"No, Malfoy, stop! Don't—Moody's magical eyeball, you've killed Granger. Again!"
Terry Boot threw down his wand in disgust and stomped away, muttering something about bloody Slytherins and their blasted stubbornness. Ernie Macmillan simply stood there shaking his head, his arms folded across his chest.
Draco scowled. Behind him, their trainer Bill Weasley revived Granger with a Rennervate before helping her up from the floor of the simulated Egyptian tomb. She was covered in sand, dead scarab beetles, and what, to the uninitiated, appeared to be blood. After countless reenactments of this scenario (with the same outcome every bloody time), Draco knew it was actually a combination of corn syrup and raspberry jam.
That didn't make it any less sticky, nor did it make Weasley any less angry.
"Malfoy! Get your team-killing arse over here," he bellowed. Macmillan gave him a look and scuttled away. Draco sneered at Weasley, mostly out of habit, but did as he was bid.
The tall, scarred, ginger man glowered at him as he approached. Bill Weasley was an excellent curse breaker and a good teacher, but his training methods were relentless and he didn't brook argument. Draco knew he was in for a dressing down. He'd "killed" Granger at least half a dozen times already during this team exercise with Boot and Macmillan. In fact, the four of them were the only team not to have passed yet. There was no doubt that it was getting on Weasley's nerves.
Standing beside Weasley, Granger was shaking sand out of that bushy mane of hers, glaring at Draco the whole time. He glared back. If he wasn't so angry at her and himself, he would have admired the way her khaki trainee uniform clung to her curves. He wasn't able to fully appreciate her assets, however, as he was annoyed beyond measure at how she had once again refused to follow his direction, and instead went off on her own and got herself killed.
"Enjoying the taste of raspberry jam, Granger?" he asked as he came to a stop in front of Weasley. "You should just admit your addiction. I could buy you a jarful and save us all this trouble."
"Actually, I've become quite tired of it, Malfoy," Granger snarked back. "I do wish you'd stop spreading it all over me all the time."
Draco leered. "In your darkest fantasies, Granger."
She opened her mouth to retort, but Weasley stepped between them.
"That's enough, the pair of you!" he growled. Nostrils flared, his scars stood out sharply against his livid face. He was angry, he was part-werewolf, and he wasn't afraid to use it.
"You two have repeatedly sabotaged your team's efforts with your pigheaded refusals to work together," he began, but Granger interrupted him.
"But Bill, I specifically cast Wadnam's Time Reversal Spell on the sarcophagus when the scarabs appeared because—"
"—which was unnecessary, Granger, because I'd already cast Farley's Pinch-Hitter Escribere Charm at the same time when the hieroglyphics began to glow—"
"See, that proves it!" Granger jabbed Draco in the chest with an accusing, sticky finger. "It was your fault that the hieroglyphics obelisk fell over onto me instead of—"
"ENOUGH!" Weasley yelled. Dust fell from the tops of the simulated tomb columns surrounding them. The sarcophagus itself shifted on its plinth. Even the fake dead scarabs seemed to cower when faced with Weasley's Wrath.
I'll bet he's a submissive, Draco thought.
"You two have been getting in each other's way since Day One!" Weasley said. He began to pace. "You haven't once tried to compromise on an idea for the good of the team, and as a result, your group is consistently in last place in the trials!" He pointed at Draco. "I don't care how many Vanishing Cabinets you've repaired in your life," he snarled, ignoring Draco's wince. "You aren't working alone now. Trust is a must! One false move and you—or a teammate—" He gestured with his thumb in Granger's direction. "—are dead!"
Granger was smirking, which annoyed Draco to no end, but the smirk vanished when Weasley rounded on her. "And you, Hermione!" He wagged his finger at her. "You, I expected to be better at working with your peers. You, Harry, and my idiot brother did manage to survive for almost a year on your own, after all. You escaped from the Gringotts' dragon and even Malfoy's mad Aunt Bellatrix's clutches without losing a single one of you, and yet here—" He swept his hand around, indicating the entire tomb simulation. "—you still haven't got past Pillar One without being killed!"
