She was certain she was about to die. The only problem was, she didn’t want to die – not yet, and certainly not today.
Hermione stood frozen in the middle of the large, handsome, and strangely illuminated room. Her foggy memory screamed that it had been dark before, the last time she set foot in it. Light didn’t belong in this room – hell, it didn’t belong in this house. The dark curtains that had kept sunlight at bay before were now open wide, allowing the sun to shine bright through the ceiling-length windows. The same large ornate table stood in the middle of the room, just as it had before. The marble chimney looked as regal as she remembered. The rest of the furniture looked oddly out of place, arranged perfectly as if this room was actually inhabited.
The crystal chandelier wasn’t there anymore, she noted.
A choked chortle escaped her chapped lips forcing Hermione’s hand to fly towards her thin throat. It was as dry as a dessert and she took notice that her breathing hurt. Her heart was pounded fiercely on her chest, like a set of drums being beaten played by an inexperienced teenage boy.
Her chest felt too small to contain her expanding heart and shrinking lungs; she was certain, beyond reasonable doubt that it would explode if her heart didn’t slow down. It would leave traces of blood and heart pieces all over the marble floor, and wouldn’t that just be a pity? She felt bile rise up in her throat, moistening it ever so lightly.
“Filthy little mudblood, your blood isn’t clean enough to be worthy of standing in my ancestors home. You should feel proud you’re allowed to touch our belongings,” a voice whispered in her ear. Hermione would’ve screamed, had she remembered how to. She knew there was no one standing nearby. She was alone, and the owner of that wrenched voice was long gone.
She had seen to it.
Just breath, she chanted inwardly, only to realise it was a struggle to inhale or exhale. Her face scrunched up in concentration, willing the muscles of her lungs to cooperate and not succeeding according to her standards. She decided to focus on doing it one thing at a time, her mind racing through the biomechanics of breathing. If I don’t breath, I die.
“Don’t worry, little mudblood, I’m not going to kill you yet. First we’re going to hear you sing, will you sing for us mudblood? Crucio!”
She let out a gasp, her whole body began trembling and it felt like her knees would give under her weight. Hermione felt like crying, she tried to will the dead ghosts away but the memories pierced her like a fresh round of the torture curse, except that this time, she couldn’t sing.
The marble floor trembled beneath her feet, her vision narrowed and dark spots began appearing on her visual field. She was dizzy.
“I’m about to drop dead from a heart attack, or at least a cerebral hemorrhage,” she thought. “No one can die of fear, this can’t just be fear.” Her palms were sweaty, her breathing now came rapidly and sharp – she never got to enjoy the feel of air entering and leaving her body. It hurt to breath. Her only comfort, as the terror in her rose to exponential levels, was the predictable if slightly alarming beatings of her heart. So long as my heart beats, I am alive.
“Where did you find the sword, mudblood? You’ve been through my vault, haven’t you? Don’t you dare lie!”
She wanted to cry, she wanted to run but her body wouldn’t cooperate with either action. She closed her eyes tightly to stop the world from spinning and concentrated. “I am Hermione Granger,” she thought. “I am the brightest witch of my time. I will survive this. Death had plenty of opportunities to take me, and this won’t be the last. All I have to do is breath. All I need is a plan.”
Her eyes opened wide. She could feel the wheels in her brain churning and turning, the neurons making important connections. She began to reason the situation; if she could reach a logical conclusion, then a concrete plan would form and she’d be free.
”I’m having an anxiety reaction to a stressful stimulus, which is causing the muscles of my chest and lungs to contract,” she began. “That’s why I can’t breathe. Everything else, the mad heart and the terror, are simple by-products of the anxiety and the somatic bodily response.”
I’m having a blood panic attack.
The sudden urge to burst out laughing consumed her. She wasn’t going to die! She was panicking, she had a name –a diagnosis, and she had a sodding plan. Merlin bless logic! Her old nightmares, triggered by this haunted and damned room, gave her a panic attack. It all made sense. Now, if she could only find a way to ease herself out of-
Hermione screamed like a banshee, a small part of her satisfied that she could now remember how to scream. She turned around, fished her want out of her beaded handbag, and pressed it against the throat of her attacker.
Draco Malfoy stood by the entrance of the drawing room, his hand held up in front of him and a look of pure irritation etched on his face. Hermione’s wand arm was shaking.
