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The Girl who was Orphaned

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A/N:

The story is starting in the summer of year two to year three.

The first couple chapters my be short but I will have longer chapters.

TWs in the story: Depression, Substance abuse, s*icide mention, child abuse. When any triggers come up in a chapter I will disclose it in the A/N, so please check them.

Please leave reviews! I don't know what's good or bad unless it's brought to my attention :)

Enjoy.

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It was two weeks into the summer holiday and Harry had not heard from Hermione nor had he heard from Ron. Harry did know that Ron had made the effort to contact him through the phone a week ago due to him overhearing Ron screaming into the receiver Uncle Vernon had to his ear. Uncle Vernon immediately turned a plum color when realizing that the call was from a wizard and not only told Ron not to call back but made sure Harry paid for giving out the home phone number. Harry narrowed his eyes at the ceiling above him. He knew that Ron probably warned Hermione, who actually knew how to work a phone and would NOT scream into the receiver, not to call but he still expected at least an owl from either of them by now. Especially since he was able to let Hedwig out at night now so he could reply.

Harry started to wonder if he should send a letter first especially since Hermione did not have an owl to use, when a Great Grey Owl started tapping on his window. Harry noticed that he had seen plenty of these owls at Hogwarts and was a bit hesitant to open the letter once he had it off the owl's leg. It was way too early for the school's supply list to be sent out and was afraid that what ever was in the letter was not good. Immediately the owl flew off, once it was free of the letter, disappearing in the cloudy night sky. Harry looked down at the letter, curiosity out weighing his fear, and opened the letter. Harry was right to be concerned about the contents of the letter but never in a million years would have guessed what it had said:

Dear Harry,

I am writing to you to inform you that Hermione has suffered something terrible while on holiday with her parents in France. While she is physically unharmed, she ended up witnessing the murder of both of her parents.

For the time being she is in the care of the ministry until she is adopted by a wizarding family. I am informing you of this as Hermione will need time and is not expected to reach out to anyone for the time being.

When she is ready, I do expect you and Ron to be the best friend's she has had for the past two years.

Yours most sincerely,

Albus Dumbledore.

Immediately, Harry's heart went out to his friend. What many did not know about being an only child was that once your parents were gone, that was it. Unless your parents were close with your cousins who accepted you for who you were and not lock you in a cupboard, you were by yourself. Harry specifically remembered Hermione mentioning that her mom was an only child and her dad was the last surviving member on his side.

Harry reread the letter six more times before stopping and taking off his glasses.

Murdered. They were murdered. Harry had so many questions, questions he knew he would not be able to get answers to because the only person who would have answers is Hermione. Asking a survivor any questions about the attack was not just the worst thing to do but disgusting. It was one of the few things he hated more that the Dursleys and Professor Snape.

Harry barely noticed his face was wet with tears as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He wanted more than anything to reach out to Hermione and let her know that he was not just there for her but understood her. Biting his lip he decided to listen to Dumbledore and give her time.

Wondering if there would be a funeral, Harry grabbed two fresh parchments, one for Dumbledore's reply and one for Ron. He knew that Dumbledore probably sent a similar letter to Ron but wanted to reiterate giving Hermione the time she needed.

Chapter Text

If there was one word Lucius Malfoy would use to describe himself, it would be 'Malfoy.' Lucius Malfoy was a very proud, a very wealthy, very pureblood man who would strike down any wizard who dared to challenge him without batting an eyelash.

This is exactly how he ended up holding his wand at Cornelius Fudge's chest in his study at Malfoy Manor. The killing curse on the tip of his tongue. His only hesitation? Cornelius Fudge is the Minister of Magic and the repercussion were not something the Malfoy's could buy themselves out of. The murder of the Minister was actually the only thing they could not probably buy themselves out of now that Lucius thought about it.

"Lucius are you mad?! I am trying to help you!" The short man dropped his bowler hat and had his arms in the air, level to his shoulders. Lucius, being a former Death Eater, had easily disarmed and pinned him against his desk in seconds without muttering a single word. "Again!" He added. Fudge was furious about how humiliating this situation was and was partially glad he made the trip by himself, although he imagined Lucius would not have acted so violently if a body guard or two were present.

Lucius however was not just furious, he was livid. Lucius wanted to kill him as the Minister's 'offer of help' was insulting but he was forced to settle in reminding Fudge what the Malfoy name meant. "Help me? You came to me with this ludicrous 'offer' to help me?" He kept his voice level and low. The only thing more frightening than a screaming Death Eater who had you pinned was a calm and serene Death Eater who had you pinned. Something his wife's sister never realized, or perhaps she did not care. Lucius found that remaining calm helped with savoring the fear that the victim had, so he often took his time. "You want to bring a mudblood into my home to 'help me?'" He repeated again. "We might as well take the time to carve 'Blood-Traitor' into my skin over my evening tea."

Cornelius Fudge's eyes narrowed but only just a bit. He refused to completely cower before any other wizard, even with no way out of a possibly deadly situation, at least as long as he was the Minister of Magic. He took pride in his role and did everything he could to protect the title and the ministry itself. "Yes. And while I feel the same as you do with the Muggle borns, lets refrain from using slurs." He paused, assessing Lucius reaction, or lack thereof, while hoping he sounded anything but intimidated. He decided after a moment it was safe to continue. "This is to help the public image that I keep having to save for the Malfoys. I can only censor so much in The Daily Prophet before everyone realizes what I am doing.." Seeing Lucius narrow his eyes into slits, he decided to change tactics. "Listen, no other wizarding family wants her because she is a muggleborn or they can't take her because the Department of Wizards and Families says they don't qualify to be her guardian." He briefly thought to Molly Weasley (who might as well have apperated directly into his office) when Arthur had broke the news to her. The Weasleys could barely keep food on the table for their own kids and yet they wanted to take in another child. While he denied the Weasley's having custody of Hermione, he did make sure that Arthur had suddenly won the prize for the drawing the Ministry had. Their family needed the seven hundred galleons after all. "This is going to help keep the Malfoy name pristine- so long as keep your nose clean, of course and-"

"And keep the public's eye away from the bribing the Ministry takes part in along with distracting them from realizing about the Ministry's control on The Daily Prophet. This is more to save your neck than it is mine so do NOT come into my home and say other wise. I had made many donations to YOU, Minister Fudge, AND the Ministry in thanks every time you helped influenced a positive light to be shown on the Malfoy name as it does NOT in need saving- as you like to put it." Lucius pressed the wand a bit farther into Fudge's chest- right between two ribs so it would be a most uncomfortable hurt. It caused Fudge to wince and Lucius could practically feel his eyes dilate from the pleasure the sight gave him. Lucius knew he could not kill him but vowed that he would one day make Fudge regret his decision.

"You would only have her in your home three months out of the year Lucius- two if you have her stay at Hogwarts for Easter and Christmas. All I am asking is that you help me, help you. The Malfoy name has left a bad taste in everyone's mouth since you came back from he-who-shall-not-be-named. It's nearly common knowledge that not many bought the Imperius story when you came back. Especially since there have been questionable decisions lately made on your part." Fudge moved back from Lucius wand so it was not pressing as hard and dared to narrow his eyes again. "Like threatening or black mailing the other eleven governors to suspend Dumbledore- this isn't solely to help the Ministry!" He quickly added when Lucius, quite literally snarled at the Minister, forgetting to keep his cool for a few seconds.

The two men stood still for a couple minutes. Lucius glaring at Fudge and Fudge nervously glancing between Lucius, Lucius' wand and the door. Completely disregarding that his own wand was in the office somewhere.

Lucius decided on how he would go about his revenge on Cornelius Fudge and was the first to move. It would be a slow plan but those were often the most rewarding anyway; it usually ended in the most suffering, which as far as Lucius was concerned, was the point of revenge. Lucius removed his wand from the Minister's chest and pocketed it. He then made a show of adjusting his cuff links while speaking, acting as if he never had his wand out at all. "You are absolutely positive there is nothing the Malfoy's can offer you to change your mind, Minister Fudge?" On the outside Lucius wore his neutral mask but on the inside he was smiling an evil grin: the first thing he had to do was lure the Minister into a false sense of security. And while Cornelius Fudge was the Minister of Magic, he was also a naive idiot when it came to his title, making him much easier to lure into said security.

As proof, the Minister immediately relaxed into a smug look believing he had won. "I'm afraid that this is indeed the best course of action. I am happy to see you understand." Fudge focused on fixing his clothing but still paid acute attention to Lucius in case he decided to get his wand out again.

Lucius did not respond but walked around his desk to sit in front of the mountains of parchment he was sorting through before Fudge's unannounced visit. "Is there anything else I can help you with then?" Not waiting for a response he summoned his only house elf, "Crewe, show the Minister out."

With a loud crack, Crewe had appeared in the room. He was a slightly younger house elf than Dobby and he had big black eyes instead of Dobby's green ones. He only had half of his right ear left and the other was wrapped in bandages. Being the only house elf in the Manor meant he was now the only elf to receive all the punishments. "Yes, sir." He bowed to the point that his long nose touched the ground.

"Get your bloody nose off my carpet." Lucius growled, reaching for a parchment weight to throw at the elf.

Crewe immediately straightened and started wobbling toward's the office doors. "Right this way Mr. Minister, Sir." Crewe wobbled faster and ducked, narrowly missing the weight that was thrown at him. Crewe then waited at the study's door for his Master's guest to pick up his wand and hat from the floor.

Fudge did not bat an eyelash at the behavior Lucius exhibited towards Crewe as he knew most house elves lived a similar life. They were a lesser species anyway. Pausing at the door, Minister Fudge looked back at Lucius who was pretending to read from the parchment in front of him, again acting as if no violence took place in the study at all. "The funeral and reading of the will is this Saturday. It would look best for you and your family to attend as that will be the day she will officially be in your guardianship. I won't have the press show up right away of course as that may look... planned."

Cornelius Fudge rushed out of the office door content he had the last word in what he wanted Lucius to do. He certainly did not expect to be threatened at wand point when he decided to go to the Manor but was happy with the results. Now all he needed to do was tell the muggle born where she would be going but he would probably have an intern deliver that news. Or perhaps he would have The Department of Wizards and Families send someone to do it as it is their department, he thought to himself. 'It's not like she is the boy who lived or anything.' He chuckled out loud at his own joke.

When Crewe finally reached the front doors of the Manor, Narcissa Malfoy was waiting there. Her brunette and blonde hair pulled back at the top but still flowing freely behind her.

Cornelius Fudge gave a slight bow. "Madam." When he straightened up she did not reply and stared at him for a minute more. Once he started to feel uncomfortable again she decided to speak.

"Men who leave my husband's study smiling like you were are always one of three things: someone who is about to loose everything, stupid," She paused, pursing her lips and cocked her head to the side, allowing her eyes to shift from him to the hallway Fudge came out of. "Or both."

The Minister took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, thinking. When he decided on how to respond he let the breath go. "Well I must be the first man to come out as none of those things." He gave a soft chuckle that was returned with a purely devilish grin. His own smile faltered as he thought that she was not grinning at his joke but rather at him.

"Good luck, Minister Fudge." Her tone was mocking as she walked past him to Lucius' study.

He shook his head, not allowing himself to think of which Malfoy was the bigger menace, as Crewe lead him out of the Manor and to the edge of the Malfoy estate so he may disappearate.

Chapter Text

"Hermione?" Mrs. Weasley said gently, slightly bending in front of the the solemn nearly fourteen year old girl. Hermione was in a far away place in her mind. She was not thinking about the fact that the Weasleys, from Ginny to Percy, were all staring at her, as she had not responded to the several calls Molly had made out to her. She was not thinking about the wizarding family who had finally been revealed to her and how they would be attending today instead of Harry, as the Durley's refused to let him attend. Hermione was not thinking about the speech she would have to read today for her parent's funeral, a speech no one expected her to write so Fudge had one of his speech writers create one for her.

What she was thinking about was the day of her parent's deaths. Not when they were killed but the events before hand, she was convinced that there must have been something revealing what was going to happen that night. Something that she missed that made it all her fault.

Hermione jumped at the hand that touched her shoulder. She looked up to see her ministry appointed therapist looking down at her. Dr. Augsen was a young, tall and thin woman who wore cat eyed glasses that sat on her crooked nose. She wore her hair in a bun as tight as McGonagall's but had her sideburns in curls, Hermione had the impression Dr. Augsen had the habit of dressing older than her age. Hermione averted her eyes to the dewy grass, realizing she probably spaced out again when someone was trying to talk to her. "Sorry..." she whispered.

No one was sure how to respond as they were afraid of how Hermione may react to any reassurance. After a very pregnant pause, Molly Weasley spoke again: "Dearie, it's time to go." she held out an arm so Hermione could step into her embrace for side apparation. Grabbing on to Mrs. Weasley tightly, they apparated behind the marble building in the cemetery. It was a discrete place for them to appear as her parents were being buried in a muggle cemetery close to her childhood home and they could not apparate out in the open. Hermione thought about this, once again thinking about what the death of her parents meant but not fully feeling it. The depression was there, the hollowness was there but the anvil that was the realization of what it all meant was still waiting to crush her. She had not broken down at all since it happened and while she was not a therapist, she knew that it was not a proper reaction.

Finally, they reached her parent's final resting place. It was a small turn out- nearly half of the people making up the crowd was the Weasley's as they were such a big family. Headmaster Dumbledore and professor McGonagall were there along with Neville Longbottom and his grandmother. Hermione would have felt surprised but she had trouble feeling anything- she felt as if she was in another world and that her body was just going through the motions. They weren't close school friends but she knew Arthur Weasley must have thought to invite them as the only other person who worked on arranging the funeral was Dr. Dixon, the other dentist who worked at her parent's office. She was greatful that Mr. Weasley and stepped up to plan the funeral on her behalf, even if it was forced by the Minister of Magic, but like the speech she was sure no one expected her to arrange it anyway. Her parents wanted to be cremated with their ashes spread in Australia but the Minister refused Hermione's pleads for it and decided a funeral would raise less questions from the muggles when they never saw Hermione return to the neighborhood again. The plan was to have the muggles her parent's knew witness Hermione leave with her new family. She even noticed in the speech they arranged for her she was supposed to thank the Malfoy's for "their love and support in these trying times."

Hermione started to look over the rest of the crowd. The Minister of Magic himself, Cornelius Fudge, was in attendance. She wanted to feel angry at him, for giving her to a family that nearly destroyed her best friend's family less than six months ago (was it really less than a year?) and for disrespecting her parents final wishes, but she could not even feel anger. Nor hate. She could only feel an emptiness that were surrounded by walls of numbness. There was something swirling beneath it all but it was a distant feeling that she had no energy to explore at the moment. Choosing to focus on anything but herself and the two mahogany caskets in front of everyone, she went back to looking at Fudge's attire; Instead of his usual white pinstripe suit, he wore a black pinstripe suit. She took note he had the decency of trading in his red tie, his purple shoes and the lime green bowler hat for the matching black counterparts. She was informed that the family she ended up with was not in his control (per the Ministy's therapist who informed her of this two nights ago) but Hermione thought that to be codswallop. He was the Minister. If it was not his choice or a choice that he could over rule, who is to blame?

Finishing her assessment of the crowd, the rest of which were the staff Dr. Dixon invited from the office, she realized they were not there. She did not want them there, per se, but if Cornelius Fudge had the decency to not look like a clown today, they could of had the decency to be the responsible adults she was entrusted to. She realized she spoke too soon though because once everyone started to take their seats and the priest was going to start speaking, the Malfoys had finally arrived.

Lucius Malfoy had his wife, Narcissa Malfoy, on his right (his hand possessively on her lower back) while Draco Malfoy walked on his left, his hands in his pants pocket. Even dressed in all black clothes they looked like they stepped out of a chic wizarding magazine- their cloaks even billowed elegantly in the gentle wind. Lucius' face was the cold, hard mask that he always wore when his face was not twisted in anger, Draco looked brooding and Narcissa scrunched up her nose as if the muggles at the funeral smelt like the rotten food at Nearly Headless Nick's 500th Death Day party last year. As if the idea of sitting in a crowd of muggles was too much for them, they stood in the behind the seated crowd although there were plenty of empty seats. Hermione found it interesting that although the Malfoys looked so alike and walked so close together, they hardly gave off the energy of a true family. It would have been a thought that made her sad if she was not burying her own today.

Their arrival was not something that Hermione alone noticed. "Is that your family, Hermione?" Dr. Dixon whispered. Hermione jumped in her seat when he spoke. Partially because he disrupted her thoughts, partially because she's been jumping at every little thing for the past week.

The priest from the neighborhood Catholic church was beginning to start his speech. "Yes. Very distant cousins, removed several times." She wanted her voice to found finite so he would stop talking about them but even to her own ears she sounded weak and disconnected.

He nodded, wanting to keep his interruption to the minimum. "Through the woman right? I can somewhat see some resemblance of Jean in her..." He trailed off, suddenly realizing how the weight of his words could impact Hermione, thinking that she would create a connection that would be a constant reminder of her lost mother in Narcissa.

Hermione felt her stomach sink and harden. Her mouth went dry and she hung her head as she felt a vice grip start to grow on it. Her hands went into fists that mangled the stems of the flowers she held.

The reaction she had was triggered by what he had said but only because it was a lie. For the first time since their deaths Hermione was wanting to scream; scream at Dr. Dixon that she was not related to Narcissa, scream at him for insulting her mother for making the comparison with such a vile woman, then scream at Fudge that she would rather be buried with her parents than live with the Malfoys. This was all so artificial and she was did not see how she was going to survive any of it. Her parent's were dead and she was not putting them to rest the way they would have wanted. Everything was so wrong and she was expected to accept it by all the wizards around her. Hermione was expected to live with the Malfoys, who she was sure would do nothing but constantly berate her for her pedigree. Hermione could not stop thinking that everything from the Priest to Cornelius Fudge, the Malfoy's, and to the deaths she witnessed was too much for her to handle.

The realization hit Hermione of how phony everything was with an adrenaline rush. She could not be there surrounded by everything that was fake when all she wanted to do was curl up into a ball and mourn her parents. She was not an actor, she could barely even lie. She did not want to think about anything but how she would never be able to get advice from her mom about anything again or have a terrible but funny joke told by her dad when she needed it most. The walls of numbness that surrounded Hermione being were aching to give way to the literal flood gates she held in for a week. Hermione was whelmed and for the first time in her life she did not have a book to tell her what to do or how to handle what she was feeling. Only one of her best friends was there for her today and it was the one who was attending her parent's funeral with his own parents present. The one who would not understand her pain.

So Hermione ran.

She stood up, not caring that the priest who had never had her parents in his church was guiding everyone in prayer. Not caring that the muggles, her professors, her therapist, the Longbottoms, the Weasley's and the Malfoy's were shocked at her haste to lay the two yellow bouquets she brought on to the coffins in the middle of a prayer. Not caring that she was barely free of the crowd before she broke into full out sprint. Hermione did not even think to feel sorry for the graves she stepped on as she put everything she had into her legs, willing for them not to collapse under her as she raced her tears back to her parent's house four blocks away.

Hermione did not stop until she was at the door step of the Granger home. It was not a manor but it was comfortable for a family of three to live in given that two were dentists. Hermione kicked the 'Welcome' mat to the side and started to panic in her search for the spare key until she remembered that it was moved to the flower pot for their trip to France. Remembering this, her stomach started to sink farther as the panic attack started to take over. Her vision became watery and distorted as she stuck her hand into the dirt the pot held searching for the little silver key. When Hermione found it, she struggled getting the door open as she could not see the door knob through her tears and it took several tries before the key was in.

Once inside the home Hermione was hit with all the familiar scents she had grown up in all of her life. The tears flowed freely down her face as she walked into the living room, silently jerking from the intermittent sobs that she physically bit back but would release at any moment. She collapsed into her father's chair and grabbed the pillow that was in it, inhaling deeply. She held her breath, holding on to the familiar smells of his musky cologne that smelled somewhat like ginger and Myrrh. The pillow had not been washed in some time she noticed, due to the faint smell of Sulfur, given off by the lavender candles her mom had burned down to the wick had started to settle into the fabric. Crossing over to her mother's chair, she grabbed her pillow, inhaling her mom's scent which also smelled of her perfume- a cherry and jasmine scent.

These were scents she had not smelled in one week but felt like a life time to her. Hermione was tired and she knew that not so deep down, she was too young to feel this type of tired. Inhaling the smell of her parents in the only home she knew was what caused her to go from whemled to over-whelmed. The floodgates opened and Hermione broke. She felt like it took years for her to fall to the floor, giving in to the violent and loud sobs that choked her- making her hot and red in the face, when it really took seconds. She collapsed on to the floor, holding on to herself because she just knew that if she were to let go or move an inch her body would dismantle itself.

To Hermione Jean Granger, the world had ended. She would never see the only family she had again. She thought to herself, that this was it, she would not get back up from the floor and that she would come to her end too because the world could not exist anymore if her parents were gone.

So what she could not understand was why there seemed to be no end as she was crying in the fetal position on the living room floor. She doubted a grown adult could handle the pain that filled her so why had she not died? Why are the birds still singing? Why did she still see people walking down the streets as if the world was still in one peace? Why were there people still laughing, as if they had no cares in the world? How could the world keep moving on? Was the world not alerted that her parents were gone? A why had she not died with them? The last question caused her to sob even harder and sent her deeper into the panic attack.

Hermione cried herself senseless, in the middle of her parent's living room chairs on their living room floor, with no one but a cat with rectangle markings around her eyes as company. Professor McGonagall was able to follow Hermione in her animagus form easily once she had started to run off, creating the perfect distraction for McGonagall to shift. She was also unnoticed by Hermione herself, who was unable to stop the overflow of emotions, even if she wanted to. McGonagall did not disturb her but did make sure the front door was closed as she leaped on top of the mailbox in front of the Granger's home, waiting for Professor Dumbledore and the others to arrive.

Chapter Text

Upon hearing the news that his family was adopting Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy immediately felt a rush of emotions. The first emotion being disgust, as he was taught that her kind was to be considered filthier than filth itself, the second emotion being interest. The third was some hope. While Draco knew that Malfoy's did not have friends- "only allies" as his father liked to drill into him- he still felt lonely when he was not at Hogwarts. Draco had no intentions of being friends with any mudblood, top of the class or not, but it would be an improvement, he thought, to have company his age. The Malfoy Manor was huge but exploring the few areas his father allowed him to be in had grown boring as he already knew it all. Draco never outwardly showed anything but disgust for the news on Granger living with them, of course. He knew any other reaction would have earned him a "talk" in his father's study.

When Hermione ran off shortly after the funeral had started, he fought to keep his brooding expression on his face when he became confused. Funerals were for those mourning their loved ones so why was she running? He was not concerned, he told himself, he just did not understand. Evidently, no one else at the funeral understood either. The priest continued his prayer as if this was normal, which it probably was for him, while the other wizards murmured to themselves on what they should do. Old man Weasel had barely caught the younger Weasel and his sister, Weaslette, before they could run after Hermione. In the chaos, he did notice a familiar looking cat chase off after Hermione and after he saw McGonagall's seat was empty, his suspicion was confirmed. He found it easy to shake his confusion after that and risked a look at his father.

Lucius' nostril's were flaring. He was not furious, just mad. His father grumbled the whole week about the ministry bringing a mudblood into the Malfoy home, and now he somehow found a way to be personally insulted by the hurting girl who ran off. Draco did not say anything to his parents and waited for his father to make the first move. Draco learned things often went best for him when he waited for Lucius to make the first move, even when Lucius was not in a bad mood. Surprisingly, Lucius did not do anything until after the funeral was over. When the muggles started to dissipate, Lucius walked over to the Minister Fudge (who to Draco's surprise did not look like an Auguste clown for once) demanding an explanation. The Minister looked agitated himself but informed that they could only assume she ran back to her childhood home as it was not far from the cemetery.

The Malfoy's, Authur and Ron Weasley had followed Dumbledore, Fudge, and Dr. Augsen to the Granger home. Draco ignored Ron shooting him glares and looks as Lucius had warned him prior to the funeral he "expected Draco to be seen but not heard." When they finally reached the house he was surprised to see it was one of the nicer brick houses in the neighborhood. It even had a vine climbing up one side of it, flowers fully bloomed. It still seemed small to Draco as he has lived in a manor his whole life but it was not the shack he had originally imagined.

McGonagall hopped off of the mailbox and escorted them inside, where she was free to change back to her human form. Everyone could hear muffled crying from one of the other rooms and Dr. Augsen immediately walked off to find the source. "She has calmed down a lot over the past hour but I don't believe her to be in any condition to do anything else today. She needs to mourn." McGonagall directed her statement to Dumbledore even though it would be the Minister's decision. Perhaps she knew that Fudge often asked for Dumbledore's advice on matters, something that Lucius knew himself and found to be impertinent on multiple levels.

Dumbledore turned to the Minister but before he could say anything, Fudge spoke. "I think we should wait to see what Dr. Augsen has to say in regards to what Miss Granger may or may not be up to as she is the professional- no offense to you, Minerva." Fudge had taken off his bowler hat and took a few steps forward past McGonagall. He checked his pocket watch, "However, we have a little over an hour to get to the lawyer's office." The crowd of wizards took this as a cue that they were to make themselves a bit more comfortable as they would have to wait a bit.

Dumbledore, McGonagall and Fudge walked towards the stairs, heads together in conversation. The two Weasley's walked over to the right, towards the kitchen, where Draco clearly heard Ron ask his father why the Malfoy's had to be here. Remembering again of his own father's warning, Draco decided not to act now against Ron but to wait until they were back at Hogwarts to get back at the git. The Malfoy's walked over to the left side of the house where Draco noticed there was an entryway into what looked liked one of the drawing rooms in the Manor. The room was spacious and already occupied with Dr. Augsen and Hermione. Hermione was sitting up on the floor, one hand covered in dirt and the other hand holding an empty vial. Both hands were still shaking but she was silent as the tears continued to flow down her face.

The Malfoy's did not enter the room but stood to the side of the entryway outside of the room. Lucius decided it was best for his family not to interrupt. Draco stood, peering around the doorway watching Hermione. For the first time since he had known her, her hair was pulled back and out of her face. It was not in a stylish ponytail or anything pretty and it was still ridiculously bushy but he could see more of her features now; her skin was covered in red botches from all the crying she had done. Her eyelashes were long and dark from being wet, almost as most as dark as the dirt that got on her when she wiped at her tears. He could have stayed watching her if he had not felt pain shoot from the top of his toes as something was jammed into it.

"Ow!" turning around he saw that Lucius had stuck his foot with his cane.

"And what do you think you are staring at?" Lucius' eyes were narrowed watching his son, disapproval more than evident on his face. When Draco did not instantly reply he pressed harder on to the cane causing Draco to wince. He tried to get his foot free but was unable to.

Narcissa grabbed the cane and shoved it toward's Lucius. "Now is not the time." She spoke low through gritted teeth as she eyed her husband with a warning look. While Draco was scared of his father, knew to be absolutely terrified of his mother.

Before Lucius could answer though, the three heard footsteps and Dr. Augsen came out of the living room, pausing at the entryway. "Excuse me?" Dr. Augsen looked at the blond hair, sharp featured family with a neutral look on her face. Her blue eyes flicking between each of them as she studied them. "You are going to be the family to take care of Miss Granger, is that correct?" The woman also wore a blue suit that was so dark it almost passed for black. Draco dared to glance past her into the room she came out of to see brown eyes looking back at him. Her eyes were bloodshot but she had a slightly glassy look that was not related to the shiny look tears gave. He noticed her hands had stopped trembling.

"We are." Lucius gave his charming smile, one that he often gave to other business men and politicians. Draco had wondered what the consequences were if his father refused the Minister in taking Hermione in but did not realize how serious it may have been until he found his father smiling at the healer.

Looking back at the woman in front of him, Draco saw Dr. Augsen nod as they were joined by the Weasleys. Somehow, Ron went from red to a light shade of plum standing close to Draco and would have looked murderous if he wasn't a lanky, freckled face, child. Draco knew that him, and the rest of the family, hated the Malfoy's after Potter deduced Lucius had slipped Ginny Weasley the diary last summer. Mr. Weasley was better at remaining calm by simply ignoring Lucius existed.

"I gave her a bit of calming draught and in a few minutes we should be able to gather her meet with her parent's lawyers for the-"

"You gave a thirteen year old a calming draught?" Mr. Weasley had an incredulous look on his face.

Dr. Augsen eyebrows went up, not expecting her expertise to be questioned. At the sound of Mr. Weasley's raised voice, Fudge, Dumbledore and McGongall left the stairs to join them. "Why, yes I did. It's not uncommon for certain patients to be prescribed some."

Mr. Weasley literally sputtered and Draco had to bite down on his tongue so he wouldn't laugh at the ridiculous look. "But it's not recommended to be given to anyone under the age of seventeen since it's known to be strong and addicting." Dumbledore put a had on his shoulder as a warning but he had already offended the healer.

"I'm sure in the eight years of study Dr. Augsen did, four of which were dedicated to pediatric mental health, Arthur," Fudge sent a disapproving look at the Weasley "that the affects of calming draught were taught to her." Arthur Weasley stared as his shoes in embarrassment at his boss chastising him but before he could mumble an apology, Hermione emerged out of the living room grabbing everyone's attention.

Ron, being his impulsive self, walked over threw his arms around her in a tight embrace. Hermione immediately squirmed and pushed him away. The calming draught helped calm her physically but her mind was still going a hundred miles per minute. While Ron was her best friend, the hug was suffocating and was more than she could handle at the moment.

Draco, watching the little scene smiled inwardly. He knew he'd be able to get back at Ron a little before they got to Hogwarts. When Hermione walked towards the adults, Draco removed a handkerchief from his cloak's breast pocket and extended it to her. She stared at the handkerchief for a moment, not sure how to react before taking it. "Thanks." Draco's inner smile grew as Ron grew red once again at the fact that Hermione had accepted Draco's act of kindness but not his.

Dr. Augsen turned to Hermione. "When we last met I had wanted to bring you here to collect somethings of your parent's, perhaps that should be done now?" When she had met with Hermione for the first time two days ago, she wanted Hermione to come to the Granger's home immediately and gather things to be sent to the Malfoy home. Hermione refused at the time, wanting to leave the home as is. She still felt that way now but knew that if she had not picked things to take, the ministry would pick random things for her.

Hermione chewed her bottom lip thinking. After a moment of thinking, she turned to the older Weasley. "Mr. Weasley can I talk to you in this room?" She asked while pointing to the living room.

Arthur nodded, followed Hermione into the room and out of earshot. Draco wanted to peer around the entry way again and try to listen in on the conversation but it would only draw attention from everyone present. Currently, Dr. Augsen was speaking with the Headmaster, Professor McGonagall listening intensely. Shortly after though, she reappeared with Mr. Weasley holding a stack of something Draco did not recognize. They looked to be large colorful squares and the one on top had two men on it labeled "Tears for Fears."

"There are a couple more things that I need from upstairs." She spoke quietly and to Mr. Weasley but Narcissa was the one to answer.

"Draco can help you collect your things and I'll banish them to your suite in the manor." Draco stiffened as she walked over to Mr. Weasley as she spoke. With a wave of her wand and an advanced incantation of the Depluso spell, the records disappeared. She turned to Hermione and smiled a sickly sweet smile. "The Ministry has already sent over what you had with you so I imagine you won't need much more?"

Draco and Hermione both stared at Narcissa but for different reasons. Hermione stared due to being addressed directly by the woman and it not being in a rude manner. Draco stared due to the command to help a mudblood was coming from his mother. Whatever parade the ministry had forced the older Malfoys to march in was not one Draco wanted to derail. He quickly recovered and started walking over to the stairs to follow Hermione, doing everything he could to hide how uncomfortable the situation made him.

When he was by her side, Hermione seemed to snap out of the stupor she was in. She glanced at Draco briefly but then made her way up the stairs and in-front of the first door on the left. Draco made sure to keep his hands close to him, not using the rails, to keep any contact with the muggle house to a minimum.

When he got to the top he saw that the door was wide open. Looking in, he saw her room had alternating walls of purple and light blue with intricate flowers painted on the blue wall her bed was against. His nose wrinkled at how stereotypically girly her room was. While it wasn't pink, it held all the other tell tale signs that a normal girl lived there.

Before he could take a step inside to look around any further, she was in front of him again, holding books and picture frames. Draco noted her hands was shaking again and wondered if it was because she realized this was the last time she was going to be in this room for a long time- if she ever came back. "Are you really going to help me?" She didn't sound angry, just defeated. Draco felt his nose relax as he looked into her brown eyes again. The white had went from a violent crimson to a pale pink now. Her eyes still looked tortured but it still held that glassy look over it. If calming draught was as serious as his summer tutor had mentioned it to be, then Dr. Augsen knew what she was doing by giving Hermione enough for her to function on her own without melting into hysterics.

If the circumstances were different, Draco would've insulted her and walked away. However, considering how even his parents were being polite to someone they considered to be a something, he gave a terse nod and held out his arms to take the objects from her- careful not to touch her. He expected her to turn around and get more things but she closed the door and turned to walk further down the hall but hesitated when she saw Dr. Augsen waiting outside her parent's bedroom door.

Draco didn't even notice Dr. Augsen walk past and didn't believe that he could have missed the loud cracking noise of apparition so he was also surprised to see the healer standing there. "Minister Fudge said that we need to go soon and I volunteered to help." After a moment, she added "I'm sorry this is being rushed."

Draco, thinking that if her going into her own room caused her to pale and shake then he would rather use the excuse that he would bring Hermione's stuff to his mother instead of stick around. He quickly turned and tried not to rush down the stairs at the relief Dr. Augsen did not stop him when he made to leave. He paused midway on the stairs to focus on bringing up his bored face again, then continued down the stairs.

Dumbledore, McGonagall and the Weasley's were all saying their good byes to the Minister as he ushered them out. While they wanted to say good bye to Hermione, they knew that the Malfoys and Hermione were the only wizards who would be present for the reading of the will that they needed to go to. Draco walked over to Narcissa and Lucius where Narcissa quickly vanished Hermione's things to Malfoy Manor. Fudge joined them, pocket watch out and tapping his foot. Draco didn't understand what the rush was, they were all wizards and could apparate to the office, literally taking seconds.

As if reading his mind, Fudge put the watch away and looked to Narcissa. "As much as I feel sorry for the muggleborn, you would think she would understand how time consuming traveling like a muggle is." He removed his hat and ran a hand over what was left of his hair.

Without thinking, Draco spoke and immediately regretted it when he saw out of the corner of his eye that Lucius' grip tightened on his cane. "We're traveling like muggles?" He nervously glanced at his father whose eyes were in slits again.

The Minister didn't seem to mind the question but he was tired of the day. "Partially- I had her fireplace connected to the floo system for the hour where we would be able to get to the Leaky Cauldron then head ten minutes into muggle London to get to the office."

Draco nodded his understanding, and refused to meet Lucius' eyes. Luckily, Hermione and Dr. Augsen were making their way down the stairs. Hermione looked blotchy in the cheeks again and she had fresh tear streaks on her cheeks. Dr. Augsen was holding two wooden boxes, similar to the size of his broomstick servicing kit, while Hermione was using all of her strength to carry a case down the stairs. Narcissa nudged Draco in the back, signaling for him to help but when he approached Hermione, she refused to hand over the cello.

Dr. Augsen spoke as Narcissa banished the boxes. "She would like to handle the cello herself, I offered earlier and she would not let me carry it." She glanced over to Hermione who finally was at the bottom of the stairs so she could use the wheels on the case.

Narcissa walked over to send the cello to Malfor Manor but Hermione stood between her and the instrument. "Not the cello."

"You're not really expecting to floo over to muggle London and walk the streets wheeling that thing, are you, Miss Granger?" It was the first time Lucius had ever spoken to her and she wished for it to be the last. Every word dripped with loathing and she was sure in different circumstances it would have made her skin crawl.

She sniffled and rubbed at her nose. "It belonged to my Father." The words made her tear up but she started to become frustrated, giving her a strength she had not had before.

Lucius didn't even blink. While he knew he needed to stay on the Minister's good side to see his plans through, he did not attempt to understand irrationality. "And we still have errands to run that do not require an instrument."

Hermione's cheeks grew even more red and her eyes watered- completely out of anger now. Narcissa cut off Hermione when she opened her mouth with a rebuttal. "How about I shrink it for you? If you don't trust me with banishing it that will at least that will allow you to keep it on your person." Narcissa showed no outward signs of being miffed but had no issues of being passive aggressive when she felt the need to be.

Hermione opened her mouth to object but stopped herself and thought if she really did have any other choice. Realizing she didn't and that a simple reducio had a lot less risk involved than banishing, she stepped to the side and allowed Narcissa to shrink the cello so it fit into her pocket.

"Now that that's taken care of," Fudge put his hat back on his head. "We should get going now." Fudge lead everyone to the fireplace where they flooed to Diagon Alley so the will would be read.

Chapter Text

Two Weeks later.

For two weeks, Hermione Jean Granger had lived in Malfoy Manor. Or rather, in her junior suite at Malfoy Manor as she had yet to leave it once she had moved in. The suite was small as it only had one living quarter with a door leading into her bedroom. It was complete with a walk in closet and a bathroom with a large claw-foot tub. When Hermione first arrived to Malfoy Manor, she could not stop her eyes widening as she took everything in. The manor was grand and had the atmosphere of a haunted museum. While she felt like she had stepped into a home out of one her favorite titles, Pride and Prejudice (adjectives that had also befit the three Malfoys perfectly), she could not help but have an uneasy feeling settle within her. It was one of the many reasons that she had not left her suite at the manor, despite how much she would have liked the distraction of exploring it and appreciating it's beauty.

Dr. Augsen came over twice a week from thirty to sixty minutes at a time. Over the past two weeks, she taught Hermione various breathing techniques, ways to recognize panic attacks and the importance of mindfulness. Hermione thought it was a bit of rubbish as most of her panic attacks came in the middle of the night, after having a nightmare about her parents, their deaths or the murderer himself. It wasn't something she was able to see coming as she would immediately wake up in the attack and it was impossible to stop but took in the information anyway.

Today, Dr. Augsen walked around Hermione's bedroom. Usually their sessions were held in the private living space in the suite but Dr. Augsen caught Hermione by surprise during Hermione's late lunch and entered the room. Hermione sat on her bed, looking forward as Dr. Augsen paused at Hermione's desk, letters and issues of The Daily Prophet were scattered across the top. The healer started to look through the stacks of letters, seeing a few names but 'Ronald Weasley' and 'Harry Potter' being the most repeated ones. There was only one Daily Prophet that was untied and it was an article by the infamous Rita Skeeter about the Malfoy's taking in Hermione Granger. The title read Former Death Eater adopts . It was a non-libel piece which was not usually Rita Skeeter's style. Dr. Augsen noticed Hermione even left the news papers on the escaped Sirius Black untouched and frowned. She looked at Hermione, fully taking in her state: her hair was in an even bigger, unruly mess than when she first saw her and her eyes had black bags beneath them. Every week she looked more and more thin, what little tan she had gained from France was gone now as she started to grow an almost sickly pale. Dr. Augsen also noticed that Hermione had a habit of wringing her hands constantly as she was always deep in her thoughts, haunted by what she had witnessed.

"You're isolating yourself." Dr. Augsen did not say it as a question but still looked to Hermione for a reaction. When she got nothing more than the eyes briefly glancing at her, she walked towards the girl and sat by her on her bed. "Hermione, isolating yourself from everyone is not going to help you get better. Your friends are worried about you." She paused, thinking to use a different tactic, one she almost never used on her patients. After interviewing those close to Hermione and watching her over a short time, she knew Hermione was not exactly ordinary and seemed to have a more mature outlook than those in her age group. She seemed to rely off of logic rather than her emotions although her parent's death may have changed that. Helping Hermione control those emotions were going to a task but the healer was determined Hermone would be able to manage. "If this continues, I won't be able to let you return to Hogwarts."

Finally she got a reaction out of Hermione, she stopped wringing her hands and looked at her therapist. "What?"

The therapist continued on watching Hermione's face as she spoke carefully. "We're going to try something different today." Dr. Augsen pulled the chair from Hermione's desk and put it in front of the bed, so they were facing each other. When seated, the therapist handed Hermione a vial of calming draught. "Drink half of this." Hermione did as she was told, nervousness creeping into the void she felt inside. The days were Hermione felt empty were always the better days as her emotions were not whelming her but she still drank the calming draught. The nervousness was quickly washed away as the calming draught kicked in, filling Hermione with a serene calm she only ever felt when drinking it. The draught made her feel like she was in a bubble where all the dangers of reality where on the outside where she was unable to be touched by it on the inside. It was a feeling she liked a lot she realized.

"I want you to tell me what happened the day of your parent's death."

Hermione looked up to Dr. Augsen's eyes. She felt like something was poking at her calming draught bubble, threatening to pop the it but the bubble held. "I don't want to talk about that."

Dr. Augsen smiled a smile of encouragement. "I'm sure but Hermione, I'm going to ask you to trust me when it comes to our sessions. I'm here to help you get better and help you enter society again. If I feel you're not well enough to go back to Hogwarts, you won't." Dr. Augsen leaned back into her chair, a neutral look on her face as she watched every expression and micro-expression cross on to Hermione's face. She first saw horror, then stress, fear, and then, finally, anger. Dr. Augsen saw this as a good thing as Hermione wasn't allowing completely stopping herself from mourning. She was not the shell she was when they first met at Hermione's week at the ministry following the death of her parent's. However, She didn't doubt that Hermione had become a bit of a recluse.

Hermione still had an angry look on her face when Dr. Augsen spoke again. She was stressed from what Dr. Augsen said but she didn't bubble over like she would have without the draught in her system. "I want you to use the breathing techniques I taught you when we first started doing our sessions. Try palm breathing first and when you're ready I would like for you to try your best in telling me what happened."

Hermione's anger grew and she fought for the bubble she imagined herself to be in to remain unpopped. "I find it better not to think about it." Her throat began to burn and she swallowed hard.

Dr. Augsen crossed her legs, her eyes never leaving the girl, summoning her clipboard and self writing quill to take notes on the session. "Do you find it easier? In my studies I've found that it's harder to build up those walls on such a traumatic experience. It's often found that the body is naturally wanting to process the trauma and the emotions coming with it." Hermione looked up at Dr. Augsen, listening. She was in immense emotional pain but the logic in her brain kept working at all times, always listening and processing. Sometimes that was the issue and why she enjoyed the doses of the draught Dr. Augsen supplied. It didn't stop the thoughts but did slow them down. "I can help you Hermione but you must cooperate. You're safe with me, you can trust me. And your friends." The doctor motioned to the desk with letters on the desk top.

While she knew Dr. Augsen was right saying that she had isolated herself, physically and emotionally, she was trying to avoid running into things that made her think about her parents. All of the stuff that she had brought from her parents house were in a corner of her walk-in closet, out of her sight. She also hated the idea of being outside because she -was- attacked outside. Hermione had chosen to try and isolate everything because she could not stand the pain of being constantly reminded of them more than her brain did already reminded her. She had taken up trying to finish the last essay she had to do before term started, but she planned on writing about the history of magic in France so it was a reminder of what she had lost also. Hermione could not look over the rest the work she had already finished as she could hardly focus on the words in front of her. She cried all day, sometimes without noticing, sometimes loudly and sometimes quietly.

When she left the Granger home she accepted what had happened was not a nightmare. Her parents were dead and not coming back. It made her even more angry and she wanted to do the same to the murderer who killed them but she knew he was also dead, the french muggle authorities shot him on sight. Witnessing three deaths in one night was not something any thirteen year old should go through. She knew that.

Dr. Augsen rummaged through her briefcase and pulled out a white envelope. "I spoke with your parents' lawyer after we sat through the reading of the will. I asked him if it was alright for him to supply a copy of the explanation on why they did not pass the business on to you." She placed the note on to Hermione's lap. "They loved you so much, Hermione. They would want you to keep you doing great things."

Hermione's anger dissipated and she breathed in through her nose. Tears started to flow down her face as she remembered her reaction hearing the words the first time, touched Dr. Augsen got a copy of their words. Opening the envelope, she read every word in the paragraph as if it were water and she was dying of thirst in a desert:

We, William and Jean Granger, leave our ownership of Granger & Granger dentistry to Dr. Daniel Emil Dixon. Hermione, we know that we had always talked to you about owning the dentistry but after you started school, we knew that you were going to do something much more extraordinary than owning a dentist office. That was our dream we chased, not yours. You truly are our daughter and will do the greatest of things but only in something that would make you happy. It took your father and I long enough to realize this after your many tantrums on the extracurricular activities and lessons we tried to enroll you in that you were only going to do what you wanted. It was after you started term at your special boarding school we realized we would not want it any other want it any other way; You have always made us proud and will continue to do so. Love you always, Sunshine.

Her parents had always backed her because of what she had accomplished and achieved when they left her to her own devices. She knew she had to continue that as that was something they wanted for her. Hermione knew she had to fight through the loss, her pain, her longing to be with her parents again. It was all so crushing but if she had not died on the living room floor from her first panic attack then she knew she could survive many more. She would do it for them.

Sitting there for a moment, Dr. Augsen thought that taking the logical route with Hermione was a mistake, that she read the girl wrong. Hermione balled as she clutched the letter to her chest. Dr. Augsen started to think that the girl was putting up more walls and would not talk until Hermione raised her right palm, tracing the outline of it with her left index finger. Hermione breathed in her nose as best as she could when going up on each finger, held her breathe for a few seconds at the tip then exhaled going down her fingers. waited patiently while Hermione did this and eventually, she calmed down to the point her breathing was even. Hermione looked up at the healer, dark honey eyes meeting sapphire blue ones. Hermione had a shine to her eyes that gave Dr. Augsen hope she would be able to find out what happened.

Hermione decided to start at the beginning of the day and Dr. Augsen did not interrupt. Hermione took breaks to get her breathing back on track and focus on the calm swirling in her stomach. As her story progressed though, the longer they had to stop for Hermione to collect herself and practice breathing techniques. It wasn't easy for Hermione at all even though she was talking about the good parts of the day, like how her parents took her to Muśee du Louvre so they could see the famous art like the Mona Lisa. She talked about how they stopped at French bakeries through out the day for meals, her mom never stopping her rant on how beautiful the city of Paris was. She talked about her parents visiting the Notre Dame cathedral and how her mom teared up at being surrounded by the beauty of the church, her dad was even in awe at the detailing of the work in everything- relating it to the detail he personally paid into fixing people's teeth. His comments made Hermione laugh as he sounded a bit pompous saying it.

Then, Hermione stopped, her head dropping and her body shaking. It was the end of their scheduled time but Dr. Augsen was determined not to move, allowing Hermione to finish if she could manage. Hermione felt panic fill her and a vice grip close on her small chest. She felt scared, just as she had that night and she started to look around, looking for her parents in her room.

"Hermione." a woman's voice caused her to look forward again, seeing a woman in a suit. She looked familiar and but it wasn't Hermione's mom.

Hermione blinked a few times. "Dr. Augsen." The healer calling out to her stopped her from being fully enthralled into a flashback. She felt disoriented at how suddenly it came and felt as if the panic will take over again. "I don't think I can talk about it." Dr. Augsen nodded, her face neutral but she was both disappointed and excited at the progress made. She knew that Hermione had almost been thrown into a flashback and did not want to push her. She pulled out a small cube from her briefcase and handed it to Hermione. Each side had a different texture with one end having buttons to make a clicking sound. "Play with this a little and it will help you get your focus back." Hermione took the cube, studying each side. One side had spikes and she rubbed her thumb over it, focusing on the feel of it. Slowly the panic became manageable.

"Thank you." Hermione did mean it but not just for the cube. "For the letter also."

Dr. Augsen nodded again. "I'll see you Saturday then but I am going to assign you a bit of work. I would like for you to read your friend's letters, I think you'll find them helpful also in managing what you're going through. When I come back on Saturday, I would like for us to continue." Dr. Augsen looked over at the girl one more time for the day then made to leave her room.

"Dr. Augsen?" Hermione spoke softly but the healer turned around. The face she saw was a young one, filled with a tiredness not related to sleep. Her eyes were only slightly glassy as she only had half the dose of the already 'weak' dose of calming draught. "I trust you."

The healer gave a small smile. "Thank you., Hermione." And with that she left the room, and the suite to find the head of the house hold.

---

Lucius drank deeply from the glass of Brandy he poured for himself, thinking back to the day of the funeral. The girl was bright- that much he knew although he would not admit it out loud. He wanted to intervene with the will, as muggle law said he had the power to do so, but he had been warned enough by Fudge he was to only home the girl and not harm a hair on her head, physically or not. If he was able to do what he wanted, he would have taken everything and sold it off. Not that he needed the money, it would have been done just to spite the girl and make her suffering worse. Instead, he allowed her to pick what would be done and offered no advice, whether she chose good or bad.

For an emotionally distraught thirteen year old, she did well. Draco had mentioned she was considered the 'Brightest Witch of the Age' by many of their peers but Lucius did not image she had any business sense. The late Grangers had given the rest of their business to the other muggle healer and Hermione looked distraught at first but the Grangers included their reasoning why. It was very sappy, saying they loved her, was proud of her and they wanted her to make her own choices, not do what they wanted her to do. It made Lucius extremely uncomfortable when it was being read out loud. He did love Draco but did not see the need in telling him as his father had not and Draco would be disowned if he did not take over the businesses Lucius invested in. When Hermione learned she was getting the house, two automobiles (something that made Lucius skin crawl when thinking about traveling in one), over 300,000 pounds (something he was sure transferred to a lot of galleons) and some stock, she decided to sell the stock and leave 100,000 pounds in an account where any property taxes could be directly removed from it till she became of age (in the muggle world.) The rest of the money she had the ministry remove and transfer into her Gringott's account. Hermione was not worried about the rest of the assets as the Ministry had already communicated to her an advanced stasis charm would be placed on it along with a Fidelis charm so no muggles would attempt to mess with the home and everything would stay as it was that day.

Lucius was grateful that the orphan holed herself in her suite and was not running a muck as the portraits of his ancestors reprimanded him enough about her living there. Purebloods had an affinity for sensing the blood purity in someone, something that transferred to their portraits apparently. He was unable to walk through his home in peace without at least hearing a murmur on how much of a disgrace he was. He did not try to reason as Malfoys didn't need to explain their actions to the dead- especially when it was only a fraction of the actual person the painting held. Lucius continued to think back two weeks, savoring the memories as fuel for the fire of revenge he planned to unleash on the Minister:

From the second the four had walked into the home there was silence. The portraits stared at the four of them, mostly sneering, assuming Hermione Granger was another of Lucius' victims. When they saw him guiding her up the stairs and into one of the guest suites instead of the drawing room or the dungeon, they immediately erupted once the door had closed to her chambers, a coincidence as Malfoys held their tongue for no one.

"Is that a Mudblood? Why is that thing being treated as a guest?"

"Why I would never-"

"-IN THE HOUSE OF MALFOY?" That voice came from Brutus Malfoy who was posted near the main west wing hallway, the half of the manor Draco was not allowed in. He was completely standing up, his face red causing an odd contrast with his pale hair. The other Malfoys in his portrait nodding in agreement.

"LUCIUS!" Above the fireplace in the foyer (the only one that was connected to the floo network) a family portrait of a young Lucius, his mother and his father hung. The young Lucius looked away with his jaw twitching, his mother was weeping, and his father had the perfect duplicate of his father's actual look of disgust on his face. For the first time since his father's death, Lucius noticed that even the smallest shadows of his father's wrinkles were perfectly painted on the portrait. "How dare you call yourself a Malfoy? You are no son of mine." Abraxas Malfoy's portrait-self was even spitting. Lucius made a mental note to locate the artist if he was still alive and make sure he no longer found work.

Lucius would have felt hurt if he hadn't heard his actual father say that many times before. "Crewe." Lucius locked eyes with the portrait of his deceased father as the house elf popped into the foyer.

"Yes, Mas-" The House elf no longer had bandages on his one ear but did have scorch marks on his rags and legs.

"Remove this portrait and replace it with the one of Narcissa and I." Lucius looked over at his own son, looking him up and down. "Maybe one day you'll have made me proud enough to have a full family portrait over the fireplace." Lucius stalked off towards his study, not caring to see Draco shove off Narcissa's comforting hand as he stomped to his own bedroom chambers.

Lucius himself had hardly talked to his family since but that was normal. Draco was always kept busy on the other side of the manor and Narcissa did not bother him often. Taking another sip of his Brandy, Lucius laid back in his chair, closing his eyes, trying not to think about newly adopted daughter and instead how he would get revenge on Cornelius Fudge. When it finally hit him on how he may be able to get back at the Minister, he finished off his Brandy.

Malfoy Manor had two libraries. The main library where anyone in the manor had access to, and the Malfoy Archives that only Lucius had access to. The Archives held all books relating to or written by a Malfoy, including their personal journals. It just so happened that Abraxas Malfoy had also planned on resolving his personal issues with a Minister and Lucius wondered if it would be worth the trouble to face another portrait of Abraxas to get to the journals.

Lucius put the tips of his fingers together, deep in his own thoughts when he heard a knock on his study door. He vanished the glass into the main kitchen before getting up to open the door. Smoothing down his hair, he walked over to his study door and opened it, surprised that it was Hermione's healer and not his wife. "Dr. Augsen, is something the matter? I didn't think you would need to talk to me for Miss Granger's care." He wasn't exactly annoyed with the doctor but anything that had to do with Hermione was an inconvenience for him.

She looked at him, leveling his stare with her own. "Sometimes it's necessary I talk to the guardian's of my patients." She pushed the edge of glasses so it sat higher on her nose. "How often do you interact with Hermione?"

Lucius raised an eyebrow at the tall woman. He didn't have many inches over her and it made him work to seem intimidating as she was nearly as tall as him. "Are you a social worker?"

"Partially." She cocked her head to the side. "It's not often that the Ministry has to deal with orphans so why make two positions when you could have one?" Giving Lucius a small smile she slipped past him and into his study uninvited. She started to look around, assessing everything he had in the study.

Lucius gripped the door tighter, annoyed once again that a Ministry official thought they could do what they wanted and he could not do anything about it. "Was there something I could help you with Dr. Augsen?"

Dr. Augsen chose not to look at him and to watch his reflection through one of the vases. She didn't want to tip off that she was watching him. "I believe I asked how often you interact with Hermione." She let a bit of sharpness enter her voice to see how he would react.

Lucius continued to grow annoyed with the healer but reminded himself that she could report something as a stray hair on Hermione's head and have him arrested or fined. He put up a bored face and conjured an air of nonchalance. "I actually work long hours and am traveling often. I can honestly say I have not interacted with her since the day of the funeral."

Dr. Augsen nodded and turned around using both hands to grip the handle of the briefcase. "And Narcissa? Draco?" She was halfway through looking through the study, standing by his large African Black Wood desk.

"I'm afraid I haven't seen much of them either-I only see them at dinner." Lucius wanted to kick himself when he realized he said too much. Damn brandy.

"Does Hermione eat dinner with your family?" Dr. Augsen turned back to looking over the study and catching Lucius' reflection in different shiny objects.

He wanted to pull out his wand and place a stinging hex on her but resisted the urge. "No. I believe Narcissa did invite her to have dinner with us as it's something even our guests will join us for when staying with us."

The healer finished rounding the study and slowly walked towards Lucius. "I see. I assume this invitation was only extended once." She stopped in front of Lucius. Allowing her casual tone to drop into a sharp one again. "I'm going to need you and Narcissa to make more of an effort in incorporating her into this..." Dr. Augsen let her nose twitch to get a rise out of Lucius before finishing her sentence "family. If I feel that she's being neglected it will be reported to the ministry."

Lucius eyes lit up at Dr. Augsen's threat. Lucius thought back to when the Minister was last in the study and wondered if the Malfoy name really had lost it's respect. No one would have dared disrespect him or his family fifteen years ago.

"Of course, if you're too forceful and make her regress even further, there will also be consequences." Dr. Augsen pushed her glasses up higher on her nose.

"Is it not your job to help her?" Lucius voice had changed from bored to malicious, his grip on remaining cool headed slipping.

Dr. Augsen smiled, this time it was one that went from ear to ear. "Of course it is. But it's your job to make her feel as if she's a part of your family- The Minister was very clear on that."

Lucius felt bile rise in his throat. He was the Ministry's personal joke it seemed. Finally loosing his cool, he opened the door to his study. "Was that all you came to talk to me about?"

Dr. Augsen's smiled seemed to grow brighter. "Yes." She walked out of the study and glanced back at the head of house. "Have a good day Mr. Malfoy." She walked off when Lucius slammed the the door. Lucius stayed listening to the sound of her heels getting farther and farther away. When he could no longer hear them he focused on the wards of the house, keeping tabs on her presence until she was no longer on the property. The Manor's wards were made so that any Malfoy was able to sense the presence of others on the property, something Hermione would now be able to do he realized- even if she was not Malfoy by name (something both she and him adamantly refused when signing the documents for guardianship.) Living in the Manor for roughly forty years though, Lucius was able to map out the manor and sense exactly where anyone was- sometimes even pin pointing their identities if he was familiar enough with the person. If he really put the effort in to accessing the wards that is.

When she was gone, Lucius started to pour himself another Brandy deciding that he needed Abraxas Malfoy's journals. It was only after one sip though that he got an odd sensation at the small of his back. Focusing in on the wards again, he sensed several more people on the premises walking towards his front doors.

Hermione had taken mulling over today's session with Dr. Augsen, a welcome distraction from her usual thoughts.

While she was not ready to read what Ron and Harry had said, she wrote them each an apology about not getting back to them and that she was alive, although not exactly well. Her only issue was getting the letters to them as she did not own an owl. She wondered if the Malfoys owned another house elf after Harry freed Dobby last year. She knew her meals appeared and disappeared in her suite but never heard a door open or close. No matter which way she thought about it, it seemed her only option was to leave her suite as she was going to need to find someone since she had only seen Dr. Augsen in the manor for the last two weeks.

She had bathed after Dr. Augsen left, taking her time for preparing the task before her. Goals and tasks were good, she knew this before and Dr. Augsen had encouraged them in their earlier sessions. Goals and tasks meant that she had a focus, something to distract her from why she was at Malfoy manor.

Hermione was currently pacing back and forth in her suite, in front of the door that allowed her to enter the rest of the manor. She was internally arguing with herself as she anxiously played with the cube her therapist gave her, having something that was roughly textured was grounding for her and she grew fond of it already. A very big part of her wanted to stay in her safe space. She felt the world on the outside was unsafe as she and her parents were attacked but at the same time the Manor was not outside. The only ones who were there were the Malfoys. She took the cube and made circles into her palm with it. She knew the Malfoys would not do anything to hurt her as they would have a one way ticket to Azkaban but a part of her screamed that they wouldn't of had cared. She did her best to squish that part of her but thoughts of Ron and Harry explaining what happened while she was petrified in regards to the chamber of secrets flooded her head. Ginny, who was a first year, a child, a girl, a pureblood was put in dire situations because of Lucius. If a man like that had no care for someone so innocent that was 'one of his kind' what would he do to Hermione? Hermione paced even faster as she continued to think. If they wanted her dead she would already be dead. It's not like she had left her room at all and they did feed her. She could have easily been ambushed or poisoned with no magic to defend herself.

Hermione then stopped in her tracks as she thought that just because she didn't have a wand didn't mean she couldn't defend herself. Guilt started to rise in her and she started to sob. She felt pathetic, small and useless. Thoughts circled in her head saying that her parent's blood was on her hands as she hadn't defended them that night. She sank to the floor, wishing she had more of the calming draught that Dr. Augsen had always brought with her, when she realized she did.

Hermione ran back into her room and looked though the comforters until her hand enclosed on the corked glass vial. She knew it was powerful and that she shouldn't drink the rest of it but she still wondered how much would be enough to get the same effect Dr. Augsen managed to get her. The half she drank earlier today had mostly subsided but she could feel a tiny bit of the effects and did not want to over do it.

Shoving aside her worries she decided to uncork the bottle and take a very small sip, gauging the effects. The effect she got was just enough for her to fall into the easy security the draught provided, releasing her of the survivor's guilt she felt and her earlier thoughts. Hermione put the vial on her desk and walked out into the suite again, the two scrolls of parchment in one hand and her cube in the other. She slowly took steps towards the door, ignoring how her anxiety grew with each step. She focused instead on the draught's effects. This time, it didn't seem so much as a bubble but a cat instead and her anxiety was a mouse. When she got to the door she took a deep breath, imagining that her anxiety was caught between the cat's claws, as her hand closed on the door knob. Releasing the breath she turned the knob and opened the door.

She stood there for a moment, her heart pounding in her chest as her fear rooted to the spot. She knew she stopped breathing and no matter what she did she couldn't force herself too. Her hands started to ball into fists, ruining the parchment she had in one hand but the sharp pain in her other hand directed her attention away from the fear long enough for her to remember the cube in her hand. Seeing the wooden cube she closed her eyes and willed herself to focus as she started to click the buttons on one side of the cube. The clicking was calming and she was able to crawl back into the calmness the draught brought her. Hermione thought again maybe she should drink more of the draught but after taking a step forward she found it easier to keep moving. She didn't turn around, not even to close the door behind her. She kept walking down the hallway she vaguely remembered being guided down when she first got to the manor and did not stop.

She found the stairs and tip toed as she descended them. Hermione felt a bit of an adrenaline rush at being out side of the suite but did not want to draw attention to herself just yet. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she allowed herself to take a bit of time walking around the foyer to appreciate the intricate wood detailing in the furniture and how the colors matched, not just the wallpaper but the decor perfectly. After the first few portraits, she decided not to look at them as they all either gave her a dirty look or turned their nose up and away from her.

When she reached the fireplace, Hermione felt a very odd sensation at the small of her back. The hair stood on end and the spot had cooled. It was similar to walking through a ghost at Hogwarts- something no one enjoyed. She turned around expecting to see a ghost poking at her back but saw nothing. It would have made sense for the Malfoys to have a ghost or two considering how old the family was but something just seemed... off to her. She looked at the portraits who seemed to be glaring at her, hatred in their eyes. Some muttered to the others in their portrait's sending her glares, some fanned themselves furiously refusing to make eye contact and others just silently glared at her.

She made to ask them a question when she heard heavy footsteps coming towards the foyer. Hermione ducked behind a couch as Lucius Malfoy strode past her, wand at the ready, not noticing her as he was focused on getting to where he needed to be. She then heard a loud knocking coming from front door followed by a loud crack. Lucius had not yet reached the front door when she heard a voice that sounded meek but carried down the entrance hall and into the foyer where she stood.

"Master Malf-" The voice started.

"Open the door, Crewe."

Hermione knew it would have been smart for her to go back to her suite but she did not trust Lucius and wanted to know what had him so riled up that he was practically running for the front door.

Hermione crept down the hallway with her back to the wall, the small of her back growing slightly colder, until she knew she was hidden from anyone outside's line of sight while also remaining unnoticed by Lucius.

"My manor isn't the head quarters for the Ministry. State your business and leave." Lucius sounded vicious and Hermione wanted to flinch although she knew it wasn't directed at her. The situation she was in made her stomach churn from being so nervous. A part of her wanted to turn back but she stayed, determined to learn something about the oldest Malfoy.

"We're doing a wellness check." The voice was familiar and Hermione risked a step closer to hear better.

However when she took a step closer, a hand closed over her mouth. She leaned into the wall behind her, eyes wide, when she saw Draco Malfoy. His blond eyebrows were close together, wrinkling the space between them. He leaned close to her ear and used his other hand to grab her arm. "Let's go, he'll be upset to see you eavesdropping." He pulled at her but she refused to move, her stubbornness and dislike of Draco over ruling anything else she felt at that moment.

She turned her head away, freeing herself from his palm. "And he's OK with you eavesdropping?" Her eyebrows were raised out of habit when she delivered a sassy retort.

Draco let go of her arm and crossed his own across his chest. He opened his mouth to reply when Lucius spoke again.

"A wellness check? What for?" Lucius sounded exasperated and the familiar voice started to talk again when a voice she actually recognized spoke over it.

"Hermione sent me this letter! After two weeks of not hearing from her, this is what she replies with so I gave the letter to dad. That's why the aurors are here Mr. Malfoy." Ronald Weasley sounded like he was trying to imitate Draco when he was being a prat but was failing miserably.

Her stomach sank even lower. What did Ron do? Her anger swallowed any rational thought she had and she strode into view to see Mr. Weasley, Ron who was holding up what was presumably the letter she supposedly sent in front of Lucius, and three men clad in simple black suits- the Ministry's aurors. All six heads swiveled to look at her, all six surprised that the topic of the conversation would appear so suddenly. Her face burned as she refused to returns anyone's looks, snatching the folded parchment out of Ronald's hand and read.

The handwriting looked very similar to her own but was not as neat and there were spelling errors- something she never had- along with punctuation being terrible. She shook her head, completely in awe of how thick her best friend was- to the point he had the authorities involved.

"So." Lucius' voice was calm but she could hear a strain in his voice from attempting to speak calmly. His gaze was boring down at Hermione, the lightest of pinks on his cheeks. If she was not bright red in the face from her own anger she would have squirmed. "Did you write this cry for help? Am I refusing to feed you and keeping you in a dungeon? A dungeon," Lucius turned his glare to Arthur now. "that your many raids of my home last year Mr. Weasley- would have proved do not exist?"

"She did!" Ron spoke again but refused to meet anyone's gaze. She forgot her anger for a second as shock twisted her features. He expected to her to cover the mess he made.

"If there was a problem Dr. Augsen would have reported it!" Her anger came back full force and she directed it to Ron completely. He looked away from everyone after blanching. When he didn't turn back to say anything she looked at Mr. Weasley. "Were no tracking charms done to verify the validity of where this post actually came from Mr. Weasley?" It was then the older Weasley's turn to blush. She felt bad for pointing out how he had failed to properly verify the claim and opened her mouth to apologize but found his voice.

"Then why haven't you replied to me? Or Harry? We thought the worst! And now Harry has gone missing-"

"RON!" Bellowed Arthur Weasley but not over Hermione's shrilly "WHAT?"

The younger red head shifted his weight uncomfortably unsure of what to do next.

"What happened to Harry, Ron?!" She felt herself drop everything in her hands. Her body went completely cold as the many emotions she now felt regularly went rampant. She briefly thought she regretted not drinking more of the druaght. The constant mood swings she experienced through out the day was causing a toll on her, making her light headed. She couldn't handle another person in her life being taken from her.

"He ran away and no one can find him, 'Mione. Apparently he performed acci-"

But she didn't hear the rest as she fainted against the door.

---

 

When Hermione came to, she was no longer in the entry hallway but in her bed. Narcissa was standing by the desk that was near her bed, draining a wet rag. Hermione had only opened her eyes Narcissa turned her head towards her. "How are you feeling?"

Hermione felt deprived of any energy and any emotion. “Tired.” That’s always what it summed up to lately. Hermione felt a headache start to form. When she propped herself up so she could sit on the bed it made her sway from the pain being so tense.

Narcissa noticed and placed the wet rag to the side. She pulled out her wand and pointed it at Hermione’s head.
Instinct before reason kicked in and Hermione jumped out of her bed, out of the bedroom and slammed the door behind her. From the pain and light headedness she still felt she whirled around and started to fall again. Her brain screamed at her to brace for impact but her body did not respond, too drained of energy.

Suddenly she heard a snap, then the bedroom door open. The sound of heels came closer to her and when she saw that Narcissa’s waist was level to her eye sight she fully processed she never hit the floor after she tripped. She looked around and saw what looked like a three feet tall, beige mole rat wearing a burnt potato sac. It was missing an ear and had large black eyes. Faintly the connection clicked, Hermione had seen sketches of house elves in books she read before but was grateful they weren’t as mean looking in real life as they were in the books- though they were just as unpleasing to the eye. She knew their magic was strangely different and powerful. Ever since Harry talked about Dobby last year she wondered when she would have the chance to meet one.

“Your reflexes are excellent as always, Crewe.” Narcissa nodded at the house elf and he bowed in response. “I was going to try and heal your headache, Hermione. I did not mean to startle you”

Hermione’s eyes drifted from Crewe to Narcissa. She had her long slender fingers crossed over her stomach. For the first time she noticed that Narcissa’s eyes had a glint of amusement in them.

“Crewe, place her back on the bed.”

Hermione heard another faint snap as she closed her eyes. She wanted to groan but knew it would make her vertigo worse, possibly causing her to vomit. Before her stomach became upset though she felt her body sink into the cool sheets of her bed again.

“Where does it hurt? Draco said you didn’t hit your head on anything when you fell.” The amused glint in her eyes was gone and Hermione swore she saw worry instead but the flicker of emotion was gone as soon as it had came. The Malfoy's had a gift it seemed to be completely unreadable when they wanted to be. As she bent over Hermione, Narcissa took out her wand again, ready to perform magic on Hermione.

