< >Hermione shook her head and looked down at her books, then snapped her head back up. "You haven't even touched your books," she said rather pointedly, staring knowingly at his books, since he wasn't looking at her.
< >Draco jumped and stared at her for a moment. "Oh. Yeah. No, I suppose not."
< >"You'll be behind," Hermione said disapprovingly.
< >"Yeah," was all he said.
< >"'Yeah'?" Hermione demanded sharply. "If you don't start soon - " Draco stared at her again and she shut her mouth, looking abashed. "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me."
< >Draco blinked in response.
< >"Well," she said, looking uncomfortably, "I'd better leave."
< >Draco wanted to protest, but he looked away, wringing his hands together. As she left, he called softly, "Thanks." Hermione looked at him in surprise and he continued. "Thanks for staying around, I mean. I doubt anyone else will be coming by . . ."
< >Hermione nodded slowly in reply, then left, shutting the door firmly behind her.
< >Draco wished the door would open again, but it didn't, and he fell back against the bed, poking aimlessly at his food with his fork, not interested in it at all.
< >When Madam Pomfrey came out of her office, looking satisfied, her face turned sour when she saw Draco's plate. "I say, if you don't eat - " she began angrily, waving a finger at him.
< >"' - I'll shrivel up like a prune and waste away into oblivion'?" Draco supplied.
< >Madam Pomfrey stopped shaking her finger and smiled wryly - though it was obvious she was uncomfortable smiling at him. "Exactly."
< >"How much longer do I have to stay here?" Draco asked, suddenly wondering. "I have classes tomorrow. . . Monday, you know . . ." He looked up at the madam expectantly.
< >Madam Pomfrey shook her head and tut-tutted. "I do not dare say that you will be leaving here before tomorrow's lessons begin," she said solemnly. "If you try to stand, you'll know what I mean." She looked at him sharply. "If you rest . . ."
< >Draco nodded and pulled a book off the table and opened it, knowing Hermione was right that he would probably be behind if he didn't start his reading.
< >The door opened suddenly and in stepped a young Hufflepuff boy.
< >"May I help you?" Madam Pomfrey asked.
< >"Yes, Madam, I . . ."
< >Draco didn't pay attention to anyone else who entered as he read through his books and began his homework that he had gotten the day before the fight. It busied him and he hardly noticed when Madam Pomfrey gave him yet another dosage of medicine. He was, in short, oblivious to the world.
< >By the time he was finished, it was dinnertime, and he was starving. Madam Pomfrey had gone to eat her own dinner in the Great Hall and came back early with a plate for Draco who ate just as greedily as he had earlier that day at breakfast.
< >Content and suddenly overcome with sleep, Draco moved the bed down himself, and fell asleep to the sound of Madam Pomfrey humming a Celtic song as she tidied up the infirmary.
< >". . . the ways of man 'a passing straight, he buys his freedom and he counts his change, lets the wind his days arrange, and he calls the tide his master . . . oh, the days, oh, the days, oh the fine long summer days . . . oh the tide, oh, the tide, oh, you dark and bitter tide . . . and the tide will be their keeper . . ."
< >In the middle of the night, Draco sat up straight, ignoring the fiery pain stabbing him from all sides. He was breathing hard and sweating a cold sweat. His dream had awaken him, but he couldn't remember why - or any of the dream itself.
< >After a while, he settled back, and sleep overtook and seduced him again back into the darkness of slumber, never to be woken again that night. When Draco awakened, he was greeted by Madam Pomfrey towering over him, a cool hand on his head. He looked up at her, wondering with his smoky eyes. "You feel feverish," Madam Pomfrey told him promptly.
< >"No, I don't!" Draco protested, febrile. He was panicked - two nights in the infirmary was quite enough for him, especially with that awful medicine. "I - I woke up last night," he admitted quickly. "It was just a dream and it's hot in here . . ."
< >Madam Pomfrey peered down at him. "You probably strained your back. I'm suspecting you were probably moving around . . . Oh, all right," she said, giving up. "If you aren't like this in an hour, I think you will be able to make it to dinner later. But I let you out no earlier." She turned away from him. "And only, Mr. Malfoy, if you keep taking your medicine every few hours," Madam Pomfrey called over her shoulder.
< >"Oh, thank God," Draco sighed.
< >"Now," Madam Pomfrey said, turning back to him, a smile on her face that made Draco instantly suspicious, "take this." With that, she shoved a spoonful of medicine into his mouth and he gagged.
