Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Depressing, but true.
BIG DEVELOPMENTS Y'ALL. Here's another early chapter to thank you for your enthusiastic reviewing. I also want to say a very belated welcome back to my regular readers, and a big hello to the new folks. It's pretty great to have you all here. The interwebs are so fun! So... To summarize this chapter: shit goes down. Discuss!
Draco walked out of his room at 9 pm, wondering why he hadn't been called for dinner. He expected to find Hermione in the kitchen, his father reading at the table. There was such a routine around this house now that he was rarely taken by surprise.
Instead, he found his father on the couch, trying to read but looking disgruntled. Hermione was nowhere to be seen.
"Father?" he said, puzzled.
Lucius looked up, his face drawn and tired.
"She's gone to bed. Mr. Potter already came by with her potion."
Draco didn't understand. She never left them without food... Unless she was completely incapacitated.
"Was she feeling ill?" he asked, worry kicking around in his stomach. "Did she have another episode?"
"She wasn't feeling up to having company," his father replied, vaguely, not meeting Draco's eyes.
Something clicked in Draco's brain. That strange expression on his father's face was guilt, and that could only mean one thing.
"What did you say to her?" he said, suddenly angry. "You upset her, didn't you? Was this about earlier? Did you draw some drastically incorrect assumption about my behaviour towards her?"
"I think I am quite correct in my assumption about your behaviour, son," Lucius snapped. "You are developing feelings for her, just as I feared. I simply reminded her that you are not able to be involved with each other. Surely the girl knew that."
"But we're not involved!" Draco shouted, almost pleadingly. "We're just becoming friends! What right do you have to scare her off? Maybe I like having a friend!"
"You want more than friendship with her and you know it," snarled Lucius. "But you can't. You can't have it, you hear? I won't have you falling in love with someone of lesser status than you. I regret that she took it badly, but all I did was tell her that we can't have weak blood poisoning our family line - "
"Do not tell me you used that language with her," Draco seethed, his voice dangerously low. "Even you wouldn't be that callous. Tell me you didn't say that to her."
Lucius didn't respond, and looked away.
"You did. You actually did." Draco ran his hand through his hair, astounded that his father would do such a thing. After she saved them from a death sentence. After she had cared for them so diligently. He almost wanted to laugh, it was so absurd. "Do I need to remind you of everything she's done for us? Do I need to point out that it is our blood that is a handicap in this world? Two Death Eater Purebloods, ready to extinguish our family name because we can't be bothered to evolve - "
"Evolve?" Lucius shouted. "Do you think having pure blood is something to evolve out of? We are privileged! Of course I am grateful for everything she's done. She's a very bright young woman, and I owe her a great deal for her sacrifices. But I cannot allow you to be reckless with your relationships! You are to marry a Pureblooded witch - "
"Who, father? Who am I to marry? Surely you realize that nearly all the eligible Purebloods in our community are involved with the Dark Lord. They wouldn't want me, and at this point, I wouldn't want them. Would you condemn me to a life of bachelorhood if I can't find someone you approve of? Either way, the Malfoy name dies with me."
Lucius snapped his mouth shut, breathing heavily. He looked furious, but Draco could tell he had hit a nerve.
"You know what, father?" Draco said, more calmly now. "I didn't know where things might go with her. I was interested in finding out, seeing if she'd give me a chance after how I've treated her, but it wasn't some sure thing. I just wanted to see. She's... Different. She's intriguing. She's forgiving." He let out a sad, desperate laugh that sounded a bit like a sob, his calm facade slipping. "She treats us both better than we deserve, too. I actually feel happy when I spend time with her. I can't think of anyone else who has that effect on me. You've not only ruined that, the tiny, minute chance of something romantic, but you've ruined my chance to have an actual friend too. She really is the only person in my life right now. The only person who might be forgiving enough to befriend me. Everyone else wants me to disappear." It was hard to say these things out loud. Although Draco knew them to be true, they were very depressing realities and he had been happy to ignore them. Other than his father, he had no one. At times like this, he missed his mother more than he could ever explain.
Lucius was looking at the ground, guilt clouding his harsh features.
"What's going to happen, father?" Draco said, even softer now. "Let's say for the sake of argument that the Dark Lord is brought down. Do you really think anyone but her will give us a chance? If you do, you're dreaming. The Order hates us; they only keep us around for those paltry bits of information you feed them. I'm actually amazed they keep us around with how little you say. The other side, well, we know how they feel about us. The public won't be forgiving, either. They'll want us slaughtered. Who else but her?"
Lucius didn't respond. He looked so old in that moment, Draco was taken aback. The monologue was over; he knew he had made his point. Hermione was their hope, and Lucius had dashed it.
