Through the pressing darkness, she reaches for the dissonant voice. She is clawing on the cusp of consciousness and sure to be drowning, her extremities feel moored down, her airways obstructed, stars dance before her eyes.
The stars give way to paroxysms of shadowy, shapeless figures as though she is seeing them underwater - their silhouettes blurred by some kind of light, fire?
And she emerges as though from icy water, drawing a long breath, her eyes stinging, startled by the influx of air and light.
She wakes with a start with her head cradled between her robed arms in Transfiguration to find a dozen eyes trained on her in disbelief and the accompanying murmurs from her bewildered classmates'.
Hermione Granger, dozing off in the middle of a lesson? Unorthodox.
She feels her face grow warm as she sits up blinking feebly into the dark, narrowed eyes of her Head of House, who is standing in front of her row of desks looking aghast.
She bows her head in equal measure apologetic and discomfited, and hastens a,
McGonagall's expression swiftly sobers, and with good grace she inclines her head in a curt nod.
"Eyes up front." She instructs brusquely sweeping to the front of the classroom, levelling her wand at the chalkboard so neat, cramped font appears on it's surface. The mutterings cease.
Hermione adjusts her quill pointedly and brushes a few stray curls from her brow before turning her attention to Harry, who is seated at her left side.
His features are arranged into a conciliatory expression to dissuade their peers from further gossip but his green eyes probe hers in concern.
In their mute, twin vernacular she raises the corners of her mouth slightly and tilts her head a fraction to indicate that she is fine and turns her attentions to the chalkboard.
Hermione beings to absent-mindedly copy the notes on partial vertebrae transfiguration so the only sounds occupying the classroom are the transferences of quill points to parchment.
Harry tries to mirror her actions but after a few moments he fails and whispers,
"Are you alright?"
She pauses. Out of her her peripherals she consults the creases disturbing his pale skin, and the rigidity in the line of his lips. Her lack of response worries him. Despite the fact that it was she and Ron who are barely communicating, it has been a trying few weeks for him too. Everyday it seems, a torrent of disappearances and murders set the Great Hall abuzz with fear and the rules governing their forays into the grounds and communications from home become more stringent.
She turns her eyes to his and attempts to pacify his distress with a wan smile
"Fine, fine. I just had trouble falling asleep last night."
He seems to accept this as a plausible excuse - who really was sleeping soundly these days? - and resumes his notation.
But as the sycophantic étude of the quills scratching the parchment abates, the students become restless and commence talking amongst themselves.
Hermione replaces her eagle feathered quill on the desk and searches for Ron who is seated at the next table to her right. Lavender is next to him giggling with Parvarti behind their hands and casting sanctimonious looks of glee in her direction. Lavender elbows Ron to capture his attention but his expression is rapt and focussed to a point on the wall immediately to Hermione's left.
She half opens her mouth to call to him but his reverie is disturbed by McGonagall ordering them to be silent and read the corresponding chapter until the end of the period.
Hermione reaches for her text book and grimaces at Harry, who is hastily stuffing a sheaf of parchment from sight, and he sighs in conceded boredom. She smiles benignly at the G interspersed with sketches of snitches adorning the paper he tucks beneath his notes.
It is only when under the pretence of reading, something she considers something of an art form considering the many hours she has spent languishing by the fireside seemingly immersed in a volume while really absorbing Ron and Harry's discourses, she allows herself the space to think.
She arrived at her dormitory at close to four in the morning, bone weary and sleep deprived. She managed to drift off for an hour or two in the rosy light of dawn atop her bed clothes fully dressed until it gave way to the flat, white light of day break. Her alarm rang and she roused herself from the bed with difficulty. She didn't dream, but she didn't quite sleep, her brain too over-wrought to focus on what she was still managing to circumvent. Breakfast had been unbearable, the snow laden clouds commiserating overhead from the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall preceded the morning of classes where the bright light strained her eyes and she had to keep pinching herself to stay alert.
But now, in the cosseted classroom, the drapes drawn, amber pools of light gleam with a dull finish on the dark grain of the wooden tables and lull her into a false sense of security. She relaxes. She is lucid.
It is then as she pauses to survey the classroom that she spots him - Draco - sitting adjacent to her in the soft light.