< >Hours later, having missed even the latest afternoon classes, Draco he emerged that evening from the infirmary, stepping carefully as he walked to the Great Hall. Everyone was already at dinner, so the halls were empty, except for the occasional passing ghost who didn't take a second look at Draco.
< >When Draco enter the Great Hall, the whole room grew silent, and looked at him. Even the teachers - including Albus Dumbledore - looked over from their places to see him. Draco hid his surprise carefully, unsure of why he was being inspected. Was his story that incredible? Or were those guilty looks? And who would admit to either of those?
< >Someone else, this time, was sitting at the head of the Slytherin table - not that he really cared this evening - so Draco took a seat at the far end of the table, still walking carefully as everyone watched his every move.
< >He sat down and the room was silent still, as if anticipating something. Draco slowly, almost cautiously, looked around, then began turning his head sharply in each direction, focusing glares on anyone he could. "What are you all staring at?" he sneered angrily, still eyeing anyone he could possibly see without turning in his seat.
< >The room suddenly exploded in whispers and talking - obviously about him, but it slowly turned to normal talk, though the whole Slytherin table was still looking at Draco - and it was not with pleasant or sympathetic looks.
< >After a while, the Great Hall began to clear out. Draco decided to leave sooner than usual and the room watched him leave. He ignored them and brushed past two Slytherin seventh years who tried to speak to him.
< >As he was walking toward the dungeon, he heard someone call his name.
< >"Draco!" the voice called again, more urgent this time.
< >Draco stopped and turned around, backing up in surprise.
< >Hermione Granger was running toward him.
< >He took this in quickly. He could run, but what would that do? He could stay, but what would that do? Draco couldn't decide, so he waited for Hermione to catch up with him.
< >"Yes?" he asked in his most passive of voices once she had reached him.
< >Hermione looked at him pointedly. "You do not have to sink to their levels, you know," she told him, narrowing her eyes at him, obviously disapproving.
< >"What do you mean?" Draco asked, reeling.
< >Hermione lowered her voice substantially as a few students passed by, staring at the two of them. "I mean," she said slowly, looking him in the eye, "don't act like the person I once knew."
< >Draco glared at her. "You once knew?" he repeated darkly. "You don't know me." He was suddenly furious, though he knew it was not with her. It was more with life in general. He bit his lip, trying to retain his anger from spilling onto the undeserving Hermione.
< >She shook her head. "No, but I know enough about you," Hermione said softly. She gave him a small, devious smile and then strode away in the direction to the Gryffindor Common Room.
< >Draco stared after her, pulling the collar of his fresh shirt higher up his neck, feeling uncomfortable. After a few moments of watching her slowly disappear into the shadows, he hurried away to his own common room, where he was greeted by glares.
< >He shook his head, scowling at them and silently denouncing their ignorance. He started to walk to his dormitory and the Slytherins began to ignore him, passing him off as merely a lone spider creeping through its short life. Pansy Parkinson rushed over to him before he could reach the way to his dormitory, snatching his arm protectively. Her pleading eyes looked up at him.
< >"Get off, Pansy," Draco snapped, shrugging her away from him, continuing his walk.
< >"Then you are like they say," Pansy replied after him, her eyes turning suddenly cold and bitter like a chill wind.
< >Draco stopped and turned slowly. "What?" he demanded in accordance with her voice. His eyes sparkled like anticipating ice.
< >Pansy smiled shrewdly at him. "People see you, Draco," she said simply.
< >"What do you mean?"
< >"People have ears, Draco."
< >"What do you mean?" Draco repeated angrily, annoyed.
< >"People know, Draco."
< >"What in God's name do you mean?" Draco shouted in her face, the room instantly stopping and silencing. Everyone was staring at Pansy and Draco expectantly, some even with cruel smiles on their faces. They were like that, though; always wanted more violence, more intrigue, more emotional failure.
< >Pansy still smiled, yet more insidiously. "You best stay away from her, Draco," she said, the blood draining from Draco's face immediately. "Our kind and hers do not mix well. They never have." Her smile faded and vengeance gleamed in her eye. "Stay away from the Gryffindor, Draco - or else."
< >Draco stared at her, then hurried away, the room exploding in cruel laughter behind him. He threw open the door of his dormitory and slammed it, falling onto his bed.
< >"Well," the mirror scoffed at him angrily, "you don't have to disturb my sleep."
< >"Oh, shut up," Draco moaned.
< >After a few minutes, he changed, and fell asleep, sprawled out on his bed.
