Hermione sat down on the upholstered chair set before the Headmaster's desk, trying very hard not to fidget under Dumbledore's piercing gaze. Abandoning all pretence of sleep, the portraits on the walls watched with interest the scene unfolding on the floor below.
"Well, Miss Granger," Dumbledore prompted, "I believe that in a situation such as this, an explanation of some sort is traditional."
"Yes, sir. Well, you see, sir…" she started, but the sound died in her throat. She had no lies to tell, no excuses to make. Her secrets were both too big to share and too big to keep secret.
There was no doubt in her mind that Malfoy had been responsible for what had happened to Katie Bell. And while she did not know what he was after, if someone else got hurt it would be partly her fault for not speaking up when she had the chance. Vow or no vow. But despite Malfoy's opinions about Gryffindors' penchant for martyrdom, she was seventeen years old and she did not want to die.
Sitting behind his desk, surrounded by the pomp and grandeur of the Headmaster's Office, Dumbledore was Hogwarts — old, unchangeable and larger than life — but there was an amused glint in his eye that brought him back to the level of mere mortal.
"Miss Granger," he said, "if there is something Gryffindor House has always prided itself on is the ability of its members to fabricate perfectly believable excuses under pressure."
Hermione shot the Headmaster an astonished look. "Excuse me, sir?"
"Of course," Dumbledore continued as if she hadn't spoken, "we lost some great talent in that department when the Weasley twins dropped out. Still, one must make do. May I interest you in a sherbet lemon?" He took the lid off a round silver bowl filled with sweets and offered it to the witch.
"No, thank you, sir," she replied, unable to look away from the Headmaster's blackened hand.
"Ah, yes. Ghastly sight, isn't it?" Hermione blushed, looking away. Dumbledore put down the bowl and picked up the crystal vial from the table. "I would ask you what is in this memory or who it belongs to, but I have a feeling I may be disappointed in expecting a reply."
"I'm sorry, sir," Hermione said. And she was.
"And if despite your objections I should use the Pensieve to examine the memory myself?" Dumbledore asked, turning the vial between his fingers while eyeing it thoughtfully.
That would not bode well for her longevity. "I would rather you wouldn't, sir."
"I see. Does this memory include something I should be informed of, do you think?"
"But you will not tell me what it is?"
"Nor will you grant me permission to view the memory?"
"We find ourselves in a rather curious situation, Miss Granger."
"Honestly, Dumbledore," said Phineas Nigellus Black, unable to contain himself any longer, "you don't need the girl's permission to confiscate the memory. All this mollycoddling of students — Muggle-borns no less — it's absolutely disgraceful. In my day—"
"Oh, be quiet, Phineas," Dilys Derwent cut in. "It is not your place to comment." That was all it took for all the portraits to start arguing — nine centuries of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts trying to out-talk each other.
"Enough," said Dumbledore, trying to control the ruckus. "ENOUGH!"
Everyone fell silence at once, though Black's stormy countenance suggested there was much more he'd like to say on the subject.
"Miss Granger, what can you say?" Dumbledore asked, not unkindly.
Hermione did not reply straight away, taking the time to carefully go over the exact words of the vow. "I cannot say," she started slowly, "what is in the memory." She reached into her pocket, feeling the edges of the pendant with the tips of her fingers. "Nor can I say who it belongs to." She deliberately placed the necklace on top of the desk, between her and Dumbledore. "But I think you should give more credit to Harry's suspicions."
Dumbledore set down the vial and picked up the necklace, running a finger over the smooth surface of the pendant. When he spoke, it was with a deliberate calm that suggested that he too weighed his words with care. "Professor Snape keeps me better informed than you and Harry give him credit for. I am fully aware of Mr Malfoy's new affiliation."
"Sir, if you know, then you must realise that—"
"Now, now, Miss Granger," Dumbledore interrupted. "Let us none of us say too much. Trust that I know precisely what goes on in this school, and that there are bigger things at play here than you, Harry or even Mr Malfoy are aware of."
Hermione bit her lip, knowing she had almost said what she couldn't. But while the interruption did highlight just how much Dumbledore knew, it did not make her feel any better. The whole thing put her in mind of McGonagall's giant chessboard, and to the pawns it made little difference who moved the pieces.
