Draco Malfoy was sitting in one of the many cosy armchairs in the Slytherin common room. He almost lay there in a comfortable position, one arm thrown over the armrest. He was half listening to the conversation the seventh-year boys were having about the purity of blood, good-looking girls and reasons why girls were allowed to study magic too, and half remembering what Amadeus had shown them earlier that day.
Draco had actually begun to like Amadeus’ classes, even though he had used every opportunity to bash the Ancient Magick teacher’s character, teachings and style. But still, the things he had shown them so far had been amazing.
His ears focused on the conversation at hand.
”I mean, whose brilliant idea was it that girls could learn the same things we can. Our brains differ from theirs greatly: much bigger, much quicker, much stronger. Girls are so feebleminded,” Crane Brinton, one of the bigger boys said, and got many accepting nods from the skinnier listeners.
”Hear, hear,” Goyle said. ”And have you ever seen a great girl Quidditch player? No, because there are none. Girls are good for one thing and one thing only.”
The whole bunch burst into laughter and Draco, too, smiled with mild amusement. But then, he had to open his big mouth.
”As if you would know,” Draco said in a seemingly lazy manner, but his eyes followed every move the small group in front of him made. ”Your logic isn’t quite magic proof either,” he continued. ”If you look at the girls in our House - they are pretty clever and I’ll bet all of them have better grades than you two.”
The boys looked at him, a few of them blinking in dismay, others clearly outraged by his words, but none of them had the courage or the stupidity to challenge him - except Brinton. He shared the common belief of all big, bully-type people: nobody dares to step in my way.
The atmosphere became quite hostile.
”Say Malfoy, you’ve been holding hands with the Mudblood Granger a lot lately. Are you considering poking the witch-bitch?” Brinton asked with a wide grin on his face.
Draco reacted instinctively, jumping the short distance between them and hitting him directly in the middle of the face. He pulled away from the bigger boy and watched him, eyes gleaming with disgust and malice.
”Never suggest anything like that ever again. She’s beneath me.” Draco’s voice showed no evident emotion, but the muscles of his chin were tense.
Brinton held his bleeding mouth and nose with his other hand and tried to extend the other to Draco in an attempt of reconciliation. ”Hey, I dinna mead adydin, id wah juhd a htupid joke,” he tried to apologise, but failed miserably. It was never wise to insult a Malfoy and now, he had done it royally and whilst at it, made a powerful enemy for himself too - and with such small words.
Goyle stood up and tried to move between the two boys, but Malfoy pushed him back to his chair. Goyle looked at him, hurt lingering in his eyes momentarily.
”Don’t,” was the only thing Malfoy said. He didn’t even turn to look at Goyle. There was something different about the blond boy, as if he was on the brink of losing it. And for what? Goyle had heard much worse insults over the past years - even Potter had managed to shoot out some pretty nasty comments, which anyone could have been proud of. But this one, it was so transparent, nothing clever about it. Just a stupid connection between a few minor details.
Draco stood there awhile silently, trying to control the violent emotions threatening to erupt. He had never imagined that it would be possible to feel everything at once. He was sure something had just snapped; some clear line that was holding everything neatly together had been broken. What had his father said? ”Never show your weakness, never give away your emotions and better yet, never feel a thing.” How did he do that?
He stormed out of the common room and half ran to the boys’ lavatory in the dungeons. He didn’t care anymore what others would think, he just didn’t want them to see. Not this, not him being like this.
As he got to the lavatory, he walked directly to one of the sinks and opened the tap, letting the water run freely. He needed the sound of it, any sound was good, other than the constant chattering of his mind.
Draco leaned on the sink, watching his hands; one of them having bruises on it. He hadn’t noticed that he had hurt his hand when hitting the bastard, but now that he noticed it, it started to ache severely. Stupid, weak, human skin. He brushed the blooded hand through his hair, leaving a red trail into the whiteness.
You’ve been holding hands with the Mudblood Granger…
As he watched himself from the mirror, he started to doubt whether he still retained his sanity. His eyes held a mad gleam and his mouth turned into a wicked grin. He smeared the blood on his face, mimicking Indian war markings.
At that point, he lost all hope of being mentally sane.
