Title: A Thousand Words (ch 28) - Silent Tears
Word Count: 3426 (sorry, it's not as long as I promised...I decided to cut out the part where Hermione goes to visit the forest and the woman because after adding in the scene with Draco, I realised that the chapter was long enough)
The first thought that crossed Hermione’s mind when she opened her eyes was that she was in an unfamiliar room. It was dark all around, save for a dim glow at the end of the bed. Still half-asleep, she blinked blearily and looked around to find a shadowy figure kneeling beside her. The flickering lights fell upon strands of white-blonde hair, illuminating the sharp grey eyes beneath them. For a moment, Hermione wondered if she was still dreaming.
‘It’s about time you woke up.’
No. That voice was too cold to belong in a dream.
Hermione sat up to get a clearer view of her surroundings. From this perspective, she was able to make out the all-too-familiar lines of her companion’s pale face, allowing her to recognise him as Draco and not an angel she had imagined up.
‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ she exclaimed, blushing furiously and turning away slightly upon remembering why she was still at Draco’s flat. ‘Did I sleep too long? Why didn’t you wake me?’
Draco didn’t look at her. There was something strange about his demeanour, but Hermione couldn’t quite place it. Puzzled, she asked tentatively, ‘Malfoy? How far did you get with the potion?’
‘I –’ he began in a choked voice, but seemed unable to finish his sentence. He shook his head instead.
Taken aback by Draco’s behaviour, Hermione warily got up off the bed, grabbed her wand from the floor, and performed a quick smoothing spell on the sheets she had slept on. Once she was done, she walked over to the door, pausing and looking back over her shoulder when she reached the doorway.
‘Ron will be expecting me…I’d better go now…’
Still no response.
‘Well, do you need me to come by and help you do some more work on the potion sometime?’
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows in concern. This wasn’t like Draco; usually, he’d be bursting with snide comments to spit out at her. At the moment, however, he appeared to be incapable of even saying a word, much less making a sarcastic remark.
She opened her mouth to question him again, but then decided against it. He wouldn’t tell her anyway.
‘I’m sorry for intruding,’ she said quietly, concluding that her presence was the cause of his silence. ‘Don’t forget to let Kingsley know about the chase. Let me know when you reach him, and I’ll take care of everything else.’
Without waiting for a response, Hermione shut the door quietly behind her and turned to face the dark hallway. I wonder what’s on his mind, she mused as she proceeded down the corridor. Perhaps it really is because of me. She stared down at her hands guiltily. I suppose I shouldn’t have fallen asleep here…it really was rather rude of me…
There was already a fire crackling in the hearth when Hermione stepped into the sitting room. She tucked her wand safely in her pocket, grabbed a handful of Floo powder from the cracked pot sitting on the mantelpiece and tossed it into the flames.
Hermione sighed as she watched the fire turn emerald-green and roar up in the fireplace. Poor Draco. He had lived alone in this lonely, dismal place for so long. Ever since the war ended – and perhaps even before that – he’d been deprived of all but his house-elf’s companionship. It was no wonder he behaved so coldly around his peers.
I could never do it, Hermione realised. I could never survive without my friends and family to support me.
Perhaps he wasn’t so weak after all.
‘Morning, Granger,’ grunted another Auror as Hermione swept past him on her way to the Auror Headquarters the next morning.
Hermione didn’t even look back to see who had greeted her as she spared him a rushed ‘Good morning’ and hurried on. She had stayed up late the previous night brooding over the incident that had occurred at Draco’s house earlier, causing her to wake up an hour later than she’d intended.
‘I’m sorry!’ she gasped as she finally turned the corner and dashed into the office, accidentally slamming the door closed behind her. Several heads snapped up to stare in Hermione’s direction.
Before she could apologise again for disrupting them, Robards appeared from his office. Upon seeing Hermione, a relieved expression crossed his face.
Hermione shrunk back and prepared herself for the blow as he approached her. However, it never came. Instead, he said brusquely, ‘You’re to meet with a Miss Mary Hedge later this afternoon. She claims she has information regarding another werewolf attack in Bristol.’
‘Right,’ said Hermione in a tiny voice, still ready to shield herself from any possible verbal attacks.
‘Well then,’ said Robards, sweeping the sea of amazed faces turned towards him with impatient eyes, ‘get back to work, all of you! There’s nothing to be seen here, nothing to be seen…’
‘Er –’ said Hermione, taking a tentative step forward. ‘Er, sir, you never told me the exact time or place I should meet Miss Hedge.’
