Chapter 1: Hermione
Hey guys! So excited to finally be writing this. I've had this story in my head for a long time now and finally have started finding the words to share it. For every single person who even glances at it to give me a chance, thank you! Let's enjoy some of our comfort characters together. <3
A crash startled Hermione awake and within a few heartbeats, she was on her feet. She shot a stunning spell in the general direction of the sound that woke her, just in case.
After a moment, she realized she was no better than a startled animal. The poor bookshelf across from her now wore a gruesome burn mark; it sliced clean through two rows. Her shoulders relaxed a bit. She was just a bit jumpy, that was all.
“Do you make a habit of obliterating all literature that displeases you, Granger?”
Hermione yelped in surprise and spun around to face the disinterested voice behind her. Wand still raised, she glared defiantly into those icy grey eyes.
“Do you make a habit of sneaking up on people when they are clearly trying to have a peaceful moment of study?”
A familiar smirk spread over his cold features, the kind of look that would have sent Ron swinging and Harry hexing. Unfortunately, neither of them was here. It would be up to Hermione then, so she raised her chin and slowly looked him up and down. She wanted him to understand she was unimpressed.
“As far as I’m concerned, Granger,” Malfoy drawled, “the Hogwarts library is open to all students. If you’re incapable of enduring a slight disturbance without hexing the furniture, perhaps you should study elsewhere.”
She scoffed. “Those were some sizable words, Malfoy. I’m impressed. I wasn’t sure you had the vocabulary to converse with the civilized population.”
“Oh, I do aim to surprise, Granger. Now, if you would be so kind, I really do need access to that shelf.”
She stared at him blankly.
“That one.” He motioned with his wand. “Behind you.”
“Oh. Right. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Hermione shuffled awkwardly to the side for him to slide past her, and she quickly packed up her books and parchment, ready to make a hasty escape. This was the longest conversation she'd ever had with Draco Malfoy and she had no intention of making it any longer. She moved toward the front of the library.
“Yes?” She hesitated, wand in hand behind her back.
“I apologize for startling you. It was not my intention.”
Hermione’s mouth opened in surprise, brow furrowed, but before she could come up with a reply, he turned back toward the shelf. Bewildered, she turned on her heel and fled to the safety of the Gryffindor common room.
It was half past three in the morning, and after hours of tossing and turning, Hermione gave up on sleep. She silently grabbed Harry’s invisibility cloak from her trunk and slipped into the corridors. When Hermione told Harry and Ron that she would be returning to Hogwarts to complete her final year, she received mixed reactions. Ron argued there was nothing more for her to learn, she was the brightest witch of the age and had probably read more books than were in the entire Hogwarts library. Ron wanted her to stay with them in the Burrow, saying they should enjoy the family they had left, not be eager to go off and leave again. When Hermione had turned to Harry though, she had seen understanding glistening in his eyes. He knew that they all needed to process the war differently, and while he and Ron needed family, Hermione needed normalcy. Normalcy like studying, quidditch, and meals in the Great Hall. All Harry had asked was for her to write often and he had handed her his invisibility cloak, saying he didn’t need it at the moment.
Harry had whispered, “Let her go, Ron,” and he did. Ron didn’t understand, but he’d already been ‘letting her go’ in more ways than one recently, so what was one more? The feelings that blossomed during their years at Hogwarts all but fizzled out during the war, and in its place was a more strained, but manageable, friendship. She hugged them both, packed a trunk, and left the next week. Hermione didn’t want to leave them, but she also couldn’t stand to be with them. Everywhere she looked were reminders of all she had lost, and it was just too much. School would be a fresh start.
She pulled the cloak tighter around herself and continued down the halls. This had become a nightly routine. Lay in bed. Close her eyes. See images of her friends, broken, tortured. Sometimes it was her, Bellatrix looming over her face, screaming at her for answers as she carved into Hermione’s arm. Other times it was Snape’s final breaths. Harry’s limp body in Hagrid’s arms. Regardless of the scene, Hermione’s eyes would eventually snap open, too afraid to close them again. She would lay like that for a while, wide-eyed until they were blurry with tears. And then she always ended up in the hallways, exploring the school and avoiding Filch or his horrible feline.
Tonight she made her way to the sixth floor. Her wandering was mostly aimless, she was simply enjoying the movement. With every step, she was aware of the exhaustion coating her limbs. The goal was to become so physically weary that her body collapsed into a dreamless sleep when she returned.
To keep her mind occupied, she was reviewing the ingredients for Forgetfulness Potion. Two drops of Lethe River water. Two Valerian sprigs. Two measures of standard ingredient. Four mistletoe berries—
Something snapped Hermione out of her recitation, unease trickling down her spine. It was an eerie sound, leaking down the corridor. She couldn’t quite place it. Wand gripped tightly, she crept forward. There was a classroom door cracked open, and as she neared it she realized what she was hearing was music.
Hermione paused a few feet outside the door, straining to hear the notes. It was muffled greatly but intrigued her. She reached out a hand. Something about the melody drew her in. She wanted to see, needed to hear it clearly.
Before she could reconsider, she pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold only to be bombarded with sound. There must have been a silencing charm keeping the sound relatively contained, but now that she was inside, it attacked her. The notes were urgent, slinging themselves into her ears as if starved of a proper audience. She winced at the sudden crescendo.
A haunting harmony crept up her arms, raising goosebumps in their wake. Hermione’s eyes fluttered closed and she slid the cloak off of her shoulders. She had never heard anything more beautiful, yet so heartbreaking. The very melody was weeping as the music filled the room, and tears cascaded down her face. And still, the phrases grew. Notes paired together and fought for dominance. Dynamics wrestled for control, tone soaring through in glorious despair. She couldn’t take it, the music had a hold of her heart, her lungs, her being. She couldn’t breathe, it was too lovely.
Hermione wrenched her eyes open, and staggered to her feet, swaying slightly with the ongoing notes, and finally noticed the artist across the room. It was a boy, facing away, cradling a violin like it was the most precious treasure, an extension of his soul. The trim figure and dark curls were vaguely familiar. Perhaps a classmate she didn’t know very well from another house? He hadn’t heard or seen her intrusion. Hermione couldn’t help her gasp at the revelation. How could a boy create something so full of passion?
The music stopped abruptly. He had heard her gasp.
“Draco? Draco, is that you?”
All Hermione could do was stare as the boy turned around to face her. His eyes widened when he saw the strange girl in front of him, long messy curls and tear-stained face. He looked so delicate illuminated by the moonlight. Soft brown eyes, pale, thin cheekbones. His dark hair curled softly over his ears, and his long fingers gently held his beloved instrument. After a moment, Hermione realized he was smiling at her expectantly. She cleared her throat.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” She said lamely. Who did she think she was, interrupting his song and staring at him like some bloody idiot? Her face burned in embarrassment.
“That’s quite alright,” he answered softly. “I’m sorry if I woke you. I thought I remembered a silencing charm.”
“Oh! No, you didn’t wake me. I was wandering the castle, unable to sleep. I heard a muffled sound and came to listen closer. It was…it was beautiful.”
The corner of his mouth quirked up and he gestured to her wet cheeks. “I do hope I haven’t caused you any distress. Sometimes the most mournful songs are the most moving.”
“No, no…it was absolutely stunning. How did you learn to do that? I’ve heard musicians before, but never so…emotional.”
His warm eyes blinked at her as he considered. “I have never had a way with words, so I suppose I have learned to translate my thoughts into my music.”
Hermione nodded. She could understand that. She often felt difficulty communicating with those around her. She too had wished for another language to make people understand.
“I feel the same about poetry.”
“Ah, so you are a writer then.” She nodded. He finally took a step closer to her. “Why do you find yourself sleepless this late September night?”
She shrugged. “Sleep is not as friendly as it once was.”
He brought his violin down to his side and nodded in understanding. He was also awake after all.
Not wanting to intrude any longer, Hermione turned to head back to her dorm. She should attempt a few hours of sleep before sunrise. Before she slid out the doorway, she looked over her shoulder one more time.
“What is your name?” She finally asked. She didn’t know why it felt so important, but she had to know.
He smiled faintly at her, idly running his fingers along the strings of his instrument.
“Theodore,” he whispered. “I’m Theodore Nott.”
Hermione sighed. Of course. She knew that name, just as a quiet Slytherin boy who often sat in the back of her potions classes. They had never spoken to each other before. She smiled back at him and waved goodbye but he was already picking out a new tune, gazing out of the window. She softly shut the door behind her and draped the cloak back over herself. As she moved away from the door, she could have sworn she heard coughing but continued onward, suddenly exhausted.
Chapter 2: Hermione
Welcome back, reader! Thanks so much for continuing this story, I'm so excited you're here! Please leave a comment so we can chat, and happy reading!
“Miss Granger, are you paying attention?”
Hermione’s eyes snapped open. Lately, staying focused in classes had proven to be a struggle. Instead of drooling over every word and itching to prove her knowledge, she found classes tedious and her mind wandering.
“So sorry, Professor. I was only trying to envision the inner mechanisms of the Fidelius Charm.”
Professor Flitwick humphed in approval. “Very well. Could you please explain to the class a brief history of the charm?”
“Yes, Professor.” Hermione hastily verbalized the charm’s background and even made mention of the Potter’s use of it in the First Wizarding War, as well as Dumbledore’s in the Second Wizarding War. Flitwick thanked her, and she returned to her thoughts.
It had been four days of sleepless nights for Hermione, but surprisingly it wasn’t due to nightmares. It was curiosity. She couldn’t get the image of that ethereal boy with the violin out of her head. It haunted her to the point of madness. She returned to that dark classroom each night, hoping to hear a melody pouring out, or to glimpse the silhouette of a curly-headed boy, but the corridors were empty. She wandered longer and longer each night, but to no avail. Just last night, she was so distracted she had almost been caught by Filch. How embarrassing.
Hermione sighed and surveyed the classroom. Her classmates didn’t seem to struggle in the ways she did. They whispered amongst themselves, friendships stronger from the trials faced together these past few years. The amazing thing was the intermingling between houses. For the first time in her schooling, Hermione looked around her and witnessed Ravenclaws sitting with Gryffindors. Slytherins and Hufflepuffs. So much warmth and progress surrounded her, yet Hermione still felt chilled. Instead of laughing with the classmates around her, Hermione saw the seats of those that had fallen. An empty chair that should have held Cedric Diggory. Another where Lavender Brown used to sit. The numbness spread over Hermione’s chest until it was difficult to breathe. She turned back towards the front and locked eyes with a boy along the far wall.
Clear, grey eyes met hers. She couldn’t seem to look away. He did not smile. Neither did she. Finally, Malfoy dipped his chin just a centimeter and broke contact, turning away after what felt like minutes. Hermione continued staring at Malfoy as he turned to Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini, saying something that made them fight to stifle their laughs. A smirk was plastered on his porcelain face, but the humor didn’t reach his eyes. He idly picked at the hem of his shirt.
Suddenly, the room came to life as students grabbed their belongings and headed to the Great Hall for the mid-afternoon meal. Professor Flitwick must have ended their lessons while Hermione was distracted. She hastily bent down to grab her school bag. When she stood up, she almost knocked her head against a bony chin and dropped her books.
“Oh! I’m so sorry–” Her eyes widened as she realized it was Malfoy who stood so close to her. She ducked down and grabbed her books.
“We must stop meeting like this, Granger,” Malfoy purred. He crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels. Somehow he didn’t appear clumsy when he did it, as Ron would with his lanky form. For some reason, this detail infuriated Hermione. She glared at him.
“Get out of my way, will you? Don’t you have better places to be than perpetually standing in my way?” She practically growled at him. He paid her no mind, and deftly snatched one of the books out of her hands.
“Ahhh, reading some Dickens, are we? What a surprise. She only reads Muggle books.”
Hermione wrenched the book out of his hands. “I do not only read Muggle books. And how would you know Dickens was a Muggle author if you yourself hadn’t read it?” Prat. What an absolute arse.
He only chuckled and stuffed a piece of paper in her hands. “I know this might come as a surprise to you, Granger, but I’m not standing in close proximity to you by choice. Madam Pomfrey asked me to pass you a note for Madam Pince allowing you access to the Restricted Section for some additional reading. Honestly, do you have to be such a swot?”
Hermione’s cheeks burned and she pushed past him. Idiot. He was such an idiot, and not worth a moment of her time. What was worth her time was visiting the library to check out a restricted book. She needed to do some reading for a side research project she was working on with Madam Pomfrey. They were looking into developing countercurses for the more nasty spells created by Death Eaters during the war. There were countless witches and wizards still suffering from the magical side-effects of being hexed by unknown curses, so Hermione spent some of her free time in the hospital ward with Madam Pomfrey experimenting. She knew her research would likely be discarded due to her age and ‘inexperience’, but at least it gave Hermione some sense of purpose. She picked up speed as she continued stomping through the corridors.
“Do ruin the flooring on your way out, Granger. Very sophisticated. Classy, even.” Hermione screeched to a halt and whipped around, wand out.
“I will hex you, Malfoy. Don’t think I won’t. Now leave me be.” The insolent boy had followed her all through the school and she hadn’t even heard him. Either he was extremely stealthy or she was so fed up with his ridiculous insults that her senses had been dulled. The latter was quite an unsettling thought. Hermione flared her nostrils.
“You would think being a war hero would make you lighten up a bit,” he drawled. Malfoy prowled closer, giving Hermione the distinct impression of being stalked by a predator. Her wand hand twitched subconsciously.
“Ouch! What the hell, Granger!”
Hermione loosened a breath and chuckled. She had sent a nonverbal pinching hex his way. His discomfort was satisfactory, she supposed. She opened her mouth to retort, but someone beat her to it.
“Draco, mate, do you always have to be so disagreeable?” Hermione whipped around and gasped. Standing before her was her apparition. The boy she had started thinking was a dream. The lithe but mournful musician. The brown-haired wizard who she had felt so connected to in just a few minutes. She watched his eyes widen a fraction and his mouth tugged upward in recognition. So he wasn’t a fantasy her sleep-deprived and grief-stricken mind had conjured. Interesting. For once, the Brightest Witch of the Age was speechless. He was just as lovely in the daylight as he was in the moon-filled classroom. More so.
“Theodore,” she whispered. He smiled in acknowledgment.
“Hello, Hermione Granger.”
She blinked. “How…how do you know my name?”
Malfoy choked on a laugh, and she glared at him.
“Oh, come on, Granger. You can’t be serious. Everyone knows who you are, Miss Golden Girl.” Hermione looked back at Theodore, and he shrugged.
“It’s true. After this past year, you’re understandably famous. Beyond that, though, I know you from being the smartest witch in our entire class.”
Malfoy scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Come on, Theo. Don’t encourage her. She already has an overly large head.” Theo grinned and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “You’ll have to excuse my friend from his rudeness. He was, after all, raised in the most posh and privileged household. I’m afraid he has no understanding of civilized manners.” Malfoy scowled but didn’t seem too offended by the comment, as if it were a regular prodding from the other boy.
Friend. Malfoy had a friend? Hermione gaped at Theodore. This was certainly not what she was expecting from this interaction. She had no idea how to respond.
“Erm,” she mumbled, turning for the library door, “well great to meet you formally, Theo. I suppose I shall see you around.”
“I certainly hope so, Hermione.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Malfoy elbow Theo good-naturedly in the ribs, but all she could feel was the thrill when Theo had said her name. Hermione . Like it was a new melody he was trying out. Such a stark comparison to the cold way Malfoy always ground out her surname, as if it were an insult.
Hermione shook herself and slid into the library. She needed to bury herself in a preferably dense and thorough tome. There was nothing quite like research to dull all other thoughts, especially those of a certain set of warm brown eyes, and a certain set of cool grey ones.
These Slytherin boys were going to be the death of her.
Chapter 3: Theodore
It was late October, and Theo was enjoying a leisurely stroll around the Black Lake. The afternoon was surprisingly mild for fall, and Theo wanted to soak up as much sun as he could. Winter would be coming soon.
Beside him sauntered Draco Malfoy, cold mask in place, but Theo didn’t mind. The entire school might be fooled into believing Draco was some heartless monster due to his Occlumency, but Theo knew better. It wasn’t that Theo was some accomplished Legilimens so he saw beyond the ice, but rather that Theo had been acquainted with Draco Malfoy for a very long time. Since birth, really.
Both of the boys descended from one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight families, the purest of the pure. They were inordinately wealthy, abnormally privileged, and insurmountably unhappy. They had bonded over such unhappiness at a young age and each learned how to hide it in their own ways.
Draco had perfected the aristocratic aura. His nose turned up, his responses clipped, and his eyes shone with disdain; a perfect mirror of his chilly father. Malfoy was perfection itself when it came to pureblood practices. He was a graceful dancer, and elegant speaker, and socialized with exquisite manners. His suits were nicely pressed, his hair perfectly in place. This was Draco’s prison of choice. It was tidy, and it was unbreakable.
Theo took a far different approach. While Draco opted for cool, Theo preferred warmth. He smothered his pains with smiles and kindness. When faced with the darkness of his own life, Theo turned to pouring light into others’ lives. He learned to sit with a First Year when they cried over Professor Snape’s harsh words. He learned to answer “Yes I’m doing quite well, thank you so much for asking” regardless of the truth. He learned to give love freely to anyone around him when he could not give it to himself. He learned to lie, just as well as Draco. They were not so different.
Adopting these personas was done early in life out of necessity, but the one solace the boys had was each other. Now, over fifteen years later, the two boys still found each other’s company preferable to all others.
Theo slowed his pace around the lake, and Draco matched it without comment. The boys were quite a distance from any other students now. Theo glanced over and noticed the grey in his friend’s eyes growing brighter, into a light blue. Good. Draco was letting go of the Occlumency walls then. A small smile bloomed on Theo’s face at the sight.
“Welcome back, mate. I trust your holiday was splendid?”
The corner of Draco’s mouth twitched up. “Very funny, Theo.”
“You know you don’t have to do that.”
“Neither do you.”
Theodore let out a sigh but kept walking forward. It was an old argument, muttered out of habit. “Thank you for walking with me today, Draco. I know you were busy.”
At this Draco finally looked into Theo’s eyes for a moment, all signs of grey gone. The splash of blue added so much warmth to his countenance that Theo couldn’t help but grin. Draco reluctantly chuckled and grinned back, reaching over to squeeze his friend’s shoulder briefly. The past few years had been so dark for Draco, and it was nice to see him smile again. Draco faced forward and inhaled a long breath of the warm air. His eyes flitted closed, even as they walked on, trusting the path they had trailed hundreds of times over the years.
“We must be getting back soon, I’m sure,” Draco muttered.
“Yes, the dinner bell should ring soon. But not yet.”
“No, not yet.”
“Theo?” Draco teasingly mimicked back. Theo rolled his eyes.
“Tell me something good.”
“Something good…” Draco repeated. The Malfoy heir thought for a moment, absentmindedly running his pointer finger over his bottom lip. His face lit up. “Oh! Oh, Theo, I must tell you about the most ridiculous story I’ve read recently. I quite enjoyed it actually.”
“Yes. It was simply dazzling, I read it front to back in three hours.”
Theo huffed out a laugh that sent him into a fit of coughing. Draco paled, then lunged for Theo’s elbows, struggling to keep him upright. The brown-eyed boy convulsed violently and blood seeped out of the corner of his mouth. Draco held his friend steady, never faltering, until the coughs subsided. After a few moments passed, Draco turned Theo around and started leading him back to the school. For a minute, neither of them spoke.
“I’m sorry, Draco. I didn’t mean to ruin the mood.”
Draco turned his face to his friend quickly. “Never. You didn’t ruin anything.” The tall blond boy dug out a crisp white handkerchief from his jacket pocket, and quickly wiped the trail of blood off his friend’s chin. Theo smiled in quiet thanks and kept trudging forward, Draco’s hand hovering for a moment as if he wanted to place it on the small of Theo’s back as a precaution. Instead, he curled his fingers tightly into a fist and shoved it into his trousers pocket.
“Would you tell me that story now?” Theo finally asked. The two of them passed through the Hogwarts entrance and started down the corridors. The entire castle smelled of the roast being prepared for dinner. Theo loved this meal. It made him think of home.
They continued down to the lower levels of the castle, hoping to freshen up before the bell summoned hordes of starving students. Theo began humming a tune as they walked, waiting for his friend. Draco’s shoulders relaxed a bit and a spark of amusement reentered his expression. It was a tune they knew well, for he and Theo had made it up to bother Narcissa when she was busy around the manor. The boys would trail her regal form and sing,
Search the manor low
Search the manor high
It’s a grand ole day
For a Malfoy crime
Set a niffler free
In the ballroom now
Steal the gold right off
Of Mother’s gown
The two of them would inevitably erupt in giggles when Narcissa finally lost her cool and chased them into the yard. One time, Draco’s mother even got so flustered she locked them out of the manor for three hours so she could take a hot bath in peace. Such a humorous memory was needed today, and Theo heard the shaky exhale before his friend spoke.
“Very well,” Draco began, in his most petulant tone, “I will present to you this fine story as long as you promise not to rudely interrupt me again.”
Theo smiled. “I will do my very best.” He was quite used to this form of Draco. Another performance, but a welcome one. This was Draco trying to cheer up his friend.
“Please see that you do.”
“Well, what? Already interrupting again, are we?”
“Not quite. You haven’t even told me the name of this story, and I feel that is a bit of important information for your audience, is it not?”
“Indeed, good sir. Very true. You shall have your title.” Draco gestured wildly to an imaginary audience, beckoning them to be silent for his grand reveal. “In this tale, you will travel far and wide, experience hardships beyond imagining, and love far greater than your small shriveled hearts could fathom. For this is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and it begs to be heard.”
Over the next hour, the portraits on the walls witnessed a Death Eater’s son regale the trials of Lucie Mannette, Charles Darnay, and Sydney Carton in a most superfluous manner to a pureblooded boy who knew nothing of the Muggle French Revolution. Yet the boy laughed with glee when his friend reenacted the beheadings, and neither of them noticed that they had missed their dinner or that there was another set of brown eyes watching the exchange in wonder through a crack in the walls.
Chapter 4: Hermione
Hermione groaned in frustration. She had rushed to the Hospital Wing between Herbology and DADA with an idea. She hoped Madam Pomfrey would be available to discuss. Unfortunately, a queue of students was waiting for treatment for what appeared to be a nasty Bat-Bogey hex. Madam was meticulously charming the small flying mammals out of a vomiting third-year’s nose. Hermione sighed and pulled one of the waiting students aside to begin the counter-charm.
“Hello, Madam. Rough morning, is it?”
Madam Pomfrey did not look up but humphed in agreement. “Indeed, Miss Granger. Is this by chance the work of Ginny Weasley?”
Hermione chuckled. “No, Madam, I daresay Ginny Weasely has more important things to do than hex a large group of Ravenclaw third-years.”
Madam Pomfrey grinned at Hermione. “Perhaps, but is there any chance Miss Weasley taught these young ones the hex without properly explaining the consequences of being hit with it?”
Hermione frowned. Now that did sound a bit like Ginny. Her red-headed friend would have gotten a laugh out of that. Hermione would have to corner her later today to demand answers. She fought a smile as she turned to the next student waiting for treatment.
“Come over here, love. Let’s get you fixed up.” The young witch shuffled over to Hermione, clutching her nose all the while. Hermione quickly cast the counter-charm and smoothed back the girl’s hair. “Why don’t you sit down until we’re finished treating everyone else? Then I’ll walk you to class.” The little witch just nodded and sank into a nearby chair. Poor girl. If this was Ginny’s fault, she’d be in for a proper scolding indeed.
They worked in silence until the final student was freed from the hex, and Hermione and Madam Pomfrey took a moment to clean up. Hermione cast a quick silencing charm around them for privacy.
“I assume you did not come to the Hospital Wing to help me treat the Bat-Bogey hex, Miss Granger?”
“No, Madam. I actually had an idea regarding our research,” Hermione rushed, sweeping her wand in a motion to sterilize the floor. “I was reading a journal last night on the powerful charms Muggle-born Healers have created in America when combining both magic and Muggle medical knowledge. As most witches and wizards know little of muggle medical practices, they are often hesitant to employ them, and thus the treatment at St Mungo’s remains primarily magical. Thus far, the magical healing has been sufficient, but with the creation of these hateful curses during the war, I fear we need more potent healing methods. I realized that so far, we have only researched magical solutions for these curses. Perhaps we should take a Muggle approach as well?”
Madam Pomfrey sucked on her teeth as she whisked a few vials into place. “That is an interesting thought, Miss Granger. We will indeed look into this. Come by my office later tonight.” She nodded twice to herself. “Yes…yes, there might be something to that. Well done, Hermione. Now, please return these Ravenclaws to their flying lesson.”
“Yes, Madam. Come on, children.” Hermione beckoned for the students to follow her out of the Hospital Wing. Once she had deposited the Ravenclaws, Hermione rushed down the corridors. DADA began in a few short minutes, and she hoped to get a word with Ginny before it started.
Defence Against the Dark Arts was being held in the Great Hall today. Although Hermione had generally found classes monotonous this term, she was excited for today. Today, the students were dueling.
She rolled her stiff shoulders. Dueling was something Hermione was very skilled at after the past few years, as were many of her classmates. Quite a few of the faces around her had participated in Dumbledore’s Army, perfecting hexes over countless hours together. She grinned. This would be entertaining.
Professor Mcgonagall clapped her hands from the narrow stage she had conjured. Silence fell over the students, but a buzz of excitement remained. Someone jabbed Hermione in the side and she jumped.
“Hey, ‘Mione.” Ginny Weasley gave her a lazy grin. Hermione blinked. She looked so much like her brother at that moment. She missed Ron terribly. Harry, too. She had not seen them in person since August, the longest the three of them had ever been apart. They’d written to her, of course, but it wasn’t the same. Loneliness washed over her. Hermione swallowed roughly, shoving down the weight in her gut. She forced a smile on her face.
“Hello, Ginevra. I do believe we have something to discuss regarding one of your favorite hexes.” Ginny’s eyes flashed in understanding and she huffed out a laugh. “Oi, Hermione, I swear I had nothing to do with those Ravenclaws. If I was going to teach a haphazard hex to anyone, it would be the Slytherins.” Ginny’s smile was contagious, and Hermione wrapped an arm around her. She brushed off her stern expression.
“Fine, but I’ve got my eye on you, Miss Weasley.” The two turned back toward the stage where Professor Mcgonagall seemed to be setting up a perimeter of cones. Apparently, there would be a bit more structure to this dueling than there was in second year with Lockhart and Professor Snape. Hermione giggled at the memory.
Mcgonagall was now pleased with the arrangement of cones and clapped her hands once more.
“Good afternoon, students,” she began. “I am well aware that many of you have participated in some form of dueling before, and most of you dueled for your lives in the Battle of Hogwarts. This may have caused some of you to be confident in your abilities, and others to be fearful. Regardless of your feelings, today we will practice dueling as a skill.
“I would like to remind you that this is a safe space. I have placed charms to protect you from falling from the stage, and charms to prevent any dark spells from being cast. Madam Pomfrey is on sight in case of emergency, and I will match students as evenly as possible to minimize injuries. This is a learning experience. Let’s do our best to keep each other safe. Merlin knows we have had enough danger to last a lifetime in these halls.”
With that, Mcgonagall began pairing up students and lining them up to duel. First was Neville Longbottom against Parvati Patil. It was a lovely duel. Both students were extraordinarily kind, but also very skilled. Neville had developed impressive accuracy while training in the DA, and Parvati had a repertoire of spells in her mind to rival even Hermione’s cache of knowledge. She was impressed. Although neither student sent any exceptionally powerful spells, the casting was still rather good. Hermione clapped with Ginny when the two exited the stage, slightly breathless. Parvati had won by a fraction. There were no injuries and wide smiles on each face. So far, the class was a success. Professor Mcgonagall called a new pair up to the stage, Luna Lovegood and Dean Thomas.
Time flew, and very few students remained left to duel. Ginny had faced Cho Chang and won with a smashing aguamenti to the thorax that washed Cho off the stage. She had laughed good-naturedly and shook hands with her friend. Now there were only a few students left. Who would Hermione be paired with?
“Draco Malfoy, please step onto the stage.” Mcgonagall’s voice rand across the Great Hall. Hermione inwardly groaned. She hoped she wasn’t paired with him. Of course, she was aware of his deftness in DADA. His marks had usually been very similar to hers, but she loathed to duel him. Surely he would break some rule and place her in the infirmary, just out of spite. No matter that she had seen him be so kind to his friend the other day. Surely he wouldn’t exude such warmth unto her. She looked up at the pale blond boy waiting on the stage. He was already smirking.
To her relief, Mcgonagall called Blaise Zabini to the front. The two boys grinned at each other. Their duel lasted all of one minute. They broke multiple rules, and Malfoy won by a landslide with a beautiful expelliarmus . Zabini’s wand floated gracefully into Malfoy’s waiting hand. The other boy chuckled and pulled Malfoy off of the stage.
“Thank you, gentlemen. Please try to follow the rules next time.” Hermione could tell Professor Mcgonagall was fighting a smile. “And our last pair for the day. Miss Hermione Granger, please come to the stage.” Hermione surged forward, Ginny giving her an encouraging pat. She wondered who she would be paired with, who Mcgonagall thought would be a challenge for her to duel. Excitement fluttered in her stomach. She stepped onto the left side of the stage.
“Theodore Nott. Please step up to stage right.” Hermione whipped her head to face the crowd of her classmates. Her eyes met a pair of icy grey. He looked smug, arms crossed.
“Good luck,” Hermione saw Malfoy mouth at her. What? Hermione’s confusion must have shown on her face because he started grinning. Irritated, she turned to face the opposite end of the stage. Graceful Theo was standing there, hands in his pockets, offering her a shy smile. She couldn’t help but smile back at him. This was going to be difficult. She couldn’t hex Theo. He was too kind, too gentle. She would try to end the round quickly while minimizing the chance of humiliation for him. Yes, that would do. Perhaps an immobulus to the shoulder? She chewed her lip in contemplation. Theo drew out his wand and widened his stance.
“Begin!” Mcgonagall announced. Hermione drew her wand deftly, planning on using expelliarmus first. Before she could finish the stroke, she felt a sharp red curse whizzing for her. She barely had time to erect a shield charm. Holy mother of Merlin. Her eyes widened. How had he sent that spell so quickly? And nonverbally, at that. Hermione had underestimated him. A laugh broke out in the crowd from a certain egotistical twat. She ignored him. Instead, she stalked forward, quickly slashing a confundo charm to slow Theo down. He easily swept out of the way. Incredible. Hermione’s aim was impeccable, the best she knew. A thrill rushed down Hermione’s spine. Mcgonagall had given her a new challenge indeed. She couldn’t help but grin. Theo grinned back at her.
“Not used to missing a target, are you?” Theo chuckled as Hermione’s eyes flashed. He shot a reducto. She blocked and lashed out with an engorgio . Theo shielded with ease. The two continued moving toward center stage.
“No, I can’t say that I am, Theodore,” Hermione answered. She dropped to the ground to avoid an incacerous and heard the ropes fly off the end of the stage behind her. What a sneaky little bastard. She liked him even more. He ducked to miss her petrificus totalus . By now both were breathing heavily.
As the minutes progressed, spells flew in every direction. Neither had been hit, but both were slowing down. Hermione ravaged her mind for obscure spells, all while leaping to avoid Theo’s hexes. The crowd of students had backed up to the walls for all the stray curses flying around. Mcgonagall watched from the side, practically giddy.
Sweat dripped down Hermione’s neck, and she began to get frustrated. “Rictusempra!”
Light whizzed across the stage, back and forth, boy and girl circling each other, perfectly matched. Eventually, they had to pause for a large cloud of smoke to clear. When it did, Hermione prepared to send another round of hexes toward Theo but noticed his face. Something in it was almost Malfoy-ish. She gaped.
“Theodore, are you smirking at me?”
Instead of replying, he simply gestured for her to look down at her uniform. Collectively, the crowd of students leaned forward and gasped. Hermione could only blink in confusion. There, a few inches above her hip, was a scorch mark in her blouse. A hit. He had hit her with one of his curses. She raised her eyes to meet the twinkling caramel ones not ten feet from her.
“Hermione, I do believe that means I’ve won.” She stared at him in disbelief. Malfoy cackled from the crowd, and she blinked a few times. Theo clasped his hands behind his back in expectation. Hermione leaned back her head and guffawed. She nearly fell over from laughing so hard and had to wipe tears from her eyes. Finally, she straightened and met the boy’s amused expression.
“Well done, Theodore. That was quite fun.” She couldn’t help but grin. All around the room, students clapped for the two duelers. Theo coughed gently into a hand just as Hermione reached to shake his. He clasped her fingers tightly and someone whistled as Theo slipped off the stage, graceful as ever. Mcgonagall congratulated the class on a productive lesson and dismissed them.
Still, Hermione remained on the stage. She watched her dueling partner wrap his arm around his blond-haired friend as Malfoy ruffled Theo’s curls. She felt strangely full, watching them. The loneliness from a few minutes ago as she spoke with Ginny had lessened and made way for something else, something less empty.
Hermione wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt, and only then noticed the red smear on her hand. She gazed at it perplexed, then straightened in understanding. Without sparing another moment, she bolted out of the Great Hall and rushed to meet with Madam Pomfrey.
Chapter 5: Hermione
“Malfoy, a word?”
Hermione found him in the library; it was nearing ten o’clock. He was sat in a secluded corner with his feet crossed at the ankles atop a study table. A book rested in his hands. He held up a finger, and she tapped her foot impatiently. When he didn’t stir in over a minute, she huffed and slid into the chair beside him. He finally looked at her, eyes widening a fraction. She pulled out a heavy journal, three books, two vials, and a quill and arranged them on the table in front of them.
“Granger…what in Merlin’s name are you doing?” Malfoy stuttered, closing his book. She glanced over at the title and snorted. The twat was reading “A Tale of Two Cities”.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” She asked.
“The novel. The Dickens one, there in your hand. You know,” she quipped, “the very author you taunted me for reading a few weeks ago. It seems you fancy him if you’ve already read it twice.”
“Oh, do stop blathering, Malfoy. I heard you explain the plot to Theodore in the hallway a while back, and now that it’s in your hands again I assumed this would be a second read.” She paused to think, pointer finger tapping along her upper lip. “Although I do suppose you could be on a third read if indeed you’re a quick reader.”
Malfoy’s mouth dropped open for a second before he righted himself, smoothing out his crisp black shirt. He lightly set the novel down and turned to face her. Hermione wasn’t looking at him anymore, she was distracted by the journal before her. He cleared his throat.
“Sixth. I’m on my sixth read. I’m struggling not to be insulted. It has been two weeks, after all. To think I’d only be on my second read,” he rolled his eyes. She didn’t look up from her scribbling. Malfoy grunted in frustration.
“Honestly, Granger! What are you doing?”
“How do you mean?”
“Here! You’re here…in my corner. At my….table. In my space!”
“Yes, so?” Of course he felt entitled enough to claim a public table in the Hogwarts library. She was already regretting her decision to come. He slumped a little in his chair, apparently defeated. She couldn’t help the smug look that crept onto her face. He leaned his head back against the head of his chair and closed his eyes.
“Fine, sit with me. Ruin my peaceful moment, interrupt Sydney Carton’s declaration of love. I don’t mind at all.”
At this Hermione lost her inner battle and let out a raucous laugh. She couldn’t stop herself, and within moments was wheezing in glee. She glanced over and saw Malfoy cross his arms, fighting a grin of his own. Warmth swelled in Hermione’s core as his eyes finally locked on hers. Her mouth formed a small ‘o’ in surprise. His eyes were the brightest blue, a shade she had never seen in them before. She sat back as she puzzled through it.
“You occlude.” If he was impressed she figured it out, he certainly did not show it. He held her gaze, face remaining impassive. She considered the boy in front of her. Of all the people who would need such a skill, the son of a Death Eater would. For the first time since she had known him, she imagined what his life must be like.
Raised by a cold sadistic father, pledged to the darkest wizard in history. The expectation not only to be a perfect pureblooded heir but also someday take the Dark Mark and join Voldemort’s ranks. It was rumored that during the war, Voldemort even stayed in Malfoy manor. She couldn’t imagine what that would be like, how the fear would take hold after being in his presence so much. Hermione swallowed with difficulty but continued to hold his gaze. And his mother…Hermione did not know very much about Narcissa Malfoy, but it was clear her son had a soft spot for her. Over the years, countless fights had ensued if someone had made any sort of comment about her. What would cause such a reaction? Surely his mother loved him and there was a closeness by definition of the relationship, but this was more. What if…what if Malfoy felt the need to protect her? What if there had been a time when he wasn’t able to…multiple times, perhaps…and he tried to make up for it at school. Hermione was filled with horror as she remembered a time last year when Malfoy had simply stared at her as she was tortured by his aunt. He had stared at her with grey eyes.
He had been occluding, she was sure of it. At the time, she had assumed he was filled with glee at the prospect of her pain. He had always bullied her relentlessly, but what if he fell back on occluding because he wasn’t truly indifferent to her pain? Perhaps it was a habit. Perhaps he had learned the skill from watching another person suffer. She immediately shut down her train of thought. She would need to unbox this later but now was not the time.
“Would you like to know the truth, Malfoy?”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “I suppose you plan to tell me regardless of my wishes?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “The truth is, I’ve been working on a research project with Madam Pomfrey in the infirmary. It’s been going on for months.” She gestured at the papers around her. “It began as a way to distract me.”
“But now you think you’ve found something?” She nodded. He leaned forward to read one of the titles, now interested. “ ‘The Power of Bonding the Magical and Muggle’.” A mocking smile spread across his face and he ruffled through the notes on the table, murmuring to himself. She gave him time to process. As he read, his expression changed. The grin faded and his brows furrowed. Every few minutes he would purse his lips in thought, nod quietly to himself and flip to the next page. He didn’t speak.
Hermione reached over Malfoy’s arms and snatched “A Tale of Two Cities”. For the next hour, neither of them broke the silence except for turning pages or scratching quills. It was a comfortable time, far more so than studying with Harry or Ron had ever been. Her two friends were incapable of remaining still or focused. Malfoy’s company, however, was perfectly suitable for a library.
“I see.” Hermione glanced up at the sudden break in the quiet.
“You do?” She asked softly. He met her gaze and nodded.
“It’s brilliant, Granger. Truly. I might have some knowledge to share on the specifics of certain newly-developed curses that could have been used, and combined with your Muggle knowledge of lab tests and diagnoses we might just be able to–”
“We?!” She interrupted breathlessly. He rolled his eyes.
“Well, I’m helping you, obviously. How on earth do you expect to get proper results without me?” Hermione reached over and lightly punched his shoulder. His eyes widened and he inhaled sharply. It was such a friendly touch, Hermione was surprised herself that she had done it. She huffed out a laugh. The last time she touched Draco Malfoy was when she punched him in the nose. The redness blooming on his cheeks made her think he was remembering that as well.
“Excellent. Could you meet me in Madam Pomfrey’s back laboratory tomorrow after Potions? I’ll acquaint you with Muggle equipment and show you the rest of my research. I only brought the most relevant information tonight.”
He nodded and reached over to help her reorganize the scattered parchment. Hermione gathered the books into her bag and stood up to head to her room. She ran her fingers through her curls, trying to untangle the locks. It had been a very long day, and she needed a shower. When she raised her head, she found Malfoy staring at her.
He blinked, then straightened. “See you tomorrow, Granger.” He strode away from her quickly, making a beeline for the library doors. After a dozen paces, he halted and whipped around, a pained expression on his face. “Granger.”
She looked up at him expectantly. He took a shuttering breath.
“Do you think this will work?”
Hermione hesitated. “I don’t know. I hope it does.”
Malfoy nodded. Hermione softened as Malfoy ran his fingers through his silver hair. His clear blue eyes were so open, and his expression sent a pang through Hermione’s heart.
“If we start now, I think he has a chance, Malfoy.” He nodded once, turned on his heel, and strode out the library door. The second he was gone, a tear slid down Hermione’s cheek.
Hours later, Hermione found Theodore Nott in the lonely classroom on the sixth floor. He was sitting in a dark corner with his head against the stone wall, eyes closed. A violin lay carefully beside him, bow across his bent knees. She delicately slid beside him.
It was a foggy night, and the dark clouds prevented any moonlight from leaking into the cold room. The silence was suffocating, in stark contrast to the same room all those nights ago when Theo’s music charged through the air. Hermione couldn’t speak.
“Draco told me you know. I don’t suppose it took you long to figure out.”
She sighed. “No, it didn’t take me long. I had my suspicions, but when you left that blood on my hand after our duel, I ran to my lab and tested it.”
He chuckled. “Of course you did.” He didn’t seem upset, but Hermione wasn’t surprised. She expected it took much more than that to perturb Theodore Nott.
“Will you tell me your story, Theo?” She turned to look at the frail boy. He appeared paler than usual tonight in the dim lighting. After all of her research, it had been easy to spot that the boy had a blood curse. His pale skin, shaky hands, the cold sweat. How protective Malfoy was over his friend, the blood splattered from a cough. He would disappear from classes for days at a time, then return as if nothing happened. All other ailments should have been curable by magic, but a blood curse was a nasty thing.
Blood curses were always caused by Dark Magic, inflicted on the victim in pure malice. Wizards feared a blood curse in much the same way that Muggles feared cancer as an incurable death sentence. In Hermione’s research, all accounts noted that if a young wizard suffered from a blood curse the average live expectancy was twenty. The boy beside her was eighteen.
“It’s not a particularly nice story, Hermione.” Theo’s eyes remained shut. He had thick, dark lashes that fluttered against his high cheekbones every few seconds. A curl had dropped over his forehead, and Hermione fought the urge to brush it back. Instead, she wrapped her arms tightly around her knees.
“That’s alright. Mine isn’t either.” At that, Theo turned to face her. He seemed to make up his mind and took a deep breath.
“My story begins with my family, though I wish it didn’t. So much darkness has occurred due to the Sacred Twenty-Eight, but I suppose we cannot escape our lineage.”
“No, I suppose we cannot.” Theo gave her a small smile of understanding. He continued.
“In the First Wizarding War, my father served Voldemort as a Death Eater; he was one of the chosen to be in the Dark Lord’s inner circle, along with Lucius. My father was a fanatic. When Voldemort disappeared, he raged throughout the home. Most of the valuable dishes were thrown across the room. The drawing room curtains were sliced clean through. He would hex the walls until deep gouges appeared and no amount of magic from the house elves could make them go away. It took a toll on my mother, and she began to have nervous breakdowns when he left the manor. I would cling to her as she cried, wrapping my small arms around her. I loved her dearly.”
Hermione reached for his hand and curled her fingers around his. He squeezed back.
“When I was five, my father returned home during one of her breakdowns. He took one look at me clutching her and went mental. He started screaming that I was a weakling and a coward, that I had turned out no better than a puny girl. Then he shot an avada at me, hoping to rid himself of his failure.” Theo paused here, unable to continue. He sank his chin onto his knees and gripped Hermione’s fingers tightly. She ran a thumb over his knuckles reassuringly.
A shadow peeled itself from the wall and sauntered over. Hermione wasn’t surprised. She wasn’t sure the boys were ever separated for long. When he reached them, Malfoy dropped to a crouch and placed a hand on Theo’s shoulder. His icy grey eyes met Hermione’s. His tone was cold when he said, “His mother jumped in front of him to protect him, and she was hit by the killing curse. Theo’s father was infuriated and decided Theo deserved something worse than a quick death. He thought of the nastiest Dark spell he could imagine, and sent it nonverbally into the chest of his five-year-old son, cursing his very blood.”
