Hermione arose to the gleam of sunshine glaring in dazzling and bright through the dormitory window. She sat up, the light turning her hair to gold. She splashed cold water over her face and into her eyes, blinking it away and feeling awake to the day.
The sounds of Parvati and Lavender’s restful breathing filled her ears.
She dressed in her usually flawless uniform and ran a brush through her hair. She considered doing something with it, after all it was early, and she had plenty of time. She decided against it. If he notices me, it’s got to be for who I am. She remembered the time at the Yule Ball, when even Draco Malfoy had stared at her.
Who am I kidding? She sighed. Draco could have anyone he wanted – girls worshipped the ground he walked on. He was just to distracted to notice it. If he didn’t notice them, then what chance did she have?
She descended the stairs and reached the common room. It was empty, save for a first year scribbling down some last minute homework. She passed him with a faint smile, reflecting how Harry and Ron had been exactly the same at that age, and doubtless still were.
The Great Hall was practically deserted. A couple sat together, snugly tight, on the Ravenclaw table. She looked at them in a mixture of distaste and envy – they were all over each other. She had never had a relationship before – or she had, but it seemed like so long ago. Viktor Krum had been a shock for her. He had adored her, seen her in a way no other ever had. He had believed in her beauty; she had done him proud when she proved him right at the Yule Ball. Dancing with Krum had been exotic; exhilarating and an exciting experience, but she had been constantly looking over his shoulder, wondering if Draco noticed, jealous that Pansy Parkinson had him all to herself.
She helped herself to breakfast, taking her place and pulling a plate towards her. She hardly tasted the toast she was eating; her thoughts were too afar. It had been two weeks since Draco had last spoken too her – no insults, no recognition that she was even there. Oh, sure, he had come out in a rush of insults for Harry over the past fortnight, but she remained part of the background, a figure he couldn’t see for anything else than a student. Disappointment caressed her like a fatal touch of a knife. Flames of anger licked over her. Why couldn’t she be someone pretty, someone attractive?
Harry and Ron entered, sitting down beside her.
"You’re up early," Ron observed, leaning over rather rudely to snatch up a piece of toast before shoving it into his mouth. He saw her face and frowned. "What’s up?"
"Ron," she said before she could stop herself. "Am I ugly?"
A look of shock crossed the freckled Weasley’s face. "Of course not!"
"Then why doesn’t he notice me?"
"What?! Who?" They both looked her strangely. "What’s up? What are you talking about?"
She shook her head and pulled out an exercise book, opening it quickly to hide her face.
She looked across to see Draco entering the hall, his face proud and beautiful against the cold winter air that shivered animosity and dread throughout the room. Her head throbbed with desperation and longing.
Why wasn’t she good enough for him?
* * *
Draco Malfoy entered the Great Hall, a yawn stretching open his mouth. Flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, he marched confidently across the hall, noticing the hundreds of adoring eyes that followed him. He didn’t care – none of them were good enough for him, or at least – that was what his father always said. Draco’s father had decided upon an arranged marriage; the girl had already been chosen, although he had only met her four of five times. She attended Durmstrang, but spoke perfect English. He remembered his first introduction to her.
* * *
"Draco, this is Emstilla Natel Karkaroff," his father had announced her arrival, ushering a girl with long dark hair into the room and attempting a smile – he hadn’t practised much. "And this is her father, Professor Karkaroff."
Draco had looked to them with awe; he had been fourteen at the time. Karkaroff had slick, oiled black hair back then and a curling moustache. He had worn rich clothes of ebony velvet with gold buttons and he had stood tall and proud.
"Karkaroff is the head of Durmstrang School in Hungry," Lucius had explained. "He’s of high ranking and utmost respect where he comes from. Treat him accordingly."
Karkaroff shook Draco’s hand and smiled, looking as if he was sucking a lemon. "My greetings to you, Master Malfoy. I expect I shall be seeing more of you in the future – and in fact, next term, for Hogwarts is where the Triwizard tournament shall be hosted." He ran ink eyes over Draco and nodded approvingly. "Your son has both yours and Narcissa’s good-looks, Lucius. Let us hope he turns out as well as you did."
Lucius had smiled at the compliment and directed them towards the dining room. They had told Draco to show Emstilla the Malfoy grounds, proposing that they get to know one another a little better.
"This is a beautiful home," she had smiled at him as they rode on horseback throughout the gardens, where house-elves tended to the shrubs and primmed the flowers. Draco had picked a rose for her and they had smiled awkwardly. Both knew of their family’s intentions, yet it was too maladroit to mention it.
