Author's Note: Hello everyone! I'm back from my rather short break and am so keen to write another story. I had some tough decisions to make about what to write, but I think I settled on something I'm going to enjoy.
For those of you who have just stumbled on here, I recently finished another story called Unexpected if you're eager to take a look. Since this is the very beginning of a new story, please review and let me know what you're interested in reading from me this time! And of course, all our respect and adoration belongs to the illustrious JKR, who I am borrowing from just for a little while!
October 27th, 2001
Hermione Granger was a force to be reckoned with when she was mad. Wizards and witches of all ages tried their best to stay out of her way when they saw that familiar glint in her brown eyes, and the way her hair prickled up wildly with angry static. And she was on the warpath today. She was working furiously, her fingers flying down the page as she read through the instructions, muttering under her breath as she chopped ingredients. The smell of putrid rat spleens hung in the air, but they were just at the perfect point in decomposition to be effective. She was slicing them furiously, only too aware that she had to accomplish twice as much today since her lab partner had decided to drop out of the course in the middle of a huge assignment.
"Bloody wanker," she snarled quietly to herself as she scooped the remaining spleens off the board and into her cauldron. A few of her peers darted nervous glances towards her as she barrelled into the next task, trying not to get in her way. Of all the selfish pricks in the world, she had to end up paired with the worst; Yuri Stevanovic. He was a slightly portly, red-faced moron who she had despised from the moment he waddled into the room on the first day of class. When he had realised how much effort he'd have to put into this unit on burn potions, he had promptly dropped the course part way through their first task without so much as an apology. And now Hermione was expected to complete everything by herself, without even an extension granted. The doddering old potions master in charge had just looked at her with his usual sweaty toothed grin of condescension and told her that she was more than capable of doing it by herself – she was the brains of the famous Golden Trio after all. He probably just wanted to avoid any extra paper work; the man was known for being notoriously lazy around the campus.
Her bad mood only darkened further when she remembered that this evening she was being forced to attend the Ministry's Halloween Ball. She tried her best to decline most invitations that came her way, but there was a lot of pressure from the ministry to have her and the rest of the golden trio attend to keep up morale and make them look good. Hermione was dreading the whole tedious evening. It would be an endless parade of snooty bureaucrats congratulating themselves on their triumphs, while staring at her as if she were some kind of attraction in a zoo. She despised the limelight, both good and bad. And the press could never seem to decide which one to portray her as. One week she was the darling girl of the golden trio who had fought tirelessly to bring down the Dark Lord Voldemort two years ago. And the next week she was the harlot and bitch who had broken poor Ron Weasley's heart. Never mind that they had barely even dated and they were still close friends to this day. Apparently she was either a heroine or a tramp, depending on whether it was a slow news day.
Hermione sighed, taking a deep, calming breath and turning her attention to the next item on the instructions. She began to grind the semi-powdered bicorn bone into a fine dust, probably with more force than necessary. She noticed her potions master studiously ignoring her struggles, and she muttered some unpleasant insults under her breath.
Not all her professors were like him of course, and he could hardly live up to her high expectations after being taught potions by Severus Snape. The Hogwarts potions master, despite being an absolute bastard, had been ruthlessly thorough in his teaching, and a highly intelligent wizard. She wasn't sure there would ever be another master like him. But she did actually love most of her other tutors; the kindly charms master who specialised in curse wounds, the witch from the birthing ward, and even the strict but respected healer who ran all the courses on mental manipulations. It helped that she was a bit of a teacher's pet. When things went her way, Hermione normally adored her schoolwork. She was still a total bookworm, as the boys said; not even a full-blown wizarding war had been able to change that. Only now she was training to be a Healer, and it felt worthwhile and made her excited as she looked forwards to getting some actual hands on experience next year during their apprenticeships.
