Chapter 13: Here to Lend a Helping Hand

Once in Hogsmeade, Hermione hurried to the back of the village where she knew a Muggle payphone wouldbe, ready to use. She was going to call Annabel and tell her what had happened. She wanted to hear her cousin's reaction to the kiss, especially since it was a dare from the summer. She found the payphone in no time and took out a few coins and dialled the number of Annabel's school. At this hour, Annabel would be in her room studying even though it was a Saturday afternoon. She never usually went out until six thirty on weekends.

"Good afternoon, Taylor Harper from Victoria Collage boarding facilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, my name is Hermione Granger. I was wondering if you could connect me to Annabel Smith? I'm her cousin."

"Annabel Smith?" A sound of someone tapping on the computer. "Hang on; you'll be connected to her line soon."

"Thank you," Hermione said, and she leaned against the glass wall that surrounded the payphone waiting, slightly enjoying the classical music that was playing in the background. It reminded her of when she used to do ballet, and for a moment wondered if she should take it up again when she left school. Her experience should help with her dancing at the ball though. It had waltz sections in it.

Finally she heard Annabel's voice on the other end. "Hello?"

"Hi Annabel! It's me, Hermione!"

"Hermione? Well, this is a surprise, are you at home?"

"No, I'm at school. At the nearby village in fact."

"There's a village near your school? What's it called and whereabouts in England is it?"

"I don't have time to tell you the name and the exact co-ordinates of the place. I don't have much money on me either so it has to be quick –"

"Liar, you always have heaps of money on you."

Hermione rolled her eyes. Of course she had a lot of money on her, both Muggle and wizard currency. "Look I didn't call you to tell you whereabouts this village is –"

"Yet you called me because you are desperate for advice and didn't have the time to write and wait for a reply," Annabel interrupted, with a knowing note in her voice. Hermione could actually image her smirking smugly.

"You want to hear my reaction to what you are about to tell me and you need the advice right away. You also called me because you can't talk to your friends about it in the school because there's always the fear of it being slipped out accidentally or overheard and the whole population would know within minutes. Or they will not like what you tell them. Therefore, you need to talk to someone who is not in direct contact with anyone there."

Hermione was lost for words for a moment or so. "How did you figure that out?" she asked in astonishment.

"I figured that out because one you never call me when you're at school - you write. Two, because I've know you too well to figure out you need some kind of family support and I won't be against you for anything. And three, you look the type who wouldn't want your friends suddenly letting slip whatever you tell them and everyone knowing about it. Have I got that right?"

Hermione sighed. "Yes, you're right, that's exactly why I called. I need to tell you something that just happened about half an hour ago and I need advice."

"Talk to me, Hermy, I'm all ears," Annabel answered.

Hermione took a deep breath before continuing on. "It's about a guy at school –"

"Ooh! Can I guess who?"

"Go ahead, I know who you're gonna say."

"Draco Malfoy," Annabel replied knowingly.

"Spot on," replied Hermione, "anyway, here's what happened –" and she told Annabel all about being locked in the cupboard with Malfoy, the conversation they had (minus her explaining what a car was and scolding him for being above Muggles) and then him kissing her. When she had finally finished, Annabel sounded like she was either lost for words or thinking hard. Well, judging by the silence, of course.

"So he made the first move?" she finally asked. A beep sounded on Hermione's end and she quickly reached into her pockets for some more change.

"Yes he made the first move," she answered, as she pushed the coins into the slot.

"Did you kiss him back?"

"I think I did," Hermione answered, as she heard the payphone click, accepting the payment. "Although it only lasted two seconds, it was a fairly quick kiss."

"Well at least the dare's done."

Hermione's eyes widened in surprise. "What, you're seriously counting it?"

"Course, Hermy, a kiss is a kiss no matter who made the first move, where they were or what the circumstances are."

I thought Annabel would say that, Hermione thought as Annabel said, "I'm just as surprised as you are that it happened in the first place. What did he say afterwards?"

"I don't know. I ran away from him."

"You ran away from him?" Annabel clicked her tongue. "Gosh, Hermione, that is so childish. Running away from a guy who gave you a kiss."

"Annabel, it was my second kiss in my life ever. How was I supposed to react?"

"You could have at least said thank you."

"I did that with Viktor and felt stupid afterwards."

"Well okay." There was a pause. "How did it feel?"

Hermione froze, trying to work out how to answer that question. "I don't know how to explain that."

