Chapter 1 : Transfiguration
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“Oh, this?” she asked wryly, obviously enjoying the look of tortured pain on her brother’s face. After only a few seconds of a straight face she cracked and snorted into her eggs. “Ron, it’s just a ring, not – “
“– It’s the Slytherin mascot, Ginny,” Harry interrupted, pointing accusingly with his fork. “You plan on wearing that at the Quidditch next week?”
Ginny finally laughed outright and leaned back from the table. “Oh Harry, not you too! Guys, come on, it was a cute ring!”
Ron instantly leaned across the table, practically nose-to-nose with his sister, eyes popping with manic energy. “Snakes are not cute, Ginny; snakes are slimy, wriggly, creepy-crawly little Slytherin demons!”
“Well, see, that’s not entirely true,” Harry sheepishly intervened with one finger poised. “I mean, the snake I talked to when I was eleven was actually rather nice. And snakes aren’t slimy; they’re just…well…not slimy. Smooth, y’know?” He ducked his head at the glare Ron shot him and continued eating his breakfast as if the subject never arose, but Ginny only continued to laugh.
“Ron,” she patiently said, holding her brother’s chin in her hand. His arms flailed weakly at his sides in an attempt to get back to his seat, but his little sister held him firmly. “Ron, I have a friend who’s in Slytherin. It’s a message of unity. I wear a gold snake with green eyes, and my friend wears a silver lion with red eyes. No harm done.”
Hermione, preceded by a stack of books, sat down beside Ginny, dropping the books into her bag before tucking into her breakfast. “Sound logical to me. It’s a compromise between the Houses, isn’t it? Even though neither friend really prefers the opposing House’s mascot, they wear it with a mix of the colors to show that they refuse to be identified by House alone, but for their individual personalities.”
The redheaded girl looked to the renewed seventh-year with a grin, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “This is why I adore your obnoxious rationality, Hermione.”
Hermione stared coolly back, but not without some warmth. “I don’t do it for love; it’s a satisfactory and logical behavior pattern that makes conclusions easier to draw.” With that and one last gulp of porridge, the bushy-haired bookworm gathered up her things before leaving the Great Hall again, hair and skirt swishing briskly. Harry stared after her with a furrowed brow. Hermione just hadn’t been right in the head since the war had ended, and she had been unable to reverse the Memory Modification on her parents.
Ginny turned back to Harry and Ron with her lower lip between her teeth. “Did I say something wrong?” At the shake of Harry’s head she shrugged her shoulders and took off after Hermione regardless, leaving the technically-eighth-years alone.
“What do you make of all this, then?” Ron asked, obviously flustered, as he turned to Harry. He, too, was staring after their intellectually-superior best friend with that timeless look of guilt on his face. “Harry…” he sighed, “it wasn’t your fault. You know that. Hermione didn’t consult you before wiping her parents’ brains clean. It was her first time trying the spell; even someone as smart as her, who you know studied that spell until her eyes bled, couldn’t have successfully performed that spell without years of practice. You know that, Harry.”
“But if I hadn’t needed her so badly, she never would have had to do that in the first place.” Tossing his toast carelessly down onto his plate, Harry followed after the girls, the issue of Ginny’s ring completely lost in all but Ron. He glanced over at the Slytherin table as if expecting the person holding the ring to stand up and wave their arms around or something, sitting alone until Luna drifted over and joined him.
“Malfoy’s been acting funny again,” Harry muttered after another solid five minutes of silence, watching Hermione move about the Room of Requirement with the cool calculation of a scientist. “I’ve seen him skulking around our Tower more than normal for a dungeon-dweller.”