When things had wrapped up at the end of what should have been their Seventh Year, the golden trio had been instantly offered cushy jobs at the ministry of magic. It was predictable really; the ministry wanted to improve their image, which was in tatters at the time, and Harry and Ron were keen to start auror training. But while it suited the boys, Hermione hadn't exactly been keen to throw herself into the corrupt bureaucracy of that place, not when the very building itself still haunted her. Not after Umbridge and the muggleborn trials. And she wasn't ready to let go of her education yet either. She had insisted on being allowed to sit her NEWTS even though she had not completed her final year. After a lot of persuasive and angry letter writing back and forth, the ministry had agreed, and after a month of study with barely a wink of sleep, she had walked away with Outstanding grades in all her chosen subjects. It had become the stuff of NEWT legends. She knew Minerva McGonagall had since awarded her an honorary place in the Hogwarts alumni archives. Harry and Ron had teased her mercilessly.
Personally, Hermione felt quite proud of herself. It had taken a lot of emotional and mental courage to get her where she needed to be to sit those exams. Not only had she missed a whole year of schooling that should have prepared her for them, but there was also her condition to deal with.
"Twenty minutes to go before final submission," the professor called out. His gaze flickered over towards her and she glowered at him, throwing all politeness out the window. The old man actually blushed and spun away to busy himself with his papers to avoid her stare. Hermione turned her attention back to the potion, slowly counting out the number of clockwise stirs she did before adding a counter clockwise stir.
No one had been able to give her a definitive reason or diagnosis for her injury in all these years since it had happened. A number of healers had examined her, and the results had been entirely inconclusive. It plagued her constantly. Not in the physical sense so much; she was prone to dizzy spells and occasional confusion, but the weight of the problem lay in the emotional scarring. Sometime towards either the end of sixth year, or while they were searching for horcruxes, she must have been injured. It may have been a curse, or perhaps she had knocked her head when she fell down after one of their many escapades during that time. It was brutally done, whatever it was, and no one had been able to heal whatever it was since. Luckily the injury didn't seem to affect her all the time. Occasionally there was just a slight fuzziness she sometimes experienced. And it happened at the most random times. She could start to zone out in the middle of a conversation with Molly, or at the supermarket, or even during class. In those brief moments, it was like there was a piece of her missing. A slither of her self, gone away never to return. An icy numbness of loss and pain. She felt the sudden emptiness of something vacant inside her and once or twice she had even experienced a near panic attack when she returned from her split second coma.
It was something she had become resigned to in the last couple of years. Hermione had accepted that she might never heal from whatever it was, but she hoped that it would at least fade with time. It could be bloody inconvenient at times, and was totally unpredictable.
Once she had finished the final clockwise stir, Hermione watched proudly as the concoction turned a darkish blue colour. It had perfect consistency and hue. She looked around at the other pairs madly bottling their final products, some of them even starting to clean up their areas. And she had done it by herself. She poured enough of the thick liquid into a jar and placed it firmly onto the completed rack. She couldn't wait to get home and put her feet up for a couple of hours before she had to get ready. It had been an exhausting day, and Harry was sure to spoil her with a hot chocolate before they left. The two friends were renting an apartment in London together and he always had a way of sensing when she needed a good spoiling after a hard day, and vice versa.
She couldn't get out of the classroom fast enough. She decided to be rude for once and didn't bother to say goodbye or thank you to the professor. She just raced out with her books clutched under her arm and her bag sitting heavy on her back. As she made her way to the apparition point, Hermione reflected on the dress she had chosen to wear. Not wanting to bother with hours of hair taming and make-up this time, she had chosen an elegant black dress in the hopes that she could just stick her curls back into a bun somehow and still look fairly mature. Not like some raggedy doll as she usually did. Hermione groaned softly as she thought about the long, painfully dull evening stretching ahead of her. She forced herself to take a deep breath. She had to just grit her teeth and get through this spectacle. And she needed to stay calm so that she didn't make herself too vulnerable. She wouldn't want to have something happen to her with every representative of the Daily Prophet just waiting to snatch up a juicy story. As long as nothing upset her or made her feel too stressed, Hermione hoped that she would be able to get through the evening without incident…
The ballroom was extravagantly decorated as always. There were enormous pumpkins on pedestals, golden broomsticks whizzing around the ceiling and the buffet table had exotic themed food piled a mile high. Ron was delirious with joy. The boy had not stopped stuffing his face with food since he had arrived. Hermione and Harry shared an indulgent smile as he returned to their table with a plate laden with pastries. But their smiles turned a bit queasy when he started to shovel them into his mouth like oxygen.
