Chapter 4 : Work of Minds
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Work of Minds
"So, what's your name, sir…?" She glanced at him, trying to see who hid beneath the layer of mask.
"Malfoy. I'm Draco Malfoy." He waited for her to flinch at that, but she showed nothing that resembled recognition.
She nodded. Her feet kept moving, leading their way out of the dungeon. "So what do you do for living, Mr. Malfoy?"
"Haven't you heard of the Malfoys?" his friends piped up. "Where have you been for these past eight years, Miss?"
"Oh, I've just graduated from Beauxbatons last month." She smiled, choosing the path around the hallway with familiarity. The torches on the wall lit up as they passed.
"I don't think Beauxbatons students are that secluded," Draco said. "In fact, I don't recall seeing you among the students visiting Hogwarts several years ago."
She turned to him, eyes sparkling. "Oh! You two are from Hogwarts?"
His friends snorted. "Sort of."
"Yeah, we're…" Draco trailed off, "sort of graduating from there, yes."
"Wonderful!" She smiled, keeping her eyes on him even when she walked. "I don't remember much about my visit as well," she admitted. "But I remember being friends with the twins from Hogwarts. They have this red hair, funny smiles and they were so much fun! They gave me a tasty custard cream; I turned into a huge bird after I ate it! They also give me their business card or something like that…" She frowned and mumbled, "I was so small back then and I lost their card on my way home."
His friends crossed his arms over his chest, while Draco pinched the skin between his brows. "I think we know who the twins you're talking about."
"Really? You guys are friends?"
"In another life, maybe," grumbled his friend.
"One of them opens a shop in Diagon Alley," Draco said. "It's called Weasley Wizard Wusses…"
"Wheezes," corrected his friend. Draco ignored him.
"Only one?" she queried in wonder. "They seemed inseparable…"
"They are," answered the blonde man. "In fact, the only thing that separated them was death."
Her eyes widened. "Oh! I don't know…" she faltered. "If you're going to see them—I mean—one of them, can you tell him Astoria is sorry for his loss?"
"Tell him yourself," Draco said. "His shop is in Diagon Alley, number ninety-three. If I go there, I don't think I'll be sorry for anything…"
"Other than your own life?" his friend finished his words for him.
He glared at the big man.
"Anyway," Astoria spoke up, pointing at the stairs ahead of them. "Here you go, please step upstairs and don't be hesitant to blend in! Almost half of the guests arrived the way you two were, so don't be shameful." She grinned, sticking her pink tongue out before turned back into the hallway, disappearing in the dark.
Draco glanced to his friend. The big man shrugged.
"Just go up," he said. "I'm really hungry right now."
"Why don't you go up first?" Draco asked in qualm, pointing at the dark hatch they had to push to get out. "I don't think I want to be eaten by anything upstairs."
"Stop being a hen, Draco."
"I stop being a hen fifteen minutes ago and see where it brought us."
"…Meeting a cute redhead?"
He thought about it. "Good point." Walking up the stairs and slowly pushing the hatch, he mumbled, "I don't think we're going to meet another cute redhead or a blonde bombshell or something like that, though…"
His friend growled and shoved his back, almost throwing the hatch he held and Mister Malfoy himself inside the room. He landed with his knees and hands on the floor, glaring at the giant as the man ambled out.
"Well, well…" A tall man was sitting on the sofa, arms spread, his mask placed on his lap. "Welcome, you, whoever you are."
Draco patted the invisible dust as he stood up, regaining his composure. "What are you doing here, Durmstrang?"
The military-looking man arched his brow. "Sorry? Do I know you?"
Draco threw his glances around the room. It was not another dungeon, thank goodness for that. He saw a door next to the sofa Durmstrang was sitting on, and from the noise behind the door, he suspected it was their way out into the party.
His big friend stared at the man and surprised him by yelling, "Hey! You're that Rum!"
The man's eyes twitched. "It's Krum."
"Yeah, whatever! You're going out with Granger on that party!"
Krum's eyes filled of recognition. "I see… you two are from Hogwarts, correct?" He smirked. "How's Hermione?"
"Why should we know?" Draco retorted. "Why don't you go out there?"
Krum flicked his fingers, still looking regal in his sitting position. "I don't appreciate too much noise. The party outside was deafening. So what's your name?" he asked, eyes studying Draco and his friend with apprehension. "I don't remember ever seeing you two at Hogwarts."
"That's because we're not as small as we used to," replied his friend. "He's Draco, and I'm riiing…"
Draco blinked, turning towards his friend. "What? Hey…"
His big friend looked at him, his mouth opened wide and he kept shrilling.
Draco stared at his friend. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Wait a minute! I'm coming!"
He snapped his eyes open. The painful sound thumped his eardrum.
