DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
She was asleep on the sofa in front of the fireplace, dried twin tear-tracks on her face, when he got back to the Headrooms. He had left her staring into space on the sofa when he brought her back from the library. The now-cold mug of tea, which Draco had given to her an hour and a half ago, remained untouched on the coffee table.
With his Head Boy duties pressing on his time, Draco had little choice but to leave the girl to her own devices after what happened at the library. He had to meet the fifth year group he was tutoring in Charms, and he had less than five minutes to make his way all the way to the other side of the castle to do so. He would have returned to the Head room much earlier, if Sheol Blakeford hadn't sought his advice about whether he ought to just forget about his dismal attempt to better his OWL Charms grade and just concentrate on his other subjects instead. Truth be told, Draco had welcomed Sheol's counselling session – it was infinitely easier to advise the younger Slytherin, who obviously venerated his senior, than to face the stoic Gryffindor waiting for him in the Head room.
Well, fortunate for him then, that Granger appeared to have tired herself out and was in a deep sleep. Little wonder there, though – Granger hadn't fully recovered from her stay at the Infirmary, and her first day in school after the potion accident had sent her on an emotional tailspin that could have easily knocked out even the healthy. She slept in an awkward angle on the sofa and would surely suffer a sore neck if she remained in that cramped position. Running a hand through his hair, Draco decided that it would be better to put Granger to bed before settling down to do his revision and homework.
Cursing softly as he hefted the girl off the sofa, he quipped, "You're not exactly featherweight, are you?"
Hermione merely mumbled and burrowed into Draco's arms. He really ought to have mobilicorpus her, he thought with regret, shifting her weight for greater comfort, but he feared that if she awoke while being transported through the air, she might panic and hurt herself further.
He manoeuvred his burden into her darkened room and with a bit of a struggle, managed to put her on her bed, remove her shoes and tuck her in. Hands on his hips, Draco surveyed his handiwork with a grimace.
He felt helpless, not knowing how to make things right. A depressed Granger was beyond the scope of his understanding. Wasn't Granger supposed to be this strong pillar of strength in Perfect Potter's Adventures? Wasn't she supposed to be this superhuman-larger-than-life sidekick whose logic faculty was on par with his Potion Master in her first year at Hogwarts? He had, of course, like the rest of the Wizarding World, read all about the Gryffindors' skirmishes with Voldemort, in the 'Boy-Who-Lived' special feature spread that had appeared in the Daily Prophet last year, which chronicled how the Dark Lord was repeatedly foiled by Potter and his sidekicks, in an attempt to allay the public's fear about the extent of the Dark Lord's powers. But the Hermione Granger described in those columns was a far cry from the defeated looking girl, curled up in a foetal position underneath the quilt.
Sighing, he walked to the doorway and turned back to look at the sleeping girl. As for making things right… well, this was the best he could do for the moment.
"Translate the following runes found on the Rauk Stone. State how its interpretation of Theodoric the Great's rule differs from Rowena Ravenclaw's History of Ostrogothia. In your essay, refer to how the magical political climate of its time influenced modern Götaland, and subsequently, the European Magical community," Draco read from the assignment Vector gave with a sigh. "Like it matters," he shook his head, raking a hand through his once impeccably-gelled hair.
The loud rap at the front door gave Draco a reprieve from his focused revision at his desk.
Glancing up at the mantel clock, he vaguely noted that it was just after dinner hours at the Great Hall. He stretched, removed the gunmetal reading glasses from the bridge of his nose and tossed it onto his opened textbook. Rubbing his eyes to clear his mind of runic alphabets and marked passages from Ravenclaw's History of Ostrogothia, he looked towards the front door at the other side of the room. The rapping resounded again.
He got up, hesitated, crossed over to the Head Girl's bedroom and peeked in. 'Good,' he thought, 'she's still asleep.' He left the door slightly ajar and quietly made his way over to the front door. The rapping began again, louder and more urgent. 'A total lack of patience,' he frowned. 'Must be a Gryffindor.'
He was proved correct when Potter was revealed in the doorway.
"Granger's asleep," Draco drawled, before the other boy said a single word. "But with the racket you made at the door, it won't be long before she wakes up," he sneered.
"Hermione's sleeping?" Potter's eyes flashed suspiciously behind his glasses.
