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September 1998

“Are you sure Mr. Thomas?”

“Sure, Miss Pickles. They’ll work. One spell will have the wards changed in the room so the technology will work and the other will copy what’s on the screens to parchment, like a printer.”

“That’s phenomenal work! How did you manage it?”

“I...em...wanted something to occupy my time, and my mind, considering all that had happened before -” he paused. “You know.”

The new Muggle Studies professor looked at the young student in front of her. Why did they all have to grow up so fast, she smiled sadly. “I can totally understand that, Mr. Thomas. Were they difficult to come by?”

The proverbial “back of a lorry” came to mind as Dean Thomas looked up and smiled.

“Not at all.”
.

August 1998

Hermione sighed and leaned back in her chair. The Burrow was full of hilarity with double helpings of pranks and high jinks. Fred and George had brought two crates of new products for everyone to sample and, so far, Harry was sporting rather perky boobs, Ginny could only speak Swedish, Ron was walking around on the ceiling, and a very pregnant Fleur was trying really hard not to wee on the floor from laughter. Molly was in the kitchen, as usual, preparing a Sunday roast that could feed Wiltshire.

“Mione!” Harry called up the stairs. “You coming down? Check out my new rack!”

“Jag tror att jag kan vara gay,” Ginny laughed, eyeing Harry’s larger chest with interest.

“They look good from up here, mate!” Ron was caught peering down the front of Harry’s open-necked shirt.

Hermione really wanted to stay away from all the noise. She didn’t want to leave her writing; it was soothing, but it wasn’t right to ignore her friends (she’d be doing enough of that when studying started). A year hidden away from the world, hunting for horcruxes, had her craving company but sometimes she needed the silence. To just be.

After the events of the past year, seven years really, the wizarding world had the luxury of sampling normal life; no evil, no corruption, no death, no sorrow. Loved ones were mourned, never to be forgotten, but the future held promise and hope. The Weasleys opened their home to Harry and Hermione, with Molly doing her utmost to ensure the young adults around her spent as much time as possible relaxing and laughing.

After all, laughter was the best medicine.

And so was Sleeping Draught, which they had all been prescribed to alleviate the night terrors and nightmares. Ron suffered from the former more so; he would dream of leaving Harry and Hermione in the Forest of Dean and returning to find their bodies mutilated and burned. His screams in the darkness woke everyone else from their nightmares. It was only through Legilimency, performed by one of the senior healers at St. Mungo’s, that his trauma was revealed and now a counselor at the hospital was helping him deal with his guilt. The rest of the family, along with Harry and Hermione, took various doses of Sleeping Draught.

Hermione took a dose every second night and was slowly weaning herself off the potion. They were returning to Hogwarts in two weeks and she was determined to study for her N.E.W.T.s with as clear a head as possible. She had also discovered an outlet for her recovery, she began to write again.

As a child, she would write little fairy stories and share them with her cousin Janice, who also wrote for fun. They were the same age and inseparable as children.

When Headmistress McGonagall, then a professor, visited Mr. and Mrs. Granger to explain that their daughter was a witch and would be welcome at Hogwarts, Hermione insisted she be allowed tell her cousin of her newly discovered talents. After a standoff with a precocious eleven-year-old, the Minister of Magic had the family agree to various rules and regulations regarding the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy. Janice was introduced to a world she only ever thought of as imaginary, and a spell was cast that prevented her from speaking about it to anyone but the Grangers.

Hermione’s cousin had only recently returned to England having spent the past year in hiding. After Monica and Wendell Wilkins were safely established in Australia, Hermione approached Janice and explained the danger she feared her cousin may face if she remained at her home. The emotionally drained witch spent an exhausting morning casting spells and charms until the girl before her was unrecognisable, spoke with an Irish accent, and was suddenly an expert in both Irish and Scotch whiskies.

Their reunion was bittersweet; Hermione couldn’t reverse the spell she had cast on her parents and was heartbroken by the loss of the two people who gave her life. Janice consoled her cousin as best she could, considering she had to explain her year-long absence to her own family and friends, not to mention her new qualifications that technically should have taken over a decade to achieve. As far as Janice was concerned, she was alive and so was her favourite cousin. Anyone else with questions could just fuck off.

Bothered by Hermione’s dark humour, Janice spent a few weeks at The Burrow with the Weasleys and Harry before returning to her muggle life. The original spell cast on her was lifted by the Ministry so she was able to converse with everyone about magic and other wizarding topics. In turn, she explained to Mr. Weasley how to play Tomb Raider on his newly acquired Playstation. He became rather fond of Lara Croft and her...attributes.

She found herself in awe of the loveable family and their homelife, even more so when Charlie came home from Romania to see the heroes return triumphant. Their attraction was instant and most welcome by Molly who feared her second eldest son may never settle down. The fact he was scheduled to spend more time on British soil, sourcing illegally bought baby dragons, had Molly introducing seating plans at the dinner table so the two could spend as much time together as possible. When it was time for Janice to return home, Charlie went with her...to help her settle back in, of course.
.

The day after she arrived at the Burrow, Janice sought Hermione out and the two left the quirky house to spend some time alone. Stopping about a mile away, they sat on a transfigured picnic mat and ate the sandwiches Molly insisted they bring with them.

“Want to talk about it?” Janice bit down on a carrot stick.

“No.”

“I didn’t think so. How are the meds?”

“I’ll wean myself off the Draught as soon as I can. I need to feel like me again.” Hermione sighed. “I need to feel normal.”

“Hun, you may never feel normal. Your life so far has been a whole fucking world of not normal!”

Another sigh.

Janice handed her cousin a box containing Molly’s famous turkey, ham, stuffing, and cranberry sauce sandwiches. She made them all year round.

Biting into the wholegrain delight, Hermione gazed out over the meadows that surrounded The Burrow. It was so peaceful, so serene. She still couldn’t comprehend how they were all back from a war; there was no victory parade, no pictures of sailors kissing girlfriends, no celebratory holiday. There was just silence, until the twins would arrive the following week.

“I’ve started writing again.”

Janice smiled. “I thought you might. It was always your go-to therapy. What are you working on?”

Hermione drank some tea before answering. “Nothing in particular, just some thoughts and ideas.”

“Will you continue when you’re back at Hogwarts?”

“I’d like to. Why?”

“Well, I have an idea. And I think you’ll like it.”
.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah! Why not?”

“Because I write for myself. And sometimes you. That’s it!”

“Come on, Hermione. Your name won’t be published, just your story.”

“I don’t know-”

“Look, it’s good for you. Writing has always been your escape and now, well, you need something-”

“I’ll have my studies!” Hermione exclaimed. “There’ll be so much to do. I won’t have time-”

Janice laid a hand on her cousin’s arm. “You can do this. That brain of yours will easily separate school work from...from fun work!”

Hermione sniggered. “It might be fun-”

“It is bloody fun! Reading it is one thing but writing it is a whole different ballgame. I’m into this fic at the moment where…”
.

Two weeks flew by in laughter and fun. The day before she was to return to the newly rebuilt Hogwarts, along with Harry, Ron, and Ginny, she spent some time sitting on the window seat in the living room, staring out at the pouring rain. Janice had left with Charlie, and a wad of parchment. Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. What had she let herself in for?

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy walked across the road with his head down. He was sure he wouldn’t be recognised in the small village but, after years of bowing down in front of an evil oppressor, he had lost the ability to hold his head high. The past two years had cost him his dignity; he was broken inside, at eighteen years of age.

Turning to help The Order had spared him from an imprisoned adulthood. When his wand vibrated every morning to announce a new day in a free world, he would keep his eyes firmly shut for fear of waking up inside a cold, damp cell. It would take a few minutes to remember he was in a warm bed, safe from the terror of threatened torture. The walls of Malfoy Manor no longer comforted him. His parents were there, on house arrest, but their healing was aimed towards each other. They tried to communicate with him, to involve him in their therapy sessions and attempts to right their many wrongs, but he felt he could no longer look at them.

Draco found himself spending as much time as possible away from his childhood home; the place he was once so happy in. He would get up early and leave The Manor immediately. Narcissa would invite him every day to join her for lunch but he’d decline. He would come home late in the evening, but mostly not at all.

Lucius went so far as to offer his son Malfoy Industries; all of it. The company survived the war due to its diversity and the sheer determination of its board members, and the elder Malfoy was anxious to regain the support and trust of those who held his legacy together whilst his judgement was tested over and over again. He was on his way to achieving his objective but, out of sheer desperation at seeing his only son suffering, he thought the distraction would help. Draco refused with a simple “no, thank you.”

He began to investigate the muggle towns and villages dotted around Wiltshire, settling on a favourite - Maybury. The small Georgian village was picture-perfect and he was attracted to its architecture and history. The local hotel became his home away from home and he found himself staying at The White Horse more and more as the summer went by. The publicans, patrons, and other locals knew him as Daniel Mallory, a trust-fund student from London, who was taking some time out before returning to his, so far, unnamed college. He spent some time at the local library, reading up on the local history with the aid of the full-time librarian, Miss Bennet, and getting introduced to science fiction by Katie Morris, the young heavy metal-loving student who worked there on Saturdays.
.

“What’s different?”

Draco looked up from the book he was currently reading, a recommendation from the young girl in front of him. The front of her top looked like she’d vomited on it, and left it.

“Pardon?”

“I said,” she drawled. “What. Is. Different?”

“Your hair?”

“Well, yeah, but besides that.”

“I don’t-”

“Oh for God’s sake, Dan!” Katie laughed, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “My piercing! Look, I got another one!”

For the life of him, Draco couldn’t tell which one she was talking about. Each ear had a row of studs from the lobule to the helix, with small rings through the tragus and daith.

“I got a small stud through the inner conch. Look, here.”

She pointed to a small dot somewhere in the middle of her metal-infested ear.

“It looks like a mole,” Draco commented, before returning to his book.

“What’ya reading?”

Silence. She pulled out a chair and plopped down beside him, bubblegum bursting as she chewed loudly before repeating her question.

Sighing inwardly, Draco closed the book and picked up his empty coffee cup. Rolling his eyes, he signalled to the hotel’s new barmaid to bring him another. Following a loud ‘ahem’ from his unwanted companion, the order was doubled.

“Don’t you have work today?”

“I do. I’m in for half. That gives me twenty minutes to drink coffee on you.”

“Bitch,” he laughed. “War of the Worlds, by the way.”

“Brilliant!” She grinned. “One of the best. Wells was a genius, far ahead of his time. Have you started The Time Machine yet?”

“That’s next. As soon as I get some peace,” he added, with a smile.

Two Americano coffees were placed on the table in front of them and, before Draco could thank their server, Katie leaned over and whipped up his biscotti.

“Speaking of geniuses, here’s another for you to try,” she reached into her bottomless bag and retrieved twelve small paperback books. “You will love these. Wells appears in the...can’t remember. Anyway, give them a go.”

“What are they about?” he asked, turning the first book over to glance at the back cover.

“It’s an organisation that protects history from rogue time travellers. But, get this, the history in the book is really our fiction.”

Ignoring the sheer confusion on Draco’s face, Katie continued.

“Book one, time traveller loses the plot. Goes back in time to kill Ivanhoe, yeah? Famous fictional character created by Walter Scott. Book two, time traveller loses the plot. Goes back in time to cause shit with The Three Musketeers. Book three, time traveller, blah, blah, blah, Scarlet Pimpernel. See where I’m going here?”

Draco nodded, hiding his amusement behind his coffee cup. The more Katie spoke about the books, the more excited she got.

“Good guys are a group of three commandos and their superior. One of them reminds me of you...without the weird hair.”

“What’s wrong with my hair!” He ran his fingers through his locks protectively.

“It’s a bit...no, it’s very...it’s so...BLOND...for a bloke. Look, it’s nearly half past.” She jumped up, shoving the books into his lap. “You’ll love them, get reading. Thanks for the coffee!”

“And you know what they say about blonds!” She called over her shoulder as she ran towards the door.

With that, the whirlwind that was Katie Morris left the hotel.
.

A few minutes later, a small biscotti was put down on the table beside his hand.

“I noticed Katie stole yours.”

Draco looked up from his newly acquired book. The War of the Worlds would have to wait, Ivanhoe needed saving.

“Thanks. She does that a lot. Are you new here?” He hadn’t seen this barmaid before, the owners were an older couple.

“My parents own this place,” she proffered her hand. “I’ll be running it while they’re on holiday. I’m Janice, Janice Brady.”

Draco took her hand. He noticed her handshake was firm, a characteristic he had always admired. “Daniel Mallory.”

He gestured for her to join him. “And what do you usually do, Janice Brady?”

“Em...I’ve been away studying,” she replied. “I’m planning to take over this place eventually, run some festivals and such. My qualifications will, hopefully, draw more tourists; I’m sort of a drinks expert - particularly Irish and Scotch whiskies.”

Draco thought it strange that she'd be an 'expert' at such a young age. She looked around the same age as he was but he didn't want to sound rude or patronizing by enquiring, so he let it go.

“Ah, my favourite drink," he offered instead. "The pub doesn’t stock the Scotch I prefer but I’ve taken a liking to Glenfiddich Single Malt.”

“Which one?”

“The 21 year old Gran Reserva.”

“Fuck me! That’s a seriously expensive dram. You must be bloody loaded! What’s your favourite, can we get it in for you?”

Draco stood up. “I’m sorry, I have to get going. I’ll be back for dinner tomorrow.”

Janice ignored the rapid change in his behaviour...for now.

“See you tomorrow,” she smiled, gathering up the empty coffee cups.
.

