Ignoring Hermione Granger did not come naturally to Draco. The Muggle-born girl had earned his attention ever since their first year at Hogwarts, except back then, it was due to her curious knack for magic and her irritating attachment to Potter. Now, her usual sense of self-importance had become easy to overlook—in fact, it had diminished—but her abominable performance in Professor Slughorn's class was nearly impossible to unsee.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, she found some new way to complicate straightforward instructions. If she was not coughing on a shroud of smoke, she was extinguishing a fire that had taken to her messy head of hair or going to the hospital wing for an acidic burn. By the time that the leaves were changing colors, the witch was had caused nearly as many explosions as Seamus Finnegan did since their first year, a record that Draco was certain she never hoped to break.
If he had not seen her constantly taking notes, he would have thought that she wasn't trying. The girl was always writing fervently, often blinking back tears of frustration and stabbing her parchment much harder than necessary. He had heard of the Cruciatus Curse addling the brain, yet he had never seen anything like the sudden change in Hermione Granger, and though he wanted to relish in her turmoil, he was not sure that he could. All that he felt for her was pity.
"Another impressive potion, Mr. Malfoy! Beautiful shade of silver! Oho! And it even sparkles! Oh, dear boy, you ought to be proud! I'd say that's worth five points to Slytherin, that is!" Slughorn announced, turning the flagon in the candlelight. He put it back down on the table and approached Granger. "Too much stickyflower, unfortunately, Miss Granger. Highly flammable stuff. If it burns too quick it can turn the potion—" He tapped her flagon. "—black."
"Not as black as her hair was last class," Pansy Parkinson hissed to her redheaded friend. She made an exaggerated face and started to emulate Granger's response to setting her own hair on fire. "'Oh no! Not my shiny, straight, definitely-not-snarled-and-awful hair!'"
"Lucky for her, she can't get any uglier," the redhead snickered.
Before his sixth year, Draco might have laughed with Pansy and her friend, but time was an unstoppable beast. While she cowered in the shadows of the castle and her parents' mansion, Draco was experiencing horrors beyond even her most dreadful nightmares. Alas, Pansy's lack of maturity was no fault of her own. She did not have to carry out unspeakable acts, all in the name of Malfoy. She did not have to experience the Cruciatus Curse, nor watch anyone else experience it. Perhaps if she had, Granger's hair would matter much less than her fortitude.
Upon release, Draco rushed towards Professor Vector's class, cutting Granger off in his wake. The Arithmancy teacher seemed shocked to see him arrive so early.
The class had notably fewer students than most of the other classes that he was taking, as the overwhelming majority of seventh-years filled their time with Divination instead. Passing Trelawney's class was hardly a challenge if one could tolerate her two or three times a week, and perhaps, if somebody wanted an easy "O", they could. Draco, on the other hand, had no patience for the woman's psychobabble.
To his left sat Juliette Moge, a starry-eyed brunette that had grown to become intrigued by him, though it was likely for all the wrong reasons. The seventh-year often spoke of her personality number and the importance of the number ten, a number that she apparently stumbled upon regularly not only in the Hufflepuff Common Room, but also in the Great Hall and in her classes. According to her, it meant that she was meant to mend a broken heart.
As he had smartly chosen a seat in the corner, nobody sat to his right, yet he still heard Juliette's seemingly endless conversations with the blonde girl that sat beside her. The two Hufflepuffs would discuss the number ten and how often Juliette saw it, occasionally glancing at him.
"I mean, I know ten doesn't always mean that, but considering my personality number, it really is the only explanation. Don't you think?"
"It could be," the blonde girl replied, doubtfully. "I don't know, though... There are a lot of broken hearts at Hogwarts right now. Y'know, 'cause of the war and all..."
Draco had heard them have the same conversation at least thrice, and the blonde girl seemed just as annoyed by it as he was.
"Grace, I've been thinking about this a lot and I'm certain that I can—"
"Good afternoon," Professor Vector's voice rang. "I trust that everyone read the chapter?"
Juliette nodded with vigor and raised her hand high, waggling her fingers in hopes to be called upon. Professor Vector raked over her but didn't give her permission to speak.
"The sixteen numbers mentioned in this chapter teach us what?"
Granger's hand shot into the air just barely before Atlas Paisley's. Vector gestured her and Paisley dropped his hand with a scowl.
"Beaufort's Sixteen Core Personality Points. Each of the sixteen numbers corresponds to a personality trait. When you cast Meumestnumerus, four numbers will appear in the air, and they will reflect your personality. Unlike the Agrippan and Chaldean methods, Muggles are not familiar with Beaufort's findings, as you can only discover them through magic."
Melancholy washed over Juliette's face as Vector awarded points to Gryffindor and began reviewing the material from the chapter. After she described Beaufort's findings in detail, she instructed them to practice the Self-Numbering Spell. Juliette, who quickly realized that she could not pronounce "Meumestnumerus", looked increasingly somber with each try.