Theo’s hand that was still gripping his bow shook and Malfoy gently peeled it out of his fingers. Hermione met Malfoy’s eyes again, and understanding flashed between them. As one, they wrapped their arms around their friend and let his tears fall freely for the remainder of the night.
Chapter 6: Draco
Draco felt a witch sink into the space beside him at the Slytherin table and reach for an apple. For once, he didn’t expect it to be Pansy, who had previously been the witch he was most acquainted with. As of late, Pansy’s newest fancy was Blaise Zabini. They were probably off in a broom cupboard somewhere committing acts entirely unseemly for a pureblooded heiress. Instead, Hermione Granger had recently begun taking meals with the Slytherins. Draco didn’t mind much, except for her inability to understand personal space. When she righted, the scent of coconut filled his nostrils as her bushy hair covered half his face.
“Oi! Granger! Your bloody curls are going to suffocate me!”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous, Malfoy,” she replied good-naturedly but pulled her hair into a loose ponytail. She didn’t bother wasting any more words on him before directing her attention across the table to where Theo was sat.
Draco had been watching the two of them interact over the past few weeks with great interest and growing amusement. Theo had always been warm, but when he looked at Hermione he practically shone. He’d have to be daft to miss the longing in his friend’s eyes. Draco stifled a snort with his hand, then ran his fingers through his hair.
The three of them were twenty minutes early to breakfast, which had become their habit. Draco fiddled idly with the rings on his fingers while Hermione and Theo chatted about the day’s lessons. He wasn’t much for conversation most mornings and instead chose to sip his tea and slowly stack the walls in his mind. Draco retreated into his thoughts until his friend’s voices were no more than a murmur. Once safely inside, he examined the chaos.
Images floated haphazardly, full of memories and ideas alike. To the left, he saw a younger Draco flying a small broom around the yard, Narcissa laughing a few paces away. Straight ahead stood a deadpan Draco, roughly sixteen years old, reporting something to the stern image of his father. Music flitted through the air, and the Hogwarts Express rattled in the background. Something caught Draco’s eye to the right, and he decided to begin cleanup there. It was a muggle typewriter, which was odd. He drifted over to get a closer look.
The typewriter was spewing out paper every few seconds and parchment lay in heaps on the floor. He bent down to read the top of the stack.
“1001 Insults to Draco Malfoy, as told by Lucius Malfoy” he muttered incredulously. Draco sighed and tore the sheet in half, kicking the worthless muggle machine as he did so. It only jingled and continued typing. Sometimes his mind really was intolerable. He didn’t have time for this.
With a swish of his wrist, he conjured an obsidian maze. The walls reached over fifty meters high, and dark clouds fell over the tops. Brilliant. It was time to get to work.
He vanished the infuriating typewriter far into the depths of the maze, in no hurry to read the contents of those papers. He leisurely strolled through the maze opening, placing a hand on the wall as he passed by. It was impenetrable, just how he preferred it. He took the first turn into the maze and firmly placed the image of young Draco on a broom here. It was mostly harmless, and therefore it could stay. He took another turn and arranged the image of the train here. Another turn, another memory, on and on and on. He was meticulous in his placements, making sure it appeared random in chronology but all the while protecting his most precious and most damning memories in the heart of the obsidian maze. No one had ever broken through his outer walls, but he wanted to be prepared. Voldemort had returned once, he wouldn’t put it past the Dark Wizard to do it again.
Satisfied with his mental labyrinth, Draco deftly exited his mind, Occlumency intact for the day. When he opened his now grey eyes, he was surprised to see both Theo and Hermione staring. Theo had his lips pressed tightly in a line, but Hermione appeared intrigued. Neither said a word. He heard students begin to stagger in for the morning meal. Benches scraped at the floor and conversation wafted toward their end of the room. Draco cleared his throat.
“Would you hand me the data from the Western Blot you ran last night, Granger?” Hermione straightened and dug a hand into her bulging book bag. He couldn’t make it to the lab the night before, so she had worked on the protein analysis alone. Draco was still trying to wrap his head around the complexity of muggle lab techniques. If he were feeling generous, he would admit muggle scientists were bloody brilliant.
She handed over a stapled document for him to look over. “I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, and the ELISA came out negative as well. This afternoon we can dissect the results magically to see if anything stands out.” Draco simply nodded.
During the past month, the two had perfected their theories on how to merge muggle and magical healing techniques and were in the early stages of testing it. Madam Pomfrey looked in on them every few days to monitor, but they were mostly left alone in the lab. It was grueling work. Hours of standing, running various tests and spells in the low lighting suitable for a microscope. Each day, Draco stumbled back to the Slytherin common room with various aches and stiffness. Truth be told, it was the most fun he’d had in ages. Draco shrunk the data to a more manageable size, tucked it into his bag, and turned back to the conversation.
“Where, pray tell, is the Weaslette?” Draco queried. By this time, Ginevra Weasley had usually sauntered over to gossip in Hermione’s ear about their fellow Griffindors before classes. Her charisma deeply vexed him, and he often made his escape soon after she appeared. Her smiles unnerved him, as he was sure a hex was soon to follow. So far, all of his important parts were untouched but he didn’t trust a Weasley not to hex a man during his breakfast. And he loathed that awful red hair. It burned his eyes. He scowled at the thought.
A blueberry hit his cheek, and Theodore chuckled across the table. “Ginny’s at an early-morning quidditch practice, but don’t look so pleased to hear it.” Draco turned to meet Granger’s piercing glare. He was appalled.
“Granger, did you just throw your breakfast at me?” He ignored Theodore’s spreading grin.
“Yes, and I daresay I’d do it again,” she replied with a huff. “You could at least attempt to be more cordial. Maybe you’d make more friends.”
“I have friends.”
“Do you?” She looked at him mischievously and proceeded to poke him in the side. Oh, she was insufferable. He fought to hold back the growl rising inside him.
“Yes,” he managed, “I have friends. And two is quite enough for me, thank you.” He flicked a piece of dust off of his shoulder primly and turned to face Theodore. He was confused to find a look of absolute delight on the pale face across from him. “What?” He demanded. Theo bit his lip to hide his smile. With a sigh, Hermione slung her bag across her shoulder and stood from her perch.
“You said two friends. As in one,” she pointed to Theo, “and two,” she pointed to her chest. Draco swallowed. How had he let that slip? He was a bloody idiot.
“I meant one.”
“See you in the lab, Malfoy,” she calmly replied. “Goodbye, Theo. Meet me in the library at ten?” Theo nodded. As Hermione walked around Draco, she squeezed his shoulder and dropped something onto his lap. Before he could respond, she was off.
Theo chuckled. “Good luck getting rid of her. If you remember correctly, she chose Harry and Ron and they haven’t been able to shake her in almost ten years. I believe we are her next victims.” His friend looked exhilarated at the thought, but dread filled Draco’s stomach. He glanced down at the item Hermione had dropped into his lap.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. What an odd title. And the cover looked disgustingly feminine. He rolled his eyes and tucked the small novel into his pocket. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was an exception to his non-Muggle books rule. It had been filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and an interesting contraption that could sever a person’s head without magic. This ‘Pride and Prejudice’ looked revolting, but he would at least read the first chapter to have proper material for insulting Granger’s taste. Yes, that would do.
“Come on, Theodore. Care of Magical Creatures is calling our names.” Theo stood and softly followed Draco out of the Great Hall. He coughed lightly into a handkerchief, then stowed it gracefully in his outer robe.
“Feeling alright?” Draco asked without turning. Theo had been very careful not to exert himself too much recently, and the extra rest seemed to help. There was even a bit of color in his cheeks.
“Yes, thank you.” Theo paused. “How long do you wager it would take Hagrid to notice if I charmed his beard green during the lesson today?”
Draco grinned. “I’ll bet you ten galleons it takes forty-five minutes.”
“You’re on.” The two boys shook hands and quickened their pace over the grounds.
Chapter 7: All
Hello, loves. Sorry about this one...I had a rough day.
TW: self-harm, mentions of torture and illness
Today was a bad day. It was hardly eight o’clock in the morning and she could already tell. The nightmares had her out of bed by half-past four and she had wandered the halls aimlessly until the breakfast bell. She didn’t go looking for Ginny or the Slytherin boys; she couldn’t bear to be near anyone at the moment. Instead of making her way to the Great Hall, she picked her way toward a corner of the castle and mounted a lonely set of stairs. She had no intention of going to classes today. There was a time that the mere prospect of skipping classes sent Hermione into a panic, but lately, she couldn’t be bothered. Everything they were learning was pointless. It was pointless to pretend everything was normal. Pointless to review lessons over potions she learned on her own in second year. Pointless to smile and answer questions like they weren’t in a classroom that was drenched in blood only months ago. It made her sick.
She was sitting in the owlery, surrounded by feathers and droppings. It was the only place she could think of where no one would come looking for her. No one seemed to understand that she couldn’t breathe; she was drowning. She crossed her ankles and scratched at her scarred wrist. The treatments her healers had administrated had removed the inflammation and prevented any infection, but the deplorable word remained visible. She traced the first letter lightly with her fingers.
Madness. It was madness that everyone seemed to forget that there was a war not six months ago. Madness that only she seemed incapable of moving on, incapable of a peaceful night’s sleep. When she looked around during classes, students were smiling. But not Hermione, because across the room was an empty desk. Lavender. And there–on the other end–for Colin. A choking noise caught in her throat. She moved on to the next letter.
Useless. This ‘experiment’ of hers had been useless. This play at normalcy, telling Harry and Ron that a bit of structure was just what she needed to heal. What a load of shit. It had done nothing for her but give her daily reminders of everything she’d lost. Her nostrils flared at the thought. Next.
Damaged. She was so incredibly damaged. In addition to the knife wound, she had Bellatrix to thank for extensive nerve damage after hours of the cruciatus curse. The tremors never quite left her, although she kept it well hidden under calming draughts and muscle relaxer potions. She didn’t even want to think about the mental and emotional damage she suffered from the war. That was her future therapist’s problem. She snorted and moved to the next letter.
Bastard. That bastard woman who ruined everything for her. The crazed look in her eyes and the wild hair that still gave Hermione nightmares. The voice that scared her more than any other. Next.
Lonely. She was so, so lonely. Did anyone truly understand what it was to feel this isolated? Right now, her friends sat around their tables in the Great Hall and laughed over breakfast. They did not dream of torture and death. They did not know what it was to feel unbearable pain, a pain that lingers, that lodges itself in memory until it becomes a daily phantom. She clutched her wrist involuntarily, digging her nails into the next letter.
Obliterated. Whatever girl she used to be was completely obliterated. She wasn’t sure when she had lost her. Perhaps it was when Harry had returned from the maze clutching Cedric’s body. Maybe it was when Sirius died in the Department of Mysteries. When she obliviated her parents before going on the run. When she was carved open on a drawing room floor. When Hagrid carried her best friend, dead, into the Hogwarts courtyard. When the news came, after the war, that rogue Death Eaters had found her parents and murdered them. When she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye. When most did not know what she had lost because her parents had never been a part of this world. Tears fell freely now, and she didn’t bother to wipe them away. Her nails drew blood as they carved through the next letter.
Orphan. Hermione Granger was an orphan. She plunged her nails and tore the skin of the final loathsome letter.
Draco. Hermione Granger was an orphan, but Draco Malfoy was one too. She didn’t consider why it was his situation that came to mind rather than Harry’s, whom she had been acquainted with for the past decade. She raked a glare down her mess of an arm.
Quietly, Hermione reached for her wand. She wanted it gone. Never wanted to see the vile word again, couldn’t bear to look at it for one more minute. Her wand hand shook.
The spell-work was clumsy in her sleep-deprived and nerve-ridden state, but still effective. A deep cut sliced its way down her arm from shoulder to wrist. For a split second, all was still and she could see down to her bone. She tilted her head in morbid curiosity. She wondered if it had felt that easy to slice open two muggles.
Then the moment passed, and a sea of red flooded onto the owlery floor.
Today was a bad day. When his eyes flew open, it was in panic. There was no air and he couldn’t breathe. He was drowning in his own bed. Liquid filled his gaping mouth, and he choked without sound. His legs began to thrash. He turned his head to the left. Two empty beds. One for Crabbe, one for Goyle. Both dead. They would be no help. He forced his head over to the other side. A boy slept with his arm draped over his eyes, clenching a quill.
“Dracooo…” he managed to gasp. It was so soft, he was sure he wouldn’t be heard. He was running out of time; his vision was blurring. The other boy’s eyes snapped open and he hurtled out of bed, dropping the quill. He leaped the short distance between beds and wrenched Theo violently into a sitting position. Within seconds, Draco found his wand and flicked a spell to suction out the blood filling Theo’s mouth and airway. Then he gripped Theo’s shoulders as he took his first gulp of air.
The bliss following that initial inhale lasted only a moment before the coughs began. They ravaged his body, tightening his abdominal muscles to snapping, rattling his weak lungs. His entire body seized, and with each wheeze, more blood poured out of his gaping mouth. When his thorax muscles could handle it no longer, he retched, vomit splattering all over them. Draco did not flinch but grimaced in determination at his friend. He held Theo steady for the long minutes remaining until his body calmed, too exhausted to keep expelling the blood it hated so fervently. Theo felt himself being gently pushed onto his back. The second his head hit the pillow, he passed out cold.
At six, Theo awoke for the second time that morning, this time breathing evenly. He turned his head to see a small table holding three small potions and a note. He grabbed at the paper first.
Before you read another word, down those potions for me, would you mate? The left one is a blood replenisher, the middle a pepperup potion, and the right a cough potion. I’ve left to find Professor Slughorn and let him know you’ll be missing from today’s classes, then to send an owl to St. Mungo’s for a request for your potion refill. Why didn’t you mention it ran out? Do. Not. Move. From. That. Bed.
P.S. If you move, I will be alerted immediately. I set up a ward around the perimeter. Don’t test me you twat.”
Theo rolled his eyes and sank back onto his pillows. He gave a long-suffering sigh and reached over for the first potion. Even if he had wanted to leave, he wasn’t sure he had the strength. Attacks like he’d had that morning really took it out of him. He’d be lucky to be out of bed at all the next day. He swallowed the second. Immediately, he began feeling better. Although short-lived, a pepperup potion rejuvenated. He knocked back the cough potion and set the vials back on the table. With little else to do but wait, he closed his eyes.
Today was a bad day. It was bad on so many levels, he didn’t even want to count. He practically stormed through the silent castle, searching for Slughorn. He wasn’t angry with Theo, how could he be? He was angry with the situation. Angry with Mattias Nott for using Dark Magic on his son. Angry with himself for not figuring out a cure yet. Angry at the universe for letting Draco receive a healthy body while the friend that he loved so dearly was dying before his eyes. He growled and kicked a hole through a portrait, sending the inhabitant screaming.
He tore through the hallways, finally reaching the correct door. He wrenched it open and practically spat the news to the astonished professor, and slammed the door shut on his way out. Nothing helped. No amount of noise or force gave any sort of release. He needed something more, something to lessen the pain or at least numb it.
What he wouldn’t give for some firewhiskey right now. His hands shook slightly. All his life he had been the one to clean up messes; by now he was exceptionally skilled at it. With Theo, Draco did it out of love. It never bothered him to clean up the blood or the vomit after especially grueling ‘episodes’. Watching his friend suffer was the most draining part of it all. He locked up that pain tightly though, never letting Theo see how much it hurt. With his immediate family, Draco had cleaned up messes out of fear. When his father overdrank after being scolded by Voldemort, Draco vanished the smashed glassware and glamoured his bruises so his mother wouldn’t have to see. He was afraid the evidence of Lucius’ ferocity would shatter Narcissa. A lot of good it did her. She still ended up dead.
The sound of conversation drifted down the hallway, grounding him. Breakfast must be starting in the Great Hall. He needed to get to the owlery to send a letter to St. Mungo’s. He righted himself quickly, straightening his tie and smoothing back his hair. He closed his eyes and erected the obsidian labyrinth, pushing any images of Theo’s trembling form deep within the maze. Grey stony eyes locked into place, and a cool, collected Malfoy was all that was left.
Draco adopted his usual saunter as he passed classmates hurrying in the opposite direction. He avoided curious gazes and continued on, appearing bored. After a while, he was the only one in the corridor. He dropped the swagger and quickened his pace. Time. He seemed to be always running out of time. He reached the bottom step of the tower. He would skip his classes today, too. Once he sent this letter, he would return to his dorm and stay with Theo. Theo was all that mattered. He had let himself get distracted recently, surely that was how he had missed the prescription potion running out. He rounded the final curve. Nothing else mattered but Theo. Nothing else. Nothing else–
He stepped into the scene from a nightmare. Red seeped over his custom-made boots, and he staggered towards the limp form on the cold floor.
Chapter 8: Hermione
Hermione woke with a groan, blinking in the fluorescent light. She felt horrible. She had had the most terrible dream, one of blood and despair and–
She jerked as her gaze hit her arm. It was wrapped tightly in gauze and pinned to the side of a crisp white cot. She finally realized she was most definitely not in Gryffindor housing. She must be in the hospital wing. How weird. She turned her head over with effort and looked into the frowning face of Ginny Weasley. She looked furious. In fact…Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her friend look quite so livid. She cleared her throat uncomfortably in the unblinking glare of the younger girl.
“Erm…Hello, Gin.” She tried to sound nonchalant, but her efforts were largely wasted as the redhead grew more flushed by the second. She could feel an outburst coming soon. In 3…2…1…
“HELLO? THAT’S ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY? YOU BLOODY ALMOST DIED, YOU NINNY-HEADED DOLLOP! I WAS WORRIED SICK–” Here Ginny seemed to stop herself, pushing herself back into the seat. She took a shaky breath and raise a shaking finger to point into Hermione’s wide eyes. She settled for a harsh whisper. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just put me through? Do you? What in the world were you thinking? What happened?” Hermione didn’t have an answer.
The fight died out of Ginny’s eyes and she slumped until her forehead hit the edge of the cot. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I’m so sorry. I feel as if I’ve failed you. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t even the one to find you. You were all alone, and clearly feeling so badly to resort to–to–to that, and I didn’t even realize…I’m a terrible friend.” Ginny dissolved into sobs, and Hermione tentatively ran her good hand through her friend’s hair.
“Gin…Gin you have nothing to apologize for. I just got worked up about everything. It was too much for a moment. I’m sorry, I’ll try to be better.” Ginny’s head shot up and she fixed Hermione with a determined gaze. “Next time, tell me, Hermione. You know I’ll always be here for you, right?”
“I know, Ginny. I know. I’m sorry.” At that, Ginny reached over and gave Hermione a fierce hug. They stayed that way for almost an hour, not speaking. Hermione loved that about Ginny. She understood Hermione’s need for quiet processing in a way that her brother, Ron, never had. After a while, her friend unwrapped her arms from around Hermione and stood to her feet. She announced that Madam Pomfrey said Hermione was to be released back to classes the following day, and that she was looking forward to seeing her at breakfast. Ginny wiped a stray tear and strode out of the infirmary.
Hermione sighed in relief when her friend had gone and sank into her pillows. She thought she ought to feel more remorse for the events that brought her here, but she was finding it difficult to care. She just wanted a moment to breathe in peace. If she admitted it to herself, she really wasn’t that horrified by what she had done in the owlery. It was nice to finally break. She had felt it coming for a long time now. The nightmares, the nightly haunting of the hallways to escape sleep. Her disgust with her classmates, and her inability to visit certain areas of the castle. She had read about trauma. It was actually a relief to examine herself like some case study. Her eyes fluttered closed. If anything, her little ‘escapade’ got her out of classes until tomorrow. Brilliant. She tried to fight the smirk working its way onto her face and failed.
“Smug, are we?” A cold voice echoed from the other side of the room. Hermione was so startled she wrenched herself into a sitting position, forgetting one arm was fastened tightly down. It yanked her backward so harshly that she whimpered. Malfoy’s face remained impassive and he sauntered over to her cot until he was leering down at her. Even though she thought she had gotten to know the boy in front of her over the past month, his eyes were unrecognizable now. Only grey remained in those eyes, a sign of heavy occluding. His jaw was clenched and he radiated cool fury. He leaned further, placing a hand on either side of her head, his face resting only centimeters from hers. She gasped in a shaky breath, eyes darting to his lips for a moment before jumping back to his icy glare. She couldn’t understand this Malfoy–this controlled rage that wafted off of him. She swallowed.
“Did your brave little Gryffindor heart finally fail you, Granger?” He practically growled. “Too afraid to finish the job? I see you’re still breathing, regrettable, as it is.”
Hermione couldn’t look away. She didn’t know this boy in front of her. Why was he so angry? There was no reason for him to be angry the way Ginny had been. Ginny loved Hermione, so it made sense she would be hurt. But this? This was feral. As that thought entered her head, she was slammed further into the pillows, icy fingers wrapped around her throat. She felt herself start to panic and her limbs thrashed beneath her. Malfoy simply trapped her firmly beneath himself with his other hand.
His breath tickled her ear, an odd sensation to be aware of when she should be more focused on breathing. With a shock, Hermione realized he wasn’t trying to block her airway, just get her attention. In one moment, her fear turned into something else. She didn’t want to put a name to it. The Slytherin boy kept his gaze locked on her eyes.
“Theodore is up there, dying, and I had to waste my time fixing your ridiculous pity party instead of being with him.” Malfoy loosened his grip on her throat and she gulped in a ragged breath, eyes widening even more as she processed his words. Theo. Oh, gods…Theo. He must have been having one of his bad days, and she didn’t know, and Malfoy said he had to–
She paused. It dawned on her that he had said he had ‘fixed’ her situation, which meant that he had been the one to find her. He had somehow tracked her down in the owlery and seen, well, something pretty gruesome. Before she blacked out, she definitely remembered seeing a lot of blood. She fought a wince. She hadn’t meant for anyone to witness that, especially not him. He had seen enough.
She slowly turned her head to look at the hands planted on either side of her. They were stained red. She turned back to meet his eyes.
“Malfoy. Is that my blood, or his?” She shakily asked. For a moment she thought he wouldn’t answer. He ran his tongue over his teeth and fisted his hands on the sheets. He was still holding himself above her, and the strain was showing in his quivering biceps. The air was charged with tension.
“It’s both, isn’t it?” She almost couldn’t bear to keep looking at him, but equally couldn’t bear to look away. A sliver of blue cracked through the grey of his eyes. His nostrils flared. This was the closest they had ever been, and Hermione’s heart was racing. She couldn’t tell if it was entirely out of fear anymore. Another sliver of blue cracked through.
Hermione’s gaze drifted down to Malfoy’s lips once more, and this time his eyes followed. She quickly jerked her gaze upward. At the movement, blue fully exploded in his eyes, wiping every trace of grey away. A brief look of utter desperation flitted over the boy’s face, and before she could take another breath, his lips were crashing into hers.
The kiss was violent. It was hungry. He wasn’t gentle, but neither was she. When he raked his stained fingers through her hair, he pulled at her curls to show her how painful it had been to find both her and his best mate so close to death on the same day. When she dug her nails into his back, she wanted him to feel the hurt she felt in the owlery, faced with the truth of her parents’ deaths, the isolation of being truly alone in a world that killed them. He bit her lips until they bled, and she sucked at his neck until he was bruised purple.
With urgency, Malfoy ripped open her blouse and ravaged her torso with his lips until Hermione was gasping for air. Impatiently, she yanked his face back up to hers and pressed her lips to his. More. More. More. Their limbs were tangled, but he deftly navigated around her injured arm. She twisted his platinum locks until he let out a guttural moan, and nipped at her ear in response. She shivered. He was consuming her. How could she have contemplated dying only hours ago? This–this was living. She was on fire. He was burning her up.
A set of steps echoed from around the corner, jolting the two out of their passionate embrace. Malfoy leaped off of the cot and straightened his shirt. She watched in fascination as he closed his eyes. When they opened again, grey was firmly in place. Without a glance her way, Malfoy stalked out of the infirmary doors, leaving Hermione to hastily pull the sheets over her ruined shirt before Madam Pomfrey came to check on her. After a quick inspection of her arm, Madam exited once more, leaving Hermione alone. Surprisingly, she didn’t feel quite so empty.
Chapter 9: Hermione
“How is he?” She figured this was a safe subject to bring up with the stony boy beside her. Malfoy had his hand fisted around his wand as he worked on an intricate spell. She had already decided that under no circumstances would she bring up the kiss. Absolutely not. It was far too confusing and made her feel far too many things. But Theo…Theo was a safe subject. Both of them were clearly invested in his well-being, so it was a relatively practical approach to conversation.
“Fine.” It was essentially a grunt. Still broody, then. Brilliant. Hermione gave a long sigh.
“I didn’t know he was having an episode that morning. I’m sorry I pulled you from him.” It had been five days since the day she ended up in the infirmary. Five days since she tried to cut out her pain. Five days since Malfoy pressed his lips to hers– no, she would NOT think of that. And it had been five days since she and Malfoy had spoken. Frustrated, she had sent an owl to request his presence in the lab to resume their research today. Surprisingly he had acquiesced. Although by looking at his current mood, she had a sneaking feeling that Theodore had a hand in Malfoy’s appearance.
“I know.” He finally responded. Hermione risked a glance at him. His eyes were firmly focused on the lab table in front of him. She didn’t have a good view, but she assumed he was occluding. Heavily.
She tried again. “And I’m sorry you found me. I never apologized for that. I know you’ve seen far too much bloodshed in your lifetime. I didn’t mean to add to that.”
His wand clattered to the table and he muttered a curse under his breath. “Shut up, Granger.”
She turned back to her microscope.
Determined to ignore him if he insisted on being so difficult, she squinted into the eyepiece. Once again, she was examining a sample of Theo’s blood. For the first few weeks, it was just a jumbled mess of cells. Thankfully, Malfoy had recently developed a spell to strip the blood sample down and separate the cells into groups of likeness. Today she had a slide in front of her labeled ‘Unknown bacillus’. Malfoy hadn’t had the muggle scientific background to properly identify the species, so it was up to her.
With a flick of her pointer finger, Hermione rotated the fine adjustment knob to clarify the image. There they were–a clump of adorable little bacilli. A few years ago, she had read up on various staining techniques, and the plan for today was to figure out which one worked. First up was one of the basic ones: the Gram Stain.
She silently prepared the reagents, including iodine, crystal violet, ethanol, and fuchsin solution. Hopefully, after applying the stain some results would be visible. Minutes passed, and she risked a glance over at the Slytherin boy. He still faced away, back muscles tense. She rolled her eyes and peered at her slide. Nothing.
“Stupid slide!” She grunted in frustration. Malfoy didn’t deem her interruption worthy of his attention. She muttered some rather colorful curses concerning Salazar himself and his intolerable pureblooded friends. She’d have to try a different staining technique then. She tapped her pointer finger on her lip in thought. If the Gram Stain didn’t work, that meant this species of bacterium was acid-fast. Perhaps the Smithwick method then?
“Accio acridine orange,” she murmured. The dye flew into her outstretched hand and she reorganized her materials. She flicked her wand at the muggle microscope, transfiguring the normal light into an ultraviolet source. She had a sneaking suspicion this particular bacteria was pompous and needed some extra attention. Quite like someone else she knew. Her eyes darted again and caught Malfoy sneaking a glance her way before facing the wall again. Her lips turned up in amusement. Not as uninterested as we seem, are we?
Without turning, she snapped to get Malfoy’s attention.
“Granger, did you just snap at me like a dog?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she waved him over without taking her eyes from the ocular lenses.
“Fascinating…” The bacilli were taking to the dye quite nicely.
Malfoy sighed behind her and sauntered up to her desk. “What is it.” His voice was flat, but she was too distracted to care. Her mind was sprinting, sorting through all of the common bacteria she knew to be bacilli. The rod-shaped bacterium looked eerily familiar. Almost like…
“Merlin.” She whispered. She jerked back and smacked the back of her head on Malfoy’s chin. He gave a dignified yelp of pain before tackling her to the ground.
“What the hell, Granger!” She could only gasp in surprise at the suddenness of being knocked flat on her back. She blinked stupidly into his grey eyes and realized belatedly that he was, in fact, occluding. His grip tightened on her arms as he frowned down at her. “Must I repeat myself?”
She shook her head and pushed him off of her. “Come here.” Hermione’s voice was hardly louder than a mumble, but he followed her to the microscope. She beckoned for him to hurry, and shoved his face down to the lenses. “Look,” she commanded. For once, he didn’t argue. After a moment, he cleared his throat.
“Granger dear, this is a lovely yellow shade you’ve cultured, but I’m not quite sure how this helps us.”
“This is the Smithwick test.”
“On an acid-fast bacillus.”
“And this is significant, why?”
She sighed in frustration. “Well, I’m not going to pretend to know everything–” Malfoy gasped in mock horror, “--but there is only one acid-fast bacterium that glows yellow under UV light in a Smitchwick test.” She paused and looked over at Malfoy expectantly. Irritatingly, he looked unimpressed.
“And? Do you care to share with the class?”
She took a deep breath. She really hoped she was wrong. Really, really hoped. “I believe our sample is a form of mycobacterium.” He simply blinked at her. Microbiology was not often brought up in wizarding education, pity though it was. Before he could ask any other questions, she wanted to be certain. “We need an Interferon Gamma Release Assay. Give me a moment.”
Hermione rushed out of the small lab, leaving a befuddled Malfoy behind. She needed to find Madam Pomfrey, and quickly. Surely the older witch would know how to get her hands on the equipment she needed. After locating Madam in her small office, Hermione made her obscure request. The matron argued back and forth with her for a few minutes, but after Hermione slid over a sheet with her recent data and hypotheses, Madam Pomfrey gave in.
“If the headmistress comes down here demanding to know why so many school galleons were used, I’ll be forwarding her to you .” Hermione nodded eagerly and bounced on the balls of her feet as she watched Madam send an order request via owl. “Come back tomorrow evening. The assay should be ready for you then.”
When Hermione re-entered their makeshift lab, she saw Malfoy burying his nose in a textbook. He looked up sharply when he heard her approach.
“You know, you’re pretty rubbish at explaining anything. I had to check this grubby book’s glossary to find out what a mycobacterium was.”
“Just because I bought the textbook used doesn’t mean it’s rubbish.” Malfoy’s nose crinkled and if possible, his frown deepened even more. She couldn’t help but giggle. The poor boy looked absolutely violated.
She went on to explain they were waiting on some equipment to arrive and would have to postpone running more tests until tomorrow. Then she tried to fill in any holes in his knowledge of mycobacterium as well as various staining techniques. Malfoy was fascinated with the prospect of UV lights and kept poking at the one she had transfigured. Finally, she had to tell him to stop out of concern for his burning skin. Although he never dropped his mental walls, he did seem to relax a bit after a while, and she was grateful for it. No matter how much she tried to deny it, she had begun to rely on their friendship, as well as Theo’s.
Around eight o’clock, she cleared her throat once more. “Erm…Malfoy?”
“Yes…well, about earlier this week–”
“Just forget it, Granger.” He was looking at the ground, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. She wanted to reach for him but quickly squashed the idea. Instead, she gathered up equipment to put away.
“I can’t forget it.” She flicked off the microscope. “I can’t forget it, Malfoy. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to me. For a second there…I lost hope. I let myself get too angry, feel too alone, and then I made a self-destructive decision and left you to pick up the pieces. And I’m so, terribly, sorry.” She felt a cold hand wrap around her elbow and guide her to set down the glass slides she was cleaning vigorously. He gently led her to a chair and knelt to be at eye level. A beautiful crack of blue sliced through his irises. He didn’t speak but brushed his thumb along the line of her jaw. After a moment, she closed her eyes and leaned into the touch.
Somehow, this was enough. At this moment, she understood that she was seen . That when he said to forget it, he didn’t mean that he didn’t care. He meant that he wasn’t angry with her; he meant that he had been frightened. He meant that as long as both she and Theo were alright, he was alright, and it was enough. She felt herself smiling.
Malfoy pulled away and straightened up to his full height. He had an unreadable expression on his face. “Theodore is waiting for you tonight. He would be delighted if you would visit him.” Without another word, the sliver-haired boy slipped out of the laboratory, leaving Hermione gazing towards the door.
Chapter 10: Theodore
I mention this later, but the song Theo plays is Bach's Partita No. 2 in D Minor. It's a lovely violin piece that I listened to while writing this bit. Feel free to listen as you read, it's one of my favorites. As always, thank you to everyone who gives this story a chance, and happy reading.
There was nothing special about this old classroom, Theo supposed. It was actually quite small compared to typical rooms used for lessons; if you looked very closely at the ceiling you would find a thin strip of mold creeping through the stone. The window was nothing spectacular, only allowing a meter of light through. It was shockingly chilled, even in warmer months; the only adornments offered was a subtle layer of dust breaking only where Theo’s footprints pressed into the floor. The silence was weighty, as this wing of the castle was all but abandoned. In short, Theodore loved it.
He appreciated a deserted, bare, thing. It was honest. The abandoned classroom did not try to hide its flaws with pretty colors or lush carpets. It could not help but be exactly what it was: a desolate, cold, forgotten space; Theo knew the feeling.
He found this classroom accidentally during second year. Really, he had been searching for the rumored “Come and Go Room”. Whispers of a place where you could not be found had intrigued him. His entire life, Theo had wished for a place to disappear. Disappear from his horrible father, from the expectations of pureblood society, and for a moment, even to disappear from his illness. Perhaps it would be a room without mirrors, so he could avoid the bruised evidence of his father’s fury. Perhaps it would be a room full of firewhiskey, so he could forget everything for a while. Perhaps it would be a room that would finally take him out of his misery. Whatever it would be, Theo couldn’t help but go looking. He tucked his violin under his elbow (it was really the only possession he cared for), and searched for hours. Finally, the consistent walking showed its effect on his frail frame, and he had collapsed outside a closed door, far from prying eyes. He had clutched his beloved instrument to his chest and cursed his incessant curiosity, praying that Draco would find him here and help him back to the common room.
While waiting, Theo had gone to lean against the door frame. To his surprise, it jostled open, spilling him onto the floor; it took a full minute for him to struggle to his elbows and look around. His first impression was that it was a horrid place, much too cold for someone like him. He waited, staring at the walls in frustration. By this point, his coughing made it impossible for him to stand. Laying back on the putrid floor, he pulled out his beautiful violin. It was his mother’s. Before her death, Theo had no interest in learning the instrument. Pureblooded men were not supposed to have callused fingers, and the young Theodore had scoffed at his mother’s hobby. After she passed, the violin was all he had left of her. Learning music began as an obsession. He memorized all of her favorite ballads in desperation, but after a while, that desperation became something wholly different. By the age of seven, Theo realized why this instrument had captivated his mother. It was lovely–this music had the ability to transform even the ugliest of circumstances into something more. And he needed something more. Something more than being the victim of his father’s hatred. Something more than the reality of death, constantly hovering over his shoulder. Something more than magic, even.
This idea of something more rushed over Theo as he lay on the dank stone flooring for the first time, and he began to play. He realized just as music had transformed his own life into something so much more than he ever expected it to be, his music could transform this ridiculous classroom into something more. He played for hours, never moving off of the floor. The position was awkward, his chin pointed at a laughable angle, but the young Slytherin couldn’t bring himself to care. He smiled, for the first time in what felt like years, and assaulted the abandoned hallway with his mother’s favorite melodies. That was how Draco had found him that first time, and after that day the boys frequented the old classroom every few days. Sometimes Theodore would go alone, but more often the two of them sat quietly away from all expectations and prejudices and listened to Theo’s music. It was peaceful. It was enough.
Today, Theo stepped over to the window and tenderly plucked at the old violin’s strings. He hadn’t been back to his spot in six days now because of his episode. He had missed it. He took in a slow breath of the icy air filtering through the window’s slit. After a few moments of silence, he brought the instrument to his chin and closed his eyes. A low, graceful melody began. It was one he knew well, and a faint smile broke onto his face. His mother had loved Bach most, so it was often one of his pieces that came to mind.
He heard the door behind him creak open and knew at once it was Hermione.
“Don’t stop.” She whispered, leaning against the wall. Theo continued. The two of them remained that way for the next half hour. The single torch Theo had lit flickered, casting images of a witch and a wizard, alive against all odds and enjoying each other’s company. He had no idea what hour it was but didn’t care. The suite rose to a crescendo, then faded into nothing. Setting his bow down carefully and placing the violin next to it, Theo gently sank onto the floor next to Hermione.
“Hello.” His voice came out roughly from disuse. Her eyes remained shut, but she smiled at him.
“What was that one?”
He shifted to set an elbow on one knee as he gazed at her. Her curls were tied in a loose knot atop her head, wand pushed through to hold them secure. She looked so peaceful, so beautiful. She was breathtaking.
“Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor.” Her eyes fluttered open at that, and she met his eyes in confusion.
“You know muggle classical music?”
Theo couldn’t help but laugh as he reached over to entwine their hands. She squeezed his fingers lightly. “I do know some, but Bach was not a muggle composer.” Her eyes widened in surprise. “Bach was a wizard!” Theo only nodded in amusement. Hermione leaned in closer.
When she looked away, Theo contemplated the witch beside him. “Are you feeling better?” He finally asked. Draco had not mentioned her much this week as Theo recovered in their dorm, but he had said that Hermione only did not visit due to taking ill.
Hermione jolted in place. “Feeling better?” She repeated quickly, scanning Theo’s face for something. Perhaps she felt guilty for not meeting in their regular study sessions, but of course that was not her fault. He cursed at himself internally for bringing it up. “Draco mentioned you had fallen ill this week.”
She blinked. “Theo, I daresay you’ve been more ill than I. No need to worry,” she squeezed his fingers again before leaning her head on his shoulder. He let the topic drop and gently tugged on a loose curl, wrapping it around and around his pointer finger. He could not remember ever feeling so comfortable with anyone, even Draco. With Hermione, he felt no need to say the right thing or fill in the awkward silences. Everything heavy felt somehow lighter when she was near, and he could not get enough of her. And sometimes–the way she looked at him took his breath away. Suddenly, a sense of dread filled his chest. What game was he playing at? How long could this truly last? He knew what he felt for her was something deep, something grand, something only his music could adequately express. He had never been good with words like Draco, but that did not mean he could not understand the feelings for himself. Yet when he looked at her, she was so vibrant, and he was anything but.
“Theo?” Her voice broke him out of his reverie. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
He let his eyes drift from the soft brown curls to her lovely lips and up again to meet her questioning eyes. “Hermione,” he swallowed, “I believe I am once again realizing how little time I may have left. This week was difficult…without Draco there, I easily could have lost–”
She tried to interrupt, but he placed his free hand on her arm. “I know you are ready to argue, it’s your enchanting little Gryffindor heart,” she scowled at him, “but it is the truth. I was never meant to live very long, and I’m definitely not getting better.”
“But Malfoy and I are really making progress in the lab, we just need a bit more time!”
He couldn’t help but grin at that. The two of them would probably fight for him until the end, and he had no doubt Hermione would duel Death himself. “Even so, I feel it’s only fair to you to remind you that I am a ticking clock, winding down. I’m not sure exactly what we have,” here he met her eyes intently, “but if you feel even a fraction of what I feel, I don’t want you to waste your time on someone who is expiring.”
Hermione paled. She understood then, good. It was for the best if she placed her affections elsewhere, in a more sustainable investment. Still, the thought of losing her, when he truly did not even have her, made his chest feel so tight he could hardly breathe. He hung his head.
“Theodore, look at me.”
He looked up warily, to find her eyes flashing. “I am only going to say this once, do you understand?” He slowly nodded, fearing the worst.
“I am exceptionally gifted in many things, Theodore, including healing, muggle biomedical sciences, and charmwork. Do not doubt my abilities in the laboratory. If I am determined to find a cure for you, I will.” She glared at him, daring him to disagree. “But regardless of if Malfoy and I find a solution, I never cared. I never cared that you had this ghastly blood curse, never cared that you had a different burden to bear than most. We all have baggage Theo, yours just happens to be more physical than most. All I know is that I wish to be a part of your life as long as you’ll have me, in any way that you’ll have me. Friend or…something more.”
Her words echoed in his mind, over and over and over. Something more. Something more. It was exactly the phrase he had spoken in the silence to himself his entire life.
“I would have you, Hermione Granger,” he managed to choke out. She smiled and gently brushed a stray hair off of his forehead.
“Play something for me.”
He had never reached for his violin so quickly.
Chapter 11: Hermione
TW: mentions of scientific practices that may or may not be accurate leading to immense angst by smarty-pants
sorry, I'm not a professional haha
“Oh, yeah, real dignified of you, Granger.”
“I said shut up, Malfoy! I’m trying to focus.”
“Well if you don’t know how to use the muggle science thingy, that’s all you have to say.”
“I know how to use it! I’m just trying to…calibrate it.”
“Just admit it, you’ve never used a bloody ass-slay before.”
“It’s an assay!” She was shrieking at this point.
She scowled at him. How did he even remember that from first year? The phrase was so like the muggle “tomato, tomato” phrase that she was genuinely unnerved. He was always surprising her, she just hadn’t determined if that was a good thing or not.
“Just hand me my wand, will you?” Thankfully, he obliged. She tried not to look at his face. She was almost certain he was wearing his famous smirk. The equipment had come in the next day, just like Madam Pomfrey had promised, but Hermione couldn’t seem to get it to work. Every time she set it up, it seemed to be working fine. Then she would load Theo’s sample and everything would go wrong, like the machine was short-circuiting or something. She and Malfoy had been working on it for hours now, and it was well past one in the morning. She was exhausted and exasperated, but mostly a sense of urgency was rising in her gut. Spending time with Theo was wonderful last night. They had finally established a relationship that was more than just friends, and she was so incredibly happy, but now everything felt too real.
Theo was running out of time, and she was wasting valuable seconds fiddling with this stupid assay. Hermione slammed her fist on the table in frustration.
“Hey,” Malfoy reached over and gently pushed her away from the table, “we’ll get it to work. Go sit down for a moment, and I’ll have a go at it.” Hermione didn’t even bother arguing that there was no way Malfoy would know what to do with muggle equipment and sank into a chair. He pulled out his wand and began running a complicated diagnostic test. With his back to her, he cleared his throat.
“So…how did it go with Theo last night?”
She stared at his spellwork. On one side, the charm turned a violent red, blinking a strange symbol. Before she could read it, Malfoy flicked his wrist and muttered something under his breath. It turned an icy blue. She had no idea what he was doing. Madam Pomfrey taught her how to run diagnostics on patients during her sixth year as a precaution. Madam had believed there would be a day that Hermione might need basic healing knowledge to help Harry. How right she was. Malfoy’s diagnostic was nothing like the ones she knew, however. She stood and shuffled closer to inspect it.
“Well?” Malfoy grunted, not taking his eyes off of his work. She had forgotten to reply. “Oh,” she stuttered, “sorry. It was great, thanks.” He glanced to the side, lifting an eyebrow.
“It was great, thanks?” He repeated. She slapped his arm, sending a ripple through the sprawling charm above them. “What do you want me to say, Malfoy? That my time with Theo was lovely because he is lovely and his music is lovely and he makes me feel lovely?”
Malfoy faked a gag and lowered his wand. She chuckled. “That’s what I thought.”
For a moment, it struck Hermione how odd this conversation was. Before this term, she could never boast even a casual friendship with any Slytherins, but here she was, talking about her feelings with Draco Malfoy. How the tables had turned. Although Malfoy was intolerable most of the time, he definitely had his moments. After all, he was helping her with this research project and she didn’t think it was only for his love for Theo. Sometimes, she suspected he actually enjoyed her company.
“I think he likes me.”
Malfoy choked. He actually choked and had to grip the table to steady himself. His usually pale complexion was flushed with surprise. “Granger, I believe that might be an understatement,” he managed.
Hermione couldn’t hide her grin. “You think?”
He nodded and turned away. “Theo speaks of hardly anything but you, Granger.” His voice had taken on a rough tone. “You’d have to be daft not to see the way he looks at you.”