"Ok then I'll rephrase that question, how did you feel about the kiss afterwards?"

A bit easier but not much help. "Well it kinda took my breath away; my breath was caught in my throat in other words. Felt a bit light headed and a bit dazed…I don't know how to explain that either."

"You know what I think? I think you were really affected by the kiss and that you really like him."

"No, Annabel - that can't be true! I can't like him, I hate him! He hates me!"

"If he hated you, why would he have kissed you?"

"I don't know, maybe he was dared to, but –"

"He wouldn't be dared to do it," Annabel interrupted, "I may not know him that well but from the moment I saw him, I could tell he's one of those guys who don't give in to peer pressure, he does what he wants. So I think he really wanted to kiss you and he likes you."

"You really think that?" Hermione asked in disbelief.

"Well that's what your side of the story is giving me the impression. He might like you, he might not. Do you like him?"

"As in more than friends? No."

"Okay well that's settled." She sounded like they had finished the conversation.

"No wait, I'm not finished yet!"

"There's more that I don't know?"

"No, it's just –" Hermione sighed, "I need your advice on what to do about it."

"Annabel? Who are you talking to?" a girl's voice sounded in the background.

"I'm talking to my cousin, Janet."

"Well can you hurry up? I want to use the phone to call Rick, he hasn't heard from me for two days and he'll start to think –"

"Will you butt out, Janet! My cousin is in the middle of a teenage crisis here and she needs some emotional support! He's waited two days to hear from you, he can wait another half an hour!"

"You know what, you can be a real bitch sometimes, Annabel," snarled 'Janet', and then there was a door slam.

"Oh for Pete's sake," muttered Annabel angrily. "Sorry about that, Hermy, Janet's just annoyed she didn't get full marks on her last assignment. What were you saying?"

"I was asking what you think I should do," Hermione mumbled, her eyebrows raised after hearing Annabel speak in an unfriendly tone to her room mate.

"Oh yeah …" There was another pause, "look, don't act like anything has happened. If he asks about it, just say whatever you think you felt about it. I know you don't know how you felt, but just think about it. If he doesn't ask about it, don't talk about it. Sometimes guys feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings and like to think about them for awhile before confessing."

"Thanks, Annabel, I appreciate the advice."

"That's alright. Oh, and by the way, how has he been?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like what has his mood been like so far this year? He seemed a little upset the last time I talked to him."

"Oh well it depends. With most people around he seems to be an arrogant person and sneers a lot. When it's just me and him, he's quiet these days and doesn't talk much."

"Hmm, that's rather suspicious," Annabel muttered in a thoughtful tone. Hermione rolled her eyes at that since Annabel didn't know what he was really like most of the time. "But does he look like he's troubled?"

"Not when I've seen him. Why are you asking?"

"Something happened to him during the summer. I don't know what, but it involves his mother and he's quite upset about it. If possible, whenever he seems to look troubled or upset, could you please comfort him? I know he would really appreciate it, especially coming from you. Promise me you'll do that?"

Hermione couldn't see why Annabel would have asked her of all people to do that, but agreed with her. "Alright, I will. Why are you asking me to do it?"

"Because you are a kind and caring person. And also because you are living close to him so whenever he needs someone to talk to, he knows you're not far away."

"Ok, Annabel, I see your point. Thanks for your advice, it really helped."

"That's alright, anything for my dear cousin that I love so much. Say hello to Ron, Harry, Felicity and Ginny if you see them and Draco of course."

"I will."

"Good luck and take care. Bye, Hermione."

"Bye, Annabel." She hung up and stepped out of the phone box, heading back up the road and turning into the main street, thinking about what Annabel had just advised while also wondering why she said Ron's name first in the list of people to say hello to.

News about the upcoming Winter Ball happening at Christmas spread around the school like wildfire, and everyone was very excited about having another ball. The younger years were excited because they had never been to one before and students from fourth to sixth years were excited because hardly any of them got to go to the Yule Ball when it was held three years ago. So it wasn't a surprise that everyone had opted to stay for the Christmas holidays.

Most of the gossip among the girls was 'who was going with whom to the ball'. Again, like the time three years ago, all the girls had taken to walk in packs in the corridors, making it harder for the boys to ask one of them out. Their favourite thing to do while walking in the corridor in packs would be to start giggling when they passed a boy who they classified as 'hot'.

