A Merry Train Ride
This year’s Head Boy was a Ravenclaw named Roger Davies. He was very reminiscent of Percy Weasley, what with the way he carried himself and the way he spoke.
"Chrchrrm, lovely to have you all here!", he spoke up, his voice grave. The sound of his voice snapped me out of my thoughts and brought me back to the present. I eventually found my place between a couple of Sixth years.
The minute I sat down, I already felt multiple eyes on me. After quickly, and subtly, sweeping my gaze around me, I confirmed that most of those stares were coming from my male classmates. It made me wonder why they had decided to fix their gaze on me. Had my physical appearance altered that much in their eyes? Or was it my demeanour? Something must have changed for their attention to gravitate towards me, likewise Malfoy’s. The first thing that I thought to evaluate was my attire.
The black summer dress that I was wearing couldn’t be called that special. It had short sleeves that covered my shoulders, an Empire style and a skirt that flared wide below the bodice and ended on my thighs. Additionally, I was wearing the silk scarf artfully draped around my neck, so nobody would notice how bruised it was.
Apart from that, I had also applied some make-up today, so as to not appear as dead as I felt. But, somehow, I doubted that my choice of clothing was the reason.
The next thing that came to mind was my physique. It had, naturally, changed over the years but the recent training had done a good job of toning my body. And my choice of clothing did show that off a bit. I felt flattered and slightly proud, but it did not show on my face. Outwardly, I maintained an impassive expression as I listened to Davies’ circumlocutory monologue.
This had to be the worst form of torture imaginable. Roger Davies’ voice was droning and the words he spouted had zero substance. This lack of captivity could rival even Professor Binns. Even I had difficulty staying awake. I spared a look Ron’s way and found him among a group of Hufflepuffs he had recently become amiable with. As I had expected, he was asleep, being the only one to be doing so apart from Ernie. I would have laughed if it hadn’t been so sad. In my boredom, I decided to look around the room.
Most of the students had chosen to ignore Roger Davies and were busying themselves with other activities. Parkinson was engaged in a conversation with Carola Graham, a sixth year Slytherin, and Draco Malfoy was focused on me still. I frowned - what was that about? - and resolved to keep him inconspicuously in my sight as well. What was he seeing or thinking to see, that he bestowed this much attention on me, the Mudblood?
"… these were your tasks in detail!" Davies beamed at the group after finishing his long-winded monologue. The unfurling silence jolted many from their sleep.
"And now I ask you to start your rounds and to aid the first years!” he assigned sententiously and, before he could blink, the lot came to life. Everybody got to their feet swiftly. I had taken a seat right in the back and didn’t intend to stand up soon. Sitting did me good, so I tried to blend into the background. In principle, I wanted to have my peace and forget what had happened to me. I observed Ron searching for me, only to give up and follow Padma.
The compartment emptied rapidly. Most of them probably wanted to return quickly to their friends and talk about the holidays. Therefore I had a wonderful excuse why I didn’t hurry back to the others. After the last had left, I straightened myself, closed my eyes wearily and breathed a sigh of relief. Alone! How good that felt!
I was happy to be a Prefect, because of the advantages it provided me and as I said I take it as it comes. Suddenly I heard to the door close, a sound that surprised me. I turned around with a jerk and saw a nonverbal Colloportus being cast. Not only the outrage about that made gasp, but the careless movement had torn dangerously at my intestines. Who? Ah...
What could he want from here still? I mean, he had as much right to be here as I, but why with me? And why had he locked us in? Should I feel threatened? I remained silent as I stood up and simply looked at him. He did the same, before he got closer with smooth steps.
Was that meant as a game? Whoever asked a question first loses?
I knew I played well, but I knew he was good too. He always had been. Additionally, I was not in peak condition, as the slight throb in my side reminded me. My retreat was stopped abruptly by the door to the conductor’s carriage. I could only watch as he closed in, sneering as if he thought he had won already. He was displaying himself very arrogantly. I looked directly in his light-grey eyes, waiting for a resolution, even as he finally stopped walking. He was near, nearer than he had ever been before. The only other time I could remember where we were this close was in our third year, when I gave him a blow to the jaw. We had been just as close then, but it had been over quickly. Now we were facing each other, watching and eyeing each other carefully, while neither of us moved.
While his eyes flitted to above my face, he tilted his head, smirked and then continued to examine me. Was that a trick he had learned from his father or Snape for when they wanted to intimidate someone? It might work against the insecure. It would scare most down to the marrow. Me though? I have to say, I didn’t feel particularly insecure, instead curious of what he wanted from me. And after yesterday, it would take a lot more than this to upset me. To show him that his trick couldn’t work with me, I mimicked him once again. Everything you can do, I can do better, youngster. Apart from a fleeting flash in his eyes, he didn’t twitch a muscle. He was good.
