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Chapter 18: The Animagus in the Library
A full month had gone by and not once did Hermione go looking for Draco.
He admired her for keeping her promise and respecting his wishes. But at the same time, it disappointed him as it seemed as if Hermione had taken their departure quite well. It didn’t seem to bother her one tiny bit.
It was either that or she was a master at hiding it.
Of course, they could not keep their eyes from finding each other on occasion. His eyes still held sadness in them. Hers, still a deep concern for him like no other.
But she never once made an attempt to be alone with him.
The only noticeable difference in her demeanor since their night together in The Room of Hidden Things was that she had drastically extended her time spent in the library, telling her friends that she enjoyed assisting Madam Pince and that re-shelving books actually helped her find new books and topics that she’d never seen before.
It was all true, of course, but there was another reason why she was spending so much time there. She was researching.
It made sense, Draco supposed. Diving into books would be a distraction to get her mind off everything. It seemed only fitting that she would do such a thing.
While she was in the library, Draco was mending and testing the Vanishing Cabinet. His time was running out and he had to concentrate on it and finish the job, otherwise it could mean life or death for his family.
But truth be known, when he wasn't concentrating on his task, he would think of her and work on his Occlumency so that when the time came, he could block the Dark Lord from seeing any memory of her... their kiss, their conversations, their night together. Those memories were his and he would protect them against the worst kind of invasion.
Hermione happened upon a book about a blood experiment when she was helping re-shelve books returned by other students. She looked around to see if anyone could see her. When she was satisfied that no one was looking, she hid the book with several others.
When she wanted to read, she would find a larger book, open it in the middle and then tuck the book she truly wanted to read inside the larger one, making it look like she was reading a normal subject.
The latest was a book titled, Medical Experiments of 1962.
She would’ve missed it if she hadn’t looked at the Table of Contents. Only one chapter was about a blood experiment.
“Day 1. The magical patient came in with a wound to the neck and dangerously close to death due to the loss of blood,” the passage stated. “Our normal supply of magical blood had not been replenished adequately. We gave him all that we had during surgery. He still needed blood and the only available to us was Elvish or Muggle. Since the patient was human, we had no choice but to use Muggle. It was the only way to save his life. The side effects however, remain to be seen. There are several theories. Patient's magic could become greatly diminished, perhaps replenished over time, or magical ability could be lost entirely.”
She glanced up to see if anyone was watching. When she was satisfied, she flipped the page, intrigued for the outcome.
“Day 2. Patient extremely weak, barely moving. Magic does not seem to be present at this time. Unknown.”
“Day 3. Patient has magic, but is still extremely weak.”
“Day 4. Patient is now replenishing his own blood normally and has full recovery of magical ability. He seems unaffected by Muggle blood.”
“Day 7. Wounds have healed sufficiently and patient is being discharged. Remarkable recovery.”
“Conclusions: Muggle blood clearly saved the patient’s life and there seems to be no permanent negative side effects. It is undeterminable whether or not his weakness was due to his normal recovery time for his injuries and subsequent surgery or if the Muggle blood made him weak and magical abilities diminish during that time. No one has ever given Muggle blood to a Magical person and we consider this emergency experiment a success to magical sciences. Much has been learned, the most important being that Muggle blood can actually save a Magical life with no apparent adverse side effects. Seven vials of blood (1 from each day of recovery) have been magically frozen and kept for future testing.”
Hermione was disappointed that it was such a small reading. It really didn’t tell her much and she wasn’t exactly surprised by the patient’s outcome. If anything, she was surprised it took until 1962 for such an experiment to be documented. She supposed it might’ve been because no magical person would willingly volunteer Muggle blood to be put into their veins to see what would happen. It took an emergency situation.
She let out a long drawn out sigh as she closed the book and returned it to its rightful place in the library. Another dead end to her research of why a magical person would be born to non-magical parents.
She wanted a reason now more than ever before.
