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Loud Places

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"Healing Transfiguration and Sensitive Organs"

The Flamel Center, South London Wizard District

February 14th

Hermione shuffled into her seat, removing her cloak from her shoulders. She'd been unusually excited to attend this lecture, mostly because of the witch who was giving it - Madame Harvey was the foremost expert on both alchemy and transfiguration magic, and had several patents for spells being used in both St. Mungo's and the Department of Mysteries.

It was unusual for Hermione to be able to attend a lecture like this in the middle of the day, but since the official organizational changes at the Daily Prophet and her promotion to board member of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, she actually had more freedom over her schedule than before. Now if she blocked off time to attend an event, or travel to a conference, or even to run errands, it was respected.

Opening her program, she scanned the syllabus for the lecture. The sensitive organ that she was interested in - the brain - wasn't a main focus, but she was interested in hearing what the famous witch had to say on the subject of healing regardless.

Even though the presentation was likely to be more technical than Hermione would be prepared for, she enjoyed being overwhelmed with unfamiliar knowledge. She would decipher it all later; it was one of the things she enjoyed about translating and deciphering Ancient Runes back in school.

Transfiguration in regards to the brain was rather new territory, not just to Hermione, but to the magical community in general, and so she didn't feel as nervous as she normally would have. It was likely that others in the room wouldn't know much about this subject either.

Hermione closed her program and took her notebook and quill from her leather bag. Once she settled, she glanced around, taking in the tall ceilings, booming acoustics, and endless rows of threadbare velvet seats.

Since the lecture wasn't due to start for another fifteen minutes, there weren't that many people around yet - most of the crowd was in the reception area, enjoying a coffee and a conversation. There were only a few people already seated.

Letting her eyes wander, she looked at a man sitting a few rows ahead; he was also holding a small notebook, skimming a page, his finger presumably following lines of notes.

She watched the movement of his hand for a few seconds before she studied him; his dark blue sleeves were rolled up to sharp elbows, and he sported shockingly light blond hair that seemed almost translucent, tapering and dipping regally into a stiff, undone collar. She could just make out the side of his face in the curved theater; there was a hint of dark, thick framed glasses over the top of his ears. She could tell by his silhouette that he was young, well dressed, and desperately attractive.

Hermione shook off this appraisal as attendees began walking between the rows, taking their seats and somewhat blocking her view of him. She had to admit that she was feeling rather untouched, what with it being Valentine's Day and not having any plans beyond this lecture, but it was no reason to stare at random people. Readying her quill, she tried to remember what she had intended to do with her notebook before she had gotten distracted.

She sighed and wrote down the questions she'd meant to concentrate on answering as the room began to fill. Soon the seats next to her were both claimed, and she smiled at the occupants in greeting.

Just as the room was beginning to quiet down, she craned to look at the young man again. He turned just as she looked - almost as if he had been looking her way a second before - he was no longer reading, but was leaning back in his seat, twirling a quill in his fingers.

Despite only seeing a flash of his face, Hermione was struck with his familiarity. She knew the wizard, but from where?

Before she could do more than furrow her brows, Madame Harvey walked onstage to thunderous applause, and Hermione tore her gaze away to clap with the audience.

The presenter began her talk with a speech about the importance of transfiguration to the study of diseases - Hermione was speechless with anticipation.

"Transfiguration has long been the foundation for magical advancement," the witch began. "To understand anything in our world, we simply isolate it and use transfiguration to determine its makeup."

It was incredible to hear the common magic framed in such a way - Hermione wrote this quote down earnestly.

"When it comes to the magical human, one of the most complex living creatures in our world, healing transfiguration is the most important tool we have, our bread and butter." The witch raised her wand to start her slides.

As the blue light from the projector filled the room, Hermione glanced over at a particularly bright part of the audience. The man she had noticed earlier was still lounging in his seat, his hair practically glowing in the dark. He ran a hand through it, mussing the effect and releasing the stiffness of his product.