"Mudblood!" he exclaimed, the word resounding with a biting chill as he came closer. With just this one word and his very upright posture, he wanted to establish that he was the undisputed boss.
"Pureblood?" I replied cheekily and raised my chin aggressively. Tit for tat.
"Why that term!?" he spewed at me viciously, the look on his face deriding.
"Why…? I thought, as your first word was aimed at my blood, I would grace you with the same honour. I assumed you were proud of the ‘pure ones’?" I stated contemptuously, my great, fawn brown eyes locked resolutely with his. He didn’t scare me. I had both my wands and my beloved daggers.
"Don’t forget that, mud… blood! Now tell me, why are you looking at me like that?! Are Potter and Weasel so excruciating ugly that you can’t take your eyes from me?” His voice was full of venom and his stare was as cold as ice.
"… Uh-huh, not the least bit conceited, are you?" I questioned him ironically, rolling my eyes.
"Granger." My name was pronounced with ill temper, but he showed restraint. We were neither arguing nor shouting at each other. It was a miracle.
"What? What do you want to hear? I am still dazed that you returned, just because I glanced at you for once… one would think you enjoyed it!" The words coming out of my mouth sounded distinctly cynical. I raised my hands, wanting to shove him off me to be able to breath freely again.
"How dare you, you… worthless…" he snapped resentfully and retreated gracefully before my hand could touch him.
"What, why am I this worthless? Am I really that worthless for you? You are talking to me and are backing me against the door. Do you do that simply to irritate me or do you want to harass me?" I spit back in disgust. He need not imply that I was dirty in any way.
"You insolent bitch, don’t you know to whom you are talking? What do you think you are? You are nothing…” he hissed in a low, deep voice, while not letting me out of his sight.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, and I am talking to you, Draco…" I stated derogatively, when he interrupted me angrily.
"How dare you address me by my first name, Mudblood?" he screamed furiously and his eyes took on a lush storm grey.
"You are free to call me Hermione, if you want to" I whispered gently, my head bowed when I presented him that offer out of the blue. Me previous thoughts came to my mind, of how I wanted to give Malfoy the chance to explain himself or to show me that not everything was as it seems. That he was a human being with emotions and fears and not just an arrogant, narcissistic Malfoy. That’s what I tried to put into practice here. He fell silent immediately.
"Who are you and where is Granger?” His words sounded bland. He had his arms crossed in front of his chest by now, his facial expression blank like a mask. Laughter bubbled out of my throat.
"You can be funny. In front of you, and I am Hermione, as she lives and breathes!" I supplied, amused and grinning openly at him.
"I can’t believe that. And why are you laughing like a fool?” He looked at me calculatingly with eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Alas... D… Draco?" The name left my lips warily. I looked up at him carefully, waiting for his reaction.
"I don’t laugh like a fool, I am releasing stress!" I explained honestly after receiving no reaction to calling him Draco. "I have thought a lot over the holidays, experienced a lot, and I think you and me, we both, we could maybe help each other, if… if you want - of course, only if you want. And I thought, if we respect each other, then we could call each other by first name… oh, forget it. I wanted, argh, why do you have to stand here like a tin soldier and stare me down?” I asked, agitated, and I didn’t know why I was stuttering this much. Now I had my hands raised and was gesticulating wildly, while he observed me distrustfully.
"Oh, forget it. I wanted to offer that we help each other” I admitted resignedly and groaned in frustration because his grey eyes rattled me so much.
"I don’t need Potter” he positively spit out, his face distorted in a disgusted grimace.
"Who is talking about Harry?” I was confused and frowned in irritation.
"What do you mean then, that we could help each other…?" he inquired with a furrowed brow, appearing baffled.
"Well, what I said, you and me… nobody else! Do you think Harry would approve of this?" I asked him doubtfully, pointing at him, me and the empty room in an interrogative gesture.
"I don’t know, you tell me" he stated, still suspicious. Yes, he could play, definitely!
"Never ever, he… he really doesn’t like you!" I let him know decidedly.
"...but you, you like me… don’t you, Granger?" His words were tinted with sarcasm in a way that sent cold shivers up my spine, and he released his breath in a contemptuous huff.
"Well, I can’t say I hate you!" I said succinctly. A slightly disbelieving look passed over his face, disappearing quickly, but I had noticed that I had surprised him.
"How? You can’t be serious!” The disbelief was prominent in his voice.
"What...? Why? I shall hate you, because you call me Mudblood? Please, come off it!" I shrugged. "That would be very superficial of me. I don’t know what you hope to achieve by these insults, however, that’s not enough to hate you. I merely think it’s immature…" I pulled my lower lip between my teeth and looked at him with feigned innocence.
