For the Challenge That Must Not Be Named; two characters pulling an all-nighter.
My Favorite Enemy
"'Twas in the merry month of May, When flowers were a bloomin'; Sweet William on his death-bed lay, For love of Barbary Allen," I sang softly, navigating the heavy wooden tables running the length of the Hogwarts library with practiced ease. "Slowly, slowly, she got up, And slowly she went nigh him, And all she said when she got there…"
I stopped and stared. "You!" I cried in shock, and some anger. It's not that I don't understand that other people use the library too—although no one spends as much time there as I do—but it was late; late enough that, had I not been one of seven students who'd elected to return for the new Eighth Year Directed Studies program, I would have hesitated to do my work in the library out of respect for the rules.
The eighth years are all legally adults, however, and then, too, ours is a rather unusual situation. Honestly, it's a more like being apprentice teachers and able assistants whenever an extra wand is necessary than being a student.
So I felt fully justified in avoiding my old bed in the seventh-year dormitory in Gryffindor tower, wedged between Ginny and Demelza, in favor of doing my Ancient Runes translation in what I'd assumed would be a deserted library.
Imagine my surprise when I beheld Draco Malfoy, of all people, sitting slumped over an open textbook, that ridiculously fair hair gleaming in the darkness.
"Granger," he said, not looking up and without any real malice. If he'd been a friend, or even a more neutral acquaintance, I probably would have asked what was wrong—he looked worse than Harry did, when I'd gone up to London to see him and Ron last weekend, and who has more cause than Harry to look ill, overworked, and overwhelmed, considering they all expect him to rebuild the entire Wizarding world practically from scratch?
I really wish Harry would take better care of himself…
"Malfoy," I said, staring down at him and trying to reconcile his presence with my previous assumptions about a quiet, deserted, comfortable place to work. Of course, he's one of the seven eighth years who decided to return (and the only Slytherin).
In the end, I'm not precisely sure why (maybe the way his shoulders were slumped so dejectedly, or maybe because he had Advanced Transfiguration open to Partial Vanishment, which I really haven't had the time to look at, but sounds interesting), but I bowed to the inevitable, set my teetering pile of books on the table beside him with a loud thud, and sat down.
I looked at him, but Malfoy didn't say anything—no objections, no vicious slurs on my heritage or anything (I decided he really couldn't be feeling well), so I shrugged and spread out my Rune dictionaries as best I might, and got started on translating the story of the Wizard and the Hopping Pot, from my copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
While I worked, what little candlelight there was flickered on the walls, and I had to remind myself that the battle was over; there was no reason to think I'd be confronting any Death Eaters, except maybe the one beside me.
He mostly stared into space, although I did catch him glancing down at the book in front of him once in awhile. I was relieved, because it's hard to work when other people are busy having fun or moping on a grand scale, and I didn't want to get too distracted.
It was slow going; translation always is, and of course I was quite worried about getting my Ancient Runes final project finished before the end of the school year. I probably could have kept doing it after the Final Leavetaking Ceremony, but it would've gotten in the way of the rest of my career, I was convinced. Better to finish and send it off to Obscurus Books as soon as possible.
Consequently, I was only two or three paragraphs in (although it must've been at least two hours later), when Malfoy finally spoke.
"What were you singing?"
"Hmmm?" I asked, trying to think of the proper translation for eihwaz. For some reason I always confuse it.
"When you came in, Granger, and sat down at my table without asking," he elaborated, somewhat sardonically.
I looked up, frowning. "Oh, did I interrupt your precious moping?" I inquired, and he sneered rather half-heartedly. When I was sure he wasn't going to interrupt, I explained, "It's just a folk song I heard growing up. It's called Barbary Allen."
"A Muggle folk song?" he asked resignedly.
A little hurt, I snapped back, "What do you think?"
"Mostly, I think good little Gryffindors should be in bed at this hour," he replied. "Or maybe patrolling the castle, all ready to fight nasty critters and sentient bits of the castle walls. Where are your two faithful shadows, anyway?" And he looked around, thereby evincing more interest and kinetic energy than I'd seen him do in months—since the Final Battle.
My skin went cold at the thought, and I willed the dreams to leave me alone this time. I would not relive that night again—once was bad enough.
"Harry and Ron are helping rebuild the Ministry, as you very well know," I said coolly.
"Not Potter and Weasley," Malfoy said impatiently. "I meant Lovegood and Weasley—other Weasley. And Longbottom, I suppose," he added as a palpable afterthought.
