The carriage ride to Hogwarts had been a quiet one.
Harry and Ginny were talking, but Hermione wasn’t paying any attention.
Her racing heart had calmed back down to its relaxed rhythm and her boiling-over blood pressure was back to normal. But her mind remained busy, transfixed on the one man she’d just spent an unbelievable few moments with.
Draco Malfoy was an intolerable frustrating mystery that would haunt her until she knew why he did it. It made no sense whatsoever that a selfish arrogant hater of the trio would do something nice for them.
He had a lot of explaining to do.
He had played with her, harassing her with that book knowing full well where it came from… and it made her feel like a fool.
But he also made her feel other things as well.
Hermione quickly went back to their conversation… of things he had revealed. She replayed his voice in her mind.
"I'd like to have a real relationship with a girl someday. One that won't have me being used..."
She thought of how he could shut himself down... "if the situation were traumatic enough."
It had her wondering what his world was like, the things he had seen. What horrifying experiences had he’d gone through? He was the son of a known Death Eater, after all. And to her surprise, he had revealed things to her; very personal and private things, even sharing with her what he sneaks into Hogwarts!
He had trusted her on a fairly high level and she wasn’t sure what to make of it.
She couldn’t help herself. Hermione opened her palm once again, seeing his initial naturally engraved into it. She would never look at her hand the same again, even if she lived to see an old age. Her palm would always be a reminder of him. The thought was enough to irritate her until she recalled his gentle touch.
It had sent tingling sensations throughout her body that were not imagined. They were very real.
“Something wrong with your hand?” Harry asked with suspicion, pulling her into the moment.
“No. It’s nothing. It’s fine,” she answered, closing her hand quickly and tucking it under her cloak as if she had something to hide.
She looked up at Ginny and Harry sitting across from her. And as she did, she recalled the looks on their faces when they opened their gifts on Christmas morning.
They were so happy in that moment in time, a memory they were sure to cherish. If she told them everything had come from Malfoy, it was sure to ruin that memory.
She knew her friends well. Ginny would burn her gift to ashes. Ron would sell his bat to the highest bidder and most likely Mr. Weasley would owl all of the unused luxury suite Quidditch tickets back to Lucius with a note of “No Thanks.”
And what of Molly’s ring? Would she continue wearing it if she found out that it came from Malfoy money? Would it still represent her beloved children or would it be a constant reminder that her husband could never afford such a beautiful thing?
Harry would keep the yearbook though. It would be too precious to give up, even if it came from Malfoy. He would be the only one to give a very brief, but sincere thank you.
Hermione knew then that she couldn’t tell them. She would have to keep it a secret, at least for now while it was still so fresh on their minds.
She thought of her book then. Did she think of it differently now that she knew it came from him? Did she not want it now? Did she think any less of it?
No. In fact, she thought the opposite. He had given it to her. And somehow it became even more precious to her, something she wanted to keep forever as her own heirloom of sorts. Priceless, indeed.
One thing was certain. Hermione was desperate to talk to him again. She wanted answers about the gifts, but there was something else… a slight craving for him and an undeniable attraction that scared her a little.
She thought of his lips and how they were so very close to hers. She daydreamed of what it might be like to be kissed by her handsome enemy.
It would be soft, most likely, and as smooth as the luxury sheets on his bed. Yes... his bed.
“’Mione!” they shouted at her.
“What?” she abruptly woke from her fantasy, startled, and a bit embarrassed at her thoughts.
“It’s just that we’ve been talking to you and you haven’t so much as batted an eyelash. Where are you?” Ginny asked.
“Sorry… still tired, I guess. I have a lot on my mind is all. What were you saying?”
“Nothing too important. I’m worried about you,” Harry admitted.
“Well, you worry for nothing.”
“Is it something Malfoy said to you? I swear I’ll hex him from…”
“No, Ginny. No. Forget him. He’s nothing,” she reassured them as her mind raced to find something else to talk about.
But she couldn’t think of anything else. She could only think of being close to Draco… him touching her, his scent, his eyes, the things that he had said. And how sad it was that none of it mattered.
