Author's Note: As usual, apologies for my misplaced hope that by slicing this chapter into two (from the previous chapter) it would somehow spur me on to write more quickly. For those of you who are still reading, or are new to the story-thank you for reading and welcome (back)! It might make this chapter more understandable if you either re-read or skim the last chapter, as there's sort of a continuity between the two.
I hope everyone is well! Here's my brief life update: I'm still in university, I'm still obsessed with Harry Potter, and I'm procrastinating on studying for my exams by finishing the last half of this chapter.
Disclaimer-I make no profit from my use of any aspect of the Harry Potter world.
For what was likely the first time in her life Hermione Granger fell into the storybook cliché of experiencing homicidal inclinations towards the person responsible for waking her up. The likelihood of someone slamming their fists against her door while simultaneously blowing the loudest horn she'd ever heard and crashing together what she suspected were pieces of sheet metal during an actual crisis was very low—who had time for that? She could only assume that it was a deliberate attempt to drag her from her peaceful slumber in the most aggressive and abrupt way possible. The noises all came at once at such a high volume that she'd already ripped open her bedroom door before becoming fully conscious.
"What the bloody fuck is going on?" Draco snapped from across the hall. The doors to Blaise and Theodore's room swung open a second later, followed by a long stream of rather inventive curses on Theodore's part.
Sheila and James stood in front of them, their wands in the air, and when they were quite certain they had their full attention the noises ceased. "Good morning."
"What time is it?" Blaise asked in a voice that illustrated all too clearly how he felt about their unceremonious wake up call.
"I'm still drunk," Theodore slurred, leaning against his doorframe.
"It's 5." James answered in a voice that was too nonchalant to not be at least a little gloating. "We've come to collect you for the next challenge."
"The next challenge." Draco repeated in a flat voice.
"You're going camping!" Sheila exclaimed, "It's going to be intense!"
James burst into laughter, an awkward and solitary action. "Come on, now. It's not that early! Intense! In tents! Camping? No? Alright then. Tough crowd…"
They were given ten minutes to pack backpacks of what they thought they would need for a camping trip that would last an entire day and one night. Hermione gathered together her bag in a daze, sluggishly trying to think of things she would be missing when she was fully coherent. Her main concern was food and water, rather than clothing, so she spent a good five minutes wandering the kitchen in search of nourishment.
They met in the living room, which was exactly the same as it had looked three hours earlier. Harry and Ron were waiting with James, twin expressions of weary irritation adorning their faces. Theodore wandered to the wall and pressed his head against it, mumbling under his breath. Blaise sat on the couch beside Ron and leaned back, eyes falling shut.
"Good morning everyone!" James looked significantly less composed than Sheila in the living room light and had dark circles under his eyes. "Let's get right to it! This next challenge will be completed in pairs, which are as follows: Ron and Harry, Theodore and Blaise, Hermione and Draco."
Hermione looked over to Draco with a small smile, the typical response to an announced partnership that isn't entirely detestable. He steadily avoided her gaze and didn't show so much as a lip twitch.
"We'll be dropping each team off at a different location in the woods. Using only a compass and a general map of the area you have to find your way back to a central location."
"Bloody fuck!" Theodore shouted and they all turned in time to see the remnants of the puff of glitter that hadn't gotten him in the face fluttering to the ground.
"I think you should drink some water, Theo." Blaise said, careful eyes focused on his friend. Theodore held up the water bottle he held in his hand with a pitiful moan and then wandered over to the couch, which he promptly collapsed on and began to giggle.
"Magic will be permitted in this challenge," James said after a pause, eyeing Theodore. "However, it cannot be used to assist you in finding your way, or transporting you from a location to another location. If you are in need of any assistance shoot red sparks in the air. But in doing so you forfeit the challenge. Between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM you must set up a camp and spend the night there, or face disqualification. The winning team will receive 50 galleons each."
Hermione looked around the room at her companions, an uneasy feeling settling into her chest. Ron seemed to be nodding off, Harry cast her a weak smile, and Blaise watched Theodore apprehensively while Draco continued to stare attentively at James and Sheila to a degree that was nearly forced. If Sheila and James had intentionally decreased their ability to function to make the challenge all the worse for them, they'd certainly succeeded.
Folding her arms over her chest she sighed.
It took them several hours to make it to the forest. As a result of Sheila and James' insistence that they be transported by car each team was driven separately and Hermione slept the entire way. By the time she and Draco were left standing in the middle of a small clearing the moderately dense forest the sun was high overhead and flooded over them in patches.
"Right," Draco began, "We've got until 8:00 tonight and then we've got to set up camp for the night."
