Chapter 17 : Betraying the Elements
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Thank you so much for all of the support you have given me! Your reviews and advice have given me so much to look forward to and work towards. I couldn’t ask for anything more! You make writing Blinded worth it and I look forward to the upcoming chapters (and I hope you are too!).
I know I have taken a while with this latest chapter and I am truly sorry for the delay and I appreciate your patience. This is an extremely important chapter as we learn more about the rebound-of-fate and a little bit about how Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy come into play. New relationships are coming into play and old ones are rekindled. I warn you that this chapter is very technical; so, if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m constantly revising to make sure that every part of the story is as clear as it can be.
Because it has been awhile, I’ve included a little recap of what happened at the end of Chapter 16. I hope you enjoy this latest addition to Blinded! And please, don’t forget to review! Thanks very much again!
I defended you. I did everything for you, and you are just going to pick up and abandon me with this CURSE because your father shows up and destroys everything, Hermione thought to him, communicating a kind of desperation.
Why didn’t you tell me about my mother? He retorted telepathically.
Draco, I’m sorry! You were sleeping and I didn’t want to…Hermione pleaded across his mind, tears running inconsolably down the sides of her cheeks.
Want to what? I’m stronger than you think, I could have handled—but his train of thought derailed. Sorry just isn’t good enough, Hermione! His reply burned her mind.
If you leave with him, this is the end! Hermione replied, more defensively than before in an attempt to gain her composure. End before ever really beginning…
Draco gazed at her maintaining eye contact, not saying anything or really alluding to an answer; he merely nodded in understanding; Hermione rushed out of the portrait hole, towards the Great Hall, where music was emanating loudly into the corridors. Hearing her leave, Draco walked up the staircase to their room, to think—really ruminate over the pain that was contaminating his lungs— to think about where his loyalties resided, what boundaries had been crossed and who, at this moment of truth, he dared to trust more.
Chapter 17: Betraying the Elements.
Hermione scurried out of the portrait hole, resisting the temptation—the need—to look back. Her chest heaved violently with anger and remorse as her frustration inundated her eyes with tears, which she was doing her best to hold back. Walking in a straight line was proving to be a difficult task in her glass heels; and her head, which had been spinning intermittently since she had downed the Shrouding Solution twenty minutes ago, felt as if it were about to shatter. Her blue dress clung to her sides as she walked, leaving a slight trail of fabric in her wake. She was beautiful—tonight she was beautiful, but without him—she was lost.
Before she really knew what had happened, Hermione collapsed, grabbing hold of the first thing to come in contact with her fingertips in an effort to cushion her fall. A suit of armor gently took her by the waist and lowered her slowly to the floor. The tears were coming faster overpowering her ability to hold them back. Raising her hands to cover her face, she surrendered to the pain and confusion. It was easier than ruminating over her relationship with Draco, her unexpected confrontation with his father, and his betrayal. It was easier than questioning why she could still see, given the distance between her and her companion. It was easier than putting your heart and soul into a friendship—perhaps more—that was doomed from the very beginning. It was just—easier.
Hermione watched as her tears slowly dripped from her cheeks into the palm of her hands, creating a puddle of disappointment and resentment. Hearing the soft approach of footsteps, her heart began to beat a little quicker within the suffocating confines of her chest. She didn’t look up—she refused to look. He put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her pain, but she did not relinquish her pride.
“I can’t—I can’t talk to you right now,” she managed.
“I’m sorry,” a muffled voice said. “Hermione, I’m really sorry.” His voice was trembling, as he stroked her bare shoulders.
At the sound of his voice, she turned around in an effort to make eye contact with the muted form now masqueraded by the shadows of the dark corridor. But only a bitter wave of disappointment ensued, engulfing her lungs in a moment of surprise as she realized who was standing before her.
“I’m really truly, from the depths of my heart, Hermione—sorry for everything that I put you through.”
“I know you are, Ron, I know you are,” was her only reply.
Draco slammed the door to his bedroom. He had never been this furious in his entire life. His father, his mother, his girlfr—Hermione—had all lied to him, kept him in the dark when darkness was all he had to begin with.