"Uh…maybe we should…dance?" Harry stammered, holding his hand out to her. She accepted it gratefully and the two of them practically ran out onto the dance floor, sniggering to each other.
"Thank Merlin for Ron. I can barely fit into this dress as it is, but somehow he always manages to rid me of my appetite."
Harry snorted and pulled her into his arms. The two of them did a sort of awkward sway to and fro on the dance floor, laughing as they did. Everyone was staring at them of course. She could practically feel members of the Daily Prophet itching to come up with their next story. She smiled to herself as she thought of the way Ginny would laugh if she read such ridiculous lies in the newspaper. Harry was so fortunate to have found someone who understood him perfectly. She kept a level head and never fussed over silly rumours or all the fan girls who swamped him in public.
"He's watching you again," Harry murmured into her ear as he looked at something, or someone, she should say over her shoulder.
Hermione sighed and nestled closer into his protective arms. She knew exactly whom he was referring to. Draco Malfoy had this terrible habit of just showing up at these ministry events. She supposed since he was a rich, pureblood snob like the rest of them he was entitled to be here, but she didn't know why he had to make her so uncomfortable. He never approached them, but Harry had been the first one to notice that he seemed to focus a lot of his attention on her when they attended these parties and balls. She had also spotted him on the far side of the hall now and then, his eyes never leaving her. It always made her shiver.
"He's probably thinking up new ways to insult me," she snorted in response. But Harry shook his head against her shoulder.
"Hmm somehow I don't think so. See for yourself."
Hermione groaned in annoyance, but her friend was determined. He spun them around with a big spinning swirl of their arms, making her a bit giddy with laughter, and when they returned she found he had strategically rotated them so that she was looking right at the same corner he had noticed. It was full of all the wealthiest purebloods of course, as Mafoy was sure to only keep the "best" sort of company.
When Hermione let her eyes pass over the group, she frowned. Most of the wizards were typically old and definitely on the rotund side; they were well-fed little purebloods, adorned in gold trimmed robes and the finest silks and jewels that made her feel strangely out of place in her simple black muggle gown. But what caught her eye and made her pause was the sight of the blond boy on the far side of their group. He was much younger than the rest, tall and slim with pointed, aristocratic features. But the light, soft hair was utterly unique and easily identifiable. Hermione hadn't seen him in a while, not since the last time she had accompanied Ron to another one of these silly functions. He had been there the whole night, she remembered with a grimace, watching her with his steely grey eyes. She allowed herself a split second now before he noticed the direction of her gaze, to catch a glimpse of him watching her, or so Harry claimed. And he was. His jaw was locked tightly, a muscle twitching as his eyes swept over them dancing together. His eyes were fixed, his concentration so intense as he stared at them that she thought he might be trying to set them on fire just with a look.
Hermione continued to let Harry move her to the gentle rhythm of the music as she observed Malfoy carefully, so she didn't miss his reaction when he realised she was returning his stare. She saw him tense and then his eyes widened slightly. His whole body looked taut, like he was ready to bolt from the room at a sprint. He had aged incredibly well. The harsh features of his youth had matured into cool, handsome looks. His skin was still as pale as ever, but his hair was softer. It draped down a bit at the front, across his forehead. But he had lines that revealed the stresses of his youth. His mouth was creased from frowning, and he had a harsh scar on one cheek that ran down to his jaw. He had managed to escape any legal ramifications from his days as a Death Eater, since he had been so young and forced into it against his will, but Hermione imagined that he would never be able to escape the memories. Just like the rest of them, he had been too young for war.
Draco Malfoy's eyes lifted to meet her gaze with that same intensity that had sucked the breath from her lungs every time she saw him. She felt her skin crawl unpleasantly, and without warning her mind became a bit fuzzy with that familiar fog she had become so used to.
She watched as he swallowed and licked his lips, but she couldn't quite pinpoint the emotion on his face. It looked a bit like fear. But why would he be afraid of her? Her eyes fluttered a little bit, and she could feel her body heating to the point where beads of sweat started forming on her forehead, but she managed to hold his gaze steadily.
Why did she react this way around him?
