…is whole time? Was Malfoy one of the monsters that she’d convinced herself didn’t, couldn’t, exist within Hogwarts? Dumbledore wouldn’t allow Death Eaters in Hogwarts, would he? It was absurd.

But lately…lately, she was beginning to question many things she believed, including the idea that Dumbledore could not be fooled. Maybe it was time to question exactly what she knew about Malfoy. Or not question so much as face the facts.

He’d been raised in nothing so much as the wizard version of the mafia. His whole family was made up of Death Eaters. He was going to be one himself, if he wasn’t one already.

The idea startled her. She'd never really considered… Was he already a Death Eater? If the nasty things he did at school were just his public face, who knew what kinds of horrible things he had participated in while wearing a white mask and a black robe?
She let out her breath and shook her head, hugging herself as she stood and turned away from the water. Her eyes sought out her books automatically and an anger that was fast becoming all too familiar formed a knot in her chest. Anger was good. If she was angry than she didn’t have to be scared.

She found that she was very angry.

Slowly building her rage into wildfire in her heart, she plopped down among her pile of supplies and began sorting through them.

All she wanted to do was get back home, but Malfoy was making it as hard as he possibly could. He had the same goal as she did, didn’t he? So why was he pressing the issue? Why couldn’t all of this rivalry crap take a backseat?

Dangerous or not, if he thought she was going to allow him to bully her into doing whatever he said, he had another thing coming, the freaking egomaniac. She couldn’t do it. She refused to even pretend to obey him, not even for the sake of peace. But if she didn’t do as he told her, it might mean getting beat up.

Hermione ashamedly admitted to herself that she was a coward when it came to physical pain. She wasn’t athletic, she wasn’t a fighter, not physically anyway, and she had no idea what she would do if Malfoy decided to give her an actual pounding…except promise him retribution at the hands of Harry and Ron.

Hermione frowned, pausing to brush a damp lock of hair out of her eyes.

Perhaps that was the key to all of this. He wouldn’t listen to reason, but bargaining with him might work. In the mean time she needed as many aces up her sleeve as she could get.

She tucked the last bit of vervain into her overstuffed backpack and tugged the zipper shut. Using a bit of string she roped her hazel branch to the side and then she was done. She shouldered her bag, testing the weight. It was heavy. Hiking with it on her back was going to suck. She spared one last disgusted glance for the things she had chosen to leave behind, her books among them and decided then and there that she'd never forgive Malfoy for it. She really hated him.

Speaking of the slime bucket, where was he anyway? They’d wasted too much time as it was. She didn't care if he wasn't finished with his stupid tantrum, she was ready to go!

“ MALFOY!” she shouted, her voice echoing through the trees, “MALFOY, I WANT TO GO HOME!” she paused, hearing nothing but the wind in the trees and tried again, “GET BACK HERE OR I’M LEAVING WITHOUT YOU!”

She wasn’t going to stand for any more of this running off to mope crap. School was going to start in just four days and, if nothing else, she wanted to make darn sure they were back before then. If they hustled, she was certain they could make it.

A good ten minutes passed with no sign of Malfoy. She tried shouting again, knowing he was going to fight her every step of the way. It took another ten minutes of shouting herself hoarse before it dawned on her what game Malfoy was playing.

With a sigh, she readjusted her backpack, the straps were already digging into her shoulders, and tested her hypothesis. She checked the needle on her compass and marched out of the clearing. She was perhaps twenty feet away from the ring of trees when there was a rustling sound and Malfoy landed in front of her seemingly from out of nowhere. She’d been expecting it but the suddenness of his appearance still made her yelp and reel back a few paces.

Malfoy glared at her in shock and outrage, “You were really going to leave without me!”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes.

No you moron, you were just outsmarted. But she didn't say that. She decided to give him something to think about instead.

“ I told you this morning that I wasn’t going to take you with me.” She told him coldly, “If you’re coming, then keep up.”

She flounced past him with false confidence and was completely unprepared for suddenly being airborne and slamming face first into the ground with Malfoy on top of her. He twisted her arm up behind her back with one hand and used the other to shove her face into the dirt.

“ MALFOY, LET ME GO!” she shrieked, voice thick with panic, shocked by the sudden assault.

He twisted her arm tighter and she cried out in pain, kicking futilely. He was so much stronger than her! He was holding her down with very little effort at all.

“ Listen. Shut up and listen very carefully.” Malfoy said, deadly calm, “This is your last warning. Fuck up again and I will smash your face in. Don’t you EVER,” he punctuated the word by grinding her face in the dirt, “ try to ditch me again. In fact, don’t ever leave unless I say its okay. Okay?”

“ Get off me!” she tried to sound strong but there was a whine of pain in the back of her throat.

Malfoy wrenched her arm until she screamed.

“ Okay?” he asked again.

“ Okay!” she shouted finally.

“ Good.”

The pressure was suddenly gone and Hermione jerked upright, spitting dirt and crying helplessly. She hated herself for the tears and tried to wipe them away but more kept coming. Malfoy watched her from several feet away, looking coolly satisfied.

“ I’ll get you back for this!” she shouted at him, breath hitching on her tears.

Malfoy smirked, “ Somehow I doubt it.”

“ Harry and Ron are going to kill you when we get back.”

Malfoy’s smirk curled into an evil smile, “ You won’t tell them anything that happens out here.”

She was so surprised that she stopped glaring at him, “ What?”

“ Believe me, you won’t tell them a thing. Now get up, and wipe the dirt off your face. Its disgusting.”

Furiously, Hermione wiped her face on her sleeve, hiccupping softly. Malfoy leaned against a tree and waited with an air of nonchalance while she tried to ball all her hatred and loathing into a glare that by all rights should have melted his face off. She rose unsteadily to her feet, the front of her robes covered in dirt and leaves. He smiled at her blandly.

She wouldn't let him get away with this. He was going to be very sorry for what he’d done. He might be gloating now but the second he needed her help, he was going to regret attacking her.

