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The Cursed Laurel

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Draco considered himself a man of very strong principals. Like his mother and father; Draco knew what was right and what was wrong, and he fought to make everyone else see the world through his eyes. So when he saw Hermione Granger enter the Yule Ball looking like that , his eyes must have been playing tricks.

Hermione was a mudblood, the lowest class of witch that could exist. He had constantly gone out of his way to make sure she understood that she was a freak of nature, a stain on the reputation of the magical community that undermined the selectiveness of wizarding society. If any random muggle could give birth to a magical child than magic wasn’t as sacred as he had been raised to believe, his own pure blood not as powerful as he knew it was. Magic was a gift given only to the most worthy, and Hermione Granger had not been born worthy. But when he had watched her rich brown skin glow under the candlelight of the Great Hall, when he watched her hazelnut eyes catch his as she turned in the arms of Viktor Krum – Draco felt his body yearn with desire. It was unnatural, his feelings were skewed and his principals completely challenged. Draco had felt his body betray him; it had finally awoken to Hermione Granger’s beauty and left him completely disarmed.

“Come on Granger, admit I was right about the manticore.” He had bragged as he and Hermione were walking to Defence Against the Dark Arts after another study session with the others.

“All the literature said its body was impregnable, you simply got lucky.” Hermione frowned, never wanting to admit she was wrong, “a face is part of a body, if a spell hit it, then it should have rebounded as the books said.”

They had separated the moment they entered the classroom; Hermione joining Harry and Ron while Draco headed for his own friends. Blaise raised a brow but the others said nothing, they figured if Draco was talking to a mudblood he was probably just informing them of how inferior they were. Professor Moody was reclined in his seat, his heavy prosthetic leg stretched in front of him;

“Malfoy boy, what did your old professor have you do on days like this?”

Draco thought back to Lockhart or Lupins classes; “they liked to make sure we had duelling practice. Lockhart knew I was one of the best.” He grinned,

“Alright then, pair off.” Moody grunted as he flicked open a flask and chugged its contents. His interest in teaching had dramatically declined as the year had progressed, but he remained just as frightening as ever.

Draco slid back out of his seat, drawing his wand and looking back at the boys. Daphne, Millie and Pansy were already standing up to half-heartedly throw spells at one another as they used the class time to chat; apparently Poppy Coffe’s father had promised an interview with renowned vampire Sergei Huntington would be in the next copy of the Prophet.

“Surely this means a free.” Blaise suggested, leaning back in seat like the professor. “He doesn’t care. I mean, he's asked you for advice.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t stand a chance against me.” Draco scoffed, “Come on Theo.”

Theo raised his eyebrows; “I’m more of a lover than a fighter.” He joked.

Draco groaned, turning back to see that Harry and Ron had paired off together and Hermione was lingering nearby. “Come on Granger.” He had called out, “You and me.”

Hermione looked at him as if he was mad. She took notice of the others all paired off and walked towards him hesitantly; “Only because I don’t want to fall behind.”

She stood in the proper duelling stance that one was supposed to take up, waiting for Draco to resume the same.

“Expelliarmus” he cast the first spell, which she swiftly blocked.

“Expelliarmus” she fired the same back as they parried back and forth,

The pair were shooting spells and blocking them in a strange rhythm that seemed to leave neither a clear victor. He blocked a twitchy-ear hex, dancing jinx and body bind in quick succession. Before Draco realised, they had traversed the course of the room shouting spells louder and louder until the rest of the class had started to stare at the spectacle. Then as Draco readied to cast a painful pinching jinx, he felt himself be outdone. Draco’s fingers started to swell until they resembled sausages which struggled to grip his wand, Hermione Granger had bested and him not for the first or last time. She smiled with delight as he dropped his wand and looked at his hands in disappointment, they had been hit with some jinx.

“Ha! Not bad for a muggle born.” She bragged,

“I was right about the manticore though.” He reminded her again,

“Fine, ok, but I win!”

“For now..” he smiled, enjoying just being able to speak to her. He’d give anything for more moments of conversation with her.

“Come on Draco.” Pansy called as Moody waved them all off, Daphne was already picking up his wand from down beside him.

