Last time I updated on Draco's birthday. This time I'm updating on mine! :)
The castle seemed colder than when Hermione had left it two days ago. The corridors were dark and empty—as they should have been; it was nearly curfew. She didn't have to wander the halls long before her ghosts manifested themselves in their solid form.
"If I knew you'd be honest, I'd ask you how you found me," Hermione said with a sigh. She turned around and Malfoy stepped out of a depression in the wall where a suit of armor used to stand before its destruction in the Battle of Hogwarts.
"This time it was an accident," he said.
"Is it common for you to stand in dark recesses in the middle of corridors or—what happened?"
As he stepped further out of the shadows, Hermione gasped. He had a black eye, a broken nose, and his arm was in a sling fashioned together with, what looked like, two neckties.
"What do you think happened?" he spat. It must have hurt to scowl because he suddenly winced.
"I was gone for one weekend. What did you do?"
He drew his shoulders back, trying to make himself taller than her, and Hermione, whose first instinct was to run her hands over his face to inspect him, distanced herself from him. The last thing she wanted to do was corner him until he snapped. The last time she'd done that, he'd shaken her senseless.
"It's just like you Gryffindors to think I did anything to deserve this," he hissed. The disgust in his voice filled her with shame to such a degree that she regretted her last words.
"I'm sorry," Hermione said briskly, and she grimaced at how insincere she sounded.
She didn't know what she was apologizing for. Even if Malfoy had verbally provoked someone, that was no excuse for the severity of his injuries. She'd witnessed a group of students attacking him before. They'd taken his wand from him and he hadn't fought to get it back. Hermione knew from experience how much his wand meant to him, but Malfoy, no matter what was done to him, would not have raised a single fist in defense.
Maybe he was too cowardly to fight, or maybe he was broken, but Hermione knew in her heart that Malfoy had not inflicted these wounds on himself, and he had not deserved them.
"You're right. I'm sorry. Let me help?"
He hesitated for a moment. "Why?"
She released an exasperated breath, her whole body sagging in an exaggerated fashion. "Because I'm a Gryffindor and it's the right thing to do. Why else would I help you?"
He took a tentative step forward, his expression still wary. "Maybe it's a trap."
"A trap?" Hermione said in a sardonic tone, her hands on her hips. "Do you really think Gryffindors are sophisticated enough to plan a trap? We're too impulsive for all that!"
Malfoy snorted. "You're right. Silly me. What was I thinking?"
"My thoughts exactly," she replied, and she was shocked to realize they could communicate without arguing. They were teasing each other, and she wasn't completely repulsed by the idea of getting along with him. "Come on," she said, unnerved by their strange camaraderie.
She led him up to the Room of Requirement, which provided the same round room and hospital-like setting they'd used a couple weeks ago when Hermione had healed Malfoy's injured leg. The nosy portraits that had adorned the walls, Hermione was relieved to see, did not make an appearance this time.
"Bring that over here," she said, pointing to the wooden chair by the bed as she opened a cabinet, analyzing the contents. She didn't have her beaded bag with her this time, but perhaps the room would provide everything she needed.
Malfoy grabbed the chair and moved it to the center of the room. "Not trying to get me in bed this time?"
Instead of taking insult, she merely rolled her eyes at the smirk on his face. "In your wildest dreams," she said while she compared a vial of essence of dittany and a jar of bruise removal paste. Deciding on the jar, she turned around and didn't understand the look on his face.
Then he opened his mouth. "You mean in my worst nightmare." His smirk became a sneer of disgust. "I wouldn't touch you even if you found out you were adopted and your real parents were Merlin and Circe."
Hermione glowered and poked his nose with the tip of her wand a little more ferociously than necessary. "Well, that would be absurd. Or at least highly improbable. Even though we can't verify the exact dates Merlin and Circe lived and died, we can conclude that their lives couldn't possibly have intersected thanks to doctrinal texts maintained by—"
"—ancient Greek priests around the time Cleopatra VII ascended to the role of Pharaoh in Egypt—"
"—which could possibly place Circe around 51 BC. And as we know, Merlin attended Hogwarts, which was founded around—"
Malfoy grabbed her with his good hand, his grip tight on her upper arm. "If you don't stop talking right now, I will not be responsible for my actions."
She shut her mouth and met his eyes, but his held no expression, certainly not the anger his words appeared to convey.
"Sorry," she said. I ramble when I'm nervous, she didn't add. The fact that she was nervous made her more nervous, but she wasn't exactly sure why she was nervous in the first place.
The last time they had been in this room together, Malfoy had been splayed out on the bed, and she'd operated on his leg. Then, as he'd slept off the Calming Draught, she'd soothed him the way she would have soothed Harry or Ron. She'd held his hand and run her fingers through his hair, stroking his skin. She remembered his sleepy sighs of relief, and she hoped whatever higher power was out there that he'd been too deeply unconscious to realize how she'd touched him.
Her face flushed at the memory. She wasn't going to knock Malfoy out this time. She was going to show him compassion, but she wouldn't show him tenderness again. Not in her loneliness. Not while Ron was comatose in St. Mungo's.