One night at dinner, Hermione could feel his eyes upon her. Draco was watching her again.
She knew if she looked up, she would find him staring at her from a distance. But this night, she kept her head down, looking at her plate of food in the Great Hall. She stared into it, not wanting to look into his wanting, sad eyes yet again.
Why fuel the torture?
She had found several new books in the library about blood, magical names, and the like. She wanted nothing more than to leave the hall and dive into them to see what she could find. It was becoming more and more of an obsession of late.
The more she read, the more unproved theories she had. She was convinced that the answer was somewhere… that maybe the pieces of the puzzle were never put together before now. There had to be answers somewhere and she was bent on finding them.
But as she was mindlessly about to stab her fork into whatever was on her plate, an unfamiliar owl had flown into the hall and dropped an envelope addressed to her.
“Mail for you?” Ron asked shocked. Hermione rarely got mail.
“I’m just as surprised as you are,” she replied, picking it up.
But then she read the return address and sat stunned. She felt the heat of excitement mixed with embarrassment flush her cheeks as her heart instantly began beating at a runner’s pace.
Ministry of Magic’s Historical Records Administration - Office of Genealogy
It had been so long, she nearly forgotten how she had sent her list of twenty-two names to the Ministry’s Office of Genealogy. She had owled it on New Year’s Eve just before going to the party. She sent it in the hopes that they could find someone magical in her family history.
Perhaps they found someone and this was the letter that would end her research and be the proof she needed that she didn’t just become a magical person by some freak chance. It would give her the link that would explain everything.
Hope and excitement built in her chest, even though she knew better. Curiosity wouldn’t let her wait to open it. She opened it then and there and read the official parchment from the Ministry.
Draco sat staring at her, thinking of how he had told her in front of the Mirror of Erised that he would not have some insane secret relationship with her. He thought it ironic that even though he said it, he felt like they were in one regardless.
But no matter how strong the craving or desire that he felt for her, he would stay away from her. It’s what was best for them both. But he didn’t count on the evening when he saw the hurt in her face after reading that letter.
Draco watched as her face changed from an initial surprise, then intrigue as her eyes widened and scanned the page in a hurry. But by the end of her read, her face took on a hurt look as if the wind had been abruptly taken from her lungs.
Clearly something was wrong and it upset her immensely.
He saw her quickly fold the letter, tuck it back in the envelope, and then excuse herself from the table. She purposefully avoided his gaze as she sprang from her seat and ran off.
Draco immediately became worried for her. Clearly, whatever was in that letter had pained her somehow. And as he watched her leave, he nearly sprang to his feet to follow.
“Don’t,” Draco heard a voice say.
It was Blaise.
Granger was upset for whatever reason and Blaise saw the concern in Draco’s eyes, knowing full well that his friend wanted to chase after her to find out why.
“Are you attempting to tell me what to do?” Draco asked harshly.
“Suggesting,” Blaise returned.
Draco knew his best friend was right. He shouldn’t go after her… at least not at the current moment when the entire school would see him running after her like some pathetic pup. And so he waited.
It was extremely late in the evening, but he went looking for her anyway in the hopes that she would make herself known. Otherwise, he would have to give up. There were too many places in the huge Hogwarts castle to look.
It was past curfew, but that didn’t deter him one bit.
His love was upset and he wanted to be there for her, even if she never told him what was wrong. He had an uneasy feeling that maybe the letter had something to do with whatever was bothering her on the train. She never did tell him what was weighing on her mind.
He was right of course. That letter was just one part of her research. And what they sent her in return was not something that she wanted to read.
Draco eventually found her. She was not making herself known to him, like he had hoped. In fact, she had fallen asleep in the library surrounded by books.
Using the Orchideous spell, he conjured a small bouquet. He wanted her to feel better and thought flowers might help.
But when he silently stepped to her, he began noticing the names of the books that surrounded her.