She couldn’t see his eyes. She needed to see them. Something felt odd about his response, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. An image of him, trapping her hands above her head in the infirmary flitted into her mind. She aggressively suppressed the thought. Absolutely not. Part of her believed she had imagined that entire interaction all those nights ago.
“What is it, Granger?” He didn’t turn.
“Do you mind if Theo and I have something between us?” Her words came out in a rush, as she wasn’t sure she could get them all out if she slowed down. Her cheeks were burning before she even finished.
Slowly, so slowly, Malfoy looked over his shoulder at her. The icy grey sent a shiver down her spine. “Why in Merlin’s name would I care what is going on between you and Theo?”
Hermione stumbled back a step at the flat words. She was shocked by the abrupt change that came over him; she couldn’t understand it. Why did he always have to be so hot and cold? It was like there were two versions of Malfoy that couldn’t quite merge. One second he was the intelligent, quick-witted boy who loved his friends fiercely and the next, he was a callous mirror of his murderous deceased father. It was maddening.
“So I’ve been told.”
She rolled her eyes. “Occluding every time you don’t like the way a conversation has gone is incredibly immature.”
He scoffed. “You don’t know anything, Granger.”
“Oh, I know some things.”
“Hmm, like what? Like how to use an assay?”
“Don’t change the–”
“I figured it out.”
“--subject, Malfoy.” It took a full fifteen seconds for Hermione’s brain to process his last words. Her mouth parted in disbelief. “You what?”
He looked much too smug for her liking. “I figured it out. The assay.”
“Am I still insufferable?”
Hermione closed her eyes and counted to ten, taking deep breaths. “Fine. Show me.” This argument could wait until later. Excitement was already trickling into her chest at the prospect of a breakthrough. She checked the digital watch on her wrist. 2:17.
Malfoy sauntered up to the machine and placed Theo’s sample in the slot. She started to protest but he silenced her with a gesture. After checking the placement, he pulled out his wand and began a series of motions, aiming a charm at the assay itself. His movements were delicate, beautiful even.
He whispered what sounded like a modified piertotum locomotor . With a jolt, she realized he was trying to animate the machine. She had to admit he was brilliant. All this time, she had been desperately trying to test the blood of a wizard with muggle means…but Theo’s blood was suffering from the use of dark magic. Not to mention the regular magic coursing through his veins. Of course the assay continued to break down. The magic in the sample was probably too much for it to handle. She watched the spell unfold in wonder. A light glow emanated from the sample, and a deep rumble began. It was working.
“Sweet Salazar Malfoy…you’re incredible.” There really wasn’t anything else to say. He did it. Now they only had to wait for about twenty-four hours to find the results. He glanced over at her.
“Granger, are you feeling ill?”
“What?” She couldn’t help but feel confused. Did she look weird or something?
He chuckled. “I just don’t think you’ve ever complimented me like that before. I was worried for a moment that you had come down with something.”
Once again, she whacked his arm, but there was no heat in it. She grinned at him. For a second, a thin crack of blue cut through his eyes as he grinned back at her.
“So, out of curiosity, what exactly is this machine supposed to do? You never told me.”
“It is a blood test that confirms whether or not a patient has the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis . It’s the bacterium that causes the muggle disease we often call TB. It’s a nasty bugger, and likes to attack the lungs, leading to loss of blood through coughing, vomiting, etc. I first realized that Theo’s symptoms were similar to TB a while back, and now we have the means of confirming it.”
“Why haven’t I heard of this disease before, is it very rare?”
She thought for a moment. “I suppose TB is relatively rare in wizarding society, as most diseases are easily curable through magic. There was a time in muggle history when loads of people died from tuberculosis. Even now with modern medicine, it is a nasty thing. Thankfully, antibiotics were developed, which mostly makes it curable nowadays. The worst cases come from those that have a mutated form of the bacterium. Mutated bacteria can be resistant to antibiotics. That’s what I thought might have happened to Theo.”
“That doesn’t make sense though. Theo is ill because his father cursed his blood.”
“What do you mean, possibly? He’s not a liar!” Malfoy retorted incredulously. She raised her hands to placate him.
“Whoa there, Malfoy. I didn’t mean he had lied. I just meant that perhaps Theo had caught the disease, but it hadn’t had time to develop symptoms. Perhaps when his father cursed him, the curse targeted the nastiest thing already inside him and mutated it into something nastier. Blood curses feed on weakness, and latch onto anything that might make them more potent. It’s just a theory of mine. That’s why we’re running this test anyway. I could be completely wrong.”
Malfoy just blinked at her, face paling. After a moment, he fell to his knees, fists clenched. The assay buzzed behind them. She didn’t know what to do, if he needed to be comforted or if he was angry with her. Sometimes, Malfoy was so volatile that she couldn’t discern the best course of action. She stood frozen in place, waiting for his next move. The seconds ticked on.
Finally, Malfoy jerked out a hand, clasping it around her wrist. “Granger.”
She swallowed harshly. “Yes, Malfoy?”
His eyes fluttered shut and he took a ragged breath. “What do we do if this test comes back positive if you’re right?”
He sounded so lost, nothing like the self-assured boy she had come to know. She gently lowered herself to be at his eye level and wrapped her own fingers around his wrist.
“Well…then I suppose we’re going to figure out a cure for a magical superbug.”
Chapter 12: Hermione
TW: mentions of abuse
Hermione woke with a horrible crick in her neck and checked the time. 5:28 a.m. She groaned and blindly reached over to her bedside table. It took a few tries, but she located her wand and the small paperback and drew them into the warmth of her quilt. Ginny’s steady breathing was the only sound in the darkened room. Hermione pulled her bed hangings shut and cast lumos to light the pages in front of her. Last night, she nicked the copy of Pride and Prejudice from Malfoy’s school bag before leaving. With his reading pace, he had surely finished it by then and she’d been craving a reread.
She flipped through to her favorite part. There really was no equivalent to Mr. Darcy. Jane came up with the most charming romantic confessions. All her life, Hermione had dreamed of finding someone willing to chase after her. Someone who admired her brain and loved her soul. The depth of these literary romances was what she was lacking, and Ron was never going to fill that void inside her. Seriously, the boy couldn’t even turn in his homework; it was a blessing their relationship had fizzled out on its own.
An incessant itching pulled her out of her peaceful reading and her attention flitted to her forearm. No need to pull up her sleeve, she already knew what would be there. A new scar settled over the old. It was a jagged line, courtesy of her nails, crossing through the eight letters. She couldn’t help but be a little pleased with the results even though she was ashamed at the same time. Madam Pomfrey had made her two balms to apply daily–one to help with the itching and another to lessen any scarring from her claw marks. She only used one of them. The new scars could stay. After applying a generous amount of the former, she dragged herself out of bed and quickly dressed in jeans and a jumper. It was Saturday, but she needed to head to the library to catch up on some assignments. Working in the lab had taken most of her time and she didn’t want to fall behind in her classes; Mcgonagall was sure to complain if she missed any more due dates.
The walk to the library was relatively undisturbed. Every few turns she would say good morning to a portrait; by now they all seemed to know her. Before she reached the library doors, a painting of a woman drinking a goblet of wine beckoned for her to come over.
“Good morning,” Hermione said pleasantly. The woman leaned her face over, eyes wide. “Hermione dear, how wonderful to see you!” She slurred a bit as she continued, “there’s someone waiting for you in your normal spot.”
Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed doubtfully, “Surely not, this early in the morning?” The woman nodded energetically. “Oh yes! She’s been there for half an hour already.”
She? Hermione had no idea what female would be waiting for her if Ginny was snoring softly upstairs. She thanked the portrait anyway and quickened her pace. Sure enough, a head of dark flowing hair faced away from Hermione’s approaching figure, lithe fingers tapping on the desk. As she neared the young girl, she recognized the student as Pansy Parkinson. A thin emerald headband rested in her flowing locks, keeping the strands out of her face. The sharp nails were painted a matching green, which was hardly surprising. Of course, Parkinson would show up to the library on a weekend looking fabulous. Hermione self-consciously tugged at her fraying jumper and cleared her throat.
Pansy turned and slowly ran her gaze over Hermione, face impassive. At the end of her once-over, the witch’s mouth twitched upwards and she jerked her head to invite Hermione to take the seat across from her. For a long moment, the two witches simply stared at each other. Hermione had no idea what to say. She cleared her throat.
“Erm…Margot told me you were waiting here for me?”
Hermione immediately cringed. Of all the things she could have said, she mentioned her conversation with the drunk portrait. Well done. Now Parkinson was going to think she was even weirder than she already did.
“Nothing,” she hastily replied. “What are you doing here so early?”
Pansy crossed her arms in a way that exuded around two hundred percent more confidence than Hermione had felt in her entire existence. “Come to the party in the Slytherin common room tonight.”
Hermione could only gape at the other girl. Assuredly she was hallucinating. Pansy started making some sort of gravelly noise in her throat; Hermione was horrified to realize it was laughter.
“What?” She sputtered.
Pansy continued to chuckle. “I said come to the party tonight. I’m inviting you.”
This had to be a trap, and her eyes darted around for an escape route. “Oh lighten up, Granger, the war is over. I’ve seen you spending a lot of time with Draco and Theo, so you can’t be all bad, and quite frankly I’m curious. So come. Show me what you got.”
What an odd start to the morning. She shook her head to clear it. “Why did you come here so early?” She was repeating her previous question, but couldn’t help it. Apparently, the world was determined not to make any sense, much to Hermione’s chagrin.
Pansy sighed, “Honestly, I thought the only way you’d speak to me was if I surprised you, and I wanted to make sure no one else was around in case you hexed me. I detest being embarrassed publicly.”
Oh gods, was that a compliment? Hermione couldn’t help the smile that slipped onto her face. She’d already adopted two Slytherins, what was one more? “Alright…I suppose if I don’t have any other plans I could make an appearance.”
“Great.” Pansy started to get up. “Make sure you look good, though. I want to see the boys’ jaws drop to the floor.”
“Oh…I’m not sure it would really matter much to Malfoy. Theo maybe.” Pansy chuckled again. “I thought you were supposed to be smart, Granger. Regardless, try to look hot, okay? Maybe tie back that bushy mane of yours and apply a little blush. Oh, and I bet you look great in green.” She smiled deviously.
Hermione tugged on a loose curl. “I thought you hated me.”
“Yeah, well, I did, but I appreciate you befriending my boys. They’ve pretty much pushed everyone else away.”
“Do you have any gloves?” The question seemed to startle the other girl, but she turned, sitting back down with grace. Her eyes were pinned on Hermione’s forearm, and a glower was blooming across her features. Neither of the girls said anything for a while, and neither tore their gaze from her left sleeve. Pansy knew about Malfoy Manor, then.
“You don’t need gloves, Granger.” Pansy finally spoke, reaching for the edge of her sleeve to examine the cuts beneath it. Slowly, she dragged a finger over each letter. Hermione tried to argue, but Pansy cut her off. “No, I mean it. We all have scars. You don’t need to hide it from the Slytherins. I know you probably feel like you especially need to hide it there, but the reality is most of the kids in that room can probably relate to you more than your fellow Gryffindors will ever be able to.”
The transparency shocked Hermione. “What on earth do you mean?”
Pansy sighed and pulled the jumper sleeve back down, avoiding her gaze. “You think the Death Eaters were monsters? Well, they were also parents. You were a stranger to them, Granger. Imagine how they treated family.”
Horror trickled into Hermione’s chest, and she felt a tightness of guilt. She had never really considered what all of those Slytherin children experienced growing up. It was easy to assume they were all arrogant racist heirs, doted on by their wealthy parents. Perhaps those things were partially correct, but it was naive of her to believe that was all there was to them.
“Do you want to see mine?” Hermione’s eyes widened. “It’s only fair anyway. I saw yours.”
Without waiting for a response, Pansy stood from her seat and lifted her expensive sweater over her head, leaving her only in a lacy monogrammed bralette. Hermione’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment, but the other girl looked unfazed. Pansy rotated to display her pale back. Hermione couldn’t help the gasp that escaped her mouth, and her hand shot up to cover it.
It was appalling. Deep milky scars zig-zagged down the girl’s spine like lightning. Hermione jerked up from her chair and rushed over to get a closer look. Tentatively, she reached out a hand and pressed a finger on the longest line. Pansy sucked in a breath, and shakily let it out as Hermione continued to trace the dozens of scars.
“Who did this to you?”
Pansy laughed darkly. “Birthday presents from my father.”
“But why are there so many?”
“Sometimes, he’d ‘forget’ when my birthday was. He gave me extra to make sure he hadn’t missed it by accident.”
Hermione pressed her palm against the exposed back. She felt horrible. Horrible that her one experience with torture had affected her so much when there were children who had experienced worse their entire lives . Over and over and over. She started shaking.
Pansy turned around. “Hey, whoa there, Gryffindor. I didn’t mean to trigger anything for you, just wanted to know you weren’t the only one who felt marred.”
“Pansy, I’m so sorry, for me it was only one time, and I’ve been so dramatic about it when you–”
“Let me stop you right there, Granger.” Pansy shook Hermione’s shoulders to get her to look at her. “Your trauma is just as valid as mine. Neither of them should have happened at all. You’re allowed to hurt as much as you need.”
Hermione looked at the girl in front of her in wonder. All these years she had hated her, assuming she was a shallow, conniving heiress. She had been so incredibly wrong.
“Come tonight. Wear something sleeveless. Show off your scars, just as I will.”
Hermione nodded and watched Pansy pull her sweater back over her head.
“See you at eight.” With that, the Slytherin strolled out of the library, swishing her hips as she went. Hermione pulled out her textbooks and tried to focus on her homework, but it took her most of an hour to get the image of Pansy’s back out of her mind.
Chapter 13: Draco
“Theodore, if you’re going to wear a tie that crooked, don’t bother wearing one at all.”
Theo flipped Draco off over his shoulder and tugged on the silk tie, begging it to right itself. His friend had never quite mastered the Windsor Knot. It was a tragedy, really.
Draco flicked an invisible fleck of dusk off of his pristine black button-down. No tie for him tonight. He preferred to look like he couldn’t be bothered. This was a lie, of course. He had spent over an hour perfecting his look. It took time to look this bloody gorgeous.
“Toss me that cologne, will you?”
Theo reached for the amber-colored glass and chucked it over his bed. Draco reflexively snatched it out of the air before it could collide with anything important. “Thanks.”
“Smelling nice for anyone in particular?” Theo asked innocently. He wasn’t fooling anyone, Draco could hear the smile in his tone.
“Missing a button for anyone in particular?” Draco couldn’t help but quip back. Theo groaned as he spotted the empty hole in his shirt and redid the fastens. Draco chuckled and sauntered over to his friend. “Honestly, mate, you’ve got to pull yourself together. Granger’s nice, but even she would comment on the state of your shirt.” He graciously straightened the stubborn tie, nodding at Theo’s appreciative look.
Tonight was Slytherin’s winter formal. No expense was too great when it came to this event, and only the finest decor and drinks were ordered in. Slytherin House knew how to have a good party. A knock sounded on the door, and Draco left Theo to fuss with his unruly curls to answer it. He opened it to see a grinning face, pressed into the frame.
“Zabini,” he drawled before the tall boy pulled him into a tight hug.
“Malfoy!” The dark-skinned boy said joyfully. Blaise released Draco and pushed through the doorway to bother Theo in the corner. Draco sighed and pulled his sleeves into their proper place. The two boys were already joking about something across the room. Theo had always had a soft spot for Blaise; his smiles were undeniably contagious. For some reason, no matter how sour Draco’s moods were, Blaise never seemed to mind. He supposed there was something admirable in the consistency.
“All ready, boys?” Draco called. Theo and Blaise hurried over and the three of them exited the dorm, heading down the wooden staircase. As they made the final turn, they were bombarded with the sounds of a party already in full swing. A low bass was gently shaking the railings, and Draco shared a grin with Theo. No Slytherin could resist a good party.
Draco strode down the final steps, a handful of girls turning to take him in. He couldn’t stop the smirk that settled on his face. He brushed past the staring females and went straight to the punch table. He grabbed the first goblet in view and filled it with the spiked beverage, glowing a fluorescent green. Eyes closed, he soaked in the heavy metal and knocked back his first drink. It was always more fun to go into these gatherings properly sloshed. Blaise briefly squeezed his shoulder and took a shot of his own. They mingled for a while, drifting over to the rowdy game of gobstones in the corner to cheer on a second year, then over to a crowd of girls. He still hadn’t spotted Pansy or Astoria, which was odd. Normally those girls were running the scene. Draco glanced at Theo, who leaned against the wall with a quiet smile on his face.
Draco was thankful Theo was feeling better this week. A few years ago, he had an episode a few days before the winter formal and spent the day in the infirmary. Draco had been miserable without him; neither of them liked to go anywhere without the other.
A flicker of movement drew Draco’s attention back to his friend. Theo was pulling out his wand and casting some nonverbal spell toward the ceiling. Small explosions of light erupted above the partiers in shining silver and green. A roaring snake popped into existence and flew over everyone’s heads, causing the room to burst out in cheers. Theo looked over at him smugly, and Draco shook his head, holding in his laughter. What a show-off. He didn’t know anyone who could cast more intricate charms than Theodore. Even the diagnostic test he ran on the assay with Granger was something his friend had taught him.
Suddenly, Draco watched Theo’s expression go slack, his mouth dropping in a soft ‘O’. Confused, he followed the other boy’s gaze all the way to the common room entrance. At first, he was bewildered, it was only Pansy, wearing her classic ‘itty bitty black dress’ as she called it. He dragged his gaze down her arm which was clasped around–
Oh. Oh. Pansy’s arm was clasped around none other than Granger. Granger’s hair was held back with two diamond hairpins, curls pooling over her elegantly pointed collar bones. Pointed edges of khol lined her eyelids, sharp enough to kill a man. His gaze dropped to her dress and he almost choked.
It was the deepest, most drastic shade of emerald, and probably the sexiest thing he had ever seen. That girl was made to be Slytherin. If he hadn’t been sure before, now he was certain the Sorting Hat had made a mistake placing her in Gryffindor. It was a calamity that she was constantly forced into red when she was so clearly designed for another color. Something strange was happening in his chest. Was the room getting hotter?
Granger’s eyes snapped to find his, even this far across the room. For a moment, her eyes widened and drifted up and down his form. He stood frozen in place until her gaze drifted to the side where Theo was stood. Thankfully, Theo’s gaze hadn’t moved. Draco shook himself and lightly pushed his friend forward.
“Come on, mate. Go get your girl.” Theo closed his mouth and swallowed. After a breath, he strode over to Hermione, reaching for her hand and bringing it up to his mouth. Draco stood excruciatingly still, watching the entire interaction. She was laughing at something he said, and they moved away from Pansy to look over a drinking game. Draco felt a set of eyes blazing through him and looked back at Pansy, who had an eyebrow raised and one side of her red lips quivering.
“Not a word, Parkinson,” he mouthed at her. She just shrugged and drifted over to a petite girl in another corner. That would be Astoria Greengrass. They had been best friends for as long as he and Theo had been, even though the girls were a year apart. Originally, it had been a group of three, Pansy, Astoria, and Astoria’s sister Daphne. They lost Daphne in the war, leaving the trio one woman short. Draco couldn’t imagine the loss Astoria had felt; Draco wouldn’t survive losing Theo. It was a good thing she had Pansy to hold her together. Pansy was stubborn enough to keep the two of them going in their grief.
The two girls, one tall and dark, one small and light, began dancing in the middle of the room. Immediately, a swarm of Slytherins followed, swaying chaotically to the roaring music amplified out of a gramophone. It was a family heirloom, probably. He chuckled and watched Hermione drag Theo into the fray, giggling as he twirled her around and around. Something like pain shot through Draco at the sight of them, but he quickly quashed it. They deserved this. They deserved to be happy. Merlin knew he didn’t.
Draco closed his eyes and erected his mental shields, the dark walls rising at his command. When he stepped into the open space, he was bombarded with images of a curly-haired witch. Her reading at the dining table. Her twirling a curl around her finger as she thought about something in the lab. Her laying beneath him on an infirmary cot. Her warm glowing eyes; her soft rosy lips. The way she felt leaning over him as they worked with samples. The way she felt pressed against his chest.
He gathered each of these images and sprinted into the maze, not paying any attention to which turns he was making. All he cared about was going deep, deep, deep. The mental version of himself was panting in desperation when he finally made it to the very center of the maze where he stowed his darkest memories and most ardent desires. He slammed the images of the Gryffindor witch onto the floor and imagined himself a shovel to bury them even deeper. By the time he finished, he was exhausted but pleased. He calmly exited his mental labyrinth and stepped back into the present, occlumency intact.
Fortunately, he felt much more in control. Any feelings were adequately squashed, and even the blasting rock music was dulled to no longer be irritating his senses.
When he opened his eyes, he was startled to be staring directly into the displeased face of his best friend.
“What do you think you’re doing, Draco?” Theo demanded. Draco looked steadily back, only blinking to show he had heard. His gaze drifted to the side to see Granger standing nervously. Theo scoffed. “I actually thought tonight you could stop being selfish for once, but I guess I was wrong.”
Draco looked at Theo in alarm. The usually serene boy was angry with him. Even with the occluding, it felt unpleasant.
“How do you mean?” He tried to sound innocent, but Theo knew him better than anyone.
“Oh, don’t give me that rubbish,” Theo whispered indignantly, “did you ever stop to consider that maybe some of us actually want to spend time with you?”
“I’m right here, Theo.”
“No, you’re not! You’re miles away. And the worst part is, you’re doing it intentionally. For just a night, can’t I spend time with my brother?” Theo’s tone had turned pleading, eyes so open and vulnerable. Draco glanced over at Granger, who frowned in disappointment. Theo didn’t understand. He didn’t understand that if he stopped occluding, he could ruin everything. He didn’t realize that Draco didn’t know any other way to keep everything in place without exploding. Theo didn’t deserve to see what would happen if Draco lost control of his grief or his self-loathing, or even worse, his most alarming desires. He staggered back a few steps.
“I’m sorry, Theo. I just can’t.” He hoped the other boy would understand. Before he could hear anything else, Draco wrenched open the common room door and slipped out. He waited a few beats to make sure no one would follow him out, but he shouldn’t have even bothered. No one did. Draco looked down at his dark shirt and noticed a small stain on his abdomen. He must have spilled some of his drink at some point. No matter. He straightened his shoulders, and headed to the main corridor, taking the path to the courtyard. Once outside, he found a lonely stone bench and took a seat. The air was frigid tonight, but the stars were out and he lazily found his namesake among the constellations.
His mother loved astronomy. She was the one who taught him how to find even the sneakiest sequences in the sky. It seemed cruel that he was the one left in this rotten world gazing at the stars, and she was the one buried beneath six feet of dirt. He supposed nothing was ever fair, though, at least not for him. Draco rolled his tense shoulders and cast a heating charm over his body. With a sigh, he rested his head against the cold walls. Exhaustion weighed on him, and it was only a few minutes before he fell into a fitful sleep. Once again, the Slytherin prince was all alone.
Chapter 14: Hermione
Hermione watched Malfoy stumble out of the Slytherin common room in a mixture of pity and vexation. Before she could storm after him, Theo tugged on her arm and shook his head sadly.
“Let him go, Hermione. Speaking to Draco about anything remotely personal often feels like approaching a wild animal. It’s our job to wait until he feels safe enough to share.”
She barely held back an eye roll. “What, so we just let him push us away constantly?”
Theo smiled softly. “I love your Gryffindor heart, Hermione, I really do. But with Draco, there are some hurts you simply don’t know about. He has waited on me, over and over. Exhausting though it may be, I’ll do the same for him.”
Hermione gripped his arm tightly. “He’s being ridiculous. We could help him.”
“I know. Come, let's try to enjoy the party for a while before we go after him.”
She didn’t have it in her to argue so she shrugged and followed him back into the mob of partying Slytherins. Someone had charmed the overhead lights to strobe, and the effect was almost nauseating.
“Oi! Granger!” A feminine voice shrieked from the far end of the common room. Pansy tilted as she walked over, dragging a giggling blond behind her. “Meet my sister, Tori.”
The younger girl pinched Pansy in the side and stuck out a manicured hand for Hermione to shake. “Hello, Hermione dear. I’ve seen you around, but we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Astoria Greengrass.”
Hermione tilted her head to the side to consider the beautiful witch. Her delicate cheekbones and brown eyes were so familiar. It took a moment, but the image of a dark-haired girl flitted into her mind. Daphne. Of course. This must be Daphne’s younger sister. The older version of the witch in front of her had been a force of a woman. They had only shared a few classes over the years, but the most memorable was transfiguration, fourth year.
Mcgonagall explained the day’s lesson–to take a strand of your hair and transfigure it into a miniature replica of yourself, such as a toy doll. Hermione had frowned and glanced at Harry and Ron, who were no help, obviously, and then looked around the room to see what the other students were doing. It wasn’t that the activity was difficult , it was that the instructions were too vague. Hermione liked to work in exacts. What size did Professor want the doll to be? Were they to animate it, or leave it unmoving? Was it to look the same age as she was now, or take on the usual face of a young child that dolls often had? The uncertainty was maddening. Then Daphne Greengrass caught her eye. For a moment, Hermione thought the slim girl hadn’t heard Mcgonagall’s instructions, as she didn’t take her eyes off of a young Slytherin boy one desk over. The glare she was shooting him was absolutely withering, and he appeared nervous. Hermione had chuckled at the scene. What had that poor boy done to upset her? It was so like the way she often found herself glaring at Ron that it was incredibly amusing. She kept watching.
Daphne’s nostrils had flared. With one hand, she yanked her wand out of her pocket; with the other, she ripped out a tuft of her hair. In a few deft movements of her wrist, she transfigured her hair into a miniature Daphne.
Hermione choked on a giggle, quickly covering her mouth to hide it. The bite-sized Daphne was red-cheeked, fist-shaking, and yelling expletives before charging at the Slytherin boy. He hardly had time to blink before the doll attacked him, nipping at his shirt and biting his fingers. It took Mcgonagall five full minutes of chasing around the room to stop the demon doll, and Daphne simply watched from her seat, looking smug. When Professor had finally rescued the boy, Daphne had rolled her eyes and flipped him off, now in a much better mood. Hermione tore her gaze from the other girl and resumed her own transfiguration. This time, it wasn’t difficult to imagine what her own doll would look like.
In the present, Hermione looked sadly at Astoria Greengrass. Of course, she had heard of Daphne’s passing in the papers. The Daily Prophet published a list of all Hogwarts students lost during the war, and Hermione was determined to memorize each one. If she didn’t recognize the name, she searched for pictures. Perhaps it was this that had made the past few months so difficult for her at school. Everywhere she went, she saw the faces of the dead children in their empty desks and spots in the Great Hall.
Every student here, whether Gryffindor or Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, had experienced entirely too much grief. Hermione would do everything she could to lighten the load. So she smiled at Astoria, and instead of shaking the hand extended, she wrapped her in a suffocating hug.
“Hello, Astoria. I’m so glad to meet you,” Hermione mumbled into the younger girl’s shoulder. Pansy was laughing beside them. “Granger, you are so incredibly weird.”
Hermione released her grip on the girl and could see that her eyes were glistening. Beside her, Theo entwined their fingers and gave her a reassuring squeeze. He leaned over and whispered in her ear, “Thank you.” She could only nod.
“I’m going to go find Blaise. He owes me a dance. Tori, you got this?”
Astoria grinned and faced Hermione. “Absolutely! Sorry Theo, I’m stealing your girl.”
“What–” But Hermione was dragged away from him into the middle of the room. Astoria whipped her wand towards the gramophone, and a familiar tune blared through the common room. Immediately the room exploded, Slytherins screaming as they congregated in a mob. It was chaos, ties thrown up to the ceiling, heels discarded into corners, pure teenage angst erupting into existence. Astoria grabbed Hermione’s hands, squealing at her to jump. Someone’s arm reached into Hermione’s hair a yanked out her hair clips. Lights flashed, music blared, and Hermione wondered how she had missed this her entire life.
“Astoria!!” She had to scream into her ear just to be heard.
“Is this Queen? The muggle band?”
“Yeah! It’s amazing, isn’t it? We play it at every party!”
Hermione didn’t bother holding in her laughter now. What a wild world she was living in. She tilted her head back, closing her eyes to soak in the moment. After ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, she felt a pair of hands gently rest on her hips from behind.
“You look free, Hermione. It’s good to see you like this.” Theo pulled her closer and rested his chin on her shoulder, joining the mess of dancing students. Astoria appeared again, tugging Blaise and Pansy behind her, and the five of them danced for what felt like hours. Around one in the morning, the younger students began drifting back to their rooms. Little by little, the crowd dissipated, until they were the only ones remaining, draped over various pieces of furniture and giggling. They talked for another hour or so, and then Pansy started snoring, head in Blaise’s lap. Astoria was next, leaning on Pansy. Blaise gently ran his fingers through Pansy’s hair and cleared his throat.
“You want me to help you look?”
Theo shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, mate. I’m sure he’s in one of the usual places. We’ll find him.” Blaise nodded and leaned his head back on the couch. Theo pulled Hermione to her feet, tucking a curl behind her ear. “Ready to find a moody pureblooded heir?”
“Of course,” she chuckled.
They started with the Astronomy Tower. Then the Come and Go Room. Then the library. At each dead end, Theo never got flustered. He just sighed and directed Hermione somewhere else. He and Draco were like two sides of a coin. One even-tempered and kind, the other unstable and cold. It worked for them, she supposed.
Next, they wandered towards the courtyard. Hermione tried to argue that it was much too cold for anyone to stay outside for hours, but Theo only smiled and pulled her out the doors. There, in a dark corner with a full view of the stars, lay a sleeping Malfoy. It struck her that he looked so young when he slept. There was no trace of stoicism or arrogance; there was only a tired boy, curled in on himself on a stone bench. Theo let go of her hand and knelt before his sleeping friend. He shook him lightly.
“Ready to stop being an insolent arse?” Hermione could hear the grin in his voice. Malfoy’s eyes opened groggily, and he stuck his tongue out at Theo. Hermione couldn’t help but snigger.
Theo tugged Malfoy to his feet, who grinned at him sheepishly. “That’s what I was afraid of.” Apparently, that was enough for them to make up. Boys, Hermione thought with a roll of her eyes. Theo slung an arm over each of them and the three friends walked back into the castle. The night had been too grand for her to be irritated with Malfoy. Her lecture could wait until tomorrow.
Chapter 15: Hermione
The Christmas holidays were quickly approaching, and Hermione was reaching a near-frantic state. There were exams to be aced, data to be analyzed, and plans for the break to be established. The former was rather simple, she supposed. Transfiguration would be relatively easy, as well as Charms. DADA was positively laughable. She had mastered those spells during her sixth year with Harry. Ancient Runes would require some stark memorization, which would probably be the most time-consuming. And Care of Magical Creatures…visiting Hagrid for a few hours would catch her up on anything she missed in the past few weeks.
The next element of her frazzled state, the laboratory data, was the primary source of concern. Theo’s test turned up positive for tuberculosis. To be sure, she and Malfoy had run the assay no less than twenty times, and each time it came out positive. The hour following this revelation consisted of intense sulking on Hermione’s part and successive kicking of the wall on Malfoy’s end. When they both composed themselves, the look they shared was one of pure determination: they would find a cure.
First, Hermione offered up all the information she had on muggle antibiotics. They tested the usual ones, rifampicin and isoniazid, and even others not commonly known to cure TB such as penicillin and methicillin. Nothing seemed to work. Each night they laboriously inoculated plates and treated them with antibiotics, but nothing even made a dent in whatever this strain of tuberculosis was. Hermione was almost to the point of ripping out her own hair.
Finally, finally , they made a breakthrough. It was actually Malfoy who had the idea in the first place. She wasn’t necessarily surprised it was him, he was obviously quite intelligent, she was just mildly irritated she hadn’t thought of it first. His proposal was that the strain had indeed mutated, much as Hermione had said originally, but that it had mutated magically . Of course, muggle antibiotics weren’t working. They needed a muggle-magical antibacterial hybrid. She had to admit the idea was rather brilliant. Now they simply had to develop a spell that worked.
While Malfoy’s motivation was purely focused on curing his dying friend, Hermione’s view was much broader. She quickly realized that if they could successfully create a spell to attack a blood curse such as Theodore’s, St Mungo’s and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement could apply it to those still suffering symptoms from the Death Eaters’ curses. Perhaps it was a long shot, but she was excited nonetheless.
The third and final source of her fraying sanity was the dozens of letters stacking on her window. They were addressed by various Weasleys and Harry, all asking when she would be arriving for the winter holidays. She had yet to respond to any of them, so naturally, her friends sent even more.
Hermione sighed. It wasn’t that she did not want to see her friends. She missed them. Terribly. But the fact remained that she had much to do at Hogwarts. Leaving her research for even a day sounded horrendous. Malfoy mentioned he would remain at school over the holidays; he didn’t seem inclined to stay at the empty manor. She hurt terribly for him, just as she hurt for her own loss of her parents. At least she had someplace to go with the Weasleys. They were so generous, considering her as one of their own. She was being selfish for wanting to stay away from the Burrow. Resolved, she hastily scribbled a reply to Molly’s letter and sent it off.
Hermione pivoted in place and shrieked at the grinning apparition not two inches from her nose.
“Ginny! Oh my god, what are you doing!”
Ginny howled in delight and slumped onto Hermione’s bed. “I’ve been here for ten minutes. You were too busy pacing and scowling to notice.”
“I was not scowling.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione really couldn’t be certain. She had a tendency to look a bit broodish when she was stressed. Instead of arguing, she joined Ginny on the covers and took a deep breath.
“Finally respond to Mum, did you?” She could hear the redhead’s amusement without turning to see it on her face. Hermione slapped at Ginny playfully.
“Yes, I did. She’s rather persistent.” Ginny nodded in agreement. Suddenly, Ginny sat up with a jolt.
Hermione flinched at the accusatory tone and jumped up into a sitting position to face Ginny. “Erm…what?”
Ginny waved a finger in Hermione’s face. “I just remembered. This morning, I was having a lovely breakfast with Malfoy–”
“-well you’re right, it wasn’t a proper breakfast, it was really more of an ambush on my part–”
“-but he does have just the nicest hair and I really wanted to know what charms he used on it to keep it so lovely, thought I could pass on the info to you–”
“Oh my god.”
“-anyway, he cursed at me profusely, which was very hot so I told him so–”
Hermione collapsed onto her back and covered her eyes in embarrassment. This is why she never should have played nice with the Slytherins. It was mortifying.
Ginny began to chuckle. “Oh it wasn’t too bad, ‘Mione. I made sure to say you thought so too. That seemed to placate him.”
“Oh. My. God.”
“Yeah, well, we ended up having the most interesting conversation, and you know what he told me?”
Hermione really hadn’t a clue. The fact that Malfoy spoke to Ginny at all was unnerving. She sighed. “No, Ginny, what did he say?”
Nostrils flaring, Ginny smacked Hermione’s arm and hissed, “he said you recently attended the famous Slytherin Winter Formal! Without me, might I add!”
Honestly, Hermione thought she would get away with it. She’d wanted to bring Ginny, she really had, but Pansy hadn’t extended the invitation to anyone but Hermione and she wasn’t sure how these Slytherin events worked. She sheepishly rubbed her arms and winced at the murderous expression on her friend’s face.
“Sorry, Gin, I didn’t mean to lie to you–”
“Don’t ‘Sorry, Gin” me! We could have been fabulous! The Gryffindor Goddesses. Maybe I should tell Harry and Ron of your fraternizing with Slytherin.”
Hermione paled. “You wouldn’t!”
Ginny wagged her eyebrows indicatively before sighing dramatically. “No, darling friend, I wouldn’t wish that interaction upon my worst enemy. Could you imagine how red Ronald would get if he knew you spent hours every day with Malfoy? I think he would die from shock.”
At that, Hermione couldn’t help but giggle, and Ginny quickly softened and joined her. This was one of the reasons she was so thankful for Ginevra Weasley. Even when Hermione was most stressed, the other girl had the ability to make her laugh. Ginny had such a warmth to her. True, that warmth could burn when provoked, but it could also comfort like no other. When the giggles subsided, Ginny turned to Hermione again and raised her eyebrows.
“So…we leave for the Burrow in three days. What are you going to tell them?”
“Honestly, Gin…I’m not sure. Maybe nothing. It’s not that I think everyone would hate me for hanging out with Slytherin students, but then again, I’m not sure. The past few years have created a lot of prejudices for both sides, and Ron and Harry…well they’ve hated Malfoy for a long time. Maybe they would come around to Theo, but Malfoy? I don’t see that happening.”
Ginny frowned thoughtfully and nodded. “You might be right. But who better to change their minds than their best friend?”
The two friends remained in silence for a while until Hermione got up to head to the library. She had some research to do, and some studying to catch up on. Ginny split off to go to an evening quidditch practice and left Hermione alone in the halls.
Tugging her school bag, Hermione drifted through the corridors, not wanting to work on anything quite yet. Instead, she wandered to the secluded parts of the castle, enjoying the quiet. When she was in a rush, it was easy to forget how lovely the old fortress was. The repairs after the Battle of Hogwarts were going nicely, and it was only her memory now that painted the gory pictures of the battle. She ran her fingers lightly over the walls as she walked.
In a lonely corner, Hermione spied a pale head of hair leaning against the wall, book in hand. She kept her footsteps light as to not disturb his reading, and continued walking. She smiled when she squinted to make out the title. The Great Gatsby. Malfoy had certainly procured a liking for romantic muggle classics, something that sent a wave of warmth over her. Hermione tiptoed past him and meant to continue on when he called after her.
“Going so soon, Granger?”
She turned. “I only didn’t want to bother you.”
He didn’t look up but patted the space next to him. “Sit with me. I know you love this book.” Malfoy must have interpreted her confused silence because he elaborated. “I took this copy from your shelf.”
She snatched the book out of his hand and examined it. “Hey! This is my copy!” He only chuckled.
“Well, I did say so, didn’t I?”
“Malfoy,” she started sternly, “you really cannot just go into my room and steal my things.”
“I’m only borrowing it, Granger.”
“Still!” She made to snatch her book back and continue on her way to the library, but he clamped a hand around her wrist. She winced in pain at the contact and he hastily dropped his hand. Hermione fixed her eyes on the floor. “Sorry, you didn’t really hurt me too much. The burning is just a bit startling sometimes.”
Malfoy gingerly flipped over her wrist and pushed up her sleeve. His forehead wrinkled; his eyes were aflame with blue. He examined every inch of her arm with care. She realized this was the first time he was seeing it clearly. That day in the infirmary, her recently injured forearm was wrapped in gauze, and before that, he probably couldn’t see the exact lines due to all the blood in the owlery. Now, he seemed captivated, stuck somewhere between horror and pain. He finally looked up at her but did not release his hold. Instead, he pulled her closer.
Hermione swallowed hard. She didn’t want him to tell her how ugly the scarring was, she already thought about that every day. Somehow hearing it from him would be exponentially worse. She didn’t know when Malfoy’s opinion had become so important to her, but she couldn’t bear him saying the truth: that she was repulsive because of what had been done to her.
Icy panic coursed through her, and she tried to pull away from him, but he only tugged her closer once more. Now he appeared angry. Oh gods, here it was. He was going to say it.
“Granger.” He practically growled this time. “What do you think I see?”
She shook her head violently and became more frantic in her attempts to disentangle herself and escape to the library. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say I am disgusting. Don’t say I am marred. Don’t say I am worthless now.
Malfoy lifted her chin with a finger. “ Hermione.”
Hermione. Her eyes snapped to his, brown to blue. It was the first time he had ever spoken her first name, and everything seemed to stop at the word. She wasn’t even sure if she was breathing. The seconds ticked by; she was frozen in her fear. What would he do?
Malfoy held her gaze and slid to his knees before her. “I need you to know that this,” he gestured to her arm, “is the greatest regret of my life. I did this to you. My family did this to you, and I just stood there because I was afraid. Instead of risking my own life, I stayed silent while you screamed. While I remained unscathed, I watched them carve into you like meat. I dream about you, every night. I dream about your terror, about your pain, about your bravery and defiance. Do you know what I see when I look at you, at this arm? I see a woman who is stronger than I will ever be. A woman better than I will ever be. And Hermione…I need you to know that I am so, so terribly sorry. I know it will never be enough, but please believe me when I say that I would do anything to erase that moment in your life. Anything. ”
Now she knew she wasn’t breathing. These were not the words she was expecting at all; these were words she didn’t even know she needed to hear. He sounded so incredibly sincere, and if she looked hard enough, she could see the tears pooling in his eyes. This was Malfoy when he was vulnerable, and she couldn’t look away. Word by word, an old wound was knitting itself back together.
He took a shaky breath and continued. “I don’t think you are weak because of this scar. I don’t think you are filthy. To be honest, I never actually believed there was anything dirty about your blood, it was just the only insult my unimaginative bigoted mind could think of. I know that doesn’t excuse it, and I am sorry for the things I’ve said to you in the past–”
“-because I was just insecure, and you were always so clever and loved and I was jealous and acted ridiculously–”
“Oh yes, you were quite ridiculous. Especially as a ferret.” She barely covered an escaping giggle with a hand.
“I’m trying to apologize!”
She laughed even harder now. “Yes, Malfoy, I can see that. I really think you’ve done a lovely job. And I do appreciate it, I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Thank you.” She gave him her sweetest smile, and his shoulders relaxed a bit. Malfoy raised himself back onto the bench and slumped against the wall.
“So you forgive me?”
“I forgive you, Malfoy.” He sighed in relief. “Thank goodness,” he whispered, “Theo was going to kill me if I still hadn’t made it right with you.”
“I had a feeling he had a hand in this.”
Malfoy glanced at her sheepishly. “I did mean it. All of it. He’s encouraged me to ‘explore the feeling of forgiveness’ and rubbish like that.”
She laughed again. These Slytherins were something else. She handed The Great Gatsby back to him. “Here. I’ve already read it five times. You can keep it.”
He thanked her and tucked it into his trouser pocket and stood, holding out a hand to help her up.
“You’re a good friend, Hermione.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “So we’re on a first-name basis now?”
He shrugged. “I feel it’s only fair after spending every moment of our free time in a lab together. Also,” he scratched at his chin in thought, “I’m pretty sure you’re dating my best mate.”
They parted ways, and it was only hours later that Hermione realized the last part of his sentence had sounded a bit flat.
Chapter 16: Theodore
Draco slammed the door so violently it shook the furniture in the boys’ shared room, but Theo didn’t bother looking up. He was used to Draco’s foul moods and was actually expecting it today.
“That bad, was it?”
Draco hissed in frustration and tossed his book onto his desk. Theo’s eyes flicked up in amusement as his friend ran a hand through his hair and collapsed dramatically onto the floor. Somehow, his aristocratic upbringing managed to make the movement appear graceful. Draco sighed.
“I feel awful. Why do I feel so awful?”
“Well, I told you apologizing is usually a rather fretful experience,” Theo interjected helpfully.
“Gods, Theo, it was more than bloody fretful! I felt as if I would vomit! And that’s not even the worst part!”
Theo finally looked over his friend in concern. He really wasn’t sure how Hermione would react to the apology he and Draco had planned, but he had been certain she would be kind to him either way. Now he was second-guessing himself. This was a conversation long overdue for Hermione and Draco, but perhaps he had rushed things. He settled for a mild, “Oh?”
Draco slung an arm across his face, hiding Theo from view. He mumbled something incoherent, and even though Theo leaned forward, he couldn’t make it out.
Draco wrenched his arm away from his face and turned toward where Theo was perched. He looked wretched.
“I started leaking.”