< >"Wake up," a raspy voice said gruffly, shaking Draco. It was morning.
< >"Mmm," Draco mumbled, not opening his eyes. "Ten more minutes . . ."
< >The voice's owner shook him again, relentless. "Get up - we're gonna be late."
< >Draco opened his eyes to see Goyle standing over him. "Goyle - " he grumbled, pulling himself reluctantly out of the bed into a sitting position. "Coming, coming." His words slurred together as he fought to remain sitting. "I'll be down soon . . . whenever, I guess."
< >Goyle appeared satisfied, grunted, and walked away.
< >Draco glanced at his watch and sighed. He would be hardly late. Goyle probably was just sent up to wake him by Professor Snape or someone wanting to glare at him yet again. Well, he thought, I better not make them wait.
< >He dragged himself to the showers and turned the water on as hot as possible, the parts of his back that had sized up during the night relaxing in it almost merrily. He had the misfortune to know, however, how definitely and painstakingly sore his back and whole body would be for the next few more days.
< >Draco put on his clothes a little while later, then stood in front of the mirror, drying his hair. He turned his face to the side and stopped. A small, white scar shaped like a crooked, upside down, crescent moon was on the middle of his right cheek.
< >After inspecting his scar once more - he almost liked it, but was reminded of Potter - Draco strode briskly out of the dormitory. As he swept away, he avoided anyone who was in there's eyes and went out the common room door to breakfast.
< >The Great Hall was noisy when Draco arrived and a few looked at him, as most didn't notice anyone entering, anyway, when they were engulfed in reading their mail and eating. He reached between Crabbe and Goyle to grab a plate of forgotten ham and went to find a seat further down the table.
< >When Draco sat down, a letter was dropped into his lap. He looked up in surprise and saw his family's owl, flapping above him. Draco gave it a sliver of ham, then went back to staring at his hands and opened the letter. It read:
< >I must say your mother and I, especially, are very disappointed with you. Doesn't family pride and dignity mean anything? I am the laughing stock of every wizarding group I am involved with, Draco! I will never be looked at seriously again with such a lowly son! Your mother is in hysterics!
< >"Great, Father," Draco muttered softly to himself as he stared down at the letter scornfully, "always thinking of yourself - and you're probably lying." He shook his head disdainfully and continued reading.
< >You cannot imagine my embarrassment. That Madam Pomfrey - if she ever speaks to me in that manner again, I dare say I will be having another little chat with your headmaster, that mad man. That's another thing. I will have to devise a way to get the bloke out.
< >Regarding the Weasley boy, I am going to press charges against that family. Look what that boy did to you! Your mother is as upset as I am - and she hasn't even seen you!
< >The letter continued along with explaining how ashamed Lucius was of Draco, but he didn't care. Draco was more interested in the third paragraph, rather, more upset. He wrote on the back of the parchment in scratchy, yet still readable, threatening script: Father,
< >Do NOT press charges. Whatever your motive - forget it. If I must repeat myself, I will. DO NOT PRESS CHARGES. I could have easily hit back and you would have the nastiest of lawsuits where I would be charged for an act of monocle vengeance. If this does not convince you, should I go over to the Gryffindor table right now and curse him? It's really quite easy to do . . .
< > < > < >Signed,
< > < > < > < >Draco Malfoy
< >Draco closed the threatening letter into its envelope and held it up for the family owl who snatched it and flew away with the other leaving owls, all carrying their own letters.
< >"Draco," someone said near his head.
< >He jumped, turned his head, and his eyes narrowed. "Pansy," he stated angrily.
< >"You aren't looking at the Gryffindor table this morning, are you?" She laughed uproariously, sounding almost like a cackle. When Pansy saw Draco's unemotional face, her smile vanished, disappointed he didn't look angry or embarrassed.
< >"It is enough," Draco said slowly and just above a whisper, "that I cannot even live my life without the simplest failure, but to have you think that you know me enough that I will be angry is getting to the nerves in my fingers - " Pansy blinked " - because I cannot stand you thinking you actually know or understand me."
< >Pansy stared at him and he shook his head. "Leave me alone, Pansy," he snapped. "Go away. Laugh at me all you want - I don't care. I didn't fight back because it was pointless, but go ahead and laugh all you want."
< >Draco shoved away from the table and strode out of the Great Hall, the Slytherin table staring after him in disgust. About twenty feet outside the door, he ran into someone who stumbled away from him in surprise.
< >"Sorry," he muttered, looking at the floor. He started walking again.
< >"Wait," said a voice, soothing to his ears.