Draco stared up at the ceiling, thinking about the woman in the hotel. He had left his curtains open and the moonlight lit up his bedroom at Malfoy Manor, bouncing off the mirrored Art Deco furniture. It was particularly warm and the emerald green sheets were pushed down, away from his naked body. One arm was tucked up under his head and the other was draped across his torso, his fingers tapping out an absent-minded beat.

Janice was certainly beautiful, carrying herself with grace and elegance. She was tall and slender with thick waves of hair that were dyed various shades of red and gold. He wasn’t attracted to her; that wasn’t the reason she was on his mind. Two things were bothering him; he had noticed a ring on her left hand as she placed the biscotti down on the table. It was handmade, hammered silver with a cinnabar stone. It was an unusual choice of jewellery, the red and white colours were almost marble-like, and the stone practically called to him as Janice gesticulated during their brief conversation. But what was it about the stone?

The second thing was more unsettling, to say the least. Janice had asked about his favourite drink and he had moved to leave immediately. Draco knew he could have made up something - mentioning Ogden’s Old Firewhisky wouldn’t have been a sensible move - but, just as she asked, she reached up to tuck her hair back behind her ear. The action shocked him to his core.

Someone else had the same mannerism. Someone who made his heart clench with regret and self-loathing. Someone he wanted so badly, he craved her like a drug.

“Hermione,” he whispered to the room.

Only a few months before, she had screamed for help as that sick bitch tore away her skin. He feared for her life and had almost, almost - but he was scared; a frightened child hidden behind taunts and bravado. A step towards her would have cost him his life, along with the lives of his parents. It would have cost his beautiful witch -

Ah, but she was not his witch. Nor would she ever be. He would never deserve her.

All he could do was dream, and imagine.

His fingers crept down towards his hardening erection. He drew one leg up, taking the hand behind his head forward to caress his chest and stomach.  He imagined her before him; her delicate fingers tracing patterns across his muscles.

“Draco,” she would whisper. “I want you.”

“You have me,” he breathed to the night air. “Please take me.”

She would move forward, her long hair sweeping across his skin as her lips would tenderly brush against his.

Draco massaged himself, arching up from the bed, before sweeping his thumb over the tip of his erection. Rubbing the sensitive head had him leaking over his fingers and he used the precum to lubricate himself before slowly beginning to move his hand up and down.

He imagined her lips tasting him, sucking and licking as his breath quickened with arousal.

“Hermione,” he cried out, his hand moving faster with the other now gripping the sheets tangled around him.

“I’m here, Draco. I want you so much.”

Turning his head to the side, he pictured her lying on the bed next to him. He kept massaging himself, his hands continuing to pleasure his body. Fingers moved across his skin, pulling at nipples, nails digging into flesh. She was everywhere around him, torturing him.

Draco gasped as he felt his orgasm rise within. He didn’t hurry, he wanted the feeling of ecstasy to last. It was exhilarating; an electrical charge that kept him alert and on fire. Sheets slid to the floor as he tossed his body around the bed.

He changed hands, raising his wet digits to his lips and pretending he was sensually licking her fingers. Hearing her laughter in his mind, he continued to stroke and pull and rub until he could no longer bear the pressure threatening to burst out through his pores.

Crying out into the moonlight, he covered himself with the result of his desire. Wandlessly cleaning up, he collapsed back down and drew the covers back over his skin. Exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him as a single tear escaped from the corner of his eye.

He stared across at the exposed window, the midnight moon gazing back at him.

“Hermione,” he closed his eyes, sobbing quietly. “I’m so sorry. I love you.”

Chapter Text

Draco devoured the books Katie left with him, finding both the futuristic and historical intrigue fascinating. Classical wizarding literature left a lot to be desired and discovering the likes of Shakespeare and Poe, thanks to the ever-helpful Miss Bennet, was a breath of fresh air. But science fiction? Wow!

His favourite so far was the second book, The Timekeeper Conspiracy, which was filled to the brim with mystery and sword-fighting - underneath that cultured pureblood exterior was a young boy who still didn’t want to grow up. Draco particularly liked the protagonist, Lucas Priest, who portrayed the ultimate officer and gentleman (oh Katie, you don’t know how wrong you are). He was amused by the red haired sidekick, Finn Delaney, instantly comparing him to - well, it was obvious, wasn’t it? Then there was Andre, a stranger in a strange land, fighting for the right to stand up and be counted. She was misplaced in time, thrown into the deep end and struggling to adapt to new surroundings. Her bravery and determination to succeed had him thinking of Hermione as he read through the chapters.

His melancholy mood, brought on by his constant thinking of her, had him sitting up at the bar of The White Horse one afternoon, a week before he was due to leave for Hogwarts. Having finished his lunch, he was settling into The Lilliput Legion and a pot of Yorkshire tea.

“You look miserable,” Janice commented, taking the empty plate away from the counter.

“Not a good day,” he smiled slightly, looking up.

“I’m on a break in five minutes. Fancy some company?”

“Yeah, alright.”

True to her word, Janice returned from the kitchens with two large slices of carrot cake and a fresh pot of tea.

“On the house,” she announced, sitting on a bar stool beside him. “Want to talk about it? Or her?”

Draco looked up, surprised. “How can you tell?”

“Bar trade, sweetie. Seen it all.”

He took his time chewing a piece of the cake, deciding if he should talk to her. His inner Draco made the decision for him. Fuck it, here goes…

“She hates me. Always has.” He looked down at the pastry fork in his hand. “Always will.”

“Does she know how you feel?”

“No.”

“Then how can you be so sure? Have you tried talking to her? Jesus, Dan, have you looked at yourself lately!”

Draco looked up, confused. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked, his free hand automatically running through his hair.

“Fuck all is wrong with you! You’re a seriously good looking bloke, with a decent personality. Which is bloody rare, by the way. You could have anyone! How is it possible that there’s a girl out there that doesn’t want you? Well, besides me.”

“How come you don’t want me?” he quipped.

“I have a boyfriend.”

“You haven’t mentioned him.”

“He’s working away at the moment, with...em...animals. He’ll be back next week.” She waved her fork around as she continued. “That’s not important, we’re talking about you. Why does she hate you so much?”

“We never got on. We met in school but were in different...classes. I had my friends and she had her...lot. We only came together to fight and antagonise each other but I found myself thinking of her often; her intelligence was the first thing that caught my attention, I guess. She was so far ahead of the rest of us, you know, for a-”

Draco was about to say ‘muggleborn’ but caught himself in time. Having watched Hermione’s deep red blood flow down her arms, he realised she was no different to him. It was a sight he would never forget, with screams he would always remember.

“Anyway,” he continued, refilling their teacups. “She was quite the ugly duckling at first but all I saw was the most courageous and independent person I’ve ever known, even at eleven.” He laughed, his eyes glistening slightly. “I fell in love with her spirit, her zest for life. She’s the most beautiful person I know-”

Draco absentmindedly rubbed his nose at a particular memory before continuing.

“I came across her with two of her friends a few months ago. They were in trouble and I should have helped but-”

“What kind of trouble?” Janice enquired.

Draco stared ahead. For a moment, his mind was back at Malfoy Manor and she was screaming his name, begging for him to save her.

“Doesn’t matter now. She needed - I just ignored her, yeah?” he placed his head in his hands. “Worst fucking mistake of my life, Jay.”

Janice reached over and placed her hand over his. Sighing, Draco lifted his head and looked at her.

“Why haven’t you told her how you feel about her now? Or that you’re sorry for what happened?”

“Would you want anything to do with me? Knowing what I did?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly what you did, Dan. You haven’t explained yourself very well,” she sat back on the bar stool. “You know, my cousin’s in the same boat. She has had feelings for this guy she knows for some time. He won’t give her the time of day but it hasn’t stopped her from loving him from afar. She pines, you know? I was staying with her...family over the summer and to see her-” Janice released a long slow breath. “I want to tell her it’ll be alright and that, you know, if it’s meant to be but-”

“Does your cousin know this guy well?”

“I think so. She won’t say too much about him, even though we’re really close, but I guess they must be in the same boarding school. She’s had a rough few years but she’s slowly picking up the pieces. I’d hope that, one day, he’ll see her for the wonderful person she is. After all she’s been through, she deserves every happiness.”

Janice stepped down from the high stool, taking the dishes with her. Coming back a few minutes later, she handed Draco a bill for his earlier lunch.

Putting his book down to sign his initials to the receipt, D.M., Draco looked up at her.

“Is your cousin like you?”

Janice laughed. “Physically? We’re like chalk and cheese. Otherwise, we’re practically the same person.”

“Then he’s a prick if he doesn’t notice her.”

Janice smiled warmly before turning away. “Perhaps I’ll introduce you two someday.”
.

Draco slowly packed his bag and left the little hotel room that he’d begun to think of as his second home. Tomorrow night he’d be back in the dungeons at Hogwarts, too close to her for comfort. You’ve got to get over this. Taking a deep breath, he buckled up the leather carry-on and left the room.

“Ah, Mister Mallory. Did you enjoy your stay at The White Horse?” Janice grinned from behind the reception desk.

Signing the relevant forms to check out, Draco smiled at her warmly.

“It was most pleasant, thank you for asking. The bar staff are exceptionally friendly. And I must pass my compliments to the kitchen staff, the carrot cake is sublime. Then, there’s the housekeeping staff-”

“Oh, shut the fuck up! Give me a hug.”

She walked around to him and put her arms out. Draco didn’t hesitate, stepping forward and relishing her warmth.

“Thank you for listening, Jay. For everything.”

Stepping back, she looked straight into his eyes.

“I really hope it works out for you, Dan. Will you keep in touch?”

“Sure,” he replied, not having a clue how he was going to manage it. “I’d love to, but school-”

“Here’s my email address,” she handed him a small Post-It with some sort of code scribbled on it. He pulled out his wallet from his back pocket and slipped the piece of paper inside.

“Your school has computers I take it. Or are your teachers still back in the Stone Age?”

“Funny you should say that-”

A few weeks before, Draco had walked into the Maybury library to see Miss Bennet sporting an oversized sweatshirt sporting the logo “I’ve a date with Windows 98.” She instantly dragged him over to look at the new grey boxes lined up against the far wall, spending a good twenty minutes rabbiting on about The Outlook Express, active desktops (although there was no one sitting at any desks in the room), and some bloke called Bill and his gates. Merlin, the woman desperately needed to get laid! He smiled politely and oohed and aahed at all the right moments before escaping, completely overwhelmed by the muggle technology and the fervent Miss Bennet.

Just then, one of the hotel staff stuck their head around the door to let Janice know she was needed in the bar. She gave Draco another brief hug before moving towards the door.

“Make sure you do keep in touch! I have that cousin to introduce you to,” she smiled.

Picking up his bag, Draco nodded before walking out the main door.
.

Stepping into the bar, Janice was shocked to find Charlie Weasley standing by the pool table.

“Oh my God! You’re a whole week early!” She exclaimed, running into his arms.

Charlie looked just as pleased to see her; his cheeky smile lighting up his tanned face. His long red hair was tied back in a low ponytail and his shirt was rolled up to reveal two full sleeves of dragon-inspired tattoos. A fresh cut to his right cheek just made him look sexier, if that were possible.

“Merlin! I missed you so much, Jay.” He cupped her face in his hands, leaning forward to kiss her as if she were his only source of oxygen. “I couldn’t stay away any longer.”

“That’s so good to hear,” she breathed. “I don’t think I could have lasted another week.”

“Get me a room now,” he growled into her ear. “I want you-”

“Charlie, I’m on shift,” she moaned. “I’m not finished work for another hour.”

“I’ve a wand and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Bursting out laughing, Janice went off to arrange to finish work early. Twenty minutes later, she had Charlie booked in, her shift covered, and was moaning in ecstasy as he fucked her up against the door of room nine.
.

The following morning saw mayhem at King’s Cross Station as students and families flooded the secret barrier and filed out onto Platform 9¾. Hermione, Harry, Ron, and Ginny bade farewell to the Weasleys amid a shower of edible confetti, courtesy of Fred and George. Ron spent most of the time trying to lick the multi-flavoured treats off everyone’s shoulders, much to the disgust of his mother who started to beat him around the head with her hand-knitted beret.

Hermione and Ginny hopped onto The Hogwarts Express to avoid one of Molly’s infamous emotional farewells. Laughing, they ran through the narrow corridors to reach their carriage, with Ginny stopping midway to chat to some sixth years she knew from Quidditch practice.

Someone called Hermione’s name as she stepped into the carriage and she turned her head around at the last moment, only to have her body collide with a solid wall. Stumbling backwards, she was caught by two strong arms and brought forward into a tight embrace. Trying to right herself at the same time, her hands found themselves flattened against a chest of pure muscle which was concealed behind a black suit of impeccable quality. Hermione was instantly drawn to the scent of whoever was holding her; it was intoxicating. Gasping, she looked up - into the silver eyes of Draco Malfoy. He stared back, holding onto her a little longer than necessary.

“I really should watch-”

“You really should watch-”

They both started and stopped at the same time, blushing slightly. Draco stepped back, releasing her from his grasp. She tried to hide her nerves by continuing before he could say anything.

“I’m sorry for running into you, Malfoy. I don’t know who called me, did you see? I shouldn’t have looked around, I-”

Her verbal diarrhea was brought to an abrupt halt when he placed a hand gently on her shoulder.

“It’s alright,” he murmured, before picking his bag up off the seat and placing it on the luggage rack.

“Oh.” She could feel her shoulder tingling. Why did he do this to her? Oh, she knew why.

Biting her bottom lip, Hermione went to move past him and head towards the other end of the carriage where she saw Neville and Luna sitting together.