Hermione shouldered her backpack. "Right. We better get started then."
"Yeah, I suppose so," he said, making eye contact with her for what felt like the first time in days.
She looked away first and wished she hadn't. "So you've got the map? We need to figure out which way we're going."
They smoothed the paper over the ground and kneeled beside it, plotting out the quickest route. Either the map was lacking detail, or the forest was relatively straightforward because they could plot out an almost straight path to their destination. Draco took charge of the compass and within five minutes they'd set off, dry pine needles crunching slightly underfoot as they walked. It was a picturesque walk, even at their hurried pace—there was no sign of rain, the greenery smelled fresh and delicious, birds were chirping—and yet she couldn't shake the feeling of unrest that cloaked them.
Hermione wished more than ever that she was kind of the girl who could just turn and demand answers, or at least casually ask why Draco was suddenly acting so cold. Or at least that Draco wasn't the type to let his emotions fester, because short of provoking him into bursting into an angry tirade in which she could only hope to find some answer to his silence she couldn't imagine him discussing it with her.
Instead they walked without speaking, except for the occasional discussion of whether or not they were on course. It wasn't until a few hours later, when the sun had begun its downward slope in the sky, that they had their first real conversation of the day.
"Do you hear that?" Draco asked her, his eyebrows furrowed.
Hermione stopped walking, straining her ears and felt her stomach sink. "That's not on the map."
Even as she checked the map again and quickened her pace, a helplessness was beginning to move through her. "That's impossible, it's not—it's not on the map." She ducked under a tree's low hanging branches and emerged on the other side, eyes sliding shut as she discovered that the gurgling noises that had caught Draco's attention did, in fact, belong to the rushing waters of a creek.
"We'll have to wade through," he said finally, coming to stand beside here.
"No." Refusing to look at him she began to pace up and down the bank, her eyes skimming up and down the waters. "There's got to be another way."
"There isn't, not unless we follow it all the way to either end, and that would take too long. It doesn't look too deep, it likely won't be over your head. Come on, Granger."
"I said no." She snapped, turning on him with wide eyes, and his mouth shut. There was a charged silence and he met her gaze evenly while she tried not to crumble internally at her own weakness.
"Look," he extended the map towards her and, in fresh ink, the silhouette of a river ran straight through the middle of the forest to either side of the page. "It must be charmed to conceal things until we come across them."
"Of course." Hermione sighed and walked to the edge of the bank, staring into the churning depths of the waters below. It probably wouldn't be over her head, but that changed absolutely nothing about her desire to climb into it. A hand brushed against her side and she whirled around, stumbling as she pushed Draco away. "Don't touch me!"
"It was an accident, I wasn't going to push you in." The way he was watching her made her uncomfortable and, while she was aware that she wasn't doing much in terms of coming up with solutions, she couldn't bring herself to consider approaching the water. "I have an idea."
She stepped away from him with her arms wrapped around her chest, gazing down the river so he wouldn't see the panic in her eyes. He hesitated, surveying their surroundings. "We can knock down a tree and walk across."
"That's—can't we just create a bridge or something? Magic is allowed in this one."
"That would count as using magic to aid our transportation. The trees are already here so if we just chop one down—"
"I think that counts as magic as well, Malfoy." Hermione said quietly, focusing intently on a tiny pebble on the ground. "If we use the magic to move something so we can cross…"
"Well then there's nothing we can do." He said shortly. "Based on that logic any magic we use to help us cross will disqualify us. We'll have to do it on our own."
She was silent for a long moment. Draco didn't press her—just stood a few yards away and seemed to assess the stream as she thought. If they didn't cross this stream they wouldn't finish the challenge. If they didn't finish the challenge one of them was going home. Her pulse quickened at the thought of going home so early—of leaving her friends behind in the house. The alternative wasn't very appealing either. Despite his lack of interaction she didn't want to see Draco leave, at least not before whatever was going on was resolved. They'd seemed to have a real breakthrough over the summer thus far, and if they ended things on such a bad note any hope of it continuing afterwards was next to nothing.
"I think this is as shallow as its going to get." Draco called out from a little ways down the bank. "It seems to get deeper in both directions from here."
The tips of her fingers were numb and she shuddered in spite of the residual warmth from the sun. Draco seemed to be approaching this in a clinical way, testing out the best way to get down the bank. If she just concentrated on that approach—and of remaining as calm as possible—they could get through this. She approached slowly while taking deep, steadying breaths. "I've waterproofed our stuff."
"Look, Granger, I can probably piggy-back you across once we get into the water," he turned his head just slightly enough to be looking in her direction, but not to meet her eyes.
