Hermione sighed as she sank down into a plush chair in the Gryffindor common room. She was awaiting the return of her two best friends. It was bad enough when they went out at night, searching for their next adventure, but it was even worse when they intentionally excluded her. They claimed they needed a boys' night out to discuss things she wouldn't be interested in hearing, and she understood. Sometimes she and Ginny would have their own girls' night out, (usually on the same night as the guys), but lately they'd been out a lot more often then usual and every time she'd been told "No girls allowed!". Even hanging out with Ginny was no longer much fun, as all she could think and talk about was what she thought they were up to. Ginny, it seemed, had gotten tired of it as she too disappeared this evening. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she noticed that no one was around. She pushed herself out of the oversized chair and walked around looking for any signs of life.
"Hello?" she asked the empty room.
The sound reverberated off the high walls. The echo sent shivers down her spine. Her instincts kicked in and she began wondering where everyone could be. She checked every corner of the common room, all the dormitories and every nook and cranny she could find. By the time she was finished, she began to panic. She rushed down the stairs to the common room to discover a lone figure standing there. Even though the woman's back was to her, Hermione immediately recognized Professor McGonagall. The older woman turned to her pupil.
"Miss Granger, please follow me."
Hermione quietly followed her professor, wanting to ask thousands of questions about the whereabouts of her classmates, but the severe look on her teacher's face kept her bombardment at bay. They left the Gryffindor tower and walked in silence down the hallways. As they walked on, Hermione noticed how quiet the castle was in fact it wasn't just quiet, it was deathly silent. She quickened her pace to walk side by side with the professor. She wanted to ask what had happened, but when she opened her mouth the professor placed a finger to her lips. The look on her face said 'not a word'. They walked on in silence past the great hall, past the kitchens, down into the cold of the dungeons.
A scraping sound could be heard off in the distance. Thoughts of other foul creatures began to flit though Hermione's mind. Professor McGonagall led her into a dimly lit hallway and then stopped at a dead end. Taking her wand out, she tapped the wall in six points that resembled a Star of David and without a sound, the wall transformed into a door. Professor McGonagall waited as Hermione stepped into the darkness, then she followed closing the door behind her.
"Lumos." The incantation lit the tip of her wand, lighting the tunnel.
"We really must hurry child," Professor McGonagall said.
Before Hermione could ask why, the professor was off at a dash. Hermione didn't know her teacher could move so quickly. They ran for what seemed like eternity and Hermione was growing tired of waiting for answers, but then Professor McGonagall slowed, stopping at a small door. Silently she opened it and then waited again for Hermione to enter. She stepped out of the dark tunnel to a barely lit basement packed with barrels and boxes scattered about, a WW insignia was stamped on all of them. Weasley Wheezes? They were under the Weasley's shop Without wasting any time Professor McGonagall pressed Hermione forward. They went up though the store and stepped out into Hogsmeade. Again Hermione was greeted with silence. Not a single person was around and every shop was closed up tight.
"Please, Professor, tell me what's wrong," Hermione pleaded.
"I'm sorry," was the only reply.
"What happened? Where is everyone?" Hermione asked
"You'll find out as soon as we get there."
"Where?" There was no reply.
Professor McGonagall just pointed to the red glow off in the distance. Hermione's fears redoubled themselves and this time Professor McGonagall had to keep up with her. They ran until they were just out side of Hogsmeade and when Professor McGonagall caught up she found Hermione standing at the edge of a line of trees.
"I can't pass. Why won't it let me pass? I can see the fire light above the trees, but there is some kind of ward keeping me out."
"I know," said the Professor. Answering Hermione's confused look she continued. "I put the ward up"
Without saying anything, she pulled her wand out and waved it in front of the grove. Suddenly, the trees dissolved before them and in its place stood... everyone. All of the students, teachers and even the shop owners and other townsfolk. Ron and Harry were standing at the front of the group. Wondering what was going on, she moved forward, intending to ask when everyone cheered at once.
