On the way back to her compartment, Hermione combed her fingers through her hair and smoothed the lines from her robes. She slid back inside as quiet as a mouse, as though Harry, Ron, and Ginny wouldn’t be able to detect her return.
“Took you a while,” Harry commented, looking at Ron. Harry’s eyes then peered at her above his glasses much the same way Dumbledore used to stare at Harry. Ginny had relocated to the empty space next to him and was playing with his hand, leaving the seat next to Ron vacant. Great.
Hermione hesitated in sitting down and did not reply to Harry. As she slumped into the double-seat, she flashed a furtive look at Ron, but he remained silent and staring out of the window. All she could see was the back of his head, his flaming red hair, accusing her silently.
She grew paranoid after so many minutes went by without any of them speaking to her. She wondered if they knew. But how could they know? Her ill thoughts were soon put to ease when she saw Draco come back into his compartment, looking disheveled and uncaring of who saw it.
Pansy, Crabbe, and Blaise watched Draco intently as he shuffled around in his seat uncomfortably. A grin was playing on his small, pallid lips. Blaise caught Draco’s eye and raised an eyebrow at him, expecting some sort of explanation of Draco’s current state.
“Oi. What, Zabini?” Draco asked, annoyed. He clenched his teeth to hold in his snarl.
Pansy rolled her eyes. “I’ll be with the prefects,” she said. And getting up furiously, making her exit distinct and known, she charged out of the compartment.
Draco gave a snicker. “What was that about?”
Crabbe placed his abnormally fat hand on Draco’s shoulder, his chubby fingers lazily dragging Draco down. He looked at the condoling hand weighing him lower and lower with disgust and back to Crabbe. “Geroff!” Draco exclaimed.
“She’s right jealous, Malfoy,” Blaise finally said.
“Jealous of what?”
Draco tried to play it off, but it rarely fooled his best friend. Zabini had been, in Draco’s opinion, completely untrustworthy but nevertheless an elevation from Crabbe and Goyle.
“I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself, mate.”
The boys looked up with a jolt as the compartment door slid open again. Minerva McGonagall was towering high above them, her pointed hat skimming the ceiling of the train. She shot the boys a reproving look and rested her eyes on Crabbe.
“Vincent, I need you to follow me, please. There’s news of your father's escape from – well, just follow me quickly.”
She took hold of Crabbe’s arm as he groaned in discomfort. Draco’s heart had leapt as Crabbe passed him by. Azkaban? As far as Draco knew, there was a mass breakout from Azkaban weeks ago, his father being one of the fugitives. Only he and the other Death Eaters knew of Lucius’ whereabouts and he was by far determined to hush it up if anyone spoke of this. But did Crabbe even know anything? Draco was positive he was the only teenage Death Eater hidden inside Hogwarts. This thought comforted him, for outside the walls of Hogwarts, Voldemort and his followers awaited Draco’s return and news of success with their latest plan.
Draco gulped. He had been staring at the empty seat across from him for a while, essentially ignoring Blaise’s presence. His heart was thundering so loudly he would not be surprised if Blaise could hear it.
“Draco? Malfoy!” Blaise’s eyebrows creased over his slanted eyes in agitation.
“Sorry, just thinking,” Draco hastily responded.
But Draco, in fact, had not thought about Voldemort’s new plan until this very moment, since the day he had received his orders. He had been filled with Hermione. He stole a glance at her, whilst pretending to stretch his arms and neck, but she had been unaware; busy with those good-for-nothing-Gryffindors.
The feast was a blur. Hermione wasn’t registering any of the words Professor McGonagall was speaking; her cluttered mind was busy with various thoughts all jumbling together. It was hard for her to decipher any of them wholly. The witches and wizards surrounding her were excited for the new term, and she caught glimpses of happy faces and moans and groans whenever McGonagall explained some of the new, strict rules for the year. She caught Ron’s awkward looks from Harry and Ginny’s laced fingers. She caught words like “Dumbledore”, “Death Eaters”, and “Head Girl.” Her face shot up from her plate when the new Headmistress mentioned this. Soon, hands were clapping her shoulder, and young girls she had never seen before said things like “I knew you’d get it, Hermione”.
Hermione looked to Harry and Ron who were positively beaming at her. Ron nudged her foot with his under the table and looked at her with hopeless desire. She noticed the ketchup left upon his cheek next to his lips and stifled a roar of laughter from her mouth.
“What?” he asked, defensively.
“You’ve got ketchup on your face, Ronald.” Ron made to wipe the ketchup off his red cheeks, completely failing. Hermione smiled at him, maternally. “Here, let me.”