"No, I can do it. It's fine. Let's just…let's just get a move on."
The water gleamed in the fading sun, grinning and slithering around the brush that grew out the side of the bank. She was breathing so quickly she was surprised she wasn't feeling lightheaded and followed Draco to the edge of the water. "I'll go first," he sat down on the bank and then slid down through the mud with one foot forward, using his left arm to balance until he was walking into the water. It swallowed him up and sucked at his clothing, weighing him down, brushing up against his chest.
"Come on." He turned to where she stood, paralyzed. Hermione was surprised to note that somewhere deep inside her anger was stirring at the fact that he still wasn't looking directly at her. She imitated his earlier actions mechanically, sitting down so that her feet dangled slightly. Instead of following through she continued sitting, frozen.
"Granger. Let's go." With a muted sigh he finally turned back to her and, in the moment his eyes focused on her face, his whole demeanor seemed to soften. "It's just like we were working on back at the house. It's not very deep. I'm standing here and nothing's happening to me." Again, she didn't answer. "The Sorting Hat put you in Gryffindor for a reason, didn't it? What happened to all that Gryffindor bravery you lot are always bragging about?"
Her eyes flashed to his and in the seconds that followed a rush of emotions shouldered through the ones that held her immobile. "We are not always bragging about bravery." She recognized that he was trying to goad her into doing it and that it was not going to work, but it did send her thoughts spinning in the direction of her apparently absent conviction. She was Hermione Granger for Merlin's sake. She'd jumped down a dark tunnel after slinking past a three-headed dog in her first year. Wading across a small stream was nothing compared to some of the things she'd gotten up to with Harry and Ron.
Sucking in a deep breath she leaned forward and then she was sliding down the bank and her feet were splashing into the stream. She sucked in a large gasp, her breath catching and snagging in her throat. The slope of the hill propelled her forward and her eyes slid shut as the water lapped up around her waist, then her chest, until it brushed up to her shoulders. Oh God there it was. That eerily displaced feeling of being encircled by a non-presence, of being held down and sucked at and exposed to anything underneath the surface to brush against her legs and snatch at her and tear her apart and bring her down down down until she was just like them dead and green and slimy and alive but dead—
"Granger! Snap out of it! Breathe!" Her eyes flew open and met Draco's, mere inches away from her. He was holding her shoulders, shaking her slightly. The water lapped at his chest, but he stood there strong and sturdy and alive. "Come on!"
Her teeth were chattering but, when he began to back up, she let his hand slide down her arm and then slide into hers. Taking a deep breath she followed. The hammering feeling in the pit of her stomach didn't disappear the entire time and she was fairly certain she'd broken out into a cold sweat that would've been more noticeable if she wasn't almost entirely covered with water. Somehow, step by step, they reached the other side of the bank. She stretched her numb arms as high up the bank as she could reach and, with Draco's help, dragged herself up the side and out of the water.
For a moment or two all she could do was sit on the grass, gasping, as Draco clambered up beside her and stood on his feet. "Are yo-"
She held up a hand in silence, waited a beat, and then got to her feet. "I—lets go." The tips of her hair clung to her clothing, but the water resistance charm on their backpacks and clothes kept everything else dry. They set forward without a backwards glance.
The first hour or two of Theodore and Blaise's trek had been pretty simple—even kind of fun. Theodore was still just drunk enough that everything was funny and he didn't seem to care about their surroundings in the slightest, just trotted along and made aimless chatter. It was once they'd hit the three hour mark that his post-drinking fatigue settled in, alongside a headache and a level of dehydration that couldn't be supported by the water they'd brought along.
"Can't we just pack it in?" Theodore moaned for the third time in what felt like a minute. "We've gone on for ages and I'm bloody tired."
"If we stop now we forfeit," Blaise called back to him, rolling his shoulders in the hopes of shaking off his annoyance and growing weariness. "It's not like I feel top notch right now, Theo."
"I literally feel like dying," Theodore went on as if he hadn't heard. "In fact—" The sounds of Theodore's dragging feet were replaced by the sound of retching.
Blaise sighed and turned back. "You alright?"
There was a short beat of silence and Theodore made a disgusted noise. "Fuck, let's just keep moving."
By the time they discovered the river running through their path Theodore was positively green. Dropping his bag to the ground, he slid down the bank and submerged himself, pushing his head through the surface with a sigh. "Thank Merlin I thought I was going to die."
"Here, fill these up." Blaise tossed him the empty canteens from their bags and then threw them across the river. They landed with a thump on the other side. "I know a water purification charm."