“Granger!”

She turned back around. “Y-yes?”

“I wanted to-”

Whatever Draco was going to say was curtailed by the untimely entrance of one Ronald B. Weasley, knob.

“Mione, come on. We don’t talk to Death Eater filth,” the knob spat.

Hermione gasped. “Ronald! What the hell?”

Draco turned away to sit by the window, picking up the book he had left face down on the seat earlier. Hermione thought she recognised the cover of The Cleopatra Crisis.

“Is that-”

“Mione!”

“You’d better go, Granger. Your guard dog is drooling.”

“Fuck you!” Ron started towards Draco.

“Ronald, enough!” Hermione grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “We’re past all of this. Move!” She added, shoving him towards the back of the carriage.

“I’m sorry again, Malfoy.” She offered before turning to follow Ron.

Draco stared after her, his heart cracking just a little bit more.

“No, I am.”

Hermione looked back, stunned by his words. By now the carriage was filling up and the opportunity to speak again was lost.

Chapter Text

The carriage continued to fill with the rest of the returning eighth years and Ginny (although she was technically a seventh year student). This final year was going to be unusual, to say the least; they were to complete their seventh year studies but would do so separately from the remaining students who were heading into their final year straight from sixth.

The new headmistress had taken quite some time to consider their positions within the student body, consulting with the portraits of many previous headmasters before deciding the small group should all live and study together as a unit. There were bound to be hiccups along the way but these students all needed to heal and mend bridges. She figured the only way to do that was to throw them all to the lions together and she prayed to Merlin she was doing the right thing.

Luna, the only Ravenclaw, was tucked in by a window amidst the Gryffindors. She wanted to sit up front of the train to keep the nargles away from the driver’s lunch as it was Tuesday, and they were particularly hungry after all the mating that went on over the long weekend, but Neville assured her the driver had his lunch safely stashed in his work bag. Happy with this, she started to read the Quibbler’s horoscopes for September out loud for everyone instead.

She had just finished telling Harry that he’d be changing his sexual orientation by the end of the month when a commotion could be heard from the other side of the carriage. Turning heads observed a red-faced Ron Weasley storming down the aisle, followed by an irate Hermione Granger.

“And it’s only the first of September,” Harry observed quietly to Ginny.

His girlfriend rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me this is what we’re in for. I thought everything was alright at The Burrow.”

Harry was about to respond but thought better of it. He wasn’t in the mood for drama; this was going to be a peaceful year. Hopefully. He settled into a window seat on the other side of the carriage with Ginny sliding in beside him.

Ron flopped into the seat opposite Luna and stared out the window, breathing heavily through his nose and seething with gusto. How the fuck could McGonagall allow that piece of shit back into Hogwarts? That fucking Slytherin cunt didn’t deserve to fucking breathe!

“Won Won!”

“Oh bollocks!” Ron turned away from the window. “Hey Lav.”

He couldn’t have sounded less enthusiastic if he tried.
.

After Ron had unceremoniously sat down, Hermione moved past the Gryffindors and Ravenclaw. She briefly acknowledged Dean Thomas who was entering the carriage with Parvati Patil, the pair looking particularly cosy as they greeted their classmates.

Ginny reached out to Hermione as she continued past but was waved off with a mumbled excuse, the redhead barely catching ‘toilet’.

“Leave her,” Harry coaxed. “She needs to cool off.”

“So does my prick of a brother!” Ginny hissed. “His temper is a bloody embarrassment.”

Harry didn’t have an answer to that; he wholeheartedly agreed.
.

Hermione pulled the carriage door back and stepped out into the narrow hallway at the end. The rocking of the now moving train caused her to stumble towards the toilet, knocking her shoulder painfully against the door. The jolt brought tears to her eyes that continued once she had securely locked herself in the little cubicle.

Gripping the side of the handbasin, the most focused and brilliant member of the Golden Trio burst into heart wrenching sobs.

He had held her for seconds but he would never realise what it meant to her.

After a few minutes, Hermione gathered herself together and, casting a spell to conceal her tear-stained cheeks and puffy eyes, walked back towards her friends with her head held high. It was getting harder and harder to do.

By now all the seats were taken and, despite everyone’s attempts to ‘budge up’ and make room (Lavender instantly hopping onto Ron’s knee), Hermione insisted she wanted to get some advanced reading done so moved into the middle of the carriage to sit on her own. Nobody argued; this was Hermione Granger afterall. One silencing charm later, she had her head down and was furiously writing away with her favourite eagle-feathered quill clenched between her ink-stained fingers.

She wasn’t sure if she had seen things but was it possible Draco Malfoy was reading a muggle paperback? And, not only that, was he reading one of the Time Wars series? Surely not! Hermione wanted to ask the moment she saw him lift up the book but the opportunity was lost, thanks to Ron.

Meanwhile, her Lucas and Andre were in the middle of their own adventure and Janice was waiting to post chapter four online (apparently the story had over one hundred followers thus far and readers were anxious for updates). There was only one slight difference; in BiblioBabe199’s Time Wars fanfiction, Lucas Priest had platinum blond hair and silver grey eyes.
.

Further down the carriage, five Slytherin students were keeping a low profile and talking quietly amongst themselves.

Draco was sitting by the window alongside Theo Nott who was currently engrossed in The Dracula Caper. Across from them were Blaise Zabini, with his girlfriend Tracey Davis sitting on his knee, and Pansy Parkinson cuddled into his side with her legs tucked under her.

“Blaise, mate,” Draco smiled. “We’ve only left the station and you’ve got the girls hanging off you!”

“Says the one! Apparently our Pans is a cuddler,” his best friend replied. “Who knew?”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake! It’s bloody freezing. At this stage, I’d cuddle Argus Filch himself if it meant I could heat up,” Pansy moaned. “You don’t mind, do you, Trace?”

The quietest Slytherin of them all smiled at her friend. “Of course not, Pans. Cuddle away.”

“Don’t I get a say?” The Italian exclaimed. “Mi sto usando qui!”

“No one’s using you, Blaise,” Tracey laughed. “You’re just doing my best friend a favour; like a dutiful boyfriend.” She leaned down to kiss his cheek.

“Oh, please!” Theo looked up. “Trying to read here.”

“Which one are you on?” Pansy enquired. She couldn’t see the book’s cover from where she was sitting.

“Eight.”

“Oh, I loved that one! All those robotic vampires. It was really cool when-”

“Spoilers, Pans!” They all responded simultaneously.

This was a frequent issue. Pansy Parkinson’s mouth had no filter.

The five friends continued to banter about the muggle books Draco had written to suggest they read over the summer. The girls were engrossed as soon as they started the first book, although it took a while for them to do so, with Blaise eventually starting The Ivanhoe Gambit just to stop Tracey’s constant chatter about how brilliant it was. He was equally enthralled from the first chapter. Theo was the last to agree to try the books, hence he was only now on book eight.

It wasn’t as simple as just picking up the first book and beginning to read, however; it was almost a cleansing ritual for Pansy, Theo, and Blaise. They looked to Draco as their unofficial leader - a title he’d never wanted but took seriously nonetheless - and so, at his suggestion, they took their first steps to freedom by agreeing to read muggle literature. For Tracey, it was an easier step having been exposed to the non-wizarding world through her muggle mother.

The tight-knit group knew they wouldn’t be welcome back at Hogwarts but, of all the Slytherins that graced the dungeons of the old school, they were most anxious to make amends. Tracey and her parents hadn’t been involved in the war and she was kept away from Hogwarts for most of the previous year. She was, however, a Slytherin and wanted to use her halfblood status to prove to the rest of the school that some snakes really weren’t all that bad.

Blaise and Theo had witnessed the Carrow’s torture and mutilation firsthand and, although, they weren’t physically attacked by the siblings, Pansy was. Their lifelong friend had been Crucio’d by Alecto for daring to help a first year who had been cursed for dropping his inkpot. The twisted sister continued to stalk Pansy after that, cursing and hexing her at every available opportunity. The sheer brutality eventually wore the young girl down and she would cry herself to sleep every night, pleading with the gods for an end to her persecution. Seeing Harry Potter in the Great Hall prior to the final battle caused her to speak out against him but she had just wanted it all to stop.

Pansy was determined to apologise for her actions, and explain herself, but it was only the first day of term and she wasn’t quite brave enough. Yet.

A few hours passed as the train continued its long journey towards the Scottish Highlands. The Slytherins remained at one end of the carriage with the Gryffindors and their adopted Ravenclaw at the other. Hermione “Switzerland” Granger stayed in the middle, her quill scratching the parchment constantly.
.

After a snack from the sweet trolley, Hermione stood up and walked past the Slytherins to the opposite carriage door. She had no desire to pass Ron and have him berate her for earlier, or pass snide comments that she would find too hard to overlook, so she decided to pass the Slytherins instead. She figured they would just ignore her.

As she was making her way along the carriage, Draco asked Theo to move so he could step away to use the toilet. The taller wizard stood to allow his blond friend leave his seat, putting both of them right in Hermione’s path, meaning she had no choice but to stop as the aisle was now blocked. She halted a few feet away, biting her lip and trying not to make eye contact with anyone in particular.

“Granger, I apologise,” Theo was the first to speak. “I didn’t notice you.”

“Eh...that’s alright, Nott,” she replied, looking up. It was the first time in all their years at Hogwarts that she had ever spoken to Theo Nott directly and Hermione was taken aback by his quiet tone. He was softly spoken with actual manners, it seemed. She felt the knot (yeah, even she acknowledged the pun) in her stomach loosen as he smiled at her.

“As soon as this blond bombshell steps off my foot, I can move to let you pass,” Theo grinned, his eyes narrowing at Draco. The blond in question was rooted to the spot, not having moved since Hermione came near. She didn’t look at him, her attention focused on his friend, but he felt his pulse quicken all the same. He may just have pushed down heavily on Theo’s foot before moving his own away, muttering an apology. At least, it sounded like an apology.

“Is that a term of endearment or a jibe at his intellectual capabilities?” Hermione’s inner Gryffindor encouraged her to be sociable so she attempted a Slytherin-style remark.

Theo’s answer was drowned out by the laughter of his fellow Slytherins.

“Nice one, Granger,” Pansy snickered. “Look! Draco’s speechless.”

“He won’t be speaking his mind so,” Blaise was laughing so much Tracey almost toppled off his knee. She had to grab the table in front of them for support.

Draco turned to Hermione, an unreadable expression on his face.

“You’ve set them off, Granger. This may go on for a while.”

Hermione couldn’t answer; she was genuinely surprised by the comedic atmosphere. Theo came to her rescue.

“You have to admit, he certainly is a whiter shade of pale.”

That threw her completely. Did Theo Nott just reference a muggle song? She gaped unattractively at the dark-haired obstacle in her way.

“Em...can I please get by? I really need the loo.”

“Of course, of course,” Theo shoved Draco aside to make room for her to pass. “It seems our blond has also mislaid his manners.”

Hermione smiled politely and continued on towards the door.

Draco lit on Theo as soon as she was out of earshot.

“What the absolute fuck!” He exclaimed before turning to the others. “And you lot! Talk about making a show of me!”

“Calm down, Draco. We were joking with her, not at you,” Tracey interjected. “We need this! We need to make things right in order to-”

“And what’s better than getting into Granger’s good books?” Pansy interrupted, casting a warning glance over at Tracey. “She’s the most likely to forgive us first. After her, the rest will follow.”

“We hope,” Blaise added.

“It’s important that Granger accepts us,” Theo continued before sighing loudly. “Look, we may as well tell him.” He looked back at Draco. “Like the guys said, we need this. But, first and foremost, if we succeed, she’s more than likely to accept you. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Draco was taken aback. “You are all doing this for me,” he whispered.

“We know how you feel, mate.” Blaise confirmed, before placing his hand across his chest and adopting the air of a voiceover actor. “And it is our Slytherin duty to ensure you achieve your goal. Therefore we, my fellow students and I, are determined to see you physically wrapped around the fit body of one Gryffindor princess by the Yule Ball.”

“You ruined it at the end, sweetie,” Tracey murmured.

Theo leaned over to the blond who’s cheeks were now a blooming shade of rose pink.

“Weren’t you on the way to the toilet?” He nodded in the direction of the carriage door.

Draco followed his friend’s gaze.

“I was. Wasn’t I?”

“Well then, no time like the present, mate. Go make a start.”

Theo clapped Draco on the shoulder before gently, but firmly, nudging him in the direction of the carriage door. Before he completely left their sight, however, Pansy surreptitiously waved her magic wand.

There was no sign of Hermione when he stepped through to the small hallway. He felt slightly panicked until the muffled sound of the toilet flushing reminded him of where she was intending to go in the first place. He took a deep breath, stepping farther away from the small door in order not to crowd her. After a minute, the lock slid open and Hermione stepped outside.

“Don’t go back to your seat!”

She looked up, surprised. Draco had rushed the words out, hoping she’d listen to him.

“Pardon?”

“Look, I need to use the toilet, alright? But I’m asking you to wait here for me. I want to talk...to you.”

Hermione tried not to laugh out loud. She pursed her lips together but her eyes shone with mirth.

“What!” He demanded.

“Your hair,” she grinned. “Not your best look.”

Reaching up, Draco felt a mohawk on top of his head with an edge that could cut steel.

“Bastards!” he exclaimed, moving swiftly towards the toilet and praying to Merlin there was a mirror in the cubicle. He turned to close the door and caught her standing by the window, the bright September sun highlighting her long caramel hair. Draco Malfoy’s broken heart pumped a little stronger.