The fact remained that she could never have him. Not with the dirty blood I’ve got in my veins, she thought sadly as the carriage came to a halt.
Draco was in a bit of a daze while in the carriage with Blaise, Astoria, and Pansy. He was lost in his own little world where only he and his Granger lived.
Blaise noticed the rare happy look and was well aware of who Draco had been sitting with on the train. He smiled to himself, happy that Draco had found an amusement of some sort in his life. He knew his best friend needed it.
“What are you two so happy about?” Pansy asked as if she were irritated.
Coming out of his daze, Draco realized something about Pansy just then. She always sounded like that, irritated and unhappy, always ticked off at something.
“I’m in a good mood, Parkinson,” he replied, still in his happy state. “It’s a rare thing. Don’t ruin it for me.”
Draco noticed Astoria Greengrass’s look of disdain… no doubt the effects of all the nasty things he’d said to her on New Year’s Eve.
He turned his gaze away from her and continued his daydreaming about Granger.
She had been in a terrible mood and he knew he had brought her out of it, if only for a few moments. He recalled her smile and her sweet laughter. The thought that they had actually laughed together was a complete surprise.
He thought of how far into the depths he had been, still feeling the effects of being in the presence of a demon. It was the experience of bone-chilling fear and dread that took him to hell and kept him there, gripping him tightly.
But all of that magically subsided the very moment he had seen her on the platform and then completely disappeared as soon he was in the compartment watching her sleep.
The realization of her ability to pull him out of darkness and into light suddenly did something profound and unexpected. He found himself completely overwhelmed as the thought of it brought a single tear to his eye.
He had heard about tears of joy before, but never had actually experienced them.
And there he was in a carriage ride with his closest Slytherin colleagues… unable to suppress it.
He felt ridiculous.
“Will she ever know the effect she has on me?” His mind wondered with awe at the discreet wetness on his face.
Another realization came to Draco then. They had made each other feel better and it was a wonderful notion. Could it be that they could do this for one another? Pull each other out of the depths?
He would be happy to have that effect on her. He wanted to do it… help her feel as good as she made him feel.
Only Blaise noticed as Draco shook his head slightly and wiped at the tear that had escaped, with a smile still on his face. It was the oddest expression Blaise had ever seen on his friend. Draco smiling… with a tear? Unbelievable.
He couldn’t begin to guess what had happened in that compartment with Granger that would cause Draco to have such an emotional reaction, but he knew he would find out eventually. His best friend didn’t keep much from him.
Draco was in such a hurry to get out of the carriage that he stood up and jumped from it before it had a chance to come to a halt.
Because of this, Draco was one of the first to the top of Hogwarts steps, but he didn’t go in. Instead, he turned around and looked back, his eyes once again in search for his Granger.
He watched her. She was stepping gracefully from her carriage with a look of sadness on her face yet again. But as soon as she took about three slow steps, her keen sense of staring had kicked in, stopping her in her tracks.
Her eyes went from the dead leaves on the ground to the top of the Hogwarts steps to find serious gray eyes staring into her own.
She stood there, expressionless. Because quite honestly, she didn’t know what to think anymore. She was too tired to analyze the situation any further.
She mouthed a few words then, only half-hoping he could read them.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
It was a loaded question, of course. It wasn’t really about Christmas at all. It was a reflection of her own confused feelings for him.
Hating him was as easy as breathing. Having feelings for him was going to rip her heart out.
He saw her mouth move, but did not catch the words. When she broke their gaze, he entered Hogwarts with Pansy by his side, making it look as if he had been waiting for her.
Hermione had turned to Ginny and Harry as they began walking.
“I’m too tired for dinner. And I’m not quite ready to eat within the same vicinity as Ron anyway. I’m going to bed,” she announced to them solemnly.
“We’ll bring you up something to eat later,” Harry offered.
“Don’t bother, as I hope to be asleep very soon.”
They separated then, the two joining the others at the Gryffindor table and her making her way to the dorms to put her things away.
Draco sat at the Slytherin table, but not for long. When he realized she wasn’t coming, he leaned over to Blaise. “I don’t need Dumbledore’s same old speech. I’ll see you later.”