“It starts from my cheeks and radiates into the crown of my head.” At the mention of Draco, Hermione focused on trying to remember what happened exactly before she fell, but thinking seemed to made the pain worse.

“Tension headache.” Narcissa took her wand out of her dress pocket and held it over Hermione’s face. “Tensio dimittere.” Hermione wondered how she could also keep her regal air when tending to someone else. Instantly, Hermione felt the headache go away and the muscles in her face relax. Her face did start to grew warm in response and Narcissa passed the damp rag to her.

Hermione was utterly floored at Narcissa’s kindness. She took the rag and held it to one cheek before alternating it to the other. Narcissa started to summon different materials to Hermione’s desk as Hermione watched in awe. She knew nonverbal magic was difficult, most adult wizards still used verbal, yet Narcissa made it look so easy. It was a skill Hermione wanted to one day master.

Before long, Narcissa had a cauldron brewing that gave off an earthy scent. “Crewe, I’ll be having dinner here today with Hermione. Please inform Lucius for me.” Hermione looked at the blonde and brunette woman who was currently caring for her, still trying to process that maybe the family was not so bad. Narcissa brought Hermione's desk chair by the bed to she could sit next to her. Hermione finally remembered why she had fainted and opened her mouth to ask if Narcissa knew what happened to Harry but stopped when Narcissa turned to look at her. The look Narcissa gave had made her feel like she was in trouble.“I believe after your first night here you were invited to have dinner with us.”

Hermione, feeling better, pushed herself up on her elbows with the bit of strength the anti-headache spell returned to her. She nodded as Hermione placed the rag against her forehead. “Yes ma’am, you did invite me.”

Narcissa crossed her legs, then her hands on her lap. “Even our guests are obligated to have dinner with us when they stay with us. We understand you have been mourning but I expect you to start joining us before the week ends.”

Hermione’s stomach churned again but knew she could not refuse. “Yes, ma’am." It seemed like a trival thing anyway with Harry Missing.

Narcissa looked at the cauldron and waved her wand one so the ladle in the cauldron stirred the potion clockwise on it’s own. After roughly five minutes, Narcissa waved her wand again and the ladle pour the yellow liquid into a glass that drifted to Hermione. “Drink this.”

Hermione grabbed the glass and sniffed. If she was only allowed to use one word to describe the smell it would be healthy. “May I ask what this is?”

The corner’s of Narcissa’s mouth curled upward slightly. “It’s an old family recipe. It should give you back some of the vitamins and nutrients your body is missing along with building an appetite."

“I see.” Hermione took a deep breath then drank the liquid in one go. A wave of warmth spread through her again but it didn’t stop at her face and went through her whole body. Slowly she started to feel like she had some substance to her and she didn’t feel so light headed or sick. As she took note of how her body responded to the potion and started to summon her courage before her worry would take over. "I assume the Weasley's are no longer present?” She didn't meet Narcissa's eyes and placed the rag on her forehead so she could not see most of what was in front of her.

“Draco saw you faint then came to get me as I am our Healer. Lucius chased off the Weasley’s and those troublesome aurors.” Narcissa let a small shudder run through her for emphasis. Hermione wanted to ask why she thought aurors were troublesome but knew that it was probably due to the manor being raided several times in the last year by Mr. Weasley. Hermione realized again the scene Ron had caused and started to grow angry. "Did they happen to mention anything about Harry before leaving?" Her chest burned with anger and her stomach churned. Hermione removed the cloth from her face to watch Narcissa's reaction.

"No but I am sure the Ministry has shut down all of their offices to look for him." The tone was dismissive and Hermione understood it was a queue to talk about it no further.

Before the silence became awkward, the door opened and Crewe arrived with their dinner and Narcissa conjured a small table for them to share as they ate.

Hermione’s plate was piled with quinoa, corn, and grilled fish. Her stomach growled for the first time in weeks as it smelled absolutely amazing.

“I’m going to need you eat all of your food. You’ve been neglecting your body which is part of why you fainted earlier.” She did not needed to be told twice and struggled to not shovel the food into her mouth as she was sure Narcissa would be personally offended.

Narcissa finished her meal before Hermione did and started to vanished what she had summoned to Hermione's desk. “I’m going to brew more of the potion. It’ll help you build an appetite as we usually have five course meals.” When she vanished Hermione's clean plate, she grabbed the calming draught from the top of the desk and carefully looked at it. “Dr. Augsen didn’t mention to me earlier she left you with calming draught.”

Hermione felt something click in her head. She was able to put two and two together and chastised herself for thinking that there wasn’t an alternative motive to Narcissa being here. “She left it.” She felt slightly miffed and was unsure why. Probably because her first full filling human contact that was not by her healer was ordered by her healer.

Narcissa looked at the girl, understanding of the calming draught sinking in as she stared at Hermione. “I see. I’ll keep this then and if you feel you need it, you can come find me.”

Hermione was taken aback completely but another part of her was happy. “You’re not going to return it to her?”

The older woman smiled at Hermione, it wasn’t a warm smile but it wasn’t a cold one either. Hermione found it frustrating that no matter how of an astute observer she was she could never figure out what the Malfoys were thinking or feeling. “No, Hermione. Enough questions as you should work on going to bed. Your body has been through a lot. And tomorrow,” Narcissa nodded to the desk that was half covered with unopened letters and The Daily Prophet I expect you to start work through that.”

Hermione knew the letters were something Dr. Augsen had mentioned to her also. Dr. Augsen definitely talked to Narcissa but when Hermione said she would trust her she did mean it. Hermione nodded, and pulled her comforter over her, not bothering to change out of her sundress.

Hermione didn’t think falling asleep was possible but as Narcissa had pointed out, her body disagreed with her and pulled into a sleep so deep, not even a nightmare disturbed it nor Hedwig tapping at her window disturbed it.

Chapter Text

"How was she after she fainted yesterday?" Lucius Malfoy was allowing himself to be dressed for the day by Crewe as Narcissa slipped on a silk dress. Narcissa never bothered to be dressed by a house elf, even when the Malfoys had more than one. Lucius didn't care for Hermione past how the adoption would benefit him, so he tasked Narcissa with keeping an eye on her after Dr. Augsen had spoken to him. Or at least he meant to as Narcissa was already ahead of him since she had ran into Dr. Augsen before the healer had found Lucius in his study. By the time he made it back to the bedroom, Narcissa had already took it upon herself to start looking after Hermione more closely.

"Pathetic of course. I had to brew her one of the old Black potions before Dr. Augsen got the idea to report she was malnourished." The female Malfoy smoothed down the front of her dress. "When my parents died I was not even half the mess she was. It's like she wants to drive herself crazy by locking herself away. I don't think she's opened one letter- let alone replied to one." Narcissa frowned into her shoes before slipping them on to her feet. "I have to admit that Weasley boy was a bit creative coming up with the idea to report a fake letter."

"Some say you learn to be creative when you have little to live off of." If Lucius was anything short of an aristocrat he would have snorted at his own joke. "You were not that much of a mess because but your parents weren't muggles, Narcissa. You were raised to be the elite by the elite, the Blacks were a strong family- and you are the perfect product of that. It's why I took you as my wife." He waved Crewe off of the last remaining buttons of his shirt so he could sit next to Narcissa on their bed. He kissed her shoulder. "She's a thorn in our side for the moment but there's only three weeks left of the summer holiday if nothing happens to her before then."

"This whole predicament is nothing short of embarrassing, Lucius. We can't do anything about her and you know it so don't act like we'll do something to her. The Ministry knows it, our neighbors know it, the whole wizarding world knows it! Have you found a way to get Fudge out of office? Or rectify this at all?" Her voice would have seemed nagging to others but Lucius, being married to the former Black for years, knew better. Her question was a challenge for him to find a solution before she felt the need to get involved. Lucius Malfoy knew that while he was the head of the family, she was the neck that turned the Malfoys any which way she wanted them to go.

"I'm working on it." His voice was cold and low as he stood up to pick up the two envelopes from his night stand to hand them to her. "These came in earlier in the week. Will you be signing her permission slip to go to Hogsmeade?" He thought about how miserable it would be for Hermione to have to stay at Hogwarts while her friends went out. He knew she may have wanted to lock herself in now but eventually she would want to wander. He figured Narcissa could say that they thought it was for her health she stayed sheltered a year or two just to make her that more miserable. It would have been something small to humiliate the girl but Lucius did not mind taking small wins for now.

Narcissa took them from him, already opening Draco's. "No, I plan on treating her publicly like an out cast so it would be made obvious to everyone that what The Daily Prophet keeps printing is a bunch of lies created to cover something bigger up- like my dear cousin breaking out of Azkaban." She turned to look at him then. "I hear Fudge has reserved a family cell for us next to his. I can not wait to be able to catch up with him once he's caught because you wanted to be petty with her permission slip."

Lucius' nostrils flared. "How long are you going to blame me for this?"

"How long until she turns seventeen? Or rather eighteen because of the stupid muggle Ministry not recognizing an adult for another year? No one told you to put yourself into multiple positions where Fudge was able to blackmail us and dump her here! As far as I am concerned, you played just as big a part in this as Fudge did."

"You can't stay mad at me until that filth becomes of age, Narcissa." He found her attitude and sass to be aggravating. Usually he enjoyed it as it was not often directed at him. He buttoned up the last few buttons of his shirt himself and started to look for his wand and tie. When he found them, Narcissa accioed his tie from his hand and walked up to him so she could tie it on for him. When tightening it, she made sure she tightened it too much so it choked him. "No but I could kill you before then." She was sweetly grinning at him as he tried to pull away but she held him there for a few seconds before deciding to let him go.

He stumbled backwards, trying to loosening his tie. When he was finally able to loosen it she started to laugh watching him recover from the knot she made. "You play too much, Narcissa." He would never admit it to anyone, not even his wife who was his only confidant in every way, but he was intimidated by her. Lucius had witnessed her do many things that a proper woman would have never been expected to do, not even from a Death Eater. He was not confident she was only messing with him so he did not stay to find out. He grabbed his wand and headed down to the Malfoy Archives before his wife could get in a reply or kill him.

---

Hermione woke with a start in the early afternoon due to an intense rapping sound on her window. She jumped with a start to find it was Hedwig, looking completely ruffled and upset at being ignored half of the night and morning. Hermione knew that her body was sleep deprived but never imagined would sleep past noon without any nightmares. When Hedwig rapped on the glass again, Hermione's heart practically leapt out of her chest as she noticed the bird had a letter attached to her leg. If Hedwig had a letter from Harry then she would know he was OK. Once she opened the window though, the owl dodged her hands and circled the room's ceiling. Hedwig squawked loudly as she flew, refusing to land for Hermione to read the letter until she was done telling Hermione how she felt. Hermione tried apologizing to the bird but every time she started to speak Hedwig would screech even louder.

Finally, Hedwig landed and remained quiet but nipped at Hermione several times for good measure as the letter was being untied. Once the letter was free, Hermione looked the bird in the eye. "I'm sorry, Hedwig." Hedwig chirped once and looked away from the girl. Hermione offered Hedwig a piece of ham from the lunch Crewe brought in while she was sleeping and the owl happily ate it, seeming as if that was the form of apology she really wanted. Hermione's heart was beating fast as she opened the letter.

'Dear Hermione,

Mr. Weasley told me about what Ron had done and asked me to send you a letter explaining that I am alright. I'm sorry that Ron's a complete git but please don't be too harsh on him, I think Mrs. Weasley has already gotten him for you and Mr. Weasley. I had ran away after performing accidental magic on my uncle's sister and that's why everyone thought I was missing, I'll give details in person. Hopefully you'll be able to do your school shopping in the last week of summer, Ron will be back from Egypt then, so we can get his supplies together. I'm currently staying at The Leaky Couldron until term starts so even if you come early, we can meet up.

I know how hard this all is so I understand if you don't reply. I hope you do though. Please keep yourself safe as we all know the Malfoy's are never up to any good."

Love, Harry.'

Hermione let out a breath she had not noticed she had been holding and leaned back on to her bed. Her anxiety had made her start to think the worst but the negative thoughts dissipated as she reread Harry's letter. She made a mental note to read Ron's letters to figure out why he was in Egypt once she replied to Harry. She felt such an intense relief that she had to focus on her breathing so she would calm back down. Hermione hated how temperamental her emotions became; everything either exploded at once or weighed her down. The worst was when it was both- That's when she felt overwhelmed and started to loose her grip on her stability.

When she felt calm enough she stood and started to search for parchment, ink, and a quill. In the back of her head she cursed herself for not bringing pens as they were much more convenient. Before tying the ribbon to Hedwig for her to deliver her reply to Harry, Hermione remembered his birthday had already passed but she never sent him his gift. She scribbled a quick belated birthday wish at the bottom of the letter then made her way to the closet to get the Broom Servicing Kit she ordered for him. However, when Hermione took one step inside the closest she remembered what else the kit was stored with.

The kit was with the other stuff she took from her parent's house. She would have to go through the records and the pictures piled on top of the kit before she could send it off with Hedwig. Hermione felt an intense dread fill her, one that ached from her bones and spread throughout her body. "Why?" Her eyes watered as she sunk to the floor, talking to no one, but it felt right to just speak out loud. "Why did they have to die?" She allowed herself to sob and wondered if this was her new normal, having breakdowns everyday. The question of why repeated it's self in her head but she forced herself to push past the pictures and the records, not looking at each one closely to avoid crying harder. If she could not handle seeing their things she did not know how she was expected to talk about their deaths like Dr. Augsen wanted. Hermione knew she should have rushed to return to Hedwig but the few things she had hid in there had anchored her to the closet. She decided to thumb through the records she had picked out. The vinyls she picked out were either her favorites, her parent's favorites or ones that held significant memories to them. She made sure not to get her tears on the covers so the ink would not get ruined. She knew she could not bear to look at the pictures so she placed them carefully on the floor, face down, and moved on to the cello.

Her parents were on the shorter side of Average so her dad did not have a regular 4/4 cello but a 3/4 cello. It was easier for her to play once her dad started to give her lessons as she had already proved to be on the short side herself. She opened the case and thumbed the strings softly and the sound made a lighter feeling stir within her. The wood was a rich chocolate color that would shine a lighter brown as it was made of Seasoned European Spruce and Maple. It was a beautiful instrument made by the brand Knilling, a brand her father had always liked. It wasn't his first cello but it was his favorite. She went to stroke a finger across the strings again, wanting to do something with her shaking hands as she thought about her father but heard the door to the bedroom click open.

She grabbed the broom cleaning kit and quickly closed the cello case, then the closest door once she exited. She expected to see Narcissa there but instead she saw Crewe. His one ear dipped low seeing the tears on her face and he had a thick white envelope in his hand. As Hermione got closer she could see that the envelope had been opened already. "Hello. Crewe, is it?" She quickly attached the kit and letter to Hedwig who nipped at Hermione- lovingly this time- before flying off. Hermione wiped at her eyes again before fully turning to face Crewe.

Looking at the House Elf, she noticed that he looked nervous and was shaking. "Is the Miss upset with Crewe? Crew only came to deliver letter, Crewe did not mean to interrupt!" Crewe started to bang his fists on his head. "Please forgive Crewe!"

"No! Crewe! Stop! You did not upset me or interrupt me!" She put her hands over her mouth as he stopped banging his head. "Why did you do that?" She was brought out of her own emotions completely at the house elf's behavior.

Crewe rubbed the front of his head as a small knot began to form, not meeting Hermione's gaze. "Crewe must punish himself if he is to offend one of his Masters."

"I'm not your Master, Crewe. No one should be punished for simply offending someone else- which you did not do!" She looked over his state as she added the last part of her sentence seeing his eyes widen. She fully took in his missing ear and burnt body. "Are the others hurting you?"

Crewe started to wring the wrist of the hand that was holding the letter, growing nervous. He felt guilty talking about it. "Only one. The mistress is polite and the young master helps Crewe heal- but Crewe does not complain! Crewe is happy!"

Hermione blinked, not expecting to hear that answer at all. "Oh, I see..." She expected to hear they all did terrible things as until last night none of them hardly ever given her a reason to assume other wise. Lucius almost indirectly killed Ginny with Draco cheering the Basilisk on all year. Narcissa sat and let it all happen, as far as Hermione knew, and Hermione found no bystanders to be innocent.

Crewe's ear perked up at the opportunity to change the subject, extending the opened letter forward. "Mistress said this is for you." Hermione took the letter, her eyebrows together in confusion as to why Narcissa would have opened a letter addressed to her. After thumbing through some of the parchments she found a permission slip signed by Narcissa for Hermione to visit Hogsmeade.

"Of course." She said softly to herself. She read in Hogwarts a History that third years were able to visit Hogsmeade on select weekends. Hermione went to stuff the parchments back into the envelope but decided to take a look at the supplies she needed. She grew confused as she remembered signing up for all courses a third year could take but still only saw supplies for seven classes. Hermione threw the envelope on her desk and looked through the letters on her desk for the one she remembered seeing from Dumbledore. She ripped open the paper, scanning past his condolences until she finally found what she was looking for:

With what has happened, I will be withdrawing you from three courses as I had noticed you signed up for ten this up coming year. With a loss as devastating as one you had suffered, I can not allow not one of my students to overwhelm themselves in classes.

Hermione felt her face grow hot with anger. She knew she should have read the letters sooner but she found the pile to be intimidating and had no clue where to start. Forcing herself to breathe she fully read his letter from the top all the way to the bottom of the parchment. Dumbledore did not ask her to talk to him and confirm if she ways alright with his decision, he did not ask her to understand- he just decided it was to be done. Throwing that letter on the floor, she read the one McGonagall sent to see if she wrote about Dumbledore's decision but there was no mention of her classes. Hermione let out a shill cry as she threw the letter at the desk and made to knock over the chair in her anger but after she felt a weird, warm, crackle in her palm, it ended up falling into tiny wooden blocks once her hand made contact with it. Her anger grew even more since she was unable to get the satisfaction of hitting or throwing something.

When trying to distract herself from her parents, her anxiety, her self deprecating thoughts, she imagined herself back at Hogwarts. It was always her home away from home for the past two years and ever since she found she would be living with the Malfoy's she thought of it as her true escape from the Manor. She wanted to take all of the courses at Hogwarts because she found them to be interesting, something she could easily read hundreds of books on but now she needed to take them. When Hermione was able to think about her parents (and not their deaths), she thought of how they loved her and she needed to make her parents proud. She needed to be the best at the one thing they supported her through even though it was a world they did not understand. She felt her body shake from her over whelming anger at Dumbledore. Hermione thought very highly of Dumbledore but would not tolerate anyone to make a decision for her on something so important. "Crewe, where I can find an owl?"

His ear had dropped again as he did not know of what to make of her anger and accidental magic, as he was afraid she would direct it at him next. "Yes, Miss. I can take you to the Malfoy owlery or I can bring one to you. The owls don't like being forced to come to the Manor by Crewe so it may take Crewe a bit." Hermione noticed as he rubbed his fingers that he had tiny cuts over them. She wanted to feel surprised that the Malfoy's had their own owlery but faintly remembered seeing a white peacock on her first day at the manor. Wealthy people had the habit of not knowing what to do with their money.

Hermione force her breathing to remain even when she spoke, not wanting Crewe to think her anger was his fault. "Then would you mind taking me to the owlery?" After he nodded, Hermione put sandals on and followed Crewe out of her suite. The fury she felt was consuming to the point she did not even stop to think about how she was leaving the suite she called her safe place. Hermione was not often a one track minded person nor an angry person but she was faintly coming to accept she was not going to be the same again.

After hearing the door close behind her with a click, an idea struck her. "Do you happen to know where I could find a howler?"

"Yes Miss, the Master has all kinds of howlers. Red, Green, black, all kinds. Would you like one before Crewe shows you the owlery?"

The idea of having to ask Lucius for something brought a sense of dread to Hermione but her anger fueled her determination and she pushed it aside to get what she wanted. It was also mixed with curiosity as she had never seen more than one type of Howler. "Yes."

Crewe guided her down the stairs, through the foyer and into a hallway in the West wing. Unlike the second floor of the manor, that had bright decor and wallpapers to create a more hospitable atmosphere, the first floor had dark decor with a more sterile atmosphere to it. She assumed this was done on purpose to intimidate anyone who came to visit the manor- and she would admit that it had worked. Hermione felt second thoughts prickle at the back of her mind but she fought it by focusing on the words her parents left her with in the will and pushed herself forward. This was something she had to do and once her mind was made up, it became her full intention to see it through.

Crewe stopped at a set of black double doors and knocked. A male voice shouted for them to enter and Crewe opened the door for Hermione to step in first. "Master, the Misses is here to talk to you." Hermione wanted to look around the study as it was lined with books but wanted her time with Lucius to be short. Crewe came in after her looking timid, standing hunched over and close to Hermione.

"Miss Granger, what do I owe this pleasure?" Lucius had a sneer on his face that matched the disgust in his eyes. He had a stack of old diaries by his desk and Hermione found herself wondering briefly if they were all cursed, too.

"I was wondering if you had a Howler I could use?"

Lucius blinked for a second and the disgust was replaced with amusement- his sneer though, was unwavering. He took a sip of amber liquid from a glass he had and Hermione realized why he wasn't bothering to mask anything he felt. She knew it was past noon but could not have been that far past noon for him to be drinking. At least she knew her own father would have disapproved of drinking before 5 in the afternoon.

"Oh, for the Weasleys?" he stood up and walked to a dark, imperial letter filing cabinet that was in the middle of his study. He opened one drawer and Hermione could see it had several envelopes of all colors. He pulled out a deep maroon one and held to out to her. It was not the same color as the bright red ones that Neville and Ron had received and was slightly bigger. "Here. This one should be fine."

She did not take it as she didn't trust Lucius, especially when he had looked too eager to help. Whether he was drinking or not, it was not a good sign. "What will it do?"

"A regular howler would just burn the letter to ashes when done, this one will burn that shed they call a house to ashes." He grinned from ear to ear at the look that crossed her face.

Hermione's mouth had dropped into a perfect "O" and her anger at Dumbledore was temporarily redirected at Lucius instead. "Absolutely not! I-" She stopped herself as reason made it's way through her head in the form of Dr. Augsen's voice. She took a deep breath. forcing herself to think over her actions. She was still furious but Hermione realized she was so busy seeing red she did not see that asking Lucius for a howler was not going to work. "You know what, Mr. Malfoy. I'm sorry I disturbed you, it won't happen again."

He started to laugh as she stomped off towards the door, angrier than she was before she had walked in. Hermione reached for the door knob but jumped back as Narcissa opened the door. With one glance between the messy haired brunette and the prim blonde but proper blonde, Narcissa was able to guess that Lucius was up to no good. "What is going on?"

Lucius' laugh quited into a soft chuckle. "I told her a joke I don't think she took well." He took another drink from his glass as he leaned against the cabinet, still holding the maroon howler.

Narcissa walked over, heels clicking loudly as she took the glass from Lucius. "You're a businessman, not a comedian and certainly," allowed her eyes to narrow at her husband "Not a drunk."

He crossed his arms after putting the howler back and returned to sit behind his desk. His attention returning to the diary he was reading.

"Now, Hermione," Narcissa turned to the girl who was flushed and visibly shaking. "What did you seek Lucius to help you with?"

Hermione knew it was rude not to answer so she summoned up as much of a polite tone as she could manage to answer. "I came to ask for a howler." She did not want to mention Crewe in case it would have him punished later. Thus far, the Malfoys had acted like he was not present and she hoped it stayed that way.

Narcissa's eyebrows went up. "I believe that would be the opposite of what Dr. Augsen would recommend. She believes you need your friends to support you." Narcissa did not like how the words sounded coming from her mouth and had to consciously keep her tone from sounding sarcastic.

Hermione took a deep breathe. "I was actually going to send it to Dumbledore." Hermione heard Lucius pause in the middle of turning a page and Narcissa cocked her head to the side. Both were taken completely aback which was nearly unheard of for the duo. When neither said or did anything Hermione continued. "He's making me drop three courses cause he feels I can't..." She took a another deep breath, hoping the truth got her a howler. "handle it."

Narcissa understood but unfortunately so did Lucius. "Well, I think he's right." Lucius' sneer returned to his face. He took delight watching her flush into a deeper shade of red as she was only a few shades from purple now. "You've suffered a huge loss, you should take it easy." He thought it would be perfect if 'the brightest witch of the age' were to fall behind in her studies allowing Draco to surpass her. He did not mind paying for a summer tutor but he expected much more of Draco. Hermione opened her mouth to respond but Narcissa was the one who spoke first.

"Lucius, please." She gave him a look before looking back at Hermione. "Do you think that you're behaving a bit irrationally, Hermione?"

Hermione's anger wavered as she had only thought that herself moments before. Hermione mentally shook off the doubt again though and stood straighter. "No, ma'am."

"Very well." Narcissa turned and pulled out a lavender howler from a different drawer in the cabinet along with a regular red howler from the same drawer Lucius had opened. She gave Hermione the lavender one. "Send him that one. I'll send him this one."

Hermione swallowed, holding the lavender howler in front of her. She only wanted to get her point across, not get expelled from Hogwarts for terrorizing the headmaster. "What does this one do?"

"It will just follow him around all day repeating what was said until he responds. I'll just be following up with this one myself if he does not respond to you in a couple days."

Hermione wanted to turn down Narcissa's offer to send the red howler but not only did she want to take the courses but she did not want to insult the friendliest person in the manor. "Thank you ma'am." She paused, thinking about how tall the owlery was at Hogwarts and how her fear of heights were likely to win over the anger. "I was wondering, would it be possible to have a bit of the calming draught before I sent the howler off?"

Narcissa nodded once, looking the girl up and down once more. "I'll send it to your room once I'm done with Lucius." Hermione recognized the queue of being dismissed and did not miss it.

Hermione was ushered out of the room by Crewe and once the door was closed, Lucius rounded on Narcissa. "Now why is it that you gave her what she wanted? I suspect you have a soft spot for the little mudblood, Narcissa."

It was Narcissa's turn to smirk. She strode to his desk, taking a sip out of the class she had confiscated from him. "My dear, you're too short sighted- you always have been with impulse decisions. Yes, she would have been miserable for a bit, cross even but she would have gotten over it. We can't do anything to her since we'll immediately suffer consequences but if she wants to overwhelm herself and she wants to go piss off the headmaster, then by all means- I'm going to be the supportive guardian to let her do it." She waved the howler as she grinned cheekily at Lucius. "I've been thinking, if there is enough pressure put on her, she may just... break and be sent to St. Mungos to keep the Longbottoms company."

He looked at her for a moment then laughed an evil laugh. Grabbing her hand he her knuckles the back of it. "I love it when you're conniving."

She downed the rest of his fire whiskey and put the glass down. "I promise to take care of Hermione if you promise to deal with Fudge."

He kissed her hand one more time looking at his beautiful wife. "Deal." Lucius was too busy looking into his wife's eyes that he did not notice she had one hand behind her back, with the index and middle finger crossed.

---

Draco has circled the outer gardens twice already and was on his third lap when he heard foot steps coming towards him. He could tell one pair belonged to Crewe, as he often started to hobble when walking fast but he could not tell who the other pair of foot steps belonged to. Thinking it may have been the summer tutor he ditched, he hid himself behind the hedge waiting for them to appear. Only the Malfoy's, Crewe, and Dobby knew how to get through the maze so it would make sense the tutor needed a guide.

Who he did not expect to see was Hermione Granger. She was still wearing her white night dress with her hair in a loose, messy bun. She and Crewe were heading towards the Malfoy owelry as she had a howler and a normal letter from what Malfoy could see. When they had stepped into the small owlery, one that Draco would hardly call a tower especially after seeing the Hogwarts one. Before the door to the owlery could close one Crewe and Hermione entered, he was able to slip in. He was grateful their owlery only had ten steps as he hardly needed to climb any to listen to any conversation held there. The Malfoy's only had twelve owls, mostly for show as his father rarely had to use more than his favorite two owls at one time. The owlery was also for show, something his father insisting on having one built years ago.

"Thank you, Crewe, for helping me today."

"It's a pleasure to help out the kind Miss, Crewe is grateful to have someone like you to serve." Draco took a chance to pear over the edge of the stairs and saw Crewe helping Hermione tie a the purple howler as an owl flre off with the regular brown letter.

"Crewe you don't have to call me 'Miss' or talk to me so formally. You can call me Hermione."

The owl flew off as Crewe had let it go almost prematurely. The envelope was secured though and the owl flew off to deliver it. Crewe however had grabbed the edge of Hermione's dress.

"Have I displeased the miss? Please let Crewe fix it. Crewe is grateful for the Misses kindness and wants to help Miss in any way Crewe can."

Hermione was taken by surprise and gently pulled the nightgown back. "Crewe you still have not made me upset but I am not sure why you want to serve humans so badly, especially ones that hurt you. You're just as good as the rest of us- do the Malfoy's even pay you? I'm sure you feel the same as Dobby felt-" Draco could hardly believe his ears. He knew Hermione was smart but trying to talk a house elf out of servitude was just stupid. All it would cause is the house elf to have a meltdown.

As of on queue, Crewe grabbed his one ear with one hand and the other side of the head with his other. "Crewe would never ask for such a thing! No good house elf would ever, ever ask for such a thing! Dobby was bad! Dobby deserved clothes! Crewe does his best! Crewe does not-"

Making a split second decision, Draco walked up the remaining few stairs, fully coming into view. "Crewe!" Draco called out his name using the same intention he would use as if he needed to summon him so the elf would stop yelling. The house elf stopped his rant and had his full attention on the young Malfoy, almost as if in a daze. "My room needs to be reorganized and I won't wait another moment."

With that the elf disappeared with a loud crack, making Hermione jump and all the owls flew out of the owlery.

Hermione gripped her own head trying to fight the incoming flashback. The sound of gunshots going off over and over in her head like fireworks. She tried to think but every second that passed sent her deeper into the nightmare she had been avoiding thinking about when concious. She knew she was loosing her grip on her own reality when her surroundings warped from the stone in the owelry into the stone streets of France. Everything went dark as if it were night and she noticed she was alone. She heard someone yelling but it was faint and so far away. Was it her parents? She looked around and couldn't find them but she could still hear the gunshots going off repeatedly. She wanted to run to run in all different directions; she wanted to run away from the gunshots, she wanted to run to the person yelling, she wanted to run to her parents but at the same time run away from any dangers and find them later. She felt like she couldn't get air in her lungs and she started to panic as she stood frozen in place, she heard footsteps and someone else screaming, this time a female voice.

"Granger."

The voice calling her name was faint but she could hear it. It wasn't a voice that was usually in her nightmares. She heard the female scream ring through the air again.

"Granger."

Her hands felt too warm- and wet. She looked down to see blood all over her hands. The scream was coming from her. She was the girl screaming.

"Bloody hell, Granger!" She felt someone grab her and when she blinked she was back at the owlery on the floor. Draco had his hands on her arms, his eyes wide as he stared at her.

"Mmmm." she wanted to talk but her mouth wouldn't move no matter what. She slumped towards Draco using the hands he had on her arms to support her weight. Closing her eyes she focused on centering herself as she felt extremely disoriented. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and started an exercise Dr. Augsen taught her when she felt like she was needing to come back into her own reality.

'My name... Granger. Hermione Granger. I'm Hermione Granger. I'm thirteen years old and my birthday... My birthday is in September nineteenth. My best friend is Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley. I attend Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. I have dark brown hair and brown eyes. My favorite color is-'

"So you're done acting like a loony, Granger?" The teasing drawl brought her out of her own thoughts. She leaned back so she sat up straight and looked at Draco. Being this close she could see small flecks of blues and greens in his eyes but it would still looked gray if she allowed herself not to focus in on them to hard.

She pulled herself of the ground using the ledge of the huge owelry window, grateful for once that the Malfoy's were a stuck up bunch who kept everything immaculate. She looked down noticing that she had dropped the vial of calming draught. She bent down for it but Draco grabbed it before she could.

She took a deep breath in, wanting to fight her anger but knowing it was a loosing battle as it quickly consumed her. "Give it, Draco."

His eyebrows shot up and he handed it back to her. "I wouldn't take anything owned by someone like you." He smirked at her as he made a show of wiping his hands on his dress shirt and pants. "I'll have to ask mother to scourgify my hands and burn my clothes later you know. Trying to get you to stop your shrilly screaming I got muggleborn germs all over me. I hope you sent off all the letters you needed as the owl's won't be coming back anytime soon after that meltdown you made my house elf have-"

"I was just trying to help him." She her voice was low but strong as the thoughts of what happened before the flashback slowly trickled in along with a head ache.

"It's what he wants. To serve a family, it's what makes him happy, Granger. Surely a swot like you read that in a book somewhere?"

Hermione looked up to see Draco only had one eyebrow up with the smirk still planted on his face. He reminded her too much of his father and she could hardly believe that he was the same person that Crewe claims to heal his injuries after Lucius beats him.

"I appreciate you helping me but if you're done being a bully you can leave." Her headache was turning into a migraine and she put a hand over her eyes to block out the light.

Draco frowned at her. "So when I leave you out here like this and you can't make it through the maze before the inner garden you can die? And my parents be blamed for your death? Don't be ridiculous." Draco had to remind himself that he had followed her and tried helping her for his parent's benefit and not his own. He did not want to be friends with her but he could not just leave her when she was in no state to get back.

Hermione uncorked the calming draught and drank half of what was left, leaving her with a quarter of the vial. The draught was enough to kill the migraine and the shakes that were beginning to come back but did nothing to stop the anger bubbling in her chest. "I didn't ask for this you know! I'd much rather be at the Weasley's in what you and your family call a 'shack' than be in an almost deserted manor!" As much as she wanted to lay down in her bed she also wanted to get the smirk off of Draco's face.

What she said had worked because he stopped smirking and crossed his arms over his chest. "No one said you did, Granger. However, you should consider yourself lucky for not having to share bath water with ten other people because they can't afford to let the water run more than a minute." He did not understand how she was not impressed with all the Manor had to offer. He saw her house and while it was 'cute' it was nothing compared to the manor in his mind.

"Seven! Seven other people and they get by just fine not sharing bath water!" Hermione decided she was done with the conversation and started down the stairs. She faintly heard him yell something after her but she was already out the door heading back to through the garden to the manor.

Draco followed behind her but not too closely. Malfoys didn't run after anyone and he was not going to waste his breath on a muggleborn who couldn't even see a happy house elf in front of her let alone how grand the manor was. He did agree that the manor was lonely but that was one of many things he would not admit. When she got nearer to the entrance of the maze, he sped up to make sure he wasn't too far behind so he could properly guide her. Draco was never told what was in the maze, no matter how much he asked, just that he should memorize the path so he would never get lost. The only thing he was ever warned of was that the maze was made for any one the Malfoy's felt was unwelcome at the Manor. Draco never strayed from the path as he was a self preserving Slytherin and not a brave Gryffindor.

Hermione felt cold despite the summer heat and had to slow down once she got to the entrance of the maze. She felt a serene calm from the draught but it clashed with the anger and annoyance she felt with Draco as those feelings had hardly subsided. In fact, it started to grow as hunger hit her since she had not eaten all day. Draco finally caught up to her fully and stood by her. His signature smirk reappeared on his face. "I'll show you how to get back to the manor just this one time for free, Granger."

She wasn't going to acknowledge him until she heard a crunching sound and chewing. She turned to see him eating the biggest and reddest apple she had laid eyes on. "Where did you get an apple from?"

He vaguely waved the apple to the trees behind them, giving him time to swallow the bite he took. "They all have fruit. Mom's personal touch for anyone who got through the maze from the manor. All the trees are import- HEY!"

Hermione, making an impulsive but hastily calculated decision, grabbed the apple from him and ran into the maze. She knew if she didn't have something in her body she would probably pass out or have to rely on Draco entirely to help her out so she decided to take the long way out of any maze: becoming a wall follower. By sticking to the maze's left wall she knew she would eventually get out, it was a fact she read once, although she didn't think she would ever need to use herself. Hermione had not been infomred about the dangers of the maze as she had been lost in her thoughts of getting her letters sent off to Dumbledore and Arthur Weasley that she did not even think to memorize the route through the maze.

Hermione eventually had lost count of how many turns she made but she knew she was alone since Draco did not follow her. She had ran out of apple to eat, something she had been savoring as it was quite delicious so she knew she had been in the maze for some time. She didn't feel light headed anymore and the apple had given her strength. Her headache was still nonexsistant as the calming draught was still in her system with help from the tall hedges that blocked out most light. When Hermione took the next left to stay with the wall she found herself in a small clearing that held a sleeping Sphinx, her breath caught in her throat to try and not wake the beast as she knew they were ranked 'XXXX' by the Ministry of Magic. The size of the clearing did not make any sense if you were to look in from the outside of the maze but Hermione knew magic was deceiving like that.

Still holding her breath, Hermione attempted to take a silent step back but as soon as her other foot touched the ground the Sphinx's head snapped up. In one leap she was in front of Hermione. The Sphinx quickly walked around Hermione blocking the way she came. "I haven't had a visitor in over ten yearsss." The Sphinx purred as she smiled a mystic smile that sent a shiver down Hermione's spine.

"I'm sorry I have disturbed you then." Hermione tried to stop the fear that leaked into her voice but she was so scared that the calming draught no longer affected how she felt emotionally. "I'll just be on my way if-"

"I don't think so, child." The Sphinx's smile widened into a mischievous one. "You see, I am put here to stop the ones who were too lazy to bother remembering how they came in. Those who think they are smart to try and cheat the maze by following the wall through. You will be answering atleast one riddle for me. If you get it right, you only have a short way until you're out of the maze."

Hermione felt her lower lip tremble but she bit the inside of her cheek to distract her from her fear. "I did not try to cheat."

The Sphinx laughed. It was a sound that was throaty and gave Hermione a full view of the Sphinxs slightly yellowed canines and incisors. They were perfectly sharpened and Hermione felt her hands start to sweat. She knew what happened if you answered a Sphinx's riddle wrong and for a second time this holiday she found herself in a life or death situation. "Sure, you're not- that's why you just broke out into a sweat." The Sphinx's nose twitched then she laughed again. She laid down in front of Hermione. "But enough, I'll give you an easy one for being a child:

Often talked of, never seen. Ever coming, never been. Daily looked for, never here, still approaching, coming near. Thousands for its visit wait but alas for their fate, though they expect me to appear, they will never find me here."

Hermione watched the Sphinx's tail swish back and forth, thinking. 'Easy' she thought, 'What a joke.' Her headache was starting come back as her mind whirled thinking of what could possibly be the answer. Hermione looked at the last bit of the calming draught she had with her. She decided to drink the last of it thinking it would atleast help with her headache again and allow her to think.

"Drinking a calming draught while trying to solve a riddle? My, my, you're brave." The Sphinx chuckled and stretched, flexing her toes and letting the claws protract then retract when doing so.

Hermione struggled to ignore the bait but did as she continued thinking. She felt her headache subside but also felt her thinking slow. Perhaps the Sphinx was right in saying it was a bad idea and she should have dealt with her nerves. Her first dose ensured that she was not going to faint so her second dose was almost unnecessary. She would even go as far as to say she just wanted to drink it.

Is it creature related? Sphinx related? Egypt related? There were so many options as she knew a Sphinx did not discriminate with riddles. Was it strictly Wizard related? Was it Malfoy related? Or Maze related?

"Could you repeat it again?"

"Of course." The Sphinx repeated it again, slowly as a courtesy and then started to self groom her paws.

"One more time?"

The Sphinx repeated it at the same pace once more.

After a moment Hermione took a deep breath. "I can only think of one thing, an exit."

"Is that your final answer?" The Sphinx stopped grooming itself and looked into Hermione's eyes. She knew she was scared but the feeling felt somewhat far away from her at the same time thanks to the second dose of draught.

Hermione felt mostly calm as she nodded. "It makes sense if your riddle is maze related, so yes."

The Sphinx's raised it's back legs, ready to pounce. Immediately, the sphinx's claws came through it's fur. "The answer was 'tomorrow', something you won't be seeing-"

Hermione shrieked and started to run to the hall of hedges behind her but tripped over a root she didn't see beforehand. She saw the Sphinx's shadow appear over her. And she looked up to see the Sphinx, mischievous smile back in place, teeth bared. "Something you would not see if you were not a Malfoy." Stepping back and off to the side by the entrance she guarded when telling Hermione the riddle. The Sphinx sat with a smug expression. "You may go."

"Go?" If Hermione did not feel like she could not trust the human, half cat hybrid before she definitely did not now. Her fear caused her to tremble and Hermione was once again reminded on how much she hated her own nerves but her anger at the Sphinx caused her to stand up. She wanted to wince at the pain in her ankle but would not in front of the natural predator. "You nearly give me a heart attack... So I can just go? I'm not even a Malfoy!"

The Sphinx shrugged. "Maybe not by blood but you are bound to them by magic like I am." Hermione wanted to think about what the Sphinx was saying but reason was telling her she was being irrational and should run. Deciding to listen, Hermione turned towards the entrance the sphinx was sitting by but then stopped a few steps before she fully crossed over the threshold.

"That wasn't the riddle." The Sphinx didn't respond nor move, simply smiled at the young girl. "You distracted me to make me forget that this was actually the way I came because you're using this clearing at a literal riddle."

The Sphinx laughed but Hermione's confidence in her answer only grew. She started to walk to the opposite exit. When she was only a few feet away the Sphinx lept to the side of the hallway entrance. "Will this be your final answer then?"

"I've already said the exit is my final answer." Hermione's patience was worn down. She wanted to never leave her bed again. Her fear whispered to her that she should have never left as the world was not a safe place and she listened. She wanted nothing more than to sleep for the rest of the evening.

The Sphinx bowed it's head to Hermione. "Very well. I do hope you come back to visit though, you're observant enough to not let anything slip by you in my riddles- even with that drug in your body."

Hermione recognized the compliment and nodded, but paused again before fully entering the hallway. "May I ask you a question?"

"You mean another one than the one you had just asked me?" The Sphinx replied coyly as she groomed herself. "Sure."

Hermione felt a nerve in her head twitch in annoyance, or perhaps the migraine that was coming back. "If I had gotten the riddle wrong, would you of had- you know. Or was that bit about the Malfoy's true?"

"You tell me, child." The Sphinx's face was completely serious and her tail flicked animatedly. "You know the answer to that riddle."

Hermione nodded, not wanting to think if she really knew the answer or not. The calming side effects were starting to make her drowsy and Hermione mentally vowed to not leave her suite until term started. When Hermione fully stepped out of the clearing, a wall of hedges appeared closing her off from the Sphinx. She supposed the Sphinx was telling the truth about only being for people who were trying to get back in to the Manor. The sun was nearly setting and her stomach growled but when she made her final turn she saw the maze entrance that was two wooden double doors. She thought back to how she found it silly the first time she walked through the maze that there were two, heavy, wooden doors but understood that there was probably an enchantment to keep the magical creatures from getting into the Manor.

What she did not expect to see when she exited, was all three Malfoy's standing out side the entrance, especially with Lucius' back hand coming down on Draco's cheek.

Chapter Text

Draco threw his hand out and knocked over the music sheets propped up on the Bosendorfer's grand piano's music rack. He had been trying to play Chopin's 'Winter Wind' but could just barely get past the prelude. He knew why he was unfocused and it frustrated him even more. He felt Hermione Granger had no right to be in his thoughts yet she was there. He decided to take a break from playing as it was not helping his mood like playing music usually did. He picked up the papers from the floor one by one and when he had finished, he decided to give in to his thoughts and allow himself to think. He thought about Thursday night after he had gotten out of the maze. He immediately had summoned Crewe to alert his father while he ran to inform his mother. By the time they all met back at the entrance of the maze, Hermione had already been in the maze for over thirty minutes when the maze should have taken her no more than ten if she knew the path. Lucius and Narcissa searched the maze for an hour, instructing Draco to wait at the entrance in the event Hermione came back out. When they re-emerged with no Hermione, Lucius automatically started yelling at Draco insisting it was all his fault. Draco knew there was no arguing back and stayed silent, even when Lucius started to hit him. Hermione however, immediately sprang into action once she emerged from the maze and saw what was going on. Something that no one, including his mother had done before. Narcissa only intervened once she felt that Lucius was going overboard in his discipline. Draco replayed the scene in his head, while fingering the bruised cheek Lucius insisted he heal the muggle way, trying to figure out why she would intervene when he knew she hated him as much as he hated her;

"Do you know if we do not find her, your mother and I are going to rot in Azkaban because not only would she be dead, but we'll also be charged with the creatures in that maze? How many times have we warned you of the dangers in the maze, Draco? How many times?" Lucius' hand came back up to strike Draco again but at that moment a frazzled but angry Hermione pulled Draco out of the way. Lucius barely had enough time to stop from hitting her instead, as she stood in Draco's place. Seeing her in his vision broke him out of the slight trance he had entered.

"STOP! It wasn't his fault!" Lucius and Hermione stared at each other, both breathing heavily, both dealing with their anger. Hermione was the one to speak first as both Draco and Narcissa watched attentively. Hermione was the first to speak. "You can't blame him for my decision to run into the maze without him."

Lucius' eyebrows went up. He did not know all the details of what had happened but if he were to be honest, he did not care. Draco was the last to see her and he should have made sure his parents were not to be put in any danger by any decisions he or Hermione had made. Lucius thought he had raised him better than what his actions were proving. "Are you going to tell me what I can and can not do now, Miss Granger?" He stood tall and narrowed his eyes, making sure he put his full intimidating front on for her. He knew that he could not harm her but that did not mean he could not try to scare her.

However, Hermione was not intimidated and seemed only to grow more upset at the oldest Malfoy. She was raised to always respect her elders and that was something she had always done- she even respected Snape with his constant bullying. However, in the front of her mind she held the fact that Lucius Malfoy almost caused the death of several young students including herself and that was something she would not forget. "I'm telling you that there was no reason for you to discipline him and if you continue, I will be telling Dr. Augsen about what's in the maze- including the Sphinx I had to deal with." Hermione had never tried to blackmail anyone and a part of her mind disagreed with her decision but reassured herself it was for a good cause. Draco was a prat but he did not deserve abuse.

Lucius' face turned pink and the business man in him wanted to call her bluff on her statement but he knew the girl was well-read enough to know that a Sphinx was illegal to own. He did not even disclose they had a Sphinx to Draco in the event he talked about it to the wrong person. Another part of him was surprised she got past a Sphinx at all with an even smaller part growing a bit of respect for her. Lucius thought about obliviating her right then but imagined that Dr. Augsen would look for signs of her memory being tampered with. Befohe could do or say anything rash, Narcissa was the one to speak next.

"I think that was enough anyway, Lucius. We should go back in, supper will be ready soon." Narcissa locked eyes with Draco and glanced at the manor's glass back door to motion he should go inside. He walked slowly at first but stopped near the door to see what would happen next. When Lucius and Hermione did not move from their stare down, Narcissa spoke again. "Come, Hermione. I'm sure you're fatigued."

Hermione did not want to disrespect Narcissa but she needed reassurance that Draco would not be harmed. She stuck her hand out to Lucius so they could shake on what she said. She saw something flash in his eyes and before he could do anything else she spoke again. "I won't move until we shake." He stared her down, utterly confused and infuriated by her gall. Lucius saw no way out of it though without it eventually ending badly for his family and he squeezed her hand as he shook. Lucius snarled as he shook and he quickly let go. She broke her gaze away to follow Draco into the house, heading to her suite and Draco went to his bedroom. Draco thought his father would soon follow him to finish what had started outside, disregarding what he shook on, but Lucius had not. When Draco was summoned for dinner, he ate with Narcissa alone, telling her about the events leading up to them being separated in the maze. Hermione had yet to join them for dinner as she ate all meals in her room, and he assumed that his father was brooding for the night. Regardless, Draco was relieved not to see either of them.

Draco ran a hand over his already slicked back hair. Nothing he thought of explained Hermione's behavior. Lucius had always taught Draco that something was never done for nothing but he could not figure out what Hermione could gain from stopping Lucius. Draco threw his head back and sighed at the ceiling as he thought of another conclusion: he would have to return the favor. It was another lesson ingrained to him, more by his mother than his father but it was one of the few etiquette rules that made sense to him. Draco pulled the fallboard over the keys and rested his elbows on it. He stayed there until he was called for dinner, brainstorming on what he could do to repay her for the kindness she had showed.

-----------------------------

While Draco was in the piano room, Hermione was in the main part of her suite, pacing back and forth. She felt protective of her room and did not want anyone but her in it so she decided to wait for the healer outside of the room. Hermione dreaded the idea of meeting with her therapist today, and she realized that it was the first time she felt something towards her session with Dr. Augsen. Usually it was something she did not have an opinion on as she was preoccupied with her intense feelings and mental anguish. On this Saturday afternoon though, she knew meeting with Dr. Augsen would be a double edged sword. Hermione would either be forced to talk about her parents deaths or what had happened since her last session on Wednesday, possibly causing an already big mess to turn into a huge mess if she was not careful. A part of her was excited to get another dose of calming draught, but she was concerned it would cause her to accidentally slip and tell Dr. Augsen the truth about Thursday. She made the deal with Lucius that she would not say anything about the maze, so long as he had not harmed Draco further. She stayed in her suite all day Friday and had to assume that he kept his end of the deal so she was obligated to keep hers. Even if he had not promised Lucius though, Hermione acknowledged the fact she would not of had told Dr. Augsen about the maze, as she would not be able to stomach moving again and starting over.

Dr. Augsen arrived at her usual time and was surprised to see Hermione waiting for her. Usually Crewe would knock on the bedroom door to alert Hermione that she had arrived. Dr. Augsen took this as a positive sign and that she would get Hermione to talk about Hermione's last night in France. "Good afternoon, Hermione. How are you feeling today?"

Hermione always found it to be an odd question for the healer to ask but she always answered the same. "I'm fine."

Dr. Augsen joined Hermione in one of the chairs by the fireplace. She removed her quill, notebook and a vial of calming draught in the event Hermione needed it. "Were you able to read the letters?"

"I read roughly half of them yesterday." Hermione's voice was soft as she spoke. She nervously played with the hem of her pink hooded sweatshirt, not really wanting to meet the healer's eyes as it would make her anxiety worse. Hermione was telling the truth though, she spent all day Friday in her room as she had taken her vow to stay locked in it to heart- especially after dealing with Lucius. Hermione was not afraid of Lucius per se, but making him mad at her was 'biting the hand that fed her' in it's own way. Narcissa did come in to see her yesterday, although she did not Thursday night. Hermione assumed she was healing Draco and ate her own food alone.

Dr. Augsen grinned. While her straight teeth were shiny and white, Hermione was eerily reminded of the Sphinx. Hermione mentally shook the image off knowing it was just her conscious messing with her. "That's great, Hermione. I'm happy to hear you made some progress." Dr. Augsen moved so her elbows rested on her knees. "Although... I did want to ask you about what happened after our session on Wednesday. I understand that you were visited by the Weasleys?" Dr. Augsen waved her wand so her quill and notebook wrote by themselves as she spoke. "Narcissa sent an owl to me reassuring I need not come back after I was notified of his appearance at the Manor, but I wanted to verify with you that everything was in fact alright?" Dr. Augsen's dark blonde eyebrows creased as she looked at Hermione. Hermione knew she was being assessed and had to look into the cerulean eyes of her therapist at that moment.

"Yes, Ron- my best friend- meant well but..." Hermione looked back down to the hem of her sweatshirt. "I believe he just ended up getting Mr. Weasley in trouble. Is Mr. Weasley- Did the Minister- He didn't-"

"Mr. Weasley's job is unharmed if that is what you are trying to ask." Dr. Augsen gave her a sympathetic look. Dr. Augsen knew that the Minister was doing everything he could to keep a positive image on the Ministry, so Arthur's mistake was barely acknowledged to avoid attention being drawn to it. Hermione noticed that the healer was giving her a pitying look which made the anxious knot in Hermione's stomach twist almost painfully. Hermione did not want to talk to Dr. Augsen- or anyone else. It was why she locked herself in her room again yesterday.

"Good. I wrote to him but I had not received a reply yet. I heard he is in Egypt at the moment?" Hermione was never good at distractions but hoped that Dr. Augsen would see that Hermione was genuinely concerned about the Weasley's and not see that she was using it to delay the inevitable conversation.

"Yes, he had been planning it for a bit and started his vacation with his family." Dr. Augsen nodded and looked to the empty fireplace Hermione's suite had. It was summer so it was not lit but she imagined that the fireplace was charmed to have a safe way of getting rid of smoke without a chimney being attached. Dr. Augsen pursed lips before looking back at Hermione. Hermione wanted to squirm under the gaze when she did but she did not give in to the urge. The knot in her stomach grew bigger and heavier. "I want to ask you something, Hermione, and I want you to answer me honestly without fear of repercussions." Hermione swallowed as she waited for the questions, to see which end of the double edged sword she would be sliced with.

"Do you feel safe here?"

Hermione felt her lips part in surprise. It was not a question she had expected at all. The Ministry left her here for a month with no other choice and now they wanted to know how she felt? "I don't see a reason why I should not." She replied slowly. Hermione wanted it to be a lie but she realized after spending days mulling it over, the bottom line was if the Malfoys wanted her harmed, she would be. The thought was even cemented further with Lucius himself when he had punished Draco after she exited the maze. He completely blamed his own son for her being lost in the maze and did not even lay a hand on her when she made Lucius shake her hand. Even with this in mind though, she still could not say that she trusted them. "They have been letting me mourn on my own and when I had fainted, Narcissa made sure I was alright."

Dr. Augsen's quill scribbled furiously into the notebook. "They have not threatened you in anyway? Or made you feel uncomfortable?"

Hermione slowly shook her head as she watched at the speed the notepad wrote. It wasn't exactly a lie. While Hermione may not have been the most sociable person, she knew Lucius tried to make her feel more than uncomfortable. Hermione was somehow able to resist it. "No. Is there a reason for me not to trust them Doctor? I trust the Ministry- they wouldn't put me with anyone who would want to harm me, would they?" Hermione looked back at the healer. She had not meant to sound rude or sassy but coming off the wrong way was something she always had struggled with. It was one of the main reasons her and Ron would argue so often. She saw something change in the healer's eyes and Dr. Augsen leaned back so her elbows were no longer on her knees, her back now straight and her face neutral; she was completely unreadable again.

"Of course we wouldn't. I simply wanted to ensure they were not treating you badly." Hermione nodded once to show her understanding and Dr. Augsen's notebook flipped a page. "Now, we talked about Wednesday night, what did you do Thursday?"

Hermione felt the anxious ball explode in her body. Talking about Thursday was the lesser of two evils but it was still an evil- especially after the questions Dr. Augsen just asked. Hermione was no good at lying and started to feel the panic she usually felt when lying. Lying required energy for her to keep track of any untruths she told and while she may have been feeling better as of late- probably due to Narcissa's potions- Hermione did not feel confident she could avoid digging her own grave. Hermione was not extremely fond of any of the Malfoys but hated the idea of having to stay in the ministry again or having to re-root herself into a new home. A new home with people who would most likely be strangers or someone who would hate her pedigree as much as the Malfoys but would actually do something about it.

Hermione then realized the answer to her solution and berated herself mentally for not realizing it sooner, she would tell Dr. Augsen the truth, just not all of it. Hermione felt her heart rate slow down as relief helped her breathe evenly again. "I woke up late Thursday and received a letter from Harry informing me he was OK and not to worry- I assumed that Mr. Weasley informed him of why I had fainted."

Dr. Augsen nodded. "Yes, Minister Fudge more or less had the whole Ministry looking for Harry."

One corner of Hermione's mouth twitched upwards at the influence her famous best friend seemed to have over wizards. Hermione felt her twitch die though and turn into a frown as she remembered what happened next. "Dumbledore thinks I should drop some of my classes."

Dr. Augsen was silent for a moment, cocking her head to the side. Dr. Augsen's self writing quill slowed as she started at Hermione before speaking. "How does that make you feel?" She assumed this decision would upset Hermione but needed to know how Hermione would adapt to the stress from the change.

Hermione looked up to open her mouth to respond but couldn't talk at first. Tears started to flow- Angry at first, then sad. Trying to harness her anger, she swallowed the lump that formed her throat and spoke. Hermione trusted Dr. Augsen and decided to tell the truth about her feelings. "Angry, and like I'm- I'm broken. Like I'm not going to make my parents proud. It makes me feel stupid because Dumbledore is a great wizard who doesn't trust me. And while I know better than anyone else what this" her left hand clutched her chest. "Has done to me, I can't see how he made this decision, let alone agree to it." Hermione found herself wondering if she would have a day where she did not cry or weep.

"Hermione?" Dr. Augsen called out to her and Hermione realized she got lost in her own thoughts and sorrow again.

"I know I can do it." She was angry- more at herself than Dumbledore now- and pressed her palms into her eye sockets as she tried to will herself to stop crying. Hermione could hear the soft scratching of the quill on paper and used it's cadence to match her breathing. Shortly after, Hermione was able to continue talking. "I sent him a howler but he hasn't replied." Her voice was soft again but slightly raspy. Hermione was unsure if she should mention the howler Narcissa said she would follow up with but decided not to.

Dr. Augsen's eyebrows raised in mild surprise, breaking her neutral mask. "You want to try and take the classes still?" She suspected Hermione would want to but did not think she would take immediate action to retaliate.

Hermione nodded. "Of course. It's not just for me anymore, Dr. Augsen... I'd be doing it for them too."

"But Hermione ten courses, nearly three months after-"

"I can do it!" Hermione's face grew from pink to red as she rubbed her palms into her knees. She did not want to cut her therapist off but she did not want to hear anymore on what other people thought she could not do. "Forgive me if I sound short-" Hermione hated how hurt she sounded but she had hoped her therapist would at least side with her and give her confidence that she was right. She almost let her self fly into a nearly weepy rant but she found herself catching on to a detail she almost missed. "I never said how many courses I tried to take."

Dr. Augsen's quill stopped for a moment and Hermione watched the therapist blink twice then take a deep breath. Dr. Augsen could not believe she allowed what she knew to slip so easily and that Hermione caught it so fast. Dr. Augsen thought the case with Hermione would be like any other case but the more she studied the girl the more interested she became and the more she realized she was wrong. She knew Hermione was a bright witch- she had studied the girl to the point she had the Ministry pull her school records, her muggle school records and her muggle health records just so she could know her as much as she possibly could. Sudying the girl so thoroughly was why she felt it was the right decision to approach Dumbledore and asked to pull Hermione from the classes.

"I had spoke to Dumbledore about it." Dr. Augsen admitted she was slightly nervous but only because she did not want to loose Hermione's trust. "I thought it would be best for you to-"

"'Not overload myself'?" Hermione was shaking again from all of the emotions she felt as she quoted Dumbledore's letter. Her anxiety already had her shaky, her anger tried to weigh her down and her disbelief felt like a punch to her stomach that made her forget how to breathe properly. Dr. Augsen read the report on Harry Potter's recent bout of accidental magic out of curiosity and started to grow slightly concerned she may be in a similar position. Dr. Augsen knew Hermione should not be able to do magic at this point in time though- if her theory was correct at least. So she shrugged the concern off, again the healer looked at the girl and followed her hunch again on using logic to win her over.

"If I explain the reasoning behind the suggestion, will you calm yourself?" Dr. Augsen watched Hermione carefully. Hermione thought about it for a second but ended up nodding since she did not trust her voice. Hermione ran off of facts and any explanation to help her understand Dumbledore's and Dr. Augsen perspective was welcome.

"When... something as harrowing as what you experienced happens to a wizard, it can affect whether or not they can perform magic." Dr. Augsen watched the girl, looking for even the tiniest reaction. Both were silent for a moment as the meaning of what it meant sunk in.

Hermione, not wanting to think about the possibility she could not do magic anymore, put her head between her legs. Her left hand itched to hold her wand again and feel it's comforting warmth but she made no move to get up. "No, I can still do it." She tried to hold in her cries completely but they were only reduced to whimpers. Hermione once again started to feel like she was loosing everything. Hermione could not fathom losing something that she was good at, something she was passionate about, and something she just recently learned she had her parents full support on, despite their plans for her.

"Hermione," Dr. Augsen's voice was soft and when Hermione looked back at the healer she noticed her had a pitying look on her face. "You were showing all the signs a wizard would when they were going down that route. Do you remember your week at the Ministry? You hardly talked, I heard. For weeks afterwards you were hardly responsive, completely disoriented and you still have not talked about what happened." Dr. Augsen paused. She was going to give Hermione the calming draught but wanted to make sure Hermione was able to fully process everything she was saying. She did not want the effects of the calming draught to stop Hermione from comprehending the full weight of her words. "I want to help you, Hermione. I don't want to see another wizard lose their magic."

Hermione shook her head, letting her curls stick to her face without wiping them away. Her face was grossly wet but she knew the healer was wrong. She thought of the static she had felt when she tried to knock over the desk chair and knew she had to tell Dr. Augsen what had happened so the conversation would stop. She needed Dr. Augsen to see the pile of blocks underneath the desk so it would be confirmed that she was not losing her magic. Being unable to speak from crying so hard, Hermione got up to enter her bedroom door that was the tiniest bit ajar. Dr. Augsen hesitated in her confusion of Hermione walking away but quickly followed afterwards. Hermione stood by the blocks and watched Dr. Augsen's reaction.

Dr. Augsen had to remind herself to keep her expression neutral as she bent and picked up a few blocks. At first glance it looked like it was just perfect blocks with the paint from the chair on some of its faces, but on closer inspection she saw that each block had an intricate carving and she had no doubt they would fit together like a puzzle piece to reform the chair. Great bouts of accidental magic always reflected the person who caused it and Hermione was a natural erudite. She looked over to the girl who was wringing her own hands before inspecting the desk. "Has this been the only accidental magic you've done?"

Hermione nodded and Dr. Augsen recognized hope in her wet eyes. It was clear to her that as much as Hermione was scholarly, she was passionate when it came to magic. The girl definitely wore her heart on her sleeve and the healer wondered if she was like that before her parent's death. Dr. Augsen inspected the desk around the blocks and saw no markings of magic touching it. When Dr. Augsen inspected the wood of the ornate Elizabethan four poster bed though, she found more than enough stress marks from magic to prove otherwise. "Hermione, where do you spend most of your day?"

Hermione took a deep breathe to calm herself before answering. "In my room."

"Yes, but where?" Dr. Augsen studied the wood, squinting to see better in the shadow. Hermione felt both hope and anxiety both build inside of her with Dr. Augsen's question- she knew Dr. Augsen found something and hoped it was in her favor.

"In bed. I don't move around much other than to eat or shower honestly." Hermione wiped at her face as she joined Dr. Augsen by her bed. Hermione hoped the statement left Dr. Augsen with the idea that she never left the suite on Thursday and that Wednesday evening was the high light since they last spoke. She started to squint at the wood herself trying t see what Dr. Augsen had saw.

Dr. Augsen had already suspected as much but wanted the verbal confirmation. "Well then, do you see those stress marks?" Dr. Augsen ran a finger across the wood and was surprised to feel actual cracks in it. Hermione was stronger than she had thought. She smiled to herself even though the young witch had proven her theory wrong. "I suspect when you're having a panic attack or something of the like, you are having small episodes of accidental magic."

"What... What does that mean?" Hermione knew she only wanted to hear one thing at the moment. It's not that she did not care about the damage she was causing in the Malfoy's home, but she hardly could see it mattering if she was forced to live the remainder of her life as a non-magical human. Lucius and Draco would never let her hear the end of it if the Ministry did not decide to move her into a random muggle's home.

Dr. Augsen looked into Hermione's eyes at that moment, a soft smile still on her face. "That you are resilient and you're probably not at risk of losing your magic."

Hermione's face brightened and she looked away, taking a deep breath at the weight that lifted from her shoulders. "Probably?" She was overwhelmed with emotion for a moment but for the most part, in a good way. She took deep breaths as she allowed herself to be reassured at Dr. Augsen's words.

"Yes. You are still needing to control your outbursts- the emotional ones as magic is known to go hand in hand with our extreme emotions but you have already started to make progress... If you allow your emotions to continue to cause accidents like this though," Dr. Augsen gestured to the wood above her. "You'll eventually lose it. You'll have to work hard at self control, Hermione. You'll need to find something that will help you de-stress- like meditation or occlumency even. You need to learn how to take your mind off of things without shutting your parents completely out."

Hermione nodded as she let her eyes swell again and the tears overflow. "I just wish they were still here..." The emotions that overpowered her made her tired and she sat on her bed. Dr. Augsen sat next to her and she turned to ask Dr. Augsen a question, one that she knew she would not like the answer to. Her crying had not stopped and she did not make an attempt to stop it anymore. "Do you... Do you know any spells or anything where I might be able to bring them back?" Hermione noted how pathetic she sounded but she didn't care. Dr. Augsen was right- she was shutting them out and she missed them more than anything in the world.

To her surprise, Dr. Augsen did not chastise her for thinking to bring back the dead. "There isn't one, Hermione, I'm sorry. Even if there was it would likely be very dark magic, making the effort worthless as they would not be the same." Hermione nodded, satisfied she was able to at least ask someone the question running through her mind for weeks. The two were silent as Hermione let the tears run down her face again, too tired already to wipe them off. She reckoned if she was given the calming draught she would end up passing out- something she did not want to do at the moment as she, for the first time since their deaths, felt comforted by someone's presence.

Dr. Augsen took a deep breath. She would have to put her initial plans for Hermione on hold but she knew it was always best for her patients to open up at their own pace. Forcing them into talking about their trauma always back fired. The goal was to get them to talk and vent in a healthy manner, even if it was not how she planned it initially. "Why don't you tell me about them?"

Hermione looked up at the doctor and forced a chuckle. "Will that bring them back?" The attempt at making light of the situation only made her feel worse through and she covered her face with her hands as another sob came out.

Dr. Augsen rubbed Hermione's back and half smiled at the attempt, although it was not really funny. "It will for us, at least for a little while. Stories can be a different kind of magic."

Hermione glanced up at her trusted healer and nodded. She wiped her face and attempted to slow her crying again so it would be easier to talk. For the rest of the session, they talked about Jean and William Granger. Dr. Augsen listened and asked questions but allowed Hermione to talk at her own pace. Hermione did not notice at first, but it was the most healing session she had yet and for the while that she talked, she believed Dr. Augsen to be right in saying that it would bring them back- even just for a little while.

---------------------------

When Crewe announced that Cornelius Fudge had arrived to the manor, Narcissa and Lucius were conversing in Lucius' study. She sat on the edge of his desk to his right side and he sat in his desk chair.

When the Minister walked in, they both noticed how extremely worn out and frustrated he looked. Lucius found himself wondering how Fudge became Minister with having such a weak poker face. When he got to Lucius' desk, he nodded to Narcissa then opened his mouth to greet Lucius.

"It's rude to wear your hat in someone's home, Minister." Narcissa did not move to stand even when Lucius did to greet Fudge. She kept her back to Fudge and hardly twisted her body around to look at him.

"My apologizes, Narcissa." He nodded again at her and eyed the slight pear shaped figure she had but did not remove his hat. He was already in a sour mood and had to give himself a pep talk on the way over, convinced he would not let himself be bullied by the Malfoy's this time. "Good evening, Luci-" Fudge stopped as his hat flew off his head and into Narcissa's hand. She gently placed the bowler hat upside down on to the edge of the desk that was closest to the Minister. Narcissa turned her back on the Minister completely and started to inspect her nails. Lucius had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop from smiling. The Blacks were raised to believe the words 'thank you' were never to be said but Narcissa was resisting the urge to thank him on removing his hat, just to make the Minister that more frustrated.

"It's a pleasure to be visited again by the Minister. To what do we owe this pleasure?" Lucius fought to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

Fudge glanced at Narcissa's back and attempted another power move before he completely lost his nerve. He puffed out his chest and straightened his back like his speech coach would have encouraged him to. He was told that confidence was key and he tried to exhibit confidence whenever he could. "It is regarding business and I think it is a conversation left for men to have." He planned on arriving to the Manor and telling Lucius what he needed, not have Narcissa make a fool out of him. It angered him that neither appeared to respect him as the Minister of Magic.

Lucius placed a hand on Narcissa's wrist. From where Fudge was standing, it would have looked like an intimate gesture but Lucius was really stopping her from drawing her wand. He leaned over and placed his lips on her right temple. "Our promise." His voice was barely over a breath but he knew his meaning was clear to her. He needed the Minister's complete trust to enact what ever plan he finally used to get revenge. It would not serve him well for either of them to get on the Minister's bad side.

Narcissa stood and practically pivoted a hundred and eighty degrees to look at Fudge with a fake smile plastered on her face. "If this business is about Hermione, perhaps it would be best for for me to be present for the conversation, as I have personally taken her under my wing." She placed her hands palm in palm behind her back. To a fool, the pose would look like she was meaning to be open or peaceful. However, to those who were more knowledgeable of body language, it was a gesture to show she was the fierce superior in the room. Narcissa was one of two people Lucius would allow to present themselves like that in his own home. The other person was Voldemort.

