Chapter 4 : ego, ii
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Things were looking up for Hermione Granger. But perhaps not so for Draco Malfoy. In the morning following her encounter in the lift with Oliver, Hermione overheard Draco and Blaise arguing in their half-cubicles.
“Don’t be such a prat, you’re not fooling anybody!” Blaise quipped angrily.
“Remember you’re on my side, not hers! I should lock you in your cubicle, you insubordinate trollop!”
Hermione smiled widely, looking out over the sea of heads bent towards their paperwork, all following her orders. Yes, things were looking up for Hermione.
That is--they had been until Ernie MacMillan got up hesitantly from his seat at his cubicle and then made a beeline towards Hermione’s office. Stopping at the door and breathing heavily, he opened his mouth to speak, but Hermione, not fancying a minute more alone in her office with him than she had to bear, stepped around him nimbly and out into the open air of the office space.
“You need something, Ernie?” Hermione challenged, not believing he would ask while she was out in the open, in front of all their coworkers.
“Hermione--will you just--will you just hear me out? Will you go to the ball with me? Please?”
“Ernie--I’m sorry...I can’t,” Hermione muttered, her face hot despite her sure conscience.
“Hufflepuff’s got guts,” Blaise said under his breath, and of course, everyone heard.
Unable to stop herself looking over at Draco, Hermione noticed a smirk playing across his little smug face. She felt angry.
“I can’t because--because I’m going with someone else!” she blurted, and then almost regretted it; but the regret faded when she saw the smirk fall from Draco’s face. He looked around, his face displaying a range of disgust and rage which he attempted to disguise under a thin semblance of self-control.
“Who, then?” Ernie asked defiantly, sticking his chin in the air.
“That’s none of your--” Hermione began, but glanced again at Draco, and gathered her wits about her. “If you must know, it’s Oliver Wood,” she said, and walked back into her office.
The Atrium was white and glittering, full of milling bodies in coloured garb. Draco looked around, feeling slightly inquisitive and very proud. He pulled his arm around and dragged Astoria into the view of any peasant who happened to look upon them. This was a moment unique to balls, in which the commoners fell to their feet in awe of the most beautiful and perfect couple in the vicinity, the quite obvious royalty.
The curtains on the walls were rich plum, scarlet, gold and silver, with dark greens intermingling. More of a fall palate, Draco mused, and this was Spring, but nothing could detract from the beauty of this moment. His tightly-fitted, dark-grey suit was sure to be showing off his most--appealing--assets, and Astoria’s red gown with a dangerously low V-shaped back and a slit hinting at something slightly more daring on her upper thigh, was drawing the attention of many males shuffling about the tables circling the dance floor. No sign, yet, of Hermy and Wood, which was fine with Draco. Just fine. Maybe she’d lied in a fit of hysteria and wouldn’t show at all. Also fine. And he wouldn’t blame her, either, in the face of old Ernie. Much better to lie than to go to the Victory Day Ball with a Hufflepuff.
As he was searching out the bar, Draco spotted Blaise and Pansy squabbling by the punch bowl. Blaise’s neatly-gelled hair was sticking out at the edges, creating the effect of a dark halo around his manically-wide eyes. Draco watched the exchange in silent contentment, until Astoria pulled him towards them, her eyes shining.
“Look, there’s Pansy Parkinson!” she said, looking eager. “With Blaise!”
Excited about Pansy Parkinson? Strike one, Draco thought, the dark thought marring his perfect mood.
“Alright, mate?” Blaise said, looking relieved to see his friend in his hour of need. “Took you long enough!”
“Always fashionably late,” Draco said, raising his brows impressively. Astoria tittered at his side.
“I need to visit the loo,” Pansy announced suddenly, turning her back on Draco and Blaise and pulling Astoria along with her to the side of the room, where they disappeared behind a tapestry of Cliodne’s birds.
“And if you didn’t know where the loo was,” Blaise said, looking after them, “how would you think to look there?”
“What do you think of Astoria’s gown, eh?” Draco asked, chuckling, attempting to distract himself from the hint of doubt he’d felt earlier.