Groaning, Draco clamped his ears with both of his hands, cursing the doorbell. He stared at the door, wishing he could walk to open it and punch whoever rang the bell at this hour. Instead, he kept lying on the sofa, enjoying the feeling of himself drowning into the snugly fabric of his emergency bed. Glancing to the wall clock, he waited until Hermione appeared.
She looked half-dead, with her bushy hairs and messy bathrobe. Her eyes were half-shut. She stomped to the entryway.
"Okay, who's…" she trailed off as she opened the door. "Doctor Kelley!"
What? Draco narrowed his eyes.
"I hope I don't come too early," the man said, and Hermione stuttered.
"Uh… No, you're not… I mean, come on in!" She opened up her door wide, turning on the light switch. Draco shut his eyes as the light turned on. "What are you doing here at this hour?"
"I'm thinking that I should give this to you before I go to work." The doctor allowed himself in, pushing something Draco had distinguished as a wheelchair. "This belonged to my father, and he's got himself a new one, so—"
She began to muttered 'thanks', 'this is so wonderful', and 'you don't have to' as the man complacently basking in her gratitude. Draco groaned and clamped his hand to his eyes.
"You're so kind!" Hermione's eyes sparkled in awe. "Isn't he so kind, Draco?"
She stood behind the self-righteous looking doctor and made a choking motion with her hands, showing him the same lethal glare she had last night.
He gulped. "Yeah. You're so kind. Really, you don't have to. You're way too kind."
Draco almost hated himself as the doctor's face shone, accepting the fake gratitude.
"It's nothing," he said. "It's impossible for you to live without the wheelchair, so…"
The blonde winced when Hermione fell into the trap. Thankfulness shown in her tone as she said, "It means so much to me. Thank you!"
No wonder this weird doctor keeps coming back for more. Draco sighed at his helplessness while Hermione pulled the wheelchair and placed it right next to his makeshift bed.
He glanced at her. "I prefer to stay in here, thank you very much."
Hermione showed her teeth, spitting out the words along with the invisible threat, "Draco, let me help you."
Probably his friend was right. He really was a hen. If not, he couldn't possibly let her do whatever she wanted, just because she had almost choked him to his death. He remembered seeing stars last night, inside the blanket that she used to choke the air out of his nasal passage.
Draco sulked when she placed him none too gently three minutes after. She might be smart, but she would never be a caring nurse. Sean stared at the process from his standing position behind the door, his face emotionless.
When Hermione had made sure Draco seated himself properly, the doctor spoke up, "I have to go now. My shift is in half an hour."
Hermione turned to him. "Oh. Okay." She looked at Draco and back at the doctor. "I'll accompany you downstairs."
"Nope, it's okay." Sean smiled. "I don't think you want to go downstairs looking like that."
Hermione looked down to her old bathrobe. A slight tinge of pink coloured her cheeks. "I can change quickly..."
"That's alright, Hermione." Sean waved to her, turning back to the hallway. "I'm really in a hurry."
Hermione walked to the door, nodding to the man before she remembered something. "Wait!"
Sean turned to her.
"The lift's broken…" she faltered. "You're carrying the wheelchair up? This is the fifth floor!"
The doctor shrugged and left. She inhaled, admiration reaching her eyes, smiles adoring her lips as she stared at his back—
"What should I do with this thing, Mudblood?"
Hermione groaned, the tender feeling she felt a moment ago completely crushed. She slammed the door close, glaring at Malfoy who tried moving the wheelchair by himself.
"Good job, Sean," the doctor whispered to himself.
Smiling like an idiot, he travelled down to the lobby. Asking the landlord about her room wasn't hard at all, but the old man didn't sound too happy when he informed him that a disabled young man with a wheelchair might need an elevator.
Sean couldn't decide what disturbed the old man more; another resident with special needs living with a smart aspiring med-student or the fact that he needed the elevator, which meant he had to fix it sooner than expected. He also didn't sound too cooperative when the doctor nudged him by the logic. When Hermione went to class or work, she probably needed his help to watch over her boyfriend.
So far, he was happy with what he saw. Draco was sleeping on the sofa. From the looks of it, he was afraid with his girlfriend. Moreover, Hermione seemed impressed by his efforts. It had to, he had calculated the plus and minus before carrying something like a new wheelchair to the fifth floor at five in the morning, lying about it belonged to his father.
If he thought she wouldn't be thankful, he wouldn't do it. Sean Kelley had everything premeditated in his mind.
He'd better go home and slept; his shift began at ten. If he waited for Hermione to accompany him downstairs, it would seem as spending too much effort in his part. A mind game of courting and hunting was necessary to attain his goal.
Sean thought he had done a good job today. Tomorrow, he would launch the next attack.
Circling the thick scarf around her neck, she paced out from her bedroom, giving her living room a momentary look.