Theo blinked once, then twice. His confusion must have been apparent because Draco began gesturing flippantly around the ocular region of his face. Theo burst into laughter as he finally understood. Gasping for air, he managed, “The worst part of the entire experience, the part that has put you into such a state, is that you cried?”
“I cried,” Malfoy grumbled in agreement. He shot Theo a venomous glare, but its effect was lost with a quirk of his lip. Theo gripped his side and fought for control over the laughter. He had to be careful about heavy laughter most days, as it often sent him into a round of coughing. Thankfully, he had come up with a better system for his potions recently, and it felt good to laugh and feel so normal. He smiled and waved for Draco to come over. Begrudgingly, the sullen boy did, dropping onto Theo’s bed.
“I know it might seem terrible to you, but it’s actually not a bad thing to be vulnerable with people. Did she respond well?”
Malfoy considered for a moment before replying. “I suppose so. She said she appreciated what I said. It was me who felt so terrible. Not only was apologizing painful but sitting there, without the occlumency as you suggested, left me feeling so bare. She was in a perfect position to hurt me. I hate that.”
“But she didn’t.”
“No, I suppose she didn’t.”
Theo let the topic drop. He was satisfied for now; he knew Draco’s mental shields would be up again tomorrow, strong as ever, but this moment was enough. He wasn’t naive enough to think Draco’s horrible coping mechanisms could be done away with in one day. It would take time.
Time. Something like pain shot through Theo’s core at the thought. It was an idea he had always loathed because it was something he never seemed to have enough of. He didn’t have enough time with his mother before she died. He didn’t have enough time before he and Draco’s carefree childhood friendship turned into one of survival in a brutal world. He didn’t have enough time at Hogwarts, enjoying lessons, before all hell broke loose. And most of all, he didn’t have enough time to do all the things he wanted to do before death inevitably caught up with him. He knew the clock was ticking and was running out of patience. Before the panic set in, Theo jumped up, startling Draco.
“Sorry, mate. Just a bit tired of being in the room all day. I think I’ll go track down Hermione.” Theo dug into the ornate chest beside his bed, avoiding eye contact. From the bottom, he pulled out a tastefully crafted cane. It was beechwood with a heart of resin, perfectly balanced, tipped in silver. The top edge wound into a serpent and was pressed with the Nott Family Crest. The piece was lovely, but a small part of him loathed to use it. Theo shoved that small part of him down and straightened, cane in hand.
Draco peered at him suspiciously. “You haven’t used that since this summer.”
“Well, we don’t want him getting lonely in the bottom of my trunk, now do we? I reckon it’s time I take him for a spin.” Theo quickly pulled on a jumper before heading towards the door.
“Theo–” Draco pleaded, but Theo shot his friend a winning smile. “Don’t worry, Draco. I’m fine. See you later tonight.”
He managed to make his gait confident as he strode out of the dorm, and didn’t slow as he passed through the common room entrance. It was only when he reached the next floor that he slowed his pace and leaned against the wall to catch his breath.
“You really should be more careful about your health,” a pesky portrait commented. He didn’t know the knight’s name, was it Cadahall? Canahan? Cadahan? Theo didn’t really care. The portrait always got into his business at the worst moments.
“Oh, sod off.” The knight galloped away in offense, and Theo chuckled at the touchy little guy. Unfortunately, the chuckling brought a sharp pain in his lungs. He doubled over, grasping at his cane to keep him from collapsing. The coughs were always the worst part. With each breath, he felt as if he were being sliced open from the inside, and then the blood draining out his mouth seemed to confirm it. At the last second, he managed to catch the flying blood with a sleeve. The moment passed, and the pain subsided. He glanced around the hall to make sure no one had seen and quickly cast a cleaning spell. The extra magic drained him, but it was worth it.
He took a few deep breaths and rummaged in his trouser pockets. His hand wrapped around a small vial and he downed it without a thought. After a few seconds, strength poured back into him, and he pulled out another, differently colored vial. That too helped, settling the tension in his chest. Satisfied, he vanished the vials and continued his path up to his classroom. Hopefully, his brilliant witch would be waiting for him there.
Theo had a set quota of potions, sent from St Mungo’s. Each one was meticulously labeled with the potion name and date on which to be consumed. Lately, Theo had been double-dosing. He was cautious at first, but when he suffered no significant side effects other than renewed strength and fewer attacks, he continued. He wondered why he had never tried this before and was overjoyed that it gave him more time each day with both Draco and Hermione. And when he appeared in better health, both of them worried less. It was a perfect setup. Every few days, he would take three or four of the allotted potions. As long as they continued to help, what was the harm? The only issue was the dwindling supply. Soon, he would need to find more of the potions or he would be in trouble.
Finally, he made it to the classroom door and pushed it open. As his hand reached eye level, Theo squinted in confusion. His fingernails appeared a faint bluish hue; it was strange, and he wondered if he had somehow dyed them in potions class. He shrugged and continued through the doorway. There, by the window, was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. For a moment he simply stood, taking her in. She didn’t even have a clue how stunning she was.
His foot shifted and she turned quickly, grinning at him. “Hello, Theo.”
He gave her a shy smile of his own. “Are you just going to stand there?” She giggled and ran up to him, wrapping him in a hug. Her warmth dazzled him, and for an instant everything else faded away. He rested his chin atop her fluffy curls and sighed. “Hermione?”
She looked up at him in question. He loved the way her nose crinkled and how wide her lovely brown eyes were. He smiled again. “I don’t think I’ve formally asked you.”
“Asked me what, Theo?”
He cleared his throat. This was it. “I don’t think I’ve formally asked if you would like to…if you would like to be with me. Not just right now I mean, obviously I don’t need to ask about that, I just mean, erm…”
She laughed and tugged him closer, leaning her face against his chest. “To be your girlfriend?”
Theo chuckled at his fumbling. Draco would have had flawless execution. He had always been smoother than Theo was. “Yes,” he whispered, “to be my girlfriend. Would you like that?”
Theo was almost afraid she wouldn’t answer, that this was the time she would truly reject him. Perhaps he had misunderstood their conversation before, when she said she would have him as ‘more than friends’. Maybe she did not want to be bound to him in any definite way…and truth be told, he couldn’t blame her if she didn’t. He was little more than an incurable disease.
“Yes.” He leaned back to see her face clearly.
“What?” He breathed. Hermione chuckled and met his eyes. “I said yes,” she smiled, “I would like that very much.”
He blinked at her in wonder, and gently cupped her chin, running a thumb over her cheek. She was so soft, so delicate. If anything could cure him, it was this feeling bubbling inside him. She was hope in a world that often felt so dark, and a promise in a life that held none for him. A melody sang in the back of his mind, but he pushed it aside for the time being.
“Yes, Theo?” She teased.
“I’m going to kiss you.” Before she could respond, he brought his lips to hers, and he felt a small gasp escape from her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tangled her fingers in his hair. A soft moan fell from his mouth and he tugged her closer. Theo tentatively ran his hands down her hips. She was perfect, so perfect.
The kiss was slow, and deliberate, as they explored the feel of each other. This thing was so new, and Theo didn’t have any intention of rushing it. He wanted to do this correctly–he wanted to properly court her if she desired it. With a sigh, he drew back and smiled down at her. Her lips were still parted as she studied him. Hermione wrapped her arms around his torso once more, and he ran his hands down her back. He didn’t know how long they stayed that way before parting ways for bed, and he didn’t care. All he knew was this was the best night of his life.
Chapter 17: Hermione
With exams over, Hermione practically lived in their tiny lab at the back of the infirmary. Ginny tried to drag her out every once in a while for a bite of food and a breath of fresh air, but Hermione often slipped away to keep working. Currently, she was sprawled across an empty table, wand waving furiously at the ceiling. A map of color hovered above her, and she fought to keep it steady as Draco sent sparks flying at it, rearranging some pieces, vanishing others, and tweaking the rest. It was tedious work, and both students were sweating profusely.
Theo had offered to come have a look at it, as his spellwork was often more exact than either of theirs, but Hermione didn’t want him to have to cancel his Hogsmeade plans with Blaise. Theo had looked so healthy lately that she didn’t want him to miss a chance to do something fun if his health declined again. No, she would not take this day from him. So here they were, trying to develop a spell for the fifth time and growing increasingly frustrated.
The theory was quite simple: develop a magical equivalent to a muggle antibiotic. Hermione explained she wanted it to look like an antibiotic and behave like an antibiotic would, just instead of targeting bacteria, it would target foreign magical signatures in the body. Draco agreed, and they chose their positions.
Now they had to choose a spell. Hermione remembered Draco’s genius idea a few weeks back to modify a locating spell to get the assay to work, and she suggested they try something like that. They went back and forth for a while but eventually settled on avenseguim , which can turn an ordinary object into a sort of tracking device. Draco would do the modification, while she held the sample steady and cast the spell. After all, they did want to locate something. They initially cast an avenseguim on a mutated mycobacterium from Theo’s sample; the hope was to modify it to track other things that were similar. Perhaps it was a long shot, but it was all they had.
For the first hour, the two were all smiles and laughter, even when their first attempt exploded overhead, showering them in a lavender goo. By the fourth attempt, they were frustrated, and now on the fifth, they were exhausted.
“Maybe the locator spell isn’t enough? Because we really need to develop something that not only finds the mutated bacteria but destroys them,” Hermione gasped out. Her raised arm ached from use.
Draco dropped his wand and sat heavily on the edge of the table Hermione lay on. She lowered her wand as well, relishing the relief flowing through her tired muscles. Draco rubbed his thumb over his bottom lip in consideration. “I think you might be right,” he mused. “Hey…can you tell me about the final battle, when Potter fought Voldemort?”
Hermione looked at him curiously. “Why?”
He shrugged. “I have this nagging feeling that something there is important. The problem is I missed a lot of that final hour, but I assume you know all the details?”
Hermione sighed and bobbed her frizzy head. “Well…it was quite interesting, really. So many things about those hours were unexpected, from tracking down the last horcruxes and destroying them, to Harry dying and coming back to life, and especially that duel that changed everything just because of the wand.”
Draco gaped at her, mouth widened in an ‘o’. She chuckled. “Sorry, I realize you probably have no idea what I’m talking about.”
“What’s a horcrux?”
She shivered. “Now isn’t the time. That isn’t going to be what helps us figure this out, I assure you.”
“But Granger–” Draco sputtered.
“No, Malfoy,” she cut in sternly. When she saw his expression smooth into a practiced cold, grey slipping over his irises, she softened. “Sorry, Draco. It’s just that…a horcrux is the darkest evil a witch or wizard can create. It’s a form of dark magic that allows one to store a piece of their soul in an object when they commit a murder. This soul-holder, the horcrux, is a way to keep the wizard immortal. As long as the horcrux exists, that person is unkillable.”
“And Voldemort had one?” He asked in a whisper.
“No,” she replied shakily, “he had seven.” Draco paled and began opening his mouth to speak, but she held up a hand to silence him. “Another time, Draco. I swear I’ll tell you, just not today, alright?”
He nodded. “Fine. I assume you don’t want to explain Potter’s supposed ‘death’ either?” She shook her head and he continued. “Very well. Can you explain the duel then? I feel that is important.”
Hermione had to think back. So many of those final minutes were a blur, and some of the duel she only knew about from Harry’s story. She struggled to find the right words. “The duel was…brutal. I don’t know how much of it you saw, but both were fighting as if their lives depended on it, which they did. In all honesty…Harry should have lost. He’s a wonderful dueler, no doubt, but he was still a child. A desperate, weary child in a war too big for anyone that young to bear.”
“But he didn’t lose.” Draco’s voice was reverent as if he were captivated by the tale Hermione told.
“No, he didn’t,” she agreed. “You see, wands are fickle things. Do you remember going to Olivander’s and him telling you that ‘the wand chooses the wizard’? The statement could never be more true. At the time of his death, Dumbledore was in possession of the Elder Wand, which only bears allegiance to those who win it. Would you like to take a guess at who that was?”
Draco’s eyes widened in realization and she smirked at him. “Bingo. You. For a few seconds, the legendary Elder Wand belonged to snotty little Draco Malfoy because he disarmed his headmaster instead of murdering him. Quite a classy move, by the way.”
The poor boy beside her seemed to lose the ability to speak and only gaped at her. His breaths were coming in raggedly, and she pressed a hand on his shoulder to calm him before continuing. “Sorry, I know this is a lot. Just bear with me. So you had the Elder Wand, but then Harry disarmed you at…he disarmed you at…”
Draco cleared his throat and cut in softly. “I know. I remember. You don’t have to say it.”
She looked at him gratefully. She didn’t mind speaking with him about the events that occurred that day, but for some reason actually saying Malfoy Manor was extremely difficult. It was like her mouth refused to form the words. She swallowed and continued. “So by the time of that final duel, Harry was the rightful owner of the Elder Wand, but Voldemort didn’t know. He shot a killing curse at Harry right as Harry tried to disarm him. The spells locked together, but the avada rebounded and killed Voldemort, simply because the wand’s allegiance belonged to another.”
For a moment, they sat in silence, letting the story crash over them. Hermione didn’t know why the tale even mattered, but if Draco thought it important, she would let him think it over. Finally, he spoke.
“You know…” he started, “I think that might be the final piece to our puzzle.”
The declaration startled her. What had he seen that she was missing? He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “What if we combine our locator spell with something like allegiance? The Elder Wand protected Harry simply out of allegiance, so if we could modify the spell we already have to avoid Theo’s own cells but attack the mutated mycobacteria, it would be the magical equivalent of a muggle antibiotic. Which is what we intended to do in the first place.”
Hermione stared at him in shock. “Draco…that’s bloody brilliant.”
The two of them got to work with renewed fervor. It took hours, but even after dozens of failures, they knew they were getting close.
“Granger!” Draco hollered from his place a few meters away. “Granger I got it! I got it!”
She straightened from her perch and faced him. Without waiting for her response, Draco did a complicated motion with his wrist and muttered, “ Avenseguim allegiata” . The spell shot toward the enlarged bacterium Hermione was levitating and brutally attacked it. A thick, magical cord wrapped around the cell, strangling it until the entire thing burst. Draco cast a quick shield around them to avoid being splattered while Hermione shrieked with joy.
“Ok, do it again, but this time I’m going to levitate both a regular cell and the mutated bacteria. We need to make sure it won’t destroy healthy cells.” Draco obliged, and they watched the newborn spell race towards its next victims. Unfortunately, both samples were mercilessly eviscerated by the avensegium allegiata , but Hermione didn’t mind. They were getting so close. She knew this was the correct spell, it just needed a few modifications.
They decided this was extremely good progress, and that they would continue working on it after the winter holidays. Hermione began cleaning up the lab area, making sure every test tube was in its place, all the machinery was unplugged, and each cell culture was magically warded to prevent contamination over the next few weeks. Malfoy hummed as he paced behind her.
“We need to send out some letters.”
His voice startled Hermione out of her methodical cleaning. “Pardon?”
“We need to send out some letters. We’re making progress, definitely, but so far we are only testing on cell cultures. How applicable is that to a fully functioning human?”
She nodded. “You’re right. We’ve only focused on in vitro testing, which just means with cell cultures or in test tubes. It’s time to move to in vivo testing. We need live test subjects.”
“Do you mean volunteers?”
“Gods, no! Honestly Draco, this isn’t the nineteenth century. We can’t just experiment on human beings like mad scientists.”
Draco ran a pensive look over her and frowned. “We can’t?”
“No!” She practically squeaked. “No! We can’t…It’s ghastly…and unethical…and…” She stopped sputtering when she spied the smirk on his mouth. He was kidding . What an arse. She smacked his shoulder a bit harder than usual and was satisfied with his yelp.
“Anyway, you’re right. Let’s send some letters to anyone we know who might have access or information pertaining to animals suffering from blood curses. I’ll speak with Hagrid and send a letter to Charlie Weasley in Romania. Do you know anyone?”
Malfoy shrugged. “I could write to Blaise’s new stepfather. He has contacts that work with magical creatures in Italy.”
“Fantastic. Let’s send out our correspondences, and regroup here after the holidays. Maybe we’ll have more information then.” She smiled at him now. He was a godsend. There was no way Hermione would have made it this far into the research on her own, and Draco was surprisingly good company.
Draco pulled on his jumper and nodded. “Great.” He headed for the door before pausing and looking over his shoulder. His gaze locked on hers, and she realized that although his eyes were the usual grey, a lovely crack of azure pierced the center. Seeing him without some of his walls sent a wave of warmth through her heart. She couldn’t look away. His eyes drifted down to her mouth before abruptly returning to their original place. “Happy Christmas, Hermione.”
He turned and strode out the door, leaving her gaping after him. At last, she shook herself and hurried out of the infirmary. She needed to pack up her belongings and prepare for tomorrow. She and Ginny would be leaving for the Burrow early the next morning, and Hermione had not even begun picking which books she wanted to take with her. She had much to do.
Chapter 18: Hermione
When Hermione walked through the door to her room, the first thing she saw was Ginny. The redhead looked ready to pounce, wand aimed at the other end of the room, where Hermione’s bed sat. Confused, Hermione’s eyes followed Ginny’s fiery glare and landed on the smirking form of Pansy Parkinson draped across the covers.
“Erm…,” she stuttered awkwardly, “What’s going on?”
Ginny didn’t take her eyes off Pansy but answered gruffly. “I have no idea. I just walked in to find this intruder.”
Pansy cackled from the bed. “A bit dramatic, Red.”
“Don’t call me that!”
“I’ll call you whatever I like, sweetheart.”
“ Snake .”
“ Lioness. ”
“Hermione!” Hermione tore her eyes from the ridiculous exchange and faced Ginny, who had lowered her wand and placed her hands on her hips. “Get rid of it! She’s yours.”
Hermione chuckled. “I’d hardly call Pansy mine . Maybe we should ask her why she’s here instead of preparing to hex her?”
Ginny just rolled her eyes and leaned against the wall. Hermione figured Pansy was no longer under the immediate threat of the bat-bogey hex and faced the dark-haired witch again.
The Slytherin girl stretched her arms above her head and yawned. It was unnerving how cat-like she appeared at that moment. An image raced around Hermione’s brain where she was a mouse being chased by a black cat with perfectly manicured green talons. She blinked a few times to focus. Pansy was already answering, but Hermione had missed the first bit.
“--but then I ended up outside the Gryffindor entrance. Some idiot first-year practically yelled the password coming in, so I followed a few minutes later. It’s quite cozy, isn’t it? I figured while I was here I might as well hang out with Hermione.”
Ginny frowned suspiciously and sauntered over to the bed. Before Hermione could protest, Ginny lunged forward and pinned Pansy to the bed. Pansy didn’t look too upset with the development and winked over at Hermione.
“Are you using my best friend for some sort of sick serpent game?” Ginny growled in the other girl’s face. Finally, Pansy’s expression hardened a bit. She swallowed slowly and cocked her head to the side. Ginny’s long red hair tickled Pansy’s forehead.
Hermione honestly didn’t know what to do. In fact, she didn’t really know what was happening. She rarely mentioned Pansy to Ginny, but Ginny had known it was Pansy who invited her to the Slytherin party. She realized she may have failed to mention that she often spent time with the Slytherin girls and that she really enjoyed their company.
“Would it be so unbelievable if I told you I rather like your bushy-haired friend?” Pansy asked. Ginny narrowed her eyes and took in the other girl’s relaxed posture, despite being tackled. The girls glared at each other for ten full seconds before the side of Ginny’s mouth twitched.
“Oh gods, no,” Ginny complained, releasing Pansy and stepping back a bit. She looked over at Hermione, but Hermione could only grin. “It’s okay Gin, it happens to the best of us.”
“What?” Pansy asked suspiciously.
Ginny groaned and crossed her arms. “My brother is going to kill me if he finds out. Harry too.”
“What?” Pansy asked again. This time Hermione laughed and leaned over and loudly whispered in her ear. “She likes you. Ginny likes her friends feisty. You can stay.”
Pansy flashed a sly grin at Ginny and sank back into the pillows. “Brilliant. Tori’s coming later with the firewhiskey. Do you two have any nail polish? I need a touchup.” Before Hermione could answer in the negative (she chewed on her nails far too much to keep them painted), Ginny tossed a nice shade of red at Pansy’s face, which the Slytherin girl caught deftly. She inspected the color, and Hermione assumed she would refuse, but Pansy began lathering it onto her fingernail. Ginny humphed in approval as Pansy passed some sort of test. Oh, gods, Hermione didn’t know if this was such a good idea. These two women could be the death of her.
Thankfully, about an hour later, Astoria showed up. She had a large bottle of firewhisky, and the most beautiful smile that even Ginny couldn’t resist. Astoria had a kindness about her that was unquestionable. Looking around the room now filled with women, Hermione relaxed and decided to enjoy the night. Tomorrow, the rush of the holidays would be about them, but for tonight she could be proud of what she and Draco had accomplished in the lab and enjoy the company of her friends.
The girls played rounds of truth or dare, becoming increasingly sloshed and filled with giggles. Around one in the morning, they collapsed in a heap–heads resting on stomachs, hair tangled, hands passing the bottle. The laughter faded into something more solemn, and the four of them began talking about the war. Pansy and Astoria told them of Daphne, and how she was hit in the crossfire. Ginny spoke of Fred, and Hermione of her own parents’ deaths. The tears came, and the girls hugged each other tightly. Although sorrowful, each one of them felt comforted, like they weren’t alone. Astoria spoke of Daphne’s obsession with her hair, how she magically dyed it every week to a perfect gold and would have rather died than see her roots showing. Ginny chuckled and told her own story, one of Fred and George chasing Hermione’s cat around the castle, trying desperately to set his tail on fire. And finally, Hermione told the three pureblooded girls what it was like growing up with muggle parents. She spoke of going to the cinema and ice skating in the winter. They giggled when she explained how clumsy she was at first, trying to balance on the ice without her father’s help. Astoria said she knew Hermione must have been the best skater, but Pansy and Ginny retorted, “No way!” at the same time. By four in the morning, they were all draped across the floor, tangled up together. Hermione was the last to fall asleep, and decided there was nowhere she would rather be.
At eight, the girls began to stir and Hermione and Ginny hastily packed up their things for the holidays. They frantically packed random clothes and books, hoping it was correct. They were scheduled to apparate outside the Hogwarts grounds at nine to arrive at the Burrow. Molly would surely worry if they were late, so they desperately tried to hurry. Pansy and Astoria tried to help when they could but mostly giggled at the other girls’ frazzled state. Ginny grumbled that they wouldn’t be laughing if they had her mother.
At ten minutes to nine, the bags were properly packed and the four made their way to the front gates. Hermione was overjoyed to see that Theo, Draco and Blaise were waiting to see them off, and launched herself into Theo’s arms. He chuckled and brushed her hair out of her face before lightly pressing his lips to hers.
“Of course,” she whispered. He wrapped her in another hug before releasing her to say goodbye to the other boys. She smiled warmly at Draco and crushed him into a hug, which seemed to startle him, and then knocked fists with Blaise. Astoria and Pansy grabbed at her last, and then she and Ginny apparated away with their things. The holidays had officially begun.
The Burrow was a madhouse. When the girls stepped through the door, they had to duck to avoid a flying sausage, which smacked into the wall. Music blared from the living room, and an argument leaked through the ceiling from a room upstairs. Somehow a garden gnome had snuck inside and was chewing on the glassware.
“Sorry!” Percy, the sausage assailant, yelled from the kitchen. “Thought you were Ron!” Ginny rolled her eyes and dragged Hermione up the stairs to drop off their bags. Hermione waved at Percy before trudging after her. At the top, they physically ran into Molly.
“Umph!” Molly wheezed, before shrieking and snatching the girls into a motherly hug. “My girls! My girls are home!” Hermione leaned into the affection, but Ginny batted her mother away goodnaturedly.
“Mum, you’ll suffocate us!”
Molly only squeezed tighter before releasing them. “Ron and Harry are in the attic looking for some old brooms. Breakfast in five!”
The Weasley matron hummed and bustled down the stairs to help Percy. Hermione and Ginny grinned at each other and hurried to set their things down before the next interruption inevitably came. Ginny pretended to check the time and mouthed, three, two, one.
The bedroom door banged open.
“YOU’RE BACK!” As one, Harry and Ron launched themselves at the girls, almost knocking them off their feet. It was all laughs and hugs, the four reunited after months apart. Harry hauled Ginny away and pulled her into a passionate kiss, and Ron and Hermione chuckled beside them.
“It’s good to see you, ‘Mione.”
Hermione beamed at him. “Good to see you too, Ronald.” From hearing all the ruckus, Charlie popped in and said his hellos, then Bill and Fleur, and even a subdued George gave Hermione a tight hug. Everyone was talking all at once until Molly screeched from below that breakfast was on the table. A stampede to the lower level ensued, and Hermione was swept away in the tide until she found herself comfortably seated between George and Charlie with a plate full of food in front of her.
Across the table, Harry and Ron were regaling their training in the auror program to Ginny and really anyone who would listen. For once, Hermione was happy to be placed by the quieter Weasleys.
“What have you been doing lately, Hermione?” Charlie asked politely. He probably didn’t want to know about the technicalities of her research, but she couldn’t help but gush with enthusiasm anytime someone inadvertently brought it up. She briefly explained her experimentations to him, and the entire table began to listen by the time she made it to detailing the new spell they developed. She was careful not to mention Malfoy; for all they knew, she was primarily working with Madam Pomfrey. Ron declared he always knew she was bloody brilliant, to which she rolled her eyes and turned back to Charlie.
“Actually, Charlie, I had something I wanted to ask you.”
He looked surprised, but interested. “Really? Unfortunately, I don’t know much about medical practices or scientific technology.” She shook her head and quickly explained their search for animals showing similar signs to magical blood curses. She outlined common symptoms and asked if he had seen any dragons showing them.
Charlie thought for a moment and then peered at her carefully. “I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but a few months ago we received reports of some wild dragons in Germany. The reports said the dragons were behaving strangely as if they were ill. We sent a team to wrangle them up and transport them to our facility in Romania. Upon examination, we noticed the dragons had extensive scarring on their underbellies and burn marks on their hides. The scarring didn’t look like the usual marks from dragon-on-dragon scuffles, and we believe the dragons were significantly abused. Obviously, we have no proof, but it’s a common opinion that rogue death eaters were experimenting on them during the war. The wounds won’t heal, much like wounds caused by dark magic often don’t heal. It’s just a theory, but perhaps it is what you’re looking for.”
Hermione’s mind was whirling. “Charlie, that’s perfect. I know this might be too much to ask…but is there any way me and Dra– my team –could apparate to your facility and take some samples from those dragons?”
He nodded. “I think we could work that out. Especially if you came at night, and only brought one or two others. I could easily sneak you in. It’s been a while since I broke some rules, and I’ve been aching to get my hands dirty.” They shared a devious grin before going back to their plates. She was excited to get back and tell Draco. He’d be thrilled at the prospect of sneaking to Romania.
All throughout the breakfast, George hadn’t said a word. Everyone else left him alone, but Hermione leaned toward him gently.
“Hey, George,” she said softly. He turned to face her but didn’t speak. The young man had dark circles plastered under his eyes and a hollow look to him. It made her feel sick, seeing this once vibrant boy reduced to a shell in his grief. Her heart ached for him. She too knew what it felt like to lose the most important people in the world. She felt it every day when she thought of her parents. She reached for his hand and flipped it over so she could drop a small sheet of paper in his grip. The paper had Theo’s lovely script, with instructions on how to create those beautiful heatless fireworks she had seen him cast at the Slytherin party. She had thought it was something George would like and had Theo write it down for her.
“Would you like to go outside and try this with me?” She held her breath as he read over the list in his hand. She prepared herself for his refusal, or worse, his silence. Instead, he nodded curtly, stood from his chair, and offered her a hand. The table quieted and watched the two exit the kitchen with wide eyes. Once outside, George held out the paper to her.
“Show me?” His voice was gruff, but she didn’t comment. She quickly demonstrated the motions and inflection. It was a simple spell, really, and George had no problem with it. Within a few minutes, the two of them had decorated the mid-morning sky with dazzling greens and reds and gazed up at their spellwork. George pocketed his wand and stuffed his hands in his jumper.
“Happy Christmas, Freddy-boy,” he rasped.
“Happy Christmas, Fred.” She echoed softly. Behind them, the Weasley clan and Harry watched them from the windows, holding onto each other tightly.
Chapter 19: Draco
It had been two hours and thirty-six minutes since Hermione had left for the holidays, and it was absolutely ridiculous that he even knew that. Usually, it didn’t bother Draco to have time away from Granger. In fact, it was often a relief. She really did ask an obnoxious amount of questions, and her rambunctious curls continually hit him in the face when she was excited. She had grown on him over the past few months, but that was no reason to know how much time was passing after her departure.
The first few minutes after nine, Draco had been filled with a restless energy that sent him pacing in the halls. Was he falling ill? He had no idea what was wrong with him. He tried to occlude, but he couldn’t even identify what he was trying to suppress. With increasing frustration he stomped up a set of stairs, tugging a hand through his hair. As he marched around corners, no destination in mind, the portraits snickered. Too aggravated to endure any commentary from them, he sent a silencio ahead of him. On the seventh floor, he looked up and was surprised to see himself face-to-face with the discrete entrance to the Room of Requirement. He blinked in confusion and wondered what he would find if he walked in. What was he in need of?
Draco tentatively reached for the handle, looking over his shoulder to confirm he was alone. No one. He took a breath and stepped inside.
At first, he was plunged into complete darkness. When he scrambled for the door behind him, his hand only met air. Panic began to set in, and he reached for his wand. He hated the dark. Darkness triggered his claustrophobia, and the Room of Requirement seemed to know. Draco hastily cast lumos .
For a moment he was afraid his magic wouldn’t work, but a faint glow bloomed at the tip of his wand. He was able to breathe again and waited a moment for his heart to calm. Never again. Never again would he let himself feel trapped. Sometimes it was difficult to remember the war was over. In the light, it was easier to rationalize his fear. There were no monsters here, hiding behind silver masks, ready to terrorize him in his own home. This was just a room. A classroom, really, and although it was full of magic and took many forms, none of it was real . The logic soothed his pulse and Draco wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers. He willed his lumos to brighten and spread throughout the room.
When the room was fully lit, Draco staggered back, disoriented. The Room of Requirement had created almost an exact replica of Draco’s own mind. Ahead was the obsidian maze, towering so high he couldn’t determine its true stature. He looked in amazement to the side and saw the usual clutter of memories, thoughts, and desires he hadn’t found time or care to deposit within the maze. These were things he didn’t deem dangerous or incriminating. Although it was all vastly familiar, it was unnerving to physically walk through it. A soft green glow emanated from the maze entrance, and Draco stepped toward it.
Like the tales of will-o’-the-wisps, the soft flame disappeared when he reached it, only to reappear a few meters away. Draco crept after it, led deeper and deeper into the maze. He wondered what the Room wanted to show him inside his own head. They passed trivial memories of quidditch, Hogsmeade trips, and writing essays in the library. As he followed, the memories became more sacred. A small smile from his mother. A quiet walk through the Manor gardens before He came to live with them. Flying alone over the castle during sixth year. Listening to Theo play in the abandoned classroom. Draco slowed his walk, hoping to spend more time in these moments, but the green light didn’t wait for him. He made himself jog to catch up; he wasn’t sure if he could become lost in here and didn’t want to find out.
A few more minutes passed, and the memories took a dark turn. Images of war and suffering attacked his senses, and Draco struggled to remain upright. He knew they must be nearing the heart of the maze; he had a tendency to toss anything he didn’t have the capacity to process toward the center. Here, Draco did not meticulously place the memories as he did on the outside. These were not images he wished to remember. Fortunately, the flame led him onwards. With a shock, Draco realized he had never wandered past the heart of his maze, but now they were making their way deeper. The air grew humid, and he got the distinct feeling of being inside a cave. A sound of rushing water erupted as they took another turn, and he looked down to see the floor was transparent with a violent river coursing underneath. He quickened his pace, glancing at the walls to either side of him. Instead of branching off into other tunnels, this passageway straightened farther than he could see. With nowhere to turn, he plowed forward.
Finally, they reached the end, and Draco stood directly in front of a small ebony door. He looked down to ask the wisp what he was to do but found the small light had vanished. He shrugged and pulled open the door to a small cavern. Stalactites hung from the ceiling, low enough to pierce him if he raised up a hand. Torches lined the rock walls, and in the flickering light, he could see a small pedestal situated not ten meters away. He couldn’t quite make out what was sitting on it, but it was something rather small. He floated forward as if he were magnetically attracted to it. He reached for the object and brought it close to his eyes. The room was exceptionally dim, but he could tell it was a book.
“What the hell.”
His words echoed through the cavern, bouncing off the wall and layering over each other. Draco ignored the sound and peered closer at the book in his hand. Jane Eyre . It wasn’t by an author he recognized, but the cover was worn as if the novel was well-loved by its owner. He flipped it open and hastily read the words penciled inside.
This book belongs to Hermione Jean Granger, 1995
Draco couldn’t seem to look away and ran a thumb over the words. He didn’t know what to make of it, any more than he understood this entire experiment. Maybe the Room of Requirement had finally gone off its rocker. He slipped the book into his back pocket and prepared for a long walk back to the exit.
Before he could take a step, the room around him faded like a mirage until he was standing in a rather dull and dusty classroom, no larger than any of the others he had lessons in. He shook his head–apparently, the Room had given him what he required and was no longer needed. Time to go.
Draco sauntered down to the dungeons, but when he closed the door to his and Theo’s shared dorm he ripped the book out of his pocket. Alone, he sank onto the lush green rug and began reading Charlotte Bronte’s work. Initially, he scoffed at the rather slow start. This Jane had to be the most boring protagonist known to man, but a younger Hermione highlighted line after line, making small annotations in the page corners. As the story progressed, he became increasingly fascinated with Hermione’s notes. She brought the story to life, and Draco felt himself become enraged with Jane’s family, cursing at them for harassing her. How unfair it was for a child to be subjected to such disdain! He flew through the chapters of what he now realized was yet another muggle book and reached a page almost unreadable from Hermione’s scrawl. For being such a swot, she really had horrendous handwriting. Draco chuckled to himself and tried to find the source of all her annotating.
There, a few paragraphs down, he found a line that had been underlined violently, with arrows pointing to the margins where she had written her own thoughts. This specific annotation was in a different color, as if it had been written at a different time. Rather than the usual black, it was a dark forest green. He hastily read the quote she was so captivated by.
Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.
He scoffed. Of course, a forgiving little Gryffindor would find this quote to be the most essential. She was absolutely ridiculous. Now at least he had proof she had always been this intolerably righteous. His eyes followed the path of the small arrow to her script in the margin and he froze in place. In her dreadful penmanship, she had written a note to herself.
Apply to Malfoy. Life is much too short to be angry with a boy who had no choice. I can choose to forgive. 3 June 1998
Draco reread the annotation over and over and couldn’t make sense of it. He even cast revelio to see if the novel had been magically tampered with, but it remained infuriatingly ordinary. It was then that Theodore found him, stupefied by Granger’s nonsensical declarations.
“Draco? Are you alright?” Theo asked as he crouched down beside Draco, gently laying his cane on the ground.
Draco blinked a few times but didn’t even know how to begin explaining and settled for holding the book out to Theo. The other boy furrowed his brows uncertainly but wrapped his fingers around the pages. For a minute, Theo was silent, reading the open page before flipping to the front and seeing the name penciled inside. With a sigh, Theo wrapped an arm around Draco’s shoulders.
“I told you she meant it.”
Draco only nodded. This…This was astounding. This entry was dated only a month after the Battle of Hogwarts, and little more than that after her experience with his aunt. Yet still, somehow she had found it in herself to forgive him, even before he had formally apologized. He couldn’t wrap his head around it…it was too big. Too much. His chest was beginning to feel tight, and a strangled sob broke out of him. Without a word, Theo wrapped his other arm around his friend. The room was silent but for the sound of Draco’s weeping.
Draco’s breathing eventually slowed, and he looked up at Theo and gave him a rueful smile. “Sorry, mate. Not sure where that came from.”
Theo only chuckled. “Definitely not what I was expecting, but I’m not upset. How did you even find that book?”
“Room of Requirement.”
“Ah.” Theo slowly got to his feet and dusted off his trousers. He held a hand out to Draco and pulled him up. “I actually came to find you for a reason.”
Draco raised his eyebrows. “Planning to rummage through the kitchens?”
Theo laughed. “No, not today. Actually, Blaise invited us to stay at his place over the holidays. I thought it might be more fun than staying here.”
“Sure,” Drago shrugged. Zabini Estate was far more interesting than dusty old Hogwarts. At least the Zabini’s had a large stash of firewhiskey.
“Great. He wants to apparate out in half an hour if you’re up for it?”
Draco nodded and summoned a small trunk to pack. He made sure to stash his broom; Blaise wasn’t too terrible at quidditch and Theo loved to watch. He threw in some warm clothes and carefully placed the copy of Jane Eyre inside. He would have to give it back to Hermione eventually, but for now, he wanted to finish the story. Maybe he’d even tell Theo about it. After all, he had loved hearing about A Tale of Two Cities . When they finished, Draco and Theo made their way to the Great Hall to meet Blaise, and the three boys apparated to a lovely villa in Northern Italy. The Christmas holidays had officially begun.
Chapter 20: Hermione
“Harry, no! Don’t you dare! Get away–” Hermione’s shriek was cut off as Harry tackled her to the ground, laughing.
“I got her! I got her!” He screamed to the others. Then he whispered in her ear, “Sorry, ‘Mione.” She scowled at him and told him he didn’t look very sorry. Harry smirked and tugged her to her feet, just as the four youngest Weasleys surrounded them. Two days after Christmas, the bored young adults had tried to come up with something to do and asked Harry and Hermione if there were any muggle games they could play. Because the two of them had only been in muggle school when they were young, the best they came up with was ‘tag’. Ron and Ginny had especially loved the idea and modified the rules to include tackling. Before Hermione could protest how dangerous that was, Harry and George had excitedly agreed and they were off.
If Hermione had thought she hated flying, she abhorred running. Not only was she clumsy, but she was also much slower than the others. It was inevitable that she would lose a round, she just hadn’t anticipated it being so painful. She rubbed her shoulder irritably but softened when she looked over at Harry’s broad grin. She couldn’t resist that smile–for years it was that smile that made her give in to any crazed sneakery or late-night rule-breaking. She tried to take a mental snapshot. Too often, his expression was creased in worry or pain. It was such a relief to see some of the old Harry back in his eyes. Before the next round of ‘tag’ began, she couldn’t help but pull him into a suffocating hug.
She squeezed even tighter. “I missed you, Harry.”
After a second he wrapped an arm around her and patted her back lightly. “Missed you too, Hermione.” Ron cleared his throat behind them, and Hermione released Harry awkwardly.
“Sorry guys! We can keep playing now.” She looked up to see Ginny smirking at her, and Hermione sighed. It was strange that so much could change, so much could be lost, and she could still uncover a place inside her full of fondness and joy. The Burrow really was a magical place.
Next to Ginny, Ron looked at her uncertainly. Hermione couldn’t read his expression, but he seemed agitated. Surely he wasn’t upset she hugged Harry ? It was Harry, for Merlin’s sake. She decided not to waste time thinking about it. Ron’s moods were always somewhat volatile.
The game continued for a few hours until Molly called them in for supper. This time, she was seated snugly between Percy, who talked her ear off about his work at the Ministry, and Mr. Weasley who asked her incessantly about the function of a loofah. After the meal, the family spread out throughout the Burrow, and Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione found themselves seated near the floo in the living room. Ginny laid her head in Harry’s lap, and Ron and Hermione each claimed a mismatched chair across from them. It was quite comfortable, and the four idly chatted about Hogwarts for a while. Ginny began telling the boys about their term, detailing how amusing the new DADA professor was and how quidditch was going this season. She grew excited as she spoke of the second match against Hufflepuff, and Hermione leaned in to listen. She had missed that match, being in the infirmary. She laughed as Ginny detailed her quick escape from a bludger, and asked the redhead how she managed not to fall off of her broom.
Ron cut Ginny’s response off and interjected, “Weren’t you there, ‘Mione?”
The girls shared an uneasy glance. Hermione hadn’t told the boys of her breakdown in the owlery. It wasn’t necessarily that she didn’t trust them, she just didn’t want to worry them. She looked at Ginny with pleading eyes; hopefully, Ginny’s smooth tongue could ease past this.
“Oh Ronald, she doesn’t have to go to every match.”
Ron looked between them suspiciously while Harry nervously wrung his hands. He hated when there was tension between them. Ron looked back to Hermione. “You always go to every match. Even though we all know you hate quidditch.”
Hermione swallowed. She might as well just tell them. “Erm, you’re right, Ron. I usually do. I just was a bit…incapacitated that day.”
“Hermione, what happened?” Harry asked anxiously. Hermione glanced at Ginny again, but the other girl looked just as helpless as she felt. She took a breath.
“I was with Madam Pomfrey.”
“Working on your research project? Surely that is not more important than my sister.” Ron’s tone turned venomous and Hermione couldn’t help the glare she shot toward him.
“No, Ronald ,” she practically spat, “I was with Madam Pomfrey because I was injured you dolt!” She angrily pushed up her jumper sleeve to show her inflamed pink scars. For a few beats, the four stared at the vulgar word, then their eyes traced the jagged slice through the letters. Harry was the first to speak, but it was so soft she could barely pick it up.
“Hermione….who did this to you?”
Her cheeks flushed and she looked down at her hands. Her fingers began tapping a nervous rhythm on her muggle jeans. She knew they wouldn’t mock her, but she felt ashamed voicing the truth.
The boys looked at each other in confusion before paling in horror. Ron gingerly reached for her arm, but she snatched her wrist away. For some reason, thinking about him touching it absolutely sickened her. It was different when Draco did…he understood. Ron, however, really didn’t have the capacity to process why she had done it. To him, she had done something vastly stupid, even though he would feel bad for her. That was all it was–pity. Draco never pitied her. Even when he found her recovering in the infirmary, he had raged at her instead of babying her. He knew she was strong; one moment of weakness didn’t change anything about her. She was grateful for his harshness, it had focused her, and motivated her not to fall off the deep end again. He probably had no idea, but Draco had given her a lot of hope that day. No, Ron Weasley wouldn’t understand.
Distracted by her own thoughts, she didn’t consider her answer carefully when Harry asked who found her. She heard Ginny fumbling, but before she could fully process her mouth moved to answer.
“MCGONAGALL!” Ginny roared over her. Harry was nodding, it made sense to him for the headmistress to take her own students to the infirmary when they needed it. Hermione almost relaxed until she noticed Ron. His shoulders were taut with tension, fists clenched.
Ron cleared his throat, never looking away from Hermione. “I knew you seemed different.” It was an accusation.
“What?” Harry asked. Hermione raised her chin. “I don’t know what you mean, Ronald.”
Ron huffed and crossed his arms. “Oh, don’t insult my intelligence. You’ve been fraternizing with the enemy . I know you meant to say Draco,” he hissed, “and I bet you were just oh so thankful for him finding you, just oh so grateful for his handsome face to be the first one you woke up to. You know, I bet you even shagged him.”
“Ron!” Ginny exclaimed. Harry looked immensely uncomfortable and extremely lost. He kept looking between the two of them, leaning forward like he wanted to say something before sitting back again. Hermione ignored him.
“I don’t need to insult your intelligence,” she responded with vitriol. “You’ve already done that for yourself.” She crossed her arms to mimic him. “Not only have you been unnecessarily vicious to Draco, but you’ve also attacked my character. Did you forget we’re supposed to be best friends?”
“Oh, that’s rich! Did you forget we’re supposed to be friends? You’ve probably befriended all the slimy little Slytherins out of the ‘goodness of your heart’.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them! They’re just children like us.”