"Yes, sir," she said simply, knowing that further questions would be pointless. She took the vial back from Dumbledore, but the Headmaster did not return the necklace immediately, eyeing it thoughtfully while turning it between his fingers.
"You should take good care of this, Miss Granger," he said. "A truly effective amulet is a rare thing indeed."
"It's just a necklace," she said, feeling more uncomfortable than she had up until that moment.
"And a wand is just a stick," replied the Headmaster. "Magic is more than a flick of the wrist and a few choice words, and it is not always calculated or deliberate. Love is a powerful force, Miss Granger, and it changes magic in ways that we can only begin to understand."
Hermione blushed, accepting back the necklace with muttered thanks. Love was a big word. Too big a word for whatever had happened between her and Draco Malfoy.
"Now, as to the matter of trespassing," Dumbledore said in a lighter tone. "Prefects ought to set an example for the school community. The least I expect of my students is that should they have the audacity to break into the office of a teacher, they would do so in such a way as not to get caught. Therefore, ten points from Gryffindor for poor planning. Don't beat yourself up, Miss Granger; it happens to the best."
Hermione suppressed a smile. "Yes, sir. Very sorry, sir." The muttering of the portraits was at once amused and disapproving, and Phineas Nigellus Black looked positively mutinous at the thought of a student getting off so easily after such an infraction.
Hermione badly wanted to hate Malfoy. For what he had done to her, for what he had done to Katie, for having sided with murderers and monsters instead of standing his ground. But hate too was a big word. Too big perhaps for what she felt.
Maybe a different Hermione would have felt more strongly about what he had done to her. Maybe a Hermione who could remember everything she had lost might feel her hate justified. But she didn't remember. Not really. Not enough. The things he had told her were the story of a stranger. Someone else's words painting someone else's reality.
In spite of everything she knew — or maybe because of it — she couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He had made terrible choices, but if it were her family on the line, she could not claim she would make better ones. He was still a bully and a bigoted git — those charming traits he had only himself to blame for — but no one deserved to end up so cornered.
Pity only stretched so far, however. Whatever his reasons, they did not absolve him of the consequences of his actions. And Hermione remembered Katie Bell, even if Dumbledore did not. The Gryffindor Chaser was not just collateral damage. She was a person. Someone's child, someone's sister, someone's friend. She was more than a pawn in Voldemort's master plan, and more than an unfortunate accident in Dumbledore's grand scheme of things.
Hermione glanced at her notes. She still did not know how Malfoy had managed to be in two places at the same time — in Hogwarts, doing detention with McGonagall, and in Hogsmeade, handing Katie the cursed necklace. The simplest answer was, of course, that he wasn't. Someone else had delivered the necklace to Katie on his behalf. Who didn't matter. It might have been one of his friends, but since it had happened in Hogsmeade, it could just as easily have been someone else entirely. Voldemort and his cause had many sympathisers, and the Malfoys had deep pockets.
No, what she wanted to know was who Malfoy would trust enough to confide in. Snape was out. It was clear from the conversation Harry had overheard that there was only so much Malfoy was willing to tell his fellow Death Eater. But he had to trust someone, and there were four entries in her list of possibilities: Crabbe and Goyle, who never knew what side was up unless Malfoy was in the room; Pansy Parkinson who he had known since before they could walk; and Blaise Zabini, who he had trusted enough to tell of his relationship with a Mudblood.
Puzzles on top of puzzles and one of them was bound to have some of the pieces she was missing. She would never get a straight answer out of Malfoy, but every chain had a weak link. Even an unpleasant git like him needed someone to talk to, to boast to, to share things with. One of those four would know something, but they would never talk to her…
Hermione reached for the necklace inside her pocket and set it on top of the parchment, Dumbledore's words echoing inside her head. Love might be a step too far, but even she could not deny that there had been something. Malfoy had been… fond of her, maybe? She frowned at the awkwardness of the thought just as a plan started to take shape inside her head.
