Saturday, May 26, 2007

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter Eight – Presents and Presents

"Argm-rawam-raiken-darwarnasha," Ron grumbled through a mouthful of food.

"Well, then, it's good that you have double divination today, and every Wednesday following," Hermione replied. Years of listening to Ron talk while eating—and trying to stop him from doing it with no result—had given Hermione the unique skill of understanding what Ron said even when he was eating.

"As for me," Hermione continued smugly. "I have Arithmancy and Magical Theory on Wednesday mornings, which happen to be my favorite subjects."

"Ugh." Ron made a face of disgust. This time, even Harry could understand what Ron meant, despite the food in his mouth, and Harry agreed wholeheartedly that not only could he not see the point of Arithmancy, Professor Vector had no personality to speak of.

"Well," Hermione said as she waved her fork in the air. "You boys would not understand the beauty that is Arithmancy. But you really should know something about Magical Theory."

"I do," Harry said. "Know something."

At this, Hermione rolled her eyes. "Yes, the rudimentary stuff. And what I told you two nights ago. But it's actually quite fascinating. In fact, I do wish Malfoy would take it, since Professor Ansly discusses why mix-bloods or muggleborns are generally healthier and more powerful than purebloods." As an afterthought, Hermione added, "Of course, she also teaches Muggle Studies."

Ron swallowed his food, but he hadn't chewed it quite thoroughly enough, and his throat hurt. "That's probably why Malfoy doesn't take Magical Theory."

"Well, technically, Draco isn't a pureblood either," Harry pointed out. At his friends' incredulous looks, he added, "He's half-wizard, half-Nightmare."

A big smile stretched across Ron's face. "You're right! Blimey, Malfoy is a half-blood. The prince of Slytherins is a half-blood!"

"Actually," Hermione injected, her tone deflating Ron's happy bubble. "Purebloods consider any lineage with magic to be pureblood. Basically, all magical creatures are better than muggleborns."

"But... But..." Harry tried to find a fault in Hermione's logic.

"In any case," Hermione continued blithely. "Nightmares can only mate with wizards and witches, so if you counted it that way, Malfoy is less than one percent of a percent Nightmare. Obviously, though, he carries all the Nightmare traits, one hundred percent of them."

"Yeah," Ron agreed enthusiastically. "Especially the one where they don't have souls."

"He does. It's just under-developed. And you really shouldn't hold that against him," Hermione admonished. "He was born that way."

Ron's brown eyes widened. "Are you campaigning for Malfoy?"

Instead of answering Ron, Hermione began cutting her eggs stoically.

"Hermione!" Ron didn't get a chance to say anything else, though, as owls started sweeping into the Great Hall. With a thud, a letter and a box landed on the Gryffindor table.

Hermione picked up the box in front of her. It had been tied elaborately with gold ribbons. There was a little rose artfully placed within the ribbons. It, too, was gilded in gold. Finally, there was a card on top. 'Hermione,' it read simply.

Ron leaned over to look at Hermione's present. "Who is it from?" He asked suspiciously.

"I have no idea." Hermione shrugged a little as she pulled the card out from the envelop. "'Hermione,'" she read aloud, but read no more. Instead, she skimmed the rest of it.

"Well?" Ron prompted when she didn't say anymore.

Hermione finished her reading and sent Ron a glare. "It's private."

"What do you mean it's private?" Ron practically shouted. When Hermione didn't reply, Ron reached over and grabbed the letter from Hermione's unsuspecting hands.

"Give it back!" Hermione yelled.

"No," Ron answered firmly. Hermione jumped to try to get her letter back, but Ron was much taller than she was when he stood up. He held the paper high above him and ignored Hermione's attempts.

"'Hermione,'" Ron read. "'I thought of you last night as I put the book back onto the book shelf.' What book? 'Truly, you are the most wonderful person I have ever had the privilege to meet. So, I have sent you a rose and a box of chocolate—I hope you don't think I'm being too forward—' Who the hell is this? '—to thank you for our wonderful meetings. Honestly, though, you are sweeter than chocolate and more beautiful than roses, and I doubt anything in the world can compare to you. Sincerely, Blaise Zabini.'" Ron made a face of disgust. "Blaise Zabini?"

Hermione opted to remain silent. She wished she could control her blushing though.

"Honestly," Ron continued. "Who writes this kind of mushy drivel? Can he be any more fake?"

"Well," Parvati spoke up from across the table. "I thought it was rather romantic. And these are Godiva chocolates, too."

"Romantic?" Ron continued, scandalized. "There is clearly a plot here. A very nefarious plot. There is no way that Zabini would actually fall for Hermione."