"Have I ever told you I love you?" Theodore gazed at him in rapture as Blaise splashed into the water beside him.
"Once or twice." Blaise smiled, watching as Theodore submerged the bottles beneath the gently swirling water.
"Well I do." Theodore leaned his head back, his neck arching, arms floating out at his sides.
"We haven't got much time," Blaise looked down at his watch. "It's almost 6:00, and we haven't been making very good progress these last few hours. We should try and hurry for the next couple hours, before we make camp."
Theodore opened his eyes, regaining his footing on the floor of the river. "Have I ever told you I hate you?"
"I don't want one of us to be eliminated, Theo. So let's get going, OK?"
"Fine, fine." Theodore grumbled as they made it to the other side embankment and crawled out.
As soon as they were left alone Harry and Ron found the direction they should be moving and set off in that direction. They walked briskly, breathing quickening, as they consulted their compass and maps. "You know, I bet if we make really good time today we have a good chance of winning." Harry cast Ron a look from the corner of his eye. "It didn't look like Nott is really going to be up for much movement today."
Ron nodded in agreement. "Wouldn't be too bad to win the 50 galleons, would it?"
"You know, muggles who run marathons usually do it in intervals. Jog for ten or fifteen minutes, walk for five. That sort of thing." Harry could practically feel the change of pace working its way into Ron's steps. "If we set a good pace like that, with long breaks for walking to catch our breath, I bet we'd be way more ahead of the other teams."
Ron grinned, and simultaneously they broke into a loping jog.
By 8 O'clock Hermione was more than ready for a break from their travels. Not only was their relentless pace exhausting—made more so by the other obstacles that hadn't been on the map, such as sloping and forested hills and brush so thick it cut into their legs—but Draco was uncommunicative and taciturn. When she'd offered to perform a charm on the pair of them to ward off bugs—which she'd learned from a book about common wizarding camping techniques in preparation for the World Cup in fourth year—he'd merely shrugged his shoulders.
They'd pitched the tent provided by the show, which unfortunately wasn't one of the comfortable wizarding ones, and started a fire in a pit just outside. There was a moment just after Hermione had pulled the preserved vegetables out of her bag that she thought Draco might hug her, but instead he merely produced the chicken he'd packed and offered to cook it.
She couldn't even muster up the energy to glare, instead conjuring enough materials to make the tent ready for them to sleep in. There wasn't a lot of space inside—enough room for her to set up two cushiony mattresses about a foot apart. Faced with the decision of sitting beside a silent, cooking Draco or being alone, she sat on one of the mattresses with a sigh, staring at the ground.
Ever since the red carpet challenge he'd been so cold to her, completely going back on everything they'd established when they'd had the conversation about being friends. Not only that, but her own recently realized feelings had her uncomfortably aware of the fact that the way he was treating her was hurting her more than it should, and that wasn't something she relished. It was extremely clear that her feelings weren't returned in any way.
Not that I'd even want them to be. She rested her elbows on her knees, slipping her shoes off and stretching her feet. Draco had already demonstrated loud and clear that he had the emotional maturity of a teaspoon. Not to mention their longstanding hatred for each other that they'd only just begun to overcome.
Nevertheless, when she joined him back outside by the fire she couldn't help but feel lonelier than she had in a long time, even though she'd spent much of the summer surrounded by people she hadn't spoken to intentionally for years. As they ate in silence she felt pangs of sadness rush through her. Maybe their friendship had run its course.
"Thanks for making the food," Hermione said as she threw some wood onto the fire and then returned to sit cross legged on her blanket. He didn't say anything in response, and it was all she could do not to throw some wood at his face. It was her own uncontrollable anger, not desire to know what was happening, that drove her to broach the subject. "What's going on with you?"
"Nothing? You won't even look at me." She paused a moment, and then she snapped. "Look at me, Malfoy."
He turned to her with his eyebrows raised. "Calm down, Granger. What's wrong with you?
"What's wrong with me? What's going on, Malfoy?! Why do you have to be so frustrating? I know this isn't some Slytherin thing, because Blaise isn't like this! You've been acting so strange all day and we're supposed to be working as a team—" Her anger was bubbling up so suddenly and violently that she had to blink back tears, thankful for the darkness that had fallen on them.
"Granger, were you THERE yesterday?" Draco suddenly shouting, throwing his arm out. "Did you SEE what they showed everyone?"