"Why should you want to help me?”, he whispered warily and vigilantly. He didn’t trust me one bit and probably thought we wanted to trick him to draw him out.
"Why not? When you help me in turn, I am a good confidant, a good ally as well and I believe the holidays left their marks on you” I stated perkily and revealed my observation, suspecting that he would not make concessions otherwise; he was too wary at the time being.
"Uh-huh. The things you believe… first of all, you are a Gryffindor. What exactly do you want, what are you offering? Do I have to remind you, you are the proper, well-behaved teachers’ pet! You are Hermione Granger!" His exclamations sounded stern, taunting and derogatory, all at once.
"Haha, you said it!" I cried in triumph and clapped my hands happily.
"Oh... don’t flatter yourself!" He sounded resigned and shook his head slightly defensive, having accepted my offer, even if unintentionally.
"Of course not. Draco?" I looked at him seriously and agreed with him, nodding ironically.
I just thought in times like these we live in, it is always good to have friends. You could do with one or two more as well! What.. don’t looked at me that way, I didn’t miss the expression in your eyes. I don’t know what you experienced over the holidays, but I guess they weren’t the nicest you ever had,” I explained confidently, meanwhile relaxing back into the door. Unfortunately he was bigger than me, as most men are. With my inconsiderable 163 centimeters I had to look up to them, a depressing fact.
"Wow, now I am appalled. Do you train something like that? Potter’s and Weasel’s Gryffindor princess wants… what? To be my… friend? Am I in the wrong picture? And how dare you assume to know anything? You have no idea!", he spit out nastily and treated me with icy flashes from the depth of his eyes.
"I know that I know nothing. I just wanted to offer you a friendly ear. Think about it, Draco!” I replied bravely, at the same time pushing off the door and making a move to skirt around him. I had realised perfectly he would not believe me, which was in part understandable. But he wouldn’t let me pass, blocking the small aisle between the benches.
"Where do you think you are going?", he whispered with a hiss.
"Prefect round, then I will join Harry and Co. Besides, Pansy and Twit and Fatty will miss you about now. And don’t tell me you want to waste more of your precious time with me, the Mudblood!” I hissed back, incensed, and tried to find a way past the Slytherin.
"Don’t think so much, let that be my concern. And hold still, stop fidgeting,” he pestered me and got closer, while sounding as arrogant as ever. The world stopped for me when he touched me. For the first time since we knew each other, Draco Malfoy had touched me and sullied his hands with me. I was gobsmacked and froze. He grabbed me firmly by my shoulders and pushed me back against the door. Not carefully, not gently, simply determinedly and I suppressed a stifled moan.
"Granger, Granger, have I allowed you to leave?", he whispered in my ear in a raspy voice. His breath was hot against it and I nearly trembled, but didn’t allow myself the weakness. Everything about his behaviour was vastly provocative.
"Don’t you have to wash now?", I asked, eyeing him tauntingly and smoothing over my anxiety.
"Don’t be daft!" He rolled his eyes. "I simply don’t know what to think of the whole thing here. As you analyzed me so prettily before, I thought you would be interested in my observations!”, he stated spitefully. He was looking at me questioningly, but his expression made clear that the question was merely rhetorical.
"I was astonished today too when you entered the compartment with Weasel! I saw a young, grown-up woman, nothing like the childish girls here! I wondered what had happened. She has lost all traces of childhood. And I know there were no immediate dangers, no attacks on this girl, sorry… on this woman. Therefore, what happened? Her physical appearance has changed as well, not solely her demeanour! She looks good, even better. (Don’t flatter yourself on that, Mudblood!) I can see in her eyes she has seen things and even experienced things that didn’t befall the Weasel, as he still has an idiotically blissful expression in his eyes,” he summed up expertly, in doing so bending his head back and grinning at me superiorly, with a mean smile and I had to grant him that, he must have had a brilliant teacher.
He had discerned and guessed much, much more than my friends, which were around me most of the time. How come a Malfoy was this perceptive and attentive? He surprised me immensely.
Oh, he was good, I had always known. As a child, he had been a contentious and snobbish silly boy, but since two years ago he had changed greatly. Apparently his father’s education took root and this holiday had done the rest to let him grow up as well. And he had indeed grown-up, I realised now. Where Harry and Ron were children still, Draco had become a man. I would never have expected the arrogant, spoiled, narcissistic rascal to become this observant, this prudent.
"Since when did you notice something? And don’t you find it strange that we are having a relatively civilised conversation?”, I inquired faintly surprised.
"I have always been civilised.” He sounded as arrogant as ever, while he appraised me with an amused twinkle in his eyes.
"I see, and what about me, have I been a Neanderthal?” I wanted to know very cynically and snorted.