Hermione unpacked her things, hung up her winter cloak, and put the books away that she had with her on the holiday break. All books, but one.
She ran her fingertips across the old book where the letters of the title were engraved in what appeared to be silver thread.
“Why did you give this to me?” she asked aloud as if he were next to her.
She was extremely tired, but just too curious to see if he would give her an answer that night.
So she put the book on her nightstand, checked herself in the mirror, which she decided was pointless… and made herself available to him should he decide to go looking for her.
It didn’t take long for them to find each other.
With the slightest upward tilt of his head, Draco motioned Hermione to follow him. He wanted privacy when talking to her and decided on a place where he was sure no one would interrupt them.
When she got closer, he began a brisk walk toward the courtyard.
“We’re going outside?” Sse questioned in a small voice.
Worried about the freezing cold weather, she replied, “But I don’t have my cloak.”
“You won’t need it where we’re going," he assured her. “But here. Take mine, if it makes you feel any better.”
While still walking, he slipped off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was huge on her, but she didn’t really seem to notice.
She should’ve been shocked at his chivalry, but instead she was trying to hide the fact that she was in awe of his garment. As soon as she breathed in the scent of it, all thoughts of normal common sense failed her.
He led her outside where the Clock Tower Courtyard met the bridge. Except instead of going to the bridge, Draco made a sharp right turn and stopped where the castle wall met the courtyard wall.
“I know you’ll not want to do this, but I have to carry you on my back. There are steps beyond this wall that only allow one pair of footprints through. It’s a spell to prevent multiple students from going down.”
“Well maybe we shouldn’t be going down them then,” she said, partially regaining her senses.
“Since when did Hermione Granger start following the rules? Come on.”
Before she could protest further, he gently grabbed her wrist, swung her around, and lifted her on his back with ease, the sides of the cloak now draping them both.
He stepped through the wall, an optical illusion, and proceeded to carry her down a flight of snow covered stone steps.
“If you drop me now, I swear I’ll hex you all the way to the hospital wing,” she warned, clinging to him for fear of heights and falling to her death.
A brisk wind swept up against the castle wall, which caused her to bury her head into his shoulder.
“Oh, stop complaining. You sound like Pansy,” he said jokingly, enjoying her closeness, her body pressed against his, and especially, her hands clinging to him.
“Pansy?” she gasped in horror. “Calling me Pansy is worse than calling me Mudblood,” she said with her lips dangerously close to his ear.
“I’ll have to remember that,” he replied with a smile as he whipped her around so that she safely landed on her feet at the bottom of the steps.
Scolding herself for trusting him with her life on such treacherous outdoor stairs, she entered the space directly under the courtyard completely surprised at what she felt and saw.
The first thing that she noticed was the warm air engulfing her senses. She welcomed the heat on her face just as she noticed that the walls appeared to be moving, but it was too dark to really see them.
With a smooth, slow wave of his wand, tiny flames within evenly-spaced glass jars began lighting the dark space all around them, bringing it to life in a soft glow so that she could finally witness the magical spectacle on the walls.
It was graffiti. It constantly moved like a moving photograph, but it was artwork. It was beautiful and colorful with the writings of lovers past confessing words of passion and poetry along with expressions of not so happy students’ hatred of their Headmasters and professors. And then it would change to words of House Cup spirit and the praise of past Quidditch Champions.
It was apparent that the magical graffiti spanned several decades as some of it was dated, although nothing seemed recent. It kept moving and perpetually changing before her eyes.
She hadn't noticed Draco with his hands raised to the exposed area, putting up protection charms.
“Cave Inimicum. Protego Totalum. Muffliato,” he cast just above a whisper.
"This is amazing,” she commented quietly. “How is it warm?”
He turned to face her then. “Furnace vents… here and here.” He pointed at the corners of the far castle wall. “We’ll stay plenty warm for as long as we want.”
“Wow,” she said, continuing her gaze at the graffiti. She began reading a piece of the wall for a moment and began chuckling.