"If you're referring to that video then that's ridiculous. It's a complete load of tripe, anyone in their right mind—"
"EVERYONE WE KNOW WATCHES IT!" Draco was pacing back and forth in front of the fire, his hands clenching and unclenching. "Haven't you realized by now that no one is in their right mind? They've been showing that bullshit every week, every day—I don't even know when the show airs! They edit it and make it look—"
Hermione folded her legs, staring up at him. "I get it, it's embarrassing and humiliating and awkward but it's not real, Malfoy. If you find the idea of them fabricating some kind of romance between us this terrible than—"
"STOP IT!" Draco burst out, rounding on her so quickly that she stopped speaking purely from surprise. "Granger you just don't—you don't understand you just don't—"
"Oh I think I do!" She got to her feet and snatched her blanket from the ground, folding it jerkily. "I think I understand perfectly. You're simply mortified aren't you? Mortified that we started getting along and only now just realized that all your mates from school have seen it happen, and when we all go back to Hogwarts they'll have a right laugh at your expense and—and poor you, everyone you know has the wrong idea. Well poor you, Malfoy. I guess I can't really sympathize because I'm sure it's obvious to all my friends that you're still the same prick we all knew in school and nothing this show does will change that."
With that she turned on her heel and marched back to the tent. "Granger!" Draco yelled after her, "Damnit Granger!"
As she zipped up the tent she could just make out his shadowy figure kick at a rock beside the fire.
"Hey, Harry?" Harry tilted his head just to the side so he could see that Ron was staring at the roof of their tent. After eating so much he thought they both might explode they'd essentially crawled into their sleeping bags, waiting for sleep to drag them from consciousness. Wondering if they were about to plunge into another conversation about why muggles would ever camp if this is what they had to sleep in, he rested his head back against his own pillow.
"You know, I have this list." Ron began and was silent for another moment. "Of all the lies I've told Andrea that I have to remember. My brothers' jobs, muggle classes I've liked in school, that kind of thing. I had to research answers to tell her."
"Oh." Harry said, because he had no idea what kind of response Ron desired, or if he even wanted one. He'd always found that when Ron spoke in that voice—softer and more measured than usual—it was best to just listen.
"The weird thing is she doesn't ask a lot of questions. I sometimes can't tell if she thinks I'm lying but pretends she doesn't, or if she's just used to not getting straight answers out of Hermione so she doesn't try with me." Ron sighed. "Nothing about my life is true."
"She doesn't like you because of your brothers, or your classes, and that sort. So I reckon all that doesn't matter too much." Harry said after a small pause.
"You know, I like her a lot." There was a resignation in Ron's voice that said all-too-clearly what he couldn't bring himself to say. Harry reached out a hand and clapped it lightly on his shoulder.
"You feel better?" Blaise zipped the tent up after he crawled through the gap, turning in the dark to the shadow of Theodore wrapped up in his blankets.
"Yeah," Theodore clutched a pillow to his chest, curving his body into it. "There was a moment today where I didn't know if I could survive this hangover."
"Yeah. The entire day was that moment." Theodore's teeth flashed in the darkness as Blaise let out a bark of laughter. "Glad you were here. Otherwise I may have died."
"Always." Blaise merely responded, staring into the dark canopy of the tent. A contented smile smoothed over his lips as the sound of Theo's slow breathing filled his ears.
"Do you ever think about how when you find something out about someone, you're surprised and it changes what you think of them?" Theodore rolled onto his side, fixing his gaze intently on his friend. Blaise mirrored his action, leaving his head resting against his pillow. "Maybe it's more of a reflection of the kind of person you are. Because it shows how you boxed someone into fitting this idea of what you thought they were—and you're so shocked by being wrong that you think they must not be the person you thought they were. Instead of thinking that you're just not as good at understanding people as you thought."
Theo's face was open and engaged, his eyes just out of focus as he expressed his thoughts. This was the best version of Theodore, and Blaise drank it in. "I think a lot of the reactions people have in regards to revelations is more about themselves than about the other person."
"We're such a narcissistic species." Theo lay back down, eyes still meeting Blaise's in the darkness. "Can you imagine the things we could accomplish if we weren't inhibited by our own perceptions?"
"I'm sure it's for the best. I think sometimes things are better left undone, or unsaid. Not everything is a misunderstanding. Sometimes we perceive things for what they really are."
"But if we leave those things unsaid or undone we would never know if we were right. And then all that's left is wondering. Can you imagine spending your whole life wondering about something and questioning your own judgement?" Theodore sighed, eyes fluttering closed.
"Seems like a rubbish way to live." Blaise finally said and Theo quirked a smile.
"I missed you, before."