Letting the lion within him reign, Draco paced. He paced and paced, scowling furiously at anything in his way. So caught up in his fury, he didn’t even realize when a composed Dumbledore entered into the room, sporting a solemn, all-knowing expression. Draco looked up as Dumbledore approached.
“How could she keep this from me?” Draco heard the words before he realized he was speaking. “How could my father—Professor, is it true about my mother and…” he stopped. He couldn’t even bear to think about the possibility of his mother and a Potter, let alone speak of it.
Dumbledore answered calmly, “Yes, Draco. Your father has spoken the truth.”
“But why, what does that mean?” Draco exclaimed out of sheer confusion, disbelief engraved within the product of his vocal cords.
“It means, Draco, that your mother was affected by a rebound-of-fate, much like you and Miss Granger,” Dumbledore responded calmly.
“Is this thing genetic?” Draco bellowed, “I’ve read Hermione’s muggle magazines and genetic diseases are said to be the worst kind.”
“It is possible that it is genetic,” Dumbledore admitted a little surprised by Draco’s knowledge of muggle diseases. “There have been so few cases that I’m afraid the magical world has been unable to draw concrete conclusions as to the cause of this very powerful magic. Most of what we know is speculation really,” the Headmaster finished.
“Speculation?” Draco said, contorting his fury into an expression of bewilderment. “All you have is speculation?”
Hearing the desperation in Draco’s voice, Dumbledore continued, “Yes, Mr. Malfoy. As legend has it, the rebound-of-fate stems from one of the four ancient sources of magic—you probably know them as the four elements.”
“You mean like, earth, rain, wind and fire—those elements?” Draco questioned while trying to recall his limited knowledge of Binns’ History of Magic lectures, urging the Headmaster to continue.
“Those are the ones,” Dumbledore replied, giving Draco a sly smile before continuing on. “From my research of previous cases, I am pretty sure that the rebound-of-fate is more specifically a derivative of fire.”
“Fire?” Draco was very confused. “Why, fire?”
“Why? I would think that to be obvious,” Dumbledore chuckled seeing Draco’s expression. “Fire—traditionally known as the element of passion. I’m surprised to see that you and Miss Granger have not discovered this yet. I swore I saw sparks flying—” Dumbledore grinned. “I was counting on it really.”
“Counting on sparks?” Draco said, shifting a little on his feet. “No, Hermione did all the research; I know nothing and clearly she tells me nothing.” He looked hurt, disappointed, even betrayed at this last statement but quickly continued. “Wait—you were counting on it that means—you knew this was going to happen?” Draco said looking up, a new tension straining his voice.
“Alas, that is the question isn’t it?” Dumbledore said while breaking eye contact for the first time since he had glided into the dormitory. “I knew it was going to happen, yes. To whom, however, I did not know,” Dumbledore confirmed.
“How di—did you—” Draco managed, stammering in between the rising fury now strangling his vocal cords. “And wh—why didn—didn’t you tell—” He had gone back to pacing and was only half listening to the Headmaster. He let his fingers massage his temples in an effort to pacify the thoughts rampaging through his mind, giving a new more irritating meaning to the word headache. “How did you know?” he managed to say calmly, after a few minutes.
“You must understand Mr. Malfoy, that elemental magic is very powerful. There are few men and even fewer man-made objects in this world that have the strength to overpower it,” Dumbledore explained. “I could not tell you—for your safety. Your father may have been able to intervene once before, but I assure you he will not be able to do it again.”
Draco looked up, glaring at the Headmaster. “What does my father have to do with you not telling me about this rebound-of-fate? We could have prevented this—tried to at least.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “You have been studying Divination, have you not?” Dumbledore asked, piercing the impregnable tension between them.
“I suppose,” Draco answered reluctantly, thinking back to how little he had actually learned about Divination from Professor Trelawney.
“Then you are fully aware of the strength of prophecies. They cannot be prevented.”
“Prophecies? What do prophecies have to do with anything?” Draco questioned. “My father, what about my—”
“Every rebound-of-fate has been attached to a prophecy,” Dumbledore interrupted. “Your father was a very selfish man, intent on getting what he wanted despite what the fates had to say.”
“My mother,” Draco whispered, comprehension slowly dawning on him.