“I was curious about were on Earth you had wondered off to, but I’m rather pleased to see you are doing just fine,” he said condescendingly, slowly lowering her wand away from his body. Hermione felt like she was being treated like a wild animal or a small child. She didn’t like either comparison.
“What do you want, Malfoy?” she said, satisfied that her voice was steady enough to cover her fear and embarrassment. Knowing that he wasn’t going to immediately tie her up and hex her made her heart calm down. Another persons’ presence, even if it was Malfoy, made the room seem less threatening.
Malfoy raised a blond eyebrow. “Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been looking for you for the last seventeen minutes. You’ve been gone for exactly thirty-eight minutes now. Honestly, woman, Rose only asked you to fetch some bleeding napkins…” he run a hand through his rapidly balding head, wiping some sweat from his brow.
She felt pleased she had managed to at least scare the ferret.
Malfoy’s eyes narrowed as he took in her dishevelled state. Her cheeks were flushed Weasley-red and her forehead was soaked in perspiration. Her chest rose and fell heavily, as if she’d been running away from the devil himself. His eyes left her petite form and wondered across the room they were in. Hermione’s own followed his. “I see,” he said snapping her out of her thoughts. “Granger, are you alright?”
Alright is a bloody understatement, Malfoy.
“Yes, yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I?” she said fast enough that he didn’t catch half of it. Thankfully for Hermione, Draco Malfoy was a master at spotting a lie. She stared at him for a moment, then rolled her head backwards and frowned at the spot where she could almost picture the missing chandelier. Not that she begrudged Dobby his tactic, but the lamp really did tie the room together. She felt like hyperventilating, again.
“This is bollocks,” she said, or said aloud; she wasn’t sure. She felt Malfoy grab her shoulder, yanking her head forwards, and began pushing her forward. Her feet moved of their own accord, and she could only stare at them in wonder. It seemed all fight or flight instincts had abandoned her and she would be brutally murdered by no other than Draco Malfoy (the irony was sweet – who else would be enough of a prat to kill her on her daughter’s wedding day?). Malfoy opened a handsome wooden door and pushed her inside the dark room. Her lip quivered.
“Crucio,” the voice whispered as if to a lover.
She screamed, turned around and tried to run over Malfoy. Almost as if he had been expecting this, he grabbed the hands that were pounding against his chest and used them to manoeuvre the mad woman backwards. He put both hands on her shoulders and used them as leverage to push her down until she was sitting. He then turned on the lights.
Hermione looked around her terrified. The only remaining logical part of her brain scolded her for being such a child. Malfoy had brought her to the sodding loo. And she was currently sitting on the edge of the toilet. A very expensive toilet if the rest of the manor was anything to go by it. The loo was bigger than the room she had with her parent’s as a teenager, she thought.
“Drink,” she was startled to notice a glass against her lips. She grabbed it from his hands and chugged the cold, tap water down in record time. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and shoved the empty glass in Malfoy’s face. “More?”
She nodded. When he came back, Malfoy crouched low in front of her, his arm hanging lazily over a bent knee; his eyes focused on her with an intensity that made Hermione squirm and not in a good way. “What?” she asked.
“You’re a mess,” he said matter-of-factly. Hermione didn’t know if he meant her appearance or her psychological wellbeing. Probably both, knowing Malfoy.
She rolled her eyes, feeling more like herself with every passing second. “Is that all you can do, Malfoy, insult me?”
He shrugged. “I asked you to bring some napkins and nearly forty minutes later, I find you about to collapse in the drawing room. I think this situation does call for some insults.”
She scowled at him, but kept her mouth shut. “Now, could you kindly explain what in Merlin’s name were you doing there exactly? I’m sure Astoria mentioned something about locking that damned room. I never pictured you for the sentimental type. ”
She felt a new layer of cold sweat tricking down her spine. Memories threatened to break through her frail regained coherence, like water through a dam. She closed her eyes and forced herself to keep her breathing steady. She was Hermione Granger, and she would not be further humiliated by Draco Malfoy.
“I got lost,” she admitted, her eyes actively avoiding his. She wanted nothing more than to let her head hang in between her legs and berate herself for her own stupidity, but she figured she’d look too pathetic and Malfoy already had enough ammunition to last him through the reception.
“You got lost looking for napkins?”
“Yes! Your house is a sodding maze, Malfoy!”
A look of anger crossed his eyes for a brief moment, forcing Hermione to bite her next retort.
