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Chapter 10 : Sending a Message
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November, Hogwarts, Scotland. 1997 A.D.
The air was crisp as the multicolored leaves on the ground, with only the slightest, occassional frigid breeze passing through with the promise of winter. Hermione sat alone on an old, crumbling stone bench in the courtyard, leaning her cheek on her hand as she simultaneously tapped her quill against the blank piece of parchment before her and stared at the crow that had perched itself on the table across the way. It was staring at her.
And not in a good way.
It stood still the entire time, watching her unblinkingly as she watched it. It was almost statue like, and sometimes she even wondered if it was really there at all, but she hadn't been able to look away for the past few minutes. As she stared, something white fluttered down through her line of vision and broke her train of thought.
Hermione looked down, finding a flower tucked in the crease of her book. Her eyes widened as she quickly brushed it away and out of her sight, her chest heaving heavily.
This wasn't happening right now.
That hadn't been real.
She pressed her eyes together and rubbed at her temples, willing herself to calm down. Hermione's head was starting to hurt a bit and she frowned slightly. She hadn't been getting much sleep lately, but enough headaches to make up for it.
"Don't like flowers much, Granger?"
Hermione could admit, the sudden sound of his voice did startle her a bit when it split through the moment of silence so abruptly, but you had to be an idiot, cut off from all forms of communication, (or a muggle,) from somewhere abroad not to know his voice.
Well, maybe that was a bit extreme.
But one couldn't blame her; her brain was currently on the frits, and it didn't help that Draco had just shown up to push her even closer to the edge. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough," he replied simply, taking a bite out of an apple, "but that still doesn't answer my question."
"What -" she stopped, opening her eyes and looking up as she pointed her quill at him. "Oh, that thing about the flowers? I thought that was just one of your daily jeers. Sorry,"
He turned his apple to an uneaten side, and shined it on his robes casually. "And?"
"And," Hermione said firmly, shutting her book loudly, and clenching her jaw, making him look up, "I quite like flowers, actually. Just not..." she trailed off and swallowed, looking down, "just not those."
"And why is that?" He crunched into his apple again and Hermione grimaced, casting a brief, sidelong glance at him.
She slid her textbook off the table and stood up. "Look," she told him, "as much as I'd love to keep this up, I don't exactly have the time, much less the patience, for twenty questions right now, alright?" She shouldered her bag, turning to leave. Instead, she found Draco suddenly hovering over her. He took a step forward, causing her to back up against the table.
Hermione refused to look him in the eyes.
"Why so hostile, Granger?" Draco murmured, his fingertips slowly, gently trailing up her thigh and growing dangerously close to the hem of her skirt as each second passed. Her body tensed. Her breathing became ragged, and all of a sudden, it was very humid out there, like someone upstairs had just kicked up the heat a few dozen notches. Or maybe it was just her. "I thought we were coming to an... understanding a few weeks ago, when we -"
Suddenly, she remembered why she had avoided him for the past few weeks since that... incident. "Stop," Hermione said, her hand ontop of his on her thigh, "Nothing happened between us,"
"But you wanted something to," he pointed out. "I could see it in your eyes,"
"No," she shook her head to emphasize her point - and to shake off the way his silky voice made her feel all hot and bothered all over again.
He leaned down to her ear, pushing her hair behind it. "Prove it, then," Draco challenged haughtily, his breath tickling her neck. Her eyelids fluttered involuntarily.
She shook her head again, steeling herself against his influences.
"There's no way -" Hermione tried to say, but at that moment she made the mistake of looking up at him. He kissed her, hard, with a strong hand behind her neck supporting her head as she had to arch up to reach his face. She wanted to fight, she really did, but it became impossible all over again.
They spun around, this time Draco sitting on the table as Hermione brought her knees up to rest next to his hips. She could feel him smiling against her lips, and kissed him harder in order to get rid of his smugness. Hermione grabbed fistfulls of his robes and pulled Draco as close as he could get, as his hands rubbed circles on the insides of her thighs. Hermione wanted this to happen; this time she was sure.
So sure, in fact, that neither of them heard someone clear their throat the first time. However, the second time around...
"Ahem," Ginny said much louder, causing the two of them to jerk apart so abruptly that Hermione nearly toppled backwards. She probably would've, if Draco's hands hadn't magically appeard on her hips.
"Ginny!" Hermione greeted, her eyes wide as she pushed her bra strap back up on her shoulder and climbed off of Draco. "How did you find me?"
"Does it matter?" She retorted. "From the looks of things I assume the two of you have already kissed and made-up," Her eyes flickered from one to the other, lingering on Hermione in the end pointedly - almost accusingly.
Then Draco spoke up, his brows pulling together in confusion. "About what?"
Hermione had opened her mouth the protest, but Ginny was much quicker. "Oh, she hasn't told you, has she?" She asked, tilting her head to the side a bit. "You know, about how she thought that you were a scheming, manipulative, spawn of all things Dark. Well, more than usual, anyway,"
"You've got to be joking," he said, looking at Hermione. "Is this true?"
