Author's Note: Written for HP Drizzle Fest 2016. The original prompt is in the end notes. Thank you so much to Wordmover for beta-ing this story! The title is from a Robert Frost poem called A Line-Storm Song. Reviews appreciated!
A Line-Storm Fear
For the last seven years, the library had claimed the position of Theodore's favorite location in the entirety of Hogwarts Castle.
Some students favored their common rooms. Some the Quidditch pitch. Some the greenhouses. Pansy Parkinson preferred the Prefect's bathroom, waxing poetic about aromatic bubbles and massaging jets of water to anyone unfortunate enough not to have the privilege of the experience. Draco Malfoy found comfort on top of the Astronomy Tower, isolated and dark, blanketed by a multitude of stars.
Theo loved books. The feel of their leather covers, the worn cracks of their bindings, the sound of the pages sliding against each other as he flipped through them looking for information. The way some of the preservation spells on the oldest texts had worn away with time, leaving ink and the imprint of words on his fingertips.
Pansy liked bubbles, Draco liked stars, and Theodore loved books.
There was something about the library, about the shelves that extended toward the high ceiling, jam-packed with books on any subject imaginable, about Madam Pince's beady eyes and sharp Shhh!s, that made him feel at home in a way Theo had never felt at home anywhere. Where others saw dust and boredom and claustrophobia-inducing furnishings, Theo saw untapped potential, knowledge and worlds unknown, and security.
Outside, lightning flashed white against the windows followed by a crack of thunder that rattled the rain-drenched glass panes. Inside, surrounded by the solid comfort of his precious books, Theodore hardly noticed the storm raging around the castle, even as thunder broke the silence of the library every few seconds.
Wandering through the aisles cleared his mind. Skirting around frantic OWL students and procrastinating first years put him at peace. And then he stumbled across Hermione Granger, crouched on the floor of Arithmancy, section D-F, a book splayed open next to her as if dropped there. Her hands were buried in her considerable mane of hair, her face hidden against her knees, and she vibrated with body-wracking tremors.
Theodore frowned. Libraries were no place for emotional breakdowns, and, frankly, her anguished presence tainted his sanctuary. He passed the Arithmancy section with alacrity and continued his trek through the stacks, running his fingers along the rows of spines, tracing, briefly, the embossed letters of titles and authors as he passed.
When he returned to the Arithmancy section at the end of his stroll—just to assuage his curiosity, mind—aisle D-F was empty.
Perhaps seeing Hermione Granger huddled in a ball in the middle of the library should have been an alarming sight, but Theodore didn't think about her again until two days later when he found her once more in Arithmancy D-F, standing this time.
Hogwarts after the war was a more somber place. Any joy expressed, any laughter shared, was quickly muffled with a guilty hand. The chatter of students no longer echoed off stone; instead, Hogwarts seemed to absorb noises that rose above a certain decibel, swallowing happiness and leaving melancholia behind.
Granger was not the only person who found herself overwhelmed by the new Hogwarts or by old memories. Great intellect did not spare her from despair.
She glanced at him briefly before returning her attention to the shelves, her fingers ghosting across leather spines as she searched for a particular book. The corners of her mouth turned down in a frown of concentration, a look Theodore remembered well from the classroom.
Theo lifted his eyes to the ceiling when a deep rumble disturbed the silence. The weather had turned uncharacteristically stormy over the last week, with no sign of sunshine in the near future. On top of the stillness and the quietness of the castle, the low, gray clouds hovered oppressively over the Scottish countryside, making the outdoors no more comforting than indoors.
Theo, who had no particular fear of storms, felt the weight of those clouds on his shoulders every time he stepped outside, trudging his way to the greenhouses or the Quidditch Pitch. It had been days since anyone had felt the sun against their cheeks, and the lack of light and warmth had turned everyone a little colder, a little more solemn, a little more despairing.
He looked at Granger again to see her frozen in place, a book she seemed to have selected at random gripped between white-knuckled fingers. Her eyes had widened in panic and her unruly hair seemed to have gained some more volume, as if sensing the static electricity from the lightning outside and fluffing up accordingly.
"It's just the storm." Theodore had no idea why he said the words. Sympathy was not something he practiced with many people, least of all the people responsible for the capture and death of friends and family.