Malfoy made a sweeping motion with his hand, “After you.”

What choice did she have?

She hesitated a second more then strode past him, head held high, trying not to flinch when he fell into step behind her.

The walk home was finally underway.

Despite her heavy bag and the general roughness of the terrain, Hermione might actually have enjoyed the walk if she wasn't in such an awful mood and if her arm didn't ache from Malfoy's rough treatment. Part of her was excited to finally be starting the hike home. The forest was beautiful and she couldn't wait to see all the unusual plants and animals that lived and grew in the forest. She couldn’t wait to get home, back to Hogwarts and tell Harry and Ron all about it.

But even if she hadn't been so angry, Malfoy wasn't about to let her enjoy herself. He was doing his part to irritate by walking about five feet behind her, directly behind her, at all times. Stalking her. She couldn’t see him and he was being absolutely silent, but she could feel him staring at the back of her head and it was making her extremely jumpy and nervous. She wanted to yell at him to knock it off, but a reaction was what he wanted, so she ignored him instead.

Despite Malfoy's efforts, the exertion of the trip eventually took her mind off him. She was too busy, physically and mentally, to pay any attention to him at all. And, feeling her attention wavering, Malfoy grew bored and took to periodically darting off into the woods only to reappear ahead of her minutes, sometimes half an hour, later. That annoyed her too. He could easily go frolicking off somewhere and fall off a cliff and she’d never know. But she wasn’t about to bring it up. Let him do what he wanted. She might be better off if he did get himself killed.

She took small detours from her path whenever she found water or edible plant life and wished mightily that she had a container to keep water in. Dehydration was fast becoming her worst fear and she was adamant about stopping at every stream to drink and cool off.

Food wasn't hard to come by in this part of the forest, luckily and neither of them suffered hunger pains, though she was already getting pretty sick of fruits and roots. Even luckier was stumbling into an entire grove of fruit trees at one point during the afternoon. She stuffed as much fruit into her bag as she could, and ate until her face and hands were sticky with juice. Malfoy managed to reappear in time to gather some fruit of his own. That he had appeared so promptly made her wonder if he wasn’t actually wandering as much as she thought he was. Maybe he actually had the brains to keep her in sight while he explored.

She was still furious with him but he seemed almost back to normal. She could only assume his indulgence in physical violence had appeased him, had sated his desire to torment her…at least for the moment. Despite an intense desire of her own to see him suffer, she felt honor bound to tell him what kind of fruit they were eating and how to recognize it if he saw it again. Who knew, maybe the deviant would prove useful in gathering food. Even if he didn't bring any back to her, at least she wouldn’t have to feed him anymore. The blond boy glanced at her once or twice while she was talking and she thought he might actually be half listening but he wandered off before she’d finished so she couldn’t really be sure.

As the day progressed, the excitement of the trip wore off, her mind wandered and the walk became boring. There was only so much to think about and she didn't particularly want to dwell on how mad she was at Malfoy or what would happen if they didn't make it back to Hogwarts in time or how bad her legs were hurting. There wasn't much to look at either. No matter how beautiful the forest was, it eventually became monotonous.

She hadn't seen any interesting animals and she was disappointed. The only animals she had seen were birds and squirrels. Not being an avid camper, she'd had this view of the forest as absolutely teaming with animals all the time. There had to be thousands of different species of animals living there, she knew, so where were they? Realistically, it was probably extremely lucky that she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She wouldn’t have been nearly so excited about seeing wild animals if she happened to bump into a catoblepas or a cockatrice or even a regular old run-of-the-mill mountain lion.

She did see a few strange looking plants though. She saw some Silver Bells, a type of vine with gorgeous platinum leaves and flowers whose pollen looked like silver sparkles on the wind. The blossoms were supposed to indicate that fairies were nearby. She also saw a Corpse weed, an equally gorgeous black bloom on a long stalk with huge, wicked sharp thorns. The thorns were supposed to shoot out and kill passing creatures and then a new plant would grow out from the victim’s body.

Hermione shouted out a warning to Malfoy when she saw it, hoping he was close enough to hear, and gave the plant a very wide berth. Maybe a very cold part of her deep down thought it would serve the boy right if she didn’t warn him about it. But a mental image of Malfoy impaled through the chest, lying dead in the grass with glazed eyes and a beautiful plant blooming out of his ribcage was horrifying enough to push aside her pride and anger.

By mid afternoon, her face was damp with sweat and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. She took off her robe and stuffed it haphazardly into her already full backpack. Sweat was dripping down her back and she was certain she smelled, which really rankled her feminine pride.

She stopped for another break, the third in the past hour. It seemed her breaks were getting more and more frequent the later in the day it became. She sat on a fallen tree and pulled a mushy fruit from her backpack to nibble on. Malfoy came stalking back from his latest frolic a few minutes later, looking considerably pissed off. She paused when she saw his hand clamped to the back of his neck and blood smearing his collar.

“ What happened to you?” she asked with healthy heaping of annoyance and absolutely no concern.

Malfoy, of course, ignored her tone and took the opportunity to indulge in a much needed session of griping and complaining,“ Fucking bugs. I’ve been fighting the damn mosquitoes all day and then I run into this giant-ass butterfly and I’m like ‘ah how pretty’ and then the fucker takes a huge bite out of me. A butterfly bit me. Stupid forest. I hate this place!”

Hermione had to bit her lip to keep from grinning.

Oh man, Dracky got attacked by the big bad butterfly. Just wait till Harry and Ron hear about this.

She gave him sympathetic eyes, and hoped it didn't look too fake, “ Let me see.”

He backed away, eyeing her warily, as if she'd just asked for his soul, “ No way, Mudblood, keep your slimy hands to yourself.”

She didn't have to fake exasperation,“ I have to see it! What if its infected? Or poisoned?”

There was no such thing as a poisonous breed of bloodsucking butterfly but she'd bet just about anything that Malfoy didn’t know that.