“No, they aren’t!” Ron bellowed. “They’re monsters, and they’re snakes. I can’t believe you. After everything they’ve done to you, to Harry, to my family , you get all cozy with our mortal enemies? You’re a bloody traitor!”
Hermione gasped as he jumped up and sauntered closer, getting in her face to sneer at her. "You can’t lie to me, Hermione. I know you better than anyone else ever will. I know you probably think you’re in love with that ferret, but don’t forget that you are mine . He doesn’t deserve you, ‘Mione.”
At that, Hermione stood abruptly. Harry held Ginny back a few feet away, looking trapped. “You insolent prat! How dare you! You do not own me, Ronald. We are done . I thought that was clear four months ago ! I can fall in love with whoever I wish, and for your information,” she poked his gangly chest, “I’m not in love with Draco Malfoy! I’m in love with his best friend.”
Horror filled her stomach as she realized what she had just said. She wasn’t even sure if it was true, she really hadn’t processed her feelings for Theo yet. The words had just tumbled out in her growing hysteria. She looked up at Ron’s ferocious smile. Despite the upturn of his lips, his eyes were dead. He clenched his jaw and took a breath.
Hermione blinked at him, confused. She didn’t understand.
“GET OUT!” He bellowed again, pushing her forcefully away from him. This time, Harry stepped in, no longer unsure. He tackled Ron to the ground and slugged him in the face. “What the hell, Ron?” Harry yelled. As the boys tumbled across the floor, Hermione stumbled backward in a daze. Ron continued to fight Harry to lunge toward her, but when he couldn’t, Ron sent a nonverbal hex over his shoulder. The hex hit Hermione directly in her chest, and it took all of her focus to remain upright. Ginny rushed to her, grabbing her shoulders.
“Hermione, Hermione,” Ginny pleaded. “It’s alright, we’ll deal with Ron. He is so out of line. Don’t go anywhere, he’s just being ridiculous. After Harry is done with him, I’ll aim straight for his crotch. Don’t you worry.”
Hermione’s heart was beating too fast, and she was feeling dizzy. All she knew was she had to get out. She couldn’t stay in this house with Ron for one more second. An old panic threatened to consume her if she didn’t get away. Petrified, she brought her eyes up to Ginny, disregarding the thuds as the boys struggled.
“It’s alright, Gin. I’ll leave.”
“No!” Ginny shook her. “Don’t be daft. We want you here. Where would you even go?”
Hermione thought for a moment. “Parkinson Estate.”
Ginny went quiet. She swallowed with difficulty. “Is that what you want?”
Hermione nodded, and Ginny sighed before tugging her out of the room. “Alright. There are only a few days left of the break anyway. I’ll come up with some story for Mum, and try to knock some sense into Ron. Want me to send your things?”
“Yes, please.” She muttered. Her breaths were becoming short, and numbness was spreading over her ribs. Ginny gently led her to the door and hugged her tightly; the pain brought tears to her eyes, but Ginny only thought Hermione was overwhelmed by Ron’s anger.
“I’m so sorry, Hermione. We can fix this, I promise.” Hermione nodded again, holding in a gasp. She let go of Ginny and walked quickly to the anti-apparition ward. Right before she reached it, Harry came barreling out of the front door, screaming.
“Wait! Hermione! It’s fine, we got him under control! Please stay!”
Hermione didn’t look back as she apparated away.
Hermione didn’t actually know where Pansy lived, only that it was in North Yorkshire. The only place she was familiar enough with in North Yorkshire was Whitby Abbey, which she and her parents had visited one summer. She only hoped the abbey would be close enough for her to send a patronus.
With a crack, Hermione appeared at the back entrance to the abbey. Thankfully, she was alone and wouldn’t have to obliviate any muggles. Hastily, she cast a patronus, asking it to find Pansy Parkinson and request entrance to her estate. She waited anxiously for a few minutes, clenching her chest. The throbbing continued to increase. Hopefully, Pansy answered soon. Hermione slumped to the ground.
Only a minute or so after she sat, a beautiful black owl flew up to her, dropping a delicate piece of stationery. On it was a scribbled address, and Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She gathered her strength to apparate once more, and disappeared with a crack.
She appeared face-to-face with a high stone wall and immediately collapsed in agony. She lifted her hand to see it covered in blood.
“Blimey, Hermione! What in the world–” Pansy yelped when she ran up to Hermione’s crumpled form. Pansy screamed back at the estate and two house elves popped into being. They gently picked her up and carried her through a massive entryway and into an ornate receiving room. The elves placed her on a couch and Astoria hurried in.
“What’s happened? Oh!” The younger girl rushed forward and cupped Hermione’s cheek. “What do you need?”
Pansy glared down at Hermione as if it was a personal insult to her when her friends were injured. Hermione pointed to her chest with difficulty and managed a small smile as the faces above her blurred.
“Hexed.” That was all she got out before passing out on Pansy’s inky couch.
Chapter 21: Hermione
Hermione glanced nervously between the two girls standing over her. She regained consciousness a few minutes before and found much of the pain in her chest had disappeared. Astoria happened to be very skilled in healing charms and stopped the blood from seeping out of the small punctures littering her front. Fortunately, they weren’t very deep, so there was no immediate threat of internal bleeding. Pansy had spread a cooling potion over the incisions, which had been a relief when Hermione woke. Her jumper was still hanging open, ripped down the center from their haste to heal her. She had thanked the girls profusely and managed all of four words before Pansy held up a hand to silence her.
“What happened.” It wasn’t so much of a question as a demand. Hermione swallowed, and momentarily reconsidered her decision to come here. What if Pansy was angry with her for ruining their evening or staining the luxurious couch red? She anxiously picked at her nailbeds and looked up at Astoria. The lighter girl seemed less imposing.
“I…it’s nothing, I just had a bit of a scuffle with someone at the Burrow. Sorry about this. I can clean up the couch–”
Astoria cut in. “Oh no, love. Pansy’s not furious with you.” She swatted at her friend with a frown. “Frankly, we’re both just incredibly worried about you. Hermione, you showed up at the gates out of nowhere, bleeding of all things. We want to know how this could have happened so we can help you. You said someone did this?” This last sentence lacked the usual warmth Astoria poured into her words. In fact, Hermione shivered at the coldness in the sweet girl’s voice. She glanced up at Pansy, whose nostrils flared in irritation. She looked ready to kick something. Or someone.
Alarm dripped down her spine. She never meant for anyone else to be angry or get hurt. She had simply wanted somewhere safe to stay. Hermione backed up as much as she could on the couch and shook her head. “I don’t want to tell you.”
Pansy stalked over to her and placed her hands on either side of Hermione’s shoulders, caging her in. “Who.” Hermione glanced at Astoria for assistance, but she only pressed her lips into a thin line and crossed her delicate arms. “Who,” Pansy repeated in a growl.
Hermione didn’t know why, but still, she did not answer. Of course, she was angry with him for hurting her, but a small part of her also hoped she had imagined it. Surely Ron didn’t physically hex her across the room like she was…like she was an adversary . Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks; she shook her head again and again, mute.
“Salazar, Granger!” Pansy gripped her chin and Hermione met her pleading eyes. “Please, Hermione. Let. Us. Help.”
Hermione took a deep breath. “Ron. It was Ron.” She rapidly retold the events that led to Ronald’s outburst, excluding a few of the more personal and offensive things that were said. Whenever she mentioned what he said about her Slytherin friends, Pansy didn’t even look phased. Hermione realized it must be so normal for them to be judged at every turn, always expected to be evil or cruel. The prejudice her friends had to tolerate hurt her heart. When she voiced what Ron had said about her being his , Hermione couldn’t stop the sob that choked out of her. She was so angry .
Pansy’s eyes widened and she straightened. She turned to Astoria abruptly and they shared a look. Astoria moved over to the couch and grabbed Hermione’s hand while Pansy strode out of the room.
“Where is she going?” Hermione whispered. Astoria rubbed comforting circles along her knuckles and sighed. “You’ll see,” she answered stoically.
Five minutes passed in silence, but the serenity was broken by a crash from another room and the sound of a floo activating. Seconds later, four glowering forms stormed into the receiving room. The boys had come. First, she saw Pansy reenter the room and shuffle to the side, arms crossed. Then came Blaise, his customary grin nowhere to be found. Then came Draco, looking absolutely murderous. His hard grey eyes locked on hers then dipped down to her still-open jumper. At the sight of her damaged torso, his jaw clenched, yet he too stood to the side. She wondered why none of them were approaching her, but her confusion did not last long.
In strode Theo, cane loosely held in a gloved hand. The second he rounded the corner, he rushed forward to examine her all over. He kept murmuring to her, asking if she was alright, if she was in pain, if she needed anything. She assured him that she was fine, thanks to the girls, but he didn’t look convinced. Theo carefully ran his thumb down her sternum, and her breath hitched at the hesitant caress. When she looked at his clouded eyes, she realized his normally calm demeanor had been replaced with one of distress, and it was all for her . She couldn’t help but smile at him affectionately. Her smile seemed to shake him out of his reverie, and he pulled out his wand to repair her torn jumper. When finished, the two looked up to see the rest of the room had not moved. While Hermione felt embarrassed, the others didn’t seem bothered by the couple’s intimate moment. Instead, they seemed determined.
Hermione turned to face Draco, who was cold as ice. “As glad as I am to see you all, why are you here?”
Draco’s lips twitched upward. “Oh Granger, I am so glad you asked. It appears that we’ve got a little field trip today.” Blaise grunted in agreement and linked arms with Malfoy. Hermione turned in confusion to see Astoria and Pansy doing the same. Before she could process, Theo leaned close and interlocked their fingers.
“Hold on, love.”
The group of six apparated just outside the wards at the Burrow. Every face turned to Theo, and Hermione was shocked to realize they were waiting for directions. Theo pursed his lips. “We only get Weasleby. And the goal is to intimidate, not actually kill him, much as I’d like to.”
Blaise chuckled darkly. Draco tilted his head to the side and raised a hand petulantly. Theo sighed. “Yes, Draco?”
“May we maim?”
Theo tapped his chin in thought before grinning. “Isolate the Weasle. Drag him out. And we each get one punch before returning him to his lovely home.” Here he turned to Hermione and lifted a brow. “Sound good to you?”
Hermione considered the curly-haired boy she had grown so fond of. Before today, there were times she wondered if he had been missorted in first year. He was so kind, so patient, so soft. She felt as if she were finally seeing him clearly in this moment. Not only was he gentle and compassionate, but also fiercely protective of those he cared about, and by some miracle his small circle included Hermione. She realized she was honored to be in it.
She also realized that it felt good to have people on her side, fighting to defend her. Not that her Gryffindor friends didn’t, but it had never really been solely her they were defending. Always and forever, she was the Chosen One’s best friend; they were a package deal. All of her friends were only obtained through Harry or Ron, even Ginny. Something about that fact stung more than she’d like it to.
Theo set his hand on her hip and pulled her closer, but waited for her to respond. Ron’s words echoed in her mind and she pinched her eyes shut. You’re a bloody traitor. Get out. You are mine. Mine. Mine. The pain that followed whatever that nasty hex was. The hatred in his eyes as he looked at her in disgust. Her eyes snapped open.
Theo dropped his hand from Hermione and handed her his beautiful cane. “Hold this for me, will you?”
The boys quickly disillusioned themselves and headed toward the Burrow to find Ron. How they’d do it, she had no idea, but she had no doubt they were capable. At least two of them had been death eaters, after all. This would be a piece of cake.
Pansy palmed her wand and strode towards the house as well. “Be back in a minute. I’m going to fetch Ginevra. I have a feeling she’d love to see this.” Astoria stayed back with Hermione, a small smile on her face. They didn’t have to wait long.
A soft thud could be heard even at this distance and then a blur of bodies tumbled out the second-story window. Astoria dragged Hermione closer so that they were only a few meters away from the tangle of limbs. The disillusionment charms fell, and now Hermione could see Blaise and Malfoy pinning Ron to the ground. The redhead must’ve had a silencing charm on him because even though his mouth parted in a scream, no sound came out.
When Ron saw Hermione, his face contorted into an ugly sneer.
“Now, now, Weasleby. That look really doesn’t suit you,” Draco drawled. Theo stared stonily from the window upstairs before carefully mounting a broom to fly to ground level. He dismounted and approached the struggling boy. With a flick of his wand, the silencing spell was lifted. Immediately, Ron began sputtering, but Theo cut him off.
“Let’s make this quick. You apologize to Hermione, and we sock you in your sodding face.”
A chuckle sounded from the side of the yard. Apparently, Pansy had found Ginny, and clearly, she was correct in thinking this was a show Gin would hate to miss.
Ron spat at the boys holding him down before responding. “Don’t you mean or we sock you in your sodding face?”
Blaise tightened his grip enough to make Ron wince. “No, we really don’t.” Ron’s expression darkened even further, and he turned his head to glare at Hermione. “Run home to the snakes, did you? Look at them, Hermione. They’re sociopathic monsters.”
Hermione stepped away from her spot with Astoria and crept closer, handing Theo his cane. “I only see one monster here, Ronald.” She yanked her jumper over her head, exposing her bruised front. Every few centimeters, a dark nick decorated her otherwise unblemished skin. She held his gaze, daring him to look away from what he’d done to her. He paled somewhat but did not apologize, pressing his lips together tightly. Ginny entered the group and tapped Hermione’s shoulder.
“May I?” Hermione nodded and pulled her jumper back over her head. Ginny pounced forward and gave her brother a swift kick in the crotch, causing him to cry out in pain. She smiled savagely. “Told you I’d do that.” Draco raised a hand to give her a high-five, and Blaise, Pansy, and Astoria each gave Ron a quick punch in his nose. Draco repaired the bloody thing before adding his own, which ended in a satisfying crunch. When finished, Malfoy dramatically made way for Hermione and Theo to approach. By now, tears were streaming from Ron’s eyes and he was gritting his teeth in anger.
Hermione bit her bottom lip. “I am not yours , nor will I ever be again. You’ve made sure of that today. Do not ever insult me or my friends like you did today, or I’ll do much worse than punch you in your arrogant face.” With that, she punched Ronald Weasley, even harder than she had punched Draco all those years ago. Just like then, she felt an immediate release, enough that she actually smiled as she stepped back.
Now only Theo remained, and he walked up to Ron’s crumpled form dispassionately. “Do you know this is how Pansy found Hermione today? Collapsed and bloodied in the dirt, but entirely from you . What kind of man does that to a friend?” He pursed his lips in distaste. “You are a coward. If you so much as look at her wrong, we will be back, and we won’t be so kind. We take care of our own.” Now he leaned down only inches away from Ron’s face. “And for the record, she’s actually mine .”
The blow that followed knocked Ron out cold, and Theo strolled back over to Hermione’s side. “Alright?” He asked. She nodded and replied, “Fantastic. Can we go?” Theo laced their fingers together and gestured for the other Slytherins to follow him back through the wards. On their way out, Hermione glanced back at Ginny nervously, but the other girl was barely suppressing a grin as she roughly revived and patched up her brother. Hermione decided he was in good hands and waved goodbye to her friend. With a crack, the six of them apparated back to Parkinson Estate in much higher spirits and played exploding snap until the early hours of the morning.
Chapter 22: Theodore
“Theo, mate, your restraint is unbelievable sometimes. If that were my girl…I’d have avada’d him on the spot.” Blaise commented cheerfully as they strolled through the garish rosebushes lining his mother’s estate.
Theo grumbled something unintelligible about how much he would like to use something rather unforgivable on the foul little Weasle, but couldn’t for fear of enraging Hermione. Draco was close enough to hear and nudged him in the arm. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
He normally would have laughed at Draco’s little quip, but he was momentarily distracted with his hands. It was now a quarter past five in the morning, and over the past few hours, his fingers had begun shaking violently. He needed another dose of his potions, and soon. When the trembles began, nausea was soon to follow. A familiar tightness was appearing in his chest as well, and he couldn’t bear the thought of ruining any more of his friends' time by being overcome with one of his episodes. He searched his pockets almost frantically, even though he knew there was nothing in them. Somehow he had miscounted. He thought he had enough to make it through the holidays, but with his increased consumption he had gotten off and run out.
“Alright, Theo?” Draco asked anxiously. Theo made himself slow his movements, feigning composure. He plastered on one of his winning smiles and nodded. Usually, that worked swimmingly with his best friend, but tonight Draco looked on edge. “Do you need something?”
“I’m fine, Draco. Just a bit tired. I don’t know if you recall, but we haven’t slept tonight,” Theo joked. His friend eyed the cane clenched in his hand and ran his fingers through his hair.
“I don’t know, mate…well, you look great, actually. That’s what’s bothering me. You’ve been fantastic. I haven’t even heard you cough in weeks. I don’t even know why you carry that thing around,” he gestured at the cane, “because you haven’t used it once. I can’t help but wonder if something is wrong and if a part of you knows it. That although you look healthy, you don’t quite feel healthy on the inside. I’m worried.”
Theo stopped in place, dread filling his insides. Something about Draco’s words unsettled him. To be honest, he didn’t know why he bothered with the cane either, but he couldn’t seem to go without it. Something urged him to grab it each morning for the past few weeks. It didn’t make any sense. No. He was perfectly fine. Doubling and tripling his potions was working; for the first time in his life, he felt like he was truly living. Everyday tasks no longer incapacitated him and he was learning what it was to be normal. And normal was all he had ever wanted. If the only consequence of taking more than the recommended dosage was his recently clammy hands and blue fingertips, that was worth it, ten times over. Resolved, he held up his chin and placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder.
“Like you said, I’m doing great. Sometimes we have to just be grateful for the good things that come in life. You don’t have to always assume they will be taken away. Let’s just enjoy it.”
Draco let out a breath he had been holding and nodded slowly. “Alright. We’ll enjoy it.”
Blaise cantered back to urge them to hurry up. “Come on, lads. ‘Stepdaddy’ brought out the Rosso di Montalcino.” He wriggled his eyebrows suggestively, and the other boys couldn’t help but chuckle before following him inside.
Like all good pureblooded households, Zabini Estate was magnificent. Where Parkinson Estate favored a more modern decor and Malfoy Manor a gothic one, the Zabini’s, or rather Madam Zabini, was drawn to all things baroque. The hallways were spacious with dark columns beckoning you in. Every surface of the grand entryway was painted with scenes depicting love, war, and indulgence. A person could get lost in them; the chiaroscuro created a feeling that you were part of the art, a player in a delicate and contrastive game, sparred on by color. Just as Theo began examining one of his favorite pieces, Madam Zabini herself glided into the foyer.
“Ah, my boys! We have had a long night, have we?” Theo had always felt like Blaise’s mother had a musical voice. Her inflections were buoyant, and words bobbed to the top of her throat before spilling out elegantly. The voice perfectly matched the woman. She was tall and lean, aided by her obvious disdain for heels less than six inches. Her skin was beautiful, clearly where Blaise inherited his handsome features. Today, her hair was full and free, tight black curls bouncing down her back. True, she was a bit wild, but not like Draco’s aunt Bella. Madam Zabini was the epitome of what Theo truly wanted to be. Free. Careless. Healthy. In short, he adored her.
Madam rapped Blaise on the head and chastized him for disappearing on the ‘brink of the moon’s feeding period’ or something of the sort in her effervescent tone. She didn’t look too bothered as she faced the others and pulled Draco and Theo into a quick embrace, ruffling their hair. Draco groaned beside him. “Mum, we saw you yesterday ,” He complained. She only clucked in irritation and clapped her hands excitedly.
“Come, come! Let’s drink! Let’s dance! Only a few more days of my boys being here before heading back to school and leaving me with my ugly brute of a husband.”
Theo laughed good-naturedly and she winked at him. “Don’t worry. He’ll be gone before you know it. Let’s drink, shall we?”
Blaise visibly paled, Draco choked on a laugh, and Theo shook his head. The rumors surrounding Madam Zabini were legendary, much to Blaise’s chagrin. Theo believed there was little truth to them, regardless of the mysterious deaths of her previous five–or was it six?--husbands. Although she did have quite an impressive apothecary in her basement, which was rather an odd hobby. Oh, well. There were bigger things to worry about.
The four entered a smaller drawing room, where cups of tea were placed and a new bottle of wine sat open on the table. ‘Stepdaddy’ Zabini was lounging in a cozy chair in the corner and raised two fingers in hello. The boys nodded in acknowledgment and grabbed their own glasses. Draco immediately launched into a conversation with Mr. Whatsit over his research. Apparently, Draco had developed an interest in indisposed nifflers. He couldn’t tell if his friend was actually fascinated by the topic or if he was rescuing Blaise from an uncomfortable chat with the older man. Blaise liked to remain far removed from his mother’s current conquests.
Theo glanced across the room to Madam Zabini, who met his eyes with a mischievous grin. She discretely waved for him to accompany her out of the room. After a moment, Theo followed, making sure Blaise and Draco were preoccupied.
He drifted down the hallway after Madam’s lilting gait; she led him further and further away from the others until they finally reached the basement doorway.
“Come.” She whispered.
They carefully made their way down the stairs, Madam locking the door behind her with a swish of her wand. The click of the lock made him a bit nervous, and he paused before stepping down the final step.
“Oh Theo, darling, don’t be frightened. It’s just a basement.” Madam Zabini’s relaxed demeanor soothed the fear rising in his chest, but did not quell his confusion.
“Why did you bring me here?” He asked tentatively. She spread her arms, lighting the room’s torches as she did so. Each wall had floor-to-ceiling shelving, littered with bottles and vials of all shapes and sizes. Some of the containers glowed or pulsed ominously, and others appeared painfully ordinary. He scrunched his brows skeptically.
“And you want me to…” His voice tapered off. He was completely befuddled. Perhaps she wanted him to clean up the dust? Madam frowned hotly. “No silly boy, I want you to find whatever it is you need . Your little friends may not see through your ruse, but I do. I see the gloves you have not taken off, even indoors, and the slight panic in your eyes when they aren’t looking. What is happening?”
Her tone was so severe, he didn’t even attempt to argue. Theo’s shoulders slumped in defeat as he answered. “I’ve run out of my usual doses. For my…condition. I don’t know what happened.”
She leaned forward and placed a hand on his cheek. “Chin up, my boy. Look around and take as much as you need. I have everything from blood replenishers to skele-gro. I’m going to pop back upstairs in case they’ve noticed you’re missing. I’ll say you’ve run to relieve yourself and are quite alright.” She narrowed her eyes. “Just stay away from the west wall. Those are my… special potions.” A devious grin spread across her face and she slipped back upstairs, leaving Theo very much alone.
He sighed. “Tilly, could you please come here?”
With a pop, the sweet female house elf appeared. “Hi! Friend of Master Blaise! I’m so happy you called. What can Tilly help you with?”
Theo couldn’t help but smile. In contrast to most pureblooded families, the Zabini’s never owned house elves. Tilly had been free as long as she had been with the Zabini’s and received a generous wage. She stayed with them out of pure adoration for the family, as well as the family friends. Theo had met her for the first time when he was six years old, and had liked her immediately.
“Hello, Tilly,” he said kindly. “Do you remember the potions I usually take for my illness?” She nodded vigorously. “Well, I seem to have used up my current supply. Madam Zabini said I can take anything I might need. Could you help me find a supply of blood replenishing, cough, and pepperup potions for next term and send them to my dorm at Hogwarts?”
“Oh yes! Yes! Tilly would love to help! Tilly will even give you one dose of the potions right now so Theodore doesn’t look so peaky.” She skipped over to the eastern wall and grabbed a few vials before shoving them in Theo’s hands. “Take those right now,” she said gravely. Once he had downed each one, her beam returned. “Good, good! Now go back upstairs and enjoy the holiday. Tilly will send these to Hogwarts.”
Theo thanked her and returned to the drawing room, already feeling rejuvenated. There was nothing like a good pepperup potion. Draco and Blaise grinned when he strode in and dragged him down to the sprawling grounds to referee their quidditch match. Both of them were stumbling enough to indicate they were properly battered; clearly, the wine had been to their liking. Watching them giggle as they focused on staying upright on their brooms was so amusing Theo was grinning a few minutes in. When Draco and Blaise collided, tumbling off their mounts into a pile, a laugh broke out of his mouth so unexpectedly he couldn’t stop the cough that followed. It was only one, but he peered suspiciously at the droplets of blood, splattered on his hand. He had never coughed so soon after taking his potions; even at his worst, he often had a few days of respite before the coughs returned. But it was only one, and he had been laughing quite hard. It was nothing. He wiped his bloody hand on his trousers and looked back up at his friends as they untangled themselves and continued playing. It was nothing.
Chapter 23: Hermione
Hermione side-along apparated back to Hogwarts with Pansy; she was still healing and Astoria insisted she not strain herself. The three of them landed and made for the entrance with linked arms. Pansy arranged for their things to be dropped off in their dorms later so they were empty-handed as they ambled past the Great Hall. Peeking inside, Hermione only saw a small spattering of students back from the holidays. The rest were either resting up for the start of term or arriving later that night.
Walking through the castle halls felt entirely different than when she arrived in September. All those months ago, Hermione had felt so broken and alone. She had fixed her eyes on the floor, unable to bear any reminders of battles fought and lives lost. Her wand never left the tight grip of her right hand, and her shoulders were so tense she thought a tendon might snap. This time, however, Hermione entered with friends and some hope returned to her damaged heart. Instead of heading upstairs to the Gryffindor common room, she followed her Slytherins down the steps to the dungeons. Ginny wouldn’t arrive until later, so she had plenty of time to spend with the boys.
Astoria whispered the password– memento mori –and the portrait hole swung open. Immediately, Pansy spotted Blaise and muttered a quick, “Nice seeing you ladies, but I’ll be going now,” before making a beeline for the tall boy. Blaise was practically dragged into Pansy and Astoria’s room, though he didn’t look too bothered by it. Astoria chuckled softly and smiled at Hermione before crossing the room to catch up with Tracey Davis. Hermione turned towards the couches where she thought she had spied a tuft of platinum hair. She crept up behind the couch and leaned over into Draco’s face.
“Hello, ferret.” She said brightly. Draco let out a strangled yelp and toppled onto the floor. He closed his eyes in defeat and placed a bookmark in whatever novel he was reading, not bothering to pick himself back up.
“Very funny, Granger. Just ruin my moment.” He cracked open an eye and huffed in annoyance when he saw her maniacal grin. “Oh, sod off. Theo’s in the corner.” She giggled and surveyed the common room. There, just as Draco had said, stood Theo. He was leaning comfortably against the wall with his arms crossed and eyes twinkling as he took her in. He extended a hand and curled his pointer finger; she obediently strode over to him.
“Hi,” she said breathlessly, standing a few inches from him. Her forehead only met his chin, so he tilted her face up to meet his eyes.
“Hi,” he echoed in a low murmur. He trailed a gloved finger down her cheek before tugging her upstairs. Draco and Theo’s room was lovely. The two beds were pushed up against opposite walls to make the room as spacious as possible. A lush carpet spread between, comfortable enough to sleep on. Unlike Harry and Ron, this room did not bear the marks of unhygienic sloppiness. The Gryffindors were known for leaving out half-eaten sugar quills, muddy quidditch uniforms, and forgotten cups of tea. It had always disgusted Hermione enough that she never ventured into their living quarters. Draco and Theo’s room, in contrast, was charming in its disorder. Instead of feeling grimy, it felt like the chaos of a mind at work. On Draco’s side, stacks of books littered the area. They were not the sort of collection meant to impress, but a hoard of someone obsessed . At any given time, a dozen books would be opened to different pages, each with its own bookmark so he wouldn’t lose his place. Draco had few other decorations but a small portrait of his mother on his bedside table. Even from a distance, the frame appeared worn, as if he had held it over and over.
Theo’s side revealed stacks of sheet music, marked all over with ink notes. His violin rested in a silver stand near his bed, ready for action. Unlike Draco, Theo had filled his wall with frames. There were pictures of him and Draco laughing by the Black Lake, Hermione and Pansy asleep in the common room, and Blaise throwing Astoria over his shoulder. He didn’t hang any pictures of his mother, but he did frame some of her favorite pieces of music. There, above one of Hermione scowling (Draco had just snatched the book out of her hands during breakfast), was the Bach partita he had played for her in the abandoned classroom; it was one of his mother’s most played melodies. Hermione tentatively reached out a hand to brush the edge of the music.
“Can you read music?” Theo asked suddenly. Hermione turned and shook her head. To her, they were simply marks on a page. It amazed her that Theo could transform the written notes into something so beautiful.
“Maybe you could teach me sometime.”
He frowned thoughtfully. “I daresay you’d learn it faster than I did. I don’t think there’s anything you couldn’t do if put your mind to it.” He was probably right; she was notoriously stubborn. Still, a part of her enjoyed the mystery. It made Theo’s playing that much more magical. Theo settled on the floor and patted the space beside him. Hermione plopped down and laid her head on his lap, looking up at the ceiling.
A few minutes passed in comfortable silence. Theo ran his fingers through her mess of curls, meticulously untangling each bunch. She liked watching his eyebrows furrow when he couldn’t quite pull a curl free; he was so endearingly focused on his task. Finally detangled, Theo cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry about last week.” She was so relaxed she had almost forgotten about the scene at the Burrow.
“It’s alright, Theo. It wasn’t your fault.”
He hummed in agreement and continued. “I meant I’m sorry for how I acted. I let my anger get the better of me. I shouldn’t have said those things to Ron, no matter how much of a prat he was being. I know he was– is –important to you.”
She twisted into a sitting position and considered the boy before her. It was so easy to be honest with him. She never had to be afraid of being ridiculed or misunderstood. Theo listened in a way that most people would never master, and she loved that about him. It was this that gave her the courage to whisper the truth. “I’m so angry with him, but I’m angrier with myself for being devastated by his words. Why do I care so much? Why does it hurt so much, Theo?”
He pulled her close and cupped her cheek. “Of course it hurts, love. He’s your best friend.”
“But he shouldn’t be! Not after acting like that.” She swiped away an angry tear. “I hate the way he made me feel. I hate how small I felt, how terrified. I’m so afraid that he’s right: that no one will ever truly know me, that he’s the best I’ll ever have. I know that’s ridiculous, but I can’t quite shake it.”
Theo tilted her chin up and pressed a soft kiss on her nose. “I know you,” he said simply.
Hermione blinked and some of the tension left her body. He was right. The fear she felt from Ron’s words was a lie, and probably more of an indication of Ron’s own insecurities than anything. In the back of her mind, she remembered a day in the Forest of Dean when Ron lashed out after thinking she and Harry were together. The jealousy transformed her usually genial friend into someone unrecognizable. She sighed heavily.
“Is it terrible if I say I hope Ginny did some irreparable damage to his most precious parts?”
Theo chuckled darkly. “No, I think he rather deserves that. But you know what? I bet he’ll be apologizing profusely before you know it. Spending that much time with the Chosen One is sure to cause some repentance. The sheer goodness must be suffocating.”
“Theodore, I think you’ve spent too much time around Draco,” she teased. When she looked down at his hands, she noticed his gloves again. It was odd. She didn’t think he was one to wear them as a fashion statement, and it was relatively warm in the castle with all the fires going, so she didn’t understand why he continued to wear them. “Are your fingers cold?”
He flexed his fingers self-consciously, and she peered even closer.
“Theo, are you shaking?” He opened his mouth, eyes darting around the room nervously; the rest of his body seemed to freeze in place to avoid her examination. Before he got the chance to answer, the door to the room burst open violently and Malfoy barreled in.
“Granger!” He practically growled. Theo didn’t react, yet Hermione couldn’t help but feel anxious by his tone. “Erm…yes?” She squeaked. He spotted her and Theo and dropped into a crouch, waving his book in her eyes. She swatted at him and scuttled backward. Theo had recovered from his initial stupor and grinned.
“What the hell is this?!” Draco spat displaying a page of his book and pointing aggressively at an underlined passage. She was too confused to read it properly and motioned for him to go on. He huffed and retracted his extended arm. “Are you telling me that after everything he’s done, Jane just decides she’s perfectly alright with this lying, cheating, arse of a man? No. I simply won’t believe it. This is rubbish. Absolute rubbish.”
Hermione gently pried the book out of his hand and barked out a laugh. Of all things, it was her lost copy of Jane Eyre . “Oh! Draco, where did you find it? I lost it last term when I was rereading it.”
“Room of Requirement,” he waved her off impatiently, “but Granger, tell me this is a joke. Tell me there is a sequel and she doesn’t stay with Mr. Rochester.”
“No, Draco. She stays.” She pinched her lips together in mirth. His scowl was so vehement she was worried he might be permanently stuck that way.
“But he tried to marry her without telling her about his wife! A wife he had locked in an attic!”
“And he’s pretentious.”
“Then why, pray tell, did she go back to him? She should have let the blind buffoon suffer alone.”
“She loved him,” she said with a shrug. “I know it’s misogynistic and controversial, but it is what it is. It’s a classic.”
“Well, I hate it.” He said definitely. Theo sent him a sympathetic look and nudged Hermione. “Did you remember you annotated something about Draco in this copy?”
She jolted in place. How could she have forgotten? It must have been sometime last summer. On days when she was at her worst, sometimes her only comfort was rereading her favorite books. Jane Eyre had been one of the first ones she picked up that day. She did remember what she had written. It was in a very early chapter when Jane was speaking with her peaceful classmate. The other girl, Helen, said something about life being much too short to remain angry at those who had wronged you. At the time, that line was monumental for Hermione. The war made petty arguments and school bullying seem so trivial, and this new perspective made her think immediately of Malfoy. They were just two children on opposite sides of the war. She didn’t have to like him, but she could forgive him for his behavior in school. Honestly, she hadn’t thought of it again until now. She looked up at Draco and saw he was staring at her with a guarded expression on his face. He was occluding, at least partially.
“I remember,” she hastily replied, “and I still mean it. That was back when I was too exhausted to bother with being hurt by things you’d said to me in the past. Now I actually know you, and believe it even more strongly.”
He smiled then, and Theo clapped him on the back. “Wonderful. We’re all friends and all forgiven, and I’m famished. Anyone fancy a bite at the Three Broomsticks?”
Just then, Draco’s stomach growled; it was decided. Hermione ran up to grab Ginny, and the boys found Astoria, Blaise, and Pansy. Hermione dashed away any lingering concerns. They had one last night before classes started up again, and she didn’t intend on wasting it. She could fuss over Theo tomorrow, but for tonight, she was determined to have fun.
Chapter 24: Hermione
Hermione groaned and leaned her head on her lab station, and Draco chuckled behind her.
“You know, you wouldn’t feel so bad if you hadn’t drunk so much last night.”
“Oh shut up, Malfoy. No one asked your opinion.”
“Touchy, touchy.” He tsked from a few feet away. After a second, something cold thwacked her in the arm. She was about to snap at him again when she realized he had floated over a hangover potion. She gruffed out a ‘thank you’ and downed it in one go. Merlin, magic was a godsend.
When she felt the raging migraine finally seep away, she smoothed out her lab coat and began setting up equipment. “I spoke with Charlie.”
“Umphm?” Draco’s response was muddled by the wand he held between his teeth. In each hand was a stack of cell culture plates, tipping precariously. Hermione straightened the towering plates with a flick of her wand and continued. “Yes. He said he has some dragons that might be showing the symptoms we’re looking for, dragons he believes were cursed under suspicious circumstances. There’s just one issue.”
“Oh?” Now Draco was using his wand to levitate himself upside down to look into the microscope. Sure, it was probably easier to see through the lenses that way, but the sheer impracticality of it equally amazed and vexed her. She shook her head to clear it.
“Yes, well,” she rushed, “the issue is we have to sneak out of school and apparate to Romania to obtain the samples.”
Draco twirled back down to his feet and scowled at her. “You’re worried about skipping school ? What about the greater good, and all that other Gryffindor nonsense you love so much?”
She frowned back at him, crossing her arms. “I just don’t like breaking the rules! When Charlie explained it, it sounded exciting, but now I’m not so sure.”
“Granger,” he spoke slowly, “correct me if I am wrong, but I think you’ve broken more rules singlehandedly than anyone in the history of Hogwarts.”
“Chamber of Secrets ring a bell?”
“Yes, I suppose that did require a bit of sneaking–”
“That was to fight against injustice–”
“Oh! I know,” he interrupted sarcastically, “breaking into the Ministry of Magic?”
Here she paused. “Alright, yes I see your point. From start to finish, that particular escapade was a lot of rule-breaking.”
“And my personal favorite, when you used the confundus charm on McLaggen.”
“I–” she stopped abruptly. “Wait, how do you know about that?” He smirked and grabbed a chair, sinking into it gracefully. “You’re not the only one who sneaks around. I saw you. At the time, I only meant to see Weasleby embarrass himself, but watching you do exactly what you accused me of doing in second year was an added bonus.”
Her mouth opened and shut a few times before settling on an intelligent, “Huh?”
Draco gave her a pointed look and crossed his arms primly, giving an exaggerated impression of second-year Hermione. “At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in.”
She rolled her eyes, even though it was a good impression. “Fine. I get it. You joined quidditch unfairly, and I helped Ron join unfairly. We’re both liars and cheaters and rule-breakers. Happy?”
He grinned. “Very. When do we leave?”
The two of them apparated in jumps. The first jump was the most tiring–from Scotland to Belgium. After that, Hermione insisted they pop into the eastern tip of France before stopping in Austria. Draco argued for a good ten minutes that it was more fitting to go through Germany rather than France, and it was only after he admitted his favorite bakery was in Munich that she shut down the idea.
“Oh my gods, Draco! This is not a holiday!”
“ No .”
They went through France, much to Draco’s dismay.
From the very edge of France, Hermione had them apparate through Austria and Hungary (to which Draco muttered he was very ‘hung-ary’ and Hermione pretended she had lost all hearing), and finally, they landed in Romania. Hermione checked the time. Half-past three in the morning, exactly one hour before she had agreed to meet with Charlie. She sank to the ground in exhaustion.
They decided to rest for as much time as they could, and toward the end of the hour, they each downed a pepperup potion. She didn’t expect any trouble tonight, but it was best to have their wits about them. She quickly stood and stretched before looking at Draco, who was much more subdued than he had been the rest of the night.
“Ready?” He nodded and reached for her arm. Hermione had been to visit Charlie once before, so she planned to apparate them right to the edge of the facility. Charlie would meet them in the shadows and quietly lead them to the correct sector before scampering off to make sure no one bothered them. He assured them that the dragons should be asleep, or at the very least docile under tranquilizers, so they should be able to obtain the samples and apparate away directly. With a steadying breath, she apparated them into the dark.
They appeared with a small crack, and after taking a moment to become oriented in the dim lighting, they pressed themselves back into a large stone wall. This was the south wing of the facility, far from sleeping quarters. Draco rapped her curls with his wand, and she felt a disillusionment charm slide over her; she nodded a quick thanks. Before Draco did the same for himself, she saw him gazing at the space she had disappeared into with an odd expression; she didn’t have any time to overanalyze it though. Just as the last sight of his shoes faded from view, Charlie slipped around the corner.
“Hermione?” He whispered.
“Here. Me and Dra–my partner–are here.” She responded quietly. Charlie flipped her a thumbs-up and beckoned for them to follow. The three of them trudged through a long, muddy trail for at least a kilometer. Every few minutes, she could hear Draco sniffing in distaste and it took all of her restraint not to throw her own soiled shoe at him. Unfortunately, she probably would have missed when he was disillusioned, and then she would be down a shoe, which really wouldn’t help anyone. She settled for splashing in every puddle, hoping it would douse him. If the hiss that just left his mouth was any indication, she had just been successful. She beamed at the darkness in front of her.
They reached a tall, barbed-wire fence, sizzling with magic. Charlie warned them never to touch it–the spell they used was magnifica electrum , holding more than enough energy to stun a dragon and fry a witch or wizard. He instructed them to silently levitate themselves over the tall fencing and drop onto the ground on the other side. Hermione assured him they would be fine, and planned to disapparate immediately after collecting the samples. Charlie bid them good luck, and hurried back down the long pathway they had recently taken. Once gone, Draco lifted their disillusionment charm and raised his eyebrows, waiting for instructions.
Hermione dug into her newly charmed trouser pockets. Over the years, she had grown rather fond of the undetectable extension charm and applied it to almost everything. She carefully pulled out ten straight-stick needles, a bundle of gauze, antiseptic, and ten collecting tubes for the blood draw. After a moment of consideration, she put the gauze and antiseptic back in her pockets. They needed to work quickly, and cleaning charms would be more efficient than muggle sterilization methods.
“Alright,” she explained, “the plan is to identify ten dragons and complete a venipuncture on them to obtain a blood sample. We are aiming for the ventral midline, between two scales. That shouldn’t be too difficult, as the scales on these dragons are massive. I will insert the needle, quickly draw blood, and move on to the next. While I do that, you stay alert in case anything goes wrong. To be honest, your spellwork is much better than mine, so I trust you to watch my back from the ground.”
Malfoy nodded. “I didn’t understand half of that, but I’m gathering that you’ll do the pokey pokey, and I’ll protect the fair maiden.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, that about covers it. Let’s go.”
“ Wingardium leviosa. ”
Draco effortlessly levitated the two of them high into the air before gently gliding them to the ground on the other side of the buzzing fence. Hermione was genuinely impressed, but she spotted the first dragon and froze in place.
“Easy, Granger,” Draco whispered. “I’m right behind you.” She took a deep breath and carefully stepped toward the beast. Each one in this sector was meant to be quite ill, but she needed to examine them for precisely the right symptoms for them to be prevalent in their research. She edged forward.
The dragon before her was a dusty red, with patches of bare flesh where it had scratched the scales right off its massive body. Even laying down, the reptile was overwhelmingly large. Hermione suppressed a shiver. She had always hated dragons. She had hated the stories she read as a child with fiery beasts flying overhead, destroying villages, but her dislike had grown during the Triwizard tournament. Watching Harry barely escape with his life amplified the fear, and being this close to a dragon now was petrifying. It was only Malfoy’s steady gait behind her that urged her forward.
She slipped around the side to take a look at the large maw. Ugly, jagged teeth poked out of the mouth, and she almost screamed at the red dripping onto the ground. For a moment, she imagined herself locked between those powerful jaws, being punctured again and again, blood spilling out as she was devoured. After her initial panic, however, she heard a slight sound and couldn’t help but lean in. The breaths were coming so slowly she hadn’t registered them at first but there it was: a stomach-churning gurgling with each inhale. Her eyes darted back to the cracks between the teeth, and she watched more and more blood drain through with every exhale. All at once, her fear drained away and was replaced by a crushing pity. This dragon was dying, and slowly. He was drowning in his own lungs, expelling blood with every breath. The clinical part of her brain recognized him as a perfect subject for experimentation, and the compassionate side of her wanted to cry.
She felt a warm hand squeeze her shoulder. “Come on, Hermione. It’s time.” She closed her eyes and crept backward, looking for a patch of belly with flaking scales. It would be the easiest site of entry. Once she identified a good spot, she carefully applied a cleaning charm. In less than thirty seconds, she performed the venipuncture, secured the tube, and stored the sample in her pocket. On to the next.
Draco stayed close, wand at the ready. So far, the animals hadn’t stirred, but they didn’t want to push their luck. Hermione quickly collected three, four, and five more samples. After the seventh, she was in a fantastic mood. The excitement to run back to the lab was filling her, and she turned to grin at Draco. He met her eyes and grinned back, and for a moment she couldn’t look away. His eyes were so lovely when they were fully blue…she remembered a day, months ago when she had been even closer to him than this, gazing into his brilliant azure eyes before he crashed his lips into hers. Heat rushed into her cheeks and she quickly looked at her feet. What was wrong with her? When she glanced back up, his expression had darkened, replaced with a familiar coldness. Her mouth went dry; she didn’t know what to say or do around him sometimes. He was so difficult to read, so incredibly irritating and endearing all at once. He was nothing like Theo. She had begun inching backward to put some space between them when a deep rumble shook the ground.