"No, but always in the clutches of Potter and Weasel. And that is the big question, why are you here and not clinging to the robe tails of those two stupid asses?” ,he enquired, and I could determine that he was truly interested. Meanwhile, he still held me captive, his hands continuing their grip on my shoulders.
"Stop insulting Harry, he isn’t like that and you were not civilised, but instead arrogant, conceited and narcissistic!”, I hissed, furious and beat him round the head with my thoughts.
"Tsk tsk … I hope you noticed you didn’t contradict me in regards to the redhead. And I was not arrogant. I am a Malfoy!” He sounded like an egomaniac.
"Hmpf,” I mumbled to myself. When he spoke the truth, I couldn’t disagree with good conscience.
Draco suppressed a loud laugh. "That is too funny, Granger!" He looked at me calculatingly. "What do we do now, with this new concord?” he peered at me with interest, but also with scepticism.
"Is that really what you want, Draco? To have a normal conversation with me? Doesn’t a Malfoy stand above all and even more above me, the Mudblood?” I spoke curiously and was astounded myself how easily his name left my lips, but it felt right.
"Uh-huh, you are seeing reason, I notice… nice… and it seems you like my name? Alas, I haven’t given you permission to address me like this yet!” The remark was snide, as usual.
"What do you mean by yet? Can I discern from that that you will give permission eventually... Draco?” I didn’t let him upset me and played him skillfully. He grimaced slightly, pushed off the door and once again towered over me.
"You have truly become too smart for a Mudblood, truly too smart, and I have thought all along that you could be an interesting conversational partner! Do they appreciate it?” He lifted his eyebrow skeptically when he suddenly asked this last question. Whereas the preceding compliment definitely flattered me, I was asking myself already who the young man in front of me was. I shrugged. Did Ron and Harry appreciate my mind? Harry sometimes, certainly, Ron not so much.
"Are you able to exchange thoughts with your entourage?” I answered with a counter question.
"With a few, yes… one… or two!”, he pondered. Now he bowed down to me again, this time getting close enough that his scent entered my nose - sandalwood - while he whispered: "Not Fatty, but Twit is excluded and Pansy too, regretfully" he summed up, rather unkind. I was baffled; Draco had just make concessions to me and had discredited his toadies in front of me. I looked at him with wide eyes and tilted my head back slightly.
"Well, my options to exchange interesting information is limited, too, if I don’t want them to doze off,” I admitted sadly, resigned to the fact. This prompted him to display a slight, shallow smile. We were playing cat-and-mouse here.
"I don’t know what you are doing, but I take my appointment as Prefect seriously and will attend to my duty. See you later, Mudblood!” His parting words sounded unusually jovial.
"See you later, Pureblood” I replied with great presence of mind. I believe this might develop into an inside joke.
Draco seemed to have truly changed during the holidays. I never planned it like that, but if I were able to establish a... well… what? A relationship would be aimed too high. To establish a basic understanding, without malice, why not? You could never know what good would come out of it. I had guessed early on, and after today I was convinced, that he only started to call me Mudblood to annoy Ron and Harry because I was absolutely above something like that. But he was right, I should join the others, otherwise they would wonder where I had got to. A conversation with Malfoy I believed to have gone mental. It was unbelievable what could be changed by a Dark Lord’s rebirth.
When I entered our compartment, I was able to see Harry had founded a proper fellowship with Ron, Neville, Ginny and Luna. Again, I felt out of place in this dreamy, playful circle. As impossible as it sounded, I felt closer to Draco than to my friends, due to our apparently similar experiences.
"Where have you been? I had to do everything without you” Ron began nagging immediately.
"Sorry, I lost sight of you, but surely you managed your tasks well! Hello Neville, Luna, how did your holidays go?” I asked, deflecting the attention. Neville sat in the seat opposite Ron. He was looking well, had lost a lot of weight. He looked definitely better and held a butt-ugly potted plant in his lap.
"They were lovely, thanks for asking, Hermione. I got this cool Mimbulus Mimbeltonia for my birthday, it’s a really brilliant plant!” he said enthusiastically, his excitement obvious. However, in the moment we all looked at the thing up close as Neville was extending it in our direction, the plant decided to feel threatened and peppered us all with a load of an icky smelling, greenish juice.
"Yuck…" it resounded. "Blech, how gross!" And it really was.
"Oh… pardon, I am so sorry!" he stuttered anxiously, meanwhile blushing bright red.