Perhaps she heard the impatience in his tone, perhaps she latched onto it, because she released a shaky breath and with equally shaky hands replaced the book in its rightful spot on the shelf.
A louder crack of thunder exploded, echoing in the empty space between the tops of the bookshelves and the vaulted ceiling, bringing the thunder inside in a way that made Theodore jump as well.
A sob slipped out of Granger's mouth as she fumbled with the strap of her bag and lifted it to her shoulder, shoving past Theo as she fled from the library.
Maybe her despair the other day had had nothing to do with any trauma caused by the war. Perhaps Hermione Granger was simply, innocently, afraid of thunderstorms.
Everyone knew of Granger's love of books, and when Theo allowed himself to think about her, he realized that she, like he, must have found solace in the library—before this string of bad weather had started anyway.
At dinner, he considered what it would take to turn his own sanctuary into hell, and an image of his father floated to the surface, the man's face taunting and mean the way it always had been until his death at the Battle of Hogwarts. Theo had been told by the people who'd known his father best that he had been a good man, a kind man, at some point. Everything had changed after Wilhelmina Nott's untimely death in Theodore's infancy. He couldn't count how many times he'd heard his father wish his son had been taken from him instead of his wife.
Yes, bring his father back to life and install him in the library to follow Theo around with his taunts and jeers—that would certainly ruin the library for him. When he thought of it that way, he began to pity Granger.
Pitying her led to noticing her. Noticing her was a one-way ticket to observing.
With Potter and Weasley away making careers out of their war experiences, Granger sat alone amongst her remaining friends, accompanied by books and parchment even as Longbottom, the other Weasley, Thomas and Finnigan, and sometimes even Lovegood conversed around her. When he paid attention, he saw her head droop as she began to fall asleep over her revision. No one seemed to notice her inattention. Maybe no one cared.
In the corridors, she dragged herself from class to class, her back slumped as if her bag was too heavy a burden to carry, tripping over stairs and the edges of carpet alike because she couldn't lift her feet high enough to prevent an accident.
In class, she continued to participate by answering every question thrown out to the students, but her hand didn't rise as high and she responded with less enthusiasm than she used to even a couple weeks ago. Purple bags under her eyes and flyaway hair made her look ill rather than simply exhausted.
After a week of pitying and noticing and observing, Theodore had come to a conclusion:
No one else seemed to notice Granger's irregular behavior, her spiral into exhaustion and anguish, and the reason no one did anything to care for her was because they thought she was suffering the same as everyone else, traumatized by the war and her lost childhood. But she hadn't behaved this way before the bad weather began, so Theodore figured she was scared of the storms and hadn't slept properly because of them.
His theory seemed to prove itself in the middle of lunch when a loud crack of thunder and a flash of lightning from the enchanted ceiling filled the Great Hall, causing Granger to stand up mid-bite to leave.
"Look at Granger run!" Pansy said with a cackle. "She's acting like there's a manticore on her heels."
Draco's eyes followed Granger all the way out the door, and then he directed an interesting glare at Pansy. "Enough. Just… leave her alone, all right?"
Pansy's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong with you? You never miss an opportunity to piss on Potter and his friends."
Spreading his hands wide to encourage her to look around, he said, "Do you see Potter here? It's over. Cut it out."
Theodore watched in interest as Pansy closed her mouth, an offended expression on her face, while Draco continued his lunch in silence. Just another bit of strange behavior Theodore had noticed since the start of the new term. Pansy may have enjoyed the Prefect's bathroom to wash away her memories of the war, but when she was around other people, she acted as if nothing had changed. She strove for familiarity, continuing her practices of gossip and ridicule just as she'd done before the war.
Draco liked the Astronomy Tower because he liked to be alone. He isolated himself from his classmates, rejecting any form of attention, reforming his previous bullying ways.
Theodore and Draco had been playmates growing up, mostly due to the fact that their fathers were associates and they lived fairly close to each other, but before they'd started Hogwarts, the two had already drifted apart. At school, Draco had naturally gravitated towards groups, seeking to become the center of attention. Theodore had never felt at home in a crowd, so he'd found himself on the outskirts of Slytherin House, alone with only his books and a few acquaintances for company. He'd found Draco's need for adoration distasteful and stayed as far away from it as possible.
But Draco seemed to have grown sick of entertaining. Was that a result of him finally growing up? Or had the war changed him?