He started kicking the doors of the stalls, almost breaking a few of them, and didn’t stop until somebody whimpered - very, very quietly as if trying extremely hard not to make a sound.
Draco stopped in the middle of another kick and stood there on one foot, listening carefully and then finally walked to the last stall in the row and opened the door.
”I didn’t hear anything,” a very scared looking Colin Creevey yelped. ”I was sleeping…”
If there ever was a hint of redness on Draco’s face, now was the time. He should have at least cleaned his face before opening the door. Bloody idiot.
”You. Disappear.” Draco let the younger boy get out of the toilet, but stopped him with an extended arm, before he could get past him. Colin managed to avoid touching his hand just barely.
”Do I even have to say it.” It was not a question, but a warning and to Colin it was quite clear. He wanted to leave school someday and become a photographer, very dearly.
”I was asleep, I didn’t see a thing,” he said and gathered all his willpower to look at the crazy Slytherin in the eyes. For a fleeting second, he was sure that the lunatic would slap him silly, but then Malfoy lowered his arm and let him go.
Colin ran as fast as he could to the Gryffindor common room and sat in front of the ever-burning fire as long as it took for the feeling to return to his arms and legs. He sat there, shivering, a quite a long while.
Blasted bint, Draco thought. Somehow the bitch had managed to tear down his guards and now he was paying the price. The infuriating question echoed in his mind: Are you considering poking the witch-bitch? The sheer mockery of the words made him bend double, as if he was having a stomach ache. But it wasn’t his stomach that was aching; some far deeper wound in him had been torn open. He growled. The voice came deep down his throat and after awhile it turned into a cry of anger and pain.
He had started to think of her as a person. …holding hands with the Mudblood Granger…
It was because of the endless practise. It was because of Amadeus and his impatient eyes, fixed upon them, pushing them further, insisting they practise every single day, every single moment, as if they were very slow learners. There had been no time to think about anything else. Amadeus had driven them into it - and the old bat of a Headmaster had made it so easy for them, as if planned.
Dumbledore had given all the seventh-years a permission to practise wandless magic in the dungeons even after dark. All of them had taken up the kind offer and as a result half of them had also taken the liberty of sleeping during History of Magic or Herbology or even Care of Magical Creatures. The last one was the most difficult one, because you had to sleep while standing, but most of the times Hagrid didn’t even notice if somebody fell over. Probably because he was so infatuated by his creatures and also because people were covering for each other.
Draco returned to the sinks and again, watched himself from the mirror. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen shame in his own eyes. Perhaps when he had heard that his father had been captured, but even then it had been more anger and fear than shame. Not in his wildest dreams could he ever have imagined that it would all come to this. That he would betray his own blood, become a blood traitor.
How had she done it? How had she managed to make him believe that she was worthy of his presence? Everything in him was now under her spell, every feeling, every thought, every intention, every part of his being. There was nothing familiar left, everything was shadowed by her cunning sorcery.
He hit the mirror, breaking it and a few bones in his hand with it. The kaleidoscopic image of himself felt more real than anything else in the surreal world – it mirrored his feelings perfectly. He hit the shattered mirror until his hand was nothing but a bloody mess. He couldn’t clench his hand into a fist anymore, but it didn’t stop him from trashing the place completely. He was too furious to feel pain or anything else anymore.
After he had taken his anger out on the lavatory, he walked out of there, panting and bleeding. His clothes were torn, his hair was tangled and sweaty and his heart, empty as the bottom of the sea. Draco Malfoy was lost no more.
And he had some unfinished business to do.
The key in her hand felt heavy. It was almost as old as the castle itself, but there was no mark of its age on its shining surface. The key had a strange colouring of a grey-black smoke that seemed to circle behind its metallic surface, and it was just the size of her hand. She held it close to her heart as she walked to the direction of the library.
It was almost empty as usual, her sanctuary. She smiled at Madam Pince, who answered to her smile absent-mindedly, and walked straight to the Restricted Section of the library. She had her own key.
The lock opened with a familiar click and she stepped into the room she privately called ’Hermione’s heaven’. She took a deep breath and smelled the secrets, the adventures lying behind each and every one of these magnificent masterpieces. She loved books, almost as much as she loved her friends.