Sixth Year Transfiguration consists only of students who were equable to the task of achieving an 'E' on their OWLs so it is comprised of half a dozen Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and the odd Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Draco is seated next to the only two other Slytherins to have achieved the necessary grade - a slender, tall, dark skinned boy with slanting eyes she knew as Blaise Zabini, and a weedy, gimlet eyed boy with stringy mouse coloured hair by the name of Theodore Nott.
Zabini is pretending to skim the passage with one hand whilst examining the cuticles on his opposite hand. Nott is writing feverishly on a piece of parchment, and consulting his potions textbook beneath the desk.
Draco appears to be intent upon the content of the chapter, no hint of a disturbance gracing his smooth visage. His dove grey eyes are imperceptible given that they are lowered and scanning the page unhurriedly. The only nuance indicating that he may not be as calm as his body language belies is the way he is teasing the jut of his bottom lip with his teeth.
She knows she has been looking too long, that sooner or later someone is bound to notice the heat of her gaze but she cannot seem to tear her half-horrified, half-enthralled stare from his mouth. Reels of moments claw at her memory; peering through half-lidded eyes at the swell of his lip moving across the terrain of her lips, breathy gasps solicited from bruising kisses.
It isn't any less real, is it? And yet it is even more unbelievable the more you contemplate it.
Harry nudges her arm and her heart skips a beat. She turns to face him, his eyebrow raised as if to ask, 'what?'. But she cannot find the right combination of words and to her dismay, his eyes begin to scan the opposite side of the classroom, his green eyes furtive.
Hermione tries to bar his line of vision by leaning forward slightly but of course it is no use, he is considerably taller and looks easily past her.
She stills her left hand which has begun to tremour with her right, her pulse racing.
He can't know.
With a jerk, he whirls around to face her, his emerald eyes sparkling ominiscently.
"He's up to something. He knows I'm on to him. Ha!"
He doesn't know.
Fighting to laugh in derision, Hermione supplicates him with the same, deprecating response she takes to reeling off as of late,
"Oh Harry, not this again. I'm telling you, it's all in your head."
She rearranges her expression into one of weary sceptism until he scowls and returns to his musings. And then she exhales.
Hermione taps an impertinent foot as she glances from her wrist watch to the corner of the Common Room for the upteenth time in ten minutes. She is supposed to start rounds but out of the pretense of habit and the secret pleasure of watching Lavender's eyes dart malveontly between her and Ron, she waits for him despite resolutely ignoring his existence. They are tasked with inspecting the ground floor first this evening for half an hour before patrolling on their own.
As she is about to hiss his name, he manages to extract himself from Lavender's embrace and stride over to her with a disgruntled look on his face.
He says sincerely, and for a moment Hermione nearly bestows him with a reassuring smile. That is until Lavender calls after him so that everyone in the immediate vicinity hears.
"Bye Won-Won! I'll be up when you get back!"
Seamus, reclining by the fireside playing a game of Gobstones with Dean, gives a low whistle which inspires Ron to fix the Common Room with a rogue grin and reply,
"Mind you get some rest, love, you'll need your strength then."
As Dean rolls around on the hearth in appreciative laughter, Hermione throws Ron the dirtiest look she can muster and scrambles out of the portrait hole. She hears Ron call her name as she erects her posture and strides as swiftly from the peals of laughter and wolf whistling as she can muster. But she is no match for Ron's long legged stride and as she dismounts the grand staircase, the pressure of his hand comes down on hers for a split second before she snatches it out of his grasp.
"Hermione! Wait, wait!"
He runs a few steps ahead and bars her way so she has no choice but to look into his pleading, blue eyes.
"Save it, Ron. I don't have time for you."
She watches for a moment as his ears redden and his jaw sets and pushes past him and away into the Entrance Hall.
The shadows grow longer on the lawns. The hours pass. The fire dwindles in the hearth in the Common Room. The cacophony of noise begins to ebb as the students disperse and retreat to their respective dormitories.
Hermione sits in the lone arm chair, watching the last of the embers lick the grate and the coals glow blue and orange. Her honey flecked eyes do not waver as she reclines mutely, shivering despite the many layers of clothing she is wearing.
She is exhausted and should be in bed but can't quite motivate her limbs to extract themselves from the cushion to invite the host of nightmarish thoughts she has managed to keep at bay all day, for introspection.