She picked up her cotton napkin and reached across the table to wipe his face, Ron fully embarrassed to be in such a state. Draco watched them from across the room and felt a sear of white hot anger bolt through his stomach. Before he could breathe, he obstructed Crabbe and Goyle’s conversation about their parents.
“Filthy blood traitor!” he spat out.
Draco had screamed this loud enough for most of the students from each house to stop their chatter and locate the source of the profanity. Crabbe and Goyle looked to Draco as if he was having spasms. Hufflepuffs were gawking at him; the Ravenclaws whispering behind cupped hands.
Hermione’s eyes were wide with fright as she sunk back onto the bench, pretending she had heard nothing. Ron peeked around her immobile body, for he had known this to be his pseudonym from Malfoy as long as he could remember. It had never occurred to her before this moment that belonging to a Death Eater and having mates like “blood traitors and the chosen one”, she had ultimately put them in some form of danger.
Ron and Harry watched Draco, Harry glaring at him protectively. This behavior from Malfoy was not new to them but had nevertheless caught them off guard during Professor McGonagall’s congratulatory speech to Hermione and Harry for becoming Head Girl and Boy. McGonagall motioned for them to come up towards the staff table to wring her hand and Harry soon forgot of Malfoy. Hermione also pushed Draco’s snide comment to the back of her mind and met Harry at the front of the table. She walked hand in hand with him towards their Headmistress.
Across the Great Hall, Pansy took hold of Draco’s arm in a snakelike grip, the same way she always did. She half-turned her body on the bench to face him, keeping her legs underneath the immense table. Her pug-like face frowned at him.
“I’m really surprised they didn’t pick you,” she said to him.
Draco’s heart fell through his stomach. “Where were you last year, Pansy?”
He got up from the table quickly, anxious to leave the embarrassing feast. He turned his head back once, nodded to Blaise, and did not look back at Hermione and Harry. Many students at the ends of their tables stared unbelievingly as he forced the large Great Hall doors open, his robes trailing behind him.
As he arrived in the Entrance Hall, McGonagall’s words a muffle, he took the door leading down to the Slytherin dungeons feeling regretful. He walked quicker than ever through the dreary corridor, ready to reach his bed and collapse.
Amidst Draco’s years in Hogwarts the dungeons had never suited his state. Although dark, he was never somber. Now, his troubled expression seemed identical to the wretched walls. He detested this realization and accelerated his steps further.
He finally stopped at the door concealed in the stone wall and muttered “conundrum” at it. Immediately, the hidden door materialized on the wall, the same way the Room of Requirement’s door surfaced. He entered with caution.
Throughout the Slytherin common room, the tint emitting from the lake illuminated a green tinge upon the leather furniture and walls. With a silver serpent statue fixed on the wall above the fireplace, there was no doubting this is exactly where Draco belonged.
He reminisced for a moment of times when Snape was merely his Potions master and not a murderer; not his protector. But now with Snape hiding from the Order, one dead headmaster, and a Dark Mark on his own forearm, Draco felt more alone than he was willing to admit.
He made his way up the stone steps to his dormitory, taking each step with pure hatred. He laid his trunk at the foot of his four-poster. Plopping his body on the green satin sheets, its smooth texture enveloped him and he felt serene for a while. But Draco no longer cared he had the biggest bed of the Slytherin boys. He no longer cared he was the most-feared student at Hogwarts. He no longer cared that his family was the wealthiest he’d ever known. He was changing. And the dilemma of it all was that Voldemort had put his faith in Draco for one last time. He still had a chance at being amongst the survivors [because he was sure there would be none but the Death Eaters by the end of the war]. But perhaps the price of survival, he thought, is far more than I can afford.
Hermione unpacked her trunk in the Head Girl dormitory. Strangely, it did feel like her sanctuary. The windows and bed were draped in Gryffindor colors looking identical to the girls’ dormitory, apart from only one bed being present here. Atop the chest and shelves, she placed her sentimental things: a picture of herself, Harry, and Ron, the Tales of Beedle the Bard: the book Dumbledore gave her, and the dried rose Draco had conjured out of the air for her the night he had finally kissed her on the manor’s doorstep.
He had taken her so smoothly into his arms, drawing a kiss out of their altercation. She could still feel the soft embrace she was unaware Draco was even capable of executing, whilst the dulcet glow emitting from the moon lavished itself gracefully around their forms. She could remember everything from the derivation of the argument [yet again, Death Eaters] to the last words he spoke to her that night. “No matter what happens now,” he said, forming his words around her lips, “I am yours.”