“We better get you to Pomfrey.” Daphne looked at his inflated hands, “Nice one Bucktooth, I mean – Oh Merlin sorry, I promise I won’t say that anymore. Especially now that um, you know.” She pointed at Hermione’s improved teeth (One of the major changes Draco noticed at the Yule ball) before hurrying over to Pansy in slight embarrassment.

Draco looked to Hermione who seemed unfazed by the comment. He felt slightly ashamed that she was so used to such names, names he had called her.

“Sorry about that, the teeth thing.” He couldn’t muster his voice above a slight whisper,

Draco Malfoy never apologised for much in his life, he was almost always in the right anyway. So admitting a lapse of character was hard enough, let alone apologising to someone like Hermione. But shamelessly, now he cared what she thought about him and so he choked out the words. Hermione looked totally shocked by what she heard and tilted her head,

“Well, you’ll have to stop actually saying it for that apology to mean anything, but thank you I suppose. That was actually the first time you’ve called me Granger, you know when you asked me to duel with you. ” She backed away from him in confusion but pleasantly surprised, “see you in the next Tournament study session then.”

“See you then Granger.” Draco nodded curtly as he started walking towards the medical wing.

***

Each time Draco now found himself in Hermione’s company, he tried to suppress the hormonal thoughts that riddled his head. He kept re-living the moment he had seen her enter the ball; the way her dress had clung to the heavy curves of her body, the way her hair was piled neatly up on top of her head and sparkled with some cherry scented spray she had used. He saw the way her mouth crooked and eyes darted when she thought, he re-envisioned the way she had thrown back her head when she laughed at Theo’s jokes or the way she had passionately debated with Pansy over the house-elves in the kitchen. He had never been so jealous as he had been when he watched Krum holding her waist and leading her across the dance floor.

They had all gathered for another Tournament study session to go back over the golden chest which supposedly held the clue for the next task. At first Draco had attended these sessions out of pure loyalty to Daphne, knowing that he had to help in any way he could. Now he eagerly awaiting any chance to speak with Hermione, good or bad. He had still worn his ‘Potter Stinks’ badge just to irk Harry, and as he approached their designated study table he handed out some back up badges to Theo, Blaise, Goyle and Crabbe who all followed instruction and pinned them on. Daphne and Millie were already seated and had been playing a game of exploding snap as they waited for the others, now they collected up the cards and greeted the boys;

“Did you guys make any progress?” he asked Daphne,

She picked up her wand and summoned a copy of Flint’s guide to Gaelic Runology from her bag. Daphne had started trying to practice all kinds of magic any time should could, convinced she had almost lost her life to the manticore from the first task due to her lack of practice. The book opened itself to a page where the symbol on the chest was drawn, underneath it a small passage gave the symbols its various meanings.

“It’s not a rune per say, the symbol we were looking at is a Triskelion. It’s a Gaelic symbol that when drawn anti-clockwise like this represents the manipulation of nature. So we think that means the chest can be manipulated by the elements. But here in the middle of it is a rune, it’s the sixteenth letter in the Ogham alphabet called ailm.”

“The letter is a sign of strength and endurance, which we think could relate to the task. We couldn’t work out the symbols on the ribbon bits along the lid though.” Theo jumped in to clarify,

“Ok so, back to the chest.” Millie tried to get her head around it, “we can get the clue from it by subjecting it an element, but what element? It can’t be air, and it can’t be land because we’ve inadvertently tried that.”

“So it’s either fire or water.” Hermione approached the table weighted down by the dozen books that she carted around with her everywhere. Draco felt his heart quicken slightly and then cursed the fact his body had even done so.

Ron and Harry flanked either side of Hermione, both slumped down into their seats and then glared at Draco as he flexed the badge on his robes with a smirk. They no longer attempted to rip the badges off them now that Draco had added the spray of putrid Hodag secretion which was triggered by Harry’s close presence.

“So let’s try and burn it.” Ron suggested with enthusiasm as Harry plonked the golden chest on the table,

“Wait a moment, that makes so much sense.” Pansy looked up from her copy of Witch Weekly at the chest, leaning in closer as she ran her eyes over the ribbon of rune-like text the others hadn’t managed to de-code. “that’s mermish.” She pointed to the dashes and squiggles.

