Title: A Thousand Words
Genre: Romance, drama, angst
Warnings: HBP spoilers
Other ships: Hermione/Ron, Harry/Ginny
Disclaimer: All recognisable HP characters and storylines belong to the wonderful J.K. Rowling, and the story of the Phantom of the Opera (of which there will be references and likenesses to throughout this fic) belongs to Gaston Leroux, the writer of the original book, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the amazing man who adapted the story into a musical.
Summary: When Hermione Granger, girlfriend of Ron Weasley, wrote "To my pen pal" for the very first time, she never expected that in the weeks to come, she would fall in love with this mysterious person who called himself "Shadow." The lonely and single Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, did not wish to reveal his identity when he himself began to fall in love with his pen pal, a girl called "Starlight." Will the two eventually find out who the mystery on the other side of the page is? And what happens when they finally meet?
Title: A Thousand Words (Ch 1)
Summary: Of challenges, unexpected encounters, and surprise visits.
‘...will write to them at least once a month, and they will be required to reply within a week. These letters to each other will not be read by anyone other than the eyes they were intended for, so there is no need to worry about your private thoughts getting into the wrong hands,’ finished Head of the Aurors, Gawain Robards, with a strained smile at the silent women and men sitting before him. ‘And now, slips of paper containing the number assigned to the person you will be partnered with should appear on your plates. Keep in mind that no one knows what number they have been assigned to, so to those curious ones wishing to ask around, there will be no point in doing so.’
A hand shot up the moment Robards finished his speech.
‘Yes, Benjamin?’ said Robards, his eyes closed as if praying to some higher power for patience.
‘What’s the point of this?’ asked Auror-in-training, John Benjamin, in tone of voice that clearly conveyed his reluctance to go along with the idea. He was leaning back in his chair and absently twirling his wand between his fingers, a puzzled frown on his round face.
Robards sighed, his impatience now showing clearer than ever. ‘As I’ve already told you several times, the Ministry feels that in the aftermath of the war, the broken bonds of trust and friendship between its workers need to be mended. Therefore, they’ve proposed this idea in an attempt to promote inter-departmental relationships.’
‘Relationships?’ repeated Ginny Weasley, her eyebrows raised in scepticism. ‘Isn’t there another way to establish Ministry unity, one that doesn’t use up as much time, energy, and parchment?’
A few snickers arose from the Aurors sitting around Ginny, but quickly died away upon being received with a death glare from Robards.
‘Kids,’ said Robards, his tone of voice suddenly pleading, ‘can you please go along with this? Just for once? I’m not asking too much from you, am I?’
‘Of course not, sir,’ said Ginny’s older brother, Ron Weasley, solemnly. His blue eyes displayed nothing but absolute sincerity, but the ghost of a smirk nevertheless curled the corners of his lips.
‘Ron!’ hissed Hermione Granger, who was sitting right next to Ron. She elbowed her boyfriend in the side and lifted a finger to her lips, signaling that he should shut up.
‘Do you have anything you’d like to add, Miss Granger?’ said Robards sharply, his acute sense of hearing immediately picking up Hermione’s barely-audible whisper.
‘No, sir,’ said Hermione quickly, her cheeks turning pink. ‘I think it’s brilliant idea.’
‘Well I’m glad someone thinks so,’ said Robards, his relief evident. ‘In any case, unless anyone has further objections, the slips of paper containing your partner’s number should now be appearing on your desks.’
Sure enough, a split second after the words left Robards’ mouth, forty-five pieces of parchment with bold, black numbers printed on them appeared on top of forty-five desks with forty-five tiny pops.
There was immediately a flurry of movement among the previously subdued gathering of Aurors as each of them tried to grab their slip and read out their number first.
‘187!’ exclaimed Ginny gleefully, waving her number about in the air victoriously. Her cry was immediately followed by several others.
Soon, the only person who had not yet called out her number was Hermione. Instead of joining in the excitement, she was bent over a sheet of parchment and hastily scribbling something on it.
‘Hermione! What number did you get?’ asked Ron excitedly, leaning over the wall that separated their respective cubicles and trying to get a glimpse of Hermione’s slip of paper.
‘217,’ Hermione replied without so much as a glance upwards.
‘You don’t sound very excited,’ piped up a voice from behind Hermione. Both Hermione and Ron turned around to see Ginny standing behind them, her hands on her hips and a grin on her face.
Hermione shrugged. ‘You heard what Robards said; there’s really no point in calling out your number.’
Ginny rolled her eyes. ‘It’s for the fun of it, Hermione. Come on, get in the spirit of the game!’
‘I already am in the spirit of the game,’ said Hermione in irritation. She had turned back to the memo she had been writing and was now furiously sucking on the end of her quill as she searched her mind for the word she was looking for.
‘Do something about her,’ said Ginny to Ron in a mock whisper before flouncing away to go visit her boyfriend, Harry Potter, in his private office.
‘Ginny’s right,’ said Ron seriously when his sister had disappeared behind the door labelled “Harry Potter”. ‘The holiday season is coming up; you should be lightening up, not stressing out even more.’
‘I’m not stressing out!’ exclaimed Hermione, slamming down her quill in a way that clearly read indicated her stress. ‘I just wish everyone would leave me alone so I could get some work done!’