"Perhaps I was hasty with my words," his father said eventually. "I acknowledge that she has given us more than we deserve. And I'm sorry if I've denied you the chance to have her company, as a friend or otherwise. Of course you deserve that kind of happiness. I don't regret my motivations, but perhaps I wasn't thinking about the future in the same manner as you. Sometimes I forget how much things have changed."
Draco sighed, and looked down the hall towards her room.
"She'll be so hurt," he said, quietly. "She cares about you too, father. You know she does. She must be so hurt."
Lucius swore under his breath. "Perhaps I should speak with her."
"No," said Draco. "I'll try."
He left his father sitting alone and padded up to Hermione's door. "Granger?" he said, knocking. He tried the handle, but it was locked. "Granger? Can I talk to you?"
There was no response. If anything, the was a vacuum of sound, signalling to Draco that she had cast a spell to keep her from being bothered. He wasn't surprised, but he was saddened. After that charged moment they had shared earlier, the feel of her hands under his, his lips on her cheek, it had to end like this. Fuck he was angry at his meddling father. He had hoped to gage her mood over dinner; see how she reacted to his earlier advances. See if there was a chance for him to try again. But anything he might have gained had been erased. She didn't want to see either of them.
He walked back to the living room, defeated.
"She's locked and warded the door. Maybe she'll speak to us tomorrow," he said, not quite believing his own words. "I'm going to go see if there's anything in the fridge."
Both Malfoys spent the night feeling extremely empty, wondering what the future held for them, if anything.
Draco and Lucius woke up fairly early the next morning to see if Hermione was about. Exiting their rooms at the same time, they shared a look and walked briskly to the kitchen.
What they saw there made Lucius groan and Draco swear.
The table was set for two, and there was a quiche in the centre for their breakfast. No third place setting, and no sign of Hermione.
"When on earth did she make that?" Lucius muttered.
"I don't fucking know, father," Draco growled. "But I'm willing to bet we won't see her until she leaves for work, if even." He kicked the kitchen chair in anger and stomped back to his room, leaving his father alone.
Draco spent most of the day in the library, reading and sifting through Hermione's ever-growing collection. He jumped eagerly every time he heard a door open, and ran into the hall hoping to see Hermione's familiar mass of brown curls. Each time, it was Lucius. His father had taken to pacing agitatedly around the house and Draco used every last reserve of his patience not to scream at the man. He held off simply because he could see the guilt eating away at his father. Good. He deserved to feel guilty.
Draco had been right, of course. She was hurt. Really hurt, if her reaction was anything to go by. She had always brushed off Draco's "Mudblood" comments before, but Lucius saying the equivalent was different. Draco knew that she had come to enjoy his father's company. The fact that she ordered back copies of his favourite magazine, completely unprompted, was evidence enough.
But Lucius telling Hermione to her face that she wasn't good enough to be friends with Draco, let alone something more... Well... That must have been difficult to hear. Especially after that moment they shared at the end of his treatment. Merlin, what he wouldn't give to have leaned in a little further and kissed her on the lips. He liked the girl. He liked her a lot. He knew that now. And the worst part about his father's horrendous oversight is that his suspicions were actually correct - Draco did want something more than friendship with Hermione. Friendship would be great, it would be wonderful, but it wouldn't be enough in the long run. Not with the way his pulse raced around her. Or the way he shivered when her bare hands touched his chest.
He wanted more, and he might not get it.
A door opened somewhere in the house, and he almost didn't bother to go check. His father had been pacing like a lunatic for hours, and it was most likely him. Still, it was worth looking. He poked his head out of the room.
Hermione's small frame was walking quickly towards the floo.
"Granger!" he shouted, and took off in a sprint. "Wait!"
She ignored him and picked up her pace. In turn, he practically threw himself at her, grabbing her by the shoulders and spinning her around right before she was about to reach for the floo powder.
"Granger," he panted, staring into her wide eyes. "Please. Please just talk to me."
"There's nothing to say, Malfoy," she said, her expression sad and strained. "I'm off to work. We don't have anything to discuss."
"But we do," he said, pleading. "I need to apologize for my father. He needs to apologize too, frankly, and he will. But I wanted you to know that I don't care what he says. He barely means that tripe anyway - you and I can be friends if we want to."
She sighed, looking anxious. "Malfoy, listen... Although what your father said upset me, I guess he's right. You and I are from different worlds. He would never accept me as your... Your friend... And I don't belong in your society. He's just saving us some trouble. It's fine. I shouldn't really have thought that - "
"Yes you should have! I want to be friends. I want us to keep getting to know each other. Please Granger, this is hard enough for me to say as it is... Can we just talk about this more after you get back from work? I don't want you to shut me out. Please."
