Hermione's reaction to her last Hogwarts letter was not the one she would have expected in her fifth year. The letter was rather larger than usual. There was the list of books, which was actually rather short; several of the classes listed only 'to be announced' (she was unsure what that meant for her purse, or for the state of the teaching staff at Hogwarts). There was the official letter extending a new seventh year offer to all students who had been 'indisposed' due to last year's events, an officious Ministry document that she nearly burned in the fireplace.
The thing that almost surprised her, but didn't quite, was the Head Girl's badge, and a short, kind letter from now-Headmistress McGonagall. In retrospect, it was a letter worthy of Salazar Slytherin. McGonagall had hit all the right spots: She appreciated Hermione's abilities deeply, and knew that having Hermione as Head Girl would help inspire confidence in the younger students, and provide a good role model while helping restore order to the still-recovering castle. Hermione knew as well as McGonagall did that she was still susceptible to what, she sometimes thought in her bad hours, were a bunch of highly useless notions. The letter she wrote back to McGonagall was similarly short and kind, but carefully worded to indicate that she was not quite the same idealistic Gryffindor she'd been two years ago.
So when she stepped onto Platform Nine and three-quarters with the badge pinned to her chest, accompanied by the Weasleys and Harry, her feelings were mixed. Still, she placed her trunk and Crookshank's basket on the train, and shepherded younger students, and laughed with Ron and Harry. She lingered when Molly smothered her with hugs; she missed her parents, she knew, and somehow this particular ride to Hogwarts made her feel lonelier than even her first year. Still, she kept the smile on her face. It was only when the meeting with the prefects was over that she took Crookshanks out of his basket and curled up with him in her lap, her fingers tangled deep in his fur, and tried to converse normally with Ginny, as if her heart wasn't fit to burst with something she couldn't quite identify yet.
"I wonder how many people will hex Malfoy," Ginny mused as they passed by green fields.
"Malfoy?" Hermione asked, tearing her gaze away from the grazing sheep they were passing by.
"Yeah. He's on the train. Someone said that part of his deal with the Ministry required him to take his seventh year. I guess N.E.W.T.s are considered punishment?"
Hermione shook her head. "As long as I don't have to deal with it," she muttered.
"Does that mean I can't hex him?"
"Hex him all you want, as long as I'm not anywhere around."
Ginny grinned at her then.
Two nights later was her first patrol as Head Girl---the first patrol she ever went on alone, as prefects had always gone in pairs. She cast a faint Lumos when she set out from Gryffindor Tower, just enough to illuminate the space in front of her. She wished, then, there were some sort of night vision charm she could cast on herself; surely some Muggleborn had to have invented one at some point? She made a mental note to check in the library the next day.
She held the Marauder's Map in front of her, the Lumos providing just enough light to read by. Harry had handed it to her a week before, and had told her with a grin to use it well. Now that she held it in her hands and was able to study it, it was surprising how very busy the castle was, even well after hours. The common rooms and dormitories were, of course, packed; and then there was a third year Astronomy class up in the Astronomy Tower. Even still, there were little black spots moving all over the castle; teachers, yes, but also what looked like a few students returning late from the library---fifth years, she realized, looking at the names; even she hadn't started returning late from the library on the second day of her O.W.L. year---and a few miscreants wandering about.
Hermione sighed. The Map, as useful as it might be, was definitely an unfair tactical advantage. She'd keep going on the route she'd planned out, and if she still caught anyone out of bed---well, they'd had time.
She crept down the corridors, her shoes making muffled thuds on the stone floor. The castle might have been busy at night, but it was also silent, and eerie. She'd never really been out of bounds alone at night before. There'd been two times second year, dealing with the Polyjuice Potion, and a handful of times when she'd been a few minutes late coming back from the library. Every other time she'd been out of bounds, she'd been accompanied, and she hadn't realized until now exactly how much more of her confidence had been tied up with having another person around. She shuddered, squared her shoulders, and kept walking.