"Accio letter," Hermione said, finally having gotten out her wand. She glared murderously at Ron. "I'm glad that you finally used 'nefarious' correctly," Hermione spat. "And just what do you mean that 'there is no way' he would like me. Are you implying something?"

"Hell yes!" Ron said. "Zabini is a Slytherin. He wouldn't tell you that you are beautiful and wonderful and sweet unless he had a reason to."

Ever the romantic, Parvati added hopefully, "Maybe he was just being honest."

"Well, then," Ron huffed. "He wouldn't have said those things."

At this, Hermione slapped Ron, the sound ringing out loudly through out the Great Hall. When the whole of the Great Hall quieted to listen to the dissension between the Gryffindor trio, though, Hermione turned calmly to Harry, as if nothing had happened. "Why don't you open your letter?" Hermione suggested.

Harry gulped. He didn't know whom the letter was from, but he really hoped that it would not share the same fate as Hermione's letter.

Unfortunately for him, Harry saw as he turned the letter over, that it was a howler. He groaned silently, but decided that since everybody was likely to hear the howler anyways, there was no point in waiting. Carefully, he opened his letter.

"Harry," the letter said evenly but loudly. The voice sounded familiar to Harry, a smooth tenor that intoned his name just so. "You're mine forever just as I am yours. Mine to love and mine to protect. I won't share you with anyone else."

With that, the letter burst into flames. Harry looked around hesitantly to see that most of the girls had a strange glazed look about them.

Finally, Parvati spoke up, "Who knew Malfoy was so romantic?"

"Malfoy?" Harry repeated in a strangled voice. But of course, who else would claim him like that, without a thought to his own embarrassment. And if Harry thought about it, Malfoy's voice would sound like this if he actually spoke something civil. This was so much worse than even the Valentine's card he had received in second year.

"Well," Lavender said. "That makes it quite clear that you are involved. If you ever want a third person, though, don't hesitate to ask me."

"Third person?" Harry asked, confused.

Lavender smiled, in what she hoped was a sexy way. It had looked good when she had practiced it in front of a mirror. "Just for fun, you know?"

"Um..." Harry stalled. He wasn't quite sure what Lavender meant. "I'll ask Draco."

"Okay." Lavender agreed but didn't let Harry off the hook. Her smile turned mischievous. "If he says no, we can always just keep him tied up or something."

"Lavender!" Hermione admonished. "I'm still trying to eat breakfast."

"Well," Lavender grumbled. "You have your Blaise Zabini."

Ron cut in hastily, not much inclined to hear more about Blaise Zabini. "I'm trying to eat, too."

At this, Lavender wasn't quite sure what to say. As Lavender fell silent, Hermione shot Lavender a smug smirk. Lavender narrowed her eyes back at Hermione.

"Well," Ron said finally. "I'm still single."

At this, Ginny looked up from where she sat beside Neville. "Well, I'm sure that if you were that desperate, Pansy Parkinson is still available."

"Ugh." Ron's face wrinkled in disgust. "I think I'd rather stay single, thank you very much."

Ginny tried to hide her laughter, but Ron heard it anyways. Ron groaned. Little sisters shouldn't be laughing at their big brothers because their big brothers were single. But of course, little sisters weren't supposed to have boyfriends either, and God knew that Ginny had had plenty of those.

Across the Great Hall, Draco and Blaise sat beside each other, eating breakfast with their fellow Slytherins.

Blaise shot Draco a glare. "You just had to one up on me, didn't you?"

"Of course," Draco drawled. "You might be a Slytherin, but I'm the Prince of Slytherins."

Blaise snorted at this. "That is such a self-made title."

"Besides," Draco continued as if Blaise didn't say anything. "It's the perfect opportunity to let everybody know that Harry is taken."

"As if the Gryffindor Gazette didn't do that already." Blaise paused, and then his tone became serious. "You didn't see the way Brown was eyeing your mate, did you?"

"Of course I did," Draco replied. "But I can take care of her easily enough. She'd be even easier than Fitch-Fletchley. Not only does she have no lineage to speak of, she doesn't have money either. Being a whore really suits her, actually."

"Too bad she can't hear your flattering observations."

"Too bad," Draco repeated airily. "Of course, I can always send her a couple of nightmares."

At this, Blaise Zabini pretended to shudder. "Oh, save me," he mocked. "For I cannot sleep without nightmares or even close my eyes without remembering them."

Draco glanced sideways at Blaise, who only smiled back innocently. "Do you really want me to show you what I mean?"

