chapter three: chemistry

A typical September 2nd morning at Hogwarts was usually spent comparing timetables over breakfast and mentally preparing for the start of classes. This year was vastly different in the face of the dilemma of how to assign courses to students who either didn’t attend Hogwarts the previous year or attended and received a biased and incomplete education at best.

This led to the students of Hogwarts spending the morning of the first day of classes in the Great Hall sitting for placement exams to determine which courses they were best qualified to take. At lunch, the results were passed around by the Heads of Houses in the form of new timetables.

Hermione snatched Ginny and Neville’s timetables out of their hands and laid all three of them before her, comparing schedules while Ginny and Neville peered over each of her shoulders.

“We all have Charms and Defense together. That’s understandable,” Hermione said after a moment. “Neville, you and I have Transfiguration together, and, Ginny, you and I have Potions.”

Ginny eyed her timetable again and noticed a mistake in one of Hermione’s statements. “I’m not in Potions with you.” She pointed at one of the Potions periods on her schedule. “See? I was put back in the sixth year NEWT class. It looks like you were placed into seventh year Potions.”

When Hermione handed Ginny’s parchment back to her, Ginny spent the rest of breakfast poring over it, memorizing her schedule. She tried not to feel disappointment at having to retake some of her courses. Along with Potions, she would be taking sixth year Transfiguration and Herbology, but she was pleased to have been placed in seventh year Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Care of Magical Creatures.

She looked over to the Ravenclaw table to see if Luna had made it to lunch yet and received her timetable, but her gaze drifted past Ravenclaw and over to the Slytherin table instead.

Parkinson sat by herself today, still isolated from the rest of the Slytherins and with no Malfoy in sight. Ginny had spotted him that morning when everyone had come in for the exams, but she’d been sitting several rows in front of him and hadn’t been able to observe him the way she would have liked. Last night, Hermione hadn’t thought anything of Malfoy’s departure before the Sorting ceremony. He had been the talk of the common room the night before, so Ginny figured Hermione had been trying to be annoyingly contrary and subtly chastise gossipping Gryffindors for bringing attention to him.

Ginny had a strange feeling, though. There was something not right about Malfoy. Maybe she was just sensing the tension around his being forced to return to Hogwarts by the Ministry after all the horror his family had helped instigate at the school the previous year.

Or maybe after such a terrifying year, Ginny wasn’t content with peace. She tried to shove that thought away, but it only brought to the surface an argument she’d had with Harry earlier that summer when he’d decided to forgo his return to Hogwarts to begin a career as an Auror instead. She’d thrown that exact accusation at him, and it had hurt him deeply. He hadn’t looked at her the same way since that fight.

Hermione gathered her bag together and stood up. “We’d better go, Neville. I don’t want to give the new Transfiguration teacher a bad impression of us if we’re late for his class!”

Neville chugged some pumpkin juice to wash down his mouthful of sandwich. He tapped his wrist to indicate a watch he wasn’t wearing and rolled his eyes at Ginny before he rushed to catch up with Hermione. Even though there were twenty full minutes before the first lessons of the term began, Ginny decided to follow their example and depart early. She had Potions with Slughorn first thing.

The trek to the Potions classroom was eerily routine. Ginny had somewhat expected to feel a disconnect between her current life and the life she’d lived before the war. Instead, her feet carried her to the dungeons as if she did it every day. She passed familiar paintings and suits of armor; she recognized some of the students walking in a similar direction and nodded to them in greeting.

Last year, the dungeons had been a place of misery and torture. She, Neville, and Luna had been punished by the Carrows more than once in a forgotten classroom underground, but Ginny’s body didn’t seem to remember that agony. She didn’t flinch at the flickering torchlight or tremble at her proximity to a location where she was often hurt. She just… went to class. As if it was a normal thing to do. As if she didn’t need to plan her next rebellious strike with Neville and Luna after Potions and before curfew.

That thought was punctuated by the sight of Malfoy standing in front of the Potions classroom, staring at the closed door. Today there was nothing hidden under his robes, no oddly shaped bulges.

His eyes widened when he saw her and he clenched his fists, but Ginny was too preoccupied with studying him to care about his reaction to her. His paleness was practically blinding in the dark dungeons, giving him an odd glow. Streaks on the sides of his face contrasted with the glow. With a jolt, Ginny realized the streaks were thin scratches. Odd. There were still dark circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept in months, and he was too thin, his robes hanging off him with a troubling frailty. Even during the height of the war he hadn’t looked this bad.

Ginny nodded to him and then turned away to lean against the wall and wait for Professor Slughorn’s arrival. Several feet of space separated them until Malfoy drew closer and copied her posture. He didn’t say anything, but she could hear him breathing through his nose, the sound consistent and measured, suggesting he was thinking deeply about each breath.