She was once again struck with his familiarity - the shape of his head, the particular look of his jaw, the slope of his shoulders -

Her stomach did a flip when she finally recognized him.

This was the last place she had expected to see Draco Malfoy after more than seven years, but... that was definitely him.

She was briefly disoriented at the earlier recognition of his attractiveness; it contradicted the image she'd internalized of him, his lips curled in an ugly sneer, his hair greased back, his form dark, expensive and uninspired.

This Malfoy was straight backed and calm, clean and - ostensibly - quiet. His posture was engaged, since he was concentrating on something he deemed important; it betrayed a focus she hadn't expected.

It seemed odd that he would be interested in healing transfiguration, but she knew vaguely that he was employed at St. Mungo's. She remembered scoffing at that bit of information - it had been comical to think of him training to be a healer - and shook her head.

He looked content, sitting there, twirling his quill. She had never seen him looking so comfortable, so confident, so... normal. She tried to remember the last time she had seen him out; it must have been during the cleanup, when hundreds of wizards had descended upon Hogwarts to do their part in restoring the battered grounds. Though she knew he would never have cleaned a thing in his life, he had been there, repairing the broken desks and chairs, assisting Madame Pomfrey, and sorting and replacing the spilled potion ingredients. He'd been withered and dirty, just like everyone else.

Hermione realized that she was looking at him steadily and looked away determinedly, concentrating on the images now illuminating the room.

Madame Harvey was talking about the brain now, and Hermione listened, readying her quill.

"When it comes to understanding the brain, transfiguration has not, until recently, been considered. Given the volatile nature of other methods, however, we are now at a place, with advancements in microtransfiguration, where we can begin to use this subtle art to better treat brain injuries.

"For your consideration, take the Anatoly experiment." The room shifted slightly as multiple people began scratching away on their pads. "Now, it is known that through transfiguration, Healer Alexandrovna Petrovski was able to contain the disease spreading in Anatoly's brain. But the longterm effects afterward - his sudden change in personality, memory loss, chronic pain - were, at the time, considered an ultimate failure.

"However, Healer Petrovski, from this failure, was able to help us map out the particular centers for certain characteristics - and thus help us understand how to avoid damaging the brain during surgery. And in the process, she uncovered what Obliviate actually does, physiologically, to the brain."

As Madame Harvey went into more detail about the experiment, breaking down the transfiguration techniques used, Hermione sighed; this is what she had been wanting from this lecture - a breakdown of the techniques, and the concepts behind them. The material was still a little dense, especially for someone just attending out of curiosity, but she happily took notes.

It had been a while since she had been in a learning setting, and she missed the structure of being taught in an environment like this. While she appreciated the freedom of a library or the Archives, and did her own learning in her spare time, there was something about the delivery of the information, the excitement of the teacher, and being with other interested individuals that made her happy.

When the presenter finished her talk, the crowd clapped eagerly, and Hermione joined in. As she had expected, the lecture had created more questions in her mind than it had answered, especially regarding microtransfiguration, but she would have fun for the next few days researching on her own, looking up unfamiliar terms and gaining a clearer understanding of the problems currently facing the academics in the magical community.

Once the clapping died down and the people in front of her began to stand, Hermione stretched her stiff muscles, positively brimming with happiness at the amazing things she had learned. She glanced around again, her gaze unwittingly landing on Malfoy once more.

As if he had sensed her eyes, his own eyes landed on hers.

She knew she should look away, but he was holding her gaze with so much power that she found herself incapable. She waited for him to send her a sneer, or at least smirk at her, but his face was motionless as he watched her intently. In his eyes, even from this distance and behind his dark frames, she could see a mixture of emotions that startled her.

After what seemed like an eternity, someone got his attention and he turned to talk to the other wizard.

She looked away, mystified and more than a little annoyed at the odd exchange. It didn't matter. She sidled out of the row, shouldering on her bag and making her way to the exit.