“Scabior was here with Lauren,” she read. But then the girl’s name changed to “Leela,” then to “Amelia,” then “Courtney”… and it kept going for thirteen names until it finally disappeared.
“Must’ve been a charmer, that Scabior,” she snickered a little.
A mischievous green cartoon-like snake made his appearance on the wall slithering along the top near the ceiling then diving into blue paint and making a little cartoon splash. It's head came bobbing back up as if it was curious to meet her.
"That's the most adorable snake I've ever seen," she smiled at the graffiti, no doubt put there by an artistically talented Slytherin.
It winked at her, then slithered away.
"I think he gets curious as to who is here and then leaves," Draco commented. "He won't be back."
She thought of how the place wasn't on the Marauder's Map and quickly deducted that they simply must not have known about it. Turning to him, she asked, “How did you know of this place?”
“My parents told me about it, as well as the trick to bringing someone down here. I imagine if we read the wall long enough, we would read of their disturbing sentiments to each other.”
She smiled, but then it faded.
She wondered what else he knew about Hogwarts that she didn’t. Having a line of ancestors living here was indeed an advantage, she figured. She realized then that he probably did have a vast knowledge of magic, much more than what was taught at Hogwarts… and it was most likely of the dark type.
She couldn’t help but think maybe a line of Purebloods was somewhat ‘better’ then the Muggle-borns with no history. Even though she didn’t want to think about it or admit it, she couldn’t help but ask herself if she’d been in denial all this time. There was a certain reality to it, wasn’t there? She forced the depressing thoughts out of her mind to think on later. For now, she wanted to focus on him and what she was there for… answers.
Hermione looked around for something to sit on. There were large boulders that had been magically moved there years ago that provided perfect seating. She chose a seat closer to the furnace vents to further warm herself while he remained standing.
She took in the glow of the tiny lights in glass surrounding them and noticed how it gave a warm tint to his usually pale face.
Draco began to pace slowly, unsure of how much to tell her about his dream, if anything at all. His hand rubbed at his jaw line nervously as he thought maybe this was all a mistake.
“Draco,” she finally spoke, basking in the warmth of the air and his cloak that she didn’t want to give back to him, even though she no longer needed it.
“So… now that you have me in this lovely cave, tell me. Why the gifts to us all?” she asked in a kind manner, thinking it would be a better approach to get him to talk with her than shrieking at him. “Something tells me that you didn’t do it to be nice to my friends and it probably is part of some diabolical scheme you have going against us. Whatever it is, I’d appreciate the truth.”
“You are partly correct. I most certainly did not do it to be nice to your friends and it is part of a scheme… but not exactly a diabolical one.”
She looked at him as if not surprised at all, but still curious.
“Before I explain, can you tell me something?” he said with eyebrow raised. “Were you actually at the Weasley house on Christmas Eve and into the next morning? Or did you get the book at a later time?”
“I was there overnight and received it in the morning just like everyone else. Why?”
Draco looked at one of the walls, but looked as if he was looking miles past it. “Was Ginny Weasley trying to knit something?”
Hermione was taken aback at his question as her mind recalled the evening. She had been talking to Ron while Molly was trying to teach Ginny to knit. “Yes,” she answered slowly.
“And did you have a conversation with Ron about me kicking my house elves for fun?”
Hermione’s eyes grew wide at the remembrance of the conversation. Ron had said something like that and she had defended Draco saying, “Maybe if he had some happiness in his life, he wouldn't be like he is."
She gasped at the realization that he was spot on. “Were you there? Spying on us? How did you…?”
“No. No, I wasn’t there,” he said adamantly, but then added, “At least I don’t think I was.”
He really did not like that this piece of the dream actually happened. A past memory could easily show up in a dream. But the present being true was a different issue entirely... a very serious issue. It attached a whole new dimension to it, as he was a witness to the scene, but was never actually there.
“What time was it?” he finally asked.
“The time?” she question.
“Yes, do you recall the time of that conversation?”
“I, I don’t know… well after midnight. Perhaps after one, I suppose,” she answered with concern.
“Bloody hell,” he swore under his breath.
As he was trying to grasp what it all meant, she began to get irritated.