< >Draco turned around slowly and blinked. "What - what are you doing here?" he stuttered, blushing slightly.
< >Hermione smiled at him, then turned serious. "I'm on my way to breakfast. Why?" she asked, looking at him oddly. Her eyes blinked in surprise, seeing the moon-shaped scar - she had never looked at his right cheek since the accident; she had only been able to see the left side of his cheek.
< >"Oh. Er, just wondering . . ." Draco started walking away.
< >"Hey," Hermione said gently, setting a hand on his turned shoulder.
< >"Ah!" Draco moaned painfully, stumbling away from her. "That's not a good place," he said dryly, turning back to her, rubbing his shoulder tenderly. He couldn't reach the pain spot very well.
< >Hermione snapped her hand back like she had touched fire. "Oh - sorry," she said sheepishly. "I should have known." She looked uncomfortable, then said softly, "Come over here." Hermione strode away.
< >Draco, confused, followed her down the hall a ways near the front door.
< >"Turn around," she told him when they stopped. Draco looked at her for a moment, then turned around. Hermione put her hands slowly and vigilantly on his back and began kneading his back slowly like it was bread dough.
< >Truthfully, it felt more like heaven than hot water did on his throbbing, raw-feeling back. "Why are you doing this?" Draco asked her softly. "I thought you hated me."
< >Hermione paused. "I have to say the same thing," she said quietly, continuing. She kept massaging his back for a few more minutes until Draco's back felt completely relaxed, and he stepped away, turning to face her.
< >Before he could say his thanks, a cold, menacing - though Draco was sure he heard the ring of amusement - voice from the shadows spoke: "Well, isn't this an interesting sight to see."
< >Hermione and Draco jumped and turned. Professor Snape stepped out of the shadows, looking slightly impressed, yet more angry than Draco had ever seen him before.
< >"When I heard the voices," Snape said coldly, "I thought I was hearing Potter and Weasley, because they usually meet here, but wasn't I surprised to find . . . you two out here . . ." He smiled a very sarcastic smile.
< >"And Draco, as if I wasn't ashamed enough with you." Snape looked at Hermione with disgust and as if she was the scum of the earth. "Twenty points from Gryffindor," he snapped at her.
< >"What?" Draco yelled suddenly, staring.
< >Snape glared at him. "You best keep your mouth shut, Draco, or - "
< >"What is going on out here?" Professor McGonagall's voice demanded suddenly. She walked into the front hall, looking angry. "Aren't you two supposed to be in the Great Hall?" McGonagall looked at Draco and Hermione suspiciously.
< >"Professor - " Snape began incisively, but he thought better of it, changing his tone quickly. "I was speaking with Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger. I am sorry we disturbed you." He glared at Draco and Hermione.
< >McGonagall glanced at the two students, then looked at Snape. "Yes, yes, carry on. Lessons will be starting in twenty minutes, so I suggest you hurry up with this conversation. Mr. Malfoy, remember, you have an essay due at the beginning of my class."
< >"Yes, professor," Draco said quickly, glancing at Snape, "I remember."
< >When McGonagall had gone, Snape glared at the two of them. "If I ever catch you two alone again, in the situation I saw you in . . ." he warned, scowling. With that, he stalked away angrily.
< >Hermione and Draco exchanged glances, then hurried away from each other in opposite directions, neither one looking back.
< >Draco hurried to his house to collect his books and homework. He emerged from the common room just in time to run to his next class where he dared not look at anyone, especially Hermione.
< >That was basically his day - he kept his head down as he walked, didn't look at anyone, distinctively Hermione and Professor Snape, whose eyes Draco could feel on him, the cold, bitter eyes of a torn man.
< >When Potions was over and as Draco was trying to leave quickly, Snape called, "Mr. Malfoy. You may stay behind."
< >Draco halted in his tracks two feet from the door, wishing desperately that he could step across the threshold, yet knew he couldn't. He waited to turn around until the last student - besides him - had left.
< >Snape raised his wand and Draco flinched, stepping backward quickly, but the door behind him merely swung shut.
< >"Yes, professor?" Draco asked meekly.
< >"Sit down, Draco," Snape replied quietly, pointing his wand at a desk in front of his own desk. When Draco hesitated, Snape's eyes narrowed into slits. "Now," he said sharply.
< >Draco nearly ran to the desk and seated himself, looking up at the professor who was now pacing in front of him, his hands behind his back, muttering aimlessly to himself.