The snarl on his face faded into surprise and the hand on the back of his neck fell away, “Fine,” he agreed grudgingly, “ but don’t touch it or you might infect it with your nasty Mudblood germs.”

You should talk nicer to the doctor, Mr. Malfoy. No lollipop for you.

She nodded and walked around behind him. He was stiff as a board, tension zinging through his shoulders and she wondered mildly if he thought she was going to attack him or something.

The bite, more like puncture, made by the butterfly’s proboscis was just above his collar. It was clean and superficial. She hadn’t really expected anything bad from a butterfly, even a giant mountain bloodsucking variety.

It was time for a little payback. Just part payment though. A taster.

She rose on tiptoe and deliberately gave the wound a rough poke, “ What color was the butterfly?"

" Hey!" he swatted at her.

" Hold still! I have to do this." Her voice brooked no argument and he subsided…until she dug her fingernail into the puncture.

" SHIT!" he yelped, jerking away, eyes wild.

She stared at him, feigning sympathy, " I barely touched you. It must be really tender. Turn back around, I'll be more careful."

Slowly he complied, eyeing her suspiciously.

" Now what color was it?"

“ It was black, red and green.” His voice was just slightly strained.

She covered her grin with one hand, cleared her throat and said solemnly.

“ Hmm, those colors are never good. Bright colors usually serve as a warning to predators. They indicate poison.” She changed tactics and brushed her fingers lightly across the nape of his neck, smirking as he tensed further, “There’s some swelling here, the wound is red, starting to discolor. There’s a lot of fluid discharge. There was definitely some sort of reaction. Are you allergic to anything?” She lightly drew a little pattern on the back of his neck.

“ N..no..” he swallowed hard, voice distracted.

“ No?” she brushed her fingers along his skin, blowing lightly on the back of his neck to watch him jerk, goosebumps breaking out over his skin, “Malfoy…” she broke off, her voice very serious, “Malfoy… Draco…” she took him by the shoulders and turned him around. He was surprised enough that he let her do it.

She looked him in the eye and said seriously, “ Draco this is very bad. There is indication of poisoning and I have no idea how to even begin looking for an antidote.”

All the color drained from his face. It took a moment for him to find his voice.

“ So…what..? What does that mean?”

“ There are two species of Giant Mountain bloodsuckers with the colors you described. One is incredibly toxic. The other isn’t. Depending on which type bit you there could be nothing more serious than redness and swelling…or the bite could be lethal.” She paused, gave his shoulders a squeeze and said, very gently, “Draco…if you die…can I have your autographed Chudley Cannons poster?”

“ What?!”

“ I can give it to Ron for Christmas." She said brightly, " And what should I put on your tombstone? ‘Here lies Draco Malfoy, tongued to death by a butterfly, nature’s most vicious killer’.” She couldn’t keep a straight face any longer and cracked up, doubling over with laughter at the expression on his face.

For a moment the boy looked shell shocked and then his face twisted in rage as he apparently got the joke and he shoved her as hard as he could. Hermione reeled back and slammed against a tree, barely catching herself before she fell. Later she would have a nasty bruise but at the moment she was laughing so hard she didn’t care. Malfoy was wavering somewhere between rage and embarrassment, glacial eyes flashing and his face beet red.

“ You bitch, you…” he seemed unable to complete a sentence.

It made her laugh harder.

“ Told you I’d get you back!” she taunted, “Oh, you should have seen your face! Oh mi gosh! Priceless! Death by butterfly!” and she dissolved into laughter again.

" You won't be laughing in a minute!" Malfoy snarled and took one step towards her, fists clenched.

Hermione danced away laughing, “ I don’t think so. You lay one finger on me and you don’t get any bug repellent. You’ll be eaten alive before we ever get home. I’ll stop burning the Noitch chips in our campfire at night and just wear the repellent myself and you’ll wake up with a face bumpier than this mountain side.”

Noitch was a natural repellent and it just so happened to be a weed that was extremely easy to find. It could be applied directly to the skin or burned in a campfire. Hermione had been doing both for days.

Malfoy went still. He growled at her as he considered her threat. The bugs must really have been bothering him if the repellent meant that much to him.

“ You know, come to think of it, I don’t understand why you haven’t had a problem with the bugs before. I expected you to be whining about them a lot sooner.” She giggled, “ I figured I’d withhold the repellent until it was worth my while to offer it to you but I just couldn’t help myself.”

Malfoy’s growl faded into a strange expression and she saw him appraising her as if she’d just done a very interesting trick, “ What if I just act nice until I get the repellent and then I kick the shit out of you?” he asked. And it was funny because it sounded like he was really asking, like he was presenting it as an option instead of just threatening her.

She smiled nastily, “Then you get a special surprise in your food when you least expect it. I’ve seen some plants out here that would really make you sorry. And I picked a few of them. You said earlier that we’re not equal and you’re right, I know things that you don’t and that gives me an edge. If you kick me around, I’ll make you pay.”

Malfoy’s expression turned wary, guarded, as he considered the full implications of her challenge and she found herself caving in a bit despite herself.

“ Look," she began, a little nicer, " I doubt we’re going to be in this forest for more than a couple of days. We can spend it being completely suspicious of each other and unable to trust a single thing the other says or we can work together and no one gets hurt.”

He laughed at her, “Are you proposing a truce?”

“ Yes I am.” She crossed her arms.

Malfoy smiled, honey sweet, and then yelled, “ You can forget it. I don’t make truces with Mudbloods. In fact, I think you've just declared war.”

" WHAT!"

Malfoy grinned wolfishly, " That's right. You really shouldn't have messed with me, kiddo. I was going to go easy on you, but if you want it rough, I'll give it to you rough. You're going to be begging for mercy before I'm through with you."

" What do you mean war? Malfoy this is ridiculous!" she sputtered, suddenly feeling like she was sinking very fast into murky water and trying to claw her way out even though she could tell from the look in his eyes that there was no escape.