She picked up artifacts every once in a while from around the room, bones and weapons hundreds of years older than either of them. Harry knew that trying to talk to her was fruitless when she was in a mood like this. She would go up to the Room for hours, filling it with unidentified bones and scraps of cloth sent straight from her reserved apprenticeship at the Department of Mysteries, waiting for her to classify and possibly identify them. By the time she finished her NEWTs, she would already be a fully-fledged Unspeakable. Harry sighed quietly to himself. “Hermione…”
“You know I don’t like to talk while I’m working, Harry,” she snapped. Or, it was at least the way she snapped now. Her voice had developed an alarmingly-monotonous tone, never showing any emotion unless she was pushed to the very brink of sanity. Her once-fiery snaps had practically developed into half-sighs now. Harry leaned his head back against the wall behind him, and she peered emotionlessly at him from the corner of her eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
Harry waved his hands as though it wasn’t bothering him that she didn’t sleep most nights because she was cooped up here. “Come on, Hermione; where’s your passion gone?”
Finally, Hermione turned to face him critically. “Passion is –”
“I’m not asking for a definition, Hermione,” Harry interrupted. “You know as well as I do that you hate Malfoy.”
“Hate is a completely irrational emotion,” she insisted with a shake of her head. “Hate is unconditional, and therefore invalid. In order to make a emotionally rational conclusion you have to include all variables and factors of a personality, and when there is unconditional hate variables and factors aren’t taken into consideration.”
Frustration swept through Harry, but also the smallest of thrills. He was getting her worked up; she might even start to show real emotion if he pushed her far enough. “Well you used to love following him around and tracking him and stu –”
He was shut down by the look Hermione shot him. They were enveloped in silence while she rotated her jaw dangerously. “Love is also an irrational, and yet inevitable, emotion.” She shook her head and turned away to examine more artifacts.
“Fine,” he said at last, getting up and throwing his hands into the air. “Fine, Hermione. Just freeze me out, freeze everyone out, use your blinding logic to compartmentalize your emotions, and see what you’re left with at the end of the day.” He turned on his heel and stormed from the room, leaving Hermione with her skeletons, and what was left of his heart.
Luna and Ron were sitting together under the beech tree by the lake when Malfoy strode past, calm as you please, and Ron finally got a good look at him without the mask of Slytherin snobbishness in place. He actually looked like a normal person, like any other teenager in the whole world. In a faded green Quidditch jersey and Muggle jeans, he looked as though he could live right alongside the Weasleys in Ottery St. Catchpole. Even his usually-immaculate hair was tousled. He passed near them, but was distracted and looked away from where they were.
On his finger shone a silver ring, shaped like a lion, with red eyes.
Ron went stiff with shock, then made to lunge across Luna’s lap to grab Malfoy’s ankle and take him down, but the blonde girl touched his wrist to stop him. He pointed frantically at Malfoy and his ring, but Luna merely shook her head, touching a finger to her lips. “Let him go,” she mouthed silently, her breath tickling his face.
“He’s not even looking! It could be so bloody easy!” he pleaded, but he apparently didn’t enunciate well enough, because Luna didn’t understand him. She just held him still, and he watched to see if Malfoy turned to look at them.
It was weird to see him without hearing some antagonistic comment about his family or financial affairs. He wasn’t even acting suspicious, at least not until he glanced over his shoulder and then ducked his head when he turned back to the forefront. Then Ron’s mouth fell open; Malfoy grinned. Like a real person. And his sister’s voice made her presence known somewhere behind them.
Malfoy stopped, threw his hands up, and laughed outright. He looked almost manically stressed-out. “I didn’t think punctuality was necessary for this sort of thing. It’s not as if he’s going anywhere, is it?”
Ginny laughed, stepping at last into Ron and Luna’s line of vision and throwing her arms around Malfoy’s neck. “Now that’s just disrespectful!” she hooted even as he hugged her in return, his hands holding her securely at the small of her back. “Come on Malfoy, we’re losing daylight.”