Dumbledore nodded. “He toyed with some very ancient and powerful magic—modifying prophecies is neither easy nor wise. They like rebounds-of-fate are also derived from one of the four elements—Earth—the basis, the foundation for life and all things magical. I did not want you to make the same mistake your father made.”
“Loving my mother was not a mistake,” Draco was outraged.
“No, but refusing to love another because of greed—challenging the fates because of greed—changing what was meant to be because of greed—is.”
Draco bowed his head, letting Dumbledore’s words crawl across his mind. “How did he intervene? What did the prophecy say about my mother and—” Draco was desperate for information.
“That I cannot tell you,” Dumbledore said firmly. “That I will not tell you.”
Draco looked defeated.
“The only thing I am sure of is that he loved your mother very much. Love, Draco—a derivative of rain—is the only thing that has proven strong enough to change what was meant to be. Love is the only reason your father succeeded in doing what he did.”
“And what was that EXACTLY? What did he do that was so impossible—so impossible that he comes barging in here wanting to whisk me away to the Malfoy Manor leaving Hermione behind to deal with the curse all on her own. My family has been affected by powerful magic before this, but never—NEVER—has he reacted as he did today,” Draco finished.
“You still don’t understand, do you?” Dumbledore paused to examine Draco’s behavior.
“Understand? Understand what? That my mother was affected by a rebound-of-fate and then fell in love with a Potter, that my father is a genius mastermind toying with incredibly difficult magic to satisfy his avarice or that love is supposed to be the answer to all my problems?” Draco was shouting at the top of his lungs, his voice rebounding viciously off the walls of the dormitory. He met Dumbledore’s eyes, confused as ever, dying for a simple explanation.
There was a moment of silence before Dumbledore spoke, “Your father is afraid.”
“Afraid?” Draco posed back.
“Afraid of who you are.”
“And who exactly am I?” Draco smirked, a hint of sarcasm lining his question.
“Everything he could never hope to be.”
Draco’s sly smirk disappeared as he took in the full extent of the Headmaster’s words.
“I am my father,” Draco contended.
“No, Draco you are not. You are anything but your father,” Dumbledore returned instantly. “If you want proof, just look at your disguise. The Shrouding Solution never lies.”
Draco looked down at his tuxedo. He was the same. He didn’t look or feel any different, aside from the fact that he could see.
“What is the one thing that the Shrouding Solution changed about you tonight?” Dumbledore inquired as if he were in front of a classroom full of students. Draco didn’t answer. “The shrouding solution is designed to reach into the depths of the drinker’s soul and change not only the person’s appearance, but also the sole characteristic that makes them who they are,” Dumbledore recited.
“Look at me,” Draco had started pacing again, flailing his arms in the air. “I am the spitting image of my father—the proud pureblood who cannot see past his own cupidity.”
“Don’t you see Draco, you are not your father. He would never be caught dead wearing a muggle tuxedo.”
“But the Shrouding Solution didn’t do that. It didn’t change my appearance. I was wearing the tuxedo before I drank it,” Draco protested.
The Headmaster pushed onward, “It didn’t need to change your appearance, Draco. Don’t you see—you had already done what the Shrouding Solution was designed to do. The tuxedo, a symbol of muggle culture, is the polar opposite to the tradition that flows through your veins. It would be the perfect disguise. You, having already dressed in one, had changed your appearance yourself. All that was left for the solution to do was to open your eyes to what was right in front of you.”
“Granger?” Draco whispered to himself.
But Dumbledore wasn’t listening to him. “By returning your vision, the Shrouding Solution unveiled your unhappiness, your bitterness, your willingness to change, to be different. Understand this. What you were, you are no longer.”
“I am my father,” Draco objected.
“No, Draco,” Dumbledore said firmly. “You were your father. Your father could never love as you do now.”
“There you go again with all this love business. Who is it exactly that I can love and my father can’t?” Draco asked, permitting a kind of impertinence to pierce his tone.
“I thought that would be obvious,” Dumbledore blinked. “The purest of them all.”
Draco looked up, staring blankly into Dumbledore’s eyes. A numbness spreading from his ankles to his knees and then through his thighs, Draco fell to the floor, his heart beating to the thought of one name.