“Mermish?” Harry asked clueless,

“The language of merpeople. Keep up Potter.” Draco rolled his eyes as he waited for Pansy to continue,

“My older brother works with magical creatures and he was in the being division for a while at the ministry, I can’t read it but I’m sure that’s mermish.”

“So the task is underwater, and the clue – It must be opened by submerging it in water or something. That’s why it has the mermish and the symbol of elemental manipulation” Daphne realised, jumping up from her seat and looking around the library, “we have to go dunk it in the water, now!”

“Harry Potter!” A shrill voice called out.

Draco turned to see Daily Prophet reporter; Rita Skeeter standing in the Hogwarts library. She pulled out her quill and notepad in a hurry. Beside her Poppy Coffe (whose father was the editor of the Daily Prophet) stood smiling at the rest of her fellow Slytherins before casting confused glances between their odd grouping with the Gryffindor trio.

“Don’t even ask. We’re being forced.” Pansy cut her off before she could articulate the question.

“Poppy told me you might be hidden away in here, Dumbledore’s given our paper another visitors pass.” Rita Skeeter grinned,

“I’m not doing another interview.” Harry grumbled,

“Oh alas I’m not here for that exactly, although what was going through your mind during that first task? Have you managed to crack that little clue?”

Draco reached out and slowly dragged the golden chest away from the centre of the table, hoping Rita hadn’t seen it. He didn’t want her potentially leaking his involvement with helping Harry in any capacity. If it got back to The Society, they’d all be in real trouble.

“He’s solved it.” Ron lied, “easy really. Now, we’ll be off. Got a Herbology assignment due.”

“Miss Greengrass, I’d like a moment.” Rita’s head whipped around as Ron began to pull Harry away from the scene, saving him from another fake article pertaining to his orphaned cry for attention.

Draco watched as Daphne became caught in the cross fire. He remembered that Rita had written a small article dedicated to Daphne’s and Cedric’s so called ‘relationship’ (a complete lie considering the pair hadn’t even kissed – at least not as far as he was aware). Draco figured the whole thing as a PR stunt run up by her parents. His mother had always told him that the Greengrass’s were experts in manipulating their image; having aligned themselves to Voldemort during the war but kept their hands relatively clean to the point at which they were never even considered for prosecution after the Dark Lord’s fall. Draco’s own parents had sat through a long trial before being acquitted, but the Greengrasses? They got away with it all thanks to their skilfully curated image.

Rita encroached on Daphne and began to ask her about her father’s hobbies; Did he meet with Fudge often? Did he support Mr Parkinson’s house elf disciplinary board?

“C’mon Theo lets go.” Blaise had nudged him and stood up,

“Theo? Theodore Nott?” Rita questioned, now jumping up in pursuit of the pair as they walked from the table, “How do you feel about your fathers imprisonment?”

“Shove off, and a piece of advice? Those yellow claws you have there. Ugly.” Blaise jumped in to intervene and shoo the reporter away as they hightailed it down the library.

Daphne followed, starting to try and distract Rita from harassing Theo. But Draco forced himself to stay seated, the golden chest still exposed in his lap but firmly out of the prying reporters eyes.

“Hey Pansy?” Poppy turned back to the few remaining, “Emmeline and I were going to go and watch Adrian and the other boys play Quidditch with Ander Landvik and Krum. Wanna come?” she asked,

Pansy closed her copy of Witch Weekly and drummed her nails on the table. Draco watched her weigh up what she wanted to do verses what she knew she had to do; “Sure.” She sighed. “Millie will come with us too.”

Pansy would never disgruntle Poppy Coffe or Emmeline Avery; both were pureblood, both had powerful families, both were from in the year above and extremely popular (probably for those first two reasons). She had worked hard to obtain their friendship in their first years after her parents forced her adopt Mr Parkinson’s campaign into her social life. With both Mr Coffe’s and Mr Avery’s support, Mr Parkinson had managed to secure his seat and avoid the debtors at Gringott's seising the families assets.