'Oh, this is almost too easy,' Draco thought snidely. Rolling his eyes exaggeratedly, he said, "I did say 'Granger's asleep', didn't I?" He dragged his words out slow and loudly, as if talking to one hard of hearing, and then he suddenly feigned mock horror, "Wait! Don't tell me – you've gone deaf!"
Seeing the other wizard clenching his fist, knuckle white, Draco leaned nonchalantly against the doorpost, folded his arms and gave his school rival a lazy smile. "And if Weasel's suddenly gone mute, won't that make you three like the 'see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil' monkeys?" he smirked.
That was the final insult. Harry swung his fist at the Head Boy, who, with his own Seeker reflex, easily sidestepped the blow.
"Hey," Draco pacified, as he raised his hands before his flushed-faced adversary. "You Gryffindors take things all too seriously."
"And why shouldn't I?" Potter bit out. "My best friend is blinded because a stupid Slytherin couldn't save his own arse even if it were handed to him on a platter. Tell me why I shouldn't just beat you into a pulp!"
The insult riled him, just as Potter knew it would. Draco's mouth hardened into a line, his fist clenched, as he itched to retaliate and put Perfect Potter into his place. However, just as he was prepared to engage Potter in what would be a satisfying settling of scores, he suddenly remembered the look on Dumbledore's face the first time he introduced Draco to the school as this year's Head Boy.
No, he had a lot more at stake here than to ruin it with a physical (albeit gratifying) altercation.
A tentative, soft-spoken voice broke through the boys' verbal combat, causing the two of them to turn their head towards the Head Girl's room.
Almost at the same stride, the boys reached Hermione's room and with a quick 'lumous', the dark room lit up to reveal a pale-faced, bushy-haired girl, clutching the thick quilt to her chest.
"Hermione, are you all right?" Harry asked, as he grasped her hands.
"Harry? Where am I?" Hermione choked out, confusion on her face.
Harry's eyes narrowed at Draco, silently accusing him of having done something to cause the usually confident Hermione to lose her footing.
"I… I fell asleep on the sofa, but where—?"
"You're safe, 'Mione. You're in your own bed in your room." Harry gathered the disquieted witch into his arms. "I'm here," he added, hoping to transfer his moral support to his best friend with words and touch.
"Just as well you're awake, Granger," Draco drawled from the door. "I'll get the House Elves to get your dinner and your boyfriend here can keep you company for a while."
'Stupid,' he scolded himself. 'Should have woken her up and then brought her to her room!' He shook his head at the turn of events. He didn't like the way Granger looked when he entered her bedroom. She looked lost and alone and just plain scared. Potter's presence, however, bolstered her soon enough, and when he'd left them with her dinner, she was already reassuring Scarhead that she was merely disorientated and that everything was fine.
Still, Draco mentally made a note for the future. "Just another one of those little things to be aware of in taking care of that tedious Gryffindor," he grumbled to himself, striding through the corridors, as he navigated the myriad of turns and shifting staircases by pure instinct.
He had had a quick dinner followed by revision after he had put Granger to bed. Now that Potter was around, he was all too happy to leave his charge with the Boy-Who-Had-Too-Much-Time-And-Too-Little-To-Do.
Funny that Weasley didn't tag along.
Maybe not so funny.
He paused in his stride, a smirk suddenly forming on his lips. Perhaps the rumour that Potter and Granger were an item might just be true after all.
'I wonder how that'll play out in the school's betting pool,' he mused, descending on the stairs with his usual grace.
His mind worked quickly, plotting, scheming, and planning how that little tidbit might be used to his advantage. Perhaps he could engage Potter to bear the brunt of looking after the girl.
However, even as he thought that thought, he realised how limited Potter's presence would be. Potter might be available to babysit Granger a few hours a day in the evenings, but the rest of the time – mornings, school hours, nights – he was still Granger's eyes. And hands. And feet.
Moreover, even as he thought about it, he knew the Wizard's Debt link would compel him somehow to make the first sacrifice in order to repay the debt: How else was he to explain that sense of urgency he felt in running to Granger's aid when she awoke in the middle of his little tête-à-tête with Potter? Or that sense of disappointment he shared with her in library?
It was certainly fortunate that she slept the later part of that afternoon away; otherwise, he would be kept alert to her welfare, distracting him from his tutoring session and revision.