He shook his head. "How can you two be so bad at curse breaking teamwork? I know you are capable of working with others. Macmillan and Boot don't have this problem with each other, and you two do fine when you are paired with either one of them."
He held up a hand, cutting off any protest Granger might have made. "I don't want to hear any excuses, Hermione," he said, exhaustion evident in his voice. "I've had it. I don't care how good you are individually. Breaking curses in real life doesn't allow for do-overs. You have got to be able to work together. No ifs, ands, or buts."
He shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "You two obviously have some things to work out between you. Hit the showers, Granger. You too, Malfoy. When you're cleaned up, come see me in my office. You both have one last chance to pass the teamwork test or else you are out of this program. I value Macmillan and Boot too highly to saddle them with you two prideful gits." With that, Bill Weasley glared at the two of them, turned on his heel, and left.
Draco couldn't help himself. Despite the pit in his stomach that had formed at the words "one last chance", he wiggled his eyebrows at Granger.
"Very mature, Malfoy," she hissed. "Why do you keep ignoring my suggestions during these simulations? I do know what I'm doing!"
"So do I, Granger! Would it kill you to listen to my ideas once in a while?"
Granger snorted. "Apparently, yes!" She gestured at her jam-covered clothing.
Draco stepped forward, glaring down at her. "You got yourself into that jam, Granger, because once again, you didn't listen to me."
Draco noticed that Granger's gaze kept dropping from his eyes to his lips as he spoke. She licked her own lips in an unconscious gesture. Curious. Was she interested in him?
He gave her a knowing smile. She blushed, stuck her very pink tongue out at him, and stomped off, taking her raspberry jam-encrusted self away to the showers. Draco followed her, watching her bum as she marched ahead of him and trying unsuccessfully to drive the image of a naked Granger under a spray of hot water out of his mind.
O o O o O
All had been going fairly well until they'd actually arrived at the campsite.
Weasley hadn't told them what they'd be doing. He'd simply handed them a Portkey, a large knapsack, and two sleeping bags. "You'll find your instructions at the site," he'd said, just before the Portkey activated.
They'd landed in the middle of a clearing in an unfamiliar forest. The sun had set about an hour before and the air was chilly. Draco rummaged around inside the pack, pulling out two winter coats and a bundle of canvas and stakes. A glass jar with a piece of paper inside fell to the mossy ground, which luckily kept it from breaking. Granger had snatched it up before Draco could grab it.
The note contained a short set of instructions from Weasley. This forest, he'd written, was one of the few locations where the rare Moondew plant grew. Their orders were simple: pitch the tent, locate the Moondew, and collect enough of its pollen to fill the glass jar. Then they just had to survive until morning without freezing to death.
They were to do it all of this without using magic, incidentally.
Their wands would be tested upon their return. If it was determined that they'd used magic for anything other than a life-threatening emergency, they would fail the test. The terse note also told them that Weasley had placed detection charms on all of their equipment. He'd know if they didn't work together to do the task. They wouldn't be able to Disapparate. Their Portkey (the same backpack) would activate the next morning.
Basically, they were stuck here for the night. Draco stared at Hermione in disbelief after hearing the instructions.
"He must be joking," he said. "No magic?"
"What's the matter, Malfoy? Afraid of a little manual labour?"
"No," Draco retorted, "but a Warming Charm would be nice right about now."
As if to emphasize this point, a bitter wind gusted through the trees. They both shivered, as they were only wearing light short-sleeved shirts and cargo pants. Donning one of the two coats, Draco wordlessly held the other one open for Granger. He shook it irritably at her when she eyed him suspiciously, but then the wind blew again and she quickly turned around and allowed him to help her put the coat on.
She murmured her thanks, and then grabbed the jumbled mass of canvas and tent poles and proceeded to actually attempt to assemble the thing.
At first, he simply watched her, standing guard over their two sleeping bags. He enjoyed watching her bend and flex while she tried to construct their sleeping quarters, and he allowed himself a short fantasy about canoodling with her inside the small tent. Finally he realized he had a better chance of sharing sleeping bags with her, so to speak, if he showed willingness to help out in this situation.
