A/N: Thanks for the kind support, I hope this chapter doesn't suck. eheehee. :J Thanks for leaving so many kind comments, guys. I appreciate it a lot.
I owe the quality of this story to my wonderful beta reader, Fallstar. If there are still a couple of grammar errors, it's me to be blamed.
Hope you have a great Christmas 2010.
Awesome chapter image by
the very talented the_tofuubeaver at TDA
Draco’s eyes wandered again, stared back to the empty chair a few tables in front of him. As he brushed his chin absent-mindedly, he thought of her, of the way she took down notes and keenly scribbled everything on her notepad, occasionally tucking her wildly-loose curls away from her face. She hung at the teacher’s every word, as if all the theories and facts about magic that were taught to them had to
be known in detail and memorised verbatim.
She practically consumed every bit of lecture taught to them, and jumped on her seat with her hand raised, eager to give the answer, just like when, back in their first year, she was eager with the answers when Snape was calling out Potter. Her enthusiasm for study never ceased the least bit throughout the years. Everybody made fun of her, calling her all sorts of derogatory names such as “Smarty Pants,” just because she had a passion of excellence and received the most praise in class. No one could stand that.
But despite her continuously outstanding performance throughout her career at Hogwarts, never once had she shown any sign of delight when she earned a perfect score on a test, because that was as expected of her, as expecting the Chosen Pothead to save the Wizarding World from the Dark Lord, or expecting a shower of spittle when Slughorn spoke to you and lectured you about mind-numbing theories pertaining to elixirs, philtres, or tinctures.
All this proved how much of a priority her educational career had in her life. Her expectations were high in nearly every area...
But in relation to her friends, everything else becomes unimportant. For Weasley, she put all her classes aside just to stay at the St. Mungo’s Hospital to stay by him. He had been moved there over a week ago. Hermione skipped classes just to see him, to hold his hand, praying and crying over his sickbed, hoping he’d awaken from his comatose state.
According to rumours and overhearing Weasley’s friends, Weasley had been hit by a very powerful kind of magic, called the Petrification Spell, that had made him slip into a deep level of coma. This said magic wasn’t even taught at Hogwarts, nor could any of the students perform it—Draco did not know it, even. Since he had an alibi, he would help find the culprit though, in order to clear himself of suspicions. The wand used by the performer hadn’t been found yet, nor could anyone, even the two witnesses and main suspects, Chang and Corner, remember the whole incident.
Weasley wasn’t responding to the commonly known antidote—the Mandrake Restorative Draught—nor to any magical or non-magical treatment. A life-sustaining spell had been cast upon him, since he did not show actual voluntary or involuntary movements: he neither breathed, nor responded to pain, light, or sound, nor had sleep-wake cycles. The worst was this: his heart had stopped beating. It had been hard to discern whether he was in fact petrified or actually dead. The healers had determined that he was not dead by the fact that his body was not decaying or growing: neither disease nor treatment had any effect.
Hermione, in her traumatised state with that blank expression on her face and tears in her eyes, had explained all this to Draco when he went to St. Mungo’s to check on her
condition. It was as if she was reciting a dull text from a book, in that monotonous voice, broken by her ragged breathing and trembling voice. Every fibre of his body ached to reach forward and clasp her hand in his to comfort her. But he couldn’t.
Draco stared down at his empty worksheet, then looked up to where Professor Slughorn stood by the windows, his back towards the class. Slughorn rubbed his stomach and turned his head, catching Draco’s eyes.
“Mr. Malfoy?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“Sir?” Came from another corner of the room.
Turning his head, Draco saw Goldilocks sitting there in the opposite corner, looking up in confusion as his light-grey eyes shifted between Draco and Slughorn. “Oh, sorry, Professor,” the curly boy mumbled, coughing in his fist as he scratched the back of his head in embarrassment, chuckling, “I thought I heard my name. Never mind.” He bent his head and resumed writing on his worksheet.
Frankly, the way this boy participated in class, Draco thought—appearing to be extremely intelligent, being very intuitive and observant as well, and the way he answered questions with confidence, the way he concentrated on his school tasks—were almost comparable of that to Hermione’s. The reason Draco noticed this was because no one else were like them in class.
Who is this bloke?
Who was he with whom everyone confused Draco as if they looked that much alike? He, who claimed to have been at Hogwarts from the beginning of their first year, though neither Draco nor Hermione had clear memories of him. Yet he knew Draco so well, even knew his deepest secret that concerned his fancy for… Draco felt his head warm a little and looked away, then noticed Slughorn approaching his table.
