Blaise Zabini was proud to call himself Draco Malfoy's best friend. Crabbe and Goyle were just the cronies, the stupid sidekicks – but he was best friend material. So it was he alone who began to notice the changes in Draco as Christmas approached. The once infamous womaniser hadn't even glanced in the direction of a girl all term, and this was one big worry. They all knew about his affair with Hermione Granger, but none of them had given a second thought to it, except as great entertainment as it had successfully broken up the hated trio. One night after Quidditch practice as they were changing back into their robes Blaise glanced over and couldn't help but notice that Draco had already left without changing. He normally had no problem with getting undressed in front of his team. This didn't sit right, so he quickly pulled his robes on and chased after him.
'Draco, wait up!' he called at the figure up ahead in the darkness. Draco kept walking but slowed down and Blaise run to catch up with him.
'Something wrong?' Draco said coolly, hitching his broom over his shoulder.
'Are you in a hurry or something?' Blaise asked him casually. Draco shrugged.
'Since when did you have a problem with getting changed in front of the boys?'
Draco sniggered. 'Oh, I'm sorry that I deprived you of the chance to check out my buns of steel. I promise next time to give you prime position.'
'Shut up,' Blaise gave him a playful shove, something that not many people in the world would be allowed to get away with.
'Can't keep your hands off me, can you?' Draco taunted him further, and Blaise shoved him a little harder. Draco pushed back and soon the two boys were on the ground, broomsticks forgotten as they play-scuffled with each other. And yet through his laughter, Blaise could feel that Draco was smaller than his usual size, and he seemed weaker too. Knowing better than to best him in a fight, though, he lay down in the snow and admitted defeat. Draco helped him up and they continued walking in silence.
'Mate, is everything ok?' Blaise finally blurted out, unable to help himself any longer. He was so intrigued by what could be getting so much to his friend.
'Fine.' Draco was instantly cold. Freezing him out.
'Alright, then,' Blaise said awkwardly. He decided a subject change was necessary. 'Hogsmeade this weekend – we should hit up the pub, stay out after curfew, fight it out for the hottest girl, the usual.'
'I can't,' Draco said curtly. Blaise raised an eyebrow at him and Draco sighed, knowing that he wasn't going to give up on this. 'I'm working on something for…him. I can't tell you anything more.'
'Woah. Wait,' Blaise stopped walking for emphasis. 'You're one of them now? Already? Man, I thought we all had to wait until we graduated.'
'I guess you do,' Draco smirked at him. 'He chose me.'
'Cool,' Blaise was impressed with his friend, and knew better than to press him if the Dark Lord was involved. Draco nodded along and they walked on in silence. If only his friend knew what it felt like. How extremely uncool it was on the other side.
Since the Christmas tree incident the teachers had stepped in to help with the decorations, fearing that if anyone died attempting to put tinsel on trees their parents wouldn't be happy. This meant Hermione had a lot more free time than normal, which was lucky because she suspected that something was very wrong inside of her. Since Draco had knocked her to the ground she would every now and then get a stabbing pain in her stomach, which she knew couldn't mean anything good. She'd gone straight to the library to attempt an investigation, but for some reason Hogwarts wasn't exactly well stocked on books about pregnancy.
Whilst ignoring this problem, however, Hermione found the time to catch up on her homework and was feeling quite pleased with herself, mortality momentarily pushed aside. She knew that it was very ignorant of her to expect the problem to go away, but she couldn't quite bring herself to deal with it yet. It didn't help that Madam Pomfrey seemed to be watching her particularly closely at the moment – Hermione was worried that Draco had tipped her off.
Draco had also noticed Madam Pomfrey's sudden obsession with Hermione with a much happier attitude. He knew from Stacey, who had wasted no time in recounting her letter to him, that Madam Pomfrey now suspected Hermione of being bulimic, and while he knew it was wrong to spread rumours of that calibre, especially when bitchy little schoolgirls were involved…well, he'd done far worse.
He watched from the Slytherin table over dinner as she sat at the staff table with a frown on her face, her eyes cast towards the other end of the hall. He followed her gaze and could just see Hermione, scrunched over her plate, not touching a thing. Occasionally she spoke to Parvati or Lavender, which surprised him, but he was glad that she wasn't sitting by herself anymore. He returned his attention back to Madam Pomfrey, who was now leaning over and whispering to Professor McGonagall, who also looked over at Hermione. Draco frowned as he tried unsuccessfully to lip-read. After a while Madam Pomfrey shrugged and went back to her food, and Draco suspected that Professor McGonagall's no-nonsense attitude had won that conversation.
Draco was still not sure whether the best thing to do was just tell Madam Pomfrey what had happened, because though she was hiding it well, he could still vividly recall the amount of pain that Hermione had been in that day. But what would he say to her?