Wizard Hematology: Case Studies in Magical Blood
Ancestral Names of the Magical World
Historical Bloodlines and Magical Family Names
Ancient Magical Genealogy: A Historical Look at Blood Status.
There were other books of similar titles. Draco wondered what in the world she was doing with all those books on subjects of family names and blood.
He saw a handwritten list of names on parchment… grandparents, greats, great-greats, and more. But then he saw the letter. It was the one that had seemed to take her breath and fill her with disappointment that even he could feel sitting across the room.
Her hand covered most of it, but he only needed to see the Ministry name and one line…
“We have gone to great lengths to research the histories of the names on your list, going back several hundreds of years, and regret to inform you that none in your ancestral line are of magical heritage.”
Draco’s heart sunk in his chest. She was searching her genealogy in the desperate hopes of finding a magical person.
“No. No. No,” he whispered. “What are you doing, Love?”
He didn’t understand. He told her that her blood status no longer mattered to him. Why was she doing this? The thought of her secret pain made him want to fall to the floor and beg her for forgiveness.
Just as he was about to do just that, he heard hurried footsteps coming toward them.
His instinct told him to flee the library, but he was trapped. His only option was to hide somehow, but there was no time.
In one quick and smooth motion, he tossed the flowers to the side and leaped into his Animagus form onto a library table. He leaped yet again to land stealth-like high atop a library shelf where he was able to look down upon Hermione and whoever it was who had just entered the library.
It was professor McGonagall.
Draco watched the scene from the dark and shadowy space high above them and used his keen animal hearing to listen in on their conversation.
McGonagall had stepped up to Hermione to wake her. But instead, the professor too was caught by surprise at the subject of her prized student’s research.
“Oh, my poor dear,” McGonagall whispered in a sad tone, letting out a sigh before waking the sleeping student in front of her. She took a deep breath as she placed a frail hand on her favorite student’s shoulder.
“Miss Granger, dear… do wake up. Curfew passed hours ago.”
Hermione stirred sleepily and opened her eyes.
“Sorry, Professor. I was just doing a little… um… research.” She began closing the books, trying not to draw attention to the types of books she was reading. “I must’ve fallen asleep and…”
“I’ll put them away,” the professor said. “You get to bed.”
But Hermione didn’t want McGonagall to have to put them away, considering her subject was of such a private matter. She stood abruptly from her seat.
“No. I’ll do it. I got them out, so it is only right that I…” But she was interrupted once again.
“Miss Granger,” McGonagall paused hoping the right words would come to her. “Normally, I try not to mettle too much into my student’s private and personal lives, but I must insist that you not go looking for something that isn’t here. You are only wasting your time.”
Hermione wanted to deny her research as if she was a child caught doing something that was wrong. But it was too obvious, so in a bold move, she decided to do the opposite and defend it.
“Is it wrong to research my ancestry?” she asked defensively.
McGonagall recognized the tone. Her student was frustrated and above all else… tired. She tried her best to use a softer tone, given the sensitivity of the subject at hand.
“Sit back down. Let us sit and talk awhile, shall we?” In a rare move, Professor McGonagall took a seat at an adjacent table… close but also giving Hermione some space.
She knew what was coming, some grand lecture that would prove pointless in the end. But she did what she was told and sat back down.
“I’ve been at Hogwarts nearly all of my life.” The old woman gave a sigh as she thought of the many years. “And you are not the first student that I’ve seen in the library in the wee hours of the night searching for answers about ancestry and magical blood.”
“I’m curious as to why I have magic, while my parents do not. I am searching my ancestry in the hopes of finding a magical link. Maybe magic skips several generations or something. There must be one. A squib line perhaps?”
“No. There does not have to be one.”
Hermione couldn’t hide her frustration now. It burned at her insides and she wanted answers that she wasn’t finding in any of those books.
