The following morning they found themselves back in Care of Magical Creatures. Hermione was early, because that’s just what Hermione did. Hagrid was washing something in his water barrel when she strolled over to greet him.
“Good morning, Hagrid,” she said politely.
“Alright Hermione? Get your essay finished?” He asked with a knowing look.
“Of course I did. Nearly two weeks ago.” She added grinning.
“Were there any problems?” He asked her.
“None that weren’t handled.” She pulled out two rolls of parchment and handed them over to the half giant.
She’d been surprised to find Malfoy’s essay so well written. He’d written quite a lot considering his handwriting was nearly as small as hers. Where hers was exceedingly precise though, his was a bit more loopy and whimsical. She’d found it rather pleasant to look at while she read. He’d even cited a few points she’d missed in her own essay and she was quite pleased to add his work to her own. Surely they were guaranteed an O for this one.
She should not have been as surprised as she was to find that Malfoy was academically inclined. The Malfoy’s were expected to be perfect and academics would be no exception. She’d heard Harry mention once that he’d over heard Lucious berating Malfoy for allowing her to surpass him in grades. It must have been hard to try and be so perfect for his parents. She found herself feeling even more sorry for him than normal. The stress from all that pressure had to weigh on him. How could he not be happier without it? Family was family she supposed. She’d have to ponder it more later. The rest of the class had shown up while she’d been standing there and Hagrid called them to order.
“Alrigh’ then, everyone hand in your essays? Good let’s get started then. I’ve sectioned off some areas near the edge of the forest for you to work in. Each pair of ye will have to find the creature in your area, figure out what it needs, and help take care of it. At the end of class I’ll come around to collect ye and grade ye based on how happy your creature is. If ye’ve done your research this shouldn’t be too much trouble. Any questions before we get started?” He asked as he looked around at his students. “Alright then get with your partner and we’ll get goin’.”
Hermione looked around for Malfoy and saw him in his usual place on the outskirts of the group. She strolled over to where he stood. She was hoping they could pull this off with as little confrontation as possible. He looked his usual angry self, but he did look at her when she approached as opposed to his feigned indifference. Her heart lifted remembering their interaction the night before. Maybe they could manage this class with some semblance of civility. Her hopes were crushed the moment he opened his mouth.
“An hour with the likes of you? What in Salazar’s name have I ever done to deserve this?” He asked the empty air above him.
“I’m sorry I’m such a burden, but this class is very important to my future. You said grades were important to you too. Can’t we just finish the class? You only have to talk to me if it’s necessary.” She pleaded with him.
He seemed to consider her offer for a moment. His expression shifted multiple times over the course of those few seconds before he responded.
“Fine,” he said angrily and followed the group into the forest. Exasperated, Hermione followed behind him.
Hagrid led them all around the perimeter of the forest, depositing each pair of them into a clearly defined circle. It did seem a bit difficult from looking at the other pair’s circles to identify what kind of creature you were looking for. She started frantically reviewing everything she knew about creature habitats in her mind as they walked. She and Malfoy were the last pair to be led to their worksite. It was a small clearing with a moderately sized cave and a covering of gold flower blooms were scattered across the forest floor. The flowers seemed to give off an iridescent glow that Hermione found pleasant to look at. She also realized instantly that the flowers were unicorn blooms. Their creature must surely be a unicorn.
“Alright you two. I’ll be back to collect you and see how ye did at the end of class. Malfoy behave yourself. If you find yourself in real trouble, send up some sparks and I’ll come and get ye.” Hagrid instructed them. They listened to him crunch through the forest for a few moments, and then all was silent. She looked over at Malfoy who was staring off indifferently.
“Well I think it’s obvious we’ve got to find the unicorn. Now we just have to actually do it and discover what it needs.” She said to him.
“Bloody brilliant of you. How about we look instead of standing here talking about it?” He replied with a haughty snort. He wandered over to the cave and she shook her head to herself. Why must he be so unpleasant?
