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The Binding (Formerly: The Binding of Hermione)

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Hermione gripped Crookshanks' carrier firmly as she boarded the Hogwarts Express. Her return to the school for her delayed seventh year was not without mixed emotions. On the one hand, she was eager to complete her education and sit her N.E.W.T.s. Well, she was eager for the N.E.W.T. part, anyway. On the other, the War had changed everything and everyone she knew. Including herself.

Ron and she had enjoyed a brief fling after the end of the war. But, like many relationships that begin with intense experiences (why did that quote from "Speed" always seem to pop into her head when she thought about Ron?), it fizzled when day-to-day reality set in. In the end, they decided they did better as friends so they, and many of the other surviving witches and wizards, joined in the effort to repair Hogwarts castle and its grounds.

That had taken almost an entire year. Near the end, with Professors McGonagall and Flitwick's help, she had brought her parents back from Australia and their memories had been restored. Hermione had spent the last few months in the bosom of her family, which had been lovely, but when the letter came from Hogwarts inviting her back for her Seventh year, she had been ready to go back.

Hermione found an empty compartment, stowed Crooks' carrier, seated herself and then took out "Hogwarts-A History". The tome remained opened and unread on her lap as her thoughts continued.

Ron and I didn't have enough in common to sustain anything long term. Ron hadn't even considered returning to school for seventh year. After he was recruited by the Chudley Cannons, he hadn't considered anything else.

He had left for training camp a month ago and was, by all reports, doing well enough to be second string keeper on the team. Not bad for a rookie. Hermione was happy for him.

At twenty years old, and a war veteran, Hermione wasn't sure how she was going to feel at school anymore. Luckily, the Headmistress had wisely offered a private room to all of the students who returned to complete their Seventh year. Hermione was relieved she didn't have to share space with anyone else. Like many other people who had seen and done terrible things during the War, she sometimes had trouble sleeping or, if she did sleep--she had horrible nightmares. She was grateful for the Headmistress' consideration.

"Hey, Hermione!"

She looked up to find Harry, Ginny and Luna grinning at her from the door to the compartment. "Hi, yourselves! Don't stand there blocking the aisle, come in and sit down."

Harry rolled his eyes as he sank onto the seat across from her, pulling Ginny down beside him with a gentle tug of their joined hands. "Please tell me you're not Prefect again this year."

"No." Hermione replied as she budged over so Luna could sit beside her. "Headmistress McGonagall offered the position to me, but I turned it down. I just want to finish school, take my N.E.W.T.s, and then…I'm pretty sure I want to study potions and go for a Master designation."

"Really? Wow, I assumed that you would go for Arithmancy or something." Ginny said.

"I'm not a bit surprised," Luna said. "I'm sure everyone is rethinking their life goals these days."

Hermione smiled at Luna. "Exactly. I intend to apply for an apprenticeship with a—"

She was interrupted when Draco Malfoy, shadowed as ever by Gregory Goyle, appeared in the compartment doorway.

Hermione noticed that Draco's familiar smirk was firmly in place, even though his grey eyes seemed bruised underneath. She wondered idly if he suffered from nightmares, too. After everything Voldemort had put him through? Undoubtedly. And he hadn't been among the volunteers who had spent the past year helping repair the castle and grounds. Hermione had found that her work healing the castle had helped begin to heal her spirit, too. Only time would take care of the rest.

Her musing was interrupted by a low wolf whistle and she focused on Draco's now lascivious face. His gaze was focused considerably south of her face.

As if she hadn't had enough of such leering attention from Muggle men before the start of school. She sighed inwardly.

"Well, well, well, Granger." Something in his voice sent a chill through her. "You've certainly had a growth spurt since the last time we saw each other, haven't you?" He licked his lips suggestively. "Nice tits."

Harry leaped to his feet and whipped out his wand. "You keep a civil tongue in your head, Malfoy! Don't make me regret saving your pathetic life. Twice."

Draco's grey eyes lingered on Hermione's breasts a moment longer before they rose to meet her angry brown ones. "And my mother saved yours, Potter, so in my book that makes us even. Besides, you've got a girlfriend and I heard that Granger here finally had the good sense to throw over that red-headed twit. So she's free to make up her own mind about such things."

"I saved your life twice, Malfoy. And you still owe me. Your mum doesn't have anything to do with your life debts." Harry snarled.

Hermione's face was hot and she knew it was red. She continued to meet Malfoy’s eyes as she drew her own wand and pointed it at him. "Harry, I can take care of myself, thank you. Draco, you're right. I am free to make up my own mind. Always have been, even when I was still seeing Ron. So, I'm telling you right now: I am not interested in you. Get out of here, and leave me alone in the future. Unless you would like to repeat your brief existence as a ferret…? Because my magic had a growth spurt over the last year, as well."

Malfoy’s eyes narrowed and his expression turned ugly. His hand slid down the front of his trousers to caress the bulge there. "When you're ready for a real man, Granger, owl me." He turned and left the compartment, with Goyle following behind him.

