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Chapter 31 : Lies
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Hermione only saw Draco occasionally during classes, or as they passed in the hall. He never spoke to her, he never even made eye contact with her. She sat night after night at the Gryffindor table watching him sit across the hall, avoiding her. Avoiding everyone, it seemed. He rarely seemed to look up or speak to the other slytherins, too focussed on his food. But Hermione noticed he didn’t eat much either. He was becoming paler, thinner, and he was always itching at his arm. He had even given up scowling, apparently too much work, and settled for a simple frown. She didn’t care what Snape said, she couldn’t just let him keep on like this. He looked like he was in physical pain some days, scratching at his arm like he had dragon pocks, then someone would say something and his face would go flush and he would stop itching, only long enough for them to stop paying attention to him again.
With all of Hermione’s study skills, finding the right potion took no time at all, and with so many years of sucking up to the teachers, buttering Slughorn up took no time at all. Hermione couldn’t help thanking heaven that her dad had finally gotten his dream job, because he’d have never let her get away with this crap. Thanks also to Harry’s hatred of Slughorn, she was able to sneak up on the teacher alone after one of their dinners without Harry getting wind of it.
“Can I help you with those, professor?” Hermione asked, taking several empty bottles from Slughorn and carrying them over to the recycling.
“Thank you my dear, it’s a rare thing for a teenager to help clean up without expecting something in return.”
Hermione blushed. “Actually professor, I did have a bit of a favor to ask, if it’s alright.”
Slughorn laughed, “My dear girl, ask away.”
“I was wondering if I would be able to use the potions lab some evening for a little extra curricular work, under your supervision of course.” Hermione glinted her best innocent charming smile his way.
Slughorn frowned. “The curriculum is chosen for optimum learning potential with the least amount of personal use, shall we say, out of the end result. Perhaps my examples at the start of term were a little too tempting...”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” Hermione said, “But getting into our NEWTs has made me think about what I want to do with my future, if I want to be an Auror or a Healer or a professor at Hogwarts.” Hermione said this all very quickly, pausing a little to emphasise the last option. “Anyway, I talked a lot to Professor Madeye when he worked here about auror work, but I haven’t made up my mind. And I was talking to Madame Pomfrey the other day about healing but she said making healing potions was nothing like the potions we make in class and, well, I’m just afraid I’ll try to be a healer but when I get out into the real world, I won’t be as good at those potions as I am in class, and when I was talking to her she mentioned a few potions that are pretty typical of the different skills I’ll need, so I was thinking.” Hermione barely stopped her rant to pull a book out of her bag, flipped to the right page and passed it to Slughorn. This was Hermione’s final tactic. Bewilder them with too many words, then try to make them read and listen at the same time, while you ask for permission. It nearly always worked. “See, it’s just an ointment for magical burns and lesions, so it couldn’t do any harm, and I figured if it’s good enough Madame Pomfrey can add it to her stocks, and all the ingredients are already in the classroom, and it should only take a few hours so I won’t take up much of your time, I know you’re so busy. It would just mean so much to me Professor, and I knew you’d be the best person to help me, Please?”
“Yes, of course, my dear.” Slughorn stumbled over his words, still trying to read the potion instructions.
“Thank you, professor, you have no idea how much this means to me. Shall we say tomorrow evening after dinner?”
“What?” Slughorn looked up from the book. “Yes, tomorrow night in the potions lab.” He handed Hermione’s book back to her.
Hermione smiled and turned on her heel to leave the flummoxed teacher alone. Like taking candy from a flobberworm.
The next night, everything went smoothly. Hermione was happy she had asked Slughorn to watch over her at least. The instructions were very specific and a little tricky. He helped her through a few stumbling moments, and by nine o’clock she had stoppered a medium bottle of the salve, Slughorn still none the wiser of what her real plan was. She took the bottle with her, telling her professor she wanted to show Madame Pomfrey how well she had done. He agreed whole heartedly, it’s not as though she could do any harm with a healing potion.
By nine-thirty, she had slipped into her quietest, comfortable clothes – sweatpants and a black hoodie – and was waiting in the common room with the bottle and her wand securely in her pocket, and waited. When Neville had finally come down to the common room with a textbook, she counted to make sure all sixth year boys were downstairs. While Harry and Ron were thoroughly engrossed in a game of wizard chess, she yawned quite loudly and announced she was off to bed.
“’night” her two friends called, not looking up from the board.
She climbed up the stairs rather noisily, so everyone heard her. She opened the girls’ door with a creak, then closed it rather loudly. Then she turned and tiptoed across the hall and opened the boy’s dorm room slowly. She snuck into the room and closed the door behind herself, her heart pounding. She had snuck around plenty in her time at Hogwarts, but she had never done it against Ron and Harry. She opened Harry’s chest at the foot of his bed and hastily took his invisibility cloak out, throwing it over herself as she searched for the Marauders’ map. When she had shoved the old bit of parchment into her pocket, she scribbled a hasty note and put it ontop of Harry’s pile of junk.