While he searched the cave, she got to work searching the thicker patches of the gold flowers. She was pushing them apart and trying to see past the gold shimmer when something moved beneath a particular thick pile of flowers. She flinched back momentarily before carefully moving the flowers aside. Underneath them was a shiny gold unicorn foal. He was very small and he was shivering. She wasn’t sure if he was cold or afraid.
“I found him,” she said softly over her shoulder so as not to startle the baby. To her surprise Malfoy looked more than a little interestEd. He started to stroll over toward her and she stopped him. “Be quiet and go slow. We don’t want to scare him off.”
He looked like he was going to argue, but to her immense surprise he fell back and nodded at her. She conjured a bit of sugar into her hand and held it out to the creature. He sniffed it warily before sticking out his tongue to sample it. She moved her hand back a bit, and he stood on his shaky legs and followed her slowly out of the thicket. She smiled warmly at the beautiful creature. His gold shown brighter than any of the flowers in the field. She couldn’t see how she missed him when the flowers dulled so much in his brilliance.
“How do we know what he needs?” Malfoy asked as she stood next to him. She’d conjured a pile of sugar and the goal was happily lapping it off the ground.
“I’m not sure. I’m sure he needs his mother. He’s so small to be on his own,” she answered him. “This should help a little,” she conjured a horse blanket and it settled itself around the foals small neck. His shivering lessened as he continued to lick sugar off the ground.
“How are we supposed to do that?” He asked her and she sighed. She wasn’t sure either.
The two of them watched the foal for a few moments in silence. Hermione felt sorry for the baby. He was all alone. Surely he must be frightened. There must be some way to find his mother.
“I have an idea,” Malfoy said pulling out his wand and pointing it at the creature.
”Don’t hurt him,” she warned grasping his wand arm.
“Don’t be stupid Granger. Get off me.” He shrugged her off and pointed his wand at the foal once more. The creature looked up at him with clear sky blue eyes. “Legillimens,” he whispered.
Hermione watched as Malfoy stared off into space. She knew enough about legillimency to know that he was trying to read the unicorn’s mind. She’d never seen it done on an animal. She wasn’t very good at that particular branch of magic, and she was mildly impressed. She continued to watch as he combed through the baby’s memories. When he finally broke the spell he pulled away so harshly he stumbled to the ground.
“Are you alright?” She cried squatting next to him.
“I’m fine. His mother is dead.” He nodded at the foal. She looked over at the foal sadly. When she turned back she thought she saw Malfoy wiping his eyes on his robes. She chose not to mention it.
“Oh no, now what do we do?” She asked him.
Malfoy scrambled to his feet. His face was angry once more and she took a small step back. He looked especially enraged just now and she felt her hands start to sweat.
“Malfoy it’s okay, we’ll figure it out.” She said calmly. It had the opposite of effect.
“Who cares? This is a stupid assignment anyway. How the hell can we help a creature with a dead mother find its mother?” He yelled. His voice echoed around the trees.
She took several steps away from his rage. The foal on the other hand gave a loud cry and took off running head long into the forest. Hermione, who felt the need to protect the creature ran off after it. She was not unhappy about an excuse to escape Malfoy’s anger. It was only after she took off that she realized what an awful idea it was.
Malfoy found himself alone in the meadow of flowers. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe quite right, as if someone had sucker punched him right to the gut. He knew the terrible sadness he’d seen in that young foal’s mind. The death of its mother had left it frightened and so alone in the world. Those were feelings he fought so incredibly hard not to feel. True, his parents were not dead. His father might as well be, and he was not allowed access to his mother for at least four more years. That loneliness was staggering. He did not want to be lonely anymore. He’d tried so hard not to feel it. He’d tried to be angry and arrogant and put on a mask of normalcy. It was all futile. No matter how hard he tried not to feel it, he still did. He’d nearly let Granger see him crying. Malfoy’s did not cry. He looked at the spot in the trees where she’d taken off. The idiot giant had told them not to leave their assigned areas. Leave it to Granger to fuck it up. Well he wasn’t going after her. He planned to wait for her to come back. Unless of course she didn’t, then he’d wait for Hagrid and tell her she’d run off.