"Since when is prat a synonym for 'real man'?" Luna wondered.

"That little prick." Harry growled as he put his wand away. "I thought he was transferring to Beauxbatons?"

"The story that the Malfoys put about is that his parents decided to let him finish at Hogwarts." Luna said. "But Father has it from reliable sources that Beauxbatons wouldn't take him."

"Is forcing Draco back to Hogwarts the right thing to do?" Hermione was horrified. "That just seems cruel. He's bound to be an outcast there, don't you think? Even among the Slytherins? He's always been so popular, a leader…he was Prefect during Fifth year and was always the star of their Quidditch team."

"No Quidditch for us remedial Seventh Years." Harry shoved his wand back into his pocket. "A bit unfair if you asked me."

"You can come watch me play." Ginny said.

"If Beauxbatons wouldn't take him," Hermione continued. "Why didn't his parents send him to Durmstrang?"

"Father's source said that his mother didn't want him that far away." Luna's voice became softer. "Besides, Durmstrang would have been even worse, don't you think?"

"If he's an outcast, it serves him right for everything he did." Harry was still scowling at the door of their compartment.

"Harry, you know how it feels to be shunned." Hermione returned her wand to its holster and sat down. "Would you honestly wish that on anyone?"

"Not anyone. Just Malfoy."

"I thought you had changed, Harry. Looks like I was right." Hermione opened her well-thumbed copy of "Hogwarts-A History". There was no point in wasting her breath.

~~~***~~~

Severus Snape watched as the combined Slytherin and Gryffindor seventh years entered the classroom, retrieved their cauldrons and brought them to their tables. It was two weeks before Halloween and it had been an interesting term thus far. There was still hostility between the older Seventh year students from the two houses; even though, officially, Hogwarts no longer required the students to be seated during meals in the Great Hall according to House affiliation. Most of the older Seventh years, the actual Seventh years and the Sixth years however, most of them veterans or victims of the War, were following the lead of Potter and Malfoy who were having no part of the new scheme.

And, even more fascinating to him, some of the turmoil between Potter and Malfoy was due to Miss Hermione Granger. He allowed himself the briefest glance in her direction. Snape had to admit, since the beginning of the term, he had become subtly protective of Granger. After all, it was because of her actions that he was still alive, and he owed her. If she hadn't returned to the Shrieking Shack with the Blood-Replenishing and Essence of Dittany potions and a Healer, he would be entombed beside Dumbledore right now. While he'd been in the hospital, Ms. Granger had sent him a few letters and gifts of chocolate by owl and had even visited him once, to thank him for his work during the War. The only other person to do so had been Minerva.

After he'd returned to Hogwarts to finish his convalescence, the Headmistress told him all about the castle repairs over tea one afternoon. One of the most fascinating stories was about Hermione Granger. It seemed that she had very nearly sacrificed her magical ability for the castle.

One afternoon, Potter had found her nearly unconscious and had forced the young witch to confess the reason she was so determined to sacrifice herself to rebuild Hogwarts.

Snape glanced at Granger again, astounded by the fact that she had modified her parents' memories and had them relocated to Australia when the War began. Tricky bit of magic, that. So tricky she had been unable to reverse the spell herself, so she had used the castle repair to assuage her guilt.

Potter had then engaged the help of both McGonagall and Flitwick, who fetched her parents back from Melbourne, assisted with the spell reversal and had even performed an Obliviate or two. Then Minerva sent Hermione home. The young witch spent the last few months before the start of the new term in the healing embrace of her family.

The result of that loving care was the healthy, lovely witch stirring a cauldron in his classroom. Two years ago, Snape would have wagered any amount against the gangly Miss Granger becoming such a fetching creature. He shook himself mentally and dragged his mind away from that very dangerous path.

Malfoy, true to form, had taken every opportunity to make crude and often indecent remarks to her, just loud enough to wind up Potter. With predictably explosive results. It had gotten so bad; Snape had been forced to give multiple detentions to both young men. After several evenings spent scrubbing cauldrons, Malfoy mostly contented himself with casting long, lecherous looks at Miss Granger's breasts. The only thing Potter could do about it was scowl. The young woman herself had taken the high road; studiously ignoring both of them in favor of concentrating on her studies. Snape was impressed. In spite of so much provocation, she had become the best potions student in the class. And with one exception, the best in the school.

Snape's gaze, and his thoughts, turned back to Draco. Damn and blast! As far back as July, Snape had warned Lucius not to send Draco back to Hogwarts. And he was being proven right. Daily. The other students, with the exception of Goyle, Parkinson and recently, Iris Ichabod, avoided him outside of the classroom. He and the other older Seventh years were not permitted on the Quidditch teams any longer, so that physical and emotional outlet was denied the young wizard as well. To be honest, Severus felt a bit sorry for the lad. He'd tried to reach out to him once or twice, but Draco simply didn't trust him.

Like so many of his peers, the last two years had changed Draco immeasurably. Outwardly, he appeared to be his usual, preening, arrogant self. However, spending that year before the Dark Lord's defeat with his family out of favor had changed the young wizard in ways that worried Snape. Narcissa thought that keeping the lad in France with her during the last year while Hogwarts and Hogsmeade were rebuilt would help her son forget the physical and mental abuse he had suffered. Snape sighed. That scheme had been a dismal failure. Before 1997, Draco was merely spoiled. Now, in 1999, he was exhibiting compulsive behavior, hostility, impulsivity, and irritability when he wasn't completely detached. The only thing that punctured that detachment was his torment of Granger. In fact, according to Lucius, the only thing keeping Draco in school was his father's grip on the purse-strings.

In his latest letter, Lucius had written that he knew that Draco was planning something—but he hadn't been able to discover what it might be. Severus had reassured his friend that he would keep an eye on his son at school as much as possible. Since Draco had a room in the Slytherin dungeon, and Snape was Head of Slytherin House, it was relatively easy to keep track of him most of the time. Snape knew from the reports he received from the portraits that Draco wasn't sleeping much and that he had slipped out of the castle several times recently.

Not only that, he'd discovered potions ingredients missing from his private stores more than once this year. Draco had become more proficient at Occlumency, but even without it, Snape was convinced that he was the culprit. Many of those ingredients could be used to brew a basic Sleeping Draught, but Snape hadn't figured out yet why anyone would want some of the other things that had turned up missing. He started warding the storage room and the thievery stopped. Still, if one had enough money, anything could be bought along Knockturn Alley. Including illicit potions ingredients.

Snape knew he walked a fine line with Draco. If the young man found out that Snape was sending regular reports to his father, he would redouble his efforts at secrecy. With Draco's new obsession with Hermione Granger, Snape could not allow that to happen.

His musing was interrupted when he noticed Malfoy running the tip of his tongue suggestively across his lips as he very obviously stared at Miss Granger's breasts. Her face was pink, but she kept her eyes on her cauldron, stirring the potion she was brewing with care. Snape doubted anyone else would notice the stiffness of her back or the whiteness of her knuckles as they gripped the stirring rod, which clearly communicated her distress to him. He glided silently across the floor to stand behind Draco.

"Mr. Malfoy." He smirked inwardly when the young man jumped. "I daresay you will find your own potion as fascinating as Miss Granger's."

"Yes, Professor."

Snape ignored the sulky tone. With a swirl of his robes, he continued his patrol of the room. Thank Merlin this was the last class of the week. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, so most of the students would be abandoning the castle tomorrow, leaving him in blissful peace.