“I’ll wait,” she turned to him. “Hurry though, your hair needs immediate medical attention.”

He never urinated so fast in his life.

And there was no mirror in that particular toilet. Fuck.

He unlocked the door and stepped back out, looking sheepish.

“There’s no mirror and I left my wand back on my seat. I can’t go back looking-”

“I could, you know,” Hermione couldn’t find the words, choosing instead to retrieve her wand from her pocket and wiggle it in front of him.

“Thanks,” he smiled shyly, moving towards her.

Hermione’s heart was in her mouth as she waved her wand towards his head. Pettinare. The razor-sharp mohawk collapsed down and flopped around Draco’s face.

“Em...it didn’t exactly work,” she confessed, biting her lower lip. Placing her wand back in her pocket, she lifted her hands up. “May I?”

He couldn’t answer. Never taking his eyes from hers, he stepped even closer.

Almost reverently, Hermione reached up and touched Draco’s hair for the first time. It was so soft, she heard herself gasp slightly. She ran her fingers through the silky smooth locks, comparing his hair’s texture to that of Teddy Lupin’s baby fine hair. Gently coaxing the unkempt strands back into place, she found herself unable to remove her fingers. So many nights dreaming about him, yearning for him, and here she was touching him for the first time. It was almost heartbreaking; he had no idea how she felt. Nor would he ever know.

Draco thought his lungs would burst. Here she was, so close he could smell her delicate perfume. He would die for this witch in front of him, he knew that now. He just wished he had done it months before and saved her from all that pain.

As she focused on her task, he never moved his eyes from hers; they were the colour of his favourite dark chocolate with flecks of honey or the lightest caramel. The touch of her hands sent sparks of desire shooting through him like a lightning bolt. He closed his eyes, visualising Madame Pomfrey in a Hufflepuff yellow thong and nothing else. It instantly helped.

“I chose my mother.”

Hermione lowered her hands. “Pardon?”

“I had no choice,” he continued, opening his eyes and letting his gaze fall to her navy Converse. “It was her or you. I wanted so much to save you but...I was weak.”

At his final word he looked up, his silver eyes capturing her breath. “I-I don’t understand, how-”

“The Dark-” he began, before shaking his head slightly. Taking a deep breath, he began again. “I had failed in my task during sixth year and barely escaped with my life. I should have let the sick bastard kill me rather than plead for mercy but I guess I’m not very strong.” He shrugged his shoulders. “He called me ‘a waste of space,’ Granger. How right he was.”

Hermione opened her mouth to reply but he raised his hand to stop her.

“I need to say this. Please,” his pleading look was heartbreaking. “Please-”

“Go on,” she encouraged him gently.

“I’m a skilled Occlumens, thanks to Snape, so Voldemort never realised I-” Draco stopped abruptly. “It doesn’t matter. He told me that, if I stepped out of line again, he’d feed my mother to Fenrir Greyback and make me watch. I did what I could when the three of you...I was too scared to do anymore. I’m so sorry.”

Hermione could feel the tears welling in her eyes. One tiny droplet slipped from her eyelash to her cheek and, without thinking, Draco raised his hand and tenderly wiped it away with his thumb. She was frozen to the spot, staring at him in shock.

“I don’t expect-” he began.

He never finished. The train’s piercing whistle announced their arrival at Hogsmeade Station.

Draco stepped back. “We’d better-”

“Yes. Yes, we should-”

He opened the carriage door and stepped back to let her pass. Hermione smiled as she moved ahead of him, feeling the hairs rise on the back of her neck due to his proximity. Abruptly, she turned back and looked up to him.

“Thank you.”

Draco nodded but no words came.

“You saved us that night, even if you didn’t realise what you were doing,” she spoke quickly, as everyone was now out of their seats and reaching for their bags. “You didn’t tell them who we were and you practically gave your wand to Harry. I could see the torment in your face, Malfoy. It can’t have been easy for you either having that-that thing is your home.”

Without thinking, Hermione stood on tiptoe and kissed Draco lightly on the cheek before turning to walk back to her seat.

Chapter Text

Recap: Without thinking, Hermione stood on tiptoe and kissed Draco lightly on the cheek before turning to walk back to her seat.
.

Pansy stepped into the aisle and slid her arm into Draco’s.

“Well?”

“It’s enough, Pans.” His face broke into the warmest smile she had seen in a long time. “It’s enough for now.”

With that, the two Slytherins joined their friends in collecting bags and baggage before making their way to the carriage door.
.

The platform was awash with students, from the tiniest first years to the lankiest Weasley. Hagrid’s deep, throaty voice boomed across their heads, causing some newbies to cower in absolute terror. If only they knew he’s a pussycat, Hermione smiled to herself as she watched them.

“Eighth years! Eighth years, this way! Ginny, Luna, you too!”

The mismatched lions, snakes, and eagle lined up in front of their professor.

“‘Ello all!” The gentle giant beamed down at his favourite Gryffindors before smiling politely at the rest of the bunch. “My, my, Ron! What’s Molly feedin’ yeh? You’re nearly as tall as me! Luna, Professor McGonagall is puttin’ yeh with this lot for the year so yeh’ll be with Ginny, alrigh?”

Before Ron even had a chance to go red, or Luna hum, Hagrid continued.

“The professor wants me to bring yeh all straight up to the Castle. So follow me.”

He turned and marched off, leaving the other staff members to chaperone the rest of the returning students. The first years were to be led down to the boats by the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor who hadn’t arrived yet.

“They shouldn’t be left on their own,” Hermione looked over to the twenty or so tiny heads. “Perhaps we could wait-”

“Merlin’s Arsehole, ‘Mione. They’re fine! Stop fucking worrying about things that don’t concern you!”

Hermione turned to Ron, aghast at his rudeness.

“How dare you! You nearly pissed yourself the first time you saw the Castle; I heard you tell Harry. What’s gotten into you?”

Ron turned red for the second time in as many minutes.

“Nothing. Forget it,” he snapped, grabbing Lavender by the hand and dragging her off to catch up with the rest of the students. The blonde witch shrugged at Hermione as she was hauled past.

“He doesn’t want us here,” Tracey commented as she caught up. “Any of us.”

The two witches walked side by side without speaking for a few moments, Hermione the first to break the silence.

“Malfoy apologised to me on the train, for everything that happened at his home.”

The Slytherin witch laughed quietly. “Malfoy Manor is not a home, Granger. It’s a cold, miserable hole that he avoids as much as possible. He told me he couldn’t stay there because of you.”

Hermione gasped. “Wh-what!”

Tracey continued as they walked up towards the school.

“He said he would think of you every time he stepped into the library, you being a complete bookworm and all,” she began. “But when he arrived, things went sour very quickly. The library was destroyed one night in temper when a raid didn’t go as planned. Another time, his magic shattered Madame Malfoy’s greenhouses. Did you know she was known across the wizarding world for her rare and exotic plants? No? It was devastating for her. But the library, well, that nearly broke Draco’s heart. He saved as many books as he could but...anyway, after the night you, Potter, and Weasley were captured, he told me he heard your screams in every room.”

Tears pricked at Hermione’s eyes as Tracey continued talking in hushed tones. The rest of the eighth years walked up the winding path in two separate groups but it seemed Switzerland had now gained herself an ally.

“He spent his summer away from the place. Would you believe Draco found a muggle village that he just fell in love with and remained there?” She laughed at the pure shock on Hermione’s face. “Honestly Granger, we didn’t believe it either. He booked into a hotel, joined the local library, read muggle literature, and poured his heart out to the landlady. Obviously, he kept some bits to himself.” She added with a smirk worthy of the Slytherin himself.

“I-I don’t know what to say!” Hermione was stunned. “He told me that he had chosen to remain silent when I was...tortured...because Voldemort threatened to give his mother to Greyback if Malfoy failed him again.”

“He wasn’t lying.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I believe him,” Hermione corrected herself. “I really do. I just wish-”

Hogwarts was coming into view as Tracey stopped walking and turned to her fellow student.

“What, Hermione? What do you wish?”

The use of her given name startled Hermione somewhat but she didn’t dwell on it.

“I should have found some way to let him know I didn’t - I don’t - hold him responsible for what happened to me at his...manor. I’ve explained it, just now on the train, but I had no idea how he felt until he approached me. So, while we were all celebrating over the summer, he was-”

“You had no reason to know, Hermione, but he was broken. He still is, in a way.”

The use of Hermione’s name a second time was deliberate. Tracey decided phase one of Operation Christmas Wrapping (Blaise’s words, not hers) was to befriend the Gryffindor girls and Luna. They all referred to each other by their given names, just like she and Pansy did, so that would be their first step.

“You didn’t mind me calling you by your first name, did you?” She continued. “I just think we should make an effort this year, you know? After everything-”

Hermione realised the girl before her was trying to make amends. What sort of person would she be if she didn’t reciprocate?

“I’d be delighted to start over with you, Tracey,” she smiled, holding out her hand. “Hermione Granger, Gryffindor.”

“Tracey Davis, Slytherin. It’s an absolute pleasure.”
.

The two girls climbed the steps of the Castle and walked into the large open hallway. Professors McGonagall and Slughorn stood before them, the older witch rolling her eyes at something the bumbling wizard was going on about.

“Ah, Miss Granger, Miss Davis. Thank you for joining us.” A raised eyebrow and a stern look over half moon glasses had both girls blushing slightly, keeping their heads down. When the professor turned her back, they glanced at each other and smiled broadly.

Pansy leaned over to Theo and Blaise. “Phase one is a go.”
.

The group of students were led past the Great Hall and up several flights of stairs. Ron grabbed Harry by the arm, a wild look of panic in his eyes.

“What about the feast? Why are we not going to the feast?”

“Mate,” Harry tried not to smile. “I’m sure you’ll eat before bedtime.”

“What if I don’t! I haven’t eaten in, like, an hour!”

Their fellow Gryffindors, including Hermione, groaned at Ron’s turmoil. Luna looked concerned, asking him if the Aquavirius Maggots had started to worm their way through the walls of his stomach yet. Ron grew paler with each step he took.

Arriving at a large arched oak door, flanked on either side by paintings that depicted well known seasonal songs, the students stopped as Professor McGonagall turned to address them. Before she could open her mouth, disco music splintered the air around them as the wiccan elements of Earth, Wind, and Fire broke into the catchy ‘September’.

The paintings came alive as the elemental go-go dancers strutted their stuff around the canvasses; skimpy bikinis and platform boots in shades of the house colours had the males agape at the sheer amount of skin on display. Ron temporarily forgot his hunger. Tears were flowing down Ginny’s cheeks as she clutched Hermione’s arm for support. Pansy and Tracey had started dancing along with Parvati and Lavender. Luna was watching one go-go dancer intently, trying to copy her as the performer dry humped Wind, or was it Earth?

Professor McGonagall stood stock still, breathing through her nose and staring at the ceiling. Approximately three and a half minutes passed before the singing and dancing stopped and the various singers and dancers went off stage for a tea break.

“I can only apologise,” the old witch sighed loudly. “The Castle, it seems, is celebrating the end of the War. We have tried everything to calm the inhabitants with no luck. All I can is bear with us although I have a horrible feeling Professor Dumbledore’s portrait may be behind this entertainment.”

Now that the musical interlude was over, Ron’s stomach began to grumble. Loudly.

“This way please,” Professor McGonagall waved to the oak door. “Miss Parkinson, would you mind?

Pansy opened the door and held it back for the rest of the eighth years to step through. Once the professor followed them, she closed the door behind them leaving the corridor in silence once more.
.

The room they stepped into was large and homely; four windows faced out towards the Quidditch pitch with a large fireplace to the left and a wall of bookshelves on the right. Couches and armchairs were scattered around the room with coffee tables and floor cushions. There were two doors to their left, on either side of the fireplace. Professor McGonagall explained one led to a study room, the other to their bedrooms.

“I would like you all to relax and enjoy your meal, which will be served shortly, Mister Weasley. After that, I shall return to discuss the year ahead.”

With that, she left the room. The fourteen students took a moment to look around, each wondering where exactly they would be eating. A faint popping sound brought their attention to a small elf in a rather stylish business suit.

“Winky!” Harry exclaimed, stepping over to the little elf and kneeling down. “It’s great to see you!”

“I is very busy, Mister Harry, Sir,” the elf commented, her fuschia trouser suit swishing as she tottered across to the rest of the students. Again, the Gryffindors smiled, the Ravenclaw gazed, and the Slytherins wore similar ‘What The Fuck’ expressions.

“Can yous all stands by the walls?” Winky instructed them, waving her little arms in the direction she wanted them to go. “Now, pleases. Now.”

They shuffled across, completely stunned by the mini executive who was now ticking boxes on a clipboard and chatting into a headset.

Once the room was cleared, the couches and armchairs transfigured into cream fabric Parsons chairs and the coffee tables joined to become a large circular oak table. No matter where they sat, everyone would be equal. Hermione smiled, wondering if anyone else noticed. Looking up, she caught Draco’s eye.

“How politically correct,” he whispered.

“One less thing to worry about,” she smiled back. He began to speak again but was cut off by the bossiest elf he had ever encountered.

“Sits down, please!” She ordered the students over to the table by way of waving hands and ‘shoo’ sounds. “Kitchen? Starters pleases, thank you. Pardon? Oh, yes, I is checking now.”

The little elf sashayed over to Harry, teetering slightly in her high-heeled sandals.

“Mister Harry, does Mister Ron still eats so much?”

Harry sighed, smiling despite himself. “You have no idea, Winky.”

“Kitchen? Dinner is for fifteen, nots fourteen.”
.

