DISCLAIMER: I do not own the world of Harry Potter. Just the humble plot is mine.
Thanks to my sister Nikki, for motivating me at every step and acting as the beta for the story.
As one season morphed into another, Draco was surprised to find that his relationship with Granger was also changing. What had started that fateful day in the hospital wing had somehow turned their interactions more civil. He found that she was everything that he had thought her to be and some more. For instance, he always knew she was intelligent, but she was also extremely humble; he was sure that she was clever but she turned out be quite witty. He also noticed that she was pretty (courtesy to the Yule Ball), but now she understood that she was beautiful – inside out.
They would nod at each other in acknowledgement if they passed in the corridors. They would send warm smiles in the grounds. Sometimes, they would sit near each other in classes. But the library was their haven.
Draco had always found solace in the silence of the library. He would often occupy his favourite corner of the library with a book or two. Books served as a portal for him – a portal to another world. But he had also discovered that it was also the place where his Slytherin friends didn’t bother him. This place was now where he would spend most of his time with her. Sometimes they would discuss Arithmancy theories at length. Other times they would debate on the political significances of the Goblin Revolution. They were instances when they simply sat together and did their homework – silently.
Slowly but steadily, he realised that he was forming a bond with her that he had never experienced before – a bond of friendship and trust.
It was on one of their Hogsmeade trips that something momentous happened to Draco – something that helped changed the course of the history of the Wizarding world...
He was standing in the queue of eager students waiting to get their permission slips checked for their trip into the wizarding village. And he was sulking. The queue was moving forward at snail’s pace, and it was testing his patience. He really was in no mood to attend the village that day. He had planned to utilised his free time by working on his next plan. But all it had taken was some persuasion on the part of his new friend to get him to agree. He had promised to meet her at the Shrieking Shack at noon on the condition that she would let him leave by four in the evening and not make a fuss of it later. Rather grudgingly, she had accepted. So, there he was, getting jostled around as a bunch of third years rushed past him to get their permits checked by Filch.
Twenty minutes later (or was it years?), he was ambling around the little shops in the village buying knick-knacks, chocolates, quills, inks, parchments and the usual stuff. For fun, he even stopped and terrorized a group of third years (it was the same that had pushed him earlier in the day) who were having a snowball fight. It was kind of satisfying seeing them scamper off in fright when he threatened to deduct points and report them to their Head of House. After smirking to himself at the pathetic juniors, he checked the time. It was almost noon.
By the time he reached there, she was already waiting. He found her sitting on a rock with a book propped on her knees while she munched on her favourite crackers. She had confided to him that they were her guilty pleasure. Her parents were some ”derntrists” who tended to other people’s teeth (he had cringed at that). So naturally, she was forbidden to eat anything that would spoil her teeth. When she was ten, she had discovered those goodies at a friend’s house and since then, she had been sneaking them around the house. She had even almost got caught a few of those times.
He walked towards her and took a seat on the nearest rock. “Hey.”
She looked up startled and then gave him a bright smile. “Oh! Hi. I just bought this book. You have got to read it, Malfoy. It’s enchanting. It’s about the Elf Unrest of 1453. The material it covers – I have never come across it before.”
He was intrigued. He knew that his bonding with her was mainly based on their shared passion over books. Taking the book from her, he examined the title ‘The Elf Unrest – Everything and Beyond by Frederick S. Gallagher.
“Seems interesting. Can I borrow it after you finish reading?”
“Oh yes. Sure.”
“Umm... so, why are we here?” he asked her, looking around.
“Well, you see, up at the castle, we can rarely meet outside of the library. Harry and Ron would have seizures if they saw us together, and I am pretty sure your friends won’t go chummy with me,” she said matter-of-factly. “So I thought that we could meet out here in the open and have a nice chat.”
Draco couldn’t believe it. She had dragged him all the way from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade in order to have a chat. He was now one hundred percent sure that she had gone bonkers. All the knowledge that she carried around in her head had finally mutinied and pulled a string or two of her brain.
“Before you say anything, I must admit that it was a stupid idea. But you hardly ever go out, Malfoy. I thought that the fresh air would do you some good. According to the ‘101 Ways to De-stress' by Lisa Hudge, an average person needs to spend some time outside the usual boundaries of their habitat in order to attain calm and relaxation.”