Later that night, after most of their Housemates had gone to bed, Theodore sat down next to Draco on the sofa in front of the fire. Draco didn't look away from the flames, where he'd been staring for the last half-hour, a book open but ignored in his lap. His shoulders tensed, though.
"I've been thinking about Granger," Theodore said, earning a bewildered look from his companion before his expression dissolved into distaste.
"I don't want to hear your disgusting fantasies about Granger."
"Not like that. She doesn't sleep well. How do you think we could help her?"
"We?" Draco's body turned to face Theo, his shock and confusion clear on his face.
"You told Pansy to leave her alone today. I thought perhaps you pitied her, too."
"Pity is nothing close to what I feel for her," Draco replied, a dark edge in his voice. He turned his attention back to the flames, but Theodore was not adept at picking up social cues, so he wasn't sure if Draco was dismissing him or merely listening.
"Is there somewhere in the castle you can't hear thunder? She's afraid of the storms."
Draco sighed in exasperation, throwing his arms in the air with the dramatic flair of the Draco Malfoy of old. "Why do you care so much about her? What is she to you?"
But Theodore didn't know, and he was confused. Draco had stopped Pansy from ridiculing Granger. Was going a step further and actively helping the Gryffindor just one step too far?
"You should know what she's going through," he said, not exactly reasoning with Draco, but trying to unlock the puzzle of him. "Don't you know what it feels like to be afraid in your own home? In the place where you should feel safest? Weren't you afraid when the Dark Lord kept quarters at Malfoy Manor?"
Draco's face paled—an astonishing feat considering his lily white complexion. "That's—that's not the same! I still don't understand why you want to do this for her!"
Theodore's whole body grew hot in a rare moment of anger. "That's because you're incapable of caring for anyone but yourself!"
Not exactly true. After the war, the reason why Draco had been branded with the Dark Mark and made several poor attempts to assassinate Albus Dumbledore had come to light. He might have failed in his endeavors, but his parents still lived because of his effort.
Outside of his parents? Draco held no regard for anyone, not even his so-called friends.
"Are you—do you mean—is this about—?" Draco stumbled over his words, sweat beading at his temples in memory of an event from their childhood. It always came down to this between them. Theodore was the kind of person who forgave easily, but for this matter he required some attempt at understanding, which Draco had never displayed before.
The year before they started at Hogwarts, Draco and Theodore had been inseparable. Comrades. Partners. Not really friends though. Not like the friends Theo had read about in books, but close to that feeling.
While shooting rocks at birds with a slingshot in the woods behind Malfoy Manor, Theodore had tripped and fallen in a stream. He'd taken off his robes to dry them out on a tree branch, revealing yellowing bruises across his back and shoulders, and in a moment of nervous tension, Theo had admitted to the abuse he'd suffered at his father's hand.
"Fathers don't do that," nine-year-old Draco had said with a sneer. "My father would never touch me like that!"
For years Theodore had wished Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy could be his parents, had dreamed that Theodore Nott Senior had stolen him from the neighbors next door and disguised him his entire life, hiding a lost Malfoy heir in plain sight. In the darkness of his bedroom, in the restless minutes before he fell asleep, his imaginings of receiving the kind of love that Draco had been privileged to experience his entire life had always brought Theo to tears.
"Mine does," Theodore had insisted, desperate to convince his playmate, still hoping Draco would take him home to Malfoy Manor and beg his parents to adopt him.
"You're lying! Fathers love their sons! If your father beats you… well, maybe you deserve it!"
Theo had startled so violently, for a moment he thought Draco had physically struck him. He might as well have the way Theodore's heart began to bruise.
He'd run all the way home, and after that, he and Draco had no longer played together. In the following year, Theodore had dissolved into himself, fear his common emotion, joy rare and fleeting, anger stuffed deep inside himself, too afraid of becoming like his father to express it.
By the time he went to Hogwarts, he'd become an isolated boy. No longer lonely as long as he had his books, but socially inept and distrusting.
Theodore did not acknowledge the memory and let Draco flounder with his shame (could Draco Malfoy feel shame, he wondered?) for several hot moments before he said, this time in a command:
"Help me save Granger from her fear."
Draco and Theodore crouched in the entrance of a secret passageway that connected opposite ends of the labyrinthian dungeons. Draco kept huffing in impatience, but Theo was calm.