As the girls left, Draco found himself alone with Hermione for the first time. The pair sat at opposite sides of the long wooden table which had once housed all ten of them. Draco shifted in the silence, torn between his natural instinct to make a sneering comment to break the tension and his new desire to marvel at her plump rounded mouth. Hermione began to pack away all the work she had laid out with the intention to move her study elsewhere. Draco put the golden chest back on the table and ran his fingers along the mermish carvings,

“We have merpeople in the Big Lake at Malfoy Manor.” He felt himself tell her, “My father forbade me to swim in it in-case they dragged me down to the bottom.”

“Merpeople aren’t always dangerous, Hagrid says they’re highly advanced. They have music and sub cultures and dwellings and have even domesticated other creatures.” Hermione lectured,

“Yeah, and they use lobalug’s as weapons against wizards.” Draco rolled his eyes, he didn’t know why he expected her to understand.

“That’s simply evidence of intellect.” Hermione explained, “something you clearly lack.”

“Listen Granger, I’ve lived in this world my entire life and you’ve been here four years. I think I know a bit more about it than you.”

“I’ve read almost every book related to the matter, traversing your traditional backwards teachings to the modern evidences. You and your sources are prejudice.”

“You listen to Hagrid, a half-giant that got expelled from this very school because he killed another student. His teachings are the reason I’ve got permanent scars. I almost couldn't fly because of him.”

Draco got up from his seat with the express intent to put some distance back between him and Hermione. He didn’t know what he was thinking, he had gone mad – perhaps the same insanity that propelled Daphne to participate in this Tournament had spread to him? But Hermione followed, her short stubby legs in hot pursuit;

“Where are you taking the chest? Give it me, I’ll return it to Harry.” she demanded.

“Potter doesn’t deserve it, Daphne’s the one taking all the risk, she’s the one actually competing while he hides in the headmasters office. We’ll work out the clue by ourselves now we know how to open it.”

“How do you even know submerging it underwater will reveal the clue? We haven’t tried it yet.”

She had a point. Draco felt his curiosity start to set in as he held the chest within his hands. All he had to do was go and stick it in some body of water and he’d get to start deciphering the clue. The sooner they worked it out, the less he’d have to keep coming back to be tempted by Hermione.

“I’ll go test our theory then.” Draco informed her as he walked by Madam Pince, “See you round Granger.”

“Oh no you don’t, you’re not going to get to hear the clue without me.” Hermione refused, hurrying alongside him out of the library.

“Well you’re not allowed in the Slytherin common room and where else do you suggest I find a body of water big enough to stick my head and the chest in?”

“Your head? Why can’t we just submerge it in a bathroom sink?” Hermione tried to reason, desperate that he not take the chest and even worse; hear the clue before her, Harry and Ron.

“And how do you propose I hear the clue if it’s under the water and I’m not?” Draco shook his head, “Your supposed to be the brightest witch of our year.” He sarcastically noted.

Hermione’s ears turned red and she quickly drew her wand; “Brachiabindo” she pointed her wand at his feet and they became bound by invisible wire, preventing him from walking back down towards the dungeons. “Give me that chest Malfoy.” She stuck out her hands,

“Locomotor Wibbly” Draco pulled his own wand from his robe and hopped around to strike Hermione in the torso as she advanced to take back the golden chest.

She fell to the ground as her legs gave out underneath her, a loud thud of books followed. Draco used the reverse jinx to free himself as Hermione instantly did the same. As Hermione sprung up off the floor, they stood in a stalemate.

“I could do this all day Malfoy.” Hermione warned, “you’re not working out that clue without me.”

“Tell you what Granger, you tell me where we can both stick our heads and the chest under a body of decently warm water and ill let you come with me. I don’t fancy a dip in the black lake at the minute.”

“How gracious.” Hermione rolled her eyes, “but I do have an idea.”

***

Draco found himself standing beside a statue of Boris the Bewildered on the fifth floor of Hogwarts Castle just half an hour later. He had hunted down Adrian Pucey to secure the password to the prefects bathroom, and now whispered; ‘Treacle Fudge’ at the wall.