Fudge curled his lips inward as he processed what Narcissa had said, his lips turning white at the pressure he pressed on them. He felt all the confidence he had built up disperse to be replaced by anger. He never understood men who allowed their women to speak so much. "I suppose that does make sense. How is she, Narcissa?"

Narcissa's smile didn't falter but her head tipped to the side by the slightest degree. "I was under the impression Dr. Augsen worked for the Ministry, does she not give you any updates?"

Lucius put a hand on Narcissa's back in warning. "Minister, what was it about Hermione that you had come to see us about? It must have been important for you to come yourself."

The Minister decided to reply to Lucius, completely ignoring Narcissa. "I assume you have heard about Sirius Black?"

"I don't think there is a single wizard left who has not heard of Sirius Black's escape from Azkaban." Lucius had an idea on where the conversation was going and his voice started to get lower.

"Hermione was brought here to help your name sake and the Ministries. I do not see how her staying in the manor all the time is helping anyone at all."

Narcissa spoke up again. "Ah, so the healer does not give you updates?"

"It seems Narcissa hasn't had her afternoon tea." Lucius offered a mild explanation for her behavior but he did not apologize. He was a strong believer in Malfoys not apologizing. "Hermione should have been taken to St. Mungo's, Fudge. Not brought to my manor to be your scapegoat. If Hermione could willingly leave the manor without having a break down, it would have been done."

"But you see, she was brought to the Manor to be our scapegoat- not St. Mungo's where she would be spending her days inside. I don't care what she can and can not do. If you want her sent to St. Mungos- fine, I'll look into it after Black is caught. However, I need you to at least make an attempt at a family outing so The Daily Prophet has something to cover other than how the Ministry has found nothing." Fudge was practically spitting as he spoke. Lucius assumed this was the first time the minister was able to talk about his true feelings on the dilemma he was in for a while. "I don't even care if she has a public meltdown! It will probably make a better headline, in all honesty. If you don't give me something to work with, the next article The Daily Prophet will publish will be a piece on how rumors have started that Sirius Black," The Minister gave a pointed look to Narcissa, who still had a smile on her face, "May be hiding in Malfoy Manor with his extended, Death Eater family." Lucius moved his hand from Narcissa's back, his own anger filling him as he withdrew his own wand. He had enough of the Minister approaching him and treating Lucius like his subordinate.

The Minister blanched and moved for his own wand but Narcissa disarmed the Minister while also snatching Lucius' wand from his grip. "Enough." Narcissa moved to the front of Lucius' desk so she was directly between both men. "Not only have I never met Sirius, he was not a Death Eater." The Minister opened his mouth but she held up her wand- not pointed at him but in the same way someone would hold up a finger to stop an interruption. "So no piece shall be written or published. Especially since we must shop for the children's school supplies soon. When we have a date set, we will notify you so you can get your material. However, I must ask you to not do anything to intentionally upset her when we are at Diagon Alley as it would only make us look like we are not capable of raising a child, but it will make the Ministry look as if they made another mistake." Narcissa handed the Minister's wand back to him. Was there anything else we could help you out with today?"

The Minister ran a hand over the oil and sweat covering the top of his mostly bald head, hating that he was being dismissed yet again but mostly satisfied with the result he got. The Minister ground his teeth together but decided not to ignore Narcissa this time, even if he did have his wand back. "No." Lucius had sat back down in his Victorian, button-back, dragon hide desk chair. His hands were clasped together as he waited for Narcissa to return his wand. Fudge wanted to feel like he had the last word in though and leaned to the side to look around Narcissa. "Lucius, just make something happen, will you?"

"I'll escort you out then." Narcissa grabbed the Minister's hat and replaced it with Lucius' wand. She gave her husband a warning look not to do anything harsh and followed the Minister out. She stayed directly between Lucius' line of sight and the Minister's back so Lucius was unable to hex the minister on the way out. Once the door had shut closed she heard a loud crash of glass breaking. The minister quickly glanced behind him, his hand on his wand. She started to walk towards the exit, not waiting for Fudge to follow. When she heard his footsteps behind her she glanced over her shoulder again. "Lucius is very stressed at the moment. It displeases him when unannounced guests come in and demand things from him."

The Minister grunted at the woman. He did not expect her to understand politics or how it shouldn't bother Lucius when the Minister needed him so he did not feel the need to give a full reply. They did not talk again until they reached the front doors.

"Perhaps it would be best to approach me from now on about Hermione. I can assure you I am much less... Violent." Narcissa opened the front door with her fake grin on her face again. Fudge was reminded of a snake just before it struck it's prey- which did not seem to odd of a comparison looking at the former Slytherin. "It is a wife's duty to help out their husband's, is it not?"

Fudge perked up at the question. The image of the snake disappearing from his mind as he thought that Lucius did have a wife who had manners after all. "Why yes it is. I'll take that into consideration if I need to come by the Manor next time, Narcissa."

Narcissa continued to smile as she gave a polite nod. "It pleases me to hear that, Minister." She watched him put his hat back on as he walked out of the door and continued to watch him as he walked outside of the wards to disaperate. She closed the door and was going to make her way back to her bed chambers when she noticed a pale face staring down at her from the stairs. She checked her watch and looked back up at the girl. "Good evening, Hermione. I take it Dr. Augsen has already left?"

"Yes, Ma'am..." Hermione was silent for a moment, then summoned the same bravery that she used to leave her suite in the first place so she could seek out Narcissa. "I wanted to join everyone for dinner tonight but did not know where the dining room was."

Narcissa smiled up at the Hermione. "Come, I will show you."

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Hermione knew she did not have to join the Malfoy's for dinner until tomorrow, but if she had to eat with them, she decided she wanted to eat with them on her own terms. Hermione decided she would seek out Narcissa, then prepare herself for dinner.

Currently, Hermione was preparing by soaking in her bath tub, grateful that wizards thought to create a charm in tubs that kept the water warm for more than ten minutes. Her stomach turned again as she thought about what she had talked herself in doing; She was completely split in half, one part of her was nervous that she decided to deal with the Malfoys a day early and the other half- the side that proved she was Gryffindor- was proud of herself that for deciding to take at least some control of her living situation.

Hermione had been sitting in her bath, thinking then over thinking, for over an hour when Crewe came into the room to inform her that dinner would be ready in less than thirty minutes. She got out, dried herself and wrapped her hair in a towel. When she walked into her bedroom in a black robe that had the Malfoy crest over her heart in silver, she saw that Narcissa had laid out a dress for her. It was a simple black dress with short lace sleeves and a lace turtle-neck collar. Hermione had not thought to ask if there was a dress code for dinner but realized it was silly not to ask as she realized that Wizards, especially the wealthy ones, seemed to abide by older customs. The dress made her stomach flip once more as she slipped it on. It was modest but fit her perfectly with a pocket just big enough for her want to fit. Hermione looked at herself in the bathroom mirror as she pulled her unruly hair into a high pony tail. It still looked a mess, but at least there was no risk of accidentally getting a forkful of hair in her mouth. Hermione stared at herself in the mirror as it was the first time she bothered to look into a mirror in over a month. She was never a vain person but even she was able to see the difference in her face. She had dark circles under her face and her cheeks were not as full as they once were. She turned to the side to check her waist and noticed she had definitely lost more pounds than she would have liked. When Hermione tried to smile, the mirror then decided to speak.

"Grimacing at your own reflection is still rude, especially with those teeth. Treat yourself better than you would treat others, my dear." The mirror's voice had the same aristocratic tone as Lucius but it was a woman's voice.

Hermione jumped back, completely surprised. She then put one hand on her hip and looked at the mirror. "And what kind of advice is that?"

"Good advice." The mirror had a tone that now implied it was very pleased with itself. Hermione shook her head as she walked out of her bathroom and into her room. Hermione thought that now was a good time as any to make her way downstairs, but before doing so, she drank Narcissa's yellow potion followed by a quarter vial of calming draught that was intentionally left behind by Dr. Augsen. The therapist not only wanted to switch Hermione to dreamless sleep draughts- which could cause an adverse reaction when mixed with calming drought- but Dr. Augsen was open to the idea of talking to Dumbledore in regards to Hermione's classes if she could prove to utilize what Dr. Augsen had taught her by getting through her sessions without the need of calming draught. By the time she opened the door to the hallway, the effects of the draught had entered her system and she found it much easier to think about what she had agreed to. Hermione was thankful that her therapist was kind enough to support her idea of facing the Malfoys on her own terms and gave her a small dose.

When Hermione got to the dining room, all three Malfoys were already seated. She felt her face turn a light pink as two silver eyes and a pair of hazel ones stared at her. She tried to subtly shift so she stood straight as she walked to the one empty chair that was waiting for her. When she reached it though Narcissa held up a hand, signaling for her not to sit.

"Draco." Narcissa's voice was cold and even though it was not directed at her, she still felt uncomfortable.

Draco glanced between Hermione and his mother. "Honestly, the girl has two hands and can pull out the chair herself." It was the first and possibly only time that Hermione thought she would ever find herself agreeing with Lucius. Hermione did not need Draco, of all people, to be chivalrous to her when she had more important things on her mind. Lucius sipped on his glass of white wine as Narcissa turned to face him.

"I raised a gentleman, Lucius. He knows better." Her head snapped back to Draco. "I shan't ask again."

Draco pressed his lips together as he got up and pulled out Hermione's chair. When she sat he clumsily pushed her chair back in. Only after he sat back down did she notice how awkward she felt from the tension. The dining table was not large at all to the point it was easy to miss it was rectangular in shape and not square. Lucius was to her left at one end while Narcissa was to her right, leaving Draco to sit directly across from her. When she looked down to see what was in front of her, Hermione saw that it was a full table set up complete with three forks, two spoons, two plates and two knives. Her first instinct was to laugh at the thought of someone insisting to eat in such a posh manner on a daily basis but the reality of it hit her before she could even crack a smile; This was her life now and she would just have to adjust.

The air started to get heavier with tension but Narcissa acted as if them sitting together was something they had done a thousand times before. Narcissa rang a bell and the first course appeared from thin air as it did at Hogwarts. No one talked during the first or second course; Hermione focused on the sense of peace the calming drought gave her, determined to ignore the three people around her unless they spoke directly to her. When someone broke the silence, to Hermione's surprise, it was Lucius Malfoy and when he did, it was in french.

Who knew the mudblood had table manners and decent rags to wear?" Lucius and Draco shared a look as they snicked into their meals. Hermione was surprised that Draco knew french as she never suspected he spoke anything other than English. Obviously though, none of the Malfoy's suspected that she herself was fluent.

"Perhaps muggle schools have decided to actually teach something for once, father." They both laughed and glanced at Hermione whose knuckles turned white as she cut through her steak.

Like Hermione, Narcissa did not find what they said funny at all. "I doubt someone who is the top of her class at Hogwarts, was not taught anything for the first ten years of her life- and I don't recall you calling that dress a rag, Lucius, when we went on our first date. As a matter of fact, I believe you complimented it." Narcissa did not look up from cutting her steak but Lucius and Draco immediately stopped laughing. Lucius looked at Hermione's (who had to stop a grimace from forming on her face at the thought of the older Malfoys on a date) dress more closely.

"And why is she wearing something that does not belong to her?" Lucius looked back at his wife who was now sipping on her own glass of wine.

"Why do you care? The dress did not belong to you, either." Narcissa tossed her hair behind her shoulder and took a bite of steak. Hermione had to drink from her glass of water to stop from smiling and blowing her cover. She once again mentally thanked Dr. Augsen for the calming draught as it made her much less impulsive. Hermione would have immediately corrected Lucius in french if she had not drank it. "And in case the Minister was not clear, she is a part of this family now. Therefore, what is ours is also hers- something I have been wanting to talk to all of you about- especially you Hermione."

Hermione had went back to cutting the rest of her steak to hide her flinch at the word 'family' but looked up at Narcissa when she heard her name. She was unsure whether she should come clean and reply knowing the context of the conversation or ask for Narcissa to repeat herself in English.

As if reading her mind, Narcissa smiled coyly and spoke in French again. "Your knuckles are too white for you not to understand what was being said and you stopped eating as you listened. It's rude to eavesdrop on conversations, you know."

Hermione felt her face completely flush as she looked at Lucius and Draco. They both looked at her skeptically, not believing Narcissa at first. Hermione looked back to Narcissa and could practically hear Lucius' and Draco's jaw fall open when she spoke perfect french. "And I was always told that speaking another language in front of someone else was rude."

Hermione meant the statement as a joke and was relived that Narcissa did not chastise her when she realized how rude it sounded after it was said. Lucius, Draco and Narcissa did not speak again until the bell was rang for the fourth course to start. "Hermione, you are a part of the Malfoys now so I do hope you understand that anything you do reflects on us. We tend to be private and would appreciate you talking about your time here to anyone outside of our manor a minimum."

Hermione was successful at keeping a grimace off her face at the thought of being considered a Malfoy but could agree to everything else that was stated. Hermione imagined going back to Hogwarts was not going to be easy once the news spread about her living situation and she did not see how adding a Sphinx into that helped any. "Yes, of course."

Draco huffed. "Like she would keep anything from Potty and Weasel a secret." Draco stabbed at the sauteed greens on his plate, not looking up at Hermione even though she was sure he could feel her glare.

"They are much better company than Crabbe and Goyle." He looked up at her then and met her glare with his own.

"Children, please. Draco, I'm not going to ask for you to be friends with Hermione, although that would be preferred, but you will need to stop picking fights with her." Draco opened his mouth to reply but looked at Lucius for a defense. Narcissa, of course, was faster than either of them when it came to getting her point across. "Same goes for you Lucius. You can not expect for things to work out when we can not be civil with each other." Lucius wanted to stare at his wife like she had three heads but she had already talked to him about this before they were interrupted by Fudge. He trusted Narcissa in whatever plan she had for Hermione and if she asked him to back off then he would, no matter how much he hated every second of it. "Hermione will be living with us for a while. I will not stand to have this tension in my home twenty-four, seven."

For show, Lucius grimaced then nodded. "I see your point." Lucius gulped down the rest of his wine then tapped the table twice and his glass was slowly refilled. He had meant to stick to his word on not bullying Hermione but he had no clue that she was fluent in french. If he was being completely honest with himself he found the child to be interesting as she had shown strength and intelligence in the short time she had been with them. To satisfy his own curiosity and to make up to Narcissa on the scene he caused by speaking french, he decided to start a civil conversation. "So you speak French, Miss Granger?"

Hermione felt her throat tighten and her tear ducts prickle. She looked down at her food and took a deep breath. She imagined that her session with Dr. Augsen helped more than she thought as she did not dissolve into tears as she spoke. The ice had been broken and while there was a substantial amount of hate at the table, she had no trouble meeting his eyes knowing that Narcissa would not allow him to be unbearable. "Dad was a traditionalist in a few ways. Granger comes from Grange which was an occupational surname for a barn bailiff so he insisted I learned French." Hermione let her eyes flick over to Draco as she continued speaking. "I happen to know what silverware is appropriate for a course as I did go to a few events with mum and dad for their dentistry."

"You were home schooled?" Draco had barely touched the fourth course and was staring at Hermione. He himself had been home schooled and would have found it odd that someone he considered to be so different from him may have had a common up bringing.

Hermione finished swallowing her bite of food before answering. While she felt like she did not have an appetite, her body- thanks to Narcissa's potion- told her otherwise. "Not really, I was only given Cello and French lessons at home. I went to a private school in my neighborhood before Hogwarts." Draco turned back to his food, satisfied with her answer.

Narcissa rang her bell for the dessert course to start and Hermione watched as the cooked greens disappeared to be replaced with a Lemon Blueberry Trifle. Hermione would have usually been ecstatic to have such a sweet in front of her since her parents never kept genuine sweets in the house, but it only reminded her of them more. She looked up from the desert and glanced at Lucius then Narcissa. She summoned her Gryffindor bravery once again and forced herself to speak. "I was wondering, when would we be going to Diagon Alley?" Narcissa had just taken a bit of the trifle full so Lucius answered.

"I still have yet to look at my schedule." Lucius had an eyebrow raised, wondering what her next question would be.

"I see... I was wondering if I could request if we went in the last week of holiday if at all possible?" This time Hermione took a drink of her water as her mouth went dry. She hated the idea of having to ask Lucius Malfoy of anything, especially if it made him sneer like it did now. Hermione wondered if this was 'nice Lucius' or if he had disregarded Narcissa's request to be civil already. She did not know him well but she felt it was safe to assume he would not be a man of his word.

Lucius could not help the sarcasm enter his voice as he was almost done with his fourth glass of wine. "And why would you want to wait until the last minute to buy anything?"

Between Dr. Augsen and Hermione, they assumed she would need to explain herself and Dr. Augsen encouraged she should state the truth. "Dr. Augsen believes I should interact with my friends more and I was informed that they would be doing their shopping in the last week.

Lucius laughed and Hermione sat even more straight in her seat. "Lucius. Our promise." Narcissa had used a warning tone that made Hermione wonder what exactly that was supposed to mean. Glancing at Draco she saw him lift an eyebrow which indicated he had no clue what that meant either.

Lucius waved a hand as he laughed. "It's up to Narcissa as she will be the one scheduling your appointments with Madam Malkin and Madam Diamandia." Hermione wanted to ask who Madam Diamandia is but Narcissa spoke first.

"Not Diamandia." Narcissa looked at Lucius, lips pursed in distaste. "She said she was booked when I said I was scheduling for two."

Lucius' eyebrows raised. "I suppose several of our preferred venders would feel that way." He glanced at his own pure blood son, thinking about how while he only bought the best for his family. The best though, were all purebloods who they they felt the same way he did in regards to mudbloods. "Still, I won't tolerate it." Lucius stood and excused himself as he walked off, Hermione assumed to his bed chambers.

At the same time that Hermione turned to Narcissa, so did Draco. "May I also be excused?"

"Yes, Draco." Draco stood but before leaving he glanced at Hermione. He seemed to have wanted to say something but decided not to say it.

Hermione, not bothering to think about his behavior more than a second after he left, returned her attention to Narcissa. "Ma'am, who is Madam Diamandia?" Hermione wanted to ask why Lucius thought she felt a certain way but reminded herself asking so many questions at once would be rude.

"A Hairdresser- do you not like Trifles, Hermione?" Narcissa's hazel eyes were focused on Hermione and Hermione felt like they had the ability to see through her. They were a beautiful combination of color that reminded Hermione of one of the stained glass windows in the Notre-Dame Cathedral she saw.

Hermione swallowed and looked away from her gaze, staring at the decadent desert in front of her. "I'm not a huge sweets person."

They were silent for a while but Narcissa did not press further on Hermione's unconvincing lie and Hermione did not attempt to explain what a dentist was. "Come on, I'll walk you back to your suite." Hermione appreciated the action as she did not want to be completely alone just yet. When they both got up, Narcissa rang the bell once more for everyone's food, plates, and silverware to disappear.

When they got to Hermione's door, Narcissa turned to the girl, her fingers interlaced in front of her. "I'm glad you were able to join us. When you know what day your friends will be in Diagon Alley, let me know so I may adjust accordingly."

"I appreciate you doing that for me." Hermione had her hand on the door knob. Now that she was so close to her bed, she was anxious to get in side and fall into a nightmare-less sleep that Dr. Augsen promised she would get with the dreamless draught.

"Of course. Good night Hermione."

"Good night." Hermione entered her suite and pressed her body against the door sliding to the ground. The small bit of calming draught that Dr. Augsen gave her for tonight had completely wore off leaving her with it's after affects. She was miserable but a bit of pride had bloomed in her chest from what she had accomplished. When she finally got up from the floor, she noticed that there was a small box on the suite's table that was by the fireplace.

When she opened it, the small cube Dr. Augsen gave her was in side. Hermione had looked for it on Friday, thinking she had misplaced it in her suite until she finally remembered she last had it when she had fainted. She had thought about leaving her suite on Friday to look for it at the entrance of the manor but decided not to. She was excited to have it back again until she realized that it meant someone had been in her suite. Hermione knew that it was either Lucius or Draco who returned it and it made her uncomfortable to think about which one had returned it. She looked inside the box once more hoping to find a note but did not see one.

She left the box on the table, but took the cube into her bedroom with her, placing it on her bed side desk. Hermione grabbed her wand from the drawer in the desk and felt comforted as a warm flow of magic entered her palm. She had only felt the familiar warmth with the static feeling when she had accidentally used magic on the desk chair but it was a nice feeling. Hermione welcomed it as it made her feel safe and powerful. Hermione walked around the room, checking the closet, and the bathroom before feeling confident no one was in her room. Before she changed and climbed into bed though, she propped the desk chair that Dr. Augsen repaired for her on to the bedroom door, as a final security measure as she could not magically lock it. While she thought the Malfoys would not harm her, and that she was probably over reacting, someone being in her suite without her permission violated that confidence.

After she was in bed, she eyed the purple, shimmering liquid that was the dreamless draught. Glancing around her room one more time, she drank it and drifted into the dreamless sleep, wand in one hand in the event she needed it.

Chapter Text

Three weeks later.

It was the day before they would leave to get on the Hogwarts Express and Hermione sat in bed, playing with the different sides of the wooden cube, thinking about how she was finally seeing her best friends after not seeing them properly in two months. She paused her playing with the cube for a moment and narrowed her eyes. A small part of her was still cross with Ron but she had started replying to his letters and they were on better terms. Hermione briefly thought about the last two weeks, as they had been interesting enough. She had built a routine: Hermione would wake up, eat the breakfast that she had laid out for her in her room, reply to any letters she had received or re-review her already completed homework. The letters and home work would keep her busy through lunch where she would then take a long bath before supper. Dinners with the Malfoys were, for the most part, silent aside from the small talk Narcissa would make with everyone- Hermione found Narcissa to be intimidating to the point it border lined scary but she respected the woman greatly. She would have her usual sessions with Dr. Augsen on Wednesdays and Saturdays where she had not gave in to using the calming draught but she also had not been able to talk about her parents death. Hermione had ventured into the inner garden once or twice just to get fresh air but never into the maze- when she had tried to open one of the doors she found it was magically locked. She also tried playing her father's cello a few times but had been unable to bring the bow across the strings once. Instead, Hermione would perform maintenance and clean it using the kit she had brought from her home as she usually ended up getting her tears on the cello.

Hermione got up from the bed and pulled her hair back into the neatest ponytail she could manage, she never used to wear her hair up but she found it to be convenient as it stayed out of her way when it was pulled back. Hermione smoothed out the dress that she wore on her first dinner with the Malfoys, her wizard robes on one arm. She was unsure if she should wear her only non-Hogwarts robes but seeing as the Malfoys were never without their robes outside of the manor, she decided it was best to bring them. Luckily her robes, like the dress, were made of a light fabric that still allowed her to stay cool in the sticky London heat. When she headed down the stairs, she found the main foyer to be empty. Narcissa informed them the night before that they would be traveling by floo and that they were all to meet in the foyer by one PM. Hermione did not have to wait long before she was joined by Draco, who was already wearing his wizard robes with the Malfoy crest pinning it together. She eyed him skeptically- She never found out who left the cube in her room but she recognized he would be more likely of the two between him and Lucius.

Draco returned her look with one of his own. "What?"

She shook her head, looking away. "Nothing." While Hermione was a straightforward person, she realized that not everything required an immediate confrontation.

He scoffed and she looked back at him, her nose wrinkled. "Whatever, I'm not going to pretend to care what a mudblood thinks. However," He took a couple steps closer to her and crossed his arms. "I did want to talk to you before we went back to Hogwarts."

Hermione blinked as her face went blank from being caught off guard. She did not imagine Draco Malfoy would ever want to willingly talk to her- which was something that she as OK with. They were both under Narcissa's pressure to be civil, which was something she would honor but, she did not expect them go further than that. Hermione did not hate him but he did not give her a warm and fuzzy feeling either. "I'm sure everyone at Hogwarts knows about you living with us but we are not friends. Outside of my manor, we don't talk. If you think anything is going to change because my parents have to be your keeper-"

Hermione walked up to Draco so she was standing directly in front of him. In the back of her mind she noted how they were no longer the same height and he had a few inches over her but she did not care. "You do not talk about why I am here. And why would you think I would expect anything to change? Just because my life has taken a turn doesn't mean I wanted it to and I have full intentions of acting as such when we get back to Hogwarts. I'd be more than happy not to talk to you again so long as you stay out of my way."

He had drawn back a little when she stepped forward and he blinked several times. She was angry with him but knew she was mostly just taking her anxiety out on him. Realizing this, she walked away and sat on the couch, her face in one hand while the other fidgeted with the cube.

Draco opened his mouth to say his snarky rebuttal but heard the sound of heels from the hallway. His mother strode into the room, her face flushed a tad pink from circling the manor. "Have either of you seen Lucius?"

Draco shook his head and Hermione replied with a polite "No, ma'am."

"Draco, use your words and not your body- I am not a mute." Narcissa's two toned hair was pulled into low chignon and beneath her velvety wizard robes, she wore a champagne colored dress that complemented both the blonde and brunette hairs that were peaking out of her low bun. She started to accio different items from her bedroom as she continued to talk. "I did want to make a point clear with you Hermione, before we went out." Hermione straightened in her seat as she listened. She noticed it was a habit she used only when Narcissa spoke directly to her. "Living with us, you will no longer have to worry about money, we will pay for your school supplies and robes from here on. Even if there is something you need while at Hogwarts, let me know and I will get it to you."

"That's all right actually, my par-" Hermione immediately felt a lump start to form in her throat as she almost slipped on the word. "I am sure I have enough money to cover my Hogwarts expenses." Hermione thought about how expensive school supplies were and how the Weasley's struggled every year with the expense. She knew the Malfoys could more than afford one more student but it still made her feel guilty. "You don't have to do that for me."

"I didn't ask if it was ok for us to pay for you, Hermione. We're going to." Narcissa's tone was final and Hermione knew there was no arguing on it. "In our household, the young men and women are treated equally. What we do for Draco is what we would do for you. Of course, that goes both ways, if there is something we would not allow Draco to do, you will not be able to do it either. Do I make myself clear?"

Hermione nodded as she knew how to pick and choose her arguments. Then, remembering Narcissa's comment on not being a mute, she decided to speak. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you." Narcia stiffened but did not reply. She made a mental note to inform Hermione later on how insulting she found verbal thanks to be and glanced at her watch once more.

Narcissa exhaled through her nose seeing the time and started to tap her foot. Hermione had learned that when one of the older Malfoys were annoyed, it was best to be as out of their way as possible and to be as silent as possible. Narcissa did not take her anger out on them, like Lucius did with Draco and Crewe, but her already intimidating aura grew even more thick and threatening. "Forget it, we'll just go without him." She walked towards the fire place and reached for the floo powder bag but at that moment, Lucius appeared in the very same fire place. "Lucius Abraxas Malfoy- Where have you been?" Narcissa's voice was a low hiss and Hermione found it to be the most 'unladylike' thing Narcissa had ever done. "You know what, don't answer. DIAGON ALLEY!" She threw the floo powder into the fireplace he was still standing in and he disappeared in the roaring green flames. Narcissa turned to look at Hermione and she visibly gulped, nervous having Narcissa's full attention on her when she was in a more than sour mood. "Have you used floo powder before?"

Hermione shook her head but stepped into the fireplace after putting on her cloak, assuming it was best to act quickly when Narcissa felt rushed. She did not have to duck to step into the fireplace as it was much larger than a muggle one. Hermione had read about traveling this way before, when she first found out she was a wizard, but never had the chance to travel by floo herself.

"When traveling by Floo, you're going to want to grab a handful of floo powder and speak your destination very clearly or you'll end up elsewhere." Narcissa held out the bag of floo powder and Hermione grabbed a fistful.

"Right." Hermione took several deep breaths so her anxiety would not get the best of her, possibly causing her to say the wrong name. Hermione was nervous already, seeing her friends for the first time since her parent's funeral was exciting in more ways than one for her and she had to consciously remind herself that everything would be fine. Hermione glanced once more at Narcissa who was tapping a finger on the floo powder bag before Hermione yelled: "DIAGON ALLEY!" Right when she started to say 'Diagon' though, Draco yelled for her to 'hurry up', causing her to mess up on the proper pronunciation despite her best efforts. Hermione disappeared in green flames and Narcissa turned to look at Draco, one first clenched tightly by her side. They both thought they heard her incorrectly say Diagon Alley but were unsure.

"Draco. I'm not going to ask why you did that as I do not pretend to understand foolishness." Narcissa took a deep breathe to stop herself from yelling at her only son. "Pray that when we step through, Hermione is waiting with your father on the other side." Her voice was calm and Draco regretted yelling at Hermione immediately. Narcissa's collected voice always meant she was in the worst mood and he knew it was now directed completely at him. Grabbing a fist full of of floo power himself, he stepped into the fireplace and appeared at the Leaky Couldron, where his father was waiting without Hermione Granger.

--------------

 

Hermione coughed out the soot she ended up inhaling when she stepped out of the roaring fire place. "Better than flying, I suppose." She waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark and damp place she stepped in to but she soon realized that it was too dark for her eyes to adjust fully. The only light was an eerie glow from some of the objects in the room and Hermione's fear of Draco tripping her up and saying the wrong location was confirmed. Feeling around the fireplace, she tried to locate floo powder to floo over to the Leaky Couldron or back to Malfoy manor. In the middle of her search, a curtain was pushed aside to reveal a stooping man with hair so oily it would have rivaled Snape's.

"We don't have floo powder if that's what you're looking for." He studied her for a moment, wondering if he should immediately throw her out until he spotted her coin purse in the faint glow from the cursed objects in the room. "Said the wrong location did you?"

Hermione had swallowed and nodded. The fear of being lost started to settle in and Hermione stammered when she spoke. "Coul-could you tell me where I am?"

The man smiled at her and she could see he was missing teeth as he was standing next to a blue glowing object. "Borkin and Burkes located down Knockturn Alley."

"Knockturn Alley? I'm not far then," she whispered to herself at first as she realized she was not far from her intended destination. "Could you tell me how to get back to Diagon Alley?"

"You just stepped into the best shop in all of Knockturn Alley and you want to leave?" The shop keeper threw his hands out gesturing to the rest of the store behind him. "It's rude to floo in then leave." He cackled softly as he ushered her to the middle of the store to stand by a gruesome looking hand. She barely had enough time to read 'Hand of Glory' under it before he stopped and turned her around.

"I'm sorry, but I rea-" She started to speak but was cut off.

"Non-sense, at least take a look around. I'm sure you'll find something you'll like. Try not to touch too much though." The man chuckled as he returned to the counter.

Hermione was not a push over but Knockturn Alley had the reputation for holding the most questionable wizards in London and did not want to take the chance of angering the only person she had seen since she flooed to London. She walked around the store, pretending to read the plaques at first so she could discreetly glance at the shop keeper but he kept his eyes trained at her on all times. Her plan was to run out of the store when he was not looking but it did not seem the opportunity was coming. When Hermione discovered this, she started to actually read the plaques and she found a lot of the artifacts to be interesting- and only some sounding dangerous.

Looking at the store's inventory, it seemed that they did not discriminate between dark and regular magical artifacts. They certainly sold uncommon things but she wondered if wizards had exaggerated about the dangers of Knockturn Alley as they exaggerate with nearly everything else in the wizarding world. Hermione stopped in front of a display of quills, a bigger display she had seen in any wizarding shop- including the one that strictly sold school and office supplies. From floor to ceiling, there was quills of all different colors with different designs with several of them having different uses- like a self destroying quill that would burn itself after a note was written (she thought that to be useful to someone of questionable character), a cheaters quill that would regurgitate any notes written with it before hand while you were taking an exam (She thought Ron would love that), but what caught her interest was the quills that claimed they never needed ink. There was a small description explaining that a bottle of ink would never be needed as they had their own supply of never ending ink.

"Do these really not need ink?" The shop keeper walked over to where she was and she made a point to look at his name tag this time.

Mr. Borkin nodded. "Yes, they did not sell well in the other shops- they were designed by a muggle born and most wizards don't like that." He looked at her knowingly as he could sense she herself was a muggleborn. "They were modeled after muggle pans or pins or something."

She nodded, understanding he meant pens but did not correct him. Hermione decided that she would buy one but could not decide on what color. She also felt a bit guilty for taking up Mr. Borkin's time so she decided she would buy the last five quills. She knew that it was likely she would lose a few or break them. Looking at the price, she knew they were way more expensive than she would have liked to spend on any quill but reckoned it would be worth it if they acted as well as pens. She had her coin purse with her, one that had been filled when the Ministry transferred her funds around ahead of time, so she would not need to make a stop at Gringotts, and handed him the quills. "I'll take these, then be on my way. I'm sure my friends are worried about me." Hermione was unsure how to refer to the Malfoys but would not even think to refer to them as 'family.'

Mr. Borkin took the quills and wrapped them for her. He hoped that she would have bought more but business had been slow so he would not complain- at least not in front of her. She paid the eight galleons for them and she waited for him to hand her a bag but instead he took out his wand. "Where shall I send them to?"

"Sorry?" No shop had ever asked her before and she was unsure how to respond.

"Where do you live so I may send them to your home? Unless you would like to walk around with them?" He raised an eyebrow at the girl as his usual patrons did not want to be seen with anything from Knockturn Alley, whether it was considered a dark item or not. Borkin already charged her for sending them to her home and would not be giving her a refund if she wanted to carry the purchase instead.

"Oh," Hermione thought for a second but did not want to draw attention to herself by saying she lived with the Malfoys and thought it better to opt to carry the quills. "Er- I'll just-"

"Hermione!" Hermione whipped around to see Harry Potter, Mr. Weasley and Lucius standing at the entrance of the shop.

"Harry!" She automatically ran up to him and threw her arms around him. He returned the hug and Hermione started to silently cry into his shoulder. It was tears of joy although the air was heavy around them as it was not one of their normal reunion hugs. She allowed herself to close her eyes and breathe in Harry's scent- a mixture of clean linen, a very gentle musk with a hint of sulfur. Harry's hug said that he was sorry for the past two months and that he did have a level of understanding on her pain.

Lucius Malfoy cleared his throat after a few minutes and they stepped apart. Hermione wiped her face as she worked on calming herself down. "Are you ok, Hermione?" Mr. Weasley looked at her worriedly and he glanced over to the shop clerk. Who had been silent the who time as he wondered how Lucius was related to the muggleborn in his shop.

"Yes, I had just picked up a few quills for school and was on my way out."

She felt the air around her shift as all three looked at her in shock. "You bought something from here?" Mr. Weasley sighed. "Hermione, this isn't the place you should buy school supplies."

"I can assure you what she bought were nearly normal quills, Mr...?" Mr. Borkin had both hands on the counter with his eyes narrowed at Mr. Weasley as if he was trying to shoot lasers at him.

"Weasley. Arthur Weasley, "Arthur straightened up as he spoke to Mr. Borkin. "I work for the Ministry." Hermione noticed out of the corner of her eye that Lucius rolled his eyes. Hermione felt guilty at slightly agreeing with the gesture knowing what department Arthur was head of and that it was not going to intimidate any nearby dark wizards.

"Mr. Weasley, feel free to take a look around my shop if it would reassure you. The placement of my shop being in Knockturn Alley was an unfortunate coincidence." Mr. Borkin smiled as he placed the tips of his fingers together.

Mr. Weasley glanced around the shop but did not take a step further in. He turned back to Hermione. "I think we should go."

Hermione went to take a step forward to retrieve her quills but Lucius placed his cane in front of her so she could not walk further. "Send them to Malfoy Manor, Borkin. "

Mr. Borkin blinked then looked at Hermione. It appeared something clicked in his head as his eyes flickered back to Lucius. "And I thought the The Daily Prophet had turned into a gossip magazine."

"Let's go." Lucius' jaw flexed as he dramatically swished his cloak as they exited the shop.

Hermione walked with Harry arm in arm as they left Knockturn Alley, as he told her about what had happened at his aunt and uncle's home on Privett Drive.

"Did you really blow up your aunt, Harry?" Hermione could feel her usual lecturing tone enter her voice as she stared at him. "Honestly, I'm amazed you weren't expelled."

"Forget expelled, I thought I was going to be arrested." His voice got low as he leaned into her so Arthur and Lucius could not hear them. "Mr. Weasley isn't sure why they decided to let this one go when they held me accountable last holiday." Hermione found that to be extremely odd and it caused her to wonder how the Ministry monitored magic used by minors. She made a mental note to ask Dr. Augsen when she saw her again as Hermione thought she should have at least received a warning letter from the Ministry with the magic she was accidentally doing.

Harry had just finished telling Hermione about the Night Bus and the Minister when they emerged from Knockturn Alley, Hermione was immediately swallowed in by the rest of the Weasley family waiting for them. Narcissa and Draco stood off to the side of the family, watching as Hermione was greeted by everyone.

Ginny and Molly both pulled Hermione into a nearly suffocating hug and when they pulled away, Molly grabbed Hermione's face to look her in the eyes. "How are you feeling, dearie? Are you being treated well?"

Hermione pulled her face back so she would not risk feeling overwhelmed from the lack of space. "Of course, Mrs. Weasley."

"I see they haven't straightened your hair yet." George said as he stood to her right.

"Only a matter of time, George, before they dye her hair blonde." Fred added on, standing on the other side of his twin.

Hermione actually giggled as she swatted Fred on his arm, hoping the Malfoys had not heard what they said. "You two better stop that." Hermione had been so depressed for the past two months that she nearly forgot how much she missed the ginger family. They had the most welcoming energy and it was a relief not having to be so proper around them.

Percy, who was on her left side, gave a slight bow. "My condolences, Hermione." Hermione's stomach dropped as she returned the bow but she tried to focus on the positive. "Thank you. Congratulations on getting Head Boy, I think we all knew you would get it." When she said 'all' she playfully looked at the twins who were mocking Percy's formal apology by bowing back and forth to each other. When she should have been offended by them mocking the apology, she actually found it to be a relief from the seriousness of it.

Percy's chest puffed up. "Thank you, Hermione. I'm sure only someone who is destined to be Head Girl herself would recognize that."

At this, Fred and George lost it. "All hail future Head Girl!" Fred raised his hands above his head and bowed the upper half of his body towards Hermione.

"Head Boy Percy has anointed Hermione as future Head Girl!" George followed his twin, alternating their bows.

"Will you two just support your brother and stop making fun of him?" Molly hit Fred and George with the rolled up newspaper she had in her hands, no doubt a proud mother.

Hermione had a small smile on her face but was concerned she still had not seen one more Weasley. "Where's Ron?"

Not locating him in the throng of Weasleys in front of her, she looked behind her, to the other side of Harry and saw Ron half hiding himself behind their best friend. He had his hands in his pockets and his head low so he was looking at her through his bangs. She noticed his hair had grown and looked like a red, docile version of Harry's shaggy black hair. "Hey 'Mione." She didn't say anything but pulled him into a hug. He returned it back and they stayed like that for a moment. Hermione realized that Dr. Augsen was right, she needed her friends, gits or not.

When they broke apart, Narcissa used that moment to interject to reminded them all of her presence. "Well, we lost our appointments but we will worry about that later." She ran a hair through Draco's hair roughly and he winced. "May I suggest we head to Madam Malkin's to have the children's robes tailored?" Narcissa walked to stand behind Hermione and cast a Scoring charm on her to get the dirt and soot off. Molly turned to her husband and spoke to him quietly. When Arthur turned to face them all, he herded all of the Weasley children- except Ron- into the main street of Diagon Alley and back into the Leaky Couldron.

Molly gave a polite smile as her eyes flicked between Lucius and Narcissa. The Weasley matron had never spoke an ill word about the Malfoys before the Chamber of Secrets incident as she is a kind-hearted person but underneath her loving exterior Hermione knew she was almost as fierce as Narcissa when she wanted to be. Lucius was unpopular with the Weasley family before but Hermione was sure that Arthur and Molly were only being as civil as they could be now because of Hermione. They knew the truth about how Ginny ended up with the diary and almost losing their only daughter was not something they were going to forget, ever. "The other children have already gotten what they needed, they just wanted to stick around to greet Hermione."

Narcissa glared at Lucius. "How nice it must have been to get here at a reasonable time." Lucius rolled his eyes again but did not say a word.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron followed Narcissa and Molly on to the crowded street with Lucius and Draco walking behind them silently. Hermione was in a positive mood being with her friends again and forced Ron to give her every detail of his trip to Egypt. She found it easy to listen to his summer as it was a great distraction from everything else on her mind.

Hermione was the first to stand on Madam Malkin's stool as to have her robes adjusted. When she was done, Draco went next and while Draco was being fitted, Hermione turned to Harry as a thought came to mind. "Harry were you the one leading Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy through Knockturn Alley?"

Harry nodded and leaned closer to her to no one but Ron could hear them speak. "Remember when I told you I mispronounced Diagon Alley last holiday?" She nodded. "I ended up in the same place. You have no idea how awkward it was walking them to Borkin and Burkes."

"Oh!" She glanced over at Lucius who had been staring at them whispering. She quickly looked away as she returned her attention to Harry. "So that means you saw them there." Harry nodded and stood as he was next to be fitted when Draco was done. Draco took Harry's seat but did not acknowledge Hermione was sitting next to him. She turned her attention to Ron who was glaring at Draco. Hermione nudged him, "Staring is rude, Ronald Weasley."

It was nice to tease him again and he rolled his eyes. "How did you end up in Knockturn Alley by the way? I didn't think you'd ever mispronounced anything."

Hermione was reminded of her anger at the blonde boy, and turned to glare at Draco while he looked at her of the corner of his eye. She knew he was probably eavesdropping on their conversation but Draco was hardly subtle when he tried to be sneaky. "You're right Ron, I don't mispronounce anything."

Harry, hearing Hermione's statement but not the context, decided to chime in. "Remember Ron, It's leviOsa, not levioSA." Harry started to laugh but stopped after he was pricked by Madam Malkin's needle.

"Please stay still." The seamstress said through a mouth full of needles.

Hermione crossed her arms as Ron burst in to uncontrollable laughter. "Well, it's good I taught you the proper pronunciation considering what happened that Halloween! I don't think I'll ever forget that smell." Hermione wrinkled her nose as she thought about the terrible smell of the troll they locked her in the bathroom with their first year at Hogwarts.

Narcissa and Lucius shared a look wondering what the Golden Trio was referencing while Draco was trying to remember what happened their first year on Halloween. Molly, not liking that she did not know what they were talking about, was the only one who spoke up. "What happened on Halloween?"

Hermione looked at Ron, eyebrows raised in a question. Harry stared at them through the mirror as Madam Malkin hemmed his robes, then she stood up. "You're done."

Harry walked slowly back to Hermione and Ron where Molly now had her hands on her hips. "Ronald Weasley, why aren't you answering me?"

"You didn't tell her how you saved my life and how we became best friends?" Hermione was trying to put the story in a positive light before Molly had the chance to completely lose it as they stepped out on to Diagon Alley again, but Ron took Hermione's words offensively.

"Like you told your muggle parents about it? It's not everyday a troll..." Ron, thinking about how Hermione's parents had a hard time wrapping their head around their daughter being a wizard let alone trolls being real, instead of remembering how they were no longer alive, did not realize what he said until the words were already out of his mouth. Immediately everyone got quiet as they stared at him. He looked at her wide eyes as he watched her face crumble. "Hermione..."

Hermione felt her bottom lip tremble. She could forgive Ron for his slip at mentioning her parents but a realization hit her; He was right, she never told her parents about anything they did, knowing they would want to pull her out of Hogwarts. She couldn't handle the thought of being untruthful and started to rub her temples trying to stop herself from thinking about it.

"Hermione, I-" Ron touched her lightly on the arm but she pulled back.

"Shut up, Weasley, can you not see she's trying to calm down?" Hermione wanted to chastise Draco for snapping at Ron but was secretly grateful as she was able to focus on not spiraling into a panic attack.

After counting down from twenty she looked up to Narcissa, avoiding all eyes from the three boys standing next to her as her own was still watery. "Where to next?"

"Let's split up." Narcissa was going to dismiss the Weasley's as Ron had almost sent Hermione into a meltdown but Lucius spoke first as he put his hand on Narcissa's lower back. In the public eye they often let him come off as the dominant one in their relationship but that did not stop Narcissa from shooting him another glare.

"That's a great idea. We started shopping later than was intended and if we want to be out of here before the afternoon crowd fully set in, it would be best. I believe the children should be fine getting their school supplies on their own while we get their books?"

Molly looked between Hermione and Ron but decided to agree with Lucius. "Yes, I suppose that would be fine. Ronald, mind your manners will you?" Her hands were still on her hips and her voice was stern. Using Molly as a distraction while she held everyone's attention, Hermione quickly wiped at her eyes since the tears had to go down.

Ron turned even more red but did not argue. "Right."

Narcissa used her wand to duplicate Draco and Hermione's school supply list and handed it to them, along with a small leather pouch that held money for them both. "We'll meet back here in a little over an hour for lunch. Draco, you better be on your best behavior and Hermione, please remember what I said earlier in regards to us taking care of you. Lucius informed me that you already picked up quills." Her eyes narrowed slightly but did not hold the same anger she held earlier in the day.

"Yes, ma'am."

The adults walked off to Flourish and Blotts without another word with Molly giving nervous glances back at the children.

Hermione turned around to look at Harry and Ron. "Where did Draco go?"

Ron shrugged. "I suppose he thought we should split up too. I don't mind, I'm actually happy the git decided to run off on his own." Harry nodded in agreement as the three went down the busy cobblestone road. Ron looked at Hermione through his bangs while he tried apologizing again. "Hermione, I-"

"Please don't mention it, Ron." She gave a tight smile to show that she was fine. "It's going to take a while to get used to." It was something Dr. Augsen had said once and Hermione held on to it. Getting used to something meant it got easier in it's own respect.

Ron nodded and took a deep breath. They had reached the supply shop, Scribbulus, and Harry held the door open for them as Draco slipped out. Draco met Hermione's eyes for a second but continued his way out, down the opposite way they came. "Git." Ron said under his breath. After they picked up their school supplies, Harry and Ron decided to get ice cream from Forean Fortescue. Hermione was nearly able to get away with not getting a cone until Harry pointed it out. "You're not getting anything, Hermione? It's my treat, you know."

"I know Harry, I'm just not in the mood." She looked at the ice cream and had to resist the urge to lick her lips as it did look enticing, but she already felt inklings of guilt as she thought of giving into her cravings.

"Not in the mood for ice cream? You're mad. I think your hair is pulled back too tight, 'Mione." Ron already had a ring of ice cream all around his mouth and Hermione wondered how someone could be so messy when eating.

Mr. Fortescue, the Ice Cream parlor owner, leaned over the counter to stare at the three. "Or she's sick."

Hermione shook her head. "I'm just not in the mood."

Harry and Ron shared a look before Harry placed the wizard money on to the counter to pay. "She'll have a small strawberry and peanut-butter cone, please."

Hermione glared at Harry as Mr. Fortescue scooped the ice cream for her. "At least let me pay for myself." She started to dig through the coins when Mr. Fortescue handed her the ice cream.

"I gave him enough for all of us, Hermione. Let's go- you said you wanted to buy an owl when we were in the last shop?" Harry held the door open while they exited the parlor.

Hermione bit into the ice cream and allowed herself to enjoy the sweet before letting her guilt take over. Sweets were another thing she realized she missed. "Yes, it's rather inconvenient to try and get an owl from the owlery at Hogwarts every time I need one." Unlike the Malfoy's 'owlery' Hermione could feel her legs turn into jello with every step she took, getting higher and higher up the tower. "I mean, you have Hedwig, Ron has Errol-"

"I haven't." Interrupted Ron. "Errol is a family owl, one that seems to be on his last leg. All I have is Scabbers and I want to have him checked out. I don't think Egypt agreed with him."

"'Magical Menagerie' has owls." Harry pointed to the shop across from the ice cream parlor. "They'll also be able to check over Scabbers. I've spent a lot of times in the shops around here since I got to the Leaky Couldron and I am sure that would be your best bet to find anything for Scabbers."

After they all finished their ice cream, Hermione and Ron followed Harry into the shop. There was very little space due to the cages and the shop smelled horrible due to all of the creatures, but Hermione actually preferred it to the bustling street outside. While Ron and Harry talked to the witch at the counter about Scabbers, Hermione went to the far wall to look at the owls. She knew nearly an hour had passed and did not want to keep Narcissa waiting. Hermione looked over the various breeds like the Barn owl, the Screech owl, the Snowy owl, and the Barred owls. Some of them stared back at her while some hissed at her. She kept walking until she came to the end of the display and heard a soft hoot.

She bent over to look into a cage that was nearly hanging off the floor to see the only Great Horned owl in the store. The owl hooted again at her and walked to the edge of the cage towards her. "Hello, there." She looked at the bird and found her to be a unique beauty; its great ear tufts were black and it continued down the owls back while it's front was a brown that had a hint of red tinge to it. There was random black feathers that would poke through the brown but it's breast was a flawless white. She smiled at the Great Horned Owl, taking the small cage off of its hook and walked back to the front of the store.

When she got to the front of the shop, Ron was attempting to buy a small potion for Scabbers when something huge and orange came crashing down on to the witches counter in front of them. "NO, CROOKSHANKS, NO!" The witch tried to hold Scabbers out of the half-kneazle's reach but Scabbers slipped out of her hands and into the street where Ron and Harry chased after him.

Thankfully, Hermione had placed the owl on the witch's counter so Hermione was able to catch Crookshanks when he tried to follow Ron and Harry out. "Shhhh, it's alright. Scabbers doesn't even look tasty, why would you want him?" The kneazle looked into her eyes and Hermione felt her eyes dilate as she looked into what she thought was the cutest cat in the world. "Well, you're absolutely beautiful." The kneazle purred in response and Hermione cooed at it.

The shop keeper watched the thirteen year old with a tired look. There was a lot of words she would have used to describe the half Kneazle but beautiful was not one of them. "What will it be today, miss?"

Hermione looked up at the witch, forgetting she was there. She looked between Crookshanks and the Horned Owl who hooted at her again. She bit her bottom lip thinking. "How much for both?"

Hermione was in the middle of paying for the animals and picking out treats when she felt a figure stand behind her. She did not glance back, assuming it was Harry or Ron and continued to look at the various treats the witch had offered her.

"Granger, what are you doing?" Hermione whipped around to see Draco Malfoy, with a new hair cut, sticking a finger into the cage of the half- kneazle where Crookshanks allowed Draco to pet him.

"I thought you said we weren't to talk outside of the manor?" Hermioned selected two random packages, one for each creature before handing the witch the money owed. "And what happened to your hair?" Hermione couldn't decide if she found it to be a better hairstyle or not. It was very different from his slicked back hair, which made him look like an extremely young Lucius, but still made his look like a prat.

"I meant when we got to Hogwarts." He grumbled and eyed the half kneazle. "Father hates cats."

"Well this half-kneazle is already paid for." She reached for the cages so she could leave the shop with them but he grabbed her hands.

"He hates cats to the point he will dispose of this half-kneazle if you try to bring it to the manor." She eyed Crookshanks with a worried look. "Have the shop keeper send the cat off."

Hermione looked at him again. "What?"

Draco rolled his eyes dramatically. "Seeing as you're carrying your school supplies, you don't know and Weasley was to poor to even think about telling you." She opened her mouth to defend Ron but Draco continued to talk. "It's a service you can pay extra for in the Diagon Alley shops. They use an advanced banishing spell to send your items back home so you aren't stuck carrying them all day. Most wizards cannot perform the spell like mother can so the shops usually offer the service." Draco looked at the witch behind Hermione. "That is something you do here?"

The witch narrowed his eyes, not liking his tone. "Of course. It would be eight galleons for both."

Hermione crossed her arms, not liking his tone either. "I know what it is, Mr. Borkin explained that to me. I just don't think it's safe with creatures."

Draco's pale eyebrows went up. "You went into Borkin and Burkes? And bought something?" Draco would have never thought goody-two shoes Hermione of all people would buy anything in Knockturn Alley. Even Draco hated going with his father, but never let Lucius see it.

"Yes." She placed her hands on her hips. "After you sent me there by making me mispronounce Diagon Alley!"

Draco scowled and looked as if he was going to reply to Hermione but stopped himself. Turning to look at the shop keeper, he asked her a question. "Is it safe for you to banish the kneazle and the owl to Malfoy manor?"

The witch was leaning on the counter watching them talk back and forth. "Aye."

Draco fished in his own coin bag for the galleons and Hermione tried to protest. "I can pay for it."

"Granger, consider it pay back for the other day." He looked away after putting the coins on the counter and lowered his voice as he said the next part: "And an apology for messing up your pronunciation when you tried to floo." The witch took the galleons and walked to the back of the shop with both cages. Hermione knew she was staring at Draco like he had physically slapped her but she could not help it as she always thought of the Malfoys to be the type of family to deal with the consequences rather than apologize for what they did. When he looked back up at her and saw her face he scowled, regretting saying anything at all. "So, Swot, since you seem to know everything, how are we going to get past them?" He nodded his pointed chin over his shoulder, towards the door where a crowd of reporters were standing against the glass doors of the shop.

"Where did they come from?" Hermione's jaw dropped as she saw camera's start to flash when one of the reporters spotted her looking at them. "Why don't they just come in?"

"Because they're not allowed to enter the shops in Diagon Alley without the shop owner's permission." The witch returned to the counter. "Did they follow you here, boy?" The witch looked Draco up and down, wondering who he was to cause such a crowd of reporters to appear.

"My name is Draco Malfoy." He returned the witch's look but turned to look at Hermione as she had asked about the reporters first. "When I left Madam Diamanda's after getting my hair cut, I was cornered by one of the reporters asking me about you. I don't know what he would want with someone like you but when I tried to leave, he just kept following me, asking questions. Then another reporter did the same and then another until I had to deal with that." He waved an arm at the door.

Hermione paled once the realization hit that the reporters wanted to talk to her. She had thrown out all of the issues she had of The Daily Prophet but not without looking through them all to discover she had been in nearly every single issue- whether it was a small piece or front page. "I can't talk to them. I shouldn't be that big of news, anyway. Should they not be more worried about Sirius Black?" Hermione looked between Draco and the witch, shaking her head. Draco didn't answer and the witch shrugged.

"Come on, there's a back entrance I'll take you out of." Hermione and Draco started to follow the witch but then she stopped to glare at Draco. "Not. You."

"Wha-" Draco was so surprised he took a step back.

"You brought them here, and you're going to lead them away so she can escape without being harassed. It's a shame what happened to her and she shouldn't have to deal with a horde of reporters because of it." Hermione looked at the witch with both gratitude and shock that she knew who Hermione was but did not want to inquire any questions about the details of her life.

Malfoy scoffed and walked away, starting to exit the store when a familiar black haired boy with his ginger best friend fought through the reporters to get in. "Move it, Malfoy." Harry glared as he passed the blonde.

Harry and Ron raced over to Hermione's side. "Did you see the reporters outside, 'Mione? I swear, we spend two minutes trying to catch Scabbers, here," Ron lifted his hands that were cupped together around his rat. "And when we turn back, there's nothing but reporters! What do you think they want?"

"Do you live under a rock, Weasley?" Draco returned to stand by the counter to mock the boys. "The Daily Prophet is trying to have a field day with Granger here for obvious reasons."

"I thought you said you didn't know what they wanted with me, Malfoy?" Hermione crossed her arms again as Draco leaned against the counter.

"Figures the only book you haven't read was a dictionary- it was meant as an insult. Unlike Weasel here, I live in a manor- not under a rock- so I knew exactly what they are here for."

Ron turned red but chose to ignore Draco's bait for once. "Then, we'll escort you out and Harry can talk to them. I mean, he's famous, too." Ron looked between Harry and Ron. While the sentiment was sweet she could not stop thinking about the last part he stated. She didn't want to be famous. There were times that being around Harry was uncomfortable with all the attention he was getting. She did not want that at all.

"Do you think if I was to talk to them once, that would help? Then they'll go away?" She glanced at the door and the cameras went off again. Her breathing became faster and her mouth went dry. She thought about her suite and how she wanted to lock herself in again with the chair propped against the door.

"I thought you were smart, Granger. They'll only comeback for more, and it'll be twice as bad when they do." Draco shook his head, a sneer that was not unlike Lucius' was on his face but it was wiped off as the witch pointed to the door.

"OUT! How dare you talk to her like that?!" The witch grabbed Hermione's hand as she continued her walk towards the back of the shop. "Come here, you two can follow me- We're going out the back." The witch took Hermione, Harry and Ron down a small stair well where she unlocked a old, wooden, green door. "This door is going to open to a alleyway that leaves you right by Gringotts. I can trust you two can get her to where she needs to be safely?" Harry and Ron nodded. Satisfied, the witch opened the door and motioned for them to hurry though. The door slammed shut behind them and Hermione jumped with the thud of the lock locking behind them. Her heart was beating fast but she forced herself to take even breaths.

Harry gave her a small smile but his eyes held concern for her as he watched her labored breathing. "Never a dull moment."

Ron laughed and Hermione couldn't help but crack a small smile. As much as she loved seeing her friend's she couldn't help but think that her energy had been zapped and she wanted to be alone again.

The trio walked down the alleyway and Hermione flipped her hood up after she linked her arm with Ron's. He gave her a questioning look as they never walked like that and she pulled her hood further over her head. "I'm trying not to draw attention to us. They're looking for a frizzy hair girl with three Malfoys, not a shy girl and a ginger."

He nodded, a slight pink tinge on his cheeks but Hermione told herself it was from the additional heat that they were feeling from being so close. Harry walked in front of them as they made their way back to Madam Malkin's. They could see Molly, Lucius, Narcissa and Draco all waiting for them but Narcissa was chastising Draco for having is hair cut so short since most of it lay flat above his ears when it was down to his jawline before.

Lucius was first to greet them and he did so with a raised eyebrow. "We were just about to send a search party."

Narcissa whipped her head around and locked eyes with Hermione. Hermione blushed and pulled the hood back down so it rested on her shoulders. She let go of Ron and walked past Harry to stand in front of Narcissa. "I'm sorry ma'am for being late, we ran into rep-"

"THERE SHE IS!"

Hermione looked to her left and was almost immediately blinded by a single flash, except the first flash seemed to continue forever as the camera's went off back to back, seeming as if it was one big light that kept flickering in front of her. Hermione turned away, putting her face into the crook of her elbow but it did nothing to block out the yelling.

"Hermione Granger! Look here!"

"How does it feel to be in the top ten percent of the wealthy wizarding families in the world?"

"Hermione Malfoy, do your think your parents would have been happy with the family who adopted you?"

"Is it awkward having your blood status and being raised by former Dea-"

"Aqua Eructo!" Hermione blinked away the spots from her eyes to look over and see Lucius with his wand out and pointed at the reporters who were now soaking wet and trying to save their ruined cameras. "That's enough I think." One of the reporters threw his ruined camera to the ground and took a few steps forward, mouth open to say something but Lucius merely shifted his wand to point at him. "We're not answering questions at this time." The reporter backed off, deciding he wouldn't have the time to pull out his wand out on time to defend himself if he were to duel Lucius. Lucius looked over to his wife, "Let's go home."

Narcissa gave a single nod and turned to Molly. "I appreciate you for accompanying us today but I would have to decline your offer to take Hermione to King's Cross Station tomorrow."

Molly looked at Hermione then at the reports. "Well, that's understandable. Maybe next time." Molly hugged Hermione and felt something be slipped into her pocket. "From Arthur."

"Thank you." Hermione whispered into Molly's ear before letting her go. Hermione had an idea what it was but refused to look at it outside of the confines of her bedroom. She turned around and grabbed Ron and Harry into a group hug. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow, 'Mione." Harry said as he and Ron let go. Ron was too busy glaring at the Malfoys to reply and had to be pulled away by Harry after Molly swatted Ron with the newspaper she had.

Hermione looked at the reporters, then at Lucius. While she chose to show a lot more respect to Narcissa than she did to Lucius, she knew it would have been beneath her not to acknowledge any help he gave her. "Thank you."

Lucius looked at her, completely surprised that she would say such a thing to him. Lucius put his unreadable mask back on as he gave a quick nod then strode off, leading them to an open place so they could apparate back to Malfoy Manor.

--------------

 

Hermione sat in her room, her stomach filled with the dinner that she, Lucius and Narcissa shared. When they had gotten home, Narcissa informed Draco was to not join them for dinner and Lucius steered Draco into his study. She thought their initial dinner was awkward but being alone with Narcissa and Lucius was the most uncomfortable experience she had yet at the manor. Hermione had not seen Draco at all after Lucius took him to his study and felt terrible about the punishments he had received, even if it was from his own doing.

Hermione thought about fetching something herself from the kitchen to sneak to him when she looked at her desk and saw that her left over apple and almonds from her brunch were still there. Feeling as if luck was on her side, Hermione put on her slippers and put the apple into her pocket so she could carry the small bowl of mostly fresh nuts. Crookshanks lifted his head when he saw her leaving and her owl hooted. "You can't come with me." Crookshanks meowed loudly and the owl flapped it's wings at her giving a loud squawk. "Crooks, you'll be turned into a new hat and you will be too loud flying through the manor." Hermione pointed at each one as she spoke. Crookshanks jumped on to her bed, defeated as he kneaded her pillow to be comfortable and the Horned Owl turned to fly into the night, out of her open window. Hermione closed the bedroom door, dreading leaving her room once more.

It was only when she stepped outside of her suite did she stop to think that she did not know exactly where Draco's bedroom was. Hermione knew it was one hall over but knew that a manor of this size could have her checking rooms for nearly an hour before finding the right one. Hermione checked the first three rooms in the hallway she knew Draco was in but did not find him. On her way to the fourth door she heard footsteps coming up the stairs and started to panic. She tried two more doors but they were locked. In her panic she opened the next door to find Draco sitting on his bed, reading their potions book for the year as he stroked her horned owl's chest. He looked up at her and opened his mouth to speak but stopped when she put a finger over her lips and ran into his bathroom before the owner of the footsteps could open the door.

Draco was startled when Hermione came into his room but was even more surprised when his mother came in. His mother never visited his room and his stomach turned as he wondered why Hermione was running from her. He did not have too much time to dwell on it as Narcissa spoke softly while she sat on his bed. "I've never seen this owl before."

"Granger got him today." He paused and let a smirk pull at one corner of his mouth, wondering if Hermione could hear them. "I reckon he likes me more than her though."

Narcissa smiled, placing her gaze on Draco instead of the owl. "How are you feeling?"

Draco's smirk disappeared. "Hungry." He knew he should not be sassing his mother but he spoke without thinking, the light headedness he felt made sure of that. While brunch was a big meal, one that was made to stave the hunger off until an even bigger dinner, it was not a big enough meal to hold a growing thirteen year old all day.

"Well, it's a good thing you'll be having a big breakfast tomorrow before we see you off, but you know I was talking about after seeing your father" Narcissa sighed and looked away. She could never get used to the feeling of having to punish Draco, it was big reason why she left the discipline to Lucius. Narcissa always found it to be a odd contradiction when she compared herself to the person she was before he was born. "That's not what I meant though."

Draco understood she was asking if he needed healing after visiting his father. "I'm fine."

"Draco, you know I love you right?" Narcissa look at her son, when she said she would take of Hermione, she did not lie to Lucius but she did not specify what she meant. Narcissa wanted Draco to grow up strong- not hateful like she was. Her hate nearly destroyed her relationship with her own sister, something she regretted everyday. When Fudge said Hermione would be staying with them, she saw it as an opportunity to teach him that while they had a name to uphold, it could be a name changed for the better.

Draco felt his face soften at her words. Not even Narcissa said she loved him more than a handful of times a year and it left a hungrier feeling than only having one meal a day. "I love you too."

Narcissa smiled at him again and cupped his cheek. "I just wanted to check in on you before tomorrow, this year is going to be... different." Draco knew they were now talking about Hermione and he once again wondered how much she could hear as he never had anyone hide in his bathroom before. A stray thought entered his mind as he realized that until now, he never had a girl in his room. He felt his cheeks go pink at the thought of Hermione Granger being the first girl in his room. His mother took the color in his cheeks a different way as she had no clue they were not completely alone. "Do you hate her?"

He blinked once, not registering her question for a moment as he was caught up in his own thoughts. When he did process her question, he gave the answer he was taught to give. "Of course, I do. She has no right to go to any wizarding school yet-"

Narcissa withdrew her hand and her usual mask was back on her face. "Yet you will tolerate her. You will not make her life harder than it already is, Draco." Draco had not expected that reaction from his mother but found himself nodding at her. Her voice was not cold but it was demanding and Draco was brought back to the conversation in his father's study earlier that day, when he was finally given the whole story on why Hermione was living with them. Draco had expected only to be beaten as punishment for his actions - which he was - but not as much as usual. Between the unusual actions of his mother and father, Draco was left wondering what his mother had planned for Hermione since his father did not seem to fully know either. Draco thought about asking his mother now but thought it best to watch for a bit to see what his mother would do. Narcissa sighed when she stood to leave his room. "I'll see you in the morning." She left without another word being said between either of them and Draco was left with Hermione on his own.

Draco counted to sixty three times before getting up and walking towards his bathroom. "What are you doing in my room?" He kept his voice low in case his mother decided to come back into the room.

He had assumed Hermione could not hear him and his mother as she did not immediately come out when the door closed but when Hermione stepped out of the dark, she looked angry. She thrust the bowl towards him and when he looked down, he was surprised to see almonds. "I hope you're fine eating almonds and an apple from someone you think is beneath you." Hermione's anger was directed towards herself for letting his feelings annoy her but she did not bother to hide it. Hermione's owl flew hooted and she pointed a finger at him. "You think you're clever, do you?" The owl puffed out a chest and flew to the foot of his bed so she was closer to them.

Draco took the bowl she had thrusted at him and barely looked up in time to catch the apple she tossed at him. She had her arms crossed and focused her gaze on her owl while she calmed herself down. "I-"

"Don't. It's payback." She glanced at him, starting to feel her anger slowly ebbing away as she looked a his genuinely surprised face. She was not used to seeing Draco show any emotions other than anger, fear or disgust and she found him interesting to watch when he was not being an arse.

"For?" He took a bite of the apple and wanted to groan with how good it tasted after being empty for most of the day.

She pointed at the apple. "The apple I stole from you in the maze..." Then she pointed to the almonds. "And then for returning my cube."

Draco stopped chewing for a moment, surprised only for a second that she knew it was him who returned it. He recovered quickly realizing that she did not have many choices to choose from in who may have returned it so it was bound to be an easy guess. "I returned the cube to you in partial thanks of stopping my father out side of the maze." He walked back to his bed and returned to his textbook as he ate. "I would have never returned it other wise."

"I see." Draco ignored her as he read and he didn't look up again until he felt her weight sink into the far end of his King-sized bed. Looking up, he saw Hermione sitting at the end, playing with her cube. He narrowed his eyes in anger. "What are you doing, mudblood?" While he did not completely lie to his mother when he said he hated her, that did not mean he liked her anymore than he had last year when he talked about the basilisk targeting her.

She glared at him and she resented that she felt bad for him in the first place seeing that he had no intention of acting anything else other than an ungrateful prat. "I'm waiting for you to finish eating to bring the bowl and core to my room since you're not supposed to be eating." Draco was surprised again at her thoughtfulness but chose not to respond as he shifted lower into his pillows so the textbook blocked his view of her. They were quite for a while, with only the sound of Draco's loud munching to fill their ears.

When he had finished the apple and was half way through the almonds, he sat up, throwing his book to his side. "What are you going to name them?" He decided if his mom wanted him to tolerate her, he would try.

Hermione looked up from her cube with a questioning expression on her face. Draco put his head in his hand that was propped up by his leg as he sat cross legged. "The Kneazle and owl."

"Oh." She shifted so her body was somewhat facing him now. "Well Crookshanks, the half-kneazle, was already named but I haven't decided on a name for the owl."

"Hm, ok." He finished off the almonds, then pushed the bowl with the apple core in it in front of her. "You should name it Scorpius." The owl squawked her option at Draco, throwing her wings high into the air.

She started to laugh but stopped seeing that he was serious. She scrunched up her nose trying to cover up her laugh with a slight tease. "That's so Malfoy!" He leaned forward and placed the empty bowl and core between them. Hermione found herself wondering how he could call her a mudblood one moment then be civil the next. "And it's a girl." Hermione stroked the owl's chest thinking. "I think... I'll name her Persephone." Persephone nuzzled Hermione's hand and gave her a love bite.

"You're going to name her Persephone? Is that on purpose?" Draco let his head fall to the side as he stared at the owl's reaction to being named.