She jumped off her chair, earning a very stern "shhhh" from Madam Pince. But for once Hermione did not care. She had a plan. Maybe not a good plan, but a plan nonetheless. She gathered her things and rushed out of the library, making her way towards Slughorn's office.
Hermione jumped back with a squeak when the contents of her cauldron exploded, all over the table. Ron and some of the Slytherins sniggered and Slughorn walked over to her with a disapproving expression.
"Tut, tut, Miss Granger," he said. "This is most unlike you. Let's try to focus, m'dear."
"Sorry, Professor." She cleaned the mess with an impatient wave of her wand, aggravated by her own clumsiness.
"Are you okay?" Harry whispered under the bubbling sounds of the cauldrons around the room.
"Fine," she replied curtly, tossing two eyes of newt into the now empty cauldron. There were times for a case of nerves, but this was not one of them. She would not back down, and she would not give in to the powerful temptation to take the time to come up with a different plan, a better plan. It was the plan she had, and she would make it work. And if she could manage to avoid blowing up the dungeons in the process, all the better.
When Slughorn dismissed the class, she stayed behind, waiting for Harry to leave first with Ron. She had hoped Malfoy would leave alone as well, but when he walked out the door he was accompanied by Blaise Zabini and Theodore Nott. She hesitated only for half a second before following them out.
"Malfoy," she called. "A word."
The three boys turned at the sound of her voice, Malfoy with his usual scowling expression, Zabini affecting a look of amused curiosity, and Nott with the air of haughty self-importance only a Slytherin pure blood could summon to full effect.
"Friend of yours, Draco?" Nott asked mockingly.
"Trust me, mate," Zabini said before Malfoy could reply, "you do not want to get in the middle of that. Come on."
Malfoy waited until the other two Slytherins had disappeared at the end of the corridor before opening the door to an empty classroom. His stormy expression did not bode well, but stormy faces did not scare Hermione Granger. The moment the door closed behind them, Malfoy grabbed her arm.
"Are you an idiot?" he asked, furious. "Do you know whose son he is? Use your brain, Granger. Stop trying to attract the attention of every Death Eater around."
"Get your hands off me, Malfoy," she growled, snatching her arm out of his grasp. "I'm not afraid of him. And I am certainly not afraid of you."
Malfoy took another step towards her. "Then you haven't been paying attention."
She bit back a sharp remark. Arguing was not part of the plan, though it did seem inevitable whenever they were in the same room together. It was in Malfoy's nature to try and get under her skin, and she should know better than to let him.
"I don't want to argue," she said, setting down her book bag. "I want to talk."
"You and I have nothing else to talk about."
"Well, tough luck, because you made sure I had no one else to talk to."
Draco rolled his eyes, but did not reply and did not turn to leave. Instead, he too dropped his bag and leaned against one of the desks, his arms crossed, as if waiting for her to go on. Hermione hesitated. Now that she was here, she did not know how to take that one final step.
She resisted the urge to over-think it. The only way was forward, and she would be brave even if she wasn't entirely sure she was being smart. There was something reassuring about the weight of the necklace in her pocket, and while she did not think Dumbledore was right, she hoped he wasn't entirely wrong.
She hoped that maybe-not-quite-but-close-enough love was enough, and that Malfoy didn't push her away. Because it would spoil her plan, because it would bruise her ego, because somewhere deep inside of her there was still the Hermione who thought him wonderful. Even when he was a git. Even when he drove her crazy.
And while she couldn't remember — not really, not enough — sometimes that other Hermione would peer behind her eyes and for a single moment, both realities would sync and she would ache for him — for the boy who had hurt her, for the boy who was hurting, and for a world where it all might have been different, and right, and good.
She took two careful steps towards him, and then she took two more until they were standing face to face. Malfoy did not speak, and he did not move, his blank expression betrayed by the tension of his shoulders.
She raised a hesitant hand and gently touched his face, refusing to back down before his inscrutable gaze. There was a hardness to him that hadn't been there the year before and for a split second she wished she could remember more. She wished she could remember him as he had been then.
"What game are you playing, Granger?" he whispered. Rather than replying — and before she lost her nerve — Hermione leaned forward, standing on the tip of her toes, and kissed him. That very moment something exploded right outside the door, causing Hermione to move back, startled.