He'd sent an unsigned letter to Granger at dinner using one of the school owls, beckoning her to an unused Potions classroom for a restful night of sleep. As she'd read his short letter, she'd jumped no less than three times with the crack of thunder that signaled the arrival of another storm. Her hands shook as she showed the letter to Ginny Weasley, her eyes scanning the hall for a sign of the anonymous sender.
Her gaze slipped right over Theodore, even though he wasn't careful about his observation. Theo had gone unnoticed by his own Housemates for seven years; there was no reason for a Gryffindor to expect anything of him now.
"You should have put a time in the letter for her to come," Draco said in an annoyed whisper.
"That wouldn't make any sense. The room is for her to use at her leisure."
"Well, I'm getting tired of waiting!"
"Then leave. I just want to make sure she finds it."
Draco grumbled some more about cold flagstones and his encroaching bedtime, but he stayed where he was, as curious as Theodore to see if Granger would show.
Ten minutes later, she did, though she didn't come alone.
Ginny Weasley's nose was pressed into a piece of parchment, her wand lifted and at the ready as Granger followed behind her, her exhausted eyes darting from shadow to shadow with wary attention.
"I think this is it," Weasley said, lifting her head and looking straight at Theodore and Draco, though there was no way she could have known they were there, hidden as they were by the secret passage. Her gaze lingered for only a moment before returning to the door of the old classroom, and beside Theo, Draco released a breath. "It's empty according to the map."
Wands aloft, the two women entered the room and closed the door behind them.
Theodore relaxed his body, glad that Granger had come and amused that she'd brought backup.
He and Draco had removed most of the dusty furniture and stored it in another empty classroom across the hall. After tidying the room up a bit, they'd transfigured some of the more stable tables and chairs into cushiony sofas and a low table perfect for studying. They'd lit a fire in the hearth and even brought down some sandwiches and pumpkin juice from the kitchens to make the room more inviting. Finally, fluffy pillows and thick blankets were piled up in a corner for Granger's use, if she decided to spend the night.
She would find another anonymous letter on the table explaining the purpose of the room and ensuring her safety and privacy. Whether she would believe the letter or not was up to her.
He and Draco waited a few minutes, but the women didn't come out, so they turned around to go back to the common room. They'd made it halfway down the secret passage when red sparks exploded against the stone above their heads, and Weasley called, "Wait just a minute, you!"
Draco and Theo whirled, instinctively drawing their wands, lifting them a little higher at the danger apparent in Weasley's eyes.
"I know you two are the ones who summoned Hermione down here," she said, her wand now pointed at Theo and Draco, swinging between their faces as if unsure who she should hex first.
Draco made a scoffing noise, but Theo said, "It wasn't a summons. She doesn't have to use the room if she doesn't feel safe there."
"Why did you do it, then?"
Theodore shrugged, and the moment stretched into a lengthy bit of silence as he deigned not to answer. Again, he didn't really know what had compelled him to act. Granger had left an impression, and unlike Draco in his youth, Theo wouldn't turn his back on someone asking for help. Even if Granger had never asked for his.
"Put your wand down, Weasley. This isn't some scheme to hurt her."
Her eyes narrowed as she directed her wand at Draco now. "Tell me why I shouldn't hex you on the spot."
"I noticed she's not sleeping well because of the storms. She's afraid of thunder, right? You can't hear it in the dungeons. I thought she'd appreciate some rest."
She considered Theo for a full minute before lowering her wand. "I didn't know she was afraid of thunder."
"Are you going to make her leave the room?"
Another thoughtful pause before she spoke. "No. But I'm going to keep an eye on both of you and the room and her. If you're lying to me, if either one of us comes to any harm or humiliation while we're there, you'll be sorry."
Both Draco and Theodore were familiar with her magical aptitude and had no doubt she wouldn't hesitate to make them unrecognizable with her spellwork.
After Weasley had left the secret passage, he and Draco continued on to the common room, Draco now grumbling about overly-suspicious Weasleys.
They didn't return to the corridor to observe whether Granger stayed the whole night—or any subsequent nights. Theodore had made his kind gesture. If Granger refused his gift, that was none of his concern.