“Why then? How can a magical person be born from nothing? Was my mother exposed to magic while pregnant with me? Could that be how a child of Muggle parents gets magic from nowhere? There must be an explanation… something logical that I can wrap my head around and understand.”
Hermione had many theories. They were driving her mad.
“Did my mother unknowingly touch a magical object like a Portkey or did she accidentally get in the way of a spell that was cast, or drink a magical potion by accident? Or did I as a child unknowingly do any of those things? Or was one of my ancestors in some sort of accident whereby they received magical blood instead of Muggle blood at a hospital? There must be a reason, McGonagall.”
“If there was a common situation, like Muggle exposure to magic, then it would’ve been found. The question remains a mystery that will remain unsolved.”
“It must be solved.” Hermione adamantly shook her head.
“Why? Why must it be solved? Conception itself is a magical occurrence whether Muggle or otherwise. The fusing together of two different things with all sorts of chromosomes and molecules is a miracle of life that no scientist in all of world history has ever been able to figure out, let alone the question of why some have magic and some don't. We are of a small minority of people. It is a gift.”
“That does not help or make me feel better about my situation.”
“It’s been suggested that magic has the ability to choose the person,” the professor offered. "We should embrace this explanation, however vague it is."
“That is just another theory, not unlike my own theories. Not proven,” Hermione countered.
“You are the brightest witch of your age and have nothing to prove to anyone. You are amongst the best of your generation. Why would this bother you so as to have you doing research in such a way as to be hiding it, I presume?” The professor raised an eyebrow accusingly.
“Perhaps it is because my blood status prevented me from getting a simple date to a rather uneventful New Year’s Eve party!”
The professor looked surprised.
“Yes. My date canceled on me the day of the party, sighting that his parents had ‘blood issues.’ They found offence with my dirty blood and would not allow their son to take me to a party!”
Hermione folded her arms to her chest.
“One can change their hair style or color. One can even change the color of their eyes or lose weight. How do I fix who I was born to? A Pureblood has no control over it either… and yet I’m the one tainted.” She felt like crying, but held back her tears in front of the professor.
Draco cringed at her words. She had lost a date to ‘blood issues’ on New Year’s Eve? That’s what must’ve been bothering her on the train. He knew it wasn’t just about breaking up with Ron. Of course she would never tell him.
Draco thought of her words. She said that she was tainted and yet he was the one with a Dark Mark on his forearm. He felt the twinge of sickness. He was the one that was tainted, not her.
He recalled then how dark her mood had been. It’s no wonder she told him to go to Hell. He was the last person she would’ve wanted to see in her compartment.
And it was no wonder now why she would not open up and tell him what had been on her mind for so long. Blood status. He knew that he would be the last person she would confide in when it came to that sore subject.
Waves of guilt convicted him over and over again as he began realizing just how deep he had wounded her.
No one noticed, but the flowers he had conjured had become wilted and were suddenly dying, his own self-hatred killing them.
"It is society that is tainted, dear. Not you." The professor didn’t say anything about Hermione losing her date and decided it best to listen.
“When I was a young girl, I had dreams like most ambitious little girls that believed what their parents told them… that they could be whatever they wanted to be so long as they worked hard at it. But when I found out that I was a magical person, those dreams were quickly forgotten because my reality was far better than any dream that I had for myself.”
Hermione seemed to stare beyond the stack of books in front of her while speaking her heart.
“You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that there were certain people that didn’t want me here… that didn’t think I should be taught magic. They thought of me as a filthy little Mudblood… the lowest class of magical human beings, underserving of magic.”
Draco shrunk at her words. She was talking about him… the first to cut her so deeply.
“Did Malfoy insult you again? Do I need to talk to him?” the professor asked as though fully ready to go to battle for her student.
“No!” Hermione nearly shouted. “Malfoy is the last… last person I want you to talk to about this!” she cried, mortified.
“Are you sure? I know that he’s said things in the past…”
“No, Professor,” she said shaking her head. “It’s not that Malfoy has called me a name. It’s not that at all.”