The longer he sat and waited though, the more concerned he got. She should have made her way back now. Everyone knew the forest was dangerous and it was foolish of her to go running off. The more he thought about it the worse he felt. It wouldn’t look to good to the ministry if they were alone in the forest and he returned when she did not. Perhaps he ought to find her. He pondered it a moment more before the scream ripped through the trees. Granger was in trouble. With one last look back at the opening to the forest he took off running towards her screams. He couldn’t let the ministry think he’d hurt her. That was the only reason he was going after her.
It wasn’t too hard to follow the trail into the forest. There were small hoof prints from the unicorn and a trail of iridescent flowers along the ground. He followed them until the flower petals thinned and he could only spot one or two every few feet. The unicorn prints were no longer visible in the blanket of leaves on the forest floor. Finally, the flower petals ran out and he looked around himself. The trees weren’t too awfully thick in this part of the forest so he knew they couldn’t have gone too deep. He had to find her and her her back to safety before someone blamed him.
“Granger?” He yelled, his voice echoing around him. He waited a minute before he called her name again.
“Help me,” he heard her voice somewhere to the right and headed for that direction.
“Where are you?” He shouted back.
“I’m beside the big fallen tree. I can see you. Just step over.”
Her voice was very close now and he saw a large fallen poplar tree. The unicorn foal was lying in the middle of an open space among the trees. He stepped around the tree and found Granger sprawled across the ground. One of her feet was tangled in the roots of the upturned tree. She looked quite helpless. For a moment he wanted to laugh at her clumsiness. Then he realized she was crying. He shouldn’t have cared. Maybe it was his journey into the unicorn’s mind, but he didn’t want to see anymore suffering today. He couldn’t however just be nice to her. It wasn’t in his nature.
“Walk much, Granger?” He asked standing over her.
“A bit,” she smirked. The effect was dampened by the tears running down her face. Always the smart ass, even in the face of crisis. “Can you just help me please? I think my ankle is broken.”
“Why should I help you? I should leave you here to rot.” He scoffed above her and she hissed as a fresh wave of pain hit her.
“Because you made some kind of a deal with the ministry and they won’t look favorably on you if you leave one of Harry Potter’s friends alone in the forest.” She shot back.
So she did know. He should have guessed Potter would find out and tell her why he had returned to school. He’d been a fool to think only he and McGonagall knew.
“I see your friends told you all about that.” He said it as a statement rather than a question.
“They only told me that you made some sort of deal and had to come back. Can you free my leg? It hurts,” she pleaded. He’d seen that same look at the manor when Bellatrix had been torturing her. Her silent plea for help. He’d been unable then. This time was different.
“Alright, but try to hold still. Only you could be this clumsy,” he rolled his eyes and pulled out his wand. Hermione closed her eyes preparing for the pain.
Malfoy carefully aimed his wand at the branches around her foot. He tried to burn them above where they held her foot so as not to burn her skin. Finally he had a jumble separated from the larger bunch. He’d need to spread them apart carefully to remove her foot. He started to untangle them one at a time, stopping once when she inhaled sharply at the pain, but persisting until at least her foot was free.
Hermione pulled herself up against the trunk of the fallen tree. She felt like such a fool. She’d run off into the forest. Then she’d gotten hurt. Now she realized she’d left her wand back in the clearing. Lovely, she thought, but she was grateful to be free. She was surprised at the care Malfoy had taken to free her. Now he was kneeling next to her looking at her mangled ankle. She looked down and nearly fainted at the sight. Not only was her ankle most definitely broken, but the skin around it had been shoved aside revealing the bone within. No wonder it was so painful. She laid her head back against the tree trunk and tried not to vomit.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how to heal that.” Malfoy told her. “Can you heal yourself? We need to get back before they think I took Potters princess.”
“I don’t have a wand,” she told him nervously. If Malfoy decided to do harm she’d be defenseless. To her surprise, he laughed.