Draco was sitting in his wheelchair in the space between her window and sofa. His face was calm, his eyes fluttered occasionally, looking at the falling snow and the buildings outside with a strange tranquillity. His blond bangs were too long, covering his eyes, but he didn't make any move to set it aside.
After locking her bedroom, she looked out through the window. It was eight in the morning, and she had several classes. Today she didn't have her volunteer work, so she could go home right after her class. Come to think about it, she probably had to quit her volunteer work. She had volunteered too much, if the thin man inside her living room was any indicator.
Leaning the side of her body against the wall far from him, she tilted her head, studying the man. He was skinny; she could probably lift him up by herself if she tried. Not that he would allow her to.
He had a look of forsaken man, with long messy hair, bones showing everywhere underneath his skin and a slumped, defeated pose. He sat like that all the time, even when in his hospital bed. He also developed a habit of looking out through the window with an unidentified expression in his eyes. Hermione caught the look often, and sometimes she thought he might be waiting for someone.
"It's snowing outside," his peaceful tone of voice startled her. "Don't just wear a scarf. Use your jacket and wear gloves if you want to go out."
She stayed still for a while. How could he see what she wore if he didn't even turn his head towards her? "I have classes. I'll be back soon."
"Just do your daily work. I'm okay by myself."
She frowned. "Are you… meditating or something?"
He turned his head toward her. "What makes you think I'm that devout?"
The girl sighed. "Nothing..." She pointed to the kitchen sink, where she put a tube of toothpaste and new toothbrush earlier. "I've put your—"
"I know. I've brushed my teeth."
"Oh." She looked around making sure everything was in place. "Well… do you know how to make breakfast?"
He gave her a glimpse, saying nothing.
"Okay, let me rephrase. Do you ever eat anything for breakfast?"
"Coffee." He fixed his gaze to the window. "That's enough."
Usually, Hermione too, only had a cup of coffee for breakfast. She was not a good cook and she did not have much time in the morning. Of course, she would not admit it. "It's not good for your body, drinking coffee before anything else…"
"Weird, that's coming from someone who doesn't even have a toaster."
She blinked. "I-I don't like toast—"
"I can see you don't like to eat either."
She crossed her arms, shooting him an annoyed look. "What makes you think—"
"Three-inches-tall dusts in your counter and stove," Draco said. "The only place you use is a small spot on the counter beside the coffee maker, where you temporary put the coffee bag before placing the beans inside the coffee maker, and of course the coffee maker itself."
Her eyes widened. She didn't even have her coffee this morning, and she drew nothing out of her cabinet. "How do you—"
"You know what? Just go," he continued. "I can take care of myself. I can't walk, but I have brains. I'll manage."
Sadly, Hermione comprehended it now, not before she took him in. "I really appreciate it if you don't cut all my sentences, Malfoy."
He sat still toward the window, not retorting back.
Huffing, she turned back and started wearing her boots when she heard him muttering, "Did you sell your gloves and jacket so you can't use it anymore, or you're just that rock-headed against logical suggestion?"
She glared at his back. "My phone number is on the fridge. Call me when you need something." She opened the door.
"Doubtful. Enjoy your day, Mudblood."
All he got in return was a loud bang on the door.
"And we are talking about simplifying thromboprophylaxis with rivaroxaban after the hip surgery, which means…."
Hermione gazed at her professor with ingenious stare, twirling her pen around her fingers. Beside her, Eve whimpered, already performing several head-desks on her own. Victor placed his chin between his crossed arms on the sturdy table, looking at the whiteboard with jaded face.
Meanwhile, the seventy-year-old professor kept scribbling on the whiteboard. The rest of the class divided themselves, between concentrating to whatever he was saying, or, following Eve's trail, losing it altogether.
"Oh, God, help me," Eve cried, holding her bruised forehead. "What am I doing here?"
"Sssh," Hermione glanced at her friend. "I'm trying to understand what he was talking about."
"Wow. Even our smarty can't grasp whatever he's yapping…"Eve buried her face between her hands. "I'm lost ever since he said something about varivax."
"Chicken pox?" Victor moped. "What's the relation between varicella vaccine and thromboprophylaxis?"
"They both give me a headache," answered Eve.
"Ssh," chastised Hermione again, squinting to the whiteboard. Before long, she whispered, "What is he writing about?"
Viktor yawned. "Something about herpes zoster."
Hermione looked utterly confused. "What's the relation between shingles and rivaroxaban?"
"Welcome to my world," Eve responded through her hands. Then, she perked up when she heard something. "Bell! Bell!"
Both Hermione and Victor stared at her. Then they heard it. It was a loud ring, stopping their professor's speech and speed writing.
The class was over.
"Yeah!" The cheery blonde jumped from her table and punched her fist in the air. Then, without a cue, she hopped onto their table and ran to the exit, jumping on several desks and hands on her robust way out. Her boyfriend shifted himself under the table, evading annoyed glowers the students hurled at him.
