This is the story of two star-crossed lovers…It all started like this….
"….ONCE UPON A THYME….
Chapter 1: One More Week
"Tomorrow's the last paper!" said Ron in relief.
"What did you put for question 9?" asked Hermione worriedly as she followed Ron and Harry out of the Transfiguration classroom.
"Hermione, I thought we told you that we don't like to discuss examination questions after the paper." Harry said, cleaning his glasses on his robes.
Hermione frowned. "Yes but- I just wanted to know whether it was necessary to specify the wand action as well as the incantation for the Veraverto to get full marks. Of course, I did specify both and the whole history of the spell as well…"
Ron and Harry rolled their eyes.
"Who bloody cares?" said Ron gloomily. "I forgot what Veraverto meant in the first place. I left it blank."
Hermione was scandalized. "You didn't!"
"I did," said Ron, and grinned at her.
"B-But…it was worth ten marks! You could have put something, anything…"
"Hermione, forget it" Harry said replacing his glasses on his nose. The trio walked out of the castle into the grounds of Hogwarts. A crisp spring breeze was blowing. Harry suddenly flung his satchel to the ground and gave a huge leap into the air.
"WOOOH!" he shouted.
Several students turned round to stare at him. Seamus grinned at him and waved.
Harry waved back.
Ron flung his satchel down too and joined Harry in his war-dance of happiness.
For Harry, the last two weeks had been a living nightmare- one difficult NEWT paper after the other…he couldn't believe it was nearly over! He realized he had forgotten nearly everything he had studied for his first NEWT paper- The History of Magic. His mind was a total blank where History of Magic was concerned. It felt GREAT! Harry whooped in joy.
Hermione clutched her bag tightly to her side but even she couldn't help smiling. The fresh spring breeze and budding flowers were having an effect even on her. She watched happily as her two best friends leapt around each other singing tunelessly at the tops of their voices, "NO MORE EXAMS! NO MORE EXAMS!"
"All right you guys," Hermione said.
"Come on, Hermione!" yelled Harry as he grabbed her hands and pulled her into their ridiculous war-dance.
"Hey….HEY!" gasped Hermione, feeling silly and out of breath as she was flung around.
Out of the corner of her eye, she felt someone watching them.
She felt something heavy land inside her chest.
Even after seven years, he never failed to make her feel uncomfortable and angry. His hatred for mudbloods was only slightly diminished, if at all, after the Mudblood Revolt last summer had put his father and his other death-eater cronies into Azkaban. Following the Revolt, the Ministry had issued the Equality of Magical Persons Decree which legislated non-discrimination against half-bloods and mud-bloods- but the Decree only had the effect of affecting the surface attitudes of many Pureblood supporters, like the Malfoys. She was convinced that beneath the surface, people like Draco Malfoy hadn't changed at all.
She wrenched her gaze away from his and put him out of her mind. Why had he been watching her the whole of final term, the creep? Weren't the attentions of Blaise Zabini enough to occupy his perverted intentions? She had been after him like a dog in heat for years and had recently made it known to the whole school that they were getting married after graduation. Hermione thought with relief that after next week, she would never have to voluntarily be within ten miles of Malfoy again. Why let him ruin her last week of school?
Draco caught Hermione's eye as her friends whirled her around in a ridiculous dance. He noticed that she hadn't joined in straight away- it was started by that childish Potter and Weasley. They had dragged her in half way. What was wrong with them? At eighteen- they should be behaving like men, not four year-olds.
Malfoy felt his coming of age like a leaden cloak around his shoulders. The day his father had been sentenced to life-imprisonment in Azkaban, he had handed Draco the family seal- a beautiful gold and emerald signet ring- and entrusted him with the running of Malfoy Manor and fortune.
Draco had been only seventeen then and already he had to function as head of a large household- he had to balance accounts that he had never seen before, run investments that he had never heard of, meet people he did not know. And all the while, see to it that his mother received proper care since her mind began failing once her husband entered Azkaban.
Mother. Draco thought. She had been under his father's imperius for so many years that her mind had forgotten how to function on its own. The healers from St Mungos had wanted to keep her there permanently, but Draco would have none of that. She was a Malfoy. She would remain at the Manor with he best nursing the Malfoy money could buy. Father would have wanted it that way.
Father. Draco thought. Now in Azkaban, his dreams of power crushed after Wonder-Boy-Potter had destroyed Voldemort after the Mudblood Revolt. Lucius, you were a fool Draco thought bitterly. It was clear from the start that Voldemort would never have shared power with you anyway. That was his father's mistake. He had served another. The Malfoys never served others- it was against the family honour. But Lucius had been seduced by promises of power and glory and now, it had come to… this. It was up to Draco to rebuild the tattered Malfoy name and honour. Those years of damage done by Lucius had to be erased.
