Draco Malfoy and Hermione GrangerGenre:
He is leaning on the railing of the balcony, seemingly lost in thought as he stares at the rigorous regimen being carried out in the grounds below. He looks almost bored, but she knows better. He is tense, and the only indication of this is the set of his jaw, rigid and hard.
Something must be happening.
She approaches him carefully, setting the tray on the table with as little noise as possible, trying her best to block out the sound of the prisoners running in circles at the center of the camp. But then he sighs, a dejected but strangely musical sound spewing forth from his thin lips, and she freezes in the middle of pouring tea into a dainty porcelain cup.
Whatever has happened – it can't be good.
Apprehensive, she straightens up and follows his line of vision.
What she sees chills her.
Old Filch has stumbled.
He is kneeling, looking around him in a distraught panic, willing the others to help him, but they only run on, ignoring him and his pathetic pleas. As it is, the runners overtake him completely and he is left to stare after them in sheer hopelessness. A stocky soldier approaches the frail old man, and a booted foot strikes out. The kick is aimed straight at the old man's spine, and the old man stumbles again, his pleas for mercy melting into anguished moans. The soldier digs his boot into the small of the old man's back, and then he aims.
The sound of a gunshot rings through the morose camp.
For a moment, everything is still. There is no sound except for the footfalls of the runners, unbroken throughout the whole ordeal. They cannot stop running. They are prisoners. Stopping means death; and the muffled thud of Filch's corpse only reinforces this truth.
She gasps, horrified, mortified, the teapot slipping from her small hands and falling to the floor with a noisy clatter, shards of glass scattering in every direction.
It is the first time she bears witness to the death of someone whom she actually knows.
She never liked Filch, the school Janitor. There always was a sort of bitterness, a mean streak barely hidden beneath the old man's icy exterior. It was like he relished in making young children feel miserable, just as he was, to make them believe what he believed – that there is nothing more to life than misery. Of course, none of the children paid heed to him. Why would they, when they were in school, studying so that they could have a future, and old Filch was only the man assigned to clean up after them? She, too, considered old Filch as nothing but a nuisance – the gloomy black cloud that wanted to rain on her parade. She felt nothing but annoyance at his rants about the unfairness of life. After all, she was at the top of her class; surely, surely, she would not end up like him, alone and unhappy. The class valedictorian was destined for greatness, success, and happiness. The class valedictorian would not end up like the school janitor. God knew she worked hard enough, and was thus deserving of a bright future.
But now, as she stares at Filch's lifeless body being dragged to a pile of corpses that is to be burned before the day ends, she thinks that maybe, maybe she really would end up in the same place as old Filch, rotting with all the others in that putrid pile of festering flesh, regardless of how much she studied or how hard she worked.
Maybe old Filch was right after all.
Maybe there really is nothing more to life than misery.
"Jesus, Granger, can't you be any clumsier?"
The voice breaks through her reverie, startling her. Abruptly, she looks up at him, and her warm brown eyes meet with his icy gray ones. It does not take long for her to remember her place. So she mutters a small apology and promptly bows her head, missing the disappointed look that crosses the man's face.
There was a time when she would match his every barb with one of her own in a constant battle of wits. He was her schoolyard tormentor, a haughty anti-Semitic from a rich and influential family who was raised to believe that she and her kind did not deserve to breathe the same air, much less study in the same school, as he and his kind did, and he was always more than determined to make her see that.
She, too, was more than determined to prove him wrong. And she did so by besting him in class and refusing to be cowed by him.
But life is never that simple, and it's never fair.
And now he holds her life in his hands; his outfit, a pale gray uniform bearing a red stripe and that damnable insignia, is a testament to that. And really, even she knows that swapping insults with someone who could so easily kill her is not a very bright idea.
As it is, she merely finds herself staring at his boots, black and shiny and imposing and intimidating.
She can feel him staring at her too, as if waiting for her to do something.
She keeps her head bowed.
Eventually, she sees the booted feet carry him back into the house, a nonchalant order to 'clean the mess up' left in his wake.
That night, she tries to kill him.
Her plan is nothing fancy, borne more out of desperation than anything else. She knows he will call for her, and she knows that she will once again find him on his bed, supine, unmoving if not for the occasional puff from a cigarette. He never asks her to do anything, only to sit on the foot of the bed and stay with him until he falls asleep. It's a mystery why he does this, but she knows he won't oblige her with an answer, so she never asks. She never lingers anyway, and always leaves as soon as his eyes flutter close and his breathing is deep and steady. And if he has problems, then they are his and he has no desire to share them.
Still, it is always like that; a ritual, so to speak.
Her plan is to break that ritual. God knows she is desperate enough. She cannot – will not – end up in the same pile as Filch. She was – is – meant to do great things.
So she stows away one of the kitchen knives, hides it underneath her clothes, and waits for him to call her.
When he does, she tries her best to still her trembling.
She stays with him long after he falls asleep, waiting for the right time to strike, but her plans goes awry and she learns three things about him that night.
She learns about how young and vulnerable he looks when he is asleep, a child in a man's body – she chides herself for the clichéd thoughts but knows that she cannot deny the truth in them either.
She learns that his sleep is fitful, that he is not quite as conscienceless as he would like everyone to believe, that somewhere in that murky heart of his, that beating lump of muscle that was conditioned since birth to hatehatehate, is guilt.