Well you see, I've knocked up the Head Girl, woops, and then I tackled her to the ground, because, you know, a Christmas tree was going to plough right through her skull, and now I'm not sure if she's internally bleeding or what. So maybe you should get onto that?
Yes, that would go down swimmingly. But as ludicrous as it sounded in his head, as much as he tried to joke about it, this was the truth. She was a nurse, wasn't there some kind of confidentiality factor involved? He could do it anonymously, another note perhaps? Or just say that as the Head Boy he's concerned that she's not performing her duties as normal. And even if he just came right out with the truth, wasn't it worth it to help Hermione, who was refusing to help herself? Yes, yes it was.
He had resolved to follow Madam Pomfrey from the hall when he was distracted unpleasantly by Pansy sitting herself down onto his lap.
'Drakey baby, Blaise says you're not coming out to the Hog's Head this weekend. Why not?' she pouted and he glanced down table at Blaise in annoyance.
'I've got stuff to do,' he attempted to move her into the seat beside him but she held on rather tightly.
'Like Head Boy stuff? With your girlfriend Granger?' Pansy said mockingly. 'Which, by the way, I still haven't forgiven you for, but you could try and make it up to me this weekend...'
'It's not Head Boy stuff,' he said irritably, this time succeeding in shoving her off of his lap. 'It's…nothing you need to worry about.'
In truth, Draco was planning to take advantage of the empty dormitory by practicing Occlumency again. He was getting better at it, and he was expected to see Voldemort over the Christmas break so he needed to be ready. This needed to work, because he hadn't given a single thought to what he was supposed to be doing. Somehow, plotting to kill his headmaster didn't interest him very much. Though he supposed he should brainstorm a few theories, just to keep Voldemort happy. In fact, Dumbledore had been so absent this year that it would have hardly been possible for him to kill him even if he had been trying. And to top it off, Snape had started paying special interest to him lately. This was hardly unexpected, though – Draco knew that Voldemort had eyes watching him everywhere.
'Well, if you finish whatever you're doing early, come find me,' Pansy said right into his ear. He nodded, hoping that she would leave, but instead she motioned for Blaise to come and join them. Draco glared at Blaise as his friend set about attempting to set him up with Pansy rather obviously, but Blaise merely sniggered and shrugged back. In dismay Draco looked up at the staff table and saw that Madam Pomfrey was now gone, and with a look across the hall saw that Hermione was as well. He would do it soon, then.
'Thanks for nothing,' he muttered to Blaise as finally Pansy got up to leave.
'You need to get back into it, mate,' he replied with a grin.
That very same night in the Gryffindor common room, Hermione was having girl troubles of her own. Namely, Parvati and Lavender had decided that they were going to have a pamper night, because for possibly the first time in history all three of them had no homework for the rest of the week and the morning off from classes.
'I should go and check on the prefects patrolling tonight,' Hermione had protested weakly, but Lavender had instead tore up her roster for the week and locked the door.
'You do that every night! You can take nights off, you know, that's why there's a Head Boy as well!'
'He's not much of a Head Boy,' Hermione grumbled.
'Come and do your nails with us, Hermione!' Parvati demanded, and Hermione reluctantly let them paint her nails a pale blue – she'd drawn the line at the hot pink they'd first brought out.
'So, tell us,' Lavender glanced at Parvati and they both giggled. 'Is there anything going on between you and Malfoy anymore?'
Hermione found it surprisingly easy to keep her face straight as she answered. 'No. That was just a stupid mistake, way in the past now. Don't try to look too disappointed.'
'We're just so bored of hearing about the boys in Gryffindor! We've been thinking about taking a leaf out of your book. You know, moving in on enemy territory. That Blaise Zabini is looking good these days.'
Hermione snorted. 'He looks like the most boring person on the planet.'
'I think he looks dangerous,' Parvati sighed.
'All the more reason to stay away,' Hermione pointed out, and the other two looked at each other and laughed.
'We'd have thought you of all people would like a dangerous guy.'
Hermione stiffened slightly. 'Like I said, that was just a stupid mistake I made. And he's really not as tough as he looks.'
'Yeah, right,' Lavender sighed. 'I bet he's got the Dark Mark already.'
Hermione raised an eyebrow. 'And this makes you happy?'
'Oh, no,' Lavender shook her head vigorously. 'I'm not for that at all, of course not. But I've always loved a dangerous guy. And tattoos are just sexy.'
'There's nothing sexy about a skull carved into your arm,' Parvati scoffed, and Hermione for once agreed with her. 'I'd still like to know if Harry has that dragon tattoo or not, though.'
They both giggled again, and Hermione actually joined in. She knew that he didn't, but why burst their bubble?