"Me too. Now stop talking and lets go to sleep, otherwise we're not going to be well rested enough tomorrow to beat the other teams." The end of Blaise's sentence was partially obstructed by a yawn and he snuggled his forehead deeper into the soft embrace of his pillow. He was warm all over, enclosed from the outside world by a combination of spellwork and whatever thin fabric made up the tent, surrounded by blankets and the heat of Theodore's presence. He slipped quickly into the fuzzy world of his dreams.
Hermione was still awake when Draco came inside the tent and settled down in his sleeping back. For a few minutes there was only the sound of their breathing, before he sighed. "Granger, you up?"
"Yes." She said in a clipped voice.
"I just didn't realize how I've been acting is being portrayed, alright? I forgot that everything I've been doing is being shown to apparently a load of people, and it's unsettling. I don't fancy having my private life exposed like that." His voice was strained, so she forced herself to keep civil.
"You didn't have to take it out on me."
He was silent, and she wondered if he was even going to apologize or if he'd hoped his reasoning would be good enough. "They just made it look so real."
"So?" She snapped, sitting up to look at him in the dark. Trying to ignore the part of her reason that told her she should be careful, that she was too upset about this, that he would realize why she was so hurt. "It's all editing, Malfoy! If you didn't expect them to mess around with us the second you signed that contract then you're a total id—"
He sat up beside her, meeting her eyes across the small space between their makeshift beds. "If it looks so real how do you know it's not, Granger? How do you know it is all editing?"
"I—what…?" She stared at him, all her fury disappearing with the air in her lungs.
"All those things, sure there's music and stuff added, but it still happened! How do you explain that, Granger?"
She stared at him for a long moment and when at last she spoke it was with a quivering voice. "You've been so rude to me the last couple days. Yesterday my friends asked me if the show is almost entirely fake, because you wouldn't even look at me. And now you're telling me that it's because you're worried that there's a grain of truth to what's being edited?"
He didn't respond.
"There is a grain of truth there, Malfoy. We're friends. Of course there are things that happen that can be perceived differently by other people. I thought we were on the same page about that. I thought we'd sorted that out already." She rubbed her hands up her arms. "If it freaks you out that people have noticed we get a long now, then maybe we shouldn't."
"That's not what I meant." He finally said, looking down at his folded hands. "I just…Yeah. Friends. We are. I wasn't expecting what we saw, and it threw me off. Sorry."
She could feel heat in her face and the quick beating of her heart, so loud that she worried Draco could hear it, too. "If this happens again, can you talk to me about it? There's no point in us being friends if you won't even talk to me."
The silence in the tent was almost stiflingly awkward. There was no way to segue into less heated conversation, but she wasn't sure how to just decide to go to sleep. Instead, she crawled the few feet over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck in a hug. His hands were warm on her back and she sucked in a slow breath, pulling back. "Goodnight, then."
His hands settled on her waist and he watched her, the minimal light reflecting off his eyes. For a brief moment the air tightened, solidified, and changed the moment into something else, something—
"Goodnight." He let her go. She moved back to her side of the tent, pulled her sleeping bag up, and rolled onto her side away from him. Within a few minutes they were both asleep.
Theodore crept back into the tent as quietly as possible, pulling the zipper up inch by inch, glancing over his shoulder with a comical expression of anxiety on his face. The blood in his veins pulsed alongside the rocking beat of his heart, filling his insides with peach fuzzy delight. His hands shook slightly as he began to crawl over to his side of the tent, which sadly involved clambering over Blaise's sleeping body. Blaise was fast asleep and he extended his arms to the other side of his body, slowly lifting his leg to push himself to the other side. From the angle he was at Blaise looked like a wizard in a photograph he held in his hand, all far away from reality and pressed up inside the confines of Theodore's imagination. He giggled to himself, foot dragging over the top of a blanket, and then Blaise stirred and he froze, eyes wide.
"Theo?" Blaise raised his head, frowning in sleepy bewilderment at Theodore's frozen posture. "What are you doing?"
"I had to visit the fairyfolk of the forest." Theodore said matter-of-factly, "but then of course I realized you are obviously the fairy folk, so I came right back to help you find your wings, which I suspect you lost when you fell from the top of the fairy tree upon consummating your first gay relationship."
"What…?" Blaise sat up and squinted at him, eyes roving over his face. "Why aren't you moving?"
"I like the view." He responded, leg still extended behind his body.
"I…you're joking." Blaise's voice suddenly went flat, and Theodore very hurriedly clambered back over to his blanket pile. "Tell me this is a fucking joke."
"No, this is a joke! Someone's calling on the floo!"
"I don't believe this. I do not believe this."
"Actually," Theodore giggled, "the correct response is 'who is it?'"