“Malfoy, just tell me what this is about already.”
He let out a long sigh. He didn’t want to tell her anything, but he realized that he didn’t have a choice. In order to prevent his dream, he at least had to tell her about Stella.
“Alright,” he said stepping closer to her, but still keeping a safe distance. “But I warn you. You’re going to think I’m as loony as Lovegood.”
“Really, now?” she said with eyebrow raised.
“Would you believe I gave away all of those things… just so that I could be alone with you?”
“That would be highly unlikely. Besides, you could’ve just told me that you wanted to chat,” she answered sarcastically.
“With your hateful nature?” he said with a smirk.
“My hateful nature?!” she yelled as she fought off the urge to hex him where he stood.
“You told me to 'go to hell' on the train!” he said rather angrily.
She tightened her lips as a little twinge of guilt crept through her. And after several breaths, it had her apologizing.
“I didn’t really mean it. I was just in a very bad mood and very tired… which I still am by the way. So hurry up so that I can finally get some sleep.”
“Fine. All of it was to prevent a dream,” he finally blurted out. “On Christmas Eve, I had the most vivid dream that I’ve ever had. And you know of the dreams of wizards.”
“Yes,” she said with a hint of concern. “Either prophesy, nothing, or a mixture of both.”
“Right, well… part of my dream had me reliving something from my past; something very true. Then I dreamt the scene at the Weasleys. And then I was taken to the future, a future that I would like to prevent.”
Draco was being absolutely serious. So when he heard her burst out in laughter, he got a bit heated.
“You mean to tell me that you had a dream on Christmas Eve and that you were Scrooge?” she continued her laughter. “How fitting.” She giggled, holding her stomach as if it was the most hilarious thing she'd ever heard.
He clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth, trying to calm himself down at her humiliating reaction.
“Yes, go ahead and laugh. It’s hysterical, isn’t it?” he said full of sarcasm. “Especially the part when you surprise me by giving me a black dog, I kill someone, and many lives are destroyed because of it. Not that I should care, really… except one of those destroyed lives happened to be my own.”
With that remark, Hermione stopped laughing and began concentrating on what he had just said. “I gave you a… a what exactly?”
“A black dog. Which, caused me to freak out and I ended up doing something very bad.” he explained in a mad tone, reminiscing the scene that played out in his dream of a pregnant Hermione taking the curse and hitting the stone wall.
She noticed that his demeanor had become quite serious.
He let out another long sigh and directly faced her. “For you to fully understand, I must tell you something very personal that I’d like you to keep confidential.”
“Okay. Confidential,” she promised, surprised yet again that he was revealing such personal things to her.
“This is going to sound really stupid, but… Christmas at my house isn’t happy like normal families. It is tainted with a very bad memory from when I was seven years old.”
Hermione couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She knew it. She knew in her gut that his Christmas was unlike most and she couldn’t believe he was actually going to tell her about it.
Regardless of some crazy dream, he was about to reveal a very serious event in his family history to her. In spite of having such a rocky past with him, she did want to know of his life. Her wanting to know everything about him actually went beyond a normal curiosity.
He was careful to study her reaction. She didn’t berate him with another sarcastic remark and she most certainly was no longer laughing.
Instead, she sat there and appeared to be ready to listen to him intently. Her face had changed to a caring expression, which was exactly what he was hoping for.
She looked up at him to see a sad vulnerability in his eyes, which made her very sorry that she had laughed at him a moment earlier.
"Alright. Go on then. I'm listening."
He inhaled a long breath as he began to tell her one of the saddest moments of his young life... one of many in the life of a seemingly privileged blond Malfoy child.
He needed her to understand why the dog was so important and why it had him throwing a curse; a curse that would eventually kill their child, their son.
So with a bit of hesitation... under the courtyard, surrounded by a moving canvas of magical graffiti, Draco began...
“When I was seven years old, I had a black dog named Stella...”
For those who might not remember, Scabior is the Snatcher that took the Trio to Malfoy Manor. He was very attractive and I couldn't help but write him on that wall. : )
Love you all,
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Credits: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
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