When he offered to help, she flashed him a genuine smile, startling him with its warmth. Then she put him to work, directing him to put Pole A into Slot B, which he immediately illustrated with ribald quips. She told him repeatedly to shut up, but he couldn't help noticing her cute little blushes and sideways glances. Granger was flirting with him! That sudden knowledge was almost as effective as a Warming Charm.
Now, they were almost finished, except for one stray rod of metal.
"Here! Look." Granger triumphantly brandished the manual at him. "That piece of tent pole is used as a brace at the front of the tent to keep the 'threshold' secure."
Draco crawled to the front of the tiny tent, squinted in the dark, and then shoved the rod into the empty slot he finally located in the canvas at the bottom of the entry flap. It fit. A faint ginger glow suddenly filled the tent and the clearing in which they were situated. It lasted for about thirty seconds before fading.
"It seems we've passed that first step," noted Draco. He shoved the two sleeping bags in and crawled in after them.
"What are you doing, Malfoy?" Granger asked. "We can't go to sleep yet. We still have to find those flowers."
"Yes," Draco drawled, unrolling the bags and spreading them out. "But trust me, Granger. It's better to get this done first. Don't you think we'll be rather tired and want to just sack out when we get back here?" He sat back on his haunches to survey his work. The bags didn't really fit. They overlapped down one long edge. He frowned but then noticed that the two sleeping bags could actually be zipped together, creating one big sleeping bag for two people to share.
One could only hope.
"Hmm. It looks rather crowded," Granger said just over his shoulder, making him jump. She'd stuck her head in through the tent flap to observe.
He turned his head to look at her. Their faces were so close together his cheek brushed against hers. So soft, he thought. "Yes, well," he stuttered, clearing his throat. "Perhaps that's for the best. Conservation of body heat and all that."
Granger withdrew, and Draco crawled backwards out of the tent. He made sure to flex his arse muscles as he stood and was rewarded with the sound of a feminine gasp. He smirked to himself. When he turned around, Granger's eyes snapped upward, guiltily, to his face. She was decidedly flushed in the cheeks. He grinned.
"Well! That's sorted, then," she said briskly, rubbing her hands together and blowing on them. "Thank you, Malfoy. So. That just leaves the gathering of the Moondew pollen." She looked up. There was no moonlight. Only stars could be seen peeking through the treetops.
"There's a new moon tonight. A bit of luck there. Moondew pollen has to be collected under a new moon in order to be effective."
"I'm sure it was no happy accident, Granger. Weasley's intimately acquainted with the cycles of the moon," Draco drawled.
"What a terrible thing to say, Malfoy!"
He shrugged. "It's true, isn't it?"
"Only because of his having been savaged by Greyback! If you hadn't let those Death Eaters into the school with your bloody Vanishing Cabinet—"
"Greyback wasn't a Death Eater and I had no idea they'd be dragging him along!" Draco said, forcing himself to remain calm. "And not that it's any of your business, but I had a heart-to-heart talk with Weasley months ago, during my curse breaker interview. I apologized to him for my role in his maiming, he accepted my apology graciously, and then we spent the rest of the time discussing my process for fixing that 'bloody Vanishing Cabinet'."
She glared at him. He glared back. Then she said, in a quiet voice, "You did?"
He nodded, his arms folded. "Yes. I did. If he doesn't blame me for it, why should you?"
She bit her lip. "I'm…sorry, Malfoy."
"Thanks, Granger." He gave her a small smile. "To be perfectly honest, I think it was my mad woodworking skills that got me this job."
She stared at him for a moment before releasing a surprised burst of laughter. Draco chuckled, too. It was the first time they'd ever shared a laugh. It felt good.
Granger gradually stopped laughing, but she was still smiling. "All right, Malfoy. Let's go find those flowers and pass this test."
"There's just one small snag, Granger. Both of us have used Moondew pollen before, but do you know what a Moondewplant looks like?"
She shook her head. "No." She held up a book. "Not yet, that is."
"Where did that come from?"
"It was in the pocket of this coat," she said, smugly. "It's a field guide to magical flowers."
"That was terribly convenient, wasn't it," Draco said.