'I know…we should get Ginny up here. I bet she's seen Harry naked before!' Lavender said, and Parvati agreed with her immediately. Hermione didn't say anything, but it wouldn't have mattered because Lavender was already halfway down the stairs. She was back in a heartbeat dragging a tired looking Ginny with her.
'What are you guys doing?' Ginny yawned. She looked surprised to see Hermione on Parvati's bed with her hands stuck out to be painted but didn't say anything, for which Hermione was grateful. She was so sick of fighting with people lately, she would have been so happy to call just one truce. After all, if she and Lavender could be friends, why couldn't she and Ginny? Maybe Ginny was thinking along the same lines, because as she took in the strange threesome she smiled and sat down on the bed opposite them, reaching for a nail polish of her own.
'This is one invention the muggles get credit for,' she said, and Lavender agreed wholeheartedly.
'So, what are we talking about?' Ginny asked, and the other three girls burst out laughing. Ginny raised her eyebrows and waited for them to stop.
'We were wondering…what Harry looks like…naked…' Parvati finally managed to say, and Ginny sniggered.
'Who says I've seen him naked?' she said coyly, letting them dangle.
'Have you?' Parvati persisted, and Ginny grinned.
'I may have walked in on him in the bathroom over the summer once or twice…'
'Is it true, then? About the dragon tattoo?'
Ginny glanced at Hermione and smiled. 'It sure is,' she winked quickly while the other two girls were squealing at each other and Hermione smirked.
From there Parvati and Lavender continued to question Ginny about every guy they could think of (Ron was conveniently left out of the conversation) until they were satisfied with every answer. Hermione was surprised to hear that Ginny wasn't dating anyone at the moment, somewhat of a rarity for her. After they'd finished with nails, the girls had insisted on doing Hermione's hair as well and then they'd unceremoniously fallen asleep. Ginny stayed behind while Hermione got into her own bed and she knew that they were about to talk.
Ginny tentatively sat on the end of her bed and crossed her legs but didn't speak. Hermione searched for something to say.
'I thought you and Harry would be dating by now,' was the first thing that popped into her head.
'So did I, but he's so preoccupied these days,' Ginny sighed.
'Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know…still obsessed with Snape, with that spell, with trying to figure out where Dumbledore's always going off to, with Malf –'
Ginny stopped talking abruptly and Hermione felt her heart beat a little faster.
'You can say his name, I don't care,' she lied.
'Right. Well, with Malfoy too. I don't know…how much you guy talk these days…'
'We don't,' Hermione said quickly.
'Well, he's been acting pretty weird lately. Going about the castle by himself a lot more than normal. We thought he was just doing his Head Boy duties -'
'Ha!' Hermione couldn't help but laugh, and Ginny nodded.
'Yes, exactly. He hasn't been much help to you, has he?'
'That's an understatement. How is Harry?'
'He's…ok,' Ginny said slowly. Hermione had the impression that Ginny wasn't sure how much she should tell her.
'In case you hadn't noticed, I don't have many friends these days. You can tell me things. I still care,' she said, and Ginny smiled at her.
'I still care about you, too. It's just…Ron…well, you know what he's like. So stubborn. But Harry's ok too, you know. He doesn't understand what you did, but Harry's useless with relationship type stuff. I should know.' She sighed again.
'Well, I never thought I'd say it but I miss all the stuff we used to get up to. Feels like ages since I've schemed or plotted against Snape. So if I can help out at all…let me know.'
Ginny nodded. 'I will. I'd better go to bed.'
They said goodnight to one another, and Hermione felt one large weight lift off of her. One reconciliation down. Two to go…
Over the coming days Draco was disappointed to see that Pomfrey apparently hadn't approached Hermione, but was merely watching from afar with concern. He found that he was unable to stop from watching her whenever she was in the same vicinity, and though she appeared to be ok he could not forget the way she had doubled over. He also noticed that she suddenly seemed to be spending time with the Weasley girl again, and he wondered how that had happened.
Friday afternoon meant double potions for the seventh years who still attended, and when Draco arrived with his usual gang in tow, who were still trying to convince him to come to the Hog's Head with them tomorrow night, he was surprised to see Hermione standing down the corridor with Potter.
So they're all bestest friends again, he thought to himself sourly. Though he'd given up the right to care, he still felt a stab of jealousy that Potter could stand with her so freely. This didn't go completely unnoticed, but the others hardly seemed to care.
'Looks like Granger's got a new boyfriend,' Pansy cooed, and the group laughed. 'Slut.'
Draco bit the inside of his cheek to stop from retaliating. To his disgust Pansy coiled her fingers into his and just as this moment Hermione glanced over and saw. She looked away quickly, but he had seen the look of disgust on her face. Well, if she was hanging out with Potter again he could hang out with Pansy. He let her lead him into the dungeon and sat beside her, but made sure to take a seat so that he had a clear view of all the other tables. As Snape began describing today's potion he watched from the corner of his eye as Hermione started to flip through the book to the right page. He though she didn't look quite as skinny as she had a few weeks back, but then again she still had her cloak and scarf wrapped tightly around her to protect her from the cold.