“Granger?” Draco thought, ruminating over the idea of loving the brainy brunette.
“You see that is the difference between you and your father.” Draco looked up expectantly at the speaking Dumbledore. “All I said was purest and your mind immediately went to Miss Granger,” Dumbledore chuckled. “You, Draco, are not like your father in the slightest. Unlike your father, you, dear boy, do not think in terms of blood.”
This was all too much for Draco to handle. He rubbed his temples again; his headache had returned and this ongoing conversation with Dumbledore was not helping. He had so many questions and concerns. He wanted to know everything—there was so much to know and so little time. The pressure of time was wielding heavily on his chest, suffocating his heartbeat.
“So, my father wants to take me away from Hogwarts because he is scared I will fall for a muggleborn?” Draco asked, trying to see if he had in fact understood the main gist of their conversation.
“Your father is a conventional man. He is incapable of seeing past the traditions of the Malfoy name. He wants to take you away from Hogwarts to protect his beliefs, his traditions—his reputation.”
“He is doing what he thinks is best for his family,” Draco conceded.
“That is exactly what he wants you to think. What was right in the past is not always what will be right in the future,” Dumbledore said cryptically.
“So do I go with him? He has solved this rebound-of-fate before, you said so yourself? Or do I stay?” Draco asked frankly.
“That is a choice you must make for yourself,” Dumbledore said, turning to leave. “Like I said Draco. Your father may have been able to intervene in this ancient magic once before, but I assure you he will not be able to do it again.”
“Wait,” Draco said, pausing a moment to collect his thoughts. “How did the Shrouding Solution affect Hermione? Is she alright?”
“Ahh, yes. Her case was a bit different from yours, I’m afraid. Unlike you who had already begun the physical transformation, she got a true taste of the solution’s effect. Did you not notice her unnatural beauty and the glowing light emanating from her skin?”
“She was always beautiful,” Draco admitted. Dumbledore smiled.
“This is true but I’m afraid, Miss Granger never thought that way—that is until you came along. She defined herself by her intelligence, her ability to separate right from wrong, her knack for concealing her emotions in favor of logic and reason. She prided herself on her perfect marks but little else. Believe what you will but I think she had lost a little confidence in herself and her inner beauty. Tonight, the world gets to see just how beautiful Miss Granger is thanks to the Shrouding Solution you both ingested. Tonight she is unable to mask her emotions behind logic. You witnessed this inability just a few minutes ago—her defense of a certain pureblood was quite the act, wasn’t it?” Dumbledore said looking directly into Draco’s eyes.
“The Shrouding Solution didn’t work right away,” Draco divulged to Dumbledore. “It wasn’t until Hermione walked through the bathroom door, until we came face to face that we both morphed, I suppose, into our disguises.”
“I see,” Dumbledore said, taking in Draco’s observations.
“Headmaster, the Shrouding Solution,” Draco commenced rapidly collecting his thoughts, “it does not disguise does it? Not like it describes in the textbook anyways.”
Dumbledore was nodding, encouraging Draco to continue.
“It does not create disguises, it breaks them,” Draco finished.
Dumbledore was impressed. “Indeed, Draco. The true nature of the Shrouding Solution is that of the final element—wind.”
“Yes. Wind does not create...”
“It destroys,” Draco said, completing Dumbledore’s sentence. There was a moment of silence before Draco mumbled something, “To blind is to harness the ultimate power.” He didn’t know what it was, but a feeling unlike any other, crept through his veins, for the first time cementing a kind of comprehension, a kind of confidence, a kind of satisfaction with himself. “To blind is to harness the ultimate power.” The phrase seemed to hold so much more power now.
“Ultimate power, indeed, Mr. Malfoy. Ultimate power indeed,” Dumbledore uttered.
“How is she?” Draco asked, his back to Dumbledore hiding his shame.
“A little betrayed, but able to see,” Dumbledore said.
“She can see,” Draco’s voice deepened with curiosity.
“It appears that the effects of the Shrouding Solution have overpowered your physical connection for the time being, giving Hermione her sight despite her not being in your proximity. I do not know how much time you have left, before the both of you are plunged once again into the depths of darkness.”