"On purpose?" Hermione's eyebrows came together as she looked back at Draco. She noticed his hair had a slight curl to it now that his hair product had started to wear off.

His gray eyes met her brown ones, realizing that she genuinely did not know. "Our owls are named after the main Greek gods."

"Oh." Hermione blinked and turned to Persephone. "I don't reckon you'll want to change it?" Persephone threw her wings up at the idea. "Persephone it is." They sat quietly for a moment, until Hermione got up to leave. Half-way to the door she stopped to look back at him. He had his text book in his lap again but he was watching her, looking away when she turned so she did not know he was staring.

"Starting tomorrow, we act as if nothing has changed." He didn't reply as she slipped out of the room. Draco felt a lot of different emotions at the moment, some being confusion and disgust but those were mixed in with disappointment and relief. He knew he was disappointed that she wanted to go through with what he said earlier- which caused the disgust to kick in as he was raised to hate people like her. The mix of emotions caused him to be confused that he would feel that way but he was relieved he would not have to worry about her since she wanted to remain enemies. Hermione slipped out of his room without allowing his to get a word in, although he was unsure how to reply if he wanted to.

He tossed the text book on to the floor and looked up at the ceiling thinking about what his mother said. It was not just this year that was going to be different, it was the first year things would be different.

Chapter Text

"Dr. Augsen- He's in a meeting! You can't go in there!"

"You're mistaken to think you can tell me what I can and can not do." Dr. Augsen dodged the intern who attempted to block her way by stepping in her path.

Cornelius Fudge's secretary looked up at hearing what her intern was saying and stood up. "Doctor, the Minister is in a very important meeting with the head editor of The Daily Prophet"

"Good," Dr. Augsen did not slow down her stride and pulled the newspaper from under her arm. "I need to speak to them both."

Before Dr. Augsen could reach the door, the secretary pulled out her wand and cast a quick Mobiliarbus so her wooden desk was now in front of Fudge's door. "I can not allow you to disrupt their meeting." The secretary nervously glanced around. She was still in her first month of her new position and hoped someone would come to her aid as she failed to call security before moving her desk away from her.

Dr. Augsen glared at the other witch, "It's a shame that the Ministry has had budget cuts in every department but the one for the Minister and his Support Staff. But even with all that money saved for our Level One Staff, they couldn't hire someone to keep your desk in one place." Dr. Augsen grinned. "I can help with that, though. Consider it a congratulations gift on the new position." Dr. Augsen pulled out her wand, not letting the secretary respond. Dr. Augsen cast her own silent Mobiliarbus so the desk was back in it's original place. She released her first spell and Dr. Augsen walked around the desk, placing one of the charms her family insisted on using on nearly everything in their home. "There, with the permanent sticking charm in place, your desk should have no issues sliding about."

The secretary stared slack jawed as Dr. Augsen turned around and cast a quick Alohamora to open Fudge's office door.

Dr. Augsen quickly slipped inside and kicked the door shut as Minister Fudge jumped in his seat and leaned forward in an attempt to look casual. "Dr. Augsen, did my secretary not tell you I'm busy?"

Dr. Augsen took a deep breath and laced her fingers in-front of her. "She did. She said you were in a meeting with Rita Skeeter but I was unaware it was being held underneath your desk."

Fudge looked down at Rita with an expression of fury and guilt on his face, both emotions from being caught. He nodded his chin to her lime green blazer and white, button-down, shirt that was on the floor, signaling for her to get dressed. He then looked at his softening member and spoke without looking at Dr. Augsen. "Can you turn around to provide me some decency?"

Dr. Augsen bit her inner cheek to stop from laughing and commenting that he did not have decency to begin with. "I'm afraid I can not do that as it leaves me open to being hexed. I would offer to step outside but that would cause too many questions and I think we would all like for this to be quick." At that moment, Dr. Augsen heard creaking from outside the room. She looked down to see shadows moving on the other side. Dr. Augsen kicked the door and heard the secretary let out a surprised noise closely followed by the sound of her body weight hitting the floor. " Muffliato." Usually, Dr. Augsen liked to silently cast spells but wanted to make sure her intent was fully clear so it was at it's most powerful. Any black mail material she had on Fudge she wanted to ensure remained only her material. "Are your secretaries usually this annoying?"

Fudge did not answer as he had used his secretary's interruption as an opportunity to become properly dressed again. After he made sure that Rita's Currant Red lipstick was no where to be seen on his beige pants, he met Dr. Augsen's gaze. Rita also stood up at that moment, smoothing out the wrinkles in her Lime Green skirt.

Seeing that Dr. Augsen finally had their full attention, walked forward, unfolding the newspaper she had tucked under her arm so the front page was laid out, and slammed it on to the desk. "What is this?" The picture on the front had been blown up to take up a third of the newspaper. On the front, Molly Wasley, Narcissa Malfoy, a very shocked Hermione and an angry Lucius Malfoy stood. Three seconds later, Lucius pulls out his wand and the picture goes completely black. Dr. Augsen placed both of her palms on his desk, leaning forward, careful not to crush her wand in her right hand.

Fudge was beyond miffed at the lack of respect he had received from one of his employee's and continued to stare at Dr. Augsen. He knew without looking at what she had come to talk to him about as he expected she would bring it up. He underestimated how upset she would be about it though.

"It's today's edition, Mrs...?" Rita had a sulky tone as she sized the therapist before her. If Rita had met the woman on the street, she had the feeling she would still hate her as she did not appear the type to appreciate what had to be done to save that picture from one of the ruined cameras.

"Dr. Augsen. Hermione Granger's therapist and social worker." Dr. Augsen returned her attention back to Fudge, calming herself knowing they were now listening to her. "Minister, please understand that this is a hypersensitive case. When you were gracious enough to inform me that reporters were being sent to Hermione for The Daily Prophet to gather more material for your cov-"

"Doctor!" Fudge automatically changed to a vibrant shade of puce. He glanced at Rita who was doing her best at pretending she was not interested in the conversation that was going on between the two.

Dr. Augsen didn't need her medical training to deduce that Rita Skeeter did not know the full details of Hermione's situation. Dr. Augsen let one corner of her mouth tip up- the one Rita couldn't see- to inform Fudge she was aware of the fact. Once the vein in his head made its appearance she continued. "I had asked for you not to try and over whelm her and I am sure the Malfoys did as well. I understand you want to to keep Hermione very close but please respect the fact that she is my patient and this will not work without my cooperation." Dr. Augsen turned her glare to Rita Skeeter. "Please learn to control your reporters, Mrs. Skeeter." Dr. Augsen enjoyed watching the editor's face turn red and decided to continue before leaving. "Funny how you claim to be a blood purist yourself unless it fits your agenda."

Rita Skeeter's mouth dropped open. "Excuse me?"

"You are only able to be unfaithful if you did not have a wizard wedding. How convenient." Dr. Augsen smiled sweetly and Fudge ignored that the fact had applied to him as well.

Fudge was clenching and unclenching his fists at this point, wishing he was able to curse and hex Dr. Augsen where she stood. "Is that all you came to say, Doctor?" He stood and opened the door to his office to dismiss her.

Dr. Augsen carefully watched him walk past her. "Yes, Sir. I'll let you both get back to your, ah, meeting." She strode out, leaving the newspaper on his desk. He watched her until she turned down the hallway to get to the lift and return to her floor. He looked over to his secretary who was so still he was unsure if she was breathing. Her intern was also standing still, but twirled her ponytail nervously as she stood to the right of the secretary's desk. "Marilynn?" The secretary stood at attention. "Clean your desk, you are being demoted to your previous position in level three. Hold interviews for someone to fill the open secretary spot." He nearly disappeared back into his office but poked his head out one more time. "And make sure you hire someone who knows how to call security when needed." He slammed the door but not before she burst into tears.

Rita Skeeter was sitting on the front of his desk, blouse already unbuttoned again. He walked over to her and pushed her skirt higher up her thighs. She snaked her arms around his neck so he was forced to step closer. "It's always better when you're angry, Mr. Minister." She tried to give a sexy, girlish, giggle but she sounded like the home wrecking forty-something year old she actually was.

"Is it now?" He grinned and pulled her closer by her legs so their meeting could continue with no further interruptions.

--------------------------------------------

Hermione sat with her head in her hands, holding the letter from Arthur Weasley. Her headache caused by the stress of its contents made her feel like her head was going to split open. She groaned and leaned forward even further into her lap. "Why did you expect him to enchant a record player to not use electricity when he could not even put a proper disillusionment charm on a car." She whispered furiously to herself trying to drown out her thoughts that came at her rapid fire telling her that she was not only stupid, but that her parents would be livid for letting someone ruin their record player. She had been selfish that she had not even stopped to think about what may have gone wrong. Hermione looked at the letter again and tried her best to focus on the words through her tears. Not sure what happened... Was unable to put it back together after enchanting it... Thought a simple reparo would fix it. She screamed in frustration and ripped the paper to shreds.

Narcissa walked into the foyer when she heard the scream. "Hermione? What happened?" She imagined Hermione regularly had melt downs but never witnessed one as she was often soft spoken, polite, and too depressed to express anything else.

Hermione, in her anger, started to pace back and forth, hand rubbing her head. She stopped to motion to the letter shredded on the ground. "You would think the Department Head of Misuse of Muggle Artifacts would know how to enchant something!" She wanted to sob from how pathetic she felt.

Narcissa looked at the paper on the floor, pulling out her wand and cast her spell in a soft tone. "Papyrus Reparo." Slowly the pieces of the letter glided together again as if it was never ripped apart. The letter lazily floated over to Narcissa who plucked it from the air to read it. Hermione's anger had mostly turned into fear as she slowed her pacing to watch the letter repair itself. She purposefully kept the record player secret from the Malfoys because she did not imagine them reacting well to something muggle being placed in their home. Narcissa looked up from the paper, her nose scrunched. "What is a record player? When did you ask him to get you one."

Hermione twisted the edge of her Hogwarts sweater as she spoke. "Well, it's this... machine where you put these black disc-like objects to play music. "When I asked Mr. Weasley to help me gather some of my parent's possessions after the funeral... I gathered some of the discs but asked Mr. Weasley to enchant the record player so-so it wouldn't have to run off of electricity." She rubbed her nose on her sleeve and continued to look at her shoes, waiting for Narcissa to reprimand her.

"It sounds like a gramophone." Hermione looked up to see Narcissa burning the letter and vanishing the ashes. "I hope you did not want that, burning letters after reading is a habit I never seemed to break."

"No, ma'am." Hermione continued to mess with the edge of her sweater but was able to look at Narcissa without completely cringing. "I'm sor-"

Narcissa held up a finger. "I told you that verbal thanks is something I find insulting and saying you are 'sorry' is just as bad. Hermione, when I said to ask us for anything, I mean it. Do not bother Mr. Weasley again as I'm sure we can provide more than he can." Narcissa turned to head back into the hallway she emerged from. "Gather your things together in your suite so I can have Crewe bring them to King's Cross Station."

"Yes ma'am." Hermione wiped her face one last time before going up the stairs and into her room. She hardly unpacked in the first place so all she needed to do was move her Hogwarts things from her room into her suite. Before doing so, she tied a letter to Persephone's leg to deliver to Profesor McGonagall explaining why she was sending her owl ahead of her. "It's going to be a long flight so take breaks when you need to, OK?" The owl nuzzled her hand before taking off.

Her headache was bad before but it was worse now as she moved her things into the suite with one eye closed from the pain. She heard the suite door open then close and turned to see Draco throw himself into one of the chairs by her fireplace. "Were you ever told that it was polite to knock before entering someone's room?"

Draco shrugged as he put a hand down to pet Crookshanks who walked up to him. "I figured I would tell you my idea on how to sneak Crookshanks by my Father." She would have raised an eyebrow but her headache- which was now turning into a migraine- prevented her from doing so.

"I sent Persephone off so I can place Crookshanks in her cage with a cover over the top. If you have anything better, please do tell." She crossed her arms as she sat in the chair across from him and be bent forward to pet Crookshanks with both of his hands. "And not to be rude, but why-?"

"I like animals. They're better than humans." She eyed him warily, not sure of what was the reasoning behind his answer. "I had the same idea... Although it would be better if I were to carry him in Ha- my owl's cage." Draco looked up at her to watch her reaction. "His cage is bigger and Crookshanks is no kitten."

"You would have to carry him though."

"I can watch a cat until we get to Hogwarts, Granger." As if to further prove his point, Crookshanks rolled on to his back so Draco could pet his stomach. Draco thought about what his mother and father said until he fell asleep last night. Lucius explained that he had promised Narcissa that he would not do anything to harm Hermione as Narcissa was to be the one to bring Hermione to her ruin. After Narcissa's visit last night, Draco was sure that she either wanted Draco to stay out of her way or Narcissa genuinely wanted them to be civil, even at Hogwarts. What he did know for sure, was that Narcissa had no clue Lucius told Draco about her plan and how they were blackmailed by the Ministry.

"No." Hermione resumed her previous position of her head in her hands, as her stress levels grew so did the migraine.

Draco rolled his eyes even though she could not see. "Is your hardheadedness getting to you? You do understand my father will kill your cat, right?"

"Sod off, Malfoy." Hermione groaned into her hands but could hear the sound of someone coming up the stairs and passing her hall, presumably to go into Draco's hall.

Draco heard it also, and grabbed his owl's cage he had brought with him, opening up the cage door. "Come on, Crooks, you may not like it but it'll only be for the day." The Half-Kneazle huffed but stalked into the cage. Draco pulled down the custom velvet custom cage cover that had a silver embroidered Malfoy crest over it so no one could see inside. The cover was also enchanted with a silencing charm so the creature underneath it could not be heard, leaving Crookshanks the freedom to meow if he pleased. Hermione wanted to argue with him further but the migraine was so crippling that she started to quietly whimper from it. Hermione recognized a flashback was probably going to come but continued to fight it.

Hermione heard Draco stand up and walk towards the door but it opened before he could reach it.

"Oh, Draco." Narcissa looked between her son and Hermione who was folded in on herself. She narrowed her eyes at her son, wondering if it was his doing. "I had no clue you were in here."

"I was just about to search for you mother, she's not well."

Narcissa watched her son as she walked past him and squatted next to Hermione. Narcissa could tell something was amiss as he had placed his free hand in his pants pocket with the thumb sticking out- something he only did when he was hiding something. "Hermione, what is it?"

"My head." Hermione's voice was shaky and she felt herself loosing her fight with the flashback. She refused to open her eyes, afraid of what she would see but could hear a female screaming. With the several flashbacks she experienced over the past two months she found that it always started with a voice screaming and it always led to her realizing it was her that was screaming.

Hermione could faintly hear whispering and feel the pressure release in her head, causing an automatic sigh of relief to escape her. She felt extremely light-headed as she lifted her head and everything still seemed a little too bright. Narcissa watched her carefully as she put her wand back into her dress pocket. "How are you feeling?"

Hermione felt herself sitting but felt like she was sitting beside herself rather than sitting where she actually was. Now that she was asked to focus on herself and give an answer, she realized she felt more than light-headeness. She felt as if her head was filled with cotton and her thinking was extremely slowed- but not in the way that the calming draught did- not in a way she was fond of. Hermione thought of one of her latest session's with Dr. Augsen who informed that Hermione was experiencing dissociation.

"Hermione?" Narcissa spoke again, her eye brows starting to tense.

"I'm feeling better. Did you do something?" Hermione knew she had heard whispering but was unsure what the source was as she still felt caught between her mind and reality.

"I did cast a spell to relieve your headache..." Narcissa watched Hermione for a moment before she remembered they needed to be on their way to King's Cross Station. Narcissa stood and walked over to Hermione's things. "Hermione, is this everything?" The pile Hermione had was less than what Draco brought with him to Hogwarts.

"Yes, Ma'am. I just need my owl..." Hermione spoke softly as her own voice sounded foreign. She was slightly disoriented but was able to manage walking without stumbling into her room. She grabbed Persephone's empty cage and wrapped one of her robes around it.

When she turned, she saw Draco standing in the door way. "Close the door next time." He glanced over his shoulder where his mother had quietly summoned Crewe who was banishing the last few things Hermione owned. Luckily Narcissa's back was to the open door. Hermione blinked slowly but did not respond, causing Draco to raise an eyebrow at her odd behavior. She hated how foggy she felt but could not remember how Dr. Augsen suggested she recenter herself.

"That's everything. Come, we'll be apparating today." Draco and Hermione followed Narcissa side by side. It was easy to do as everything in the manor, including the hallways, main doors and stairs were wide enough for three grown men to walk though and still have comfortable walking space. It was when they reached the bottom of the stairs and Narcissa told them to stay put as she walked off, that Hermione remembered what helped. Closing her eyes she fought hard to concentrate on her thoughts through the cotton headedness. My name is Hermione Jean Granger. I'm thirteen years old and my birthday is September 19th. I go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and I was sorted into Gryffindor. My best friend's are Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter. I live in Ma-"

"It's a Black thing actually." Draco's bored drawl broke her out of her mental chant but she did feel more like herself already.

"What?" She had her head tilted to the side in confusion.

"Scorpius. You said it was 'so Malfoy' and I never corrected you." He did air quotes and raised his voice to mock her, but in a teasing way. "It's actually a Black tradition."

"Oh... The tradition, is it naming children after the constellations?" Hermione remembered seeing Draco and Scorpius in their Astrology text book. She found the names to be beautiful but too strong to name someone else them- But she guessed that was probably why a pure blood family like the Blacks would name their child after them. She was going to let the conversation drop until she remembered another name from their astronomy textbook. "Wait, your mum was a Black? As in Sirius Black?"

She took a step back from the realization hitting her as Draco crossed his arms. He was raised to be very proud yet very protective of his family and the fondness he reserved for his mother emphasized that. "They're cousins bu-"

"Let's go, we've kept Lucius waiting long enough." Narcissa came back into the room and they left without Draco finishing what he was going to say, which left Hermione to think about what danger she may actually be in if Narcissa was closely tied to Sirius.

--------------------------------------------

"I need to talk to you in private." Harry muttered to Ron and Hermione as the train started to pick up speed.

Ron told Ginny to find her own compartment to sit in as the Hermione and Harry checked occupied compartment after occupied compartment. Finally, they found a mostly empty compartment that had one sleeping adult in it. The only other adult they had ever seen on the Hogwart's Express was the trolley witch but as they had no other choice, they sat with him.

Hermione carefully looked him over. He was young looking with gray flecks in his brown hair. His robes were more than worn and had patches to cover the holes it once had.

"Who d'you reckon he is?" Ron whispered as he caught up to them and slid the door shut. They sat in the seats furthest from the window the man was sleeping at.

"Professor R. J. Lupin." Hermione immediately whispered back.

"How-"

Hermione pointed up tiredly at the luggage rack where there was a small, battered suitcase that had his name in faded gold lettering.

"Wonder what he teaches?" Ron frowned as he looked over Lupin's attire.

Hermione looked at Ron. "That's obvious. There's only one vacancy, isn't there? Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"Well, I hope he's up to it," said Ron doubtfully. "He looks like one good hex would finish him off, doesn't he? Anyway..." Ron turned his attention to Harry. "What were you going to tell us?"

"First," He opened his suit case and took out two packages messily wrapped in brown paper. "These are for you 'Mione." Hermione looked at him wide eyed and took the packages. She unwrapped the first one, the smaller one, as he continued talking. "I contacted your therapist and she recommended that keeping a journal may be helpful."

Hermione passed a hand over the front cover of the leather bound journal. It was regular leather, not dragon hide and had a purple ribbon for a bookmark. She appreciated how muggle it was and hugged it to her chest smiling. "Thank you, Harry."

"Open the next one!" Ron grabbed the brown wrapping paper she ripped off and crushed it into a ball for her. She grabbed the other wrapped book, this one was twice the size of the journal, and ripped the paper off as quietly as she could to not disturb Lupin.

"I wasn't allowed to go into Muggle London while at the Leaky Cauldron but I asked Mr. Weasley to pick them up for me. I don't know if it'll help but I know you always look in a book for an answer..."

Hermione read the title of the book and hugged it to her chest also. "You got me a workbook on how to deal with loss?" Hermione threw her arms around Harry and started to bawl into his neck from how overwhelmed she felt at the thought he put into her gifts. "Thank you!" He hugged her back and they stayed like that for a few moments more. "I hope this isn't too soon to say but you're family, 'Mione. I'm here for you." Hermione hiccuped and sat back pressing the balls of her hands into her eyes to stop herself from crying harder.

Ron put an arm around her and she leaned into him. "You know we consider you family, too Hermione. You're more than welcome to come to the Burrow for the holidays."

She nodded but didn't remove her hands. "Thank you, so much. Both of you." She rubbed her nose on her robe sleeve and after she calmed down, Harry glanced at Lupin to make sure he was still asleep before filling them in on what he learned about Sirius Black and Mr. Weasley warning him on not to look for Black.

When he finished, Ron looked thunderstruck while Hermione held a hand over her mouth, her doe eyes red but completely dry. She leaned forward after lowering her hand. "If he escaped to come after you'll have to be really, really careful. Don't go looking for trouble, Harry-"

"I don't go looking for trouble, trouble usually finds me." Harry pushed his hair back absentmindedly, flashing his scar.

"Harry, isn't thick enough to go looking for a nutter who wants to kill him." Ron said shakily. He had moved his arm from Hermione and had both of his elbows on his knees. "No one knows how he got out of Azkaban." Ron shifted uncomfortably as he spoke and he didn't meet anyone's eyes. "No one has ever done it before. And he was a top-security prisoner, too."

Harry swallowed and it turned Hermione's stomach to see her friend so upset. It was always one thing after another for him it seemed. Hermione thought about Draco telling her that Narcissa was related to Sirius and she wondered if it was possible to break out of Azkaban if they had help on the outside. "They'll find him, Harry. They even have muggles looking-"

"What's that noise?" Ron straightened up suddenly.

Hermione immediately stopped talking listening to the faint, tiny whistle that was coming from somewhere. Eventually they found to be Harry's sneakoscope Ron sent him from Egypt, which led the to the topic of Hogsmeade and how Harry was not allowed to go. They talked for hours with their first interruption bring the trolley witch, the second Draco Malfoy, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle.

"Well, look who it is," said Draco, a sneer already planted on his face. "Potty and the Weasel." Crabbe and Goyle chuckled trollishly. "I heard your father finally got his hands on some gold this summer, Weasley."

"Did your mother die of shock?" Grabbe chimed in before his eyes flicked over to Hermione and her books. "Oh wait, that was the mudblood-"

Hermione flung the the workbook so hard at Crabbe that the spine made a cracking sound on contact with the right side of his face. Harry jumped up to restrain Hermione as Ron stood to block Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle from going further into the compartment. Lupin snorted in his sleep and all six students froze looking over at him.

"Who's that?" Draco shook his head to get his hair out of his eyes while he held Crabbe's arms behind him. Hermione found it interesting he thought to hold back his own friend instead of joining the brawl.

Hermione could hear Harry's grin as he replied. "New Teacher. Did you want to continue Malfoy? Crabbe?"

Malfoy pulled Crabbe back completely and put himself in the compartment doorway, he knew better than to be a part of a fight right under a teacher's nose. He looked up at Hermione who was still being held up in the air by Harry, breathing hard from her anger. He slammed the compartment door shut and Harry let Hermione drop to the floor.

Harry and Ron stared at her, finally letting their disbelief show. "Blimey, Hermione, I had no clue you had it in you." Ron picked up the workbook and journal from the floor, placing it on to her seat.

"He had no right, Ron." Her fists shook so hard that her whole body vibrated. She could feel the warmth and crackle of her magic gathering around her. Hot tears prickled in her eyes, tears that were from the rage she felt. She closed her eyes and took deep, slow breaths. I will not lose my magic over someone like Crabbe.

When Hermione was calm enough she sat down and pulled out her wand. She had started to toy with it almost as much as her cube lately- specifically when she felt like she was on the verge of accidental magic. Rolling it between her palms it helped her conduct the magic that had built up and release some tension from her body.

"I'm not going to take any crap from Malfoy this year. I mean it. If he makes one more crack about my family- or yours-" He pointed at Hermione before slamming a first into his other hand.

"Ron," Hermione pointed her chin at Lupin, not wanting to use her hands as she was still working on controlling her magic. "Be careful." Lupin was fast asleep but she was cautious by nature. "And I can handle it." She knew that was partially a lie after the outburst she had but she rather be stressed over taunts than be stressed about her friends fighting for her.

The rain outside started to pick up and Hermione watched it silently for a while before she spoke again. "I'm sorry about throwing your gift, Harry."

Harry was about to bite into a cauldron cake but shook his head at her instead. "I would buy you a hundred books if you could hit each of them as perfectly as you hit Crabbe."

The three of them laughed softly and Ron pointed to the window. "We must nearly be there. The sky is completely black." He barely finished his sentence when the train started to slow down.

"We can't be." Hermione looked at her watch. The band of it was a little frayed but it was her favorite and the most comfortable watch she owned.

A very muffled "So why're stopping?" escaped Ron's sweater as he pulled it over his head.

Slowly the sound of the rain started to get louder as the trains thunks, and whistles died. Harry stuck his head out of their compartment to see other students doing the same. The train finally came to a stop with a jolt with all of the lights going out at once.

"Ouch! Ron, that was my foot!" Hermione pushed her friend away to get her foot out from under him.

"Sorry." Ron moved by the window, looking outside. "There's something moving out there."

Not two seconds after, the compartment suddenly opened and someone fell over Harry's legs. "Oh, sorry! I'm sorr- Ouch!"

"Neville? Is that you?"

"Yes, Sorry Harry!" Harry tried to get up but Neville was too heavy and they both ended up falling to the floor. Neville and Harry were tangled for a few seconds but they eventually got up.

Hermione could feel her anxiety start to kick in and she had to do something. "I'm going to ask the conductor what is going on." She tried to exit the compartment only to bump into someone who matched her squeal of pain. "Who's there?"

"Who's that?"

"Ginny?"

"Hermione?"

"Oh, for the love of Godric," Hermione could feel herself get annoyed with how crowded their compartment was becoming. "What are you doing?"

Before Ginny could answer though, Lupin appeared to of had finally woken up as there was a soft, crackling noise, then a shivering light filling the compartment. Hermione turned to see him holding what looked like flames and the students could see him look them over, one by one. "Stay where you are." His voice was hoarse and he got to his feet holding the flames before him. He tried to leave the compartment but the door slid open once more before he could reach it.

Ginny moved from the door to stand closer to her brother by the window, which left Hermione and Harry closest to the door. Hermione felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand before the chilling cold hit. She slowly looked to her left and saw a floating, black hooded figure. Its hand was reaching out to Harry who looked mortified by the grayish, skeletal, and scabbed hand. In a split-second, it pulled back it's hood and she could hear it take in a shaky breath and all warmth was sucked out of the compartment. A few seconds later, Harry fainted but the dementor followed him.

Hermione gasped and the figure turned to look at her after letting it's hood fall back over its head. It immediately decided to focus on her and she saw its hand pull its hood back again as it took the same long, deep breath that appeared to suck everything but her physical body from her. The longer it breathed, the heavier she felt herself become. As her body became heavier, her body became colder, attacking her bones first then spread painfully into her muscles. Hermione then saw black and she was unsure if was because her head rolled to the back of her head or because she was dying.

Then the screaming started and the loud bangs of a gun going off nine times. There was a shattering sound with laughter filling her ears but it wasn't a cheerful or light laughter. The laughter was evil, maniacal, unnatural and was accompanied by uncontrollable sobbing-

"Hermione! C'mon, 'Mione!"

When she was fully conscious, she took a deep breath that caused her to cough since she inhaled too fast. She wanted to push herself on to her elbows but felt sick, woozy, and weak. She laid there for a moment, trying to stop the taste of bile from filling her mouth but the Hogwarts Express was moving again and the shaky floor was no help.

Everyone was looking down at her and she held out her palms as a signal for Ginny and Ron to help her up. They sat her next to Harry who only looked a little better than she did.

"Are you ok, 'Mione?" Ron asked nervously.

She swallowed again. "I feel sick. What was that? Why was it on the train?-"

There was a snapping sound and Hermione and Harry jumped, looking over at Lupin who was breaking apart chocolate. He handed a large piece to Harry and a bigger piece to Hermione. "Eat it. It'll help."

Hermione bit into it immediately and felt warmth spread from her toes and her fingers. She wiped away the cold sweat from her forehead as she continued to eat, listening to Harry talk to Lupin and not eating his piece of chocolate.

"What was that thing?" Harry's eyes flickered back and forth between everyone in the cabin. Ron and Neville shifted uncomfortably as Ginny cried in the far corner of the cabin, freaked out by what had happened.

"It's a Dementor." Lupin started to break off pieces for everyone else. "One of the dementors of Azkaban."

Everyone but Harry and Hermione froze and stared at him. "Are they the guards everyone keeps mentioning?" Harry asked.

Professor Lupin crumpled up the empty chocolate wrapper and put it in his pocket. "Yes, now eat." He straightened up and started to walk to the compartment door. "I need to speak to the driver, excuse me..."

After he left, Harry started with his questions again. Hermione did her best to sink into the corner of her seat, not wanting the attention to shift to her as she listened to them tell Harry how after he fainted, the dementor turned to Hermione and she fainted then seemed to go into a fit. She didn't meet anyone's eyes when they talked about her and she thanked any gods that were out there that her friends knew her well enough to continue the conversation without trying to engage her. Hermione listened to how Lupin tried to shoo off the dementor but it did not move from her until he used his wand.

"It was horrible," said Neville, in a higher voice than usual. "Did you feel how cold it got when it came in?"

"I felt weird," said Ron, shifting his weight worriedly as he spoke. "Like I'd never be happy again..."

Hermione, finishing her chocolate and almost feeling as well as she usually felt, shook her head. She had that feeling every day and she stood there as her best friend was attacked. Hermione started to blame herself for doing absolutely nothing as her friends had to experience what her depression felt like- something she would not wish on anyone.

"But did any of you- faint? Or fall off of your seats?" Harry still had not ate the chocolate as he wiped the cool sweat from his forehead.

Neville shook his head as Ron verbally responded. "No. Just you and Hermione." Hermione looked up at that and shared a look with Harry.

"Only Harry and I fainted? None of you felt weak at all?" She straightened in her seat as her guilt built even more in her core. Hearing that she was one of two people who fainted made her feel more of an outcast than the word 'mudblood' ever did. Hermione couldn't help but think that something was more than wrong with her as she stood by and did nothing for the second time this year as a loved one was attacked.

Professor Lupin walked back in the room before Ron could get out what he was going to say next. Hermione was partially thankful for the interruption as there was nothing but pity in his eyes when he looked at her. Immediately, Lupin looked at the chocolate Harry had in his hand, still uneaten but starting to melt. "I haven't poisoned that chocolate, you know..." Harry took a bite and almost immediately color started to seep back into his face. "We'll be at Hogwarts in ten minutes. How are you feeling, Harry?" Hermione knew she should not of found it interesting that Lupin knew and recognized Harry but she could not help but let it pique her interest along with putting her on guard. Harry muttered his response, embarrassed, and Lupin turned to her. "And you?" She looked back into Lupin's brown eyes that reminded her of her neighbors chocolate lab.

"I feel fine. Thank you for helping us." She gave a polite smile as she put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

Lupin nodded and gave a small smile as he returned to his seat by the window.

They were silent for the rest of the ride to Hogsmeade station. Hermione was already dressed so she had the opportunity to watch Lupin as everyone else got ready to get off the train.

It was cold and rainy as they got off the train and everyone was scrambling to get into the stagecoaches to return to the warmth that was Hogwarts castle. In the distance, Hermione could hear Hagrid trying to usher first years into boats. She found herself feeling sorry for them as they would have to brave the weather on already rocky waters. Hagrid tried to greet to them but the mass of people drove Hermione, Ron, Harry, and Neville towards the stagecoaches. When the crowd loosened up as students made their separate ways into their selected stagecoaches, Hermione stopped to look at the massive Pegasus like horses pulling them. Their body was bony and their wings were leathery. She imagined that if the four housemen of the apocalypse were real, one of them would be Death's steed.

Hermione felt a pang of guilt for never responding to Neville's letter but was grateful she at least read it. He warned her that she would now be able to see the Thestrals and it was best not to mention them as he recounted how he had been teased all of first and second year for pointing them out. She looked over at him and touched his elbow so he would look up at her. "Thank you." He was confused at first until she looked over to them. "For warning me." She knew if he had not told her, she would be freaking out over their seemingly sudden appearance.

He looked back down at his feet as they walked, debating on saying something until he did. "They're the worst part about coming to Hogwarts, I think. It's the first thing I see off the train and it's just a reminder."

While Hermione didn't say anything back she found herself agreeing already.

Hermione didn't talk to Ron or Harry in the Thestral drawn stagecoach. She leaned against the sidewall and noticed that Harry was doing the same, as they were both drained from their encounter with the dementor. Ron glanced between them as he was worried that they might collapse again.

After Ron and Harry stepped down, they heard a pompous and delighted voice greet them. "You fainted, Potter? Is Longbottom telling the truth? You actually fainted?" Neville turned around at the sound of his name and gave an apologetic look at the trio. The four of them were unable to fit into one stagecoach and Hermione assumed he somehow ended up sitting with Draco.

Hermione watched, arms crossed, standing on the last step of the stagecoach, as Malfoy started a scene with his cronies present. His face was gleeful and his pale eyes held nothing but malicious intentions in them. She imagined it was a look he inherited from his father. "Sod off, Malfoy." She said before Ron could say or do anything worse.

Crabbe took a step forward but Malfoy raised his hand to stop him, and the glint in his eyes grew a bit brighter. "Did you faint as well, Granger?" He spoke loud and other students were slowing their pace to listen. "I heard you did. Did the scary, old, dementor frighten you too, Granger?" He spoke to her like he was speaking to a child and some of the passerbys laughed.

"Is there a problem?" Professor Lupin exited the last carriage and had walked up to the small group that had gathered.

Malfoy straightened up and gave Lupin his full attention. "No, Professor." He glanced at Crabbe and Goyle and led them up the steps, into the castle.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione joined the crowd swarming up the steps. They were almost to the great hall when they heard their head of house call after them. "Potter! Granger! I want to see you both!" They both looked at each other before saying good bye to Ron and separate from the crowd to meet Professor McGonagall. Hermione heard snickering and looked back to see Draco staring with Crabbe and Goyle. "There's no need to look so worried. I wanted to have a word in my office." McGonagall turned around and started her brisk walk up to her office with Harry following behind. Hermione was still looking back at Draco when he said something to Crabbe and Goyle and let them walk ahead of him into the Great Hall. He lifted the cage cover, unlatched the door and let Crookshanks out who immediately joined Hermione. When she looked back up from greeting the cat with pets, Draco was gone.

"Miss Granger, have you been hit with a Stickfast hex? No? Then, I suggest you come with me." Hermione saw Harry and McGonagall were already on the opposite end of the entrance hall, ready to ascend the marble stair case.

"Sorry!" Hermione jogged over to them both and they continued their walk with Crookshanks not far behind.

"Ron is going to have a proper fit when he sees you bought that thing." Harry whispered glancing at Crookshanks. "How did it even get here?"

"Ahh-" Hermione had not thought about how to tell her friends about her owl or her cat. She thought about telling the truth but knew they could not fathom the idea of Draco putting aside his prejudice for a cat. Luckily, they had reached the door of McGonagall's office where she demanded they sit, stopping Hermione from needing to think of an answer.

Once they were in her office, Hermione noticed immediately McGonagall's desk was half the size as the one Lucius had in his study and she wondered why he needed such a large desk. She heard a hoot and turned around to see Persephone perched on a robe rack by the door they just came in from. "Persephone!" The owl glided over to Hermione's arm rest and she stroked her back lightly. "Thank you for watching her Professor McGonagall."

McGonagall smiled and nodded at her, taking her own seat across from them and watching Hermione a second longer than needed. She had worried about the girl as she had worried about Harry when he was left with the Dursleys twelve years ago. It was something she knew she would never mention as she would almost always choose to be professional over anything else. "I'm happy to see you two made it here in one piece as Professor Lupin sent an owl ahead to say you were both taken ill on the train."

Hermione looked up at that as she did not remember Lupin having an owl but realized the driver probably did. While she was reminded of her guilt at not being of help on the train, she could see Harry turn red from embarrassment. "It's fine-"

There was a soft knock on the door as Madam Pompfey walked into McGonagall's office. She looked between Harry and Hermione before deciding to look at Harry as she spoke. "There aren't many dangerous things that I can imagine that would end with you needing my services before the sorting is even done, Mr. Potter."

"It was the dementors, Poppy. And I'm assuming it attacked them both considering the description Lupin gave on the girl he said Harry was with." Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall shared a dark look before Madam Pomfrey stared to cluck disapprovingly.

Madam Pomfrey shook her head and started to look over Harry as she spoke. "It was a terrible thing for the Ministry to do, setting dementors around a school. They won't be the last ones who collapse. Dementors are terrible things and the effects they have on those who are already delicate-"

Hermione's cheeks went hot and in perfect synchrony, Harry and her both exclaimed "I'm not delicate!"

Madam Pomfrey switched over to Hermione, checking her vitals as she gave an absentminded "Of course not."

Hermione thought she saw a smile flash on McGonagall's face but it was gone as soon as it may have came, returning to her serious self. "What will they need? Will they need to stay the night in the hospital wing?"

Harry jumped up at that moment. "I'm fine. If anything, Hermione is he one who needs to stay in the hospital wing- she had it worse than I did."

"Harry!" Perephone threw her wings out and squawked her disapproval at Harry.

"I mean from what Ron and Neville said that it seemed to attack you for a longer period of time." He rubbed the back of his neck, thinking about how he sounded and regretted his outburst immediately.

Hermioned looked Madam Pomfrey in the eyes. "I feel perfectly fine. Professor Lupin gave us chocolate and-"

"Chocalate?" Madam Pomfrey looked over her shoulder at Profesor McGonagall. "So we've got a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who knows his remedies?"

McGonagall ignored the dig at the last two teachers Hogwarts had and looked at both of them sharply. "Are you sure you both feel alright?" Harry responded with 'yes' while Hermione gave a 'yes ma'am,' not yet broken out of her new summer habit. "Very well." There was another knock on the door and Madam Pomfrey opened it to reveal Headmaster Dumbledore. "Poppy, can you take Mr. Potter to the Great Hall while Albus and I talk to Miss Granger about her course schedule."

Hermione slipped a hand into her robe pocket looking for her cube but only finding her wand. She decided to grip on to it and rub her thumb along it's smooth edge so she had some thing to fidget with.

After the door had closed, Albus spoke. "Good evening, Miss Granger."

"Good evening, Headmaster. Has Dr. Augsen spoken to you in regards to my- ah- health?"

He chuckled. "Always straight forward. Yes, she has and I am happy you are doing well enough that she agreed with us on you keeping all of your courses." Dumledore handed her the course list as she breathed a sigh of relief.

Looking it over, she saw that several of the classes had been scheduled at the same time. "Headmaster, I think there is a mistake. Some of these classes are scheduled at the same time. I cannot be in two places at once." Hermione deflated, upset that she still couldn't take the classes she wanted as she would not ask Dumbledore or her teaches to reschedule their entire work schedule for her.

The glint in Dumbledore's eyes shone brightly over his half moon glasses. "Can't be at two places at once, you say?" McGonagall stood up and grabbed a wooden box that she had over her fireplace. "What a muggle way of thinking." He struggled to not break out into a grin and Hermione wondered what he found to be so amusing.

"Are you suggesting I perform something like a Gemino charm? I don't know how well that would work..." Her voice trailed off as she tried to remember the full details of the charm.

"No, no, something much more practical." McGonagall opened the box and Dumbledore reached in with both hands to pull out a long gold chain that had an hourglass with sand suspended in the middle of several gold rings. "Have you ever heard of a time-turner, Hermione?"

Hermione fought to keep her breathing even. "They turn back time, don't they?" She could feel her hope rising as she stared at it.

"Only for a few hours." McGonagall noticed Hermione's change in demeanor and sought to nip it in the bud. "You could spend an hour turning time back on this one and the most you might get is a day back."

"Oh." Hermione swallowed but the lump in her throat caused by her disappointment stayed. She realized then there was nothing she would not have given to be able to go back in time to save her parents. She took a deep breath and looked at Dumbledore as his expression was more personable at the moment. "So I shall use this to go back in time between certain classes so I may be able to attend all my classes, right? Are there any rules I must follow?"

Dumbledore nodded and turned to McGonagall. "Minerva, if you would?"

Hermione was forced to look at her Head of House then who was now sitting in her desk chair. "There are few rules but break any of them and we will not only prevent you from using it further but you will have to return to a normal schedule. With time-turners, anyone who uses it will have to have special permission from the ministry- which is something that we have obtained for you, with the help of Dr. Augsen." Hermione felt her mouth drop open. "Please close your mouth Miss Granger. Because we needed their permission, we ask that you do not mention this to anyone. Not Mr. Potter nor Mr. Weasley. Do I make myself clear?" McGonagall gave her signature stern look.

"Yes, of course." despite her disappointment, Hermione felt herself grow excited. It hit her that her plans were going into motion and she would have a steady distraction from everything else in her life. A part of her said that she could not do it and that he was bound to fall apart but her determination refused to let her listen. Hermione's plan was to take things one goal at a time and it was something she would stick to as she got through the year.

"Splendid!" Dumbledore checked his pocket watch. "I must be heading off, I will need to give my speech soon." He placed a hand on Hermione's shoulder before walking out. "Good luck, Hermione. I know you won't disappoint us." Her eyes watered a bit even though she felt a nervous flutter tickle her stomach. "Thank you, Headmaster."

After he slipped out, McGonagall continued. "With the time-turner, it is crucial that you are never to be seen. Not by anyone in the present or the past. Doing so will cause... in the very least an uncomfortable situation. People have died from mistaking their future selves to be an impostor wanting to do harm." Hermione nodded, taking every word to heart as she did whenever she heard anything new or interesting for the first time. "And lastly, only use this for your classes. Even changing something small can have caused major consequences in the future. While it may not be negative, it may not be positive either." McGonagall stretched forward to hand Hermione the time-turner.

Hermione nodded again, as she took the time turner from McGonagall's outstretched hand. "Like Back to the Future."

"Pardon?"

"Oh, it's a muggle reference, sorry." Hermone put the time-turner on and slipped it beneath her sweater, making sure that it was not visible at all and the only necklace that could be seen was her thin gold chain with a gold cross- given to her by her mother when she was younger.

"I see. Every time you turn it, it will go back twenty minutes. So say you need an hour, turn it back three times. Understood?" McGonagall returned the box over her fireplace and pulled out a book.

"Yes, Ma'am." McGonagall handed her the book and Hermione read the title. “Time-Turners: A History.”

"If this was any other student, I would force you to read this and write an essay on it to verify your comprehension of the tool you were just given. You don't have to-"

"I will." Hermione took the book and met her Professor's eyes. "I don't want to be treated differently."

McGonagall looked down into Hermione's eyes, knowing that for her, this was not about completing an extra essay. Watching Hermione over the past two years she grew to recognize her ambition to be the best witch she could be partially a cover for her wanting to fit in and be recognized as an equal. "Good. Now let's get you back to the feast." McGonagall opened the door, letting Hermione exit first before closing the door behind them.

They walked in silence, with Hermione grinning at the thought of all she would learn from her classes. Before she entered the hall, McGonagall turned to her, hand on the grand wooden door. "Promise me one thing, Hermione, if the classes are too much, you will drop them?"

Hermione looked up at her. She hated to think about not being able to live up to her own expectations but as she made the promise to Dr. Augsen, she did not see the harm in making the same promise to McGonagall. "I promise."

Draco watched Hermione entered the Great Hall, following her Head of House. She sat with Potter and Weasley who had saved a seat for them.

--------------------------------------------

"Stupid, bitch." Crabbe grumbled as he shoved mashed potatoes into his already round face. Goyle grunted in agreement as he followed Draco's and Crabbe's gaze.

"Careful, Crabbe, or I won't heal your face a second time after I hit you." Draco gave him a glare and Crabbe shoveled more food into his mouth instead of responding. Draco had told his two school mates a very vague version on how the Ministry forced his family to take Granger in and spun it so it seemed as if he was personally offended by it. He did what he could to make his father proud, and that included coming off as dominant to his peers. "I already told you that Granger is mine. I don't want you or any other Slytherin to mess with her." Draco was conflicted at first with his decision as he now had to follow through with single-handedly bullying her. It would not be the civility between the two that Narcissa had hoped for but it would make Hermione's life at Hogwarts easier- something his mother had also wanted. With Draco's plan, he felt he was able to control how far the damage went, and would avoid going as far as Crabbe did earlier. He did not take Hermione's warning about her parents yesterday seriously until he saw the bruise that formed down the side of Crabbe's face.

"I'm still going to call her what I like, though." Crabbe finally decided on what his response would be to Draco's threat.

"Just remember where you stand, Crabbe." Draco forked his mashed potatoes but did not eat them as he continued to stare at the bushy haired Gryffindor who already had her nose in a book.

Chapter Text

It was the first day back at Hogwarts and Draco Malfoy had fallen into his regular routine of keeping his clique close as they bullied the other students around them. In front of him sat Blaise, Theo and Goyle. On his right was Crabbe and to his left was Pansy Parkinson who was currently nudging him and pointing at the Gryffindor table, where it seemed that Hermione was in a heated argument with Ronald Weasley.

"If being good at Divination means I have to pretend to see death omens in a lump of tea, I'm not sure I'll be studying it much longer! That lesson was absolute rubbish compared to my Arithmancy class!" They all watched as she grabbed her books and left the great hall, leaving a stunned Ron and Harry whispering about what had happened.

Pansy Parkinson snorted as she leaned close on to Draco's arm. "The newest Gryffindor orphan found a subject she may not be good at."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really?" Draco had Hermione in their Arithmancy class in the morning and she seemed to be adjusting just fine but he wasn't sure what class she had afterwards, nor did he care. However, the fact that there was a class that the Gryffindor princess was struggling in was something he found interesting.

"Yes." Pansy used a hand to flip her hair lazily over her shoulder, enjoying Draco's attention. "At the start of class Professor Trelawney said that books would be of no help to the class and Granger's eyes nearly popped out of her head." She giggled but it wasn't a cute one that most girls had. It almost sounded like she was struggling to breathe through her pug nose. "Then at the end, Trelawney said something along the lines of Granger 'having very little aura around her' and that she won't be able to see far into the future- if at all. I never knew Granger to get so flustered. She even snapped at the Professor."

Draco, uninterested already, shrugged a shoulder. It was something he could use to make fun of Hermione later but he already found Divination to be woolly. Draco would've been surprised someone who was seemingly practical like Hermione opt to take the class in the first place if she had not decided to take all the classes a third year was could opt for. Pansy sagged the teeniest bit from his lack of response and turned back to her food.

When lunch was over, him, Crabbe, and Goyle headed outside to their first class of Care of Magical Creatures, leaving the others behind to join them later. He had been excited about the class last year as he was genuine about thinking animals and creatures were not only interesting but easier to understand than humans, but hearing Hagrid would be teaching the class put a bit of a damper on his excitement. Draco was frightened at the half-giant's size first year and serving detention in the Forbidden Forest with him did not help his feelings towards Hagrid at all.

The sky was clear but was a pale gray- the only sign showing the day before was stormy. Draco was grateful for the clouds as he wasn't a huge fan of the sun. Draco was pale and worried about getting freckles that would ruin his near marble complexion. Behind him, Crabbe and Goyle were punching each other attempting to dead arm one another, and after a few minutes of it, he snapped. "Will you two stop it?" Crabbe and Goyle mumbled apologies as they continued to walk behind him. He could see some students gathering by Hagrid's hut, one of them having a bushy haired pony tail he grew to recognize from the dinners over the summer. He scanned the crowd once more but failed to see Potter or Weasley. Draco was going to start picking on her with the information Pansy had supplied but Hagrid emerged from his hut. After a few minutes, all the students had arrived and class started.

Hagrid guided them over to the paddock by the woods, finally telling them all how to open their textbooks. Hagrid used Hermione's copy to demonstrate; He ripped off the spellotape binding her textbook and stroked the spine of it. Draco refused to hold back his sneer or snide commentary on how he felt about having a wizard-eating textbook. "Oh, how silly we've all been! We should have stroked them! Why didn't we guess!"

Hagrid looked down at Hermione. "I- I thought they were funny."

"Oh, tremendously funny!" Said Malfoy. "Really witty, giving us books that try to rip our hands off!"

"Shut up, Malfoy." Hagrid was starting to look downcast and Hermione knew how protective her best friend was over those he cared about.

She grabbed the back of Harry's sleeve to stop him from saying anything else and she looked back up at Hagrid. The incense from Trelawney's class had given her a headache and it still had yet to go away. The last thing she wanted was the stress of her best friend getting into a fight to make it worse. "What page do we need to turn to Professor Hagrid?" She mustered the sweetest smile she could and was relieved to see his demeanor change at once when she used the title 'Professor.'

"Forget yer books today, stay here!" He strode cheerily into the forest and out of sight.

"God, this place is going to the dogs." Malfoy turned to look at Crabbe and Goyle as he spoke loudly, pretending he only wanted his friends to hear him. "My father will have a fit when I tell him that oaf is teaching classes-"

"Shut up, Malfoy!" Harry repeated. Hermione tugged on the back of Harry's sleeve again but he ripped it away from her. She crossed her arms again and shook her head, staring into the woods hoping Hagrid would come back soon.

Draco turned his smoky eyes to Harry, then pointed a shaky hand behind Harry, pretending to be scared. "Careful, Potter, there's a dementor behind you-"

Draco was interrupted by the sound of Lavender Brown squealing as she pointed to where Hagrid was by the forest. Trotting towards the Hogwarts students, inside the paddock, were roughly a dozen half horse, half eagle hybrids that Hermione recognized from the same book she recognized house elves from. She took a deep breath and prayed that Hagrid did not expect any of the students to ride them.

Hagrid yelled at the creatures, urging them forward while shaking their chains. When they were close enough to their side of the fence, Hagrid turned around and waved a hand. "Hippogriffs! Beau'iful, aren't they?"

Draco eyed the beasts warily but could understand where Hagrid was coming from. While the back half of them resembled a horse, their bodies were completely covered in the shiniest and silkiest feathers he had ever seen. Most of the Hippogriffs were pastel colored with a few being a chest nut or caramel brown.

Hermione said more to herself than anyone else, "They're not Crookshanks but they're not bad."

Ron whipped around to look at Hermione incredulously. "Did you buy that thing that tried to kill Scabbers from Magical Menagerie?"

Hermione shrugged her shoulders bashfully before turning back to Hagrid. Draco missed whatever instructions were given and he knew Crabbe nor Goyle would know either. Thankfully, Harry volunteered to demonstrate on what to do when no one else did and was even able to ride the Hippogriff. When Harry got off the Hippogriff, he looked a little green and had a face that Draco immediately mimicked making Crabbe and Goyle chuckle.

"Good work, Harry!" Roared Hagrid as everyone except Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle cheered. Draco felt a pang of jealousy that Harry was once again boy-wonder in everyone's eyes but wore his mask of boredom to hide it. "Okay, who else wants to go?"

The rest of the class walked into the paddock where they split into groups to take turns winning the Hippogriff's trust. Draco had memorized everything Harry had done and repeated it all effortlessly, quickly winning Buckbeak over. Being in front of the bird and looking into its orange eyes he could appreciate it's beauty even more now. "I bet you're not dangerous at all, are you?" His voice was a bit softer than he meant it to be and he could see Crabbe glance at Goyle to see if he noticed Draco's tone. Not wanting to raise suspicion that he had a soft spot for animals, he turned on his signature smirk and mocking voice. "Are you, you great ugly brute?"

Before he knew it, he was on the floor screaming and writhing away from the Hippogriff. Hagrid, acting quickly, had wrestled Buckbeak away while commanding everyone to get out of the paddock. The class watched in horror as Malfoy had curled into a ball, gripping his arm where the the blood was soaking his robes. He was no longer screaming but was groaning from the pain in his arm.

Hagrid had gone white as he watched the blood blossom and stain the ground beneath him. "Someone help me- gotta get him outta here-"

Hermione ran to hold open the gate as Hagrid lifted Malfoy as he ran back to the castle. As they passed, she saw the long deep gash on Malfoy's arm and looked at the grass where Malfoy was previously. Hermione realized it was a mistake when her head automatically felt like it was going to split open looking at the dark pool of blood. "Ahhh!"

Ron came up to her immediately, and placed a hand on her elbow- their anger at each other forgotten. "What happened?"

Hermione could hear a ringing in her ears but she pointed to the blood in the grass. "Scourgify."

"What?"

"Cast the spell. Scourgify."

"Um, I don't know... that one..." Ron shifted uncomfortably and glanced at Harry. Harry took the gate from Hermione and closed it, then cast the scouring charm himself, clearing the blood.

The rest of the class had started to follow Hagrid at a walk, something Hermione was grateful for as Pansy was shrieking through her tears on what should or should not be done with Hagrid. Dean argued back on how it was Malfoy's fault and Hagrid was innocent.

Harry, Ron and Hermione followed the rest of the class- slowly- as Hermione was gripping her head. "Is there anything we can do?" Ron asked.

"No," She whispered. Hermione knew the spell that Narcissa had cast on her many times to relieve her of the pain but was not willing to risk teaching Harry or Ron. "I get migraines every so often when I'm reminded of it." She winced as the throbbing became more intense. "I need to go to Madam Pomfrey. She can cast a spell that would help..."

"Right." Harry and Ron escorted her to the infirmary, where they were quickly shooed out by Madam Pomfrey.

"Going for two days in a row, Hermione?" Madam Pomfrey guided her to a cot and Hermione let Madam Pomfrey push her down onto the mattress. "It's going to be a moment, dear. I'm still working on Mr. Malfoy."

Hermione groaned as Madam Pomfrey walked off and wanted to speak but couldn't as her migraine prevented her from doing so. Hermione failed to tell her that it was the beginnings a flashback and not just a migraine for her to deal with until Madam Pomfrey was free to heal her. Hermione rolled over so her face was in the pillow on the cot and groaned as she lost herself into the worst night of her life.

Draco had his uninjured arm over his eyes as Madam Pomfrey worked on his arm. She said the talons had cut deep and nearly cut through to the bone so she would have to regrow the muscles and tendons in his arm- something that would keep him in the infirmary for days. Draco was no longer in pain as she had used a numbing balm on his shoulder and arm. He was actually relaxed and did not look up when he felt her disappear from his side as some other poor student was brought in- at least not until he heard Madam Pomfrey say Hermione's name.

His eyes were blurry at first as his eyes adjusted to the light again but he was able to see that Hermione was in a stance he became familiar with: She was having a flashback. Narcissa took the time out of her day to give Draco lessons in healing after his regular summer tutor had left for the day. She started teaching him about healing when Lucius started to become worse with his beatings and she explained he needed to learn as she would not be around forever. Following that same fashion, Narcissa started to teach Draco about the mental side of healing since Hermione was a new topic that came into their lives. One thing that Narcissa had a hard time figuring was why Hermione's flashbacks always came with a migraine. Headaches were often a normal occurrence during or after but not a migraine before a flashback.

Nonetheless, he was surprised Madam Pomfrey had simply laid her down and returned to tending his arm "Are you not going to help her?"

Madam Pomfrey did not look up as she continued her spell work. "She just has a bad headache. You however, are missing a third of your arm. I should be finished with this last bit then I will help her." She was dismissive and Draco looked over at Hermione again, who now had her face buried in a pillow. He could tell from how badly she was shaking that she was sobbing into her pillow. He had sobbed like that before and knew the only reason she wasn't making a sound was because she couldn't breathe from crying so hard.

Draco looked away from her as he reminded himself that he was a Malfoy and he did not care for mudbloods. He looked straight ahead and pretended that he couldn't hear her legs kicking on the cot. He told himself that he hated her, that the only reason that he was no longer to have visitors over at the manor since his dad hired his tutor was because of her as the tutor was only hired so he could surpass Hermione's grades. He told himself that her life did not matter as she was just some common peasant and his did because he could trace his family back to royalty. Draco told himself that he needed to make his father proud and that this is how he should act. When she finally breathed in the air through her next sob his eyes shifted back to her. He knew that sound and he knew that while he was his father's son, he was not his father. Yes, he beat and taunted his school mates but it was never anything lasting as he hated to see anything suffering. Human or creature. Pureblood or muggle.

"You need to tend to her, now." He tried to pull his arm away but it was so numb that he struggled to move it.

Madam Pomfrey glanced back at Hermione with a frown but hardly seemed anymore concerned that she was when Hermione first came in. "I'm almo-"

"She's having a flashback. They happen when she gets migraines and you need to stop it." He didn't look at Madam Pomfrey until that moment and felt a sense of pride at the shocked look on her face. He let his face harden and his eyes narrow as he drawled his next sentence. "You do know what happened to her this summer, right?"

As if on queue, Hermione screamed into the wet pillow, calling out for her mother before dissolving into now audible sobs.

Madam Pomfrey quickly ran to her side, summoning a green potion whilst casting her first spell to help stop the migraine that had taken over over body. When he saw Hermione's body relax and the potion was being fed to her weak body he looked away. He can't say that he regretted telling Madam Pomfrey what was wrong so she would help Hermione but he did feel some shame at knowing his father would not of had approved. Draco was raised not to interfere with anything that did not concern him, especially when it concerned those beneath him.

Madam Pomfrey pulled Hermione's cover over her body as she dosed off into sleep, then focused once again on Draco's arm. "So, you have an interest in healing?"

Draco smirked at her, making his face unreadable to mask his negative thoughts. "No, my mother just so happens to be the only person you came second to in your graduating healer class."

Madam Pomfrey gave a "Hmpf" but continued to work on his arm in silence until she decided he was done with his arm for the day.
---------------------------

When Draco woke up from the pain in his arm the next day, Hermione was already gone. He considered asking what had happened to her when Madam Pomfrey started a second round of spell work after putting numbing balm on his arm, but knew it was pointless to ask. They were at Hogwarts and she was in classes that he was missing. Draco stopped watching Madam Pomfrey and let his head roll back so he could stare at the ceiling as he thought about all of the work he would need to catch up on. Madam Pomfrey already told him he would not be returning to classes by Thursday the earliest and he knew Hogwarts teachers did not hold back on anything. Atleast he wasn't going to be stuck with-

"OHHH, DRACO!" He looked over to see Pansy Parkinson jogging over to his bedside and he wondered how someone was capable of making their voice sound so whiny. Pansy threw herself on to his shoulders in a hug that made Madam Pomfrey hiss and Draco gasp from the pain of a nerve being struck. He barely felt it due to the numbing balm but it was still surprising and unpleasant.

"Miss Parkinson, if you want Draco to get any better I suggest you take two steps back before I sever his arm." Madam Pomfey had a hand on her hip and Draco had to smile. He knew she was doing the exact opposite of anything requiring her to cut into his arm but Pansy didn't know that.

Pansy, afraid to hurt Draco anymore, took three steps back. "How are you feeling, Draco?" Her eyes were wide as she looked at his bare arm and he could see tears start to swell again.

"I feel fine, it looks worse than it actually is. I'm just concerned it will leave a scar." Usually he would have given a dramatic answer but he did not want to risk making Pansy cry. She didn't tear her eyes away from his arm though and he got annoyed. "Stop looking at it."

Pansy looked at him when he snapped, saw his annoyance, and looked down at her feet. She fidgeted with her hands then looked back at him, her eyes more dry and her chest slightly puffed out. "I told my father what happened."

This time it was Draco's turn to stare. "You, what?"

"I wrote to him. He'll be telling your father and-" she glanced at Madam Pomfrey who was dressing his wound again, finished with her work for now. "Well, you know how your father can be, Draco. Hopefully he'll have things change for the better."

Madam Pomfrey glanced at Pansy before handing Draco the potion he needed to drink after every redressing. "Miss Parkinson, I'm going to ask you to leave as Mr. Malfoy is going to need some rest." Pansy grossed her arms and opened her mouth to argue but Draco stopped her before she could get a word out.

"Pansy, just go." Draco was beyond angry and did not want to be around her a second longer lest he be tempted to hex her in front of Madam Pomfrey. Pansy was taken aback and opened her mouth to reply, the waterworks already threatening to come back as her brown face started to flush. He felt his blood rise to his cheeks as he stared her down. Pansy was confused as to what she said that had made him so angry but she obeyed without another word and when she turned to exit the infirmary, she knocked into the cot next to his. Pansy only glanced over her shoulder once before she returned to the castle's hallway.

Like clockwork, one of Lucius' owls had came through the infirmary window just after Madam Pomfrey left and put up the privacy curtains. The owl, quite literally, threw the letter at Draco's chest before landing on the soft mattress between his feet. "Always the most polite, Poseidon." Draco threw the owl a look as he struggled with one hand to remove his father's letter. While Draco did not blame Buckbeak, he hated not being to use his arm while it healed in the infirmary. Once the letter was free, his eyes read the letter quickly, his stomach sinking further with every word.

Draco,

Mr. Parkinson had informed me of a very intriguing letter he received from his daughter, Pansy Parkinson, regarding your health at Hogwarts.

I can only assume that the person responsible for hiring that disgusting, mutt of a 'wizard' was Dumbledore and have already written to not just the School Governors, but to the Wizgamont as well. Why they thought a creature whose only use is to grow feathers for our pillows was interesting enough to be showcased to adolescents is beyond me.

Your mother is livid hearing about your condition and has requested your medical files from her old schoolmate, Poppy Pomfrey, so they will be passed along to the Governors and the Wizgamont. If you would be so kind as to make yourself useful for once and use your theatrics to make sure everyone believes how serious we find this, it would be appreciated.

Lucius Abraxas Malfoy.

Your reply is not needed, nor desired, but if you have any comments or concerns you wanted to add, do not hesitate to reply.

Draco burned the letter, then kicked one of the banisters of the bed in his frustration, causing Poseidon to fly off screeching. He knew that creatures typically did not lash out without reasoning and was livid that Buckbeak was bound to face consequences over something Draco probably did wrong. Draco replayed the class in his head and swore he was paying attention until he remembered he was actually paying attention to Granger and Weasley when Hagrid was giving the instructions on how to gain the trust of Hippogriffs. He narrowed his eyes and glared at the ceiling. Draco found himself wanting to use this as another reason to hate her- that same part of him, the one that his father had molded for him, saw that nothing good seemed to come out of her existence for him. The smaller, more reasonable part blamed himself for eavesdropping on their conversation in the first place.

Draco threw his good arm over his eyes again. No matter who he tried to blame, one thing was for certain with his father hearing about it: Buckbeak was as good as dead now.
-----------------------------

Draco thought about skipping the rest of the day Thursday as he was released from the infirmary during the middle of double potions, which was the second to last class for the day, but then he thought about how badly he had to play catch up- even with Crabbe and Goyle bringing him his school work from the past three days.

As soon as he walked into the Professor Snape's classroom, Pansy Parkinson was by his side. He had not seen her since he told her to get out of the infirmary and it seemed like she wanted to make up for lost time. "How is it, Draco? Does it hurt much?" She gingerly touched his good arm as she spoke.

He allowed his usually neutral mask to twist into a grimace for the class to witness. "Yeah." When she turned away to make room at her already full desk, he rolled his eyes at Crabbe and Goyle as if to say 'obviously.'

"Settle down, settle down." Snape said idly as the class started whispering. "Draco, the only seat available will be at Longbottom's table."

Draco didn't need to look at Pansy to know she was pouting and was almost thankful he would have to share the desk with Neville Longbottom... and Hermione Granger.

Draco walked over to the only empty seat of the classroom. Hermione was between him and Neville but Draco sat without saying anything. He was still unsure if he was mad with her about Buckbeak but decided to act like she did not exist until he figured it out. He looked at the chalkboard and saw the class was working on a shrinking solution, something him and his tutor had done over the summer already. He smirked, an idea coming to mind. His father wanted theatrics, he would give theatrics. "Sir, I'll need help cutting up these daisy roots, my arm-"

"Weasley, cut up Malfoy's roots for him." Snape said without looking up from the potions he was grading from another class.

Ron went over to Draco's side of the table and grabbed the roots roughly. "There's nothing wrong with your arm." He hissed.

Draco leaned back in his chair, his smirk widening into a small grin. Hermione was looking over her shoulder at him, one eye brow raised but he continued to ignore her. "Weasley, you heard Professor Snape. Cut up those roots."

Ron grabbed Malfoy's knife, gathered Malfoy's already mangled roots, and began to chop them roughly so that they were all different sizes.

"Professor," Malfoy said in a drawl that bordered a whine. "Weasley's mutilating my roots, sir."

Snape got up from his desk and approached the table. He gave an unpleasant smile to Ron. "Change roots with Malfoy, Weasley."

"But, sir-"

"Now," Snape said in a dangerous voice that forced Draco to bite the inside of his cheek so he would not howl with laughter.

After Ron begrudgingly traded roots with Draco, Draco called out to Professor Snape again.

"And, sir, I'll need this Shrivelfig skinned," said Malfoy, his voice full of laughter. He knew that even if the whole class prepared everything for him, there was no way the potion would have enough time to be brewed and turned in for a grade. Something Snape also knew but did not care about.

"Potter, you can skin Malfoy's shrivelfig." Snape looked up from his potions to give Harry a dangerous look that matched the voice he just used with Ron.

Their table was getting cramped, even with Hermione scooting away from them to have more space as they worked on Malfoy's potion. Malfoy leaned forward so he could talk to Harry and Ron quietly. "Seen Hagrid lately?" Draco saw Hermione's head snap up from stirring her cauldron at the mention of Hagrid but again, he paid her no mind.

"None of your business." Ron replied in a clipped tone, trying to focus on his roots.

Draco hated thinking about what would become of Buckbeak but he did not pretend he wouldn't be happy to see Hagrid gone. Draco faked a mock tone of sorrow. "I'm afraid he won't be a teacher for much longer. Father's not very happy about my injury-"

"Keep talking, Malfoy, and I'll give you a real injury." Ron said through clenched teeth. He was chopping up his roots into an even worse shape with the shaking his hands were doing from his anger.

"Ron." Hermione hissed. "He just wants to get a rise out of you."

Draco continued as if no one interrupted him. "Father has complained to the School Governors and to the Ministry of Magic. He has a lot of influence, you know. And a lasting injury like this-" Draco gave a fake but heavy sigh- "Who knows if my arm will ever be the same again?"

"So that's why you're putting it on," said Harry, accidentally beheading an already dead caterpillar due to his hand shaking from his anger. "To try and get Hagrid fired."

Draco lowered his voice and leaned forward, resisting a frown at the decapitated caterpillar. "Partially, Potter, but there are other benefits too." Draco slid the cutting board away from Harry so it was in front of Ron. He leaned back and resumed his normal aristocratic drawl. "Wealey, slice my caterpillars for me- and make sure they're even unlike your roots."

Harry's jaw locked but before he could say anything, Hermione put a hand over his that still held the knife he was using for Malfoy's ingredients. "He's just trying to get under your skin, Har-"

"Orange, Longbottom?" Snape's voice cut off Hermione's whisper and Draco failed to stifle his laughter as the potions professor ladled some of Neville's potion so he could drop it back into the cauldron, allowing the whole class to see Neville's blunder of a potion. "This potion is supposed to be a bright green and this is more of a..." Snape ladled it once more for emphasis. "Blood Orange. Tell me, boy, does anything penetrate that thick skull of yours?" Snapes voice dropped into a dangerous tone, not to the degree Ron was given but it still had Neville trembling in his seat and on the verge of tears. "I believe I said that only one rat spleen was needed? Did I not state plainly that only a dash of leech juice would suffice? What do I have to do to make you understand, Longbottom?" Neville's toad, Trevor, croaked at that moment and Snape looked over to it, a malicious glint in his eye.

Neville was too afraid to do or say anything else. "Sir," Hermione spoke up when it was clear Neville would not. "Please, I could help Neville put it right-"

"I don't remember asking you to show off Miss Granger," Snape snapped and Hermione went pink. "Longbottom, at the end of this lesson we will feed a few drops of this potion to your toad and see what happens. Perhaps that would encourage you to pay better attention in my class. And you two!" He pointed at Harry and Ron. "If you are done preparing Mr. Malfoy's ingredients, return to your own potions."

Neville was silent from fear for a moment, then he turned to Hermione, gripping her arm to the point his nails dug into her a little. "Help. Me!" He moaned.

Draco didn't feel bad for Neville but his smile was no longer on his face at the thought of a defenseless animal being poisoned. He started to mix his potion together just so he would have something to do as he watched Hermione whisper instructions to Neville out of the side of her mouth. Draco knew how to counteract the extra ingredients that were added to the potion, solely because of his summer tutor, and found it interesting that Hermione almost knew how to do it, too. But only almost.