‘I left the information on your desk,’ said Robards, waving a hand lazily over his shoulder at Hermione. ‘You know I’m not stupid enough to expect you to do something without giving you exact guidelines first, Granger.’
With a hearty chuckle and a little shake of his head, Robards marched back into his office and shut the door behind him.
‘You sure got off lucky this time, Hermione,’ Ginny observed enviously from a few cubicles away. She grinned wickedly. ‘I think Robards is growing rather fond of you. I better warn Ron that someone else is looking to steal his fiancé away.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Hermione crossly, smiling slightly to show that she had acknowledged Ginny’s comment as a joke. She walked over to Ginny, grabbing the file Robards had mentioned off her desktop as she passed her own cubicle, and rested an elbow on the wall separating their spaces. ‘Ron has nothing to worry about.’
‘Oh I wouldn’t be so sure about that,’ Ginny teased in a mock-serious tone. ‘I’d say Boot has taken to watching you out of the corner of his eye whenever we see him in the hall.’
‘Hannah would kill him,’ said Hermione, laughing and collapsing on her chair. She swivelled around to face Ginny, opening the file she held on her lap as she did so.
‘True,’ said Ginny thoughtfully as she absentmindedly doodled on the corner of a wrinkled scrap of parchment. ‘Still, you never know…it’s not as if you’re completely undesirable, Hermione. For all you know, someone other than Ron may come and sweep you off your feet before the wedding takes place.’
‘What are you talking about?’ said Hermione, shocked by Ginny’s words. An image of Draco’s scowling face flashed through her mind, only to be quickly replaced by another image, this time of a raven-haired man donning a white mask. She furiously shook her head. ‘Ginny, what are you saying? You know I’d never do that to Ron. And besides, who else would want to date a work-absorbed person like me?’
Ginny snickered. ‘That’s true…Ron’s the only one out there thick enough to put up with it.’
Hermione rolled her eyes, glad that Ginny was back to her old joking self but still puzzled. It was possible that Ginny’s odd remark earlier was nothing more than a continuation of her teasing – yet even so, there was no reason to suspect that Hermione would ever be attracted to anyone other than Ron…was there?
‘I’d better see what this visit is about before Robards comes back,’ Hermione muttered to herself, more as a way of clearing all disconcerting thoughts about secret admirers from her head than anything else. She scanned the short notes typed on the top sheet.
Date: Wednesday, January 4, 2003
Time: 9:23 AM
Caller: Mary Hedge
Details: Claimed to have witnessed a fully-transformed werewolf standing next to a man in woods behind house. Later heard growling and dog-like whimpers. Described man as skinny, unkempt, and covered in scratches, dirt, and blood. Requested a meeting with an Auror later this afternoon at 3:30 pm. Further explanation will be given then.
Underneath the brief statement was a hastily scrawled address, written in Robards’ hand. Hermione squinted at it and was able to make out the words, 14 Woodsworth Way, Bristol.
Hermione sat back in surprise. Another werewolf spotting – and in Bristol too. She frowned thoughtfully. This woman had said she’d seen a fully-transformed werewolf? The only werewolf Hermione knew of who could transform without the aid of the full moon was Fenrir Greyback. But what would he be doing standing next to a man? The Greyback she knew wouldn’t hesitate to attack a human, transformed or not, unless…unless he was planning something.
Yes, that was it. It had to be. And the man…he had to be Noah Lawley. But why were they back in Bristol? Had Noah gone directly there after the Malkin incident? And what was Greyback planning to do to Noah, exactly?
Hermione sighed and pushed a few loose strands of hair away from her face. She was excited and frustrated at the same time; excited because meeting with this witch might bring her new leads on the werewolf case, but frustrated because she had no idea where to go with those leads. Furthermore, everything she and Draco had at the moment was all based on assumption. They didn’t even know for sure whether the wizard involved in the Malkin case was Noah Lawley, or a werewolf at all.
Maybe I should go see him and ask him if he wants to come, Hermione thought. However, she immediately dismissed the idea upon remembering Draco’s cold behaviour towards her the night before. Her insides squirmed uncomfortably at the memory of it. What had she done wrong? Whatever it was, she wanted to make up for it. After all, Draco had, against his own will, revealed so much of himself to her in the past weeks. It would be wrong for her to not give something back.