Not everything has changed, I thought resignedly, as he was acting as mortified and shy as always. I recoiled as everybody in our compartment had instinctively. Oh dear! That had hurt, this abrupt movement had tweaked my stitches dangerously, hopefully it hadn’t affected anything. Oh dear! And now I could observe in the edges of my vision how Cho Chang looked into our compartment right then and retreated quickly, embarrassed. That girl had always been strange. I couldn’t fathom what Cedric had seen in her back then. And what Harry saw in her, I hadn’t totally understood either, but even I had arrived at the conclusion that I was not able to know and understand everything and everybody, or that I should want to, either.
Oh, poor Harry. I felt sorry for him in this regard, as he was simply too shy. If Sirius had lived together with Harry a few years earlier, the latter would probably be the Casanova of the school today. Alas, he was very insecure and Ron definitely was no help in this respect. And I couldn’t offer my help to him effectively if I didn’t want him to know about my affairs so far, and let’s face the facts, he would never approve of my fling with Sirius - don’t even mention Snape, who didn’t even know it himself. What a mess.
"It doesn’t matter, Neville, it’s not that bad” I dismissed his mishap nonchalantly and drew out my school wand, casting a strong cleaning charm for the compartment and ourselves and the mess was remedied immediately. For were we not wizards and witches in the end?
I took my leave, referring to my duties, as I had an uneasy feeling, as if the flinch had torn something after all. I had to take a look.
On my way I passed the Twins’ compartment and then thought I could kill two birds with one stone, because I needed their help with a specific task. Thus I stepped in front of their compartment door with determination and looked inside. I could see them, Lee, Alicia and Angelina. Everybody seemed to be having great fun, as the Twins were showing off many of their new products. The slightly bitchy look Fred gifted Angelina didn’t escape my notice. Well, I would interrupt this cosy round now. I raised a hand and knocked on the glass, presenting a serious, disapproving Prefect face over the so called joke items of the Red Devils.
Immediately all raised their heads in alarm. The Twins sighed in relief as they recognized me, for they knew they had nothing to fear from me, but the others didn’t know me as well and were looking worriedly in my direction as a certain reputation of rule-abidance was preceding me. I was still standing in front of the closed door and had my gazed fixed empathically on the Twins, waiting. The moment the penny dropped for them was easily noticeable, as their eyes widened. Then they jumped up at once and said something to their friends, gesticulating wildly. I stepped back and resumed waiting. They stepped up to me with unusually sombre expressions. I jerked my head wordlessly and so they followed me. We cleaved through the students, which was wearisome as most of doors were open and the joy of reunion great, as it seemed. The aisles were backed up and we had to wait.
"What’s up, most beautiful, did something happen?”, George enquired, worried, whispering quietly.
"I need your help, my Red Devils,” I requested in an equally low voice.
"Will we learn about what happened yesterday? What mischief have you been up to, most beautiful?” Only now I noticed that we were having this compromising conversation directly in front of the Slytherins’ compartment. Apprehensively I looked inside and met intrigued looking light grey. Bugger, now he had straightout witnessed that I was a lot closer to the Twins than everybody thought. I had to be more careful. I nodded briskly and led them on, targeting the facilities, and beckoned them into the big, and fortunately empty, Prefect restroom compartment.
"Phew, the train gets increasingly closer to a madhouse!", Fred stated priggishly as he swiped a meddlesome strand of red hair out of his freckled face.
"Who might be responsible for that?”, I said sardonically, the resignation apparent in my voice, which brought me beaming grins from both of them.
“Our products are brilliant, aren’t they?” They sounded smug and exchanged a high five.
"You know yourselves that you are little invention geniuses!”, I acknowledged and leant against the restroom wall, exhausted. "I have to ask you a favour that doesn’t allow for postponement.”
"Most beautiful, always, you don’t have to ask, you never! We would do everything for you.” Fred exclaimed grandiloquently, but he meant it completely, through and through, and because of that I smiled at him gratefully.
"I need the Marauders’ map, ask Harry to borrow it to you this evening,” I requested in a tired voice.
"Wha… alright, it is as good as done,” George suppressed his curiosity at the last moment.
"I have to make a slight modification to it and I will do the same for you, you will see it this evening. Will you meet me in the common room at one o’clock tonight?”, I checked with them.
"As you command, my Lady!" Fred saluted me, always the jester, and earned a small smile from me.
"Are you going to tell us what happened yesterday? The magpie, that was you, wasn’t it? Well, you are Sirius’ lover and call him Casanova, even if we didn’t recognize your voice,” George rambled nervously and with an unhappy expression on his face. The question was if I wanted to tell them everything.
"I have always known that you are good at combining clues, yes, you got everything right!”, I explained and hoped their interrogation would be over soon, as my wound was twinging alarmingly.
"Wow, awesome! You have mastered a Patronus, wicked, we are going to learn them only this year in class!", George said with enthusiasm and admiration.