"I expect they're asleep; after all, it is almost one in the morning," I said neutrally.
"Oh, have I touched a nerve?" Malfoy grinned, gleeful at the prospect of tormenting me. Some things never change.
I must not have been as neutral as I thought, because he continued, "Had a falling out with Lovegood? No, you'd have to unravel what in Salazar's name she's going on about first; must've been Weaselette."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said, and tried to concentrate on the Wizard and the Hopping Pot. Runes blurred before my eyes, and I scowled.
"You're not fussed about Quidditch, so it can't be because she's Captain again this year…" Malfoy said thoughtfully. "Of course, she's Head Girl, too, because McGonagall'd never choose based on someone's actual 'leadership skills' instead of who they're dating…"
Bitterness had crept into his voice, and for once, I wasn't annoyed—probably because part of me agreed with him. I felt ashamed. "Ginny is my friend," I defended myself. "Of course, I'm happy for her. And she does have good leadership skills—she really does. And Professor McGonagall would never give someone the job of Head Girl who she thought didn't deserve it, no matter who her boyfriend was. I'm fine with it; really."
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," Malfoy said smoothly. I longed to slap that self-satisfied smirk off his smug face, just like I had third year—
But how could I, when I knew he was right?
Ordinarily, Malfoy would be the last person I'd confide in. But I couldn't justify criticizing Ginny, even obliquely, to Harry or Ron or Luna or Neville, who would all have come to her defense even faster than I had.
"It's just," I complained, "It's not that Ginny's not great for the job, or that she doesn't deserve it, or anything…but you'd think, wouldn't you, that a person shouldn't be penalized for skipping school to save the world?" My voice took on a wistful tone that I don't think Malfoy missed.
"In short," he said, "you think you should get bonus points for hunting down Horcruxes, or whatever, with Potter and Weasley, while Weaselette sat through Muggle Studies with Carrow and doodled those damned green eyes on every possible spare bit of parchment."
"I should have been Head Girl," I said angrily, frowning down at my parchment. "Me! And ordinarily, I would have been. It was my destiny, the way my life was supposed to go…you know?"
"I was Head Boy—did you know that?" Malfoy sounded almost lyrical. Alarmed, I glanced at him, and found myself mesmerized. He was like a tragic poem—all doom and gloom and youth cut short by tragedy.
If anyone has a right to look like that, it's Harry, but somehow I couldn't resent Malfoy for it.
"Yes," he went on. "Still had enough prestige for that, Salazar knows. And Snape protected me—and all the others. Head Boy, and I couldn't even look out for the first years in my own House, Carrows breathing down my neck and the Dark Lord like a black fist around my heart. Sure, rule-breaking Gryffindors and smart-aleck Ravenclaws make the best test subjects in detention, but first years are so little…so little…and I watched. All I ever do is watch."
He turned, and seemed to see me for the first time. His eyes were dark. "Granger," he said, as though he were trying to fix my name and identity in his mind. "Should have been Head Girl. And what of me? I should have died—on the top of the Tower, in the darkest dungeon, in my own dining room with the Muggle Studies teacher—in the Room of Hidden Things, chased by firewraiths and Crabbe…Oh, Salazar, Crabbe…"
And he leaned on his folded arms and wept.
Hesitantly, I reached out to pat his shoulder. "Malfoy, it's okay," I lied. "It's over."
"Don't touch me, Mudblood!" he screamed, and I jumped back, scattering Ancient Runes books onto the floor.
I thought about just leaving—Malfoy's issues weren't exactly helping me concentrate on Rune translation—but somehow, I couldn't do it. If I left him in the library like this, someone would come and he'd call them horrible names too, and then what?
The M-word is practically an Unforgiveable offense, these days. Malfoy's normally so self-centered I wouldn't expect him to risk it all on one insult, no matter the provocation.
Not that Malfoy was exactly in a state to care what provocation I offered him. In a perverse way, I knew I was the only person he could really talk to about…that stuff I usually keep buried in my subconscious.
Still, in spite of having reasoned the whole thing out, the M-word comment had hurt my feelings.
I didn't try touching Malfoy again.
Instead, I said carefully, "Let's go down to the kitchens, get something cool. Do you like iced tea?"
Malfoy looked up and stared at me. I really hoped he wasn't going to have some sort of fit, because then I'd have to drag him to the Hospital Wing, thereby cutting even further into my translation time.
"Iced tea?" Malfoy said slowly. Then he laughed, and laughed.
"If you're hysterical, I'm prepared to hit you," I muttered darkly.