He soon found himself standing outdoors, striding towards the Quidditch Pitch, a secure area for flying. While Potter was occupied with comforting Granger, he had better put in whatever free time he had honing his Seeker skills.
He might be tied by the Wizard's Debt to babysit Granger, but it was no excuse for not winning at Quidditch.
Another red slash crossed the parchment, and the raven-haired professor looked up at the student who had interrupted his work this evening.
"Draco," he nodded, as he banished the graded third year paper into its pigeonhole, to join the rest of its marked counterparts.
The professor's movement were precise as he put away his quill and inkpot into his desk drawers. Once he was satisfied that his desk was neat, the fastidious professor linked his potion-stained fingers together, sat back on his leather-backed chair and turned the full force of his attention to his Slytherin charge.
What he saw was much to his satisfaction. He remembered clearly the start of the boy's sixth year at Hogwarts, walking around the school as if the weight of the world rested upon his shoulders; eyes glassy, unfocussed. Oh, he was still impeccably turned out in his expensively tailored uniform, his gelled hair perfectly in place, and his deportment easily reflecting his aristocratic background. Nonetheless, Draco was the quintessential 'forgotten boy'. In perhaps any other year, Draco might have become a somebody, but it was his misfortune to be in the same year as Celebrity Potter. Just like James Potter, Harry Potter was born under a lucky star that had given him the favour from all whom he met. Everyone thought the world of 'Hero Harry', and in his glorious light, whose meagre light was his equal? No one.
It was a waste, really, for he could see Draco's potential from the first day the boy entered Hogwarts.
There was no doubt that Draco's privileged Pureblood background and his somewhat snobbish manner rankled some of his peers, but with good guidance and maturity, Draco would have turned out to be a sterling Slytherin, his Malfoy heritage notwithstanding.
It was purely his misfortune then, to be cast as the nemesis of that golden boy, even before they began their association here at Hogwarts; if what Draco told him about how he met Potter at Madam Malkin's was true.
Draco never had a chance. As his Head of House, Severus would have had the greatest pleasure in mentoring such raw potential in a student, but his own Wizard's Debt to Lily Potter, and his work for the Order meant that little time could be spared to oversee Draco's development.
Just another example of how bloody unfair it was that that Gryffindor always had things going for him.
And just like a 'forgotten boy', the staff and pupils at Hogwarts were happy to draw a caricature of the spoilt, attention-seeking, poor-little-rich-boy, and leave him as he was. Surely, if Draco was moody, it meant that he was foiled again by Potter in another of their altercation; surely if Draco was not actively participating in class, he was merely hatching another evil plot to get back at Potter for showing him up; surely his avoidance of everyone – even his housemates – was a sign of anger at his father's incarceration at Azkaban!
Fortunately, it was Headmaster Nigellus who brought Draco's depression to his attention. Nigellus had spent the previous summer in Grimmauld Place, ironically inherited by Draco through the laws of entailment upon Black's death. Black—well now, Black was another one of those infuriating idiotic Gryffindors who always had… well, even with his death, Black still haunted him from the grave – just like James. Draco bloody deserved Grimmauld Place! Sirius Black was content to allow that magnificent tribute to the Old Wizarding family rot to ignobility.
His train of thought fast going off on a tangent, he quickly reigned it on course, focussing his piercing onyx eyes on cool grey ones.
Draco knew better than to beat around the bush. He had interrupted his Head of House's private hours, and it was not Slytherin to waste time on inane exchanges of useless polite pleasantries, when Snape knew his visit was one of purpose.
"It's Granger, sir."
An elegant black brow lifted in response.
"She's hardly eating. She cries late into the night. She doesn't do anything in any of the classes we attend. She just sits there and stares into space."
The professor tilted his head, in askance.
"The point is… the point is… I don't know what to do Professor."
Snape considered the immaculately dressed Head Boy in the light of his declaration. Outwardly, the boy appeared as languidly nonchalant as he'd always been. However, on closer inspection, the signs of fatigue appeared in his faint eye bags and troubled grey eyes. Tension around his lips and alertness in his posture also belied his stress.
The silence dragged on as Draco waited for the older man to respond.
"How… long," Snape dragged out in his characteristically soft voice, "has this been going on?"
"For the past five days, sir."