They stayed like that for the next fifteen minutes as more students began to arrive, until Slughorn came out of his office and opened the classroom door.

Ginny took a seat in the middle of the room and smiled happily when Luna joined her, taking the seat to her left. While asking Luna about her class schedule, the stool to Ginny’s right scraped against the stone floor as someone sat down. She glanced over and froze to see Malfoy, his jaw clenched, his eyes focused on his bag and the act of removing a quill and some parchment. His hands shook, and when he noticed her staring at them, he stuffed them into his lap.

“What are you doing?” she hissed at him. A quick perusal of the room verified that everyone was staring at them. Or maybe they were staring at Malfoy. Either way, it was the Great Hall pre-Sorting ceremony all over again: mouths agape, eyes widened, whispers, whispers, whispers.

Luna leaned forward to see past Ginny. “Hello there, Draco! It’s good to see you outside of your dungeons again.”

Turning his head away was his only acknowledgement that she had spoken. If he felt shame, he didn’t feel enough of it to get up and find a different seat.

Slughorn began to introduce cauldrons of Amortentia, Veritaserum, and Polyjuice Potion simmering on a table at the front of the classroom, but Ginny, who remembered the lecture from last year, could only focus on Malfoy.

“You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?” she hissed at him while Slughorn made a reference to his Slug Club when another student answered his question correctly.

Malfoy was either feigning attention as a respectful gesture to Slughorn or he was devoutly committed to avoiding looking at Ginny. “I must not have done well on the Potions portion of the placement exam,” he said under his breath.

“That’s not what I meant!” she replied, her hand automatically slapping his arm the same way she might have slapped Ron or Harry for being ridiculous.

His head swiveled toward her at her touch, his eyes dark and blazing. His lips were so tightly pressed together, they trembled.

Ginny found herself drawing back a little, but not necessarily out of fear. No, she wasn’t scared of him exactly. Something about Draco Malfoy had changed over the summer. He’d become more intense in his gaze, in his consideration of her (Only her? Or everyone else, too?); he’d become flighty, easily frightened, though Ginny did not recognize what triggered his unease. He nurtured a tension in his body as if constantly trying to keep control of himself, but, still, Ginny did not fear what he might do. The change she sensed in him intrigued her more than anything.

“I don’t know,” he said, his voice low. “I’m drawn to you, and I don’t understand it.”

Ginny drew back a little further, her head cocking to the side as she mused over his answer. A part of her wanted to laugh at such a ridiculous statement, but the laughter died in her throat just looking at him. He wasn’t hitting on her. He wasn’t teasing her. His knuckles were white from holding his hands in such tight fists under the table, and every line on his face expressed fury. His body shook with faint tremors from the effort of holding himself together.

She believed him. Whatever he was doing, whatever was happening to him, he couldn’t help himself, couldn’t stop it.

Ginny’s heart pounded so hard, she felt a little lightheaded. The kindest or the smartest thing for her to do (she wasn’t sure which) was to just leave Malfoy alone, so that’s what she did. She turned her focus to Professor Slughorn’s lesson, and she pretended not to notice that some of the tension eased from Malfoy’s body when she stopped looking at him.

Draco bolted from the Potions classroom as soon as he packed up his supplies at the end of the lesson, desperate to leave the stale air of the dungeons behind.

No, desperate to leave Weasley behind.

The fire that had burned through him at the feast the night before paled in comparison to the agony he felt now. To be near Weasley. To be away from her.

When he’d entered the classroom two hours ago, he had planned to sit in the back of the room. If the wings made a reappearance, there would be no one behind him to notice before he could escape the classroom. That had been his thinking at any rate.

But there was something about Weasley. He’d felt it in the Great Hall the night before when they’d looked at each other, and he’d felt it multiplied by twenty while standing so close to her in the Potions corridor. Something in him could not stand parting from her, so he’d sat down next to her in the hope of releasing the pressure that had built up inside his chest. Being near her again was almost worse. Throughout the duration of the class, half his concentration had strayed from brewing the Draught of Living Death to imagining wrapping himself around Weasley, sheltering her with his limbs, his wings, his body as a whole. The other half of his concentration had been devoted to keeping himself from acting on his urge.

Somehow he made it through both Potions and Arithmancy, but the more distance he put between himself and Weasley, the longer they stayed apart, the more he began to itch under his skin. He could feel the wings rising to the surface, and he used all the tools in his arsenal, all the ways he could think of to distract himself, to keep them from appearing.

Claws emerged from his fingertips during dinner when Weasley arrived with Longbottom and Lovegood. He kept his hands hidden under the table as much as possible to prevent anyone from seeing his deformity.

“Are you okay?” Pansy asked, scrutinizing him out of the corner of her eye.