Hermione shook her head, gathering her books and paper. This class made no sense for her today, but seeing how Eve and Victor reacted, probably it wasn't just her.
"Victor," she called him, waiting until he peeped out from his hiding spot. "Is your offer still up?"
"You know..." Hermione glanced around and murmured, "About the waitress job? In your father's cafe?"
He frowned, still not climbing out from his post. "I thought you didn't want that job."
"I wasn't thinking clear back then." And I haven't had another mouth to feed. "Is it still open?"
"Certainly," said Victor.
"Great, so where can I start?"
She sat still. Then, she croaked, "Today... as in now?"
"Well, we need the waitress as soon as possible. If you can start today, my father will decide if you're good enough." Victor scaled out. "I'll call my father. You can do it today, right?"
"Yes..." Hermione said. "Just... wait a moment, I need to call someone."
Victor arched his brow. "Someone?"
"Yes, someone." Hermione didn't want to imply anything. She stood up and started walking to the door. "See you later, Vick."
Tapering his eyes, he peeked inside the keyhole. Careful with his movements, he nudged and pushed the pin, pushing the tiny gear to unlock it. When he heard a click, he twisted the pin and...
He cursed when the small pin snapped and broke into several parts. Sighing, he drew out some parts and staring at his lap, where several parts of the previous bobby pins lying down, obviously suffered from another failed manoeuvre. He was a bad thief.
After he found ten bobby pins from the bathroom, he figured he could open the door to her bedroom and raid the wizardry book and potions. One or two hours would be enough for him to study and execute the spell. He knew the items were in there. Just a few feet away from him, yet he couldn't reach it. Not before he blew down the door obstructing him from his freedom.
Out of resentment, he punched the door. Then cursed when the solid wood material fought back, hurting his fist in the process. Grumbling and massaging the pain away, he glared at the door. Everything inside her house seemed so cheap. The furniture was second-hand; the only thing he knew might be expensive was the sofa. And probably the door, since it seemed thicker than any other door she had around her house.
Draco gritted his teeth, leaned back and closed his eyes. He had to think.
What kind of thing he could do inside this small place?
She had moved her sofa further from the window so he could slip his wheelchair between the spaces, while he took his bath in the bathroom. It was not what he would call a bath; instead, it was merely a wet towel placed on edge of the tub. She had told him she couldn't possibly put him inside the bath tub and fill the water for him for his usual soothing bath. She could not pull him out of the slippery tub herself. It might endanger them both. And while he had funny moments imagining how Hermione Granger eradicated herself by knocking her head against the wall on a slip, he certainly didn't find bleeding his head for the second time in one month to be amusing.
He'd cleaned himself with the wet towel. After contemplating the prospect for several minutes, he gave up, relieving himself by using the kettle. What was Muggles called it? ...Potty or something? He made sure Mudblood wasn't the one cleaning it, by doing the task himself soon after. He wanted her to act like what she was born to be, a dirty Mudblood. While her cleaning something so disgusting might be an excellent hoot for him, the fact it was his might cause the blond to die from embarrassment. There were a lot more ways to sully Mudblood; he just made sure he didn't disgrace himself in between.
He opened his eyes, turning his head to the kitchen area. Her living space was diminutive; he wondered how she managed to do everything in here without bumping her shoulder into the wall. It might be easy, considering how scrawny she was. When he first saw her, he barely recognized her.
She was different.
He thought she was just another Muggle. Although her appearance was fragile and bushed, her eyes sprinkled with mirth and vigour, something he had not seen in her for years. Back then, he saw something resembling hate, fear and pain in her gaze.
She in the past was something he could recognize. Not this new Mudblood.
Therefore, he tried bringing the old Hermione the only way he knew how. He felt uneasy, being in a Muggle world, and the only person he knew was not the same one.
When she'd retorted his words, he felt relieved and...
Draco frowned. He would not use that kind of sentiment...
Rolling the wheel of his newfound ride, he moved into the kitchen. She had taught him how to use the chair; it took no longer than five minutes for him wheeling like a pro. She didn't seem too glad for that, though, and he could've sworn he saw strange gear turning inside her head as she entered her bedroom without a word, preparing herself for class.
He gleefully moved his chair all over the living area and stopped right in front of the window, realizing for the first time, how beautiful snowfall looked like outside. He suspected it might be the reason why she chose this place. It was too absurd to live in here, without beautiful scenery forfeiting all the minus features. It didn't even have a working heater!
He had bundled himself inside his blanket all night, temperatures had dropped severely on the living room. If he had not used the blanket as sleeping bag, he might not survive last night.
He stopped next to the fridge, opening the door. He knew several Muggle items because it was not very different from his own at home. He was especially familiar with kitchen items, but Mudblood did not need to know how often he cooked himself a meal. While he adored his mother more than anything else in the world, he could not bear to eat anything she called food.