“I see,” Draco muttered almost in surrender.
“I suggest you find her, Mr. Malfoy. But the decision, of whether or not to leave tonight with your father, is ultimately up to you. I have given you more than you need,” and with that, Dumbledore glided through the door, leaving Draco in the dormitory lost in thought.
The dormitory door closed quietly behind Dumbledore as he made his way down the spiral staircase towards the common room. He had divulged a little bit more than he had wanted to about the rebound-of-fate, but the desperation in Draco’s voice had proven very persuasive.
“So? Is he ready to leave?” a cold voice emanated from the vicinity of the fireplace, jolting Dumbledore from his thoughts at once. Lucius Malfoy looked over his shoulder at the Headmaster, who was caught a bit off guard by the sound of Lucius’s voice.
“I’m quite sure, I do not know what you mean, Lucius?” Dumbledore said evasively. He had gotten so involved in the conversation upstairs with Draco that Lucius’s presence had completely slipped his mind.
“You know exactly what I mean!” Lucius growled venomously between his teeth. “Is he ready to go? You were up there for an hour at least? Is he packed?”
“You will have to ask him yourself,” Dumbledore said firmly.
Lucius turned on his heels, looking Dumbledore straight in the eyes. “What did you do?” he breathed. “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing he shouldn’t have already known.”
“What in Merlin’s name does that mean? I am tired of your games old man. I’m just tired of you and what you think you are doing for my son. I’m saving my son from this so called ‘Institution for Higher Learning’ once and for all and there is nothing you can do about it,” Lucius was breathing heavily, his chest heaving with frustration and anger.
“You must give him the choice, Lucius. Otherwise, he will regret as you do now,” Dumbledore said, a little more desperately than he intended.
“Choice? You are truly senile Dumbledore if you think I’m going to let my son—we are purebloods, there is no greater choice than that of our heritage,” Lucius snarled.
“Is that what you truly think, Lucius?” Dumbledore asked, trying to remain calm.
“’Tis unfortunate, really,” Dumbledore said, truthfully disappointed in his companion’s reply. “A lot of good could have come from this.”
“From what exactly,” Lucius shot back, poison seeping from his sharp retort. “What are you implying Dumbledore?”
“Nothing but what is apparent to even the plainest of eyes,” Dumbledore dared. “Even you can’t deny it, Lucius.”
“Deny what, Albus?” Lucius grumbled.
“The first symptom of love in a young man is shyness; the first symptom in a woman, is boldness,” Dumbledore recited.
“Victor Hugo,” Lucius conceded softly.
“Your knowledge of the muggle classics is impressive, Lucius—well-rounded like a true pureblood. If only you had excelled in mathematics,” Dumbledore said, clearly crossing the line.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lucius defended.
“You can’t even put two and two together,” Lucius was silent at Dumbledore’s words. “Your son was a bit quiet this evening. In fact, a certain muggleborn did a lot of talking tonight did she not?” Dumbledore continued shrewdly making sure not to break eye contact with the blonde.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Lucius mumbled avoiding the observation completely.
“Yea, but I do!” a younger voice said, making its way into the conversation.
Both Dumbledore and Lucius turned around, eyeing the staircase with suspicion. Draco Malfoy emerged slowly from the shadows and walked down the stairs to come face to face with his father.
“You are scared that I’ll fall in love with her,” Draco said disbelievingly. “That is why you want me to leave!”
Lucius was silent.
“You think,” Draco continued, “that I will disappoint you—that I am not strong enough to fight fate—that I will succumb to whatever this is that is binding me to Granger.”
Lucius made motion as if to defend himself but Draco quickly cut him off.
“I don’t know what exactly went on with you and my mother, but I know one thing is for sure,” Draco started. “I will not be told how to live my life by a man as unhappy with his as you are, Father. That includes telling me who and who not to like—possibly love.”
Dumbledore’s eyes glimmered faintly with an inundating sense of pride. A shy young man no more, Dumbledore thought while observing Draco confront his father.
“Draco, go upstairs right now and pack your things. You will be coming home with me tonight,” Lucius growled under his breath, grinding his teeth to the rhythm of the fury pulsing through his skin.