“He shouldn’t have told you the password, its meant to be for prefects and captains only.” Hermione grumbled as if she had not suggested the bathroom as the perfect destination to trial their theory,

“Sure Granger, let’s pretend this was my idea,” he indulged her,

The worn stone of the ancient castle walls warped itself into the shape of a door and both Draco and Hermione walked through it into the newly revealed bathroom. Draco marvelled at the huge white marble room which he had found himself inside; an enormous swimming pool sized hole was in the middle of the room, adorned with a wall of a hundred golden taps. As the door sealed behind them, Hermione turned the shiny taps, causing each golden pipe to spout water that smelt of roses and was packed with bubbles. Only as the huge bathtub began to fill did Draco realise that he didn’t have his swimmers on, and began to take off his shoes and robe.

“What are you doing?” Hermione screeched as she turned back from dipping her arm in the rising warm water,

“Getting in.” Draco explained the obvious,

Draco was now just down to his dress pants and white school shirt. He was too sheepish to shed any more layers, conscious that it would reveal his pinkened scars from last year and newly hairy legs. He also wasn’t sure how he felt about Hermione seeing him in that way , although he’d had a dream about seeing her scantily clad a few nights ago. It was one of the first times Draco’s body had betrayed his mind; he wasn’t supposed to think of a mudblood like this, especially her. Hermione blushed but turned away before Draco could notice. She shed her own robe but left all her clothes on; she would just stick her head under as they had agreed. Draco stepped down into the hot water and slowly descended the marble steps until he was swimming in the fragrant bath. He looked back at Hermione for some sign as she was kneeling beside the edge;

“If you splash me Draco, I will hex you.” She warned as he waded a little closer to where she was,

“Three, two, one.” Draco counted them down and then dunked his whole body in the water, feeling it saturate his shirt and hair. He snapped open the golden chest as they had the first day in the library and suddenly the screaming un-jumbled into perfect English;

You must seek us where our voices sound for your challenge will be above and below the ground. Over an hour or so you may miss, come find your trunk and brew over this.

You must endure the ice water and heat, to leave the ground under your feet. When one door opens another may close, this challenge shall truly test you against your foes.

Draco pushed off from the bottom of the marble floor when he felt his chest tighten for lack of air, as he emerged he slammed the screaming golden chest shut and shook his platinum white hair out of his eyes. Hermione had water dripping from her face as she demanded they listen to it a few more times.

When they emerged from the warm bubbly water again, Draco swum over to lean on the side of the tub where Hermione was;

“So the task is underwater, on land and then in the sky.” Hermione pondered, “that’s the only way you could ‘leave the ground under your feet’. Maybe that’s flying?”

“Maybe. You’re the genius aren’t you?” Draco smiled watching Hermione’s eyes dart around the stark white bathroom as her brain worked a mile a minute, he wished he could be as smart as she was – she had been picking apart the clue much faster than him. Her mind was fascinating and everything that annoyed him about her started to make him excited.

“It says the task will go for over an hour too and we don’t know how much might be underwater so that presents a challenge.” Hermione continued, the door closing and opening I’m not sure about, unless the task is broken down into different stages?”

“Let’s listen again?” Draco suggested as he watched her kick her feet in the bubbles.

Hermione had slowly relaxed between dunking her head in and out of the water and listening to the clue repeat; Solving a logic based riddle was exactly her idea of a good time, and somehow Draco’s presence had not yet spoilt it. it had in fact been somewhat nice to have sombody to bounce ideas off, instead of doing it all alone as she usually would with Harry and Ron. Hermione watched as Draco slicked his hair back over his head again and kicked back from the wall. His white shirt had become transparent, and through it Hermione could see the three huge pink scars that ran in a straight line up the side of his chest. She remembered when he had been attacked by Buckbeak and what once had been a funny memory of an annoying Slytherin boy getting what was coming to him, became the slightly sobered reality that he had been mauled by the frightened creature. Hermione also found herself staring at his chest for another reason as Draco counted down again before slipping under the surface. Hermione didn’t follow, instead she watched as he bobbed in the water and something inside her seemed to soften slightly; Was it possible that Draco Malfoy was actually just as human and flawed as she was? Was it possible that he was nice and normal when alone? She felt her logic be undermined by the allure of his grey eyes and cocky grin.

Draco popped his head back up and then looked at her puzzled, “you didn’t go under.”

“I’ve already memorised it.” Hermione explained,

“Of course you have.” He chuckled, shaking his head and swimming back over to her. “I suppose I can get out now then.”