She'd made it all the way from the eighth floor down to the third, and was feeling better about the whole enterprise when she came to the corridor that Fluffy had once called home; she'd always called it Fluffy's corridor in her head. It was then that she noticed the name Draco Malfoy around the corner from her, and felt the confidence she'd gained starting to seep away. She strengthened her Lumos and peered at the map. Malfoy was in a room with no marked entrance, just a suit of armor in front of it. She sighed; she was beginning to think that half of Hogwarts' rooms were accessed through either statues or suits of armor.
She turned the corner and walked towards the suit of armor, keeping an eye on both the map and the armor. She was not quite sure about accosting Malfoy, because in the little word map she associated with him were the items dangerous and Death Eater and about to snap, and she wasn't stupid. Those weren't things one went up against alone, even if one was The Brightest Witch Of Her Age. Then again, she remembered the way his face had looked when Harry had defended him at the trial, the way it had screwed up briefly before going back into an impassive mask. Somewhere in the word map were also shame and regret. She sighed and tapped the armor with her wand. It moved aside, revealing the crack of a door in the stone. She tapped again, and an open archway appeared.
Inside, Malfoy flipped around, his wand out. He was sitting in a chair---not a particularly comfortable one, Hermione realized, it was wooden and narrow---and had a book in his lap. The room was small, and rough-hewn; it wasn't the kind of space she'd thought Malfoy would voluntarily enter. A small smokeless fire crackled in a fireplace, and he'd hung a lantern from the ceiling. He lowered his wand when he saw who she was, though she noted he didn't put it away, and stood up. She walked into the room, and the archway closed behind her. She made another mental note to research self-closing doors.
"You're out of bounds, Malfoy."
"I'd noticed, actually," he replied. He looked tense, though he was trying to come off as nonchalant.
She peered at him suspiciously. "How did you know about this room?"
He looked back with an equal amount of suspicion. "Found it at the end of sixth year. I like it here."
"Why are you out of bounds?"
The abrupt change seemed to surprise him, though he bristled. "Sometimes it's nice to get out of the common room, you know. Especially when you're only here"---he gestured expansively, in a way that seemed to take in the whole castle---"because you'd be in Azkaban otherwise." He gave her a pointed look. "If you really wanted to know."
Hermione realized that somehow she'd been expecting him to recount some sort of Death Eater plot, and could have hit herself upside the head for it. Past activities, Granger, she thought. She sighed, and tried to recover some of the calm she'd felt only a bit earlier. "Come on," she said, gesturing to the door.
"What? I'm not going with you."
Hermione stood up taller and pointed at the badge on her robes. "Yes. You are. And now, unless you want to be losing points from Slytherin."
"Do you think I really care about that?" His face was reddening, his eyes getting brighter. She could tell that he was gearing up for a fight. The last thing Hermione wanted on her first round of the castle was a duel with Malfoy in a room guarded by a suit of armor. There were all sorts of things in that situation that she did not want to deal with.
"No, not really," she replied, looking him up and down. Inspiration struck, then. "But I do think you value your freedom, and it would probably be bad to start your---rehabilitation---by making the Head Girl hex you."
He gave in then, as she'd predicted. "Fine."
They stalked silently down to the dungeons, Malfoy refusing to look anywhere other than straight ahead. She dropped him at the entrance to his common room, and said the password before he could; he glared at her, and she glared back. He started to step into the common room, and then stopped.
"No points, Granger? Really?"
She looked at him, red spots still high on his cheeks, and thought of the little bare room she'd found him in. "No. Not this time."
She left him there, feeling deeply unsettled. There was something about disturbing an obviously brooding Malfoy that did not sit well with her.
The next day she went back to the third floor before breakfast; it was empty, nothing but disused classrooms. She stood in front of the suit of armor and looked at it. Somehow, its expression was even more impassive than the other suits. She tapped it, and the door, and walked inside.
Such a small room, she thought, and bare. The chair was still there, and the fireplace and lantern and book. She picked up the volume. A wizarding poet, who she didn't recognize; she flipped through the book, and was at least impressed by the fact that the poet had understood meter decently. Somehow she'd never pegged Malfoy as one for poetry.