She remembered being at her parent’s home on New Year’s Eve and finally facing the fact that it wasn’t just Malfoy. She had wondered back then how many more times her blood status would be a problem. Perhaps if she were to become a healer, how many Pureblood patients would refuse to be treated by her? Or perhaps she would apply for a job and be turned away because she was a Muggle-born.
Those were the concerns that had started her research. But with such strong feelings for Draco now, even those things were nothing compared to what hurt the most.
Hermione felt the heaviness in her heart at the truth of the matter.
“Why then? What has sparked this sudden curiosity?” the professor asked with concern.
“Because I want to know… and trust me, it’s not sudden.”
The professor knew that merely telling Hermione to stop was not going to do one bit of good. Her convincing would need logic… a case study perhaps. Reluctantly, she began her debate.
“Filch’s brother wanted to know as well,” McGonagall began. “Out of guilt, I presume.”
“Filch?” Hermione knit her brow wondering what in the world a squib would have to do with her circumstance. “Filch had a brother?”
“Identical twin… except for magic. He too would come here looking for answers… blood, squibs, magical inheritance or transference. They were the same in every way… born only minutes apart. Why would one newborn babe have magic and the other one not, born to two magical parents? Don’t you think Filch wonders that while he roams these halls?”
“Why does he roam these halls?” she asked boldly.
The woman gave a forced sigh as if she didn’t really want to continue the story, but felt she now owed an explanation.
“Filch’s magical twin died in an accident the summer before his seventh year. When that happened, Filch wanted to see Hogwarts… wanted to see where his brother had lived. And after witnessing this castle, he didn’t want to leave and so he begged Albus for a job. That’s why Filch roams these halls.”
Hermione let out a long sigh and shifted in her seat, finding sympathy for someone she never thought she would.
“The point of all that is… why would a magical couple have a non-magical child and even more so… an identical twin have magic while the other did not? Hermione, there is no logical explanation. And it reciprocates… why would Muggles have a child with magic? It is but a mystery that has no logical answer.”
Hermione did not like this lesson that had no answer. It told her nothing and only brought up more questions.
“Stop wasting your time, dear. There is nothing wrong with you,” the kind professor urged.
She gave a slight huff. “Oh, but there is something wrong,” Hermione countered. "Something very wrong."
“What, child. What is wrong?”
Hermione questioned whether or not to answer her professor. She would’ve rather have talked to her mother, but her mother wasn’t there and would never understand anyway.
There was a long pause between the two before Hermione spoke her heart.
Draco listened intently, wondering what his love would say.
“There are lessons here at school… lessons that I never expected or wanted to learn, Professor.”
“Bigotry?” McGonagall guessed. "Hatred?"
“No.” Hermione swallowed hard for what she was about to say that would reveal nearly everything, but certainly not all.
“I learned that a heart is not unlike a wand. Like a wand that chooses the wizard, the heart chooses who it wants to love, even if against our will.”
Draco shrunk back into the shadows above. He could no longer look at them. Her words had become too painful to hear.
Hermione continued to stare beyond the books then asked, “Have you ever had feelings for someone that you couldn’t have, Minerva?”
The professor understood then… the reason behind the research. She also understood why she had called her by her first name. Because Hermione didn’t need a professor at that moment, she needed a confidant. It tore down a wall, so to speak, and Minerva gave the young woman sitting across from her a truthful answer.
McGonagall had a tired look about her as her memory flashed to the past… to a tall, dashing and dark-haired young man that loved her once... a man now dead to her.
“I was young once. And yes, I had feelings for someone that I couldn’t have, but for very different reasons than blood status… but no matter the reason, I do know what that feels like,” she answered as a frail hand moved over her own heavy, burdened heart.
Hermione was surprised that McGonagall had experienced anything similar and felt sorry for the woman.