< >"Do you know," Snape said slowly, still pacing just as slowly, "how disappointed I am with you, Draco?" He stopped in front of Draco, looking at him piercingly, expectantly.
< >"Should I?"
< >"Don't be smart with me!" Snape yelled, whacking his wand down on the desk angrily, making Draco jump back. "Don't you dare be smart with me!" he shouted again bitterly.
< >Draco shook his head feebly. "No, sir."
< >Snape looked at him sharply. "You cannot imagine what I thought," he declared.
< >"No, sir, I can't," Draco replied, cringing slightly, afraid of being hit.
< >"And with Granger!"
< >Draco didn't say anything. He looked down. "I am not ashamed," he said finally.
< >Snape laughed shortly. "Why would you be, Draco?" Draco looked up, surprised. "You shouldn't! I mean, you are going through a period of your life where you are attracted to many - "
< >"Are you suggesting that - " Draco began to yell, sitting up straight.
< >Snape cut him off curtly. "I am merely saying," he hissed, "that many - around your age - are attracted to opposites of their ownselves. You probably have no real feelings for Miss Granger, do you?"
< >Draco stopped himself from jumping up and screaming. He didn't answer.
< >The professor looked at him quizzically. "Most would defend themselves, but you are not most people, are you, Draco?" Snape asked, slightly amused, but the amusement was quickly abating from him.
< >"No, sir, I suppose not," Draco replied softly, looking down at his shoes.
< >"I suggest, Mr. Malfoy," Snape said very clearly so Draco could not misunderstand a word, "that having contact with Miss Granger is not a bad thing." Draco stared and Snape smiled. "The more you are around her, the more you will realize you are not attracted to her and you can move on to better things."
< >Draco felt stricken. What can he know? He's a man who has probably never been in love! Or thought he was!he said to himself, trying to be reassuring of himself, and attempting to get his confidence back.
< >Snape shook his head, smiling wryly. "Oh, I know this may seem odd, but it has worked on many Slytherins before you," he said, a touch derisiveness in his always cold voice.
< >Draco almost said, "Has it worked on you?" but he didn't and shut his mouth.
< >Snape, looking quite satisfied and content with himself, smiled, and said lazily, "Now, hurry on, Draco. See you in class tomorrow." He gestured with his hands in a shooing motion.
< >Draco hurried out of the class, not saying a word or looking back, but he could feel Professor Snape's sharp eyes on his back all the way out the door, though Draco could swore he could still feel Snape's eyes on him as he walked to his common room, though that was clearly impossible.
< >"Draco," a voice called. "I need a word."
< >Turning, Draco saw it was Professor Dumbledore toward him. He stiffened in wait. "Yes, professor?" he queried softly once Dumbledore had gotten within arms reach.
< >"I wanted to tell you that I spoke with your father this afternoon and - "
< >"He told me he was going to sue the Weasleys," Draco said quickly. "I threatened him that he had better not or - " He shut his mouth, slightly abashed that he had blurted this all out so quickly. Dumbledore seemed to have a power over everyone - and Draco hated it, but he had already spoken.
< >Dumbledore smiled at him. "That's what he spoke with me about," he said, still smiling. "He declared that 'I was brainwashing you into saying that you would make the lawsuit turn against him.' I also forbid him to see you - as you were in class."
< >Draco started laughing suddenly, surprising himself and Dumbledore. "Really?" Draco asked snippily, chortling to himself still, rather pleased with his own deeds. "I should think he was quite angry, then?" He smiled innocently at Dumbledore.
< >Dumbledore chuckled uncertainly. "Quite, quite mad," he agreed solemnly, "but I do think that he believes you."
< >"Thank you, professor," Draco said, turning away from him.
< >"Good-bye, Mr. Malfoy," Dumbledore replied, striding away.
< >"Good-bye," Draco muttered softly to himself, his thoughts turning dark suddenly. What am I going to do? Snape thinks I'm going through puberty - God forbid that - my father thinks I'm mad or being brainwashed, and who knows what everyone else thinks? To be truthful, he didn't care what the other Slytherins thought of him, but he did care about what some people thought of him.
< >"Draco - " Goyle started as Draco entered the common room.
< >"Shut it," Draco snapped back in response, brushing past him.
< >"I was - "
< >"What?" Draco sneered, turning on his heel.
< >Goyle stared at him. "Nothing," he muttered, looking down.
< >"That's what I thought," Draco gibed angrily, stomping away to a table where he could spread out his homework, and there he worked in a sort of fury - conversations repeating in his head the whole time - that is, until dinner.