Before The Storm
by Siryn

Hermione Granger was about to do something monumentally stupid. Many words could be associated with her -- studious, ambitious, loyal, reliable, level-headed. Ron and Harry did foolish, impetuous things, but not her. She thought everything out, looked at every angle, checked and rechecked until plans were flawless and fool proof. She had still done all those things, and here she was standing in the shadows of the castle, watching Draco Malfoy.

In truth, she'd been watching him all year. There was something strange going on with him and frankly, she was surprised it had taken her that long to figure out exactly what it was. Nothing had changed really, not outwardly. He had still ruled over the Slytherin table as if he were the center of the universe, making rude remarks and causing chaos. He made his bitterness about Harry being chosen as Head Boy over him known at every available moment. But through it all, there was something off, something not quite right that she thought merited further research.

So she started observing him, covertly, of course. There were little things, like the way he only pretended to read the large Charms books in the library. He was a fast reader, almost as quick as her, but he never seemed to turn the pages. And how he seemed to be getting detention in Potions more often than Ron, which was practically a miracle. It was almost as if he was baiting Professor Snape on purpose. As Head Girl, she was required to patrol the corridors after dark, and there had been at least one occasion where she swore she saw him leaving Professor Lupin's classroom limping. It just didn't add up and being on the brink of war, whatever this was could be a Very Bad Thing.

She'd been in her room, reviewing for N.E.W.T.'s for the hundredth time when the realization hit her like a ton of bricks. Scrambling around for a spare piece of parchment, she laid everything out in her cramped, neat handwriting. When each point was in front of her, with a detailed argument beside each one, she added one last thing to the list.

Dumbledore and the other members of the Order were still keeping them out of the official meetings, but after spending two and a half summers at Grimmauld Place, she had worked out most of the secret doorways and passages. There had been talk at one of the meeting of another spy, someone who could infiltrate the Death Eaters without the notion of suspicion that Professor Snape constantly carried. But no one was mentioning names, and it was never brought up again so she thought maybe the plan had fallen through. But it hadn't, at least not by the evidence she had in front of her.

If she was right, then there might be a chance to win this war. But could he do it, and more importantly, why was he doing it? She wanted to run to dungeons, bang on his door and demand answers right then and there, but that could expose the both of them to risks that she couldn't calculate. There was no possibility of asking Professor Snape to confirm her suspicions and although she had become rather close to Professor Lupin, she knew that he wouldn't tell her either. And telling Harry and Ron was completely out of the question, since telling something like this to Ron would be like telling him the sun rose in the west. So, she gathered her evidence, buried it in the hidden compartment in the bottom of her trunk, and waited for the right moment to present itself.

Which was why she had followed him as he sneaked out of the Great Hall after the Leaving Feast. The mood had been almost painfully cheerful, as no one made mention that this could be their last night of true peace before stepping into a world where a war was about begin, Ministry denials be damned. She supposed Voldemort thought he was being charitable, giving them this last night of celebration before beginning to systematically destroy most of their graduating class.

He'd been sitting, staring out at the lake for almost a quarter of an hour when she worked up her nerve. She walked toward him carefully, making sure he could see her out of the corner of his eyes as she approached. It made her think of the tiger cage at the zoo and she almost smiled. Arranging her robes she sat down next to him on the grass, just out of arms reach.

"Lose your bodyguards, Granger?" he sneered without turning to look at her. She wondered what he might look like without that scowl twisting his features. He might be rather handsome, she decided.

"I might ask the same thing of you, Malfoy. Although I imagine it takes far more skill to lose Harry and Ron than Goyle and Crabbe. Leave a trail of crackers and they'd probably follow it over a cliff," she said derisively.

There was a hint of smile before he narrowed his eyes at her. "Well, if you've come out here to declare your undying love for me, then get on with it and go away. I'm very busy."

"No, no soppy declarations, I'm afraid. Besides, after Pansy's little outburst I'd think you'd had your fill of that," she replied amusedly.

"My, my, Granger. When did you develop that keen wit of yours?" he asked, shifting so he was almost facing her. Now that she was up close, the shadows she had only glimpsed were very clear. She wondered how he'd explain them away after they left school.

"I've always been witty, you've just been too busy insulting me to notice," she said. This time he did smile. With the sun setting behind him, she was startled to realize that he was decent looking when he wasn't making that horrible face. They were silent and she stared out at the lake. She'd come out here to confront him, but now she wasn't so sure. If she was right that was fine, but if she wasn't, she was out here with him alone. Anything could happen and no one would be the wiser for a few more hours. He could be miles away by then. Reaching, she grasped her wand. The weight of it was reassuring, like it was telling her to do it. It was now or never. She slipped it out and cast a Silencing Charm around them. When he went to leap up, she dragged him back down.

"What the hell are you doing?" he sputtered.

"Why are you doing it? What's in it for you?" To his credit, Draco's flinch was barely perceptible.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said coolly, disentangling her arm. He was sitting now, but his body had tensed.

"Yes, you do. Unless you've been having secret affairs with both Professors Snape and Lupin, you know exactly what I mean," she said, catching his eye. Letting out a slow breath, she felt his presence in her mind and gently pushed back, shielding her thoughts from him. He blinked and broke contact with her. "You're not the only one taking Occulmency lessons," she said.


She smiled. "You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine, isn't that how it works?" He was watching her carefully, assessing her.

"What makes you think I have anything to tell you?" he challenged.

"I don't need the details, in fact it's better if I don't know. All I want to know is if you're going to be able to handle it. I know everyone keeps saying this is going to be over soon, but I'm not so sure about that," she said quietly. She tugged a blade of grass up and twisted it around her fingers. This was an answer she could afford to be patient for. When she looked up, she was surprised to see him doing the same thing.

"If I can't, then we'll find out sooner rather than later, I expect," Draco replied, his voice unusually flat. Without thinking, she reached out and covered his hand with hers. His skin was cool and smooth, and she remembered the last time she'd touched him voluntarily had been third year - when she slapped him. He tensed but didn't pull away.

"It's the right thing, you know that. Whatever you believe, Voldemort is out of control. He'll destroy the entire Wizarding World if he has his way," she said.

He turned back to her again and she was struck by the sadness in his eyes. "I don't know what I believe, really. But I know he's got to be stopped." His voice hardened again and there was a moment when she wasn't sure they were talking about the same person.

"When do you take the Mark?" There was a lump in her throat as she asked and she looked at his left arm involuntarily.

"Two weeks from tomorrow. The day after my eighteenth birthday. Worst gift I never asked for," he said sardonically. A giggle escaped her and she felt him squeeze her hand slightly. "Shut up, Granger." For a moment, they were both teenagers again, not soldiers preparing to go to war. She heard Ron's voice calling for her and the moment slipped away. Draco let go of her hand.

"I should go," she said, brushing off her robes. He looked away and nodded tightly. Since she was doing all sorts of strange things, she figured leaning over to brush her lips across his cheek was just one more thing she could add to the list. The look of shock on his face was worth it.

"Good luck," Hermione said sincerely.

When he looked back at her, the patented sneer was back. "I don't need luck. I'm a Malfoy."

She shook her head and turned to go, but before she ended the silencing spell, she said one more thing.

"You should know that if you betray us, I'll hunt you down and flay you limb from limb." She said it without malice, but deadly serious. He looked dutifully shocked.

"You wouldn't know how," he shot back.

"Occlumency isn't the only thing Lupin's been teaching me. He's not the best Defense teacher we've ever had for nothing you know," she answered with a wink. With a wave of her wand, the silence was over and she ran toward the castle and her uncertain future.


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