She turned it over in her hands; and then ran upstairs.
She watched Malfoy when a tawny owl dropped a small paper-wrapped package next to him at breakfast. He slit the edge of the package carefully, and seemed startled to recognize the book. He glanced over at her. She nodded at him, and he gave her a quick nod back. They both looked away then, embarrassed. She snuck a look back a few seconds later. There was a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips, and she felt her face go warm.
The next week, Hermione found him in the room again. She'd left the corridor for last this time, in hopes that he would've left already if he'd been there.
"Malfoy," she said, sighing. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Really? I have to escort you down again?"
He turned back around in his chair, and cracked his book open again. "Or you could sit down."
She opened her mouth to ask him what the hell he was thinking, and then shut it. Curiosity was winning over. She took a breath, and then very carefully conjured a small armchair.
He glanced over and snorted. "Why did you even come back for N.E.W.T.s? It's not like you need to be here to get Os."
Hermione sat down in the armchair and drew her legs up under it. She sighed; she really had made a rather comfy chair this time. "I didn't come back for N.E.W.T.s," she said very simply. She drew a shrunken book out of her pocket and enlarged it; with the engorged purse, she'd gotten so used to always having a book around that she'd taken to always having a few shrunken books on her person.
"Not your poet?" she asked, getting a look at the cover of the book. An excursus on charmed potions.
"No," he said. "I figured I may as well try to learn something, if I have to be here."
They sat in silence then, only the occasional sound of turning pages and the log popping in the fire and their breathing disrupting the air. Hermione was engrossed in her book---a volume on a particular branch of Chaldean Arithmancy that she'd taken a fancy to recently---and only noticed that Malfoy had stopped reading when she got to the end of a chapter. He was looking at her, studying her.
"What?" she asked. She shifted, drawing her knees up in front of her.
"Why did you stay?" He looked genuinely curious, though also a little guarded.
She stared at him. She could be snide, she thought, or brush it off. She should brush it off. There was no good reason to tell Malfoy anything resembling the truth; and yet she still found herself doing it. "You're not the only one with a less than welcoming common room."
He laughed, short and harsh. "One of Gryffindor's golden children unwelcome in the Tower? Not very thinkable, is it?"
Hermione's temper went up at that one. Malfoy might be very obviously wallowing in self-pity, and who knows what other emotions, and perhaps it was a justified wallowing, but that was rude. "Oddly enough, I'm rather tired of answering all the questions about last year, about the Ministry, and did anything happen between me and Harry, and Gringotts, and your house, Malfoy. So, no, it's not very welcoming, and maybe you should think twice before you assume other people have it easy."
"Merlin's beard, calm down, Granger. No need to bite my head off."
She leaned back in her chair. "You're lucky I didn't hex it off," she grumbled. That got another laugh from Malfoy, less harsh this time, a laugh that sounded genuine. He set his book on the floor and leaned back in his own chair, as much as one could in a straight-backed wooden chair of that sort.
"I'm sorry, you know. About---about everything that happened at the Manor."
She wasn't sure exactly how to respond to that one; she was pretty sure she had a deer-in-headlights look on her face.
"I---thanks, I guess, Malfoy."
They sat in tense silence for a moment; Hermione rubbed her thumb nervously over her knee.
"I mean it. If I could've...." He trailed off back into silence. "Aunt Bella would have...."
"Just shut up, Malfoy. I don't think either of us is going to feel better if you keep talking about it."
They kept silent then, each pretending to be focusing on a book.
She watched him surreptitiously in potions that week, when she could do so without drawing his attention---or Ginny's, or Luna's. He seemed wan, drawn, and was exceedingly quiet in class.
She wondered why, exactly, he hadn't tried to hex her out of that room the first night.
That weekend, she nearly cursed a third year who had apparently read Rita Skeeter and would just not shut up about the horcruxes.