Hermione was able to bring the potion from blood orange to a very dull green that was also still too thick in consistency. Neville was staring at Hermione wide eyed as she was clearly thinking on what was missing in the potion. "Five minutes remaining." Snape called out as he eyed Neville and his cauldron with a wicked grin.

Draco identified the item immediately but refused to say anything. He felt like he helped Hermione more than he needed to this week and he was definitely unwilling to help out any other Gryffindor, especially one who was so co-dependent he still brought his familiar to class in their third year. When he helped Hermione with her episode in the infirmary, he was able to forgive himself by saying it was something his mother would have approved of. If Draco had to disobey his father, it would only be for his mother's sake... or to help a defenseless animal. Draco scowled at his own cauldron, again going back and forth with himself on what Lucius would have wanted him to do and what Draco wanted to do. Draco thought back to the 'walks' his dad would take him on as a child where his father would go on rants about blood supremacy and how the Malfoys were even better than most wizards and all creatures. Lucius would even make it a point to kill or torture anything in their paths on their walks. Draco would always end up crying but Lucius continued on, insisting it would make his stronger.

Draco eyed Neville's cauldron once more and made his decision. The dullness of it meant that the potion would still be poisonous if consumed by the toad. He sighed as he slid over a few of the caterpillar slices underneath her right hand. She looked over at him bewildered. "What do yo-"

"Juice them and add it to the potion, Granger." He spoke out of the side of his mouth like she did earlier to Neville, but much more subtle. He kept his eyes fixed onto his cauldron and missed her eyes narrowing, but heard her sharp intake of breath.

"So trying to take Hagrid's job isn't enough? You have to try and kill Neville's toad, too?" She hissed at him and he looked up, his own anger making his cheeks flush. He mentally cursed himself for going against his father's teaching's yet again but refused to let her anger get the best of him. Draco was stubborn in the way that once he decided to do something, he saw it through.

"You should have finished adding your ingredients by now; this potion needs to stew before it can be drunk, so clean up while it simmers and then we'll test Longbottom's on his familiar." Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy all laughed out loud as they watched Neville stir his potion feverishly, hoping to at least have the potion thin out. Neville groaned and put his head in his hands after a minute as he sank back into his seat. Hermione turned to try and console him but stopped when Draco replied.

"How is Crooks by the way? Completely unharmed and happy I imagine?" She glanced back at him, thinking about how he had treated Crookshanks when she had no other way to get her cat to Hogwarts. "Even slimey, useless familiars are better than most humans." With that, he threw the last of his own ingredients into the cauldron and sat back as he watched Hermione squeeze the caterpillars, then rush Neville into adding it into his cauldron. He allowed one corner of his mouth to go into a small smile as Neville's potion turned into the proper shade of acid green with a more watery consistency.

At the end of the lesson, Snape strode over to Neville, who was cowering by his cauldron. Draco watched a nerve in his godfather's face twitch as he looked at the now lime green potion. Snape silently picked up Trevor as the class stopped what they were doing and watched with anticipation; the Gryffindors were scared for their housemate while the Slytherin's watched eagerly. Neville was biting the skin on the side of his nails as Snape tipped a small spoon of the potion into the toad's mouth.

After Trevor gulped and turned into a tadpole, the Gryffindor's erupted with a cheer as the Slytherin's groaned. Snape held up a hand after turning Trevor back into his normal self and gave Hermione a withering look. "Ten points from Gryffindor, as I told you not to help him, Miss Granger. I hope you weren't expecting special treatment upon your return." Snape tossed the toad back to Neville who barely caught him. "Class dismissed."

Draco vanished what was left of his potion and made his way out of the classroom with Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy not far behind him. When he got to the top of the stairs, he over heard a bit of Harry and Ron's conversation;

"Where is she? I can't believe Snape said that to her after he took ten points from her." Ron looked around and did not see Hermione. Draco could feel his eyebrows rise slightly as he thought he saw her ahead of them a moment ago.

"There she is." Said Harry. Draco looked to his right and saw Hermione hurrying up the stairs, panting slightly. One hand clutched her bag while the other was tucking something underneath her robes.

"How did you do that?" Ron frowned at her as they started to walk in front of Draco an his group.

"Do what?" She ran a hand over her halo of frizzy hair that escaped her ponytail but they immediately stuck back up once her hand was gone.

"One minute you were right behind us, the next you were at the bottom of the stairs again."

"What?" Hermione sounded confused and shook her head. "Oh- I had to go back for something. Oh no-" At that point, a seam split in Hermione's bag which caused at least a dozen large and heavy books to fall to the ground.

With no hesitation Draco kicked the first one to land in front of him and the rest of his Slytherin friend's followed suit.

"Malfoy, what's your problem?" Ron turned red and pulled out his wand to point it at Draco, causing all the Slytherin's to stop in their tracks.

Draco threw up his hands in a false surrender. "Oh no! Watch out! Weasel's going to curse himself into throwing up slugs again!" Draco put his hands down as the Slytherin's burst into laughter.

"Problem?" Lupin walked up behind them and eyed Ron's raised wand. Draco bit back a groan already dreading the detention coming up.

Harry and Hermione rejoined Ron, both carrying a tall stack of her books. "There's no problem, Professor Lupin."

Everyone looked at Hermione, different levels of shock on each face, and her cheeks turned the slightest shade of pink.

"Then why does this gentleman have his wand pointed at him?" Lupin gestured between Ron and Draco as he spoke and Hermione put on a polite smile.

"Well after my bag ripped, Ron had pulled out his wand to fix my bag and Malfoy couldn't help but notice his new wand. Ron was just trying to show it off." She shifted the heavy books as it was becoming uncomfortable for her to carry them. No one moved and Harry looked at Hermione like she had three heads for lying to a teacher. If Draco wasn't raised never to show his emotions to the world, he would be looking at her in the same manner. Hermione's face blushed even more when no one said anything. "Ron, if you could... These books are heavy."

Ron shuffled over to Hermione, his lips pressed into a white line to stop whatever it was he wanted to say. "Is that true, Harry?" Lupin looked at Draco and his groups of friend's, more than hesitant to believe the weak lie.

"Oh, uh, yes sir, it is." Harry looked the teacher in the eye and even gave a half smile. Lupin, satisfied with the answer nodded to him, then to Draco and walked off.

Harry and Ron both turned on Hermione, who was shoving the last of her books into the bag from Harry's grasp. "What was that? Why did you lie for Malfoy? And why are you carrying around books for subjects you don't even have today?" Ron pointed at her textbooks as he spoke.

Crabbe cracked his knuckles in what was supposed to be a menacing way but Draco slapped him in the chest and nodded towards the great hall. "Come on, let's go. I'm starving." Draco was curious to hear what Hermione's reply was as he didn't understand why she lied either, but was not curious enough to allow his housemates to hear and ask him questions later. Draco turned to Pansy to ask about what he had missed in their classes earlier in the day when his shoe hit something that skidded against the wall to his left. "Goyle, hand me that book over there." Goyle obeyed as they continued their trek to the great hall for lunch.

Draco smacked the excess dirt off of the book on to Goyles robes before he looked at the book's title: ‘Time Turners: A History.’ He flipped through it curiously and found a paper that was being used as a book mark- except the paper, he realized, had Hermione's class schedule on it.
------------------------------

"I think you're on a bit of a mean streak, Hermione. First Crabbe, then Professor Trewlaney, and now Professor Lupin."

"I just don't think that forcing students to face a boggart is the greatest thing, Ron. Boggarts can actually be dangerous if your fear is dangerous enough and you can't control it." She had her arms crossed as they walked into the Great Hall for dinner. Hermione knew she was really just scared of what shape the boggart would turn out to be if she had to face it but she believed she did have a point. She had ended up with too many new fears from the summer alone and hated to even think about facing them again in her life time.

"Are you a Gryffindor or not?" Ron grinned at her and she playfully punched his arm.

"Do you think he didn't let me try to go against the boggart because of-" Harry lowered his voice as they all sat down to be served dinner. "The dementor on the train?"

Hermione and Ron looked at Harry sympathetically, "Defense against the Dark Arts is your best subject, Harry. I'm sure there was a reason why he did not allow almost half the class to face the boggart." Hermione started loading her plate quickly so she could finish and head back to Gryffindor tower to get back to her homework. Hermione hated to admit it to herself but she was just keeping up with her homework rather than being ahead in the curriculum like she usually was. Even when she was rushing, she still was able to eat neatly, unlike Ron.

"'Mione, when are going going to stop rushing so we can all actually eat together?" Ron was talking with his mouth full which caused potatoes and corn to go everywhere. Hermione could not hide her disgust and even scooted away to make sure she was not hit by any food. She could not help but think of how her mother would have reacted if she were to see someone eating in that way and it caused her grimace to deepen. "Sorry." Ron made an effort to wash down what he had in his mouth with pumpkin juice.

"It wasn't you." Hermione felt her whole demeanor change and tears prickle her eyes. She lost her appetite so she grabbed a few dinner rolls and her bag so she could leave. "I've got to go study." Ron and Harry didn't attempt to stop her but they did watch her walk out, pity in their eyes. Hermione had quickly realized when she returned to Hogwarts that 'pity' was the new emotion that everyone always had in their eyes when talking to her. The only thing that bothered her more than that was how people started treating her differently. She was never one to make friends easily but it seemed like the few relationships with people outside of Harry and Ron had primarily dissipated. Most stopped talking to her out of fear of upsetting her and people she barely knew would come up to her to try and talk to her like they were the best of friends. Hermione would have appreciated the kindness but she knew the reason why they were doing it and hated the attention.

Hermione was silently crying, eating a roll, when she turned the corner to go up the staircase and saw Draco Malfoy poised on them. He looked at her and she thought back to when she was in his room as his hair was starting to curl like it did then. "I mark the hours, every one, nor have I yet outrun the sun. My use and value, unto you are gauged by what you have to do." Hermione felt her stomach drop as he repeated the inscription on all Ministry issued time-turners. She only processed she froze in place when he let out a laugh after a minute of watching her. She broke out of her stupor and removed the roll from her mouth. Hermione realized that she could really only do one thing in the situation, which was try to play dumb.

"What are you on about, Malfoy?" He stopped laughing and looked at her.

"You know 'what I'm on about.' You're using a time-tu-"

"Shh!" She threw herself forward and went to put a hand over his mouth, forgetting that she still had the half eaten roll in her hand. Hermione attempted to stop him from continuing as Peeves the Poltergeist had appeared from the other corner of the staircase. Peeves was chuckling to himself about a trap he laid for Filch and did not notice the two students on the staircase. After he passed, Draco shoved her off of him, not hard enough for her to fall but hard enough for her to lose her balance for a second.

"Ugh." He made a show of pretending to brush dirt off of himself but took a bite of the roll he still had in his mouth.

"What do you want? How did you find out?" He looked up and saw that she had tears in her eyes again and was fighting the urge to ball so hard that her face was glowing from how hot it was. He raised an eyebrow unsure of how someone could be so emotionally driven all of the time. He pulled out ‘Time-Turners: A History’ and waved it in the air. Hermione had been sleep deprived from not taking her dreamless sleep draughts since she left the infirmary to the point that she did not even notice the book missing for half the day. Hermione had not been taking the draught as Madam Pomfrey had given her calming draught the day of her flashback and she needed to wait a few days so she would not have any more adverse reactions. Hermione was grateful she had only experienced an easily upset stomach as Dr. Augsen had informed her of the possible reactions from mixing the two draughts.

"I want you to do better at keeping your secret. Does the Ministry even know you have one?" She was taken aback by his lack of blackmail but nodded, her stomach starting to return back to it's normal place in her stomach. "Thank, Merlin." He stood and she was reminded again how he tall he was compared to her. She wasn't intimidated, just surprised, even when his features hardened and his voice became dangerous- an echo of Snape's earlier that day. "I can count on one hand how many things there are that I would allow myself to forget how much I despise your kind so we can come to an agreement on something." Her eyes narrowed but he continued to speak when she tried to say something. "One of these things is my parents. You now reflect on us and you need to be more careful." He opened McGonagall's copy of ‘Time-Turners: A History’ and removed her schedule.

"Hey!" She reached for her things and he held an arm out, thrusting the book to her chest.

"I'm assuming you memorized your schedule." He threw her schedule to the side and cast his spell before it settled on the ground. "Incendio!" The paper burst into flames in front of them both.

"Wha-" He turned his wand to her and she reached for her own but before she could pull it out, he had already cast his next spell.

"Mutant enim foris, sed intus, non." Hermione felt the texture of the book change and when she looked down, she saw that the cover changed to look like the journal Harry had given her. When she opened the book, she saw none of the contents had changed.

"Why did you..." Her voice drifted off as she flipped through each page.

"That schedule in that book was a give away. Goyle or Weasley would have been able to guess what was going on. The cover change is just added security."

"I don't understand why this is so important to you." She held the book close to her body as she stared at him.

Draco looked at her incredulously, annoyance and anger in his features as he remembered the conversation Lucius had ith him in his study the day they went to Diagon Alley. "You've caused enough trouble for us already. First, the Minister blackmails my father to take you in. The Malfoy name has gotten positive publicity but my father has lost many business colleagues because we look like blood traitors now." Her mouth had dropped into a perfect "O" shape but he kept going. "If you were to mess up somehow with that time-turner, the publi-"

"Stop." Her eyebrows came together and she took a step closer to him. "What are you talking about? What do you mean Fudge- I mean he was nice enough..." Hermione shook her head as she let her voice trail off.

Draco wanted to smile as it clicked that he knew something that Hermione didn't for some reason he couldn't. He didn't meet her eyes and picked at the roll in his hands suddenly feeling awkward about the news he just dropped on her. "You didn't think you were willingly adopted, did you?" He felt something like pity in his question and hated how he had phrased it as it made him sound like a wanker.

He didn't see her leave but he felt the wind hit him as she ran up the stairs behind him. Draco turned to call out to her but not only were students exiting the Great Hall, but he wouldn't know what to say. Draco got up and started to head to the dungeons to head back to the Slytherin common room. He threw the rest of the roll over his shoulder and stuffed his hands in his pockets, unable to shake the feeling he just did what his mother told him not to do: Make her life at Hogwarts that much more worse.

Chapter Text

'You didn't think you were adopted willingly, did you?' Hermione rubbed her thumbs over her wand, feeling the flow of her magic between her body and it.

"Hermione."

'Ofcourse I didn't. I didn't think I was a pawn in the Minister’s game though.' In the back of her mind she wondered if she could cause wear by rubbing her thumbs into the wand as often as she did.
"Hullooo..."

'It makes sense now why Fudge was so involved and wanted me to report anything Lucius did wro-'
"Hermione!"

Hermione jumped and look up at Dr. Augsen, nearly dropping her wand. "I drifted off again, didn't I?"

Dr. Augsen gave her a small smile. "You did. Is something on your mind? Perhaps your birthday tomorrow?"

Hermione felt her bottom lip quiver slightly at the mention of her first birthday without her parents and looked at Professor McGonagall's fireplace. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Dr. Augsen and Hermione met in the office to hold their sessions. It made sense to do their sessions there as McGonagall had one of two fireplaces connected to the floo network and no one wanted to be caught doing anything suspicious by Professor McGonagall's office, leaving them with privacy. 

Hermione looked back up at Dr. Augsen when she felt her voice wouldn't tremble. "Yeah, I was thinking about that." Her lie was half-hearted but after she last spoke to Draco on the stairs almost three weeks ago, Hermione had stopped trusting her therapist. As far as she was concerned, Dr. Augsen was just another part of the Ministry who was using her. Hermione wanted to ask what Fudge's motives were but did not imagine Dr. Augsen telling her anything. Dr. Augsen had always came off as... Sterile, in a way, even when she was being comforting. She was someone who Hermione thought would not overstep her professional boundaries. Hermione had respected Dr. Augsen a lot because of it but it added to her frustration now.

"Do you have any plans for tomorrow, then?" Dr. Augsen could sense the distance Hermione put between them and could not understand why. She hoped Hermione would open up when brought back to Hogwarts but the opposite seemed to of happened. Dr. Augsen wondered if something had happened but was unsure how to get Hermione to tell her.

"No. I think I'll just stay in bed all day and work on my school work." Hermione fidgeted with the sleeve of her sweater. That was another half lie, Hermione had actually caught up this week and was anticipating spending her day crying in bed or hiding in the different parts of the castle from her friends so they would not disturb her, letting her have the breakdowns in peace.

"I see," Usually, Dr. Augsen would have chastised her for wanting to isolate herself but not knowing what else was bothering Hermione, her concerns were elsewhere. "How are your classes then? I hope they are not too much for you.”

"They're fine." The two were silent for a moment as Dr. Augsen's quill scratched into the notebook and Hermione rolled her wand between her hands. Dr. Augsen thought about asking Hermione directly if anything had happened but decided against it and reached into her briefcase instead. She pulled out a small box wrapped in blue gift wrap along with an envelope holding a card. Hermione took it and gave the doctor a small, polite smile. She did not want anything from Dr. Augsen or anyone else from the Ministry at the moment, the feeling of betrayal too prominent still. "You didn't have to... Do you want me to open it now?"

Dr. Augsen returned the smile before putting her quill and notebook in the briefcase. "That's up to you." Dr. Augsen stood as she checked her watch. "If you choose not to open it now, though, I understand. I will be on my way as I need to head out to my sister's for tea."

Hermione nodded and stood up herself after a moment of staring at the gift. "I think I'll wait. I don't want to keep you- I didn't know you had a sister."

Dr. Augsen laughed. "I have two sisters, but no brothers- unless you count the ones through marriage." Dr. Augsen's nose twitched slightly.. "I can't say I like them very much."

Hermione cocked her head to the side, interested in the small sliver of personal life Dr. Augsen was talking about. "Are you married, then?" Upon seeing the ring on Dr. Augsen's finger, she asked another question. "What was your maiden name- If that's all right to ask?"

Dr. Augsen kept smiling but it no longer reached her eyes. "I didn't take his name. He didn't go to Healer school so I saw no reason to put 'Doctor' in front of it." Hermione grinned at her reply, although the topic of family made her heart hurt, and walked Dr. Augsen to the fireplace a few feet away. "I'll see you Wednesday, Hermione."

"Wednesday, Dr. Augsen." 

Dr. Augsen disappeared into the green flames after announcing her destination to be the Ministry. When Hermione got back to the tower, she threw the gift on to her bed without opening it and put the time-turner back one hour wanting to get as much sleep as she could.

---------------------------------------------

Lucius was working on his third glass of fire whiskey as he sat there, another letter from the Minister on his desk. Fudge was upset that Lucius chose to go around him and go straight to the Wizgamont on the hippogriff issue. Now, Fudge was asking for Lucius to make public statements on muggleborns.

Lucius grabbed his glass, the letter and kicked his chair over before walking out of his study to search for his wife. "Why can he not request money like a normal person!"

Lucius thought about summoning Crewe, but the whiskey had somewhat done it's job and dulled the edges of his anger. He decided instead to seek out Narcissa and talk to her about the letter. Throwing the glass on the ground in his last bout of anger, he stormed out of his study in search of her. Getting to the end of the hall, he closed his eyes and tapped into the wards. Sensing she was on the second floor balcony, he went up the stairs to join her. When he slid open the glass door she saw that she had long finished her tea but had a letter of her own pinned beneath the saucer. "Did our Minister grace you with a letter, too?"

She looked over to him and the look she had made his stomach turn. "No, but our son did." Narcissa turned to look over the garden's again. "Sit, Lucius." Lucius raised an eyebrow and did as she said. He knew she was upset and wondered what Draco could have said to cause such a reaction. Before he could ask if Draco was OK, she continued, "Lucius, did I not tell you to not interfere with Hermione?"

Lucius raised an eyebrow, surprised, but realized that the answer to his unasked question lay underneath the fine china of her saucer. He plucked it from underneath the small plate and looked it over. Lucius' anger flared up for a second time as Draco not only told his mother of what Lucius informed him but he had also told Hermione. "An accident? How-"

"Why would you even tell him in the first place? This was not something that concerned him!" Her pupils were near the size of pinpoints and Lucius looked away, not wanting to be under their gaze. "You said you wouldn't interfere!"

Lucius wanted to wince at the viciousness of her voice. Lucius knew if he told her his full intentions, she'd probably Avada him on the spot, so he took a less honest approach. "I didn't see it as an interference as I had not expected him to tell her, I simply thought Draco should know what business we're involved in. I've been grooming him since he was born to become a proper heir to our name and I saw no reason why I should not let him know what we were going through." Draco had left out that Lucius had encouraged his bullying of Hermione to continue and Lucius was smart enough not to mention it himself.

Narcissa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she spoke her voice was a deadly calm. "He told her, Lucius."

"I can see that, something he will be punished for-"

"No. I think you have done enough." Narcissa got up, picking up her tea cup and saucer. She started to walk inside before she stopped and turned to face him. "Did you even tell him that she did not know?"

Lucius looked at his wife, his lips pursed as he thought back to when he last had Draco in his study. "I thought it would be implied."

Narcissa scoffed and placed one hand on her hip. "I don't often interject on how you raise our son, Lucius, but I shouldn't have to remind you he's just a boy." Narcissa pulled out her wand to set the letter he still had in his hands ablaze, and walked away.

Lucius rubbed his face, beyond stressed. Nothing seemed to be going his way ever since Minister Fudge brought Hermione in and he was beyond tired of it. Even drinking- something he usually only did once in a blue or socially- was not helping the amount of stress. Granted he, nor the next five generations of Malfoys, needed to work to live as lavishly as they did, but he was raised to be the Head of House and the Head of House needed to ensure the Malfoys stayed that way. Usually talking to Narcissa helped him sort things out but he knew she was not in a talking mood- and wouldn't be for a week at least. Lucius walked over to the banister and looked over the maze. One of the enchantments were directed to those who stood above the maze and tried to look in, whether on the Manor balconies or flying above the maze; if you were to try to look inside of it, not only would you see the wrong path but you could not see any of the creatures inside. Lucius, having designed the maze and hand-picked the creatures, was able to see past the enchantment and the gaze-repelling charms did not even make him blink.

Lucius watched the nest of the Acromantula for a while, unable to see much as the giant spider created tunnels with the webs it produced, but then he looked over to the Sphinx all the way to his right. The Sphinx was rolling around on its back, marking her scent in the same field she had been in for over two decades. Lucius thought again how lucky they were that Hermione had not decided to keep to the right wall when she was in the maze as there was a Kelpie guarding the right side. When Lucius gave up on looking into the shimmering pool to find the Kelpie, his eyes fell to the Chimera in the middle of the maze. Every few years he had to venture into the middle of the maze to recast the flame resistant spells to keep it from burning the rest of the maze. The Chimera had its lion head and goat body turned away from him so he watched its dragon tail flick around, the scales flashing brilliantly even from the distance where he stood. Lucius turned to go back in side the manor to drink some more, when an idea struck him from the bright scales leaving spots in his eyes. 
Lucius rushed to the library, drinking forgotten, wanting to confirm the details on the qualifications of being a Minister to verify if his idea would work. Lucius grinned at the thought of finally getting the Minister out of office and hoped the idea would work.

---------------------------------------------

Hermione had slept until dinner time Saturday, and after she ate, she returned back to her common room to reading 'Time-Turners: A History' a third time. She wanted her essay to be perfect so Professor McGonagall would not question Hermione's ability with the time-turner as Hermione was almost breaking one rule. Professor McGonagall instructed her to only use it for classes, but she had also been using it to catch up on school work, sleep, and lost time due to her panic attacks. Hermione told herself that all needed to be addressed for her to pass her classes and she wasn't wrong. 

Despite sleeping half of the day Saturday, Hermione woke up around twelve on her birthday, several gifts piled at her feet. It was almost too easy to identify who the gifts were from just by looking at them; there was the one she received from Dr. Augsen that had the envelope attached, two that had the same brown wrapping paper Harry wrapped her books from Muggle London in- meaning they were from Harry and Ron. There was one wrapping paper that only Molly Weasley used which- judging by the shape- was another sweater. There were also two presents pushed to one side of the bed- one a black, velvet box, the other a velvet coin pouch- both looked expensive and could only be from Lucius and Narcissa.

Hermione started with Molly's present, a sweater which was primarily Gryffindor Red with a Gold 'G'. Hermione smiled and switched out of her over sized t-shirt for it. She looked down, tracing the black and silver thread Molly had added that outlined the 'G', while she read the note attached:

To match your other gift- Happy Birthday.
-The Weasley Family
P.S. The 'G' is for Granger, not Gryffindor and don't be afraid to correct anyone who mistakes it!

  Hermione smiled at the care Molly put into the sweater as she looked over the rest of the gifts wondering what was supposed to match her sweater. Hermione opened Ron's gift next to find the book was a collection of Emily Dickinson's poems. She was not a fan of poetry as she preferred novels but appreciated the gesture as she would read any book she was given. Harry had gotten Hermione candy- all muggle candy- with most being dark chocolate as it was her favorite flavor. Next, she picked up the black sack, reading the tag that was written neatly in English:

For your Hogsmeade trips. -L. A. M.

Hermione didn't need to open the bag to know it would be filled with wizard money but she did anyway. What she had not expected was for it to be filled nearly to the brim with nothing but galleons. She made a face but made a note to thank him later anyway. Hermione grabbed the velvet box and was about to open it when Ginny threw open Hermione's bed curtains.

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Ginny hugged Hermione and after freeing an arm pinned between them, Hermione returned the hug. Ginny sat down next to her, looking over her gifts. "So, what did you get?" While Ginny was looking over the candy, Hermione grabbed the sack from Lucius and pinned it under her thigh that was not near Ginny. The Weasley family were proud as they were poor and Hermione did not want to risk triggering a rant that she was surely going to hear from Ron later on how the Malfoys used every opportunity to show off, including her birthday.
"I'm still going through the gifts but my favorite so far is the sweater your mum knitted." Hermione spread her arms so Ginny would see the 'G'. 

Ginny leaned in close to examine the silver thread. "Wicked! Mum only uses that thread for special sweaters, you know. It costs a bit more than normal thread." Ginny crossed her legs. She meant it in a positive way, that Hermione should be honored, but it made Hermione feel guilty and she could feel the galleons digging through the bag, directly into her thigh. Ginny nodded to the box in her hand, "Wassat?"

Hermione looked down at the box, the lid half way off. "It's from the Malfoy's so probably family jewels." She rolled her eyes and smiled as Ginny laughed at her joke. Hermione struggled with the lid but she took it off, and there there was piece of thick parchment on top of the gift underneath. Narcissa's note was in French and was written in very neat cursive:

Hermione,

I was hoping to have received a letter from you by now, as I was afraid to disturb you, but I could not resist writing today. I wish you many happy returns on your birthday and that our gifts find you well. I look forward to hearing from you soon to hear if these matched your other gift or not.

Kindly, 
Narcissa Midase Malfoy

Hermione felt herself frown in thought, wondering who reached out to whom in Molly and Narcissa collaborating their gifts.

"She wrote to you in Spanish?" Ginny's head was cocked to the side as she tried to read the note upside down. 
Hermione giggled at the face Ginny made. "No, Gin, it's French." Ginny stood up and stood behind Hermione to see the note properly. 

"Oh! I see that now. I didn't know you knew French."

Hermione smiled up at her friend, "Oui." Both of the girls giggled as Hermione threw an arm over Hermione's shoulders. When Hermione lifted the parchment she felt her face fall and Ginny gasped.

"I thought you were joking about family jewels." 

"I thought I was, too." Hermione picked up one of the earrings and turned it over. The earring was gold but held a red gem- she suspected it to be ruby or garnet- and was half the size of the tip of her pinky finger with diamonds dangling from them. The diamonds were a bit smaller than the red gems but just barely.

"Hermione, they're gorgeous! Are you going to wear them?"

Hermione dropped the earring into the box and closed it. "No."

"No? Why not?" Ginny was confused and stared at the velvet box at the end of her bed. "They match the sweater perfectly."

"They're just-" Hermione stopped herself, hand in the air gesturing to the box, and looked at Ginny. She thought about telling Ginny about what Draco said but not only was Ginny only twelve years old, Hermione had not even told Harry and Ron. "Expensive."

Ginny sat on the edge of the bed while Hermione grabbed the last gift. "It would be a little fun, you have your ears pierced and you don't wear-"

"I don't want to, Gin." Hermione detached the envelope from the gift. When she opened the envelope she noticed there was a card and a piece of parchment in it. Hermione read the parchment first while Ginny waited for her to open the gift.

Hermione,

This was found in your parent's room when the Ministry had placed the charms on their home. I saw it and I only thought it would be right for you to receive it still. If it does not fit, please let me or Narcissa know and we will resize it for you.

- Aquila Augsen, M.H.

Hermione stared at the parchment as her heart raced. Hermione thought that she would never see her parents handwriting on anything again but when she opened the card she found her mother's perfect script. Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes watered, not allowing her to read the card. Ginny became confused at Hermione's change in mood and backed away, leaving Hermione with her own space. Since she couldn't see the words to well, Hermione grabbed the gift and opened it. Under the wrap was a black ring box. When Hermione opened it, she saw a beautiful and intricate silver and gold ring. The gem set deep in the middle of the silver ring was also red and had gold spikes around it to make it look like a sun. The ring also had alternating black gems and what looked like white diamonds set into the ring. When her tears started to fall and she was able to see better, she found the engraving in it that said that You are my Sunshine. Slipping it on, she did find the ring to be too big so she fought shaky hands to slip it on to her gold necklace that had the cross on it, already deciding she would leave it as is and not have it resized.

"Hermione!" 

Hermione got up from her four-poster bed and stood by what was once the stairwell to the girls dorm but was now a slide. "Harry?"

"Come down! What's wrong?!" Ron yelled and Hemione didn't have to hear Harry hitting Ron for asking that particular question to know it happened.

"I'm okay! Did you guys try to come up?"

"Yeah! Ginny told us you were- Ow! Harry!"

Hermione chuckled as she wiped at her face. "If you would read Hogwarts: A History you would know the girl's stairs were charmed so boys can't come up here!"

"Are the boys charmed?" Ron asked curiously.

"No, they found that boys were less trustworthy than girls."

"Well, that's not right!" Ron's voice reached a high pitch when it cracked that made Hermione giggle briefly.
"Enough- you know we're never going to read that, Hermione! Just come down!" Despite what he said, she knew Harry was smiling as he interrupted the two.

Hermione glanced back at the bed which had one of her bed curtain's open. Hermine knew she wasn't going to leave until she read the letter. "Dr. Augsen sent me something from my parents. I think it's best if I stayed up here until I'm done."

The bottom of the stairs were quiet for nearly a minute and Hermione wondered if they had left. She had turned to return to her bed when she heard Ron again. "We'll save you some food from lunch then. Happy Birthday 'Mione."

Hermione's stomach grumbled at the mention of food but she ignored it. "Thank you!" 

Hermione walked back to her bed, which now had Crookshanks on one of her pillows, and sat on it. Making sure all the curtains were closed, she cast a non-permanent sticking charm to them so they could not be opened from the side. Hermione then cast a silencing harm on herself- something that she had done before sleep when she had not taken the sleeping draught so she would not disturb her roommates when waking up from her nightmares. Hermione pushed the rest of her gifts to the foot of her bed as she grabbed the card and settled under the covers. Hermione fingered the ribbon on the front of the card with a shaking finger thinking how it was so like her mother to have a gift ready months before hand- a trait Hermione had picked up and applied to school. Finally, she steadied her breathing and opened the card;

Our Dearest Hermione,

We tell you this every year, but every year it still rings true: Your birthday was the happiest day of our lives. We miss spending your birthday together but know that you're in good hands as you grow into the awe-inspiring person you were always meant to be. Your father and I look forward to next summer when you come back a half inch taller and a few months wiser. 
We may have been slow on the uptake of you being a wizard but no matter what you are or who you grow into, you will always be our sunshine. Class rings are given when someone graduates but we wanted something that you could look at throughout the day and know you have a family that loves you. Considering we were hard pressed to find a shop in London to make a class ring for Hogwarts, we tried to keep to the Gryffindor colors while looking for the perfect thing to remind you that you're not just our world, but the sun our worlds rely on. Happy Birthday, Sunshine.

Love,
Mum and Dad

Reading the card made Hermione feel as if she was back in her parents house on the day of the funeral. All of the wounds Hermione was trying to distract herself from seemed to open at once and she felt lost once again. She felt panic at the thought of the years ahead of her where she had navigate life without her parent as her parents had always been there for her, wanting to guide her in the best way they knew how. Now she was alone. Hermione went into the Malfoy's home knowing she would be nothing more than tolerated at best, but having the knowledge that the Minister had to force the Malfoy's into taking her in made that knowledge that much heavier on her to the point it was crushing. Hermione threw the card on top of the rest of her gifts, gripping her head as she silently cried and mourned her loss, again. She felt as if her very body was both being pulled apart atom by atom but also being pushed onto herself to the point of collapse. It was a personal hell that had her wishing she would have died with her parents.

----------------
"How are you, Hermione? I hope you made the most out of your birthday?" Dr. Augsen looked the girl up and down. Hermione had dark circles under her eyes and looked as if she had not eaten since the last time she saw her.

"You always ask me how I'm doing. Why is that?" Dr. Augsen stared at Hermione, her lips parted at the sharpness of not just her voice but her gaze. She had never gotten anything more than a polite 'I'm fine' and Dr. Augsen felt like she was looking at a slightly different Hermione- one who was moving into other stages of grief, like anger.

"Did something happen since I was last here?"

Hermione stared at Dr. Augsen and without answering her question, asked her own. "How was tea with your sister?" 

"It was fine, but I believe I asked you a question first."

When Dr. Augsen said she was fine Hermione's eyebrows had raised and she silently mouthed 'Oh.' "Was her husband there, then?"

Dr. Augsen gave a professional smile. Dr. Augsen knew the session today would not be an easy one. "We have these meetings to talk about you, Hermione." Hermione pursed her lips and nodded once, choosing not to continue. Dr. Augsen leaned forward so her elbows were on her knees deciding a direct approach. "So tell me, what happened in the last few weeks?" Hermione's shifted her posture at the question, uncomfortable that her therapist knew something was the matter, and Dr. Augsen smiled as she elaborated. "I noticed over our past few meetings you had been different. Distant. We are supposed to trust each other."

Hermione felt her anger slam into her just like it had when Crabbe had brought up her mother on the train. Hermione was beyond caring about controlling herself. "Trust?" Hermione said the word slowly, staring at Dr. Augsen.

"Yes, I believe I mentioned in our earlier meetings it was required for you to get better." Dr. Augsen resisted the urge to frown at where the conversation was heading.

Hermione opened her mouth for a rebuttal but stopped herself, her anger causing her to act before she thought. "Do you like your boss? Minister Fudge?" 

Dr. Augsen raised an eyebrow. "Hermione, I think-"

"This has to do with my most recent behavior, Doctor." Hermione gave her own polite smile as she watched her therapist intensely. Hermione's hands were in a fist and she felt the edges of her fidget cube dig into her skin.

"Very well. I think he is a great boss." Hermione frowned but nodded, not sure if she accepted the answer. Hermione was quite but knew Dr. Augsen was waiting for her to speak.

"I know Minister Fudge forced the Malfoy's to take me in." Hermione had spoke confidently and even the fire next to them seemed to stop crackling. Hermione knew that she would be able to get some form of confirmation on the accusation this way. Hermione did not deny that it could have just been something Draco or Lucius made up but she believed it as it made the most sense.

Dr. Augsen felt the blood rise to her cheeks. "And who informed you of this?" Dr. Augsen's notebook scribbled furiously in the background once she spoke to break the silence.

"So it is true?" Hermione's eyes went wide before her face was contorted in anger. The confirmation coming from her therapist coming as a complete shock. She had expected Dr. Augsen to deny the statement or make an excuse. "I'm just a bloody pawn?! Why? Have I not been through enough?" Hermione stood up, too angry for tears as she stared at her therapist. "You want me to trust you when you knew this whole time?! You knew that Minister Fudge has some vendetta with the Malfoys, that he decided to punish them by using me? Disregarding how I felt entirely like I'm some sow to be sold?"

Dr. Augsen thought about back peddling but knew that it would only cause Hermione to shut her out again and become even more angry. "Would it have helped you in anyway? I know you're upset-"

"Upset?" Hermione repeated slowly but fiercely. McGonagall's desk that was beside them with a tray of biscuits and tea that had started to rattle with every syllable she yelled.

"Angry," Dr. Augsen amended. "But I ask for you to not only calm yourself before you break something that is not yours in your Head's office but also to think back to how you were in our earlier sessions. How would that information have helped you? Look at how you're acting now with the knowledge of everything I have taught you."

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest knowing she was right but still kept her hard demeanor. She didn't speak until the cutlery and desk had stopped shaking. When she spoke, she spoke low and her own voice shook instead. "I already knew I wasn't wanted there but the fact I had to be forced into someone's home because I had no where else to go, hurts. Especially since Narcissa has been so nice- It was all just to appease a bloody minister who blackmailed them- Something completely illegal, mind you." Hermione felt a few tears finally slip out and she wiped at them furiously. Hermione thought she hated how easily she cried before but it was nothing compared to the hate she harbored for her tears now.
Dr. Augsen was quite as she studied the girl, shocked again that she was mentally more mature than she should be. "If I tell you something honestly, can you promise me you will not talk about it to anyone else?"

Hermione watched the therapist carefully for any sign that she had intentions on lying to her but found none. Hermione nodded, "I promise."

Dr. Augsen waved her wand and her notebook and quill fell to the floor. Dr. Augsen removed her glasses and looked at Hermione. "Has Narcissa given you the impression that she would allow herself to be bullied around?"

Hermione sniffed and looked away from Dr. Augsen as she thought about how Lucius and Narcissa interacted with each other. While Hermione was not the most charismatic person, she understood that Narcissa was the one who allowed Lucius to act how he did. Any thing that might have been a disrespect to her she automatically shut down. "No, but Fudge is the Minister, he blackmailed them. He can ruin-"

"If she wants to be nice to you, it's because she wants to be. While Fudge is the Minister and he can threaten Narcissa, it means nothing to her. On the outside, it may appear like you are not wanted but you are in their home because she allows it."

"That's ominous." Hermione sat down, her thoughts going a mile a minute as she accepted what Dr. Augsen said. It answered her concerns but raised questions. "How do you know her so well? Are you close? I thought that would be a bit of a conflict of interest if you are." Hermione's eyebrows came together as Dr. Augsen resumed her self writing quill and notebook. 

Dr. Augsen looked as if she was looking to a far away place when she answered. "Once. We were both in Slytherin at one point."

"Slytherin? I would have thought..." Hermione let her voice trail off realizing how she was making the same assumption others made of her. 

"Ravenclaw?" Dr. Augsen laughed. "To be frank, I think the whole house sorting thing is a bit of rubbish and a play on perspectives." Dr. Augsen put her glasses back on and motioned for Hermione to sit. "Did I satisfy any concerns or doubts you may have had?"

Hermione sat, her arms still wrapped around herself. "About where I stand with the Malfoy's? I think it's safe to say so but what does Minister Fudge have against the Malfoys?"

Dr. Augsen cocked her head to the side wondering how much Hermione already knew. "I wouldn't be able to answer that question but I do not believe Fudge has anything against the Malfoys. I think, well, he has his own reasons... Reasons I don't know." Dr. Augsen slipped the lie in while giving Hermione a sad look. Dr. Augsen did not see the information of the Minister of Magic being a spineless, conceited coward helping Hermione and decided it was best to keep it to herself. Dr. Augsen was relieved for Hemione's anger to be defused as she accepted the lie that was offered. 

Hermione placed her hand over her first necklace, that she also hid under her sweater now to avoid people asking questions, and pressed into the spikes on the ring. It had already become a new habit she developed. Feeling the spikes helped remind her of her parents love, just as they intended, and she felt a bit more grounded as she focused on coming back down from the roller coaster of emotions. "Did you talk to Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Malfoy about the ring my parents had gotten me?"

Dr. Augsen smiled, showing her perfectly white teeth. "I did. I hope that was okay."

Hermione returned the smile, answering honestly. "It was, the gifts were beautiful and they mean so much to me already." Hermione felt a bit of guilt now that she still had not worn the earrings but not only felt they were flashy, she was upset at the thought Narcissa had not been genuine with her. 

Hermione looked down at her lap, processing again the new information she learned. Hermione felt she could trust not just Narcissa now- although it was very little trust considering she was part of the reason why Draco is the way he is- but she also trusted Dr. Augsen. "Will talking about their deaths really help?" 

"Yes. With cognitive behavioral therapy the goal is to change your way of living with the trauma. With everything I had taught you so far, it would allow us to further our sessions and progress in your healing." Dr. Augsen held her breath, hoping that she would finally be able to assess what had happened.

"Okay." Hermione sniffed as her eyes watered. Hermione pressed her fingers into the ring a bit harder and took a deep breath. It was going to be hard but after having her questions addressed it deepened her determination to be better. "Today then."

Dr. Augsen nodded and flicked her wand. " Expecto Patronum." A silver hare sprouted from the tip of her wand. "Please let Professor McGonagall know that our session may run a bit long and any extended time she is willing to permit would be appreciated." The Hare ran off and disappeared through the door. Hermione made a mental note to look into the spell later as it seemed to be very convenient. Dr. Augsen approached Hermione and cast several charms over her head. "Narcissa informed me that you seem to develop migraines every time you have a flashback. I do not know if this will work but it won't hurt to try. If you feel anything, let me know and we will stop."

Dr. Augsen laid back in her chair and watched Hermione intensely. The charms seemed to work as Hermione seemingly had no issues when talking at her own pace about her last day in France. Hermione started from the morning again as Dr. Augsen listened with a somber expression. When she got to the part where she had stopped last time, Hermione had suddenly stopped talking. 

When she continued, she straightened up as she looked forward, repeating what she remembered;

"... neither of them should have gotten to be with her!" Hermione threw her hands in the air, making her parents laugh. "The music was great, but I can't say I liked the story very much."

"What do you mean the Phantom shouldn't have been with her? He gave Christine his music!" William Granger had his hands in his pocket while he walked with his daughter and his wife, eyes twinkling from amusement as he watched them both with love in his eyes.

"He also pretended to be her father's ghost and then attempted to induce Stockholm syndrome when he kidnapped her."

"All good points, but why don't you think she should be with Roul?" Jean Granger gripped her purse absentmindedly as she walked. What Hermione didn't know was her parents placed a bet on who Hermione would like for Christine to be with. Neither thought Hermione would think Christine should have turned both men down.

Hermione had made a face. "Their relationship was founded on one summer they spent together over ten years ago and he thought he could come back into her life to push her around. Granted she let him but I think he was manipulating her fear of the Phantom."

"That's my girl." William place a hand on Hermione's shoulder pulling her into a hug, then looked at his wife, grinning mischievously. "Which is why if she had to choose, Hermione would choose the Phantom."

Jean swatted her husband's arm playfully, "She didn't-" Jean was cut off by a man stepping in front of them in a large trench coat, one too warm for the summer. Hermione was immediately pushed behind her father by Jean who stood by her husband's side. Pearing on the other side of her father, Hermione could see the man had a gun in his hand, pointed at her parents. Hermione patted her side for her wand and for the first time wanted to shout an expletive in anger when she realized it was not on her person. Hermione grabbed the back of her father's coat, shaking out of the fear she felt. 

"What is it you're needing, sir? You should put that down before someone gets hurt." Hermione listened closely feeling her adrenaline kick in automatically. Her mind was racing as she tried to remember all she could about wandless magic.

"Your daughter."Hermione could hear the man laugh over Jean's sharp intake of breath. The laugh was completely maniacal and Hermione put a hand over her mouth as she shook with fear. Jean took a step to put herself between Hermione and William, further shielding Hermione with an arm.

William's voice was completely tense when he spoke again but he tried again to defuse the situation. "If it's money you're after, we can give you ours, please-"  

At that moment Jean grabbed Hermione and tried to run but the first bullet caught her shoulder then the second caught her back, splattering blood on Hermione as Jean fell. Hermione flipped her mother over to see blood gurgling out of her mouth. Time seemed to slow and Hermione thought breifly about how the blood would stain her mother's perfect teeth. She screamed for her mother for what felt like hours and did not stop screaming until she saw her father's shadow leave her side as he charged at the shooter. Hermione remembered feeling her brain seem to start kick start again, breaking her from her shock as she thought to try and protect her dad.

She turned, using everything she had to focus her intent to cast a shield around her father. Hermione threw her hands in front of her to cast the protego shield charm and the timing was perfect to block William from the next spray of bullets but the shield did not move past her. Hermione screamed as she watched her father fall to the ground, not even processing the would be fatal stray bullet that broke her shield. 

Hermione's screaming had gotten the attention of a cop not too far away and had intervened before the man could grab Hermione, who completely forgot that he was even there until she heard the cop's gun go off, killing him, stopping her screams from the shock once again. 

 Dr. Augsen watched Hermione's face as she spoke, her own anger rising and shaking the tea set on the professors desk for a brief second before she took control of her own magic. Hermione's face was still twisted in pain but her eyes were blank as she spoke, her voice trembling but monotone at the same time. They were signs Dr. Augsen recognized as someone having their memories seriously tampered with and it infuriated her to no end. Dr. Augsen thought it made sense to her now that Fudge wanted her to get Hermione to talk about had happened- he wanted to make sure the memory charm he had placed on her worked.

Once Hermione snapped out of it, she began to ball. Dr. Augsen sat there for a second, briefly considering if she should humor herself and ask if Hermione knew she had stopped crying while telling the worst part but knew Hermione couldn't remember her odd behavior. Dr. Augsen cast another healing charm on Hermione's head before hugging her. Hermione, wrapped her arms around Dr. Augsen, not realizing the stiff posture her therapist had from the anger her therapist felt. "It's all my fault!"

"You're OK, it wasn't your fault, Hermione." Dr. Augsen smoothed the back of Hermione's head as she spoke. Neither of them moved apart until Professor McGonagall knocked on the door. Dr. Augsen cupped Hermione's face in her hands. "I'll have them send food to your room. You should rest. I imagine this is not going to sit well with your head." 

Hermione nodded, her eyes were bloodshot and she felt like a wet rag that had been beaten against a pole to dry. Hermione could feel a slight headache and was thankful Dr. Augsen was knowledgeable enough to stop the would be migraine and flashback. Hermione never noticed how tense Dr. Augsen was and how pink her face was. When Hermione reached for the door, Dr. Augsen's voice stopped her. "I want you to know I'm proud of you, Hermione."

Hermone looked back over her shoulder and tried to give a smile but knew it probably looked like a grimace. Hermione slipped out without saying a word to McGonagall as she shuffled to Gryffindor Tower, feeling as if she belonged in a rubbish bin but also feeling as if a bit of weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

-----------------

Draco sat on the stairs going up to the seventh floor by himself. Draco assumed Hermione still had her session's with Dr. Augsen on Sundays and Wednesdays but did not know where they were held. Draco had also figured out that the Gryffindor common room was somewhere on the seventh floor but not only would it look suspicious for a Slytherin to be on the seventh floor when their common room was in a dungeon, it would cause other students to ask questions.

Draco laid his head back and looked up at the sun filtering through the windows in the high ceiling of the stairway. As much as he hated the sun, he enjoyed watching the colors it painted the world around him. He couldn't see where the sun was exactly but he imagined it must have been close to dinner time as his stomach was growling. 

He flipped the envelope in his hands, waiting for Hermione to appear. His mother wanted him to make up for what he had said and Draco took his time to do it. Draco wanted to say he felt no obligation to give an apology and was doing it solely for his mother, but he could even see from his regular seat at the Slytherin table how his words had affected her over the past couple of weeks. Draco did tell himself, though, he did not feel guilty, just responsible for her suffering. He placed a hand over his eyes, rubbing them simultaneously with his thumb and index finger. He heard footsteps but didn't move until they had clearly passed him. Draco looked up out of curiosity at the lack of commentary the person made in regards to him being draped over the stairs and saw a familiar silhouette ascending the stairs.

"Granger!" Draco scrambled to flip himself over and climb up the steps. Hermione heard him call out but continued to climb up the steps to the seventh floor. "Granger, stop!" Draco had finally caught up to her and grabbed her arm, attempting to swing her around. 

What he did not see was that her wand was already drawn and had been pushed against his neck with the momentum of him pulling her back. "What do you WANT, Malfoy?" Hermione was breathing hard and he could feel her hand shaking through her wand.

Draco looked at her then looked away. He noticed that every time he looked at her, his former image of her became more and more broken. Last year she was a normal Griffindor girl to him- shrilly, confident, and a show off (in her own way) - now she was quite, mousy and weepy. He didn't say anything at first, partially out of intimidation, and held out the envelope to her. "Get your wand out of my face, mud-"

"When are you going to stop calling me that?" He looked back at her and noticed her eyes were still bloodshot but her eyes were narrowed. Draco also became acutely aware that her wand was no longer shaking. "You must have noticed by now you hardly get a reaction from me when you call me that." They stayed like that for a while and this time Draco did not say anything, completely intimidated by her lack of shaking that she had full intentions of hexing him without a second thought if he continued to push her. Hermione glanced down to the envelope then looked back up at him, deciding to withdraw her wand without taking the envelope. Hermione continued her trek up the stairs but Draco was determined, just like he was with Trevor in Snape's class. 

He raced up the stairs and stood in her way. "I didn't come from the literal depths of the castle, gracing you with my presence, for you to just brush me off."

Hermione's eyes narrowed again and he watched her hand that still had the wand twitch. "Really? Cause it looks like that's exactly what's happening." Hermione stepped to the side but Draco mirrored her. Hermione huffed and stepped to the side once more which he again mirrored. Hermione ran a hand over her mess of hair, "What? What do you want?" Hermione tried yelling again but her voice cracked.

Draco's eyes widened as he watched hers water and the rest of her face go red. He mentally cursed himself for making her upset again and realized that if his mother heard about it, she would send more than a howler this time. "I didn't mean to upset you. Now or last time." Hermione pressed the balls of her palms into her eyes before looking up at him, which made him look away. Draco wanted to tell her a lot at that moment, like how he was only doing this because it was an obligation and not due to the fact he was bothered by her constant negative mood. He wanted to tell her that she needed to pull herself up from the rut of her parents grave and accept it but knew that would do nothing to help her or himself as she would kill him before his mother could. Draco wanted her to stop giving him a reason to sympathize with her and ruin his father's teachings. "I should not have said what I said."

He heard her sniffle and he mentally cursed her for not taking the envelope already. He was about to demand she take it so he could be free of her presence but she spoke. "I suppose not but I should thank you for it. Or at least I should in the future if my sessions go well with Dr. Augsen. Right now I feel like rubbish." Draco looked at her and she reminded him of a baby bird that fell out of its nest that Lucius and him had stumbled across on one of their 'walks.' Draco remembered how heartbroken and scared it's chirping sounded before Lucius had killed it, putting it out of its misery. Hermione took the envelope and took a side step on the stair again. When he did not move, she continued up the stairs.

"Why did you lie for me? When I kicked your books?" Draco wasn't sure why he asked the question as he had not thought of it till now, but now that he had, he felt the burning need to know the answer.

Hermione half turned on the staircase to look at him. "Payback. For saving Neville's toad." Draco nodded once then headed down the stairs to head back to the Slytherin common room, thinking about how he was relieved she had lied not to be nice or start a friendship.

Hermione continued up to the Fat Lady portrait, relieved to be rid of Draco, and climbed into the common room. She had almost made it to the girls dorm when she heard a familiar "Meeeoooooowwwuuuffff" coming from one of the cabinets in the common room. Opening it up, Crookshanks jumped out and stretched before rubbing himself over her ankles. She frowned looking at the half-kneazle. "I hope no one had stuffed you in there." Hermione picked up the half-kneazle, and knuzzled his fur before climbing into bed, putting Draco's envelope in her bed side drawer to be forgotten.

Chapter Text

"Harry, I'm sure you'll be able to go next time," Hermione said. "They're bound to catch Black soon. He's been sighted once already."

"Yeah, sure." Harry, sat dejectedly in his seat. He was still stiff, wet and cold from the quidditch practice he just got back from. The early October weather was even more unforgiving than September's. The sky was always a gloomy, dreary grey, and the rain never seemed to stop anymore. Ron and Hermione were working on their star charts when he came in, complaining that he never had the time to finish his. She looked at her best friend with sad expression on her face, handing him parchment so he could work on his star chart.

"Harry, you should ask MGonagall-"

"Ron!" Hermione looked at her ginger best friend in disbelief. "Harry's supposed to stay in school-"

"He can't be the only third year left behind! Ask McGonagall, Harry."

"He won't be the only third year left behind, Ron, I'm not going either!" Hermione motioned to herself just as Crookshanks jumped into her lap with a dead spider in his mouth. Ron looked a little green seeing the spider and took leaned away, holding his own star chart up in defense. "Does he have to eat that in front of us?"

Hermione shot Ron a glare as she scratched Crookshanks back. "Clever Crookshanks, did you catch that all by yourself?" Crookshanks slowly chewed the spider, his eyes fixed onto Ron's bag.

"Just keep him over there, that's all," Ron said, handing Harry his own star chart. "I've got Scabbers asleep in my bag. Here, Harry, just copy mine."

Hermione pursed her lips, wondering if she should point out that star charts are unique to everyone, but decided to let Professor Trelawny tell them so they could learn their lesson on not copying each other. Hermione opened her mouth to express how she felt about Ron's attitude towards Crookshanks but Harry interrupted, not wanting them to bicker around him again about Crookshanks. "What do you mean you're not going to Hogsmead?"

Hermione looked over to Harry and shrugged one shoulder. "I'm not interested. Especially since both of my best friend's won't be there. I would rather stay in the castle with you." She looked down at her own star chart so she did not have to meet their eyes. Her anxiety always spiked when she thought about leaving the safety of Hogwarts grounds as thought it was the safest place for them and refused to think about leaving.

"What about me? None of my best friends are going to be there!" Ron looked between the both of them, growing despondent.

Hermione raised an eyebrow, still miffed about how he treated Crookshanks. "You have Scabbers."

Ron started to turn a light shade of pink, getting worked up again but at that moment Crookshanks pounced on him- or rather Ron's bag- and started to tear at it, claws completely out.

"OY!" Ron roared, seizing his bag as Crookshanks continued to tear at the fabric. "GET OFF, YOU STUPID ANIMAL!"

Ron swung the bag around, and seeing that her cat was now in danger, Hermione jumped up from her seat. "Ron, don't hurt him!" Hermione tried to stop Ron from swinging his bag while the whole common room watched. Ron whirled his bag around one last time as Scabbers came flying out of the top.

"CATCH THAT CAT!" Ron yelled as Crookshanks freed himself with predatory ease from the bag to chase after the terrified Scabbers.

Several of the amused Gryffindors watched as George Weasley, Ron and Hermione tried to catch Crookshanks. After a few minutes, Scabbers had managed to get underneath an old chest of drawers where Crookshanks could not fully follow. Hermione grabbed Crookshanks by the middle and pulled him away, claws still reaching for Scabbers, creating tears in the red rug. Ron threw himself on to his stomach and pulled Scabbers out by the tail.

"Look at him!" Ron said furiously to Hermione as he dangled Scabbers in front of her. Crookshanks tense for another lunge and Hermione stepped back and turned to prevent Crookshanks from jumping at Scabbers again.

"All cats chase rats, Ron! He doesn't know it's wrong!"

Ron was trying to put a frantic Scabbers back in his pocket but Scabbers was wriggling too much. "That cat's got it in for Scabbers!" Ron started to march up the stairs to the boys' dormitories. "And Scabbers was here first, and he's ill!"

Hermione locked eyes with Harry who shrugged his shoulders before turning back to his own star chart. Hermione, no longer in the mood to socialize, returned to her own bed where she snuggled in bed next to Crookshanks. Hermione opened her drawer to read the book she had on hand but saw that the collections of Emily Dickens poems was on top of everything. Cross with Ron, Hermione pushed the book to the back of the drawer, not wanting to think of him. The force that she used caused it to hit the back of the drawer, dragging several papers with it, revealing a black envelope.

Hermione lifted the envelope and flipped it over, and seeing the silver Malfoy crest, remembering that Draco had given it to her last month. Hermione sat there for a second thinking about how time seemed to both crawl and fly by her at the same time. She pursed her lips, thinking if it was worth finally opening but decided against it. Draco was still a prat and a bully- she didn't want to risk opening anything gifted by him that may be cursed. Hermione attempted to sleep but between Ron and her curiosity on the contents of the letter, she was wide awake. Her curiosity that fueled her adventures with Ron and Harry were starting to reawaken with each session Dr. Augsen and her had, which kept her up, thinking about what Draco Malfoy had placed in the envelope.

Hermione was wary of Draco as he still sneered and jeered at the three of them but in retrospect, he was no where near as vile as he was last year with the Basilisk slithering about Hogwarts. Hermione frowned, now that she was thinking about it, none of the Slytherin's were as bad to her as they were last year with Blaise Zabini even being polite and cordial to her when they were paired for an Ancient Runes project. Hermione wondered if Lucius had threatened their families on their behalf as Narcissa insisted she was a part of them now, (Hermione still could not think of them as 'family') but dismissed the idea as being ludicrous.

Seeing as sleep was not going to come to her in the middle of the day, Hermione left to go to the Library as it was original place of solstice in the castle. She looked at Crookshanks and scratched his ear. "Please be good while I'm gone." The half-kneazle looked into her eyes and huffed out of it's nose before curling into a ball, watching her leave the girls dormitory with his round yellow eyes.

———————

Draco Malfoy walked down the hall, frustrated at Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy. He could not find Blaise or Theo anywhere so he decided to grab some of his textbooks and head to the library. He was done with the homework for the week but lied to his usual trio to get peace and quiet from them. He knew they would not follow as they were complete duffers who hated the library.

The library was primarily empty and he started to walk to his favorite spot in the back of the library when he turned around one of the shelves and saw Hermione. She was one of the other reason he was in a sour mood today. The envelope he gave her was charmed with a twin that would also pop open when she opened the one he gave her so he knew she did not open it and was insulted. Draco told himself that he did not care if she opened it or not but it made his task his mother gave him pointless. He thought about other ways to get her to either open it or accept his apology but none seemed plausible or something she would easily fall for.

"What are you doing here?" She jumped, dropping the book she had but she caught it pinning it with her knee against the shelf.

"Ow." She picked it up and rubbed her knee before looking at him. "Are mudbloods not allowed to be in a public library?" She slid the book back into the shelf and continued to search for the book she was looking for.

"Well, after the 1920's I suppose it's legal so I can't complain- legally." He leaned against the shelf, sizing her up, his face scrunched up as if he smelled something disgusting. Hermione was wearing trainers, jeans and the sweater Molly had sent with her hair thrown into a messy bun. Draco thought if she wasn't wearing the ruby and diamond earrings his mother sent Hermione, she would have looked completely homeless.

Hermione felt her annoyance creep up and build on top of the anger she still felt for Ron. Hermione did not want to be annoyed further in the one place she felt she could almost be happy, and she thought hard of what to say to get Draco to leave. "Careful, Malfoy, you're starting to sound like a blood traitor, talking about tolerance and what not." Hermione pretended she finally found the book she was looking for and stood on her toes, completely pressed against the shelf, using her middle finger to catch the edge of the random book and coax it closer.

Draco looked as if she had slapped him in the face by what she said and she wasn't even paying attention to him. He reached up and slammed the book she was reaching for back into the shelf. She turned, glaring at him but he had come so close that he was completely looming over her, practically pinning her to the shelf. Hermione was completely caught off guard and was frozen by his angry, gray eyes. "You want to make rules about what we do or don't mention? Fine, here's mine: Don't talk about my lineage, Scum." He stalked off, finding his favorite place of solstice, even more upset than when he came in. If she wants to act like that, fine. I'm not going to try and make amends anymore.

Hermione, however, had sank into the shelf behind her. Hermione thought that playing at his game of bully would make her feel better, or even superior but it ended up making her feel worse- guilty even. Hermione knew it was something neither of them had control over and she still insulted him over it, knowing it was something that would cause a reaction.

Hermione sat there for a while, thinking of different ways how she could apologize, forgetting that she was trying to find what 'light spell' she saw Dr. Augsen used weeks ago.

———————

The next few weeks were not easy for Hermione. Ron was not talking to her unless it was to make her feel guilty about Scabbers, Lavender and everyone else in her Divination class thought she was bitter due to the scene Lavender and her had in regards to Lavender's rabbit and Draco's bullying intensified- although he still never brought up her parents.

"Maybe you should just apologize to Lavender." Ginny bit into a Berty Bott's Every Flavor Bean and was pleasantly surprised that the flavor was vanilla instead of bird dung. Classes had ended for the day and they were walking back to the Gryiffindor Commons.

Hermione groaned. "I tried but every time I do she just glares at me and Ron starts talking about how I don't care about other people's pets! I feel bad that her rabbit died but Trelawney is a quack. I don't believe she predicted the death of a baby rabbit." Hermione shifted her bag and heard it rip again. Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose to stop herself from crying as Ginny started to collect her books. "Nothing is going right, Gin." Her voice shook and she pinched her bridge hard to try and stop the waterworks.

Hermione cast a reparo as Ginny put the books back in her bag. "You should get another bag, Hermione. Reparo doesn't work very well on fabric." Ginny had noticed Hermione starting to cry, but like Harry most of the time, she didn't know what to do and tried to direct her attention to other things. Hermione had nodded but didn't say anything. With the lump her throat, she stayed quiet as Ginny awkwardly talked the rest of the way back to the common room. Feeling completely overwhelmed, she went straight to her bed and placed her head in her hands. Hermione briefly thought about finding harry and talking to him but even he was slightly cross with her as she supported McGonagall not signing his permission slip to go to Hogsmeade.

Opening her bedside drawer, Hermione fished around for the black envelope. When she found it she flipped it over, looking at the silver seal. She ran a finger over it, wondering if she should open the letter as she imagined again that it could have been cursed. Her eyes watered again as she tore it open, If it is cursed, I probably deserve it now. Hermione pulled out the parchment tucked inside and found a sketch- a very good sketch. It was Persephone, Hermione's owl, perched on a pomegranate tree. The tree also had flowers that she didn't recognize but she didn't care about the accuracy of the tree as it was just that good. There was nothing else in the envelope so she flipped over the sketch to find a message- also written in French. Narcissa had explained in her reply to Hermione's first letter to her that they had often sent their letters to each other this way for some privacy, so Hermione was not surprised to see Draco do the same.

Many happy returns to you on your birthday. I originally drew this for myself but thought it would be better appreciated if you had it. I'll be livid to find out it had been thrown away.

I'm not sure if you know, as it's not listed in Hogwarts: A History (a book I wish you would stop bringing up in class), Hogwarts has four music rooms- one for each orchestra family. The String's room is located on the third floor, behind the Gold Hogwart's Crest tapestry.

You're welcome.

Hermione read the note and wondered how someone could still sound like such a prat through a note. She read it several times more before tapping it against her other hand, thinking about the room he referred to. A room that had a cello for her to play. She imagined it could have been a trap... but her birthday was over a month ago, as the Hogsmeade trip was this weekend. Hermione missed her father's cello, even though she hadn't played it in so long.

Hermione bit her lip weighing the pros and cons. A cello vs a possible trap. Making her decision, she got up and changed, petting a sleeping Crookshanks on the way out. When she got down to the common room where Ron and Harry were playing wizard's chest, they both looked up at her but Ron immediately turned back around.

Harry had looked more and more depressed as the days got closer to their first Hogsmeade trip and with today being the Friday evening before the trip, he looked only half interested in the game. "Hey, Hermione."

"Hey, Harry." She walked over to him and put a hand in between his shoulder blades. Hermione looked at the chess board and Harry's pieces were yelling at him, telling him different plays to make as there were only five left while Ron nearly had a full board. Hermione frowned, "I doubt the chess pieces are helping with your mood, Harry. Maybe you sho-"

"Going to keep telling everyone what they should be doing, 'Mione?"

"Ron-" Hermione crossed her arms as she turned to look at her friend. She cut herself off and counted down from ten, slowly. They had been fighting for weeks and she was more than tired of it. "How's Scabber's?" Her voice was tight but it was clear she no longer wanted to argue.

"He's hiding at the bottom of my bed, shaking." Ron nearly spat out the last word as he moved his next piece, taking one of Harry's knights. Harry groaned and ran his fingers through his hair.

Hermione turned back to Harry, ignoring Ron completely now. "I'll see you later, Harry." She left without looking at either of them, furious once again over Ron. She kicked open the portrait door, making the Fat Lady exclaim with an "Oof!"

"Sorry!" Hermione was more gentle with closing the door before apologizing. "I'm sorry, ma'am."

"Hmpf!" The lady looked away from her and fanned herself, flipping her curls over her shoulder.

Hermione shook her head, storming down the stairs. She could feel the wind on her face as she trod down the four stories to the third floor from how red her face was with anger. Once she was on the third floor, she pulled out her wand, reveling in the security it assured her. She was excited to be discovering something new but she knew she needed to be cautious and the feel of her wand in her hand assured her like nothing else. Hermione walked to one end of the hall, looking at every tapestry hung, all representing the different houses, the different lessons offered at Hogwarts then finally one with all the Hogwarts' houses but it was completely gray. Hermione didn't think she remembered a monotone tapestry in any part of the castle- but then she suddenly remembered that Harry had given her a work book she never started.

Hermione looked away from the tapestry, turning to go back to the commons but then she thought about how long it had been since she had played a cello and turned back, thinking she may have missed the gold tapestry. Hermione walked all the way to the end, wondering if there was a secret tapestry but did not find one. She thought she would explore the other end of the hall when the monotone tapestry had moved. Hermione gripped her wand tighter but did not raise it, even when Draco appeared from behind it.

"Malfoy?" Draco looked up immediately, obviously not expecting someone to be there. Before either of them could say anything, the tapestry returned to its true color of gold with the Hogwarts Crest completely colored in. "Oh!" Suddenly the fact that she was reminded of Harry's workbook out of the blue made sense to her- the tapestry was charmed to repel other wizards when occupied and caused them to think of things they needed to address. "How interesting."

"So, you finally opened it?" Draco watched her with a sneer, his hands were in his robe's pocket.

Hermione nodded, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. "You're a really good artist." She fidgeted as he watched her, not saying anything. It was the first time they were alone in weeks "I'm sorry for saying what I said in the library. It-"

"You know mother and I do not accept verbal apologies." His eyes twinkled as he spoke with his regular drawl and Hermione squeezed her wand. "How about you play something for me?" He nodded his chin towards the tapestry and Hermione immediately crossed her arms.

"No." Hermione felt defensive and shook her head in indignation. Music, specifically her playing the cello was too close to her parents for her and that was something she could not see her sharing with Draco- ever. "I don't play for other people."

"Why? If you play as well as you read then there's nothing for you to be shy about. Of course, that's assuming you are good."

Hermione scoffed. Playing cello was the one thing she never gave her parents push back on and there for had been playing for as long as she could hold one. Hermione had memorized whole suites before she went to Hogwarts. "Of course I play well. I don't know why you think I would play for you."

Draco was annoyed, and he felt his anger rise before shutting it down. "Because you're the one who insulted me and it's the price I'm naming for you to be forgiven."

Hermione frowned, thinking the Malfoys really were unfamiliar with thanking people and apologizing to try and arrange their forgiveness like a business contract. "I'm not playing for you."

He turned around, annoyed but kept his unreadable mask up so she wouldn't know, to return to the Slytherin common room, smirking. "Whatever, that's my price for accepting your pathetic apology."

Hermione watched him leave, arms crossed the whole time before she stared at the gold tapestry. Hermione was no longer in the mood to attempt to play again so she turned around herself, deciding not to go into the music room and return to her own dorms instead.

————————

"'Mione, don't make me go alone to Hogsmeade!" Ron was following Hermione to breakfast that Halloween day, the same day they would be going to Hogsmeade. Draco had ended up shuffling into the Great Hall too close to Ron for his liking, but Draco didn't mind that he was able to over hear what they were talking about.

"No, Ron." Hermione looked stressed by Ron's insistent pleading and was starting to become aggravated.

"But you owe me! Crookshanks done nothing but terrorize Scabbers-"

"Owe you?!" Hermione turned to look at her best friend with an incredulous expression on her face, causing Draco to look away so she wouldn't catch his smile. "I owe you nothing! I can't believe you approached me, claiming you wanted to apologize for your bratty behavior when you just wanted to guilt me into going to Hogsmeade with you!" Hermione stomped off towards the Gryffindor table, slinking between other students with her petite frame so she could sit by Neville, leaving Ron with the mass of students walking in.

Draco saw Dean Thomas walk up to Ron and throw an arm around his neck. "Did asking her to Hogsmeade not go as planned mate? How about you try actually apologizing?" Draco saw Ron shake Dean's arm off but could not hear what Ron replied with as they were finally free enough to go to their respective House tables. Draco made it a point to watch Ron's interactions with Hermione to confirm if his theory on Ron fancying her was correct.