"HAPPY SWEET SIXTEEN HERMIONE!"
She was shocked; she had completely forgotten about her own birthday. She had been so busy thinking about what Ron and Harry were up to; it had never crossed her mind. Soon a group of her friends were crowding around her wishing her birthday wishes, and Ron and Harry both leaned in at the same time and kissed her cheeks. She giggled, and now felt so foolish over her fears. They pulled her through the crowd, and she was surprised to see a full carnival set up. The red glow she thought was fire, really came from the lights on all the rides and games. By the midnight hour after most of everyone went back home, the rest of the students made their way back to school. Hermione was walking with Ginny, a few paces behind Harry and Ron, who were comparing wizard cards, when someone came up beside her.
"Hi," whispered a familiar voice, in a most unsettlingly gentle way.
"Hello, Draco," she whispered back.
"I just wanted to wish you Happy Birthday," he whispered.
Hermione was taken aback, in the many years they had gone to school together, this was the first real act of kindness he had ever shown her.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Suddenly she felt his hand in hers, and just as quickly he let go and was gone. When the shock wore off, she noticed she was holding something. Without looking at it, she slipped it into her robes. When they got back to their dorms and behind the security of her bed drapes, Hermione took out Draco's gift. She pulled out a small black box tied with a green ribbon and a miniature note. She cast the Finite Incantateum spell on it and the letter grew to its original size. Examining it carefully first she opened the letter slowly.
"Dear Hermione, I realize it is out of character for me to contact you in this manner, but I wanted to congratulate you on this day, your birthday. There is also more which must be said, and quickly -- for there is no time. No time at all.
I have always been an adversary to you and your friends, but there is so much more going on between us than that. It is time you knew about it all.
I am a Malfoy and a member of Slytherin House. There is no question of that. But it is what this means that is so important. We are the nobles among wizards. The pure. The highborn. Those fit to rule. It is our purpose, our very essence, to assert our nobility and remind you of your place--or at least that's what I had been lead to believe.
It has always been this way. My father has ruled me with strict guidance, just as his father ruled him, and his father before him. Even when I do everything he tells me with perfect skill, he manages to find fault. How else am I to improve? How else can I be assured of my superiority? Goodwill and sentiment are the very heart of weakness. They are what makes you and your friends lowborn--or so I had been told.
This is what I have been born and bred to be. I embraced it, breathed it, became it. And then I saw you. Even the first day we met, something about your presence made my pulse quicken and my palms sweat. I cast it aside at first, reminding myself of what you are and how foolish an infatuation it must be. Yet the more I saw you with your friends the more I became attracted to you, the more I wanted to be with you, and the more I doubted who I was and what I had been led to believe. I hated you for it, and maybe that made me even harder on you than I would have been. I just couldn't let the others see my weakness, see that I wanted to cast off my highborn status for the one sweet embrace with a lowborn girl like you.
Now, everything has changed. The time to be a child is passing. My father is coming for me in the morning - he says that it is time for me to take my place in service to his master. In that moment I knew it was all over. The classes. The adventures. The pranks. The Quidditch games. The endless rivalry between Harry and I that has so described our lives here at Hogwarts.
I also knew that I would lose all of the moments when I watch you from afar and let myself secretly get caught up in your eyes and your smile and your manner. I realized I had only this chance to tell you how I felt and that if I did not take it that I would always feel that tug of regret on my heart. As children it always seems like we have so much time, but we don't.
I love you, Hermione. I love your skill and your beauty and even your sentiment and good will. That is not weakness but strength. It is too bad that it is only now--when there is no time left to explore it--that I can face that and put aside being a Malfoy and a member of Slytherin and simply be Draco. Simply feel what I feel and not worry about living up to my father's wishes and the judging eyes of my brothers and sisters in arms. I know that you have no reason to trust me or what I have said. You are probably laughing at me right now with your friends or preparing for whatever trick you think I am about to pull. In the past that would most certainly have been true--but not any more. There simply is no time left for games and useless posturing. I must be true and honest now or never at all. So that is what I am doing.