“This is not my house,” he said slowly, emphasizing each and every word for maximum effect. He was about to say more, when a squeaky little voice interrupted him. He turned around and Hermione could see a rather young house elf standing by the door. “Pippin, could you please bring my mother or aunt?” Hermione winced. “Not my wife and definitely not Ronald Weasley, understand?” the elf nodded and hurried out; Malfoy turned around and opened his mouth to say something but she beat him to it.
“You don’t want to call my husband so you can kill me and stuff my body into a garbage bag,” she stated. Malfoy looked like he had choked on his own saliva.
“What? That’s preposterous, of course I don’t want to stuff you in a bloody garbage bag. Granger, you’re mental. I don’t want your husband to hear you had a panic attack remembering-“ he stopped himself mid-sentence, seeming to reconsider what he was about to say. Hermione’s left eye twitched.
“You can say it, you know,” her voice was soft when she spoke. “Repeat with me, Malfoy. I was having a panic attack remember the night your dear Aunt Bellatrix tortured me in your drawing room, in front of you,” and you did nothing, you sodding git. She suddenly felt like choking the prat, but didn’t. Although she hadn’t discarded her garbage bag theory quite yet.
Malfoy sighed and run his hand across his face, and towards his head. She could see the fine likes of age and weariness around his eyes. “What do you want, Granger? A bloody apology? Would that make it better?”
She thought for a moment. What did she want? She couldn’t pretend innocence. She had known what room the double doors lead into. She remembered every single step she ever took inside this manor and could mentally map her way around it, if she cared to.
“Of all days to want an apology you had to choose my sons’ wedding day,” Malfoy had apparently continued babbling while she wasn’t listening.
“To my daughter,” she interrupted. Her eyes focused on the man in front of her fiercely. She was certain that, if Harry could see her, he would tell her she looked like Professor McGonagal.
“To your daughter,” he conceded with a mocking bow of his head. Both remained silent, letting the fact that their children were mere minutes away from being husband and wife sink it. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
“How often do you think about it?” he asked.
Hermione looked u p, her eyes narrowed. “The wedding? While Rose has been talking of nothing else, I never thought I’d be mother to a bridezilla!”
“No, not the bloody wedding, Gtranger,” Malfoy said waiving his hand exasperatedly in front of her. “Dear old Aunt Bellatrix and her little sick games.”
Hermione glared. “You think that what that-that mad woman did to me was a game?” She felt hot anger seethe in her veins; her hands gripped her wand. Malfoy looked quite unperturbed.
“Don’t be stupid, I don’t think what she did was fun at all. I just didn’t know how else to phrase it.”
Hermione gave him one last glare before taking in a deep, calming breath. “I don’t anymore. Think about it, I mean. I did some time after the war, that was when I finally had time to-“
“Acknowledge and reflect, even mourn,” he finished for her. His eyes held in a sudden moment of mutual understanding. She nodded. “I was so concerned with staying alive, with keeping my mother and father alive, that I did not have enough energy to worry or question anything else until it was all over. That was when it all began to catch up with me,” he finished.
“If I tell you something, would you promise to keep it to yourself? Not even tell wonder boy and the ginger sidekick?” he asked slowly, his voice lowering. Malfoy kept Hermione’s eyes with his own, and she was surprise to see both fear and eagerness in his gray orbs. She nodded.
“After -after you escaped I-“
“Why in Merlin’s name are you two hiding in the loo?” both Malfoy and Hermione jumped. Narcissa Malfoy stood just outside of the room, her arms crossed across her shoulders and her hip leaning to the right in a way that was both sophisticated and commanding. Malfoy spun to face her mother, and even Hermione got up, her legs feeling wobbly beneath her. One didn’t just sit on top of a closed toiled when speaking to Narcissa Malfoy, she reasoned.
She had to stifle a giggle when she saw that Malfoy’s neck was as red as Ron’s hair. “What took you so long? I must have sent Pippin looking for you a good ten minutes ago.”
“Pippin? That’s an odd name for a house elf,” she said before she could censor herself. Mother and son focused their attention on her, making her wish she had never opened her mouth.
“Scorpious was going through a Lord of the Rings phase when we got Pippin; he was a baby elf and needed a name,” Malfoy quickly answered before turning back towards his imposing mother.