“‘Malfoy?’” asked the blonde contemptuously. “Is that how it’s going to go, Weasley?” His arms wrapped more tightly around her, as if he was restraining her, and Ron made another move to attack before Luna restrained him again. In the split-second that it would have taken for Ron to jump out from behind the beech tree and attack Malfoy, the Slytherin had kissed his sister. He would have moaned with misery, or nausea, if Luna had not covered his mouth. He licked her hand, but she only waggled her eyebrows at him.
As she backed sweetly away from the kiss and rested her head on Malfoy’s shoulder, Ginny’s dark eyes landed inevitably on Ron and Luna, and widened frantically. Ron gestured wildly at her, with a lot of pointing and swinging of elbows, and she bit her lip before pulling from Malfoy’s arms. “You go ahead, say what you need to say, alright? I’ll be right over here, okay?” She tried to walk away, but his hands closed around her wrist. Her face softened. “Draco…”
Her eyes flickered to Ron as he mouthed “‘Draco?!’” at her, but she ignored him.
Malfoy stared determinedly at the ground, and Ginny touched his face and rubbed his arms comfortingly. Before she could say anything he stopped her. “What am I supposed to say? It’s a chunk of marble with what are probably a few dusty bones inside of it by now.”
Frowning with thought, Ron peered around the edge of the tree and remembered with the always-painful jolt that Dumbledore’s tomb was almost directly behind them. When he turned back to his sister and Malfoy, she was shaking her head and smiling. “I’m not supposed to tell you what to say; that’s not the point. And it’s a symbol, not just a chunk of marble.” She placed one hand on his chest; Ron writhed in agony. “Just do and say what feels right. I’m gonna be right over here, so just holler if you need me.”
Slowly, hesitantly, Malfoy walked to the marble tomb while Ginny drifted slowly to the other side of the tree. There, she knelt down in the grass and started silently feuding with her older brother, both of them mouthing indecipherable words and flinging their hands to and fro in the space between them while Luna watched with a large degree of amusement. They really did resemble one another quite a lot when they were flustered.
Hermione had been standing at the base of the boys’ dormitory stairs for at least half an hour, waiting for Harry to come down from his room, before she grew impatient and went upstairs to find him herself. She paused briefly in the door to the dorm when it was empty, moving into the bathroom when she heard music coming from inside. “Harry, are you –?”
Harry yelped and looked up from where he was seated in the bathtub, frozen with the surprise of her abrupt entrance. “What are you doing?!” finally yelled after a minute.
Hermione turned off the Wireless that was on the floor. “That’s a hazard, having that on the floor,” she pointed out, not even taking a moment to acknowledge his nudity. “Can we talk?”
“I’m…I’m in the tub, Hermione. Can’t it wait?” he asked as if he were speaking to an extremely slow person.
As a response, she sat down on the lid of the toilet, her hands clasped between her knees. “Why do you have butterbeer bottles dispensed from the hat you’re wearing?” she asked, blinking in a puzzled way.
Blushing rather profusely now, Harry tapped his customized helmet. “Cold butterbeer and hot water makes warm butterbeer; the hat keeps it cold…” When he looked back up at Hermione she was biting her bottom lip and staring at him as if she didn’t quite understand his logic. “Alright, fine, talk, as long as we don’t discuss…this…to anyone else ever again.”
Hermione nodded. “That’s fair enough.” Then she sat there, looking absently around the tiny bathroom in complete silence while Harry waited for her to say something. He cleared his throat, and then realized when she swallowed that she was swallowing past a lump in her throat. Her hands were clasped so tightly between her knees because they were shaking. The circles under her eyes were darker than ever, and her cheeks sallow. She dropped her head into her hands suddenly, breathing shakily, and Harry’s instincts kicked in before he could remember that he was completely in the nude. He jumped out of the tub, hat falling to the tiled floor and spilling butterbeer everywhere as he sat beside his friend and wrapped a damp arm around her shoulders.
Her eyes opened and met his slowly. He felt his face turn beet red. “Would you like a towel?”
