"You're supposed to tickle it," Hermione whispered, glancing over Draco's shoulder, before eyeing the stairway warily. After their, almost run in with Filch her guard had been up, certain she could see shadows shifting out the corner of her eye. Malfoy, on the other hand, didn't seem bothered, waltzing down corridors as if it were broad daylight.
"I am tickling it!" Malfoy turned his head quickly to spit the words in Hermione's face, before turning away and hunching his shoulders to block her view.
"You're not…You're poking," she pointed out, trying to push his arm away, only to get an elbow to the face. He stepped back, his eyes squinting at her in anger.
"It's a magical painting of a fruit, Granger, I hardly think it matters." The late-night excursion to the kitchen for ice cream no longer seemed worth all the Granger.
"Well of course it matters. Look, just let me do it." She bustled in front of him, leaning down to inspect the painting. Draco rolled his eyes dramatically, scowling when he heard the painted pear let out a shrill chuckle. Hermione stood, shooting him a smug smile, her hands resting on her hips in triumph.
"Wow, Granger, molesting painted fruit, what book you read that in?" Hermione scowled, swatting his arm lightly.
"Ow. Seriously that was uncalled for." Draco mocked, rubbing his arm playfully.
'Oh, you'll live. And I didn't read it anywhere if you must know, the twins told me." She muttered, turning the green handle and stepping into the kitchen. She wasn't sure why she'd told him that. Talking to Draco Malfoy usually entailed withholding as much information as possible. Whenever she had accidentally mentioned things before it had resulted in ridicule, or she and her friends somehow getting into trouble. Now though, he simply listened and, when she turned back to look at him, he was giving her that strange look he'd taken to shooting her way recently.
They both stood silently, Hermione watching as Draco took in his surroundings with an open mouth. The kitchen was impressive; its ceiling stretching up impossibly far, the floor taken up by tables laid out as they were in the great hall, pots and pans hung from hooks that were suspended in mid-air and when Hermione reached to touch one, it gently floated away. An obscene about of plates were piled on counters to dizzying heights, the tall towers swaying gently.
Suddenly a tiny house-elf blinked into existence, its big ears drooping and large eyes blinking at them in confusion. Something resembling recognition flashed across the small creature's face and it narrowed its eyes at Hermione.
"Students are not supposed to be in here." The elf shrieked, pointing its short knobbly finger at them, ragged dress brushing against it knees.
"It's okay, I've been here before." Hermione turned to Draco, somewhat confused and embarrassed by the turn of events, "I don't understand, they were really welcoming last time."
"Perhaps your bushy hair scared them away?" Draco suggested, grinning innocently at her when she scowled at him.
"Students should not be out of bed." The elf continued, crossing its bony arms and turning its nose in the air. Hermione was at a loss, she wasn't sure what had taken place in between the time that she, Harry and Ron had visited but she was certain it was something drastic. Her mind wandered to the possibility of them having received punishment for allowing her, Harry and Ron to visit as they had.
"We have express permission from, Professor Dumbledore himself. Ice cream if you please." Hermione turned to Draco, mouth opening and closing in shock for a moment as she watched the blonde make himself comfy at the end of one of the long tables. The elf seemed to brighten up at being given an order and instantly jerked into life, waving its hand to summon two bowls.
"Willow is proud to bring you food."
"Glad to hear it," Draco answered casually, picking a piece of fluff off his jumper.
She slipped onto the chair opposite him, leaning close. He could smell strawberries, the sweetness seeming to be wafting from the tight curls that sprung from her head. He leant a little closer, curiously sniffing the air, jerking back in horror when he realised exactly what he was doing. Mercifully she began whispering furiously at him and he was able to brush off whatever craziness had momentarily overcome him.
"You're such a liar, and show some manners, House-elves are not slaves," she said it accusingly. He meant to glare at her, but when he looked up, she was following Willow's progress around the kitchen, care evident in her expression. To his horror, the sight warmed him.
"I am a Slytherin," he stated, as if that explained everything, "and quit complaining. We got the ice cream, didn't we?" He shrugged, gesturing to the silver bowls full of ice cream that had magically popped into existence in front of them.
Willow hovered around them, watching Draco expectantly as he dug his spoon into the ice cream happily.
"I don't suppose," Hermione turned to the elf, picking up her spoon slowly, "you've heard of my organisation, S.P.E.W?" She was aware that Malfoy was staring at her, but she focused on ignoring him, smiling encouragingly at Willow. The small house-elf looked terrified, her eyes wide as she backed away from the table. Hermione considered that maybe someone had entered the kitchen – perhaps a teacher – and turned to look. By the time she looked back, Willow had disappeared. She sighed, eyeing the blonde in front of her.
"You were so mean, making demands like that. Elves have feelings you know?" Draco raised an eyebrow slowly.
"Seemed like demands are all it would listen to." He shrugged, scooping more ice cream into his mouth and closing his eyes momentarily at the taste.