Snape tucked his clasped hands under his chin in thought. "And… has… Miss Granger always displayed this depression?"
"No sir. As a matter of fact, she's usually animated whenever Potter and Weasley visit in the evening. The minute they leave, though—" Draco glanced down to his hands and then looked up into his professor's eyes "—the minute they leave, she goes into an almost catatonic state. I just left her with them to see you this evening."
And as if an emotional dam was released, Draco leaned forward and continued in an almost desperate pleading confession. "I can't get any work done. I don't know what to do." Running his hand through his hair in frustration, he added, "She's not interested in attending class; she says she doesn't see the point. Then she laughs! She laughs and tells me that that was precisely it—she couldn't see the point!"
In a quieter tone, Draco added, "I tried, Professor, I really tried. I offered to help her with her homework, but she refuses to have anything to do with it. She said she'd always studied alone and without her notes and coloured-coded cross index, she can't make sense of what we've gone through the past five days. In class, she'll do the bare minimum of picking up her wand or just sit quietly facing the board. She won't do more and she says she can't do more!
"But she's lying, Professor!" Draco sat up, anger colouring his voice. "I know for a fact that she's at least three chapters ahead of the class!" But as if reaching the end of the storm, he whispered on a sigh, "The fact is, Professor, she's given up. She's given up and I don't know what to do."
Silently, Professor Snape observed the boy once more. Leaning back on his chair, he looked to the ceiling, as if to divine what it has to say to the boy who looked earnestly on his mentor to solve the conundrum for him.
Finally, after what seemed an age, Snape looked back at Draco. "The Wizard's Debt," he intoned, "ensures that the debtor is compelled to work towards the well-being of the benefactor. What you're going through now, the feelings of guilt and frustration—" He paused, remembering his own experience with the Debt. "—these feelings are partly bound in your benefactor's feelings, helping you identify situations wherein your benefactor needs your help."
Draco digested the implication of what Snape said. "But how am I to help her when she doesn't want that help, Professor?"
"I'm afraid, Draco, that is part of the burden you would have to carry."
"But I've never had to take care of another person before, Professor!" Draco snapped.
"Do you really think that I would have recommended you for the position of Head Boy if that were true, Draco?" The professor asked, his voice nary above a whisper.
The calm manner in which the elder Slytherin reacted to Draco's burst of frustration quietened him.
"The truth is, Draco, you've been taking care of the Slytherins since you began here at Hogwarts. Taking care merely means taking responsibility. While our… Slytherin… method of care is not as obvious as what is deemed care—" he emphasised in a manner which showed his distaste for the word "—by our brethren Houses, the fact remains, Draco, that we do look out for the welfare of our own."
Draco frowned and chewed his lips, considering what Snape had said.
"Our brand of… care… might be harder for non-Slytherins to accept or understand. It might even be misconstrued as unkind or mean, but exitus acta probat," he shrugged.
"The end justifies the means."
"Exactly," the professor nodded. "If your current… approach… is not getting results, use a stronger approach. You're a Slytherin, boy!" He pursed his lips, his midnight eyes glittering in amusement, "You're not limited to the softer methods of persuasion."
Draco merely raised a right brow.
"And she's as Gryffindor as they come. Rage, Draco," the professor confided, "is an excellent motivator."
Leaving a moment for the boy to digest his revelation, he added, "Practically, of course, there ought to be some means of helping her cope with her blindness. Unfortunately, there are few in our world who will be able to help you in this area. Blindness is easily treated with magical eyes and other magical remedies. The muggles, on the other hand…" Snape rested his lips on his clasped hands, trailing off.
"I understand, Professor."
"I'm glad you do, Draco. Now, if that is all?"
Recognising his dismissal, Draco thanked his Head of House and left the dungeon office.
He had much to do.
A/N: (14 Jan 11) When I wrote this chapter in July 2005, my laptop had issues with starting up. I had uploaded it into a storage drive, but suffice it to say, it was long lost and forgotten. With the recent relook at my stories, I'm uploading this chapter, and hoping to continue writing to complete this story.
"Exitus acta probat." Latin, "The end justifies the means." I would think that this is one of the unofficial Slytherin mottos familiar to the House.
To clarify, between Harry visiting the Head room and Draco's visiting Snape is an interval of 5 days; I just prefer to move the story along at this point.