“M’boy, is there any problem with your worksheet?” Slughorn asked concernedly, a hand placed on his fat belly as he looked down his nose at Draco. “As much as you enjoy daydreaming in my class, I’m asking you to finish that before the time is up. Everybody, you have less than 20 minutes left.” He strode back towards the front of the class, and by passing the empty chair next to Potter—Hermione’s seat—he shook his head disappointedly.
Potter had his head bent, either answering his worksheet or scribbling his sick friend’s name on a piece of parchment and drawing heart shapes around it, Draco couldn’t tell or care. But fact was, Potter hadn’t been quite his usual self lately. He always looked as though he was going to throw himself at Draco if only he had the chance to. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any evidence that Draco had harmed Weasley, aside from that, Draco did have an alibi—Hermione.
Despite the teachers informing Hermione that it wasn’t necessary to stay at the hospital the whole time, Hermione refused to listen. She only came to class to submit her assignments or projects, and still received outstanding marks. She did her school work in the hospital, and then she’d return to the castle in the late evening. Weasley’s parents and his siblings visited him alternately, but it was only Hermione who’d stay all day.
For some reason Draco realised now that he couldn’t stand seeing her in so much agony that he even wished—though it went against his nature—that Weasley would awaken from his comatose state and be alright again. He tried to make sense of what was happening with himself and why Hermione mattered so much to him.
Later that afternoon Draco found himself in the reception area of the St. Munggo’s Hospital with a book tucked under his arm and a small bundle packed with stolen food and drinks from the castle’s kitchens in his hand. He didn’t know what he was doing there. Again. He had been there the day before, and before that, only to thrust a box with food and drinks into Hermione’s hands, and leave quickly even before she had the chance to say something.
He went along the familiar hallway, coloured in egg-shell white and decorated with paintings of the founder of this hospital and its staff until he reached the door where Weasley was taken in and Hermione would be waiting. Hoping that she was alone and not in the company of the Weasley clan, he pushed open the door.
Thank Merlin; none of the other Weasleys was there. And as expected, Hermione sat there on a chair, lifting her head from her book to look at him, then a slight upturn of the corners of her mouth appeared. She didn’t seem surprised at all since it wasn’t Draco’s first visit. Coughing into his fist and upon taking a deep breath, he strode towards her and placed the bundle of food and the book on the nightstand.
He squinted towards Weasley’s ash-white face; his lips were purple while he seemed almost like a wax mannequin. How did Hermione endure this, staying at the hospital all day? Being around a creepy dead-looking body all the time? Even more so that it was her dearest friend lying there. Draco thought he was certainly not strong enough to bear the death of a beloved one and hold them in his arms. A strange, disturbing feeling overcame him and his eyes snapped instinctively to Hermione.
She was looking at him, as if studying his face. “Thank you,” she said in a gentle, raspy voice, “but you needn’t come every day, you know? Mrs. Weasley makes sure that I’m not neglecting myself, and there’s a cafeteria in the lobby, so I’m well provided.” She smiled wearily, giggling behind her hand. “But I appreciate your thoughtfulness very much, Draco.”
Draco shrugged lazily, waving a hand. Smirking, he said, “Just making sure the git hasn’t woken up yet.” Hermione frowned as she shook her head. “So any news on him yet? What did the healer say?” Not that he really cared, but anyway…
“Healer Graham is still working on a new potion to assess the severity and level of Ron’s coma, and predict the chances of his recovery,” Hermione said impassively, as usual, her glassy eyes fixed upon Weasley. “The healers are clueless as to why a Petrification Spell could be so powerful and detrimental that it almost seems untreatable. Ron has not been responding to any of the new treatments, but his brain responsiveness is not lessening either, which is a good sign. But thank Merlin, he showed first signs of reflexes this morning. I was so relieved, as was his family. He can hear us,” she finished with a smile and tears in her eyes. “I’ve been reading to him and speaking to him all day.”
“That’s good,” Draco said sarcastically, sneering, “you can catch him up on school work. So you plan on staying here again?” Shifting his weight on his other foot, he glared down at her. “Don’t get me wrong, all right? I understand your worry. But it’s not your obligation to stay here all day and look after him, you know. He’s being taken care for by the matrons and the healers, and his family.” Ignoring Hermione’s fiery glare from the side, Draco went on, “Now that he’s made some progress in his recovery, and you’ve proved your point about how much you care for him, you can actually return to school and focus on something else, like…like…school, or whatever. Because, seriously, Granger, another week longer and you start looking like a zombie,” he added, leering at her.
