Chapter 1 : Invisible Feelings
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Julie de Lespinasse
It was October, the sort of time when all have become bored of the dull routine of lessons, and the drizzly outside rain drums down in a constant rhythmic drone against the glass pane windows. Draco Malfoy sat with his head pressed up against the glass, his arms resting lazily on the desk before him. He stared out at the dismal atmosphere; the looming mountains beyond the castle grounds were riveting and black, like shadows or oppressing overhead daggers. The cold of the glass bit into his skin like ice and he heaved a sigh as his mind drifted away.
Hermione Granger sat up, straight-backed and listening intently. Her hair, despite its bushyness, had been neatly groomed into a tail to keep it out of her face and prevent it from distracting her. Her robes were smooth and without a crease from the Flattening Potion she had dipped them in the night before. Her small polished shoes rested firmly beneath the desk, and her eyes were fixed on the teacher directly ahead.
"And so we come at last to the potion I find most loathsome and useless of all Ė in fact, I hardly see the point in teaching it Ė save that the curriculum demands." Snapeís black, endless eyes slid around the room, observing them each in turn. They stopped when they landed on Draco Malfoy, considered for a while, then moved on. "Some select few of you will likely have purchased this potion once before." He looked directly at Pansy Parkinson, who squirmed and blushed under his accusing glare. "I would take this opportunity to remind you that use of the potion is strictly forbidden in this school. Any caught doing it will immediately be punished, or perhaps Ė if I have my way," his eyes darted to Harry Potter and a smile formed cruelly on his lips, "expelled."
Hermione could sense Harryís frustration and caught sight of his hands curling into fists. She shook her head in warning to him. "Harry, no, just ignore him. Itís not worth it Ė itíll only end up in detention, and whereís the sense in that? Calm down, let it pass."
She wasnít sure if he took her words into account, but his fists certainly unfurled. They were placed in a different room today, because the dungeons had become flooded due to the bad weather and overflowing black lake. The castle was arctic Ė they could almost see their breaths clouding in the air. Hermione spared a glance at Draco Ė his eyes were actually closed now. It was simply ridiculous! Snape refused to notice any fault in his favourite, and yet despite Dracoís laziness, he still managed to achieve top grades. He was one of those infuriating people who did no work all year but always beat everyone else in exams. Hermioneís eyes hardened; he had got higher marks than her for the past few years. It was so aggravating.
Lately Hermione had been feeling strange things for Draco Malfoy. It was something she had never experienced before, save with Gilderoy Lockheart in second year, or her small crush of Cedric Diggory before he died. But this was different somehow. It wasnít a crush Ė it couldnít be! He was her enemy, after all. How could she fancy a person who loathed her from her bloodlines to her personality. Yet she did. It was a shy liking, confusing and exasperating. She didnít want to feel this attraction, but she was fascinated by him.
Her eyes studied him for some time and she was actually driven off-course from concentrating on what Professor Snape was saying. She saw his beauty Ė it wasnít even subtle, she despaired. It was true that more than half the students at Hogwarts had a crush on this handsome Slytherin, but that was out of plain looks. All knew of his renowned evil intent and foul temper. His spite was like a cutting blade on his tongue. He mocked those he looked down upon, which was basically everyone who was not as rich as him, not a pureblood and not Slytherin. Draco Malfoy didnít seem to admire anyone, yet all the Slytherins looked up to him. He was popular with them, but his disdain was obvious in the way he looked at them. She was entranced and incredulous Ė how did he achieve it.
Suddenly he opened his eyes and looked at her, a cold silver steeliness that bore straight into her. She found herself growing red and quickly averted her gaze to Snape, her body growing hot and flustered.
"Get into pairs and follow the instructions on the board," Snape continued as Hermione tuned in once again. He flicked his wand in the direction of the blackboard and chalk scrawl appeared. Hermione studied the ingredients, willing to concentrate on anything but the thoughts that scattered freely about her mind. She couldnít get them away, and she hated herself for it. What would Harry and Ron think if they knew? She asked herself, ashamed.
She jolted back to reality to catch Harry and Ron immediately moving towards one another. Great, she thought bitterly, now Iím left alone to find my own partner. She couldnít help her jealousy; it was just that she was always left out when it came to classwork. Oh yes, they were all too keen when it came to homework Ė when they needed answers, but during lessons . . . She scowled and looked away, calming herself.
It was the usual scene. Parvati and Lavender automatically turned to one another; Dean and Seamus began to converse on what girls they liked, Neville watched her hopefully but she avoided his eye . . . She couldnít help but feel alone.
"Hermione? Have you got a partner? Can I work with you?" Neville Longbottom shuffled over, his round face smiling, plump palms squashed into his tissue-stuffed pockets.
