Hermione was sipping on her pumpkin juice and watching Ron and Harry finish their breakfasts. The quidditch final was only three days away and signs of stress where showing on the Gryffindor players. Ginny was becoming moody and had a tendency to hex anyone even mentioning the final to her. Harry’s already untamable hair looked like a bolt of electricity ran through it. His tendency to ruffle it up every few minutes was obsessive compulsive. Demelza looked on the verge of tears most the time and Jack Sloper took to carrying his beaters bat around with him like a talisman. Ron, however, was showing his nerves the worst.
Since Monday morning, Ron had been taking to wearing his jersey and headgear. While he ate as much as ever, he seemed to chew each bit with the ferocity of a starving lion. His usually pale skin was tinged to a sickly sort of green that clashed violently with his hair. Most students avoided him in the hall fearing he would be sick at any moment. Hermione tried to talk to him about causal things, but monosyllabic words and grunts were all the reply he could muster. Whenever he looked especially sick with worry, Hermione would slowly rub his back with one hand while trying to say encouraging things. That seemed to help a little; at least the some color came back to his cheeks from her effort.
It was during one of these comforting moments with Ron that the morning owls swooped in from every open window coloring the enchanted ceiling with grey, white, and brown feathers. A tawny one with sharp yellow eyes landed in front of Hermione with her copy of the Daily Prophet. She was placing payment in the owl’s money pouch when she saw a fearsome-looking gray dive low between the two center tables and then loop up high. She was questioning the bird’s flashy style when it landed in front of Draco. He looked up from his plate with the slightest bit of surprise showing on his usually harden face. The owl ruffled its feathers as if trying to appear larger and very important before it dropped the letter on Draco’s breakfast. From where Hermione was sitting, the parchment that Malfoy was holding looked both official and grimy. It was wrapped in what looked like black ribbon and a purple wax seal. Hermione wondered from who and what it could be about. She saw Draco’s eyes dart quickly from side to side as he read the topmost of the partially unrolled letter. While he remained stony faced for the world to see, Hermione’s keen eyes noticed his jaw clinch and unclench. He was upset. She knew it. Whatever that letter said, it was not pleasant.
Hermione was curious about the letter. She wanted to ask him about it. Luckily, she was meeting him tonight to work on their project and that would give her a chance. She hadn’t spoken to him since Monday evening when they went over his application for Healer’s School. That had been one of the best times they had spent together. Both were so enthralled in the requirements for the applications and brain storming strategies for getting in, that neither felt the usual semi-formalness of their relationship. Hermione determined that even if Draco got three Es on his N.E.W.Ts that he would still be in the 90th percentile in the application pool. She watched his mouth flicker up into the smallest of grins every time she mentioned something positive about his chances at getting in. They both laughed as Draco impersonated Professor Snape’s most probable version of a letter of recommendation. The personal statement was the only thing they did not go over as Draco deduced that since it was a “personal” statement that he could figure out that bit on his own. Hermione felt he was avoiding something, but she did not push him. They were having too much of a fun time to ruin with her “quest.” She did, however, know the topic of the personal statement: In twelve inches or less, please answer the following: What has Inspired You to Want to Become a Healer?
Hermione was nervous. Draco was a ghost all day. He seemed to hold the power of invisibility as he made his way to and from classes. When she did see him, he was like the Bloody Baron – brooding, scowling and imperious. During lunch, Hermione looked up so often at the Slytherin table to see if she could decipher what was wrong with him that she barely touched her food. Ron took noticed, even though he was still green with worry over the quidditch final, but she just waved him off with some ludicrous story about getting several sudden epiphanies related to study techniques. Ron just accepted this answer, too absorbed in his own looming future. Draco hadn’t acted this mysterious in several weeks. While he was still aloof to her most of the time, there was a new calmness about him. Hermione liked to think it was related to their friendship, but she was not certain.
Hermione was in the sitting in the common room with her worn copy of Hogwarts, A History as she waited for the clock to strike 6:15 so she could make her way down to the dungeons for her meeting with Draco. Her friends were gone for the night at the quidditch pitch to get some last minute practice in. They wouldn’t be back until just before curfew. At twelve after six, she decided that it was close enough to 6:15 and pushing her book into her bag, she started her climb down to meet a probably very moody Draco.
When she walked into the potions room, she did not see any sign of Draco. Every chair was neatly tucked into its desk and no fire was lit. It was unlike Draco to be late; he was usually here before her. Hermione decided to chalk it up to today’s owl post delivery and took her usual seat. As she laid her supplies, books and parchment out, she began to wonder if something was seriously wrong. What could have been written in that letter that made Draco suddenly take ten steps back to how he was a few months ago? Who would have written him? The letter looked official and grim. Hermione began to rack her brain to remember if she ever read anything about parchment and ribbon color and what they could indicate. Nothing besides her Hogwarts letters and Ministry letters came to mind. When she gave up it was 6:57.
Having waited long enough and assuming that Draco was not coming, she decided the only practical thing to do was to hunt him down and make him spill. Did she really believe that he would tell her what was going on and what was in that letter? No, she didn’t, but she had hope. Also, she did consider him a friend and she had to try. Walking up the moodily lit stairwell of the dungeon reminded her of how Draco’s eyes had been all day. They were like dark gray waves right before a terrible storm. They were a warning not to go near or risk being swallowed into oblivion. Hermione decided not to listen.