"PEEVES!" came Filch's angry voice. The poltergeist cackled loudly, his voice echoing between the stone walls of the corridor outside. "You get over here, you useless good-for-nothing figment!" Loud steps got louder and then lower as Filch followed Peeves away from the classroom where they were.
Hermione laughed nervously, unable to stop herself. Of all the corridors in all the castle, there had to be a commotion right outside that one. Muggles didn't know how easy they had it that their plans did not have to account for the random, unpredictable chaos unleashed by a poltergeist on steroids.
But just as she started to fear the moment lost, Draco wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her back against him, his mouth finding hers, demanding and hard. She tried to think, but her brain was too full of him — his lips, his tongue, the feel of his hands and arms, the warmth of his body against hers.
His thumb brushed against the skin of her cheek in what could have passed for a caress, but his urgency left little space for gentleness. Draco turned them around so that she was the one standing against the desk, and Hermione did not think to object when he pushed her on top of it. Every inch of her skin knew him in a way that went deeper than conscious memory, and her body responded to his with a will of its own. That was not the plan — it was very much not the plan — but just then she didn't care. She could be a fool for five minutes without lasting harm coming to the world on account of it.
Draco was tired of fighting. He didn't care that it was unwise, selfish and more than a little foolish. There would never be enough seconds in this moment to make up for all the things he had lost, or for all the things he had taken from her, but he pushed the thought away, focusing instead on her, on the way she ran her fingers through his hair while kissing him, on the pressure of her legs on either side of him, on the way she always smelled slightly of parchment and ink.
The cynical part of him — never very far away, even now — knew it was a trick. He didn't know what, or how, or why, but he knew her, and he knew a trick when he saw one. And he knew that when they stopped kissing and she walked away, he would only feel more keenly the space left by her absence. He had never known how much he felt that emptiness until that very moment.
She couldn't remember — not really, not enough — but he could, and he felt her loss in a way she could not feel his. And when she walked away — or when he did, because he had to — she would take with her another small part of him.
But not yet. Not just yet. He held on to her like a drowning man, as if she could somehow fill all the empty parts of him. He knew it was an illusion. She couldn't fix him; he couldn't even fix himself. But he could pretend otherwise for five minutes without the world crashing down around him on account of it.
Shivers ran down her spine, and her skin felt hot under his touch. Hermione sighed as Draco nuzzled her neck before kissing it, one of his hands busy undoing the top buttons of her shirt, while the other rested on her left leg, partially concealed by the hem of her skirt.
For the first time since learning what had transpired the night of the Yule Ball, she felt some measure of affinity with that younger Hermione whose actions had before seemed so foreign to her.
She knew, pulling Draco's head back and reclaiming his mouth with her own, that things that were wrong could still feel wonderful, and that sense was just as easy to misplace as any other inconvenient part of the human psyche.
But things that were lost could just as easily be found. She was walking on ice, and she did not forget it, even if she wished she could. "Malfoy," she croaked, out of breath. "Don't, we can't…"
The surprised hurt was evident in his expression, his grey eyes unusually unguarded. It lasted for only a moment, however, before his features assumed their customary smirking expression. "No more talking, then?" he asked, mockingly, tucking a rebel curl behind her ear. "Do let me know whenever you feel like having a chat again, Granger."
He moved away, taking with him all the warmth that until a few seconds ago she had felt tingling against her skin, and Hermione had to stop herself from calling him back. There was nothing for her down that path, and she reminded herself of that even as she felt an unexplainable urge to start crying.
Hermione didn't move until he was out of the room, but as soon as the door closed behind the wizard, she jumped off the table, grabbing her bag and looking for the small vial she knew had to be somewhere in that confusion of books, quills and parchment. Having found it, she carefully placed the single blond hair inside it, making sure to cork the vial securely before placing it back in the bag, next to the flask of Polyjuice Potion she had stolen from Professor Slughorn's office.
"Are you and Malfoy back together?"
"Excuse me?" Hermione looked up from her book, glancing worriedly around in case someone had overheard Harry's question. But it was still early in the evening and the common room was full of people, making individual conversations hard to overhear over the general noise.