Draco watched Ron, wondering what had happened between them until Harry arrived, sitting down next to Ron, completely dejected. Suddenly, Ron's statement about him going alone made complete sense, Harry didn't get permission to go to Hogsmeade, or he was not allowed to go to Hogsmeade. Draco sneered and looked over to Hermione who was angrily stabbing her food, with Neville trying to talk to her about calming down.

After breakfast, Draco and the rest of the students who were going to Hogsmeade started the walk to the check point. When he, Crabbe, and Goyle had gotten in line, he heard more squabbling from Hermione, but this time it wasn't with Ron - although he was present - and was standing on the other side of Harry.

"Harry, I'm not going to Hogsmeade-"

"You're using me as an excuse, Hermione. You should go and have fun, with or without Ron." Harry sounded completely downcast but was giving Hemione a stern look. "I'll be fine on my own but I think you need to get out of here more than anyone else." Hermione's anger wavered and her face softened, looking at Harry as if she wanted to plead with him, but she knew he was right.

Draco couldn't help himself though, at the opportunity to embarrass Harry in front of the mass of students. "Staying here, Potter?" Draco gave his signature sneer as all eyes started to fall on him. "Scared of passing the dementors?" Crabbe and Goyle chuckled as Draco turned, not waiting for Harry's reaction.

Harry looked at Hermione and spoke low, too depressed to retort Draco properly. "Don't give him another reason to bully you, either." Harry walked back to the castle alone, hands in his pocket.

Hermione shared a look with Ron who stepped closer to her, head low like it was when they met in Diagon Alley. "I'm sorry for being a git."

Hermione looked forward, at the back of Draco's head, but after a moment bumped his shoulder. "Thank you." Draco may not accept verbal apologies and take it out on her for almost a month but that did not mean she did. They shared a smile and she looked forward, trying not to look at any of the dementors, or think about what may happen if she got near them.

After Draco had gotten past Filch and the dementors, he motioned to Crabbe and Goyle to stand over to the side. He gestured back to Hermione and Ron. "Think she'll get past them? Or do you think she'll faint?" Crabbe snickered while Goyle smiled.

"I bet you two galleons she'll faint." Crabbe reached into his coin bag and pulled out two of the shiny coins.

"Two? Times that hard for your dad?" Draco raised an eyebrow, smiling and Goyle let out a low "Oooh."

"Shove off! Five then!" Crabbe got out three more galleons. "Goyle?"

Goyle made a face like he was thinking, "I say she'll faint." Goyle pulled out his own coin bag.

"Alright," Draco's face fell slightly, he expected one of them to say she would be fine so he could reap the winnings of betting on her fainting. "I say she'll be fine, then." Crabbe raised an eyebrow at Draco. "What? There's no point in betting if we're all going to say the same thing." Draco pulled out his own galleons as they turned to watch Hermione.

Hermione had pulled her robes around her even tighter. The air was cold already with late October ranging anywhere from five to ten degrees Celsius, but the dementors seemed to make the temperature drop even lower. Hermione forced herself not to look into the dementors hoods and hoped that Filch would be quick signing her in. Ron and her waited, patiently as she shivered. There were only three student's in front of her... Then two students, and her knuckles whitened as her fists tightened when she took a step closer... Then there was one student, and she could hear the dementors take a rattling breath as they watched her. Hermione found herself shaking violently as she stared at the ground waiting for either Filch or a dementor to move closer to her. Hermione found her self being unable to hear and...

Filch checked her name off and waved her through. Hermione immediately walked forward and did not stop, forgetting Ron was accompanying her the day. Draco's jaw dropped as he watched her walk by before he let out a howling laugh as Crabbe and Goyle looked pissed. Draco was honest enough to admit he did respect her partially, due to her general smarts, and drive, but Draco felt a bit more respect grow as she braved the dementors. Crabbe threw the galleons at Draco and Draco stopped laughing, his nostrils flaring. "You knew she would be fine!"

"The bloody hell I did! Who do you think you're throwing stuff at, Crabbe?" Draco squared his shoulders as Crabbe approached. Draco's nostrils were flaring- a habit he picked up from Lucius when he was angry- but immediately centered himself. While his father taught him to never take any disrespect, his mother had taught him acting in anger was the worst act to make. "You've been acting like an idiot since we got back this year. If you're looking for a good therapist for your anger issues, I can give you the information to Granger's." Crabbe hissed and opened his mouth to reply but Blaise Zabini, who was accompanied by Theodore and Daphe Greengrass, walked up to the three of them.

"While I know you two are having an intimate moment in front of Filch, who hates nothing more than the lovely students he cleans up after, might I suggest we move this to the Hogs Head? Atleast it would not be out of place there?" Blaise was smiling and even Draco could acknowledge that the dark Italian was handsome. Draco gave a curt nod and walked past Crabbe, bumping into his shoulder for good measure, leaving the galleons on the ground.

Draco would never pick anything up from the ground that someone threw at him, even if he used magic. He'd rather just collect the debt later.

————————

"There you go," said Ron. "We got as much as we could carry." Hermione and Ron dumped armfuls of all types of wizarding candy into Harry's lap, covering his lap completely. They had found him in the common room, pink faced from the cold, looking excited about everything they saw.

Harry picked up a packet of tiny Black Pepper Imps. "What's Hogsmeade like? Where did you go?"

Ron started to go into an immediate rant with Hermione jumping in at certain points.

"I had never been anywhere in the wizarding community other than Daigon Alley and- oh! The post office, Harry! About two hundred owls, all sitting on shelves, all color-coded depending on how fast you want your letter to get there!"

Harry laughed at that. "Of all the places Ron's talked about in Hogsmeade, you would bring up the post office." Hermione put her hands on her hips but he cut her off, putting his hands in the air as a sign of surrender. "I mean nothing by it, Hermione, I'm just happy to see you had a good time."

Hermione sobered up at that, "I wish you could have come with us, Harry."

"That would have been brilliant! Honeydukes was giving out samples of a new kind of fudge they created, we think we saw an ogre at the Three Broomsticks- they really get all sorts in there." Ron continued talking, telling Harry about everything he missed.

"What did you do?" Hermione tried not to look too anxious as she messed with her sweater. Hermione had several different reasons on why she did not want to go to Hogsmeade today but one of the main reasons- other than her general fear of going outside- was leaving Harry alone as he had the habit of getting into trouble. "Did you get any work done?"

"No," Harry said plainly, "Lupin made me a cup of tea and then Snape came in..." Harry told told about how Snape had came in with a goblet filled with a silvery, smoky potion that Lupin drank after Lupin promised Harry to teach him how to fend off dementors.

Hermione checked her watch and waited for an opportunity to interrupt him. "We'd better go down, you know, the Halloween feast'll be starting in five minutes." They headed out of the portrait hole and into the crowd, still discussing Snape. Harry thought that Snape was trying to poison Lupin but Hermione could only see holes in the logic. "But if he- you know," Hermione dropped her voice, glancing around nervously. "If he was trying to- to poison Lupin- he wouldn't of had done it in front of Harry."

Harry made a face as he thought about it, finally settled on "Yeah, maybe," as a reply.

Ron chatted animatedly about all the food that was at the feast and even Hermione's spirits had been lifted higher as she sat down to eat not one serving, but two servings of the food. She looked around the table: Ron was spitting out food per usual, Harry was watching Professor Lupin along with Professor Snape and all of her house mates were in their own excited conversations, talking about the food or today's trip. Hermione couldn't help but feel whelmed in the best way, thinking that everything seemed as normal as it possibly could at the moment- and she enjoyed it. Hermione chatted with her house mates, gasped on queue with them when the Hogwarts ghosts flew around in formation, and laughed at Nearly Headless Nick's comedic reenactment of his botched beheading. It had been such a pleasant evening that it made her feel the most alive she had been since last school year.

Until they tried to head back to Gryffindor tower that is.

Harry, Ron and Hermione followed the rest of the Gryffindor's back to Gryffindor Tower, but when they got they reached the corridor that ended with the portrait of the Fat Lady, it was jammed with students.

"Why isn't anyone going in?" Hermione stood on her toes trying to see over the other students but she was too short. Harry did the same but all he was able to see was that the portrait was closed.

"Let me through, please," Came Percy's voice, as he tried to move through the crowd, keeping his chest puffed importantly. "What's the hold up? You can't all have forgotten the password- excuse me, I'm head boy-" Percy had finally made it to the portrait and he went silent by what he saw. Once he stopped talking, so did the rest of the crowd, waiting to hear what was the matter. When he turned around, a chill went through everyone as he spoke his next sentence with a sharp voice. "Somebody get Dumbledore. Quick."

Hermione, dreading what his words meant, ran as her adrenaline hit her. Her stomach turned and flipped the whole way down to the great hall. Forgetting her fears of heights, she jumped several steps on the way down the staircases she needed to descend. If Percy says Dumbledore of all people is needed, it's serious. Something is terribly wrong. Hermione made such good time that there was still students leaving the Great Hall and she nearly ran into Malfoy on the way into the Great Hall.

"Watch it, Granger! I still have an injured arm!"

She ignored his yelling and stopped short of the table the teachers ate at. Most of them had left but Snape, McGonagall, and Dumbledore were still present. She was breathing hard. "Percy- Needs- You." Hermione waved towards the entrance hall.

McGonagall and Dumbledore were tensed while Snape simply raised an eyebrow. "Hermione," Dumbledore's usual twinkling light in his eyes were sharp. "Catch your breath then speak."

Hermione nodded and slumped over, placing her hand on her knees. She remembered her mother telling her that position was the fastest way to recover your breathing after a jog. When she felt she had enough air for a complete sentence a moment later, she straightened up. "Percy asked for you, Headmaster, the portrait is not opening up."

Dumbledore and McGonagall shared a look. "Please get Remus, Minerva." She automatically morphed into her animagus form, taking off to Lupin's office. Dumbledore ran to the Fat Lady portrait with Hermione close behind, while tailed Snape her. Hermione felt her legs and lungs burn as she ascended the stairs but refused to fall behind. When they got to the crowd, she allowed Snape to get in front of her and used Dumbledore's parting of the crowd as a way to get up close to the portrait. When she passed Harry and Ron, she felt them do the same behind her.

"Oh- my-" Hermione gripped Ron's arm and did not notice him blush like he had when they were in Diagon Alley. The Fat Lady had vanished from her portrait, which had been nearly torn to ribbons and it littered the floor.

Dumbledore turned to look at Snape who had just been joined by McGonagall and Lupin. "We need to find her. Minvera, please go to Mr. Filch at once and tell him to search every painting in this castle for the Fat Lady."

"You'll be lucky!" Peeves cackled, floating over them all upside down. He looked absolutely delighted and Hermione crossed her arms.

"You reckon he did it?" Ron whispered to her.

Hermione shook her head. "No, he wouldn't betray Headmaster Dumbledore like that."

"What do you mean, Peeves?" As if to prove her point, Peeves floated upright and his grin waved and dimmed as he did not dare to even taunt Dumbledore.

"Ashamed, Your Headship, sir. Doesn't want to be seen. She's a horrible mess. Saw her running through the landscape on the fourth floor, sir, dodging between the trees. Crying something dreadful." Peeves smiled wide again. "Poor thing." He added as if it was an after thought.

"Did she say who did it?" Dumbledore asked quietly.

"Oh yes, Professorhead," said Peeves, resuming his upside down floating position. "He got very angry when she wouldn't let him in, you see. Nasty temper he's got."

"Who, Peeves?" Dumbledore technically asked a question but his tone suggested anything but.

"Sirius Black."

Everyone but the professors, Hermione, Harry and Ron gasped and dissolved into hushed whispers. Hermione was gripping Harry's arm this time. Hermione's thoughts raced as she looked at her best friend. I left Harry here. I left him here to go to Hogsmeade and Sirius Black almost broke into our common room. Hermione barely heard Professor Dumbledore instruct the Gryffindors to return to the Great Hall as she shuffled behind her best friends. Sirius Black broke into Hogwarts and could have killed Harry.

"'Mione."

It would have been my fault if anything would have happened to him.

"Are you OK? You're breathing weird."

I could have lost Harry, too.

Hermione didn't realize she had zoned out into her own downward spiral of thinking until Ron grabbed her shoulders making her jump. Hermione looked past Ron to meet Harry's gaze. She got out of Ron's grip and threw her arms at Harry, completely breaking down, not caring that the rest of the Hogwarts students in Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin had entered the Great Hall as she made a scene. "I am so sorry, Harry!"

Harry awkwardly pat her back. "Why are you apologizing?" He pulled her away but kept his hands on her arms. His eyebrows were together with concern as he looked at her wet face.

"I should have stayed with you! What if something happened?" Hermione put her hands over her face trying to stifle her sobs.

"Hermione, it's not your fault. You're not my body guard."

"I know, but- Harry, I can't-" Hermione's voice broke off as she was choked out by sobs.

Harry pulled her into a hug, partially to muffle her sobs as people were starting to stare. Harry looked at Ron who was just as clueless on what to do next as Harry was. "Hermione, please stop crying. I'm alright, we're all alright, just calm down." Hermione nodded into his shoulder and pulled herself away after a few seconds, closing her eyes to practice palm breathing.

She stayed like that through Dumbledore's instruction on all houses sleeping in the Great Hall, and Percy's instruction on getting into their sleeping bags as soon as possible while the rest of Gryffindor house told the other houses what happened. When Hermione opened her eyes, Ron had grabbed an extra sleeping bag for her. Harry nodded his head to the side and they followed, choosing a corner somewhat close the entrance hall's doors, wanting to be away from everyone's stares.

Hermione took a deep breath as she unrolled her sleeping bag. "Do you think Black's still in the Castle?" Hermione whispered anxiously.

At the same time Ron replied "Dumbledore obviously thinks he might be," Harry had said "Don't think about it." Harry shot Ron a glare as he climbed into the sleeping back.

Hermione nodded although she was unsure to which statement. Hermione felt she was bound to have a panic attack and thought about what Dr. Augsen suggested when she felt her panic try to take a hold of her. Hermione turned to Ron, whispering. "It's very lucky he picked tonight, you know." Hermione also had climbed into her back and propped herself on her elbows to talk. "The one night we weren't in the tower..."

"I reckon he's lost track of time, being on the run," said Ron, watching Harry who was ignoring Ron's commentary. Hermione didn't think Ron realized Harry was trying to hide his own anxious feelings but she didn't point it out. "Didn't realize it was Halloween. Otherwise he'd have come bursting in here."

Hermione shuddered. All around them, students were asking one another the same question: "How did he get in?"

"Maybe he knows how to apparate." A Ravenclaw said. "Just appear out of thin air, with a pop."

"Disguised himself, probably." A Slytherin replied. "Or flown in."

"Honestly, am I the only person who's ever bothered to read Hogwarts: A History?" Hermione meant to whisper it to Harry and Ron but her voice carried to the Ravenclaw laying by the Slytherins laying next to them, one of which was Draco Malfoy. They all shot glares at her and she raised her head trying not to seem embarrassed, thankful for the candles low lighting to hide the color in her cheeks.

"You probably are-" Ron started, eyes narrowed at the group that was glaring at Hermione.

"Problem, Granger?" Malfoy's silver eyes caught her chocolate ones. Hermione wondered again how him and his parents could be so unreadable even when they had their undivided attention on her.

"The castle's protected by more than walls, you know," The Slytherin's and the Ravenclaw's faces softened with curiosity but stayed menacing. "There are all sorts of enchantments on it, to stop people entering by stealth. You can't just apparate in here. And I'd like to see the disguise that could fool those dementors, they're guarding every single entrance to the grounds. They would have seen him fly in, too. Filch knows all the secret passages so the dementors would have them all covered-" Hermione was rambling at this point but she was cut off by Percy.

"The lights are going out now!" Percy shouted. "I want everyone in their sleeping bags and no more talking!" Harry and Ron immediately rolled over and pretended to be asleep.

"Bloody swot." Hermione glanced at the Slytherins and the Ravenclaw who were getting into comfortable sleeping positions. Draco had looked over to the Ravenclaw who had spoke and glared at him. The Ravenclaw acted like he didn't say anything but kept his back to the Slytherins when he attempted to sleep. Before getting into a comfortable position herself, she glanced at Draco who was staring at her, a thoughtful expression on his face before he turned away, laying on his side. Once Hermione was sure that no one was paying attention, she cast a silencio on herself. The sleepless draught was by her bedside in the commons and the last thing she needed if she was able to fall asleep was waking up all of Hogwarts screaming.

Hermione stayed looking up at the Great Hall's ceiling, a ceiling that was enchanted to reflect the night's sky. It was a clear night and Hermione found herself staring up at it for hours, wondering which constellation was which as she had only ever been able to point out Orion and the Big Dipper. When she rolled over, around three AM, she saw Ron and Harry both awake. She opened her mouth to say something, forgetting she cast a silencio when they heard Dumbledore walked back into the Great Hall and approached Snape who was standing close enough to their sleeping bags that they could overhear some of what was being said. Hermione lifted her hair so she could hear what was being said better as she was unable to move so she could see them without drawing attention to herself.

"You remember the conversation we had, Headmaster, just before- ah- the start of term?" Said Snape. Hermione tilted her head slightly as it sounded like he was whispering.

"I do, Severus," Dumbledore said with a tone that sounded as if he was giving a warning to Snape.

"It seems- almost impossible- that Black could have entered the school without inside help. I did express my concerns when you appointed-"

"I do not believe a single person inside this castle would have helped Black enter it." Dumbledore's tone made it clear the subject was closed and continued speaking to ensure Snape would not reply. "I must go down to the dementors. I said I would inform them when our search was complete."

"Didn't they want to help, sir?" said Percy.

"Oh yes," Dumbledore's voice was flat and cold. "But I'm afraid no dementor will cross the threshold of this castle while I am headmaster."

Hermione didn't move until she heard Dumbledore exist the Great Hall. She looked over to Harry and Ron who were mouthing to each other. Hermione rolled on to her back again and stared up at the starry sky. At that moment she felt that the enchanted ceiling was a reflection of her head; the bright dots were her thoughts and the black sky were the lack of connection between them. Hermione pulled out her wand and put it in the sleeve of her shirt, keeping it against her skin. Hermione stared up at the sky, trying to piece together the partial conversation she just heard. She was wired to the point that she did not think sleep would come to her, so she hardly noticed herself starring at the Gamma Draconis star as she drifted off to sleep.

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When Hermione had woken up in the Great Hall that Sunday morning, she took up Narcissa's offer of getting her what she needed and asked for a special holster she could keep her wand in that would be more accessible than the pocket of her robs or her school bag. Hermione was determined to protect her best friend to the best of her ability and wanted to make sure she could draw her wand in a second, need be. The next day, Narcissa had several gauntlet-like cloth sleeves delivered, each with a special pocket to put her wand in so it was attached to her arm at all times. Hermione then followed Harry around to each class- even the ones she did not share with him, which tested her skill with the time turner.

Harry had been annoyed by everyone, especially with Hermione, as several people made a point after the almost attack to follow him around the castle. Teachers would give vague excuses as to why they were escorting them and Percy would always follow him at a distance- presumably under his mother's orders. On Thursday, after Harry's last quidditch practice - which was the only place Hermione did not escort him due to the Weasley twins being the ones to walk with him as they were also on the team (and after they both reassured Hermione Madam Hooch would be more than enough protection as she was asked by McGonagall to supervise Gryffindor practices)- he came into the common room, venting about how Draco had used his arm as an excuse for Gryffindor to play against Hufflepuff the next day when they had been practicing for over a month to play against Slytherin.

"But Hufflepuff plays completely different than Slytherin!" Ron exclaimed, spitting out a part of the Fizzing Whizzbee he was chewing on. Crookshanks who was on Hermione's lap at the time, followed the candy with rapt attention hoping it was Scabbers. She hoped Ron did not notice as they had not fought since Halloween morning but he did. "Do you not feed him, Hermione?"

She gave him a look that was a mix of disgust and surprise. "Don't be an idiot, Ron. Don't ever accuse me of neglecting my animals."

His anger wavered as he realized what he said but he decided to turn back to Harry instead of replying. "They waited to say something on purpose, Harry. They knew it would mess us up strategically." Hermione, done with the conversation, slammed her Ancient Runes textbook closed and walked up to the girls dorm, ignoring Ron's calls for her to come back.

The next day was Friday and Oliver Wood held Harry and Hermione both up on their way to Defense Against the Dark Arts, trying to give last minute pointers for tomorrow's game like he had down twice already that day. By the time either of them decided to look at the time, they were ten minutes late to Lupin's class. They both set out in a run, and they had skidded to a halt once they reached the door of the classroom. "You apologize, you're better at that." Harry said.

Hermione nodded once as Harry pulled open the door letting her walk in first. "Sorry we're late, Professor Lu..." Hermione's voice trailed off as she processed that the raggedy robed professor was not in the classroom but an oily haired one was.

Snape gave her and Harry a look. Hermione heard a wolf whistle behind her and she shot a glare in the direction of it, to see none other than Draco Malfoy who winked at her, grinning.

"The lesson began ten minutes ago. Since there are two of you, I think I'll take twenty points from Gryffindor. Sit down." Hermione grit her teeth as the rest of her house let out a sigh but immediately sat down next to Ron.

"What held you guys up?" Ron half hissed at her. She looked at him, trying to figure out what his facial expression was. It wasn't anger or surprise but something close.

Before she could reply, Harry asked professor Snape a question, still standing. "Where's Professor Lupin?"

"He says he is feeling too ill to teach today," Snape looked back up from the Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook with a wry smile. "I believe I told you to sit down?"

"What's wrong with him?" Harry asked, showing no signs of intention of moving.

Harry didn't move and Hermione's heart rate quickened. Godric, no, please do not confront him about poisoning Lupin!

Snape's black eyes glittered with the same malice he showed Trevor when he croaked in the double potions class they had when they were attempting to make a shrinking potion. "Nothing life-threatening," for a moment he looked like he was disappointed it wasn't life-threatening. "Five more points from Gryffindor, and if I have to ask you again, it will be fifty." All of Gryffindor's house mates turned to look at Harry, some with a menacing look- like Hermione- others with a pleading look- like Ron. Harry finally meandered to his seat beside Hermione and sat down. "As I was saying before I was interrupted, Professor Lupin has not left any record of the topics you have covered so far-"

Hermione raised a hand, hoping to gain some points back after Harry and her loosing so many. "Sir, we've done Boggarts, Red Caps, Kappas, and Grindy-Lows. "We're just about to start-"

"Be quiet," Snape said coldly. "I did not ask for that information, I was merely commenting on Lupin's lack of organization. Today we shall discuss-" Hermione frowned watching Snape flip all the way to the back of the book, knowing he was skipping over loads of material they had not covered. "Werewolves."

Hermione muttered to herself, keeping her voice at a level she thought only Ron and Harry would be able to hear as she was unable to restrain herself from letting out some of her frustration. "We're not due to start werewolves yet, we're due to start Hinky-Pucks-" She accidentally slammed her book open looking for the chapter on werewolves.

"Miss Granger." Snape's voice was deadly and she forced herself to look up. He was suddenly standing at the end of the desk, near Harry. "Do you have a problem with the lesson I have picked out today?"

"No, sir." She looked into his eyes and held his gaze.

"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to learn about Hinky-Pucks instead?" A corner of his mouth twitched upwards as the Slytherins laughed at how condescending Snape sounded when he said Hinky-Pucks. It was like he was talking to a child.

Hermione swallowed and didn't answer for a moment as the classroom was silent. Finally, deciding he was not going to speak until she answered, she let her hand ball into a fist. "It's just that we're not due to start were-"

"And yet, I am the one teaching the lesson. Not. You. I am telling you all to turn to page 394." He glanced around again, as the students slowly turned to the back of the book. "All of you! Now!" Hermione breathed a deep sigh after her and the rest of the class got to the right page. After the turning of pages were no longer heard, Snape asked another question. "Which of you can distinguish between the werewolf and a true wolf?"

Everyone sat motionless as they stared at Snape. Draco was about to raise his hand to answer when he saw Hermione raising hers again. Draco could count on one hand how many times she had participated in class his year without a teacher asking her to, so he decided to back off, watching with interest instead to see how this would go with his Godfather's current mood.

"Anyone?" Snape said, ignoring Hermione completely. "Are you telling me Lupin hasn't even taught you you the basic distinction between-"

"We told you," Parvati Patil said suddenly, "We haven't got as far as werewolves, yet. We-"

"Silence!" Snarled Snape. Draco had to commend the Gryffindors for trying to stick together. He found it stupid, as he was raised to believe it was every man for himself but it was almost respectable. "Lupin is hardly overtaxing you- I would expect first years to handle Hinky-Pucks-"

"He's the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we've had!" Dean said boldy as the Gryffindors nodded in agreement.

Snape's eyes were dangerous and the Slytherins buzzed seeing their head of house so angry. "And yet, none of you can tell me how to spot a werewolf. I shall make a point of informing Professor Dumbledore how very behind you all are..."

"Please, sir." Hermione spoke again, her voice hard with determination. Draco thought she was trying to make a point but was unsure what it was. "The wolf differs from the true wolf in several ways. The snout of the werewolf-"

"I did not call on you to speak, Miss Granger. Five points for speaking out of turn and another five points for being an insufferable know-it-all."

Hermione finally put her hand down defeated. She had tears in her eyes but they were strictly from anger and she could faintly feel her wand throb against her skin in time with her heart beat. Hermione closed her eyes to count down from twenty and as she felt the blood continue to rush to her face. Before she got to fifteen though, Ron stood and the sound of his chair scraping against the floor made her jump.

"You asked us a question and she knows the answer! Why ask if you don't want to be told?" Ron spoke loudly to the point it bordered yelling and Draco bit his fist to stop from howling with laughter at the look his godfather gave Ron.

Everyone in the classroom knew immediately he went too far. Snape advanced on Ron slowly and everyone held their breath. "Detention, Weasley," Snape said silkily, his face was very close to Ron's. "And if I ever hear you criticize the way I teach a class again, you will be very sorry indeed."

No one made a sound after that for the rest of the lesson and when the bell rang, Snape held them back to tell them they needed to turn in two rolls of parchment on how to recognize and kill werewolves, and it was to be turned in on Monday morning.

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The quidditch match that Saturday was a cold and wet one- the weather being the worst it had been since term started. Several of the students had umbrellas in the stands and they all had to be placed under a strengthening charm so the wind would not blow them inside out. Everyone was soaking wet and Hermione had volunteered to help a few of the professors cast a drying charm on to the younger students before sitting down next to Ron who was seething in his seat, listening to Malfoy talk.

"Ah, if only my arm was feeling a bit better!" Malfoy sighed and Hermione did not have to look at him to visualize Pansy all over him, trying to be comforting when she was really just clingy. She imagined the rest of the Slytherins looking smug as well knowing they had avoided playing in terrible weather conditions.

"There's nothing wrong with Malfoy's bloody arm." Ron grit out through his teeth as he pulled his winter robes tighter. "He waited until the last minute to say anything too, to mess with our chances of winning."

"I know, but we can't prove it." Hermione had a jar full of flames between them, something she did every time quidditch season started so they would at least have some warmth. "I wish they would cancel the game, though."

"Quidditch games don't get canceled." Ron said dismissively.

"I know, I read Quidditch Through the Ages first year.. It's just not right that wizards love the sport so much, nothing can get in the way of it, even if lives are at risk. I know the brooms, the players and the balls are enchanted to prevent such accidents and..."

"And he'll be fine. Look-" Ron pointed to the stands below them where the Gryffindor team was walking on to the muddy field. Hermione could barely see them unless the thunder was flashing, illuminating their scarlet uniforms. "They're finally coming out to the field."

Hermione bit her lip and said nothing more. She pulled her wand out for comfort and jiggled her leg as she watched the players start to fly. Gryffindor was not doing too bad against Hufflepuff but she could tell that Harry was having a rough time seeing. He had bumped into two players and was not strategically flying around like he usually did. Even from where she was, she could tell he was being pushed around by the wind. Time passed and the students watched. Twice they watched Harry get hit by a bludger but thankfully, he never fell off his broom. Hermione could tell he was nearly flying blind as his glasses were fogging up. Hermione knew a spell that would help, but there would be no way she could cast it as she was not confident in hitting a moving target or causing Gryffindor to loose the game due to an interference.

Hermione had lost track of time, but when the next big roll of thunder sounded, Madam Hooch blew her whistle signaling a time out was called. Hermione rushed to the bottom of the stairs, to the Gryffindor locker room where the team had just gathered.

"I've got no chance with these on!" Harry said exasperatedly, waving his glasses.

Hermione beamed at him as she appeared by his shoulder. "I've had an idea, Harry! Give me your glasses, quick!"

He handed them to her, and the team watched her closely, or at least Harry tried as he was squinting at her, unable to see. "Impervius!" Harry put them on and was already able to see better due to the water being on them disappearing already. "There! They'll repel water!"

Oliver Wood, the team captain, looked as if he would kiss her. "Brilliant!" Hermione gave a hesitant smile before turning around and returning up the stand stairs to Ron.

"Is everything all right?" Ron held the jar of flames out to her so she could warm up after going into the cold and rain without them.

"I think so." Hermione grabbed the jar and sat with it close to her chest, resisting the urge to shiver. "I cast a charm on his glasses so he could see."

Ron nodded and returned his attention to the game as the players were back in the air. Hermione smiled a moment later when Harry dodged an incoming bludger, proving her charm had worked. Watching him closely, she could see he was flying with confidence again, even with the storm worsening. Gryffindor was in the lead, and all Harry had to do was catch the snitch. Hermione cheered with the rest of her house when they scored three more goals, putting them up by eighty points.

There was a clap of lightning followed immediately by forked thunder. Suddenly, Cedric Diggory, the seeker and team captain for Hufflepuff, shot past Harry as he had spotted the snitch. Hermione tried to get Harry's attention, even though she knew it was useless, as she watched him nearly slip off his broom, clearly distracted by something else he saw. Hermione's stomach flipped as she quieted, watching her best friend recover. Wood, flew up to Harry, pointing to Cedric as he chased after the snitch. Harry followed shortly after which was when everything took a turn for the worst.

Everyone had their attention averted to the seekers that no one noticed the dementors that had flooded the grounds of the stadium, chasing after Harry. When they were finally noticed, Cedric Diggory caught the snitch, but Harry had slid off his broom due to passing out.

Just like when Hermione's father had dashed forward to tackle the gun-man, time appeared to stop and her brain kick started. She knew that Harry's Nimbus 2000 was enchanted so it would slow his fall. She could not recall the exact fraction it would slow his decent to, but she used the borrowed time to address the dementors. Hermione grabbed the jar of flames and cast a hasty Locomotor Jar, zooming it directly into the heart of the dementors closest to Harry within seconds. Once it was close enough, she focused her intent, gathered all the magic she could muster and yelled her spell as if it was a command. "Accendere Omnes Ignis!” The jar disappeared as the blue flames erupted and engulfed twenty of the closest dementors. The affected dementors screeched then flew off to join the others below them.

The rest of the dementors paused, now hesitant to go after a falling Harry, until Dumbledore cast what looked to be the same spell Lupin had used on the train to Hogwarts. Hermione aimed her wand at Harry to attempt to levitate him but was distracted by the silver bird that had erupted from Dumbledore's wand, causing her to miss, while the bird chased off the dementors completely. Dumbledore cast a spell to cushion Harry's fall and she immediately ran down the stairs, skipping steps as she had last weekend to be the first one on the field next to Harry and Dumbledore.

Hermione got to the field right when Harry was being moved from the ground to the stretcher Dumbledore had conjured for him. "Is he okay?!" Hermione was vibrating from all of the emotions her brain was not allowing her to process at once as she looked at her unconscious best friend, her mind already coming up with worse case scenarios.

"Miss Granger, did you conjure those flames?" Dumbledore spoke as he grabbed Harry's wrist, feeling for a pulse.

"Y-yes." Hermione went to Harry's other side and turned his face towards her, looking for any signs of life. She felt the vice grip on her lungs ease a bit when she saw him breathing.

"You helped save his life, Hermione." Hermione looked up at the Headmaster as a crowd started to gather behind him. "He needs to go to the infirmary though. I believe I can trust you to take him."

Hermione nodded once and climbed on top of the stretcher, over Harry's legs and tapped her wand to the edge of the large stretcher. "Locomotor Stretcher." Hermione guided the stretcher away from the crowd, zooming by the familiar faces of her classmates. Hermione's heart was still racing but she could only think of one thing: He's alive.

When they got to the infirmary and Madam Hooch settled him into a cot was when she cried, her emotions catching up with her and overwhelming her. It made Hermione feel weak to be able to cry so easily so she held on to what Dumbledore said to keep her from completely breaking down. I saved him. I did what I couldn't do before...

Roughly an hour later, Ron and the rest of the quidditch team had entered. Ron had a bag with the remnants of the Nimbus 2000 in it, or at least what he could get from the Womping Willow, since it had destroyed the broom. The team was covered head to toe in mud and Ron was completely soaked. Hermione started to cast a drying charm on him as she listened to the rest of the team talk.

"Lucky the ground was soft." Fred said.

"I thought he was dead for sure." George replied.

Hermione closed her eyes for a second and stopped before allowing herself to continue drying Ron off.

"But he didn't even break his glasses." Angelina Johnson, a chaser, said.

"That was the scariest thing I've ever seen." Ron offered. Hermione shuddered, she couldn't help but think if things were different, she would have agreed. "Dumbledore was furious. And 'Mione, that thing you did with the flames-"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Harry twitch before his eyes snapped open. "Ron, get Madam Pomfrey." Hermione automatically joined his side as he sat up straight, making the others gasp. Ron listened to Hermione and ran to the infirmary's office.

Harry was upset of course by not just his broom being broken, but by the fact that he never caught the snitch. Hermione tried not to be annoyed by his lack of priorities when he had nearly died as she and Ron visited him every day over the weekend, doing their homework together as Harry ate more than enough chocolate to recover.

On Sunday, Harry was discharged from the infirmary. Hermione and Ron helped Harry carry all of his get-well-soon gifts back to the common room, as several of his classmates had dropped off gifts ranging from candy to plants. By the time Harry and Ron came back down to the common room after taking the gifts to the boys dorm, Hermione already had their Defense Against the Dark Arts books propped open so they could start their werewolf essay. Crookshanks sat by her side and she ignored Ron's glare at the half-kneazle before he started reading the chapter.

While Ron and Harry were just starting their essays after reading the chapter once, Hermione was on her third reading of the chapter, essay already finished. Hermione's eyes were wide as she took everything in from her book. She was unsure if she was crazy, or Snape's hateful behavior towards Lupin suddenly made sense. Purebloods hated anything that was not just like them so it made sense for him to hate a werewolf. Hermione looked up at her best friend's wondering if she should say anything but once she tuned into their conversation, she realized that it was something she would need to tread carefully if she did. Harry and Ron were both fans of Lupin and she had no proof of him being a werewolf after all, even with Harry's perfect description of a Wolfsbane potion or that Lupin's boggart was a moon instead of a crystal ball like Ron had thought.

"I hope Lupin teaches me defenses for the dementors soon." Harry ran a hand through his hair and removed his glasses. "Malfoy is going to be an absolute arse tomorrow. He was in such a good mood in the hallway, he took off his bandages saying his arm has finally healed."

Ron nodded as he started to doodle at the edge of his parchment, unmotivated to do two scrolls on the chapter Snape assigned. They were quite for a moment and Hermione decided at that moment to blurt out an indirect question to test the waters.

"Do you think Dumbledore would hire a werewolf as a teacher?" Hermione didn't look up from her book as she attempted to keep an air of non-nonchalance.

Ron snorted. "Did you not read the chapter, 'Mione? They're barbaric and unpredictable around the full moon."

"I don't think Dumbledore would put his students in danger." Harry added. Hermione nodded but pursed her lips. She often felt the texts they were taught out of were biased and exaggerated but even someone who struggled socially herself knew that expressing these opinions would not work in her favor.

If Dumbledore had Snape brewing Wolfsbane, would he risk it then? She let the conversation drop and gave the excuse of her being tired to return upstairs and go to bed. Really, Hermione was going to go through her other textbooks and read all that she could on werewolves. She took her dream-less draught and fell asleep, head in a book with Crookshanks by her side.

—————————

Hermione,

I have exciting news to share with both you and Draco! Lucius and I are opening an orphanage.

I hoped to tell you this in person but I have not received a direct reply on whether you two will be coming back for Christmas. I could not wait to tell you and was hoping you could assist me in picking out a name for the orphanage? Everything is in the works still, but we do plan on having a in the summer gala to possibly gain investors.

Hermione, please reply with your answer on if you will be coming to the manor and with whom. I would like to know how much food we would need to cook before winter holiday has started.

-Narcissa Midase Malfoy.

Hermione folded the parchment and tapped it against the table of the great hall. Hermione had been on the fence on whether she wanted to leave Hogwarts or not and Narcissa had asked nearly every other letter all of November if she and Draco would come. Hermione did not want to leave Harry and Ron, who said they were both staying but the decorations and talk of the holiday was a constant reminder of her parents. Narcissa gave Hermione an open invitation to invite anyone she wanted to back to the manor, but Hermione knew neither boy would agree to spend holiday with her at Malfoy Manor. Molly would not even allow Ron to entertain the idea if he would consider it.

Hermione looked around the Great Hall and felt her mood worsen as she stared at the tinsel and fairy lights. Christmas was a major holiday in her house hold and the constant reminders caused her breakdowns to worsen again like it was the week of her birthday. Hermione tried to escape the decorations in her free time, but they were everywhere- Lavender had even decorated their dorm for Christmas, claiming it helped her come up with better clothing designs that she was often found sketching.

Hermione put her head on the table, thinking that she needed to give Narcissa an answer, and quick, as McGonagall was due to collect names of the students who were staying for the holiday this Friday, which was in two days. Hermione wondered if Draco was wanting to return to the Manor and her brown eyes flicked over to the Slytherin table to see him staring at her. Hermione pursed her lips and lifted her head. She pointed at the parchment, then at the door, motioning for him to meet her outside the Great Hall.

Hermione had failed to be discreet, and Ron stood when she went to leave. "I'm going with you."

"There's no reason for you to." Hermione burnt the letter, a habit she started to copy with her letters from Narcissa, then vanished the ashes. She slipped her wand into her sleeve then crossed her arms. They were back to fighting about Crookshanks and Scabbers again and she was in no mood to talk to him.

"Malfoy's a reason." Ron shot Draco a dirty look and Theo stood up, a warning that Draco was not unprotected.

"Only if you make him a reason. I need to talk to him about stuff happening at ho-" Hermione cleared her throat. "The manor. Please don't make this bigger than what it is."

Ron gave her a look but sat down. "If you're not back soon, I'm going out there."

Hermione sighed. "Sure, Ron." She grabbed her back pack and exited the Great Hall, glancing over to the Slytherin table, she saw Draco start to follow, leaving a glaring Theo at the table.

She walked around the corner of a pillar and waited for him but he continued walking past her. "Where are you-?"

"I'm not talking to you civilly in public." He walked over to the next pillar and pulled away the red tapestry, revealing two Hufflepuffs having a snog. Hermione walked over but jumped back when they ran out of the hidden alcove.

"At breakfast time? Really?" Hermione asked rhetorically- not in spite but more out of shock. The Hufflepuffs, one being Hannah Abbott, blushed as she glanced back at Draco and Hermione.

Draco motioned to the alcove for Hermione to step in first and followed close after, pulling the tapestry closed behind him. She hoped that her question would help her decide on what to do for the holiday easier. "What did you want to do for holiday?"

Draco raised an eyebrow. "You're taking my thoughts into account on staying here or not?"

"Well, she said that if one of us doesn't agree then we're to stay here." Hermione fidgeted. "Does your family decorate?"

Draco made a face. "Not over the top like they do here. The gaudiness is suffocating."

Hermione found herself in agreement with Malfoy, something she did not care to admit. "If that's the case, then I'd rather go to the manor."

she was looking away so she didn't see both of Draco's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "Because of decorations?"

Hermione looked up at him again and made a sniffling sound. "It's not about the decorations."

"Oh." Draco understood but did not know what to say next to make her feel better so he raised his own concern about returning to the manor. "I want to bring two of my friends to the manor."

"So long as one of them isn't Pansy, I don't care." Hermione put a hand on the tapestry to move it out of the way but he pulled it back. "If I'm bringing someone home, you do to or else mother won't allow me to. We're to receive the same treatment, remember?"

"Let go of me, Malfoy." He let go of her and crossed his arms. "It better not be Crabbe or Goyle, either." She gave him a dirty look as she fixed her sleeve. If he was going to continue to be a prat, she was going to limit his options on who he was inviting.

Draco rolled his eyes as he looked down on her. "I would never bring over Pansy and mother is not a fan of Crabbe's family or Goyle's. I was planning on asking Theo and Blaise." Draco did not find it appropriate to mention he also had a falling out with Crabbe and Goyle as it was not her business. "So go back into the Great Hall and ask your only two friends to join us on holiday."

Hermione was hurt by his comment on her lack of friends and raised her voice as the blood rose to her face. "Do you really think Harry and -" Just then, the tapestry was ripped open to reveal a red faced red head who yanked Hermione from the alcove. "RON!" Hermione stumbled but covered it up as an attempt to pull her arm out of his grasp.

Theo and Blaise were behind Ron, cornering him in case he attacked Draco, who now stood in front of the tapestry, sneer on his face. "Well if it isn't the weasel. Came to fetch The-Chosen-One's girlfriend for him? Was he too busy doing something else to be bothered?" Draco had waited to use Ron's crush against him and was filled with glee with glee watching Ron's face changed to the perfect shade of puce.

"What were you doing in there?" Ron turned to Hermione, not knowing what to say in reply to Draco's taunt. "I heard you starting to yell."

Draco opened his mouth to say something completely cheeky but Hermione spoke first. "What did I say about following me out here? I told you I needed to talk to him about the manor!"

Ron stared at her, partially in disbelief that she was mad at him. "I know, but I got worried-"

"I'm not Ginny, Ron!" Hermione was angry and did not feel the instant regret for what she said, but she felt it for how she said it. In the back of Hermione's mind, she knew that her anger was fueled by her stress and depression which caused her to take it out on him. Hermione was too angry to explain her feelings and was too stubborn to apologize then. Hermione turned to Blaise who looked shocked at the scene in front of him. "I'll invite you to the bloody manor and Draco can invite Theo." Finally she turned back around to look at Draco whose face mirrored Blaise's. Hermione was upset to the point that she did not even care she finally saw him break his usually unreadable or menacing mask. "Happy?"

Hermione walked off towards her Arithmancy class, too angry to care that she was over thirty minutes early. Hermione let herself cry a few tears but refused to allow herself to become a blubbering mess first thing in the morning. She hated herself more and more with every step she took, replying the scene in her head.

Hermione regretted what she said to Ron, mostly because she knew that she was going to experience the worst Christmas of her life and she took out on one of the few people who cared.

Chapter Text

Ugh, no, Harry won't want one of those, they're for vampires, I expect," Hermione and Ron were currently in Honey Dukes, looking at their "Unusual Tastes" section. Hermione had pulled Ron aside after the first two weeks of December, where they had hardly talked and apologize. There was still some tension between the two and Harry had used that against her when she threw a fit saying she was not leaving him again.

"How about these?" said Ron, shoving a jar of Cockroach Clusters under Hermione's nose.

"Definetly not," said Harry from behind them, making Ron nearly drop the jar.

Hermione immediately rounded on him, using her scolding tone. One of Harry's arguments that convinced her to go back to Hogsmeade was the extra caution Hogwarts used in protecting any intruders from breaking in a second time. "What are you doing here? Harry James Potter you best to get back to that Castle or so help me-"

"WOW!" Ron said loudly, clearly happy to see his other best friend in Hogsmeade. "You've learned how to apparate." Ron sounded impressed and Hermione thought she could hear the blood boiling in her face.

"'Course I haven't." Harry pulled out a dingy parchment and pointed his wand at it. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." Hermione grabbed the map from him, looking it over, as she listened to him explain that Fred and George stole it from Filch's office their first year. He explained that there were seven passage ways leaving Hogwarts but one was blocked and Filch only knew about three. Hermione was impressed by the map but was trying very hard not to let it show as she was still livid with Harry.

"How come Fred and George never gave it to me!" Said Ron, who was outraged. "I'm their brother!"

"Harry, if you're found with this..." Hermione looked at her dark haired friend with narrowed eyes and a warning look.

"I won't be, and even if I was," he pointed his wand at the map. "Mischief Managed." Hermione watched the ink disappear and it became a dingy parchment again. "So, you're not going to tell me to turn it in or anything?" Harry had an expression that was half hopeful, half apprehensive. Hermione felt guilt settle in her stomach, she knew Ron and her's constant bickering was taking a toll on her friend and she felt bad he had been caught in the middle.

Hermione put her shoulders back and looked Harry in the eyes. "While I agree with Mr. Weasley on saying 'Never trust anything that can think for itself, if you can't see where it keeps its brain', I think it would be a great tool in keeping you away from Sirius Black. Plus if you hand it in, you'll have to say where you got it from and I'd rather deal with the twins myself for giving that to you." Harry and Ron grinned at her but she held up a finger. "Promise me you'll keep this on you at all times while I'm gone, Harry."

Harry grinned. He knew he could count on her, even if she preferred to be a goody-two-shoes. "I promise, 'Mione."

"Good. Now get back to the castle." Hermione crossed her arms again as she starred him down. Harry's grin faltered as Ron chose to respond, starting another disagreement between him and Hermone.

"Are you mad?" Ron was starting to go pink himself. "It's Christmas and Harry deserves it!"

"And what about Sirius Black?" Hermione hissed, trying to keep her voice low in the packed candy store. "Bad enough, he may have used one of those passages to get into Hogwarts but if you're out here- away from all the protections you had reminded me of earlier, Harry- it would make it that much more easier for him."

"He can't be getting in through a passage," said Harry quickly." Filch knows about four of them so dementors will be posted at the Hogsmeade entrances. There's one that's caved in then another is covered by the Whomping Willow. That leaves the one I just came through in the Honeydukes cellar- which is hardly noticeable- so unless he knew it was there..." Harry trailed off realizing that Black knowing where the cellar entrance was not probable but not impossible. Something that Hermione already realized.

"And if he does, Harry?"

Ron cleared his throat loudly and pointed to a notice inside of the sweets shop.

-By order of the Ministry of Magic-

Customers are reminded that until further notice, dementors will be patrolling the streets of Hogsmeade every night after sundown. This measure has been put in place for the safety of Hogsmeade residents and will be lifted upon the recapture of Sirius Black. It is therefore advisable that you complete your shopping well before nightfall.

Merry Christmas!

"See?" said Ron quietly. "I'd like to see Black try and break into Honeydukes with dementors swarming the streets at night. Anyway, Hermione, the shop owners would hear a break-in, wouldn't they? They live over the shop!"

Hermione huffed, running out of problems to point out. Look, Harry still shouldn't be coming to Hogsmeade! If anyone finds out, he'll be in so much trouble! And it's not nightfall yet- what If Sirius Black turns up today? Now?"

Ron and Harry exchanged a grin knowing her arguments were starting to become weak. "He'd have a job spotting Harry in this," Ron nodded to the mullioned windows where thick snow was swirling outside, making visibility difficult. "Can hardly see five feet ahead, can you?"

Hermione bit her lip, looking more than worried.

Harry nudged her with his elbow, grinning. "Are you going to report me?"

"Of course not but honestly, Harry-"

Ron put a shoulder around Harry and started pointing out all of the candies to Harry, naming them, leaving Hermione to walk behind them. She walked around the shop, keeping an eye out for anyone who looked like they had too much interest on Harry being at Honeydukes and not Hogwarts.

After Ron gave a tour of Honey Dukes, they exited the shop and Hermione wrapped her purple scarf around Harry as Harry had ran out of Hogwarts the moment Fred and George gave him the map instead of dressing appropriately for the weather. "Hermione I look like a girl! If anyone sees me in this-"

"No one can see five feet ahead of them, can they?" She shot Harry a grin to let him know she was joking and they all laughed.

After showing Harry around Hogsmeade, Ron suggested they go to the Three Broomsticks so they can have Butterbeer.

"Hermione didn't get any last time, either so you can both try it together."

"Why didn't you get any, 'Mione?" Harry looked over at her and she looked away. Ron had immediately brought her to the Three Boomsticks when she passed the dementors so she had a place to sit and calm down as she had started to have a small panic attack.

"My stomach wasn't up to it." Hermione took her scarf back as they entered the tiny inn that was bustling with Hogwarts students from all houses. A curvy woman with a very pretty face was serving a bunch of rowdy warlocks at the bar.

"That's Madam Rosmerta," said Ron, turning slightly pink. "I'll get the drinks, shall I?"

Hermione guided Harry to the back of the room where there was a small vacant table between the window and a very full Christmas tree. Ron was back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot butterbeer. Harry and Hermione raised their tankards, clinking them together, then did the same to Ron.

Ron looked puzzled as they bumped their tankards against his. "What was that for?"

"It must be a muggle thing," Harry looked at Hermione then turned to Ron. "Usually it's done at the end of someone giving a small speech before everyone starts drinking but..." Harry looked confused thinking about it. "I'm not actually sure why it's done." Both boys looked at Hermione, waiting for an explanation.

"It was originally done because in medieval times it was believed to ward off evil and rid the drink of any poisons." The boys nodded as they sipped on the butterbeer. Hermione wanted to drink hers but had spent time blowing on it to avoid burning herself.

"It's not that hot, 'Mione." Ron already had foam all around his mouth. When he opened his mouth to say something else, a cool breeze whirled around them, causing Hermione to look at the front door of the inn. Her eyes widened and Harry looked behind him, choking on his butterbeer.

Ron and Hermione pulled Harry under the table as they watched Professor McGonagall, Flitwick, and Hagrid enter the inn, already in a deep conversation with the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. Hermione withdrew her wand and cast a "Mobiliarbus," so the tree was in front of them. Hermione did not stow her wand away, but rather, gripped it tighter. Her knuckles turned white and she could practically feel her magic crackling around her.

Part of her visual was cut off due to the tree and with a quick flick of her wand, she had severed several stray branches so she could see the adults perfectly. Ron gave her a questioning look as she had not uttered a sound, let alone say a full spell to cut off the branches, but she didn't acknowledge him, too focused on the owner of the lime green bowler hat. All three Gryffindor's watched as the adults ordered their drinks then continued their conversation from earlier;

Madam Rosmerta had a slight edge in her voice as she spoke to the Minister. "You know that the dementors have searched my pub twice? Scared all of my customers away. It's very bad for business, Minister."

"Rosmerta, m'dear, I don't like them any more than you do," Fudge said as his eyes raked over her colorful dress and sparky turquoise heels. "It's a necessary precaution." It was a reply that sounded completely apathetic, as if he said it too many times already. He turned back to the professors as Madam Rosmerta walked away. "I've just met with some of them, they're in a fury against Dumbledore- he won't let them inside the castle grounds."

"I should think not." McGonagall said sharply. "How are we supposed to teach with those horrors flying around?"

"Hear, Hear!" Professor Flitwick chimed.

Hermione watched drinks float from the bar, to the table so their respective owners were able to drink.

"All the same," demurred Fudge, who took a sip of his Red Currant Rum. "They are here to protect you all from something much worse... We all know what Black's capable of..." The professors sighed as they remembered his crimes.

"Some say that murdering thirteen people with one spell was the worst thing he had done, but I disagree." McGonagall sipped her Gillywater before continuing. "They were inseparable, and he just betrayed him, like he was nothing- Do you remember who his best friend was?" McGonagall looked at Flitwick who nodded.

"Quite the double act- never saw one without the other, anyone would have thought that James Potter and Sirius Black were brothers. James even made Sirius Harry's godfather, I heard." Flitwick agreed.

Hermione's mouth dropped open at the same time Harry's tankard he had under the table with him clunked loudly as it hit the floor. Hermione saw Ron kick him out of the corner of her eye but she leaned closer now to the table of adults as if it would help her hearing.

"You-Know-Who has always had a powerful influence over people, Minerva." Fudge sipped his rum and leaned forward. "You know, not many people are aware that the Potters knew You-Know-Who was after them. Dumbledore had a number of useful spies, and he alerted James and Lily at once. He advised them to go into hiding. But You-Know-Who wasn't an easy person to hide from. Dumbledore told them their best chance was the Fidelius Charm." Flitwick and Hagrid were leaning in, listening to every word Fudge said. McGonagall wiped at her face, silently crying.

"So Black was the Potters' secret keeper?" Asked Flitwick.

"Nautrally," said Professor McGonagall, "James Potter told Dumbledore that Black would die rather than tell where they were, that Black was planning to go into hiding himself... and yet, Dumbledore remained worried. I remember him offering to be the Potters' secret keeper himself."

Hermione's head spun as she took in all of the information, trying to form connections in her head.

"Dumbledore suspected Black?" Flitwick asked.

McGonagall finished her Gillywater before replying. "He was sure that somebody close to the Potters had been keeping You-Know-Who informed on their movements," said Professor McGonagall darkly. "Indeed, he had suspected for some time that someone on our side had turned traitor and was passing a lot of information to You-Know-Who. Still, James insisted on using Sirius."

"And then," Fudge said heavily, "barely a week after the Fidelius Charm had been performed he betrayed them. He was ready to declare his support openly for You-Know-Who, and helped plan the Potters' death. But we all know that did not work."

Hermione's eyes fell into slits. She was already suspicious of Fudge but now he reminded her of an actor who was tired of his role and gave half of his effort into acting out his lines. His eyes were even drifting all over the table and floor as he talked, completely uninterested in the conversation. "When You-Know-Who met his downfall in little Harry Potter, it left Black in a very nasty position. Everyone knew Black was a traitor, so he ran."

Hagrid, who had been very quiet up until that moment, started with his own rant on how he felt about Black, making half the bar go quiet. Hermione looked over at Ron to pretend she was not eavesdropping and he did the same. He mouthed 'Bloody hell' and she shrugged to make it seem they were having their own conversation.

When Hagrid was done with his rant, the bar was just a bit more quiet, making it easier to hear the conversation. "But the Ministry caught up with him the next day? He wasn't able to run?"

"Alas, if only we had," said Fudge bitterly. Finishing off his rum he looked at Flitwick. "It was not we who found him. It was little Peter Pettigrew- another of the Potters' friends. He went after Black himself."

"Pettigrew... that fat little boy who was always tagging around James and Sirius?" Flitwick asked.

"He hero-worshiped them," said Professor McGonagall. "Never quite in their league talent-wise." She sniffled again and Fudge gave her a seemingly sympathetic look.

"Pettigrew had cornered Black, went for his wand but Black- being a Death Eater- was quicker. Blew Peter to smithereens..." Fudge let his voice trail off as he looked at the faces of everyone at the able. The conversation seemed to have ended then as no one said anything for a long time after that as Hagrid and Flitwick finished their drinks.

"You know, Cornelius, if you're dining with the headmaster, we'd better head back up to the castle," said Professor McGonagall.

Hermione watched the professors exit the inn but when it was Fudge's turn to follow, he got up and nodded at her. Hermione forced a smile on her face and gave a small wave before he put his bowler hat back on and strode from the inn. When they had left and it was clear that they would not be returning, Hermione and Ron looked at Harry who had not moved from under the table, butterbeer spilled on the floor beneath him from when he dropped his tankard.

"Harry?"

When he looked up at Hermione's voice, she saw the pain her own eyes often held, and her heart broke that much more for her best friend.

--------------------

Hermione woke up first out of the three of them the next day. She hardly slept as she was worried about what Harry would do, mostly because she knew exactly what she would do if she found out someone who was practically her parents murderer was still alive. It was the same day she was supposed to be leaving in a few hours, but with what had happened yesterday at Hogsmeade, she was terrified to leave Harry alone.

Hermione wore her favorite outfit combination of the sweater Molly had knitted her with jeans and her trainers. She sat in one of the bigger chairs of the common room, bouncing her legs waiting for Ron or Harry to come down. Roughly an hour later, Ron came down with his own worried expression on his face.

"Is he still asleep?" Hermione stood up, anxiously watching Ron throw himself into the couch across from her.

"Yeah. I can't even imagine how that must have affected him yesterday."

Hermione sat down next to him. "I can." She whispered. He looked up at her, pity in his eyes and she used her annoyance from that to direct her attention back to Harry. "We need to talk to him. He's going to want to go after Sirius."

Ron sat up, completely serious and awake. They rehearsed for an hour what they would say when he came down the stairs, both of them playing the devil's advocate with each other to make sure all of their bases were covered. When Harry came down the stairs, Ron was the one who was first to speak.

"Harry, you look terrible."

Harry had dark circles under his eyes, proof that he also did not sleep well. Harry sat on the couch next to Ron, reaching down to rub Crookshanks' stomach. "Where do you keep his food? I'll need to feed him while you're gone."

Hermione took a deep breath and shared a look with Ron while Harry was turned away. "I'm staying." Hermione hesitated before continuing. "You really don't look well you know." Hermione had the sense that she would mostly be the one talking to Harry as she would be the one to relate and know when he was trying to deflect the conversation on to other topics.

Harry sat up, his jaw flexing as his hands went into fists but he didn't look up at either of them. "I'm fine and you're not my keeper, Hermione."

Hermione ignored his stinging comment and continued. "Harry, I know you're upset about what you heard yesterday but the thing is, you mustn't go doing anything stupid."

"Like what? What do you think I would do?" Harry's voice was low and Hermione was actually intimidated as she had never seen him like this before, even with Malfoy.

"Like trying to go after Black," Ron said sharply, almost challenging Harry. Harry shook his head and looked into the roaring fireplace beside them.

"You won't, will you, Harry?" Hermione hated how small she sounded but she could not think to loose anyone else.

"Because Black's not worth dying for." Ron added. Hermione winced, that was not something he should have said.

"D'you know what I see and hear every time a dementor gets too near me?" Ron shook his head, suddenly looking apprehensive as Hermione covered her mouth with her fingers, a tear sliding down her cheek. If it was what she heard, she could easily guess what he went through every time. "I can hear my mum screaming and pleading with Voldemort. And if you'd heard your mum screaming like that, just about to be killed, begging to be killed so you could be sparred, you wouldn't forget it in a hurry. And if you found out someone who was supposed to be a friend of hers, someone she appointed as your god-father-" Harry's voice was climbing and Hermione could not look at him anymore. She agreed with him even though she knew it was a wrong way of thinking.

"There's nothing you can do! Let the dementors catch him. Let him get sent back to Azkaban!" Ron was matching his tone to Harry's, not out of anger but out of fear. Fear of what this conversation meant and fear of what Harry may try to do.

Harry scoffed. "He was there thirteen years, what is Azkaban going to do for him?"

"So what are you saying?" Hermione asked, rubbing her nose on the sweater, choosing to take the more direct path. "You want to- to kill Black or something?" She already knew the answer and locked eyes with Harry.

"You're mad, Hermione," Ron said slightly panicky but Hermione just stared Harry down, using her chocolate eyes to challenge his emerald ones. "Harry doesn't want to kill anyone, do you, Harry?

Harry didn't respond and Hermione didn't move. He knew just as well as she did that she understood his pain, probably even more than he understood it himself.

After a moment Ron got up, starring Harry down in anger. "Listen, you know what Pettigrew's mother got back after Black had finished with him? Dad told me- the Order of Merlin, First Class, and Pettigrew's finger in a box." Ron glanced back at Hermione giving her the same grilling look he gave Harry. "That was the biggest part of him that they found. One spell, thirteen people." Ron turned to Harry. "When the ministry found him, he was covered in blood, bloody body parts everywhere and he was laughing. You can't just try and kill him."

"He may as well have murdered my parents-"

"Ron's right, Harry." Hermione wiped her pink face with her sleeves. Listening to Ron give the details was like having ice water splashed on to her and she realized they couldn't murder Black. "Black did a thing so despicable there isn't even a word I know to describe it but you would be playing right into his hands. This is what he would want." Harry's featured softened and he looked back at the fireplace. "Your mum and dad wouldn't want you to get hurt, would they? They would never want you to looking for Black."

Harry's head snapped back to look at Hermione and he approached her so he was standing in front of her. "I'll never know what they'd have wanted, because thanks to Black, I've never spoken to them unlike you. Atleast you were lucky enough to grow up with them.

"Harry!" Ron hissed as he grabbed Harry's shoulder to pull him away from Hermione stood.

Hermione's jaw dropped and tears fell again. "Lucky?!" Her voice shook and she hardly recognized the voice as her own there was so much anger in it. "You think I'm lucky?! If anything, you're the lucky one for never even getting to know them! For not having to walk with your head down for the holidays because if you look at the decorations it will trigger a bloody breakdown! You're lucky that you don't have to make up an excuse about your stomach hurting regardless of how hungry you are because their favorite side dish has been present at dinner and it's too much to bear!" Ron tried to approach her as she started to let out heart wrenching sobs between her sentences but she took a step back, feeling that she was not done with Harry. "Or-or not reading your favorite books because they were hand-me-downs from your mum and they still smell like her!" Harry looked completely shocked and guilty as he watched what he had done to his friend. Hermione didn't notice the crowd starting to fill the staircases from both dorms as she continued to yell. "You don't know what goes on in my head, constantly. You may only go through their deaths again with the dementors-" Harry winced and Ron glanced at the crowd. "But me? I don't need a dementor to bring that back for me, Harry. My head is my own dementor."

Ginny ran from the girls dorm of the staircase and hugged Hermione. Hermione wanted to push her off but found herself wrapping her arms around her instead. Harry didn't know what to say as Ron came to Hermione's other side and pet her hair as she bawled, holding Ginny. Many of the Gryffindors didn't know what to do as some started to head out to the trains and others went back up stairs to their dorms, whispering about what they heard. The twins cornered Ron and demanded he get Harry out of the dorms somehow. Ron said they would be going to Hagrid's hut as he passed by. She didn't respond.

After roughly half an hour of crying, Hermione was left hiccuping into Ginny. Lavender and Parvati approached her, offering her tea. Hermione took it, and blew on the surface of it, feeling the heat assault her wet face. Lavender spoke after Hermione took her first sip of the Earl Grey and Ginger blend.

"I overheard you saying that you were going back home for the holiday." Hermione eyed Lavender's blonde hair and hazel eyes, wondering where this conversation was going. Lavender was nice despite how they felt about divination but was one of the people who suddenly tried being best friends with Hermione so it made her uncomfortable. "Pavarti and I agree that it's a great idea- Cosmo Magazine says it's always good to take a few days for yourself after a major blow out with someone close. It allows you both to clear your head and to allow for you both to miss each other."

"Making the reunion all the more sweeter." Pavarti gave Hermione a warm smile. Hermione wanted to return the smile, if only out of politeness, but her face felt twenty pounds too heavy from how puffy the crying made her face. "We can get your stuff for you if you'd like? And can walk you down, we're going home, too."

Hermione took another sip of her tea and looked at her watch. If she was going, she needed to leave in the next ten minutes. Hermione looked up at Lavender who gave her a small smile again. Should she leave? Her stomach twisted to the point it nearly hurt when she thought back to what Harry said, she knew she had to leave. She trusted Ron and Dumbledore, but for her own sake, she had to leave.

"Okay."

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Draco, Blaise, and Theo were already setting their suitcases on to the stagecoaches when he saw Hermione walking with the rest of the late students of Hogwarts. She was accompanied by Ginny, Lavender, and the Gryffindor Patil twin, Pavarti. Draco wondered if she actually had more friends than she let on but he had never seen her with Lavender or Parvati and assumed her half swollen face had something to do with it as she had clearly been crying.

Theo nudged Blaise, jutting his head toward her. "Do you think someone died?"

Blaise shook his head and Draco narrowed his eyes, turning around to face his English friend. "Theo, I don't think anyone but my father will appreciate any disrespect towards Granger, including me. I made sure all Slytherins were aware of that."

The three of them watched Hermione and the girls pass by. "Hey, Hermione." Blaise said as he gave a small salute and a flash of his perfect smile. Hermione gave a small wave but continued walking as Lavender talked to her about beauty tips and a variety of things she read in muggle magazines while Hermione made various sounds of agreement as if she found the information to be interesting.

When they had passed and was out of earshot, Theo replied to Draco. "Crabbe must be right then, you do have a soft spot for the mudblood." Draco glared at Theo. Partially out of annoyance to hear that Crabbe and Goyle spread word about their falling out but mostly at the fact his housemates keep making the same assumption.

"I don't, and even if I did, Blaise is nice to her yet no one bothers him about it." It was a weak argument but Draco wanted to hear what Theo's response would be to that rather than actually argue on who was allowed to be friendly. "I already explained to you why-"

Theo cut Draco off after they had all climbed into the stagecoach and shut the door so no one else would join them. "Draco Lucius Malfoy, heir of the Malfoy fortune, one of the few families recognized in the Sacred Twenty-Eight, CAN NOT be friends with a mudblood. It's beneath you- your father's words, not mine." Draco scowled at the mention of his father at the same time the stagecoaches started to move. "Blaise is friendly to everyone as his mother murders her muggle husbands to steal their fortune- he's expected to slum from time to time." Theo shrugged as Blaise turned to Theo.

"Allegedly murders her muggle husbands and steals their fortune." Blaise's eyes were narrowed in mock intimidation, a twisted smile on his face. Draco knew Blaise only acted as of he condoned his mother's actions, something he confided in Draco recently.

Theo laughed. "Your mother is not even forty and she's had eight husbands, seven of which are dead. She's literally referred to as the Black Widow-"

"I'll sue you for slander, Knott." Blaise looked outside the window but then turned back to Draco, deciding to continue the conversation Theo had started. "Speaking of 'mothers' though, I think you should do what you want, not what your parents want." Blaise positioned himself the same way Theo was sitting and did his best at impersonating an English accent over his heavy Italian one. "'Draco Lucius Malfoy, heir of the Malfoy fortune- one of the few families recognized in the Sacred Twenty-Eight' SHOULD NOT be a momma's boy. Or a daddy's boy from what you've spoke of him." Blaise changed his posture so he was more comfortable as he spoke, switching back to his normal accent. "I understand the want to please your mother-"

Theo snorted. "I don't."

"As you grew up without a mother, I grew up without a father. So I could never understand the want to please a man." Blaise placed a hand on his chest as he spoke.

"You should use 'father figure' instead, Blaise. You're the only one in this stagecoach that's attracted to men." They all laughed at Theo's joke. "You're right though, about growing up without a dad- you grew up with seven."

Blaise kicked Theo as Theo howled with laughter. "Anyways, live your life for you, Draco. If you want to be friend's with Hermione, be friend's with Hermione, personally I think she's smart and even pretty when she isn't drowning in her own tears."

"Pretty?" Draco asked, a look of disgust on his face. "She looks like a bloody bag-lady half the time-"

"Ah, ah, ah," Blaise raised a finger and waved it in front of him. "I'm Italian, and gay. I get to say what the definition of beauty is." Theo shook his head as Draco stared, not sure what to say. The carriages had came to a stop though as they arrived to Hogsmeade station. Theo opened the door and climbed out. When Draco went to follow, Blaise put a hand on his chest. "To finish up what I have been trying to say this whole time without this stronzo interrupting me- If you want to make her life hell, make it hell. If not, don't. Do what you want to do, Draco." Blaise hit him on the shoulder and winked before exiting.

Draco followed and when he did, he saw Hermione, already in the train window, her eyes zoned out sitting in the train car by herself. Draco allowed himself a moment of honesty for the first time since the funeral, thinking about his feelings towards Hermione. He was curious about her and respected her, but there was more he could not pinpoint.

He watched her pull the screen down over the window and he could only see a faint silhouette "What do I want to do?"

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Hermione woke up in the train car, hours later to someone shaking her shoulder. Hermione looked up to see a dark figure and she jumped, not immediately recognizing Blaise.

"Woah, relax. It's just me." Hermione heard a soft snicker and looked at the train car door to see Theo with a huge grin on his face with Draco standing behind him, one eyebrow raised. "We just made it to King's Cross."

"Thank you." Hermione stood and tried to reach for her half filled suitcase but Blaise grabbed it before she did. She held out a hand to take it but he shook his head.

"My mother would kill me if she found out I let a lady carry her suitcase." Hermione yawned, too tired to argue about double standards or gender roles- along with not want to offend the only Slytherin who seemed to be friendly enough when interacting with her. She followed Theo and Draco out with Blaise behind them. As soon as they stepped out on to platform nine and three quarters, they immediately spotted the older Malfoy's, the sun causing their blonde hair to shine with a rainbow hue- especially Narcissa's. Hermione thought her hair looked as if it was other worldly and was mesmerized by it.