"She. The it you're referring to was a she." she was chastising him again and, for some reason, he found it slightly endearing.
"Fine, She. Are you going to eat or just sit there telling me off?" Hermione bit back a retort, picking up her spoon and digging in.
Draco sat quietly, trying to keep his eyes fixed on the contents of his bowl, knowing full well that the Gryffindor was staring at him.
"So…" The words hung in the air and Draco huffed, glancing up at her rather tiredly.
"What, Granger?" Her name came out a little more strangled than he'd intended it to when he was met with the sight of her avidly licking the back of her spoon.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?" She asked, humming in appreciation as she took another bite of ice-cream.
"Why don't, you tell me about this spew." Hermione froze, a blush reddening her cheeks, a flicker of annoyance dancing in her eyes.
"It's S.P.E.W," she corrected, "and I'd really rather not."
"And why is that?" The wolfish grin he flashed worryingly made her forget exactly why she didn't want to tell him anything. Had he always looked that…Hermione shook her head before any such thoughts could take root, wishing that the ground could possibly swallow her up for even straying into the territory of complimenting the Slytherin.
"Because - because you'll just laugh at me." Draco put his hand on his chest in mock hurt.
"What must you think of me?" Hermione smiled, rolling her eyes.
"You know what I think of you and you also know that it is one hundred per cent correct."
"That I'm devilishly handsome?" Hermione's snort of disgust lacked some of its fervour when she considered where her thoughts had been wandering off to mere moments before.
"That you're a dick."
"Ouch, don't mince your words do you?"
"I believe in honesty above all things."
"Yes well, consider the fact that you might actually be pleasantly surprised." Hermione laughed lightly.
"What? Are you going to tell me how I've thoroughly misjudged you? How we how we'll be the best of friends, spending the rest of the year braiding each other's hair and making daisy chains?" Hermione snorted at the look of horror on Draco's face.
"I honestly doubt anyone could tame your hair, Granger," he said drily, not truly believing it as he remembered how she'd looked the night of the Yule Ball. "And daisy chains? What are we, five? No, I'm simply pointing out that, I might - emphasis on the might - not laugh at whatever your spew thing happens to be."
"SPEW and, forgive me for not rushing to tell you my deepest, darkest secrets, but you know, years of torment and all that." She said lightly, flicking a stray curl over her shoulder.
"Oh, so this little snippet is deep and dark then? All the more reason for you to tell me, those two things happen to my speciality." Hermione choked on her ice cream, blushing furiously but somehow chuckling along with him.
"You're disgusting," She admonished, shaking her head.
"I was on about secrets, Granger. Not sure what sewer your filthy lion brain was splashing about in." Hermione flashed him a cheeky smile and he wondered, by all things Merlin, how any of it was happening. She looked laid back, relaxed and, dare he even think it, actually pretty.
"Well considering how much you time you spend splashing about down there yourself, I'm sure you'll know it well." It took a moment for Hermione to realise what she had said, her eyes widening when she did and her face glowing redder than it had before. Draco was clutching his stomach, his shoulders shaking as he laughed at her.
"Granger…you surprise me."
"I was on about the sewer."
"Of course, you were," He wheezed, wiping the tears from his cheeks. Hermione rolled her eyes, but he could tell that it wasn't with her usual disdain, she was fighting back her amusement too. It was all so very new, they'd been enemies for so long, and yet, it felt as if they'd shed that part of themselves and were sitting opposite each other, just Malfoy and just Granger. It felt strange, a nice kind of strange, it bubbled in his stomach with all its strangeness and made him feel giddy.
"I tell you what, I'll make you a deal."
"Well, that's ominous. It's not the 'sell your soul' type, you Slytherins are so fond of, is it? Ooo perhaps an unbreakable vow? I draw the line at signing my name in blood," she shivered slightly, "That's just icky." She met his gaze, and Draco couldn't help but chuckle, she always seemed to have a comeback, always putting him in his place. And now he was starting to realise why he kept putting himself through the torment.
"Hardly Granger. You," He pointed his spoon at her, "tell me about this, spew…"
"That's what I said - and I tell you about what happened in the Sensieve." He wiggled his eyebrows, allowing himself to grin in triumph. He knew she wouldn't be able to refuse.
"That's - that's blackmail."
"Nothing quite so dramatic, Granger. More like an exchange of information. My secret, for yours. Sounds fair to me." Hermione eyed him suspiciously.
"Seems like you're getting the better end of the deal."
"I hadn't thought about it." He was quite obviously lying, but the way she worried over her lip informed him that she had taken the bait, she was just working out the wording.
It was quite a horrific realisation that befell him when he thought about how well he knew the Gryffindor. All the way down to subtle expressions he seemed to have it mapped, knowing exactly what to say, what to do to elicit them. He hadn't truly considered, till that moment, how worrying his knowledge of Granger's facial expressions actually was, suggesting hours of considerable study in order to formulate the extensive catalogue that he possessed. He tried to blame it on his favourite past time of causing her as much pain and heartache as possible, needing to know these things about her for maximum effect. Problem was, he didn't know Potty and Weasel half so well and he would go as far as to say that he hated them a whole heck of a lot more than he hated Granger.