“I wish we could just wave our magic wands, Professor, and fix opinions of society. But I know if we had that kind of power, the dark side would only use it against us… against people like me, I mean.”
The professor didn’t need to answer.
“And what do you suggest I do now?” Hermione asked, looking into the darkness of the library once again.
The older woman spoke the only wise words that she could think to say, hoping that they would have some meaning.
“Find someone else to love. Move on… before it is too late and you find yourself alone, married to your work, and the children that you love are someone else’s.”
The professor’s voice cracked from the weight of her quiet pain of having no children of her own.
Draco didn't want to hear anymore and prayed their conversation would end soon. "Move on? Find someone else to love?” The professor's advice hurt him like a Cruciatus blow, but it was truthful and the right thing to do.
The flowers he was going to give her had fully dried to a crisp and were now disintegrating like ashes falling.
McGonagall didn’t want the conversation to end on such a sad note and so she added, “Keep your heart open and one day, you will find the love of your life, Hermione. He will be a wonderful, kind man that will love you unconditionally. He will take away all of your fears and insecurities about blood status and will mend your heart.”
Draco's image flashed in her mind as the only person that could ever truly do that.
A shiver ran down her spine. She thought she felt his staring once more. Was he there or was her sleepy mind playing tricks on her?
“Collect your things and get to bed. I’ll re-shelve the books,”McGonagall insisted, her voice returning to her normal professor-like tone.
Hermione left the library upset that she had no answers… only more questions. Her heart was hurting, loving someone she couldn’t have.
She walked abruptly toward Gryffindor Tower, hugging her personal letters and items to her chest.
When McGonagall was finally out of sight, Draco leaped from the top of the high library shelf silently to the floor and ran after Hermione. The only way for him to catch up to her was to remain in his Animagus form and sprint to Gryffindor Tower.
He wanted to talk to her… wanted her to stop this unhealthy obsession of blood and ancestry, but was unsure of what to say. He had already told her that it didn’t matter to him, but her heart was still hurting.
Hermione hurriedly walked down a long corridor getting more and more upset with each step. She wanted those books for research and figured that McGonagall probably re-shelved them so that she wouldn’t be able to find them easily.
“Find someone else to love?” She mumbled to herself. “Easier said than done.”
Draco ran as fast as he could, his huge paws hitting the floor with near complete silence, hoping that no one would see him in his state.
He caught a glimpse of her just as she was about the walk the steps to the Gryffindor Tower.
He needed to stop her in her tracks before he would be locked out. The opportunity was closing fast so he did the only thing he thought would stop her.
He leaped ahead of her onto the top of the landing and whipped around so that they were now nearly face to face.
But it wasn’t his normal face she was staring into.
Instead, a ferocious black leopard brought her to an abrupt halt as she gasped ready to scream the air out of her lungs. Her eyes widened and her heart skipped beats for fear at what had just leaped in front of her.
The commanding presence of the animal showing his sharp white teeth took her breath.
Stunning fear had her feet glued to the ground as she tried desperately to think logically as the gray eyes of the beast stared into her own.
The magnificent cat began to pace in front of her like one that was caged and frustrated.
Her logical senses began to take over.
Why would there be a fierce and brooding black leopard in Hogwarts? There wouldn’t be. Which meant that it was someone transformed into their Animagus state. Whoever it was… it was a most beautiful and amazing creature.
Its coat was sleek and of the darkest shade of black. It moved with strength and stealth as if watching its prey… ready to devour at will.
But as she looked into the beast’s eyes, she finally realized who it was.
She remembered being a little girl watching the mysterious and powerful black leopards at the zoo. They had piercing yellow eyes, but not this one.
This great and stunning beast had eyes of gray.
It continued its frustrated pacing in front of her as he contemplated what to say.
“Draco?” she questioned in awe of his beautiful form.
The Animagus state is said to reflect the traits of the wizard and this one was certainly no exception.