"I need to spend less time in the common room," she muttered to Ginny. She received a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
They kept meeting in the little room after Hermione's patrols, sitting quietly with their books and, occasionally, talking. Hermione had a feeling that he was there most nights, but decided not to pry. It was enough, she thought, that they'd developed a sort of uneasy camaraderie. Neither pried; either could talk; and books were obviously better anyways.
She swore she was becoming insomniac.
In between book chapters, she found out that his parents were doing as well as could be expected; that he didn't actually like the color green; and that he'd been one of less than a dozen people at Crabbe's funeral.
He found out that her parents were still in Australia, under the assumption that their last name was Wilkins; that she was terribly bad at chess; and that she had come back to Hogwarts because N.E.W.T.s were far less terrifying than the real world that year.
When he started to sit at a table near hers in the library, she just rolled her eyes at him; and when she sat at his table one day, he rolled his eyes at her.
It was, she thought, very strangely like making a friend.
She decided to stay for the winter holidays. The Weasleys and Harry would miss her, she knew, but there were too many war orphans staying over the holidays---or at least that was how she made her excuses. In reality, she didn't see how she could celebrate without her parents, and at least here she could hide.
Hermione was supervising the students leaving the castle for the Christmas holidays when a small paper airplane almost hit her in the head. She barely caught it in before it smacked her between the eyes. Smoothing out the paper, she saw a note in slightly spiky handwriting.
She could just see the back of his head as he left the Entrance Hall with the others. She just smiled and slipped the note into her pocket.
The hols were quiet for Hermione. There were a handful of students staying in Gryffindor Tower, but it was quiet---almost too quiet, she thought. A total of twenty students staying over the hols should have been much, much louder.
She spent most of Christmas Day in the little room on Fluffy's corridor, lost in thought, with Crookshanks on her lap.
When the students returned to Hogwarts, Malfoy seemed somehow more grim.
"Are you okay?" Hermione whispered to him in the library one day, after he had dropped his head onto his book with a thud that sounded like despair. He just shook his head at her.
As if by silent arrangement, they both appeared in the room that night. Hermione conjured not only the fire, but also blankets and a pot of tea, and they sat on the hearth with their feet nearly in the fireplace. Lucius Malfoy, it turned out, had been taken to St. Mungo's; sixth months of living under near-house arrest had not been conducive to his mental state.
"There's nothing I can do about it," Malfoy said. "He's confined under the terms of his sentence---it's not like the Ministry wants him gallivanting about. It's just, being in there, in the Manor, it's not good for any of us."
Hermione laid a hand on his shoulder; he leaned into her, and she wrapped an arm around him. She tried to ignore the muscle under her arm, and concentrate on the part where someone she'd finally decided was a friend was aching.
She gave a Hufflepuff fourth-year detention for trying to hex Malfoy in the halls, which earned her a glare from Finch-Fletchley, who was standing nearby.
"Shut it, Justin," she said before he could speak. "No one's supposed to get hexed in the hallways."
"You could make a exception," he muttered under his breath.
18 February was her mother's birthday, and she spent the entire evening in the dormitory, wrapped in a blanket and letting Ginny coax her into drinking a spot of tea.
"I miss her," Hermione said. She could hardly say anything else; there weren't enough words.
"I know," Ginny said, rubbing her back, even though Hermione knew she'd never quite understand this type of guilt, and shame.
"How do you do it?" she asked one night, slamming her book shut.
"Do what?" he asked around the quill he had in his mouth; he was thumbing through a copy of Advanced Transfiguration.
"Face them. How do you do it, when they look at you?"
He removed the quill from his mouth and set it carefully in the inkstand. "Do I?" he asked. "Face them."
She stared at him, the creases that were already starting to build at the corners of his eyes.
"I don't know how I'm going to be able to face my parents," she said. "Tell them what I did."
"McGonagall would tell you that you did the right thing, and that it'll be okay."
She smiled weakly. "That's a load of hot air."
"Seems to me," he said slowly, "that the best you can do is ask for forgiveness, and hold your head high."