Once properly covered, Harry ushered Hermione into the dorm rather than in the bathroom, finding the atmosphere much less awkward and sticky, after the butterbeer-spill. They sat across from one another, him dripping silently onto the bedspread while Hermione perched precariously atop his trunk despite his insistence that she was more than welcome beside him. She continuously ran her fingers through her hair, tucking stray pieces behind her ear or just rubbing her hands together. After at least another five minutes of silence he reached out and closed his hand around one of hers, finally setting her still.
“I’ve become cold, and distant from everyone around me,” she finally stated, staring determinedly at her feet. Her hand gently squeezed his, and he returned in kind. “I…I use rationality and logic to explain my actions and to justify all of the wrongs in the world. I could probably come up with a rational explanation for why Voldemort tried taking over the world.” She made a soft sound that might have resembled a laugh if she had smiled at all. “I seek introversion in the Room of Requirement because I know that my parents’ permanent…handicap…is my fault.”
Harry closed his eyes for a moment and scooted as close to her as possible. “Hermione…” He trailed off when she held up her free hand.
“Please let me finish, Harry. It was my fault. I overestimated my own abilities and assumed that if I studied the theory long enough I could master the spell in practice. And for that reason, my parents will never remember the names they were born with, or the fact that when she was nine years old my mother fell out of a tree and broke her arm, or that they were in a car accident together when they were sixteen and a drunk hit them, or that they ever even wanted children, let alone had one.”
Her eyes, rimmed with red but strong enough not to shed a tear, met his. “I will never get them back, Harry. I will never have my parents with me again, because the spell I cast on them was performed with too much confidence and not enough strategy, and rendered irreversible. I’m an orphan by circumstance.” Hermione took a deep slow breath and rotated her jaw again; Harry could practically see the cogs working furiously in her mind in order to compartmentalize everything she was feeling and hide it away. But it was failing, or at least beginning to fail. “I’ll never have them, and it’s my fault. So…so if I maybe…identify enough people…if I get them back to their families, then maybe…”
She turned her head away from Harry so he could only see half of her face, and he pulled her onto the bed beside him so he could hug her properly. She didn’t cry, not like she might have two years ago if the same situation had come up or the same painful emotions brought to surface. She just sat there, arms looped around him and hands on his shoulders while he rubbed her back and fought not to kiss her head. She was fighting so hard to keep this act up, and if it was the last thing he did, he would break it.
“What are you thinking, fraternizing with a Malfoy?!” Ron whispered behind the beech tree while Ginny repetitively told him to shut up, shut up, shut up right now. “Are you nutters, or have you actually forgotten what his father did to you?!”
“Draco is not his father!” responded Ginny in a very high frequency, two red spots forming high up on her cheeks. “Draco is just – just – just listen, you first-class idiot!”
Before Ron could argue, she had her hand clamped over his mouth and turned his head so he could catch the low sound of Malfoy’s voice from behind the tree. Malfoy was standing, fidgeting, at the graveside, with his hands deep in his pockets. He let out a sigh from his nose and finally rolled his eyes, acquiescing to listen.
Malfoy sighed, tapping one bony knuckle against the marble of the tomb. “Gin seems to think this’ll be a therapeutic thing for me…healthy, or whatever. I really don’t know what to say, except what’s on my mind right now. I think this is all rubbish, really. You can’t hear me,” he insisted with a firmer voice, traces of his old condescension returning for a moment before he sighed again, and his voice went low and quiet.
“I don’t…I…I used to just blindly do whatever my father told me to do. Isn’t that what all kids do? They want their dads to be proud of them, so they just…they follow their example, even if it’s wrong. And I…think I knew, even from the beginning, that what I did was wrong, but I just…” From the corner of his eye, Ron saw Malfoy lean over and barely touch his head to the cold white marble tomb. “I just wanted someone to be proud of me. I’m sorry.”
There was silence for a long while before Malfoy finally straightened his back. “Ginny.”
