Hermione Granger ran her fingers lovingly over the old, dusty books filled with the knowledge she craved. Knowledge that would block out all of the problems in her life that she didn't want to deal with. She felt safe here in the library filled with history, things so much older and more important than herself. She could actually think here. It was quiet and safe and for a little while she was in a place where she could forget about the real world.
She had loved libraries for as long as she could remember. Muggle libraries had delighted her but wizard libraries enchanted her. Books that talked back to you, illustrations that moved, it was a bookworm's haven and she loved it and she loved devouring the knowledge that the books hid within. One of the reasons she was such a serious student was because she hadn't grown up in the wizard world, she'd been thrust into it and everything was fascinating and new, and her thirst for knowledge had turned into a raging hunger.
She stopped at a book shelf and closed her eyes, drinking in the scents of the old books; leather and the slight smell of mildew. Opening her eyes her fingers traveled to a book titled 'One Hundred and One Ways to Clean a House Without Magic'. Flipping through the book Hermione smiled at the illustrations showing a wizard cleaning dishes in a bathtub and dusting with a chicken. She closed the book and put it back on the shelf, yes, things were definitely quite different from the muggle world. She had wandered into a section of the library that, surprisingly, she hadn't visited before, though it looked as if she wasn't the only one. There was less lighting here and the shelves were covered with a layer of dust and cobwebs stretched over many on the books adding an air of mystery. Taking a closer look she saw that they weren't mysterious at all, the books were muggle related but obviously not part of the 'Muggle Studies' curriculum. She noticed a few works of fiction towards the end of one shelf and made a mental note to come back later and flip through them, it would be refreshing to read an ordinary muggle book for once.
It was Friday and she'd just finished her arithmancy essay and curfew wasn't for half an hour or so thus she had time to explore a bit more. She kept walking, marveling that the library was so large. She flipped through a book on chemistry and ran her fingers through her bushy hair. After all of these years she still hadn't been able to tame it, well, without spending an hour in front of the mirror applying gels and charms. She generally just left it to it's own devices. It was, however, considerably less frizzy than it had been her first year at Hogwarts. She sat the chemistry book back she would check it out on Monday. She had promised Ron and Harry that they were going to have a (mostly) work free weekend, they had all been really busy with loads of homework the last few weeks. Since she was going home for the Christmas holidays she really wanted to spend more time with her friends.
She turned the corner and stopped, listening. She had heard something. It was quiet for a moment and then she heard the sound again and sighed in exasperation. If there were students back there snogging then they would have quite a bit of explaining to do. This was her seventh year at Hogwarts and she was Head Girl after all. If someone was breaking the rules it was her duty to stop them. She slowly peeked around the corner, it was darker here but she could see the outline of someone sitting on the floor at the end of the aisle. She heard the noise again and now that she was closer it sounded like... well... like crying. She stood still, debating upon whether to interrupt, she knew that she would feel guilty if she just walked away without seeing if there was anything she could do to help. She took a few steps forward.
"Who's there?" a voice growled.
"Lumos," Hermione said softly, holding out her wand in front of her. She sucked in a breath, sitting in front of her was none other than Draco Malfoy. He threw up a hand to shield himself from the bright light but not before she saw that his eyes were red with unshed tears.
"Turn off the bloody light!" he growled and for some reason Hermione obeyed.
"Are... are you all right?" she asked hesitantly taking another step forward. She had a queasy feeling in her stomach. It wasn't every day one came across a situation like this. Her better judgement told her to turn tail and run. Something inside of her wouldn't let her.
"I'm fine mudblood," he said viscously and she took a step back. It was already December and she realized he hadn't called her a mudblood since last school year. It struck her as odd that this was just occurring to her. Come to think of it he hadn't even really bothered her at all since last school year. That was strange.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb-,"
"Well you did," he said cutting her off.
"I didn't know it was you back here, I'm sorry," she said nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot. She almost wanted to start wringing her hands. She wasn't sure she had ever felt more awkward.
"Sorry?!" he shrieked, his voice an octave higher than normal. "I don't need your pity Granger, leave now, go tell all of your little Gryffindors how you saw me here, you can all get a good laugh out of it."
Hermione was not so easily dismissed, under any other circumstances she would have left straight away but for some reason she couldn't go, maybe it was compassion, or curiosity... but it wasn't everyday you saw Draco Malfoy sitting in a corner, crying, in the muggle section of the library of all things. She didn't know what possessed her, maybe her Gryffindor courage, but she sat down on the floor next to him. She was surprised at her courage and also by how uncomfortable the floor was. It was hard and freezing and she wondered why, if he was going to pick a place to cry he didn't at least pick a more comfortable one. She swallowed her uneasiness.
"I know it's none of my business but if you'd like to talk-,"
He cut her off again. "Talk to you? Have you gone mad?" he asked in disbelief.
"I'm sorry if the concept of kindness is something that you can't understand," she said getting a bit peeved, was it really so unbelievable that she cared? She thought about it for a second, okay maybe it was... but she wasn't going to back down. "Seeing the rest of the Slytherins I can definitely see why, they don't look like a very sympathetic lot." She didn't think she was going to get anywhere with him but she was going to try.
"You don't know anything about them," he said snidely crossing his arms over his chest.
"Oh really? I can just imagine you bearing your soul to Crabbe and Goyle. 'Uh, that's nice Draco, can we go to dinner now?'" she said in a voice that implied the speaker had an IQ of about 40.
To her surprise Draco laughed, well it sounded like a laugh, she wasn't quite sure. She allowed herself a small inner pat on the back for that small success. Here she'd thought he was hopeless, he did have a normal sense of humor, occasionally.