The black leopard, known for its high level of intelligence and cunning, a powerful lurking menace whose dark coat with hidden spots, reflecting Draco’s color of choice, a loner, proud, quiet, and stealthy… an exceptional stalker.
Yes… this was Draco Malfoy and he made one gorgeous beast.
“You are a shadowy stalker, aren’t you?” she asked mad at him. “You heard everything, didn’t you?”
Embarrassment and hurt flooded her. He could see it on her face. He was never meant to hear that conversation with McGonagall.
He continued his pacing in front of her, but his piercing grey eyes never left hers.
“Well now that you finally know what has been bothering me all this time, you’ll understand that you were the last person on the planet that I would talk to about it.”
His silent pacing was irritating her. Was he just going to stay in his transformed state and say nothing?
“Oh, just let me pass,” she said as she attempted to make her way around him.
But instead, she was met with a most threatening sound as the black leopard in front of her gave a fierce and low hollow rattle from deep within his chest.
“We had an agreement!” she practically yelled at him. “I wasn’t supposed to come looking for you and you weren’t supposed to come looking for me. It figures that you would be the one to break it!” she snapped.
Just then, the black predator sat up on its hind legs as Draco grew upward, reaching his full height into his human form.
“I saw your reaction to that letter and wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“Well, as you can see, I’m fine. Now move,” she demanded as she tried to speed passed him, hugging her personal things to her chest trying not to drop them.
But he caught her instead.
“You must stop this.”
“Stop what exactly? Trying to get away from you?” she said angrily.
“No. Researching blood issues.” He bent down to force her to look at him. “Does my opinion of you not matter at all?”
She was trying to hold onto her anger, but it was futile. She was more angry at society, than his eavesdropping.
“Of course you matter. But please forgive me for trying to find the answer that has eluded Muggle-borns throughout the ages. I was hoping to find an answer so that maybe our world would be a little less hateful so that someday… someday someone like me could be with someone like you.”
Her eyes began to water at the heaviness felt in her chest, but she fought the tears as hard as she ever had.
“Forgive me… a fool in thinking that I could ever make a difference,” she told him.
She tried again to get passed him, but he was not ready to allow her to leave just yet.
“You are no fool, Hermione Granger. And for the record, I find your theories immensely brilliant. You’ve opened my eyes on such thoughts as to why and how, especially Muggle exposure to magic.”
Her eyes cast down to the floor as she suddenly felt silly at such a theory. There was never proof.
He could sense that what he was saying wasn’t helping her.
“Tell me. How can I make this better?” he asked as his warm breath reached her face. “Tell me and I’ll do it.”
Hermione recalled all that he had done to prove that he no longer thought of her as someone tainted. His closeness reminded her of the ways that he made her feel valued and wanted.
“How could I possibly ask a single thing more of you? The way you…” But she stopped mid-sentence, trying to choose her words carefully. “There isn’t anything you can do about this. I don’t expect you to ever fully understand.”
Draco wanted to comfort her… wanted desperately to make it right and take her pain away.
“There isn’t a Pureblood in this place who is worthy of you.”
She shook her head adamantly and was instantly furious at him.
“Stop it!” she yelled as she hit him in the chest. “Have you not been listening at all? How arrogant of you to decide who is worthy and who isn’t. I’m bloody sick of it! It isn’t up to you… or any Pureblood… or any Malfoy!”
Her words were like a slap to his face. He meant to give her a compliment, but what he said had ruined the moment instead.
“The only thing that you could possibly do for me now is to let me pass… and leave me alone.”
She spoke the last words in a hushed tone, knowing full well she didn’t want to say them.
After an uneasy moment of tension, she fully expected him to say something nasty to her in rebuttal. People usually do when their feelings have been hurt. But instead, Draco stepped aside silently so that they were now shoulder to shoulder, finally granting her access to pass.
To his surprise, she stood there for a few seconds, unmoving.