“Where would he go?” she muttered to herself as she reached to top stair and looked out onto a deserted hall. “If I were a pompous, brooding, pain in the arse, where would I go?” She considered him being in the Slytherin common room, but decided that the last thing he would want is to be bothered by one of his former cronies. She considered the lofty seclusion of the astronomy tower before she realized that the only place he would go would be the lake. She zipped her jacket up to her chin and headed toward the castle’s main doorway.
It was a chilly night for May. The sky was cloudless and leaving the stars to glitter as they pleased. Hermione was glad the moon was full and not obscured so she could keep her hands in her jean pockets as she walked. When she was about a hundred meters from the tree, she saw a lone figure pitching rocks into the lake.
“Using his bare hands to toss rocks into the lake,” Hermione whispered wearily, “This can’t be good.”
Draco was still in his school robes. His hair laid about his head so haphazardly that it looked like he just awoke from a particularly restless sleep. Hermione could just make out the profile of his face. His mouth was drawn into a deep frown and his skin was taunt across his cheek bone and jaw. His posture, overly straight and tense, told her to stay away. In response, she just wrapped her arms around herself and marched boldly toward him.
“You’re late for our potions meeting,” she said dumbly. It was the first that popped into her head and spilled out her mouth.
“No, I’m not late,” he said cooly as hurled a large stone across the water, “I wasn’t planning on coming at all.” He reached into his pocket and cast another stone.
“Why, may I ask, weren’t you going to come?” Hermione said cautiously. She felt the anger radiating off him like heat.
“Because there is no point to finish something that I obviously started in error,” Draco said. There was a growing edge to his voice. Another rock bounced twice before being swallowed up by the black lake.
“What do you mean? This project we are doing for Snape is fantastic. It will look great on your list of achievements when you apply to healer’s school,” she said. She did not understand Draco’s meaning.
“Healer’s school,” Draco said quietly as what seemed to be the final stone in his pocket plunked loudly into the water. “I won’t be applying anymore.”
What!?!” Hermione yelled. She had not meant to raise her voice, but she was knocked sideways by the remark.
“Are you deaf, Granger? Or just dumb? I said I am not applying to healer’s school,” he said that impertinent tone she remembered so well.
“I am neither, Malfoy,” she retorted, “Stop being an idiot and tell why you aren’t applying to healer’s school?” Her hands were now firmly on her hips, her body squared directly in front of him. There was only one way to deal with Draco Malfoy and that was head on.
“I don’t have to tell you anything, Granger,” he said glaring at her. He hated to be insulted. “This is your fault anyway. I don’t know why I ever listened to someone like you.”
His body was rigid now and as straight as a pole. He had rounded on her with a quickness only obtained with the practiced motion of a seeker. He boldly looked into her eyes revealing a torrent of negative and bitter emotions. With his hair askew, he looked slightly deranged. He looked broken.
“What do you mean ‘someone like me?’” She said walking right up to him fists balled. If he even tries to call me a mudblood, she thought, I am going to pop him one in that smirky mouth of his.
He looked at her carefully. His eyes were slits of anger that made him look like an angry cat. She could see the warring words in the liquid fire of his eyes. His mouth was hard, but his lips were just waiting to spill over with words.
“I mean someone who doesn’t understand the wizarding world like an insider. You are not someone who has ever had to live and measure their life by their family’s expectations. You are someone who thinks it only takes hard work and merit to achieve in life and who was erroneously taught that how you were born into this world doesn’t mean anything,” he yelled at her. The sound of his voice was magnified by the quietness of the night. “News flash: You don’t know everything!”
He gave her one final loathsome look before he marched to edge of the lake. His outburst shook Hermione. She numbly watched him as he stopped just centimeters away from the water. He had his wand in his right hand and was rolling it roughly between his fingers. His shoulders were drawn down and his head was looking straight. His back was turned to her. His face completely obscured.
“Draco, I – ”
“WHAT!” he rounded on her. “What do you want? What else could your incredibly nosey, bushy-headed self have to say?”
“You know what?” she said, all sympathy evaporating from her. She did not deserve to be treated this way. She didn’t do anything wrong. “I am sick and tired of your childish mood swings. I am tired of you freaking out during every other bloody conversation we have. I have only tried to be your friend. I came out here tonight because I was worried about you. Yes, worried about you, the Almighty Draco Malfoy, Master of Sneers and Snarky Remarks. Merlin forbid I show interest and affection towards you after I watched you get upset this morning over the owl post. What did that letter of yours say anyway? Is something wrong with that death eater father of yours?”
Even in the pale moonlight Hermione saw the little bit of color that has just flushed his cheeks faded to white. Draco’s face harden to marble and all expression left slipped away. His eyes were dark. She knew she had gone too far. She’d been better off slapping him.
“Go to hell, Hermione Granger. I wish I never saved you in the forest.”
He stalked off past her as fast he could. He did not spare her a second glance. She did not blame him.
A/N: I know, I know. It's been more than a year since I last posted and updated my story. It's been a horrible year for me personally. Shortly after posting the last chapter, I filed for divorce from my now ex-husband and I have basically have been rebuilding my life since. HPFF and all the joy it provided me took back seat in my life as I figured out my crazy brain. That is not an excuse, but an explanation to my absense. I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I have been working on it for months. Review and let me know. Thanks for reading!