To the Library and back again
Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry
Hope was an elusive, winged little thing. It had never done more than soar out of reach all Draco’s life until this final year at Hogwarts; now, something that felt like it might just be that seemed to perch on his shoulder every once in a while. It was both elating and unsettling, and it scared the shit out of him.
Yet he was afraid of scaring it away, and so he did his best to ignore it. Still this cautious optimism persisted, fluttering in the very farthest corner of his awareness, affecting the smallest details of his daily life. He was pondering this curious thought as he walked across the Middle Courtyard toward the library that Thursday afternoon, when a voice far too close for comfort jolted him out of his reverie.
“Were you on the receiving end of a Confundus?”
Draco gave a violent start and tried to mask it by hiking his school bag higher on his shoulder with a vigorous swing. “You need bells sewn on the hem of your robes, Boot.” He glanced at his roommate out the corner of his eye. “What’s with the sneaking about?”
“I don’t think church bells would register when you’re off in your own world,” Terry Boot countered. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ve been calling to you since you entered the courtyard.”
It wasn’t unusual for Terry – or even some of the other eighth year boys – to speak with him outside of classes, but the context was nearly always academic. Draco willed his heart to stop pounding as he turned in the direction indicated, where a small group of eighth years was clustered under the east colonnade. “You know the rules: no one borrows my notes outside the library.”
“No, it’s-” Terry paused as if considering his words. “Look – we’re planning a sort of party the night before- Well, you know. And even though you’re not- I mean, we think you should be there.”
It took Draco all of three seconds to glean the gist of Terry’s verbal fumbling, but he stood gaping at him much longer. They thought he wasn’t graduating. Well, of course they did. He hadn’t told anyone beyond Daphne and Greg, and neither would break a confidence. It was exactly what he’d wanted until now, when the realization that his peers assumed him once again lacking in some way struck his ego an unexpectedly harsh blow.
He weighed the effect of several different answers before he realized it didn’t matter what he said – everyone would know the truth soon enough. “Who said I’m not?” He set off again toward the library as fast as his long legs could carry him.
Terry’s were that much shorter; he scrambled to catch up. “You passed Rec,” he clarified in a cynical tone.
“I did the work same as everyone else, didn’t I?”
“But your probation . . .”
“Doesn’t automatically preclude graduation.”
The incredulous manner in which Terry spoke those words brought Draco to a halt. A month or so ago, he’d found them impossible to grasp; now, staring down the disbelief of another as his ego still twinged, he couldn’t stop from rolling his eyes. “You know, for a Ravenclaw, you’re a bit slow on the uptake.”
Terry regarded him impassively for a long moment, then his lips twitched in the hint of a smirk. “Just for that you can scrounge up some Firewhiskey for the party.” He turned to go. “The good stuff!”
For a brief moment, that thing that might very well be hope fluttered right next to Draco’s shoulder.
* * *
The sanctuary of the library, with its smell of books, the whisper of robe sleeves against bookshelves, and the illusion of companionship afforded by shared academic pursuits, rarely failed to bring him some semblance of peace. That afternoon, however, the library only taunted him.
It had been yet another long day of waiting to hear from his mother about summer housing – three weeks, and not a word beyond her usual care packages – and then, just as he’d managed to turn his thoughts elsewhere, his conversation with Terry had sent them careening straight back. Three hours later, when studying had had no more effect on his agitated state than the constant rearranging of his quills and ink pots, he stopped in the act of straightening his stack of textbooks and changed tactics.
The key to successfully disengaging one’s intellect was to find a hobby that was at once so difficult, so fraught with details, and yet so completely enjoyable as to make it impossible to concentrate on anything else while engaged in it. Draco had found his a long time ago, as a young boy in an enormous house with no one but time for a playmate. Now, as it had so often before, it offered a temporary escape from life in the form of an improvised tabletop Quidditch pitch right there in plain site of Madam Pince, who did nothing beyond raise her eyebrows in warning.
Within minutes he was immersed in his game, comprised of bits and bobs from his school supply box. Two teams of quills whizzed silently back and forth vying for a bottle stopper Quaffle, two India rubber Bludgers, and a crumpled Honeydukes wrapper Snitch, and on either end a pair of scissors hovered in the air as makeshift goals, and there was no reality beyond them so long as he maintained his concentr-
The table shuddered as something heavy dropped onto it.
“I cannot believe Madame Pince allows you to do that,” groused a familiar voice. There was the sound of buckles unfastening, followed by that of books being stacked none too gently.
He looked away from his game with a frown of annoyance, lowering his wand in the process, and the assorted quills and bottle stoppers – all flying about in controlled chaos – clattered to the table. That drew Madame Pince’s attention; she directed a disapproving harrumph in their direction.
Draco beamed his most angelic expression at the librarian and mouthed an apology, and she waved him off with what actually might have been a smile. Smug with the small victory, he turned to where Granger
stood at the far side of the table, her face twisted in a grimace of malcontent. “Melius est veniam quam licentiam petere.”
Granger shoved a handful of erstwhile game pieces toward him with slightly more force than was needed, disturbing his precisely aligned parchments. “That’s the shoddiest Latin I’ve ever heard.”
Very few of his peers offered him competition academically; only one had ever managed to best him, and she happened to be looking down her nose at him in a very condescending manner at that moment. If he sounded defensive, it was because he was. “I’d like to see you do better on short notice.”
“Potius veniam quam licentiam petere,” she rattled off without hesitation. “I need today’s Potions notes.”