"Lovely. Let us go on tonight, otherwise your friends will wonder where you got to and think I am punishing you with detention for the whole term!”, I deflected, for an uncomfortable wet feeling was spreading across my skin and I wanted to keep the grace of not telling them everything. Both nodded and retreated with a wave of their hands.
Now I was standing alone in the Prefects bathroom so I breathed deeply, stepped up to the washbasins above which a mirror was hanging, and lifted my dress. I peeled it off so I was wearing only my black undies and the silk scarf. My complete middle section was wrapped in a bright white bandage. I peered closely at myself in the mirror and twisted my body slightly to see my side, and, lo and behold, where the stitches were located the white of the bandages were stained with red. Shit, the wound had been torn open a bit. I had to fix it now; the train ride would take another five hours and the feast was following, too. Until I could get to Snape… I would loose too much blood, especially as I didn’t know how severe it was. I snorted angrily. Surely that had to happen to me. In this moment the magically locked door opened with a loud bang.
I gasped. Nobody was allowed to see this. I meant the bandage, the wound and yes, my nakedness as well!
Unbelievable. I seized my dress from the washbasin, shielding my body with it and turned away from the mirror, looking at the intruder with intense indignation. Now the troublemaker entered smugly, throwing me a calculating look, assessing the situation, my more or less undressed state and reacted swiftly by closing and relocking the door with a spell. Next he stepped up to me with a terribly vicious, arrogant and superior smile.
"Granger, Granger, that you would tear off your dress for me I wouldn’t have expected,” he teased me with a sneer.
"Malfoy!" I hissed, outraged.
"Hey, what happened to… Draco?" he complained less seriously, more cattily, making fun of me.
"Bugger me!" I snarled furiously.
"A Mudblood? No, thanks!", he twanged haughtily and tossed one of his blond strands back arrogantly.
"Did you have something going here with the carrot tops?” he asked, not a bit curious, stressing the indifference, while stepping closer, intrigued.
"Shove off! Can’t you endure five minutes without me?” I tried to provoke him.
"Don’t even think about it,” he replied and showed me his teeth. I bowed my head, dejected. Must all the Slytherins of the world see me nearly naked? First Snape, now Draco, somebody up there had to really hate me. I pressed my dress firmly against my breasts and simply felt sorry for myself.
"If you don’t leave voluntarily and immediately, I will strike you with an Obliviate, I am serious!" I threatened viciously, aggressively and raised my ice cold gaze to look at him.
"Oh, as if Gryffindor’s princess would break the school rules this way!” He displayed a smug attitude.
"Try me." I stated provocatively and showed him a freezing smile. He froze for a second, seeming to evaluate if he had underestimated me. Oh yes, my dear, you have. You have no idea what I am capable of. Or maybe you have? I found it difficult to judge him reliably today. Then he noticed the mirror behind me and his eyes widened in surprise.
"Shit, Granger, you’re bleeding. I was right after all, you were in pain!” he sounded totally different from one second to the next. I looked at him, taken by surprise. Did I hear worry in his voice? Now I was more than gobsmacked. Where did the Slytherin ice prince go? Where the smug arrogance?
"As if you were telling me something new” I said dryly. Now he had seen what I didn’t want him to see. He had abandoned all games and quickly bridged the distance between us, showing a level of worry that was simply unbelievable.
"Turn around!" he demanded in a serious, almost caring voice, in a manner I had never heard from Malfoy.
"You can’t believe that I would turn my back to you, so you can drive a kni…” I gulped down the lump in my throat. It seemed I hadn’t coped with it as much as I thought, for I couldn’t vocalise the word knife without vividly picturing the alley before my inner eye.
"Granger, it is below my dignity as a Malfoy, but I promise you I won’t try anything to hurt you” he offered me and to my horror, my instincts told me to trust him.
"And if I don’t do it?” I didn’t surrender easily, for I was unsure nevertheless.
He snorted. "I don’t think Potter and Weasel know you have... this here! What do you think they will believe if I pay them a visit now and tell them about it?” he blackmailed me provocatively, while pointing at the mirror in my back derisively. Ice cold blackmail.
"Then you’ll shoot yourself in the foot! You, in the bathroom, together with the Mudblood?” I countered. "Actually, what are you doing here?” He grimaced as if something bad smelling was under his noble, delicately chiselled aristocrat’s nose.
"What do you think? Looking after you. What I am interested in, is what you were doing alone with Weasel’s brothers.” he admitted his curiosity, his countenance taking on an impatient expression.
"And, learned anything yet…?" I asked teasingly.
"No, only more curious!" His voice sounded rough and that downright gave me goosebumps.
"Are Malfoys allowed to be that? Curious? That doesn’t match the blank mask,” I provided very sarcastically. With only my dress covering my chest I felt out of place, inferior, here in front of him, the leader of Slytherin house. That’s what he was, unfortunately.