"Yes, but -"
She tried to put a hand on his arm but he shook it off, stepping away from her. "Don't," Draco snapped. "You thought I'd never find out, didn't you?" He swallowed, looking away and shaking his head. "You kissed me, for Merlin's sake!"
"I'm quite sure that it was you who kissed me, Draco!" Hermione shot back. "And even if it had been the other way around, you can't say you hadn't wanted it to happen,"
"That's not the point! You still lied," he seethed, storming across the courtyard. Then he stopped halfway to the corridor, turning to look at her again. "Tell me something," Draco said, "was that why you had been avoiding the tower for the past few weeks? The big secret?"
Hermione looked taken aback. "I- I haven't been... I've just been really -"
"Busy?" He laughed incredulously. "Busy enough to not be able to return to your own bed at night? No one's that busy, Granger," Draco rolled his eyes.
"What does it matter to you whether or not I sleep in my bed or not?" She demanded, her hands clenching into fists at her sides. The book that had been in her hands had long since been discarded on the table behind her. "You're not my mother, and certainly not my boyfriend," her voice hitched in the middle of the word, and she looked away, exhaling slowly.
Draco stared at her, his mouth hanging open slightly. "So you've been doing all this to avoid me, then?"
Bingo, Chione chimed in her head. Whatever happened to her being pro-Malfoy? Was she really so easily swayed by her thoughts? Did that mean that she really had been hallucinating all this time?
That she wasn't real?
A disbelieving scoff sounded in her mind then. Hermione decided to take that as a no. She shook her head, looking down. "No one said that you had to wait up for me," she breathed matter-of-factly. He nodded slowly.
"I know, but I'd wanted -" he stopped and glanced at Ginny, whom they'd both forgotten was still standing there. He cleared his throat awkwardly, and Hermione had a sudden urge to kiss him again. He looked so innocent, so sincere - a rare feat ever accomplished by a Malfoy. He'd wanted to wait up.
He'd noticed her.
Ron had never noticed anything. Sometimes, she even wondered if he cared about her at all. A second later, Draco cleared his throat a second time. "That still doesn't make up for what you'd said,"
"Draco, it's not -"
"Save it, alright?" He said, half-turning and holding up a hand to stop her. "I don't want to know what you have to say right now. I thought you knew how much I had given up by deciding not to murder Dumbledore last Spring," Draco looked away. "I thought you knew how much I'd changed,"
Ginny took a step forward, shaking her head. "I'm really sorry you had to find out like this," she told him.
"Don't," he replied sharply, "pity me. Just don't." Draco retrieved his half-eaten apple from the table and chucked it into the nearest rubbish bin. "I've got to go,"
Hermione watched him go in silence.
Then she snatched up her book, turned on her heel, and made a beeline for the nearest exit. "Hermione, wait up!" Ginny called, hurrying after her. "I only did it with the best intentions -"
"Oh, is that so?" Hermione seethed in disbelief.
"Yes," huffed Ginny as she tried to keep up with her best friend's quick pace. Finally, she caught up, and grabbed Hermione's arm. "Look," she explained, "you were right. I never liked Malfoy, and you deserve much better -"
Hermione folded her arms. "What, like your deadbeat brother, who decided that saving the world without me was more important than doing it with me? The one who never writes me to see how I'm doing, and is probably hooking up with every minger he encounters, wherever they are," she was suddenly so choked up that she needed to lean against a wall to steady her breathing. Her eyes stung. This was the first time she'd talked about him in a while.
A long while.
The sound of running footsteps made her look up, just as Ginny retracted the hand that had been hovering hesitantly just above her shoulder. "I tried to tell her!" Neville claimed.
"I know," Hermione replied simply. She adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder, her eyebrows furrowed. "How did you find me? You're supposed to be in Hogsmeade, having a blast and buying useless things,"
Neville offered her a half-smile. "Well, how were we supposed to have a blast when you weren't there?" He shrugged. "Besides, Ginny said that she'd seen you hanging out in the courtyard a lot lately, but decided not to bother you for a while. She had wanted you to try and get past your whole blaming Malfoy phase on your own, and so she -"
"So, I went down to Hogsmeade for a while at first, but then I figured that you probably needed direct confrontation if you were ever going to move on. I snuck away from Neville whilst he was distracted and returned to the castle," Ginny explained, "finding you with Draco Malfoy's tongue halfway down your throat, snogging eachothers brains out. Something had to be done,"
"What?" Neville looked at Hermione.
She ignored him. "Well, you got what you wanted," said Hermione. "I probably won't be speaking to him for quite a while now that you've ruined everything."
"Ruined?" Ginny repeated. "I was trying to help you, Hermione. This behavior isn't... it isn't normal for you. Frankly, it's scaring me. It's scaring us," she gestured to Neville standing next to her.
"Hey, wait a minute -"
"No one said that I needed help, Ginny," she shot back. "What I do and who I do it with is none of your concern."
"That, my friend," Ginny replied simply, "is where you are sorely mistaken,"
Hermione narrowed her eyes skeptically. "What?"