Growing up in Hogwarts had taught him how a meal should taste like. Coming home to her parents every year taught him how bad his mother was at cooking. He often wondered about it, because it was clear she used magic to cook everything, and they had more servants than they really needed. Not to mention the house elves. Still, after he graduated he taught himself how to cook without magic. It seemed ridiculous, using magic for things he could switch on and off by himself. So far, only few people ever ate his cooking.
He reached out his hand and grabbed an apple inside the fridge. Biting the flesh of the fruit, he closed the fridge. Munching his emergency ration, his other hand hugged his slender frame. It was freezing, and he didn't like eating cold apple in the middle of cold winter. But he didn't know where the pan and pot were, he wouldn't bother opening up the cabinets. There was nothing in the fridge but fruits and juice boxes.
He might be right; she didn't like to eat, at least in her own house. If he knew where everything was–and he had cleaned up the stoves and counters— he could fix himself a tasty meal.
He moved his wheelchair to the coffee machine, placed next to the fridge on top of half-clean counter. He put his arm on top of the counter, pushing his upper body up. With another hand, he reached into the upper cabinet and yanked it open.
As he presumed before, the coffee bag was there. He pushed his body a further bit more, clutching the brown bag before sitting back on his wheelchair. A grin formed in his lip as he held the bag close to his nose, sniffing the tasty smell proverbial to him.
Toraja. Nice. At least she has something good in here...
He opened the bag, peeking inside with the excitement of small kid on his Christmas morning. Slowly, he scooped the beans and filled it into the coffee machine, which was reachable from his sitting position. Closing the important bag and setting it on the counter, he leaned back and watched the grinding process.
This was familiar to him. The humming and grinding sound brought him back to his past. Before the accident, he often made successful Sunday gatherings. At the gathering, the only person allowed to cook was himself, and nobody should help him. He was surprised at first to notice how much he enjoyed cooking a la Muggles, but it surprised his guests more. Well, he couldn't be fair calling them his guests; they were merely his parents, his friend and Astoria. Although the latter just started coming for a year...
"Dance, Mr. Malfoy?"
He turned around, only to see the same girl he met earlier. She grinned at him.
"I guess I better snatch you up before someone else did." She gave him her hand, raising her chin in such way. He couldn't help but chuckle. "Well? Aren't you going to be a gentleman and take me up on my offer?"
Smirking, he held her hand and kissed it, murmuring, "Anybody tells you how assertive you are?"
"I prefer the word 'dynamic', thank you very much," she said, pulling him to the dance floor. He circled his arm around her waist, and taking one of her hands into his. "What are you doing, Mr. Malfoy?"
She slapped the arm circling her waist playfully. "Off."
"Who said I'm letting you hugging me?"
He really didn't comprehend this woman. Draco shrugged, letting her go. "You're the one asking me to dance, remember?"
"We're not going to dance like that," she replied. Seeing his puzzled expression, she laughed. "Oh, you don't get it, do you?"
Just then, the music turned alien on him. He grimaced, looking at the orchestra playing in the corner of the room. The guests seemed familiar with the routine, though, as they stopped their dances and started circling their arms into one another, forming a long row.
"What's this?" he asked, looking around. The music was bizarre to his ears. "I don't..."
"I'll teach you!" she claimed, tugging him to the end of the row. She tangled her right arm to another person and her left arm to his. He frowned and shook his head.
"Listen, I don't even understand what kind of dance this is."
"You'll get it soon!" she said without a care. "And... start!"
At that cue, the music started drumming in his ears, and everyone on the dance floor raising their right feet up in the air. He was pulled by her force and awkwardly lifting his right foot. Then they stomped the same foot to the ground and put it on their left knees, half-squatting. He fell down as she half-squatted next to him.
"Oh, come on, Mr. Malfoy!" she said, pulling him up and tangling their arms back together as the others put down their right feet, lifting up their left ones and stomping it on the floor.
"This is crazy!" he yelled, but ended up raising his left foot and stomped it to the floor, by instinct putting it on his right knee and half-squatting. He was correct; it was their next move.
"Ho-ho-ho!" everyone yelled. "Ho-ho-ho!"
He shook his head and quietly refused to yell, instead following everyone as they, once again, raised their right feet up in the air. "What kind of stupid dance is this?"
"Isn't it fun?" Astoria cackled. "My dad learned this when he was in the Muggle place, he called it 'Cabaret Dance'! Ho-ho-ho! Wooo!"
He said nothing, wondering if he had met his end by coming to the party hosted by lunatic.
"Ho-ho-ho!" everyone yelled at once, including those who didn't dance. "Ho-ho-ho!"
She laughed, and he turned his head to see her candour smile. It was uncommon for any girl smiling like that out in the open, especially those with high reputation such as the Greengrass.