"Not everybody has to find out!" he grinned smugly.
"Really, but I am allowed?" I opened my eyes wide. First he acknowledged that Pansy and Twit were not particularly bright and now he declared that he was indeed curious. What had happened that had apparently changed him significantly, or who? Now I was curious!
"Granger, you may try to blab me to death, but that will not prevent you from turning around!" The words resounded with determination, while he straightened up to his full intimidating height. He puffed himself up. Since when was he this tall? "Trust me…” he requested in another tone, a gentler tone and once again my eyes got wide and unbelieving. Out of Draco’s mouth!
What… was that? A concession to my fears? Trust me! A Malfoy!
That couldn’t be Malfoy, could it? Maybe he always had been like that? He would be an intriguing enigma, as long as it wouldn’t be on my expense. I was standing straight by now. Why was I always compelled to react to a challenge, to respond to an appeal to my courage? Thus I was still armed with my dress and swiftly turned my back on him. That truly cost me quite an effort, especially as he was no friend… but technically the enemy.
"There you go. It was not that difficult, really...", he muttered, astonishingly content. I could see him towering behind me in the mirror. In the midst of this relatively dull environment his white blond hair shone like the sun. “Let’s take a look. I will remove the bandage now,” he informed me with unfamiliar care. I admitted defeat and put both hands on the washbasin and obediently bend over slightly. Consequently my dress fell to the floor, but I didn’t care anymore. I was standing in front of Draco Malfoy in my undies in the Hogwarts Express. What were the odds for that? The next question was, would I be able to use that to my advantage? Or was Draco the only one to benefit from the situation and the resulting knowledge?
Hey, he was a Slytherin! Nonetheless I had admitted defeat, as the pain was enormous and I had to try to fix the damage, so he began to unwrap the bandage - against my expectation he was gentle and showed no hesitance to touch me - until it slid down my body.
"Wow Granger, what did you do, that looks really nasty… If you are interested, the stitches have burst open at a few places,” he reported startlingly unaffected by my wound. I didn’t react at all, I wouldn’t tell him anything, pha! The next moment I tensed, as I had to subdue with massive effort the instinct to grab my weapons and attack him when he took his wand out of his jacket and pointed it at the wound in my back.
He started to recite the same healing spells as Snape; now it was crystal clear to me with whom he apprenticed. I would bet my undies the dear professor was teaching his little darling over the holidays. And Snape seemed to rub off on Draco. He hid it well behind his mask, but the way he helped me now he reminded me strongly of Snape, and the latter might be a Death Eater, but not a whole one. Oh yes, there had to be nuances and they seemed to affect Draco, thanks to the influence of the professor. Whereat I didn’t presume to think to know where Malfoy Senior stood in all of this.
After Draco had finished his work dutifully a fine sheen of sweat had formed on his brow as healing was always taxing and even when I was grateful the painful tension had lifted somewhat from my body. So he conjured new bandages and wrapped them around me again wondrously gently. Until now no words were spoken between us. When he had finished tending my wound he retreated a step and looked at my backside with interest. Still I didn’t turn back around but viewed him through the mirror.
"Thank you, Draco!", I breathed and licked over my lips which had gotten dry and chapped. It wasn’t easy at all.
"Don’t you want to turn around, Granger?" He appeared totally indifferent, the way he stood in front of me cross-armed. "...or are you afraid?” He did it again, he challenged me. Bugger, I couldn’t ignore that, for I wasn’t ashamed of anything. He saw nothing he wasn’t acquainted with and I was still sufficiently covered. I would just slip my dress on quickly, then we would be back on equal ground, yes, good plan. I turned around, my dress at the ready, facing him and slipping it over my head under his attentive gaze. When I emerged his face was showing a fat grin and his eyes were twinkling merrily.
"You are really funny, Granger. Do you truly think I would be interested in your body, the body of a Mudblood?”, he said with a smirk.
"Yes, certainly, you are a man! Pure-, Half-, Mudblood or Muggle, as long as they can spread their legs you couldn’t care less, be realistic!”, I exclaimed cruelly, disillusioned, for it was my true opinion. He showed a startled face over my pessimistic attitude.
"That sounds cruel and vulgar!" His reply was contemptuous, meanwhile he was tapping his lip in thought with his index finger. "But I am ready to… yes, to agree with you, the conversation earlier in the compartment has aroused my interest and after the incident just now I am intrigued more than ever! Have you meant your offer seriously?", he inquired with honest interest and gifted me a surprisingly innocent look from his light grey eyes.
"Certainly, the offer stands. And you are arousing my interest as well, more and more each second!”, I admitted frankly.
"That’s good! Will you tell me what caused that wound?”, he asked calculatingly with a skeptically raised eyebrow.