Over the years, Emstilla had revisited, and Draco had gone to stay with the Karkaroffs during the summer. They shared an unstable friendship, shy and clumsy. The marriage was agreed based on suitability, hierarchy, funds and allegiance. Narcissa had talked to him once about it.
"Draco, darling, I do hope you appreciate the wife your father and I have found for you." She had been sat in the parlour, sipping mint tea. Her long hair was bound back and her robes contrasted with the paleness of her face. "We spent a long time considering it when you were born, and came to an agreement ten years ago. After the fall of the Dark Lord, the Death Eaters knew where their friends lay. Karkaroff is a great and powerful man. You will not find much fault with him."
Draco had said nothing. Neither he nor Emstilla had a choice in the matter. They were chess pieces, used by their parents to provide the best fates. They were just ornaments, claimed by the highest bidder. When Emstilla was eighteen, she and Draco would be married, and she would have to move in. They would be expected to produce Pureblood children, then decide the fates and lives of them.
When Draco had last seen Emstilla, she had grown fast over the months of summer. It had been the last day of the holidays before he returned to Hogwarts, and she had asked to see the gardens again, for there was little else they could do. Uncomfortable in one another’s presence, they had trekked down across the lawn to the lavender garden, and sat under the old elm tree, the overhanging branches protecting them with shade against the sun.
"When I come to live here, I shall add all sorts of herbs to this garden – rosemary, thyme, nettle, jasmine, cardamom . . ." She trailed off, and they both shivered involuntarily. It was the first time they had discussed the future. Draco sat and said nothing. Emstilla smoothed out her skirts and gazed at him through dark, almost black eyes. Her pallid skin seemed vulnerable as she tried to look hopeful.
"We’ll get on well, won’t we?"
He had nodded, silent.
"I mean – our arranged marriage is for . . . our own good." Her hand touched his and he shifted slightly. "Yet I feel as if I hardly know you, and . . ."
He nodded again, but this time replied. "I know what you mean. We’ve just been thrown into this, and our fathers only think of it for logic, not for . . ." he trailed off.
"Love," she said for him, and a smile curled through her sadness. "Do you believe in love? Could we fall in love, in time, despite not feeling it now? Could we learn to love one another? Is it possible" She looked a little disappointed.
He shrugged and met her eyes. "I don’t know."
* * *
They had not spoken since then. He hadn’t meant to offend her, but the truth had come pouring out. What else could he say? He couldn’t pretend to love her, could he? Besides, he thought he felt something for someone else, someone so unexpected it was difficult to believe.
Hermione Granger sat a distance away, pouring over her textbooks, a piece of toast in one hand. He spared her a fearful look. A Mudblood. A Gryffindor. An enemy of Voldemort. Everything his family stood against. So why did he feel this way? Why was she so special?
In truth, it scared him. What would his parents say? They would be disgusted. And the Karkaroffs . . . disappointment would belong to them also. Draco didn’t know what love felt like, but he knew he would never feel it for Emstilla. She was beautiful; no one could deny it. Her dark hair fell like a fountain of night down her back, sometimes in a cascade of curls, sometimes in foaming straightness. She needed no make-up to look beautiful. Her long eyelashes curled long and shadowing over her face. Her black eyes were intoxicating and entrancing, her figure slender and perfect, yet he felt nothing other than attraction for her.
With Hermione, it was different. He watched her now, with her gold-brown hair, gleaming almost bronze now; her slightly freckled face that glowed bright when she was successful; her peony lips that moved fast when she spoke and were always slightly parted, as if she were waiting for someone to release her love . . . What he enjoyed most about her was how she was so lovely to look at and she didn’t know it.
She looked up, sensing the pinioned glare, and shifted nervously, looking away. He smiled – she was so unsure of herself, so insecure. Somewhere, deep behind all that intelligence and love for books, there was a rose waiting to be unleashed. He wanted to pick that flower and claim it only for himself.
Yet he was so awful to her. He hated her, because she tempted him and he knew she was out of bounds. She was all his family despised, she was forbidden. And she didn’t even know of his pains and heartache to have her . . . So he snapped at her, spited her, tried to hurt her with cruel words at every opportunity, because if he could not have her then no one could.
He thought about the Yule Ball, at how she had looked so glorious and shy when she came down those stairs and entered the Great Hall on Krum’s arm. The way she had glanced around nervously like a frightened animal had melted his cold heart. He had known then instantly that she was the only one who could ever warm him.
He shook his head in despair. There was the Halloween Ball coming up, just a week today. Perhaps he could ask her . . .? He cursed himself for even hoping it. Never. He was engaged. His father’s wrath would be limitless if his plans were damaged in anyway.
She could never know.
If she did, and their feelings were mutual, then there would be no stopping him.
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