Title: A Thousand Words (ch 5)
Summary: Of arguments, bookstores, and unusually kind gestures.
The next few days passed uneventfully for Hermione. Shadow seemed to have forgotten about her, for after a week, she had still not received a reply to her last letter.
This bothered Hermione. From the moment she had sent the letter, she had been wondering whether she had been too forward. Maybe mentioning the ‘Opposites attract’ saying had been a bit too much. Maybe she shouldn’t have told him she’d always be there for him…after all, they hardly even knew each other…
‘Hermione, are you alright?’
Hermione coughed and sat up straight. ‘Yeah, Ron, I’m fine,’ she said nervously, smiling across the dinner table at her boyfriend.
Ron shot Hermione a doubtful look. ‘Are you sure? You seem distracted lately.’
‘He’s right,’ interrupted Ginny. She put down the bowl of peas she had just been holding and smiled apologetically at Hermione. ‘I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. What’s been on your mind?’
‘Don’t give me that rubbish, Hermione, I know you better than anyone here,’ said Ginny reproachfully. ‘Does this have anything to do with another guy?’
‘No!’ Hermione exclaimed at the very moment Ron turned red and shouted ‘What?!’
Ginny shrugged. ‘Seems like it to me,’ she mumbled as she scooped a mouthful of mashed potatoes into her mouth.
‘You’re thinking about another guy?’ Ron demanded. He was staring at Hermione as if trying to figure out whether she was the same Hermione he’d known all his life.
‘Of course not!’ Hermione sputtered. She took a deep, calming breath, and said in a less indignant voice, ‘It’s just the whole pen pal challenge.’
‘Oh…’ Ginny’s voice trailed off as she took another bite of mashed potatoes. Then, her eyes light up and she said (after swallowing with some difficulty), ‘Your pen pal is a guy, isn’t he?’
‘Why, yes, but –’
‘SO THERE IS ANOTHER GUY!’ Ron roared, causing Hermione to jump in her seat in fright. He looked absolutely furious, and even Harry looked slightly nonplussed by his reaction.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Ron!’ exclaimed Hermione, setting her water glass down to fold her arms and glare at Ron. ‘We’re not having an intimate relationship! If you’d just let me finish my sentence…’
‘Yeah, let her finish her sentence!’ said Ginny. She leaned forward eagerly. ‘So Hermione, do tell. What is it about this pen pal that’s so special?’
‘Nothing,’ said Hermione firmly, ‘nothing at all. It’s just that I haven’t received a reply from him for a week, and I can’t help but wonder what happened to him.’
Ron’s suspicions apparently were not satisfied with this explanation, for he narrowed his eyes and said sharply, ‘You two’ve been corresponding then, have you?’
‘Of course, Ron,’ said Hermione with an air of patience that did not reflect her seething insides, ‘that’s the point of having a pen pal. You write to each other.’
‘Last time you had one, it was Vikky,’ Ron muttered darkly. He glanced over at Harry as if seeking help, but Harry was pointedly looking at a spot somewhere above Ginny’s head.
‘I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this until you finally get it through your thick skull,’ said Hermione through tightly clenched teeth, ‘but there was nothing beyond friendship going on between Viktor and I.’
‘Fine!’ Hermione stood up angrily, her fists clenched. Her abrupt movement caused her glass to topple over, drenching the table cloth in water, but she made no attempt to clean it up. ‘If you find it so hard to trust my word, then there’s no point in trying to make conversation with you tonight! If you decide to come around, I’ll be in my room.’
Harry and Ginny both gaped as Hermione pushed her chair away and stormed out of the dining room. At the foot of the stairs, she paused and added icily, ‘By the way, when the others come back, Harry, tell Mrs Weasley that I’ve washed and folded the laundry for her.’
And with that, Hermione wheeled around and charged up the stairs, pausing only to pull her foot out of the hole caused by a missing step she had forgotten about in her rage.
I hope I’m not being too forward in writing you another letter without waiting for your reply. I must admit, I was worried when I didn’t receive one immediately. I had been hoping that I would and...well, nevermind.