Then he saw him.
He paled. All of the sudden he didn't enjoy this anymore.
"I need to go now," he whispered to her, and untangled their arms. Turning to leave, he looked around the crowds. He couldn't see his friend, so he figured he better left by himself right away.
Walking outside the aged mansion, he didn't expect her running after him.
"Wait! Wait!" she cried, stopping him right outside the mansion. He turned, ogling the crowd inside. "Why are you leaving?" she asked, glaring at him through her pretty mask. "Isn't this party fun or something?"
"Yes, this party is certainly something," he said, out of formality. "But I remember something I need to do now; I can't understand how I forgot to do it before I come here."
"Lies!" She put her hands on her hips, tilting her head. "Lift up your mask!"
He stepped back, unsure of what he just heard. "Excuse me?"
"Show yourself!" Without hesitation, she lifted up her mask and removed it from her face. He saw her face.
She was gorgeous. Her cheekbone was high, her nose was small and pointed and her eyes... for something that was shown behind the mask earlier, it still managed to astonish him. She had the greenest set of eyes he ever saw. The hue is even brighter than the eyes of H—
He shook his head. "Sorry, I thought the purpose of this party was for concealing the identity of guests..." He stepped back and turned away. However, what she done next shocked him even more.
She shoved him. He fell down with no grace, somehow managed to put out his hands to support himself. When he looked up, she yanked his mask and crouched down in front of him. Stunned, he stayed still until she finished checking him out.
"I knew it..." she whispered with another cheeky grin. "You're cute."
He sulked, his annoyance fading away. "Is this how you treat all your guests?"
"Only the ones I'm attracted to," she replied, holding his chin with her fingers and throwing his mask behind her back. She gave him a calm look. "Now that I know your face and you know mine, I suppose we'll meet again, Mr. Malfoy."
And with that, she stood up, walking into the mansion without even looking back at her bewildered victim.
"Why did you leave me in there?"
Draco looked up from his wine glass.
The man he had accompanied to the party stared at him, curiosity gleaming in his eyes. He purposely leaned his big body in the doorframe, covering more than soft light shining through the opened door.
Sometimes Draco wondered if the friend he had been with since childhood was actually a calculating persona hiding behind a bulky form of fat and asinine face. Even though his friend had done everything for him during their Hogwarts years, once Draco fell into a deadly path of serving the Dark Lord, he turned away and let the blond faced his own fate. Later on, when Draco thought he had lost everything, the big man showed up and helped him enduring rejections, threats and accusations.
"I didn't mean to," Draco said, placing the wine glass on the coffee table. "I was looking for you, but I didn't see you anywhere."
The man kept studying Draco and his defeated pose on his couch, moving to the empty seat beside the blond.
Seating himself and leaning back, he muttered, "Is this because Potter came to the party?" To Draco's startled look, he explained, "He greeted me after you left. That redhead Weasley girl told me she saw you leave."
Instead of answering, Draco turned away and stared at his own clasped hands.
The man sighed and crossed his arms. "Aren't you tired feeling beaten to him?"
Draco glared at his friend. "I'm not feeling beaten to Potter."
"Then why did you leave?" the man asked, resting his head on the back of the sofa. "I can't see any other reason for avoiding a man who has never done anything wrong to you. In fact, he welcomed you and your family back after all you've done."
"I didn't ask him to do that!" Draco said, standing up. "I'm not a damn charity case! Isn't that enough for him being the hero? Why does he have to show off his sincerity by being nice to me? I don't want his pity!"
"Then what do you think you can get from someone like Potter?" the man said, closing his eyes. "For someone who has fallen so far from their mighty place, you sure have the right behaviour to trigger everything you deserve."
"I don't need you to do this!" Draco growled, glaring at his complacent friend. "If you want to defend him, then go and be his friend! I don't need you!"
"Oh, really?" The man chuckled. "Then if I stop being your friend, will you get out of my house and stop working at my shop?"
Stunned, all the blond could do was staring at the unmoving man.
"Can you do that?" the man said, opening his eyes and staring at Draco. "If I stop being your friend, will you be able to pay off all your debts to me and move all your belongings out of my guest room right away?"
Draco ducked his head low, his head started spinning when he remembered all the things his friend had done for him and how he should pay for it.
After the Deadly Hallow incident, he had moved out of his parents' house and stayed with his friend. After the graduation, because he couldn't get a job, his friend gave him a job in his shop. After he started making money on his own and capable of feeding himself, Draco retained a bit of his confidence back, beginning to enjoy life as he used to. He always went home twice a week, but he never felt the same affection to his parents like before the incident.
For over a year, Draco had thought of his friend's house as his, and had never thought about the possibility of losing his job and his resting place if his friend wished for it.