“Malfoy,” she said impatiently, rolling her eyes towards the ceiling, “tell me, why is it any of your concern? Don’t tell me you’re actually worried
about me,” she said tauntingly, raising an eyebrow at him.
”Wh—What? Why would I be?” he said quickly. “Don’t be silly.”
As Hermione squinted at Draco, she shook her head in scorn, adding in a huff, “As for someone who has no actual close friends at all, what I do for Ron is probably something you don’t understand, Malfoy.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I think what you do is stupid. Do you think that Weasley would want that—you, spending your time like this? Worrying about him the whole time, not resting properly, and missing school?” Draco retorted, ignoring the disconcerting feeling in his chest that he was being ‘Malfoy’ again and their hatred for each other returning. “What if he doesn’t wake up at all? You’re just wasting your time deluding yourself.” He flinched when he realised the spite in his words, knowing this hurt her.
Hermione opened her mouth with some hot reply, but instead of retorting angrily, she only shook her head, almost sadly. Her features deflated; she looked away and back at Weasley. “You may leave now,” she said, “I didn’t ask you to come here, now did I? Did you come here for the sole intention to argue with me?” She brushed her hair away from her face, tucking the loose strand behind her ear. “Look, I don’t know what you want from me or why you come here everyday. Now don’t tell me you’re still doing this for Hayden’s sake, so that he sees how nice you are to me. He’s not even around.”
Draco almost forgot all about his pretence game with Hermione—pretending to be a couple when Goldilocks was around. How could she bring it up in a moment like this, when he was actually being genuinely concerned about her? How could she be so clueless when it came to him?
A prolonged silence stretched between them. Of course it wasn’t his intention to hurt her; he didn’t know himself why he showed up when seemingly, bloody Granger
didn’t give a rat’s ass about him.
“Fine, you don’t leave me any other choice!” Clenching his jaw to restrain himself to snarl at her, he shoved his fists into his robe pockets as he stormed off, but not towards the exit door. He spotted a chair beside the vacant bed and grabbed it. He dragged it back to where Hermione sat and put it there with a cluttering noise when he pulled the legs of the chair apart, planting himself down with his arms crossed. He blew his hair out of his face, looking the other way, scowling.
“What are you doing?” she asked from his side.
“I’m having a picnic, Granger. What else do you think?”
“Wha—” Hermione said, flabbergasted. “But why would you stay here? I told you to leave.”
“I. Will. Not,” he spelled out, sneering at her. “Who the heck d’you think you are for bossing me around? You’re not my mother!”
Hermione smiled despite herself, incredulous. “You’re so obstinate.”
“I?” he murmured.
When he looked away and from his peripheral view, he noticed that she was still smiling.
Hermione awoke to the sound of a voice that was deep enough to be almost charming, very gentle yet masculine. She knew that voice, she thought, just without the arrogance and pride in it. When she opened her eyes she stared at the high, utilitarian grey ceiling, and the off-white curtains above her head. Instantly, she realised where she was, except that she was lying on a scratchy bed with a robe smelling of cinnamon and vanilla, and not as usual on the chair beside Ron’s bed.
Remembering Ron, she propped on one elbow and squinted towards the source of the voice. Draco sat there with his back to her, reading from the book that she had been reading to Ron since that morning.
She must have fallen asleep, she decided, but why had she been sleeping on the bed? She didn’t even remember that she had lain down there. More astonishingly was that Draco was reading to Ron. Was she only dreaming? Or maybe it wasn’t Draco who sat there.
The door opened and a matron came in with a tray, serving that blond boy a glass of water. When she noticed Hermione, she smiled. That boy followed the matron’s gaze and smirked at Hermione, nodding smugly. Surprised, she realised that it was, indeed, Draco.
“Slept well, Princess?” he asked in his normal voice, his arrogant self again. He was still wearing his school uniform, thus, Hermione figured that he hadn’t gone back to Hogwarts yet since he came in the afternoon.
Frowning, she rose from the bed, putting the robe around her shoulders, whilst hugging herself. It was too long and the hem reached the ground. She sat on the chair next to Draco’s.
They didn’t speak for a while. Draco had his arms crossed, his usual frown on his face, while glaring at Ron with his eyes pierced at him, as if he blamed Ron for being stuck with Hermione in this dull place, and it was hardship for him.
Sensing his mood, she said again, “I told you to leave, didn’t I? You didn’t have to stay here.”
“Just shut it, Granger. I’m not in the mood to argue with you,” he mumbled, clearly irritated. “Visiting hours are almost over anyway. It’s almost 10. I only spoke to the chief matron to wait till you wake up, and since we don’t have permission to stay overnight here, get dressed because we’re leaving.”