"Here," she said as she scooped some of the ointment out of the jar. She was surprised to see one of Fred and George's concoctions in the Room of Requirement, but even before Fred had died, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had done really well for itself. After the war, when laughter was needed more than anything, the shop had become one of the most successful businesses in Diagon Alley. She supposed it shouldn't have surprised her to see their products in the castle.
She lifted Malfoy's chin with a finger and dabbed the ointment over his black eye with gentle strokes so as not to hurt him. Then, with a muttered "Episkey," she used her wand to heal his nose. She was all too aware of how closely she stood in front of him, of his height while seated, where his eyes naturally would have fallen if his face hadn't been turned up to hers. The awareness made her skin prickle, her breath sound too loud in her ears, and she felt utterly ridiculous for the reaction. Malfoy sat impassively, clearly feeling nothing except pain when she dabbed his wounds a little too hard, making him wince.
"Your nose is all better now," she said, wiping the bruise removal paste from her fingers using a hand towel hanging from a cabinet. "Your eye should be healed in the next hour or so. What happened to your arm?"
He lifted his arm and wiggled his fingers with a grimace. "I think the wrist is sprained. Someone must have stepped on it in the process of kicking my ribs."
The blood ran out of Hermione's face, making her feel light-headed, but she didn't comment. Instead, she removed his makeshift splint and examined his wrist first, carefully to avoid seeing or touching the ugly scar emblazoned on the underside. The wrist was swollen, the skin white from the puffiness, and she didn't have to squeeze hard at all to make him gasp.
"Watch it!" he hissed.
"I'm just trying to see if it's fractured," she reprimanded him, her grip tightening on his forearm as she squeezed gently down the length of his wrist again. She watched his face for each grimace and determined that the pain was localized, not spreading. "You're right, it's sprained," she said as she released his arm.
"Hmph," he grunted.
Her wand came down with a light tap on his wrist and a "Ferula." Bandages sprung out of the tip, wrapping tightly around a splint and covering his arm halfway to his elbow. She smiled at him in satisfaction. "There. You should really keep some ice on it to help keep the swelling down so it can heal. Twenty minutes three or four times a day should do."
He pulled his wrist to his chest, examining the bandages suspiciously. "How do you know how to do all this stuff?" he asked.
Hermione shrugged, a little embarrassed by her answer. "I fractured my ankle when I was nine trying to climb a tree."
"You? Climbing trees?" he scoffed with a snort.
She averted her eyes by carefully disposing of Malfoy's old bandages and putting away the bruise removal paste. "Some of my classmates from primary school were throwing rocks at a cat and I tried to stop them, so they started throwing rocks at me. They thought I was odd anyway. I guess I've never been likeable." Her lips turned up into a self-deprecating smile, but she knew by the look on his face that it wasn't convincing.
"Birds of a feather." He stood up, his spine stiffening. "Thanks," he muttered, lifting his bandaged arm. "Mudbloods have their uses, I guess."
"You're such an ungrateful prat," Hermione said, derision coating her words. "Do you care about anyone other than yourself?"
The way he stopped and watched her, eyebrows raised as if waiting for something, led her to believe that he was baiting her on purpose. He wanted to get a reaction out of her, and he knew just how to do it. But Hermione would not do what he expected her to do this time. She would neither fall for his trap nor humor him.
Hermione closed the distance between them, and he smirked at her attempt to threaten him with her diminutive size. "I will not take your abuse just because there isn't anyone else willing to tolerate me, and you will not speak to me that way again, or I will make sure you see the inside of a prison cell for the rest of your days."
"This is who I am, Granger. It's not my fault you don't take threats seriously."
"I don't believe that."
Hermione met his eyes, freezing him in place with the force of her glare. "I don't believe you're a threat. You'd like to be, wouldn't you? You'd like me to believe you're a horrible monster, but you're not. And I don't believe this is who you are. I have to believe that, otherwise what am I doing every time I make the choice to help you?"
"I am a monster, or have you forgotten—?" He raised his left arm, the one Hermione had just examined, and then scowled when he realized his proof was obscured under layers of bandages.
Hiding the remnants of his Dark Mark.
If he thought the reminder of his allegiance to a cause that wanted Hermione imprisoned or dead would sway her assessment of him, he was wrong. Hermione had attended his trial. She had been there at Malfoy Manor when he had been too cowardly to sell Harry out to his parents. And she knew the intimate details of what had happened on the Astronomy Tower with Professor Dumbledore from Harry. There was nothing about Draco Malfoy wearing the Dark Mark that frightened her.
"No," Hermione said, voice softening, "you're not. I see it now. You're rotten as a corpse, inside and out, but, like a ghost, you're all talk and no bite. Your loneliness makes you lash out, doesn't it?"
Malfoy bared his teeth and released a dry, scoffing sound. "Are you going to try to save me?"
"I'm not going to try," Hermione replied. "I will save you, even if you fight me every step of the way."
An unamused smile stretched across her lips. "Because I'm a Gryffindor and it's the right thing to do. Why else would I do it?"
"Then you're an idiot."
"You're the one stalking me. Does that make you an idiot, too?"