He reached for the book but Granger pulled it out of his reach. He settled for looking over her shoulder as she flipped through the pages. She stopped on one in the middle. "Here it is," she said, poking the picture. "It says the Moondew plant is only found in Scotland. They grow in deep, dark areas in well-shaded forests. They are most easily found by the faint, silvery glow they emit. Their pollen is used in many potions, including the Draught of Living Death. The pollen is only efficacious if collected during a new moon." She closed the book and headed for the trees. "Let's go, then."
Draco picked up the glass jar. "Forgetting something, Granger?" He smirked.
Granger rolled her eyes. "Of course not, Malfoy," she said. "I was trusting that you would bring it along." She winked and headed into the forest.
With a grin slowly spreading across his face, Draco followed her.
O o O o O
Almost two hours later, they found themselves staring over the edge of a deep ravine.
"Oh, Merlin, Draco. Look how far down it is!" Her voice shook. She gripped his hand, hard. Her own hand was cold and sweating.
Draco looked at Granger in surprise, startled by her use of his first name. She looked miserable. He'd always scoffed at her dislike of flying, thinking it was just her Muggle upbringing. Seeing her this way now, he realized there was obviously a deeply-seated fear of heights.
He sighed. A large, glowing mass of Moondew flowers were growing at the bottom of the ravine. It was about thirty feet deep, and the walls were almost vertical, with very few discernible handholds. There was a dead tree wedged between the walls about halfway down. How were they to get the flowers? They couldn't use magic. They had no rope. There were no vines, this being a Scottish forest and not a jungle. All they had were… themselves. A hyperventilating, frightened young woman and a spoiled, half-frozen young man. As he listened to Granger's panicky breathing, Draco began to form a plan.
"Granger," he said. "I know how we are going to do this. Follow my lead."
So saying, Draco dropped onto his stomach, swung his legs out over the fallen tree in the ravine, and began to lower himself down to its trunk. There were a few handholds here, in the form of tree roots and saplings mainly, and he was able to reach the tree fairly quickly. He picked his way around the broken branches carefully so he could look down at the ravine floor. He gauged the distance—the flowers were about ten feet below them.
He smiled and looked up at Granger. "Come on down, you big brave Gryffindor. What are you waiting for?"
Granger's pale little face looked over the edge at him. He could barely make out her features. "But… but how will we get back up, Draco?"
"There are plenty of handholds. We'll be able to get back up, don't worry. Come on. I'm right here. I won't let you fall. I have a plan." He held his hands up to her. When she still hesitated, he taunted, "Well? Which is it, Granger? Are you a lion or a scaredy cat?"
That did it. He couldn't see her well, but he could imagine the stubborn set to her jaw. She got down on her belly and carefully edged her bum out over the lip of the ravine, right above his head. She began to pick her way down. He could just make out her outline in the dark—thank Salazar for his Seeker's eyesight!—and he took a firm hold of her ankles as soon as they were within reach. He helped her down the rest of the way, his hands grasping her knees, hips, and then waist, until finally she was in his arms, feet firmly planted on the great tree trunk. "You made it, Granger. Nicely done." She closed her eyes, gasping, and clung to him. He rubbed her back soothingly. He could get used to this.
When her breathing had slowed slightly, he said, "Are you ready? It's time for the next bit."
"What is the next bit?" Granger's voice was soft but shrill. "We're still about ten feet up, Draco. We can't reach the flowers from here!"
"Not yet we can't. But we will."
He let go of her and pulled the glass jar out of his coat's inner pocket. He handed it over and sat down on the trunk. He'd found a long, sturdy branch still attached to the tree, just about as thick as a broomstick. It was perfect for what he had in mind. He slid out onto it slowly, testing it. It held his weight with no trouble. Yes, it was just like riding his Nimbus 2001. He wrapped his legs around it securely.
"Come here, Granger," he said, holding out a hand to her. "I'll lower you down and hold onto you. Then you'll be able to reach the flowers. Enough to scrape their pollen into the jar, at any rate."
"What? How… oh no!"