" You declared war. You leave me no choice but to defend myself." He said with satisfaction.

" But it is your choice!" she yelled in exasperation, " I don't understand, Malfoy. By acting like this, you're making things harder on yourself too. Why can't you just let it go? I'm willing to work with you, but you're not even going to try. Its just for a few days, Malfoy, and no one is going to see! What is so important that you can't think of putting it aside even for your own safety?"

She saw something cross his face, some thought or emotion that she couldn’t read. He knew the answer to that question. He didn't even have to think about it. But she doubted he was about to share.

" It has nothing to do with you." He said finally, cryptically, "I'm just protecting myself."

What the heck did that mean?

" What are you talking about, it has everything to do with me."

His silvery gaze gave her nothing.

Hermione sighed, patience worn thin, "Look, how about this. You be nice to me, don't beat me up or push me around, or give me bruises or steal my food and…wait, just wait!" she said quickly before he could start yelling at her, "And I'll give you something in return. We'll have a bargain."

His interest was obviously peaked, but caution came first," What will you give me?" he asked slowly.

" Um…I haven't thought that far ahead." She spread her hands lamely.

Malfoy smiled slyly, "Alright, you swear to me under wizards oath that you'll do me a favor, anything I want upon request, and I will treat you like a bloody queen."

Hermione gave him a dry look, "I'm. Not. That. Bloody. Stupid. Anything you want upon request? Give me a freaking break. We'd get back to Hogwarts and you'd tell me to push Harry off the astronomy tower or something."

Malfoy cocked his head, "That was actually my second thought."

" What was your first?"

He shook his head and smirked, "You don't want to know."

She stared at him, at the dreamy, faraway look in his eyes and knew he wasn't kidding. She didn't, she definitely did not want to know what went on in his twisted little brain.

" You're right."

" Fine. Then unless you can think of something I want, oh and I want two favors now, one to get me to consider peace talks, and another upon agreement, we're officially at war and just so you know, you're going down. See ya later, Muddy." He trotted off into the woods, ignoring her protests.

" Malfoy! Will you just wait a second! You can't just…"

He turned back suddenly, "Oh, and while you're trying to think of nice things to give me, you might also want to think about what exactly you're going to do about the Wyvern that's hanging around here. Since I'm your enemy now, I'm not exactly going to help you if you run into it."

He laughed at her horrified expression.

" A wyvern?"

Wyverns were serpentine cousins to the dragon. They were much smaller then dragons, had only two legs along with a pair of wings and didn't breathe fire. They did have vicious tempers though and the ability to hunt in packs.

Had he really seen one? No, he was just trying to scare her.

" You're making that up! You're making it up just like you made up everything else. There are no wyverns around here, the environment's all wrong."

" Whatever you say, kiddo." He called back, as he walked backwards into the trees, " But hey, maybe if you apologize really nicely for being a disgusting Mudblood, and ask my forgiveness, I'll consider not letting it eat you."

Yeah right, what could he do against a wyvern?

She was getting mad now, " You can just consider shutting up then because I don’t believe you!” she yelled.

She was convinced he was lying but at the same time disturbed by the smug, half excited look on his face. She knew that look. It was the look he got whenever something bad was about to happen to someone he didn't like.

But a wyvern? No way. She didn't want to believe him, the thought was scary. That was a big-time, highly aggressive predator. There would be no way at all to defend against one should she happen upon it, especially without her wand.

The boy's laughter faded into the woods.

Stupid Malfoy. What exactly was he trying to accomplish? He hadn't even asked for the bug repellent. Did he think he needed to take it from her? Was he going to jump her later on to get it?

The thought was extremely uncomfortable.

That idiot! That hard-headed, arrogant rat.

She seethed furiously, wanting to drag him back and beat him over the head with a tree branch. Maybe club him unconscious and drag him the rest of the way home.

Her shoulders slumped dejectedly.

She'd made it worse. She'd gone and made it ten times worse. He'd just been picking on her before, but now he was all excited because they were 'at war'. This was just great. And she thought she'd been nervous before!

The only thing she could think of that might remedy the situation now was to get back to Hogwarts as fast as humanly possible.

Anger, and a heaping helping of paranoia, gave her energy and she resumed her hike. She thought of several clever and nasty things to say to Malfoy as she stomped along and she was just waiting for the little jerk to show up and say something mean so she could lay into him, but Malfoy wasn’t complying. Upon his eventual return, he remained silent, following along easily, serenely, behind her. When he didn't say anything, and in fact he seemed to be ignoring her now, she got even angrier and wished he would leave again.

How was it that he knew precisely how to act at any given time to annoy her the most? She was suddenly so sick of him she could just scream. She couldn’t wait to get back home. She began planning exactly what she’d say to Harry and Ron to get optimum bone-breaking rage from them. Another part of her wanted to just fold and let Malfoy have his way in order to avoid the fighting. But really, it wasn’t like he’d treat her nice if she just gave in to everything he said. If anything, he’d probably treat her worse.

After another hour and a half she’d forgotten about Malfoy and his incredible inanity in favor of her burning muscles. Her legs felt like jelly and her back was one giant ache. There were probably several more hours of daylight left but at this point, she didn’t care. She’d had it. The minute she found water, they were stopping for the night. It was actually a bit discouraging. If she were in better shape, she might have made it further.

Of course, she thought irritably, if she didn’t have a giant backpack weighing her down she might have made it even further than that.

She shot a furious glance at Malfoy who had returned about ten minutes ago from his latest frolic and instantly quelled under a darkly malicious sneer that was more a fierce baring of teeth then anything else.

Dang him! Why did the jerk have to be so big and scary?

Ignoring him haughtily, she untied her hazel stick from her bag, intent on finding water. The nearest stream just so happened to be in the direction they needed to walk in anyway. A good half mile later, Hermione stumbled on a fair sized stream and all but flung herself into it. She drank deeply, gulping the icy water and giving herself a violent brain-freeze. When her lips were blue and the front of her shirt was soaked, she plopped down to sit near the bank, her eyes flicking to her reluctant companion.