~~~***~~~

Draco Malfoy stalked out of Potions and saw Pansy Parkinson standing next to Goyle, who was lounging against the wall across from the classroom, and he joined them. "Get to the Great Hall and save me my usual seat for dinner." Draco said. "I'll be right there."

They moved off and his gaze flickered across the faces of the other milling students until it landed on Granger. She walked past him, with Potter by her side, as usual. Once again, he had no chance to get her alone. The problem with tormenting Granger during Potions class was that Draco became aroused himself most of the time. Today, his cock was so hard, he had to take care of it before he went down the Main Hall or he'd be in danger of coming in his trousers. He growled in frustration and made his way into to the nearest bathroom. He ducked down to check under the stalls in order to ensure he was alone. Then he locked the door with a thought and slammed into the closest stall. He opened his robes, unzipped his trousers and released his aching cock. He closed his eyes as he began to stroke it, and he imagined Hermione Granger spread naked before him, begging him to fuck her.

"Since you ask so nicely, my Mudblood whore, you may take it." His hand moved faster and harder along the semen slicked rod. "You're going to take my cock and like it." He growled between gritted teeth. "Oh yes, you will. I am finally going to give it to you...hard and fast…in all your holes. Gonna make you beg for it tomorrow, oh yes. I've waited long enough—you will join me as one of my chosen companions. My own little Mudblood whore to do with as I please...whenever I please. I'm going to fuck you so hard...ohhh…YES."

Draco came hard, spilling his seed into the toilet and then collapsing against the wall of the stall. He stayed there until his breathing returned to normal, and then muttered a cleansing charm before tucking himself back in and zipping his trousers. He straightened his robes, flushed the toilet then stepped out of the stall and washed his hands. He met his own gaze in the mirror.

"Yes, I will add my little Mudblood slut to my merry band. This weekend in Hogsmeade. Once I deliver my little surprise, I will have her company and her potion brewing skills to use in my service. Guaranteed." He smirked at himself in the mirror. "She'll never be able to say no to me again." He smoothed his hair and then turned with a swish of his robes and left the bathroom.

After the door closed, Severus Snape exited the far stall, moved to the basin and washed and dried his own hands. He had recently been using this bathroom under a Disillusionment spell, in the hope that he would discover something about what Draco was up to. What the hell was Malfoy on about? How on earth did he expect to "have her company"? What could he give her that would "guarantee" anything? He didn’t dare cast the Imperious curse in Hogsmeade. How else…?

Snape paled as the penny dropped.

Draco had used the stolen ingredients to brew a potion that he was going to give to Hermione Granger.