Lastly, she learns that she cannot quite kill him, and so the knife lays despondently forgotten, unused, on the floor beside her. And by the time he wakes up and looks at her, takes in the implication of everything he sees – her knife, her tears – the sunlight is already filtering through the large mahogany windows, heralding the start of a new day.
She wonders, as he walks towards her, if maybe she wasn't planning an escape, after all.
Maybe she was planning suicide.
But, God, she had dreams.
He loathes her, loathes everything she stands for. He wishes, more than anything, that he never met her, that the annoying little know-it-all Jew who sat in the front row did not exist. Because maybe then, maybe then he would not have learned to question the things he knew.
He could have embraced it – this power. He could have plunged into his military career knowing that what he would be doing is right and meant to be.
He could have seen them, his prisoners, as the sub-human things his father and his mother told him they were. He could have believed that they really were inferior and that he was superior and it was therefore his right—nay, his responsibility, to cleanse the world of filth.
He could have been proud of himself. He could have been happy.
He met her, the antithesis.
And now he feels like filth.
Because if there's anything he isn't, it's stupid. No, Draco Malfoy is anything but. In fact, he's almost as smart as her. His name was right up there with hers in the list of honor students, just a notch below hers, only a few decimal points lower, but still inferior.
He's smart, he's intelligent, and it did not take long for him to know the truth: that there is nothing in their heritage that sets them apart, that they're the same, that they're both human.
Worse, he knows now that she's probably more of a human than he is. Better – because she's kind, and she smiles instead of sneers, and she loves; because he's a murderer and he knows, God, he knows that his soul is in tatters, and he is aware, fully aware, that he allowed it to happen. He's the worst, most sinful, bastard in this camp, because unlike his cronies, unlike his men, he does not wear that protective armor of ignorance. He is not lulled into a false sense of righteousness. He is not like them; he's not lucky enough to be like them. He knows, he cares, he regrets, but he is too much of a coward to do anything about it.
He wishes that the war never started. That he did not have to make a choice. That he could have gone on with his life the way he had always pictured it to be: find work, excel, get married to a beautiful woman of the same social status, enjoy his riches, enjoy his inheritance, be happy. He could have lived perfectly fine not knowing where his know-it-all classmate was or what she was doing or if she was more successful than he. It would not have mattered. He could not have cared less. And she, she would have eventually forgotten him, chalked him and his bullying up as a bad but relatively harmless memory. He would probably have done the same to her. And maybe, on the off chance that they saw each other again, they'd be content to just give each other a look of slight annoyance, or hell, maybe even a civil nod.
In any case, he wishes that the war had not happened, because then he would not be here, holding a gun to her head, his finger on the trigger.
Not for the first time in his life, he finds that having power, real power – the kind that can change lives – over people leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
But for the first time since she was captured, he earns his first glimpse he has of the girl he once knew that he had so craved. That bravery, that spirit, that spite – he wanted to see it so much, because then, he would know that there was at least one thing in his life that he had not managed to sully, to dirty, to destroy.
Funny that she should show it now when it no longer matters.
She slowly opens her eyes, slightly surprised to see that she had shut them tightly, and looks up. She sees him standing over her, seemingly calm. But his breathing is faster than normal and his hands are trembling slightly.
There is a hole on the wall, barely an inch from the side of her head.
She wilts then, like a punctured balloon. And she trembles.
She does not know what happens next. She is barely aware of the sound of his footsteps – his heavy, shiny boots – fading into the next room.
She does not know what happens that day either. It floats by like a dream – this second life of hers, a life granted – albeit in a sick, twisted kind of way – by her schoolyard bully.
What she does know, however, is that he does not call for her that night.
Nor does he on the next.
And the next.
And the next.
And she realizes that he never will.
The war is over, and she is alive.
She finds the world stretched out before her again, paved with possibilities, with opportunities – as it should be.
So she goes on with it, breezing through everything with that practiced ease, excelling, moving forward, healing.
And it's going well – because she's good, good at everything, even healing – until she sees him again.
He looks well, as comfortable in his pressed tuxedo as he was in his officer's uniform. And on his arm is a woman – graceful and petite, dressed impeccably.
They seem happy.
And she tries not to feel bitter.
She does not know how he escaped prosecution. Just that he did, and that he still has the world wrapped around his pinky finger.
He doesn't deserve it – she knows.
But then again, nothing's ever fair.
He whispers something into the woman's ear and she giggles, a blush creeping up her already rosy cheeks, and she sees his arm tighten around her shoulders, and—
She averts her eyes almost at once and walks away.
She is walking away when he sees her.
In the fog, he thinks, she looks like a specter.
And she is, in her own way – she is, for him, to him – a specter.
For a moment, he has this impulse to call her back, to tell her that the nightmares never stopped, that falling asleep is still as hard now as it was back then. But he also wants to tell her that life is peachy, that he has no guilt, that he suffered no repercussions, that she should look at him – him, with his arm slung around his pretty blond-haired, blue-eyed wife – and know that he is perfectly, absolutely, fine.
Lastly, he has this impulse to pull out the hand gun in his pocket, aim at her, and fire – to finish what he started, to do what he could not do back then, to kill the specter that still returns to haunt him.
He does neither.
So she is walking away, and he is watching, and the gap between them never closes.