"You heard me." Harry sat next to her, his back to the room. "I saw you together on the Marauder's Map this afternoon."
"Are you spying on me, now?" she asked indignantly.
Harry sighed. "I'm not spying on you, I'm spying on him, but you were kind of hard to miss. What's going on, Hermione?" There was concern in his voice, and Hermione knew he meant well, but there were too many things she could not say for her to feel comfortable saying anything at all.
"We're not back together. It's just… complicated." She closed the book, looking for something to say that would satisfy her friend without giving too much away.
"You've been avoiding me," Harry said in a neutral tone. She tried to deny it, but he interrupted her. "No, you have. After learning what he did to you, you've been avoiding me. And I don't… I don't know if that's because you're still mad at me for not telling you what I knew, but—"
"I'm not mad," she cut in, covering his hand with hers. "I'm not mad, I promise. It's just… complicated. There are things I can't tell you. Things I wish I could tell you, but I can't, and I'm sorry."
"Things about Malfoy?" he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
"Yes," she replied with a sigh.
"Hermione, if you know something, you have to tell me." This was why she had been avoiding him. Harry could never let anything go, specially when it came to his current obsession with Draco. "He's dangerous, and he's up to something. If you know something—"
"I. Can't. Tell you." She struggled to keep her voice low. Her life was enough of a mess without Harry being difficult on top of it.
"Harry, do you trust me?"
"That is not the—"
"Do you?" she pressed.
"I would trust you with my life."
"Then trust me," she said, feeling the full weight of that responsibility. "I will tell you what I can, when I can." Defeated but unconvinced, Harry stopped arguing the point, reaching for her Transfiguration book and opening it randomly, for lack of anything better to do.
The wizard was not wrong about Malfoy. He was more right than he knew, but she couldn't tell him that. She wondered why Dumbledore didn't confide in Harry. The Headmaster knew far more than he let on, and it seemed to her that everything would be much simpler if he would only tell Harry all the things the Gryffindor wanted to know.
"I need your help," she said, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen between them.
"With what?" Harry asked, putting down the book.
"Tomorrow night, I need you to keep Malfoy away from the Slytherin common room for a few hours."
"Will you tell me why?"
"No. Will you do it?"
Harry sighed, running a hand through his messy hair. "Yes, I'll do it. But I hope you know what you're doing."
She hoped so too.
It was cold in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and the ghost was nowhere to be seen. Hermione closed the cubicle door behind her and, opening her beaded handbag, fished inside it for the things she'd need. The set of Slytherin robes was easy to find, being close to the surface, but for a moment she thought she might have forgotten the Polyjuice Potion. It only took a couple of Summoning Charms, however, for her to find everything she needed. She hanged the robes from a peg on the wall and set everything else on top of the toilet seat.
It was hard to forget what had happened the last time she had taken Polyjuice Potion, and while this time she was absolutely sure of the origin of the hair she was using, she couldn't help but feel nervous at the prospect of another botched transformation.
But she hadn't come this far to turn back at the last minute. Carefully removing Draco's blond hair from its vial, she dropped it inside the flask with the Polyjuice Potion, which immediately started to bubble, turning a pale shade of silver. She checked her watch. Harry would keep Malfoy away for the next two hours. It would have to be enough.
She quickly undressed, goosebumps covering her skin. Malfoy was much taller than she was, and with much broader shoulders. Transforming inside her own clothes would be a recipe for disaster. After putting away her clothes and without giving her mind time to reason herself out of it, she drank the potion in one gulp. Her bones started to shift and change immediately, and she had to lean on the cubicle walls not to fall. The foreign sensation spread from her chest to her extremities, and she gasped while her mind tried to cope with the feeling of skin melting and stretching.
It seemed to take a long time, but it was probably no more than a couple of minutes before the small cubicle stopped spinning. Her hands felt alien as she touched her face, feeling the angular features of Draco Malfoy. Her arms were impossibly long and the floor was much farther away than she remembered. She had just glanced down to observe this very fact, when she quickly looked back up again, blushing furiously.