Malfoy was being curiously still and silent. He hadn’t moved since they reached the spring. He was just standing there, looking big and mean and pissed off. What was his problem? He had to be as thirsty as she was.

He was watching her with a savage expression on his face.

“ We’re stopping here for the night.” She told him firmly, and braced herself for a fight.

The boy gave her an ugly glare, his face cold and harsh, but otherwise didn’t react.

She stared at him uneasily, something prickling the back of her neck,“ Malfoy?”

No response. None. It wasn’t even like he was ignoring her, it was like…

Hermione pulled herself up, groaning because her muscles felt like spaghetti and approached him cautiously. The boy didn't move, didn't speak. She searched his eyes.

There was nothing there, no one home.

Startled, she squealed and lashed out. Her hand struck air, vanishing through his chest and the image of Malfoy remained undisturbed. She stumbled back a few paces, staring in horror at the Malfoy-image. For a minute she was hopelessly confused and then her brain kicked in and she realized that she was, literally, seeing things. It was her eyes that were affected. There was nothing in front of her, absolutely nothing, it was her eyes that were creating the image, her eyes that were enchanted.

Hermione plunged back into the stream and dunked her whole face under the water, rubbing her eyes and scrubbing her face. She sat back up in the water, gasping and shivering and glanced around. The Malfoy image was gone.

Where was the real Malfoy? What was going on? Was this some sort of joke Malfoy was playing on her? But there was no way he could have enchanted her.

“ External visual enchantment.” She muttered, teeth chattering, “ It had to be airborne because nothing else touched my eyes. Possibly from pollen, spores or some sort of animal dander. What for? Nature cares only for food and reproduction. Possibly a lure? But I wasn’t being led anywhere, I… Malfoy… Malfoy was following me and now he’s gone. Merlin, I get it!” she stumbled, sloshing from the stream, sopping wet and screamed as loud as she could, “MAALFOY! MALFOY! IT’S A TRICK!! MALFOY, I’M OVER HERE! MALFOY!”


Draco was in a pretty good mood.

He'd been in a good mood ever since he'd trounced the Mudblood that morning. The little bint had shrieked like a baby, it had been hilarious. He hadn't really been that angry with her, he'd just wanted to hurt her, show her he was serious about fucking her up if she got out of line. And it had worked. He'd felt much better after knocking her down a peg or two. Everything in his neat little world view that had been scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle thrown by an angry child had been put firmly back in place by putting her firmly in her place. Down in the mud.

Really he'd gone easy on her. He hadn't fucked her up yet even though she was really asking for it. The only reason he hadn't was because it would slow them down if he bloodied her up too bad.

Oh, it had been fantastic to finally see her cry, to see her humbled. She thought she was so great, so perfect, when all she was was a filthy aberration of nature that would never be good enough to lick the dirt off his shoes. She shouldn't have a Head Girl badge, she should have a collar and a leash.

Stupid whore. Pathetic, sniveling little cunt.

Okay, so maybe he wasn't in that great a mood.

He was still pissed about the whole butterfly incident. Shit, that had been embarrassing. She'd made him look like a complete idiot and then laughed at him. That bite had hurt like a mother fucker and he'd just stood there while she jabbed his bleeding wound a couple of times and then looked innocently startled when he yelped in pain. He was definitely going to have to return the favor.

His brain tried to bring up the memory of her lightly caressing the back of his neck, her breath brushing his skin and he flushed, slamming the memory away as hard as he could, determined not to think about it ever again.

He rubbed the back of his neck, kicking a tree branch out of his way and scowling at Granger's back.

He could tie her up and leave her out for the bugs. See how she liked it. The only thing stopping him was that he didn't have any rope.

Too bad. Though he supposed he could always just break one of her legs.

The thought caused a twisted grin to curl his lips.

It wasn't necessary as of yet. He'd won their latest round in the end. The butterfly was now flitting about in hell and Granger was sweating over his declaration of war, probably wondering what exactly he was going to do to her.

It was kind of fun watching Granger struggle to play the game and fail miserably. That she was trying to play at all was kind of interesting. She wasn’t doing very good but she was doing better than he thought she would. She'd managed to surprise him more than once today. He couldn’t believe that she'd actually meant to ditch him this morning or that it had crossed her mind to hold the bug repellent ransom and the revelation that she'd been planning all afternoon to spike his food was just alarming enough to be exciting. He wasn't at all sure she'd actually do it, it seemed completely at odds with prim, proper, holier-than-thou, Head Girl Granger but he was going to have to watch her a bit more carefully from now on anyway.

How the hell did she know about his Chudley Cannons poster?

He wondered what she would do now?

Would she go all out with this war business? Or would she scramble to find some way to placate him?

It didn't matter what she did. In the end, it was all just one great big mind fuck. All he cared about was relieving his own boredom. She just happened to be his best source of entertainment. He was sick of the fucking forest, sick of the trees, the bugs, the endless walking, of having nothing to eat. The only pleasure he'd gotten in days was in taking out his misery on her.

He wondered if she believed him about the wyvern.

She had probably convinced herself that it was a lie. He hoped she had, because that would make it really incredibly funny when she found out he'd been telling the truth.

He had seen one, a big armored lizard with red scales, yellow eyes and wicked batwings. Talking about it, he'd acted much cooler then he actually felt. He definitely did not want to run into that thing again. It had scared the shit out of him and he'd seen it from a distance. He apparently didn't know the half of it because just the mention of it had Granger shaking like a leaf.

In any case, he hoped that was the last wyvern he would see. Ever.

Draco stretched his arms above his head, arching his back with a yawn. He was sick of walking. He was about ready for a rest and was sort of surprised that Granger hadn't dropped yet. She was just kind of plodding along, slow and steady like, and it was getting on his nerves.