“Don’t panic, just visiting dad. I knew you’d disapproved if I asked. Sorry. Back with it soon.”
With the note in place, she closed the lid and slid back out of the boys’ room, this time invisible. She had to wait again in the common room, people quickly beginning to file off to bed. Finally, when the common room was nearly empty, a Gryffindor came through the porthole and Hermione could sneak past without being seen. It was fifteen minutes to curfew and Hermione had to rush to find Draco on the map, deep in the dungeons, then took off at the quickest speed she could muster. She took off her shoes in an alcove on the way, afraid her shoes would make too much noise.
She sped the rest of the way sock-footed and made it just in time. She couldn’t see the porthole to the Slytherin common room, but a group of five or six seventh years were walking in front of her, no doubt waiting for the last second till curfew to go to bed. She slipped easily in behind such a large group and followed them into the common room. The whole place had an eerie dark glow, one huge glass window looking directly into the pits of the black lake. It was mostly pitch black now, with just the faintest outlines of seaweed moving with the ebb. There was also a fireplace, which the seventh years sat around, made out of great black marble slabs. Like in Gryffindor, most of the students had already found their way to bed.
Hermione crept a ways away from these other students and studied the map under a green stained-glass lamp. Draco was already in his bed it seemed. The dormitory was down the staircase, sixth door on the left. His bed was three down on the right. She memorized his location and watched for a moment to see his name would not move. Then she tucked the map away, she would have to do the rest in the dark now, so she wouldn’t wake up anyone else.
Hermione descended silently in her sock feet, careful not to slip on the dark hardwood. Her eyes began to adjust to the darkness as it enveloped her the further from the common room she crept. She pulled out her wand as she approached the sixth year boys’ dorm, not sure what she would find inside. Luckily, the hallway was almost pitch black, and when she turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack, she found the inside just as pitch black. Silently casting the mufliato charm before she had even fully entered the dorm, she was now able to close the door and walk to Draco’s bed without being heard.
She peeked into the curtains of the four poster bed to make sure that it was indeed Draco. He seemed to be shivering, the blankets pulled nearly up to his neck. His platinum blond head laid on his pillow, eyes closed, breathing deeply. It was definitely him. Hermione silently released the mufliato charm around his bed, so no one else would be able to hear them. She crept, ever so slightly, onto his bed, careful not to kneel on him. She was hoping she could do this without ever waking him up, he looked so uncomfortable, even in his sleep, she didn’t want to also deprive him of what little sleep he got. Although the rest of his body seemed to be too cold, Draco’s left arm was sticking out of the blankets obviously too hot. Hermoine could see the dark mark emblazoned on his flesh, black, and it seemed inflamed, the skin red around its edges.
She could feel the heat emanating off of his arm. Her fingers grazed the black snake and Draco’s body spasmed into life. His free hand latched onto her wrist, the other reaching for his wand. But Hermione was just as fast as he was. She leaned in and covered his mouth with her second hand. “It’s me.” She whispered in his ear. Slowly, he let her go and Hermione reached up and took the invisibility cloak from around her face.
He looked terrified, pissed off, confused, he looked around trying to see the other slytherin boys through his curtains.
“They can’t hear us.” Hermione whispered.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Draco whispered, menace in his voice.
“I’m trying to help you.” Hermione pulled out the potion bottle and shook out some of the ointment onto her fingers. It felt icy to her touch. She gently took Draco’s wrist and pulled his arm toward her.
“Leave it.” Draco said.
But he didn’t pull his arm back. Her touch felt so gentle, so cool on his burning skin. She rubbed the ointment into his skin and Draco sighed. She felt the raised mark on his usually smooth skin. Hermione looked at Draco. His eyes were closed and his arm had loosened up, but he still looked hurt. He had sat up in bed and the blankets had now fallen off of his bare chest. Hermione could see he was pale everywhere, and he had been losing weight. Where before she could see muscle, now there was just the outline of his ribcage.
“Get out.” He whispered.
Hermione let go of his arm, looking hurt.
“Don’t you get it, you stupid girl?” Draco’s silver eyes stared into Hermione’s. “You aren’t safe around me. I’m trying to protect you.”
He was trying to seem frightening, but Hermione could see it again. That little boy trying to hide in a man’s skin.
“It seems to me you’re the one who needs protecting.” Hermione moved closer and kissed Draco on the forehead. She put the potion bottle in his hand. “Three times a day. And eat something, alright?”
Draco wrapped his thin fingers around the back of her neck and pulled her into him again. Their foreheads leaned against one another and Draco sat for a minute, just breathing her in.
“I know you want me to be safe,” Hermione whispered, “But I want you to be safe too, okay?”