He grit his teeth. “No.”

“Shall we go, then?”

He was torn between what his body wanted and what his brain wanted. If he left, Weasley would be out of sight, and every inch of him, every sinew, every dead skin cell, every blood particle, rebelled against that idea. But he was exhausted holding himself back, and he just needed a moment of peace, some understanding.

“Please,” he begged. The word tasted like dung on his tongue.

Pansy laid her napkin on the table and filled it with easy to transport food. Then she pulled Draco to his feet and dragged him out of the Great Hall. She began to turn toward the dungeons, but he yanked her in the opposite direction, wishing again for space and fresh air. They made their way outside, drifting toward the rose garden that had been created for the Yule Ball four years ago.

Draco almost didn’t make it to the entrance of the garden. As soon as he found himself hidden by rose bushes, he fell to his knees, moaning in misery. The wings burst through his shoulder blades, trapped by his robes, and he scratched at the ground with his claws as his face shifted, his chin shrinking, his nose elongating, his vision blurring as his eyes turned black and regenerated into tools that would enable him to see in the dark.

Pansy helped him take his robe off, and then she helped him to his feet, pulling him further into the labyrinthine garden to a corner of it that would hopefully obscure him from view. The wings flapped, kicking up dust and ruffling the bushes, and Draco hissed as they brushed against thorns.

She sat herself on a bench and opened the napkin to withdraw an apple, tossing another one to Draco as he paced in front of her, trying to cool the heat that radiated through him every time his body transformed.

“It’s been weeks since you last went full-beast,” Pansy observed.

Draco grunted, not appreciating her stating something he already knew. He put his head in his hands, and this time he was careful with the claws so as not to scratch his face. Still, the gesture was difficult when the area where his face used to reside now resembled the features of a bird of prey.

“What triggered it this time?” she asked.

The first time Draco had gone “full-beast,” as Pansy called it, had been after his trial. He didn’t know how he’d made it through the whole trial without wings bursting out of his back, but as soon as he’d arrived home, he’d crumpled to the ground, his body mutating before his parents’ very eyes. His mother had screamed and sobbed, begging his father to help him while Lucius, pale and unnerved, Flooed for Pansy immediately. She’d seen him transform more than once after that, usually when Draco was surprised or lost his temper.

They’d scoured the Malfoy library for information and had found nothing to explain what had happened to him

He told Pansy about Potions and Weasley while passing the apple from hand to hand, one way of distracting himself from his reality while he talked, and she listened intently, even when he struggled to from certain words with his new beak and tongue.

He ended with, “Finnigan saw me. Last night.”

She sat up straighter. “What did he do?”

Draco shrugged. “Cursed. A lot.”

“Did he threaten to tell anyone?”

“No. Just said he always knew my family were monsters.”

By now, Draco could feel the transformation reversing, starting with the claws—the talons—and ending with the wings shrinking away to nothing, until no sign of his transformation remained except for the sweat on his brow from the heat that consumed him. Pansy handed him his robe, and he dressed himself before finally taking a bite of the apple.

“We need to keep an eye on Finnigan. Weasley, too.”

Draco sat down on the bench. “Why her?”

“There’s got to be a reason she’s affecting you like this. Maybe she’s the one who cursed you.”

Draco didn’t see how, but he didn’t say that to her.

“We also need to get you some Muggle clothes.”

Draco’s face contorted into an expression of disgust, at which Pansy rolled her eyes.

“Don’t look at me like that. If you’re going to take your clothes off every time you sprout wings, you might as well be wearing trousers underneath them.”

He hated admitting she was right because doing so made her unbearably smug, so he refrained from giving her the satisfaction.

He chucked the apple core into the bushes when he finished with it and said, “I think we need to go further than keeping an eye on Weasley.”

Pansy waved a yeast roll at him, signalling him to go on.

“Maybe we should confront her.” At Pansy’s dubious look, he amended his statement. “Maybe we should ask her for help. Ask Granger for help.”

“You want Granger’s help with this? You want her to know what you are?”

“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Draco snapped, annoyed that Pansy couldn’t see the sense in his idea immediately. “We don’t know what I am. But Granger is the…” He paused, the words getting stuck in his throat, hard to swallow but also hard to spit out. “Granger is the smartest person we know. If she doesn’t know what I am, she’s certain to know how to find out.”

Pansy cocked her head, seriously considering Draco’s logic.

“Do you think she would agree to help?”

“If she thought Weasley could be endangered by a connection to me? Unquestionably.” He looked down at his hands and flexed his fingers. “Maybe she can help me figure out how to control the transformations.”

Pansy swallowed the last bite of her dinner roll, and Draco knew he had convinced her when she stood up, ready to go back to the castle. “Well. There’s no way any of this could backfire,” she deadpanned.
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