The pack of girls that Hermione was accustomed to walking round was Ginny and Felicity. Well you wouldn't call it a pack, it was a girl threesome. Felicity, for some reason, joked that she wanted to play hard to get for the boys and stick near her girl friends. She actually referred to Ginny, who seems to get a lot of attention from the boys since going out with Michael Corner in her fourth year.

"Ooh, that guy looks cute," Felicity commented, as they walked down to breakfast one Wednesday, exactly a week before the ball. She looked behind her at the tall Ravenclaw boy that just walked past them, running a hand through his black hair smoothly. Felicity whistled softly under her breath and flashed a dazzling smile in his direction when he turned around. "Hey, good looking!" she called.

The boy eyed her in a mixture of confusion and amusement before casually waving at her and heading up the stairs. Felicity smirked before turning to her best friend. "Do you wanna ask him to the ball, Ginny?"

Ginny stopped in her tracks and turned around just before the boy got to the top of the stairs and disappeared. She managed to get a good look at him before shaking her head. "Nah, not my type."


Hermione was also looking at the boy, tipping her head from side to side. "No. He's way younger than me," she observed.

Felicity rolled her eyes. "You two are so picky. Who do you want to go to the ball with then?"

"If you thought he was cute, why don't you ask him then?" asked Ginny, shaking her head at her best friend. Felicity fell silent,stating that she didn't want to answer that question. Ginny turned round to look at Hermione. "You're waiting for Ron to ask you?"

Hermione looked at her weirdly. "No offence, Ginny, but I don't like Ron in that way. And if you're going to ask about Harry, it is the same response."

Ginny felt much relived that Hermione said that and she wondered why. It wasn't like she had been planning to ask him to the ball, was she?

Hermione, though, started to wonder who Malfoy was going to take. He was rather prone to having girls hurrying after him these days, all wanting the same thing, to be his date. But she hadn't heard whether he had accepted their offers or not as of yet.

Wait why would I even care? Just because he kissed me in the cupboard doesn't mean I want to go with him to the ball as his 'official date'.

She hadn't talked to Malfoy much since that incident in the cupboard and so didn't know what he felt about the kiss. She didn't dare ask him though as she didn't know how he might react. They had manage to avoid each other as much as they could after that incident, even though they had to do head duties together. It suited Hermione just fine expect that she found herself missing his presence at times. She didn't like that and would try to squash that need whenever it came up.

"Maybe I could ask Ron …" Felicity said thoughtfully, bringing Hermione back to earth. "I mean as a partner, not like as more than friends. Oh come on," she started to argue when she saw the girls' looks of disbelief. "I mean, Ginny, do you honestly want to see Ron partner-less at the ball? It's gonna look pathetic and besides he knows me, unlike Padma Patil. And we get along –"

"No, you don't," Ginny laughed. "Every time you're around him, you find some excuse to hit him or throw something at him for being stupid."

"Yeah well I have my reasons …" Felicity argued, folding her arms, "You know what? I don't care if I don't have a partner for this ball. It's kind of silly in my opinion and before you ask, rock chicks and balls don't mix. Especially since I have to dress up! Ugh!" She threw her hands up in the air in exasperation before folding her arms again.

"Your mum will be proud though," Ginny said, giggling at Felicity's furious expression. She turned to Hermione again. "That reminds me, on the weekend all three of us have to go shopping for dresses and jewellery. Yes, you too, Flick. We have to look fabulous for our dates. When we get them that it is."

"Deal," Hermione agreed as they walked into the Great Hall. "Flick?"

Felicity mumbled something along the lines of, "Fine, I'll go. Only because I don't want to be stuck with the boys the whole day. They'll just play wizards chess."

"Good," Ginny said as they sat down at the Gryffindor table and pulled breakfast towards her. "Now we have to plan this whole thing out. First of all, what shops are we going to and should we book an appointment at the hairdressers or do the hair ourselves? I think maybe I'll do your hair Hermione and you'll do mine. I guess I'll do yours, Flick, but I –"

"Ok, I only just agreed to going to Hogsmeade to get dresses," Felicity interrupted, looking irritated. "I didn't say 'ok I would really like to go with you guys to get dresses this weekend, but I think it's a good idea to plan the whole thing out and –"

"Flick, don't you know how long it takes to get ready for things like this?"

"No, I don't really, and I don't want to think about it!"

"What are they arguing about?" asked Ron, sitting down next to Hermione and getting four pieces of toast.