She tried not to look at the Dark Mark etched on the lower part of her — his — left arm. It was a sombre reminder that there was a difference between bravery and recklessness, and that she was walking a thin line between both.
The robes fitted perfectly — she had asked Dobby to "borrow" a set of Malfoy's own — and she quickly enchanted her prefect badge to resemble his. Finally, she put all her things away inside her purple handbag and tucked it behind the toilet, so it was mostly out of view.
There weren't many people wandering around the castle at that time, and other than a couple of scared-looking first years, Hermione didn't see anyone on her way to the dungeons. She hoped to find a stray Slytherin to ask the password, but she wasn't particularly worried about the meagre amount of passers-by. If the lack of a password were enough to keep people out of their common rooms, Neville would have had to spend most of their early years at Hogwarts living under a staircase somewhere.
As luck would have it, she was almost at the entrance to the Slytherin common room when she came across a young Slytherin boy chasing a cat. The boy came to a sudden halt upon spotting her, before proceeding in the general direction of the feline at a more sedated pace, eyes downcast.
"Excuse me," she said. The sudden voice of Draco Malfoy startled both her and the boy, but Hermione quickly regained her composure. "Sorry, I think I forgot the password to the common room. What is it, again?"
The boy opened and closed his mouth a few times, but no sound came out. It was either fear of Malfoy or surprise at having the Slytherin Prefect be civil to an underclassman, but Hermione had no time to figure out which. "Kid, we're burning daylight here, what's the password?" she snapped.
"Amaryllidoideae!" The boy had turned white. "It's Amaryllidoideae!"
"Thanks," she muttered, walking away.
On entering the Slytherin Dungeon, she was immediately struck by how different it felt from the Gryffindor common room. Gryffindor Tower was cosy and homey, and the oranges and browns of the furniture and tapestries contributed to its warm environment. The Slytherin common room was certainly grand, with leather couches and heavy dark cupboards, but it was also gloomy and uninviting. The greenish light from the lake and from the lamps scattered around the room gave it a melancholy atmosphere that the bright red flames from the fireplace could not entirely dispel.
Even so, there was a group of girls giggling conspiratorially in a corner, bent over some magazine, while in a different part of the room, a group of students commented on the game of Wizard's Chess currently underway between a third and a fourth year. There were people studying, and some reading, and a girl Hermione had never noticed was trying to transfigure a teacup into what was probably meant to be a hedgehog.
Hermione did not think of herself as a prejudiced person, and she was smart enough not to have expected to find Slytherin students torturing house-elves and discussing their evil plan to take over the Muggle world in-between Potions assignments, but she was still taken aback by the utter normalcy of it all.
None of her intended targets where anywhere to be seen. Crabbe and Goyle would have been easy to spot even in a crowded room, but she took a moment to check that Zabini and Parkinson really were not around. It was disappointing, but she had considered the possibility. It mattered not. There were other avenues to explore. It took her only a few moments of observation to discover the correct entrance to the boys' dormitories.
While the Slytherin dormitories kept the same colour scheme as the Slytherin common room — green and silver against dark wood and grey stone — they did not feel as cold and soulless. There was a Weird Sisters poster in one corner, and a colourful hand-made quilt added a touch of colour to one of the beds. Piles of books vied for space in a nightstand that had seen better days, and a lone snitch kept buzzing back and forth across the ceiling.
Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy looked back at her from the framed photograph next to Malfoy's bed — Narcissa sitting in an elaborate chair, with Lucius standing beside her, a hand on his wife's shoulder. They hardly moved in the frame, all evidence of magic contained in the occasional glance Lucius cast at the youngest Black sister, the only moment where his haughty expression softened into something other than the perfect blend of arrogance and self-satisfaction.
Hermione knelt at the foot of the bed, pulling Malfoy's trunk from under it. It was locked, but she had expected it — she had even hoped it was. There was no point in locking a trunk with nothing valuable inside.