I ask only one thing from you. I ask that when you realize that this is not a trick and that I am sincere in what I say, that you remember me and that I loved you. Remember me not as a constant adversary but as a potential friend, and more, who was too trapped in culture and blood and pride to let us become all that we could be.
Best wishes and fond farewells.
She quickly reread the letter with tears streaming down her face, and her heart hammering in her throat. She bolted from her bed and ran to Professor McGonagall's room as fast as she could. She kept knocking until a bleary-eyed professor answered.
"Is there a reason you are waking me up in the middle of the night, Miss Granger?" she asked, a little annoyed.
"I'm sorry to disturb you so late professor but you need to read this." she said holding out the paper.
"Now is a very inappropriate time to be going over term papers."
"No professor, I think it's a suicide note from Draco"
Professor McGonagall took the letter from Hermione and read it.
"You may be over reacting, but just in case you're not we'll have professor Snape check up on him"
Together they quickly went down into the dungeons to find Professor Snape. His quarters and classroom were empty and some noise coming from the direction of the Slytherin common house made them hurry. Just as they reached the door Professor Snape stumbled out clutching at his heart.
"Dear God, no" Hermione said. She rushed past the teachers, and ran into the Slytherin common room. Not quite knowing where she was going, she followed the direction of the other students until she found herself in the sixth year boy's dorm. The sight before her nearly made her sick. A curtain was partially drawn back on the bed in the far corner; its normal greenness was splotched black by the deep, red, blood dripping down from it to the floor. Summoning up every inch of her courage Hermione stepped as close to the bed as she could with out stepping in the pool of blood. She would have screamed if her throat hadn't closed tight. Draco was laying on his back, his eyes shut and his skin ghostly pale. In the middle of his chest was a dagger buried deep in his heart.
"No," she whispered, "no please, God no."
Without thinking she ran. She didn't know where she was going; she just needed to get away. She wanted to run until the vision was out of her head, but no matter how hard she ran it only intensified. Eventually she was out of breath and she had to stop. She leaned against the cold wall, and let the tears fall. There was no reason not to. There was no mystery, no big plot; everything was pretty cut and dry. She had no reason to be strong. So she let the tears fall. She slid down the wall, and held her knees close to her chest. She bent her head down onto her knees, her hair making a curtain around her face. Hours later a gentle presence woke her from her trance, and she looked up to see Professor Dumbledore standing a few feet away. His usual joyous face was filled with sorrow and pain. Instead of looking like the grand magician, he looked more like an old man who just lost a grandson. Hermione didn't know what to say as she gazed up at her teacher; so with what little strength she had left, she stood and walked to him. Standing only half a foot away looking down at the ground, he wrapped his arms around her to give her comfort. She felt the tears come again.
"A very terrible thing has happened here tonight, and I am going to make sure Draco's father is held responsible for what he did. To give one's own child enough reason to take their own life." Professor Dumbledore couldn't say anymore, his own voice seemed to have lost it's power. After a few more minutes he held her up straight so that he could see her face. "I will escort you back to your common room, and I have canceled all classes for the rest of the week." He took her back to the Gryffindor tower, and said good night.
Unlike the Slytherin house, here everything was quiet, no one yet knowing of the night's events. Slowly she made her way up to her room and went to her bed. She was about to pull the covers back when she noticed the small black box, the gift that came with the letter. With trembling hands she picked up the box and pulled off the green silk ribbon. Taking a deep breath, she opened it. Inside was a small silver dragon wrapped around a ruby heart on a silver chain. It was no more then a three-quarters of an inch long, and half an inch high. With shaky hands she pulled the necklace from the box and clasped it around her neck. The pendant fell against her heart. With tears in her eyes, Hermione laid down for the rest of a long night.