The dining table may have been round but the division between the students was still quite obvious that first hour and conversation was seriously lacking over the Caesar salad. It seemed as if everyone wanted to speak, to break the ice, but nerves got in the way. As the empty plates cleared, and Ron asked Dean did he know how long they’d have to wait for the main course, Pansy spoke up.

“Well everyone, there’s a proverbial hippogriff in the room so I suggest we address it now and get it over with.”

The rest of the students looked at her but, for a moment, no one answered. Eventually, clearing his throat, Harry responded.

“I think that would be a good idea, Parkinson-”

“Before we begin,” Hermione interrupted with an apologetic glance at The Boy Who Spoke First, “can we start to use each other’s given names? It seems a bit more...friendly, doesn’t it?” She looked around the group for their reactions, knowing Tracey would support her suggestion.

Parvati was the first to answer. “I agree with Hermione, Dean?”

“Absolutely,” her boyfriend answered, looking over at Pansy. “If you guys are up for it?”

“I am,” the dark haired witch smiled, turning to Tracey who nodded back.

“I agree...Hermione,” Theo spoke next, his cheeks flushing slightly, “but it may take a little getting used to.”

She smiled back. “No doubt, but it’ll be a start.”

No one else agreed, neither did they speak up against the idea, so Hermione took that as a success.

“Pansy,” she continued. “What were you going to say earlier?”

Just as the Slytherin was about to speak, the main course appeared in front of them. Eyeing Ron’s rapid response to the arrival of more food, she burst out laughing.

“Perhaps it’ll wait until we’re finished our meal. Would you agree, Ron?”

Through stuffed cheeks and the frantic cutting of chicken, Ron could only nod.
.

A note from Professor McGonagall explained she would not be able to meet up with them after the meal due to the Sorting Hat taking considerably longer than usual to get through its welcoming song (which was now accompanied by a conjured showband and backing singers), and an impromptu union meeting of the portraits that guarded the dormitories (they were looking for holiday pay and dental cover). She suggested they all enjoy the evening in their new common room and “spend the time together wisely.”

Once dessert was over, Winky popped back into the room. Waving frantically and ticking more boxes, she ushered the bemused students over towards the wall again. With that, the oak table separated into the coffee tables once more and the Parsons chairs changed back into the various couches and armchairs.

Hermione knelt down beside the recovering alcoholic and whispered in the little elf’s ear. Winky nodded, ticked a box, and the furniture in the room started to rearrange itself. Two couches now faced the large fireplace with the armchairs on either side. The U-shaped arrangement surrounded the coffee tables that were now formed into one.

“I just thought it would be nice for tonight if we were more comfortable as we talked,” Hermione replied to the unspoken questions on the faces of her fellow students as cafetières and teapots appeared on the enlarged table with plates of biscuits and cakes.

“Brilliant idea, Gra-Hermione,” Blaise complimented her, “shall I be Mother?”

With that, Winky popped away and the fourteen students made their way over to the couches and armchairs. Once they were seated and served coffee or tea by Blaise, who entertained them with impressions of McGonagall as he did so, Pansy cleared her throat.

“Right, well, I’ll start.” Turning to the Boy Who Was Dipping A Digestive, she began. “H-Harry, I owe you an apology. I don’t expect you to forgive me; what I did the night of the Battle was out of...desperation, I think. I just-”

She put down her teacup and clasped her hands in front of her. This was harder than she thought it would be. Over the next ten minutes, she detailed the torture she had endured at the hands of the Carrows and, for the first time, admitted she had been raped by Corban Yaxley. Tracey broke into sobs upon hearing this and a tearful Blaise held his girlfriend close as she shook. Pansy reached over to hold her best friend’s hand as she continued.

“I don’t think we can ever really explain what it’s like to be brought up in a pure-blood culture like ours. Tracey was terrified of us in first year as she was the only half-blood amongst us. Theo and Draco wouldn’t even look at her.”

The two Slytherins hung their heads at this comment until Tracey, wiping her eyes, looked up.

“And now, I couldn’t imagine life without them,” she smiled warmly at her boyfriend’s best friends.

Theo bit his lower lip, the pain and embarrassment showing in his eyes. He spoke to Tracey first before looking around to make sure everyone in the room heard him.

“Think about what it’s like to be an only child, spending all of your time with your parents. They do no wrong in your eyes; they’re the first people you know. At least, you think you do. They become your idols, don’t they? You want to be like them, exactly like them, because they’re always right.”

Various heads nodded around the room - Draco, Blaise, Hermione, Neville, and Luna.

“But they’re not always right,” he continued, a hint of desperation in his voice. “They make mistakes; big, fucking massive, mistakes! But you’re so blinded by obedience that you don’t see these mistakes until it’s too fucking late. You’re in too deep then, with no way out.” Theo sipped his coffee, his hand slightly shaking as he set the cup down on its saucer. “No fucking way out.”

Neville was the first to speak for the Gryffindors.

“My grandmother had two uncles who felt the same way about pure-blood traditions. They were raised in a very strict household but she was the only one who didn’t agree with the doctrine their parents were teaching them so she kept her mouth shut and her eyes open. If she had believed that...that crap, my life could have been very different and I’d be in your position now. We’ve all suffered enough, don’t you all agree?”

He turned to his fellow Gryffindors. Hermione was staring into her coffee, tears slowly sliding down her cheek. Parvati and Lavender were holding hands and softly crying too. The boys were looking at the floor from different angles, the carpet’s pattern looking very appealing in that moment. Luna was now knitting.

Pansy stood up and walked over to where Neville was sitting. Leaning down, she gently kissed his cheek. ‘Thank you.”

He smiled back at the tearful witch, squeezing her hand before she moved away.

Harry spoke next, detailing his life in the cupboard under the stairs. “Most of the rest you know but this is really the only place I know as home. Well, this and the Burrow.” He added, winking at Ginny. “I used to wish I could have the first eleven years of my life Obliviated but, I guess, they helped shape the person I am today. In a way my upbringing was like yours, Draco.”

This was unexpected. Harry Potter looked directly at Draco Malfoy and continued speaking. Breaths were held.

“You were reared in a - I won’t say ‘home’ - a house where Muggles and Muggle-borns were scum of the earth. You heard it constantly and you were brainwashed by ignorance. Most of Slytherin House was, for years.” He glanced at Tracey, nodding slightly. “I was reared in a house where my parents were referred to as freaks because of their magic. The only difference was I fought back and challenged them. It was easy for me to do that as there was no love lost between me and my remaining family but I know it would have been impossible for you.”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Draco replied, his voice tinged with sadness. “I was weak all along. This is what happened to me when I didn’t stand up for myself so I couldn’t bear the thoughts of being brave. That makes me a coward.”

He stood up abruptly, removing his jumper and slipping off his tie.

“Mate,” Blaise stood up, placing his hand on Draco’s arm. “Don’t.”

“I have to.”

Draco opened the buttons of his shirt, a strained look on his face as he repeated “I have to.”

He remained still for a moment before removing the garment completely and turning around.

Cries and shouts of disgust echoed around the room.

Draco’s back was a mess of scars, crisscrossing in every direction from his neck to the belt of his jeans.

“This was done by my aunt. After you escaped from my...Malfoy Manor.”

He put his shirt back on, throwing his jumper and tie on the back of his chair.

“She was rather...displeased...as you can imagine,” he continued as he turned to face the rest of the group.

His fellow Slytherins knew of his injuries but they were still affected by seeing Draco’s scars again. Around the couches and armchairs, the Gryffindors were visibly upset by the sight. Luna kept knitting but her hands shook slightly as she cast off. Neville leaned over and rubbed her arm gently.

Hermione was the most affected by Draco’s scars. Ron moved over to the arm of her chair, patting her shoulder as she sobbed uncontrollably into her hands. Draco knelt down in front of her. Gently taking her hands in his, he lowered them down to look at her.

“Hey, hey, hush. There’s no need to cry over me. If this was my only punishment for all the years of grief I caused you and your friends, then I got off lightly,” he smiled warmly. “I’ll suffer it all again in a heartbeat, if it meant you could escape. All of you.”

Ron wasn’t easily swayed. “You put her through hell for years! We were on different sides of a war, not just the bloody playground. I heard her screams, Malfoy. What the fuck did you do? You deserve the fucking scars! And more-”

Ron stood, running his hands through his hair in frustration. “I can’t...I can’t do this.”

He went to march out but Lavender stepped in front of him, her hands planted .

“You will not leave, Ronald Weasley. You need to listen. We all need to listen.”

Pushing the stubborn idiot back towards his seat, Lavender turned to Draco who had now stood up but remained right beside Hermione.

“It’s hard...for all of us. It’ll take time.”

Draco nodded before addressing Ron again. “I apologised to Hermione on the train for what happened that night. My mother was going to Greyback if I intervened.”

Ginny gasped, grabbing Harry’s arm. “It makes sense now. We all thought you couldn’t be bothered to help Hermione. We thought the worst of you.”

“I think the worst of myself. As it was, I knew there would be some punishment because Potter, Harry, had my wand. If I helped Hermione, I would have watched my mother get bitten and raped by a rabid psychopath. Because you all escaped, I got these,” he shrugged his shoulders before turning to face Hermione again. “I’m just so, so sorry you got hurt.”

He knelt down in front of her again and reached up to cup her face with both hands, his thumbs gently wiping away her tears. It was a bold move; Draco fully expected Ron, or maybe Harry, to vault across the coffee table and drag him away. Nothing happened, except Hermione reached up and held onto his wrists.

“I told you on the train that I understood and I forgive you.” She smiled tenderly, his gentle touch giving her hope.

“In a heartbeat,” he repeated, whispering so no one else could hear. “Always.”

It wasn’t perfect but it was a start; for all of them. For some it would take longer to forgive although no one would ever forget. And, as the night wore on, barriers and brick walls were slowly broken down between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins. Luna finished the left glove and began work on the right.

Chapter Text

After the tears subsided and friendships forged - albeit reluctantly by one - the students decided to take a look around the rest of their large dormitory.

As Professor McGonagall had indicated, the doors on either side of the fireplace led to the bedrooms and a study. The fourteen bedrooms were all decorated the same; neutral shades of white and pale grey with modern dark grey furniture. Black accent colours for the boys, pale blue for the girls. It seemed the house elves had taken a leaf out of a minimalist interior design magazine and gone to town. Although, after Winky’s appearance earlier, nothing would be a surprise.

There was a double divan bed in each room - causing many an eyebrow to disappear into hairlines - with a pair of side tables, a freestanding bookcase, and a large wardrobe. With no other room for desks or chairs, the general consensus was studying and socialising together would be definitely encouraged.

The study itself was about half the size of the common area and home to fourteen cubicles that took up the centre of the room. Each cubicle housed an oak veneered desk with a set of matching drawers underneath on one side and a metal wastepaper basket on the other. The desk partitions were made of thick fabric, making ideal notice boards. High back rolling office chairs, in charcoal grey leather, with stainless steel legs finished off the look.

The pure-blood witches and wizards were initially surprised by the modernity of the bedrooms but they were rendered speechless by the unfamiliarity and dullness of the study’s layout and contents. The Muggle-born and half-bloods were highly amused, trying desperately to keep in the laughter as they all claimed their study areas in the 1990’s office-style room.

“Only things missing are the vending machines,” Harry quipped. “Plastic-cupped Cappuccino anyone?”

Obviously they didn’t all get the joke.
.

Once the shock of having to study at a veneered desk had passed, Pansy brought up the topic of the bedrooms.

“I assume everyone noticed the double beds?”

“I take it that means we can be more...sociable,” Blaise grinned at Tracey, winking suggestively. His girlfriend rolled her eyes.

“Perhaps it’s like the regular dorms,” Ginny suggested. “You know, the girls can walk into the boys’ rooms but not the other way around.”

“Well, I don’t want my balls hexed off so I’m not volunteering to try it,” Ron interjected.

The rest of the boys nodded emphatically.

“Oh, for Godric’s sake!” Hermione exclaimed. “Ginny turned 17 last month, so-”

Nope, they didn’t get it.

“Seriously?” She looked around at each of their puzzled faces. “No one? Ginny is the youngest. She’s now 17, so-”

“She can have sex!” Luna exclaimed, causing both Harry and Ginny to compete for the ‘Most Embarrassed Expressions of 1998.’ Ron was in a category of his own - ‘Most Likely to Vomit.’

“We’re all adults now,” Hermione continued, drawing everyone’s attention away from the Boy Who Turned Into A Tomato and his girlfriend. “I guess we’re allowed to...em...act like adults.”

“Perhaps we should test out your theory,” Tracey suggested. “Just in case.”

The girls made their way towards the door leading to the bedrooms. The boys stayed put.

“Perhaps, we could...em...ask McGonagall in the morning?” Neville muttered.

Theo got there first. “Hey, Headmistress. Thanks for the timetable, shame about the double Potions. By the way, can the lads shag their girlfriends in their rooms only? Or is it a complete free-for-all?”

Between the howls of laughter, and the slightly reddened cheeks of the normally quiet Slytherin, Draco stepped forward.

“Hermione,” he grinned. “Care to invite me into your bedroom?”
.

Once Draco had stepped over the threshold of her room, and lived to tell the tale (balls intact), everyone decided to retire. For the couples, there was a mad dash for the bathrooms at the end of the hall followed by whispers of “your room or mine?”

That left a few bemused, but slightly embarrassed students, standing in Hermione’s doorway.

Lavender quietly bid them goodnight and walked towards her new room. Ron followed, grabbing her hand as she reached her door.

“Lav, can we talk?”