Hermione paused, the point of her quill still pressed against the parchment, and grimaced. The first three lines already sounded desperate and awkward. Despite her hesitance, however, Hermione found that the faint voice in the back of her mind urging her to continue writing would not relent. So, she continued.
I do have some pressing matters on my mind, though. Just minutes ago, I got into a rather heated row with my boyfriend, and I don’t know what to do now. He accused me of – and this is embarrassing to say – engaging in an affair with…well, with you.
I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s just further proof of how protective of me he is. It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t trust me! If he’s going to get angry at me because I’m taking part in a challenge the Ministry required us to take part in, I can’t help but feel that it’s hopeless. We’ve always worked through all the trials that have been thrown at us during our relationship, but I’m not sure this time will be the same as all the others. I’m used to us fighting over certain issues, but now, it seems that most of our disagreements are over nothing in particular. It’s probably asking you too much, but perhaps you have advice you could give me.
Anyway, I’m sorry to bother you like this. It’s just that my thoughts were troubling me, and what better person to spill them to is there than you, my pen pal? After all, that is the purpose of this challenge – getting to better know someone we usually wouldn’t speak to.
I’ve just realised that I still need to go check over some records. I hope to hear from you soon.
Hermione put down her quill and skimmed over her letter. Short and not too pleading.
Good, she thought to herself glumly as she folded the parchment, dabbed some hot wax on it, and stamped it. I wouldn’t want to scare him off too.
Once Hermione had tucked the letter into her pocket and made a mental note to herself to send it with one of the Ministry owls the next day, she pulled out a stack of sheets detailing the physical attributes, crimes, and recent sightings of the latest Dark wizard she had been assigned to track and began to read them.
‘You could have at least not said anything!’
Ginny threw her hands up in defence. ‘I’m sorry, Hermione, but I was curious! I didn’t expect the prat to act up like that!’
Sighing, Hermione paused in her stride to study a poster tacked onto the door of a dingy apparel store. She read the advertisement printed on it (‘Dress robes to suit every size and shape!’) and wrinkled her nose in distaste before turning back to Ginny.
‘What is wrong with him, anyway?’ Hermione complained as the two of them resumed their slow, ambling pace. ‘How dim can someone be to think their girlfriend would be in love with a person she’s only received one letter from?’
‘Well it is Ron,’ said Ginny carefully. She glanced into the store window next to her before adding, ‘What do you suppose is in there?’
‘It’s an empty lot,’ replied Hermione without looking. ‘Harry told me Seamus has been thinking of buying it and turning it into a Diagon Alley branch of Quidditch Quickly. But that’s not the point, so stop changing the subject.’
‘I can’t believe Harry never told me that,’ Ginny muttered resentfully. ‘And I’m not changing the subject,’ she added quickly upon receiving a dirty look from Hermione. ‘I was just curious.’
A cold gust of wind blew past at that moment, cutting off Hermione’s response. The two friends both shivered and hugged themselves tightly.
‘Why don’t we stop in Flourish and Blotts until it stops snowing?’ Hermione suggested, looking longingly at the cheerful, bustling interior of the bookshop, all thoughts of Ron having been replaced by the desire to be out of the cold.
‘Great idea,’ Ginny agreed through chattering teeth.
Upon entering the brightly lit store, a wave of warmth immediately swept over Hermione. She exhaled a breath of relief, lowered the hood of her thick winter cloak, and shook the stray snowflakes out of her hair. Then, she proceeded to remove her gloves as she gazed fondly at the familiar shelves around her.
‘Hey, look who it is,’ Ginny suddenly hissed from Hermione’s side.
Hermione looked around, but didn’t see anyone. ‘Who?’ she asked loudly.
‘Shh! Over there!’ Ginny nudged Hermione and tilted her head slightly to the left.
Hermione followed Ginny’s gesture and, with an unpleasant lurch somewhere in her stomach region, saw Draco Malfoy standing by a bookshelf, his back to her and Ginny.