Draco handed the chest to Hermione and she felt his fingers brush over hers. Hermione retracted nervously and the slippery golden chest escaped her grasp and fell down into the bath. She instinctively reached down into the water to grab it, desperate for Draco not to notice her nervous mistake and reveal that he had made her feel that way. But Hermione had shifted her weight so quickly to catch the chest, that the rest of her body followed her arms into the warm soapy water.

Draco only heard the splash. He had launched himself out of the bath after lingering a little too long handing over the clue and had been looking for one of the fluffy white robes to cover himself up. He turned around to see Hermione was gone and the surface of the water was rippling. He didn’t think, he simply jumped in after her.

Hermione felt Draco grasp onto her arms and haul her up with him to the surface of the deep bath. She had tumbled around in the water and become disorientated searching for the golden chest, her body hadn’t had time to take in enough air before she was under and Hermione had quickly started struggling. She sucked in a huge gulp of air now that they were treading above water and started to calm herself, it had all been so quick. Hermione felt Draco’s hand delicately push the mounds of hair from her face, to reveal that they were now staring at one another as they both caught their breath. Hermione felt their chests rise and fall together, and it soothed her to know that he too had been frightened by her fall. He really was a good person. She wrapped her arm around his neck as he swum them over to where they could stand up. As he stopped and turned back to her, their bodies collided and faces lingered inches apart.

Draco knew he’d never get another moment like this with Granger, a moment where she wasn’t overthinking or where they would be alone. He knew that if this was ever going to happen, it had to happen now – before he chickened out or defaulted to saying something mean. So he pressed his lips against hers, hot and heavy. As he felt her mouth slide apart for him to taste, Draco couldn’t help but plunge deeper into the kiss. It should have been awkward, or perhaps disjointed – but it wasn’t. He felt her body pressed against him and arms tighten. Draco felt as if he the pair of them should stay here where nobody would find them for as long as they could. When they parted for air, both breathless from the intensity of their kiss, Draco traced his fingers across Hermione’s cheek to feel the suppleness of her skin. He cursed himself for not having noticed her beauty sooner.

“What was that?” Hermione whispered before he kissed her again, this time it was gentle and quick. Draco didn’t want that first kiss to be their last.

“I’m not sure.” He admitted as she kissed him back slowly,

“Ok.” Hermione nodded as she kissed him harder, “as long as you’re just as confused as I am.”

The pair laughed but didn’t stop. To Hermione, kissing Draco was the thrill of a lifetime. To Draco, kissing Granger felt like a sin and a pleasure all wrapped in one.

***

Mr Parkinson’s house elf disciplinary board had been mentioned here and there in the Prophet, and Hermione had become furious. The school quickly became littered with posters for a meeting of the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare which she had started. Pansy ripped down one of the bright red posters as she walked by, discarding it on the floor;

“Bucktooth’s out of her mind.” She rolled her eyes and continued on towards their Transfiguration class, “if she knew anything about house elves she’d know they want to be the best they possibly can, my father’s board will ensure that for them. Its pro elf muggle relations.”

Poppy Coffe and Emmeline Avery had been walking nearby and seeing the next SPEW sign, they decided to pull out a quill and defame the poster. Emmeline giggled as she and Poppy turned the picture of a house elf into a likeness of their head of house; Professor Snape. The two girls had actually joined the club, but despised the bossy know it all Hermione like the rest of their house.

“From what Ron says, nobody goes to those anyway.” Daphne assured her best friend as they entered their classroom.

Draco kept his mouth shut but eyed off the time of the next S.P.E.W. meeting. At four o’clock after classes were over and students were in study, Draco slunk into the back of one of the open classrooms. Inside, Hermione was delivering an impassioned speech about elvish rights. She mentioned wages and a petition to have the elf disciplinary board thrown out of pre-voting as Draco surveyed the small audience.

“What are you doing here?” Goyle looked shocked as Draco slid into a seat next to him,

“Same as you.” He shrugged as Harry Potter and Ron Weasley shot him a death glare.

“You’re here to get close to Emmeline?” Goyle's eyes popped open,

“Ugh yeah, I’m here for a girl.” Draco half confessed. For all his ego, Draco didn't have the confidence to admit to his friends that he might be harbouring a crush on Hermione Granger.