"You're high." The hissing sounds that came from Blaise's lips were most impressive to hear and he leaned in excitedly, eyes wide.
"You can speak parseltongue?"
That seemed to be the final straw for Blaise, who threw the blankets from his body so violently they flopped down on top of Theodore. Delighted by the residual warmth of Blaise's body heat, he wrapped one around his shoulders and pulled it to a close just underneath his chin, inhaling with a low moan.
"You said you would stop this, you daft fuck. They gave us ten minutes to gather the relevant supplies and your first instinct isn't to get something useful, such as water, but you get drugs?" Blaise's voice was as brittle as dead tree bark. Theodore could practically hear the cracks as it fragmented in the open air, and he blinked in awe as the dust swirled around the tent, falling against his body and reigniting the buzzing of his blood. "Look at me."
When Theodore turned back to Blaise, who was no longer his black best friend and had clearly become some kind of devilish red version of himself, glowing with his own rage, Blaise was much closer than before. "You said you would stop."
"No, I don't think I did." He merely said, wishing he could swat Blaise away. "I am at my leisure to do what I want, you know."
"You're going to ruin your life." There was a weird throbbing in Blaise's voice, as if his own blood was buzzing and rushing out to meet Theodore's. "Do you even see what you've done to yourself? Being a drug addict is so much beneath you. You're fucking yourself over and over and over, fuck, Theo WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?"
Theodore jumped at the sudden change in volume, scrambling to collect the blankets into some kind of fort that would protect him from Blaise's rage. The ache in Blaise's voice was filling the tent with a painful prickling that poked him all over his body. "I really don't understand your preoccupation with this issue, Blaise." He spoke calmly, reasonably, with a dignified straightness in his spine and a lofty arch to his neck.
"Because I refuse to sit back and watch you damage yourself." This was not a favourable response and Theodore slumped right down. Nothing about the soft gentle spinning of Blaise's voice was desirable at all—he didn't want the flowers to bloom he wanted the bark to creak and break and crack.
"I don't think that's my fault, you seem quite capable of hurting yourself." He ran his fingers over the edges of the soft side of his blanket, eyes slipping closed as the smooth fabric parted beneath his fingertips, sliding and gliding and swirling and if he opened his eyes he could see the thread dancing before him, swirling and swaying. "I've never met someone so engaged by their own problems."
The unfortunate thing was how invested in the argument Blaise obviously was, his collarbones all angry against his ebony skin, his breathing quickening, his eyes narrowed so low Theodore wanted to crouch down in front of them, peer deep into them, wondered if he could still see out of the thin slits.
"You're so self-pitying and just full of your own loneliness. Stop trying to suck purpose out of other people and do something for yourself."
"I suck purpose out of other people, do I?"
Theodore got very close to Blaise, so close that he could see himself in Blaise's now very wide eyes, so close he could feel Blaise's breath against the corner of his lips. "Well, that's what you've been doing with me. Moping about over me, trying to do what's best for me. What's best for me is a redirection of your efforts," he lifted one hand, wiggling his fingers, "away from me. So I don't have to be bombarded by your tireless attempts to change things in my life."
"You don't even know what you're talking about you child." Blaise snatched his wrist, halting the gentle waving of his hand. "You don't even make any sense. I can't deal with you like this. Don't talk to me. Go to sleep."
"Stop trying to run my life." Theodore pulled his hand away and began to weave his arms together. "Merlin, you're so annoying. I hate you."
The tent became utterly silent after that, silence pulsing through his veins, silence singing on the echoes of their conversations, silence dancing through his vision around the statue Blaise had become, silence whispering ghostly reassurances against his skin as it lifted Blaise up and away, outside the tent, silence in the space Blaise had been sitting in before, silence silence silence.
Theodore leaned back down against his pillow, eyes closed, his thoughts dancing in the silence.
As Harry and Ron came jogging in to meet Sheila and James their faces broke into twin grins when they realized no one else was waiting with the two hosts. Sheila beamed as they let out whoops of triumph, high fiving each other. "Welcome back!"
"We're the first?" Ron asked, looking around the clearing in case he'd somehow missed the presence of the other house guests.
"You're the first." James confirmed, "Congratulations. You're both safe from eliminations and win 50 galleons, which will be waiting for you on your kitchen table when you return home! You can just go wait over in the shade for the rest of the contestants to arrive."
The pair walked to the indicated area on the edge of the field, collapsing on the ground. Ron couldn't stop himself from smiling. "Feels good to win one, yeah?"
"Yeah, about time. I just hope Hermione gets here soon."
Ron rested his head back on his hands, staring into the canopy of the trees overheard. "Too bad she's with Malfoy, really would've wiped the smirk off his face to go home."