“I know what you thought of it, you should have seen yourself gawking at her in Hermione’s office the other day,” Blaise muttered darkly. “Hermione looked pretty put out about it, too.”
“Hermione--?” Draco stopped himself. Damn, he thought. Suddenly the Atrium dimmed, the drapes at the side of the room seemed less luscious, and Draco noted that somebody had neglected to mop the edges of the room sufficiently. They lacked luster.
“Speak of the source of your guilt,” Blaise said, as Hermione walked into the Atrium upon the arm of a very chiseled Oliver Wood. Her blue gown bustled around her ankles and dipped off her shoulders, her bushy hair contained in a massive knot at the top of her head, a few strands trailing down to the back of her neck. Draco squinted at her a few moments before spinning around, muttering something about Astoria taking too long in the toilets, and going off in the direction of the tapestry.
As he headed through the tables on the edge of the polished dance floor, something bright and silver caught Draco’s eye. Tilting his head to the left, he noticed Luna Lovegood standing up and leaving her husband Rolf sitting at a table with the rest of the Scamanders. He felt suddenly lighter. Maybe I should have a chat with Luna, he thought, I haven’t talked to her in a while and, well--I’m having problems.
Luna changed course, heading away from Cliodne’s birds towards the tapestry of Le Morte d’Arthur. Interesting, he thought, and followed her, not noticing a furtive cast to her eyes and the slump of her shoulders as she passed behind the carpet. Draco followed quietly.
It was dark behind the tapestry. Draco heard a quiet murmuring a short way off, and followed it slowly, stumbling over carpets and past silent busts. He found the source of the noise behind a statue of Dobby the House Elf. This evening is rapidly becoming stranger and stranger, he thought, nearly chortling, and stopped short at the sight of Luna’s face very close to the face of someone else hidden by the dark.
Draco’s breath caught in his throat and he struggled not to splutter or draw attention to himself. He was confused and decided to find out who the man was, struggling to breathe quietly. He hid for the moment behind a column across the corridor, and peeked around it hesitantly.
As Draco’s sight gradually adjusted to the darkness, his eyes flew open wider as he caught sight of Neville Longbottom trapped in Luna’s violent embrace. Longbottom? And Loony? Longbottom and Loony?
Draco’s heart pounded rapidly. This is not right, he thought, and he stumbled quietly out from behind the column and back the way he came. When he burst into the light of the Atrium, his eyes watered and burned, and he headed without thought back to the punch bowl, where Blaise stood forlornly with his hands in his pockets.
“Don’t ask,” Draco said, leaning back against the bar for support. He stood for a while, blinking, wishing the thought out of his head, and then, when it refused to leave, looked over his shoulder at the punch bowl and down at the flask poking out of Blaise’s pocket.
“You spike this?” Draco asked, motioning with his chin to the bowl of volatilely pink punch.
“Yes,” Blaise said, hanging his head.
“Good,” Draco said, and turned, serving himself a goblet full, then downing it in one go.
Looking across the dance floor and feeling a little better, Draco noticed that nearly all of the couples were already dancing. And quite messily.
“There’s music playing?” he said dumbly. Blaise looked at him quietly, trying hard not to shake his head.
“I’m going to have a dance,” Draco said. He unbuttoned his suit and loosened his tie, casting an eye about for Astoria. She’d be unmistakable in her red dress, and she’d make all these problems go away, surely. But he didn’t see her amongst the roving throng. Nothing could be easy!
“I’m going to look for Astoria,” Draco mumbled to Blaise, who nodded morosely, hoping he would not bring Pansy back in tow. Draco puffed out his chest, metaphorically shined his shoes, and stalked out through the middle of the dancing crowd, being jostled and groped as he pushed through. Astoria was nowhere in sight, and Draco was tired of people sampling his wares for free. He headed back across the polished marble floor, bumping shoulders with someone tall and broad. He looked up to insult the man, but, realizing it was Wood, decided against it. He stood awkwardly for a moment, his hair beginning to fall in strings in front of his forehead, his other side being jostled by the crowd, and then asked, “where’s Hermione?”