"Of course," she replied with a sinking feeling, hoping she didnít sound too disappointed. She stood up and attempted a smile. "You can fetch the top half of the list, Iíll get the bottom. Oh Ė and Neville, try not to drop anything on your way back, hmm?"
He nodded eagerly and dawdled over to the cabinets. Hermione sighed and went to the trays loaded on the trolley, where all the things they needed had been sorted into groups.
"Watch where youíre going, Granger," Draco Malfoy snapped as she unwillingly bumped into him. She looked up to see his fierce eyes burning into hers. She trembled slightly and her heart fluttered like a butterfly. She felt herself growing red again. "I understand itís hard to see over those beaverís teeth, but honestly, you could at least try."
Automatically her hand flew to her mouth and her lips tightened suddenly. She scowled. "As you were the one to kindly give me an excuse to shrink them last year, Draco, I would expect you to remember that my teeth are now the average size, like everyone else."
She watched his frown and the way his face puzzled for more insults. Instead he asked, "Draco? When have you ever called me that before?"
She was lost for words. Had she really just called him by his first name? She cursed herself for her foolishness. Surely he would know . . . would he guess what her traitorous heart desired? Luckily Harry saved her.
"Hermione, is this pathetic pasty-faced ferret giving you grief?" He glared through emerald eyes and black-rimmed glasses at his nemesis. Dracoís gaze shifted and hardened. "Because if he is, Iíll be glad to sort it out."
"No, Harry, honestly Ė itís fine," she protested, grabbing his arm and pulling him back. "We were just talking."
Draco looked at her strangely, then smirked. "Yeah, thatís right, Scarhead, we were just discussing dentist work Ė we were observing her teeth, see. Isnít that what Muggles call them? Dentists?"
"Hermione is a witch," Harry growled dangerously. "It wouldnít be good for you to suggest otherwise."
Dracoís grin grew wider, a curved half-moon of menace. "Surely, Potter, a half-blood such as yourself cannot neglect to detect the stench of a Mudblood." He sneered at Hermione. "Her very presence disgusts me."
Heís talking about me as if Iím not even here, Hermione thought. Like Iím nothing. Hurt stabbed around a welling of anger. Harryís wrath was more traceable.
"No stink is worse than your own, Malfoy. The stench of snobbery Ė itís repulsive."
"Is that so?" Snarled the Slytherin malevolently. "You shame yourself by even standing up for her. You ought to know that Mudbloods arenít meant to be a part of the Wizarding race. Your father was a Pureblood, Potter, but youíre a Halfblood Ė youíve got you filthy scummy Mudblood mother to thank for that. Hopefully Granger will go the same way she did."
Hermione managed to interject just as Harry seized a handful of Dracoís robes. "Harry, stop it!" She squealed angrily. "I can stand up for myself! I said, STOP IT!"
Harry looked at her incredulously and halted his fist before it connected, but did not release Draco.
"Seriously, Harry, leave him Ė please. Heís not worth the trouble; youíre just giving him what he wants: attention. He obviously doesnít get enough at home."
Those words provoked Draco more than anything, she could tell by the pained look on his face. Emotion coursed his skin and she was aware of guilt throbbing through her. Hermione had always been interested in Dracoís life at home Ė it was a curious and hidden secret. His parents were so cold, wealthy, dark-arts absorbed people that she found it impossible to imagine them as comforting, amusing still to consider them Ďlovingí. And element of sympathy passed through her every time she tired to contrive their treatment of Draco. Penitent, she looked away.
"I ask you to GET ON with your work," Snape emphasised those two words with quiet anger. They all blinked and then scattered away to their work.
Hermione gathered up the ingredients, choosing them each with care, realising how much time had passed and been wasted. They had approximately forty-five minutes left to prepare a potion as opposed to the original sixty. She hastened back to her desk where Neville stood idly waiting for her instructions.
"Did you get the gold-plated cauldron?" She enquired, looking around for it, already knowing the answer.
"Er Ė no," Neville replied, abashed. "I didnít realise. It wasnít on the list."
"I didnít acknowledge that you need more than two brain cells to comprehend a cauldron is necessary. After all, itís not as if we can stir the potions up in anything else," she snapped irritably, but felt remorseful when she noticed the shocked, offended expression on Nevilleís face. "Iím sorry," she apologised. "Iím just a little wound up, thatís all. Fetch a cauldron, would you? There in the store cupboard."
He nodded quickly and disappeared. Hermione picked up a narrow, thin knife and began to chop the ingredients, making sure the measurements were precise. Her gaze slid over accidentally to see Draco eyeing his own knife with awe, the flashing silver glints of it reflecting in his eyes. She went cold when she saw his eyes darting from the knife to Harry.