She sighed again and closed her eyes, as if she was trying to block him from her consciousness.
Her eyes snapped open.
"What did you say?" she asked, incredulous.
"I called you by your name," he said gently, brushing a curl out of her eyes. "Promise me we can talk more tonight." He was looking at her straight on, wanting her to know how serious he was. He didn't want to mess this up.
She chewed on her lower lip. He held his breath.
"Well... I guess we can talk more later..."
He let out a sigh of relief and gathered her into a hug, ignoring her yelp of surprise.
"Thank you," he said, earnestly, relishing the contact before letting her go.
She stammered briefly, and then stepped into the floo, calling out the name of her lab in a shaky voice. She was gone in a roar of green flames.
"Son?" came his father's voice. Draco turned to see Lucius walking unevenly down the hall.
"You're smiling," Lucius observed. "Do I take that to mean that you spoke with her?"
Draco nodded, trying not to grin too widely. "She said we could talk more when she got back from work."
Lucius seemed to relax a bit. "Well, I'm glad to hear it. Perhaps I can apologize after all."
"Indeed," said Draco, still smiling. "I think she would appreciate that."
He looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was 1:05 pm. Just under five hours until she got home.
He went and cut himself a generous piece of quiche and waited.
It was 6:10 pm.
"She's never been late before," Draco said, frowning. "Never. Not even by a minute." He was tapping his fork nervously against the table.
Lucius seemed equally perturbed. "It is odd, but ten minutes is not a drastic amount of time. I'm sure she was just tied up with a project."
Draco nodded, still tapping his fork. Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
Lucius glared at him, and then his expression softened.
"She'll be here soon, son. Don't worry."
"I don't understand. Do you think she's staying late because she's angry with me? She seemed to want to talk when I asked her earlier." Tap tap tap tap tap tap.
Lucius frowned at the clock.
"It is rather strange," he said, absently.
Draco cut himself another piece of quiche.
Draco was pacing.
"Something isn't right, father. It's not like her. I don't like this." He had thrown his fork across the room minutes earlier.
Lucius stood up stiffly and walked towards the floo.
"Although I'd like to believe the best, I agree that this is quite out of character for her. I will contact the Order in case they have information we don't."
Draco continued to pace as Lucius stuck his head into the flames, presumably to talk to Potter or Weasley or anyone else who could help.
He pulled his head out ten minutes later, a deep frown marring his features.
"They haven't heard from her, and nobody is answering at the lab."
Draco felt his stomach sink.
"The lab is secure though, right? That Wolf guy said so. Granger said so. She's supposed to be safe there, right?"
Lucius cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"In theory, yes," he said. He looked doubtful. "Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley are going there now to investigate. They will come here afterwards."
Draco felt the panic rising and fought to push it down. Panicking wasn't going to help the situation. Still, his breaths were coming up short, as though someone was squeezing his windpipe. Where the hell was she?
"She never leaves the lab," he murmured. "Not even for groceries. Gets too anxious in public."
Lucius nodded. "Another reason why I am concerned about the situation. I see no reason why she would have left."
They sat in torturous silence while they waited for news.
Half an hour later, Harry and Ron burst through the floo looking frantic.
Draco jumped to his feet.
"What?" he said. "What's going on? Why are you both looking so worried?"
Harry ran his hands quickly through his hair. He had dark circles around his eyes.
"We found her wand," he choked out.
"We found blood," added Ron, sombrely, looking equally destroyed. "It's hers," he added, seeing Lucius open his mouth to ask.
The room swam before Draco's eyes, and he swayed.
Harry reached out with alarm. "Easy Malfoy. Have a seat." He guided him towards the couch. Draco's vision was still spinning.
"Her blood?" he echoed, pressing his hand over his eyes. "Oh my God."
Harry and Ron glanced at each other, clearly wondering when Draco had become so concerned about Hermione, but both of them kept quiet. There were more serious things to worry about.
"What about her employer? What does he have to say?" Lucius asked, all colour gone from his face.
"Still trying to reach Wolf. He's away on business," said Harry. "I hope to Merlin he answers us soon. He's going to flip."
Ron sat down and sunk his head into his hands, mirroring Draco. Harry looked haunted.
"She'll break if they hurt her again," Ron mumbled, lifting his head and staring into the floo. "She can't take another incident like last time."
Draco heard Harry let out what could only be described as a whimper. He looked like he was cracking at the seams with worry.
Harry stood up suddenly, grabbed a heavy vase off the end table, and threw it against a wall with a huge crash and a growl. Glass splintered off onto the floor in satisfying disarray.
Nobody even flinched. Harry sat down again, looking slightly more calm.
Draco felt that he understood Harry for the first time in his life.