Four nights later as he browsed the library for something new to read, he spotted Granger sitting at a table near the Divination section, an old piece of parchment spread out before her and her fingers tapping against the wood. Their eyes met, and she folded up the parchment and stuffed it in her pocket as she stood. He realized she hadn't merely been sitting there. She had been anticipating his arrival.
She lifted her nose in the air, and he couldn't help but notice that the bags under her eyes had smoothed out. She looked refreshed and well-rested, her skin bright, her gaze alert.
"I hear you are responsible for the study in the dungeons."
He shrugged. No need to confirm what they both knew as truth.
The silence stretched. This was the first time in seven years he and Granger had ever exchanged words. Unfamiliarity and uncertainty bloomed between them, making the silence thicker, stickier, awkward.
"Do you mind?" Theodore asked, gesturing at the bookshelf beside her.
"Oh. Sorry, no, go ahead." Her cheeks flushed, and she took a step backwards.
"You don't have to go," he said, stopping her. "I was just looking for something to read."
She studied the shelves for a moment, her bottom lip caught between her teeth, before pulling a book down and handing it to him. "Try this one."
Her eyes narrowed. "Why? Because it was written by a Muggle?"
He scanned the shelves, looking for the book's rightful spot, and then slid it back into place. "No, because I've already read that one."
A tentative smile stretched across her lips as she turned her full attention to the shelf again, searching for a suitable selection. It only took a moment for her to choose. She passed the book to him without a word.
She didn't say anything, and her smile, a bit challenging the way it was frozen on her face, didn't falter.
He tucked the book under his arm. "Poetry it is."
Again, the silence stretched between them, like stringy taffy that was too gooey to break. Again, she broke the silence first.
"I don't understand why you did it, but… thank you. These last four nights have been the best sleep I've had in two weeks."
"I noticed your fear of the storms, and I just wanted to help. I know what it's like to be afraid in your own home."
"You do?" There was something in her eyes that suggested she didn't quite believe him. Maybe she thought his words were empty, said only because it was the sort of thing people said to sympathize with others, to express solidarity and support. But she didn't demand an explanation from him; she didn't tell him he was lying. Instead, she moved on. "It was kind of you. And Malfoy, I suppose. Ginny said he had a part in it."
"It was his idea."
And after they'd set up the room for Granger's use, he and Draco had grasped each other's hands the way they'd done when they were children, signaling a secret brotherhood consisting of only two members. Draco had, to Theo's satisfaction, demonstrated he could swallow his pride and forget his own experiences in order to show compassion to someone else. A new step for the new Draco Malfoy, the one shattered and isolated by his memories of the war.
"It's not really the storms I'm afraid of," she said, after a moment of chewing on her bottom lip. "It's the thunder. It reminds me of spellfire. It reminds me of running for my life."
Well. That did make some sense.
"After the war, I kept seeing my father out of the corner of my eye. Standing in doorways, just over my shoulder, at the end of a corridor. He died in the battle, though, so it made me a bit paranoid for a while. Until I remembered he was just a memory, and he couldn't hurt me anymore."
The emotions that crossed her face only lasted for a second, but she was so expressive, he read her easily. Confusion, astonishment, and finally pity. This was the second time he had ever admitted his father used to hurt him, and even though he didn't go into detail, as he had with Draco when they were nine, his hands still grew clammy and trembled as he anticipated her reaction.
She put a hand on his arm, and suddenly that arm stilled, all the way down to his fingertips.
"They can't hurt us anymore," she said, repeating him, agreeing with him, reassuring him.
The silence stretched, but this time it was elastic. They could control how long it lasted. It didn't have to coat them with a sticky, uncomfortable residue.
She drew back, her touch lingering on his forearm, leaving a trail of tingles through the fabric of his robes.
"Let me know what you think about the book."
"Would you like that?" he asked, fully aware of how such a line might sound like an invitation. But Theodore wasn't trying to flirt. Not on purpose. He just wanted to know.
She considered him for a moment, and he couldn't fathom what she saw, but her grin grew wider, delighted and surprised by her delight.
"Yes," she said, "I think I would."
Prompt: He never realised that Granger was terrified of thunderstorms.
Suggested Character(s)/Pairings: Hermione Granger/Theo Nott, Hermione Granger/Neville Longbottom, or Hermione Granger/Blaise Zabini
Any optional extras: Maybe he stumbles upon her in the library late one night?