“No. My place is here. And until I can get this rebound-of-fate sorted out with Hermione by my side, I will not be coming home. You cannot just walk in here as you please and expect me to obey,” Draco affirmed.
Lucius glared venomously at Dumbledore, shooting daggers with his eyes straight into the heart of the man he knew was at the center of his son’s transformation.
“What did you say to him?” Lucius roared.
“Nothing,” Draco interrupted regaining his father’s full attention. “Professor Dumbledore said nothing to me. This is my choice. This is my life. I will not live in your shadow or bear the burden of your mistakes.”
“Mistakes? My only mistake was sending you to this ridiculous institution you call a school!” Lucius screamed, directing his hate more towards the Headmaster than his son.
“Your mistake was hiding everything from me—your past with Mom and James Potter,” Draco managed with difficulty. “Your mistake was in your hypocrisy. Ancient magic? Changing prophecies?” Lucius looked to Dumbledore again at his son’s words, where as Draco did not take his eyes off his father. He continued, “Are you really that selfish that you can’t even give in to what’s written in the stars?” Draco screamed at the top of his lungs, pleading with rage and disappointment.
“I am not you. I will never be the son you want me to be. And I am not going home tonight.” Draco looked at his father before storming out of the room in pursuit of a very upset brunette.
“Hermione what’s wrong?” Ron asked immediately, noting the tears streaming down her immaculate face. “Why are you here, in the corridor and not at the ball—I thought you would be with—well,” Ron’s cheeks flushed a violent shade of red, “I thought you would be with him,” Ron breathed in deeply. It was hard for him to accept Hermione and Draco’s friendship, let alone try to understand it.
“No,” she said firmly, wiping away her tears. “I’m never—I decided not—I’m definitely not—I decided to go by myself,” she finally managed.
“You are lying. I can tell by the defeat in your eyes. Hermione, why are you so upset? Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?” Ron had grabbed a hold of her shoulders, forcing her to look him in the eyes. “Did he do something to you? Because if he did—”
“What?” Hermione gasped, a bit confused by the onslaught of Ron’s words. “No—no, of course not. He would never do anything like that.” She turned away flustered by the implication.
“Hermione, will you just—why won’t let me in? I’m here for you, damn it!” Ron was desperate and overwhelmed with concern for his friend.
“I know you are and I’m sorry. I really am. I’m sorry for neglecting you, for letting us drift apart in the past couple of weeks. This term has just been different,” Hermione said.
“You don’t say,” Ron’s sarcasm was beyond evident but he was quick to change his tone upon noticing the pained look on Hermione’s face. “I mean—why is it so different besides the fact that you are attached to that evil, two-fanged ferret?” Ron asked, in an understanding tone that was neither pushy nor sympathetic.
“I don’t know, Ron? There’s just something about him that I never saw—that I never wanted to see before I really got to know him. And I can’t ignore it, no matter what you say or think. But that was before—before…I don’t even know why I’m telling you this,” Hermione cried.
But before she could control herself, she found herself telling Ron everything; everything that had happened in the last hour, the last of couple of weeks, how it had all started, how their relationship had progressed, the importance of the Shrouding Solution, Pansy’s ridiculous challenge, her desire to win Draco’s sight back—the kiss. Everything came flooding out; she talked for a good thirty minutes before taking a moment to pause, to catch her breath, to really look Ron in the eyes. The only thing she had kept to herself was the telepathic connection she and Draco shared. For some reason, she felt it was too intimate of a detail to reveal to Ron, just yet.
“And, then he just walked back up the stairs. Leaving me humiliated in front of his father and the Headmaster. I just didn’t understand. One minute everything was fine and the next—the next he’s there and I’m here. You could say I got what I was asking for—”
“Hermione, don’t say that,” Ron whispered.
“Betrayed! Betrayed by a person I knew from the start I could never trust. I knew it—I knew I couldn’t trust him. It’s my own fault,” Hermione stuttered, heat flaring her cheeks, her fists clenched tight.