“Dunno,” Wood replied. “You seen her?”
“She gotten tired of your dazzling wit already?” Draco smirked, and then hurried away, past the bar, where Blaise still stood sadly. What a pansy, Draco thought, then laughed to himself. What a pansy waiting for Pansy. A waiter passed by toting a tray of champagne on his shoulder. Draco grabbed a flute and drained it quickly, placing the empty glass on the tray with a thud.
Toilets, Draco thought, and headed, once again, towards Cliodne’s birds. Before he could get very far, he spotted another couple standing in the way, in the middle of a heated discussion. Draco was about to turn away, but he noticed a flash of ginger and instead stalked towards them, feeling bold. Perhaps protective.
“Still trying to win her back, Weasel?” Draco sneered, pointing his chin at the gangly Wizard. Hermione’s cheeks flushed, her breathing becoming labored.
“Go, Draco. This doesn’t concern you,” Hermione said, pointing back into the dance crowd.
“Draco?” Ron gawked.
“Hermione gave you four whole years to make something out of yourself and you’ve still failed,” Draco said, smirking. “Why don’t you go save some of your pride by winning over Lavender Brown hanging by MacMillan over there?” he said, pointing into the crowd. “If a Hufflepuff has a shot with her, you only have to impress her a little more.”
Ron, red in the face, stood and stared threateningly at Draco, but said nothing, and tried to pull Hermione towards the dance floor with him, but she pulled her hand away and shook her head, looking at the floor.
“No?” Ron asked, and then, turning around, ran into the throng and disappeared amongst the flailing limbs attempting to dance to the Weird Sisters.
“So,” Draco said, stepping towards Hermione and trapping her in a dance. He lead her nimbly toward the edges of the crowd.
“I should probably dance with Oliver,” Hermione said, trying to pull away. Draco held her against his side firmly.
“I’ll keep you company until he comes around again to find you,” Draco said, smirking a bit.
“Thanks for helping me out with Ron,” she said quietly, looking down at their feet. “That was kind of you.”
“I really just wanted to see Weasley cry,” Draco said, chortling.
“Why do you always do this? Why do you act this way?” Hermione said, extracting herself from Draco’s grasp. Hair was falling into her face now, her bun coming undone and hair untwisting at the top of her head. Her brown eyes flashed dangerously.
“One minute you are showing me the new Draco Malfoy who’s changed, and in a second you turn back into the same old prat. When we were in Luna’s office --”
“Lovegood isn’t the best person to get advice from, since she’s having an affair with Longbottom,” Draco said.
“What?” Hermione asked. “I can’t hear you, the Weird Sisters--”
“I said--I wouldn’t have gone to get help from Lovegood if I knew she was shacking up with Longbottom,” he shouted loudly enough to hear over the music. The music stopped.
“All right, Longbottom!” Blaise shouted.
A glass shattered as Rolf Scamander stormed out of the Atrium. Hermione looked at Luna who had just returned to the dancefloor, a guilty Neville in tow.
“Is that true, Luna?” Hannah Abbot asked, hoping the answer would not be yes.
“I--I’m sorry.” Luna hung her head. Hannah burst into raucous sobs.
“How could you do that, Luna? How is anyone supposed to trust you with their own issues if you are creating messes of your own?” Hermione demanded.
“Look--I helped you and Draco figure out what you wanted, but I can’t just make it happen for you two.”
“That’s not what this is about,” Hermione spluttered. “This is about you betraying the trust of everyone who cared for you!”
“Actually, Hermione, that is what this is about. Anyone can see--”
“Yes, yes, Looney. All the Nargles in the world can see that you are crazy,” Draco drawled.
Kingsley, noticing the increasingly awkward situation, motioned to Harry to make a toast.
Harry nodded, casting a Sonorous, began speaking, “Welcome to the Fifth annual Victory Day Ball! Five years ago, the Order of the Pheonix--”
“There is no way I am going to stand around and listen to St. Potty give a sermon,” Draco growled, rolling his eyes and exiting the Atrium.
Hermione watched him go, as she let Oliver lead her back to her seat.