Her pause spoke to him. An unwritten language that said she didn’t really want to be left alone, but what choice did they have?
He didn't watch as she made her way to the entrance door. But as soon as heard it creak open behind him, he uttered three little words.
“I miss you,” he said into his shoulder, never fully turning around to look at her.
His words nearly took her breath.
"And I... you," she replied truthfully, wanting him to turn around and kiss her goodnight.
But as soon as he heard her response, Draco walked away without looking back, fully intending to abide by her wishes and leave her alone.
Hearing the door close, he could feel his heart grow cold and ice form like a thick shell, encasing his very soul.
After that, Draco’s dark demeanor worsened. He had become somewhat more of a loner and regressed into hardly speaking to anyone and barely had an appetite to show up for meals. He was skipping breakfast to sleep in and would skip class on occasion. His grades were slipping and it didn’t seem like he cared at all.
Priorities were rearranged and everything about school became unimportant and meaningless, more so than ever before.
People left him alone for the most part, including girls. He would look at them as if he would bite them if they got too close. His ferocious actions kept them away so much so, that the normal sluts and gold-diggers were no longer a problem. Even Pansy kept her distance.
Blaise Zabini took notice of his best friend’s deteriorated state.
He was thinking about what to say to him when his girlfriend, Astoria Greengrass urged him to intervene.
“You’re his best friend. Something is bothering him.”
“I know full well what is bothering him and I can assure you that nothing I would do could possibly fix any of it.”
Astoria knew not to ask what it was, smart girl. It was one of things Blaise loved about her. She knew there were limits to information, especially when it came to Draco Malfoy.
“Well you must try something. I’m worried sick about him.”
“Are you now?” Blaise clenched his jaw at her little confession, not that he couldn’t see the way her eyes would follow his friend whenever he passed them.
Apparently Astoria didn’t loathe Draco as much as he had hoped. And that thought ripped through his insides. Would she ever let go of her adolescent crush on Draco and realize what she had with Blaise?
It surprised him how quickly his jealousy became overshadowed by utter sadness as he thought of the only way that he might be able to pull Draco out of the darkness and prevent him from going mad.
Draco couldn’t have the Mudblood girl he wanted, but he could have Astoria. She cared for him and Blaise figured that fact alone would have Draco falling for her rather quickly.
Perhaps that’s what Draco needed most… a caring woman’s touch to take his mind off his dark task. And she would follow through with it, Blaise knew. And it cut him deeper than he’d ever felt possible. He felt the stab just under the center of his ribs. It’s what happens when you love someone whose interests lie with someone else.
Astoria had told Blaise of all the insults Draco threw at her at New Year’s Eve. He struggled not to laugh, knowing full well that Draco meant none of those things. Blaise thought it mighty noble of Draco to not partake in something that was his for the taking. Instead, he helped him by pointing Astoria his way.
And so, Blaise decided to return the noble gesture by giving up Astoria, his love, in the hopes of saving a friend.
“I’ll talk to him,” he promised in a sad tone, pausing to kiss her tenderly on the cheek for what he thought might be the last time.
He was at the threshold of the door when he turned around to her to say one last thing.
“You know, Astoria, you are one of the few kindhearted Slytherins in this place.” He swallowed hard to lose the lump in his throat. “No matter what happens… don’t ever lose that, Love.”
And so Blaise went looking for Draco to present an offer that would test a friendship and prove the loyalty and sacrifice of one Slytherin brother to another.
Well, Draco now knows what's been bothering her and Hermione knows his Animagus form. What did you think of it, a black leopard?
Hermione wants to find the answer so that she could be with him someday. Her deepest insecurities were laid out in front of a trusted professor. Poor dear. She never did get her flowers. ;(
Love to all,
P.S. Over 29,500 reads and 181 Favorited. My heart thanks you! Unbelievable!
And... "The Winds of Azkaban" is now Completed (just 3 chapters).