“Now who’s being bossy?” she groaned, rolling her eyes.
Why was he always so angry? she wondered, yet his actions were the contrary of how he treated her, as if he was having a hard time, just for once, to be nice to her.
“Thank you,” she said nonetheless, not looking at him.
“What the heck for?”
Yet again, to Hermione’s surprise, Draco was being gentlemanly. Since Hermione only wore a sweater and her trench coat was too thin, he had insisted that Hermione kept his robe on despite the chilly weather. His hands were shoved in his trousers pockets, as he made long strides ahead of her down the path from the train station towards the castle.
Once inside the castle, they reached the massive main staircase that would lead them to their respective Houses. She threw him a sideway glance, not knowing how to thank him for his apathetic, yet well-meant companionship. But Draco didn’t take the staircase to the dungeons; instead he headed for the one leading upstairs.
Realising his intention, she said quickly, “No, you don’t have to come with me. I’ll be fine. And thank you.”
It was the third time she was genuinely thanking him, and with each word of gratitude, she felt her heart swell for some reason she didn’t understand.
He disregarded her. “You gonna sleep there or what?” he said mockingly, looking down at her from the higher stairs.
They walked a little together when the atmosphere between changed, making Hermione suddenly wonder what had been going on in Draco’s mind all afternoon. When they reached the deserted third floor, Draco then rounded on her and clasped his hand over her mouth, beckoning her to be quiet. He dragged her behind a statue, his hand remaining on her mouth, his lips close to her ear. Panic came over her.
Oh God, I knew something’s wrong with him
, shot into her mind. She tried to struggle free, scream, open her mouth to bite his finger. But he held her too tight. He was too strong and she felt too exhausted and drained of all energy to resist.
“Shh, shut up,” he seethed, grabbing her struggling hands. “I don’t want them to hear us.”
“What?” her voice a muffle against his hand. Then she heard voices down the hallway.
“No, you’re crazy! You can’t do that, Hayden. I won’t let you!” A girl’s high-pitched, reprimanding voice, which Hermione didn’t recognise. “You are aware of neither the outcome nor the consequences of your actions!”
“Quit telling me what to do! You’re not my bloody mother for bossing me around!” the boy, which Hermione instantly recognised as Hayden’s, retorted angrily. When Draco released Hermione’s wrists, she giggled nervously despite herself, thinking that Hayden almost sounded like Draco when angry. Then he removed his hand from her mouth, putting a finger to his lips to indicate to be quiet. Relieved, she chuckled to herself when she realised that for only a split second, she actually thought that Draco was going to harm her. He pulled a face, wondering what she found so amusing.
“Hayden, wait,” the girl called after him. “Hayden, think about it first. If you spike their drinks, let’s say, Hermione’s, then Hermione will be infatuated with you
and not with Draco. Think about how awful that
would be. You’re making it worse. Merlin, Hayden, I know how desperate you are, but you’re not thinking clearly.”
“I’ll be sure to make him
do it,” Hayden said, sounding self-assured with himself and with whatever he had planned.
“No, Hayden,” the girl replied. “The person who drinks the potion will be madly obsessed with the person who brewed it, and not with the one who administered it to the victim. And how are you going to make Draco do it, eh? You didn’t master any spells other than the basics.”
Hermione and Draco exchanged a worried look. “What are they talking about?” she squeaked in mortification, feeling confused. He hushed her to be quiet again as he listened closely.
“I don’t know,” Hayden said, bursting out into a fit of laughter that he almost sounded like he’d gone mad, “I don’t fucking know. Thought you’d do that for me, Naomi. You can perform four spells—advanced
spells, I might add—at the same time, after all, can’t you?”
“Shh, keep it down,” the girl, Naomi, hissed.
“Ouch, stop hitting me!”
“Give me that potion,” Naomi demanded. “Forget about this plan for the time being and we’ll come up with something else.”
“There’s no time, don’t you get it? And I’m running out of time because it doesn’t seem like they’d be shagging each other in the nearest future.”
Hermione let out another squeak, and in front of her she felt Draco squirm uncomfortably. Only then did she realise that she was leaning against his broad and very warm chest, and his arms were wrapped around her torso. They pulled apart—her cheeks feeling hot and Draco’s face turned beet red. He stared very interestingly at the suite of armour beside them.
“If you were in my situation, you’d understand my little crisis,” Hayden stated hotly, storming off.