"Uh, no, I rather not, or not yet! I don’t know, can I trust you?” Slytherins did nothing for free, it’s all about the exchange of favours, following the principle ‘give me something and I will give you something in return’.
"Now you know something about me no one else knows and must not know. Now it’s your turn, tell me something nobody else knows about you! Something that shows me that you trust me to a certain degree,” I offered him. That we were approaching common ground this fast, I wouldn’t have anticipated, but maybe he was searching for someone, too, who would understand better and more as the others. As much as the revelation shocked me, even now there was a kind of wordless understanding between us I would have thought impossible before.
Suddenly we looked deep in each other's eyes. Brown met grey as my gaze got caught in his and vice versa! Like a maelstrom, I was sucked deeper and deeper until it felt like I was examining his soul and his most secret feelings. All at once, I became aware of a genuine, sincere understanding. We were alike, we understood each other. He seemed to have seen the same in me. And what made this astonishing was that we hadn’t used Legilimency. This was not spying on or searching through a mind. No, it was the recognition of a kindred soul.
Draco jerked his head to turn away his face, abruptly interrupting our eye contact and, consequently, the strong bond between us. He showed an absolutely flabbergasted expression, positively shocked. I must have looked like a proper idiot as well after he had broken the connection between us so rudely. Exhausted, I braced my backside against the washing table. What had happened here? That was Draco bloody Malfoy!
“Well, don’t make any sudden movements, Granger. See you, Mudblood,” he sneered as he took his leave, sounding somewhat uncertain still, and turned away. Oh, he was good, recovering himself within seconds and presenting his ice-cold, indifferent front.
“Thanks, Pureblood!” I retorted, impulsively. I had to have the last word, had to show that he was not the only one who could play this game!
When I was alone again, I turned back to the mirror and examined my face. Surprisingly, it looked totally normal. No coloured cheeks, nothing that hinted at the unusual and embarrassing situation I had been in.
I recovered my balance and trekked again through the uncomfortably bright and noisy train. The nine hour long train journey dragged on forever. I passed the remaining time reading in our compartment, but finally we were near our destination. Most of students had started to put on their uniforms when our compartment door opened. The yearly visit from Malfoy for Harry was pending. He flashed me a quick smile and got started.
“Ah, it looks like Potter and Weasel made it to Hogwarts. Too bad!”
My jaw nearly dropped in disbelief but, fortunately, I was very self-controlled and disciplined. Draco had actually refrained from including me in the insult.
“Bugger off, Malfoy, you are not welcome here!” Harry hissed angrily.
“Yeah, get lost!” Ron added aggressively, shooting up from his seat.
“Calm down, you hot-blooded Gryffindors, I’m on my way already. But don’t think I won’t be right on your heels like a dog, Potter,” Draco shot back at Harry, resulting in the birth of frozen silence and dumbfounded faces. I raised a brow and looked at him questioningly, whereupon he gave me a curt nod which nobody noticed.
I understood his hint that Lucius had recognised Sirius’ dog animagus form. Apparently Harry and Ron had come to the right conclusion as well, as both remained silent, the horror on their pale faces obvious. But they both surely couldn’t know the real message behind Draco’s words. After all, he didn’t have to tell us that his father had recognised Sirius at the station.
He made me a concession. Draco Malfoy showed me, Hermione Granger, his good will and took up the offer I made earlier. He offered me something only he knew and presented me through that an inkling of trust. Someday he might be a pretty good Machiavelli. This wrangling was fun.
It was a mutual give and take. Neat... it seems like we were at play. It was different with Snape. With Draco I felt on an equal footing. We were on par with each other. Where I was standing or whether I was able to stand with Snape I didn’t know yet, but he had indisputably a leading role.
Still, I would have to thank Draco in person as soon as possible. We had to forward this information to Sirius. It meant that he was no longer safe in the streets even as dog. The compartment door closed with a thud and Draco was gone.
“What has gotten into that stuck-up ferret?” Ron questioned, hotly.
“Er, I believe… Sirius,” Harry mumbled hesitantly, finding it difficult to swallow.
“Yes, quite right,” I agreed, before elaborating further. “I think the Malfoys recognised Sirius at the platform. Wormtail must have informed them that Sirius is a dog and, consciously or not, Malfoy just told us that they know! Harry, we have to tell Sirius immediately that he is no longer safe in his animagus form. He has to stay in the house now!”
Ron gaped at me with an open mouth. He had a striking, and unappealing, resemblance to a fish. Harry was pale still, but he nodded affirmatively.
“I will send Hedwig to him before the end of today!” he stated firmly. And at that moment, we had to rise and leave the train, for after nine endless hours on the train we had finally arrived at Hogsmead.