"Preparations for the ball," Hermione answered. "Now, I see how much of a boy Felicity sometimes is –"

"Don't call me a boy, Granger!" Felicity snapped, her violet eyes looking at the Head Girl fiercely.

"Sorry, Higgins."

Felicity shot Hermione her most deathly glare and ate her breakfast in silence. She didn't have another comeback to that at the current time.

Harry came and sat down on the other side of Hermione, looking like he had something to say. He fiddled with his hands and drummed them on the table impatiently. Hermione looked over at him questioningly, as if to ask him to say something. Harry cleared his throat and was about to speak when a whooshing sound interrupted him.

Hedwig flew in with the other owls and landed in front of Ron, who immediately untied the letter from her leg and took off.

"Hey, you didn't even finish your breakfast!" Felicity called after him. She raised her eyebrows in confusion. "I swear that's about the fifteenth time I've seen him leave before he finishes his breakfast. It's rather odd."

"Yeah odd …" Hermione trailed off. It always seemed he ran off after Hedwig delivered him a message and it was strange in her opinion. She was beginning to think it wasn't a pen-friend at all … he wouldn't rush like that to reply to any letter.

She shrugged and turned back to Harry, remembering he was going to say something before the owls arrived. "You had something to say or ask, didn't you?"

"Oh what?" Harry looked confused for a second, but then he shook his head. "Nah, haven't got anything to say."

Harry was in fact lying. He was going to ask Hermione if she would like to go to the ball with him since he didn't get to ask her to the Yule Ball and he thought he liked her. He couldn't ask Ginny as Ron would probably knock him out for it (and he was also secretly afraid she would reject him). Felicity wasn't his type at all, they were just friends.

He sighed. He would have to ask her later.

Draco was torn. He had two choices, one he really wanted with all his heart to take and the other, was just to keep up his 'reputation' and to prevent his father from finding out. He didn't know which one to chose, and it was really eating him inside.

Ever since news of the ball became known to the school, he felt all the girls looking at him wherever he went, hoping he would ask them to the ball. The funny thing wasthatthey didn't seem to care that he was a Slytherin and son of a death eater; they just wanted to be the "Sex God ofSlytherin's" date for the night.

Some even had the nerve to go up to him and ask him to be their date. Of course, he refused every time. Many girls would go into tears, and one even punched him after he said no. Surprisingly, the girl was a second year and her punch nearly knocked him out. She had successfully managed to break his nose which he mended himself five minutes later in the men's bathroom as he didn't want to humiliate himself by going to Madam Pomfrey.

But no girl was as persistent and as annoying as Pansy Parkinson. She was determined to get Draco Malfoy to be her date for the Winter Ball and was confident he would take her. She followed him everywhere, complimenting him and holding onto his arm whenever a pack of girls walked past so as to claim him her property. Draco put up with this for about a week before he finally snapped and yelled at her to leave him alone and that he will let her know if he was going to take her.

There was only one girl that was on his mind throughout the last couple of weeks and the one girl he happened to be trying to avoid, Hermione Granger. Draco wanted to ask her to the ball, he really did. Even though they would be dancing together that was only one dance and he wanted to ask her as his official date. But he couldn't, he could never ask her to be his date. She hated him and he knew that. In fact, she had been avoiding him as well.

Ever since Draco kissed her in the cupboard, they had been avoiding any contact with one another whatsoever. They avoided being in the same room whenever possible, avoided looking at the other when they were in class (although Draco took sneak glances at her when she wasn't looking), didn't speak that much whenever they did Heads business and walked different routes during night patrols. Draco didn't know what she felt about the kiss and didn't dare ask her about it, as he thought she might start yelling at him and maybe punch him.

He had been thinking about the short kiss, and now longed to feel her lips on his again. To hold her in his arms as he caressed her face and run his fingers in her hair would make him complete. That was why he wanted to ask her to the ball … and to finally admit the crush he had on her.

But he was afraid … of his father. Even though Lucius still wasn't to be found, Draco was afraid he would find out about the ball, and that he had to dance with Hermione at the start of it anyway. Lucius would certainly be angry about it but would furious beyond belief if he knew his son had desires for a Muggle-born. He would rather Draco went with Pansy.

Pansy … Draco shuddered at the thought of her. He always hated her, since he met her before Hogwarts. Why did he have to take her to the Yule Ball in the fourth year? Now she was pestering him to take her to the Winter Ball, and also kept asking him out to Hogsmeade. He knew he and Pansy would never look good together.