Suddenly recalling she was to meet Harry and Ron in the girls’ bathroom at precisely this time, she left her memories for later and headed down to the second floor.
Hermione rushed down the ever-changing staircase; she did not want the boys to grow worrisome over her tardiness. The castle these days held things as dangerous as the exterior, but she insisted on traveling about it alone.
She finally reached the third floor and clashed with Ernie Macmillan, nearly knocking him over as he emerged from the Trophy Room.
“Oh! Ernie, I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s alright, it was my fault. I was just looking at our names on the list in there,” he pointed his thumb back over his shoulder towards to the door of the Trophy Room.
“Kind of surreal, being a prefect now.” Ernie was grinning from ear to ear, polishing his prefect badge with the edge of his sleeve. Trying to cover up the despair she suddenly felt, Hermione smiled feebly back at him and shrugged.
“Yeah it is,” she lied. “Listen, I’m supposed to meet some people right now. I’ll see you tomorrow in McGonagall’s office for the meeting?”
She departed without waiting for his reply and soon found herself one floor below, standing outside the deserted bathroom. She stalled, running her fingers along the knobby stone wall, feeling its rough crevices. She heaved a sigh, lingering around the doorway for another moment and was unexpectedly shocked when Ron burst from the bathroom’s opening and yanked at her hand.
“For heavens sake Ronald! You startled me.” Her heart beat was frantic.
“Blimey, what took you so long? Harry and I have been worried sick. I was just about to come look for you.”
She entered the bathroom, Ron still holding onto her. “I’m sorry, I just lost track of time.”
“Yeah well, don’t tell me. Tell it to Harry.” Ron looked over to Harry sitting on the tiled floor. He lowered his voice. “Myrtle won’t leave him alone,” he added, quietly.
Myrtle’s head flew up at once from Harry to Ron. “WHY DON’T YOU ASK HARRY IF HE WANTS ME TO LEAVE HIM ALONE?” she shouted at them. Hermione let go of Ron and covered her mouth with her hand, hiding her smirk. “Oooh,” Myrtle cooed. “Granger?”
The boys looked at Hermione abnormally. Hermione let her hand fall and squinted her eyes a little, as if looking for answers to Myrtle’s curiosity through her transparent body.
“Yes?” she finally said, defiantly.
Myrtle giggled. “You’re Hermione Granger?”
“Yes!” Hermione said this with a little shame disguised with pride. Myrtle knew something she didn’t apparently, but her patience was wearing thin. Ron stepped in front of Hermione, vigilantly.
“First the Slytherin Prince and now the red Weasel!” Myrtle shrieked.
Hermione’s eyes bugged. Harry and Ron mouthed “Slytherin prince” to each other, questioningly. Myrtle laughed shrilly all the way into her toilet and the annoying echo rang through the bathroom.
“What is she talking about?” Harry inquired.
Hermione shook her head, looking astounded at the puddle of water seeping from the stall Myrtle just submerged her ghostly self into. “No idea.”
“Harry,” Ron interrupted, “you can’t seriously still be thinking of leaving Hogwarts. You heard about the breakout from Azkaban! Death Eaters will be swarming everywhere, looking for you! And besides, this is like your home.” Ron eyeballed the room and seemed reluctant to make that statement again. “Okay maybe not here,” he pointed his fingers to the bathroom floor, “but you know what I mean.”
“I have to,” Harry said simply.
Hermione knew not to press this subject, for the three of them [and sometimes Ginny] had argued about this particular thing all summer. Ron and Ginny were dead set on accompanying him, for different reasons of course. But although Harry neither wanted nor accepted their self-invitation on his journey to discover the remaining Horcruxes, he still asked Hermione why she had not also volunteered to go along with them like usual. The truth was that she was suddenly terrified of death. Seeing death and coming close to it had pulled at that reluctant survival instinct.
“Next Hogsmeade trip,” Harry intruded on Hermione’s thoughts.
“What if we don’t have a Hogsmeade trip, mate?”
“Then I’ll find another way, Ron! You’re not listening to me!”
Hermione sighed and sat in the empty tiled square next to Harry, resting her head on his shoulder. “What about Ginny?” she asked.
“She won’t know when I go. And I’d appreciate it if neither of you told her,” he said, eyeing them both and already accusing Ron. “Look, it’s really important that you just do what I say, okay? The Gryffindor Sword should still be in Dumbledore’s office. I’ve no idea, but McGonagall should already know you’ll come to take it. Alright?”
Ron nodded his head and Hermione reached her arm around Harry, hugging him tight. “We’re there for you, Harry.”
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