She walked past the shelves, letting her hand slide along the backs of the books. She did it always, when alone, because the stories summoned her and this way she could hear them more clearly. She could tell, if something wanted to be read, if some story was waiting for her. And now she needed their help, her beloved books.
She stopped and took a small, black book out of the shelf and then continued to walk without even checking the name of the book. Her face was completely still, her eyes half closed and mouth partly open. She trusted her instincts around books, like Harry trusted his when playing Quidditch or duelling. She knew all there was to know about knowledge, she just didn’t have it all yet.
Another book found its way to her lap and soon she had a pile of them in her arms - skinny books, thick books, velvet-covered books, books with no name, red books, brown books, books that smelled foul. She had never told anybody why she was so good at research.
Hermione landed the books on the only table that didn’t have huge wooden boxes on it. She had been curious about the boxes and had asked Dumbledore about them. Apparently some old wizard had decided to send all his books to Hogwarts in a fear of losing them and the knowledge with them to Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The boxes had arrived two weeks ago, but Madam Pince had no intention of opening them until somebody had enough time to anti-hex them.
Hermione was anxious to get her hands on the new arrivals, but she wasn’t going to take a peek unless it was absolutely necessary. Even though she really wanted to, with her whole being. She wasn’t sleeping that well, because of the intriguingly secretive book boxes, and the girls in her dormitory were already complaining about her nightly activities – she was keeping her oil lamp on far too long, reading, flipping the pages, making them crazy with the noises. Maybe she should open one of the boxes.
She went to the door and noticed that Madam Pince was still sitting behind her desk, deep in concentration over some aged, interesting-looking book, which Hermione might want to borrow later. She walked back to the end of the room and started to study one of the book boxes.
It looked a lot like the smuggling cases she had seen in movies. She investigated further and noticed that somebody had burned a text on its side: Hogwarts, Headmaster. She still wasn’t sure, if she should just take all her belongings and leave without looking back. She had no right to open any of the cases.
There might be powerful hexes protecting them or snakes jumping at her or spiders or any other icky creatures. Or she could turn into an icky creature herself.
Hermione touched one of the nails that were holding the lid closed. It jerked upwards, making her jump and take a sharp breath in. She stood still, listening for a few seconds and then, very cautiously took the nail to her hand and studied it closely. It felt normal.
Then she touched the other nails and all of them jumped straight to her hand. She smiled, satisfied with herself and opened the lid. The dust made her cough, but otherwise nothing happened; she didn’t turn into a goblin or anything else for that matter.
The first book that caught her eye was handmade, leather-covered, small and stained. As she was about to take it to her hand, all hell broke loose.
Peeves came screaming through the wall and threw one of the bookshelves upside down.
”Hermione. Stealing. Hermione. Stealing. Hermione. Stealing,” he chanted and flew around her, making her dizzy – and very very red from the face. But she had managed to put the handmade book on the pile of books she had gathered earlier and for some weird reason the lid of the case was as nailed as ever.
Madam Pince came running to the scene, but as soon as she realised what was happening, she took a broom that was leaning against one of the shelves and drove Peeves out of the library with it.
”Shoo, shoo…you bird of ill omen,” she said, looking quite used to the poltergeist, messing up her library. ”Oh, look at what he did. All the lovely precious books lying on the floor. Someday. Someday I'll make Dumbledore vanquish that…that evil, evil…help me here, Hermione.” Madam Pince turned to her with expecting eyes.
”Evil magpie?” Hermione said helpfully.
”That’ll do,” she paused for a second and then asked out of sheer habit, ”Were you stealing?” and then realised who she was talking to and muttered something under her breath that sounded a lot like: ”Silly me.”
”Do you need any help with this mess?” Hermione asked politely, even though all she wanted was to leave. She had butterflies in her stomach.
”You are such a lovely girl, Hermione.” She smiled at her, making Hermione feel a very naughty and embarrassed girl. ”But I really can handle this, just help me lift the shelf and I’ll be all right.”