"I'm sitting in a library, trying to avoid my erstwhile companions, because I've failed them all—" his eyes went dark again—"and Harry Potter's Mu—Muggleborn sidekick is the only person I can even talk to—you know, I think I'd love some iced tea."
"Great," I said, deciding to ignore the deeper issues for the time being. After a moment's hesitation, I left my Rune dictionaries in their disordered state, and cast a Disillusionment charm over them just in case. Then I got up, and waited politely for Malfoy to join me.
The walk down to the kitchens was silent and rather stately—for a moment, I pictured myself walking down a spiral staircase, in finer dress robes than I've ever owned, on Malfoy's arm; then I frowned and shook myself.
I really wasn't getting to see Ron, my actual boyfriend, often enough, I decided.
Not that Malfoy would be my type even if he weren't Malfoy, of course. I'm not interested in money I don't earn, or slaves, or the fabulous library I'm sure he owns—
"Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger," the nearest of the house-elves bowed, and I shifted uncomfortably. In theory, we had every right to go down to the kitchens for a midnight (try two or three in the morning) snack; but somehow, I hadn't thought through how servile the house-elves would be.
I don't think anyone deserves that kind of unequal devotion, least of all myself. Or Malfoy, when I remember how angry Harry was on Dobby's behalf.
"Could we get some iced tea?" Malfoy asked, and I was surprised, because it was so far from a command.
Either the Final Battle had unhinged his mind completely (hardly something to be ashamed of; that could have happened to any of us), or he really had changed.
"Well, if you want my opinion," I said lightly, once Malfoy and I were ensconced in a dim corner of the kitchen. The house-elves were giving us a wide radius of privacy, and I was sitting with one foot tucked around the chair leg, casually licking my spoon. There's something about ice cream that always puts me in a good mood—maybe because I never used to have it as a kid—downside of parents who're dentists.
Oh, we'd started with the iced tea, but somehow, we hadn't stopped there; Malfoy was stirring hot fudge rather absently into his own bowl.
"Hit me," Malfoy said dramatically, leaning back in his chair and spreading his arms.
I laughed. "You're lucky I have more respect for my ice cream than that," I told him, and his eyes gleamed in shared amusement. "But to return to my point," I continued, and paused for effect. Malfoy lifted his eyebrows. "You're clearly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."
"What?" he asked, looked completely bewildered. I savored the expression, doubting I would see it again. He's normally so—but then, nothing about that night was normal.
I shook away such serious thoughts, and tried to explain. "It's hardly shocking; you're likely right there with the rest of us—the rest of the survivors."
"Ah," Malfoy said, on a note of comprehension. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Wait: Disorder? I think I resent that."
"Hey," I shrugged. "I didn't come up with the name."
"If anyone's suffering from a Disorder around here, it's McGonagall," Malfoy said darkly, staring down at his melting ice cream. I stared at it, too; if Malfoy wasn't in the mood for something sweet, there were others present not so fastidious…
"Why?" I asked belatedly.
"The special Make-Weaselette-Head-Girl, Give-Pansy-Parkinson-Her-Own-Old-Job-As-Transfiguration-Professor, Let-The-Ministry-House-Slytherin-In-Azkaban-For-Two-Whole-Months, Convince-Professor-Sprout-Of-All-People-To-Teach-Potions-Because-Slughorn's-A-Cowardly-Git, Disorder," Malfoy elaborated.
"Comprehensive," I said drily, taking a leaf out of his book and raising my eyebrows sardonically. "It really bugs you that Pansy is the new Transfiguration teacher, doesn't it?"
"It's not every day your ex-girlfriend decides she's your Professor," he grumbled. "Or that everyone else listens to her, is it? Don't tell me you disagree; you must hate Pansy as much as you do me."
"I—" I shut up for a moment, and absently rubbed my eyes, feeling sleepy and confused. "I don't hate you, Malfoy. I don't hate you," I repeated wonderingly.
"Congratulations," he drawled. "That makes one of us."
After that, I didn't really know what to say, so I nicked some of his ice cream, and we nearly got into a food fight, but stopped ourselves just in time (he claimed the mess would be far too inconvenient, and I knew the house-elves would clean it up before I even got the chance). Eventually, laughing and talking loud enough to wake the whole castle, we made it back to the library.
"What are you working on?" Malfoy asked, and I showed him what I'd got so far on The Wizard and The Hopping Pot. He rolled his eyes, and gritted his teeth, before making the following strange offer: "I could...clean it up for you a bit. What you have so far. Grammar, and such-like."