"Tell me, Draco," the man continued, "if you think what Potter did to you was out of pity, then what about my actions? Have you ever thought what they classified as?" He shrugged. "I'm sure I'm not attracted to you as a lover, and you were not a great and faithful friend to begin with. What makes you think I did all that for you?"
"Is that what you think of me all this time?" the skinny blond spat. "I'm just a mere charity case for you?"
"Well, you're not exactly someone who can help me with my career, and you never did anything worthwhile for me." Straightening his arms, the man pushed his hands back to cradle the back of his head. "I did whatever I could to help you because I will feel bad if I don't. We have been friends since we were toddlers, Draco. I took your happiness as my responsibility. So does everyone around you, no matter how ignorant you are in welcoming anyone who just wants to be kind to you."
"I don't need pity!" Draco spat, turning away. "I'll get out of this place in the morning. I don't need you or anyone giving me a fake kindness."
He stomped out, not giving a single glance back to the leisure room even when the man started calling his name.
Sighing, Draco poured the warm coffee into a cup he had cleaned. He clutched the cup close to his face, inhaling the calming smell. He stared at the black colour and absently shook the cup with gentle circular motion. The colour and his reflection started to whirl and dance in one smooth circle.
He wondered if this looked like the cycle of his life. He always ended up falling into the same path all over again. First, the Dark Lord, then this…
This time, however, he had brought it upon himself. He knew how his friend felt towards the girl, yet he stayed in his belief that whatever happened, his friend would give up. He had been lying when he said he had no idea how much his friend liked his girlfriend.
He could see the sparkle in the eyes, the warm smile and the subtle affection. Yet he steeled himself in the fact that his friend would forget it soon enough, or at the very least remembered how close they were as friend to let the girl became his.
Startled, Draco snapped back to reality when he heard the phone rang and jigged; causing the hot liquid from the cup spilled a generous amount into his lap. Cursing and hurriedly moving the hand holding the cup away, he hit his hand against the counter and dropped the cup in shock. He tried pulling the pants away from the skin it covered up so it wouldn't burn his legs, at the same time waving the pain away from the other hand. In the middle of the phone ring, he turned around and spotted a rag placed near the sink, then reached out to it with his hurt hand. With one other hand doing its best keeping the wet and hot pant from glued onto his skin, he forgot about his condition and moved his body as best as he could grab the rag. When he still couldn't get a hold of the material, he pushed his body forward as he tried to stand up for the rag.
Draco had no idea what was wrong, but his legs refused to obey him. Instead, they felt weak and shaky, and before he knew what was happening, he fell to the floor and with both hands busy doing anything else than supporting him, his chest hit the ground. Yelping in pain, the paraplegic man glared at his own knees, wondering what was wrong.
He tried to push his lower body up, so the burning front side of his pant wouldn't rub and injure his thigh and groin, but he couldn't move his hip, even when he pushed his upper body up with the help of his shaking hands. Breathing hard, Draco turned his head towards his wheelchair, and meekly reached the wheel with one of his hands. Malnourished and weak, the blond only managed to push himself to sit on the ground and leaned his head against the seat of the wheelchair instead of pushing his body up to sit on it.
At that moment, Draco could not care less with the burning pain on his thigh and groin, or the stinging feeling in his hand, or the numb ache in his chest. All he wanted to do was to stand up. He failed to support his own weight with his arms, and burdened with all the failure and stupidity his normal self would never do, he started to quiver.
Was this his fate? Did the trio of fates resign him for this because he was a greedy person who always took and enjoyed whatever offered to him, but never gave anything back?
Probably this was his payment, forever trapped in a wheelchair and had to have someone to help him on everything, even to do something he should be able to do himself.
Forever, he would be bound to Mudblood, and she would end up spending her entire life serving his needs. While he loved to tease and mock her about her Muggle blood, he had no intentions on making someone suffer so much just because they were kind enough to care for him. He loved to see someone he despised got annoyed or maybe even had a bit of unfortunate time, but not if the unfortunate time they had, was because of him and his own fault.
With tears blurring his eyesight, Draco tried his best to keep back a sob.
Half a minute later, he turned his head to glare at the thing on top of the end table that kept letting out a ringing noise and pounding his eardrums.
"Muggles are idiots for keeping that at home," he mumbled in low breath, "can't even cry quietly…"
Sighing, he put his hands on the floor and pulled the rest of his body forward, sliding himself over the room to kill the noisy thing once and for all. Sadly, he knew what that whiny thing was, and he had a feeling the only one who would call when the owner was not at home was the owner of the property herself.
Once he approached the end table, he glanced at the wheelchair far from his current position. He should have moved it a bit further near the sink in the first place instead of getting panic over nothing and injuring himself.
Draco picked up the phone and placed it on the side of his face, like what he always saw on the box thing called television.
"Malfoy, it's me."