“You stay here,” the youngest Weasley whispered mutinously at Ron before finally releasing his face and running out to where Malfoy was waiting. She wrapped her arm around his waist, his around her neck, and they took off back toward the castle together.
Before they were more than a few yards away, Malfoy turned his head over his shoulder. “Weasley. Lovegood,” he nodded politely at the couple beneath the tree. Ginny gaped at him, and then grinned apologetically. He elbowed her in the ribs, but otherwise seemed unaffected by his previous arch-enemies’ accidental trespassing of his privacy. “You really think I didn’t hear you?” he asked Ginny. “When you’re agitated your voice reaches the frequency just below the one where only dogs can hear.” Ginny gasped with mock-anger and gave him a shove, and within moments he was chasing her up the slope to the castle, seeming even more childlike than the girl a year younger than him, even with his Mark standing black and vivid against his pale forearm.
With a resigned sigh at seeing his sister so happy with someone he had been determined to hate until only about two minutes ago, Ron turned to Luna imploringly. “You’ve been helping them see one another behind my back, haven’t you?”
“Only every Hogsmeade weekend,” Luna said as if it were a consolation. “Otherwise Ginny’s dorm-mates have been serving as excellent lookouts all around the castle the rest of the week.”
Ron groaned and dropped is head heavily onto Luna’s shoulder. He supposed they were really quite in love, otherwise Ginny wouldn’t have been so afraid to tell him about it; if it weren’t serious she could have laughed it off as a mistake with him. Luna laughed serenely and stroked his hair comfortingly until his mind had wandered far from his sister.
“Hermione, you still have a family,” Harry finally managed to say after fighting to find the proper words for an eternity. She lifted her head uneasily from his shoulder and wiped the small amount of moisture from her cheeks as she watched him. “How can you be my best friend for over seven years and not see me as family?”
Her eyes lit up with the same spark that had always been present during classes. “Because if you and I were family, our behavior would be completely different. You’re a few months younger than me, so I would technically be the dominant figure in our relationship, but you show classic Alpha Male dominance, not only in the way you frequently protect me from harm, but also in your stance when we’re around one another, with one arm around my shoulders almost all the time. Not to mention the way you straighten your back so that your clavicle and mandible appear to have a more appealing ratio to one another, which is an instinctual sign of good breed—”
Harry leaned forward and kissed her. Her lips shaped to fit with his, though not opening or moving at all, and after a moment she drew away. Harry’s heart was pounding a million miles an hour in his chest, and suddenly his palms were sweating an awful lot, but Hermione still looked like her perfectly-calm self.
“See, now if we behaved like relatives in any way, I would have felt absolutely no sexual stimulation, but my heart rate is elevated and—”
He kissed her again, with double the intensity now that he knew she had felt a rush as well. “Just forget your damn logic for two minutes, will you?” he asked, and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth before she kissed him again.
Dinner at Slytherin table was always a small affair, now that most of the would-be sixth and seventh years were either in jail with their parents or too afraid of persecution to show their faces in the school. Only Draco had been willing to go back and finish his seventh year properly after the war had ended. Only Draco had had nothing to hide and everything to lose. He sat alone at one end of the table, because all of the younger years were afraid to go near him.
A flash of red caught the corner of Draco’s eyes, and he felt an anxious smile creep over his face. “Gin, what’re you doing? Everyone’s going to see…”
“Ah, let ‘em look,” Weasley muttered as he dropped his plate onto the place beside Draco and tucked in. Draco leaned away and shot him a warily furtive glance, but before he could ask the question that was already oiled up on his lips Lovegood had joined him, her usual dotty self looking as if she had wandered over by accident. Ginny dropped into the seat on Draco’s other side and planted a kiss on his cheek before he could do a thing about it. And across from him, Potter and Granger, who looked just as pleased about the arrangement as Draco felt, made their places.
The six of them stared at one another for a while, feeling the eyes of the student body and staff upon them, and also the tenuous boundaries they had just crossed beginning to fade.