‘What’s he doing here?’ Hermione whispered angrily as if Draco was breaking a law by being in the same shop as her.
‘Looking for a book, I would suspect,’ answered Ginny, sounding amused. ‘Why don’t you go over and say hello to him?’
Hermione shot Ginny a look of utter incredulity as if she had just suggested Hermione take a ride on the back of a dragon. ‘There is no way I’d go up to him willingly!’
Ginny shrugged. ‘Suit yourself,’ she said nonchalantly.
Hermione, however, was too deft to be fooled by her friend’s air of indifference. Her keen eyes hadn’t missed the mischievous twinkle in Ginny’s eyes, nor did they fail to notice the smile tugging at the corner of Ginny’s lips.
‘What are you thinking?’ Hermione asked warily, her eyes darting over to Draco’s figure before returning to Ginny’s face.
‘Nothing,’ said Ginny innocently. She looked over her shoulder. ‘Harry asked me if I could get him An Autobiography of Oliver Wood while he was here; I think I see it over there. I’ll see you in a few, Hermione!’
Then, she hurried off, leaving Hermione alone and confused.
After a while, when it seemed that Ginny would not be returning (she had engaged herself in a conversation with a tall, rather – and Hermione couldn’t help but take note of this – handsome man), Hermione sighed and ran a hand through her tangled hair.
I might as well go grab that potions book I was trying to find the other day, she thought to herself, looking around for a salesman who might be able to help her locate it. There were none, so Hermione began to stroll around the store, scanning the bookshelves for the one labelled ‘Potions’.
After several minutes, it became clear to Hermione that the one area she was avoiding – that which Draco was standing in – was the one that held her book of interest. Scowling, she stopped behind a stand of recipe books to peer cautiously at Draco.
Sure enough, the bold letters above the bookshelf in front of Draco read ‘Potions’. Grinding her teeth together, Hermione crossed her arms and debated what she should do.
She did not want another awkward encounter with him; that was for sure. Besides, if she just walked right up to him, he might think she was stalking him. After all, the two of them had seen far more of each other in the past week than they had seen of each other for the past five years.
Yet…yet Draco did seem to be immensely absorbed in the book that lay open in his hands. Perhaps if Hermione could subtly sidle up next to him, snatch her book, and depart quickly, her presence wouldn’t be noticed.
Deciding to take the latter option, Hermione silently crossed the short distance between herself and Draco. When she was standing almost directly behind him, she rapidly scanned the bookshelf for the title of the book she needed. A…C…D…There it was: The Dark Arts and Potions.
Slowly, carefully, Hermione reached an arm out…a few more inches…
‘You could just ask me to grab it for you,’ came Draco’s calm, cool voice.
Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin in fright. Her heart pounding fiercely, she retracted her arm quickly and silently cursed the eyes Draco had on the back of his head.
‘The Dark Arts and Potions, right?’
‘Y-yes,’ Hermione stammered. She watched Draco ease the book out from between two others and hand it over his shoulder to her without ever turning around to look at her.
‘So why were you sneaking up on me?’ he asked, his eyes still trained on his book.
Having collected her wits, Hermione managed to reply, ‘I didn’t want to bother you.’
Draco finally looked over at Hermione. His eyebrows were raised slightly, but other than that, his scarred face held no other traces of emotion. For a moment, he didn’t say anything; then, he murmured a quiet ‘I see’ and returned to his reading.
‘Anyway, I’ll leave you alone now,’ said Hermione loudly. She cleared her throat, then reluctantly added, ‘Thanks for getting my book for me.’
‘Hold on.’ Slowly, Draco closed his book and placed it back on the bookshelf. Then, he turned fully around to face Hermione. ‘Our departments are meeting this Tuesday.’
Hermione blinked. ‘Very well.’ She paused, but it seemed that Draco had nothing else to add, for he had found his book and returned to reading it.
‘Good day,’ said Draco pointedly as if he could sense that Hermione was waiting for him.
Hermione rolled her eyes. ‘See you on Tuesday, then.’
And with that, she spun around and began searching for Ginny.