The trees were growing sparse around them and the ground was becoming sandy. Granger was taking them into some kind of gully. He frowned and turned a circle while he walked. This was weird. The ground was grainy, freshly turned soil, dirt walls were rising on either side of them.

Were they even going in the right direction?

Dumb bitch. Probably hadn't looked at her compass since they left the clearing.

" Hey fluffy, where the hell are we going?"

Granger glanced back at him blankly and pointed forward as if to say 'this way, duh'.

Dumb ugly skank.

The ground began to slope downwards slightly as the walls rose. The sandy earth sunk beneath his feet. Granger walked forward without care but Draco stopped short, some warning feeling of discomfort stirring in his belly. There was a sheer wall about two hundred feet directly in front of him. So the damn gully was a dead end. What the hell were they walking down here for?

Granger stopped and looked back at him impatiently.

" Where are we going?" he demanded.

She said nothing.

Something bothered him about the way she was standing. Unease coiled deep inside him.

"This better not be one of your stupid tricks."

Granger pointed forward again.

" SAY SOMETHING!" he shouted at her.

She gazed at him passively, staring right through him.

This had to be some little scheme she cooked up. Well, she was about to get her ass kicked for screwing with him.

He took two threatening steps forward and jerked to a halt as the ground beneath him trembled.

What the fucking hell…

" Granger…" He stared at her and realized suddenly, the hair erecting on the back of his neck, that though she was standing in the soft earth, she had left no footprints in the soil.

And in the distance someone was shouting.

Draco jerked around, listening intently. Another person! He couldn't believe it.

For a moment he thought he'd lost the sound, but it came again, very faintly.

" Maaaalfoy…"

Another person who knew his name? No… that sounded like Granger.

Very slowly he turned to face the girl standing at the heart of the gully. She was watching him, not paying any attention at all to the shouting. She beckoned him forward.

He concentrated on what the far away voice was saying.

" Malfoy! It’s a trick! Malfoy! That's not me! Get away from her! Wherever she's taking you, don't go!"

That was definitely Granger and he'd been right. This was a trap.

The ground trembled again. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Get away, huh? All fine and well except he was afraid to move. The gully was a dead end, there was nothing in front of him except the Granger doppelganger. But he knew, with a cold certainty, that there was something else here, something he couldn't see. There had to be. Why else lead him here?

Very slowly, he reached down and touched the hilt of his knife.

It warmed under his fingers, quicker and hotter than before. The warmth against his hand didn't startle him like before, now it was comforting. It was heat, energy. Isn't that what Borgin had said? That it would absorb the energy around it? He could only assume that since he wore the knife and used it, that it was his energy making the blade hot, it was his, ready to use and full of possibilities.

His fingers wrapped around the hilt firmly and he drew the blade from the sheath. The warmth spread up his arm and instantly the scene before him changed. The Granger doppelganger disappeared, vanished like a mirage and he saw what made the ground shake.

Fifty feet in front of him in the sunken ground was a huge hole, a burrow, and something enormous was waiting just inside. It could have been a giant spider, but it wasn't. Maybe it was just part spider. Four humongous, sickly thin spider legs poked out of the den, two on each side of the entrance. The things head looked something like a huge skinned cat's head, red and taut with muscle, but that didn't being to describe it. It had three large multi-faceted eyes that he was certain were fixed on him. Its jaw hung slack, each of its fangs were probably as long as his arm, drooling strands leaking out dripping and burning on the ground and some sort of yellow smoke billowed out with each breath.

It was the ugliest sonovabitch he'd ever see.

He was a dead man.

He didn’t know what the fuck that thing was, but he was betting it would have him before he could make it out of the gully.

He began to back away slowly, eyes locked on the monster. The thing tensed, he saw it go still and ready, jaws closing, like a cat about to pounce. He was scared shitless but he suddenly felt a wicked smile curve his mouth and he knew it wasn't his own. His eyes flicked to the knife in his hand for just a split second, and the monster exploded out of its den.

Draco screamed, scuttling backwards as fast as he could, not daring to turn his back. Two of the spider legs came at him with barbed tips, apparently to impale him. One leg missed him, the other came right at him. He swung the knife as hard as he could, and, amazingly, the blade sliced cleanly through the leg when it should have, by all rights, bounced off the scaly armor.

Two more legs came at him and Draco careened backwards and slammed into the wall, a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea overtaking him. He hit the dirt on his butt, clenching the dagger in both hands, heart pounding in his throat, unable to get enough breath. He was a sitting duck. The creature lunged for him, scrabbling it legs, tearing up the ground in front of him but it never came any closer. He just sat there in a dazed stupor, frozen in shock.

The monster screamed in fury and then suddenly went still. His eyes were huge as they locked on the beast. It was half out of its den, supported, as far as he could tell, by its spider legs. It held its wounded leg, dripping some vile black fluid, off the ground, as if not exactly sure what to do with it. If the wound hurt it at all, Draco couldn't tell. The glittering eyes were locked on him but the monster held perfectly still.

Why wasn't he dead? Why hadn't it killed him?

Then he realized it couldn't. It was unable to leave its den fully. From about the middle of its back down it was either too big to come out or attached to its den somehow. It couldn’t actively hunt. It wouldn’t have used a lure if it could. Its prey needed to be within lunging distance of its burrow.

The boy gulped hard, his head throbbing. The monster's nearest leg was about ten feet away and that was stretched all the way out. He was out of striking distance.

Very carefully, he tried to stand, only to flop back down again. His whole body felt weak, boneless, like a ragdoll. This was embarrassing! Why the fuck was he suddenly so weak? Was he in shock? No way, he wasn't that much of a pussy. Maybe that monster let off poison or something and he'd breathed it in.

He tried to stand again and the world spun.

I will not throw up. I will not throw up.

He collapsed back down and the monster tensed again, head bobbing slightly and Draco could see that it was just dying to lunge, just wishing it could move a little further out. He was still entirely too close to it for his peace of mind. He began to scoot clumsily backwards on the ground, still facing the creature. He could almost see the disappointment on its face as its dinner dragged himself away.