“Hermione,” Ron began, “I don’t know what to say,” he hesitated. He was having difficulty coming to grips with the intimacy of Draco and Hermione’s relationship. Regaining his composure, for Hermione’s sake if not his own, Ron continued, “Hermione, I am not one to judge, but please—you need to be careful. He is a Malfoy and you—”
“A mudblood! I know. I know this! Lucius Malfoy made it very apparent tonight,” Hermione was tearing up again.
“Well, if it’s any consolation I’m a blood traitor according to Lucius Malfoy,” Ron smirked and Hermione smiled at the comment. “And, as a blood traitor, I would love to take you to the ball, if you still want to go. I have to say, mudbloods and blood traitors tend to go well together!”
Hermione looked up at him. “As friends?” Hermione asked.
“As friends,” Ron repeated taking her hand and leading her towards the Great Hall.
The Great Hall was crowded with buzzing students clad in handmade costumes, secondhand dress robes, muggle clothing imported from London’s most fashionable boutiques. Neville’s bright green toad costume definitely stood out above the rest except, perhaps for Luna’s interpretation of the Tooth Fairy; a magical creature she and her father contend is a crossbreed between a hippogriff and a niffler. Even Dean Thomas’s protests that the Tooth Fairy was merely a mythological figure created by muggle parents to appease their teething children, did nothing to influence the state of Luna’s costume. The fact that Neville and Luna entered the Great Hall together made the combined attire even more ridiculous.
The walls of the Great Hall were covered in Hogwarts paraphernalia, alternating lions among silver snakes, emboldened ravens and the Hufflepuff badger. Greens meshed with golds tainted by reds and blues; and, candles hung in the air lighting all parts of the sky that the rays of the very full moon could not reach. It was beautiful, in the oddest of ways of course.
Students were shouting out spells, drinking potions, trying to disguise themselves as best they could before entering the Great Hall in pairs. It was chaos really all in the name of the coveted prize, which Dumbledore had kept so well hidden.
Ron and Hermione ambled towards the back of the line that was nearing the stairs, talking lightheartedly with one another. Having returned to an almost-normal state of friendship from the moment Hermione confided in Ron, Ron was updating her on all of the gossip going around Gryffindor tower.
Eyeing Luna and Neville at the front of the line, Ron added at the sight of Hermione’s raised eyebrow, “Yeah! They have been going out since that Hogsmeade trip, apparently.”
Hermione chuckled, “Well, I think it’s great!”
“Harry and Ginny are doing really well,” Ron slipped in. “They came a little while ago, so we might see them inside.”
“Oh okay,” Hermione said meekly.
Noting her tone, Ron put in quickly, “They aren’t angry with you like the rest of the Gryffindors. Trust me, they’ve been defending you and jinxing everyone who talks badly about you.”
“I hate Pansy for turning the school against us,” Hermione said angrily.
“Don’t let them bother you. Anyone who believes Pansy Parkinson is clearly not worthy of a wand!” Ron said confidently.
“You’re right. I know you’re right! But—wow, Ron will you look at that,” Hermione said amazed. They had just reached the front of the line leading into the Great Hall and the room looked absolutely stunning. Taking in the colors and the costumes and hundreds of students dancing to the Weird Sisters’ latest hit, Hermione was breathless.
“This is incredible!” Ron beamed. “I have never seen the hall this beautiful! Not even for Tri-Wizard Tournament! You remember—” But he trailed off, gaining sight of Hermione. She was glowing in the darkened hall while her bare shoulders and loose curls caught the light of the illusional moon. For the first time tonight, Ron noticed her strapless blue dress and how it clung perfectly to the curves of her body. She was beautiful—absolutely beautiful.
He walked up to her. “Can I have this dance, my lady?” Ron pretended, extending his hand in a gesture of Shakespearean chivalry.
Hermione turned around and smirked. “You may, dear sir.” For the first time tonight, her worries seemed to melt away. Losing herself in the music, she rested her head on Ron’s shoulder as he pulled her closer to his warm body. Turning in circles, keeping to the time to the slow paced melody, Hermione whispered in Ron’s ear, “Thanks for this. Tonight was really rough.”
“Shhhh,” Ron said with a hint of compassion. “You don’t need to say anything.” He pulled her in closer and caressed her ear with his voice. “Just dance.”