Harry was silent, skimming the tops of the blades of grass with his fingertips. "After we won that painting challenge and had to spend that undocumented time together, I realized there are worse people out there than Malfoy."
Ron sat up. "What?"
Harry shrugged, "He's still a right git, but part of it's just his personality. I don't want to spend any time with him, ever. But there's really no point wasting so much time hating him."
Squinting his eyes, Ron watched Harry for a confused moment. Then his features smoothed out, he lay back down, and sighed. "Quit acting mature, you're making me look bad, mate."
Harry was saved from replying by the entrance of Hermione and Draco to the clearing, walking at a brisk pace, her eyebrows curved down with worry. She immediately surveyed the clearing, took in Harry and Ron, and her face broke into a beaming smile. Draco, on the other hand, whipped his head quickly to look at Sheila and James as his entire face tightened.
"Welcome back, Draco and Hermione!" James wandered over to them, wringing Draco's hand. "You're both safe from elimination, and can take a seat over there in the shade with Harry and Ron."
Draco followed Hermione slowly, sitting down with his back pressed to the tree trunk as he kept his eyes focused on the space that he and Hermione had emerged from. As her laugh bubbled over to him he tapped his foot ever-so-lightly, willing his friends to hurry up. Not that it matters when they arrive.
It wasn't until thirty minutes later that Blaise stalked into the clearing from the opposite side that Draco was fixed on, followed by a sallow looking Theodore. He barely acknowledged James and Sheila as they solemnly informed the pair that they would both be up for elimination, and when they reached the House later that day he stormed to his room without speaking to anyone.
Hermione glanced at Draco and Theodore, who stood side by side in the kitchen. Theodore had dark circles under his eyes and was awfully pale, and there was a tension in his jaw that made her decide to head over to Harry and Ron's side of the house. Theodore cast Draco a dark look. "Blaise is a git, that's what."
Theodore left without another word and Draco stood alone in the kitchen, watching his brisk retreat.
"Good luck, you two." Hermione wrung her hands worriedly as Theodore and Blaise got ready to go to the elimination ceremony. She threw her arms around Blaise's neck, "Oh! I'm going to miss whoever is sent home! You'll have to come back and visit."
"I'll miss you like I would miss my own left arm!" Theodore declared, his smile consuming his face. Blaise glowered in his direction while Hermione hugged him, as well. "If I don't come back, I will of course come back to visit!"
"Shut up." Blaise led the way outside, not even bothering to look over his shoulder to see if Theodore was going to follow him.
"Bye!" Hermione called after them, biting her lip. As the door closed with a click she turned back to Draco. "Who do you think it's going to be?"
"I don't know." He folded his arms over his chest and paced a few feet back and forth over the floor. "Blaise has been here longer, but based on what we saw at the question period it seems like a lot of people like Theodore."
"And they still haven't told you why they're fighting?" She wandered over to the stove, putting the kettle on the burner and pulling a mug out of the cupboard.
"No." Draco dropped himself into a chair, ignoring Hermione's wince as the action propelled the chair backwards and scraped across the floor.
"I find it hard to imagine something worse than what they've already fought about." She dropped a tea bag into a pot and leaned back against the counter.
"Well, it's sometimes easier to forgive other people for what they do to you. As opposed to what they do to themselves." He was sitting very still and she surveyed him with her head tilted. There was definitely something about the way he was speaking that indicated he had some idea of what was going on between the two of them. Equally as evident was the fact that he wasn't going to tell her.
They sat in complete silence as they waited, Hermione swirling the dregs of her tea around in the bottom of her mug. When they heard the door swing open she and Draco both rose to their feet, her heart pounding in her chest.
Blaise walked in, his face closed. Draco exhaled slowly and Hermione made to go hug him, but Blaise turned from her direction and walked past them in silence. His arms were rigid at his side.
"Did you and Theodore say goodbye?" The words spilled from her lips as she tried to get Blaise to communicate something, anything. She pivoted in place, following his progress to the hallway that led to their bedrooms.
Blaise didn't bother turning around, his answer clipped by the sound of the door closing behind him. "Why would I?"
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I came to the resigned conclusion that I had to eliminate Theodore decently early quite a while ago but found the decision absolutely agonizing because I am somewhat obsessed with the idea of his character. So I hope those of you who are invested in him know that a) the decision was difficult but made the most sense ,and b) this obviously isn't the last we see of him.
I'd love to hear your thoughts/theories about the show, about the new information you learned from the team interactions in their tents, about the relationships between the characters, and who you think will be eliminated next! So please review!