Narcissa rolled her perfectly painted eyes. “I had to convince Ronald Weasley that his wife hadn’t been brutally murdered and stuffed into a garbage bag,” Malfoy threw her a pointed look, but she could swear he was smiling. “Now, will either of you care to explain what is going on here?’
Malfoy looked at her, expecting her to do all the explaining. Hermione resisted the temptation to call him a brat. She thought it would be childish. “I went looking for napkins and got lost when I accidently entered the drawing room and-“
“Didn’t you lock that room Draco? I swear Astoria told you to,”
Narcissa Malfoy interrupted her without much ado. Hermione took a deep breath and tried to put a smile on her face, and not let it bother her. Malfoy muttered something under his breath that she didn’t catch. “She’s never going to let you live this down,” his mother said severely. Malfoy rolled his eyes and Hermione felt like giggling.
“Hermione, can I call you Hermione? I can only imagine what happened next. There isn’t any need for you to say more,” Narcissa continued, and Hermione appreciated the short (barely there, actually) apology for her rude interruption. “I suppose we were all fools to pretend that we could leave the past behind us without any scars.”
Hermione felt her cheeks warm up and she hurried to apologize. “Oh no, Mrs. Malfoy. I never meant to-” Narcissa Malfoy lifted her hand again.
“Call me Narcissa please. All this ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ nonsense makes me feel old,” Hermione felt as if Narcissa’s blue eyes were daring her to contradict her. “Hermione, I won’t try to explain or justify our actions in the past because, quite frankly, there is little I would have done differently,” Narcissa took a pause in order to inhale and exhale rather loudly. Hermione itched to ask what exactly she would like to change, but she figured she had a pretty good idea herself. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t deeply regret what happened to you, and your friends, that night.”
Hermione braved a small smile, as all three parties awkwardly stood, two inside the loo and one leaning imposingly against the door. “Now that our families are to join, I sincerely hope that you’ll find it within you to let the past go and forgives is. I would very much like it if you could join me for tea one afternoon; I have read several of your articles on the Daily Prophet and found them absolutely fascinating. And our garden is truly remarkable in the summer,” Narcissa finished, and Hermione found it endearing how her humble requests sounded like a general giving orders to a group of lazy troops.
She smiled openly for the first time in the most uncomfortable forty five minutes of her life. “I would be delighted Mrs - Narcissa,” the older woman nodded her head in her direction, and threw another amused glare in her son’s direction before leaving them while advising them to hurry up. The bride and groom would be anxious if their parents were not present at the ceremony – not to mention the bride’s father.
“Wonderful, Astoria will be quite happy,” Malfoy said the moment his mother’s robes were out of sight. Hermione was reminded, not for the first time that day, just how much of a spoiled, immature brat the man before her still was.
“Because it seems my mother has found herself a new pet to keep her entertained whilst Rose and Scorpious are on their honeymoon. Astoria was quite dreading it, actually.”
Hermione stifled a giggle, before realization dawned on her. “Your mother can’t be that bad, Malfoy. You’re making her seem worse than she really is,” please tell me you are, she thought.
Malfoy raised an eyebrow, almost playfully. “Well, Granger,” he said imitating her mother with eerily perfection, “how about you be the judge of that, mm? You can tell me all about it over tea, I am sure it must be splendid.”
It was Hermione’s turn to roll her eyes. “You are such a git, Malfoy. I’m glad to see you haven’t changed.”
“Wouldn’t want to disappoint, now would I?” Malfoy said with a grin. Hermione had the slight impression that there was more to that sarcastic remark than he let out. “Would you care to be escorted out of the loo and towards the gardens? The ceremony should be about to start,” he said checking an old, silver watch that he removed from his pocket.
“You never finished telling me something,” Hermione said, waiting for the man to look at her in the eyes before continuing. Malfoy seemed to doubt for a second before sighing. He shoved the watch back into his trouser’s pockets, his hands following suit.
“That night, after Bellatrix tortured you and you all escaped,” he said through gritted teeth. “After the Dark Lord had finished with us, I hid myself in my room so nobody could see me bring up my humble meal.”
Hermione watched her companion for a few seconds; his body was moving backwards and forwards ever so slightly as he balanced on his heels. His head was downcast, but his eyes held their ground. “You felt guilty.”
He nodded. “There was more I could have done to save you all – but I didn’t. However, I have to stand with my mother. If I ever have to choose between my family and another human being, my decision will always be the same. Although, you didn’t deserve what she did –what I did.”