“Bloody Merlin, will you just stop walking out on me? I’m talking to you,” Naomi shrieked, her voice echoing in the hallway. “Look, I understand how you feel. But you can’t force them to anything, Hayden. What will you do—lock them up in a room and wait till they have sex?” she scoffed. When she spoke again, her voice was then gentle, “Hayden, we both may know how much Draco loves her and cares about her, but she
doesn’t. And as long as Hermione doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, then nothing will happen between them. And, Gee, you can’t force a girl to fall in love with someone like that.”
Hermione heard Draco gulp beside her. Blushing furiously, she touched her cheeks and looked to the ground. What is this all about?
“Oh, are you crying now?” Naomi asked softly. Hayden gave a mild chuckle.
“Don’t be silly. ‘Course not,” he said, sniffing. “That—that just sounds almost impossible, you know? How did he do it before to make her, erm…agree?
He must’ve done something really grant to impress her.”
Hermione thought, now she understood that they were talking about some other people; two students from this school, perhaps, coincidentally having the same names. Or—or perhaps it’s a silly practical joke involving Draco and Hermione, for a school play, maybe? God, who was she fooling? There were no school plays at wizarding schools.
There was a brief silence, until Naomi spoke again, “I have no idea what he did. But whatever it was, he must do differently now or else the cycle will just repeat itself and we’re back at this point again. Now we don’t want that, do we?”
“Certainly not.” Hayden sighed; then he said in one breath, his voice cracking, “I don’t want her to die. I’d do anything
to prevent that.”
Draco stiffened beside Hermione, causing her to look up at his face, which had turned ash-white all of a sudden. Her own heart was racing. Without realising, she took his hand in hers. He was trembling.
God, what was going on? What do these people want from us?
Then, when she felt that chilly breeze at her neck, another question popped in her mind, who are these people?
“Let’s go,” Naomi said to Hayden, “I have to pay my father a visit.”
“It’s late. They won’t let us in.” Hayden made a yawning sound. “And I’m too sleepy, anyway. This whole conversation exhausted me. Where’d you think they went off to the whole day?”
Hermione noticed Draco’s heavy breathing. He had his eyes closed and lips pressed to a tight line until they looked white. His jaw was clenched and the vein at his temple was throbbing wildly. Hermione squeezed his hand once, trying to calm him down. This whole issue seemed to be affecting him more than it was affecting her
, even though these people were talking about Hermione’s death.
responsible for Ron’s condition? Were they planning to attack and kill Hermione? Oh God! No. Impossible. Hayden seemed to be too protective of Hermione; certainly he couldn’t mean that he wanted to harm her in any way.
And what was this thing about Draco and her, and getting them together? Hermione shivered at the thought that Hayden and this girl were making plans to get them—Draco and Hermione—together, and not only to make them date each other as she previously assumed, but to the extent that they actually slept with each other. What was the whole point? She blushed again, shaking her head to ban the images from her mind of her and Draco having sex.
Before she could continue pondering regarding this whole confusing mess, Draco pulled her hand and stepped forward, dragging her behind him.
“Wha—? What—what are you doing?” Hermione hissed through her teeth, panicking. She looked at Draco’s back, his hand clasping hers like irons. He didn’t pay any attention to her.
Both, this girl and Hayden turned around curiously, their eyes widened in shock. Hayden flinched, looking at his companion for help. This girl, Naomi, who, Hermione noticed, looked strikingly like Cho, frowned, her hand instinctively searching in her robe pocket for what Hermione could only take to be her wand. She beckoned Hayden to take a step back, whilst lifting slowly her wand towards Draco and Hermione.
Hermione followed suit, searching with her free hand for her wand, but she had difficulties unbuttoning the long robe she was wearing. Merlin, why did she have to keep on Draco’s robe, anyway? And even his wand she couldn’t find. Looking up, she saw him pulling out his wand from the back of his trousers pocket.
Hermione bumped against him when he suddenly stopped walking.
“Who...the fuck...are you?” Draco snarled as he pointed his wand at Hayden and his companion, his hand not letting go of Hermione’s.
Hayden placed a hand on Naomi’s wand hand, whispering something to her. He seemed as though he was searching for her understanding or…perhaps, her permission? She only responded with a beseeching look, as if to say, ‘don’t!’.
And then Hayden stepped forward; there was a smirk on his face, identical to Draco’s.
Hermione could feel the blood in her veins freeze even before Hayden spoke.
“I’ve been looking for you all day,” he said with a glint in his eye, “Mum, Dad.”
A/N: YAY so Hayden's gonna tell them the whole story. How will Draco and Hermione react? *suspense*