"What? Who?" Draco frowned, trying to listen to the voice but when the caller repeated her word, the volume was too small for him to listen. He pressed the phone harder to the side of his face, trying to get a word out of a low mumble he heard. Muggles should have a very good sense of hearing to be able to hear something out of this. "Hello? I can't hear you."
He heard a sigh, then a stronger tone, "Turn the phone you hold upside down, place the one you currently set on your mouth to your ear."
He moved his head away, staring at the phone and slowly turning the phone he held upside down. He placed his ear against the place where he had put his mouth.
"Hello?" he said again.
"Can you hear me now, wizard?" Hermione's voice was steady without a hint of tease, but he felt a blush creeping on his cheek. Okay, so what if he didn't know which part should be placed on which side?
"Yeah, I can hear you," he muttered.
"Are you okay?" she asked casually, but he caught a bit of hesitation when she paused. "Were you just crying?"
His eyes widened. "What? No! Why—who—what—I AM NOT A GIRL! Why would I be crying anyway?"
"Your voice is shaky, Malfoy," she replied. "And you sure take your sweet time answering this, so either you planned to jump off the window when I called but you can't do it because you're not strong enough to push yourself out of that chair—"
"Are you doing this just because you're bored, Mudblood?" Draco said. "Don't you have anything better to do than teasing someone who is stuck in the chair and trapped inside your house all day?"
"Ah, yeah I do," Hermione said, "I'm going to be home late, I have a work after class. If you're hungry, there's some apple and juice inside the fridge. And please…" She sighed. "Whatever your stupid brain told you to do, never turn on the stove or coffee machine by yourself. They were placed too high for someone who sits in a wheelchair to use. You might end up hurting yourself."
Draco frowned, then rapidly looking around the room. "You've put something in here, right?"
"Something? I don't get it—"
"There's no way you can see I'm crying or placing the phone upside down or turning on the coffee machine or—" he caught himself in time, but he still heard her mumbling.
"Should've known better..."
"You hid a camera inside your house, don't you, Mudblood?" Draco snapped, shame replaced by anger. "Do you think I'm going to steal anything that belongs to you or ruin your house?"
"Well… I think you've already ruined my house." Hermione said. "And about stealing, I'm pretty sure you have tried to unlock my bedroom door to get all the items you can rob while I'm out."
Like a deer who was just about to get hit by a car, Draco froze. He frantically looked around, glaring at every surface he could stare at, searching for the camera.
"Are you done, Jean?" Draco heard a male's voice echoed in the background, and Hermione replied something to the man.
"I have to go now. Just—" Hermione sighed. "Don't put my house on fire. The landlord was very angry this morning when he heard I'm housing a disabled—"
"I'm not disabled!" Draco yelled with all his might, his face dark red, hotter than the coffee spilled in his lap. "I'm not crying! I won't burn your house! I'm not stealing anything! And I won't jump off the window! I'm not stupid, Mudblood!"
"Or brave," Hermione agreed. "It's more likely you fell to the floor and currently moping around with your bottom than jumping off the window. And when I arrive at home, I think I'm going to see you on the floor, crying and tiring yourself from a stupid attempt to stand up—"
The furious blond slammed the phone to the end table repeatedly, wishing he had a better strength in his arm while doing so, imagining it was Mudblood's head he was banging at. After he was sure he had killed the phone, he started a new rampage on locating and assassinating the secret camera he believed was there.
"Don't forget, this spoon should not be used to scoop another coffee." Victor pointed to the cash register. "After you give the customer anything they want, when you stand in front of the cash register—whether it is a takeout or you deliver it to their table—don't forget to smile and say, 'Thank you.' And please, be a bit humble."
Hermione arched her brow. "Are you implying I'm arrogant, Boss?"
"Well… sometimes when you say something, it turns into a lecture and you look smug so…" Victor coughed, patting her shoulder. "Anyway, we'll be checking on what you do today. Three mistakes and it's a no."
"I'm not known for mistakes," grumbled Hermione. Victor pointed at her face at once.
"There! See what I mean? Remember, I'm your boss in here. Act humble and don't talk back even when I'm wrong."
"Rules of working, Jean," Victor said, showing one of his fingers. "One, the boss is the king. Unless you're planning on coup-d-etat, which means bye-bye to paycheck, don't talk back or act smug. Two, they said customer is a king but in reality they're only customer. Which brings us back, to rule number one. Three, everything written as rules are made by the boss, which means if you can obey rules, you can obey the boss."
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Right, and you may roll your eyes or do whatever in class but in this place, you're my worker." Her boss pointed to a couple who just arrived and sat on the corner of the café. "Okay, bushy head, go and serve your first customer."
Hermione stopped herself from walking to the couple, and glared to her classmate.
"Remember the three rules?"
Turning herself so she could roll her eyes, Hermione greeted the couple and offered them the menu.
To be continued…
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