Ron’s eyes widened, then narrowed. ‘Fine,’ he said shortly before sitting back down in his seat so that Hermione could no longer see him.
Hermione sighed in exasperation. She had not meant to blow up at Ron like that. He was right; she was particularly uptight nowadays. She didn’t know why, either. Every little sound and movement around her seemed to get on her nerves lately.
‘I’m sorry, Ron,’ she meekly said to the wall dividing their cubicles. Ron didn’t respond.
Grinding her teeth together in frustration, Hermione forced her attention to return to the unfinished memo sitting before her. Ron would come around…eventually.
Later that afternoon found Hermione bustling down the aisles between the cubicles in the Aurors’ office as quickly as possible. It was 1:15, and she had only 45 minutes to drop by the Hit Wizards office for some records she needed, grab some lunch for her and Ron, and apparate back to the Burrow to copy down a few phone numbers before she had to return to the Auror Headquarters for a mandatory meeting Robards had scheduled. She had not given a second thought to the inter-departmental unity challenge since that morning.
So engrossed in mentally sorting through everything she needed to do that afternoon was Hermione that she didn’t even notice when she entered one of the Ministry’s lifts – that is, until she walked right into someone else.
‘Oh!’ gasped Hermione as she stumbled backwards, nearly losing hold of the stack of papers she had in her hands. Luckily, the packed lift meant that there was not enough empty space for her to fall into, and that the witches and wizards standing behind her would prevent her from tipping over.
A few people grumbled and stepped away from Hermione, but she didn’t notice. Instead, she was busying herself with picking up her fallen wand from the ground and saying to the stranger she had bumped into, ‘I’m sorry, are you alright?’
‘Never been better,’ came a frosty voice from above Hermione.
Hermione’s shoulders stiffened and her heart sunk in dismay. She could recognise that voice anywhere.
The person did not seem to notice her discomfort, and said calmly, ‘You might want to stand up; the people who come in these lifts have a habit of not caring where they’re walking.’
Bristling, Hermione stood up and turned to glare at Draco Malfoy. ‘I wasn’t paying attention; I didn’t mean to bump into you.’
‘Of course not,’ Draco replied smoothly. His cool grey eyes were fixed on a point straight ahead, and did not once betray a flicker of emotion as he spoke to Hermione out of the side of his mouth.
Feeling that it was hopeless to pursue a conversation with Draco, Hermione sighed and turned away, wondering, as she did so, why it was that even so many years working alongside each other hadn’t managed to narrow – much less repair – the rift between them. Then again, there was much about Draco that Hermione did not know.
He had definitely turned good; that much was certain, for Hermione had seen with her own eyes a seventeen-year old Draco leading Harry to safety and risking his own life in his process. But after that night on the Hogwarts grounds, things were fuzzy. Draco had disappeared from, it seemed, the face of the wizarding world. No one knew where he had gone, and no one had a clue what had happened to him, for the Dark Lord had already been vanquished.
Then, four years after his disappearance, Draco had reappeared at the door of the Ministry, gaunt, pale, and cut and bruised beyond recognition. Now, a year after that incident, Draco was still as gaunt and pale, though the two long scars that ran down each of his cheeks and distorted his aristocratic features were a significant improvement from the mangled, mutilated appearance he’d had when he appeared without warning the previous year.
When at last the lift arrived on the first floor and the golden grilles slid open, Draco and Hermione both made for the door at the same time. The moment she saw this, Hermione stopped in her tracks, knowing that she would be better off letting Draco get his way.
However, after a few seconds, Hermione found to her surprise that Draco too had stopped and was waiting for her to step out first. Hermione’s mouth fell open slightly, but she nevertheless took advantage of Draco’s mysteriously courteous gesture and exited the lift.
Once outside, Hermione did not continue on. Instead, she waited at the door of the lift, determined to question Draco about the motive behind the display of kindness he had just put on.
It took longer than expected for Draco to step out of the lift. When he did, he did not surprised to find Hermione waiting for him.
‘What took you so long?’ asked Hermione, momentarily forgetting her main purpose in staying behind.
‘You dropped something,’ Draco replied simply. He held out a hand. In his palm lay a small, crumpled slip of paper.
For a moment, Hermione stared in confusion at Draco’s hand. It took her a while to remember the – for lack of a better term – pen pal challenge.
‘Oh, thanks,’ she said with an uncertain smile once the memory returned to her. She reached out to take the piece of parchment from Draco’s hand. As she did so, her palm grazed Draco’s. For a split second, Hermione saw Draco’s fingers twitch as if about to close; then, they were still.
‘You might want to be more careful of your possessions next time,’ said Draco quietly before letting his arm drop back to his side. Then, with a curt nod to Hermione, he brushed past her and began striding briskly towards the fireplaces where Ministry workers were Flooing in and out.
‘Wait!’ Hermione called out, reaching out a hand and grabbing Draco’s forearm. He stopped and turned around slowly, raising a pale eyebrow at the arm Hermione had in her grip.
Hermione promptly let go of Draco, blushing furiously. ‘I – er – thanks for picking up the slip for me,’ she stammered. She had forgotten entirely what she had intended to ask him.