In the short, busy years since the war had ended, she had encountered him only a handful of times, but each time she had experienced this familiar discomfort, and had always suffered one of her incidents afterwards, another flash of confusion that sent her mind reeling. Maybe it was just because he had been a Death Eater. Perhaps her 'condition' was reacting to the presence of the Dark Mark on his arm, or he triggered memories of when she was being tortured by dark magic at the Manor. And it didn't help that he always stared at her this way, with this haunted look in his eyes as if she had personally tormented him. But no, it was the other way around, wasn't it? He had bullied her at school, hadn't he?
It was possible that he himself was reliving the memory of Malfoy Manor when his aunt had tortured her. She knew that he had been troubled by it; he had stood and watched her writhing on the floor of his drawing room with horrified eyes. She remembered blinking up at him dazedly and seeing him biting his lip so hard that there had been blood dripping from his mouth, while his mother held onto him tightly.
Hermione shook her head minutely and tried to hold herself steady. It would be so embarrassing to have another one of her moments now. She grit her teeth and willed herself to concentrate. She just wished that he would look away, or blink or something. She squirmed a bit under his direct, heated gaze, and tried to tune back into her conversation with Harry.
"What do you think he wants?" she muttered to him, and he shrugged a bit as he spun her once more.
"No idea. But he's glaring at me like he wants to rip my arms off. He's fuming about something."
"Well you've always been rivals,"
"True," Harry agreed with a sheepish grimace, "but I've had to deal with him on a number of occasions at work recently, and he's always been quite cordial, if a little stiff, those times."
"Maybe he still just hates muggleborns and my mere presence offends him," she quipped quite drolly, and Harry snorted out a laugh.
"Maybe," he agreed.
Hermione let her eyes flicker back up to the blond boy again, and saw him moving away from the group. He was circling the room slowly, but his gaze stayed locked on her. She thought briefly that he really was going to bolt from the room, but he seemed to change his mind at the last moment, and he actually moved closer to where they were dancing. What was he doing? Was he actually going to come over and talk to them?
The fog threatened to invade her mind again. She gripped onto Harry's shoulders tighter, her knuckles white, and whispered to herself to stay calm and take deep breaths. Finally he had moved close enough to them to be standing just out of range on the edge of the dance floor. If Harry spun her again she could probably reach out and touch him. Hermione took a deep breath to calm herself, but she wasn't prepared for how that made her react. She could smell him. He smelt of mint and rich dark chocolate and some kind of expensive cologne.
He smelt familiar.
Malfoy was too close to her now, and the closer he got the more the darkness seemed to spread across her vision. Faintly she saw him frown in concern from over Harry's shoulder, and he stepped forwards towards them. She was panting a bit now as she kept herself on two feet.
"Hermione? You alright?" Harry shuffled backwards a bit to look at her, and she knew he could clearly see her struggling to focus. He wrapped his arms around her waist fully to hold onto her so that she wouldn't topple over. He looked at her worriedly for a few moments, lifting one hand to press it against her forehead. She felt like she was burning up.
"Shit, Hermione" he muttered, "Is it happening again?"
She started to shake her head in the negative, determined to ignore it and hope it would go away, but another wave of dizziness made her change her mind. She nodded curtly, leaning into him a bit for support. Her mind erupted with chaos as she clenched her eyes shut for a moment. She could feel Harry holding her upright, and could hear his voice whispering calming, reassuring words into her ear. But she was losing her grip on reality fast. She thought she might faint, as the dance floor started to spin under her feet and throw off her balance.
In a last ditch effort to recover without completely humiliating herself, she opened her eyes. But Malfoy was there. He was only a metre away now, his eyes wide with concern as her body started to feel so heavy in Harry's arms.
Hermione stared at the blond in confused disbelief. Why did he have this effect on her? And why did her childhood enemy want to approach her now after years of just staring from a distance? She hadn't even formed the question on her lips before the darkness took over, and she felt herself falling. The last thing she was aware of was the flash of a photographer blinding the room from her sight…
Ok so that's the start of my new story! I'm excited about this one; I have lots of plans for it already. Do you enjoy memory themed fics? Please review and let me know what you're hoping to see this time!