Narcissa was wearing royal blue robes that covered her arms three quarters of the way down. Lucius was dressed in black robes that were lined with fur and Hermione felt her nose involuntarily twitch in distaste when she saw his robes, knowing that the Malfoys would be poor before wearing faux fur. The twitch did not go unnoticed by Lucius and he rolled his eyes, letting them settle on to his son. "Good evening, Draco, Theo, Blaise." Narcissa smiled but gave a sharp look at Lucius using only her eyes. "Miss Granger."

Theo and Blaise exchanged a look and Draco fought to keep his mask up. He did not like the tone of Lucius' voice and wondered what had already upset his father. Hermione however, stretched and yawned, knowing the casual action would annoy Lucius. "Evening, Mr. Malfoy." Hermione looked to Narcissa and smiled, receiving one in return. "Good evening, Mrs. Malfoy."

"Hermione, I've told you to use my name, and Lucius', too."

"Do not use my name," Lucius stated immediately but Narcissa swatted his stomach.

"It's Christmas and if she wants to call you Saint Lucy, she shall." Narcissa continued to glare at Lucius and kept a half smile on her face. To her husband and the boys, the expression was cruel but to Hermione, she found it to be the same look she gave Harry or Ron when she wanted to mess with them.

Hermione, feeling somewhat refreshed from sleep and awake from the cold, grinned widely, catching on to Narcissa's game. "Saint Lucy you say?" Having Narcissa as a pen pal, she grew to be fond of her and started to trust her more and more, especially after she had delivered the gauntlets for her wand the day after she asked for them.

Lucius glowered and strode off, leaving everyone to follow. Draco glanced over at Hermione as she walked beside his mother. He would never have provoked his father like she had, yet she did without even batting an eyelash. Hermione knew that Lucius was cruel and still she did not fear him. Draco could not help but respect a bit more, even when the part of him that wanted nothing more than Lucius' acceptance called her stupid.

When they got back to the manor, Narcissa used her wand to levitate their suitcases in front of them so they could walk up the stairs comfortably. Walking into the foyer, Hermione saw beautiful, white decorations all over the foyer. It was elegantly decorated but still minimal. Hermione turned to Draco, a suspicious look on her face. "I thought you said your family didn't decorate."

"I said we didn't use over-the-top, gaudy decorations like muggles do." His face was neutral as he watched her try to think back to their conversation in the alcove. While he watched her, he tried to look for anything Blaise might have deemed 'pretty.'

After a moment she remembered their conversation. "Oh, right. Are the colorful decorations really a muggle tradition?" Between wishing she never saw another Christmas decoration and the sour image of Lucius Hermione had in her head, she assumed that they did not decorate at the manor.

"They are." Theo answered. "Muggles have a habit of catching wind of wizard traditions and running with it." Theo sounded annoyed so Hermione didn't reply.

When they got to the top of the stairs, Narcissa turned around to face her husband. "Lucius, please show our guests to their rooms for me." The men shuffled down the same hallway Hermione's room was in while Draco went to his own hallway and entered his room. After the women heard Draco's door close again with a click, they approached Hermione's door. Narcissa placed her hand on the doorknob but did not turn it. "I have a bit of an early Christmas present for you, I did not think you would want an audience when you saw it." Narcissa opened the door and in the middle of the suite was a Gramaphone with a large, red bow on top.

Hermione put her hands on her cheeks as she approached it. "You didn't have to, I can't accept this."

"But you will." Narcissa waved her wand and Hermione's suitcase floated past them, through the open bedroom door. "I discovered that record players and gramophones would not play the same records so I made some adjustments so you could. If my spell work does happen to have some faults, please let me know."

Hermione put her hands to her chest as she approached the gramophone. Hermione walked around it and sniffled, eyes watering as she looked up at Narcissa. "This means more to me than you can imagine."

Narcissa gave a warm smile but she grew serious. "I did want to ask you about something," Hermione's face fell a little as she herself grew nervous. "Did Draco bully you into inviting his friends? I was expecting other Gryffindors in the very least."

Hermione was reminded of her last argument with Ron, which in turn reminded her of the earlier argument with Harry. She felt so stupid saying he was 'lucky' and struggled with understanding how she thought that was a smart thing to say, even if it was because he said it first. "No, ma'am. Blaise and I have Ancient Runes together and he's rather nice." Narcissa nodded slowly, not fully believing the girl. "My friend's wouldn't of had come and I did not see a reason to not have Mal- Draco invite friends over." His name sounded weird to say, especially in a half-lie. The invite she extended to Blaise was spur of the moment borne from pettiness.

"I see. I appreciate you doing that for him but I don't want you to feel obligated to do be so kind." Narcissa wondered how well Draco and Hermione had tolerated each other at Hogwarts and watched Hermione closely for any indication of their relationship.

Hermione didn't know what would be the best response as she was always told to do the opposite by her parents in regards to being kind- between reasonable boundaries that she created- so she told the truth deciding it was safe enough. "I don't. Feel obligated, I mean."

"Good," Narcissa's smile was back, although it was not as bright. "I should also let you know we will be having guests over for Christmas Eve. They will be here for Lucius to try and gain their interest in the orphanage." Narcissa's voice grew soft as she continued speaking. "I know this holiday will be hard for you so I'm only ask for you to join us to socialize before dinner and during. If you do not feel well enough to continue the night, we would understand."

Hermione took a deep breath, already feeling drained at the thought of a formal dinner but knew it would be a quite Chrismas compared to Hogwarts. "Thank you."

Both women were silent for a few minutes before Narcissa straightened up and headed to the door. "I'll let you get ready for dinner then."

Hermione turned back to look at the gramophone, running her fingers on the arm that held the needle, thinking about the music she would be able to listen to again.

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Draco woke early the next morning and after showering, he opened his door to wake Theo and Blaise. However, when he opened the door, he saw Hermione standing at his door, fist raised as if she was going to pound on his door. Draco was about to say something but she shoved a parchment into his chest. "I received a copy of this letter with an owl today." He grabbed it and started to read as she stared him down with her arms crossed and lips pressed into a fine line.

Dear. Mr. Hagrid,

Further to our inquiry into the attack by a hippogriff on a student in your class, we have accepted the assurances of Professor Dumbledore that you bear no responsibility for the incident.

Damn, the oaf got off. "Why does Hagrid's employment concern me?" He tried to hand back the letter but she just stared at him.

"Keep. Reading. Malfoy." She growled.

He glared at her before he kept reading;

However, we must register our concern about the hippogriff in question. We have decided to uphold the official complaint of Mr. Lucius Malfoy, and this matter will therefore be taken to the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures. The hearing will take place on April 20th, and we ask you to present yourself and your hippogriff at the Committee's offices in London on that date. In the meantime, the hippogriff should be kept tethered and isolated.

Yours in fellowship...

There then followed a list of school governors, all that Draco knew had their pockets lined with his family's money.

He swallowed hard as his eyes met Hermione's and he didn't miss that her expression was one of fury. Draco had tried not to think about what would happen to Buckbeak over the past few months as it made his stomach turn with dread. "Feining an injury for months when Madam Pomfrey was more than capable of healing it by the time you were released from the infirmary was low. You claim to care for animals and yet you basically sentenced an innocent Hippogrif to death!"

Draco straightened up at her accusation, his dread morphing into anger. "Are you trying to say this is my fault, Granger?"

"I'm not trying, Malfoy. If you hadn't been so hungry for attention-"

"You think that's something I would do for attention?" His voice was low and dangerous and he tried to copy Lucius' death stare as best as he could. "My father-" he crumpled up the paper and tossed it at her. It almost hit her face on accident but she batted it away, "told me to pretend my injury was worse than it was. I didn't know what his agenda was going to be." It was a lie as he knew Lucius was after Hagrid, not Buckbeak, but it wasn't information he felt he needed to disclose. "As a matter of fact, I didn't even inform my father, Pansy did!" He grabbed the door and slammed it in her face, barely catching the surprised expression she had instead of her angry one.

Hades, Draco's owl, jumped at the sound on his perch in Draco's room and threw his wings in the air. Draco grabbed a random textbook from his desk and threw it at the wall, thinking about how infuriating she was. She's such a bother, he thought, but he couldn't help being intrigued by her, even when angry with her. Hermione never sought him out before but she confronted him over a hippogriff having a trial and it left a positive impression on him. He ran a hand through his hair and looked at Hades as if the owl could answer his question from yesterday: What did he want to do?

While Draco did not know the answer, he did know that Hermione kept making the question more and more difficult to answer.

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Two days later, it was Christmas Eve and Hermione was soaking in her tub, thinking like she often did, about everything that was wrong in her life. When she first got in the tub, she thought about all the positive things: Harry had apologized to her and while she knew it would be rocky going back to Hogwarts after the holiday, she knew their friendship was stronger than what was said, as horrible as it was. Ron and Harry agreed to get a head start on the counter-argument they were building for Buckbeak, as she did not have access to any books or cases against magical creatures at the Manor.

Her list of what was good was short and the bad list weighed heavier than anything else on her mind as it started to fill her head. Hermione and Draco had not spoken to each other in the past two days since she had blamed him for Buckbeak. While she did not find that to be a terrible thing, as she did not even relatively like Draco, she felt bad once again for attacking him as she had not even made up for the first time in the Hogwarts library. She was grateful for Theo and Blaise though, as Theo kept Draco distracted at dinners and between Blaise and Narcissa, she was also distracted and never had to socialize with the blonde boy who sat across from her. Hermione was having trouble falling asleep again, even with the mild assistance of the dreamless draught and she knew it had to do with the fact that it was a Christmas without her parents- that alone left her in a state beyond tears.

Hermione wondered if death was the same as the ache she felt inside but after a few minutes of pondering the idea she decided it was not, as death was always described as being nothing. Hermione then started to wonder if she was in hell from all the pain she felt and decided that was a much better description as it made sense why she felt like she was constantly being tortured. Hermione put her hands on either side of the tub to pull herself out but when she leaned forward, she caught her reflection in the water and an idea entered her head as she stared into her eyes. Eyes that looked dead, even to her.

Hermione leaned forward. She had tried to keep her hair dry as she bathed as it always hurt more when she tried to brush it while it was wet, but she didn't care. If this was hell, she wanted out, she wanted to see her parents again, she wanted to stop being a burden to the Malfoys and she wanted to stop trying to live up to everyone's expectation's including her own. Hermione plunged her head under the water, counting the seconds even when her lungs started to burn. Deciding running out of air to the point of passing out in the water was taking too long, she willed herself to try and breathe in through her nose but she couldn't do it. She then opened her mouth to try and to breathe in the water but her body refused to listen. As much as she thought she wanted to die, her body would not react to her commands and that deep down it probably meant she did not want to die.

Hermione pulled her head up, gasping for air through her soaked mane of hair that was over her face. What was I thinking?... Hermione moved the hair out of her face and sat there. She knew her thoughts had reached a dark place and it scared her. Her own voice rang through her head from her last day at Hogwarts: 'My head is my own dementor.'

Deciding she needed to move before she ended up in another downward spiral of thinking, she pulled the drain plug from the bottom of the tub and grabbed a robe and a towel to wrap her hair in. Hermione stepped out on to the soft carpet of her bedroom, looking for parchment and one of her ink-less quills. Yesterday, Narcissa offered to style her hair for the evening and asked for Hermione to let her know when she was ready. She scribbled a quick note, informing Narcissa she was ready, and sent Persephone, who was still mad at Hermione for forgetting her, to alert Narcissa. Hermione tried not to think about where her thoughts were in the bathroom as she used shaky hands to look through her closet for an outfit to wear.

A moment later there was a knock on the door and Narcissa came in. One arm was full of hair product and brushes and the other arm was filled with several dresses. Hermione took the basket from Narcissa's hands and put it on the vanity that was on the other side of her bed while Narcissa hung the dresses by the bed.

"I was starting to worry that you had backed out of my offer to do your hair." Hermione sat down in front of the mirror and watched Narcissa brush her hair. Surprisingly, Hermione wasn't in pain like she was when she or her mother tried to brush her hair. Her hair had always been too much for her parents to handle and they used to cut it short to avoid dealing with it- saying the hair style made her look like Shirley Temple. When Hermione was old enough to take care of it herself, they allowed her to grow it out so long as she kept up with it herself. Hermione never blamed them as she and Harry alone were proof on how unruly wizard hair could be.

"No, although I am surprised you haven't stopped brushing yet."

Narcissa laughed softly and it reminded Hermione of bells ringing, the sound of it being so pretty. "I had a sister whose hair was just like yours until it became easier to manage after she became a woman. I believe that was right around your age."

"Oh," Hermione looked up again and saw that Narcissa was putting a creme on to her hands and running it through Hermione's thick hair. "I didn't know you had a sister. I had assumed you were an only child."

Narcissa had a focused look on her face as she put another creme into Hermione's hair. "I have two, but I don't like to talk about them."

Hermione's eyes drifted to the basket of hair products, knowing the topic of 'family' would not continue. She wondered again how close Narcissa was to Sirius Black. Her eyes flicked back up to Narcissa's calm but focused reflection and wondered if she ever felt the awkwardness Hermione felt. In another time, where her parents were still alive, Narcissa probably would have called her the same slurs Hermione knew Lucius still did and yet, she was here now having the elegant woman put her hair into a perfect high bun, accented with braids, along with curls falling strategically around her face. A woman who may or may not know her husband had sentenced a magical creature to death. A woman whose cousin sentenced her best friend's parents to death.

Hermione wanted to let out a manic giggle at how convoluted her life had become. Hermione almost took the risk of asking Narcissa if she was close to Sirius when Narcissa pulled out the last piece of hair. "There."

Hermione leaned closer into the mirror. "You reckon the men will recognize me?" Narcissa laughed again and Hermione gave a small smile. Hermione decided then that she needed to focus on tonight's dinner as it seemed to be an important night for the Malfoys and the orphanage. "I've been to a gala before but I am unsure how much they differ from Wizarding ones. Would you happen to have any books on general wizard etiquette on formal gatherings?"

Narcissa smiled and Hermione thought her eyes watered for a second. Hermione wondered how the Malfoys were able to make basic facial expressions yet still stay unreadable most of the time. "Of course." Narcissa checked her watch. "Not tonight though, I have to head down stairs and verify everything is going as planned."

"Alright," Hermione stood and looked at the dresses, trying to decide which one would be best. "How formal is this dinner? And what is to be expected?" Hermione felt her nerves start to make her stomach flip and she wrung her wrists, something she had not done in a while as she usually had her cube or wand to mess with.

"Any of these dresses will do. All we are asking for tonight is for you to come, greet the guests and eat dinner. When it comes to business we usually have a much more formal dinner but... our guests still have yet to be convinced this is a good investment." Hermione thought Narcissa had a dark look on her face but she was unsure. "If you have no more questions, I will see you in a couple of hours."

"Yes." Narcissa was almost out of the room before Hermione spoke again. "I appreciate you help, N-Narcissa. With everything. I don't believe I said it before." Hermione held her breath hoping she did not offend Narcissa with something that sounded to close to a 'thank you.'

Narcissa turned around and smiled at Hermione, a smile that Hermione thought to be genuine. "Of course, Hermione." With a click, Narcissa was gone and Hermione stared at three dresses in front of her. Hermione thought all of the dresses were beautiful though they all had different styles;

The first dress was white with gold, delicate embroidery, the second was black with silver beads and the third was green with red plaid designs- a very muggle selection Narcissa made if Theo was telling the truth. Hermione stared at the dresses and reached for the black one. It would allow her to match Lucius and the boys but it reminded her too much of the funeral dress she wore. While a cynical part of her found it be fitting, she frowned, letting her hand drop back down to her side. The white dress looked like something Narcissa would wear but she wasn't exactly a fan of white clothing.

Hermione looked again at what she would call the only Christmas dress in front of her. The dress was a deep forest green but had a red plaid bow a little below the neck, to the side. Hermione appreciated the bow not being in the middle as it would have looked tacky. A part of the skirt had been changed to a plaid design and it was a nice touch to balance out the solid and pattern designs of the dress. Hermione wondered what Lavender would think of the dress and took it down from the hanger, deciding that if she was going to feel uncomfortable at dinner, she should at least be uncomfortable in colors she grew up with.

Chapter Text

Draco was silently cursing whomever designed French cuff dress shirts. No matter how many times he had to wear them for formal diners, he always struggled with getting the chain link cuff links through the four layers of fabric. Draco had gotten one on completely but while he was pushing one end of the link through the hole, he heard a snapping sound.

Draco pulled his hand away to see one end of the cuff link in his hand while the other dropped to the floor. "Bugger." Draco bent over to collect the other end of the cuff link and he started to inspect the broken link, wondering how to fix it before Crewe came to inform him dinner was ready. Lucius knew Draco struggled with cuff links every time he had to wear them and always berated him for it, saying he was completely useless in the simplest tasks. As he let his head roll so he could look up at the ceiling, he couldn't help but feel like Lucius was right at that moment.

He undid the one cuff link that he had managed to get on and search his drawer for another pair. Merlin, please let me have another gold pair. Sapphire, opal, diamond, ruby, jade and a bunch of other gems and stones but Draco only had the one pair of gold cuff links- the only pair that would have matched the decorations in the manor and the ones Narcissa asked him to wear. Draco slammed the drawer shut and put his head in his hands, the sleeves of the shirt completely loose and unfolded again. Draco heard a knock on his door and walked over to open it but hesitated just before reaching for the knob.

"Who is it?" He stood close to the door, willing with all his might his father's voice would not answer him.

"Your knight in shining armor!" Letting out a breath he did not know he was holding, Draco swung open the door to reveal Blaise, leaning against the door frame, Theo standing upright with his hands in his pocket, and - much to his surprise- Hermione, arms crossed over her chest. "Ciao."

Draco stared at Hermione, partially because he was still miffed from her accusations the other day and partially because she didn't look half bad in a dress with her hair under control. "Come in." Draco stepped to the side and let all three of them enter. He wasn't sure why the three of them were hanging together but he didn't have to ask as Theo gave an explanation anyway:

"I was in the foyer when Lucius asked for me to get us all together so we can enter simultaneously. I didn't think you were still half dressed, though." Theo had a teasing smile as he looked at his friend. Blaise threw himself on to Draco's bed and Hermione stood by his dresser.

Draco huffed as he walked back to his cuff links drawer, located by the dresser. "I'm not half dressed," he grumbled as he angrily sifted through his cuff links. "My bloody gold cuff link broke." Blaise jumped up from the bed and joined Draco to see what his collection looked like. Hermione watched as they both would pull out random cuff links then shoot them down almost immediately with reasons like 'too tacky', 'father would kill me', 'that's a summer color', 'mother would hex me', 'that will just blind everyone at the table', and so on. Draco was starting to have an internal meltdown and he could hear his father's voice already, telling him he was not worthy of the Malfoy name. In the back of Draco's mind his calm voice told him it was not about the cuff links.

After a few moments, Crewe walked into Draco's room to inform them that they were needing them downstairs and Draco groaned, not caring Hermione was there to watch him.

"If it's that much of a bother, why not just wear red or green ones so we can match?" Hermione reached into the drawer and quickly withdrew a ruby cuff link and an emerald cuff link.

Draco chuckled darkly. "And why would I want to match with a mu-"

Blaise put a hand over Draco's mouth. "That's actually a great idea. This is about an orphanage, right? One that your parents are opening because Fudge is forcing them to become more public about the whole adoption-"

"What do you know about Fudge?" Hermione took a couple steps closer to the boys staring at Blaise before looking at Draco. "What did you tell them?"

Draco rolled his eyes, choosing to be annoyed by her rather than acknowledge that his business was, in a way, her business when it came to her living arrangements. "They know the basics."

Theo walked over to them then, standing behind Draco. "We're not going to tell the whole school, Granger. Draco filled us in as it was easier than walking around eggshells for the two weeks we were here."

Hermione was going to say something else to Draco but Crewe walked into the bedroom. "Young Master, your father is waiting." Crewe glanced at the door nervously. Both Draco and Hermione knew the look and she thought back to when she had exited the maze in the summer, watching Draco get hit by his father was not something she wanted to witness again. Blaise started rolling up the sleeve closest to him as Hermione reached over to do the same. Draco was not only surprised that she knew how to deal with the French cuff dress sleeves but that she instinctively started to help him.

He wanted to push her off from annoyance but it was never wise to keep Lucius waiting. Both Blaise and Hermione secured the link at the same time and when Draco looked to see what color they chose, he wanted to scream seeing that he had both the Ruby and Emerald one on. "You've got to be bloody kidding."

Hermione put a hand over her mouth trying to stop herself from laughing as Blaise patted one of Draco's shoulders. "We don't really have time to deal with those sleeves again." Theo handed Draco his jacket and Hermione ran into the bathroom quickly.

"Granger, you're not serious right now?" Draco slipped on his jacket angrily but was surprised when she came out seconds later, eyes wet and pinching her cheeks.

"If they ask why we're late we'll just say I started to freak out." Her eyes met his and he understood. Draco hated the idea of having people do things for his sake but he let it slide, reassuring himself she was only doing it because she technically owed him a couple apologies. As they walked, Hermione went from pinching her cheeks to rubbing her eyes to make them look red.

"Perhaps the sorting hat is wrong sometimes?" Blaise said to Theo, half joking.

Theo gave a curt nod as he watched Hermione with pursed lips. "Ravenclaw or Slytherin?"

Blaise never got the chance to answer as they entered the small drawing room, the one that was often used when the Malfoy's had small formal dinners. Draco and Hermione entered side by side, in front of Theo and Blaise. In the drawing room, Narcissa was sitting on one of the sofa's while Lucius was standing by the arm of it. Across from them, sitting on the other couch, was a very tan man, woman and child. The man and his son, who looked to be about eight years old, both wore a deep blue suit, probably out of courtesy of English formal wear as the woman was wearing a traditional blue Luau dress. The dress looked to be made out of the finest silks and she wore jewelry that Draco knew would sparkle even if all the candles were to be blown out.

Narcissa and the guests stood but Lucius strode past them all, switching to a glower once they could no longer see his face. "What took you so long?" He growled low so only Draco, Hermione, Theo and Blaise could hear.

Hermione rubbed a dry, pink, eye and made a point to sniffle before answering. "I was having a bit of a meltdown, do you mind?" Lucius and Draco both had a look of shock on their face. What is she doing? Draco could not help but think she was completely barmy for provoking his father.

Lucius, being the suave business man he was, swallowed his anger and turned around, smiling as he looked back at the guests. Blaise and Theo moved to stand by Hermione's side as they were introduced. "And these are the children we have been telling you about!" Lucius placed a firm hand on Draco's shoulder. "This is Draco, Hermione, Theodore, and Blaise." Draco did not miss how his father worded the introductions so he did not have to refer to anyone as his children. Draco heard Blaise his something that sounded like a command to Hermione and the four of them bowed in sync as the young boy translated what Lucius said to his parents.

Draco wanted to groan. When ever a translator was involved, it always made the dinner twice as long and twice as boring. "Children, this is the Mahelona family, they had come all the way from Hawaii to talk about the orphanage. We have the pleasure of serving Keanu," hearing his name, the older man nodded. "Ona," the beautiful woman who rivaled Madam Rodemerta's beauty gave a shy wave. "And Lono."

The young boy gave a slight bow himself. "Good evening, and Merry Christmas." His parents echoed his Christmas greeting with broken English but with a substantial amount of confidence.

Draco smiled in response as he, Theo and Blaise said "Merry Christmas" themselves but the room went quiet when Hermione gave a greeting of "Mele Kalikimaka."

Blaise and Theo looked at each other as Draco glanced at his parents for a reaction. Even Lono did not know what to say as he looked up with his parents. Suddenly, Ona came forward and hugged Hermione, then turned to her husband while keeping one arm around Hermione as she spoke in her native tongue to Keanu. Keanu and Lono laughed as she finished what she said.

"I'm sorry," Hermione didn't step out of Ona's hold but was uncomfortable with the situation she was currently in. "What did she say?" Lono opened his mouth to translate but Ona decided to answer herself in perfect, unbroken English.

"I said, 'I'm finally happy that Keanu has brought us to a dinner where our hosts aren't ignorant and dismissive of other people's backgrounds.' It's something I was talking to him about today."

Hermione gave a tentative smile and even with her buck teeth, Draco saw what Blaise meant when he called her pretty. Draco immediately tried to shove the thought away, trying to convince himself his nerves were driving him mad. "I only know of it from an old Christmas song-" Hermione was cut off again by Crewe appearing in front of them.

"Master, dinner is ready."

"We will sit together, yes?" Ona looked at Hermione whose face was nearly as red as the plaid design on her dress. Hermione nodded but it did not matter as Ona did not wait for a reply, looping an arm with hers. Draco thought he saw a look of distaste on Hermione's face but was unsure. Traditionally, Lono should have been escorting Hermione while Ona was escorted by her husband but Ona did not seem to be one for rules, nor being overly polite. "I really like your dress, most of the time, the daughters of our hosts are forced to wear something plain like black or white. Hawaii is full of color and it can be a bit of an eyesore to see young children being forced into dreary clothes." Narcissa was walking with Lucius but glanced back at Ona with a raised eyebrow, saying nothing. Draco was quite unsure how the dinner would go as Hermione had, once again, upset the natural order of things.

Blaise leaned into Draco, whispering into his ear, a mischievous tone in his voice that rivaled the thickness of his accent. "Don't you think she looks rather nice, Draco?"

Draco rolled his eyes, "Ona is beautiful although she is a bit older than what I'm used to."

Blaise shook his head, grinning. "You know who I mean."

Draco did and he looked at the back of Hermione's head, seeing an unshaped curl had already made it's way free and sat at the base of her neck. "I suppose she cleans up rather nicely."

Blaise snorted but did not say anything else. When they made their way to the bigger dining room, one they had been using all of the winter holiday instead of the smaller one that was made for four people, Lono pulled a chair our for Hermione and Draco pulled one out for Ona.

"Is it safe to assume that Keanu also speaks English?" Narcissa asked Ona as she rang a bell for their first course to appear.

"It is." Keanu answered. "It's a bit of a game we play when we meet with potential business prospects. If we find them worthy, we'll switch to English. It also keeps Lono engaged in the conversation so he can learn as much as possible about these things." Keanu smiled at his son lovingly and Draco felt a pang of jealousy that hit deeper than the ones he felt with Harry Potter. Lucius never looked at him like that.

"I see." Lucius took a small sip of his wine.

"I hope you are not offended?" Keanu swirled his glass of wine as he watched Lucius.

Lucius smiled but Draco knew it did not reach his eyes. "Of course not."

By the time the third course was done, Hermione was completely socially exhausted. Ona sat on her right, chatting off her ear worse than Lavender had and only stopped talking to her when the pleasantries were over and the got onto the serious topic of the orphanage.

The Mahelona family, Hermione learned, were half bloods who had opened up orphanages around the world and the Malfoys were willing to offer them a portion of the orphanage's ownership if they were to offer their guidance in the non-prophet work and become a spokesperson. The Mahelona family were respected by the wizarding communities and was a recognized name- not as recognized as the Malfoys but just enough for them to be considered one of the elite via climbing the social ladder.

"I do not understand why you had come to us, Lucius." Narcissa rang the bell for the fourth course to appear as all eyes fell on Keanu. "You seem to have done your research and do not really need our guidance. I feel as if there may be another reason you're wanting us to merge?"

Lucius took a deep breath and looked at Narcissa.

"The orphanage we're wanting to open would be a muggle one." Everyone stopped eating at that point to look up at Narcissa. Lono was the only one who continued eating as all eyes fell on her. "Most of the orphanages your family has opened has been muggle ones, completely uncharted territory for us, I'm afraid." Narcissa took a sip of wine, never dropping her pleasant mask. Hermione admired how she could keep such a strong poker face and hoped one day she could be just as good.

"That's interesting." Ona finally said. "I had always heard that the Malfoy's were a proud pure blood family." She looked at Hermione then back at Narcissa. "I should have known that was not true though. Taking in a muggle born with the rumors we heard flying around just did not make sense." Hermione glanced at Lucius who drank deeply from his wine glass to distract the flash of disgust in his eyes that Hermione did not miss. Hermione had stopped eating after the second course as her stomach was clenching and unclenching from her nerves when they were only making small talk. Now, Hermione could feel herself become physically ill as she hated being the center of attention with strangers and hated even more it was about the worst part of her life. Hermione glanced at her plate and wanted to scream at the realization they still have two more courses to go.

"I think it was the best thing we've done in quite a while. Children are blessings and her situation was quite unfortunate." Narcissa spoke quietly and Hermione refused to look anyone in the eyes, even after Narcissa's kind words. She knew if she were to look up she would only see pity or distaste, neither of which she felt she could handle right now.

"So why did you adopt her?" Ona asked boldly. Her tone sounded almost flat, clearly not believing Narcissa.

"I'm sorry?" Narcissa, and everyone but Keanu and Lono, was surprised at Ona's directness. Hermione noted Keanu looked almost smug.

"It's a sensitive topic but I feel it's one that should be answered if we are to consider this deal seriously. Orphanges are non-profit, there really isn't too much in it for us other than being able to say we've worked with Lucius Malfoy on something. It's not something that we would mind so long as the intentions are genuine- as genuinity is what we find all of our orphanages on. There is no reason to build a home for dozens of heart broken kids on a foundation solely relying on images and names." Ona waved a hand, cutting off her own rant. "You understand, right?"

Ona smiled sweetly but it was the same smile that Pansy Parkinson gave every time she said something that was insulting but was said in a roundabout way so the insulted did not realize it until they thought about it a while later. It was a belittling smile and while Hermione knew Narcissa could handle herself- Narcissa's eyes had turned into pin points and her mouth was open to reply- Hermione did not like that the closest woman to a motherly figure she had in her life was on the receiving end.

"You think they adopted me because they had ulterior motives like looking better to the public?" Everyone looked at Hermione as she confronted Ona. If they were shocked before, now they were flabbergasted. 'Sensitive topic'? She has no clue! Ona started to answer but Hermione cut her off, trying to mimic Draco's condescending attitude as best as she could. "That's the third time you've insulted us tonight I think. Pretending you don't speak English? Childish." Lucius drink from his wine glass at that and Draco silently cleared his throat remembering when they spoke French in front of her. "Making a comment about our clothing choices when four of us are wearing that color? Completely indelicate. The Malfoy's had everything to loose and nearly nothing to gain by taking me in, yet, you want to question their intentions? In front of me?"

"I only wanted to make sure their intentions were genuine. Which judging by your actions they-" Ona's cheeks had a pink tinge as she tried to back peddle.

"And who are you?!" From the corner of her eye she saw Narcissa act as if she was about to stand but Lucius held a palm up, a glint in his eye Hermione did not recognize. "If your intentions were only to insult the people who were kind enough to take me in then you should never have came."Hermione stood, throwing her cloth napkin over her plate. “Excuse me, but I’ve seemed to have lost my appetite.” When she stood, her chair fell back and turned into the smaller blocks her desk chair had fell into in the summer. Hermione jumped over the remnants of the chair and stormed out without looking back. Walking into the foyer, she felt herself come down from her adrenaline rush and the Christmas decorations whelm her again. Hermione walked up the stairs slowly, refusing to let herself think about what had happened or what that meant for Lucius and Narcissa until she was in bed.

When Hermione had made it to her room, she collapsed on to the floor. She didn't cry but she stayed there on the floor for a while, her emotions weakening her. No one came after her and she was grateful for that. One emotion that she seemed to feel over the rest was shame as she had never acted out like that before and felt as if Narcissa would hate her now. Hermione tried to think of techniques to take her mind off of what would happen tomorrow or even tonight if Narcissa were to approach her but they were no use. Her stomach turned to the point she had ran into the bathroom and vomited the few courses she was able to eat. She thought puking was the worst feeling in the world and thought about the times she would lay sick in bed, her mother reading a book as she watched Hermione, her father playing the cello for them to have music as white noise.

Hermione got up, brushed her teeth then washed her face. She looked at her hands to see them shaking and slowly walked out of the bathroom as she thought back to her memories of being sick in bed. The want to play slowly crept up on her and she was moving to closest before she had time to talk herself out of it. Hermione pulled the cello case out from the closet and threw it gently on to her bed. She unclasped the clasps and carefully lifted the cello out of it's case releasing the end pin.

Hermione sat on her desk chair by her bed, Cello secured between her legs, with the bow in one hand while her hand tuned the strings with the other.

--------------------

Draco sat there, staring at the space where Hermione and her dining chair were. If his parents were not upset about her outburst, they were going to be upset about the value of their dining room set dropping.

No one moved at first but then Narcissa flashed a smile at the stunned Ona. "Fourteen year olds and their hormones. You understand, right?"

Lucius choked on his wine but no one laughed as no one knew what else to do. Ona flashed a smile herself after she got over the shock of what happened, and Narcissa resumed small talk with Keanu as if nothing had ever happened. Lucius, Draco and Theo stayed quite while Blaise chatted with a nervous Lono, who had never seen his mother be yelled at before. After the last course finished, Narcissa stood.

"I think it would be best to move this back into the drawing room. Theo, your father tells me you put angels to shame with how well you play the harp."

Theo smiled, "it would be an honor to play for you, Mrs. Malfoy."

"Perhaps we should call it a night-" Keanu glanced at his wife who almost looked like she was sulking.

"Nonsense! We still have much to talk about!" Narcissa returned the smile to Theo then looked at Lucius. "Lucius, can you guide our guests to the drawing room while Draco and I get our drinks?"

"Of course, my love." A look passed between them that Draco recognized all too well.

Draco followed his mother into the closest kitchen and watched her conjure mugs and tankards that had gems in them. "Place your hands on two of the mugs and think of a color, Draco." Draco did as he was told and Narcissa waved her wand over them. "Notez Moi." It was a spell they had performed before, it was used to mark the mugs to tell whose drink belongs to who, but Narcissa altered it so that only the person who is touching the object at the time the spell is able to see the markings. "Lono is going to have pumpkin juice so you'll be able to tell his mug from the ones filled with coffee."

Narcissa was casting a series of non-verbal spells and Draco watched as coffee started to pour into the two marked mugs and two unmarked mugs, chilled pumpkin juice from the fridge poured into one and four tankards were filled with butterbeer. "There is an extra tankard." Draco cocked his head to the side and looked as the drinks finished filling.

Narcissa cast the last of her spells to put the drinks and their ingredients away before casting heating charms on everything but the pumpkin juice, which earned itself a chilled charm. "No, you'll need to bring Hermione her butterbeer."

"Oh." Draco pursed his lips, wondering if he should ask is mother how she felt about her outburst at dinner. She was in a good mood, one he suspected had to do with the wine she drank and the fact she had always been a light weight.

"I found it to be both hilarious and touching."

Draco looked up at his mother who was reaching for a potion all the way on the top shelf. It was a pretty periwinkle color and not one that Draco recognized. "What did you find to be hilarious and touching?"

"Hermione yelling at Ona." Narcissa had a smile on her face and her eyes twinkled as she held out the potion to Draco. "One drop in the marked drinks and the pumpkin juice." Narcissa then handed him a dropper.

"How did you know I was thinking about that?"

Narcissa laughed and Draco couldn't keep a smile of his face hearing it as it was one of his favorite sounds. "You're my son! I'd be damned if I couldn't keep up with you. Can you imagine all the things a growing boy would get himself into if I just let him run all over me?"

Draco shook his head, still smiling and eyed the potion. "What is this? I don't recognize it as the one we used before."

Narcissa sobered up but a shadow of a smile was still on her lips, tucking a piece of stray bang behind her ear. "We call it Fickle Me Happy. It's an old Black recipe but it makes anything that would have made the person upset or angry in the last twenty-four hours find it to be amusing. They'll remember everything that happened but it will just be funny. They'll go into fits of hysterics if the memory is supposed to be bad enough." Narcissa pursed her lips, watching her son use a dropper on the three drinks, a strange look in her eye. "I think I'll use this one instead of the memory altering one from now on. It's a bit much for little fits at dinner parties and a lot less work to brew."

Draco put the cork back on the potion and handed it to his mother who sent it back to the shelf it belonged. Narcissa then levitated the drinks, following Draco who held open the doors for her as she walked, back straight, and shoulders squared- as if she was a queen.

"I'm so happy to see someone putting that Harp to use other than me." Narcissa said, stopping in between Theo who was almost done playing Duex Arabesques by Debussy and everyone else who was sitting on the couches watching him. Once she stopped walking, Draco understood that was the cue to start handing out drinks. To avoid raising suspicion, he gave Lono and Ona their drinks first, then Keanu. He then gave Blaise his butterbeer, and put Theo's by him for when he was free from playing. Draco gave Lucius his coffee last, and his mother plucked her own from the air, leaving him with the two floating tankards.- one for him and one for Hermione. Draco took one in each hand and looked at his mother who nodded.

"I'll be back." He said more to her than anyone else.

"This is very good coffee, where is this from?" Keanu leaned over to Narcissa and Draco did not miss Ona drinking from her own cup or how Lono was nearly done with his pumpkin juice already. Narcissa grinned and leaned forward to talk to Keanu as Draco slipped out of the smaller drawing room.

Draco counted each step he climbed thinking about what he should say to Hermione. As Draco walked down the hall to her room he scrunched up his face, wondering what state he would even find her in. When he neared her suite door, he saw the door was cracked and could hear music playing. He pushed open the door with his shoulder and walked in. He placed one of the tankards down and closed the door behind him quietly so he did not alert her. When he walked past the gramophone after picking up the tankard, he noticed nothing was playing and stood before her bedroom door where the playing was the loudest.

His mouth dropped once again as realization dawned on him. She was playing, and she was good. Not even good, but great. Draco set a tankard down on the table as he grabbed a chair and moved it a few feet over so he could listen to her play. He had never heard a cello by itself before and it intrigued him. He thought he heard her play one or two notes off key but he was unfamiliar with the song she was playing and the emotion behind it was so powerful that he could hardly complain if she did. He listened to her play a couple songs for what seemed like a few minutes but had to be more as when he tried to take another drink of his butterbeer, it was empty. Draco felt calm even though he knew he should have returned downstairs a by now and supposed it was the bit of alcohol that butterbeer had in it. The more Draco thought about the Mahelona family, the more he did not want to return downstairs. He never would have thought he would take Hermione's side in anything but he was grateful she had said what she did. Draco looked at her butterbeer and considered drinking it himself then leaving just so he would not have to stop her from playing but knew it would have been too easy for his parents to find out what actually happened. He took a deep breath and got up, holding the one tankard in his hand and stood in front of her bedroom door. He wiped a sweaty hand on his pants and went to open the door but remembered her comment about knocking.

He quickly rapped on the door and with was for sure an off key note, the playing stopped. "Ye-yes?" Hermione's voice sounded squeaky and when he opened the door she stood on the other side, hands clasped together in front of her, while the cello was propped against the bed and one of the bed posts. She sighed with relief seeing that it was Draco- something he was sure neither of them thought would ever happen. "I thought you might have been Narcissa. Or Lucius." Hermione grimaced and Draco flinched knowing what she was thinking. He looked at her and again he was reminded of her lack of confidence.

"Mum thought it was funny, and father did not let her stop you when you were ranting. I don't think you'll have much to worry about." He held the tankard out to her. "She wanted me to deliver this to you."

Hermione's grimaced disappeared as her eyebrows shot up from her surprise. She took the tankard from him and took a sip. "Is this butter beer?" He nodded, putting his hands in his pockets as he did not know what to do with them now. "I've never had it before. It's rather good." Hermione sat back down on her bed as she continued to drink the warm, sugary beverage.

"Have you not been to the Three Broomsticks?" Draco did not mean to sound accusatory, more questioning as that was always the place students from Hogwarts went to when there was a trip to Hogsmeade.

"My stomach wasn't up to it." Her reply was short and she did not look at him as she set the tankard on her desk and she sat in her desk chair again.

Draco understood the reply was meant for him not to pry and he respected that. Not thinking of anything else to say, an awkwardness started to settle over him. "I'll head back down and let mother know you're alright." He turned to leave the room, not convinced he will actually be able to make it downstairs if she started playing again as she was that good.

"Did you not want to hear me play?" Draco turned around, but did not speak as he was unsure of how to respond. He was expected to be downstairs, not stalling by listening to her play. Hermione grabbed her cello and placed it firmly between her knees. "It's what you said before. You're a bully and a prat but what I said was uncalled-for. Both in the library and at your bedroom door the other day, I shouldn't have stooped so low." Hermione had a haunted and far away look. "My parents would not have approved." The last part was said in a whisper, more to herself than to him.

Draco thought about going downstairs again but looking at Hermione, he did not want to leave her alone. He could hear Narcissa's words in his head about mental health and Hermione was currently a DSM definition of not being in a good head space. Then there was also the fact that he realized he didn't just want to avoid going down stairs, he wanted her company. There was no Harry or Ron here nor was there Pansy and the rest of Hogwarts for him to uphold a reputation too. The only one to stop him was himself. "Okay."

Hermione looked up at him then and gave a quick nod. She had not expected him to accept her offer but if she was being honest with herself, she did not want to be alone anymore and was relieved he did. She missed her best friends and even though she Harry and her had apologized via owl, her anxiety told her she ruined her friendship and he now hated her. A part of her felt weird about using Draco as a stand in for her friends but she turned her attention back to the cello. She watched him sit on her bed, across from her and before playing, she felt a corner of her mouth come up in a cynical smile. Funny how I said I could never see myself playing in front of him.

Draco watched Hermione start a song he recognized as the second part of Vivaldi's Winter and he immediately wondered how his father would react to hear her play his favorite composer so effortlessly. Draco had gotten the feeling that Hermione saw the extension of her body, not something that she simply played to keep her hands busy. Draco stared at the floor, choosing to listen at first rather than watch, getting a feel for the sound of a cello.

When she finished playing the first song, he gave a tiny clap. "Brilliant."

Hermione blinked several times, coming out of her trance, and grinned. "Was that a compliment, Malfoy?"

Draco was taken aback for a second. He had complimented her. "I meant the instrument is brilliant."

Hermione laughed and although it was not a beautiful one like his mother's, Draco couldn't deny it was a far cry from Pansy's chortle which was very nice. "It's OK, I know I play well. I don't need you to tell me."

Draco shook his head smiling, it was nice to see a part of her that seemed to have disappeared from her. "I don't know if I could say you're good after hearing you play one short song."

Hermione gave a playful scoff but nodded. She could not tell if it was bait for her to keep playing but she took it anyway. Hermione brought the bow to the cello again. Hermione played the first first few cords of Aurore Dassesse by Gaspar Cassado and immediately became succumbed to her playing, focus and muscle memory taking over. It was a somber piece although it was difficult. It matched how she was feeling perfectly and offered her a validation in her feelings she had not felt for the longest time. Her father always said that music was magic and she believed it. Hermione loved the feel of the vibrations that seemed to resonate with her very soul itself and said the things that she did not have the words to say or could not say as her body would become overwhelmed with sobs. The cello was not just an instrument to her, but a healing tool and she would berate herself later for not choosing to play it sooner.

Draco watched Hermione's playing intensely. She was playing one of the songs he heard her play before he came in but he did not mind. He did not blame her for refusing to play for him before as he felt he was watching an intimate part of her and wondered if she ever played in front of Ron or Harry. It was as if she was playing her heart and soul, not an arrangement written by a wizard or muggle composer. By the end of the song, he had his elbows on his knees and his head rested on his fist. Being able to properly listen to her play instead of hiding behind a door, he thought the cello to be a fantastic solo instrument, hitting notes he had not heard any other instrument reach on their own before. Then again, he realized, he only knew piano, his mother and Theo knew the harp while Pansy played the violin. Daphne claimed she had a voice that rivaled a siren's, but had never heard her sing. Crabbe nor Goyle had the determination or discipline to even properly hold an instrument.

When she finished the song, he was at a loss for words on how to describe her playing. Hermione stared at the floor for a moment, then looked up at him. She had tears in her eyes from the emotion the piece pulled from her and knew from looking at Draco he had felt at least a of fraction of what the piece meant for her. Hermione suddenly felt embarrassed and rubbed the unshed tears from her eyes. Somewhere, a grandfather clock struck midnight.

"It's later than what I expected it to be." Hermione stood and started to put the cello away. Draco knew that he was going to be in trouble at this point regardless how late it was as he had already been gone for over an hour if it was already midnight. Draco looked at the foot of her bed and watched as her presents slowly started to appear at the foot of her bed. Hermione closed the cello case and watched the presents herself. His eyes flicked over to her and he realized he never got her one. He did not know why this caused panic to rise in him but his quick thinking Slytherin brain came up with an idea.

"I want to show you something."

Hermione looked at him, confusion on her face. "Now?"

He nodded, looking bashful. "It shouldn't take too long as it's not far from our rooms..."

Hemione looked back at the presents, hating that they were there, letting her know it was a sign that the worst Christmas she was ever going to have had finally arrived. "Okay." It was an echo of him accepting her invitation to play for him but neither of them acted like they noticed. "Let me just..." Her voice trailed off as she put the cello back in the closet. When she came back out, he was waiting for her at the door of her suite, looking down the hallway to make sure it was clear.

Hermione lightly cleared her throat behind him and he slipped out into the hallway. When she followed, he placed a hand on the door and silently closed it, not releasing the door handle until the latch was perfectly lined up with the strike plate in the door. "Why do I get the sense you're going to have us sneak around?" Her voice was slightly disapproving, slightly playful, but mostly curious.

Draco rolled his eyes before turning to her and grabbing her wrist. "Come on," he whispered back. Draco did not think about the fact that he was supposed to avoid touching her at all costs as she was dirty, or that they were both ignoring the distaste they held for each other to give each other peace for once. He just thought about how he had felt lonely at the manor for years and didn't want them to keep fighting since she was going to stay with them until she was of age.

Hermione resisted his pull at first but she followed him, allowing him to sneak them down the stairs. When they reached the bottom, they stayed crouching as Draco listened for any footsteps. When he heard a distant laugh from the drawing room, he pointed to the hall that was by the stairs. They both fast walked over and he glanced behind them as they turned down the hallway. Hermione appreciated he was much more cautious when having to sneak around as Ron and Harry hardly cared unless someone was two feet away from them. Granted they had the invisibility cloak but that did not stop them from being heard.

When Draco finally released her wrist, they had stopped in front of a pair of double doors that were almost as wide as the ones for Lucius' study. Hermione tried to read the plaque by the door but the hallway was too dark. She took a step closer to it, squinting but Draco threw a hand over it. "Don't read that."

Hermione crossed her arms. "Why not?" As much as she loved adventure, Hermione hated the idea of not knowing what she was getting herself into when the knowledge was right in front of her.

"Because this was partially thought through and is hardly a Christmas gift as is." His voice had a slightly annoyed tone to it and he stood in the middle of the hallway, before the double doors. "Can you stand here?"

Hermione was surprised at his answer so she did not reply as she did what he asked. A part of her started to feel guilty as she had not even thought to get him a gift either but it was all forgotten when he threw open the double doors in a dramatic fashion.

Hermione's mouth and arms dropped simultaneously as she stepped into the Malfoy Library, her body immediately becoming saturated in the blue moon light that of the wide windows at the top if the Library's ceiling. There were crystal chandeliers at the ceiling of the Library and there were easily tens of thousands of books as the library seemed to run the remaining length of the manor.

Malfoy was grinning, at the astonished look on her face was completely comical. He was satisfied with the result of showing her the library even if it was- quite literally- a last minute thought. "You hate it?" Draco teased as he closed the doors behind them after making sure the hallway was still clear.

She turned around, putting her hands to her face. "No, no, no! I'm just- It's a lot- I didn't know." Her eyes drifted the shelves again. There were literally books everywhere. "Why is it called a manor when this is obviously a mansion?"

Draco shrugged. "Because it used to be before it was expanded by a Malfoy several generations ago." Draco pointed to a large portrait by the right door behind them. There was a woman sleeping in a gold, corseted, Victorian dress. Her matching fan was nearly slipping out of her hand on to the floor, but the ruffles in he dress seemed to hold it in place. "She wanted to make the manor so she would never have to leave it as everything she needed would be here. She made it difficult for the rest of the Malfoy women to leave their mark as it is tradition for them to make an expansion or create a room. It's why you'll see most of the portraits in a room being a woman or a woman with her family while the men line the hallways." Draco spoke in a matter of fact tone and when he didn't hear a response, he looked at Hermione. She was staring at him, completely Godsmacked. "What?" He narrowed his eyes at her and gave her a once over, not liking the look at all.

"My family traditions included making a soufflé on mum's birthday or letting mum be the one to put the star on the Christmas tree," Draco wondered if Hermione noticed she was talking about her mother without having a breakdown but let her continue. "And you just told me, your family tradition is to make an expansion to your mansion?!" Hermione was not yelling but was astounded at what she had heard.

Draco grinned and looked at his feet before looking back at her. "Or the property. Mum did the inner and outer gardens."

Hermione could not believe her ears and she held her face in her hands as she looked back at the library- her now favorite place at Malfoy Manor.

He let her stay like that for a few minutes but knew that they did not have much time to waste. He opened his mouth to say they should go but it seemed she remembered the same thing too as she turned back to him at that same moment. "I suppose I couldn't spend the night in here, could I?"

Draco smirked and shook his head, already walking towards the door. "You can come back nearly anytime though. There isn't a restriction on this library like there is on the other one."

Hermione looked at him wondering if he was joking before rolled her eyes playfully, as he reached to open the door. "Of course there's another Library. Tell me, is there-"

Hermione was cut off as the door opened and in front of them both was a very angry Lucius.

Chapter Text

Shortly after the Mahelona family finished their drinks, they left with smiles on all of their faces. Lucius, Narcissa, Theo and Blaise had seen them off before the boys returned to their suites, tired from being up so late.

As soon as Lucius and Narcissa were alone, Lucius started to vent about what had him so uptight . "So he thinks he has the right to just disappear in the middle of dinner? Did we raise an ape?"

Narcissa was working on her last glass of wine and drank from it before answering. She was watching her husband pace back and forth in the dining room they had eaten dinner in earlier with an amused look. "It was not the middle of dinner, Lucius." She cast a reparo on the chair Hermione had sat in earlier and frowned. "How much do you think the value of the set has dropped? It's an antique, you know."

Lucius paused his pacing for a moment, placing a hand on his hip, before giving a generic answer. "Several thousand Galleons I would think. I'll just buy you another and sell this one to a muggle at full price. Not like they would be able to tell anything happened to it." Narcissa smiled at her husband and drank the rest of the wine. At the same time she looked at her watch, as a grandfather clock somewhere struck midnight. "Midnight! I should go into his bedroom chamber and wake him-"

"You will do no such thing." Narcissa gave him a stern look that he challenged with his anger. She softened her face when she spoke again, wondering if she had the time to start a conversation she's been meaning to with Lucius. "I've been starting to think that... maybe we've been-" but the chime of someone flooing in interrupted her. "About time." Narcissa huffed as she strode past Lucius, handing him her empty wine glass. He vanished it immediately and closely followed, wondering who had the permission to floo in past the wards at this time of night.

"Who in-" When he saw who it was, he paused. "Dr. Augsen."

Dr. Augsen walked up to Narcissa and gave her a hug. "Happy Christmas- Come, let's talk in the drawing room." Narcissa grabbed the healer's hand and followed Narcissa into the drawing room. Lucius narrowed his eyes as he stared at them both, not understanding why his wife acted as if the doctor was a close friend.

When Lucius closed the door behind him, Dr. Augsen spoke. "I am so sorry I'm late, Ted held me up and I nearly had to hex him so he would fall asleep so I could sneak over." Narcissa laughed loudly as if Dr. Augsen told the funniest joke in the world. If Lucius knew who Ted was, maybe he would have laughed, too.

"Doctor, why are you here?" Lucius crossed his arms in front of him, standing tall. While he was angry with his son, he also felt terribly tired and every guest that remained in his home meant that he needed to continue to wait for sleep.

"Please, sit." Narcissa waved a hand to the couch, acting as if Lucus did not speak.

"I can't," Dr. Augsen sighed. "I have to be up early tomorrow. Did you not tell him why I was coming tonight?" Dr. Augsen waved a hand in Lucius' direction.

"I'm right here." His narrowed eyes turned into a full on glower as they spoke like he was not there but both women gave him a look that was so alike, it was uncanny, yet oddly familiar. Lucius studied Dr. Augsen's face, wondering for the first time if he had ever seen her before. Him and his wife did not affiliate with too many people outside of their pure blood circle but he made it his business to study everyone he ever had business with. Not once did the surname 'Augsen' come up between him or his wife- he was sure of it.

"I did not, I thought it would be better for you to tell him." Narcissa smiled mischievously as she looked back at the woman before her.

Dr. Augsen pinched the bridge of her nose beneath her glasses and sighed. "Always needing some form of entertainment in your life, Cissy?" Cissy? Dr. Augsen turned to Lucius with a tired look. "I'm here to help you get Fudge out of office."

Lucius stood frozen for a second before looking at his wife, his face twisting in anger as he was offended by her lack of trust. "Why did you tell her? Since when did you start trusting people outside of our circle? Or anyone other than me?" Lucius turned to Dr. Augsen. "And why would I need your help? Why do you even want to help?"

Narcissa looked at Dr. Augsen instead of replying. The healer had a knowing smile. "Is family outside of your circle?" Suddenly, Dr. Augsen's face started to morph. He pulled out his wand but by the time it was level with the other woman's chest, Andromeda Black was standing in front of him. "Hello, Lucius."

"Put your wand away, Lucius." Narcissa said softly as she put a hand on her husband's chest, taking a step closer.

Lucius narrowed his eyes again. He did not look away as he spoke or lower his wand. "I thought your family cut her off."

"We did." Narcissa's voice was soft but it was confident. She refused to show any emotional weakness, even to her husband whom she hoped would listen. "But a few years after the Da- Voldemort's disappearance, and Draco's birth, we reconnected."

Lucius glanced at his wife then. He had wondered if she ever missed Bellatrix as he always thought she considered Bellatrix to be her only sister after Andromeda was disowned by the Black's. He never brought up Bellatrix to Narcissa as he did not want to make her sad- not that he did not want to be there for her, but she was a bit unstable and hard to handle when she was deeply saddened.

Not knowing what to say, he said the only thing he could think appropriate at that moment. "She's a Blood Traitor, Narcissa."

The two women seemed to unfreeze from their tension at that moment. Andromeda scoffed while Narcissa sighed, and he thought he saw a flash of disappointment in her eyes. Thinking that, his shock was replaced by shame fueled anger as the only person who looked at him like that was his father. Lucius put his wand away and returned to stare at Andromeda who had a look of disgust on her face. "I don't know what I expected from you. I don't care how highly Narcissa talks about you saying you've changed. You're still the same ego-centrist, Voldemort worshiping assh-"

"Andromeda, please. He did not hex you on sight, did he?" Neither Andromeda nor Lucius spoke but they glared at each other. "Lucius, I told Andromeda about your plan to get Fudge out of office because I thought you might want the inside help."

"I thought you were leaving Fudge to me?"

"She's left Fudge to you for seven months and look at what has happened to Fudge so far: Nothing." Andromeda was sneering at Lucius and he took a step towards her when Andromeda turned her attention to his wife. "Narcissa, I asked you to tell him ahead of time so we would not have to go through this. I'll come back once you have caught him up on our plan." Andromeda turned her glare back to Lucius, unfazed that he was standing closer to her. "A plan that would actually be done in a reasonable amount of time." Andromeda started to walk towards the foyer, and already her hair was going from the deep Mahogany into a pale bottle blonde. Her figure even became more slight in the smallest ways as she walked into the foyer, her exit being announced by the 'whoosh' of flames.

Lucius looked at Narcissa, his mask completely gone for her. "What is going on? Why didn't you tell me you and Andromeda started talking again?" He could only ever put his anger aside for her and she knew it, placing her hand on his cheek. She knew that having him and her sister meet was risky but she had faith in Lucius. Since Voldemort's demise he had come a long way- whether he realized it or not- despite his cruel exterior and firm discipline he used with Draco.

"I knew you would not have reacted well at the time. The rest I'll explain to you upstairs." Narcissa and Lucius walked out of the drawing room. While they were walking up the stairs, he started to tap into the wards of the manor as he always did before he went to his bed chambers. He felt two presences in the kitchen and two in the library. He stopped on the middle of the stairs with a deep sigh, his anger bubbling up from annoyance and lack of sleep. Narcissa turned around hearing her husband's displeasure but he answered her question before she could ask it.

"Theo and Blaise are in the kitchen while Draco and Granger are in the Library."

Narcissa frowned at his use of Hermione's surname but decided not to comment on it as she would have a long night explaining Andromeda's involvement with the Ministry later. "I'll go to the library then-"

"You do that, Narcissa. My pitiful son can't handle his own offspring and a mudblood, so he'll let his wife do it!" A portrait of Abraxas Malfoy that was poised above the staircase called out. "Never did have a spine. Should've been in Hufflepuff if you asked me." Lucius rubbed his temples as he marched down the stairs, regretting not having Crewe take down that portrait like he had for most of the other Abraxas portraits. He had thought the portrait would be fine as this Abraxas slept during the day and had not bothered anyone at night.

Narcissa quietly followed and did not speak until Lucius walked past the the corridor leading to the closest kitchen. "Aren't you going to the kitchen?"

He waved a hand over his shoulder for her to go while he kept walking towards the library. "I can handle two children." Narcissa thought about stopping him but knew Abraxas was more than a tender spot with Lucius, even at his age he still felt like there was still something to prove. Narcissa walked to the kitchen, hoping that by the time she got Theo and Blaise back into their suites, Lucius would have had Draco and Hermione in their rooms.

Lucius strode to the library at a quick pace, each step heavier and more purposed. When he got to the doors of the library, he stopped outside of them. He could hear faint talking and footsteps coming towards the door.

"... this library like there is on the other one."

There was a pause, then he heard Hermione's girlish voice filled with sarcasm next. "Of course there's another Library. Tell me, is there-"

Draco opened one door of the Library revealing a very angry Lucius who was peering down at both of the teens. Hermione saw him first though as Draco was turned away, listening to what ever she was going to say next. When Draco whipped his head around to see Lucius standing at the entrance to the library, he involuntarily took a step back. "Father." Lucius took a step forward so he was past the entrance of the Library.

Lucius spoke in a low tone, completely ignoring Hermione as he addressed his son. "Draco, would you mind telling me why you never came back down from bringing Miss Granger her drink?" Lucius took another step towards his son and Draco took another step back. Draco had his hands balled into fists to try to stop his trembling but it just barely worked. Hermione watched, not knowing what to do other than put herself in front of Draco, again, creating that physical barrier between Draco and Lucius. Lucius took a deep breath, creating a soft emotional reset before speaking. He wanted to make a point with Draco- one that was quick- but Hermione always added fuel to his fire as she was a constant reminder of Minister Fudge. I can't hit her. I can't call her any names. Do not hit her."Yes, Miss Granger?" His voice was still low but they all could hear how tense it is.

"It was my-" She started but Lucius did not let her finish.

"I have no intention of listening to any more of your excuses." Lucius stepped to the side but Hermione stepped with him. "If you decided to have another one of your breakdowns, wonderful, but I do need to talk to Draco."

Hermione's face flushed red at his accusatory comment. "You can't just hit him because you feel like it."

Lucius looked at her, a shocked expression on his face. Then, he let out a barking laughter that made him double over. It made Hermione jump with how loud and how sudden it was. She dared a look at Draco, who in the very least, looked completely uncomfortable and unsure what to do. When Lucius was able to stop laughing long enough to speak and the echo of his laughter quieted, he spoke. "Of course I can, but if it makes you feel any better- I don't. I only discipline him when he needs to be. Now," Lucius put his hands on his knees in a condescending manor as he looked her in the eyes. "Get out of my way so I can teach him how to be a proper gentleman," He growled.

Hermione, much to his displeasure, only straightened up further and even stuck her chin out a bit. "No." She locked eyes with him and she only looked away to glance at the portrait when she saw movement in it- alerting her it was now empty.

Lucius snapped at that second, his stress from the day finally getting to him. "Little girl," Lucius grabbed her neck- not hard or in a way to actually strangle her, but in a way she felt so uncomfortable she stood on her toes, allowing him to guide her to the side. "The more you fight me on this, the worse you make it for him." When she was out of his way, he advanced on Draco and in one swift movement, punched Draco so hard in the stomach he immediately crumpled and started dry heaving. Lucius' lips pulled back in a snarl, ready to tell Draco to get up but Narcissa walked into the Library, her heels clacking furiously on the Library's marble floors.

She looked at Draco who was gripping his stomach and making retching sounds on his knees. Her voice was dripping venom as she spoke. "LUCIUS ABRAXAS MALFOY, ARE YOU MAD? Completely Barmy? Shall I call a healer for you? Creating a mess, on what is technically Christmas?" With each question she took a step forward. The woman in the gold dress had returned to her portrait but was fighting off several other Malfoy ancestors with her fan as they were trying to follow her into her portrait. Narcissa looked over at Hermione who was gripping her neck, more out of shock that Lucius actually touched her as she felt no pain. "DID HE HURT YOU?" Hermione shook her head vigorously. She was so scared and shaken up by the two older Malfoys that she felt her head pound with a headache. Hermione felt the need to explain what exactly had happened but she wanted the violence to stop more than anything else.

Hermione walked over to Draco who was now crying silently on the floor. She tried to put an arm around him but Draco pushed her and she fell on her rear. Her face immediately flushed again but she did not dare to do anything else until Lucius had left the library as she was afraid the argument continuing. Narcissa had watched the interaction between the two teens and anger flashed once more in her eyes. She leaned into Lucius and spoke quietly. "When they go back to Hogwarts, Lucius, I swear-" She cut herself off as she shook her head. "Sleep in the guest wing. Do not join us for Christmas dinner or the rest of the dinners for their holiday." Lucius opened his mouth to speak but she continued talking. "Don't bother talking to me, either." Lucius had been married to his wife for over twenty years and knew she meant what she said. It was not the first time she had said this to him before, but it had been a while. He threw a glare over his shoulder at Hermione, a glare that did not go unnoticed by Narcissa. "And do not blame a child for your actions."

Lucius made to walk out of the Library but not before Abraxas was able to get his head into the woman's portrait. "Only made him cry did you? When I punched you, you were vomiting the whole week! AHA-" The woman shoved Abraxas out of the portrait and posed with her fan as if it was a bat, waiting for him to try and intrude again. Lucius did not stop or turn around when Abraxas taunted him, or when Hermione gasped at the insight she heard into Lucius' childhood.

Narcissa crouched next to Draco's other side and removed her wand from her dress, pointing it at his stomach. "Eliminata." Hermione watched Draco's shoulders and back relax as his stomach pain was numbed. "I imagine there will be some bruising, I'll summon the healing balm before I get you into bed." Hermione moved closer to Draco when Narcissa moved to help him stand but he moved away so he was leaning into his mother instead.

"Don't touch me." Draco sounded more like himself and it made Hermione both happy and sad to hear. Happy because he was no longer in a lot of pain, sad because he sounded disgusted by her again. "I don't need help from a mudblood like you, you only make things worse for me, anyway." Draco's walls were back up and he was pushing her away again by echoing Lucius' words. His father hated her and the way his mother was seemed more concerned about Hermione over him when she had come into the library had hurt him deeper than Lucius' insults or beatings ever had. In that moment, he felt the same hate felt for her and Harry when they were on the quidditch field last year.

"Draco!" Narcissa was completely surprised to hear her son speak that way in front of her. A part of her was confused why she was so surprised as she knew how pure bloods are and what ideals her son was raised with. She had even taught him those ideals at one point but to hear her son speak words with so much hate hurt her. She knew she was wrong for encouraging the behavior when he was younger which is why she had tried to make the best out of Hermione's adoption. She learned slowly over the years that she never wanted to hear him sound like his parents had when they were his age.

"It's fine." Hermione's voice was small and her eyes watered. She had not lied to him on the staircase at Hogwarts when she said the word did not hurt her but in the past hour she had forgotten they were not actually friends and the slur hurt almost as if Ron or Harry had said it themselves. Without another word she got up and walked out of the library and up the stairs to her suite.

When she got to her bedroom, she immediately got into bed without changing out of her dress. She tried not to think about how lonely she felt as she cried and fell asleep, forgetting to take her dreamless draught.
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Hermione found herself walking down a cobblestone street in France. While she recognized the place, she couldn't remember why she did not want to be there, but she had the feeling she needed to leave. Hermione stopped in her tracks and was immediately bumped into by someone behind her. When she looked behind her, she saw that Lucius Malfoy was looking down on her, his hair was neat and perfect as it always was. His clothes were dark and his face had a look of disgust on his face.

"Why are you always in my way?" He brushed past her but grabbed her arm to drag her with him. "You little ingrate-"

"Let me go! I have to get out of here!" Hermione kicked and screamed but his grip would not loosen. She could not stop thinking about how she could not allow them to get to the end of the street. She had looked back trying to see if she could grab on to something to hold them back, but saw nothing. When she turned back around, Lucius was no longer dragging her, but Draco. "Malfoy?" He glanced at her, a guilty expression on his face but he kept walking forward. She used her other hand to grab his shoulder in an attempt to spin him around. "We have to get out..."

Hermione's voice trailed off as she looked at the end of the street where a man was standing. She couldn't see the man's face but knew there would be a young face under the black bowler hat. When the wind blew his trench coat open, she remembered why she felt the need to run and planted both feet into the ground, causing him to look back at her with wide eyes. While the man was not the one who killed her father, she knew that he planned to kill her too. "Draco, please!"

Draco glanced down at her chest, and pointed at it as he took a step back from her. When she looked down, her chest had blood blooming from the center of it. She lifted her hands to stop it bleeding more and saw that her hands were already covered in blood. Hermione felt herself hyperventilating and loosing consciousness, the sound of laughter was in her ears except it was not the insane laugh of her parent's killer, but Lucius Malfoy's laugh. Before Hermione's vision went black, she saw Lucius Malfoy, still laughing as he stood behind a horrified Draco Malfoy.
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Knock, knock, knock.

"Hermione?" Narcissa poked her head into the bedroom, looking at the bundle of covers and unopened presents at the end of the bed. Narcissa frowned. Narcissa had come upstairs earlier to ask Hermione to join her and the boys for breakfast, but saw she was still sleeping. Now that it was nearly one in the afternoon, she came to check on her again only to find her missing from her room.

Narcissa closed the door and focused on the wards of the manor. She was not as good as Lucius in reading the energies she felt and could not tell who was who on the wards alone, but by process of elimination, she was able to identify who was where. Narcissa saw three balls of light sitting together in their music room, there was one where the piano was in the room and knew that it was Draco with Theo and Blaise. There was a single ball of light in the Malfoy Annex, that had to be Lucius as he was the only one who spent time there. Narcissa was unsure whether to smile or frown that the last ball of light- the one that had to be Hermione- was in the library.

Narcissa started her walk to the Library, wondering what Hermione was doing there by herself. Usually she would be ecstatic to have another child as studious as her son in the manor but after last nights events, she was unsure if it was wise for Hermione to go back to a place that she had ran out of, nearly crying. When Narcissa found herself in front of the library doors, she quietly let herself in and closed the door behind her. Narcissa walked through the large shelves of the library, looking around for the desk Hermione would be sitting at.

When she got to the middle of the library, she found Hermione in front of their library card catalog. Narcissa smiled, resisting the urge to laugh as she watched Hermione's intense expression. Hermione was listening to one of the portraits of Danita Malfoy, the woman in the gold dress whose portraits were nearly everywhere in the Library so she could assist people in finding what they need. Since Danita had such a huge hand in the manor's design, she also had several portraits around the manor -mostly on the guest's wing to guide them -which was how she had alerted Narcissa of Lucius in the library.

"... and if you need to help finding a particular book, just come to this portrait and tell me what you need. I'll direct you through the card catalog then to the book- Oh! Hello Narcissa. Happy Christmas"

Hermione turned to see Narcissa standing by her. Hermione looked like she had a bit of a guilty face that caused Narcissa to wonder if Hermione had been awake earlier when she knocked on her door.

"Happy Christmas, Danita, and Happy Christmas to you, Hermione." Narcissa looked Hermione over and saw she was wearing the sweater molly gave her with jeans. Narcissa hated the look but imagined it must have been comfortable for Hermione to wear the outfit often. She noted that Hermione's hair was now in a ponytail but was still primarily under control as the product she used weighed down the hair, not allowing it to frizz up as much. Narcissa let herself have a small smile as she watched the earrings she bought Hermione blink in the natural lighting from the windows, earrings that she more often than the sweater as it was easier to keep them in all the time than take them off everyday.

"Happy Christmas, Narcissa." Hermione stood there, unsure what to do next.

"I hope you slept well and would not mind joining me for lunch?" Narcissa phrased it as a question but Hermione knew better. As comfortable as Narcissa made the manor, she still had expectations that were to be met.