Slow, fast, medium-paced, it seemed Hermione’s feet were ready for any rhythm. She didn’t even have to remove her shoes. Unlike any heals she had ever worn before, they were so comfortable, she could have been barefoot. So lost in the music, she never once stopped to realize how many people were staring at her, in awe of her beauty and poise.
Girls were whispering viciously to their dates, jealous of her costume, her hair, her make-up, while their dates just ignored them, completely fixated by the brunette. If Ron had not been proud to have Hermione as his date before, he most certainly was now.
Pulling her close, he took in the fresh scent of her hair. He knew they were just friends, but the longing came back—he couldn’t lie to himself. He wanted so much more.
“May I—” a voice interrupted the serenity of Ron’s perfect night. “May I cut in?” The voice was timid, yet confident, shy but bold. It was deep and the only thing that made Hermione stop dead in her tracks. She lifted her head off Ron’s shoulder and turned her head.
“So you came?” Hermione said to Draco. “I thought you would be long gone by now,” Hermione exhaled. “Does your father know you are here? Have come to say goodbye? What is it? Why are you here?” Hermione was smiling but only because she was trying her hardest to hold back her tears.
“I’m not leaving,” Draco said, a bit triumphantly more for himself than to notify Hermione.
“You’re not leaving?” Hermione said, a flicker of what seemed like hope wavered the octaves of her voice.
“No,” Draco affirmed.
“Why?” Hermione probed.
“We need to figure this out together,” Draco said. Ron put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
“Together?” Hermione looked down, collecting her fury. “You want to work this out together?” she articulated harshly.
“It’s the only way. And Dumbledore told me all of this new—” but Draco was cut off.
“No. You do not get to walk away from me and then change your mind,” Hermione began, anger flushing her cheeks faster than the tears could come.
Draco looked at her puzzled. He didn’t know what to say.
“You do not get to walk away from me and then expect forgiveness,” she continued. The music had stopped. All eyes that had not previously been on Hermione were definitely on her now. “I told you—I told you that if you walked away from me back there—it would be over.”
“But—” Draco started to plead.
“So, Draco to answer your question—No! You may not cut in,” she turned back to Ron, making sure to keep Draco in her peripheral vision.
Hermione please! Draco’s plead crawled desperately across her mind. I know you don’t want to do this.
She turned around sharply, glaring at him. Do not ever presume that you know what I want! She thought fiercely.
Damn it, Hermione! I need you! Draco confessed.
You need me? Hermione was hysterical. You need me to make more potion? To stand up to your father? To give you your sight? You need me, Draco? I don’t want you to need me? I need you to want me, Draco!
I do… Draco was almost on his knees. I do want you!Hermione was silent, as if taking a second to have a fierce battle with her own conscience.
“Occlumency,” Hermione stammered after processing Draco’s last thought. “I want—I need—to learn Occlumency.”
“What?” Draco said, returning to the realm of spoken word.
“I can’t take this. I’ve had enough. I need to shut you out. Occlumency—it’s the only way,” Hermione breathed.
“What? Surely you don’t want—Hermione?” Draco was ineffable. But Hermione had turned back to Ron and the music, leaving Draco to stand alone at the center of the dance floor.
Dumbledore collapsed in his office chair. Things were not going as he had planned. He had been expected at the costume ball nearly twenty minutes ago, but he was so exhausted, drained by disappointment and anger that he needed a minute to himself.
Blinded by magic, at first, it seems. Surrendered to silence, next, it deems. Bound by beauty of mind and men. Love, inevitable, shall follow then. Unity you seek, your heart is true. But first you must wait for the right match of two.
The words of the prophecy streamed onerously through his head, leaving a wake of uncertainty in his left temple. Dumbledore massaged his head, trying to dissuade an oncoming headache from making an appearance. The only thing to comfort him was the relief he felt that Draco had not asked about his and Hermione’s prophecy blinded only by curiosity for his mother and father.
He had sworn that Hermione and Draco were the ones he had been waiting for. But this—this was not what he had bargained for.
“They will never be ready,” he whispered to himself. He closed his eyes in defeat, resolving to take a short nap before heading down to the ball.
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