“You think I’m going to hurt you? Granger if I so much as pull out one of your hairs the ministry will have me in prison. Surely your friends told you that.” He looked over at her. She looked a bit green around the edges as if she might be sick. He realized she was probably quite uncomfortable.
“I don’t really think you would, but I don’t often find myself wandless either,” she breathed out. Her voice was shaky and he thought she may be going into shock. This was not good. He had a wand and she did not. Someone was going to find her wand and think he’d hurt her.
Damn it, he cursed inwardly. This was even worse than he’d imagined.
“We need to get you back now,” he told her urgently. “They’re going to think I did something to you. Can you stand?”
“I don’t think so,” she whimpered. The pain in her leg was off the charts as she sat against the tree. How on earth was she going to get out of this?
“Hold still,” he whispered pointing his wand at her foot.
“No no don’t! It hurts,” she shouted in agony and he knelt closer to her. Her eyes looked glassy and unfocused. Yes she was definitely going into shock.
“Look at me Granger,” he said placing a hand on her shoulder. “We’ve got to get you out of here before you go into total shock. I’m going to splint your leg so you can stand. Then I’m going to help you walk out of here. I am not going to hurt you anymore than necessary.”
He looked into her eyes as she sat there on the ground. In that moment, something within him shifted. He did not want her to suffer. He did not care what the idiots at the school thought. He had to help her. Her brown eyes looked frightened and sweat beaded her brow. Her hands and face were dirty where she’d fallen, but he couldn’t stop the thought from floating across his mind. Granger was not ugly. He quickly shoved it away though. He realized he did not want anything to happen to her. She was the only one all year who’d been decent to him. He owed it to her to get her out of this. Plus it was his fault she’d run off. Malfoy’s paid their debts.
“Okay, do it now please. I can’t stand the pain,” she whispered. He nodded and stood up.
Hermione watched the emotions run across Malfoy’s face as he got ready to splint her leg. He looked frightened at what he was about to do. He also looked concerned. Concerned for her which was not something she had ever expected. She had just a moment to consider it before Malfoy cast a spell and her vision went white. The pain shooting through her leg was almost unbearable as the splint tightened against her. She was sure it had only been a moment, but it had felt like hours. When she got ahold of herself she realized she was holding tight to something. When she opened her eyes, they were reflected back by clear stormy grey ones. She was gripping Malfoy’s hand and he was not pulling away. He looked so frightened. His eyes were wild, but his expression was concerned.
“Are you alright?” He asked quietly.
“I don’t know. I think the pain is better. Maybe I can get up now.” She said. He didn’t pull away though. He watched her closely. Without realizing what he was doing, he reached out and tucked in of her curls behind her ear. His touch was incredibly gently and not at all unpleasant. She leaned into it and he pulled sharply away. The moment was lost.
Malfoy jerked away as if he’d been burned. He refused to meet her eyes again, even as he helped her struggle to her feet. At last she was standing and he took several steps away.
“Can you walk?” He asked her.
“I don’t know. Let me try,” she took a tender step forward and nearly collapsed again at the pain in her leg. Fresh tears rolled down her face. Malfoy wanted to wipe them away.
He did not know where these feelings were coming from. He did know he wanted to make them stop. He’d been being an idiot. He couldn’t stop himself from touching her hair. Now he was going to have to help her walk. All he wanted was to escape her. There was some sort of spell work going on here. Surely these feelings couldn’t be his own.
“Let me help you then,” he cleared his mind of all thoughts and went to assist her. After a few awkward moments she had her hand around his waist and he worked his arm beneath her shoulders. They took a few practice steps and he could tell it was causing her immense pain, but she could move. He started to walk them back around the tree toward their clearing, but she stopped him.
“We can’t leave him,” she looked back at the little unicorn foal still resting on the ground. Annoyed but unwilling to argue, Malfoy conjured a lead rope and threw it over the foal’s neck. He tied the other end to his belt loop and the three of them set off to find their way back through the forest.
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