Draco showed her. He flipped himself over so he was upside down on the branch, his legs still holding on securely. "See? I do this all the time in Quidditch." He righted himself. "You've seen me do it, Granger. You know I can hold on. Trust me," he added, holding his hand out to her once more.
Her gaze met his. He could see her eyes, barely, in this dark ravine. They were shining with starlight and tears. He waited, patiently. If she didn't find her bravery, they weren't going to be able to do this, and they'd fail the test.
"If I don't do this, we'll fail, won't we?" she muttered. Draco said nothing. It was rather obvious. Another minute passed, and then he heard her mutter "what the hell" under her breath before she reached to take his hand. He smiled. Guiding her out onto the branch, he coaxed her to sit facing him. Once she was in position, he wrapped his arms around her.
"Ready?" he asked, and before she could change her mind, he flipped both of them over to hang upside down beneath the branch.
Hermione shrieked. She tried to grab him, but since she was holding the jar she couldn't. He'd been ready for this reaction, though, and he had pulled her securely against his chest as they'd flipped. Now, his thighs were straining a bit with the effort of holding them both, but it was nothing he couldn't handle.
"Now, I'll lower you down, slowly," he whispered in her ear.
She whimpered and shivered, but nodded. "Don't… please don't let go of me, Draco."
"I won't," he promised. "You can trust me, Hermione. I'll never let go."
With that, Draco Malfoy cautiously lowered Hermione Granger down toward the forest floor. By holding her ankles, he was able to get her close enough to the flowers. He concentrated on his breathing and his grip and tried not to notice the way both her coat and her shirt slid to expose her creamy white stomach and back.
His heart filled with admiration for her. She was impressive. Despite her fear, she worked quickly and efficiently, scraping copious amounts of pollen into the jar. Thank goodness the flowers were bountiful. In very little time, Granger had filled the jar to the brim and screwed on the lid. It glowed briefly with the same ginger aura they'd seen earlier. They'd done it!
"I'm done!" she called. "Pull me up now, Draco."
Thank Salazar for his Seeker's abs! Quickly, he had Granger back in his arms and then up onto the tree trunk. He pulled himself up next to her. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Draco kissed her back and hugged her to him. "You were brilliant," he murmured in her ear. He felt her smile against his neck.
He stowed the jar in his coat's inner pocket, and together they made their way back up the side of the ravine. Using the silvery, moon-like glow of the jar full of pollen, they made their way back to the campsite.
O o O o O
"Well then," Granger murmured. She stirred the fire with a stick, sending sparks into the air. Draco had found matches in an inside pocket of his coat. "We retrieved the pollen."
Draco nodded. "We did, indeed," he said. "Despite great personal risk." He picked up the glass jar and shook it. The Moondew pollen glowed softly.
Granger reached over and took the jar from him. She placed it carefully inside the tent. "Thank you for not dropping me."
Draco smiled. "I told you I wouldn't."
She smiled back. "Yes, you did. And you should know that, even though I was scared the entire time, not once did I ever think you'd let go. Not for one second."
Her eyes were shining when he looked at her. Her lips were slightly parted and the light of the fire gave her hair a primitive appearance. The wild air about her was emphasized when she put her arms around his neck again and kissed him. This kiss was long, slow, and sizzling with promise. Draco buried his hands in her hair, holding her to him, and explored her mouth with his.
To his (by now, admittedly slight) surprise, Granger climbed into his lap and began to unbutton his shirt beneath his unzipped coat. He let her. He sucked in his breath as she slid her hands over his chest. "Well, of course I would never have let you fall to your death, Hermione," he said. "We needed to pass the test."
Granger laughed. He liked her laugh. She caressed his chest and his shoulders, causing him to gasp. He liked her hands, too.
"I think we definitely passed," he whispered, leaning forward to kiss her again. She stopped him with one finger over his lips. When he raised a questioning eyebrow, she gave him a sly smile, leaned over, and opened the tent flap behind them.
"Would you like to carry this on inside?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, please," murmured Draco. "I totally trust you." He grinned and slid his hands around her waist as he dragged her inside the tent. "In fact, let me show you how nicely the sleeping bags zip together," he said, as the tent flap closed behind them, sealing out the chill of the night.