After several minutes of lifting, pushing and panting, she walked out of the library, a broad smile on her face. The book had wanted to be read. She couldn’t explain it in any other way. But she had to tell Harry and Ron about it soon, just a precaution. The book might be dangerous. But she couldn’t help smiling.
Her mind was far away - stroking the pages of the handmade book, gathering the ingredients she needed for the spell – when she began to slip and slide down the corridor. It was as if the floor had turned into ice, but soon she realised that it was only water.
Hermione was sure she looked funny, hands full, hair in her eyes, almost falling down. She felt truly mortified and hoped that nobody saw her little display. And then she really did it. All her things went flying through the air, her books, her wand and then, her book bag opened, sending her things rolling down the corridor. Now she felt mortified.
She looked around, making sure that nobody saw her and then she cursed. Not loudly, not in an ugly manner, but still she cursed.
”Bloody hell. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Ouch… Ouuuuuch.” She put her thumb in her mouth. She had fell on it and it was slowly swelling into a huge red blob. There were tears in her eyes and she felt thoroughly miserable. Was this her punishment? For borrowing. Such an unfair world.
She started to gather her things, her thumb still in her mouth. Her robe was wet, her hair was in the way and she had started to sweat. Sweet ending for a lovely day. She felt like smothering something - or someone.
Just as she was stretching towards her wand, somebody stepped on her hand, forcing her to use the hurt hand (still occupying her mouth) for balance. She looked up, very angry at the world and now, even angrier at Salazar Slytherin for ever existing and thus creating the Slytherin House and this certain member of it, who didn’t know what personal space meant or decent manners for that matter. Her hand was hurting and he just put more weight on it as if making a point.
Just then, she realised that he was bleeding and looked like he had been in a fight. And then she saw the look in his now almost dark grey eyes and tried to get away from him. He was going to kill her and she couldn’t move an inch. Oh, what a perfect day to panic.
He kneeled to her level, making the pressure on her hand even greater. She winced, but didn’t make a sound; something in his eyes told her not to open her mouth, not to incite him into…what? Killing her? Beating her? Insulting her? She wasn’t sure. She just knew that her wand was out of her reach. Oh, how she hated the stupid books and the empty corridors and people who were definitely walking somewhere else than here.
He used his left arm to pull a stranded lock back behind her ear and then he lifted her chin, so she would look directly into his eyes.
”If you come near me ever again, I will kill you.” His voice was sweet, even tender and it almost froze her blood. ”I will cut your throat,” he made a cutting gesture with his finger, touching her throat just barely and making her squeak. ”And then leave you to bleed to death, alone in some deserted old house.”
After these words he stood up and kicked her wand out of her reach and started walking away.
”Don’t come near me, Mudblood,” was the final warning she heard, before he was gone.
She held her throat, shocked beyond screaming. Her mouth was dry and her mind was blank, except for the one question that kept bothering her. But she convinced herself that she was quite happy not knowing the answer.
Now she was certain that she needed that spell. Crazy Slytherin. Crazy world. All her earlier excitement and happiness were gone. She was shivering and she felt like crying. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She put her fists into her eyes, trying to stop the tears and noticed again that she had hurt her thumb. It ached and so did her other hand. His boot had left ugly markings on her skin. And then she cried.
It took her awhile to get her things together, because she was so upset about stupid Malfoys and killings and - her wand was missing. She had searched the whole place and couldn’t find it. This was absolutely the worst day of her life…or probably not, but definitely this reached the top five of worst days of her life.
She took off her robe and put her belongings on it, threw it across her shoulder and started trundling to the direction of the Gryffindor Tower.
”Hermione, what…?” Harry was at her side immediately as she walked in to the common room. She looked awful (not that he would ever say that to her) and so small that he did the only natural thing and hugged her. She dropped her things and clung to him with all her strength.
”Can’t breathe. Can’t breathe,” Harry murmured and she released him from the death grip, but still, held him close. She let her hand slide down his shoulder and stepped back slightly, leaving just enough room for him to see her thumb. It was screaming red and so swollen it was twice the size of her other thumb.
