Please don’t let this turn into something it’s not
To his left, Pansy Parkinson was sitting too close, she kept trying to hold his hand, and she was blinking her eyelashes up at him. Once upon a time, when he was barely thirteen, he loved having her flaunt around him, loved watching her dote on him and kiss him on the cheek. Once upon a time, when he didn’t loathe her. She was talking to him, though he didn’t care to listen. Her voice finally broke his world when she whined especially loudly, and he closed his grey eyes briefly to compose himself before turning them on her. It was the first time he’d looked at her since school had started. She seemed taken aback at the hollowness of his gaze, and she instantly leaned back, blinking. She asked him a question, one he didn’t hear and one he ignored. She sighed angrily, but he didn’t care.
He sat slouched, his elbows on the table, one palm resting on the side of his face, and he stared at his plate, uninterested and not hungry. He could faintly hear Blaise talking about Quidditch that year; he still hadn’t told them he wouldn’t be playing this year. He was glad Blaise had taken on the role of captain, for he would have laughed had they asked him. Though, it had quickly come to their attention that Draco no longer cared.
Blaise was staring at him. Draco noted this out of the corner of his eye, though he didn’t make any movement to respond or to acknowledge him. Blaise finally looked away, rolling his eyes. He looked up, removing his eyes from the table, and he let his gaze wander slowly. He skimmed right over the trio; teasing them was far beyond his to-do list nowadays. He settled for the staff table.
The voice slithered through Draco like fire, and he winced, dropping his gaze. He’d been given the order in August, three hours before his mother ran to Snape, his stupid Aunt Bella coaxing her into the idea. He hated her, Bella. He couldn’t quite put his tongue on it, why he was so disgusted by her, but he certainly knew that he didn’t like her.
He flicked his gaze back up to the staff table for the briefest moment before the order could penetrate his wall again before sighing and looking away. His stony grey eyes fell back to the trio, and he paused, blinking. Harry wasn’t facing him, though his back was hunched and his shoulders were squared, as though he were angry. He arched an eyebrow as Harry slammed a fist onto the table, and Hermione jumped at the movement, tearing her gaze away. Her eyes were glassy, her features were distraught. Ron instantly looked to her, and the desperation in his movements forced Draco to look away. He didn’t care what was bothering them, as long as they didn’t get in his way.
Pansy stood beside him, and he watched her go. Confusion furrowed in his brow, and he lifted his wrist to check his watch: twenty to eight. He was taking only four classes this year, as he’d decided he had more pressing problems to deal with. Today was Friday, and so he had a double lesson of Potions in the morning, lasting until eleven o’clock, and a break until one when he went to Defense from four to five thirty. The same occurred every Monday and Wednesday, though on Tuesday and Thursday, he had Transfiguration from nine to ten thirty and Charms from one to two thirty.
“Are you coming, Draco?”
He blinked. He turned only halfway, noting Pansy’s annoyed stance before turning back. He didn’t respond, didn’t even shake his head, and she just sighed and clicked away in her heels, Blaise, Theodore, and Daphne going with her. He looked up again, eyes settling once more on the trio. Hermione was speaking rather quickly, and angrily, he noted, as she stuffed a book into her bag and swung her legs off the bench. She leaned forward, one hand balancing her on the table, and she muttered something very sharply before turning on her heel and stalking off, brown curls tumbling around her shoulders and bouncing off her back as she went.
Draco stood, not really aware of his actions. He lifted his bag onto his shoulder before walking off, his pace brisk. He passed by Harry and Ron, who instantly stopped talking when he walked by. They presumed their conversation once he was farther away, though he paid them no mind as he continued out of the Great Hall. He spotted her soon enough, stopped by a corner at the end of the hall. He pushed forward, though she stepped away from the corner and went around it, causing him to frown.
He pulled himself to a stop, brow furrowed. Why was he going after Hermione Granger? Draco shook his head before going forward, slower. He made his way through the intricate sets of hallways and stairs until he reached the dungeons. A curtain of brown curls nearly stopped him, and she looked up as he approached, instinctively rolling her eyes and looking away again.
Something tugged him forward, a force he would never be able to explain, and his feet led him to a few steps away from her, a curious look on his face. She turned her gaze slowly, shock evident in her features, though anger pulsed through her eyes. They stared at each other for a few moments before Draco opened his mouth.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly.
“I saw you leave the Great Hall. You looked like you were crying at the corner,” he explained, and he almost reached up a hand to brush a thumb across her cheek, just to check.
She blinked again, clearly confused and baffled. Someone grabbed his shoulder suddenly, and he flinched. Hermione caught the fear as it crossed his features before disappearing in a cold, stone wall.
“Get away from her,” Ron growled, wrenching him back and shoving him in the chest.
“Ron,” Harry said quietly from behind him, eyes trained on Draco.
He stood there a second longer until Ron directed his wand at him, and he stepped back, turned, and walked into Potions. He could hear them talking quickly outside, but Hermione dismissed them almost instantly and stomped into the classroom, going to their usual seat near the front.
Draco watched as she begrudgingly fell into her seat in the middle and the boys sat on either side of her. Harry touched her arm, and he opened his mouth as if to speak, but she whipped her head to face him, curls swinging through the air. Ron ducked them, instead opening his book and sighing. She snapped something inaudible at Harry that made him sigh and look down. Blaise caught his attention as he sat next to him, and his friend turned to face him.
“What’s going on, mate? You haven’t said a word to us since Tuesday.”