He tried not to look impressed as he restored his space to its original pristine state. “Perhaps you should spend as much time on Potions as you do dead languages.” When he’d realigned his quills in a precise row to the left of his textbooks, he began sorting through a neat stack of parchments, pausing to give her hands, which were splayed on the tabletop, a once-over. “You’re not touching my notes until you clean your filthy hands.”
He regretted his choice of words almost immediately. Time was when she’d have fired off a heated retort, or hexed him, or – he nearly flinched at the memory – set her fist on a collision course with his face. Whatever the option, it would have ended with her as the victor, because he’d long since proven himself incapable of much more than verbal sniping. But she’d obviously learned a thing or two about him in the past year, because she turned her attention to the damned quills that would not stay in precise right angles to his ink pots.
“Something has you wound tighter than a top.” She scowled as she aimed a Scourgify at her hands. “Just so we’re clear, I consider ‘filthy’ to be offensive, and under the rules of Reconciliation I have the right to report you for the use of a pejorative.”
He shot her a panicked look before he could stop himself. “You know I didn’t mean . . . ” And she did – he knew she knew it hadn’t been intended as an insult; that didn’t diminish her evident pleasure in making him squirm just a bit.
“That would really set you back in points. You’d never graduate.”
For a fleeting second, Draco considered setting her straight, if only to wipe the superior smirk from her face. He schooled his features and said nothing, sliding his notes toward her. If he was wound tight, she was in a right strop. “You should start copying what you need; I promised Greg my notes tonight, too.”
Granger was studying him with narrowed eyes, her hand hovering just over the stack of parchment. “What is it?”
The possibility that Daphne had told her occurred to him -– they were roommates, after all -– but just as quickly he shook it off. “Nothing.” She’d find out soon enough,
“What do you know?” she prodded suspiciously.
Draco peered at her from behind the cover of his hair, at her tight mouth and unusually bright eyes. He’d thought she was angry, but now, under closer scrutiny, she appeared to be fearful. He decided to turn the tables on her. “How was dinner tonight?” She hadn’t gone, he was certain of it -– she hadn’t been at a meal in weeks –- and since her motivation for avoiding the crowded space was undoubtedly detention-induced shame, the otherwise innocent question was a neat dig.
But she just shrugged, and as her shoulders relaxed, her mood did as well. “I didn’t go.” She sifted through his notes then, copying what she needed, and time passed in a neutral sort of silence. Finally she asked, “Why do you bother taking notes in Potions? You don’t need them.”
“Why do you bother borrowing them? You don’t need them.” He smirked as he traded his Arithmancy textbook for that of Herbology and began flipping through the pages. “Perhaps I enjoy taking notes.”
She snorted. “You do it for Goyle. Not sure why, though – Potions is far too complicated for him.”
“Oh, and you didn’t do the exact same thing for The Twat?” he muttered. All traces of humor were gone from his pale face. “I seem to remember you took notes for him in every class.”
“Perhaps I enjoy taking notes,” she mimicked childishly. “Besides, Ron wasn’t actually stupid; he just . . . ” Why had it been so important for her to help Ron pass in school that she’d willingly traded her time and self-respect to do so? And then he’d just gone and dropped out when he realized he’d never pass the Reconciliation evaluation! At least The Goon had stuck out eighth year, if only out of loyalty to his best friend. “It doesn’t matter,” she finished lamely.
Malfoy was regarding her coldly. “I need to go. May I have my notes, please?”
Sod it all, she’d gone and offended his tender feelings. It seemed an apology of some kind was in order – after all, they’d be working together for the next few months. “Sorry.”
He gave her a tight nod but began gathering his things.
She tried again. “I’d offer to take notes for you this summer, but I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of such a treat.” It didn’t matter whether he’d been at dinner earlier; Daphne already knew, which meant he’d know soon enough.
“What?” There was a crease in his forehead, and his eyebrows were drawn in what appeared to be bewilderment.
“Well, I can only imagine Hipthripple will have us working together.” She mustered her Gryffindor bravado. “It makes sense; we’re the only two that didn’t pass.”
That same odd expression crossed his face again, and he shifted his eyes sideways. “Well, actually . . . ”
“Thank Godric,” she breathed. “You’re saying there are others who aren’t graduating? YES!” She slapped her hand down on the table, drawing a scathing glare from the circulation desk. “Of course I’m not the only other one!”
“That’s not . . . ” Malfoy looked as if he were about to be violently sick. “I mean . . . ”
Then comprehension hit her like a Bludger to the gut, and she saw red. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” she fumed, pushing out her chair abruptly. She began shoving her books into her bookbag. “What did you do, have Daddy pay your way out?!”
“You did, didn’t you! God, you’re such an entitled arse – you always were, and you always will be.” She snatched up her favorite quill, snapping off the tip of its nib in her pique, and jammed it blindly into her bag.
“You know he’s dead,” he whispered.
“Oh, that’s right; he drank himself to death while serving a life sentence of house arrest,” she mocked. “Because being forced to live in the luxury of his own home for heinous crimes committed against the Wizarding world was such a brutal punishment.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking ab-”
She pressed on. “Which means it must have been Mummy.”
At the mention of his mother Malfoy underwent a rapid transformation. He leaned down, eyes narrowed and jaw clenched, until his face was inches from hers. “Don’t you dare.”
For one fleeting second Hermione felt a reluctant respect for Malfoy, but she quashed it just as quickly. “Here.” She thrust his notes at him. “You’d better bring these to Goyle before he gets lost trying to find the library.”
Malfoy took the stack of parchment and tucked it into his bag. “I earned it.” He said it so quietly Hermione almost didn’t hear him. When he’d finished buckling his bag, he raised his eyes to hers. “I earned it,” he repeated in a trembling voice. Then he was gone in a soft rustle of school robes.