After two attempts, Draco was able to cast the spell. Four numbers appeared in the air before him: four, thirteen, seven, and one. According to the book, that meant his dominant personality trait was "calculative", followed by "determined", "good-humored", and "loving". Quite certain that the numbers meant nothing and that Beaufort simply discovered a way to make random numbers appear in the air, Draco closed his book and waited for his classmates to catch up with him. Spellwork, he could do. It was the number charts and the essays that caused all of his headaches.
As he waited, he glanced at Granger. She, too, had conjured the numbers of thirteen and one, though her other two numbers were six and fifteen. Curious, he opened his book again and peeked inside. The six stood for "courageous" and the fifteen stood for "friendly". This, to him, was proof that the numbers were meaningless. He had known the girl for years and never would he have considered her to be friendly.
"Did you see?" he heard Juliette squeal. "He had a one!"
"He did not," her blonde friend argued. "You're just seeing things."
"No, he really did!"
Draco dropped his elbow to the table and rested his chin in his palm. The class could not end quickly enough.
Wednesday passed by quickly, and before he knew it, Draco was in Slughorn's classroom once more. The potion that they were assigned was called a Sniffle-Snuff Potion, which Draco noticed smelled eerily similar to Dr. Mudhock's Cough-Away Spray, a remedy that the house-elves of Malfoy Manor gave him when he was ill as a young boy. The banana-scented elixir reminded him of many nights of endless vomiting.
Like a few of his classmates, Draco had finished early, and judging by the complaints that he heard, he was not the only one that was unimpressed by the sickly-sweet aroma of banana oil. He tapped his fingernails against the flagon of thick, yellow syrup and waited for the end-of-class dismissal. In his peripheral, he noticed Granger stirring fervently, tongue poking out the side of her mouth and perspiration thick upon her brow. A scroll of parchment sat on the table beside her. Draco wondered why she took so many notes if she never was going to look at them while she brewed her potion. It did not make any sense.
Just as he turned his attention away from the perplexed Gryffindor, he caught Pansy saying something to her redheaded friend. She was making wild gesticulations, occasionally gesturing him with the utmost blatancy.
"...and I'm telling you, it was no bigger than my pinkie. All that Death Eater nonsense was probably overcompensation."
Blood boiling, Draco clenched his fist. He was determined to march over to Pansy and shout at her for lying through her teeth. However, just as he stood up, he was bombarded by a cloud of sour, nauseating smoke.
"Oh! Oh no! Malfoy, I'm sorry, I—"
"You stupid, filthy Mudblood! How dense are you?" he choked. The words fell from his lips so fast that there was no stopping them. "I can't see a bloody thing!"
"Mr. Malfoy," he heard Slughorn gasp. "I will not tolerate that kind of language in my class. Miss Granger—oh it's quite alright. There, there..."
Slughorn must have done something, because suddenly, the pink cloud was gone and he was staring grimly at Draco. Granger peeked out from behind the wide professor, her expression apologetic.
"It seems a trip to the hospital wing is in order. Class is dismissed, everyone. Miss Granger, Mr. Malfoy, please come with me... Fanged Geranium leaves are usually mild but when you mix them with doxy hide and apply too much heat... oh, I'm sure you're both fine. McGonagall has gotten a bit strict with the protocol for potion-related injuries... That's all. After that first-year boy went blind in his left eye—or was it his right?—oh, no matter..."
Draco trailed behind the rambling Potions master and Granger. How many times would she go to the hospital wing before she learned how to follow the instructions in the book? He hoped that she would learn soon, because with his luck, she was going to kill them both.
Madam Pomfrey gave him several tasks to complete before she would let him leave. First, he had to breathe in as deeply as he could. Then, he had to hop on one foot for thirty seconds. The tests continued in varying degrees of bizarreness, some as simple as balancing a quill on his forehead and others as complex as naming ten headmasters and headmistresses in alphabetical order. Granger, who was receiving the same treatment, barely passed the balancing test, but answered the history questions without pause.
"You seem to be fit as a fiddle, Mr. Malfoy," Madam Pomfrey announced, seconds after releasing the girl that sent him to the hospital wing. "However, you could gain some weight and your focus seems a bit strained, so I would like to recommend that you get in a good meal and a good night's rest in the near future."
Rest was a distant memory. Alas, Draco decided it was better to let her believe that he would do as she asked.
"Speaking of a good meal, I see no reason that you can't join your friend in the Great Hall. You missed your final hour, but you'll be excused, of course, if you weren't on a free period," she went on. "If you start to feel dizzy or if your ears start to bleed, please do come back. Sometimes Fanged Geranium gas can take a little while to start showing symptoms..."
With a nod, Draco left the hospital wing. His stomach was growling, but he did not intend to go to the Great Hall to listen to Pansy insult him. Instead, he was going to go to his room. He had preemptively hidden several sugar quills and Chocolate Frogs for times such as these so he wouldn't starve, though he rarely felt the need to indulge.
"Mr. Malfoy, a word."
To his annoyance, Professor Slughorn had been waiting for him outside of the hospital wing, and Granger was standing beside him. The grave look on the professor's face told him that the conversation they were about to have was not going to be one that he would enjoy.
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