fears.
“I could. I hadn’t really thought of telling anyone you couldn’t swim. I was just going to mock you for being a hypocrite.” He chewed on the toast, thinking that it would have been better warm, but it was a cool October morning, and things grew chilled rather quickly in the open air. Hermione just got to her feet, and then looked down at him with an almost forlorn and very resigned expression.
“Very well. If I have to stay close to you to make sure you don’t tell anyone either of those things, then I will do as best as I can without causing too much suspicion. After all, I can hardly stroll around the castle with you without it being an issue, now can I?”
She looked so unhappy, Draco had a sudden thought. Her pale features, made more so by her habit of spending long hours in the library, and lack of sleep, had reminded him of his mother. Was he putting her in an uncomfortable position where fear drove her life? Had he done to her what his father’s mistakes had done to his mother?
For the first time in as long as he could remember, Draco felt a strange twinge of pity. He stood up and placed a hand on her shoulder, ready to call it all off so he could see the smile return to her face. She stared up into his eyes, confusion clouding her own. He licked his lips and leaned in with the intent of kissing away her sad look when someone exclaimed from behind him.
“Oi! Malfoy! Get your hands off her!” Ron, very red-eared, was followed closely by Harry who had a thunderous expression on his face. Hermione was shocked to see Ginny trailing along behind the two boys, her obvious attempt at slowing them down failing horribly.
Harry and Ron drew their wands, even though Draco had dropped his hand away from Hermione’s shoulder.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Potter. You don’t want to upset your girlfriend anymore than you already are.”
Ginny blushed furiously at Draco’s calmly spoken remark. Harry aimed his wand at Draco’s chest, although his opponent had yet to draw his own.
“She is not my girlfriend!” Harry told him, and Ginny rounded on Harry with a nasty glare. Ron looked suddenly awkward and caught in the middle of a brewing tempest. He glanced between Ginny, Harry, and Hermione before settling on Draco, who seemed to be trying to communicate silently with Hermione’s profile. Ginny was now fired up and shouting at Harry.
“You don’t need to say it with such a disgusted tone!” Harry fumbled for a response, then glared at Draco when he sniggered.
“It seems you have your hands full,” Draco commented dryly, then looked pointedly at Hermione, “We will finish this later.”
“Like hell, you will!” Ron scoffed. He brandished his wand at his pale-haired foe. The look of bored distaste Draco gave him reminded Hermione that he was a Slytherin, and therefore ruthless and cunning, but also self-serving. Hermione was torn. If she defended Ron, Draco would surely tell everyone about her. Yet if she stood up for Draco, Ron and Harry, perhaps even Ginny, might hate her forever. In the end, the choice was taken from her hands.
“What are you going to do, Weasley, hex me?” Harry reacted first to Draco’s taunt and fired a shot that thrust Draco backward into the tree that only minutes before he and Hermione had been about to kiss beneath. Hermione gave a little shriek when Draco got up and produced his own wand. He pointed it at Harry. His spell hit his intended target, and Harry was flattened, sprawled across the grass.
Ginny and Ron tried to jinx Draco at the same time, but their spells met mid-air and bounced off one another. One dug into the dirt at Draco’s feet, the other hitting Hermione in the stomach. She gave a great cry of pain, and they all stopped to watch her crumple to the ground. Her wand fell out of her robes onto the grass in front of her. Draco was the first to get to her, his eyes searching, trying to see how much she hurt. Ron was outraged when Draco placed a gentle hand on her stomach. He aimed for a well-placed hex, but Hermione instinctively muttered,
“Protego!” Her shield spell protected Draco, and it put a barrier between her Gryffindor friends, and her pale Slytherin one. She pushed away Draco’s hand, aware of its warmth that seemed to permeate past her robes and sear her flesh. Carefully, she got to her feet, as Professor McGonagall came storming up to them.
“What on Earth is going on here?”
Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Draco each tried to explain at once, but McGonagall held up a hand and they all fell silent. She looked at Hermione, who was not feeling at all well, and seemed to be either on the verge of fainting or throwing up.
“Miss Granger, kindly remove this shield.” Professor McGonagall was obviously very upset, judging from how thinly pressed her lips were. Hermione gave a feeble twitch of her wand, and her charm evaporated. Ginny rushed to her side, and cautiously wrapped an arm about Hermione’s waist. Draco looked disappointed as Hermione sagged slightly against her friend, before taking a deep breath and straightening again, though not enough to allow Ginny to release her.
“My office, now, all of you.” McGonagall led the way across the Grounds to the front door of the castle. Hermione leaned on Ginny carefully, and Harry kept shooting dark glares at Draco as he limped after them. Ron followed silently, trying to sort out his own thoughts, and Draco simply ignored them all, intently staring straight ahead.