Draco’s eyes snapped up. “Hermione–”
Whatever he meant to say was drowned out by a furious roar. Dawn was coming, and a faint aura of light haloed the beast stomping toward them. The dragon was massive, and by the looks of it, fighting through its dose of tranquilizer. A large rip sliced through its left wing, oozing fluid. In anger, presumably from being woken by a pair of teenagers, it attempted to scorch them with flames. Before either of them could think, its colossal mouth opened and heaved an angry breath their way. Hermione winced, preparing to be burnt to a crisp, but instead of fire, the beast only spat out blood. Liters and liters of it, drenching her and Draco. Somehow, it was more horrifying than the heat she expected. Draco pulled out his wand beside her and set himself in a defensive stance, but Hermione leaned over and vomited. The smell was stuffing its way up her nose. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t breathe .
“Granger!” Came Draco’s panicked shout. She assumed he meant for her to get herself together so they could apparate out, but really it had been a warning. Angry at its failure to kill the pesky humans, the dragon swung a clawed limb toward Hermione. The impact winded her, and she felt her body fly meters before crashing into the dirt. Her lungs didn’t want to work, and her sight flickered in and out. That was painful . Somewhere in the distance, she heard Draco shooting spell after spell at the beast, but they mostly ricocheted off of the tough scales. Hermione lifted a hand to her chest and felt the cuts from Ron’s hex reopening. She couldn’t tell where her blood started and the putrid dragon’s blood ended, but she expected to pass out in the next few minutes. They needed to leave, ten samples or not. She took an agonizing breath and twisted onto her side. She couldn’t stop the whimper that left her mouth. Hermione shakily raised her wand at Draco’s darting body. She only had one shot.
“ Locomotor. ”
The dirtied boy flew backward and flopped onto the ground at her feet, and the dragon roared again before charging after him. Draco looked over at her injured form and paled.
“Do it,” she grunted. They needed to get out of here now .
His hand started shaking and he looked between the beast and her. Three seconds until they were dead. Three.
“I–I can’t, what if I splinch you–”
“Do it Draco!” she yelled, clenching her chest. Two .
“Hermione,” he pleaded. The dragon was three meters away.
“Now!” One .
Draco apparated them away into the night, and Hermione screamed as she felt her insides being ripped to shreds. Then there was only darkness.
Chapter 25: Draco
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Draco landed in Munich cradling Hermione in his arms and almost passed out from the strain. He knew he shouldn’t have attempted such a lengthy apparition but he had panicked. Munich was the first place he thought of due to their prior conversation. Thankfully, they were alone at this early hour, stashed away in an alley; even so, he gently placed her on the ground and set up a dozen wards.
Finished with the protective enchantments, he dropped to his knees beside her and cast a cleaning spell. He couldn’t see anything with all the blood covering her, and the sight of it brought a rage he had never felt before. He was working on autopilot, completely fueled by a fury he couldn’t quite understand. He initiated a diagnostic test over her and growled at the damage it displayed. Twenty-seven reopened incisions losing blood along her torso. Two broken ribs from the impact. A slight concussion. Four jagged slices down her legs; she had been splinched from the last apparition. He punched the stone wall savagely before taking several deep breaths, shakily dragging his hand through his hair. Think, Draco.
He hurried over to Hermione’s limp body and leaned over her mouth. There it was–a slight rasp of breath. She was still breathing. She was breathing.
Draco carefully thrust his fingers into her charmed trouser pocket before mentally slapping himself. Idiot. He pulled his hand out and grabbed his wand before pointing at the pocket.
“ Accio essence of dittany. ” Thankfully, a vial flew into his hand. He pointed his wand again.
“ Accio blood replenisher.” The potion dropped into his fingers. Draco hadn’t been sure Hermione had packed any, but was banking on her being as overprepared as always. He chuckled darkly at the vials in his hand. She was such a swot. Draco moved her arms away from her torso and vanished her shirt and trousers. As delicately as possible, he pressed essence of dittany into each wound and poured the blood replenisher down her throat. When he was finished he glared at the wounds, still leaking blood.
Next, he laid a cooling charm on the back of her skull, hoping to dull the pain from her concussion. Healing that particular injury would have to wait until Madam Pomfrey could take a look at it. Glancing at the diagnostic test again, he forced himself to calm down. There was no brain damage, just a small knot. The incisions slowly pulled themselves together, and the adrenaline was leaking out of him, now replacing the anger with fear. With shaking hands, he knelt over Hermione’s still body, pressing his forehead against hers. How much time had passed? Seconds? Minutes? Maybe too much blood had been lost, maybe he didn’t close the wounds in time. Maybe there was internal damage he couldn’t see. He fisted his hands on her shoulders and waited.
He’d kill Charlie. He’d track him down and dismember the careless man, and enjoy the process. When he was finished, he’d track down the Weasle and finish him off as well. That blockhead was the cause of Hermione’s wounds in the first place, and Draco was not as lenient as Theo. No. Weasleby would pay if she didn’t recover. They all would. The world could burn for all the fucks he gave, because without her…
Merlin . She was everything. Everything . He didn’t how this had happened, or when, but he was a man more than besotted, he was intoxicated. She was fucking opium. He couldn’t stay away from her. Why could he never stay away from the things he couldn’t have? She wasn’t his, and never would be. She was Theo’s, and he would never take that away from him.
His heart felt splinched every time he looked at her. A part of him longed to confess, to scream at her what she meant to him. The other part of him viciously attacked himself for having these desires, cursing his selfishness and idiocy for only craving what was untouchable. But he had touched it, hadn’t he? Just once, and perhaps that was what had started it all. That stupid day in the infirmary. Gods, he had been so stupid. He had tried to rage at her, to relieve the rising emotions by being angry but then he had kissed her, and at that moment he knew . For the first time, he knew what her lips tasted like, he knew what it felt like to be pressed up against her perfect body. He knew she was everything.
He tried so desperately to occlude, but every day it became more difficult. When he apologized, he expected her to be angry and that would make the familiar coldness easier to reach. But she ruined everything. She was kind, and he began losing the battle again and again. He felt the smiles slip onto his face when he spoke with her in the lab. He felt his eyes search for her whenever she wasn’t in the room. He felt a dark possessive part of him feel sick when she was alone with Theo, and he hated himself all the more for it. This jealousy was consuming, and yet another reason that he didn’t deserve her. He was so damaged, so tainted by who he was and what he had done. He would never deserve her–The Golden Girl–but Theo did.
So she had to be alright. He had to bring her home to Theo. He had to. There was no other option. His chest was feeling tight now, and the familiar wheezing that indicated a panic attack was beginning. He didn’t know what to do, but he couldn’t think, he couldn’t breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Hermione groaned beneath him, and his eyes snapped open. She was awake and blinking up at him, but for some reason, he couldn’t slow his breaths; they were coming faster and faster and his vision blurred. He vaguely registered someone pushing him back and shaking his shoulders violently.
“Draco! Draco, I’m alright! I’m alright, look at me! Look at me, Draco.” Hermione’s small hands cupped his cheeks. “Look at me.”
He slowly raised his gaze to meet those deep brown eyes, chest heaving.
“Good. Now I want you to breathe with me, okay? In and out. In,” she placed a hand on his stomach, “and out. Again.”
As the seconds ticked by, he felt his pulse slow and the world stopped spinning. The rational part of his mind returned, and he looked fully at the young woman in front of him. He processed her words, and now his eyes examined her fully. Just like she said, she was alright. The wounds on her chest and thighs had closed, and the numbing spell seemed to lessen the pain in her head. Draco hung his head and looked away.
“What on earth are you sorry for? You saved my life.”
Draco laughed humorlessly. “Hardly. If I hadn’t been so dimwitted back there, you might’ve collected all your samples and left completely unscathed.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” she insisted. He just grunted, but she lifted his chin and forced him to look at her. “I mean it. It wasn’t your fault. I’m glad you were there with me, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else.”
She looked at him so intensely that he thought it might be the end of the world. How she didn’t realize what she did to him was a mystery, because now his heart didn’t race out of hysteria but out of something quite different. He wanted to reach for her, wanted to pull her close, wanted to press his lips over every scar until she screamed in pleasure. He wanted so many things that he couldn’t have.
He held her gaze for a moment longer before looking away and rising to his feet. She took the hand he offered her and stood as well. “Come on,” he muttered, “let’s go home.”
Hermione frowned and peeked around the alley corner. “No, I don’t think we can leave just yet. We still have something to do.”
This bloody witch. Didn’t she realize he was extremely exhausted and mildly traumatized? If she said they were off to collect the rest of the samples, he’d knock her out and carry her back unconscious, head injury or not. “What fresh hell is this?” he asked pleasantly.
A mad grin spread across her face. “We have some apfelstrudel to eat.”
When they finally returned to Hogwarts, it was well past ten in the morning. Madam Pomfrey huffed in annoyance when healing Hermione’s bruised ribs and slight concussion, but refrained from asking too many questions. When Hermione inquired if she planned to alert the headmistress of their excursion, Madam claimed they were of age and could act irresponsibly whenever they chose. Draco assumed her discretion was mostly due to the bag of pastries Hermione handed her when they snuck into the infirmary. Apparently, the healer had quite the sweet tooth.
Hermione had rushed to the lab to store her seven samples. Thankfully, the blood hadn’t clotted. Her coagulation estimates had been made using human blood, but the dragon blood took much longer to stiffen into an unusable putty. At least the night hadn’t been a complete waste. They both agreed not to speak of the disastrous retrieval of the samples, and would simply tell anyone who asked (namely Theo) that the operation was a success.
He and Hermione went their separate ways to their respective dorm rooms. Draco was emotionally, physically, and mentally drained and needed a nap. A combination of dragon and Hermione’s blood was crusted into even the most unholy places, but a shower could wait. Sleep was calling his name. He shoved open his door and stared at the mess, bewildered.
“Theo,” he called, “are you, erm, remodeling?” Hundreds upon hundreds of empty glass containers littered the floor, making it almost impossible to enter. Each one was clean and empty, and it took Draco a moment to realize they were empty potion vials. He was seeing what was in front of him but simply couldn’t understand why . Why were there so many, and where did they come from? He leaned around the door frame and spotted Theodore.
His curly-haired friend stood still, eyes wide as if he hadn’t expected any company. When Draco didn’t speak, Theo set down the six vials he was balancing in his arms before straightening unsteadily. He looked gaunt, like he hadn’t eaten in days, and even from this distance, a sliver of blue showed on his friend’s bare hands. Draco couldn’t tear his eyes away from the odd scene; he couldn’t make sense of it. Finally, Theo coughed lightly into his fist and cleared his throat.
“Mate…there’s something I need to tell you.”
I would just like to add a quick note here--some of you may be thinking that Draco's feelings for Hermione are very extreme, and seem way more developed than they were in the last chapter from his perspective. I would like to remind you that we only get his perspective every six chapters, so quite a bit of time has passed. In addition to this, he is actively occluding, even when he is with Theo. Sometimes, he doesn't even know the depth of his own emotions. In this scene, he was panicking; like so many of us, our true emotions make an appearance when we are threatened with loss. In my head, I imagine the fear of losing Hermione was enough for him to finally be honest with himself.
As always, we can all have our own opinions. This is fanfiction, and I never claimed that my story is true to character or entirely logical. Let's just have some fun together as we read.
Chapter 26: Hermione
Sorry it’s taken me so long to write. To be honest, I needed to process some of the things you said at the Burrow. Of course, I was angry with Ron’s reaction, it was completely absurd and he deserved the beating he got, but I understand his confusion. Whatever…developments you’ve experienced with the Slytherins hasn’t been something we’ve shared, which is interesting because we’ve shared practically everything else since we were eleven. When you defended Malfoy the other day and even claimed you loved another Slytherin boy, I’ll admit I was more than shocked. I’m not angry, I just don’t understand. All I know of him is cruelty, so I find it difficult to trust there’s been a change worth earning your friendship over the past six months.
That being said, I remember a time in our third year when Ron and I were terrible to you, and it was all over a stupid broom. We treated you like rubbish for weeks and looking back, I wouldn’t blame you if you had walked away from our friendship entirely. Instead, you offered us forgiveness. If for some reason, your compassionate heart has done the same for Malfoy and his friends, I really can’t blame them for jumping at the chance. You see, you’ve always been the best of us, the glue that held our trio together. I know you often have felt like a third wheel, like the ‘second-best’ friend for me, but that isn’t true. I love you and Ron equally, just in different ways. I guess what I’m trying to say is I want you to be happy, and if that means you find a home in the snake pit…I would never try to stop you. You make people better, and the Slytherins surely need it.
We’re taking care of Ron. You know how he is…he’ll come around. Bill, Charlie, and George gave him a piece of their mind when Ginny told them what happened, and Molly is making him eat stale toast for every meal. He’s a right prat, but I can tell he at least feels badly. It’s not enough, but I’m sure he’ll be apologizing any day now.
Send Ginny my love,
Hermione set down Harry’s letter with a sigh. It was the first thing she saw when she entered the empty room, and her curiosity won out over her exhaustion. She ignored the other correspondences and hastily ripped open the parchment to see Harry’s unruly script. She didn’t know what to think about Ron, but she was grateful for Harry. Once she finished reading over it three times, she placed it back on the stack of correspondences and wrote a brief thank you to send back. Later, she would need to read the one from Hagrid–perhaps he was responding to her inquiry regarding creatures in the Forbidden Forest showing symptoms of blood curses. It could wait.
Hermione drifted wearily to the prefect baths. She wasn’t necessarily qualified to bathe there, but she suspected most students would be in classes now anyway. She carefully pulled off her ruined clothing and unpinned her tangled mess of curls. Cleaning charms only went so far; although the physical blood, dirt, and sweat were vanished, the spell left a grimy film on the skin. She fully intended to soak in the baths.
Hermione always had felt that the bath was a wonderful place to think. Sometimes her brightest ideas were born in the steam, and today she meant to focus her contemplations on the avensegium allegiata spell. As she lathered soap into her hair, she mused. Draco’s theory was brilliant. To combine both the locating spell, avenseguim , and an allegiance spell should work, especially if they wanted to develop magic that left Theo’s healthy cells alone while attacking anything foreign and malignant. So why didn’t it? Perhaps the spell simply did not know what it was supposed to be allegiant to–the caster or what it was being cast on. Hermione scrubbed at her arms, her mind drifting.
They were missing a key part, she just didn’t know what it was. With a pang of sadness, she realized there was someone who would know exactly what to do. Snape. Although he almost always had an intolerable attitude, he was one of the most intelligent wizards Hermione had ever met. She would love to pick his brain on this particular subject. Surely the Half-Blood Prince himself would have an idea about creating an offensive biological spell.
She buried her face in her arms on the side of the bath and groaned. She needed Draco’s mind; it was difficult to process the technicalities of spell development alone in addition to being this worn out. Lazily, she kicked her toes in the bubbles.
The door swung open suddenly, and Ginny stood frowning at Hermione’s dripping hair. “Malfoy’s outside the common room, and says he won’t leave until he sees you.”
Hermione took in her friend’s pinched lips. “Is something wrong? We only just got back.”
Ginny shrugged. “I’ve no bloody idea, but he was even more miserable to speak with than usual. Where were you two last night? You look terrible, even with a cleaning.” Hermione winced at the blunt words and glanced down at herself. In the morning light, bruises were visible all over her body, and she certainly had dark circles under her eyes.
“Thanks a lot, Gin.”
“Anytime. Hurry up though, would you? He’s going to bang down the door, and the fat lady is having a meltdown.” Hermione rolled her eyes and eased out of the bath. She quickly wrung out her hair and twisted it into a bun, sticking her wand through to hold it. She’d only brought a set of pajamas to change into. At least it was better than she had looked earlier. Ginny scrunched her nose but grabbed Hermione’s dirtied clothing to take back to their dorm. “Honestly, you should just burn these. They stink as bad as Charlie.”
Hermione padded down the hall, waving to Boris the statue as she left the fifth floor. Just outside the Gryffindor common room, Malfoy and the fat lady glared intensely at one another. Hermione cleared her throat from behind, and Draco made a rude gesture to the portrait before turning to face her. His scowl seemed to deepen.
“Something’s going on with Theo. I don’t know what, but he said he needed to tell me something and I ran to come find you. I figured you needed to be there.”
Hermione was taken aback for a moment. She could only nod and hope he understood her thanks. She was touched that he instinctually included her and hurried after him down the countless staircases to the dungeons.
Before Draco pushed open his door, he turned and looked at Hermione hesitantly. His face was painted with worry, and his eyes drifted down her clean but clearly battered form, pausing below her collarbone where she knew the skin had turned shades of purple and green. “Just, erm,” he mumbled, “prepare yourself. The room looks a bit odd.” He pushed open the door.
Hermione was glad she had pasted a neutral expression on her face because the sight before her would have rattled her without the warning. For some reason, the floor was littered with empty potion bottles, and Draco was shoving them to the sides to make a pathway. Theo sat cross-legged in the center of the room, and while Draco worked on clearing the floor, Hermione crouched down and cupped Theo’s cheek.
She searched his eyes for something, but he looked lost. After a second, he whispered, “I didn’t want you to be here for this.”
Hermione scrunched her eyebrows in confusion but didn’t press the issue. Draco lowered himself next to her. “Alright, mate. We’re both here to do whatever you need. Tell us what’s going on.”
Theo appeared so distraught that she reached for one of his hands and squeezed it. Beside her, Draco did the same. This seemed to calm all of them, and Theo took a breath before speaking.
“I don’t know where to start.”
Hermione met Draco’s eyes in silent question, and it was Draco who answered. “Perhaps the vials?”
Theo shrugged before launching into a tale that grew more twisted with each passing minute. He described the discovery last term that doubling his doses took away the usual symptoms for much longer. He could go days without feeling weak or losing much blood due to coughing. When he tried tripling the doses, the sharp pain in his chest disappeared, and he wondered how he had never tried this before. Multiplying the potions created a lightness inside him that he had never known. For the first time in his life, Theo had felt relatively normal. He was just a teenage boy who loved his friends, went to parties, and doted on his girlfriend. He could play his music for hours on end, and on some days he could even run . Was this how everyone else had always felt? It was exquisite, it was addictive. As things progressed with Hermione, he had thought that this discovery would give them what he only sometimes let himself imagine–a future. For those first few months, it was bliss.
During the Christmas holidays, Theo realized he had made a mistake: he had run out of the potions sent from St Mungo’s. He explained his trek down to Madam Zabini’s basement, and Tilly sending more potions to his dorm. He assumed everything would sort itself out, but then he began feeling strange. A constant shaking seemed to follow him, and his fingers began turning blue-tipped.
At this point in the story, both Draco and Hermione inspected their friend’s hands. Just as he said, the fingernails showed signs of cyanosis; dread began filling Hermione’s stomach, but she shoved it away for the time being. She needed to hear the entire story before her anxiety took over. Theo was plowing forward in his narrative, picking up speed but losing volume. He couldn’t seem to meet their gazes anymore and closed his eyes.
Theo spoke of a day recently when the coughs he thought he had left behind him came back with a vengeance. Over and over, he expelled blood as his chest wreaked havoc on his body. He had quickly grabbed for more potions, but the coughs didn’t subside after two, three, or four doses. For the first time in a long while, Theo was terrified. He didn’t know much, but he realized it was a bad sign if it took more than four doses of potion to quell the symptoms that had formerly disappeared after one. Maybe he had subconsciously known something was the matter; perhaps that was why he continued to grab his cane every morning despite feeling mostly fine. He couldn’t stop though. He couldn’t stop taking more and more of the potions, and now he was out again. The vials all around them were the result of him searching through all of his things for more. In a panic, he had set them all on the floor, forgetting that someone might walk in. He explained how ashamed he felt about the entire thing, but how desperate he was in the moment; he had felt wild, in a frenzy to take more and more potion, regardless of if he needed it.
His voice was hardly more than a whisper now, and he looked so broken Hermione felt part of her heart shattering. Theo heaved a shuttering breath. “What is happening to me?”
Hermione pulled him close, nestling her face in his shoulder. She didn’t want him to see her face, because she was certain some of her horror was showing. She thanked him for being honest with them and reassured him that they loved him, and would do whatever they could to help him. She rubbed soothing circles on his back and Draco rose to vanish all of the vials in the room. When he was finished, Hermione schooled her face into a soft smile and dropped a quick kiss on Theo’s lips.
“Draco?” She called behind her. “Can you take Theo down to Madam Pomfrey and tell her I’ll be there in a few minutes? There’s something I need to take care of.” She then turned back to Theo. “Is it alright if we run some tests on you? We need to check on these fingers, and try to control your shaking.” He nodded and Hermione stood. “Wonderful. I’ll be down in a few.”
The moment she turned, her smile fell and pressed into a thin line. When she met Draco’s eyes across the room, they shared an uneasy glance. There was no need to say anything because they both knew–this was very, very bad. Hermione strode out of the room and kept her cool all the way to the second-floor girl’s lavatory. She calmly approached the center sink that she knew so well, clenching the sides so hard that her knuckles turned white. She stared at the streaming brown eyes in the mirror, and almost couldn’t recognize herself. No sound escaped her mouth but a soft gasp of pain. It wasn’t a physical pain, so unlike what she felt only a few hours before. No, this pain was in her soul. It was the pain of something inevitable, but terrible. It was the pain of a home destroyed by a hurricane long predicted. The pain of seeing the flame on the stove and still reaching for the hot pan, only to be burned. The pain of knowing there was more pain to come.
Without looking away from the mirror, Hermione raised her wand. It took barely a thought for her to shatter it. She needed to hear it, needed to see the pieces fall down, needed a physical representation of what was happening inside of her. She turned to the next and shattered that one as well. Her bare feet stepped carelessly over the jagged pieces, and she found a sick sort of pleasure in walking over the damage she had done. She pointed her wand at the toilets, exploding the ceramic piping. Water filled the floor, and still, her face remained blank. She rotated, destroying anything in sight, never flinching as shards of glass or stone flew around her. Finally, she faced the door. Leaning against the doorway was the boy she had come to know so well, with a reproduction of the emptiness inside her in his own expression.
His eyes surveyed the damage before flicking his wand to restore the innocent utilities. “Are you quite finished?”
Draco nodded, eyes an icy grey. “Maybe I’ll join you later. This looks quite therapeutic. We’re ready for you in the infirmary.”
Hermione quickly healed the cuts on her feet and followed Draco out of the lavatory. Today was going to be an extremely long day.
Chapter 27: Hermione
enormous love to my amazing beta reader greadsbooks. This chapter wouldn't be half as soul-wrecking without your input. <3
Hermione stood frozen above Theo’s unconscious body; she couldn’t tear her eyes from the image hovering a few feet away from his dozing form. It was so much worse than she ever imagined.
Listening to Theo’s story had her kicking herself mentally. How had she not noticed the signs, clear as day, that her sweet Slytherin boy was becoming addicted to the very medication meant to help him? She had been blinded by the fact that he looked healthier, and failed to ask any other questions. How could Theo have known that he was chronically overdosing on his potions? He didn’t have any of the medical training or knowledge she had obtained over the years.
After arriving in the infirmary, the clinical side of Hermione had locked into place. Her nerves calmed as she tied back her hair and pulled on a set of nitrile gloves. She needed answers, and she was going to find them. Draco hovered a few feet behind her, waiting for directions. Madam Pomfrey issued Theo a simple sleeping draught and launched into a discussion with Hermione and Draco.
“He must be weaned off the potions. His immune system is failing,” Madam had insisted.
Hermione had gritted her teeth, “No offense, Madam, but how do you propose we do this? Do you honestly want us to take away his potions, force him to go through withdrawal, and allow his illness to ravage his lungs in the meantime?”
“Quiet, both of you. I’m going to cast an electromagnetic diagnostic,” Draco had interjected. “We’re wasting time arguing, and we need to see what is actually going on inside him.” He raised his wand and began a series of complicated movements; layer by layer, an image had begun to appear over Theo.
Like Hermione, Draco and Madam Pomfrey were motionless. A rotating view of a set of lungs sat before them, and Madam Pomfrey gasped. Draco looked from the image to Madam, then back to the image and to Hermione, completely confused but alarmed. Hermione counted her heartbeats. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub . She felt herself dissociate, and her mind drew up the memory of a passage from Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby .
“There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death …a dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away…a disease…which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.”
Hermione had never understood the quote more fully than as she analyzed the rotating image. Draco’s spell painted the muggle equivalent of a chest x-ray; in a healthy individual, the lungs shouldn’t even be visible behind the illuminated ribcage and spinal cord. Instead, bright blotches covered almost the entirety of the scan. Only a few centimeters along the edges of the lungs were transparent, and Hermione realized that this ‘dread disease’ Theo had been fighting was finally moving in giant strides. Perhaps it was a recent development, or perhaps it had been gradual, but it didn’t really matter. All that mattered were those pulsing patches.
Draco shook her shoulder and she realized she hadn’t heard anything discussed for the past few minutes. His eyes were wild. “What is it? We don’t know how to read this, you have to tell us what it means.”
Hermione’s mouth went dry. How do you tell someone it’s too late? She wrung her fingers as that scientific and detached side of her began to slip. She could not break down. Not now. So she took a deep breath and met those icy eyes, fighting desperately against the blue cracking through.
“Draco. I need you to go to the lab while I talk to Madam Pomfrey for a second. Please.” She said it so intensely that Draco didn’t even bother arguing. He sent a concerned glance in Theo’s direction but slipped into their small laboratory in the back. Hermione didn’t speak until she heard the soft click of the door closing, then flicked a quick muffliato around herself and Madam Pomfrey.
Madam Pomfrey stalked around the cot, never taking her eyes off of the magical x-ray. “Miss Granger, I’m not going to pretend to know all of the details of this. But I do know enough to understand these…patches…are a terrible sign. Explain them.”
Hermione nodded. It was much easier to breathe now that Draco was out of the room. She couldn’t think when she could feel the despair radiating off of him; she was already struggling to suppress her own. “Correct. These blotches indicate inflammation, pus, and infection. It’s not a definite site of bacterial infection, but a very intelligent guess. In the usual cases of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection, we will see one or two areas with symptoms of this degree. To see the entire thoracic cavity filled with them is…gruesome. Of course, we have already known Theo suffered from a tuberculosis infection, as it’s been present in all of his blood samples, but this is something altogether different.”
Madam continued pacing. “This blood curse, or bacterial infection as you call it, cannot simply be siphoned out? Could we not try to remove the damaged blood and issue him blood replenisher?”
“If that worked, we would already know. He loses blood every day through coughing, then takes a blood replenisher. If anything, he’s gotten worse. I think because the bacteria has mutated and taken residence in the lungs, any new blood we replenish is quickly contaminated.”
“I see. The overdose of potions may have progressed him to this current state in a matter of days.”
Hermione inhaled sharply. “Yes,” she ran a hand roughly through her hair, “I realized that. The problem is we didn’t know he’s been multiplying his doses until now. My theory is that the potions never truly helped in the first place. How could they, when they only treat the symptoms: exhaustion, loss of blood, and coughing? That never addressed the true issue, the infection. Instead, exceeding the normal potion dosage simply took away all symptoms that are meant to alert the body that something is wrong. The excess blood replenishment may have also given the bacteria even more healthy blood to divide in.” She grimaced. The entire thing was appalling.
Madam Pomfrey was silent beside her for a moment before stilling. “And you have not perfected the avensegium allegiata ?”
“No. But even if we had…I fear it’s too late. The spell is meant to attack foreign malicious bacteria, but look at the image. If we attacked all of it…there would hardly be any healthy lung tissue left. The damaged tissue would self-destruct, undergo necrosis, and become ravaged by fibrosis. The once usable tissue would be so scarred it would be unpliable for normal respiration, and thus there would be inadequate delivery of oxygen to the heart. The pulmonary circulation would fail, and the heart would give out.”
“So he would die.”
Hermione closed her eyes and whispered, “Yes.” Saying it aloud sent a tremor through her body, and she clamped a hand over her mouth, sinking to the floor. Silently, her shoulders shook and tears ran down her face. Madam gently sank to her knees and placed her hands on Hermione’s cheeks.
“This is what we are going to do, Miss Granger.” Hermione raised her eyes to face the matron. “I am going to contact St Mungo’s best thoracic healers and pathogenic researchers. They will come later today and take a look at your friend. The sleeping draught will last for at least another hour, so in the meantime, I suggest you have a very serious conversation with Mr. Malfoy, elsewhere. Do whatever needs to be done, but when the two of you return later today, you will be cheerful. You will be strong. You will be calm, because Mr. Nott will be awake, and he will be afraid, and he will need you. Do you understand?”
Hermione nodded mutely and rose to her feet unsteadily. When she pushed open the door to their lab, she saw Draco pacing the room. He stopped in place the second she entered and took in her forlorn expression. He held up a hand when she opened her mouth.
Hermione felt a physical chill pass over her even three meters away from him. A fierce anger burned in his eyes, and the tension in his shoulders stretched his button-down taut. He pursed his lips before snarling, “How long.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, and a single tear slipped through. “Days. Maybe.”
Draco froze. They each stood unmoving, but Hermione could feel the chasm opening between them. She knew there was nothing she could do to stop this; in this moment, life felt like it was speeding past her, colors and sounds and thoughts and dreams all blurring as she raced forward. When Draco strode past her, she felt dizzy. When the door snapped shut, she felt a piece of her burn to ash. When she was left alone, she felt a silence settle on her soul.
She would give him one hour before going to find him. He had one hour. After that, she didn’t care if she had to stun him; they would be there for Theo.
Astoria let Hermione into the Slytherin common room an hour later and took in Hermione’s expression before pulling her into a crushing hug. She didn’t ask any questions, didn’t make any demands. Astoria simply pushed a cold cup of water and a muffin into Hermione’s hands and insisted she finish them before going upstairs. Pansy drifted over and braided Hermione’s hair in a beautiful plait. You can face anything with your hair done. Hermione hadn’t smiled at Pansy’s joke but appreciated her support more than she could say. The girls gave her one more squeeze before leaving her at the steps to the boy’s room.
She quietly slipped into the room and closed the door behind her. Draco stood facing the window and didn’t turn. Instead, he set down a crystal glass filled with amber liquid on the windowsill and slid his hands into his trouser pockets.
“No.” She took a step closer. He didn’t mean it. She knew he didn’t mean it. He was hurting; he was in agony just like she was. She would not abandon him.
“ Get out. ”
“No.” Another step in his direction, then another.
“Dammit Granger! Get out! I don’t want you here! I don’t want you,” he took a shuttering breath and growled, “I don’t want you.”
She made it to him silently, and wrapped her arms tightly around his torso, resting her head against his spine. He remained tense and gasped sharply when she first touched him. She refused to let go.
Eventually, Draco’s shoulders slumped and he hung his head. A hot tear dripped off of his chin and splashed onto her arms. They didn’t speak, because really, what was there to say? In a few minutes, they would have to shove down the grief, paste on a smile, and say goodbye to their friend. For now, in this moment, they allowed themselves to break just a fraction. How had she become so entangled in the lives of these boys? Perhaps there were some sort of internal devices at work, binding the trio inextricably. Each of them had a lifeline, and along the way, the lines had become so entwined it was impossible to see where one ended and the other began. Hermione wasn’t sure if she believed in a higher power, but sometimes when she looked at the two of them, she did for a moment. When she saw them, she looked into the eyes of the two greatest loves she had ever known. She squeezed Draco even tighter, and he turned and embraced her fully.
He murmured in her ear, telling her he had broken her muffliato in the infirmary and heard everything, that she needn’t explain. She whispered into his chest that she didn’t think she could be brave enough to see Theo again; she didn’t know how to face him, to face the truth, to see his fear without drowning in her own. At her confession, she felt herself tremble violently. He reminded her that she was strong, and that he would be there with her. He said that their anger and despair could wait–for now, Theo was alive and they couldn’t waste a single second of it.
“Promise you won’t leave me?” She couldn’t help but ask. Hermione couldn’t remember a time when she felt so breakable.
They released each other and straightened their clothing. She watched him close his blazing blue eyes and open them again, this time in grey. Hermione went through much the same mental pathway that she traveled when procuring a patronus charm, and forced all of her joyous memories of Theo to the surface whilst shoving her anxiety and sorrow far within. She would be her best for him, one last time.
Chapter 28: Theodore
Much love for my beta greadsbooks, who reminded me that even the deepest pain can produce something beautiful.
To anyone who understands the brokenness of this chapter--you are not alone. Reach out to me anytime.
Theo woke to intense pain in his chest and cried out, reaching for the boy who usually came to his rescue in moments like these. When he frantically looked around, clenching his torso, he realized he was completely alone. The room was dark, and he couldn’t tell where he was. Panic rose inside him, and his breaths started coming in gasps, dripping blood down his chin. He needed air. Where was the air?
Warm hands lifted him into a sitting position, tilting his head backward to straighten his airway, and an unfamiliar spell vanished the blood still blocking the path to his lungs. One second of relief. Then his muscles seized, rattling his body so violently he couldn’t see. It wasn’t as painful as the cruciatus his father would use all those years ago, but this was much more frightening. He tried to scream, but it led to another round of coughing that silenced him. The gurgling in his lungs sent a wave of nausea through him; it was such a horrifying sound to hear coming from your own body. Those hands appeared, and in a flash, they emptied his throat once more. Another gasp of air. Then the muscle spasms. A round of vomiting yielding even more coughing. Repeat. On and on and on until Theo collapsed in exhaustion, trembling in the small cot, drenched in sweat but freezing.
Finally, the hands, which he realized belonged to Madam Pomfrey, cast a series of spells that relaxed his tense muscles, suctioned out any remaining blood, and warmed his shaking body. He couldn’t speak, but had the vague idea that he was dying. It was almost funny, in that it was so incredibly predictable . And yet, somehow, he still wasn’t ready. Madam Pomfrey shushed him gently, and he realized he must’ve been whimpering. Somehow, he didn’t have the energy to be embarrassed. She leaned close to his ear and asked if he wanted some cough potion. He delicately turned his head to indicate his refusal. The potions wouldn’t be able to help him now.
He swallowed with difficulty. “Madam,” he rasped, “where is Draco? Where is Hermione?” He was trying not to become hysterical, but that buzzing anxiety was rising with every passing moment. He was so frightened. He couldn’t be alone. Not right now.
“Don’t worry, love. They’re on their way.”
The words didn’t help, and Theo tried to roll over. He had to find them, to tell them he was sorry, he was so sorry, he didn’t want to leave them, didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. A sob burst from his mouth, and at the sound, Madam Pomfrey rushed over and carefully pushed him back into a laying position.
“Theodore, sweetheart, I promise– they are coming.” Theo weakly fought the arms pressing him down and heard the sound of a door flying open, and footsteps slamming on the tiles. He didn’t look, he was too busy trying to push himself up and couldn’t see past the tears blurring his eyes.
“Please! Please, Madam,” he cried, “I have to find them. I need to go–” Theo stopped abruptly as two sets of hands pinned him down, but instead of being unfamiliar, these were instantly comforting. After a moment, a small hand wiped the tears from his face, and he was captivated by the same brown eyes that had won over his heart. Her perfect lips curled upward, and it sent a shiver through him. Movement caught his attention and his eyes darted to the other side where familiar silvery hair came into view. Theo’s heart rate slowed, and he quit fighting, allowing them to press him into the pillows. Everything was alright, because these two were his home , and they were here, and he wasn’t alone.
Hermione leaned in close and kissed his cheek lightly. “Hi, Theo.” She said it like it was normal, like nothing was ending or beginning, like the moment just was . For some reason, this meant everything to him. Draco crouched to be at eye level and flashed a smirk, squeezing Theo’s shoulder lightly.
“If I knew you’d absolutely lose it without seeing my handsome face when you woke up, I would’ve never walked away, mate.”
Theo only managed to hold in his chuckle because of the residual pain in his chest. “Oh, shove off.” It was too late though, a wide grin had spread across his face. At the sight of it, Hermione and Draco seemed to take a collective breath.
Hermione leaned in closer and grabbed one of his hands. “What do you need from us?”
So they all knew, then. This was it. The last day, or perhaps two, that they would all be here together. So what did he need? What could he possibly ask for that would even matter in a few hours?
“I want to play something for you,” he said simply. Draco brushed the curls out of Theo’s face before whispering, “Are you sure you can?” Theo nodded and Draco rose to his feet. With a burst of fear, he grabbed at Hermione’s wrist, even though she had not moved. Her steady gaze met his.
“I’m not going anywhere, Theo.”
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Okay.” Hermione continued to rub circles over his knuckles, but she felt too far away. He tugged at her arm lightly. “Come here.” She gingerly slid in between the covers beside him and nestled into his side. Now, he felt a true calm settle over him. He passed his fingertips over the curls, inspecting each coil as if it were art. Next, he drifted down the curve of her cheek, outlining the soft lilt of her lips on the way. He brushed his thumb against her beautiful neck; the gasp that escaped her lips made him smile. At least for today, she was his, and it was enough.
Draco entered the dim infirmary, violin in hand. He strode up to Theo, helped him fit the instrument under his chin, and steadied the arm that held the bow. Hermione helped support his other arm, and Theo began to play.
The melody that flowed out of the worn instrument was an apology–it was a plea. It was a prayer and a curse all wrapped into one, a declaration of love and a cry for revenge. It was a mourning song for all he would not get to experience, and a celebration for the life he had lived. It was a thank you to the witch and wizard clutching him so tenderly, and a desperate hope that they would understand how much he adored them.
So many things had failed him in this short life–be it his health, his father, his hope, his own words. But this music, given to him by his mother, would never disappoint. With each stroke on the strings, he felt heard . If the tears of his friends were any indication, they understood. And it was enough.
When he finished, he tenderly ran his fingers along the side of his mother’s violin before handing it back to Draco. He knew he didn’t need to ask him to take care of it. Theo knew Draco would. Hermione was crying into his shoulder, and he pulled her close. Draco slid into a chair next to the cot and pushed it as near as it would get. They stayed that way for hours. After some time, both Draco and Hermione dozed off. Theo realized they must’ve been awake for an absurd number of hours, and was happy they were able to rest.
He softly called for Madam Pomfrey, and asked her to bring him some parchment and a quill and ink. She hurried back with his supplies, and he spent the next few hours writing. These letters needed to be perfect, he needed to think about what each of them would need when he was gone.
First, he wrote to Hermione. She had already experienced so much loss, and was so often the one people chose to lean on. She always tried to put on a brave face, and push her own needs aside. He wanted to remind her that it was okay for her to need someone, and it was okay for her to fall apart. He wanted her to know that she was never alone. He wanted her to know that although they had run out of time, his love for her had never been small. From the start, she had been his world. He scribbled away, hoping his words would bring comfort when she most needed them.
Draco was more difficult. What do you say to the person who had been half of your soul since you were young? This would be the hardest on Draco. Hermione would try to pull herself out of her grief, but Draco would dive into the abyss inside of him. So what could he say to help his friend surface after this loss? Theo wrote and he wrote, praying that he had the right words. Draco would need an anchor, and Theo thought he knew just the one. As he wrote, he let himself take in the sleeping form of his best friend. In sleep, Draco looked so peaceful, with none of the usual tension. Theo realized it might be a while before his friend looked as light as he did now. He sighed and quickly finished the letters, giving them to Madam Pomfrey to take up to his room.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. Draco and Hermione both stirred at the sound and blinked blearily around them. When their eyes landed on Theo, they crowded closer and began sharing stories to pass the time. At some point, a small herd of healers arrived from St Mungo’s and examined him. Even through this, Hermione and Draco did not move away. The healers cast their spells, talked in low tones with Madam Pomfrey, and left once more. Theo knew there was nothing they could do; he wasn’t angry.
Draco told Theodore a thrilling tale of him and Hermione visiting Romania and almost being eaten by dragons. Theo chuckled when Hermione joked that Draco had never looked more stressed than when she received a small cut. Draco grouchily replied that she had way more than a cut. Theo smiled at the two of them. They would be okay. Maybe not today, and maybe not even in a month, but eventually they would heal. If they stuck together, perhaps they would be better than fine. Something eased inside Theo at the thought. They would take care of each other, he knew it.
A few hours later, in the early hours of the morning, the pain in his chest returned, just as he knew it would. This time, he could feel the blood rising in his lungs, like being submerged in water. It started with gasps, then the shaking, and Draco and Hermione were on their feet, screaming for Madam Pomfrey. Theo fuzzily thought that Hermione looked lovely in her muggle pajamas, and wished he had noticed them before. Her hair was free and flowing, even as she hovered over his body, waving her wand frantically. Draco stood still beside him, and Theo’s eyes locked onto his. As he choked for air, he realized that Draco’s eyes were completely and utterly blue, just for him. All those arguments about the occlumency flashed in Theo’s mind, and he realized this was Draco’s apology, the baring of his soul for Theo for the last time. Theo hoped that there would be someone else Draco would be this vulnerable with in the future. His brother deserved that.
Images started blurring, and he couldn’t get a clear look at them anymore. He reached his hands out desperately and immediately felt their hands grip his, even as his internal organs failed. They never let him go, through all of the spasms and vomiting, or even as he began slipping backward. Perhaps he wasn’t actually falling, but it felt like it.
Theo felt it coming…the last breath, but he realized it really wasn’t a bad way to go, with the two greatest loves in his life beside him. He knew this was only goodbye for a little while. He chose to believe that one day he would see them again. One last inhale rattled through his lungs, and a smile was on his lips when his chest finally stilled. Theo was gone.
Chapter 29: Hermione
For three days, Hermione drifted around the castle in a daze. She didn’t attend her classes. She didn’t attend meals. She was a shell. She wasn’t even sure if she was breathing sometimes.
The only people she saw were the girls. She would return from her walks down abandoned passages late at night, and Astoria would silently help her change into pajamas. Pansy washed and brushed through her hair, and Ginny made sure she was eating. They had tried speaking with her for the first two days but finally had given up. At night, the three girls crowded onto Hermione’s bed and stayed with her. Astoria had a habit of wrapping her thin arms around Hermione so she would never wake up feeling alone.
Maybe she would appreciate their devotion later, but today she felt empty. Today, she felt numb. Today was the funeral.
Hermione hadn’t even glimpsed Draco during these days and hadn’t gone looking for him. It was too much. It was easier to be around those who didn’t know Theo as she and Draco had. For the first time, she really understood the appeal of occlumency. If she could tear out this pain and bury it so far that even an accomplished legilimens could never uncover it, she would.
Pansy laid out a lovely black dress on the bed for Hermione to slip on. It was the same style as the emerald one she wore to the winter formal in December. The parallel of it sent a small spark of despair through her, but it quickly fizzled out into nothing. Emotions were such a trivial thing; her mind quickly tossed the feeling aside and pushed her legs through the dress. Her movements were mechanical, her eyes pointed at the floor.
Ginny applied some rouge to Hermione’s colorless cheeks as Astoria quickly plaited her hair. Too soon, Pansy placed a tentative hand on her arm. “It’s time.”
The funeral took place on the Hogwarts grounds. Only a small spattering of students, teachers, and friends attended as if his death were a minor thing. Madam Zabini came and clenched her son tightly in the back row. Ginny rested her head on Harry’s shoulder, silently crying. Professor Mcgonagall gave a eulogy from the podium, and when asked to speak, Draco refused. Draco stood as still as stone in the front row. His suit was crisp and his hair was perfect. He looked the very model of a pureblooded heir. Hermione couldn’t bring herself to join him in the front, and instead remained hidden further behind. It was a short service, and with magic, it took all of two minutes to lay Theo’s casket in the ground. And then it was over; attendees began trickling out, returning to their lives, but Hermione couldn’t. Not when her life was now six feet under.