An hour later the room was thick with mist and fumes as they attempted a powerful healing potion, which Snape said if it was up to scratch they would be donating to Madam Pomfrey. It was only for scratches and skin type wounds, but these arose nearly every Quidditch game so it was sure to come in handy.
Over at the other table Hermione was well underway to making a perfect potion, and for the first time all year Harry was sitting at the same table as her. While she and Ginny had finally found a way to be friends again, Harry was finding it a little more difficult. He'd approached her at breakfast just that morning with Ginny in tow, and had began talking to her as if nothing had ever happened. Hermione was wary, but also missed her best friend like crazy and so was happy to act as if nothing had ever gone wrong between them. Ron had been absent for this exchange, but Hermione didn't much care to talk to him. As far as she was concerned, he was more in the wrong than she was – she was still hurt by what he'd done to her in the summer. But it was great to talk to Harry again, and they pointedly hadn't discussed the blonde boy on the other side of the dungeon.
'Seen Dumbledore lately?' she asked as she stirred, which was her only step for the next ten minutes straight. Harry was still cutting up ingredients and adding them to his cauldron as he answered.
'No, only at meals occasionally. But I haven't spoken to him one on one in months. He said we were going to have meetings to talk about…I don't even know, actually. But he's been so busy.'
'Try not to worry about him. You've got enough to think about.'
'Yeah. Christmas is next weekend. Are you going home? Hermione?'
Harry leaned forward in concern as Hermione had suddenly stopped stirring and was clutching tightly to the side of her cauldron.
Draco looked up at the tone of Harry's voice and his hands balled into fists. Hermione was had a hand pressed tightly to her abdomen and was bent over. Snape strode over to see what was happening and he listened in intently.
'Is there something wrong, Miss Granger?' Snape said in his usual low voice, using his wand to clear the air around their table a little.
'The fumes…suddenly felt lightheaded!' Hermione gasped, and attempted to stand upright again. Snape surveyed her with his black eyes.
'Hospital wing,' he said curtly, and Hermione looked relieved that he said no more. 'Better take Potter along.'
'No, it's ok, thank you Sir,' Hermione said quickly, not wanting Harry to know that anything else was wrong with her. She grabbed her back but left all of her potions equipment on the table and practically ran from the dungeon. Snape strolled away as Harry began to pack away her things with a look of worry on his face. He suddenly looked up and saw Draco staring right at him. It took Draco a long moment to realise that the look of worry on Harry's face was mirrored back on his own. He quickly turned away and didn't look up again for the rest of the class.
When the bell went Draco ditched the others and made his way up to the hospital wing as quickly as possible, hoping not to be seen by anybody. He peeked around the door and saw that only one bed was occupied, but it was by a small boy who looked to be quite ill. No sign of Hermione. He strode down the length of the ward and knocked on the door to Madam Pomfrey's office.
'Malfoy, what are you doing here? Are you ill?' she said in surprise when she saw him. He shook his head irritably.
'I'm looking for the Head Girl. Has she been in here?'
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. 'No, I haven't seen her. Why would you be looking here? Is she ill?'
Draco thought for a moment on what to reply to this. He settled on mostly what was the truth.
'She left potions not that long ago because she didn't feel well. I thought she'd be up here.'
'Oh. Well, no, I haven't seen her,' Madam Pomfrey looked at him intently and Draco had the uncomfortable feeling that she knew more than he wanted her to.
'Well…as Head Boy…I'm concerned that she has been unwell lately and isn't…able to perform her duties. I've been picking up a lot of the slack. More than my fair share, and all that. It's very annoying.'
'Oh, yes, of course,' Madam Pomfrey nodded in sympathy. 'I have noticed that she's seemed a bit off lately. I wonder if I should have a chat with her. Or perhaps to Professor McGonagall.'
'I'd speak directly to her,' Draco said quickly, and she nodded again. Better not to involve any other teachers. McGonagall was a lot sharper than Pomfrey.
'Alright, dear, well thank you for letting me know.'
Draco shrugged and turned to leave. He saw with a slightly sinking heart that Potter was walking towards him down the ward.
'What are you doing here, Malfoy?' he said in unfriendly tone, as always. 'Where's Hermione?'
'I don't know where your girlfriend is, Potter, she's not my responsibility.'
Harry glowered at him. 'So you're not here to check up on her?' he said suspiciously, and Draco blinked once in surprise.
'Why the hell would I do that?' he said defensibly. Harry looked at him for a moment and Draco didn't like his expression one bit. Before they could exchange niceties again Draco pushed past him forcefully and left. Potter was too close all of a sudden, and he couldn't have that at all.