His lips pursed together, unwilling or unable to answer.
Hermione sighed, deciding to move on before he continued this useless argument. "If your ribs are broken, I think you should go to the hospital wing."
Malfoy was already glaring, his arms coming around his torso as if to protect said ribs from her.
"If the injury is very serious, you're going to need medical attention. We can come up with an excuse to give Madam Pomfrey. Say you tripped on the stairs or fell off your broom."
"I'm not going."
She exhaled in exasperation at his stubbornness, wondering for the thousandth time why she was trying so hard for him. But she'd already made up her mind to help him, and he was the only person she could help, the only person willing to accept her assistance. The other students avoided her, and she knew being seen around the castle with Malfoy wasn't going to improve their opinion of her, but at least she was making a difference to him. As long as he wasn't violating his probation, she could patch him up and keep him out of Azkaban.
The weekend spent at the Burrow had given Hermione some clarity into her situation.
First of all, she and Malfoy were both equally isolated and alone.
Secondly, he stalked her for a reason, to get under her skin. His ungratefulness after her deigning to help him was just another part of that plan to needle her.
Third, as much as they loathed each other, they were their only allies. They were the only people who understood what they were each going through, and maybe he was unwilling to see the benefits of civility toward her, but Hermione certainly saw them.
Hermione was alone in a way that Ginny, Neville, Luna, and Harry could never understand. As a child, being alone or lonely had not bothered her. Making friends had been difficult and she had found ways to counteract the loneliness by embracing solitude and immersing herself in books. Friendship with Harry and Ron had spoiled her, and now the thought of being so utterly alone and misunderstood devastated her.
She could make her world feel a little bigger, a little less lonely, if he'd just allow her in his. Months ago—a week ago—the very idea of trying to get along with Malfoy would have repulsed her, but Hermione was desperate to help someone, and Malfoy desperately needed her help.
He was one of a very small group of people in the castle whose demeanor toward her had not changed since the war. Even Ginny did not treat Hermione the same. Maybe Ginny thought she was doing what was right to protect Hermione, but somehow she made Hermione feel even more isolated. It was refreshing to speak to Malfoy, to interact with him, and know exactly what he was going to say and how he was going to react.
"Fine then," Hermione said. "I'll take a look in the library to see if there are any texts about treating broken bones."
She took a step back, giving Malfoy room to breathe again. It was a clear dismissal, but he didn't move. Instead, he stared at her, eyebrows knit together in concentration, as if she were an Arithmancy problem he couldn't solve. Regret that she'd already put away her supplies filled her as she stood before him and waited for him to leave, discomfited by his clear, icy eyes.
Finally he did move, and she wished she had put more distance between them because suddenly he was too close, his body nearly touching hers, his head towering over her. She refused to be cowed by him, so she stared back in defiance, hands clenched at her sides but ready to draw her wand if necessary.
"Thank you," he said, words low and gruff. Was it gratitude or reticence that altered his voice?
Hermione's heart pounded, and she knew she was imagining it, she had to be, but she thought she could feel the reverberations of his own heart beating, like ripples in water, spreading out, growing larger, until they reached an obstacle that disrupted their symmetry.
The heat of him she did not imagine. It was palpable against her skin, through her robes, magnified by her own burning body as she flushed.
She didn't avert her gaze despite her discomfort.
"You're welcome," she said, her own voice soft in the quiet of the room.
The silence lengthened, tensed, growing more tangible the longer he battled within himself. His eyes flickered, darting from the center of her face to her lips, so quickly Hermione had the impression that he wasn't truly looking at her at all. But when he did speak, his gaze stilled, lowering to avoid her.
"You're wrong about me. I do care about people other than myself."
"Your parents?" she said with a sneer.
He nodded, eyes flinty at her tone. "I have to stay out of Azkaban or my mother will be alone. I'll suffer the loneliness for the next few months, I'll take the pain inflicted on me, the hatred, your hatred, as long as I get to return home in June. I endure this for her."
Hermione swallowed, and despite herself, tears filled her eyes.
Malfoy's father was in Azkaban, but his mother was at home waiting for him. Her parents were in Australia, unaware of her existence. Well—unaware that she was their daughter. To them, she was a troubled girl who had intruded in their home this past summer, waved a wooden stick in their faces, and sobbed as she insisted they were her parents. To them, she was a strange incident, a bizarre story to tell their Australian friends.
Malfoy was alone now, but he wouldn't always be, and she hated and envied him for it.
Unable to speak, Hermione's head bowed lest he witness her turmoil and pain and somehow weaponize it to use against her. She watched through her blurred vision as his feet withdrew from her field of view, and only once the door closed behind him did she wipe the tears away with her sleeve.
She gave herself a few moments to compose herself, and then she, too, departed from the room to return to her rounds, unaware the whole time that someone watched her from the shadows.
Prompt: Soon after they return to Hogwarts for their eighth year of schooling, Hermione comes across Draco being taunted and tortured by a mob of students of all ages. All the horrible memories of her own torture in Malfoy Manor come flooding to the forefront of her mind. What does she do?
Preferred rating: Any
Other comments: Go dark or as hopeful as you want.