He and Hermione he could imagine … the picture of them on the portrait hiding their common room showed it. Since he was being co-operative towards Hermione, they had gone from being in separate frames to blending in but standing back-to-back. He figured that maybe the portrait would show a change in their relationship and maybe eventually it would show them in a tight embrace …

Draco sighed dreamily before shaking his head clear. He had to make a decision. And he knew now what it would be.

Draco headed to his first lesson of the day, Potions, hoping the decision he made was a good one. He breathed in nervously, hoping this wasn't going to go wrong. He leaned casually against the castle wall, away from the rest of the class as they waited to be let in by Professor Snape. Finally the door opened and the class filed in. Draco followed everyone in and saw her immediately.

He made his way over to her, his nerves running high. Calm down, Draco … it's now or never. He cleared his throat once he reached her and she turned around to look at him.

"Hey Pansy," he said, putting on his usual smirk.

"Oh hey, Draco. Long time, no see," she gushed, battering her eyelashes at him.

I really hate it when she does that, Draco silently groaned to himself. She looks horrible when she does it. It really doesn't impress me at all. "So, got a date for the ball yet?" he asked casually, leaning against a desk.

Pansy pretended to look thoughtful. "Well Blaise said yesterday he was thinking of asking me, but he wasn't really sure."

"Well Zabini should have been quicker than that because you are looking at your date right now." Draco couldn't really be bothered to ask her straight, but she would figure out what he meant. If she was that smart enough, that is.

It seemed to take her awhile (as he thought) for it to sink in what he actually said and stared at him in surprise. "What? You're seriously saying you'll take me? You're not joking, right?"

Draco frowned at her. "I don't think I'm the one to joke around here, Pansy. Well, what do you say?" He wished she would hurry up with her answer, he did not like waiting around.

"Oh, Drakie, you know what my answer will be!"

Draco rolled his eyes, hating her when she called him "Drakie". But he brushed it aside, since she was formally his date now. "Okay good. Now I don't need to worry about getting a date."

"I'm saying yes on one condition," she said, putting on a serious face.

"Oh yeah?"

"Wash your hands after touching the Mudblood."

He winced on the inside at the word 'Mudblood' and suddenly felt the urge to strangle her, but nodded. "Sure thing. I mean, I wouldn't like to get filth on your dress, would I?"

She nodded and smiled dazedly at him. "Good. Now sit with me!" she ordered, pulling him into the seat next to her.

As the day wore on, Draco was regretting his decision. Pansy had decided to permanently attach herself to Draco all day long and show that he was now hers for the taking. As if taking her to the ball wasn't bad enough.

He hated it when she escorted him to his seat to every class (Aren't boys supposed to do that? He wondered) and kiss his cheek, while Hermione was there. He would notice Hermione smirking at the sight of her out of the corner of his eye, and stare at the front listening to what the teacher was saying once Pansy went away.

Draco wanted to somehow communicate to her that he really wanted to take her, but he had to keep his mouth shut because Pansy was behind him, watching his every move. The only class where he didn't have to put up with her was Defence Against the Dark Arts but that wouldn't be till the end of the day. He wasn't sure if he could last that long.

It was a relief when the lunch bell rang so that there was something to distract him from Pansy's advances. Draco immediately rushed out of the class he was in (Transfiguration) and sprinted down to the Great Hall. He was one of the first there and he started filling up his plate with food and gobbling it down.

A couple of minutes later, Pansy entered the hall looking exhausted as though she had just run a marathon. "You didn't wait for me, Draco! That was extremely rude of you and you pay attention to me when I'm talking to you!" she snapped, noticing he had his eyes on the plate in front of him.

"I 'on 'are 'Ansy. I'm 'ery 'ungry," Draco replied with a mouth full of food and not bothering to swallow it because he knew it disgusted her.

"Ew! That's disgusting, Drakie!" she squealed, screwing up her face. Draco smirked while trying not to let any of the food in his mouth fall out on his lap. That would be embarrassing.

"You know it really is disgusting, Draco," said Blaise, arriving with Crabbe and Goyle and sitting down next to Draco. "You're acting like Weasley."

Draco sallowed his mouthful with difficulty. "Can you get her away from me?" he muttered to Blaise, jerking his head at Pansy.

Blaise sighed. "Pansy, can you leave Draco alone? I think he's getting sick of you."