‘What did I do now, Malfoy?’ Hermione sighed as she traced invisible circles around Mary Hedge’s address.
Hermione jumped and looked up. Ginny was grinning at her.
‘N-nothing,’ Hermione stammered, her cheeks immediately heating up. ‘I was just thinking out loud to myself. Go back to work, Ginny.’
‘Ah…so you’ve got Malfoy on your mind,’ said Ginny, nodding wisely. ‘I see, I see…’
Blast, she heard me, Hermione thought, embarrassed and annoyed. Out loud, she said nervously, ‘I’ve got to go. Tell your mum I’ll be home for dinner.’
With that, she stood up abruptly and gathered the file, a few blank sheets of parchment, and a quill into her arms. ‘Bye, Ginny,’ she said over her shoulder as she hurried away.
Ginny waved back, still smirking as she did so. Hermione looked down and tried not to fret over the situation. She’s probably put together all sorts of theories about me and Draco by now, she thought, blushing even more furiously. Honestly, you’d think she doesn’t care about her brother’s feelings at all…
Hermione checked her watch as she left the office. There was still half an hour left to go before her scheduled meeting with Mary Hedge, so she decided to Apparate to the location and look around to see if she could find anything that might aid her and Draco in their search.
As Hermione strolled down the bustling corridor to one of the Apparation rooms, she remembered with a thrill of trepidation Shadow’s letter. If you agree, please meet me this upcoming Saturday at our usual spot in Sherwood Park. That was the last sentence he had written.
For a fleeting moment, Hermione wondered whether she really did agree. She had been the one to bring up the topic of revealing their identities, yet…
No, she thought firmly. Stop being childish about this, Hermione. You’re an adult, and it’s your responsibility to handle the situation maturely.
Hermione snapped out of her thoughts just in time to avoid walking straight into someone. Embarrassed, she said hurriedly, ‘I’m so sorry, I – Malfoy?’
A dishevelled, tired-looking Draco turned away sharply at the mention of his name. ‘Never mind,’ he said in a hard voice, and began walking in the opposite direction.
‘Wait!’ said Hermione, swerving to avoid a cluster of memos flying towards her. She grabbed a fistful of Draco’s sleeve before he could escape her. ‘Where are you off to in such a hurry? I was just on my way to meet with a witch who might be able to help us find Lawley.’
‘Then go,’ he said apathetically. Despite his cold attitude, however, he made no further efforts to break away, to Hermione’s great relief.
‘What did I do?’ Hermione asked bluntly. All thoughts of the werewolf situation were no longer her priority; for the moment, her only goal was to force the truth out of Draco. ‘Why were you acting so strange just before I left? I don’t recall doing anything to offend you, but if I did, it’d be nice if you could tell me instead of just glaring at me. I mean, if it’s about my sleeping at your place, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude, but you really should have woken me up if it bothered you that much, and besides, it’s not –’
Hermione, however, stopped mid-sentence, too astounded by Draco’s reaction to continue. At first she had thought he was making one of his trademark expressions of disgust, but it was now evident that he was in fact…laughing?
‘Granger…you talk…too much,’ he managed to say in between gasps for air. He leaned against the wall for support, apparently oblivious to the strange looks being directed at them.
Hermione stared at Draco, bewildered by this sudden turn of events but unable to keep a hesitant smile from spreading across her own face. Draco was laughing. As far as she was concerned, this was the first time he had ever laughed so openly – and it was all thanks to her.
‘I should have known,’ said Draco, more to himself than to Hermione, as his laughter died away and he was able to straighten up again. He shook his head, sober once more. ‘It was staring me in the face all along.’
‘What was staring you in the face all along?’ Hermione inquired, looking up at Draco and trying to catch a glimpse of his face, which he kept turning in the opposite direction.
‘Nothing,’ he said shortly. He glanced briefly at her out of the corner of his eye. ‘Don’t look so pathetic, Granger. The offended look doesn’t suit you.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Hermione demanded, slightly affronted by Draco’s offhand comment.
Draco shrugged. ‘Nothing,’ he said again. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me…’
‘No, I won’t excuse you,’ said Hermione crossly, hurrying after Draco, determined to keep him in her sight. ‘I want to know why you’ve been avoiding me.’
‘It’s none of your business.’
‘Look,’ said Draco, turning around abruptly so that Hermione almost ran into him for the second time, ‘I never expected to get involved in your case; I never asked to start getting along with you; I never intended to tell you anything about me. Hell, I never thought I’d be standing here explaining all of this to you. But somehow, all of that happened anyway. Isn’t that enough for you?’