And Draco knew that one of the most effective ways of rebuilding family honour was to align oneself with other powerful pureblood families. It had not been hard to arrange a marriage with the Zabini daughter. He knew Blaise had had a crush on him for years. Fortunately, she was not ugly either- not like pug-faced Pansy or bull-bodied Millicent. He had felt no love when he asked her to marry him. The only emotion coursing through him at the time was desperation to rebuild the Malfoy name. So the wedding was scheduled for December in the year of their graduation from Hogwarts.
Seven months away.
He watched as Granger and her friends picked up their bags from the grass and straightened their cloaks. They were laughing and talking but were too far away for him to hear what they were saying. Draco envied them their carefree happiness but he turned his envy into hatred. It was too painful to admit for what it really was. After next week, he would likely never see them again- Scarhead, Weasel and….Granger. The mudblood. One of the mudbloods responsible for ruining his family and thrusting adulthood upon him at such a young age. What was it about her that had repulsed and fascinated him for years? Anyway, why let them ruin his last week of school?
He turned and walked off.
"Ferret Boy was watching us again," said Ron casually as they walked back to Gryffindor tower. Harry nodded.
"Wrong" Hermione said quietly.
"You saw him, he was right under that tree. Creepy really, how he seems to follow us around without picking a fight or insulting us or anything. Just stands there all googly eyed." Said Ron.
"What do you mean, 'wrong' Hermione? Haven't you noticed? Hanging around us in the library, watching us at the lake…this final term's been really odd. It's like Malfoy's become all weird on us after his father got sent to Azkaban- he used to insult us and be so nasty...but now all he does is mooch around and er…mooch." Harry said thoughtfully.
Hermione shook her head. "You're wrong. He's not been watching us…he's been watching me."
Ron's eyes opened in surprise. "Say what?"
Hermione gave an impatient sigh. "You only notice him when we're together, all three of us. Have you ever noticed him when you're alone with Harry or all alone for that matter? No?" she watched as both boys shook their heads. "Well, I've noticed him watching me even when I'm not with you. I could be alone or with Ginny or Lavender or anybody and there Malfoy is, watching." She gave a shudder.
The trio climbed through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room.
"Hard luck, Hermione" said Ron, shaking his head in sympathy.
"Yeah, I wonder what's up with Malfoy?" said Harry.
"If he tries anything funny with our Hermione" said Ron fiercely, slamming his fist into his palm. "I bet he's just waiting for a chance to attack her…I always knew that he became all weird after the Mudblood Revolt and his father and everything."
"Don't be ridiculous, Ron" said Hermione calmly. "Malfoy's not so stupid as to attack me. He can't risk attacking a mudblood after the decree...they're really clamping down on that sort of thing at the Ministry now."
"Well all I'm saying is…"
"Is it bothering you Hermione?" asked Harry in concern. "I could talk to him or something. Get him to stop."
"No…besides, we don't have any real proof." Said Hermione reasonably. "There's just one more week of school…let's not spoil it."
"I agree" said Harry.
"I guess so," said Ron. Ron still harboured a deep dislike of all the Malfoys- Lucius Malfoy had always tried to make life difficult for Ron's father at work.
"And besides," said Hermione as she lugged her heavy bookbag up the stairs, "his father is in Azkaban and his mother is sick. We shouldn't give Malfoy a hard time as long as he doesn't actually get in our way."
Harry and Ron's eyes opened in amazement as Hermione disappeared up the stairs to the girls' dormitories.
"Did she just say what I think she said about Malfoy?" said Ron in disgust.
"I think she's been studying too hard for the NEWTS" said Harry as he and Ron settled down on the sofa with their Potions textbooks. Other final year Gryffindors were sprawled around the room cramming for the Potions NEWT. The younger Gryffindors had considerately left the common room to their seniors to study and most were in the Great Hall or dormitories.
The final examination tomorrow was Potions. Harry was dreading the paper- Professor Snape had informed his class last week that he was sure they would all fail abysmally judging by their performance in his class throughout the years. Of course, he hadn't included his dear Slytherins in that little speech- it had been a Hufflepuff/Gryffindor double potions lesson. Harry considered what he would do if he failed Potions. His dream of becoming an Auror would be destroyed…he supposed he could always become a teller at Gringgott's bank…or a clerk at the Ministry of Magic. He shuddered.
Gloomily, Harry opened his textbook to a random page- he had read it through three times already and hardly cared what he studied now. His eyes fell on a spell they had covered early in their seventh year and he began to mutter it to himself. "How to brew a Thyme Eliminus potion…."