Reaching for her wand, she examined the wards, her mind running through the spells she'd need to counter them. It took her longer than she expected to get past all of them — either there really was something important inside, or Malfoy was just about the most paranoid person she had ever met.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the lid finally popped open. She had no doubt she could do it, given enough time, but time was something she did not have. She rummaged through the contents of the trunk, looking for anything that looked suspicious. Most of it was the sort of thing one might expect to find inside the trunk of any Hogwarts student: clothes, quills and parchment, a few books that looked neither dangerous nor particularly interesting about the restoration of cabinets. There was a broomstick servicing kit like the one she had given Harry a few years before, as well as several issues of High Fliers, a Quidditch magazine.
A small wooden box caught her eye. She could swear she had seen it move. The moment she opened it, a miniature Norwegian Ridgeback hopped off it and onto her lap. A less adventurous Chinese Fireball peered over the edge, contenting itself with spreading its wings with a yawn. She picked up the Norwegian Ridgeback with a trembling hand, dropping it next to the other dragon and for a moment she was back in her bedroom, scolding Crookshanks for hunting down the dragons.
She had chosen a Norwegian Ridgeback because of Norbert, and a Chinese Fireball because a Liondragon was a fitting gift from a Gryffindor. Those two dragons held good memories, happy memories, memories she could not fully reach, even now. She did not try to follow where they could not lead her. What was gone, was gone, and she had a job to do. Putting away the box, she resumed her search.
There had to be something. No one would go through such trouble to make sure a trunk stayed closed for it to contain nothing more than clothes, books and toys. She was replacing the old tomes in the trunk when a stack of parchment fell off one of them. The moment she looked at the parchment, Hermione knew she had found what she was looking for.
The parchment was covered in diagrams and undecipherable script that she could not make sense of. It was a code of some sort, but while she could not read it, she did not let that discourage her. Codes could be broken, and parchment was easy enough to conceal that she could walk out with it and decipher it at her leisure.
Folding the parchment sheets and hiding them in one of her many pockets, she quickly put back all the contents of the trunk, making little effort to hide the fact it had been searched. She had no time to redo all the wards, he'd know anyway. She was almost done when her gaze fell on a picture that had fallen off one of the books. Even face down, she could tell it was a Polaroid, which was unusual to say the least.
Her eyes filled with tears the moment she turned it over. It had been taken on Christmas morning, and all of them except her grandfather were still wearing pyjamas. Grandpa Wilkins did not believe Christmas morning was an excuse for sloppy dressing. It was a Muggle picture, it did not move, but she could still see Logan's excitement as he opened up his presents, and hear the extremely out-of-tune carolling of her dad and Uncle James.
Draco was laughing at something her mum had said, his left arm thrown casually around Hermione's shoulders. They were all wearing Santa hats, and she remembered having to explain to the wizard who Santa Claus was. Draco had snorted in disbelief at the mere idea of it. Who had ever heard of anything so preposterous as flying reindeer? Muggles would believe anything.
The Hermione in the picture was wearing the necklace Draco had given her, even though it looked ridiculous over her pink pyjamas. Aunt Ada had commented on how lovely it was, prompting a smug reply from the wizard.
And suddenly the fog that had surrounded her mind for the past year lifted and she could see everything clearly again. One moment she couldn't remember and the next she could, and it was like finally coming up for air after a long dive. She could remember the night of the Yule Ball, the night at Hogsmead Station, and all the things in between. With all the pieces in place, everything made sense and she wished it didn't. She had tried to remember for so long, and now she wished she couldn't. Tears ran down her face, but she made no sound. She had no energy left, not for crying, not for anything else.
But the universe seldom made allowances for moments of personal crisis, and approaching footsteps warned her of someone's imminent arrival. She quickly wiped her tears and hid the photograph in her pocket, together with the parchment sheets she had found.
"Pansy was looking for you," Zabini said, dropping his bag on the floor. "I told her I'm not an owl, but I don't think she cares."
"What does she want?" Hermione asked without turning, trying to keep her voice steady.
"What does Pansy ever want? Money, power, and those who will deliver it to her. On this occasion I think she just needs to copy your Transfiguration essay, though, since I wouldn't lend her mine."
"She can write her own." Hermione started packing the rest of the trunk. The faster she was out of there, the better.
"Precisely what I told her." The bed creaked under Zabini's weight. "She seemed to think she'd have better luck with you, which given your mood these days betrays an extraordinary amount of optimism."