After her cursory inspection of the main floor with Ron who swept away from her his eyes ablaze the moment they were through, she half-heartedly pursued her course through the hallways before retiring.
She heard Ron come in after her and witnessed him exchange an exasperated look with Harry before ascending the stairs leading to the sixth year boys dormitory.
This was fifteen minutes ago. As she considers whether or not to make her way upstairs, she senses the tread of muffled footsteps behind her.
She knows who it is even before her view is arrested by a shock of jet coloured hair and a pair of chameleon eyes.
He doesn't speak but is crouched in front of her so they are level and his hands are positioned on either arm of chair. He doesn't press because he knows that she does not want him to, and he does not force her to look at him because he knows she can't.
Gently, he withdraws a hand from his side to brush a chesnut strand from her cheek.
She leans her cheek to his flesh trying to capture the warmth emanating from the palm of the hand cupped around her face. The whorls of his fingers trace the apex of her cheekbone to golden brown peach fuzz at her temple to the thick curls at the nape of her neck and smiles fondly as she lets out a laboured breath.
Inexplicably, her eyes tear but she blinks hastily to expel them and inhales sharply so they do not spill from beneath her lashes.
"Mione, you know you can tell me anything."
She looks up, her eyes dry. Shadows cast from the light extinguishing from the hearth move across his features as though he is smouldering but she finds his jewel bright stare steady and unchanging.
She cannot bear to disappoint him. She wants to. She wants to tell someone. Just to make sense of the past twenty four hours. But she can't. She just can't bring herself to alienate the only confidant she has.
He waits for her to speak but she is steadfast in her silence. Despite this, she feels a little let down as he gets to his feet and sighs in defeat. She draws her feet to her chest and wraps her arms around herself as he walks away but he returns a minute later with a shawl in his arms that he tucks around her like an ill child. He plants a swift kiss on her hairline and for a split second she is tempted to grasp his retreating form and pull him into the chair with her.
But he is gone and she is left commiserating with the plumes of ash darkening the grate.
It is after midnight and here she is again, her feet traversing the vacant corrirodrs disambiguisly, her unlit wand stationary at her side.
On the fifth floor, she passes a bust on a pillar, Boris the Bewildered, and a familar slab of oaken wood a few paces to the right - the Prefects bathroom.
She approaches the door and resolves to have a bath before turning in but as she tries the handle, she realizes that it is locked from the inside.
Dispirited, she prepares to turn away but the door opens revealing a shaft of light glimmering on the tiled walls before a hand shoots out and pulls her forcefully inside.
She stands for a moment in utter bemusementt before the door is barricaded and she is ensconsed inside.
The hand remains wrapped around her wrist where her pulse flutters. The long, tapered fingers are smooth, pale, the immaculate oval nails biting into her flesh.
She is so disoriented that she barely registers her predicament. She feels nothing but the cavernous void that has been expediting in the hollow of her chest all afternoon so when she cranes her neck to see a pair of hostile eyes like black ice she merely stares back, transfixed.
It is Draco and he looks insensced and displaced in the candelit serenity, his white blonde hair damp and mussed in a pair of nondescript black slacks and tshirt.
She waits. For a cruel symphony of words, for him to reject her presence despite inviting or rather demanding it, for regret, a threat - but it does not come.
He does not retreat.
One of her hands is pinned by his at an awkward angle level with her hip, her wand hand limp at her side. His free hand is flat against the door between her shoulder and the handle. This hand also keeps him elevated so he hovers above her menancingly.
His grey eyes are dark fizzures burning into her retinas, his bloodless lips are twisted into an expression of antipathy.
"Well, well, well. Here you are again Granger, wandering across my path."
Reflexively, her wand hand twitches but he is observant, dexterous. He tears the wand from her hand and tosses it towards the sink, rendering her defences ineffectual.
She reaches out as she watches her wand land with a clatter in the stone basin, echoing in the spacious chamber but soundless, she knows, from outside of the enchanted room.
As she goes to tear at his cheek with her nails, he entwines his fingers with hers and crushes her hand to the door.
She cries out in pain as her hand is borne down heavily against the solid oak,
"Why you..." she starts, fear and indignanty flooding her brain.
"Shut up." He says plaintively, cutting across her.
And he covers her mouth with his kiss - hard - and closes the gap between their bodies.
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