Just ignore it, she told herself. Stop staring at him
Neville returned with the cauldron, and she began to load the ingredients into it. First the roots, then the one and a half centimetres of dragonís heartstring. Neville stood around looking awkward.
"Could you light the fire?" She asked him, shredding the skin and feathers from a doveís wing, pouring in the contents of blood, half-a-pint exactly. "Put it to boil, then after ten minutes, after Iíve added the rose-petals, turn it to simmer."
He nodded to this, setting up the cauldron and then spending the remaining time watching the clock. Hermione tried not to get irritated with him Ė it really wasnít Nevilleís fault. The boy was just too nervous, too jumpy, too unsure of himself. His insecurity came from years of nagging from his grandmother, doubts from the teachers, bullying from the Slytherins.
"Five minutes," Snape announced rather unhelpfully, causing Seamus Finnigan to panic and drop the vial of sun-basked water to the floor. Hermione glanced at her potion and smiled brightly Ė it was done to perfection. Needless to say she could have done it without the observing of Longbottom. She sneaked a peek at Harry and Ronís, taking small pleasure in the fact that thereís was two shades off colour. Well, she thought smugly, if one of them had chosen to work with me, then it wouldnít have happened.
"Goodness, Hermione, do you think you could lend us a hand?" Lavender complained desperately as she held the canter of her brew up to the candlelight. "I think we must have missed something."
"You must have added too much heartstring," Hermione pointed out. "Itís veering more to the red side than the pink." She cleared her throat and hooked a loose strand of hair behind one ear. "If you try sprinkling in some bone-powder it might reverse it. Make sure itís only two shakes though."
She turned back to her own work, taking pride in her vast knowledge. It was just about ready, and she ordered Neville to take it off the fire. They looked down over it hopefully, and Hermione filled a vial up with the potion.
"Perfect," Neville congratulated her appraisingly.
Draco Malfoy strutted over; a vial of his own balanced carefully in one hand. "Youíll never win," he told her arrogantly. "This is the first time Iíve made Love Potion and like most things, Iíve got a natural talent for it." He smiled and pressed his own potion up against hers, comparing them. "See, yours is a hint paler than mine. Yours is wrong."
Hermione looked at him, face contorted with annoyance. Why did he constantly have to insist on out-staging her? "If you look more closely, youíll see that your shade of pink is probably the wrong one. Looks as if you added a particle more of crushed butterfly wings than you should have done."
His cheeks tinged pink with frustration. "Impossible. You must be as blind as Potter, Granger." He snatched her potion away and their hands touched briefly. Hermione shuddered with delight at his chilled, smooth touch. "Humph. Like I said. Youíre wrong."
"Have we all quite finished?" Snape asked darkly, patrolling the room. "Good. I shall examine the potions. Anyone who has failed to complete the task will be punished suitably."
Snape wandered from cauldron to cauldron, and looks of dread passed over the Gryffindorís faces. Crabbe and Goyle, who had been paired up together, had stood no chance. Their potion was the thick green-brown shade of slime. Snape wrinkled his nose in disgust, but meerly tutted and walked on.
"Red, Finnigan? You two will stay behind during lunchtime and every lunchtime until such time as you can do it properly."
The two boys glowered furiously.
"Potter. This is pathetic. Weasley, take that stupid look off your face," Snape barked coolly. "The pair of you will hand me in a foot-long essay by the end of today on how to construct a Love Potion."
Harry was outraged, but he had the sense to keep quiet.
"Granger . . . hmm, not bad, although I rebuke the fact that you paired yourself up with someone so thick as Longbottom, just so you could show off by doing all the work yourself. Itís called being a control-freak."
Hermione was satisfied. "Not bad" was a positive comment from Snape, as close to a compliment that she would ever get. Smiling, she folded her arms and tried not to look so delighted.
"Draco Ė" Snape paused, and his eyes flickered from Hermioneís brew to his prize students. A flicker of doubt crossed his face. He cleared his throat. "You and Blaise seemed to a produced a successful potion, although I regretfully confess, Miss Grangerís is better than yours."
Dracoís nostrils flared and his lips twisted into a sneer of contempt. His eyes produced only hate and humiliated anger. "It canít be . . ." he protested weakly. "Sheís a Mudblood."
A few people gasped at the sound of that word. It was the foulest swear word one could produce in Wizarding society. Snape pretended not to have heard. He continued to inspect the class, with comments such as, "hmm, could have done better, Parkinson," or "disappointing, Bulstrode."
The class ended and Hermione was glowing with success. She noted Dracoís stunned look as she exeunt. She couldnít keep the grin off her face. "At least now heís noticed Iím more than just a Muggle-born." A small gleam of hope gleamed inside her. Maybe, just maybe, he could come to see her for who she really was . . . Her wishful thinking kept her happy the whole way through lunch.