Ginny reached into the pocket of her sweater and pulled something out in her hand. She opened it, revealing at least a dozen shining gold coins. "Twelve galleons," she told them. "That was how much Colin was payed for each photograph. Apparently, he's got more of these stashed away in his dormitory,"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Hermione asked, eyeing the coins for another lingering second before looking up at Ginny.
She frowned slightly.
"'What does that have to do with anything'?" Neville repeated before Ginny could find the words, incredulous. "It has to do with everything! Colin was payed that much for each photo, Hermione! Obviously, he'd been payed off by someone very wealthy. Who d'you think has that much money to burn?"
"You were right," Ginny admitted. "Maybe Malfoy does have something to do with this, after all."
Hermione shook her head, not wanting to believe it. "There are other wealthy students in this school. It could have been anyone. It could very well have been that he had lied to us, and it really is Rita Skeeter -"
"But it's not, is it?"
Trust them, Hermione, Chione advised, right as Hermione was beginning to doubt doing so in the first place. She gave a visible start to Chione's voice, and Ginny's brows furrowed as she glanced at Neville. Like you said, you can't do this alone. They may be all you have left, in the end.
At this, she frowned. How do you know? Hermione demanded, but before Chione could respond, Ginny's hand was on her arm.
"She's talking to you again, isn't she?" Ginny whispered, her eyes wide with concern.
"No," Hermione lied, pulling her arm from her grasp and turning away. "I just need... some time to think. Alone,"
Ginny exhaled, but nodded slowly in understanding. "Alright," she told her, exchanging another brief look with Neville. "We'll be down at the Three Broomsticks if you need us for anything." And with that, they passed her and walk along the corridor in silence, before turning a corner and disappearing from sight.
Hermione took a deep breath, before turning on her heel and heading off in the opposite direction, towards the Head Tower. The wind kicked up as she walked, the atmosphere suddenly becoming static-charged, and the sunlight suppressed by the thick, charcoal-colored clouds that were just rolling in. It had been raining a lot lately, which wouldn't be odd if it weren't the middle of November. She pulled her cloak tighter around her body and picked up her pace.
When she reached the Head Tower, she gave the portait (today, it was of Helga Hufflepuff) the password and crawled through the portrait hole into the common room. It was dark, and smelled of burnt wood, probably from the hearth.
"Draco?" Hermione called as she crossed the common room, dropping her bag on the couch as she passed it. "Are you in here?" No answer. "Hello? Draco?" She said again, climbing the stairs slowly. The second to last one creaked, and she hesitated, looking towards his bedroom door at the left end of the second floor corridor. His door was shut as usual.
With a glance over her shoulder, Hermione decided to head for that one first. The closer she got to it, the faster her heart beat. She had never been in Draco's room before, but what was so special about that? It was probably exactly like hers, except with green and silver duvets and curtains, and probably a bit more organized. Hermione reached for the doorknob and, after a silent count of three, tried to open it.
The door was locked.
She tried again, this time pushing a bit harder. "Ugh," Hermione groaned as she slumped against the door that would not budge. She looked up at it, confused. What was so important about his room that his door needed to be locked?
The only good thing was that, if he was in there, he probably would have heard her struggling and would come open the door for her. Unless he was sleeping, which wasn't likely, as it was only about three o'clock. Hermione waited for a beat, and then another, before letting her shoulders drop and exhaling. Maybe he wasn't in there at all.
Shaking her head, Hermione turned and headed for her bedroom. She paused on the threshold when she realized that the door had been left cracked open. Surely she'd closed it before she had left that morning.
Her wand was in her bag downstairs, making her feel completely unprotected to whatever awaited on the other side of the door. Swallowing hard, Hermione squared her shoulders and pushed open the door to its full extent. What she saw inside made her eyes widen and her mouth drop open simultaneously.
The entire room was covered in crisp, white flowers and blood. Real, scarlet blood smeared all over her sheets, floor, ceiling, walls, curtains - everything. Shaking, Hermione's hand flew up to her mouth and her other arm was wrapped tightly around her abdomen, willing her not to retch all over the carpet as she turned and noticed something on the wall. A message.
"I know who you are" was spelled out on the once white expanse of wall in deep scarlet blood, which seemed fresh, as it was still dripping down it to the floor. As she stared at it, she could feel the pressure building up inside of her until it was almost too much to bear. Tears pooling on the brims of her eyes spilled over and ran down her cheeks, and she finally did the only thing she could manage.
AN Alas, we've reached the Chapter Ten milestone! Hurray! So, what did you think?
At first, it had been written as a filler chapter, but I thought, hey what the heck let's throw in some more drama, yeah? So I did. More Dramione lovin', and more Ginny being Ginny. How did that sit for you, anyway? Did you think it was weird that they decided to change their minds again after the last chapter? Or did you think their reasoning was justified?
Second, the part about Hermione's room. Oh dear. What did you think of that? Who do you think did it? I already know, of course, but it's nice to see that I've got the cogs in your head working. :)
As always, general comments/concerns/feedback/questions/criticisms/suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Thanks again to everyone that's kept up with the story and believed in it! I really couldn't have done it without you all!
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