Draco leaned forward and pressed his lips to her. It was a soft kiss, hardly there. Draco wrapped his arms around Hermione, and Hermione leaned into his bare chest, stroking his hair. He just wanted to be held, to weep in her lap and cuddle in bed until the sun rose. He tried to pull her as close as he could, but no matter what, he couldn’t get rid of the hollow black pit between them. He had to wake up in the morning and find a way to become a murderer. Finally, he began to understand what Snape had told him. Hermione was the bright light at the end of his tunnel, but being together meant dragging her into that black tunnel with him. He kissed her one last time, and let his arms fall.
“You need to go. You can’t see me again.” Draco said.
Hermione stroked Draco’s cheek. “Promise me you’ll stay safe. Whatever they’ve made you – whatever you’re doing, stay safe for me. Then I’ll leave you alone.”
Draco took her hand from his cheek and kissed her palm. “I promise.”
Hermione kissed him once more, then untwined their fingers and slipped the invisibility cloak back over her head.
She slipped off of Draco’s bed and Draco followed. He padded barefoot across the dormitory and opened the door, slipping into the hall. Hermione followed close behind him, the barefooted boy, wearing only his pajama pants. He slipped into the common room and Hermione pulled closer to him as two seventh year boys turned from the fireplace to look at Draco.
“You should be asleep.” They said.
“I thought I heard something.” Draco said. He walked to the portrait hole and opened it. He stepped out and pretended to look around for some disturbance while Hermione, still invisible, slipped out behind him.
“No, I must have been dreaming.” Draco slipped back into the common room and let the portrait close.
Hermione slipped down the hallway, found her shoes where she left them, and slipped as silently as she could back up to Gryffindor tower.
Ron was still sitting up by the fire, brooding and grumbling under his breath. Harry had slipped off somewhere without him again. They were supposed to be best friends, but Harry was always leaving him out of things. Ron stayed scowling as the fire turned to ash and embers. Everyone had gone to bed long ago, but Harry was still not back. The portrait creaked open and Ron turned around to see nothing, just as he expected.
“Take that stupid thing off, Harry!” Ron rounded on the doorway.
Slowly, Hermione pulled the invisibility cloak off, blushing. “Ron, I thought you’d be in bed.”
“He’s not with me.” Hermione said.
“Where were you then, if you weren’t with him?”
Hermione stared at Ron. He’d stood up and moved closer to her, looking angry. “I was in the library.”
“It’s after curfew. Besides, I watched you go to bed.”
“Well, I wasn’t able to sleep. So I got up and borrowed Harry’s cloak and went to the restricted section. I was going to look up something there weeks ago.” Hermione said, staring at the floor. Her lies were beginning to fall short, especially on Ron.
“Where’s Harry then?” Ron crossed his arms.
Hermione pulled the marauder’s map from her pocket and opened it to see Harry not far from them, heading back to the tower. “Looks like he’s on his way.” Hermione didn’t want to wait around for that argument. “Here, I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.”
Hermione handed the cloak and the map to Ron then ran up the stairs before Harry got there.
Ron rounded on Harry as soon as he entered, red in the face.
“What did I do?” Harry asked.
“It’s one thing you two being together, but the least you could have done is tell me, not sneak about behind my back.”
“What are you talking about?” Harry sat down on the couch.
“You and Hermione! I know you two were together tonight.”
Harry’s eyes widened as he turned to Ron. “We were what?”
“She brought your cloak and map back.” Ron threw it into Harry’s lap and began to pace.
“Ron, that’s why I went to find her. She took them leaving some vague note about where she went, so I went to find her.”
“Where was she?”
“Well,” Harry said, weighing if he should tell Ron about the note to see her Dad, or about not being with Snape and where Harry assumed she had gone. It was Hermione’s secret after all. He couldn’t tell his friend nothing though. Harry decided on the least dangerous of the two secrets. “I think she was visiting a friend from another house. I went to where she said she would be, but she wasn’t there, then I spotted her shoes in an alcove near one of the other house common rooms.” Harry said.
“What friend?” Ron was scowling.
“She’s just been studying with some boy from Ravenclaw.” Harry tried to say it as casually as he could.
“What is she doing that for, she studies with us.” Ron wasn’t getting any less angry.
“We study with her, Ron. But Hermione doesn’t have anyone to help her if she doesn’t understand something.”
Ron shoved her hands in her pockets. “Well, why didn’t she tell me about this bloke?”
“I’m sure it just slipped her mind.”
“She been seeing him long?”
Harry tried to look away, but Ron gave him such an angry look. “Since last year I think. But only occasionally, finals and stuff.”
Ron turned his back to Harry, glaring into the fire place.
“Ron, are you mad at her?”
“Why should I care?” Ron snapped, “She can do whatever she wants.”
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