Malfoy started trying to distract her during Transfiguration, in an effort to make her burst out laughing in front of McGonagall. Hermione wasn't entirely sure what had brought on the sudden public interest, other than perhaps end-of-term nerves. A few well-placed stinging hexes managed to curtail his antics, at least.
However, when an accidental flick of Luna's wand gave him hare ears, she couldn't help burst out laughing.
"Not fair, and you know it," he muttered to her in the hallway later, flicking one of the long ears.
"Perfectly fair," she said, nudging him with her shoulder. He blushed, and suddenly made some excuse about having to meet Slughorn, and she felt her stomach churn in a not entirely unpleasant way.
They both hid in there during N.E.W.T.s. Hermione had long ago learned the common room and dormitories were unpleasant places for her during exams; she couldn't help but freak out at the noise. For once, though, she also couldn't bring herself to go near the library; it made her quail. Malfoy just seemed to be near his wit's end; he either paced frantically, or sat in his chair with his head in his hands.
"I'm going to fail," he moaned before the Charms exam.
"You know you're not going to get anything less than Acceptable," she told him.
"Troll," he muttered. "T. For Troll."
She sighed and rubbed his shoulder; he was tense as a loaded spring. She kneaded the muscle for a moment, and he groaned. Her innards did a flipflop. "You'll be fine."
He reached up to pat her hand. "Thanks."
As they walked down to the Great Hall to sit the exam, she kept looking at the curve of his neck and shoulder, and wondering if she would ever get to touch it again. Time was running out.
The last night of exams, everyone celebrated; euphoria seemed to permeate the castle. Although Hermione was technically not on duty, McGonagall called her three times in four hours to put out various spats and expressions of exuberance. One involved prying apart two Hufflepuffs who were vying for the attentions of a third (who seemed rather unimpressed by the whole show, and rather more impressed by the sixth-year who was flirting with her). There was a great deal of time spent comforting a very upset Ravenclaw fifth-year who had, she was sure, utterly bollocksed her Transfiguration exam ("When I turned the pig back into a desk, it had divided feet, it had club feet before, oh god I'm going fail," to which Hermione had rolled her eyes and handed the girl a tissue). Then there were the Slytherin third-years who had set off several Weasley's Wildfire Whiz-Bangs, and were trying to herd a Catherine wheel into the potions classroom. Hermione directed them outside, with the instructions to immobilize the wheel if it got near anything flammable, and the threat to turn them all into mice and set Professor McGonagall on them if they didn't, because she wasn't staff and hadn't ever been told not to use Transfiguration as a punishment.
When Hermione returned to the Gryffindor common room after the last incident, she downed two Butterbeers in about ten minutes.
"Fireworks in a room full of volatile potions materials," she complained to Ginny. "Can you imagine what Snape would've done?"
"Probably hexed them and tried to feed them to the Venomous Tentacula," Ginny responded, giggling. Hermione snorted, causing the swallow she'd just taken of her third Butterbeer to go up her nose. Ginny cracked up, and the two girls ended up collapsing into a chair, laughing.
The antics in the common room began to peter out at about one, as students retired to bed or, in the case of a few first-years, fall asleep on the carpet in front of the fire. Hermione levitated the first-years up to bed, and then went back down to the common room. Ginny had gone up to the dormitory; the only people left in the common room were Dean and a third-year whose name Hermione could never remember, playing checkers by the fireplace, and Vicky Frobisher, who was finishing off a Butterbeer and catching and releasing a Snitch. Hermione looked around and smiled, feeling a bit wistful; soon the Gryffindor common room would no longer be home for her. She would miss it, she thought, even if she would have happily cursed the hair off at least three nosy Gryffindors over the year.