"But you know better?" Hermione snorted. Zabini could be even more pompous than Ernie Macmillan.
"I know enough," he said matter-of-factly, before adding, "He's a fool that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a whore's oath—"
"Or a boy's love," Hermione finished softly, more to herself than to Zabini, pushing the closed trunk back under the bed. She realised her mistake almost immediately.
"Protego!" she shouted, spinning around, just in time to block Zabini's stun.
"You're not Draco," he said conversationally, slowly circling the room so he stood between her and the door.
"Very observant." The only window in the room faced the depths of the Black Lake, and Zabini was blocking the door, but it could be worse. At least the walls were thick enough that she doubted any sounds would reach the common room.
"Hardly," Zabini sneered. "It will be a cold day in hell when Draco Malfoy starts quoting Shakespeare." He was about to add something else when his eyes fell on her wand. A look of recognition came over his face. "I don't even want to know," he finally said, rolling his eyes and lowering his wand. "By the way, your eyes have turned brown, Granger. Friendly piece of advice: get out of here before you have a chance to find out how little use claws are in a snake pit."
She did not wait for him to change his mind, but hurried out of the room. Someone — Parkinson maybe — called out to Draco when she crossed the common room, but Hermione did not stop and she did not look back. Suddenly it was hard to breathe and she had to resist the urge to tug at the Slytherin tie that coiled like a snake around her neck.
If you're making me forget, then be thorough. She could still feel the words burning her throat. I want to forget it all. I want to forget us. I want to forget you. I don't ever want to look at your face again.
Those had been her words and she had meant them. She meant them still. There had been some measure of forgiveness in her before — because people were sometimes faced with impossible choices, and because she understood the importance of family — but all the condescending forgiveness of a Hermione who could not remember enough to feel any differently had turned into a burning rage that threatened to choke her. She allowed the anger to flow through all the broken parts of her, willing it to bury the pain pressing against her chest.
There were no happy endings. She had never expected one. But somewhere along the line she had forgotten what she should have always remembered: that Draco was a Malfoy first and a Slytherin second, and that love — even where it existed — was not enough.
The sleeves of Draco's robes now covered most of her hands, and she was starting to trip on the fabric that dragged slightly on the floor. The transformation back into herself was slower and less dramatic than the change into someone else, but she still feared she would not make it to Myrtle's bathroom in time. The moment she walked through the door and locked eyes with Draco's reflection in the bathroom mirror, she felt the weight of her curls falling over her shoulders.
"What is Merlin's name…" The wizard turned, surprised.
For a moment she froze, unable to move. Of all the places in all the world, this was the last place where she wanted to be, in a room with him. She would have fled but her legs refused to budge, and then suddenly she only wanted to hurt him, physically hurt him, with fists and feet and knees. But even taken by surprise, Draco was taller and bigger than her, and had no trouble pushing her against a wall, using his body to immobilise hers, and seizing her hands with his.
Being unable to move did not stop her trying. There were things she wanted to shout at him. Things like, "I trusted you." Things like, "How could you?" But the only thing that came out, increasingly unintelligible because of her sobs, was "I hate you." Over and over. "I hate you. I hate you. I hate you."
I'm so terribly sorry it took so long to post a new chapter, but work and life in general have sort of gotten in the way of (productive) writing. Hopefully I'll be able to keep a steadier schedule from now on, but if not please know I really do feel terrible whenever it takes me longer than usual to get something out. *bows head in shame*
This chapter ended up twice the size I expected it to be and looks nothing like what I had originally planned for it. The best laid schemes of mice and men, etc...
Before posting it, I did consider breaking it into two chapters, cause I figured that way I'd already have something to post next week, but I reasoned that after so long without anything new, the least I could do was post a nice big chapter (that, and I have the restraint of a six-year-old; if it's done, I'm posting it...).
Quick note regarding Zabini: the line he quotes is from King Lear, and he's actually misquoting it (bad Blaise!). The actual line, from Act 3, Scene 6 is: "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath."
Hope you enjoyed the chapter :) Thanks for reading! ~Kel