Two days after the ball, Draco’s head still ached. This, his excuse to sit at home nursing a bottle of butterbeer instead of reporting to work. He lounged on a chaise on his balcony overlooking central London. His shirt was creased and soft in the collar from two days of constant wear--his hair was a heap of a mess, and his five o’clock shadow had become a small beard. In the distance, Big Ben rang loudly. Draco, muttering, retreated inside, closing the glass door to the balcony with spite.
“Sigmund,” Draco sighed, all anger dissipating from him, watching his owl gnaw on the bars of his ornate cage in the corner of the living room, “why did I ever rename you? You were good as Hyperion, and Hyperion you shall be.”
Hyperion hooted haughtily, clicking his beak and turning to face the wall.
Draco drained his butterbeer and hovered by the icebox in the kitchen, contemplating grabbing another drink. He watched the light bounce off the bottles and sighed, shutting the door and retreating to the living room dully.
“What does one do when one has no Frizzy, shrill woman to boss him like a house elf?” Draco muttered, and then leaned back his head with the intent of going back to sleep. He turned an eye towards the clock on his wall. 10:00.
10:00. And the clock was correct in Blaise Zabini’s cubicle, as always. Which meant Draco was late. Draco was never late; he prided himself on his refined manners, which included punctuality.
Blaise was not the only one to notice Draco’s absence. Hermione continually glanced from her office waiting for blond hair and a smirk. Maybe he submitted his two weeks’ notice to Kingsley. And maybe it’s for the best. Her watering eyes betrayed her mind. She wiped her tears as she heard a knock on the door.
“Hermione, can I come in?” Ernie asked from the doorway. Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose and tried to collect herself.
“Can it wait?”
“Excuse me, I have something to say. You’ve been putting me off for far too long, and this bears hearing.”
Hermione’s eyes widened, and she sat back in her chair, unsure of what to do. When Ernie stepped into the office, she nodded hesitantly, and waited as he seemed to work up the courage to speak, standing in front of her desk.
“Hermione,” he began, and then spoke rapidly, “what happened at the ball is nothing you should be embarrassed about. It may not have been ideal to have your personal relationship with Malfoy discussed in front of the entire Ministry of Magic, but you should know that it did not come as a shock to any of us. Anybody who has seen you and Malfoy interacting can see how you feel about one another. It didn’t matter if you were arguing or collaborating, the intensity was always there. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The last thing Malfoy feels towards you is indifference. Do you ever notice how he confronts you for every little thing? Take his never-ending battle with the stapler. He could have just used a sticking charm--but instead, he had to bug you about it day after day. Malfoy may never find a middle ground between what he thinks and what he does. But what he wants is obvious, so if it is want you want, too, nothing should stop you from admitting it. As much as it pains me to side with him on this, he has been much more clear about how he feels than you have been. Meet him halfway, Hermione.”
Taking in a huge breath, Ernie nodded and left the office without another word.
Hermione, stunned, was silent. She shook her head.
“Blaise, will you bring that paperwork over?” she asked. Blaise stood and shuffled the work spread across his desk. “We have a lot of work to do.”
As the workday ended, Hermione gathered her things and closed the office alone. The others had gone early, at her request. She walked to the lift, and hesitated, balancing on the balls of her feet, and then opened the doors. She pushed the button to the lobby, and closed her eyes as the lift descended.
When she opened her eyes, she thought a moment about how she’d gotten to where she was standing. Looking up at a large white edifice, made of--stone, she thought--Hermione glanced over the rows of individual buzzers. She ran her eyes down the list of names, and finding the one she needed, she took a deep breath and raised her finger to the button. She closed her eyes. It had been how long, on the tube? She retraced her steps from the Ministry to this door. It hadn’t taken long--but then, yes, it had.
Opening her eyes, Hermione saw her finger lingering on the button next to the name Draco Malfoy. She looked up at the building, wondered which balcony was his.
a/n: So, long-awaited, here it is! Our intentions were never to write a story as long as this one, both in word-count and the amount of time it took us to write it. We're both busy uni students with uncompromising schedules, but think of this as a new year's present from lily & mrs. draco malfoy ♥