Draco shrugged and said blankly, ‘Was that all you wanted to say to me?’
‘No,’ said Hermione, quickly searching her mind for a plausible excuse for stalling Draco. Then, a thought occurred to her. ‘You’re one of the Hit Wizards, aren’t you?’
‘Well, do you know if your Head is in today? I need to retrieve the Bulstrode file; I left it there the other day so he could examine it.’
‘I have it.’
‘You do?’ said Hermione, surprised. ‘Can I have it?’
Draco surveyed Hermione stonily, as if trying to find a trace of dishonesty in her face. Then, he reached into one of the pockets of his robes and extracted a neatly folded paper crane. ‘Everything should be there.’
‘A crane?’ said Hermione, unable to keep the astonishment out of her voice. ‘I never would’ve expected that you’d –‘
‘Is there anything you needed from me,’ interrupted Draco, his voice cold, ‘or is that all?’
Hermione bit her bottom lip. ‘No,’ she said weakly, ‘that’s all. Good day.’
‘Good day to you as well.’
And with that, Draco swept past Hermione for the second time and began to make his way towards the fireplaces, this time undisturbed by Hermione.
When Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and Harry returned to the Burrow from the Ministry later that evening, they were greeted with two surprises: Fred and George had returned home, and, even more shocking, with their new wives on their arms: Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet.
‘Angelina, Alicia!’ squealed Ginny, snatching her hand out of Harry’s and running over to hug her older brothers’ spouses. ‘I had no idea!’
‘We still don’t,’ said both of the Quidditch players in unison, grinning at each other. ‘It’s great to see all of you again,’ added Angelina. ‘How’s Quidditch going for you, Harry?’
‘I don’t have much time to play,’ Harry explained as he stepped forward to shake hands with both of his old teammates. ‘Work takes up all my time.’
‘Don’t be silly, Harry!’ exclaimed Alicia, rolling her eyes. She punched Fred lightly on the arm and said, ‘Him and George don’t have much time outside of work, but they still come practice with us every night.’
‘Well, they’d have to, wouldn’t they?’ Ron piped up, letting go of Hermione’s arm (sure enough, he had completely forgotten about their argument earlier that morning when Hermione returned with an armful of soup and sandwiches) and going over to join in the conversation. ‘I mean, marrying two famous Quidditch players…Blimey, my brothers must be up to their ears.’
‘We’re still here, Ronniekins,’ said George, mussing up his younger brother’s hair. Ron let out a squeak of indignation at this and ducked away from his brother’s reach. Fred and George grinned at each other at this.
The next hour or so was filled with playful discussion about the twin brothers’ business, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.
‘It’s been thriving ever since the end of the war,’ said Fred eagerly. ‘George and I have come up with loads of great new items with Alicia and Angelina’s help. Of course, Harry, you can take as many as you want. We’re only at the trial stages at the moment, though…’
‘What about me?’ Ron cut in indignantly.
‘Ah, we’ll see, little brother, we’ll see…’
While everyone else was distracted by the conversation, Hermione quietly excused herself, saying that she had work to finish, and escaped to the soothing silence of her small attic bedroom.
Once Hermione was in the cool darkness of her bedroom, she sighed in relief and collapsed on her small bed. She had never approved of Fred and George’s joke store, and the loud chatter about it downstairs was more than she could take at that moment. She wanted to be alone, and her room was the only place in the house she could think of at that moment to turn to.
With nothing else to do, Hermione turned on the single lamp dangling from the ceiling with a flick of her wand and pulled the Bulstrode file from her pocket. For a moment, she examined the crane shape Draco had charmed it into with great interest.
It was not uncommon for Ministry workers to charm records and letters into shapes. It was a simple spell, and it was used more often than not due to the fact that it helped distinguish files from one another and made them more convenient to carry around. Each wizard or witch had his or her own distinct shape. Hermione never would have dreamt that Draco’s would be a crane.
Hermione rubbed her eyes tiredly before unfolding the paper crane and spreading out the stack of parchment that had been magically compressed into the shape of the bird. She picked up the top sheet and tried to focus on the tiny print, but instead found her mind drifting to other things: the conversation downstairs, her argument with Ron, her encounter with Draco…
As her thoughts unwillingly wandered towards the last of these, Hermione remembered the slip of paper he had picked up for her. With a jolt, she realised that she could start on her letter to pass the time.
The idea appealed to Hermione, so she put down the record she was holding, made a mental note to get back to it at a later time, and pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment, a bottle of ink, and a quill from one of the drawers in her bedside table.
Hermione settled herself in the most comfortable position she could find before laying out the parchment before her. For several minutes, she stared blankly into space as she tried to figure out how to start out her first letter.
At last, Hermione decided that she would write about herself. If she and this person were going to be pen pals for the next few months, it was best that he know everything about her before her second letter. Pleased with this decision, Hermione took her quill in hand, dipped it in the ink bottle, and began to write.
To my pen pal (well, okay, we’re not quite pen pals but it’s the best I could come up with),
I'm not exactly sure how to address you, seeing as all I know about you is your number. Unfortunately, I can't write it down, as tempting as it is. But in a way, not knowing who these words are being sent to is more thrilling and mysterious, don't you think? To make it easier on the both of us, though, maybe we could make up nicknames for ourselves, and we could use those to address each other. If you like this idea, feel free to come up with a name for yourself and send it to me in your next letter.