“Do we have anything to say to each other, Ron? You’re too angry; I can’t deal with that. Please, sort yourself out first.”

He wrinkled his nose, reaching his free hand up to rub the back of his neck as he stared at the carpet.

“Yeah-”

“I’m serious, Ron. What we heard tonight was-,” she sighed, her eyes tinged with sadness. “We all suffered! They’re no different.”

“That’s not-”

“I know. I know what you’re angry about. No one can help you, except yourself now.”

Lavender gently pulled her hand from his grip.

“I’m here when you’re ready. But you’re not ready yet.”

“Yeah, Lav. I’m sorry.”

He turned, shoulders slumped, and returned to the common room. Sitting with his head in his hands by the dying fire, Ron silently wept.
.

Following the departure of Lavender and Ron, Pansy also said goodnight to Hermione, Draco, and Theo, and made her way to the girls’ bathroom.

“Can I have everyone’s attention please?” She drawled as she strolled down the hall. “Can all you undersexed fuckers make sure to put up a Silencio? I’ve no desire to hear creaking headboards and faked orgasms.”

Hermione, Draco, and Theo burst out laughing at Pansy’s announcement.

“She’ll never change,” Theo chuckled, noticing a determined look in Draco’s eye. “Ah, my cue to leave. Goodnight Hermione, Draco.”

Once he was gone, Draco waved his hand towards the door.

“I should-”

“Wait,” Hermione walked over to her trunk, retrieving a wad of parchment. “I have to go to the Owlery with these. Will you walk with me?”

He smiled warmly. “Sure.”
.

They walked in silence along the corridors and up numerous staircases, each lost in their own thoughts. Draco never asked why Hermione had such a thick roll of parchment in her hands and she didn’t offer any explanation. She had managed to write the next four chapters of her Time Wars fan fiction so that would give her some space to compile a schedule for study and writing - colour coded, of course. It would also keep Janice happy for the next month or so.

It was only when they were leaving the Owlery that Draco broke the surprisingly comfortable calmness.

“Thank you, for accepting my apology. You have no idea what it means to me.”

“We have all been victims in this war, regardless of what side we started out on.”

Her words were chosen carefully and they didn’t go unnoticed.

“I don’t deserve-”

“You do, Draco. You deserve forgiveness. You deserve forgiveness and-and a long and happy life with someone who l-loves you and will make you glad to be alive.”

The words had flowed and she was embarrassed by how passionate they sounded.

“I’m sorry, it’s been quite an emotional night.”

Draco took her hand in his. “It has, hasn’t it? I have so much to say to you but I’m afraid if I start now I’ll never stop.”

Hermione felt her heart skip.

“It-it would be nice to get to know you; the real you,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level.”

“I’m a scarred shell,” he began. “A Death Eater’s son with a past full of anger and regret. Perhaps you’d like to get to know the new Draco Malfoy instead; the one who is trying to make amends and pick up the pieces.”

“The old Draco Malfoy was crying out for help,” Hermione smiled as she noticed they were still holding hands. “I saw that. I may have been the only one who did, I don’t know, but I did nothing. I-I was scared to approach you, even though I really wanted to...help you.” She took a deep breath, looking up to search his face for understanding. “I should ask you for forgiveness too - for ignoring your pain.”

Draco couldn’t speak, his mind whirring at what she had just said.

“No one knew what I was going through, no one. How could-”

Hermione guided him over to a window seat, just outside the library, and sat down.

“You called me a Mudblood with such venom in your voice but your eyes were almost...sad when you did. Like you had to say it but you didn’t want to? Am I making sense?”

Draco was leaning against the seat, his hand still firmly holding hers. He nodded gently so Hermione continued.

“You ripped a page from a book at Flourish and Blotts the day your father gave Ginny Tom Riddle’s diary, remember? I saw you do it and I was so outraged that anyone would do such a thing,” she laughed at the memory of her twelve-year-old precocious self. “I found the book and gave it to one of the staff members so no one else would accidently buy a damaged book. It was called Mythological Hybrids in their Actual Environments by Regulus Blewitt.”

Draco bit his lower lip, his gaze now fully focused on a cracked flagstone.

“I found that slip of paper in my bag one evening after you and your friends shoved me into a stack in that room,” she pointed towards the library doors. “Draco, look at me.”

He turned his head slowly, afraid to look to Hermione in the eye. She’d see the truth.

“That page was about Basilisks. It was you who helped us.”

“Hermione-”

She didn’t stop.

“At the Quidditch World Cup, you warned us about what was going to happen - in a typically Malfoy way - but you gave us time to escape. You gave your wand to Harry that night, he didn’t take it. I also...em...I spoke to Moaning Myrtle, she told me how...upset you were during sixth year.”

Hermione felt his grip loosen and she panicked that he might walk away. Hopping down from the window sill, she stood right in front of him and refused to let go of his hand.

“I’m sorry, Draco, I don’t mean to embarrass you. Please believe me. I need to apologise to you for not acknowledging your help; I didn’t tell Harry or Ron, I didn’t go to Dumbledore, I-”

“What about all the other shit, Hermione? What about the-the insults, the torment? What about the fact I left you on the ground and did nothing? NOTHING!”

“You saved your mother! You saved your family! Blood is thicker than water, Draco. Of course, you needed to save your mother!”

Without thinking, Draco pulled Hermione forward into his embrace. His arms drew her in, holding her close as if she’d float away if he let her go. He buried his face in her curls, sighing heavily.

“I wanted to save you.”
.

Hermione Granger was sure of two things in her life. The first was her absolute faith in the power of knowledge and the second was how she felt about Draco Malfoy.

She watched from the sidelines as he endured his years at Hogwarts - miserable, angry, and lashing out. He told her repeatedly he hated her but the force of his convictions did not show in his eyes; behind every slur, every insult, was a tormented soul crying for help. She should have done something - anything - but her typical Gryffindor bravado failed her. Hermione managed to convince herself that she had too much to contend with - the darkest wizard of all time, Harry and Ron, and her studies (although not always in that order).

Saving one Slytherin, who probably wouldn’t thank her, was just too much to handle. For the only time in her life, she was afraid to be strong.

So she watched. At first Hermione thought she was just feeling sorry for him - this angry boy so full of hate and venom - but the incident with his father changed her mind. It was early in their second year; she had borrowed Harry’s invisibility cloak to sneak back to the library after hours when she came across Lucius Malfoy dragging his son down a secluded corridor. Naturally, she followed and observed the older man push the child up against a stone wall.

“Draco, Professor Snape tells me you came second in your Potions examination...again.”

“Yes, Father.”

“And may I ask who was placed...first?”

“Father, I-”

“Answer the question, Draco.”

“Please, Father-”

SMACK! A sob followed as Draco picked himself up from the floor, his head bleeding from the cut caused by Lucius Malfoy’s cane.

“Answer. The. Question.”

“Gr-Granger.”

“The Mudblood came first, Draco,” Lucius gritted his teeth. “Care to explain why?”

“Father, she-she is really clever. She’s brilliant! No one can-”

“You imbecile! You worthless excuse...HOW DARE YOU! A Mudblood, boy! A filthy dirty excuse for a-”

Hermione didn’t hear the rest of the conversation as Lucius quickly cast a Silencio but she witnessed the physical abuse that followed, tears blurring the atrocity in front of her. As Lucius continued his tirade, Draco tried to fend off the blows to his head but his father was too strong.

When Draco fell to the ground again, Lucius grabbed his wand and pointed it at the shaking heap. Hermione didn’t need to hear the curse, she could tell what it was from the agony showing on Draco’s face. It was heartbreaking.

Stepping back, Lucius cancelled the Silencio with a lazy wave of his hand.

“We do not compliment scum, Draco. You will remember that. I have eyes and ears everywhere.” He bent down to the bleeding boy, grabbing his hair savagely. “I expect...better.”

He stood up and walked away, leaving his son crying desperately on the stone floor.

Hermione had cried into her pillow for most of that night. She hadn’t dared approach Draco after his father’s departure but she did follow him as he stumbled towards the dungeons. In the days after, he came at her with more insults - more threats - and she played her part accordingly.

For the rest of the school year, and the years that followed, she played her part.

She also followed, often finding him curled in a ball in that same corridor crying for his mother. Under Harry’s cloak, she would sit near and let the tears join his as he sobbed.

Hermione also witnessed his bravery; the information about the Basilisk, the warning at the Quidditch World Cup, and the refusal to acknowledge Harry at Malfoy Manor. His failure to kill Dumbledore was a sign of his reluctance to follow the orders of a madman, his weak attempts only carried out to keep up appearances.

She kept following, she kept watching; despite all the pressures he was under, he still tried to help.

She watched and followed because Draco Malfoy was as brave as Harry Potter, and she cared.

At time passed, Hermione realised that she watched and followed because she loved.
.

Being held in his arms was a feeling she would take to her grave; Hermione closed her eyes, feeling safe and protected in Draco’s embrace. She slipped her arms around his back and held tight.

Neither of them moved, both holding onto the person they loved.

“Where you at, Missus Norris, eh?” Argus Filch’s voice echoed along the corridor.

“Run,” Draco whispered to Hermione, releasing her and grabbing her hand.

They ran like they hadn’t a care in the world, laughing like the teenagers they should have been.
.

The portraits were silent as they ran by but whispers spread along to Headmistress McGonagall’s office where the late Albus Dumbledore smiled broadly. He had also watched and followed.

Chapter Text

The next morning saw thirteen students sitting around the circular table helping themselves to cereal and toast. The cafetières and teapots were floating around in front of them, tilting to serve automatically as cups emptied.

Shy smiles spread as the couples in love still basked in the morning after glow. No words were spoken but gentle touches and delicate kisses didn’t go unnoticed, especially by Pansy who made a point of thanking them all for their expert use of Silencio as she had never slept so peacefully.

Draco winked at Hermione as he sat down, causing butterflies to erupt and her cheeks to burn violently. She had remained awake for hours after they said goodnight, her body still tingling from his brief embrace.

Always.

I wanted to save you.

In a heartbeat.

She had also cried, reliving the moment over and over again when he had revealed his scars.

I’m a scarred shell.

She wanted so much to tell him he meant everything to her but...what if he didn’t feel the same? Well, she knew without a doubt she would accept his friendship if that was all he had to offer.

In the bedroom next to Hermione’s, Draco had gone through to the same emotions - the same feelings and insecurities. At one stage he had reached out and touched the wall, knowing her bed was directly on the other side although he had no way of knowing that she had done the very same thing.
.

So, the atmosphere around the breakfast table was relaxed and calm; stresses of the previous night put to rest. Only Ron was quiet; he was trying to make eye contact with Lavender but she continued her conversation with Blaise and Tracey, purposefully not looking his way.

“You need to talk it out,” Ginny leaned closer to her brother, turning away from The Boy Who Got Laid.

Ron stared into his tea cup and shook his head.

“I-I can’t, Gin, it’s too-”

“What? Embarrassing? Awkward? Come on, Ron! I think we heard enough last night to realise what you’re feeling is like a drop in the ocean compared to what the Slytherins went through.”

Ron opened his mouth but Ginny raised her hand to stop him, continuing in a most Molly Weasley-like way.

“You had no bloody right to lash out at Mal-Draco; Hermione’s accepted his apology and we all understand now why he didn’t help her. Look at his scars! What have you got? A bruised ego and a shit load of guilt. He,” she waved in Draco’s direction, “has a hell of a lot more guilt on his conscience and he did the right thing - he spoke about it. You should try it and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

He watched the teapot refill his cup and added a drop of milk before continuing.

“Healer Hubble told me the same; I need to talk to Harry and Hermione about it. I-I just can’t do it, Gin. What I did-”

“Was the result of carrying a cursed locket,” she interrupted. “It wasn’t really you.”

“But it must have been me at some stage for the jealousy and anger to fester in the first place, yeah?”

Ginny drank the last of her coffee, holding out the cup for the cafetière to float over and refill it.

“Perhaps, Ron, but only you can decide if you want to keep that bottled up inside you for the rest of your life.”

She looked over to the other side of the large table where Theo was now chatting with Lavender, his smile widening as she laughed at whatever he had just said.

And Ronald Weasley fucks up again, Ginny thought, biting into her toast.
.

“Parvati, is Dean okay?” Harry enquired. “Has he had breakfast?”

The dark-skinned Gryffindor laughed.

“Oh, he’s perfectly fine,” she replied. “He was up at the crack of dawn acting like a child on Christmas Day, Harry. I have no idea what he’s up to but he said he’d be back before breakfast was over.”

As if by magic, her boyfriend breezed in the door.

“Yep, they’ve officially lost it,” he quipped, grabbing a slice of toast from Parvati’s plate. “The go-go dancers are now practising the harmonies to ‘Drunk at New Year’ and giving it plenty of-”

He proceeded to act out what the go-go dancers were giving it plenty of.

“That song is class!” Blaise burst out laughing. “I love the Hobgoblins!”

“I thought the songs were seasonal,” Hermione looked up from her book. “What’s that got to do with this month?”

Laughter rippled around the table. “Don’t you know the song?” Neville enquired.

“Em, no,” she replied. “I don’t really like wizarding music.”

“But we have the best lyrics, Hermione,” Tracey jumped up and ran over to the door, listening for a moment before joining in with the song that was now playing in the hallway.

Drunk at New Year
Crate loads of beer
You opened your can
Yeah! I took it like a man

You were not shy
Then nine months go by
Drunk at New Year
Thanks for the souvenir

“Give me Celestina Warbeck anyday!” Hermione gasped, amid the howls of laughter. “I rather listen to her ‘I’m Just a Snitch to your Seeker’ on repeat!”
.