"No, it's okay. I believe you," Blaise replied hastily. "I still remember quite well that nightmare you decided to give me when I was five, about giant bananas jumping out of trees to attack me. And then when I was eight, you sent a really morbid one just after you read Seventeen Trickiest Hexes to Un-hex, and decided that since you were forbidden to try them in real life, you'd try them on me in a nightmare. And then when I was eleven..." He paused, noticing Draco's amused expression. "Do I really need to tell you all this?"

"Of course not," Draco said. "But it makes me happy to know that you still remember all those nightmares."

"Bastard," Blaise said.

"Not really, since my parents were bonded." Draco looked evenly at Blaise. "That's more than I can say for your parents, though."

"Well, my mother managed to convince my father by the time I was born."

"Yes," Draco said. "Your mother has always been very good at... convincing people."

"Not my fault she was a dark temptress," Blaise rejoined. "Or that she passed that trait down to me."

Draco took one look at Blaise's satisfied expression. "You're forgetting that she's also very good at Dark Arts, which she didn't pass down to you."

"Well, I'm a late bloomer."

"Of course," Draco allowed regally.

Blaise looked at Draco suspiciously. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm simply agreeing with you." Draco decided to pour himself a cup of coffee. "You said that you are a late bloomer, not me."

As usual, Blaise ended up with nothing to say, because he had said that he was a late-bloomer. One of these days, though, Blaise vowed, he was going to win Draco in an argument. Today, he satisfied himself by saying, "I hate you."

Draco smiled beatifically, completely unperturbed. "No, you don't. You're just jealous that you're not me."

"What do you want this time?" Snape asked Lucius irritably, upon finding Lucius in his suite. Again. "I just saw you two nights ago. You didn't even have a High Councilor meeting to rant about."

"Of course not, High Councilor meetings are every Sunday," Lucius agreed.

Snape sighed, and decided that he might as well give up now. He slumped down in the chair he usually reserved for students. Except, apparently, when Lucius called on him. Really, didn't a hard working teacher deserve some rest? Or maybe a spy? A guardian? Surely, one of those occupations...

"If I didn't know any better," Snape grumbled. "I'd say we were having an affair."

At this, Lucius smirked. "Unfortunately for me, I remain monogamous. And unfortunately for you, I'm not Remus Lupin."

Snape shot up in his seat. He knew he should remain stoic, but he felt his face blanching anyways. No matter how much Snape trusted Lucius with his life, they were both Slytherins, and so Snape wouldn't trust Lucius with his secret.

"Wh-What are you talking about?" Snape pretended not to know.

At this, Lucius's gray eyes sparkled with amusement. "You think you can hide that from me even though I have to heal all of your wounds? It's quite cute, actually."

"It's been a long time," Snape remarked wistfully and sighed. "Almost twenty years. You'd think I'd forget by now."

Lucius laughed. "You don't really expect to fool me with that, do you? You still think of him every time you go to sleep."

"Fine!" If Lucius didn't know any better, he would have said that Severus was sulking. "You know my deep, dark secret. What do you want in exchange?"

"Your 'deep, dark secret'?" Lucius repeated, raising one pale eyebrow. "I'm sure that is not even close to it, although I do know that it has something to do with that werewolf. In any case, I came because I forgot to ask you something last time. Theodore Nott is in your house, isn't he?"

"Nott?" Snape frowned, not understanding why Lucius would ask for Nott. "Of course. Not only is he pureblood, he's from a Death-Eater family. Why?"

"Well," Lucius drawled. "Can you possibly arrange a meeting between him and me?"

Snape looked at Lucius's face carefully. As usual, though, Lucius's face remained a cold mask devoid of emotion. "What do you want?"

"Oh," Lucius answered easily. "I just want to give him a little present."

Snape's eyes narrowed. "What kind of present."

Lucius grinned, but his face somehow remained emotionless. Vaguely, Snape thought he saw Lucius's teeth glisten, but it must have been a trick of the candlelight. Lucius answered, "It's a surprise."

"Don't harm him, okay?" Snape asked. "I'm still head of his house."

"Oh, of course," Lucius answered easily. "I'll give him back just the way I found him. Like I said, I just want to give him a little gift."

Snape sighed. "Fine, when do you want the meeting?"

"Whenever is convenient for you." Lucius spread his hands in a generous gesture. "Within the next seventy-two hours."

"I'll contact you by fire call, then," Snape bit out.

Lucius stood up from Snape's favorite chair. "Very much obliged," Lucius said, and Snape snorted. Then, Lucius disappeared from Snape's suite, leaving Snape all alone again.

Ah, Snape thought, peace and quiet.