‘Enough?’ Hermione repeated, stunned. ‘Malfoy, friendship isn’t about giving and taking equal amounts…’
Draco narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth; for a fleeting moment, Hermione thought she saw a shadow of Draco’s deranged sixteen-year-old self flit across his angry features, but then it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
‘I never said anything about friendship,’ he said evenly. ‘I’ve already given you everything you wanted from me. Now I’m asking you to let me keep something to myself for once.’
‘But I want to help!’ Hermione protested, determined not to back down.
‘Yeah, well, you can’t solve everyone’s problems, no matter how much you want to,’ said Draco bitterly. ‘All you want is for everything to be right, but in case you haven’t noticed, that perfect world is a bit beyond your reach.’
Hermione gaped at Draco. How had he figured that out about her? Was she that easy to read?
‘Anyway,’ Draco continued, ‘once we’ve solved this case, everything will return to normal. You can go back to your perfect life with your perfect family – oh yes, and your perfect soon-to-be-husband.’ He spat the last word out as if it were something filthy, something disgusting.
‘It’s not going to end like that!’ Hermione exclaimed, frantically trying to think of something to say that might keep Draco from walking away. ‘Whatever happens, whatever you do, I’m not just going to pretend like all the time we spent together never existed. No matter what you think of me, I still see you as a friend, and because of that I care about you. I don’t want you to suffer. So why can’t you tell me what’s wrong?’
All colour drained away from Draco’s face. He stared blankly at Hermione for a few moments as if everything she had said was utterly incomprehensible to him. Finally, he reached up and gently pried Hermione’s fingers away from his wrist.
‘Don’t say that. Trust me when I say that it will be easier if you leave the suffering to me.’
The overwhelming sadness in Draco’s voice when he said those words struck Hermione so forcibly that she didn’t even object when he dropped her hand and turned away, saying, ‘The seventh – this Saturday – we can have a look about the forest. I’ve obtained permission from Kingsley, so meet me at Brown’s at four in the afternoon.’
And, leaving Hermione rooted to her spot and the crowd of hushed onlookers that had gathered to watch speechless, Draco walked away. Hermione watched him leave, her heart beating fiercely against her ribcage as she mentally tried to sort out everything that had just happened. What had he meant about leaving the suffering to him? Was he trying to imply that he didn’t want her to get hurt by remaining a part of his life?
It was not until Draco disappeared into Hit Wizard Headquarters that Hermione was snapped out of her thoughts by a familiar voice from behind her.
‘Hermione…what was that about?’
Hermione almost laughed out loud when she recognised the voice. Of course this would happen. It was only natural that the only time she and Draco argued and displayed their friendship in a public area, Ron would be there to see it all.
‘I can explain –’ she began to say as she turned around to face Ron, aware that people were still watching but choosing to ignore their presence.
He was hurt. That was all there was to it. He wasn’t angry; he wasn’t even furious. He was just…hurt. Hurt and confused. Hermione could see it all written clearly in the way he gazed at her with furrowed eyebrows, the way his arms hung limply at his sides, the way he didn’t move when she addressed him.
‘You love him, don’t you?’ he asked cautiously, though it was more of a statement than a question.
‘Ron, this isn’t the place!’ Hermione exclaimed as her sense of the situation slowly returned to her. ‘No, don’t say that, I’ll tell you later…don’t make a scene, please…’
‘I need some time to think.’
That was all he said. Hermione watched helplessly as he pushed his way through the throng of people without a backwards glance. She was left alone once again.
How has it come to this? she thought numbly, falling back against the wall of the hallway and pressing her shaking palms against her forehead. What did I do wrong? Was I asking for too much to have both of them?
A sob welled up in her throat and threatened to escape, but she forced it back down. She wouldn’t cry, not in front of all these people. All these people…what were they even doing here? They had gathered like a crowd of spectators at a circus…they were all watching her with the curiosity and secret delight of children observing animals at a zoo, wondering what she would do next to entertain them…
Shadow… Hermione silently pleaded as the desire to merge with the wall behind her and disappear from sight engulfed her, Shadow, help me…
Next chapter: Shadow and Starlight meet again. Will they be able to go through with their plan to finally reveal their identities? Only time will tell...
(I can't wait to write this chapter, so hopefully it'll be up soon.)