It took me a long time to decide what to write. I mean, there are so many things I want to tell you. I've never really had anyone whom I could tell all my secrets to. I've had diaries and journals, but it's different saying all of this to a real, live person. Different in a good way, that is. But after thinking for a long time, I decided that I would just tell you a little about myself, so you can get to know what kind of person I am.
I could write about my favourite things here, but that would be boring, so I’ll cut the introductory techniques and just get right to it. Have you ever felt like you were hiding a part of yourself from the world because you were scared that no one would accept you if you showed that side? That’s sort of how I feel. It’s funny; the people I’ve known for eleven years think they can read me like a book, but they haven’t even finished the cover page. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I’m so afraid of letting myself shine. There’s nothing for me to be afraid of. Call me cocky, but I don’t have a dark side, I don’t have any skeletons in my closet. There is nothing about me that would repulse people, so why do I immerse myself in my work instead of spending my time having drinks with friends like every other normal person?
Maybe it’s because I’ve always been more comfortable with paper, parchment, books, and quills, but right now, I’m not afraid to reveal a part of my hidden side. For instance, I'm a good person to confide in when you’re having problems dealing with life or relationships. I suppose it's partly because of my ability to look at things in a logical way, but also because I have a way of understanding people when no one else does. I’m not like other people, always demanding answers. I observe until I’m sure I’ve seen everything there is to a situation or person.
Again, at the risk of sounding egotistical, I get along with everyone. Well, almost everyone. There is one person…I don’t know him very well, even though I’ve known him ever since I studied at Hogwarts. I remember the first time I saw him, I disliked him immediately because I saw him bullying around some other students because of their blood. I’m a Muggle-born, you see, so it really hit me hard and it scared me that there would be people out there who’d attack me for what I was. As I grew to know this boy a little more, though, I began to pity him. He always acted like a jerk towards my friends and I, but it's not his fault; his parents, after all, raised him to be that way. I can almost understand why he's so rude to everyone, even if I don't like it. Nevertheless, he hates my kind, so I never attempted to befriend him ever since that first day I saw him.
As I look back on the last few paragraphs, I'm surprised I even wrote that. So far, this challenge is going easier than I initially expected it to. I thought it would be hard to tell a stranger secrets I can't even tell those close to me, but the words seem to be flowing out of my quill on their own accord. Maybe the Ministry is right…maybe this will help mend broken friendships between people. I can only hope it will.
Oh dear, time has flown by since I sat down and started this letter. It's already been over an hour. I think my boyfriend is calling me down to dinner, so I'll tell you one last random fact about me before ending this letter. When it snows, I love to sit on my windowsill and look out the window. Watching the flakes of snow drift through the air is so beautiful that I can't put it into words. It gives me a sense of serenity that is hard to find anywhere else in my busy life. Plus, there's something about snow that's just so romantic and dreamy, and I'm a very romantic person.
Now I have to end this, because I think someone is coming upstairs. I'm sorry about this first letter being so short. Please write back as soon as you have the time to. I look forward to reading your letter.
Sincerely, your pen pal (I'm still thinking of a name)
Title: A Thousand Words (Ch 2)
Summary: Of house-elves, unpleasant memories, and potions.
The first thing Draco noticed when he stepped out of his fireplace was that his house-elf had forgotten, once again, to clean up his sitting room.
‘Lydig!’ he roared as he brushed off the ashes from his thin black robes.
There was a scurry of footsteps and then a tiny, aged house-elf dressed in a torn black kitchen cloth appeared at the doorway of Draco’s sitting room.
‘Master is home!’ it squeaked nervously, trying to look delighted but failing as it edged into the room.
‘Yes, I’m home,’ muttered Draco, shrugging off his robes and tossing them at the miniature creature. ‘Now, what’s your excuse this time for not cleaning this room up?’
‘Lydig – Lydig had thought that perhaps Master did not want Lydig to touch his – his Ministry files again…’
‘I’ve already told you several times, you stupid beast, that I’ll tell you when I don’t want you to touch certain rooms of the house. I don’t recall mentioning that I wanted you to leave my sitting room alone when I left this morning.’
‘Lydig is sorry, sir,’ the house-elf squealed, shakily lifting its wrinkled, long-figured hands to its face as if expecting a blow. ‘Lydig will listen to Master next time!’
‘You had better,’ Draco growled. His sofa was littered with crumpled pieces of parchment, empty bottles of Firewhisky, and broken quills, but he collapsed on it anyway and stretched out his legs. ‘Is my dinner ready?’ he mumbled.
‘Lydig has it ready in the oven, sir, it shall be only a few minutes.’
‘Well hurry up and get it then,’ Draco snapped without turning around to look at the house-elf.
There was the sound of tiny footsteps scampering away, and then silence. For a moment, Draco lay still in the darkness, listening to the faint sound of his own breathing.
It had been a tiring day, as usual. Suspicious glares, eyes that quickly shifted away whenever he passed, impossibly difficult assignments…and then an unexpected meeting with Hermione Granger.