A flash of red bobbed into her vision, and she slowly raised her eyes to face an extremely nervous Ronald Weasley. Something stirred inside her, and her grief cracked open an eye. She stared mutely at him, expressionless.
After an awkward silence, Ron took a breath. “Hi, Hermione.” She didn’t respond but held his stare. “Erm, well, I wanted to say I’m sorry. For how I acted before. And, erm, I’m sorry for your…loss. I never meant for you to be hurt like this, and I know I overreacted. I’m sorry.” He anxiously scratched at his hair.
Oh yes, her grief was awakening, and as it stretched, it released a violent shard of anger. It was so incredibly sharp, Hermione felt a physical ache in her core. Her eyes narrowed as she continued to stare at Ron. Her rage was growing to a rolling boil, and it must have shown on her face because he started backing away, hands raised.
“I’m sorry, ‘Mione, I really am. That’s all I came to say. I’ll just go now.”
She felt a humorless laugh wrench itself from her throat. The corners of her mouth didn’t even bother turning upwards. Before she knew it, her wand was in her hand and pressed against his vile jugular.
“How dare you.”
Ron seemed to forget all of his auror training and froze in place, at the mercy of her wand. His panicked eyes darted side to side, but there was no one to help him. She dug the wand in further, sending the briefest shocking hex into his trembling form. He yelped. She almost smiled.
“You thought this was the right moment? Today? Right now, as I am watching my…my…my everything be locked away forever?” Ron made a whimpering sound as she sent a nonverbal stinging hex down his trachea. “You don’t get to show up here, not when this is probably the happiest day of your life. What, did you just think you’d seal the deal by sliding into my good graces in addition to having a front-row seat to Malfoy’s devastation? Get out . Get out my face, get out of this moment, get out of my life for all I care. If you live a long and fruitful existence, you still won’t be half the man he was at twenty. Leave. ” Her last word was a growl, and she sliced her wand so fiercely that a long trickle of blood leaked down his chest. Ron scampered away, not even looking over his shoulder. In the distance, she saw Harry looking between them before setting his gaze on Hermione. He opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione turned away, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. All at once, the fight died inside her and was replaced with exhaustion.
Hermione didn’t know how much time passed, but eventually, the grounds were empty but for her and a tall boy, standing a few meters away. She stared at his tense shoulders, his chin held high, face dry. He hadn’t moved an inch since the funeral began. If she squinted, he could be molded by Michelangelo himself. He was beautiful the way a ceiling fresco was–drained of the vibrancy after years of hardship, and hovering so far above that it kept even the most diligent admirers remaining a safe distance away. There was something tragic about the space between them, and Hermione couldn’t help but take the few steps to his side.
Draco pulled a hand out of his trouser pocket and entwined their fingers. Neither faced the other and instead gazed at the fresh grave before them. With her other hand, Hermione drew out her wand and erected a soft headstone. She transfigured the edges to be silver, with a pattern of shining snakes tangled on the side. When she finished, she gave Draco’s hand a squeeze. With his other hand, he cast a spell to carve letters in the stone. A delicate script appeared, inch by inch.
Theodore Tiberius Nott
The music of a soul never dies if
There are those to remember its sound.
As she watched the words appear, tears streamed down her face. When he was finished, Hermione turned to face Draco. He had kept his mental shields up so well, but now the cracks of blue were showing through. She raised a hand as if she would touch his cheek before dropping it again. His eyes followed the movement, then slowly traveled up her silken dress and onto her face. She could see him fighting to bring up the walls, but he was failing.
“Don’t do that.”
He closed his eyes. “I have to.”
But Hermione shook her head. “No,” she whispered, “you don’t. I’m struggling too, struggling to feel anything when my mind is trying to suppress it all. He hated this though, he always hated when you shoved everything away.”
“I know.” Draco swallowed with difficulty.
“Let them fall. It’s okay. I promise. Feel this,” she placed a hand over his heart, “feel the agony, feel your heart shattering as a part of your soul is lost. Don’t defile his memory by locking yourself away. He loved you. Love him back in the way he deserves by mourning his loss.”
“I–I can’t,” his voice broke. “I can’t. I can’t, because he left me. He left me, just like I’ve always known he would, just like everyone else has, but it still hurts, Hermione. Why does it hurt so much?” Draco choked as a sob broke through. “How is it that everyone is allowed to leave me, and I’m the one left to deal with the aftermath? How is that fair?” He hung his head, squeezing his eyes shut as tears poured out the edges, shoulders heaving. “I’ve lost everything. Everything .”
Hermione felt the same anguish inside of her, but she stepped forward, placing her forehead against his. “Not everything, Draco.”
He opened his eyes, and the blue was breathtaking; she couldn’t look away. His brows lowered, and his gaze burned with an intensity she didn’t understand. Something was happening in his mind, but she had no idea what. For now, she wouldn’t press the issue. She was content not to be alone. A strong hand drifted to her hip and tugged her close. Her eyes widened as he leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss on her forehead, and wrapped his other arm tightly around her. After a moment, she threaded her own arms around him, and he settled his chin on her curls. It wasn’t happy, and it wasn’t hope, but it wasn’t solitude. It was two people in mourning, two people drowning in grief, but at least they were drowning together.
They remained that way until night fell, bringing a chill with it. Letting go seemed too unknown, too definite, so they left their hands linked as they walked back to the castle. The corridors were silent as if they understood what today meant. In front of the Great Hall, Draco halted, a question in his eyes.
She shook her head. “You promised.” He nodded. It was so easy, this communication between the two of them, the way he simply knew her. She didn’t have to explain her fear of being separated, and he didn’t need to verbalize his need for physical comfort. So, they continued down to the dungeons, and through the Slytherin portrait hole. They passed through a solemn group of students, giving their condolences, but the two didn’t slow. They stumbled up the stairs and shut the door behind them. There was nothing romantic about it, there was only exhaustion. Neither of them stripped off anything but the shoes on their feet and slipped into Draco’s bed. Draco gave her a moment to get situated; this was new, but felt strangely familiar. Once she had pulled the covers to her chin, he drew her against his chest, draping an arm around her hip. His forehead pressed against her back, and it was enough. Tomorrow they would face reality, but for now, they would sleep.
Chapter 30: Hermione
Spring came and went, but Hermione hardly noticed. Her days consisted of turning in half-finished assignments, sitting silently through meals, taking long walks with Pansy and Astoria, and sliding into Draco’s arms at night. Every day bled together, and Hermione found that she really didn’t care about anything. A series of ‘what-ifs’ cycled through her mind, over and over, morning til night. After that first conversation the day they buried Theo, she and Draco didn’t speak much. Instead, they shared the heaviness in silence. There really weren’t any words to articulate what they were experiencing, so it was easier to say nothing at all. Every morning, Hermione would lightly tug down the arm resting on her torso; with every passing day, he seemed to hold her tighter. She would quietly walk back to her dorm to change. Ginny didn’t ask any questions, and always had Hermione’s uniform ready for her when she returned. A few times, Hermione tried to thank her, but Ginny would shush her and pull her into a hug.
“I love you, Hermione,” she would whisper.
“Love you too, Gin,” Hermione would murmur. She supposed she really was lucky to have such amazing friends. Friends who may not understand the pain she was in, but who never left her side and made sure she was taking care of her body. Like clockwork, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Astoria pulled Hermione to the prefect baths and filled the water with glowing green bubbles. As she rubbed shampoo into Hermione’s neglected hair, Pansy would dangle her feet in the water, chattering about the latest gossip. In those moments, Hermione didn’t exactly feel full, but she didn’t feel totally empty. It was something.
The end of term approached. Hermione and Draco both did the bare minimum but managed to pass their NEWTs. When asked what they planned to do after Hogwarts, they changed the subject and left the conversation as quickly as possible. Part of Hermione hated the thought that there could even be a future without Theo. She didn’t want to experience anything new if he wasn’t there.
She hadn’t been back to the lab since that last day; there wasn’t any point. She had failed, and in the worst way. True, Theo’s blood curse wasn’t her fault, but if she had only figured out what was wrong faster, or finished developing that spell, maybe things would’ve been different. So she left the equipment to gather dust, the notes to remain forgotten on the tables. That was a project for a different girl, and Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever see her again.
On the last day of term, Ginny packed up her things and prepared to go home to the Burrow. She had begged Hermione to come with her, but Hermione insisted she was fine, she would find her own place. Professor Mcgonagall assured her she was welcome at Hogwarts until she found a flat in London. Ginny only nodded, instructing Hermione to visit soon, and dragged her things downstairs. Astoria and Pansy came to say goodbye a few hours later–they had both obtained new ministry jobs. Hermione hugged them and said she’d be alright. She watched from the window as hundreds of students were ushered to the carriages that would take them to the Hogwarts Express; students that would be reunited with family in a matter of hours. She shut the curtains.
Hermione sat back on the edge of her bed; she tried to read one of her favorite books, Emma , but she couldn’t seem to focus. Eventually, she set the novel in her lap and began staring at the wall. There were seventy-seven stones if you counted across, and thirty-four if you counted down. To be sure, she counted over and over, and the methodical process calmed her. She was on her tenth round when her door creaked open.
Draco shut the door with a click and sank to his knees, looking up at her. “Alright?”
She nodded. “Did you know there are thirty-four stones from floor to ceiling?”
He frowned at her and rose to sit beside her on the bed. He tucked a curl behind her ear and spoke softly. “I have something for you. I found it when I was clearing out the room today.” He held out a folded piece of parchment, and she glanced at it in confusion but took it from him. She didn’t remember leaving any papers in his room.
Hermione carefully unfolded the sheet and gasped when she saw the writing. She would recognize that handwriting anywhere. Theo’s lovely script completely filled the page, and she looked at Draco in alarm. He gave the slightest nod. “Go on. It’s for you.” So she read.
My dearest Hermione,
Is there a more lovely sound than your name on my tongue? You have no idea how many melodies you have inspired, how many joys you have brought into my life. When I am near you, I feel a lightness I never even knew I was lacking. That night when you crept into my abandoned classroom changed everything for me. Everything.
Do you remember that story Draco told me once? The one he first found you reading, a tale of war and deception and growth and life. After his first retelling one day in the hall, I begged him to read a little of it every night. There is a quote that I have never quite forgotten. Sydney declares that Lucy was the ‘last dream of his soul’, and something about that stirred me. The truth is, you are not the last dream of my soul. You are the only dream. Life did not give me the luxury of time, so I only had the one, but I promise you, it was worth it. Loving you, if only for a short time, was a life worth living. Do not ever think that I did not love you. Hermione–you are everything.
Hermione’s eyes were streaming so that it was difficult to continue reading. Hot tears splashed on the page, and Draco leaned over and wiped the few sliding down her cheeks. Her hands shook as she read on.
Please know that my greatest regret in life is leaving you. In my weakest moments, I let my mind imagine what it would have been like to be healthy. To grow old with you, to see the world with you. These were things I desperately wanted, true, but it seems that wasn’t meant to be. I have always hated the idea of time, but when I am with you, it feels frozen in place, like I could live in this moment forever. Even now, as I look at your sleeping form, I cannot believe how lucky I am. My love, you are dazzling. Not simply your physical beauty (although that caught my attention the first second I laid eyes on you), but your heart. You are so brave, and so strong. I know this will hurt for a while, but I beg you to be the little lion I know you are. You are unbreakable.
Take care of Draco. He will need you more than ever now, and you need him as well. Do not let my departure tear the two of you apart, I couldn’t bear it if it were I who did that to you.
Live for me, Hermione. Live vibrantly, and live boldly. The world needs you.
Loving you always,
When Hermione finished the letter, she broke down completely. She cried harder than she had since he left. It was an ugly cry, with shuttering breaths and hisses of pain. Draco held her tight through it all. Reading the words had felt like hearing Theo’s voice one more time, and she hadn’t prepared herself for it.
“Draco,” she pleaded, gripping his shirt into her fists, “Draco it hurts. It hurts.”
He smoothed down her frizzy hair. “I know it does. He wrote me one too.”
Her tears soaked through the cotton, and she began shaking. She didn’t want to voice the thought circling through her head, because it would feel too real, too permanent, but she needed at least one person to know. One person to acknowledge the emptiness that threatened to take her out. So she whispered, “I miss him.”
Draco was silent for a moment before drawing back and looking into her eyes. His thumb gently stroked her cheek, and he looked just as broken as she felt. “I think we might always miss him, Hermione. The world isn’t quite right without him.”
“Then what do we do?” Hermione asked. She just wanted someone to tell her what to do. Hermione Granger, the Brightest Witch of the Age, was lost.
Draco rested his forehead on hers, a motion that had become so familiar over the past weeks, and sighed. “I don’t know.” He ran his hands down her arms and paused over her wrist. He prodded around, feeling an extra layer. His eyes widened and he rolled up the edge of her sleeve. Hermione wanted to look away or feel embarrassed, but she just kept staring at his eyes. Those crystal, blue eyes. Draco tenderly unwrapped the gauze around her old scar and examined the newly irritated markings.
Hermione held her breath. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking, and the seconds ticked past. It wasn’t the same as before. This time, she had aggressively scratched at only the end of the scar, the part that spelled out ‘blood’. Only this part of the slur bothered her these days, and seeing the constant reminder of something that had led to Theo’s death was sickening to her. It was rather ironic, though, that for years there were some who believed her blood was inherently dirty . It was a strange twist of fate that a pureblooded boy would die from his blood, and she would remain healthy.
Draco began raising her bare wrist, and it sent a wave of uncertainty through her, terminating her train of thought. She opened her mouth to protest, to ask what he was doing, when he pressed his lips to her cuts. The contact sent a shiver down her spine, and she forgot what she intended to say. He moved his lips to the side, kissing the next scarred letter, then the next, and the next until he reached the end. Hermione’s heart fluttered wildly. It was such an intimate gesture that she had no idea what to do with the rest of her body. She gaped at him, wide-eyed.
“We aren’t going to do this again, okay?” His voice was barely audible but held so much feeling she couldn’t bear to look at him. Hermione nodded mutely, and he wrapped the bandage back around her wrist and tugged her to her feet. “Come,” he said, “Madam Pomfrey asked for me to bring you to see her. She says she has something to give us.”
The two of them meandered down the halls, unhurried. Draco flicked his wand as they went, sending green sparks above their heads haphazardly. Hermione realized that this may be one of the last times she set foot in Hogwarts. Over the years, she had imagined this day would be bittersweet, full of happy memories and hope for the future. Now, she simply wanted to leave, but where would she go? She hadn’t any sort of plan and didn’t even know where to start. She sighed and followed Draco into the infirmary.
“Oh, good. You’re both here.” Madam Pomfrey’s crisp voice floated from the other side of the room. She waved a thick folder at them, beckoning them to her desk. “I think you’ll want to see this.”
The two of them stepped forward and glanced at the files Madam spread across the desk. Words swam before Hermione’s eyes and she forced them to focus.
…I am greatly honored…
…such promising research…
…assembled a team…
…perhaps our joint efforts…
…in the fall…
Draco gasped beside her but Hermione was still processing through the fancy script. When it hit her, she sat down so forcefully that Draco gave an alarmed yelp and Madam jumped up in surprise. What the hell?
Chapter 31: Draco
Madam Pomfrey pinched her lips and looked between the two teenagers. Hermione still appeared dazed, and Draco was fairly confused himself.
“Madam, care to enlighten us?”
“Certainly Mr. Malfoy. About a month ago, I decided to clean up your laboratory. I wanted to make sure nothing dangerous was left out and that equipment was not still running. I shouldn’t have even bothered, as the two of you are meticulous in your safety practices. While I was in there, however, I reviewed the scattered data. I planned to organize the papers and store them for future use. When I read through your findings and theories, I came across an article that seemed familiar. I finally recognized it as the very journal that caused Miss Granger to approach me last term for further research.”
She paused to make sure they were following her, and Draco motioned for her to continue. “Well, it’s quite simple from there. I sent an owl to Dr. Lyles, the very author of this research article, and sent him copies of your findings. He was fascinated, and wrote back in a matter of days, asking if the two of you were available to join his PhD program.”
It took a moment for Draco to realize she was serious. He blinked a few times, hoping it would help him absorb all of the information. A professor, studying magical and muggle medicine, was requesting their presence in some sort of academic program. He wasn’t familiar with the term “PhD”, but it sounded important. Hermione still remained silent beside him, but her eyes were narrowed in thought. Draco turned back to Madam Pomfrey.
“So…this professor…wants us to come research with him? To what end?”
Madam laughed at that. “To finish the project of course. To perfect the avensegium allegiata spell and apply it to various diseases. To cure the incurable. To undo decades of evil.”
Oh, of course. To undo decades of evil. The voice inside his head was filled with bitter sarcasm, but he managed to contain it. Truth be told, he didn’t really care anymore. This research had always been about Theo for him, not some Gryffindor world-health mission. He was so incredibly tired. Even simple things seemed exhausting. There was no way in hell he was committing to some do-gooders project. At this point, it was clear he wasn’t very good at changing the world, anyway. So far in his life, he had been on the wrong side of a war and had been incapable of saving what mattered most. He was relatively certain that disqualified him from this proposal. Next to him, Hermione crossed her arms and bit her lip in thought. Draco rolled his eyes and turned back to the healer. “Where is it?”
“Oh!” Madam Pomfrey exclaimed. “Yes, well his primary location is in a subsection of Harvard Medical School, located at the Boston campus.”
Boston? As in…well he honestly didn’t know which American state it resided in. New York? That one seemed popular. He would go with New York. Merlin, that was far from London. To commit to research at Harvard would mean leaving everything he’d ever known. Not that he had much left, but the idea was moderately alarming.
Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat as if waiting for an answer. Draco looked back at Hermione, who still hadn’t spoken. “Sorry, Madam, but we’re going to need time to consider.”
The matron nodded briskly. “Perfectly sensible. Please get back to me within forty-eight hours. I need to send Dr. Lyles a response.” Draco nodded mutely and pulled at Hermione’s arm, dragging her out of the infirmary.
Neither spoke. Their footsteps echoed in the empty hallways, and although they didn’t communicate, they seemed to have an understanding of their destination. Silently, they passed the Great Hall, tables bare and pushed to the sides of the room for storage. Then the library, doors tightly locked and windows dark. The chatty portraits were unusually vacant with no students to keep an eye on. This was a side of Hogwarts he had never seen, and he couldn’t say he particularly enjoyed the view.
As they walked, a meter or so between them, Draco’s mind was empty. Not of thoughts–he couldn’t help but have those, but of feeling. It used to be so full . Full of snarky one-liners waiting to be used, memories of his mother’s voice, the smell of dirty quidditch uniforms, annoyance over a potions essay, fantasies involving a certain pair of brown eyes. Now…there was nothing. Even the most extreme emotions felt lesser somehow.
It wasn’t because he was occluding; no, that felt entirely different. When he occluded, it was offensively targeting the emotions and labeling them as unwanted. It was binding them, caging them, refusing to acknowledge their existence. The second he erected those obsidian walls, a sharp cool drained over his being and he became slightly less human, slightly less in tune with his essence . Initially, the sensation was disquieting, but Draco had learned that the mind was resilient. It could become used to almost anything.
After his conversation with Hermione at the funeral, he really had tried to break the habit. It felt so ridiculous. Why did it even matter? Theo wasn’t going to congratulate him or show up applauding for finally listening to him. Draco should have stopped occluding when Theo had asked the first time, years ago. Gods…he would do anything to change so many of his actions. There were so many ways he could have been better. So many times his own hubris prevented him from loving Theo the way he deserved, and now it was too late.
The floorboards creaked under Draco’s feet and he looked up. There it was. The classroom. He tentatively pushed open the old door, and it swung forward with a cry. When he let his eyes drift over the space, he almost fell to his knees. For some reason, a thin path of footsteps still showed through the dust, making its way to the window as if he had never even left. As if the boy who found solace within these walls was here only yesterday. Draco let his eyes close for a moment, just a moment, and let himself imagine that when he opened his eyes a familiar scene would play out.
‘Draco? Draco is that you?’
‘Who else would it be, brother? There’s no one else who could sit through your incessant screeching on that gods-forsaken instrument.’
Theo would chuckle, and Draco would crack a smile. He wouldn’t be able to stay in the doorway very long before striding over to the other boy and clapping him on the shoulder. Then, Draco would hastily amend his previous statement.
‘Only kidding, Theo. It’s lovely. Was that one of your mother’s favorites?’
‘No, not this time. This is actually one of mine.”
Draco would nod, and release Theo. He would gently lean against the wall. ‘Go on, then. I want to hear it all.”
And there it would be again–that smile. The smile that made him forget that his friend was dying. The smile that cut through the pain of losing his mother, the pain of living through a war. The smile that reminded Draco he wasn’t alone. Then Theo would play, and it would be perfect.
Draco cracked open his eyes. He knew this scene in his mind wasn’t real, but the empty classroom still hurt. He swallowed harshly.
“I see him too,” Hermione whispered.
Draco flinched. She had been so still he had forgotten she was there. “What?”
“I see him too. In this room. That’s why I never come back here alone…he’s everywhere. Every centimeter of this room is so totally and completely him .”
Draco nodded. She was right. Something in them had needed to see it, but it was too difficult to step inside. Without a word, Draco pulled the door shut. He slumped to the floor and leaned heavily against the wall. He felt like he should be screaming or sobbing or breaking something, but all of those things required so much effort.
Hermione nudged his elbow where she had sunk to the ground beside him, and he looked up. She was uncommonly unreadable, but he assumed his own expression was similar. He raised an eyebrow in query and she tilted her head.
“I think we should accept.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Is that your best attempt at a joke?”
Hermione pinned him with a stare. “Does it look like I’m smiling?” Draco frowned at the question. No, clearly she was not smiling. The issue was, he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a smile on her haggard countenance. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt his own mouth twitch upward.
She sighed. “Honestly, Draco. Look at us. What else are we going to do? Get a job at the ministry and be miserable? Buy flats and read books to distract us from our problems? That’s rather pathetic.”
“I’m quite happy being miserable, thank you,” he responded primly. She thwacked his arm and sighed as if she were just as fatigued. Gods, she made them sound pitiful. He didn’t really want to spend time coming up with an elaborate argument, so he stuck with the truth. “I don’t want to go.”
Hermione turned to face him, mouth pressed into a line. Her eyes drifted to the dark circles he knew were ever-present, and onto his cheeks that had certainly lost their color. “I don’t want to go either. But even more so, I don’t want to stay.”
Draco was silent for a long while before responding. Hermione didn’t push him, and stayed on the floor beside him, picking at a loose thread on her shirt. Finally, he sighed. “I don’t actually care about finishing our research.”
“And I don’t really care about finding a cure for others. Maybe I should, but I don’t.”
Draco ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “But you’re right. Being here is terrible.”
“Yep.” The ‘p’ popped at the end of her word carelessly, and the interchange struck him as ironic. At some point, they were the top students of their year, driven purely out of spite to best the other. Now, they were comrades, lacking in ambition. My, how the tables had turned. A trickle of water splashed onto his forehead, indicating another storm was assaulting the castle. Maybe Boston would at least have more agreeable weather.
So they would go to Harvard, and they would have a job to do, far away from anything familiar. There wouldn’t be a soul who knew them, not a single person who identified them by what they had done or what they had lost. He felt a strange sort of relief at the thought. He wasn’t naive enough to think he would ever feel exactly normal again, but perhaps in a new place, he would learn how to fake it. Maybe that would be enough. It had to be.
Later that evening, Hermione went downstairs to alert Madam Pomfrey of their decision; Draco remained in the room, packing his things into a small satchel. Hermione had added an undetectable extension charm on it, so he had no trouble. He didn’t bother with much clothing. It was much simpler to buy a new ensemble when they arrived. Hermione returned, and they set their belongings at the door. She announced that Madam had arranged for an international portkey in the morning. The portkey would take them to a hotel in Boston, where they would wait to receive further details from Dr. Lyles.
Once all of the necessary words were said, they both fell silent. Draco was sat on his emerald comforter, and Hermione fidgeted uncomfortably by the door, staring at their belongings. Maybe she was feeling nervous. Maybe she was regretting their decision. Maybe she wished she were going alone. Before, he would have said something witty to calm her, but when he searched his mind there was nothing. So he sighed and flopped onto his back. He vaguely patted the space beside him and waited. Her feet shuffled across the floor, and she curled up next to him, laying her head on his chest. At the contact, a small pulse of warmth flashed within him, the memory of an old desire. He gently draped an arm around her, and the two of them drifted into oblivion.
Chapter 32: Hermione
“Welcome Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger. We have your room ready.”
The portkey was delivered right on time, and after a brief goodbye to Madam Pomfrey and Professor Mcgonagall, Draco and Hermione were swept off to America. It was only a short walk from the designated alley to the hotel they would stay in tonight, and now they were standing at the front desk, waiting for their key. Draco took it from the outstretched hand and strode for the elevators. Hermione followed a few feet behind.
She had no idea what she was doing here. It quite possibly was the most impulsive decision she’d ever made. Merlin…she hadn’t even owled Ginny. The elevator doors opened. Her palms began to sweat; she realized she didn’t know how to find the nearest market. Thirteen steps to the door. She had no friends here, didn’t even know how to stay safe in this city. Didn’t know how big the city was . Draco turned the key in the lock. Any reminders of her friends or childhood were thousands of miles away. The door swung open and they stepped inside. Hermione was hit with a violent round of nausea and rushed into the loo. Thankfully, it was the first room inside the small suite. She emptied her stomach into the toilet, hands shaking.
After a moment, a pair of hands pulled her hair back and rubbed circles along her spine. When there was nothing left inside her, she leaned back against Draco’s crouched form. She looked up into the blue eyes hovering over her, but he quickly tore his gaze away and rose to his feet. He opened a cabinet, pulled out a small hand towel, and tossed it to her, eyes trained on the floor.
“Alright?” He asked carefully. Hermione wiped at her face before responding. “Yes,” she mumbled back. “Thanks.” Draco only nodded before grabbing their bags and taking them to the bedroom. Hermione cleaned up before following him. She wasn’t embarrassed by her loss of composure. To be frank, they were way past that in their friendship. She just felt weary, even though she’d hardly been awake for more than three hours.
She shuffled into the bedroom, and indifferently surveyed the furniture. Draco had settled himself on the floor in a far corner, elbows resting on his knees. She grabbed a novel from her bag and ducked into the adjacent living room. There was a small couch facing a television set. She sank into the cushions and looked down at the book in her hand. Emma , by Jane Austen. She’d read it before, but at least it was something to do.
Hours passed and Hermione realized she was hungry. Checking the wall clock, she was startled to see it was almost six in the evening, Boston time. She looked down at the open page in her lap. Page six. She didn’t know how long she’d been staring at the same page, and hadn’t even cared. Not a sound had come from the other room, and she hadn’t moved to check. Without her noticing, the light had faded in the window, leaving only the lamp lighting the room. Hermione got to her feet, shoved on a pair of shoes, and grabbed the key, determined to track down some food. Before stepping out, she glanced behind her. Draco still sat in the same place, eyes unfocused. She left.
Downstairs, there was a small little restaurant serving some sort of Italian special. She ordered two, asking for to-go containers. As an afterthought, she asked for two bottles of the strongest whiskey they had on hand. She paid, grabbed her purchases, and trudged up the stairs, enjoying the strain it put on her legs.
She reentered the room, and Draco didn’t even look up. When she plopped down beside him, he appeared startled.
“Sorry,” she whispered, “Didn’t mean to disturb you. Just brought some food.” Draco blinked a few times before grabbing one of the containers. Within minutes, he had devoured it and was reaching over to sneak some of her own noodles away. She had to swat him with her napkin to keep him away.
“Hey! I’m hungry too!”
He took another noodle.
The rest of the evening passed with less tension than before. Around ten o’clock, Draco grew bored and discovered the TV. From the bed, she could hear him muttering angrily at the box, trying to figure out what it was. Finally, he gave up and stomped into the bedroom.
“It's mocking me, Granger.”
Hermione gracefully rose from her perch and padded into the other room, snatching the remote laid in plain sight on the tea table. She waved it tauntingly. “Do you even know what this thing is ?”
He crossed his arms and scoffed. “Of course. It’s a muggle picture-box. Blaise told me about it once.”
“It’s a television.” She pressed the power button on the remote, and the screen came to life, assaulting their senses with sound. Draco slammed his hands over his ears and wailed, “Granger!”
She lowered the volume and switched channels. “What do you want to watch?”
He lowered his hands and looked at the device suspiciously. “What are the options?”
She shrugged. “Sports. The News. Popular films. Reality television. Whatever you want really.”
Hermione sighed. “No, not quidditch. There are other sports though, like football or tennis. You might like them.” He didn’t seem interested. “Alright, maybe a film then? Have you ever seen one?” He shook his head, so she pulled up the guide. On channel 27 they were showing Back to the Future , and she figured that one was fine.
They settled on opposite sides of the couch, Draco leaning forward in fascination and Hermione leaning back, quietly mouthing her favorite lines. Draco kept muttering about how ridiculous Marty McFly was, and that if it were him , he never would have taken so long to get back from the past and he certainly wouldn’t have let his mother kiss him.
A quick tap drew her attention to the window, and she walked behind the couch to open it. A small barn owl sat on the windowsill, holding out his leg. She slipped off the scroll of parchment and thanked the bird, closing the window behind it. It was the address to their assigned flat near Harvard, and an announcement to meet Dr. Lyles in lab 238.5, Tosteson Building, in ten days. Hermione sighed and stuffed the paper into her pocket. When she glanced back at the couch, she saw Draco intensely watching the credits, trying to whisper each name before it ran off the screen. Every time he missed one he would hiss in frustration, press the newly discovered rewind button, and try again. She left him to it and drifted back into the bedroom to change.
She methodically pulled off her shirt and trousers, and grabbed an oversized t-shirt from her bag, sliding it over her curls. Then she pulled back the plush duvet and curled up on the left side of the bed. She flicked her wand to turn off the lamp and set it on the small bedside table. She didn’t like being too far from her wand.
Draco came in later, flipping on the bathroom light. Hermione cracked an eye open. When he emerged, bare-chested and in a pair of muggle pajama pants, she cracked open the other eye. He met her gaze across the room and held it, quirking a brow.
She watched him amble over to the bed and slide in beside her. He frowned. “Was that an owl earlier?”
She nodded, telling him they could move into the flat tomorrow and would meet with Dr. Lyles soon. He hummed in understanding and used his own wand to turn off the bathroom light; he twisted so that their backs pressed against one another. Hermione assumed they were finished talking for the night and closed her eyes, but a deep rumble made her turn her head toward him.
“What did you say?” She whispered over her shoulder.
“I asked if you were okay.”
“Oh.” The question caught her off guard. “No. I suppose I’m not. Are you?”
A brief pause. “No.”
Hermione sighed. They were a mess. Draco shifted. “Hermione?”
“When do you think the numbness will go away?”
She faced him and pushed a strand of hair off of his forehead. “I don’t know.” He didn’t respond but just closed his eyes. Within a few minutes, his even breaths filled the room and Hermione pulled her knees to her chest. It took a while for her to fall asleep that night, but when she did, she dreamt.
She was in the Slytherin common room, dancing wildly to Bohemian Rhapsody while Pansy and Astoria giggled. Blaise sashayed through them, carrying drinks to a smirking Draco, and a pair of delicate arms laced themselves around her hips from behind. He leaned into her ear.
She closed her eyes as he twirled her, around and around. She should’ve been dizzy, should’ve fallen, but he didn’t let her. He kept his grip firm, and she trusted him. Green lights exploded above and she tilted her head up to take in the pretty sight. There were no exams, no obligations, there was just this moment. A wide grin spread on her lips as the body behind her pulled her even closer against his chest, pressing light kisses along her neck.
“I’m sorry.” The breath tickled enough that she didn’t process the words at first. When she did, she stopped moving in confusion. He was sorry? That was ridiculous, he had nothing to be sorry for. They were having a wonderful night, celebrating with their friends. The drinks were strong, the music was loud, and he was holding her close. Everything was perfect.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered again. Her confusion morphed into irritation. Why was he saying that? Why was he trying to ruin her night? She tried to sway with the music again, ignore his strange words and lose herself in the motions, but he grabbed her arms forcefully, shaking her in place.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he groaned. Now, Hermione felt frightened and turned her body to take him in for the first time. She just wanted him to stop, needed him to stop saying what she couldn’t understand. He was scaring her.
When her eyes flickered upward, Hermione choked on a scream. Where the warm brown eyes, thin nose, and lightly freckled cheekbones should have been, there was only empty space. She shrieked and pushed herself away from him. Everyone around her continued to dance, never noticing there was a boy with no face infiltrating the party. How did they not notice? How could they not see? She thought she was going to vomit. She was shaking, she was screaming, and then she was falling–
Hermione woke up with a gasp, shaking with sobs. Draco blinked in the darkness before pulling her against his warm chest. She clung to him wildly and he shushed her gently, holding her tightly until her breathing slowed. She was so tired of crying. She felt like at this point, she should’ve run out of tears, but every night they kept coming. It was impressive, really.
Draco didn’t ask what she had seen, he already knew. He just entangled their bodies, kissing the top of her head. He didn’t let go of her the whole night, and this time she didn’t wake until morning.
Chapter 33: Draco
Draco woke before Hermione, and gently unwrapped himself from her warm body. As he stood, he realized she was only wearing a thin shirt, and it was bunched up around her waist. He looked away, pulling the duvet over her.
Stumbling around the room, he found the discarded bag from last night’s meal. He planned to toss it in the trash receptacle but found two bottles inside. He examined them with minimal interest. Muggle whiskey. He couldn’t say he’d ever tried it, but his father always bragged about the superiority of wizard drinks. Draco opened a bottle. His father had been wrong about a lot of things.
He sprawled himself on the couch, bottle in hand, quietly clicking through the ‘channels’. That’s what Granger had called them, but he didn’t think it made any sense.
Hermione stumbled in later, just as he was attempting a position the woman in the television was demonstrating. She had explained it was called “downward dog”. He had scoffed at the ridiculous movement, but when the woman mentioned that there was no shame in being unable to stretch as far as her, he had leaped off the couch. He’d show her .
“Salazar, Draco! What are you doing?”
He twisted his head, still holding the position. “I believe Margaret says it is yoga .” The word felt strange on his tongue. “She says it relieves stress.”
He sighed and collapsed on the floor. Margaret was right, the “downward dog” was fairly difficult to hold for long periods of time.
“Well…I suppose we could both use some stress relief?” Hermione attempted. For some reason, she looked strained, as if she were fighting to keep her face neutral. Merlin . Was she going to smile?
A beat passed, and the lightness retreated from her eyes, taking on their customary bleakness. She noticed the half-empty bottle next to the couch and gestured to it. “Can I have that?”
He shrugged and pulled himself to his feet as she knocked back a drink. It was a simple thing to pack up their belongings and turn in the key. Within the hour, they apparated to the back door of the apartment complex. After a brief exchange with the front office, they made their way to the fourth floor and took in their new flat. There were two small bedrooms, separated by a cozy living room. Near the door was the smallest kitchen Draco had ever seen, complete with a table to eat at. He looked back at the bedrooms. Hermione glanced at the apartment quickly and stalked into the right one, gently closing the door.
He stared at the closed door, indecisive. She probably just needed some privacy; she hadn’t had more than a moment truly alone for days. She wasn’t curt with him this morning, so surely she wasn’t angry. Maybe she was tired of their co-habitant lifestyle. He wouldn’t blame her. Too many thoughts were fighting for dominance in his mind, and to make things easier, he headed to the left room.
It was plain, which was fine. He dropped his bag unceremoniously in the closet and opened the blinds of the window. The view looked down on a busy street, packed with civilians. Many of them carried parcels or young children. He shut the blinds. On the far wall, there was an empty bookshelf. Granger would love it, and he hoped she had one in her chosen room as well. Blimey, there was nothing to do. He hadn’t spotted a television, and he hadn’t brought anything to read. He settled for pacing.
If he lengthened his strides, it took five steps to cover the distance from wall to wall. He tried to manage it in four, but he couldn’t quite make it. There were always a few centimeters remaining. He kicked the wall in irritation.
Little things made him angry these days. Small inconveniences, minor disappointments. Although he supposed it was a relief to feel something , the brief interludes of tightness in his chest weren’t pleasant.
Hermione didn’t come out of that room. She didn’t come out, and he felt unexpectedly anxious. The entire day passed, and still nothing. In a strange mirror of the day before, he slipped out of the apartment, determined to find something to eat. When he made it to ground level, overwhelmed by the swarms of people, he realized he had no idea where he was. Worse, he could tell he was in a muggle section of Boston. Maybe there wasn’t even a magical section. He started backing up frantically, bursting through the door he came from. The kindly old receptionist looked up from her desk.
“Need anything, sweetie?”
He glared at her for a moment, but when her smile didn’t fall he slumped in defeat. He asked if there was any way he could order food without having to go there physically. He felt so embarrassed by the request that he couldn’t meet her eyes, but she didn’t seem surprised. Instead, she cheerily let him know there were dozens of options for delivery, and wrote down a few ‘numbers’ for him to call. He stared at the digits in bewilderment. He didn’t want to admit he had no idea what they were but thanked her anyway. She beamed at him and he took the stairs back up to the fourth floor. Maybe Hermione would know what these mysterious integers were.
Back in their flat, Hermione’s door still remained tightly shut but he decided to risk it. He was starved. Draco lightly rapped on the wood before pushing it open.
She was lying on her stomach on the rug, scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment. A stack of neatly folded letters lay scattered in a ring around her. When he entered, she glanced up at him.
“Oh. Hi,” she murmured. He dropped into a crouch to read over her shoulder. It was a letter to Pansy, explaining their departure but promising they’d keep in touch. The others in the stack were addressed to Harry, Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, Astoria, Blaise, and Ron.
“Ron?!” He cried incredulously. He couldn’t imagine why she would feel the need to contact the Weasle after everything. Anger quickly filled his core and his thoughts came in flashes. A glimpse of red hair. Hermione’s wounds. A voice saying she’s mine . The satisfaction of slugging him. Before he knew it, his hand was shaking, crinkling the paper. Hermione set down her pen and tilted her head to the side, eying him. He tried to calm down, but there were very few things that made him want to use unforgivables than that idiotic face of freckles. His breath was coming out in short puffs.
“Open it.” She said quietly. His eyes widened. He may have been infuriated, but that didn’t mean he wanted to read her private mail that she’d already sealed. He started shaking his head but she cut him off. “I mean it. Read it.”
He opened it.
You’re a bastard. Eat slugs.
Something strange was happening inside of him. That crazed fiery feeling remained, but something else was choking him, like a laugh wanted desperately to escape but he’d forgotten how to let it. Hermione raised her eyebrows. “Okay there, ferret?”
He cleared his throat. “I feel like I need to break something.”
Her eyebrows shot up even further. “Alright. Then let’s break something.”
“Let’s break something. Merlin knows it’d be good for me too.”
He peered around the room and spotted a pleasant-looking vase. He pulled out his wand and levitated it over to them. “Like this?”
“Oh yes,” she said reverently, “I think that’s perfect. Let’s make more of them.” She quickly multiplied the glassware until they were surrounded by hundreds of vases. After applying a muffliato to the walls, she stashed her wand in her pocket and picked up her first victim. Without any decorum, she hurled it as far as she could, watching it shatter against the walls. She didn’t smile, but there was a definite gleam in her eyes.
Never one to be outdone, Draco picked up two of his own vases and launched them. Hermione shrieked when they exploded and dodged out of the way before grabbing more of her own. When they grew tired of throwing them, they started crushing them under their feet. Draco found a vicious sort of enjoyment in imagining they were the Weasle’s ugly face before slamming down his heel.
The entire floor was littered with jagged glass pieces within minutes, but he still felt some residual irritation. He looked at Hermione in question, and she nodded. They made quick work of the reparo charm and began again. They didn’t speak at all this time, and each of them destroyed deliberately. He caught a glimpse of her lips pressed tightly together and her eyes glimmering with tears as she slammed three vases at her feet. She didn’t even flinch when a piece nicked her calf. Draco returned to his own demolition with renewed fervor. Again and again and again, until they collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. Hermione waved her wand, vanishing the mess and returning the original to its perch on the bedside table.
“You know…I actually feel quite a bit better,” Hermione muttered.
He couldn’t help but agree. Some of that awful tension had finally leaked out and made way for…something. He wasn’t sure what. Draco’s stomach growled and he remembered why he came in here in the first place. He shoved the list of numbers at Hermione and asked what they meant. She briefly explained muggle telephones and how they worked, then called for Chinese take-out.
After they finished eating, Draco asked if she had anything he could read. After considering for a moment, she slipped into her room and came back with something named A Midsummer Night’s Dream . Instead of placing it into his outstretched hand, she sat down on the couch, gesturing for him to sit beside her. For the next few hours, she read aloud to him and he fell into a peaceful stupor. He knew the story was meant to be funny, and although they did not laugh, it wasn’t unpleasant. Her voice was lovely, one of his favorite things to listen to, and she had no idea. It wasn’t something he would ever tell her, but it was something that made these dreary days brighter.
As she spoke, she had this habit of tugging on a loose curl. His eyes followed each bounce, tracing the pathway her fingers made with his eyes. There was something bewitching about the chestnut coloring against her lightly golden skin. A spattering of freckles danced down her neck, hiding themselves from view under her collar. The jumper was a pity. He’d have liked to see where they went.
“ ‘Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends’ ,” Hermione whispered, closing the book. “Did you like it?” She looked at Draco expectantly, and he blinked to clear his mind. He didn’t know how much he had missed. The last thing he’d heard was something about a talking wall.
“Yes, of course. It was great,” he quickly replied. She narrowed her eyes so he continued hastily, “It’s interesting that there was a play within a play. I’m not sure I’ve seen that done before.” She relaxed, clearly satisfied with his answer. For a few minutes, he listened to her go on about the intricacies of iambic pentameter and Shakespearean culture until she yawned widely. Apparently, they were finished for the night. She stood to her feet and shuffled into her room, calling out that she was changing for bed over her shoulder. Her door closed.
Draco slowly got to his feet, staring after her. The hollowness was creeping up on him again; he could feel it, but he couldn’t prevent it. He walked into his own room. Mindlessly, he tugged off his clothing, replacing it with the checkered cotton trousers he’d discovered recently. His mother would have fainted at the sight of them, begging him to wear his usual silk pajamas, but he’d found he fancied this material. A wave of exhaustion crested over him; all he managed was flipping off the light and sinking heavily into the bed, right in the middle. Regardless of his fatigue, he couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t been alone at night for months, and the bed felt too wide, too empty. No matter how he spread his limbs, he couldn’t seem to take up enough space to douse the loneliness. It was suffocating.
His door cracked open, illuminating a head of bushy hair. Hermione stepped inside, gently closing the door behind her, and stepped up to him frowning. She looked so displeased he was immediately nervous.
She crossed her arms, glaring at him. “You’re in my spot.” He didn’t understand and blinked stupidly at her until she shooed him backward with her hands. Finally catching on, he made room for her to slide under the sheets next to him. She was still frowning. “You thought I was leaving you.”
Draco felt his cheeks flush and he hurried to cover his embarrassment. “Merlin, Granger, we’re still in the same flat. That’s hardly leaving.”
“We promised,” she said softly. She wrapped her arms around him tightly and the anxiety finally ebbed out of him. We promised. He repeated it to himself, over and over into the night, even after she had fallen asleep. The promise to take care of each other, the promise that they were never alone. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Hell...they had broken glass like maniacs today because of their grief. No, it wasn’t perfect, but for now, being here with her was enough.
Chapter 34: Hermione
Sorry I didn't post this chapter last night...it needed something more. I'm hoping it was worth the slight delay. Welcome to what might be the longest chapter of this story so far.