It was true. He’d been digging deeper and deeper into the hole of himself, blocking out the world and surrendering to his darkest thoughts. He’d been separating, distancing himself from all of his friends, from all those who weren’t suffering under the weight of the order. He’d managed this in the past, disappearing behind his stone walls for weeks at a time without them worrying too much, but Blaise was his dearest and closest friend, a friend he found hard to ignore.
Draco shrugged, nonchalant. He tried to convey a mood of serenity, though he hadn’t felt such in months.
“You know you can talk to me right?”
Draco sighed. It was becoming increasingly difficult to pretend nothing was wrong, and so he gave Blaise a sliver into him, a small shred that he knew would stop him from continually asking.
“Just my father,” he murmured, shrugging again, “You know how he is.”
“You shouldn’t worry about him, mate. He’ll come around.”
“You’ve been telling me that for nearly six years.”
“Well,” Blaise said with a smile, “Someday, I’ll be right.”
Draco almost smiled, and then he caught himself. He was becoming too comfortable, he was letting go. He just nodded and turned back as Slughorn started his lesson. He had to be more careful.
He left Defense with a headache and a three-foot essay to write, half on the Inferius, how to defend oneself against them, and where they might be found while the other half had to do with the three most common spells used in defense against them. He decidedly skipped out on dinner, and instead went straight for the library. Despite the order, his mother had specifically demanded that he keep up with his studies.
“Even if none of this turns out well, you need to be well-rounded, my Draco. When you’re married and have all your little children running around, you’ll need to be able to help them with their studies. I expect you to do well this year, despite everything.”
She was still hopeful that they would survive, that they would live. He was not.
The first time he realized that he was uncertain was in July, before he’d been given the order. He was sitting in his bedroom, scratching away at an essay that was due in September, when his arm suddenly burned and he frowned, pulling up his sleeve to look at the mark. His father knocked on the door, entered without waiting, and just stared at him. Draco continued to look down at his arm, and he would have cried had his father not been standing there.
“Must we?” he’d asked, not even glancing his way.
“We leave in five minutes.”
His father left briskly, and he turned his gaze back to his essay. He wanted so badly to get lost in his studies again, to disappear from this world of hatred. Slipping into his jacket to leave that day, he realized that he didn’t want this life, that he was in agony every second he had to put on a brave face. And then came the order.
The order. When the Dark Lord first told him, Draco was speechless. His mother squeezed his shoulder from behind him before pulling him off. He hadn’t spoken to his parents about it since, but it still burned in his mind. He hated this.
He sighed, shook his head, and entered the library. He passed by Madame Pince without stopping, and she barely glanced up. He spent a lot of his time in here, an escape that was far from the confines of the Slytherin house, the Malfoy Manor, the order. It made him shudder. He wished he could escape his mind, leave it far behind him, and delve into a new life just for a minute or two, just to find some small pit of solace.
He slipped into an aisle near the back, quickly drew out a rather small book, and then went off to the desks in the farthest reaches of the library, ones that hardly a soul touched, ones that he always sought. There was a couch back here, too, comfier than the ones up front because it was unused, untouched, unloved.
Draco dumped his bag on one of the desks, decided to ignore his essay, and instead sat in the corner of the couch, opening the golden pages. The library had invested in Muggle classics three years ago, though he’d only discovered the joy in them last year, when Blaise almost hexed him into the aisle, demanding he read at least one. He’d picked up one of the thinnest, glaring at his friend. They were always joking, of course, but as soon as he started reading, he couldn’t stop. And, after To Kill a Mockingbird, he ran through the shelves, choosing by titles, by spines, and, by the end of last year, he’d read through a good quarter of the long aisle. But he still came back to Mockingbird; it was by far his favorite, partly because it had been his first.
He opened it, noting with a sigh that no one had read this beside him, at least no one that took care enough to undo his dog-ears. He turned to a random one, smiling at his handwriting. He’d scribbled a small note, left for anyone to read, just a tiny analysis of the passage, one of his favorites. At a second glance, however, he smiled.
And I thought I was the only one who appreciated this.
Just that, right underneath his smooth handwriting. It was delicate, a girl’s, and he touched the dried ink, his smile widening. He tried to imagine who it was, tried to pinpoint her handwriting, but he couldn’t, and so, he turned back to the beginning and began.
After an hour or so of reading, he finally returned to the desks and dropped the book onto one of them. He went into the shelves, searching for the books that would help him on his essay, and he was there for no more than a few seconds when he heard a stifled sob. He turned, watching a head of brown curls hurry past him. He blinked, frowning. As he poked his head out of the aisle, he watched her go down the one he’d gotten his book from, and, when she didn’t reappear a few minutes later, he cautiously stepped out of his aisle.
A warning flag went off in his mind, shouting at him to stop, to turn and go back to his studies, to pretend he’d never seen her, but that same pull toward her that he’d felt earlier turned him right around the corner and into the mouth of the aisle. She was on her knees, half-facing him, finger trailing along the titles. He leaned against the opposite shelf, studying her. When she finally seemed to have found what she was looking for, a hefty, gold-paged book, she tugged it out, stood up, and gave a shriek of surprise.
“You are in the library, you know. You should be quieter,” he said with a small, faint smile.
“Oh, shove off, Malfoy,” she hissed, starting to stalk past him, but he turned quickly, walls shooting up around him, his face empty, his eyes dead.
“Hermione,” he whispered, and she instantly stopped, ten paces away from him.
He swallowed. What was he doing?
“What, Malfoy?” she spat over her shoulder.
“Are you okay?” he asked for the second time that day, and she turned a little more, staring at him curiously.
“Why do you care?”
Care. The word rang inside of him, and he lowered his gaze.
“I don’t,” he muttered before disappearing into the shelves, back to his desk.