Draco’s mind lingered on the last of those thoughts. He had, of course, seen her several times in the office he shared with the other Hit Wizards, as she frequently visited it to talk and exchange files with the Head. However, the few times she and Draco had spoken to each other could hardly be counted as conversations. They were always cold and distant with each other, both, perhaps, never having really forgotten the past.
Or so that was what Draco thought was Hermione’s view of it.
He himself, on the other hand, tried tirelessly put the past from his mind. He disliked remembering those days of darkness, the days he had spent under one person or another’s power – whether it was his father’s, Dumbledore’s, or the Dark Lord’s – because they reminded him of his weaknesses. Those were the days when he had thought the world was all about looking down upon those of unworthy blood, beating the famous Potter boy at school and Quidditch, and striving to become one of them -- those fearless, powerful wizards the world deemed the Death Eaters.
The day Draco discovered there was more to life than what he knew it to be was the day his world was shattered.
That day, he’d helped Potter – his enemy, his rival – to safety. He’d done it because he’d had no where else to turn and no one else to keep at his side, but he’d done it anyway. And after those agonisingly long minutes during which Draco had let Harry lean on his shoulder and helped him limp across the field to the safety of the forest, Draco realised that there was no way he’d ever be able to turn back. He had unleashed the hopeful, compassionate side of him that had been compartmentalised all his life, and it had, in an instant, overcome his darker side to the point of no return.
Then, there were those four years…those four years he had spent in the forest, living off of the mere hope that someday he’d be able to venture back out into the world. For the most part, he had lived those four years alone. Sometimes, though, he’d come across other hiding Death Eaters – his old companions and associates, but never his friends – and they would beg him and implore him to gather them together, to organise them and start a new era of darkness. ‘Son of Lucius,’ they had begged him, ‘you can save us now. You’re the only one.’
Draco had turned away and walked back into the shadows, unable to bring himself to answer their pleas. They had not seen his act of redemption, they did not know that he no longer wanted their company. At that time, he lived his life only for himself and for no one else. He was not Lucius’ son. Lucius was dead, Dumbledore was dead, the Dark Lord was dead…for the first time in his life, Draco was in charge of his own future.
‘Lydig has Master’s dinner ready!’
Draco was rudely snapped out of his thoughts by his house-elf’s high-pitched voice. It had shuffled in without his noticing, and was carrying a large silver platter laden with food over its head.
‘Thank you,’ said Draco stiffly. ‘Put it on the table.’
‘As you wish, sir.’ The platter of food was set down on the coffee table in front of Draco.
‘Leave,’ said Draco plainly as he shifted into a sitting position and looked down without interest at the food before him.
With a frightened nod, the house-elf darted out of the room, leaving Draco by himself in the dark.
Lazily, Draco took his wand from the coffee table and flicked it in no particular direction. Several candles around the room magically lit themselves, and the fire in the hearth burst into life, giving the room a peaceful reddish-orange glow.
After a moment’s hesitation, Draco picked up his fork and speared a sprout with the end of it. He brought it to his lips and put it into his mouth, chewing it thoughtfully for a long time before finally swallowing. Then, he dropped his fork back onto the silver platter and lay down again with a slight grimace.
Food did not interest him. After all, the point of eating was to do it with someone else, and if there was no one there to share Draco’s dinner with him, what was the point of having it? To Draco, there was nothing worse than eating in solitude.
Thus, instead of settling down to his dinner, Draco closed his eyes and let his mind begin reminiscing again.
After those four lonely, terrible years in the forest, Draco had mustered up the strength and courage to step out of it, out of its darkness and shadows and into the light of the world. He was barely alive then; little amounts of food and sunlight coupled with the unbearable stress and fear that had wracked his mind everyday had weakened Draco greatly. However, he was determined, and his determination brought him to the steps of the Ministry.
Unfortunately for Draco, acceptance did not come as immediately as he had dreamt it would. The world knew him as a Death Eater, and he had been on the verge of being thrown into Azkaban when, wonder of wonders, Harry stepped in for him and ordered the Ministry to give him another chance.
It was only fair, Harry had said later that day when Draco questioned him about his motives for doing what he had done. Yet after that, Draco lost all his hostility towards Harry Potter, and vice versa. The two were still a step away from friends, but they had formed a level of respect between each other, and that was more than either would’ve imagined possible years ago.
At that point, Draco rolled over onto his stomach and buried his face in the arm of his sofa. It had an unpleasant, musty scent that Draco couldn’t place. With a muffled groan, he flipped back over onto his back and stared blankly up at the ceiling.
Draco didn’t know how much time he passed just staring up at the ceiling, but when he finally checked his watch, it was 1AM. His mind urged him to sleep, but he had other matters he had to attend to before he would allow himself to seek the comfort of his bed: namely, his potions.
A wave of dizziness overcame Draco as he stood up, but he cleared it away by shaking his head, and began to walk to the stairway that led to his basement.
When Draco arrived in the basement, he stopped and inhaled the familiar clean, earthy perfume that emanated from the potion he always kept boiling at the foot of the staircase: Amortentia, the most powerful love potion in the world.
Stepping past the cauldron of Amortentia, Draco moved past various other boiling substances towards the back of the room where the largest cauldron of all sat.