She should, she thought, do one last round to make sure that the Catherine wheel had not in fact burned down half the Forbidden Forest in the last two hours; McGonagall had been rather nervous. She slipped out of the common room quietly, the three occupants ignoring her as she left, and slowly wound her way down the corridors. She had, at this point, mostly overcome her fear of the castle at night, and breathed in deep, contented in the silence. It was quiet at this point of the night; there was no sight of a flying Catherine wheel in any of the corridors, nor on the grounds that were visible through the hall windows. When she made her way to Fluffy's corridor, she walked down the corridor slowly, trailing her hand gently over the walls. They were cold. When she got to the suit of armor, she stopped. Tonight, in the faint light cast by her Lumos, it looked like it was grinning at her.
"Oh, shut up," she muttered, tapping the suit and then the wall behind it. She slipped through the archway. Malfoy was sitting pretzel-legged on his chair, a book in one hand and a bottle of firewhiskey on the floor to his left.
"Evening, Granger," he said, turning to look at her. He picked up the firewhiskey and held it out; his cheeks were already pink. Although, Hermione thought, she couldn't really say much herself; her cheeks were probably rather pink as well, after four Butterbeers.
She took the firewhiskey from Malfoy and swallowed a swig, grimacing as it went down. She'd never really enjoyed the stuff since her first taste over the summer, and this was emphatically not Ogden's Finest. "Not celebrating with your house, Malfoy?" she asked.
His words were slightly thick from the alcohol. "Got bored a few hours ago, and decided I should say goodbye to this room. Properly, you know, not just walking by it. I won't have time tomorrow." He looked around the room. "I've been glad of this place."
"I know what you mean," she said. She sat in the armchair next to him and handed the bottle back. He took a sip.
"Can't believe this is it. All done," he murmured.
"It's strange, isn't it? And to think I was sure I'd never have the chance." She waved her wand idly at the fireplace, making small flames leap around in it.
"I never thought I'd be back here," Malfoy replied. He pointed his wand at the fireplace, adding to the number of flames. A few flickered in the shape of snakes.
Hermione held her hand out for the firewhiskey, and he passed it back. She cradled it in her hands. "What are you going to do?" she asked softly, turning the bottle around.
He shrugged. "I'm not really sure. I mean, it's not like I need to take a job, the family's still financially secure. But still...."
"Get a job, buckle down, bleach the family name?" she said.
"Yeah. Something like that." He jabbed at the fireplace, making the flames go higher. "I'm not used to it still, having to fight my name."
"You'll get used to it," Hermione replied. She raised the bottle to her lips and took a significantly longer sip than previously. "I---we're more than our names, you know. More than our families."
He reached out his hand to her, and she held out the bottle; he took it, set it in his lap, and then grasped her hand and squeezed it. Hermione felt her pulse go up. "Thanks, for that one."
"Hey, isn't it what the whole damn war was about? The idea that we're more than our blood?" she said, lightly, half-jokingly; she realized as soon as she said it that she had just used the war to lighten the strange tension that had just fallen on the room.
"Definitely can't imagine sitting in this room with you chatting post-Hogwarts plans before the war," he said, with the same light tone. He ran his thumb over the back of her knuckles. Hermione held back a shiver. It wasn't unwelcome; it was just strange. Very, very strange.
"No," she said, "not so much."
"What are you going to do? Have you got the Ministry beating down your door yet?"
"Er, well, they seem to have cooled since I told them I actually wanted to be qualified for any job I took. Apparently they're actually waiting for N.E.W.T. results."
He snorted. "Will you work for them?"
"Maybe. It depends. I don't really know right now." She looked down at their hands, still intertwined. "Malfoy?"
"Why are you holding my hand?"
He didn't let go. "Seemed like a good thing to do."
"Seriously here, Malfoy."
"Seriously. Why didn't you let go?"
She didn't say anything, just looked over at the fire. His hand slipped out of hers, and then tangled in the hair behind her ear. She glanced back at him; he was looking at her very intently. It made the flutter in her chest even more pronounced.
Then he kissed her.
It was a very gentle, very quiet kiss, and she froze under it, eyes wide. He began to move back, looking disconcerted and making the sort of face that meant apologies were forthcoming. That was the absolute last thing to be done, she thought. And so Hermione raised a hand to his cheek, stopping him, and then pulled him back.