Surprised, I nodded mutely.
I never thought I'd see the day that Malfoy, of all people, would help me with anything—much less actual work. Somehow, I couldn't refuse, though.
I knew he was trying to atone—if not for all the times he'd gotten Harry, Ron, and me into trouble, nor how much of a jerk he used to be, then for failing to live up to whatever codes he lived by. And I had to respect that.
We worked in silence for at least another hour—I rather lost track of time. It was surprising how easy it was—just translating, and giving the bits of parchment to Malfoy every now and again to be corrected.
At last, Malfoy rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He glanced at his watch. "Granger, it's nearly dawn," he said, voice hoarse from disuse.
Shocked, I jumped—or I would have, if I'd had enough energy left. I could scarcely believe it. "You mean we've stayed up all night?"
"Indeed," Malfoy said, expression inscrutable.
With a sigh, I closed my Rune dictionaries and glanced at my pile of parchment, my own handwriting small and cramped, Malfoy's red and rather elegantly loopy—clearly, penmanship is considered a pureblood virtue.
"Wow. We got a lot done," I said happily.
"Still one more thing," Malfoy told me, eyes bright. "Come on."
I stacked my books and parchment, then, after a moment's thought, Banished them upstairs to the room I shared with the seventh-year girls.
"Where are we going?" I asked, following him in spite of my better judgment. I thought I could hear Ron's voice in my head, saying "you can't trust that Malfoy git! Are you completely insane? This is obviously a trap!" But I ignored him. I'd already trusted Malfoy with my special Runes project, and what was more important than that?
Besides, I was, for once, too tired to be paranoid. I reveled in the unaccustomed freedom from my darker thoughts.
"You'll see." Malfoy led me along, through corridors and up flights of stairs, past portraits who smirked knowingly (I rolled my eyes, but Malfoy didn't seem to notice), until, finally—
"The Astronomy Tower? I've seen it, Malfoy," I said, a bit more sharply than I'd intended.
Apparently, the wound of Dumbledore's death was still too fresh in my mind—especially considering my company.
"No," Malfoy said in exasperation. He grabbed my arm and pulled me to the edge, and I tried to recoil, my reflexes dulled by too little sleep and the remnants of that irrational trust in Malfoy I was really going to have to get rid of, if I survived being thrown off the Astronomy Tower—
"Look," Malfoy said, letting go of my wrist in order to lift my chin. For one mad moment I thought he was going to kiss me, and then I looked—
And beheld the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen, in my entire life. "Oh," I said, when I could speak. And then, "Oh," as I watched the purples and pinks and oranges twirl together and separate into dream-shapes. I could have looked at it for hours—but the sun would clear the mountains soon, and then I'd destroy my vision.
Besides, these things are fleeting—I felt blessed to have seen it at all.
How long we stood like that—Malfoy and I, at the end of the Astronomy Tower, staring up at the sky—I'll never know. It could have been seconds, or hours. I didn't even want to blink, to take my eyes from the sunrise for a moment.
At last, as the sun began to clear the mountains, Malfoy grasped my elbow. "We had better go," he said wryly, "before the castle wakes and assumes the worst."
"Worst?" I said absently. "You-Know—V-Voldemort returned, you mean?"
He looked startled, and I shrugged. "You didn't really think you were the only one with the dreams, did you?"
We walked down more flights of stairs, and then up them again, until we were quite close to Gryffindor Tower. I stopped, and turned to him.
"Thank you," I said.
"For what?" He looked adorably confused.
"For putting things in perspective; Ginny being Head Girl doesn't seem so bad now," I answered lightly.
"Granger," he started to say.
"I have a given name, you know, Draco," I said, wondering if I was doing the right thing. "I make you free of it."
Draco looked at me, and I wished I knew what he was thinking. Then he laughed, and I bristled.
"No, it's just—'always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much,'" he quoted. "This round to you—Hermione."
"So long as you don't go back to hating me tomorrow—later today," I corrected myself.
"I don't hate you. Goodnight—and good morning." Draco bowed somewhat ironically, and departed.
Shaking my head, I told the Fat Lady the password and made a beeline for my room, where Demelza, an early riser, was already stirring.
As I closed my eyes, and waited for sleep to overtake me (surely a short nap before Potions class couldn't hurt), I thought about Draco; and I told myself, rather sternly, not to regret this night when I woke.
After all, I remember thinking, just before sleep claimed me, a dragon—or a Draco—does not always have to be slain—he can sometimes be befriended.