Upon arriving at this cauldron, Draco peered cautiously at its contents. Dark red. Perfect.
Setting his wand on the table next to the cauldron, Draco grabbed a lab coat from a hook hanging on the wall a few feet away and shrugged it on. Then, he stirred the thick contents of the enormous cauldron before twice before picking up a tattered book that lay on the table next to his wand and glancing at the page it was turned to.
The page was one of those few pages at the beginning and end of a book that publishers often leave blank for unknown reasons. However, someone had scribbled a large quantity of neat but cramped sentences onto this page and titled it ‘Wolfsbane Potion II’.
The Wolfsbane Potion II was what Draco had been working on for the past year, ever since he’d secured a house of his own. It was the one Severus Snape had worked on in his years at Hogwarts so long ago, and Draco had sworn he’d continue to work on it when Severus was on his death bed. Perfecting it had been Severus’ main dream in life, and he’d forced Draco to promise that he would carry out this dream – after all, Draco was the closest thing to a son Severus had ever had.
This promise, combined with the hope of finding a real cure for lycanthropy and his natural passion for potion brewing, was Draco’s way of keeping himself busy when he was not at work in the Ministry. No one knew about it, for Draco preferred to keep it his own secret.
Now, Draco sighed as he studied the incomplete instructions Severus had written out as a student. He scribbled down a few lines of his own and crossed one of Severus’ out, then turned to gaze at the potion again.
‘A pinch more aconite…a drop of Acromantula venom…would greatly reduce the effects on the nervous system, but could cause possibly fatal side effects…’
Draco continued to mutter incoherent sentences to himself as he studied the swirling red substance in the cauldron intently. At last, he seized one of the hundreds of phials on the shelf above his head and emptied its contents into the cauldron.
For a split second, nothing happened; then, rings of black smoke began issuing from the potion with loud cracks.
‘Yes!’ exclaimed Draco out loud, hurriedly scribbling down a few words underneath the lines he had earlier added. His face shone with excitement as his quill scratched against the page of the book.
Now spurred on by the progress he had just made, Draco grabbed a few more phials, poured the liquids in them into a larger flask, and swirled them around. Sparks issued from the new concoction before dying away to reveal a pale blue substance.
From under the table, Draco pulled out a cage of rats. He opened the latch, grabbed one, and closed the latch. Placing the rat he had just extracted on the surface of the table, Draco drew in a deep breath then poured a drop of the substance he had mixed up in the flask into the rat’s mouth.
The rat’s eyes bulged out and its entire body started to shake. It squeaked madly as it twisted and turned on the wooden surface of the table. Then, its nails began to lengthen and its fur began to shorten. After a while, the pain it was feeling seemed to subside, and Draco was left with a quivering, hairless rat with unnaturally long nails.
This was apparently not the result Draco had been aiming for, for he pounded his fist on the table in frustration and vehemently ran his other hand through his tangled blond hair. The rat squeaked in fright at this and tried to scramble away, an attempt that did not quite work out as its nails were preventing it from moving very far.
‘Master?’ came a trembling voice suddenly from the doorways.
Draco angrily turned around to face his house-elf. ‘What do you want, Lydig?’ he growled viciously.
‘Lydig is thinking that perhaps Master should go to bed,’ said the house-elf, its enormous brown eyes filled with terror and apprehension but its tone of speech determined. ‘It is late and Master must be waking up in three hours’ time for work.’
Draco opened his mouth to order the house-elf out of his basement, but then he closed it when he realised how accurate its words were. He did need his rest, and it wasn’t like he was going to get anywhere that night. Thus, Draco resignedly nodded and stepped away from the cauldron.
The house-elf looked utterly thrilled at the fact that its master had not ordered him away, and scrambled forward to offer more help. ‘Would sir like Lydig to make clean up?’
‘No, Lydig, you can leave now. I’ll clean up. I’d rather no one touch my potions.’
‘Very well,’ squeaked the house-elf, bowing deeply and beginning to back out of the room. Then, it stopped, as if suddenly remembering something. ‘Lydig has forgotten… Master has an owl.’
‘An owl?’ Draco repeated, turning around in the middle of taking off his lab coat to frown at his house-elf. ‘From who?’
‘Lydig does not know,’ the house-elf replied, shaking its head rapidly so that its large ears flapped against the sides of its head loudly. ‘Lydig placed it on the kitchen table, sir, and fed it water, so Lydig suspects it is still there.’
‘Very well,’ said Draco curtly. ‘Now you may leave.’
Draco watched the house-elf whisk out of the room before he hung his lab coat back on its hook and picked up his wand from the table. The rat had disappeared, but Draco did not devote any time to finding it. Instead, he stalked over to the other side of the potions room, ascended the stairs, and then made his way over to the kitchen.
Sure enough, the owl was right where Lydig had said it would be. Draco did not recognise it; it was a small owl bearing a collar with the Ministry’s crest, so he assumed the message it brought with it was work-related.
However, upon removing the letter from the owl’s leg, Draco realised immediately that it wasn’t official mail. There was no name or address written it, for one, and the parchment was not the type the Ministry used.
Curious as to who the letter might be from, Draco unfolded it. His breath caught in his throat the moment he saw the words neatly printed at the top of it: ‘To my pen pal’.