"Then where am I supposed to sit?" pouted Pansy, stamping her foot like a five year old who had been refused candy.

"I don't know, Pansy, sit with Millicent or something. You really do have to get girl friends to hang out with around instead of following Draco around. It's really pathetic."

"Fine!" she snapped angrily, and with a swipe of her hair, she stalked off to the other end of the Slytherin table to join Millicent Bulstrode and her group.

"Thanks, Blaise," Draco sighed. "She's really annoying me."

All too soon, the bell rang for the end of lunch and Pansy attached herself to Draco again, whispering gossip she heard from Millicent at lunchtime. Draco ignored her and just kept walking. He hoped that if he now didn't pay her any attention, she would learn to leave him alone.

"Draco, stop ignoring me!" Pansy snapped angrily when she realised that he wasn't listening to her yet again. "Doesn't your stupid mother teach you any manners?"

Draco stopped in his tracks at the mention of the mention of his mother making Pansy walk into him. "What did you say about my mother?" he snapped arrogantly, his grey eyes flaring angrily, as he turned around to face her.

"I said 'doesn't your stupid mother teach you any manners?'" Pansy repeated, looking a little frightened at Draco's furious expression."Honestly, it's not nice to ignore people when they're –"

But she was interrupted by Draco suddenly grabbing her wrists and smashing her against the wall. For a split second she thought he was finally going to kiss her, but then she noticed he was beyond angry. She started to tremble slightly.

"Draco, what the –"

"Don't you dare talk that way about my mother ever again," Draco hissed venomously.

"What do you –"

"Oh you know what I mean, Parkinson," he whispered, still venomously, "If you had any idea of what was really going on in anyone else's lives besides useless gossip and yourself, you would know why. But of course, you'll never understand so it's no use trying."

He released her and ran off before she could call him back. Tears were threatening to fall down his face and he wouldn't dare cry in front of Pansy. It would give her an excuse to spread some rumour around that he a woss and couldn't hold his emotions together. He certainly wasn't going to appear like this, it would ruin his reputation. He needed some time alone.

Thank Merlin I'm Head Boy. I can just hide in my room all afternoon and no one will disturb me.

"Carpe diem," he said once he reached the portrait. He ran inside and slammed his bedroom door. He sunk onto his bed and let the tears fall down his face as he started to sob in despair.

Back in the Charms classroom …

"Hey Hermione, look, Pansy's alone," Harry said suddenly, nudging Hermione's shoulder and jerking his head over his shoulder.

Hermione turned around and saw that Pansy was indeed sitting alone with a look between hurt and confusion. She frowned and looked around the classroom. "That's odd; she's supposed to be permanently attached to Malfoy's arm. He isn't here."

"Maybe he's running late or something," Ron spoke up, flicking through his textbook and pretending to read the words. "He could be in the bathroom or something, that's why Pansy's not with him."

"I guess," Hermione replied, not sounding too convinced. She thought she had seen those two together only about five minutes ago in the corridor. Maybe he had gone to the bathroom, to get away from Pansy for a little while. He should be here soon, she assured herself.

But Malfoy didn't turn up for the rest of the lesson nor did he turn up to Defence Against the Dark Arts, which was a subject Pansy didn't take. This wasn't normal and Hermione found herself start to get really worried for some reason. She was surprised she was worried about someone she hated and so convinced herself she was just worried as a fellow colleague. She tried to concentrate on her work, but it was hard while thinking about what could have happened to Malfoy and where he might be.

Stop worrying about him! He's not worth of your time. Who cares if something bad happened to him?

Look he's my partner this year, whether I like it or not. I have a right to be a little worried about his state of health. Maybe Pansy did something to him?

I should go and find him.

Before she could debate this any further, she put up her hand, "Professor Lupin?"

"Yes Miss Granger?" Professor Lupin answered, from his desk, marking their essays that were last lessons homework.

"I don't feel well. Could I please go to the hospital wing?"

She could feel Harry and Ron looking at her from behind her, and she knew they must be completely bewildered by her lie. Professor Lupin looked up at her from his marking, surprised. "You look perfectly fine, Miss Granger," he assured her, with a small smile. He returned back to his marking.

Hermione sighed, feeling defeated, but then she got an idea. I never thought I would do this. She took out her wand and wordlessly summoned Harry's bag towards her. Making sure no one was watching her; she searched through the contents of his bag and found what she was looking for, a Puking Pastille. Harry had received them in the box of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes merchandise and always had them on hand if he desperately wanted to skip Potions. She pushed the bag back where she summoned it and bit the orange half.