Minerva McGonagall took a deep breath before stepping away from her desk.

“Well, I suppose it’s time,” she sighed, taking one more glance at the sleeping portrait of Albus Dumbledore. “Typical of you to leave this all to me. Merlin knows what I’m walking into this morning.”

She gently closed her office door behind her and stepped onto the moving staircase.

Dumbledore cracked an eye.

“Before you ask,” Severus Snape remarked, “she has gone, Albus. And, yes, I do believe you have sent her into a nest of hormonal Hoo-hoos.”

“Ah, Severus,” the old Headmaster smiled as he straightened himself in his wingback chair. “You should have more faith in me. Whilst you were visiting the portrait of a certain Eglantine Price, the portraits around the Owlery and the Library had a lot of interesting news to share. Did you remember to give Miss Price my very best wishes?”

The younger portrait huffed slightly and returned to the book he was reading, his pale cheeks ever so slightly coloured.
.

Rock music threatened to deafen the Headmistress as she approached the door leading to the eighth year common room. Rolling her eyes and praying to Circe for patience, she opened the door.

In all her years - as a student, a Professor, and now a Headmistress - Minerva McGonagall never witnessed anything like the scene before her. Eight Gryffindors, five Slytherins, and one Ravenclaw were sitting or moving around the large dining table, eating breakfast, chatting and laughing as if they hadn’t a care in the world. She stood in the shadows for a moment and observed, the smile on her face growing as she watched.

Theo and Lavender were still chatting and laughing, her hand resting on his arm as she spoke. Luna was showing Parvati and Pansy a knitting pattern and the older witch was sure she heard the Slytherin ask ‘can you do it in emerald green for me?’ Tracey and Dean were laughing so hard, tears were running down their cheeks. Ginny, Harry, and Blaise were having an animated conversation about Quidditch, using charmed knives and forks to demonstrate various defensive positions. Neville was deep in conversation with Ron, the latter looking sheepish and rather ill.

What surprised her the most, however, was Draco Malfoy in deep conversation with Hermione Granger - the pair apparently discussing the book he was waving in his hand.

“Oh, come on, there is no way Creed was a better agent than Lucas, Draco! How can you say that?”

Did Miss Granger just call him-

“He wasn’t as attached to Finn and Andre so he couldn’t be compromised, Hermione. Look what Lucas did in Zenda when she was captured in the moat!”

Did he-

“He was in love with her! They just hadn’t admitted-”

“Ahem.”

The students turned at once, standing as soon as they realised their Headmistress was present.

“Well,” she began. “I suggested you all spend your time wisely last night in the hope there would be no bloodshed. I-I do believe I’m at a loss for words.”

Neville held out a chair for her. “Bit of a surprise, Headmistress?”

“You could say that, Mister Longbottom,” she gratefully sat down. “Would someone care to explain how this-this miracle has occurred?”

“Well,” Pansy began. “We could all spend the coming year ignoring the proverbial hippogriff in the room and live in an atmosphere worthy of Gilles de Rais’ dungeons, but we decided instead to spend the evening pouring our hearts out and having a good ol’ cry. So, like true Hufflepuffs, we hugged it out and sang campfire songs.”

The Headmistress took a moment to compose herself, looking around at the students before her. They had been through so much since they had started at Hogwarts; some more than others but all scarred in different ways.

“I can only commend your maturity and thank Merlin for small mercies,” she announced, wondering how she was going to inform Albus of this...improvement. No doubt the old codger would be insufferable, having predicted the students would find a way to get on with each other. Although, how he came to that conclusion, she would never know!

With a swift flick of her wand, she conjured up timetables and a large roll of parchment; the former floating over to each student, the latter unfurling in the air before her.

“We have a lot to go through before classes so, please sit, and we’ll begin.”

They all sat down at the circular table, the dishes automatically disappearing.

“Firstly, I have decided that prefect and head duties will be allocated to seventh years so you will not have additional tasks this term. Secondly, Professor Dumbledore’s portrait and I had a meeting recently with Edward Crowley, the current Head of the Wizarding Examinations Authority at the Ministry of Magic. It was decided that, in light of the troublesome years you have all experienced here at Hogwarts, you will be subjected to continuous assessment during your final year. Providing your grades in every class are Acceptable or higher, you will not be required to sit your NEWTs as Hogwarts and the Ministry will automatically pass you. Failure to maintain these grades will result in you joining the seventh year curriculum and sitting the exams in June.”

She paused to let that sink in. Nobody spoke.

“You do not, however, have a choice in the subjects that will be taught; you must attend Potions, Charms, Herbology, Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Muggle Studies. And, before you ask Miss Granger, you may not overload your schedule with extra classes. Professors Slughorn, Flitwick, and Sprout will be teaching their usual subjects. I will, of course, remain your Transfiguration Professor. We have a new Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts. He was supposed to arrive yesterday but has been delayed and should be here by tomorrow morning at the latest. Finally, Professor Pickles will share Muggle Studies along with Mister Thomas.”

They all looked around at Dean who grinned, his eyes full of mischief.

“Now, that will be all for the moment,” the Headmistress stood. “Your first class should begin shortly so I’d advise you all to prepare. Mister Thomas, will you please remain behind? The elves will be with you shortly. One more thing, spells will be placed to ensure no-one - Mister Weasley - has any help with their work. Do I make myself clear?”

She walked towards to door, pausing and turning back to them.

“I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of you all. You are...exceptional, every one of you.”

Her eyes glistened as she walked away.

Twelve students instantly turned on the thirteenth.

“What the fuck-”

“Seriously, man-”

“Do we have to call you-”

“Muggle-”

“Professor?”

The other student sat with his head in his hands wondering how the fuck he was going to pass every subject.
.

Dean Thomas’ shit-eating grin never left his face. He refused to answer any questions but told them to be back in the common room after lunch.

They all left with confused faces, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians singing “September in the Rain.”

“Excuses please! Excuses!”

A dozen house-elves marched by, wearing navy blue overalls, and levitating large boxes in front of them. Another four elves followed behind pushing a trolley with even more packages on top. Winky trotted along beside them, waving her clipboard and issuing instructions.

“Good morning,” Hermione smiled as the elves went by.

They all looked but said nothing. Winky ushered them on with more orders and endless ticks.

“They’re still terrified of you,” Ginny laughed. “You’re officially blacklisted!”

“What did you do, Hermione?” Tracey asked, as they continued walking towards their first class.

“Oh! Oh! Let me, let me!” Ginny bounced up and down, before launching into the history of S.P.E.W. By the time they all reached the Charms classroom, they were all laughing again - including the self-professed Saviour of All House-Elves.

“And I suppose you pure-bloods still have your house-elves?” She enquired.

“Mione,” Harry warned, “please don’t ruin-”

“It’s alright, Harry,” Hermione sighed. “I was...young and ignorant of the traditions associated with house-elves. And...maybe...a little over enthusiastic,” she trailed off.

“Maybe?” He put his arms around her shoulders. “The house-elves refused to clean Gryffindor Tower; it got...dusty!”

Theo was the first pure-blood to comment.

“Our elves were murdered,” he looked down at the floor. “So were the elves at Pansy’s. The-He went on a rampage after Lucius’ elf saved you from Malfoy Manor.”

“My mother has two elves in Italy with her,” Blaise offered. “They have been with us since I was a baby - Mildred and Maud. They’re part of the family.”

“My grandmother has her elf, Foofie, since she got married. He belonged to my grandfather originally,” Neville added. “Although she insisted I learned to do things for myself, he helped rear me.”

Draco looked at Harry. “Dobby belonged to my father before you...set him free. He was...well, we all suffered his loss. My mother and I loved our elves; they were treated well until...the end.”

Silence engulfed them as they each took a moment to consider the cruelty of a madman. The reticence broken when Professor Flitwick opened the door to her classroom.
.

The morning flew by, with Potions and Herbology following Charms. By lunchtime, they were all starving and looking forward to a break in the Great Hall. It would also be their first time to meet the rest of the students so the Gryffindors and Ravenclaw were in particularly joyful moods. The Slytherins held back.

“Maybe we should just head back up to the common room,” Tracey suggested.

“If that’s what Trace wants to do, guys, then-” Blaise started.

Lavender linked arms with Theo. “We’re a team now,” she smiled. “Who cares what they think?”

“We’ll all sit together,” Hermione urged Pansy and Tracey forward. “Anyone who comments will have to answer to the rest of us.”

Draco stalled, walking a little slower than the rest. Luna moved closer to him.

“She’s determined to be strong for you, Draco.”

“You’re all being very supportive of-” he began.

“And you’re not listening. Hermione’s aura is completely pink around you. Isn’t it obvious?”

Before he could answer, Harry had pushed open the large doors leading into the Great Hall.

The Hall still looked the same, despite the many repairs carried out before the end of the summer holidays; four long house tables stretched out before them with the teachers’ table traversing the room. The only addition was another table below that of the teachers’, which the Headmistress was now pointing to.

Hermione led the charge. The lions and eagle walked towards the extra table with their heads high, the snakes followed quietly behind finding the floor tiles and their own shoes particularly fascinating. As they took their seats, Minerva McGonagall’s voice echoed around the room.

“Before we begin our first lunch together, I want you all to listen very carefully. I witnessed an event this morning that I honestly never thought I would see here at Hogwarts. If our eighth year students can put aside their differences, after all they have been through, and vow to begin again, if you like, then I think the rest of you can definitely do the same. As I said in my welcoming speech last night, this is a year of forgiveness and starting over. These students are leading by example, you will all do well to take a leaf from their book.”

Silence ensued, until a few Hufflepuffs stood up and began to clap. The Ravenclaws joined in, followed by the rest of Hufflepuff house. The Gryffindors were next, although it took a little longer before the Slytherins rose to applaud. The fourteen students were in shock, sitting with red faces and tearful expressions. The five Slytherins were visibly shook by the support offered to them by the rest of the school; Blaise held Tracey close, not knowing what to say. Theo held onto Pansy’s hand, neither one able to speak. Draco stared down at his plate, wishing he was back in the comfort of their common room.

Hermione, who was seated beside him, reached across and squeezed his arm briefly; his skin tingling underneath his shirt. Neville leaned in from Draco’s other side, just as the applause was subsiding and lunch appeared in front of the starving students.

“I hate this - being the centre of attention,” he mumbled. “After killing Nagini, the Prophet hounded me for weeks for an interview and Topiaria Today wanted me on their cover for June and July! Honestly, I mean, I hate snakes as much as the next-” Neville’s eyes went wide. “I’m-shit-I’m-”

To everyone’s surprise, Draco threw back his head and laughed out loud.

“I am the next person, Neville! The thing was fucking terrifying!”

“Hey, what did Nagini and Voldemort have in common?” Parvati starting laughing before she could get the punchline out.

“I would imagine you were going to say something about them sharing the same nose,” Luna observed. “Am I right?”

Even at the far end of the Great Hall, the students could hear the raucous laughter coming from the eighth years’ table. Stunned expressions and looks of pure bewilderment spread around the room as lunch continued.
.

Stuffing his mouth with the last of his beef sandwich, Ron nudged Lavender.

“Whassubetnet?”

“Excuse me?”

“He means to ask what subject is next, Lav,” Harry interrupted. “I, unfortunately, happen to be fluent in Ron.”

Lavender couldn’t shift the look of disgust on her face as she informed Ron that an extended Muggle Studies class was next. Theo has impeccable table manners, she thought, before picking up her bag.
.

The go-go dancers were in full flight as they walked by. Luna stopped to observe the dry-humping again, dropping her bag and practising up against Neville who developed a live bout of rigor mortis.

The common room looked no different but various noises could be heard from the study so they all made their way in that direction. There the thirteen students found Dean wolfing down a sandwich. Draco recognised his familiar computer program inspired sweatshirt immediately.

Each oak veneered desk now housed a large screen with a keyboard and mouse in front of it and a hard drive placed on the floor beside the metal waste paper basket.

“Welcome to Muggle Studies class!” Dean hopped off the desk he was sitting on and opened his arms wide. “Lesson one...Windows.”

“Windows?” Pansy looked baffled. “Why do we need to know about windows?”

She paused before her eyes grew wide.

“We-we don’t have to climb those wooden things and...clean them, do we? Like Filch?”

Disgusted expressions spread throughout the group as Hermione and Harry tried to keep in the laughter. Blaise and Theo automatically moved away from the window sills as if Dementors would float out from behind the heavy velvet curtains at any second.

It was Draco who spoke first.

“Windows is a-a program that plays on those-” he struggled for the word before waving at the nearest screens. “Combooters.

Dean struggled for words. Hermione gaped, looking over at the Boy Who Was Desperately Looking For A Paper Bag To Breathe Into. A few seconds passed before the three of them burst into uncontrollable howls of laughter.

Despite spending so much time in the wizarding world, Harry had plenty of experience sneaking into his cousin’s bedroom and figuring out how to use Dudley’s Packard Bell Multimedia System. Hermione’s parents had computerised their dental practise so she had a fair idea of how to use the modern technology. Dean was a wizard, literally and figuratively, thanks to his older stepbrothers who both worked with computers and his Irish friend who had obtained the ones now sitting on the desks around him.

“Mate, they’re computers,” he eventually replied. “How did you-”

Your school has computers I take it.

Computers.

Computers.

Janice.

“Dean!” Draco exclaimed. “How do I send an E-nail?”

Chapter Text

Charlie stepped out of the shower and reached for the dark grey bath towel he had left on the radiator to warm. Shivering slightly from the October chill, he used it to dry himself before wrapping the material around his waist and padding over to the sink unit. The cut on his cheek was long gone and he smiled at the thought of not having to deal with fire-breathing, skin-tearing, shit-dumping dragons for the foreseeable future.