“You surely know that you are quite mad?” he asked, arching one eyebrow.
She simple glared at him.
“Oh great,” he exclaimed. “I am sitting in a secluded area of this godforsaken village with a madwoman.”
“Well, if that’s the case, I should better leave,” she announced and started gathering her bags.
She made to get up but he yanked her down. “For God’s sake, Granger. Can’t you even take a joke?”
And then he saw the twinkle in her eyes. She had tricked him.
“I am not that naive, Malfoy.”
“Whatever,” he said and started staring off into space.
She went back to her book, and for a long time they stayed that way: she reading and he just thinking. The calm atmosphere of the village, coupled with the gentle breeze playing with his hair, was slowly lulling him to sleep. Just before he could cross the threshold of the realm of conscious thought to the world of dreams, he was pulled out of his comatose position by her voice.
“You do realise that you tend to think too much, don’t you?” she said, putting away her book and looking at him intently.
He just blinked at her in response.
“Wherever you go, you are either moping or brooding. Why is that? Tell me.”
Looking at her then, he knew that he could trust her. He had never shared his pain with anyone, but that weight on his chest was beginning to constrict him. She, with her shining brown eyes and empathetic nature, seemed like the perfect confidante.
Steeling himself, he said, “I know that, Granger. It’s just how I am made. From the beginning, I have always overanalysed everything. But you know why? Because my father used to scrutinise my every step. There were certain well-defined standards that I had to adhere too, without any room for errors or exceptions. I had to be best at everything: sports, academics, etiquettes, everything. He had taught me to think before speaking out. I was not allowed to exhibit my emotions. If I did not do as instructed, the consequences were harsh: quite harsh for a seven year old at least. That’s the reason, Granger. It took a lot of time and effort on my part to master the skill. But now that I have, I am proud to say that the cocoon I have woven around me is enough to keep away externalities.”
“Why?” she interrupted. “Why don’t you show the world the real you?”
“Because I am afraid that I am weak,” he spat out. He could feel the rage building. But along with that, he could sense another odd feeling consuming him slowly. “I am afraid that when people find out my true self, they will mock me. What if I cannot stand up to their expectations? What if I could not achieve the benchmarks set for me? What if I fail, Hermione?” he trailed off, holding his head in his hands.
He could feel the tears threatening to escape. He could feel that he was burning. The fury within, coupled with his insecurities, had quickened his heartbeat. He was sure that she could hear it. He also felt like kicking himself for using her given name.
Suddenly he felt a cool hand on his shoulder, but he refused to look up.
“Look at me, Draco.”
The use of his given name acted as the balm for his aching soul. He complied with her gentle command.
Looking him straight in the eyes, she stated, her eyes blazing, “You are not weak. You get it.”
He found himself nodding at the intensity in her gaze as she continued, “What you did today is not what a loser does. You owned up to your insecurities. You confided your heart. And let me tell you one thing: you are anything but a failure. You are good at everything you do, Draco. You excel at studies. Your intelligence level amazes me. You are exceptional at Quidditch. You are a Prefect; the teachers must have seen something in you to endow such a responsibility on your shoulders.”
“You are smart, talented and everything that one can be,” she continued. “And the most important of all: you are not your father. Follow your heart, Draco. There is nothing else that matters.”
Saying so, she squeezed his shoulder lightly. Draco felt a weight lift from his chest. She gave him an encouraging smile and said, “Now, don’t just mope around. Get up. It’s almost four; your curfew, remember?”
She quickly gathered up her things and stood up. “I need to run. I promised Ginny I would meet her at the Three Broomsticks for a couple of butterbeers. See you in school.”
Walking away, she suddenly stopped some feet from him and, waving at him, called out, “Good bye, Brooder.”
Draco sat there for a good fifteen minutes reflecting upon what had just happened. The feeling that had been coursing in him during their conversation was resurfacing with a vengeance. He felt peaceful. He felt content. He felt happy.
And that was when Draco Malfoy realised that he had fallen in love (quite hard).
Chapter Endnotes: Please leave your reviews. They really help.