She knew it had worked because as soon as she sallowed it she felt as if her stomach was rolling around and coming up to her throat. She tried to hold it in but couldn't. She turned to the side of her desk and threw up the contents of her stomach.

The class instantly gasped in horror and Harry and Ron rushed out of their seats to help Hermione. Professor Lupin stopped marking and ran over to her.

"Hermione, are you okay?" Ron asked, looking very worried.

"I'm fine. It must have been something I ate." She coughed violently and threw up again.

"You should go to the hospital wing," Lupin said seriously, putting a hand to Hermione's forehead. "She's burning up. Harry, could you take her?"

"No … no … I'll go myself," said Hermione quickly, cleaning up the mess with her wand and starting to pack up her things.

"Are you sure you'll be able to get there?" Lupin asked. "I mean, I wouldn't want you to faint on the way there or anything."

"No I don't feel faint. My stomach feels funny, that's all. I should be fine."

"Well alright," Lupin sighed. "Feel better, Hermione."

Hermione got out of her seat and walked out of the classroom feeling like she was about to vomit again. When she reached a floor above her classroom, she took the purple half of the Puking Pastille out of her pocket and ate. The funny feeling in her stomach disappeared and she felt a lot better. Those Puking Pastilles certainly worked and she made a mental note to thank Fred and George for them later.

Though, she felt guilty about skipping class just to find out what was wrong with Malfoy. It was not like her at all. She shook it off as she headed to the only place she knew he would go, the Heads common room.

She spoke the password as soon as she reached it and hurried inside. The common room was empty, but a faint crying sound could be heard from the door at the right side of the room. Hermione raised her eyebrows curiously and she put her ear against the door to listen. She could hear the sounds of a boy crying and it sounded like he was in pain. Hermione felt her heart break at the sound of the cries and realised who it was.

Malfoy? Why is he crying? I wonder what's wrong with him. Taking a deep breath, she knocked softly on the door, "Malfoy? Are you alright?" The cries stopped, but there was no answer. Hermione froze and waited for a response. There was silence and then it started again.

Hermione sighed sadly and opened the door. The sight that greeted her made her freeze on the spot in shock. Malfoy was sitting on the edge of his bed, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, crying his heart out. His cries were full of pain and heartbreak, like he was being tortured or something. His blonde hair that was usually neat was a mess and hanged in his eyes, and he was shaking uncontrollably.

Hermione's heart ached for the crying boy in front of her. She had an impulse to wrap her arms around him and tell him that everything was going to be alright. But he probably wouldn't like it. She had to comfort him in some way though; she couldn't leave him alone like this. She slowly walked over to the bed and sat next to him.

She placed her hands on his shoulders. "Shh … it'll be alright. I'm here," she whispered softly.

Malfoy stopped sobbing and looked up to see Hermione sitting next to him. His eyes widened in shock, seeing she was next to him. He opened his mouth to say something, but more tears fell down his cheeks and he hid his face from her.

Hermione sighed again, and gently squeezed his shoulders. "There … there, just calm down, Malfoy. Shh …"

Eventually Malfoy stopped crying and looked up again, wiping his eyes. His pale face was red and his eyes looked bloodshot from crying so much. Hermione took her hands off his shoulders, thinking he probably didn't want to be touched.

"Do you want to tell me what happened?" she asked gently, being as nice as possible towards him.

He didn't answer for awhile and looked deep in thought. "Pansy insulted my mother," he said shortly in a low voice. "She said 'your stupid mother' and said it as if she was still here."

I knew it had something to do with Pansy, Hermione thought angrily. But what does he mean 'as if she was still here.'

"I don't understand what you mean by 'as if she was still here'," she said.

Malfoy sighed and his eyes started to fill with tears again. "You don't know …" he muttered, shaking his head. "Nobody knows …"

"Knows what?"

He looked at her directly in the eye and she saw pain and sadness in them. "About seven months ago, Mother started to get sick for some reason. I don't know how she got sick but she just did. She got worse in time and before I knew it, she only had days to live. That day I met you and your cousin in that Muggle antique shop, I was buying her a locket because I thought it might take her mind off dying and cheer her up. Plus her birthday was soon and she probably wouldn't get to celebrate it. But when I got home, she had taken a turn for the worst and only had an hour to live."