His lips were soft, and smooth, and pressed back against hers insistently; then his mouth opened under hers, and she had pulled him out of his chair and he was straddling her, her hand on his hip and his on her cheek. He tasted like the firewhiskey, and smelled like the mixture of cologne and soap and skin that she realized she had come to recognize as Draco.
They broke the kiss off after a very long moment, and he rested his forehead against hers. "I've been wanting to do that for a while," he murmured, breath coming heavy.
"Definitely a good thing to do," she whispered.
He nodded, leaning his head down to kiss her on the neck. She gasped as his breath ghosted over skin, raising the hairs. She moved her head to kiss him again, and he ducked, lips brushing her jaw before fixing on the soft skin under her ear. She shuddered, and dug the tips of her fingernails into his hip, making him shift. He half-sighed, half-groaned, and moved one of his hands down from her cheek to her waist, drawing her closer.
"Move," he said, motioning her to the side; she shifted, and he slid from on top of her to sit on the chair, and then pulled her on top of him. She kissed him on the lips again, pressing him back into the chair, and then his arms were wrapped around her and he was holding her tight. She was conscious of the flexed muscles of his chest, the stubble on his jaw, and the very, very heady feeling she was getting from being this close to him.
"Definitely," he said when they broke the kiss, "should have done that a long time ago."
They didn't sit near each other on the train back. It felt weird, somehow, to sit with anyone other than Ginny and Luna; and she wasn't entirely sure what that whole incident had meant. There had been frantic packing in the morning, and friends to be surrounded by, and it was apparently impossible for a Head Girl to avoid congratulations from half the students at Hogwarts; it was not exactly conducive to discussion. She received a smirk, though, when she made her rounds of the carriages, and she hoped it meant all is fine.
When she got off the train, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were there, and Harry and Ron. Ginny rushed forward to hug them, and Hermione, grinning, came behind, Crookshanks growling in his basket. "Hermione!" Harry's voice was full of happiness, and laughter, and he swept her into a bear hug; Ron followed. "It's so good to see you."
"It's good to see you, too," she said, smiling. And it was, she thought. They moved off, chattering, to grab their trunks.
It was as they were walking towards the exit, waiting to be let out, that she saw him gesturing at her.
"Er, can you hold Crooks, Gin?" she asked, holding out the basket; Ginny took it with a surprised look. "I'll be right back." She wove her way through the crowds over to Malfoy, feeling a mix of apprehension and excitement.
To her surprise, his expression seemed to mirror the knot in her chest. "Hey," she said, trying to curve her mouth into a smile that was both reassuring and nonchalant.
"Hey," he replied. "Just---wanted to see if you had any plans in the next few days."
She felt her heart jump. "Hadn't made any," she said cautiously.
"Just thought---maybe I'd see you in Diagon Alley." He rubbed the back of his neck, looking a bit sheepish.
"Probably. You should owl me. I still haven't been to the re-opened Fortescue's yet." She grinned at him, and he looked slightly more relaxed.
"Sounds like a plan," he said.
"A good one, I think." She leaned up to kiss him on the cheek; he colored under her lips, which made her grin. "I'll see you, Draco."
As she turned to leave, he spoke. "Hey, Hermione."
She paused. "Yeah?"
"I hear the southern hemisphere's nice this time of year. Let me know if you feel up to an adventure."
She smiled at him then, really smiled, hoping that he could see thank you and you're kind of terrifying and but I sort of like it in the expression. "Why, are you planning on being bored this summer?" she asked, trying to keep up the banter.
He just grinned. "I was hoping for rather the opposite, really."
It was her turn to blush then. "I suppose I could do with a bit of an adventure." She walked off then, knowing that the Weasleys and Harry would be waiting for her, and sure that at least one of them had seen the exchange. Sure enough, Ginny's eyebrows were almost in her hairline by the time she returned to the little group, and Hermione knew she was going to have a hell of a time explaining whatever the hell this was with Malfoy.