She had made his mind up for him and she didn’t even realise.

After he arrived back, well over a month ago now, he spent his time with Janice at the White Horse helping her run the pub until her parents’ return. When the Bradys decided to extend their holiday, he asked Molly to teach him all the useful housekeeping spells she knew. Less work for Janice means more time with me.

He also played postman for his girlfriend and her favourite cousin. Hermione would send her parchments to the Burrow and he would collect them to bring back to the White Horse. Janice would have her fanfiction updates and notes for Hermione ready to send with him and, from his family home, an owl would deliver them to Hogwarts.

Whilst the patrons were at breakfast, Charlie’s wand tidied their bedrooms and refreshed their linen. When the bar was closed, the shelves were magically stocked, the empty barrels replaced, and the glasses polished. The extra staff only covered the weekends for Janice so he made sure to play the role of dutiful boyfriend then and wash the dishes by hand. Carefully.

It was a quiet evening in the bar when it hit him; he was sitting by the roaring fire with his book on his lap and a pint of Guinness on the table in front of him - he had tried the drink a few weeks before and now considered himself quite adept at pouring the perfect pint. Janice was serving an older couple who were staying at the pub. She wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, just preparing two Irish Coffees and chatting about local historical sites. Charlie watched as she delicately poured the whipped cream over the back of the spoon, explaining to the couple why it was such an important part of the process.

He observed her grace and mannerisms - her sparkling eyes and quirky smile as she laughed out loud at something the husband said and smirked at the wife’s smart response. She was beautiful, inside and out, and it hit him. He was in love.

Charlie Weasley loved Janice Brady. A muggle. And he was not letting her go.

So he made arrangements to stay. Firstly, he transferred from the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau (Romanian Division) to the UK office at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, covering the British Isles. The farthest he’d have to travel would be Out Stack in Scotland, or North Slob in Ireland (but that would only be the odd day trip). The majority of his time would now be spent inducting new handlers at the Ministry, prior to their field training, and he could Floo or Apparate to and from work.

Once his new position was secured, he organised a night off for Janice with one of the staff, booked a table at her favourite restaurant, spent an entire hour practising how to tie a Windsor knot, and completely chickened out of telling her how he felt about her.

They were sleeping together - amongst other things - at the pub, but that was only temporary as he doubted her parents would allow it when they returned. She had turned nineteen at the beginning of the summer but he was twenty-five, twenty-six in a few months. What would the Bradys think of that?

He didn’t think Janice would allow him twiddle with their brains; they still had no idea he was a wizard as she was never able to tell them. Any wizard or witch could approach her but not the other way around so she’d be keeping a massive secret from the two most important people in her life. The doubt had set in - what if her parents didn’t like him? What if she didn’t feel the same way? He knew she liked him, was attracted to him, but what if she didn’t love him? Janice was it for Charlie, he was sure of it. Godric’s dangly bits! What would he do?

So he stood in front of the bathroom mirror, leaning on the cold porcelain sink, and sighed.

You absolute fuckwit-

“HOLY DIVINE FUUUCCCKKK! YOU ARE FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!”

The sound of a chair falling over and Janice screeching like the Bandon Banshee had Charlie racing out of the bathroom and towards the little room she used as an office, the towel lost somewhere between rooms four and five.

“JAY? JAY! What is it? What’s wrong?”

He found her standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by pages of emails and reams of parchment. Her chair was tipped over on its side and the computer keyboard was hanging off the desk, the wire connecting it to the hard drive swinging it back and forth. She looked up at him, her eyes wide with shock.

“D-Daniel.”

“Who?”

“Daniel. Mallory.”

Naked Charlie righted her chair and guided Janice to sit down.

“The the guy who stayed over the summer?”

She could only nod.

“Well, all I know about him is what you told me. What’s happened, love?”

“I-I can’t believe-” she replied, shakily.

“What is it?” Charlie was perplexed by her behaviour. “Is he dead?”

She could only point towards the mess of paper and parchment strewn everywhere. Charlie reached for the parchment first.

“That’s Hermione’s writing. Jay, what the-”

“Daniel Mallory is Draco Malfoy.”
.

It took Charlie a moment to register what exactly Janice had just said. He just stared at her, breathing, until his brain caught up and he could form some sort of intelligent sentence.

“Wh-what?”

Yep. Intelligent.

Janice lifted up the dangling keyboard and placed it back on the desk.

“Daniel Mallory is Draco Malfoy. He’s in love with Hermione and...she’s in love with him.”

“I-I...WHAT?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Charlie!” Janice grabbed her long, thick hair and swung it up into some intricate knot at the top of her head before securing it with a pen. Grabbing the nearest printouts, she handed them over.

“Read the top one.”

She had introduced the Weasleys to computers over the summer and, having spent the past number of weeks helping Janice run the pub, Charlie was now quite used to electronic mail. The twins were already in the early stages of developing wizarding computer games and Arthur was officially addicted to Tomb Raider. He was stuck on level 8 - The Cistern.

Naked Charlie glanced down at the first email; all seemed in order - Daniel’s, or Draco’s, Outlook Express address, Janice’s MSN address, the date (2nd September 1998), a few paragraphs - a standard email by all accounts. As he skimmed through the content, however, he had no way of knowing that those few paragraphs took almost two hours to type. Slowly.
.

Dear

“Dean, where’s the thing for making a space? Great!”

Dear Janice

“Dean! How do I start a new line? Oh, thanks.”

Well

“How do I press in a comma?”

Well, you did ask if my school was in the

“Dean! How do I make a capital letter? Shift where? At the same time?”

Well, you did ask if my school was in the Stone Age

“Dean, where’s the-”

“BESIDE THE FUCKING COMMA!”

Well, you did ask if my school was in the Stone Age. Up until this morning, I would have totally agreed but we arrived back from lunch to discover a whole set of these-

“Harry, how do you spell compooters?”

-computers with the big screens, the boxes on the floor, the alphabet pad, and the rolly thing. I do-

Draco decided not to ask Dean how an apostrophe worked.

-not think the alphabet pads are for the English market, however, as the letters are not in the right sequence.

Charlie looked up at Janice; his girlfriend doing her best Hermione Granger impression and biting her lower lip.

“Seriously, Jay? Seriously? What age is he? Six!”

“I thought he was being sarcastic, Charlie! He has...had...has a wicked sense of humour so I really thought he was messing. The rest of the email is…look, I had no way of knowing anything was off. Read on.”

So this is my very first correspondence via electronic mail. Naturally, I thought of you, and the fact yours is the only address I have. Would Katie have an address, do you think-

“Harry, this makes a slash. I want the question mark. Shift what? Oh...thanks.”

-? Anyway, I am delighted that I have a way to keep in touch with you now.

A lot has happened since I left the other day. The girl I told you about was on the train returning to school. I had an idea she would but nerves got the better of me and I found myself panicking at the station waiting to see her. I almost gave up hope but then, all of a sudden, she was there. As she was entering the carriage, she bumped into me and stumbled. I grabbed her and, for a few brief moments, I held her in my arms. Fuck, Jay, I could have cried. What do I sound like? A bloody Huff-

“Shite! Potter...Harry! How do I fix a mistake? No, you can’t fucking see! Just tell me! How many times do I press it? Oh, fuck! Eh...thanks. I said no! Piss off!”

-girl. I managed to talk with her and briefly explain why I did not try to help when I should have. She accepted my apology and, for a moment, I thought I could live with that. But I am kidding myself. I would give anything to tell her just how much I love her.

We have all ended up in the same common room here which was very unexpected. My four friends from previous years are here with me and, together, we sat with the rest of our fellow students and cleared the air last night. Well, one of her friends is a bit more stubborn than the rest and not as forgiving. I do not blame him.

Later, she asked me to accompany her to the-

“Hermione! What do you call post in Muggle terms? Really? But what do they have instead of owleries?”

Draco was sorry he asked; her explanation lasted ten minutes.

-post room and we had a moment. We agreed to begin again, a new friendship. It will not be enough but I have to hope she sees the real me, the one who loves her with everything he has.

Dinner will be ready here soon so I had better go. Ask Katie for her details, please? And keep in touch.

See you over the Christmas holiday, I hope.

Dra-

“Shit.”

-Daniel

“Dean, how do I post this? Send it where? Oh.”
.

Charlie looked up at Janice.

“Has the fucker no idea what an apostrophe is?”

She rolled her eyes, standing up and taking the papers back. Placing them back on the desk, she turned back to her boyfriend.

“We’ve been emailing back and forth for almost six weeks; every couple of days. I’ve been keeping him up to date with what’s going on here and around the town, you know? I’ve mentioned you many times but I’m guessing I never used your surname.”

She rubbed her face in her hands, sighing loudly.

“His typing has improved,” she smiled. “Check through the emails, Charlie. I never noticed before but he discusses classes in only general terms, teachers without naming them, and he talks about his friends and other students by only using their initials. When he’s discussing Hermione, he only types she, her, or just H. There’s no way I would have guessed!”

Charlie frowned.

“Then, how-”

She pushed some parchments into his hands.

“These are from Hermione. Everything I’ve received from her so far has been on parchment. There was no chat at all in the first post, then a quick note to say she was going to concentrate on the fic in her spare time and catch up with me as soon as possible. But, you know Hermione, she’ll have been up to her neck in books in between all of this.”

She waved towards the parchments.

“Her first email came this morning. Look.”

Hey Jay

I’m terrible! I can’t believe we’re back six weeks already and I’m so sorry for not filling you in on all that’s going on here. You’ve got all the chapters, I take it, and thanks so much for keeping me up to date with all the ff news. I can’t believe I’ve so many followers so far!

Headmistress McGonagall had agreed to look into connecting you to the Floo but was concerned about Auntie Carol and Uncle Mike. Are they still on holiday? Anyway, the day after we arrived, I found out Dean has managed to get computers for us to use! They’re only available to the eighth years and are here in the common room. Everyone’s working on them, and I mean everyone! I wasn’t interested at first because Mum, Dad, and I had taught ourselves how to set up the dental practice, remember? I just didn’t want to be reminded, you know? But, I can’t keep hiding from memories, can I?

I can update my chapters via email from now on, which takes all the pressure off you. You’ll still beta though, pretty please? I can’t do this without you.

Speaking of the common room, we’re all together - the whole gang and the Slytherins. I know! Can you believe it? Luna, the Gryffs, and the Snakes. But we’re getting on brilliantly and all making an effort to keep it that way. Well, except for Ron. He’s still stuck up his own arse about things. Lavender is giving him a wide berth until he sorts himself out but, if he doesn’t do it soon, Theo Nott will be in to sweep her off her feet. They are getting on so well and he is an absolute gentleman. And so is Blaise Zabini, he’s so funny! His girlfriend, Tracey Davis, was the first to reach out to me and I really, really like her.

I know you’ve heard us all talk about Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy. Well, it turns out Pansy is nothing like we imagined and, I have the feeling, she’ll become a good friend.

Janice, something else has happened. I’ve been keeping a secret from everyone, you included, and I’m sorry. I didn’t think this was something I could ever form into words. It’s Draco, Janice. It’s always been Draco, despite all that has gone on between us.

Trust me to pick an untouchable, eh?

I didn’t think he’d come back to school this year and I guess - well, I thought he was gone. My heart nearly burst when I bumped into him on the train, literally. He caught me, holding onto me - I thought I’d die! I hope he didn’t realise.

The only thing is, I’ve always told you he had no time for me. Janice, he apologised for his past behaviour! The night we arrived! I was shocked, so bloody shocked! We spoke on our own for a while and agreed to be friends. What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t be friends because I want so much more. How can I tell him I’m so in love with him, it’s eating away at my heart? Please, give me some idea of what I can do. For once, I don’t have the answers and I can’t find them in a bloody book!

We’ve spent a lot of time together, chatting between classes and finding so much in common. He’s read the Time Wars series, H.G. Wells, and Philip K. Dick - all my favourites. We could talk for hours about Lucas and Andre, arguing about their characters. I love every minute in his company, Janice, but-

Charlie put the page down.

“Okay...you know all about the Malfoys from Ron, Harry, and Hermione. Yeah? So you know the history between Draco and Hermione? And Draco and Harry? You know he’s a complete prick, right?”

Fire burned in Janice’s eyes and she took a step towards him.

“No, Charlie! No, he isn’t.”

“Jay-”

“No! I’m telling you! I know a different person, with-with no history and no idea of all the shite you’ve had going on between you all. I know Daniel Mallory-”

“False by name, false by nature, Jay.”

“No! Charlie, please. Trust me, I know I’m right here. He’s good, he’s funny, he’s-he’s so full of remorse and-and he needs her.”

“He doesn’t fucking deserve her!”

Charlie turned, stalking towards the door.

“I need a bloody drink.”

“Get back here!”

Janice grabbed a stapler and threw it at his back. Growling, Charlie snapped his head around, glaring at her angrily.

“What the-”

Breathing heavily, Janice Brady stood with her hands on her hips à la Hermione Granger, Molly Weasley, Ginevra Weasley etc.

“You, Charlie Weasley, will listen to me. She is everything to me and I will crawl over hot coals to make sure Hermione is happy. He, whatever the fuck his name is, is what she wants. So I will make it happen. And you,” she stabbed a finger in the air towards him, “will help me. Do you understand?”

Charlie’s body, in that moment, decided to remind him that he was bollock naked and extremely turned on by the woman he loved. He closed the door and walked back into the room.

“I'm not sure I do, Jay. Show me.”