”I think I might have hurt my finger,” Hermione said and then laughed, her voice high-pitched and thin. She was at home, now she could panic. But panicking wasn’t enough for her; she was also about to do the most girly-girl thing in the world and faint. She felt the darkness lure her, call her and it was just so easy to give in, so easy to close her eyes, to rest. Last thing she heard was Ron screaming his head off: ”HERMIO…!”
Harry and Ron exchanged worried looks, Ron carrying Hermione’s limp body with utmost care and Harry just steps ahead of them, leading the way. They kept quiet, but their minds were racing, circling the one obvious question: ’What had happened?’
Ron tried to keep her warm, tried to give her his warmth, tried to hurry his steps without upsetting her sleeping figure. Was there somebody to blame? Was there somebody he could pummel into the oblivion?
Madam Pomfrey was treating another patient, as they barged into the hospital wing. Frowning, she turned to look and was just about to scold them, when she noticed Hermione and the concerned looks on the boys’ faces. She met them halfway the great room and took them all under her wings. Her presence was comforting and reassuring, as always.
”What happened?” Madam Pomfrey asked as she guided them to the bed next to the patient she had been treating earlier. The person was lying there, back turned to their direction.
”We don’t know,” Ron said after he had lowered Hermione into the bed and tucked her up carefully. They were both very quiet, not knowing what to say, not wanting to say anything, because it would make the whole incident more real. She never acted this way; she was always the intellectual strong-willed freedom fighter. She had been so upset, scared even. It wasn’t like her.
”She just appeared on the doorstep of our common room, clearly in shock. She was so…I mean…and then she showed her thumb, laughed kind of funnily and fainted.” Harry spoke quickly, as though he wasn’t sure if his voice would betray him or not.
”Ah, the thumb.” She studied it for a while. ”It’s nothing to be worried about. She’ll be fine.” She looked at Ron, standing beside Hermione’s bed and after a short moment of hesitation, she took his hand to her own. ”Really. She’ll be all right.” She squeezed his hand for a second and then went to her cabinet to fetch all the things she needed to heal her patient.
”But, so that you know, it was quite painful,” she said over her shoulder. ”Poor girl. Her thumb is broken and dislocated.”
To Harry and Ron Madam Pomfrey’s actions brought both relief and anxiety; they just couldn’t watch as she yanked Hermione’s finger back to its rightful position. With her permission they stayed further away, waiting for Hermione to wake up.
After half an hour Madam Pomfrey came to them, smiling her sweet smile.
”The Healing Potion is only going to make her sleep more soundly, so I suggest that you boys come back in the morning,” she said with an air of kindness. Then, with great determination and to their deep dismay, she started to push them out of the hospital.
”But, but…” Harry tried to object, but she wouldn’t listen.
”She is just fine, better than fine actually. She is smiling in her dreams, so she is not mortally wounded or mentally shattered. If I know her at all, she’ll be attending the classes on Monday morning as usual. Now, go to sleep. It’s already ten past nine.”
She stood by the door, watching as they walked away, whispering to one another.
”And no sneaking around,” she called after them.
Madam Pomfrey walked back to her patients. She hadn’t been lying (as if she ever would) about Hermione smiling; her face was peaceful and a small smile flickered in the corners of her mouth. She was such a sweet little girl. Madam Pomfrey stroked her hair lightly and then, went to sit beside her table in her office.
She was in the middle of reading a book called: Witch is a broad. It was so funny that she had actually laughed out loud in many, embarrassing occasions. Just this morning at breakfast table she had made Professor Snape snort at her, because of her too loud laughter. She couldn’t help it; she wasn’t as sour as some people.
In the silent and dim hospital room the two patients lay still.
Hermione’s breathing revealed that she was asleep. Her chest rose with each slow deep breath and her eyes moved fast under her closed eyelids as she walked in the REM stage of dreaming. She was lying on her back, slightly turned to the direction of the other patient.
The person next to her turned around and looked at her, his eyes shining in the darkness. Draco was now sure that he was cursed. Perfect, just perfect. She was here. With him. Annoyingly unscaly, unmonstrous, un…whatever. She was here. And he couldn’t stop looking at her. So, he stayed awake half the night, watching her. And in the morning, she was gone.
A/N: Thank you for taking the time to read this. I can't wait to get my hands on the next chapter. See you soon. :)
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