He managed, just barely, to drag himself far enough away from the monster's burrow that the creature gave up and sank back inside its den. Draco didn't sheath his knife till he was certain the thing wasn't coming back out and then he had to kind of peel his fingers off the grip. He'd been clutching it so tight his knuckles were white. He sat, hunched over and panting, for nearly fifteen minutes until the strange weakness began to fade and he felt a little bit of strength return to his limbs.

When his head had stopped throbbing, he forced himself to get moving. Granger was still screaming her fool head off somewhere in the background but he couldn't pinpoint the direction.



Then an excited, "MALFOY! I'M OVER HERE!"

Oh, that helped.


"WHICH STREAM?" He shouted just to be difficult.

She didn't dignify that with an answer.

Weary to his bones, Draco plodded towards the stream, completely devoid of his usually limitless, hyperactive energy, though he did seem to be getting stronger the further away he got from the monster's den. When he finally staggered out of the brush towards the sound of a trickling creek, one look at the cool clear water had him flopping down on his belly to drink, completely disregarding Granger's lecture on sphagnum moss. He didn't care if he got sick, he needed water. He hadn't realized until that moment how parched his throat was. He drank until his stomach hurt and splashed his face, rinsing away dirt and sweat.

He slopped his wet hair back, water dripping down his face.


She answered immediately, her voice sounding a lot closer.


Draco spun towards the sound of her voice. She was to the west of him.


He hiked upstream, following the twisting ribbon of water until he caught sight of black robes and bushy hair and a pale anxious face. A strange feeling washed through him, and it took him a moment to realize, to his amazement and utter embarrassment, that he was relieved to see her, that there was a measure of safety in her presence and he was grateful to have it back. Granger's eyes swept over him brusquely, checking him for injuries but she didn't approach him. When he seemed to be all in one piece, her expression turned fierce.

"Hurry up and get over here!" she snapped, "I've got to close the circle."

What? Ah, forget it. At this point, he didn't give a shit.

He trudged past her and saw her sprinkle what looked like leaves and bark over the area he'd just passed through.

"There." She said with satisfaction, brushing her hands off on her robes.

Draco found a place to sit and sank down before his knees could give way, "Do you have any idea how crazy that looked?"

She whirled, ready to lay into him and froze, her eyes going wide. Draco felt a jolt go through him when she faced him fully, his jaw going slack in shock.

Several things struck Draco at once. One being that the girl in front of him was incredibly lovely and two being that she did not look a thing like the doppelganger he'd followed to the monster's nest.

And that didn't make any sense at all.

It had been Granger he followed. He'd looked the mirage in the face and seen Granger. But here was the real Granger and there was absolutely no comparison between the two. The mirage had been dull and homely, bordering on ugly. This girl, looking wild and wind-kissed, was beautiful, even with the film of sweat and smudge of dirt on her nose.

Granger seemed just as stunned as he felt. They stared at each other in mutual fascination for a moment before they both simultaneously turned away. Granger's cheeks were pink.

"What happened to you anyway?" her voice was slightly strained.

"No, first tell me what you were doing." It came out defensively, almost harshly.

"Oh, I…when we left the clearing we left behind our protection. I was thinking I could make sort of an amateur circle of protection using the essence of other protective trees and anchoring the circle to one or more living protective trees. I used…"

Draco waved his hand, cutting her off," Get to the point."

Granger risked a quick irritated glance at him, then sighed, " Monsters bad. Ash tree good. Circle protect. Yay!"

Draco snickered, eyes shut as he leaned his head back against the tree behind him, "Got it."

" Now what happened?"

" How did you know something was wrong?" again he evaded her question.

Granger made an impatient noise. She found a place to sit across from him, still refusing to look at him and grabbed her backpack, hauling it into her lap to fish through it, "Well, I didn't at first. I was just walking and you were following me and then I got to the stream and you were just standing there and I realized it wasn't you."

"How did you realize it wasn't me?" he cracked an eye open to glare at her suspiciously.

"I fell on my face and you didn't laugh." Her tone was dry.

"Definitely not me." He smirked.

"Exactly. I realized it was some sort of visual enchantment and washed my face in the water. Then the image was gone. I figured if a mirage-Malfoy was following me then you were following a mirage-me. I was right?"

Draco nodded, " Yeah, you…or it…or whatever led me to this hole in the ground with a giant-ass monster inside. A real big, ugly mother fucker."

" What did it look like?"

" It had spider legs and like a cat head but no fur, more like spikes and scales. It had three eyes, big ones, like fly eyes, and it tried to stab me with its legs. It couldn't come all the way out of its den, though, or it would have killed me."

Granger was silent for a moment, "Did it breathe yellow smoke?"

Draco felt his lip curl, suspicion gnawing in his belly, "Yes."

"It was an antlion. I've never seen one of course but I've read about them and…"

"You know an awful lot for someone who wasn't there." He growled, accusingly.

Something was wrong with this picture. There was no way she could have just figured everything out by guessing.


"You just sort of guessed that I was being led somewhere. Guessed that it was a visual enchantment. Why would something that caused people to be led somewhere enchant you so you were being followed?"


"Fuck." He was on his feet, anger coursing through him in black waves, "You set me up, didn't you."

"I what?" her voice turned sharp.

"You've thought about nothing all day except getting revenge on me. This was one of your stupid payback schemes, wasn't it?"

Granger was on her feet and yelling, "Malfoy, will you listen to yourself! You're crazy! When did I have time to go out and find an antlion? How would I manage to get it to enchant you and not me?"

" You could have found it when I was gone for three days!"

She started to yell and stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she tried again," Malfoy," she began slowly, as if he were very stupid, " If I wanted to kill you, I'd poison you. It would be much simpler then finding some giant monster to eat you and risk it eating me too. And for the record, I have no intentions of killing you. I figure you'll suffer more if you live."

Touché. Every second in her presence was suffering. Okay, so maybe he was overreacting a bit but still, she knew too much for his peace of mind.