"And you're better are you? Miss know-it-all-has-to-be-perfect-not-to-mention-nosy Granger? You don't know anything except what you read in your precious books," he sneered.
She glared at him but she doubted he could see her in the dark. "I came here to help, not be insulted by some inbred prat." She inwardly sighed. Here came the insults. She hadn't meant to perpetuate it but he'd started it. She was just trying to help after all.
"I didn't ask for your help now did I, Mudblood?" She noticed that his arms were folded as if he owned the place and she was the intruder. She supposed she was the intruder and part of her felt bad about interrupting but the other part was much too curious. She wanted to know what could reduce Draco Malfoy to tears.
"No, but I thought I'd offer, I may hate you but that doesn't mean I want you miserable, well not too miserable anyway." She wasn't sure that was true. After all the misery he had caused her he deserved a good serving of it.
"Why are you being... well I wouldn't call it nice... civil, to me anyway?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well, it's the Christmas season, you know, peace on earth and good will towards man." She shrugged not even knowing if he could see her. She really didn't know but curiosity was a good excuse. "Not to mention you haven't tormented me this year, I figure I owe you." It wasn't true, she didn't owe him anything but she was willing to say it in an attempt to smooth things over. Again, she had no clue why.
"Just because I haven't shouted 'Granger's a Mudblood' from the top of the astronomy tower doesn't mean anything has changed. I still despise you and your stupid little friends."
"But just think how boring your years here at Hogwarts would be without us to torment," she said with a smile.
"I'd be bored out of my mind, that's for sure."
They were silent for a moment, Hermione wondering why she was still sitting there next to him and Draco wondering the exact same thing. Hermione didn't quite know how to handle the whole situation. There was no question that she despised Malfoy and everything he stood for but a part of her, a very small part, felt sorry for him. Not to mention he was showing emotion, at least that proved that he was human, something she'd doubted over the years. As of late she had begun to look at his teasing of her with amusement more than the usual hurt that had accompanied his insults through the years.
"So, do you come here often?" she asked lamely, trying to break the silence.
"I don't see how that's any of your business... and if I do it's probably so that no one will bother me."
Her eyes had adjusted enough to the dark to see that he had turned towards her, she assumed he was glaring.
"Well, if you hadn't made so much noise I wouldn't have bothered you," she shot back.
"I wasn't 'making noise' I just wanted to get away..."
"Away from what?" she asked gently.
"Everything... people looking at me, wondering if I'm just like my father, expecting me to be... I'm not like him," he said defensively.
"I never said you were."
"Don't pretend that you've never looked at my arm expecting to see the dark mark."
Hermione blushed, glad that he couldn't see her in the darkness, she actually had tried to look a few times.
"Tell Potter he can rest easy, I don't plan on killing him anytime soon."
"It was a joke."
Silence hung in the air like fog. So... Draco didn't want to be like his father, that was news to her. This little glance into Draco's mind puzzled her, it was odd but she had never figured that he had any feelings, she had always thought of him as a shell, a husk that was filled with hate, anger and prejudice without room for anything else, maybe she'd been wrong. She didn't doubt that he was hateful and prejudice but this conversation was beginning to give her a little insight as to why he was the way he was. She wondered if he behaved the way he did to please his father, to make him proud? She shuddered at the thought of what would make a man like Lucius Malfoy proud.
"Feel free to leave at anytime, I can just imagine what the Slytherins would think if they saw me here with you of all people."
"What would they think?" she asked curiously.
"Well, that I fancied you or something," he said uncomfortably.
Hermione put a hand over her mouth to stifle her hysterical giggles, she could, never in a million years, imagine herself with anyone remotely like Malfoy in any way. It took her a minute or two to finally compose herself.
"I don't see why that was so funny, you'd be lucky to find someone half as well-bred as I," he said arrogantly.
"Well-bred, yes, but I want someone who's kind and compassionate, who's funny... basically everything you're not."
"In other words someone like Potter or Weasley, speaking of them, which one do you fancy? There's a bet going 'round school about which one you'll end up with. I put my money on Weasley, it's obvious he fancies you."
"He does not," she protested, she didn't like the idea of the whole school making bets on her love life. "And as to the whole bet thing the answer is neither one, they're like my brothers and besides I would never risk losing my friendship with either one of them for a silly little romance. What about you? I suppose you'll end up marrying Pansy after graduation."
"I guess so, I've never really thought about it really, she's a pure-blood and she's rich, that's all that matters."
Hermione sighed in exasperation, "Is that all you care about? Don't you want someone you can sit and talk with, who you can enjoy spending the rest of your life with, someone you love?"
"That doesn't matter, I don't love Pansy and she doesn't love me but we're good with each other."
Hermione felt something well up in her throat and she was surprised to discover that it was sympathy. She wondered what he would be like in fifteen years, in a loveless marriage, just like his parents'? She wondered if in the end he would turn out exactly like his father, whether he wanted to or not.
"So you don't plan to become a Death-Eater?" she said switching back to the earlier topic.
"It's not like I'd tell you if I were but, in my opinion, it's better to remain neutral, then you don't have to worry about being on the losing side."
"I guess that's an intelligent way of looking at it but sometimes you have to do what's right instead of what's smart." She stifled a yawn and wondered how long she'd been sitting there talking to him.
She listened for the sounds of students talking quietly but it was silent. "Oh, no, it's past curfew. We have to go."
Draco realizing how late it was, stood up after her and they walked quietly through the library just in case Madame Pince was lurking somewhere near by. He watched as they reached the double doors leading out into the hall but when she turned the door knob it didn't budge.