Hermione was working out how to tell him. She knew he'd laugh at her, he always had, but now she didn't want him to. She wanted to keep the fragile atmosphere they'd created delicately balanced between them; unfamiliar, new and so enjoyable. There was an easiness to it, something that she'd never expected when being in Malfoy's company, but there it was, and she wanted it to stay that way.
Malfoy was smiling with a cheeky kind of shyness that she found almost endearing her mouth opening and words spilling out almost of their own volition.
"Fine...fine. S.P.E.W is an organisation I came up with; the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare." Hermione was staring into the swirl of ice cream melting in the bottom of the bowl, her spoon mixing together the different colours, she jumped as Malfoy burst out laughing.
She wished she still had her time turner, so at the very least she could go back and smack past Hermione round the back of the head or being so utterly beguiled by her enemies' smile. The patheticness of it was not lost on her and she resisted the urge to allow her head to sink into her hands in shame. However, when she looked up, she realised he was just genuinely amused; he wasn't making fun of her, wasn't giving her the look of disgust, he usually did, he was just laughing. She had to admit, the look suited him.
"Only you would make an organisation for creatures that don't want to be saved," he wheezed between bouts of laughter, wiping his eyes, as tears glittered in the corner of them.
"They do want to be saved, some elves are incredibly mistreated," she spluttered, banging the table indignantly, which only served to make Malfoy laugh more.
"You do realise that most of them enjoy the work?" He met her gaze levelly, once he'd managed to calm himself down.
"That's not technically true, while some of them do work for caring people, there are those that work for foul, loathsome people, and they need to know that they are not alone...stop laughing. See this, this is why I didn't want to tell you," she gestured to Malfoy, whose shoulders were shaking as he tried to contain the laughter once again bubbling up inside of him.
"Typical Granger, wanting to help everyone," He breathed, pushing his empty bowl away, and meeting her gaze.
"I could be wrong, but that almost sounded like a compliment." Draco scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "Yeah well, don't get used to it." Hermione smiled smugly, tucking into the rest of the ice cream happily.
"I held up my end of the bargain," she stated, after a while of Malfoy just sitting in silence, staring into the deep brown of the table with wide eyes. Draco groaned, getting up and pacing the great expanse of floor.
"Do you really want to hear this?" He asked, turning to her, hands in his pockets; she noticed he did that a lot, especially when he was uncomfortable.
"Honestly, at this point, I can't believe you need to ask that. Plus, I think talking about it would help." Malfoy gave her a withering look but sighed and began to relay what he had seen, pausing every now and again when the reality of it made him feel slightly nauseous.
"That's...that's awful," Hermione breathed, "poor Edward."
"Erm, excuse me, poor me for having to experience that," He said, slightly annoyed she wasn't giving him more sympathy.
"Yes, yes, well obviously. Are you okay?' She stood slowly, walking around the table and standing in front of him, her head tipped to one side, fingers lightly brushing his arm. His throat constricted at the contact and he quickly turned away, clearing his throat.
"Yes, I mean...as well as I can be, stabbing a child in the neck does have a tendency to make you feel a little shitty." Hermione shivered, noticing that in spite of Draco's sarcastic tone he genuinely looked frightened. She understood, sometimes it felt as though there was no difference between her and Mina, the memories feeling as though they were her own. She couldn't imagine owning something so terrible.
"He did it for her," Hermione muttered, hesitantly trying to make the blonde feel at least a little better.
"Yeah, well he was an idiot. All he did was pledge his murderous allegiance to a sicko."
"I wonder if there is anything about him – you know, Tharin - in the Library. If he was so well known back then, there stands a chance that there might be some record of him."
"I guess so, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look." Hermione was shocked he was agreeing with her. She'd gotten so used to fighting Malfoy on everything his compliance felt a little bit like a smack round the face.
"We could go tomorrow, after dinner. I have to help Harry with research, but I could meet you after, say about nine?" Draco grinned.
"You've really taken to breaking the rules recently haven't you, Granger?"
"What makes you think I've only just started?" She lifted her head defiantly, chin pointing up into the air and Draco grinned lazily.
"I dunno, just a hunch. Unless being a teacher's pet was just a well-crafted disguise."
"Who knows? Not much of a disguise if I tell you." Draco laughed again.
"Touché, Granger, touché." He glanced down at the floor uncomfortably, toeing the tiled floor and blushing profusely, "So, I'll meet you tomorrow then?" He almost cringed at how hopeful he sounded. He hoped Hermione wouldn't notice and to his relief she seemed set on heading towards the door, her ears glowing crimson.
"Yes, and erm…thank you for…"
"Don't mention it, Granger. I wanted Ice cream." With a nod she left, and Draco followed soon after wondering what in Merlin's name was wrong with him.