" This is exactly what I was talking about." The girl closed her eyes tiredly, rubbing the bridge of her nose, " We're going to spend the next couple of days completely paranoid and completely suspicious of each other and jumping out of our skins because…"

" Don't say it Granger," he growled, "We're not having a truce."

" Fine." She flung up her hands up in disgust, "But don't jump on me every time a pinecone falls and scream that I tried to kill you."

She picked up her backpack and walked back towards the stream where she'd set up camp. A small fire was burning, filling the air with sweet scented smoke. Draco followed her.

"By the way," she began, her back to him, "it might be a good idea from now on for you to stick close by, instead of running off all the time. Just until we find a place to camp anyway. That way, if you disappear I'll have a general idea of where to search."

"Fuck that, I can take care of myself."

She turned towards him, honey-brown eyes narrow and stalked over to him, "Oh yeah? Well I wish that were true, because from over here it seems like you're turning out to be much more trouble then you're worth." She poked him in the belly and he jerked back, gasping in astonishment, "So cut the Captain Adventure routine and stop trying to get yourself killed."

His hand flew to his stomach, a startled scowl on his face, completely taken aback by what he knew to be, coming from her, an incredibly bold move. She gave him a cheeky smile and walked away.

"Bitch." He muttered, just to be saying something.

She was really pretty. As pretty as, if not prettier, than Pansy. Though Pansy was attractive in a sharp, high fashion way, all hard angles and bright colors, glitz and glamour. The girl in front of him had a softer beauty, made of smokey eyes, candlelight and velvet.

This was really creeping him out. Was this another trick? If Granger really looked like this, how come he'd never noticed before?
He asked, before he could stop himself, because he had to know, he blurted, " Did the mirage-me look weird, like it wasn't really me?"

Granger's eyes flicked to his than quickly away. He saw her pause, go still in a way that he knew meant she was thinking her answer over very carefully.

" I thought it was you." She said finally, " I thought it looked exactly like you. But now that you're here, I realize it didn't look like you at all."

He opened his mouth, shut it, " How can that even be possible? How could you see something that doesn't look at all like me and think it looks exactly like me?"

Granger was silent a long time, " I think…well, it was a visual enchantment. Our brains created the mirages that we saw. I think… I think what we saw was not the visual reality, it was just based on visual reality. Like, what I saw was my brain's perception of you, not the real you, but how I perceive you subconsciously in my mind." She turned and looked him in the eye, "To put it bluntly, our hatred for one another skews our brain's perception of each other."

He sat down next to the fire, digesting her words, " What was different about the mirage-me?" he asked finally.

Granger seemed to debate whether or not to answer him, then shrugged, " You were bigger, meaner and uglier than you really are."

" Oh." His lips twisted in a sneer, " Well, I saw a troll then and I see a troll now."

She sighed, " That's nice, Malfoy. Here." She reached into her bag, pulled out a fruit and tossed it to him, "This'll shut you up."

He was too hungry to refuse the food.

She continued watching him with the same look on her face that she'd had the entire time she'd studied the Shutoeis. A kind of cool, quizzical, scientific gaze. She tapped her lips once and straightened.

" This is actually really interesting. I would love to study how our views of the world change our perception of reality. Like the way you were raised, with Voldemort practically shoved down your throat since you were a baby..."

He choked on his fruit, swallowing quickly.

" Shut the fuck up. You don't know anything about me."

She made the mistake of trying to placate him by explaining herself further," I'm just saying that with everything they've been drilling into your head…"

He cut her off again, yelling, " Don't you dare act like I'm some kind of poor, brainwashed sap! I have a mind of my own. I believe what I believe because I figured out for myself that it was true not because my father, or anyone else, told me what to believe and I decided to blindly follow them."

She squirmed uncomfortably, her voice hesitant, " I'm not talking about on a conscious level. I'm talking about stuff they told you when you were very small, in conversations you can't even remember. The way they are, I think its amazing that you even see a human being when you look at me."

" MUGGLES AREN'T HUMAN." He shouted and she jerked backwards with a start.

He glared at her in utter loathing, giving her all his disgust and hatred and frustration. She stared back at him, her face oddly neutral.

" So I'm not human." She said slowly, evenly.

" Muggles aren't human." He repeated, biting the words off.

For just a split second, so fast he nearly missed it, she looked like she was about to cry, but just like that it was gone and she gave him a long appraising look, the scientist look.

" So I was right the first time." She murmured and turned her back on him, walking away.

Draco was on his feet in an instant, enraged without really knowing why," But I notice you didn't disagree with me about the Muggles." He shouted after her, " So, what, you agree with me? Aren't you going to defend yourself? Tell me how deluded I am? Aren't you going to strike a self-righteous pose and tell me that your blood is as red as my own? Or maybe that we're all brothers on the inside? C'mon Muddy, this is pathetic even for you."

But she wouldn't answer and she didn't speak to him again that night.

Next Time: The trek home is underway. The tension is rising, tempers are flaring and something is seriously wrong with Draco. …again…

A/N: I am so freaking glad to be done with this chapter. I literally rewrote it completely about 4 times and I'm still not completely happy with it.

And don't worry, barring some sort of natural disaster or act of God, next chapter will not take 5 weeks to be posted.

The official pronunciation of Shutoei is now "Shut Eye" cuz of Wiggy. Wiggy says: "I thought it was Shut-eye because of counting sheep when you can't sleep." I love that. I wish I thought of it.

Jules37: Things will be getting more turbulent, a lot more turbulent actually, but I do promise fluff. They just have to struggle for it a little bit.

Campy Capybara: Wow, you've apparently spent some time analyzing the characters. I won't get into a discussion here (its in the email) but I will say that while I actually do think loyalty is an important Gryffindor trait as far as it is based in chivalry, Hermione's motivations for her actions had nothing to do with it and everything to do with Gryffindor heroics and her own a… Продолжение »
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