As always, I am so grateful for every single person who has followed this tale or even opened this story. It was never meant to be something I kept to myself.
They fell into a rhythm. Wake up, change clothes, spread out around the flat. Meals were ordered via telephone, as neither felt any desire to leave. Occasionally they would read, rarely they would talk, and depending on their mood they would transfigure things at random. Some days felt light enough to play a game or two. Other days felt so dark it was a miracle if they said a word. They had five more Rage Room episodes, alternating between smashing the vase and shattering a set of ceramic plates Hermione had found in the kitchen. In those ten days, Hermione had four more nightmares that left her sobbing and Draco screamed himself hoarse on at least two occasions. It could have been worse.
This morning they were scheduled to arrive at the Tosteson Building. Hermione felt uncharacteristically ambivalent about the meeting as they apparated onto Harvard campus. It was a short thing, and her mind was mostly unfocused. Dr. Lyles was a quiet sort of man with a soft brown mustache and kind eyes. He briefly introduced them to the ten other PhD students who would be working in the lab, and Hermione nodded while never retaining a single name. Dr. Lyles gave a short tour of the laboratory and said that by the end of the week, they would each have assignments.
“We are so thankful for the work you’ve done. I think it was a missing piece in our research,” the professor hummed. “And from now on, it won’t just be the two of you. Now you have a team.” He finished his statement with a smile so brilliant, Hermione almost felt sorry she couldn’t return it. She settled for a small nod, which didn’t escape the doctor’s notice. His grin drooped, and he cut a quick glance at Draco, who hadn’t said one word. With a sigh, Dr. Lyles shooed away the rest of the team and brought them into a snug little office, gesturing for them to take a seat.
“I am very grateful you agreed to come,” he stated plainly. Draco didn’t respond; he had a sour expression stuck on his face. Hermione picked at the hem of her shirt and muttered a low, “No problem, professor.” Dr. Lyles laced his callused hands together and stared at them pensively. As if coming to a decision, he nodded once to himself and continued. “Poppy and I have become rather close during these months. She told me of your research this past year, including your brilliant wins as well as your tragic losses.” Hermione’s stomach felt like lead, afraid he wanted them to give details. Before she could truly begin to panic, he held up a hand. “I do not require you to speak on it. But I do require a few things. As part of this program, you must show up to run whatever tests or research you are assigned to do. We still have experiments to finish, and those cannot wait for you.”
Draco scoffed beside her but said nothing. Dr. Lyles carried on. “That being said–I do not require you to speak. I do not require you to smile. I do not require you to create bonds with your lab mates. These are things I wish for you, but it doesn’t bother me if you find them impossible at the moment. I simply ask that you do your part as we search for a cure, and that you use your time in Boston to find a cure for your own maladies. Is that alright?”
Hermione glanced at Draco, his arms crossed behind his head, eyes closed irreverently. She turned back to the professor. “Sure.” The meeting was over then, and they quickly departed, apparating directly into their flat. Hermione hastily reactivated their wards, and Draco stalked into his bedroom, slamming the door. Fantastic . Now she had to deal with a moody dragon.
She gave him ten minutes. Ten minutes to brood and sulk, ten minutes to let her own irritation build. Then she stomped into the room, bursting through the door with a flick of her wand.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” She barked. He slowly turned from across the room to face her. His lips were drawn into a scowl, and he pinned her with his most venomous glare. She only rolled her eyes and sauntered closer. He didn’t move. “You could’ve at least tried to pay attention today. Just minimal effort. But instead, I had to deal with everything, because you’re having a little temper tantrum!”
“Get out, Granger.” It was a low warning. She knew she was tiptoeing a line and didn’t care. For some reason, she wanted so badly to infuriate him further. To expel some of her own uneasiness from the day by throwing it in his face. So she took another step in his direction, ignoring his request.
“Oh no, does the little snake need some alone time? Was the big adult meeting today too much for his delicate sensibilities? Oh dear…whatever shall we do?” She flung her arms widely as she mocked him.
“ Get out ,” he growled.
“No.” She replied stubbornly, creeping ever closer. This anger was intoxicating; it was far too soon to let go of it. She needed more, more, more . As she stepped ever closer, she watched the slivers of grey slide into place in his eyes, and she was suddenly burning inside. She clucked in prissy disapproval, a perfect imitation of Professor Mcgonagall as she pointed to his eyes. “Oh Draco, what would Theo think of you now?”
She watched the change come over him as if it were in slow motion. All at once, the straggling pieces of grey dissolved, leaving a vibrant blue. A vicious blue. And at once, she knew she had pushed him too far.
“ GET THE FUCK OUT! ”
The explosion of sound was so unexpected Hermione leapt back, heart-racing. She stumbled over the rug and fell onto the ground panting. The second Draco registered her terrified expression, he crumpled to the floor, hands fighting for purchase. He was shaking, and reached out for her vaguely, but didn’t move any closer.
“Gods, Hermione I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he panted. All of Hermione’s anger fizzled out. Usually, when she ran out of rage, she was left with an empty hollowness, but this time, that hole filled with overwhelming sadness. Sadness for him . She couldn’t look away.
Draco shuddered. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m not him. I’m not him. I swear I’d never hurt you–”
“Draco.” She tried to interrupt him, couldn’t stand the raggedness in his voice, knew he was desperately trying to show her he wasn’t Ron. But she knew that already.
“I’m not him,” he raised his eyes pleadingly, still extending his hand, “I’m not him–”
“Draco, Draco I know . I know. It’s alright. You only startled me.” She crawled over to him, taking his cheeks in her hands. He continued to mutter the same words over and over, and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to stop this, how to fix them.
“ I’m not him. ” His voice finally broke, and Hermione realized he didn’t mean Ron anymore.
“I know you’re not Theo,” she whispered. His eyes shot up to meet hers, and his total despair hit her forcefully. His eyes were begging on their knees for a way to turn back time. They were cursing at the world for the lot he’d been given in life.
Draco murmured something so low she missed it. She gently asked him to repeat himself, and this time she understood. It should have been me.
Hermione sucked in a breath. “No, Draco, don’t ever say that.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, leaning his forehead on hers. “Don’t pretend you don’t wish he were here instead of me. I wish it too.” She couldn’t help it then. She closed the space between them, straddling her legs around his waist and crushing him in a hug. She felt him tense in surprise, but then he melted into her, dropping his chin on her shoulder.
“I miss him, Draco. I miss him terribly. Every second of every day I miss him, but never once have I regretted being here with you.” He tried to interrupt but she covered his mouth with a hand. “The truth is, you make this so much easier. When I start being overcome with grief, I turn around and see you. Somehow, you make me feel like I’ll be okay someday. So don’t ever think I wish you weren’t here, because I would be mourning just as much if it had been you I lost instead.”
He leaned back to gauge her sincerity, and she held his gaze, daring him to doubt her. The edge of his mouth twitched, just the barest hint of a smile.
“You know what we should do?” He asked finally. She quirked a brow in question, letting her arms circle him loosely. His gaze searched her face before nodding to himself. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Let’s get out of here. We haven’t left the room in almost two weeks. That can’t be good for healing, and apparently our new professor desires for us to ‘cure our own maladies’. We should actually see the city. Maybe we’ll like it.”
“Oh, so you were listening to him?” She teased. He didn’t take the bait this time and pulled her to her feet. When she tried to draw her hand away, he shook his head and tugged her out the door.
They didn’t make it far on that first excursion, just across the street to a small ice cream parlor. Draco ordered mint chocolate chip and Hermione ordered strawberry. Hermione realized the bustle of the square wasn’t quite so daunting with Draco at her side. It was easier to quell her anxiety with his fingers entwined in hers.
They sat by the window, stealing bites from each other’s bowls, and watched the passing masses. Draco asked her about muggle careers. She asked him why he wore those cotton pajamas. She learned his favorite color and he learned her favorite flower. She confessed her fear of flying; he confessed he was still afraid of hippogriffs. It was nothing, and yet it was everything because it was the first time Hermione had felt anything close to normal in months. She was just a girl eating ice cream with a boy, chatting about regular things.
And so the weeks began to pass in Boston. Summer saw its end, and welcomed fall. She fell into a rhythm in Dr. Lyles’ laboratory and even found she occasionally enjoyed the monotonous research. Each evening, she and Draco took a walk throughout the city, exploring it little by little. She wrote to her friends in England once a week, and Molly sent them a care package full of treats once a month. She couldn’t say she was exactly happy, but it was something.
One evening in late October, Hermione was sprawled out on their couch, finally getting through a book she had picked up that week. It was such a relief to read again; the words no longer swam in front of her eyes without meaning. The flat had been quiet for hours–she’d no idea where Draco had gone but wasn’t worried. He’d left a note saying he’d be back soon, and she trusted him. When she turned a page to start the last chapter, the flat’s door opened quietly. She looked up at once, and Draco’s eyes brightened when he saw her. He carefully set a few paper bags on the counter, full of groceries, before making his way over to the couch.
He deftly swiped the book out of her hand, and Hermione couldn’t contain her eye-roll. He looked puzzled. “What on earth are you reading? Is this some sort of history book?” He mouthed the title to himself, “ 1984, by George Orwell. ”
Hermione snatched the book back. “It’s not a history book. It’s actually what muggles call dystopia , and it happens to be a warning against the dangers of totalitarianism.” He arched a brow in a way that meant he strongly doubted that it counted as a light evening read. She huffed in annoyance. “I can read it to you tonight. I think you’d rather enjoy it.”
Draco looked at his hands nervously. “Actually, I was hoping we could do something else tonight.”
Hermione’s curiosity was immediately prodded. “Oh?”
He dug into his trouser pockets and dug out two thin paper tickets. He eyed her warily before offering them to her. “Someone on the street was selling these and I…well, I thought maybe you’d like to go with me. I know we never go to things like this but…”
“Oh…” Hermione whispered as she read the ticket information. They provided admissions to tonight’s performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For a moment, Hermione was confused, until her eyes drifted down the paper and she understood. Tonight, the BSO was featuring the works of Bach, with a spotlight on Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Her hands shook a little when she handed the passes back to him.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked–”
“I want to go,” she interrupted him.
He blinked once, then twice. “You do?”
She nodded. “Yes. It sounds lovely. I’d love to go with you. Just let me find something to wear.” She quickly stood and left a gaping Draco in the living room while she found a suitable dress to put on. She didn’t dwell on it too long and settled for a green slip dress that fell to just above her knees. She quickly pulled her hair into a loose bun, letting a few front pieces fall, and clasped on a gold necklace Draco had brought home to her a few weeks ago. He’d been so excited when he found it. It was a dainty thing, only a thin golden chain with a charm of a violin. He’d asked the shopkeeper to make him a matching one and always wore it beneath his shirt. She loved it.
Hermione slipped on a pair of dark heels and strode back into the living room. His back turned, Draco was finishing up an intricate knot in his tie. He slid on his crisp jacket and pivoted. His mouth dropped open. “Merlin, Granger. Where’ve you been hiding that little number?”
She shrugged, and his eyes traveled up to her neck, settling on the gold chain. A small smirk appeared on his lips, and he tugged out his own necklace. “Look,” he hummed, “we match.”
“Not quite.” Hermione reached for her wand and flicked it at his perfectly arranged tie, transfiguring it to match the green of her dress. “Now we do.”
Draco grinned, grabbed her hand, and apparated them away.
Finding their seats was rather simple, and they had a wonderful view of the orchestra from so high above. They settled into their plush chairs and clapped with the other guests when the musicians were introduced. Without further delay, the performance began.
Hermione didn’t have any warning before she was dragged under. The music rushed over her as something fluid, forcing her to close her eyes and feel the notes dancing on her skin. With every passing minute, Hermione remembered . Remembered a boy who loved his violin. Remembered a classroom that brought comfort. Remembered a laugh that lit up a room. Remembered a sickness that ravaged a friendship. Remembered a love that was incomparable. She could feel the tears slipping down her cheeks, but they weren’t tears of devastation anymore. She didn’t know exactly what to call them, but at this moment, she didn’t feel so broken. With his music wrapping around her, because this piece would never truly stop being Theo’s, she felt like he was here with them.
And for the first time since that awful day in the spring, Hermione smiled.
Chapter 35: Draco
Draco had forgotten how to breathe.
She was smiling. She was smiling. She was smiling.
For half an hour he had paced in front of the door to their flat, arguing with himself. He couldn’t decide if this would be good for her or if she would hate him. The tickets had felt like stones in his pocket, paralyzing him with fear. What if he was wrong, and this was the thing that made him lose her?
No. They had promised.
That thought alone made him take a deep breath and enter the living room. The second he saw her reading on the couch, a flutter set off in his stomach. She was almost unrecognizable from the Hermione he lived with four months prior. Today, she had a little color on her cheeks, and her hair was nicely plaited. She still had that hesitant look in her eyes, as if she couldn’t quite trust the world anymore, but at least she appeared healthier. Every day he saw her looking healthier felt like a miracle.
He couldn’t believe she said yes, and for a moment he just stared after her as she went into the room to change. His gawking continued when she walked out in that dress, when he caught a glimpse of the necklace, and when she changed the color of his tie. Every part of their conversation had him on autopilot, and he was internally screaming at himself to act normal . Why was it so bloody difficult to be normal?
He really was doing quite well once they took their seats, and was looking forward to the performance. He’d heard the partita hundreds of times over the years from Theodore, and he was ready to hear it again. True, this time the melodies were accompanied by a dull ache in his chest, but he also felt closer to Theo than he had in months. He hoped wherever he was, Theo knew how much he was missed. He closed his eyes. I love you, brother. Always.
When Draco opened his eyes again, he glanced to the side and there she was–oh gods–he couldn’t stop the small sound that escaped from his throat. That was when the air froze in his lungs because Merlin, she was smiling, and she was smiling here and then she was smiling at him .
Hermione’s eyebrows scrunched together and she mouthed, is something wrong? Draco shook his head and reached for her chin, dragging his thumb across her face in reverence. The rest of the audience was oblivious to this phenomenon, and the selfish part of him was giddy that this moment was his alone. He slowly met her curious eyes.
“ Do it again ,” he whispered. She frowned in bewilderment. “That smile, Granger. Do. It. Again .” This time her eyes widened in understanding, and she beamed at him. There it was…Draco hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it these six months.
When he was young, Narcissa would sneak into his room late at night to tell him stories. One of her favorites was the Phoenix’s First Flight. It was a story of the birth of the world, a time before witches or wizards, when magic was loose, floating in a haze above the waters. From the haze, a spark was born, and although many believed it would fizzle out in defeat, the spark defiantly reached for the magic around it. It grew, it rose, it roared. The raw power needed a physical form, so it painted on feathers and claws. The phoenix was born. In the midst of the dark expanse, the phoenix streaked across the world, leaving a fiery trail in the sky. It was exuberant in this freedom and vowed to never cease it soaring. Each day, early morning and night, the phoenix flew–its fire so bright that many couldn’t look it in the eye. Only the bravest stood resolute on the ground, gazing upward, welcoming the scorching heat with open arms.
This was how Draco felt: Hermione in her blazing majesty was flashing him a smile almost too bright to look at. And yet–he did not falter. Something glimmered in her eyes as she held his gaze as if she too was finding it difficult to breathe. He realized that right here, in this moment, he could kiss her. He could tilt up her chin, get lost in those dazzling brown eyes, and fall. He could press his lips against hers, softly at first and then something more. He could close the space between them, remember what it felt like to feel her tongue dancing with his own. He saw all of this play out in his mind, and it wasn’t that far-fetched, but he dropped his gaze. It wasn’t time. Tonight they were still too delicate, too fragile, and he wanted this spark between them to be it . He wanted it to be everything . So he could be patient and wait for the right moment because it would come. That was a promise.
Hermione’s mouth parted when his fingers dropped from their trail along her skin, a flash of hurt in her eyes. Draco gave her a reassuring grin, and she relaxed into her seat. Both of them turned back to face the orchestra, and the rest of the performance passed amiably. At certain phrases, the two of them would glance at each other teary-eyed, sharing a small smile as they remembered which parts were Theo’s favorite. Sometime after intermission, Hermione rested her head on his shoulder and whispered, “I think he was much better than that soloist,” and Draco couldn’t hold in his snort. An elderly couple glared at him in disdain, making Hermione chuckle softly.
For the first time, Draco truly believed they were going to be okay.
November was busy. Hermione re-entered the laboratory in earnest after that night at the symphony. Draco had no idea what had happened, but her determination was magnetic. If Hermione wanted to spend all night in the lab developing spells, he couldn’t say no to her. Dr. Lyles was ecstatic to see them so energized and set them working with two other students. This time, Draco found he could remember their names– Will and James.
In the months that Hermione and Draco had been fairly robotic and thus unaware of the cohort’s progress, Will and James had been breaking apart avensegium allegiata . James quietly described the recent trials. The spell was fickle–some days it would effectively attack parasitic cells and leave healthy cells be, but other days it would destroy everything in its path, much as Draco and Hermione had seen in their own testing. Will interrupted his partner, bouncing on his toes, and said they’d even tried to develop a different spell. Apparently, avensegium allegiata was the most reliable. Will dramatically expressed that he would be forever in their debt if they could come up with a solution. James slapped his arm good-naturedly.
“Seriously, though. We could use two more brains.”
They got to work. The four of them were often scribbling into notebooks, researching every binding spell known to wizardkind. The other eight members of the cohort conducted physical testing; one section attempted to grow a new antibiotic, and the other tried to get their hands on a set of ethical yet viable test subjects. It was an easy thing to become frantic, but Dr. Lyles was always there to remind them ‘not to rush greatness’.
December passed, and in January, Hermione shook him awake one night so violently he jumped out of bed. His wand at the ready, he looked around for danger.
“No, Draco we’re fine, just come here!” Hermione shrieked. Perplexed, he turned around to face her, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Gods, what time was it?
Hermione was jumping on the bed, still making a peculiar screeching noise. If he hadn’t been so baffled he would have thought it was adorable. He carefully climbed back onto the bed and stood as well, sticking out his arms to balance. She really was making it difficult, as now she was twirling.
“I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve done it! Who’s the most brilliant witch?” Hermione sang as she spun. Now Draco did laugh fully and grabbed her waist to stop her movement.
“Well, I already knew that Granger, but what exactly have you done?”
Her smile dropped and she looked at him with as much gravity as she could muster at three in the morning. “I know how to fix the spell.”
Draco blinked, heart racing. If anyone could do it, it was Hermione Granger, but he still found it hard to believe. “Really?”
She nodded solemnly, pulling Draco back onto the bedspread so they could sit cross-legged beside each other. “Do you remember when we discussed sixth year?”
The change of subject startled him. “Yes, of course I do,” he stuttered. A few months ago as they sat in their living room, they had spoken of the war. She told him of being on the run with Harry and Ron, tracking down the horcruxes. He told her of Voldemort’s threats to harm his parents, of his mission to kill Dumbledore. She explained the stress of being hungry and cold in that awful tent, and he explained the terror of living with a madman. He’d never forget that conversation.
“Well, when we were in hiding, I spent any downtime researching. There was so little we knew about the horcruxes, so little Dumbledore left for us. For a while, we only knew what they were, but not how they came to be. I wanted to understand as much as I could about the binding of soul-to-object because I thought it might show us how to break them.”
Draco motioned for her to continue, and she took a quick breath. “Anyway, I read through an entire volume of known binding spells. Most were either too weak or too unrelated, but I did remember reading about one interesting one. The Unbreakable Vow. I can’t believe it hasn’t come up as we’ve researched with James and Will.”
She paused to see his reaction, and Draco ran a hand through his sleep-mussed hair. “Hmm,” he mumbled, “I’m familiar. The famous ‘lie or you die’ contract.”
“Essentially, yes. Of course, I’ve never seen it done, but I was fascinated by the potency of the spell. It requires unwavering obedience, unmatched honesty, and what you might call unmitigated allegiance .” Hermione pursed her lips and waited for him to process.
Draco’s mind whirled. Unmitigated allegiance. Allegiance . That was what they needed for their spell, they needed it to have unmitigated allegiance to healthy host cells, and to attack anything else. But to use the Unbreakable Vow? It was dangerous, and he wasn’t even sure if it would work. The only cases he knew of were contracts between two living people. If they bound the spell itself to a cell, would that mean it was truly bound to the caster? To the wand? He was getting a migraine. Draco must’ve appeared flustered because Hermione cut in.
“Yes, I know. It’s a lot…but it could work. We are having trouble taming avensegium allegiata . We need it to understand that it cannot attack any specimens in its way, that it is only allowed to have allegiance to one thing. If we bind it with the Vow, this could be the most specific antibiotic known to man. It could be incredible.”
She was right…this…this could be life-changing. World-changing . The possibilities flew through his mind. Not for the first time, Draco was astounded by the witch beside him, and he grabbed her cheeks and smacked a loud kiss on her forehead. “You are stunning .” She giggled and he hopped off of the bed, pulling a shirt over his head.
“Where are you going?”
He looked over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “To the lab of course. We have work to do.” Her eyes widened and she grabbed her wand. It was time to end this.
Chapter 36: Hermione
She was right. After some minor adjustments, the Unbreakable Vow worked . It only took a few weeks of experimenting for the cohort to effectively use the Vow to bind the allegiance spell to healthy host cell cultures; during this time, Hermione realized how nice it was to have an entire lab working toward the same goal. It was so much quicker than just her and Draco. Dr. Lyles quickly sent out messages to St Mungo’s to request trial volunteers, and the students wrote up articles to send to other research laboratories. The word was getting out in the magical community that something big was happening, and Hermione almost couldn’t believe she was right in the thick of it.
One evening, after a long day of testing avensegium allegiata on pneumonia cultures, she opened the flat door to find the room empty. When she checked the kitchen counter, she noticed a short note from Draco saying that he ran over to the market to pick up some dinner and that he’d be back soon. Satisfied, she tossed the paper in the trash bin and smiled. Some days it still felt surreal to be living with Draco Malfoy and to know he was willingly buying groceries in a muggle shopping center.
Hermione frowned as she looked around the flat. It was a disaster. With the chaos in the laboratory, they hadn’t cleaned much lately. There were heaps of clothing, empty take-out containers, and books scattered everywhere. She worked her way through each room, quickly tidying up with her wand. Both beds were unmade; Draco had complained that they were wearing his bed out while hers was unfairly pristine. She had suggested rotating rooms throughout the week, he had thought it was a wonderful idea, and now she had to fix both sets of jumbled sheets. He was ridiculous. She chuckled as she charmed a bedspread into submission.
Next, she faced the dresser. Multiple drawers were hanging open, and she moved to push socks and trousers back inside. Her fingers brushed the bottom of one of Draco’s drawers and the distinct feeling of parchment caught her attention. Confused, she jerked the drawer out again and retracted the paper.
The parchment was so softened, she knew it must have been handled dozens if not hundreds of times. After living in this apartment for so many months, Hermione didn’t understand how she’d never seen it before. She carefully unfolded the first crease and squinted at the faded ink.
I know you don’t want to be receiving this letter at all, but please refrain from hexing the parchment (I’m well-acquainted with your ‘moods’). I’d hate to waste the ink.
Hermione leaped backward with a yelp, dropping the letter as if it had burned her. It floated to the floor while she bumped into the bedframe painfully. Seconds ticked by, and Hermione gasped for air, heart racing. She’d recognize that handwriting anywhere. It must be Theo’s letter to Draco. Of course, he would have written one for Draco as well. Of course. And yet, although it was perfectly logical, she couldn’t tear her eyes away. It was probably much like her own letter. There was no reason she needed to read it. In fact, it would be completely inappropriate if she did read it. That letter was not meant for her eyes. Nope.
Hermione’s hand reached out for it subconsciously, and she hastily yanked it back. Absolutely not. She crossed her arms tightly against her chest and resumed her stare. From this distance, she couldn’t make out any words but could see the clear sectionings of multiple paragraphs. That lethal curiosity was bubbling in her stomach again. She glared at the parchment.
It was just a letter. She would snatch it up, and quickly place it back in the drawer. That was all, and if she accidentally saw a few words, that would be alright, wouldn’t it? It was hardly her fault if she saw a peak when trying to return it to its place. Yes. That would do. She shuffled forward and picked up the letter. When the temptation to read grew, she squeezed her eyes shut, telling herself it was nothing, it was nothing, it was nothing. The issue was that it wasn’t nothing. It was most certainly something because it was from Theo. Her Theo.
She slammed the letter on the dresser, backing up rapidly. She peered at it. The curiosity, the need to read it was eating her alive. She picked it up again. She set it down. She glared at it. It glared back. She’d never faced such animosity. The letter was mocking her.
Hermione groaned in frustration. She was going to have to read it and ask for forgiveness later. Surely Draco would understand her need to hear from Theo, even if it was a bit indirect. If he was truly pissed off, she’d let him read hers. Surely that was fair. She unfolded the paper and began to read.
I know you don’t want to be receiving this letter at all, but please refrain from hexing the parchment (I’m well-acquainted with your ‘moods’). I’d hate to waste the ink.
We’ve always been honest with each other, so it’s time I tell you my last few secrets. My first secret is that I actually do know what happened to the last chocolate frog during third year. I lied. When you left the room, I ate it. I do hope you’ll find it in yourself to forgive me. If not, feel free to sell my cane and buy all the sweets you’d like. And yes, I understand that that was in poor taste. Sue me.
Hermione snorted. The relationship between the boys had always been such an intricate thing. Even in the midst of so much darkness, they always retained an ongoing sense of humor. It was one of the things that had made her feel so comfortable with them in the first place. She smiled softly and read on.
The second secret is that I’m afraid. Sorry to dampen the mood, but it is the truth. For all the time I’ve been living, I’ve also been dying, so this shouldn’t be as shocking as it is, but I’m still not ready. You’d assume that boys like us, with fathers like ours, would lose our respect for love. Our fathers tried their best to convince us it isn’t worth it, that love only results in pain, but they were wrong. I’ve spent every day of my life loving you like my own soul, and this affection brought quite the opposite of pain. You were relief and purpose and home. I believe it has been much the same experience for you, and I’m afraid of what will happen to you when I am gone. I am afraid you will retreat into the confines of your mental shields, and that the world will never see the heart of Draco Malfoy again. I beg you to resist the urge. The world needs your heart.
My final secret is the reason for the warning at the beginning of this letter, and it is a secret I owe you the deepest apology for. The secret is that for a long while, I have been selfish. I know you like the back of my hand, Draco, and I am not blind. I see the way you look at her when you believe no one is watching, and the spark in your eyes when she is around. How could I not, when it is the same thing I see in the mirror? You love her. You love her more than anything, possibly even more than I do, and I was selfish. I drew near to her, knowing you wouldn’t, because I simply couldn’t pass up the chance, I was running out of time. I knew there was a possibility she could love you too, and in a panic, I dove right in. Part of me always suspected she’d end up as yours, and I could never deprive you of that. I only wanted a moment with her, just a moment, because you–you would get a lifetime. But that moment…for me it was everything. I cannot express how sorry I am for that moment of selfishness, but please make sure she knows it was the best moment of my life. Now it is your turn, and I hope you can forgive me. I never wanted to cause you pain.
Take care of her when I cannot, and I know she will take care of you. The two of you are everything to me, and I will love you until my last breath.
Hermione’s hands shook so severely that she almost dropped the parchment. She reread the final two paragraphs over and over until her eyes blurred with tears. There was a faint ringing in her ears, and she had the vague understanding that she might possibly vomit. The sound of a door closing and the rustle of shopping bags echoed in the other room, but she couldn’t tear her eyes from the page.
“Granger? Hermione, I’m home! Brought your favorite.” Draco’s voice rang from the kitchen, and she heard the sound of his leather shoes approaching the bedroom. She looked up at his tall form leaning against the doorway, mutely. His grin drooped when he noticed her stricken expression, and his eyes darted to the paper in her hands. He let out a strangled gasp when he realized what it was, and lurched forward unsteadily. She tossed it onto the dresser and backed away as if she could undo what she had done, what she had read.
Draco took another uneasy step forward. “Hermione–I can explain,” he whispered hoarsely. Hermione just shook her head violently. A familiar panic was settling over her, and it was difficult to process anything. Without a second thought, she disapparated.
Hermione tumbled to her knees in the middle of a local park. Thankfully, no one seemed to witness her arrival and she hastily ducked behind a tree. She wrapped her arms around her knees and pulled them to her chest, rocking slightly. It was too much; there were a million thoughts fighting for dominance in her mind. There was the shock of seeing Theo’s handwriting, the curiosity to find out what he said, the guilt of reading the letter, the warmth of hearing his voice in her head, the sadness of his fears for Draco, and the paralyzing shock of the last secret.
She needed to calm down, or she wouldn’t be able to sort through anything. Hermione forced herself to inhale for four counts, hold the air for seven, and exhale for eight. She did it again, and again until she noticed her tremors lessen and her heart rate slow.
The best way to go about this was to think in factual statements. It would be much more organized and intellectually based. So what did she know? It was logical to begin with Theo. She knew that Theo had written that letter. She also knew that Theo was extraordinarily honest, therefore he would not have intentionally lied. This meant that everything he wrote was true, or at least something he believed to be true. This was where the problems arose because that would mean…that would mean…
Draco loved her. Or at least he had at some point, and to a degree that Theo had gone so far to say it might be even more than he. She hastily pushed aside the emotional words Theo had said about her, about their brief moment together; that was a grief she needed to dissect separately and at a later time. What mattered now was Draco because he was still there, in their room, and she had no idea what to do.
Hermione–I can explain . He had looked so wild in that instant, and perhaps he was rushing to explain that those feelings were in the past, that they had nothing to do with the present. Maybe Theo had been entirely wrong. But what about her? Where did that leave her? Something strange was happening in Hermione’s chest, and she pressed a hand to her heart. Everything about this revelation was unexpected, and she didn’t do well with unexpected. The letter was hitting her like a physical blow, and she couldn’t tell if she was supposed to swing back or if she was supposed to take it.
Surely she couldn’t love him without realizing it, right? She really wasn’t sure. So many lines had been blurred by change and grief, and Draco had become one of the only constants in her life. He was the only one who understood so many aspects of her existence, even beyond the loss of Theo. He understood the way she became obsessed with an experiment, unwilling to stop until she found answers. He understood her fears of being rejected, of being the unwanted one in a group. He understood her love for reading, that it was so much more than a pastime. He understood who she truly was , and she liked to think she understood who he truly was as well. Images began flying through her mind.
She thought of Draco holding her tightly in their bed, brushing a curl over her ear at the lab, gripping her hand as they walked through the square. Him telling her he was so proud of her when she was discouraged after failed trials, bringing home her favorite desserts, reading aloud their battered copy of A Tale of Two Cities . She thought of the adorable way he combed his hair after a shower, the way his smile was so contagious. She thought of his ability to problem solve when she overcomplicated things, and his irritatingly witty comebacks. His slightly off-key singing voice. His tight hugs. His scars. The captivating blue of his eyes. The low gruff his voice took on in the mornings. The ridiculously prim way he took his tea. She was seeing it all at once, in one conglomeration of memories, emotions, and dreams, and he was everything. She loved him. She loved him, she loved him, she loved him. Hermione didn’t know how she hadn’t seen it, how she’d been so blind, but Merlin , there it was.
Hermione jumped to her feet. Oh, gods…she loved him and had left him there all alone, even after she’d promised to never do that. She had to go back, she had to tell him, and she had to do it now. With a crack, Hermione apparated home.
Chapter 37: Draco
Sometimes Draco imagined he was a small cottage, nestled in the belly of a forgotten desert, surrounded by his only love–the stars. The constellations twinkled humorously each night, vowing to return, and he believed them. After all, they had promised. He was happy and safe and healing in the sands, never bothered by the unknown or the lingering heat. But then the stars went out. The light was gone. She left him.
When Hermione disappeared, Draco didn’t rage. He didn’t scream. He didn’t cry. Everything went quiet, and he gracefully sank to his knees, clenching the letter. It was such a familiar feeling, being left. He didn’t even feel surprised; part of him had always expected this. No one ever seemed to stay. She left him.
He glanced down at the worn parchment and smiled grimly. Theo had no idea how right he’d been, and that was over a year ago. Draco’s feelings had only grown. It was almost a relief for the truth to be out, even if his entire world was crashing down on him. He ripped at the carpet mindlessly. She left him.
Theo’s letter no doubt came as a shock to Hermione. Even after reading it each morning, Draco never quite got used to the pang of guilt and sadness that came from seeing his best friend’s handwriting. After Theo…the only thing that really made Draco want to live was Hermione, and now that she had left, he wasn’t sure what to do. A small voice inside his head whispered that maybe, just maybe, she would come back. Maybe she just needed a second to process. Maybe she didn’t hate him. He tried to squash the voice down. She left him.
Still, there had been moments when he thought she might feel something for him, like the night at the symphony. Times when he caught her staring as he buttoned up his shirt. Mornings when her cheeks would burn as he tugged on her hair. Nights when she snuggled closer not out of grief, but in want of his touch. He remembered lazy weekend discussions over novels in which she would beam at him for showing an interest, or those times when he stood so close it sounded like she forgot how to breathe. But it was all speculation. They had tiptoed around this conversation for as long as they had truly known each other, even in school after that day in the infirmary. He was full of uncertainty. She left him.
They had been good for each other. Without Hermione, he would have been swallowed by grief, and there was no way he would have ever resurfaced. She’d given him a purpose in looking after her, and motivation to not only survive, but to live . Salazar, they’d created a healing spell that might save countless lives. That was about as much good as a person could do. It should be enough, and yet… she left him.
Draco stood and began pacing, ripping a hand through his hair. Gods, this woman was devouring him. She had been gone not fifteen minutes and he was going mad. He hadn’t had a peaceful moment since that first encounter in the library when she had sliced clean through a bookshelf and his heart in the process. When he witnessed her brilliance in the lab, he was a goner. Then she waltzed into the common room in that green dress, and he almost passed out. Her annotations in Jane Eyre that offered him forgiveness. Her smiles when they studied. Her gentleness with Theodore. Her bravery when fighting a bloody dragon. Her ridiculous hair that smelled like hyacinths.
What was wrong with him? He looked down at his shaking hands and realized how afraid he was. He was terrified, and the fear made him angry. He couldn’t let her walk away without telling her the truth. She needed to hear it from him, not from an old letter. He’d been such an idiot , but he didn’t know what to do, didn’t know where to go. His pacing became frantic, and he let out a growl of frustration. Yes, she had left him. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t go after her. They had promised. They had promised not to leave each other, and he intended to keep that promise, even if he had to search the ends of the earth to find her. Draco snatched up his wand, stuffed the letter in his trousers pocket, and took a deep breath. He’d go to the lab first, then check the park–
It was Hermione. It was her, she was here, she came back, she came back, she came back. Draco inhaled raggedly as he stared at her. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her hair was a disaster. There were dirt stains on her jeans and a stray leaf on her shoulder. He had never seen anything more lovely.
They didn’t speak, and neither of them moved a centimeter. Her eyes were wide as she took in his frazzled appearance and she swallowed slowly. Draco was afraid that if he blinked, the electricity in the air would surge, and she would fizzle out, proving to be a hallucination after all.
Seconds ticked by.
They spoke at the same time. Normally, they would have smiled at their awkwardness but today they simply gasped for breath. Hermione’s eyes slowly drifted down his body, then made their way back up to his eyes. Her expression softened from panic into something more delicate, mouth parting. Draco knew he couldn’t temper the desperation in his eyes, and for once, did nothing to try. He wanted her to see the truth of his predicament–that he was wholly and unquenchably bewitched by her. She made a small noise in her throat, and in a moment, the tension shattered.
They rushed toward each other. Hermione acted first, tugging him by the shirt so forcefully that his chest slammed into hers, propelling them back against the wall. Draco braced his hands on either side of her and gaped openly at the fire in her eyes.
“ Hermione ,” he murmured in wonder, not entirely certain of what was happening. She gripped his cheeks firmly.
“Is it true?” She demanded. Draco couldn’t speak, his mind wasn’t cooperating. He only nodded slowly, never breaking her gaze. Her eyes flashed, and it sent a shiver down his spine. Hermione smirked. “Thank Merlin,” and then her lips were crashing into his with so much feeling Draco couldn’t tell if his heart was breaking or being molded back together. After his initial surprise wore off, he pressed himself against her, hands sliding down to grip her waist. This kiss was so unlike the one they’d shared before. That first one was anger, it was fear, and it was anguish. He’d wanted it to hurt her because she had terrified him that day, but this…this was entirely different. This kiss was a declaration, a severing of lines drawn between them. It was the answer to a question that had plagued him and the remedy for the ailment in his soul. Draco trembled and sank his head onto her shoulder, pressing his lips to her collarbone lightly.
“I always thought my life would be over when Theo’s ended. I never expected there to be anything more for me, never intended to do anything but take up a hobby of drinking and slowly fade into numbness. I even wanted that. I was so tired of watching my brother die, so tired of losing every person I cared about. I had decided that once Theo was gone, because I knew he would eventually leave me, that I was done.” Draco’s voice wavered, and he took a moment to steady himself. Hermione gently brushed the hairs off of his forehead and waited for him to go on.
“And then you stumbled into my life, and you were horrible. You wouldn’t leave me alone at the breakfast table, wouldn’t shut up about your ridiculous novels and ideas. You wouldn’t stop hoping, dreaming, pouring light back into my life. You wouldn’t stop making me smile. You wouldn’t stop challenging me to be better. You wouldn’t stop being so irresistible that most days I couldn’t even think straight standing next to you. Before I knew it, I had fallen for you, Granger, and my affections have only grown. I know I’m not Theo, and I know I never could be, but I promise I can take care of you. I can love you. I can make you happy. You will never be alone and you will never feel unseen ever again. You must believe me.” His voice was pleading, and it was raw. He waited with bated breath for her response.
Hermione leaned into his ear. “I love you Draco Malfoy, and I’m so sorry it took me this long to realize it. But I’m here now. I’m here, and I see you, and I love you.” Draco felt a tear trickle down his cheek and splash onto her perfect skin. He squeezed her even tighter and she continued. “I’m sorry I left, even after I promised not to. I was startled. I know it is a weak excuse, but it is the truth. I hadn’t yet examined my own feelings, and to hear of yours so openly was alarming. I’ve been so incredibly foolish, Draco, and couldn’t see that after all this time, you have become the cardinal object of all my desires. It is you whom I want to spill all of my secrets to, you to whom I wish to voice my fears. It is your smile that I dream about, and your arms that I long for. A life without you…well, I simply cannot imagine it. It’s unthinkable. I’m yours, Draco. Totally, and completely yours.”
“I love you,” he whispered, pressing another kiss into her skin. “I love you more than anything. I love you more than the stars that gave me my name. You are my everything, Hermione. Everything .” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and Draco picked her up gently. He carried her to the bedroom, laying her carefully on the covers. Hermione looked up at him slyly and cocked her head to the side. It was a movement so intrinsically Slytherin that he couldn’t hold back his grin.
“What are you waiting for, ferret?” Hermione quipped wickedly. Draco barked out a laugh and crawled on top of her. He had waited his entire life for this moment, for this woman before him. Draco was almost undone by the tenderness in her expression, awed by the fact that it was all for him. For her, he would do anything. For her, he would burn down the world. When he was finished with her tonight, she wouldn’t even remember her own name. And that was a promise.
Chapter 38: Epilogue
We've finally reached the end and I cannot express how grateful I am to each and every one of you. As always, much love to my beta reader greadsbooks. I hope you enjoyed this story, and maybe even found some healing in it as I did. Happy reading<3
Come hang out with me on tiktok @starbucksofancientgreece
“Draco, hurry up! We have to leave in thirty seconds!”
Draco’s sigh was audible around the corner. “Hermione, love, I would if I could. But he won’t put on the jumper!”
“He’s two Draco! It can’t be that difficult!” Draco grumbled something too low for her to hear, but a shrill giggle followed, so she assumed they were fine. She chuckled when her husband bumbled around the corner, smiling toddler in his arms. Hermione pressed a kiss on her son’s rosy cheeks before stepping into the fireplace.
They flooed from the Manor to the Hogwarts grounds, just in time for the ceremony. Hermione had barely found her footing before she was assaulted by two squealing women, hugging her tight enough to crack a rib. Pansy released her first and turned to wink at Draco. Astoria rushed over to grab little Theo and settle him onto her hip.
“Go ahead dear,” Astoria assured her, “we’ve got him.”
Hermione nodded and Draco slipped his hand into hers, pressing a soft kiss to her temple. Today, the Ministry of Magic was awarding them with an Order of Asclepius, First Class. Madam Pomfrey had insisted that the ceremony take place on Hogwarts grounds, as this was where it all began. Over the past five years, avensegium allegiata had taken the world by storm, and hundreds of patients suffering from magical maladies were benefiting. A small percentage of those patients had once endured a curse of dark magic, and they were finally experiencing relief. It was now a common treatment in St Mungos as well as in America.
They had exactly twenty minutes before they needed to be onstage in the Great Hall. Their entire cohort from Harvard would be receiving awards alongside them, and no doubt the Weasleys (plus Harry) were waiting for them inside. There was just one thing they had to do first. Draco dragged her away from the castle, a small smile on his face.
“Come on, Granger. He’s waiting for us.” Hermione grinned and picked up the pace. They ran across the grounds, hand in hand, both feeling slightly breathless simply by being back at the school. She didn’t care about the award and would have avoided the attention if possible. They only came here today for one reason.
They stopped in front of the headstone, still as beautiful as it was the day they made it.
“Hello, Theodore,” Hermione whispered. Draco didn’t say a word. She squeezed his hand before pulling out her wand. She carefully arranged a bouquet of flowers and placed a stasis charm on them. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, and a glance at Draco’s expression told her he felt the same way. She nudged him gently with an elbow. “Go on, love. Tell him about our son.”
Draco smiled then, a single tear slipping down his face, but he began to speak. He told Theo of the wily little boy who loved to run, the little boy who was constantly in trouble. He described the cool blue eyes and the bouncy brown curls. He laughed when he mentioned the toddler’s strange affinity for music. They held each other tightly and gave themselves a few minutes to grieve. It was a strange thing, feeling so full as they spoke to him, but so empty at the same time. They’d vocalized this countless times over the years and had decided life would never really feel normal without Theo because a key part of who they were was missing. All they could do was remember him, and they did every single day, especially when they looked into the eyes of their son. They poured every ounce of love they contained into their little boy, just as Theo had poured every ounce of his own love into them. They hoped he would be proud.
Draco began humming a low tune, a song from their memories. It was a melody that was born in an old abandoned classroom, a refrain that held a thousand words. Hermione closed her eyes as she listened. It was a tragedy that she could remember his music so well but had forgotten the exact placement of his many freckles or the precise outline of his smile. After years, much of Theo was becoming a blur as time ate away at the image in her mind. One of these days, she would have Draco purchase a pensieve so they could more accurately remember, but it was too early for that. Too raw.
Finally, Hermione sighed. “We’d better get inside. Mcgonagall is sure to throw a fit if we’re late to our own party.”
Draco chuckled and pressed his lips to hers. “You’re probably right,” he muttered, but he didn’t let go. Hermione peered at him curiously, the corner of her mouth twitching upward. He gently rested his forehead against hers and lightly caressed her cheek. “You know I adore you, right?”
Hermione huffed out a laugh and nodded. “I know, Draco. And I adore you.” He wrapped her in a suffocating hug before letting her go.
They rose and slowly walked toward the castle. So much of this life was unexpected and so much of it had been broken. She still had scars that would never truly heal and sorrow that would never truly fade. But with Draco, there was more than that. There was more than her hurts and her losses; there was an entire lifetime of love. With him, she could face anything. It may not be perfect, but it was enough. It was enough .