The inter-departmental unity challenge. Draco had forgotten entirely about it. He groaned in frustration when he realised that he now had to write a response to this person. However, another glance at the letter increased his curiosity, and the urge to read it became stronger.
Thus, Draco retreated to his bedroom, all thoughts of sleep gone from his mind.
Title: A Thousand Words (Ch 3)
Summary: Of breakfast, letter replies, and messy offices.
‘Yes, Mrs Weasley?’ Hermione called back from her bedroom.
‘Come downstairs, dear, you have post…’
Hermione’s brows shot up and she paused momentarily, a sock in each hand. Who in the world would send her mail? Most Ministry mail usually came while she was at work, and not early in the morning via regular owl post.
Anxious to see who had written to her, Hermione swiftly tugged on her socks, slid her feet into slippers, and hurried downstairs to the dining room of the Burrow.
Harry, Ginny, Angelina, and Alicia were already all downstairs. Mrs Weasley was insisting that it was no problem as she heaped scrambled eggs onto Angelina’s plate as Hermione entered, and stopped to give her youngest son’s girlfriend a warm smile before returning to her fussing.
‘Where’s Ron?’ Hermione asked as she plodded over to where her friends were sitting.
‘Upstairs sleeping,’ Harry replied promptly. He had one arm slung casually over Ginny’s shoulder and was holding a piece of buttered toast in his other hand as he read the Daily Prophet, which was precariously propped up against his mug of hot chocolate
‘He’s been up all night examining the Lestrange case,’ Mrs Weasley explained fondly. ‘The poor dear; he hardly ever gets any sleep now.’
Hermione clicked her tongue disapprovingly. ‘I told him he didn’t need to work on that and that I had it covered,’ she sighed as she sat down next to Alicia and began pouring herself some milk.
‘Wasn’t that Lestrange woman the one who killed Sirius Black?’ Alicia asked interestedly, looking up from a book she was reading.
Hermione saw Harry stiffen out of the corner of her eye and said hurriedly, ‘Yes, but that was a long while, so there’s no point in mentioning it now.’
Alicia shot Hermione a curious look but did not question Hermione’s strange behaviour, and returned to her book.
‘Anyway,’ said Hermione loudly, for Angelina was also looking at Hermione questioningly, ‘you said I had mail, didn’t you, Mrs Weasley?’
‘Oh yes, that’s right!’ exclaimed Mrs Weasley, who seemed to have forgotten in her desire to feed her sons’ new wives as much as possible. ‘It’s on the counter, dear.’
‘Thanks,’ said Hermione with a quick smile before pushing her chair back and walking over to the counter to retrieve her mail. She did not look at it until she had returned to her seat.
‘Who’s it from?’ said Ginny, her round brown eyes gleaming with curiosity as she absently played around with Harry’s hair.
Hermione shrugged and unfolded the letter. Her heart skipped a beat when she read the words ‘To my pen pal’ handwritten across the top of the page.
‘I – I’m going to go upstairs for a little bit to – er – read this,’ Hermione stuttered, standing up abruptly. ‘I’ll see you guys later.’
The five others in the room said good-bye to Hermione, and she walked back up the crooked stairs of the Burrow towards her room. As she made her way upwards, Hermione couldn’t help but let a smile spread across her face.
Her heart was thumped furiously against her ribcage at the very thought of finally finding out something about her assigned partner. She felt like she was a little girl again, sitting under the Sorting Hat and waiting breathlessly for her fate to be told to her.
When Hermione finally reached her room, she sat down on her bed and unfolded the letter again, nearly ripping it in her haste. Once she had it spread out in front of her, she began to read it.
To my pen pal,
I was surprised to receive a letter from you so early. I'm slightly pleased about it, though, because writing a reply gives me an excuse to get my mind off of other things. I like your nickname idea, and after a long time thinking about it, I decided to make mine ‘Shadow’. There's a rather long story behind it, but since there's not much I feel like I can tell you right now (perhaps there will be more to discuss in later letters), I figure I might as narrate it to you.
There really is no specific event the name is based off of. Basically, all my life I've lived as a shadow. It started the day I was born. My father passed on his worst qualities to me, as did my mother. Growing up, I hardly even felt like a full person – just a shadow of my parents. Because of it, it feels like all I can do is stay as far away from the sun as possible. Wherever light moves, I move in the opposite direction. It's a bit like I'm running away from the better side of the world, because the dark side is the only place I can relate to. I seek the comfort and mindlessness of what I’ve grown up in. Complicated, isn't it? In short, you could classify me as one of those people who grew up in a snobby, pureblood family but decided it wasn’t the life for him.
Unlike you, I’m having a hard time with this challenge. I’m not the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve. I guess that's part of the reason why I have never once in my life confided my thoughts to anyone, not even a journal. I've always assumed that I could just handle all of it on my own, and to be honest, I have. Knowing that I’m the only one out there who is fully aware of who I am gives me a sense of security. But now that I’ve started this letter, it feels almost nice to get it all on paper and know that someone who won't judge me for what they see will be reading it.