His voice broke as tears fell down again. "And I stayed with her till the very end," he hushed in a voice barely than a whisper. He started to sob again and leaned against Hermione's shoulder, shaking again.

Hermione sat there in shock as he continued to cry. Malfoy's mother died at the start of the summer holidays? What a terrible thing to have happened to him what with his father missing and having no real friends to help him through this.

But he really seemed to be taking it well on the outside, acting like his arrogant, selfish self and dying her hair green. But maybe it was a cover up and he probably might have been in pain on the inside, wanting someone to confine in and somehow understand the way he felt.

I guess this is what Annabel meant by saying I should comfort him when he's upset. And he does seem to appreciate me comforting him. She was right in saying that something happened to him and that it involved his mother. Poor Malfoy …

She hesitantly wrapped her arms round his shoulders and racked her brains to think of saying comforting to say. To be honest, she didn't have a clue on what it felt like to lose a parent, which was Harry's area. He knew what it felt like to lose your parents – or someone close to a parent like Sirius.

"She's gone," Malfoy muttered in between his sobs. "She slipped away from me … and there was nothing I could do. I wish there was something I could have done to stop her from dying. And I shouldn't be crying, it's weak."

Hermione rocked him back and forth gently. "She's not gone," she whispered.

"Yes she is," said Malfoy, shaking his head, "She's dead. I buried her."

"I meant she's not gone. She may not be here to see you, but she is watching over you from wherever she is. I'm sure she would be watching you right now, Malfoy, and comforting you. But you probably don't even know it."

She leaned in a bit closer to whisper in his ear. "Crying for her is not a weakness; it's a way to let out your emotions, which is what you have been doing. You know what? She would be so proud of you. She would be proud of you getting Head Boy and still at school doing your best despite what happened. She will be watching over you and if you want to talk about anything, I'm nearby."

Malfoy calmed down at her words. It seemed that he had stopped crying, "When you say you're nearby, if I want to talk, do you mean –"

"I only mean if you can't talk about something that relates to your mother to anyone else," Hermione explained. "That doesn't make us friends."

"Of course," Malfoy said quickly, but Hermione thought she heard a note of disappointment in his words. "Thanks for listening, I guess."

"No problem." Hermione glanced at the clock and realised that classes had ended by now. "Um, I think dinner is nearly ready," she mumbled, looking back at him. "You better go and get something to eat."

"Okay." Malfoy got up to head out of his room, but paused at the door. "What do I do about Pansy?"

Hermione smirked at him, "Well, what do you usually do?"

"Push her away and ignore her."

"Then do that."

Malfoy smirked to himself. "Right. See you later then." He then left the room.

Draco tossed and turned in his bed furiously, having the same nightmares again. He was really getting sick of them and wanted more than nothing for them to end. They were torturing him and he couldn't take it anymore. He didn't know what to do about them at all!

"Draco …"

There was a voice calling for him. A sweet, loving voice he had heard since as long as he could remember.

"Draco, don't worry about finding him."

Draco opened his eyes and searched for the voice. Thank goodness it didn't come from the dream he just had. "Mother?" he whispered.

"Yes, Draco, it's me. Don't worry about finding him."

"Why?" he asked, knowing who she was talking about, but why she was saying this when she actually wanted Draco to find him. It didn't make sense at all.

"Because he is not the most important thing in your life right now. Hermione is."

Draco was lost for words. His mother knew about her?

"Yes, I know, Draco. Like she said, I'm watching over you. Don't let her go away from you, let her know how you feel. Let her know soon, before it's too late. Those dreams you've been having aren't a figment of your imagination, they will happen soon. Remember what I said on my deathbed … find her, keep her in your heart, never let her go."

"So you mean … go after Hermione?"

"Find her, keep her in your heart, and never let her go. Don't leave it till it's too late, Draco." The voice then said no more.

Draco woke with a start and looked around the room frantically, thinking he heard his mother speak to him. He couldn't see anyone in the room and could only hear his steady breathing and his heart banging against his chest. Though he knew it wasn't the same nightmares he had been having so far this term.

Narcissa … she was talking to him. She wanted him to stop looking for Lucius and go after Hermione. it seemed like a better alternative at the moment, since he had gotten nowhere with finding Lucius. Hermione would be a better person to go after, she was closer to home.

And that's what he was going to do … after the Winter Ball.