“You didn’t do anything, Draco,” she said softly.
Malfoy shook his head ruefully. “I made your life hell for seven years, and when you looked at me, silently pleaded with me – it was worse than the old man’s death.”
She didn’t know what to answer to that. “I know things can never change, but if it makes you feel better Draco, you never made my life hell at Hogwarts. I never cared enough for you to give you that kind of power.”
Malfoy snorted. “Of course you didn’t.”
“That doesn’t mean we cannot put it all behind us,” she said in what she hoped was a kind tone. This man had, after all, saved her from herself. “Don’t you think it is rather ironic that our children fell in love?”
He nodded. “Sadistically ironic, matter of fact. I guess if someone tried to torture you to death, I’d be obligated to act now that we are to become family, wouldn’t I?”
Hermione laughed as an expression of pure disgust crossed his face. “Let’s take it one step at a time,” she said. “Although, it is refreshing to see why Scorpious is the man he is today.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow quizzically. Hermione stifled another small laugh. “He is trying to live up to his father.” Malfoy blushed, giving Hermione some kind of sick satisfaction She lifted her bend arm and carefully pushed it towards him. “I thought you were supposed to escort me, Draco?”
Malfoy eyed her arm with resignation, but took it without a word. “I’m not calling you Hermione anytime soon, Granger,” he said when they had crossed he drawing room.
“Of course not, I don’t want you to have a heart attack, now do I?”
Astoria watched her husband amusedly. Narcissa had given her the briefest summary in the history of brief summaries in regards of what had transpired between her husband and Hermione Granger. Astoria had a hard time drinking down the champagne after hearing it. Of all places in the entire manor they for the most unlikely people to have a heart to heart talk, they would choose the loo.
It made sense, in a very, very twisted world.
She shrugged and began walking towards Draco. He was standing near the refreshment table, at least seven empty glasses surrounded him and Astoria briefly hoped they weren’t all his. Although, she had seen Ron Weasley drink about four firewhiskeys at once. Draco’s attention was focused on his son, who was hugging his new wife while talking to his grandmother. Astoria’s eyes flickered in their direction. Draco was waving at them, catching only Narcissa’s attention.
She bit down her lip to stop herself from laughing out loud. Of course the only person who would pay attention to Draco Malfoy on his son’s wedding day would be his mother.
“Please tell me all of those aren’t yours?” she whispered in his ear, making him jump. Draco grinned at her and grabbed her by the waist, pushing her body closer to his. She could smell the alcohol in her breath.
“Would you expect me to stay sober today, Tori?”
“Of course not, dear,” she said planting a small kiss on his cheek. She licked her lips before continuing. “After all, having a very close encounter with a Hermione Granger in the loo of all places must have left you very thirsty.”
Draco choked on his drink and rushed to wipe his mouth while Astoria watched. She crossed her arms across her chest and set her features to one of irritation; the little girl inside of her was crying tears of laughter. “What in Merlin’s name is that supposed to mean?” Draco shrieked loud enough for a few people to turn around and stare.
Astoria shot them a superior glare. “I’m not insinuating anything, dear,” she said twirling a lock of strawberry blond hair in her index finger. “But it is rather odd that you spent a good half hour, alone, with her in such tight compartments.”
Tight compartments my arse, she thought. That loo was bigger than her room at Hogwarts.
Malfoy scoffed, planting a drunk, wet kiss on her mouth and tightening his grip on her lower back. “Don’t be stupid, Tori. You are more woman than I can handle.”
She giggled and kissed him again, before pushing just a little bit further. “You mean it? I mean, a girl can worry; Hermione looks rather dashing today…”
“Never!” Draco said with a wide grin and a rather extravagant shake of his head. “Never think that, again, you hear me?” he whispered so only she could hear. “Besides, Malfoy’s prefer blondes.”
Husband and wife stared over at Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy who were congratulating Scorpious and Rose. Rose’s flaming red hair was shimmering like a ruby in the dying sunlight. An evil grin crossed Astoria’s features for the briefest of seconds before she shrugged and placed a last kiss on her husband’s cheek,
She disentangled herself from his arms and began walking toward the happy couple. She turned her head to look at Draco over her shoulder. “I suppose this is a good time as any to tell you Scorpious’ isn’t yours, then.”
She hastened her pace, chuckling, before the words had the time to skin in.
The yell didn’t take long. “What!”
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