The man you referred to sounds like someone I'm very close with. We're not friends, but I know him very well. You're right in your speculation – it probably is because of his parents that he’s turned out the way he is or was. Please, if we happen to be thinking about the same person, don’t pity him. I’m sure he would take your sympathy as an insult, as kindly meant as it is. At the same time, though, don't believe he's the person you think he is. After knowing him for many years, I can assure you that there are, like for you, sides of him that he rarely shows.
Well, since you told me two bits of information about yourself, it would only be fair for me to do the same. Of course, you already know one – the story of my nickname. The second? Well, your mention of watching the snow reminded me of something I love to do which is very similar to that: I love to watch the rain. To stand next to a window and watch the rain fall heavily, drenching everything on the ground beneath it...Believe it or not, that's one of my favourite pastimes. There's something so powerful in the fact that although one raindrop is miniscule and will barely even move a flower, a thousand raindrops can drown it. I suppose it's rather romantic if you think about it long enough.
Merlin's beard, it's already 4AM. Seeing as you also work in the Ministry, I hope you’ll understand why I have to cut this letter short. I haven’t slept in a few days due to projects that have kept me up all night, so I should probably get some rest tonight. I’ll send this by owl post right now, so hopefully you should receive it in the morning.
A thrill of excitement coursed down Hermione’s spine and raised the little hairs on the back of her neck as she reread the letter. She had never read a more tragic or mysterious story, and she felt genuine sympathy for this man who had experienced such a sad childhood.
Then, another thought occurred to her: He was a pureblood. And yet…he had not showed any sign of disgust at the fact that his pen pal was a Muggle-born. In fact, he had mentioned that he had turned away from this sort of life.
Now eager to reply, Hermione slid open her nightstand drawer. However, before she could extract a sheet of parchment, she heard Ron calling her name.
‘Hermione, get down here, we have to get to work!’
Hermione gasped out loud. She had forgotten she had work that day. Hastily, she stuffed the letter into one of her robes pockets and stood up. Thoughts of replying to the letter flew out of her mind as she scrambled into more formal shoes and hurried downstairs.
‘Don’t forget to –’
‘Label all of them, yes I know …’
‘Right, and remember that you only have –’
‘Four hours…I haven’t forgotten, Harry, so you can calm down…’
Harry grinned sheepishly. ‘Sorry, I just really want to –’
‘Spend a peaceful night with Ginny?’ Hermione suggested, smiling knowingly.
‘You really know me too well,’ marvelled Harry, shaking his head slightly. ‘But anyway, everything should be on my desk. Work in my office; it’s much quieter in there than it is in the main office.’
Hermione nodded. ‘Have fun with Ginny tonight, Harry.’
‘I will,’ said Harry as he grabbed his cloak and slipped it on. As he turned to leave, he added over his shoulder, ‘By the way…thanks, Hermione. I really owe you one.’
‘Don’t be silly, I’m glad to do this for you,’ said Hermione soothingly as she ushered Harry out the door. ‘Just enjoy yourself.’
When the door had closed behind Harry, Hermione sighed with relief and made her way to Harry’s office. Might as well get started on filing those records, she thought to herself as she seated herself in Harry’s chair and scanned the papers scattered on his desk.
The first thought that entered her mind was that Harry’s desk was extremely messy in an organised sort of way. Memos, letters, and official documents were all sorted into their respective piles, but placed in a way that only Harry could decipher easily. There were pictures of Ginny, Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys, and various Quidditch teams all arranged around two especially large photos: the original Order of the Phoenix, and its successor.
Unable to stand the thought of working at such a cluttered desk, Hermione began to clean things up and arrange them in a more orderly fashion. So absorbed was she in this task that she didn’t notice when the door behind her opened and clothes.
Several minutes after the visitor had entered, Hermione finally turned around and found, to her shock, Draco Malfoy standing behind her, observing her silently. A hand immediately flew up to her throat and she gasped quite audibly.
‘You scared me!’ she accused, still breathing hard from the fright she had received when she saw Draco.
‘I apologise,’ he said stiffly. ‘I was hoping to find Potter here, but apparently he’s not present. Do you mind telling him I dropped by?’
‘N-no,’ Hermione stammered, caught off guard by Draco’s brisk attitude. She glanced at him warily. He looked dreadful; there were dark circles underneath his eyes and his complexion more pallid than ever, making his scars all the more prominent. ‘He’ll be in later tonight.’
‘Very well, I’ll come back in a few hours then.’
‘What was it that you needed?’ asked Hermione quickly as Draco turned to leave.
Draco turned around slowly and drawled, ‘I wanted my ink bottle back.’
‘Your ink bottle?’
‘Yes, that’s what I said,’ said Draco, rolling his eyes. ‘It’s carved out of crystal and has a—’
‘I have it here,’ interrupted Hermione, holding up her hand. Incidentally, she had just been moving the small, round ink bottle with a four-pointed star engraved on its surface to a new location.
‘Thank you,’ said Draco flatly. He took the ink bottle out of Hermione’s hand and tucked it into his robes pocket. For a moment, his grey eyes lingered on Hermione’s; then, he swiftly turned around and left the office.
Hermione frowned as she watched Draco’s back disappear. That was odd.
However, Hermione did not dwell on what had just happened, for the image of the star on the ink bottle had given her a wonderful idea for the nickname she could use with her pen pal: Starlight.