Hermione resisted the urge to let her disappointment show as she planned to start working on the hippogriff case and she nodded once before speaking. "That would be nice. I left before eating." Hermione took a step but then turned to wave at Danita. "Thank you for telling me about the library, Miss Danita." Danita smiled as she waved back, watching Hermione and Narcissa walk off.

"She's nice." Hermione tried to make small talk so she would not think about the last time she saw Narcissa in the library.

"Yes, she's definitely one of the nicer wizards who has a portrait." Narcissa guided Hermione from the Library, into the foyer where there were the only Christmas decorations were.

Hermione looked around once, forcing herself to look at the decorations, and noticed for the first time that there were fairies flittering about in the air. They were small like the once's in Professor Flitwick's classrooms but much more elegant looking. "I didn't notice the fairies before."

"You must invite the fairies in for winter when it gets too cold. It's common courtesy for all that they do for nature throughout the year." Narcissa sat down on a pillow in front of the fire place. There was another one for Hermione, and she sat as she looked over the food between them as it looked like a tiny feast for two. There was a small roast turkey, jellied consomme with Red Caviar, buttered peas with mushrooms and a moderate sized baked potato. Everything but the caviar and the Turkey had been arranged on their plates. "Caviar is an acquired taste. I was unsure how you would feel about it."

Hermione felt grateful once again for Narcissa as she hated caviar. "You're one of the more considerate people I've met, ma'am." Hermione ate a forkful of the peas and mushrooms, savoring the taste, while she watched Narcissa serve them both Turkey. Hogwarts always had a unique feast to offer but the manor had a more flavorful plate to offer.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before Narcissa looked at her watch. "Your next Christmas gift should be coming up soon." Narcissa took out her wand and summoned two glasses and a bottle of Espresso Eggnog before giving Hermione a smile. "The other one is in your room, still wrapped."

Hermione had a guilty look on her face as she drank the eggnog, both for not looking at her gifts and for not getting any of the Malfoys a gift. "I didn't get you anything. Or Lucius." Her voice got lower as she continued speaking, not meeting Narcissa's eyes. She almost added 'or Draco' but last night she played her Cello, something she had not done for Harry or Ron. It was personal to her and whether he considered it a gift or not, she gave him a part of her that was very personal. No matter how many times she either played with someone or in front of someone who was not her parents, she always felt that way.

"Lucius and I expected for you to have other things on your mind. Plus, there isn't many things we can't buy for ourselves."

"It's only polite." Suddenly, she felt a wave of anger directed towards herself and her face flushed. "I was raised better." Hermione gripped her forked tightly as she stabbed at her food, forcing herself to continue eating even though she was too depressed about the day to have a real appetite.

Narcissa watched the girl with her cool blue eyes, thinking back to what she was going to tell Lucius last night before Andromeda came in: I've been starting to think that maybe we've been too hard on him. Narcissa grabbed the espresso eggnog, wishing she had thought to add a bit of fire whiskey in her glass. "I know you were." Narcissa had grown fond of Hermione through her letters. Narcissa taught herself how to look past people's faults over the years, especially when it was something that they could not control, like lineage.

Hermione looked at her then but her attention was averted when she heard her name being yelled through the flames. "Hermione!" She did not move at first until Ron poked his head through the fire place. "Hey!"

"Ooh!" She jumped when Harry put his head though the flames next to him.

"Hullo, Hermione- Merry Christmas by the way! You too, Mrs. Malfoy!"

Narcissa had a polite expression on her face, none of the small warmth she had moments ago were present in her regal features. "Happy Christmas to you, Mr. Potter." She raised an eyebrow to Ron and her voice became monotone. "And to you, Mr. Weasley." Ron looked away out of embarrassment from his lack of manners.

Hermione started talking at that moment to avoid the conversation taking a turn for the worse. "What are you guys doing? Does Dumbledore know that you're using the floo network?" She tried not to sound lecturing as she was ecstatic to see them but she worried constantly about them getting into trouble, or worse. "You better not get expelled while I'm gone on holiday!"

Harry grinned and Ron rolled his eyes before smiling. "Reckon you shouldn't have left us to fend for ourselves, then?"

"That's not funny." Hermione smiled despite her heart clenching for a second. She was fourteen and knew that she should not be worrying about her friends being alive. "How did you like your gifts?"

Both of the boys faces lit up and they both spoke at once; "You'll never guess what I got!", "Did you get it for Harry?", "I thought you hated quidditch!"...

Hermione grew more and more confused as they spoke until eventually she interrupted. "What are you talking about?"

Harry and Ron briefly shared a look. "Harry got a Firebolt, Hermione. We, er, assumed you got it for him since you were the only one we could think of who could afford it." Ron's face was red as he glanced from Narcissa to Hermione then the floor and back up to Hermione.

"No, you assumed Ron. I said that she wouldn't of had gotten me something like that without getting you something of equal value." Harry was slightly exasperated as he shook his head.

"Was there no note or card?" Hermione shifted so she was no longer sitting on her rear, but was on her knees, starting to grow anxious.

Narcissa stood, holding her plate and cup. "I'm going to take these to the kitchen."

Hermione looked at her, she knew Narcissa could vanish the dishware to the kitchen but she decided to give Hermione privacy. "I appreciate that." Hermione turned back to her best friend's once Narcissa was almost out of the foyer. "It's a bit odd, isn't it?"

Ron sighed, heavily, already knowing where Hermione was going with it. "It's the best broom there is, Hermione." He almost sounded condescending and Hermione straightened up her posture as she stared him down. "It probably cost more than all the Slytherins' brooms put together." Ron shifted his tone so he now sounded smug and not so direct.

"Who'd send Harry something as expensive as that, and not even tell him they'd sent it?" Hermione tried to take a reasonable approach, as she often did, and even stared to give Harry a pleading look. He looked away, knowing she was making sense but not wanting to admit it.

"Who cares?" Ron had Hermione's attention again as he stared at her, eyes wide. "Listen, once Harry and I have a go on it, we'll owl-"

"I don't think anyone should ride that broom yet!" Hermione knew she sounded shrilly but her nerves got the best of her. Regret filled her, telling her she should not have left Harry again, anxiety told her that Sirius Black sent the broom and depression weighed her down, letting her know that if anything were to happen to Harry or Ron, it would be her fault. Hermione put both hands down on the floor, trying to focus on how to breath.

"What d'you think Harry's going to do with it- sweep the floor?" Hermione looked up at Ron then. After she took a few deep, controlled breaths and tried for reason again.

"What if it's jinxed or cursed? We don't know who sent it, Ron! And then the break-in-"

"It's not cursed!" Harry and Ron said in sync.

"You don't know that!" Hermione was scared of how this was going to affect their relationship after they just barely started talking after their last fight. Hermione did her best to keep her cool and not let her emotions get the best of her. "Harry please, just have it looked over by someone! Professor Flitwick or Madam Hooch-"

"It's a broom, Hermione." Harry tried to take a more muggle approach which would have normally insulted her if she was not so panicked.

"An expensive, magical, flying broom that may have been bought by a malicious wizard! If it was tampered with, they may be able to trace the magic back to who did it! I read in-"

"Who do you think did it then?" Ron had his eyes narrowed at her. "The Malfoys?"

Hermione gasped and would have hit him if she wasn't so shocked at his bold accusation. "Th-They wouldn't! I was thinking Siriu-"

"They gave Ginny a book cursed by You-Know-Who! Why wouldn't they?!" Ron pulled his head out of the fire and Hermione crawled forward so she was in front of Harry's head.

"He has a point, 'Mione." She studied Harry's face, seeing a mix of emotions on it. Hermione hated that she could feel her old fears for her safety with the Malfoys being uprooted again. She wanted to believe that Ron was just speaking out of his arse but she knew that Lucius, if not Narcissa, was more than capable to send something like that.

"They would have killed me before they would have tried to harm you." She spoke softly, looking at the flames by Harry's head rather than at his head.

"We don't know that." Harry sighed. "I'll try talking to him. I'll owl you later."

Harry pulled his head out of the flames but Hermione was not done talking to him. "Wait, Harry-" She stuck her head in the flames before the connection was fully closed. The odd sensation of only having her head through the floo threw her off for a second as ash went up her nose. She coughed when her head was fully through, and she looked up to see McGonagall's office with Professor McGonagall standing by the door that had just closed.

"Miss Granger!" McGonagall was surprised to see Hermione. "Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, Professor." Hermione opened her mouth to ask if Harry would come back but another idea that immediately filled her with guilt came through as she looked at her professor with sad eyes.

"Is something the matter? Shall I get Mr. Potter?" Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Or was this Mr. Potter's doing?"

"No ma'am... I actually needed to talk to you about something."

Professor McGonagall walked to the fire place, and crouched down. A concerned expression was on her face. "I'm listening."

Hermione took a deep breath through her mouth that she immediately coughed back out as the heat dried out her mouth. After clearing her throat she looked up at her Transfiguration Professor. She knew Harry and Ron were going to hate her but she would rather them be mad at her and possibly losing Harry as a friend than seeing him lose his life. She didn't help in the dementor attack on the quidditch field last month for nothing.

"Harry was given the new Firebolt as a Christmas gift. There was no card or note with it... And I think it was sent by someone with ill intent." Hermione watched her professors face before adding on quietly, "like Sirius Black."

Professor McGonagall pressed her lips into a line and stood up. "Thank you, Miss Granger, I will handle it. I have to head to dinner soon then I will collect the broom for it to be stripped."

"Stripped?" Hermione's stomach stopped it's flipping and sank as if it were cement.

"Yes, to check for jinxes. It shouldn't take more than a few weeks. It will be returned as soon as we are sure it is jinx-free." Professor McGonagall gave her a pitying look. "You're brave for doing this. I won't tell them it was you-"

"They'll already know." Hermione was staring at the ground now, sounding completely somber. "They're not idiots."

McGonagall knew Hermione did not mean anything by what she said and gave a quick nod even though Hermione was not looking at her. "I imagine you need to get going now."

"Yes." Hermione looked up at Professor McGonagall. "Thank you."

When Hermione pulled her head out of the fire, Narcissa was already sitting back down at the table. "I hope all went well? I was unsure if Dumbledore would have made an exception for you to floo your friends but was happy in receiving his response saying he would allow it once." Narcissa smiled as Hermione took a sip out of her now nearly room temperature eggnog.

Hermione gave a tight smile at the mix of emotions she was feeling. She was happy she saw her friends but was anxious and dreading when she would hear from them again. She knew they would be livid when they found out what she had done. "I'm running out of ideas to show you my gratitude with all of the nice things you are doing for me." Ron's angry face in the flames flashed at her again and she wondered if Narcissa would allow Lucius to send Harry a jinxed broomstick if she knew, but dismissed the idea. They had no reason to harm Harry and the diary was a dark artifact that Lucius wanted to dispose of. It was far from an excuse from what he did to the Weasley's but Hermione could not see what could be gained from harming Harry.

Narcissa returned the smile and wanted to tell Hermione that she did not need to repay her, but she didn't. Narcissa was actually doing all of these things to thank her, but did not tell Hermione this. Through their letters, Narcissa had her eyes opened a bit more as to what needed to change between her, Lucius, and Draco. Hermione had what Narcissa would call a much softer upbringing and while she wore her heart on her sleeve, Hermione still turned out to be a bright, strong girl. A girl Narcissa was happy to have around as she could have ended up adopting someone like Millicent Billstrode who seemed to be a female version of Goyle.

As Hermione ate her food, Narcissa chatted about the plans for the orphanage and the Gala they would be having in the summer. Neither them brought up about the stressors that were really on their mind as they sat together, bonding over Hermione's half-eaten meal.
-----------------------
Narcissa had not heard from Lucius for nearly a week, five days to be exact. On December thirtieth, when she was getting ready for dinner, she had walked into their room to find him waiting for her on their bed.

She had not seen him until she had already closed the door behind her. When she did, she locked eyes with him for a second then walked past him to her closet, choosing to ignore him rather than chastise him. Lucius knew that Narcissa did not want to see him and she was not going to guess why he decided to not listen to her about wanting space till the end of the children's holiday. She picked out a red evening dress and closed her walk-in closet door behind her before he could follow.

"Narcissa, this is ridiculous." His voice was muffled through the thick wooden door.

She slipped out of her mint colored afternoon dress, letting her face fall into a scowl. "Your behavior is ridiculous." She put her legs through the red dress and pulled it up, feeling the soft fabric glide up her thighs.

"I thought you didn't want Draco to grow up weak."

She opened the door and Lucius was leaning against the door frame, one arm above his head, deciding now was the time to have the conversation she tried to start on Christmas Eve. "Once upon a time, the idea of raising him how our parents had raised us sounded like the right thing to do."

Lucius' eyes darkened. "We're not as bad-"

"We are. It would not have been the first time we were wrong about our choices, though." Narcissa swallowed and tried to pull up the zipper on the back of her dress but could not get it all the way up. She turned to retrieve her wand from the other dress but Lucius grabbed her waist to stop her from walking away. He pulled the zipper up the rest of the way, fixing other parts of her dress so it laid properly on her body.

"Following a sadistic, powerful, mad man is hardly on the same spectrum as being a strict parent." When he was done smoothing out her dress he stepped away, not wanting to overstep her boundaries as he knew she was still mad at him.

When he released her, she spun around, weighing what she would say next. "But it's on the same spectrum as being a good parent and a bad parent. And I think we're beyond strict. I know Draco and he is not me nor you, continuing with how we have been raising him is only going to back fire." She turned to fully face him, her arms folded in front of her. "I've seen it happening already." Narcissa had a troubled look on her face and when she looked at her husband, he could feel her eyes boring into him. "We're definitely too old to pretend we're not doing something wrong."

Lucius was frowning deeply and had his hands crossed over his chest, subconsciously mimicking her as he thought about what she said. He stared at Narcissa, not knowing how to feel or what to say. It sounded like she was calling them bad parents although she never uttered those exact words. He wanted to be defensive with her, like he would anyone else but when Narcissa said something, he listened before acting. He considered them to be a team, one who kept each other in check as they always corrected each other- like he had with her dress. "I'll need to think about this more."

Narcissa looked up at him, the mint dress in one hand and her wand in the other, slipping into the pocket of her red dress. She had a pleased look on her face and turned away to hide it, but not before he saw it. "I suppose that's fine." He stepped forward and kissed her temple. She looked up at him and while her face was back to being serious, her eyes had a slight twinkle. "I know we didn't turn out terribly- after Voldemort disappeared- but I want him to be better than us. I don't want him to look back at his childhood and feel about you how you feel about Abraxas."

Lucius' jaw flexed at the mention of his father but he did not say anything. Lucius planned on dissecting her words later but for now, he wanted to get off of the subject as soon as possible. "May I join you at dinner later? I know you told me to stay away but I did miss you and Draco on Christmas."

Narcissa gave him a sharp look but the twinkle remained in her eyes. "Hmph, I wonder why." Her voice was dry but she continued so he did not get the chance to speak. "That should be fine, too, IF you stop using Hermione's surname."

Lucius sighed. "Will that get you to forgive me?" Lucius had come to accept tolerating her while she was here, but that did not mean he wanted to interact with her if he could avoid it- especially after the library scene. When she made a scene defending Narcissa at dinner, he found it to be somewhat charming, although if it had been a business prospect that had a high risk of collapsing without merging, he would have been livid.

"That and apologizing to her." Lucius straightened up at that and looked at Narcissa as if she had lost her mind. "I'm not asking you to move mountains but.. she was too shaken up in the library. She's seen you attack Draco before so I wonder what happened that had her so shaken up." Narcissa eyed him menacingly and her voice held an edge she didn't use often. "And don't give me that Malfoy's don't apologize rubbish."

"They don't." Lucius was starting to feel like she was purposefully trying to make him feel like a child at this point as he stared at her, watching her face.

"And yet, you apologize to me. You request my forgiveness. Just because she refused the 'Malfoy' name on paper does not mean she isn't in out care. Isn't eating our food." Narcissa's voice started to raise a little bit then and Lucius wondered again what Narcissa's intentions were. "And it would be easy to apologize to her. She would accept a verbal thanks." Narcissa made a face when she said the last word. Usually she would have demanded Lucius to apologize to Hermione as if he needed to apologize to her or Draco, but she knew that in his mind, she was asking him to move mountains so she would take what she could to have the house hold become less hostile towards each other.

"It would still be humiliating." His voice was void of all emotion, entirely displeased with what was being asked of him. "Are you sure you don't have a soft spot for Hermione?"

Narcissa gave him a hard look. "All of the wizarding world knows we adopted her, we're opening up a muggle orphanage to please a man who thinks a lime green bowler hat is fashion and you want to give me a hard time on easing the tension in our home? Even if I decided to look after Hermione as if she was ours, would that be so bad? It's not like we can hide her in a broom closet so our neighbors don't find out about her- because if we had any neighbors, they would already know from The Daily Prophet!"

"Do we have a broom closet?" Lucius was both curious and wanted the conversation to end or be diverted as her points were truths he was not ready to accept- at least not more than he was already willing to accept them. She was pointing out things he had realized- the same things that had caused him to tolerate Hermione until Fudge was out of the picture and she would be sent to St. Mungo's.

"Lucius, come now." Narcissa shook her head and took one of Lucius' hands. "I'm not asking you to do it tonight. Just do it before the holiday is over." She smoothed her hair back before continuing. "Now, if you would like to come to dinner, would you mind escorting me down?"

"Of course." He did not let go of her hand as he guided her to the closet door and held it open with one hand. She appeared calm enough and he decided to bring up the other reason he had come to their bedroom to talk. "After dinner, do you think you could tell me what is going on with you and Andromeda?"

Narcissa gave a small smile as she looked at him and for a fleeting second, he wondered how was he was so lucky to have a beautiful wife. "I'd be more than happy to."

A couple days after Christmas, Narcissa started Hermione on the yellow potions to increase her appetite again. Narcissa noticed Hermione was not eating as well as she should after Christmas and did not want to risk her getting sick from the lack of sustenance. Due to the potion, Hermione had ate almost everything that appeared on her plate, despite the constant clenching and unclenching her stomach did from her nerves, which worsened when Draco looked at her as he had not spoken to her since Christmas Eve. Five days later and neither Harry nor Ron had sent her an owl. She knew they were angry with her but she would have at least expected a letter from Harry angrily demanding her to explain herself.

She was half listening to the conversation Theo and Lucius, who she also had not heard from since Christmas Eve, were having when Hedwig found her way into the dining room and plopped a bright, red howler in front of her. Hermione did not need to flip it over to know it was from Ron who must have either had Molly send him a howler or had Fred, George, or Harry sneak into Hogsmeade to buy one. The room was completely quiet and when the envelope started to smoke, Hedwig flew off. For once Hermione wished she was a bird, despite her fear of heights, so she could fly away, too.

"Cazzo," Blaise picked it up and handed it to her, the movement pulling her from her shock long enough to grab it. "Open it! It will only get worse the longer you delay opening it."

Hermione stood up and opened her mouth to be excused but it was too late. The envelope burst open and she shrieked from surprise.

"Why did you run off telling Professor McGonagall for? Now, Harry's Firebolt will be stripped and who knowswhat shape it will be in once he gets it back! McGonagall said this would take weeks meaning it may not be ready in time for the game with Ravenclaw! I know we call you the brightest-witch-of-the-age but what makes you think Sirius Black could walk into Quality Quidditch Supplies and buy an International Standard broom? There is nothing wrong with that broom, and if there was- the Malfoy's would have done it. I have a hard time believing you did not think of that before jumping to their defenses after what-" There was a faint hissing sound that drowned out the howler, but Hermione did not know what it was, as somewhere in the middle of Ron's howler yelling at her, she covered her face with her hands. From the heat on her hands alone, she knew she was a vibrant scarlet just like Narcissa's dress. She did not cry from her embarrassment but she wished desperately that she had Harry's invisibility cloak so she could just disappear.

"Hermione, please sit down." Narcissa's voice was calm but cold and Hermione refused to take her hands off her face let alone meet her gaze. Hermione opened her eyes beneath her fingers and noticed that Lucius was putting his wand away and the howler laid on the floor, it's message unfinished, completely soaked as if a bucket of water had been dumped on it.

Hermione knew she wanted an explanation, so before Narcissa could ask for one, Hermione let it all out in a rush while still covering her face: "Harry's old broom had been crushed by the Whomping Willow in the last quidditch game so he did not have one to play with until Christmas when he received the new Firebolt Broom from someone anonymously. There was no note nor letter indicating who it was from and when we flooed on Christmas, they asked if it was me, which I denied because I did not get him the broom but when I brought up the idea that Sirius Black may have sent it in, they automatically denied it, saying I was over reacting despite the break-in we just had where the F- Gryffindor's portrait was attacked. When they had exited the fire place, I went to try and talk to them further so they could see my reasoning but instead McGonagall was there so I told her about the idea of it being from Sirius- which she agreed with me on." Hermione took a deep breath before finishing as she was not just speaking fast at this point but her voice was getting higher. "So Professor McGonagall confiscated the broom and now they hate me." Hermione's breathing was shallow from talking so fast and Blaise reached over to rub sympathetic circles on her back.

"And when he says you defended us?" Lucius asked this and she looked at him through her fingers. After a moment of holding his gaze she slowly removed her hands from her face so she would not have to repeat what she said in the event she muffled herself.

"When I mentioned it may have been Sirius Black who sent it, Ron turned it around saying if it was anyone it would be-" Hermione cleared her throat and looked down at her plate. Her voice was low when she spoke again. "It would be one of you. Because of the diary." Hermione was unsure what Theo and Blaise knew about the Basilisk or the diary last year so she kept her explanation at that. She was greatly embarrassed by Ron and the scene he caused. A big part of her blamed herself as she felt this was all her fault by saying something to McGonagall but she reminded herself that, as the muggle saying goes, she'd rather be safe than sorry. Hermione hoped Lucius would not ask her why she defended the Malfoys, as she thought she would surely cry having to explain part of the reason why was afraid to leave her room in the summer was due to her being scared one of them would harm her.

Everyone was silent for a while, not knowing what to say until Theo broke the silence. "And you call that prick a friend?"

"Theodore Anthony Knott, do not ever use that language in front of me again." Hermione looked up as Blaise bit his fist trying to stifle his laughter. She hesitantly looked at Draco who had mixed feelings written on his face. She recognized one as disbelief but anther seemed to be gratitude? Or maybe respect? "I'll be sending a letter out to Mrs. Weasley."

Hermione looked at Narcissa, her eyes wide. "Ron is upset with me enough as is-"

"If you think it's acceptable for your friend's to treat you like this, you may want to find new ones." Narcissa's pupils had shrunk so more of her icy blue irises were showing. "And as for the strong accusations that were made, I wonder what his parents are teaching him at home. I would personally like to find out." Narcissa turned away at that moment as she went back to eating her food, intending to close the conversation completely but Lucius spoke up then.

"How do you think Sirius Black would have bought a Firebolt being the most wanted person in all of Great Britain?" For once, Lucius' tone was not patronizing or condescending when talking to her but mildy curious. Lucius sipped on his cup of wine and Hermione became aware the only one not touching their food or drink was her, although Draco was merely pushing his food around his plate.

Hermione frowned as the most obvious answer came to her. "Well, I had ordered Harry's birthday gift during the summer through the owl post so he could have just done that. No human or goblin contact as the shop can withdraw the money from a Gringott's account directly- assuming he still has access to an account or his galleons." Hermione had read that the Blacks were a rich family and assuming that Sirius' parents were rich and there were no other survivors to his immediate family who were unwilling to help him, it was completely possible. "However, if there was a complication to that plan, I imagined he would have stolen a wand by now and used the imperius curse or something similar to have someone buy it. After jinxing it, all he had to do was have it delivered by an owl or two." By the time she stopped speaking everyone was staring at her with shocked faces, except from Lucius who was looking at her even more curiously. She did not like having his full attention at all and she knew she should have been scared of him after he had grabbed her neck but instead it made her even more determined not to collapse under his gaze.

"Hmmm, an unforgivable curse," Another sip of his wine. "You've thought about this before?"

Hermione looked down at her plate as Narcissa rang the bell for the last course, presenting their desert for the evening. "For the past five days. I don't see how someone who has a record like his would mind using an unforgivable curse." Hermione looked at Narcissa with a pleading look. "I haven't talked to Ron about my reasoning yet, I hate asking but please do not bring this up to Mrs. Weasley."

Lucius saw Narcissa about to argue but decided he would reply instead. "I think that's fair. We did not send him the broom so there is no reason to get involved now." Narcissa glared at him but he continued anyway. "If it does happen to be a real Firebolt and it's not jinxed, Draco is going to need one too." Lucius kept his wife's gaze as he said his last sentence. She wanted him to exchange his ways so he decided to feel it out by talking to Hermione and offerig a gift to Draco. It was the best he could do at the moment without making himself sick.

Draco's eyes widened when he looked up at Lucius and he grinned like he had when his father gifted the Slytherin team with the Nimbus 2001 last year. "You're serious?"

Lucius nodded once. "If Potter is going to keep his." Narcissa's jaw would have dropped if she had thought herself to be anything less than a lady. Hermione did not speak as she was afraid Narcissa would over rule Lucius and write to Mrs. Weasley anyway.

Theo groaned. "He's never going to stop now."

Blaise sighed. "We weren't even acquainted last year and I still got a rant from him on the specifications of the Nimbus the team got."

Draco ignored them and decided that while everyone was in a better mood, he would make a bold move of his own. "Just me or everyone on the team?"

Lucius' eyebrows went up. "Just you as you hold the most important position on the team. The seeker decides the game, Draco."

"Not true, every position is important. The seekers just decides when the game ends..." Draco then went into a rant about the importance of every position and different plays along with how a broom affects all factors of the game.

Narcissa wanted to bring the conversation back to the previous topic and talk about how wrong Ronald Weasley was but watching Lucius make an effort with Draco stopped her in her tracks. She was having difficulty remembering when the last time Draco looked excited to speak with his father. Narcissa looked at Blaise and Theo, both looked absolutely bored but when she looked at Hermione, she saw that even she was accepting the talk of brooms as a distraction. Her food was untouched but her brown eyes darted back and forth between the two blonde men, trying to keep up.

Narcissa sat back, wine in hand and did not contribute to the conversation, knowing that it was best to leave things be for now.

Chapter Text

Hermione absentmindedly stared out of her bedroom window as she half listened to the music playing in the main suite, one hand stroking Persephone's puffed up breast while the other toyed with the ring on her necklace chain. Hermione had several feet of parchment in front of her, all for Persephone to carry back to Hagrid. The Malfoy library had so many books in it, she had considered using the time-turner in the event she could not get through all of the books regarding trials on magical creatures. Dr. Augsen had explained once that magic use was harder to trace with adult wizards living in the household unless the minor used their wand, due to there being a tracer on it until they turned Seventeen. However, Hermione took the deadline as a challenge and finished going through the last book the manor had this morning, leaving her with the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax before they went back to Hogwarts tomorrow, her only obligation was a session with Dr. Augsen later. She had not replied to Ron but sent Harry a letter, hoping she would at least get him to see her point of view. He had not replied and it hurt Hermione that her friends seemed to put a broom above their friendship but she told herself that they just needed time.

Persephone hooted softly before shaking her head and nudging the parchment with her beak. Hermione stopped petting the owl and started to string up the parchment, knowing the bird had a stubbornly restless personality. "You don't have to deliver these you know. I can hand them to Hagrid Monday." Hermione used two fingers to pet Persephone's back and the owl shook her head again. "Alright." Hermione wrapped the parchment, knowing she would loose the argument again with the owl and tied it to Persephone's feet.

After Persephone flew off, Hermione walked into her closet to retrieve her father's cello, planning to spend the rest of the day practicing before she cleaned it so it was in perfect condition for her return for Easter or Summer. Hermione had not talked to Draco in their last five days at the manor and he had not talked to her, save for simple pleasantries at dinner. A part of her was relieved, telling herself it was easier as she was able to focus on the Hippogriff case and not worry about a would-be complicated friendship. Although she wondered if Lucius' interruption in the library was the reason why he had pushed her away or if he never planned on their friendship extending past that hour. Another part of her, however, was extremely lonely as she holed herself in her room, also wondering if the Draco she saw on Christmas Eve was one she would ever meet again as he was fairly pleasant. Hermione brought her bow to the first string of the cello but heard a tapping on her window. Hermione's heart leapt for a moment, hoping to see Hedwig but instead saw a big dark horned owl that was one and a half times the size of Persephone. Its feathers were so black that even in the cloudy sky that promised more snow, the feathers held a strong, blue hue.

Hermione took the note that the owl had and read the fine calligraphy on it;

Mr. Malfoy requests the pleasure of your company for tea on Saturday, the second of January at one o'clock in the small drawing room. P.M.R.S.V.P.

Today? Hermione was about to laugh when the owl nipped her, but unlike Persephone and Hedwig who gave love bites, this owl broke skin. "Auuggh!" Hermione took a step back and looked at the parchment once more. Magically, an additional message had appeared;

Be careful of Posideon. He's known to bite.

-Lucius Abraxas Malfoy.

Hermione inhaled deeply through her nose. Hermione grabbed one of the quills she bought from Borkin and Burkes off of her desk and crossed out Lucius' note. Hermione was not just over him, but whatever games he tried playing with her. His attitude seemed to have changed since Christmas but she refused to think anything of it. Lucius Malfoy had only ever proved to her he was as evil as they came and had no redeeming qualities. She smiled wickedly as she thought of what to reply with and in her best imitation of what he wrote, she replied with the following:

I regret to inform you that I have a previous engagement (a breakdown if you must know the details) scheduled for that exact time and will prevent me from accepting tea with Mr. Malfoy on Saturday, the second of January at one o'clock.

Pardon the blood, Posideon acts quicker than I can read.

-H.J.G.

Hermione thought about writing 'mud' instead of 'blood', but decided against it as he was sure to show Narcissa. There was a fine like between sassy and rude and she did not want Narcissa to see her cross it. Hermione used her initials to sign the note like he signed the one he sent her for her birthday, not caring that a second drop of blood had landed on to the parchment. She tossed the owl a treat, and quickly tied the note to his foot while it was distracted in case he wanted to bite her again.

While she was wrapping her finger after she had washed the wound, another owl came back, except it was the small Scops owl Narcissa often used to send Hermione letters around the manor.

Hermione,

Please join us for tea this evening in the small drawing room at one. It would be nice to see you any other time of day other than dinner and I believe a chat over a steaming cup would be wonderful.

If there is a tea of your preference, please include it in your reply.

Sincerely,

Narcissa Midase Malfoy.

Hermione let out a puff of air. Narcissa knew she would come if she asked and while Hermione was slightly annoyed at the manipulation, she found herself not minding it so much knowing she was not going to be alone with Lucius. Hermione looked at her watch after sending her reply and saw she had fifteen minutes to get ready.

Hermione spent ten minutes fighting her hair into a freshly brushed, messy bun before spending the last five minutes taking her time getting to the drawing room. While she was on her way down, she noticed that Draco, Theo and Blaise were having a snowball fight outside. The sight stopped her in her tracks on the stairs as it brought back a memory of her and her parents making snow angels in the park by her childhood home. Her heart clenched and her mood sank as tears sprung to her eyes but she did not allow herself to become overwhelmed. Dr. Augsen had been extra tentative with her visits over the holiday, which was fair as Hermione was more of a mess than usual. Hermione knew she was a minefield and the only reason she had found herself to be sane for half of the holiday was the fact she was able to do research for Buckbeak's trial. It provided her with a distraction that lasted all day and she hoped

When Hermione got to the drawing room, Narcissa and Lucius were sitting at a round table, quietly chatting. Hermione padded over, already self conscious of her presence, and sat across from Lucius at the round table. "Good afternoon," She said more to Narcissa than to Lucius.

"Good afternoon, Hermione." The sound of Lucius saying her first name made her want to flinch in distaste to spite him, but she controlled herself. When Hermione acknowledge him again, he continued. "I'm happy you were able to reschedule your breakdown."

Narcissa never looked away from Hemione, but Hermione heard the slap under the table to Lucius' leg. Hermione then decided to look at him with a fake grin. "Only for Narcissa."

Lucius' slid his eyes back to Narcissa. "It's not fair she only respects you."

Narcissa raised an eyebrow as she looked at her husband. "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar." Her tone seemed a if it were asking him what he really expected with how he had treated Hermione.

Hermione raised both of her eyebrows in surprise. "I always thought that was a muggle saying."

"As Theo stated, muggles have a way of taking what's ours and running with it." Lucius cleared his throat and fixed his tone not to sound as so condescending when Narcissa gave him another look. "The saying is an old Italian proverb that was often used by a famous spell caster named Barnabus Finkley." Hermione nodded as she took in the small fact, unsure of what to say.

Narcissa stood. "I'll go get the tea."

Hermione kept her eyes on Narcissa until she had left the room so she would not have to look at Lucius. Hermione felt her wand softly hum in time with her heart beat when she allowed her eyes to stare at the man in front of her. For his age he did look good as the only wrinkles in sight being tiny laugh lines. She thought back to his laugh in the library, and in her dreams, deciding she didn't like the sound at all. It was the opposite of Narcissa's and the more she stared at him the more disgusted she became.

"Why am I here?"

"It's rude to stare."

They spoke at the same time and both Lucius and Hermione took a deep breath as they resumed staring each other down. Hermione, being the stubborn girl she was, was determined not to break Lucius' gaze unless he did first. He opened his mouth to speak but Narcissa had came back with a tray of tea. When she set the tray down, Lucius looked away first, causing Hermione's chin to briefly tilt up with pride until she saw that Narcissa was wearing her winter robes as if she were heading out.

"You're not going to stay and have tea?" Hermione's voice sounded a little squeaky and it was her turn to she clear her throat.

Narcissa smiled as she set out the saucers and tea cups along with a two bowls, one with scones and the other with sandwiches. "No, I have a few things to wrap up at the Ministry concerning the orphanage. Now," Narcissa put a hand on each of their shoulders. She looked at Lucius first. "You are to state your peace, calmly." When he nodded she looked at Hermione. "And you, are to listen- just as calmly. Neither of you are to move from your seats until your business is done or Dr. Augsen comes for your session." Hermione stared at Narcissa, anxiety freezing her chest in place as she listened to Narcissa's words. "Do I make myself clear?"

Hermione was so busy staring at Narcissa she had forgotten to reply. "Yes, ma'am." She thought she saw Narcissa's pupils engulf her eyes after she agreed but Hermione happened to blink while when it happened and Narcissa turned back to Lucius. "I'll see you both at dinner." Again, Hermione watched Narcissa leave, refusing to look at Lucius until she had to.

Lucius and Hermione resumed their staring contest for the next few minutes until Lucius grew tired of it again. When he rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak though, she cut him off. "How do you like your tea?" Her tone was short as she reached for the tea pot and poured tea into her cup, then his. Hermione was not ready for them to talk about whatever Narcissa wanted them to talk about so she decided to do what her parents would have expected her to do with unpoured tea, which was to serve it while making small talk. Hermione focused on pouring slowly, letting the aroma fill the air between them. "The tea set- is it a family heirloom?" Hermione knew the tea set was pretty to someone but she actually found it to be too garish for her liking.

The tea set was unlike one she had ever seen before; the set was black but the handle was the head and neck of an albino peacock while the other side of the cup had the white feathers, decorated in deep rainbow, ringlets. The tea pot was a bigger version of it, with red jewels for eyes. "Yes and no. It's a family heirloom but one that I had bought from the family." Lucius took a sip of his tea straight, no cream or sugar. The same way she drank most tea.

Hermione realized this and was hesitant to drink from hers now, in case he noticed the lack of ingredients in her drink. She didn't want to acknowledge they had similarities so she focused on the peacock tea set instead, and how Lucius was actually the one to pick something so feminine out. Hermione looked back up at him again, one corner of her mouth curled upward as if it were to turn into a smirk. "Did you pick out the albino peacocks in the garden then?"

He raised an eyebrow at her almost smirk, wondering what was behind it. "I did."

"How absurd." Hermione lifted her tea cup to her face and whispered the insult into it before taking a sip.

Lucius' nostrils briefly flared but he had taken a calming draught beforehand so his anger was squelched immediately. He wondered if Narcissa would believe him if he told her how Hermione was acting as it was usually him who was insulting over tea. "Hermione, we live in the same household now. We eat dinner everyday that you are here together. Do you not think it's childish that we-" he took a deep breath, "do not know anything each other yet we're so hostile when we do talk to each other?" He looked at her and while her mouth had dropped into a perfect 'O', her face was red letting on she was already angry. When Hermione went to comment on how it was his fault for being a terrible human being, her mouth audibly snapped shut. He leaned back and a cocky smirk made its way on to his face, as he knew something she didn't. "I suggest whatever you say next, do it calmly as Narcissa's enchantment won't allow you to speak otherwise." The smirk he had on his face was the same one Draco made and she knew since first year it was the Malfoy equivalent of a rattlesnake rattling it's tail. She wanted to ask what he meant by 'Narcissa's enchantment' but she realized she didn't shut her mouth on her own volition as she had intended to speak. "If you do not believe me, try to stand."

Hermione stuck out her chin and sipped the tea. She had no intention to stand but as the seconds ticked on, Lucius' smirk grew and his eyes twinkled with amusement. When it hit Hermione he may not be playing her for a fool, she slid the chair away from the table and tried to stand, putting her hands on the arm rests of the chair.

Her body did not leave the seat.

Hermione dropped her hands and tried to stand, hoping gravity would allow the chair to fall to the ground but to no avail, the seat did not budge. She flopped back into the chair and ground her teeth together. Angry tears prickled as she felt betrayed by the one person she even had a smidgen of trust for in the manor. Tricking her into having tea with Lucius was forgivable but enchanting her seat so she was forced to stay... She wanted to scream and insult Lucius as he was the only thing she felt she could take her anger out on, but it was as if her jaw was wired shut. 'Calmly' Narcissa said. The realization that she couldn't speak unless it was in a calm manner made the betrayal worse as the seat was not the only thing enchanted, but she was. Lucius already said that though didn't he?

"It's how we do things here. Do not take it personally as she would not have done it to you without a good cause." Lucius pursed his lips then moved to pour tea into his cup. "More tea?" He didn't wait for her to answer as he poured into her half empty cup.

Hermione felt one angry tear fall. With all that had happened, she would have never imagined Lucius offering her slight words of comfort and pouring tea for her. It actually made her more angry. It was obvious he had been in this position before and knew how to get out of it as he was cool as a cucumber while he poured the tea. She never saw him so calm and Hermione forced herself to breath through her nose several times to calm down. "Why?"

Lucius sat back in his chair and picked up a Cherry scone in one hand, tea in the other. The glint had disappeared in his eye as he took a small bite of the scone. "Why are you having tea with me?"

"Yes, Mr. Malfoy." Sarcasm dripped off of his name as Hermione tried to maintain her anger so her jaw would not lock up again.

Lucius took another bite of his scone and washed it down with the tea before replying as he weighed how he should respond. The things I do for Narcissa. "You can call me Lucius." Hermione stared at the blonde man, refusing to say anything more and he took it as a queue to keep talking. "We're having tea because I owe you an apology."

"An apology?" She repeated it back to him slowly, as if she wanted to make sure he heard himself right.

Lucius looked back at her, knowing she had no intention of making this easy for him. He knew she was going to press all of his buttons like a damn cat and he hoped the strong dose of the calming draught kept his anger at bay as they would surely be there until Andromeda freed them it didn't- and she was not due to be at the manor for another four hours. "Yes."

"So Narcissa is forcing you-"

"She-" This time it was Lucius' jaw that shut. He took another deep breath and did not speak until his jaw completely loosened. "No. I am doing this on my own volition, although," He emphasized the word as he saw she was going to interrupt him again. "She has been a great influence on me doing so. With that being said, I am sorry about-" Another deep breath, this time through his nose. "The library." He looked down at the bowl of scones in front of him, his lips in a fine line. His was apologizing on his own volition, as this is how he had to make things right with Narcissa, but even though he would do it a second time if his wife asked, it made him feel ashamed that it was the truth. He could practically hear his father rolling in his grave and it made his skin crawl with what he thought Abraxas would do if he was alive. He was raised to think that Hermione should be acting as a foot stool for his feet, not treating her as a human and having tea with her.

She was quiet for a few minutes, partially because it physically hurt to try to speak with her jaw locked, and partially because she wanted him to fully process what he said. "And?" Her hands were crossed over her chest and from how clipped her voice was, he guessed that was the most she could manage. A part of him wondered how far her stubbornness went. The rest of him was disgruntled that he finally reached the point where she was going to aggravate him to no end, causing his own temper to flare beneath the calm waves of the calming draught.

He raised an eyebrow as he looked back at her, lacing his fingers together over his torso, mimicking her stance in his own way. "And for calling you a mudblood."

"And?" Her eyes never left her face as she watched him speak.

Lucius had to think for a moment but could not really think of what else he may have needed to apologize for. "And for being rude on the first dinner we had together."

"What. Else?" Hermione felt her jaw ache from how tight Narcissa's enchantment held it together.

Lucius' natural frown deepened. "I'm not sure what else there is to apologize for unless you want me to start listing specific events." He picked up his scone from his tea saucer to finish it off. He poured himself some more tea just so he had something to do as she calmed herself down enough for her to speak. He hated that he had to have this conversation with her but he told himself he had survived much worse.

Hermione brought one hand up to grip the ring on her necklace, allowing the pain of the spikes to distract her temporarily from her anger, which in turn allowed her jaw to loosen. She wiggled her jaw before speaking as it had started to ache, even when freed from the enchantment. "I'm not the one you should be apologizing to- though you did forget to apologize for the basilik nearly killing me last year as I was one of the students who was petrified." Lucius' eyebrows went up, the draught causing him to forget about the mask he usually wore. It was information he already knew but had completely forgotten about. "You should be apologizing to Mr. And Mrs. Weasley for nearly killing Ginny. You should be apologizing to Draco for beating him and Hagrid for-"

He didn't allow her to finish. "STOP!" She had worked both of them up to the point where they could not speak but Lucius was better at recovering his emotions by default thanks to the calming draught coursing through his system. "For your information, Miss Gr-Hermione, we had apologized to Molly Weasley when we went to Diagon Alley and I have already talked to Draco." Both were true statements although Molly had not taken the apology well- which made their shopping in Diagon Alley even more tense. Molly was polite but very short in accepting the apology. He understood why as there really is no proper way to apologize for nearly having someone's child killed nor was his part of the apology filled with as much effort on his part as Narcissa would have liked as he gave her the excuse of 'Malfoy's don't apologize' along with pointing out the Weasley's family history. The talk with Draco... had been interesting. It ended up leaving Draco more confused and cautious than anything else. It frustrated and angered Lucius that Draco did not welcome his efforts with open arms but Narcissa asked him to put himself in Draco's shoes and imagine Abraxas giving him the same talk. Lucius understood the reaction after that, even though it left him unsettled that his wife kept putting him on the same level as Abraxas.

"What?" Lucius was pulled from his own thoughts as he looked at a floored Hermione.

"I'm not a fan of repeating myself." He grabbed another scone then pushed the bowl closer to her. "You should try one, Narcissa made them herself."

Hermione looked at the scones briefly then looked back up at him, letting go of the ring so her arms were crossed again. "I don't believe you."

"How insulting," Lucius had adopted a bored drawl in his voice. It was another behavior she noticed that Draco learned from his father. Lucius stated what he needed to and now it was Hermione's turn to process what he said or else the enchantment would not lift. "Although I suppose you could ask them yourself."

Hermione became unsettled with the new information. She wanted to villanize Lucius for all the things he did in the few years she knew of him. She could be friendly with Narcissa, even Draco if he made up his mind to be friendly himself but the thought of being on friendly terms with Lucius was not something she wanted to even fathom. Her friends would never understand. "Ron would have told me if you had apologized."

"The same Ron who sent you a howler for a broomstick?" His sneer was back on his face but she knew it was not directed entirely at her. "They have the audacity to cut you off at a time when you're more vulnerable than usual- and after you saved your friend from falling off his last broomstick?"

Hermione didn't want to hear Lucius' words anymore or think about how he learned about her saving Harry in the first quidditch game of the season. She told herself Lucius was trying to get into her head when he was simply stating the facts. "Don't say it like that!" Hermione felt her cheeks become wet as tears started to fall. She felt herself start to feel lonely and isolated again, the walls of of the two emotions crushing her. Narcissa's words intruded her current thoughts along with Lucius' words: If you think it's acceptable for your friend's to treat you like this, you may want to find new ones.

Hermione couldn't bear having to start over from the beginning with anyone else. She reminded herself that she and her friends would make up, as they always had. She told herself that saving Harry wasn't a big deal, they had saved her life in first year from the troll and she was returning the favor. After they locked you in the bathroom with it. Hermione gripped her head, willing herself to shut down the opposing thoughts, especially since they were no longer Narcissa's or Lucius' voice, but her own. You're always saving them somehow, but what have they done for you?

Hermione felt a jolt of shock at where her thoughts had taken her. It was almost the same shock that scared her out of her bathtub on Christmas day. She felt terrible for thinking so low of her friends. They cared for her, let her know she was their sister and had always tried to be there for her, even when they didn't exactly know how. They were mad right now, but she just knew they wouldn't stay mad.

Lucius stayed there watching Hermione, unsure of what to do. He needed her to accept his words to satisfy Narcissa but he wasn't the best with children. Even with adults in general, he spent his life tearing them down rather than building them up. When he needed something from others, instead of buttering them up, he offered something they wanted or did not have- it was always a business trade as he had what people wanted or the means to require it. It's what had saved him many times with Voldemort in the past as he never was good at grovelling.

Feeling as if he had no other options but resort to offering something, Lucius pulled out his wand and summoned a back pack. One that he had enchanted with a lightweight charm on it along with a shrinking charm so when Hermione put her books in it, it did not look like she had half of the Hogwarts library on her back. He placed it on the chair between them that was previously occupied by Narcissa. Hermione completely snapped out of the rabbit hole she fell into and looked at the bag. "Wha-"

"A peace offering. Draco mentioned your bag was barely being held together."

A part of her wanted to know what else Draco paid attention to but she was upset Lucius had made her doubt her friends. "You think I will forgive you if I accept this bag? As a bribe?" Her voice was full of disbelief and her pale cheeks started to fill with color again.

"Please try to keep up, Miss- Hermione." Lucius' eyes twitched with desire to narrow into slits. He swallowed the tension that started to build in his jaw. "It's a peace offering, a start to a peaceful," He inhaled deeply as he could practically hear Abraxas' carcass rolling six feet under. He said the next word when exhaling, "Relationship."

She stayed silent for a very long time and he knew it was due to Narcissa's enchantment as she tried to speak three times but only ended up banging a fist on the table. When she lifted her hand a fourth time he spoke. "If you break my tea set, I'll be livid." It was the wrong thing to say as her hand pulled behind her to slap the tea pot off the table. He had barely enough time to pull out his wand and vanish the pot, leaving her to knock the scones off the table. "A child," he quickly vanished the two tea cups to the kitchen in the event she continued being petty and targeted them next. "A complete and utter child." His anger simmered again and he felt his hand twitch. I ought to throttle her. Lucius wanted to hit something himself, but reminded himself that he was trying to do better.

"A real peace offering," Hermione had resorted to massaging the area around her jaw as it was now completely aching. "Would be calling off the charges on the hippogriff."

Lucius looked at her and cocked his head to the side. He had a second to process what she said before his anger broke through the effects of the calming draught, completely locking up his own jaw.
-----------------------------
"Do you really think this will work?" It was only Narcissa and Andromeda, under the guise of Dr. Augsen, in the Ministry's lift which gave them a free window to talk without the worry of someone over hearing them.

Dr. Augsen looked over at her sister. "My main job here is to study the wizarding population so I may act like an adviser of sorts. If there is one thing the wizarding population cares about? It's quidditch." Narcissa looked over at her sister with a questioning look only to see Dr. Augsen was laughing at her own joke. "The other thing they care about after that is what their Minister is doing."

Narcissa chuckled herself, then shifted the wine bottle in her hands. "Lucius' plan would have worked you know. Severly maim the Minister so he was no longer fit for office."

"Yes, it would have but while you didn't tell me how it was going to be done, you still ended up agreeing that it was going to be easily traced back to you and him." Lucius wanted to get the Minister into their maze and let the creatures have a minute or two before pulling him out. However, Narcissa knew all the creatures in the maze were illegal to own, and if Fudge had actually survived being in the maze for a minute or two, his silence was not guaranteed. Especially if what Dr. Augsen said about him is true in regards to how close he is to Rita Skeeter. "Honestly, I'm surprised he didn't just try to bribe all of his essential and influential supporters into overthrowing Fudge. A Czar in muggle Russia was overthrown in three months that way."

Narcissa smiled at her sister. "Usually he would have, " or he would have killed him, "but this has become quite personal for Lucius and he wants it done... Right. He wants Fudge to suffer." Narcissa shifted the weight of the wine bottle in her hands as it dug into her forearm.

"Hmpf." Dr. Augsen did not say anything more and lifted her chin as the lift came to a slow stop on the last floor. She was surprised to hear from her sister shortly before the New Year to hear that Lucius had agreed to her plan and even hinted that he may have liked hers better. Still, she held a lot of resentment for her brother-in-law and blamed him for her involvement with Voldemort.

"Speaking of Lucius though, would you mind heading to the manor a bit earlier today?" Narcissa pretended to inspect her cuticles over the wine bottle she held. "I have Lucius and Hermione doing a bit of a, ah, trust exercise and they may-"

"You what? What did you do?" Dr. Augsen lowered her voice to a hiss as the doors opened. Neither woman spoke as they stepped out and the next group of people stepped in. After the doors of the lift closed, Narcissa replied in a whisper.

"Remember when you and Bella had argued over who would be the one to gather the mandrake roots and mother made you two sit in the pouring rain?"

Dr. Augsen's eyes widened by a full millimeters before her face went blank again. "When she made you sit us out there and we could not talk if our words came from our anger? You did not."

"I did- Somewhat. They can still speak when angry, but they have to be calm and it may hurt a little." Narcissa pursed her lips in thought. "I couldn't think of any other way to get them to have a civilized conversation willingly, but I don't think it would be beneficial for them to sit there for four hours if they can't work past their differences in the first hour or so." She started slowly walking to the Minister's office and Dr. Augsen followed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Narcissa kept her nose high, and her voice low. Appearances, as bothersome as she found them, were important as the Malfoys and Blacks were known to be very private families. She did not want her sister's co-workers to know she was close to Dr. Augsen or Andromeda, if they knew the truth of the healer's identity.

"I don't know if that should have been done." Dr. Augsen stopped pinching the bridge of her nose but under her glasses, there was a definite red spot from where the skin was pinched.

"It will be fine." The women walked the rest of the way to Minister Fudge's office together in what was primarily silence. They only spoke when others were around to eavesdrop, and they kept it at polite small talk not to make anyone suspicious about why they were together.

Dr. Augsen approached the new secretary's desk. The woman was older than the last but had the same type of air and look about her; She wore her hair in voluminous curls and the shirt beneath her blazer sank a little too low but showed just enough cleavage to still pass for professional. Her twill skirt could have been mistaken for a pencil skirt it was so tight and the woman had an attitude that said she was complacent to the point she no longer asked questions when it was someone above her demanding assistance.

"Good afternoon, Cheryl." Cheryl, the new secretary, looked up and gave a would-be bright smile if she didn't smoke half a pack a day.

"Hello, Aquila. Dropping off more files?" Narcissa raised an eyebrow as she watched Andromeda hand over the newest reports on Hermione. She knew the Ministry had given the Andromeda another identity as she was in an important position but how many of her coworkers did not know? Narcissa made a note to ask Andromeda about it another time but was thankful that she was able to walk around with her sister at the Ministry without anyone asking questions about their past- not that anyone would be bold enough to question a Malfoy. Or a Black.

Narcissa started her part of the act by clearing her throat, rudely interrupting the pleasantries being exchanged. Dr. Augsen gave Cheryl a funny look as Narcissa could not see it before turning around to leave. "I'll be heading back to my office as I have business to attend to." She took a step over and leaned into Narcissa. "I'll see if I can head over to the Manor early though to check on things." Narcissa would have smiled to show gratitude if she wasn't staring down the secretary, she knew Andromeda was going to head over to the manor early even though she had tried to make it sound as if it was going to be impossible.

"I have an appointment with the Minister today." Narcissa walked up to the desk and waited for the secretary to get up and announce her arrival. However, the secretary's smile faltered as she ruffled through the parchments on her desk. "May I have your name, please?"

Narcissa made a sound that was almost like a scoff when Cheryl finally located the parchment. It was a list of the visitors Fudge were to see today. She hadn't made an appointment as she knew there would be no use due to Fudge only meeting people twice a month. If she had tried to set an appointment, the gala would have already passed and they would have to come up with another way to get fudge out of office. "You don't know my name?" Narcissa slammed the paper on to the desk, leaning on to the hand to pin it before Cheryl could check the list and not see Narcissa's name listed. "What kind of circus is being run here?"

Cheryl jumped back, intimidated by the sudden action, her smile was gone. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Malfoy but per protocol, I have to verify your identity."

Narcissa sneered as she removed her hand, knowing her name was now on the paper. "I checked in with the front desk, who verified my identity by my wand, I walked past the revealing mist that hideous fountain in the main entrance gives off and you still question me when you know my name?" Narcissa glared at the secretary, refusing to give her name until Cheryl finally gave in and glanced down at the paper. Seeing Narcissa's name, Cheryl got up and slipped into the Minister's office without looking back at Narcissa again.

When the door opened again, Minister Fudge was right behind a now red-faced Cheryl. Narcissa gave a sweet smile as Fudge eyed her curiously. "Come in, Narcissa." Narcissa flipped her hair over her shoulder as she walked into the office. She quickly glanced around, and noted it looked bare compared to her husband's study. As Fudge passed the guest chair, he gestured for her to sit and her nose gave the smallest of twitches as she remembered what Andromeda said she walked in on when he had a meeting with Rita Skeeter. Thankfully, there was a respectable distance between the chair and the opposite end of his desk where he chose to sit, so she was able to cast a quick but silent scourgify charm on the seat before he turned around.

"Thank you for meeting with me today, Minister Fudge." Narcissa pulled off her robes as she sat and revealed herself to be in a dress that was as close to lime green as she was willing to get. Between the very low beateu neckline and the tight empire waistline, her breasts alone became a huge tease to anyone who looked at her but she made sure the satin dress hugged her child-bearing curves all the way down to her knees.

The results were immediate when Fudge looked at her and his eyes went over her chest, down to her legs then back up her legs, paused at her chest, then struggled to look her in the eyes. Her skin crawled but she kept the smile on her face as she needed to gain the Minister's trust until their plan could come into effect. "The pleasure is mine, Narcissa. How may I help you? It seems my secretary failed to mention that you were the last person I needed to see today and therefore never provided a reason on why you're here." There was annoyance in his tone as he spoke of his help but she could physically see him trying to fight the urge to look lower than her neck.

Narcissa made a point to frown. "I see." Narcissa placed the bottle on the desk and handed Fudge a silver envelope. When flipped over, it had the Malfoy crest in black stamped in wax. "The invitation to the gala we will be having in the summer. It'll be to help fund raise for the orphanage we will be opening and it will be where we plan to speak publicly about our views on muggle borns."

"Hand delivered by the lady of the house hold herself?" Fudge raised his eyebrows as he flipped the invitation in his hand.

"You stopped coming by the manor and I didn't want you to think you were unwelcome." Narcissa bit the inside of her cheek as she shifted to cross her legs, earning a glance down at her legs from him. She hated putting herself on display but a rat had to be lured into its trap somehow. "Plus, I was wondering if you would be so kind as to give a speech when at the gala? As having us take Hermione in was something you had suggested, and it would give great publicity if the Ministry was seen to be involved with something so wholesome." She placed one hand over the other and tried to keep an nonchalant look on her face. She would have tried for innocence but they both knew the Malfoys were anything but.

Fudge had used a letter opener to create an even slash on the top of the letter and pulled the black card out. He looked over the top of it at Narcissa. "And what's in it for me?"

She wanted to sigh as they reached the part of the conversation she was dreading. "What would our Minister like? A donation to the Ministry? To the Wizgamont? Or perhaps to a project you will be working on?" Narcissa had hope Fudge would just accept money but knew there was a great chance he wouldn't. Unfortunately she was right.

His eyes raked her body and her nails dug into her palms at the disrespect. If he tried this thirteen years ago-

"I want the orphanage to be a cover for another business." Fudge leaned back into his chair and Narcissa blinked. She could not remember the last time she had been caught off guard but knew the last time was when Voldemort had been her master. "Why do you look surprised, Narcissa? We know you had a wizard wedding and your vows are more than a simple binding. You weren't going to offer anything else were you?" He had a nasty smile as he eyed her chest.

Narcissa's hands itched and twitched as her magic came to life between her hands. Even if her body was something that could be offered, she wouldn't have even considered it. The way she presented herself today was simply to gain his attention and let him be more inclined to do what she had asked. I could kill him. A simple rag doll spell and I could press my thumbs slowly into his eye sockets and he'd feel every pound of pressure without even being able to scream. Narcissa's hand shifted palm up, gathering up the magic to cast the spell she was already aiming to his chest but she caught sight of herself in some magical artifact that was slowly spinning on Fudge's desk. It distracted her as she was the only bright thing on her side of the desk and she caught sight of her face. Her eyes immediately focused in on the diamond shape of her face, her small ears and high cheek bones before anything else- all features she passed to Draco. My Dragon.

Narcissa turned her palm over, letting her magic cancel out. She never lost control, that was what Lucius did. She realized then the hate she harbored for Fudge was great and she had to do everything she could to get him out of power as killing him, even subtly was too risky.. The turmoil he was creating was even causing Andromeda to act and she was the calmest of the three Black sisters. "That would have been silly of me. I doubt Lucius would like me throwing myself at you like I'm sure other women do on the daily." She stared at her reflection, not meeting Fudge's eyes as she was concerned she'd lose control of her anger again. Flattery. He lives to be flattered. "What kind of business do you have in mind, Minister?" She looked up at him finally and he was looking at her curiously. "Or should I inform Lucius to set up a meeting as this is business that should be handled by men?" She tried to sound like she was not trying to be sarcastic as she put a smile back on her face but it was difficult. She did not respect the man one bit.

"Hmm." He stroked one end of his mustache as he looked her up and down again. "Yes, have Lucius owl me." He reached for the wine bottle and read the label on it.

"It's from our wine cellar. I'm sure Mrs. Fudge would enjoy it greatly." Narcissa made a point of standing and pulled her robes around her, feeling she would not be covered up quick enough. "I hope you don't mind our meeting being short, I really did just come to invite you to the gala and I should start dinner soon." It was a lie as Crewe prepared all of their meals, but in order for Fudge to trust her she found the need to try and fit into his idea of a proper wife.

He nodded and stood to walk her to the door. "Of course not, a woman needs to take care of her family." He opened the door with one hand and tried to place the other on the small of her back but she turned to face him so he did not have the chance.

She felt the pressure of her magic pressing into her palm but she would not give in to it again. She gave a tiny bow of her head as she spoke, "Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to meet with me, Minister."

He gave a terse nod and straightened his back for anyone who may have been looking. "Anytime, Mrs. Malfoy."

She quickly left his office, not allowing him a second chance to touch her. The meeting went as well as it could but she wondered what business the Minister would need a cover for. Fudge was despicable and conniving but he always kept any business attention on the Ministry- or on the Malfoys. Narcissa took a deep breath when she got into the lift. She wondered if Lucius and Hermione were able to come to an understanding and hoped that when she got home, the manor was still in one piece.
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Hermione was on all fours, determined to crawl up the staircase. After she tried to get him to pull the case with the hippogriff, he wasn't able to speak but when he finally did, he tried giving her excuses on why he couldn't. She refused to sit there and listen to what she assumed to be lies and tried to get away from him. Hermione wanted as much space between her and Lucius as possible but due to the chair that was still on her back, it made it incredibly difficult to move around. Even on all fours, she was still having a difficult time going up the stairs as the ornate crest rail of the chair kept hitting the same stairs she was trying to crawl up.

Lucius however, was at the bottom of the stairs, practically crying from how hard he was laughing. "You have absolutely no idea how ridiculous you look."

"Shove off!" Hermione wanted to yell instead of hiss but she realized that as long as her words came out calm enough, she was still able to speak. Hermione's frustration was starting to give way as she started to picture how idiotic she looked climbing up the stairs. Even if she wanted to return down the stairs, she couldn't as it would be much trickier than going up the stairs.

Not paying as much attention as reason started to slip though, the crest rail bumped into another stair above her head and Lucius doubled over in his seat from laughter. "I've never met anyone more- more stubborn!" His laugh was very unlike the one in her dream and the library which had initially fueled her anger even more. It made her realize that the one in the library was fake, and was used to intimidate foes. This laugh however was pure and contagious. She tried to focus on her anger and humiliation so her resolve to get to her room would not weaken but even she had to admit that a Lucius this open wasn't the terrible Lucius she had come to know.

Still, she wanted to get to the top of the stairs before anyone else saw her. Namely-

"Granger?"

Hermione sighed, not knowing if she should finally laugh or cry. She planted both hands on the stair in front of her and stepped to the side to see Draco, Theo and Blaise at the bottom of the stairs looking up her. His usually pale nose and cheeks were rosy from the cold outside. She imagined Jack Frost, if he was real, would have looked similar to how Draco looked now. "Yes, Malfoy?" She didn't care to specify which Malfoy as she knew Lucius was too deep into his laughing fit to speak. She herself would have laughed at Draco's face as he was in complete shock at the scene in front of him. Theo started to laugh and Blaise turned away, shoulders shaking as he bit his fist to stop from laughing out loud.

"What are you doing?" Even upside down, she could see that Draco was completely and utterly confused as he glanced between his father and her.

A chuckle escaped her lips then, which was a mistake. Once she let out that small sliver of laughter, she was unable to stop herself and soon she was struggling to maintain balance as her arms and legs started to shake. "I- I- Narcis-" She tried to speak but in her position, even breathing was becoming a task. Soon after, Blaise could no longer stop his laughter which caused an uncertain Draco to slowly join in. They all enjoyed laughing at the scene they were in until Hermione's chair shifted, then fell off, clattering down the stairs.

The laughter stopped for a moment and Hermione locked eyes with Lucius. They were silent for a second, then they both went into another fit of laughter, this time Hermione was able to roll away from everyone on the stairs. Barmy. I've gone absolutely mad. One tear slid out of her eye and she wiped away at it. Trying to remember the last time she laughed like this.

When she remembered, she found her laugh dying as it was last year with Harry and Ron she laughed this hard. The memory of how different things were for them just twelve months ago was sobering and she once again hoped she had not lost her friendship. She realized she would do nearly anything to gain their trust back, even if it meant she had to do their homework for the rest of the year or something similar. She looked at Draco who was looking back at her, uncertain of what he just witnessed but still laughing softly. Hermione looked away from him, fanning herself to cool her cheeks from laughing so hard. She thought briefly she wouldn't have minded being friends with him if he was as kind as he was Christmas Eve or any other time he was not jeering and insulting her pedigree. The thought made her feel guilty like she was betraying her best friends but she reminded herself that she didn't even know if she had best friends right now. Hermione hated the back and forth thoughts in her mind and sat back on the stairs, completely lost in her head again.

Lucius laugh was just starting to die when Dr. Augsen burst into the foyer. She looked at Lucius who was still trying to regain control of normal breathing and looked at Hermione who looked like the definition of 'depressed.' "What is going on here?"

Lucius gave one last sigh and stood up, Andromeda completely ruining his light-hearted mood. "You're early Dr. Augsen."

"Mrs. Malfoy asked me to come to the manor earlier than expected." She did not bother hiding her annoyance and she nodded at Draco as she past him to climb up the stairs. She briefly paused to look at the chair by the bottom of the stairs, but did not think much of it. She stopped in front of Hermione and held out a hand to help her up. "Shall we start today's session?"

Hermione nodded and used Dr. Augsen's hand to pull herself up. Hermione found everyone to be a bit to quite after they were all so loud and wanted to back to her room as soon as possible, as the silence made her anxious. Before turning the corner she glanced back to see Lucius had already left the room and the boys were starting towards the stairs themselves change out of their now wet clothes.

Again, she wondered if her and Draco could be friends and she found her self hoping that one day, despite what happens between her, Harry and Ron, they could.

Chapter Text

They had been back at Hogwarts for a month, but Harry and Ron still refused to say more than a hello to Hermione. Hermione refused to apologize for her actions as she believed she was acting for the best, although she did apologize for how the situation made them feel. Harry knew she meant well but that did not stop him from being angry with her. Ron, between Scabbers and the Firebolt, was completely cross with Hermione and ignored her more than Harry did. She started to avoid the common room, secluding herself in the Library or going to Hagrid's hut to discuss the case. Neither boy looked for her and neither helped her with Buckbeak's trial. Hermione still kept an eye on Harry when they would share classes and discreetly followed him to the ones she didn't share with him.

Ravenclaw and Slytherin played their first week back, with Slytherin having a narrow win. Hermione sent Crookshanks to Draco that afternoon with a brief note congratulating him, and while Draco didn't reply with a note of his own, he did give her a small smile and a polite nod at dinner that day. The Gryffindor team and Ron had buzzed with excitement hearing Slytherin won as it was apparently good news due to there not being a huge gap in points anymore. Hermione had a hard time giving more than a moment to care as even with the time-turner, she had her head in multiple books and barely noticed her snapping at anyone who had tried to disturb her. Narcissa had Hermione take the bag Lucius gifted her on holiday and would have sworn it was heaven sent if a part of her did not still think of him as a demon. A tolerable demon, but a demon.

Hermione was currently in the common room, studying in her corner with several tables to herself pushed together. She planned a long night of studying and decided that it was best she stayed in the common room rather than start in the library and move her things to the commons to finish. The portrait door opened, letting Neville, Harry and Ron through. Her throat ached as she looked at her friends and when she looked down at the paper in front of her, she couldn't read what she wrote as her tears made everything blurry. She felt angry, sad, guilty, protective, and several other feelings that she wished she could talk to them about. She felt like it was first year again except she had no parents to write to or guide her through her emotions. Everything continued to be bottled up and she felt as if she would burst at any second.

Ten minutes later though, Harry and Ron were standing by her table. She slowly looked up and saw them both grinning, presumably because Harry was holding his Firebolt. Her anger bubbled and she found herself wanting to use the broom for firewood but she pressed her lips into a thin line instead, and said nothing.

"I got it back," Harry said, holding up the Firebolt.

"See, Hermione? There wasn't anything wrong with it!" Said Ron.

Her anger made her jump to defend herself and she pointed one of her Borkin and Burkes quills at it. "Well there might have been!" said Hermione. "I mean, at least now you know now that it's safe!" She couldn't believe that after everything they had gone though at Hogwarts she was the one they considered to be daft for being too careful. When she first got back to Hogwarts, she was about ready to plead for forgiveness but after they continued to brush her off, she grew more angry at how they were acting. At first, she did not believe Dr. Augsen when she said Harry and Ron were being unreasonable when she vented about the floo conversation and Ron's howler after Christmas, but over time Hermione started to see that she wasn't in the wrong, no matter how guilty her heart made her feel.

"Yeah, I suppose so," said Harry. "I'd better put it upstairs-"

"I'll take it!" Ron said, reaching out for the Firebolt. "I've got to give Scabbers his rat tonic anyway." Harry allowed Ron to take the Firebolt upstairs, carrying it as if it was made of ceramic or glass.

After Ron disappeared, Harry looked at Hermione, noticing she had dark circles under her eyes. "Can I sit down?"

Hermione didn't answer but moved a stack of parchment that was in a chair next to her, on to the table. Harry didn't say anything more for a moment as he looked over the tomes that littered the table. "How are you getting through all of these?" Harry lifted up one book by it's corner but set it back down with a soft thud. "It's been driving Ron mad trying to figure it out."

"You know- working hard." She hated lying at anytime, but at that moment she hated it more than usual now that Harry was actually trying to converse with her. I have to make mum and dad proud. "Ron's been thinking about me?" She shifted the subject off of her, and knowing that Ron may not hate her made her forget any resentment she had towards the Firebolt at that moment.

He nodded but didn't elaborate. "Why don't you drop a couple of subjects?" Harry asked as she started to look for the rune dictionary to help her with the essay she was writing.

Hermione looked at him with wide eyes as if he just demanded she run up to the Whomping Willow to give it a hug. "I couldn't do that!" She had considered dropping divination as she found the class to be a waste of time, but understanding that they were half-way through the year, she did not see the point of dropping it now.

The corner of Harry's lips quirked up as he looked down on a very complicated-looking number chart that was by her Muggle Studies essay about why muggles need electricity. "Arithmancy looks terrible."

"Oh no! It's wonderful!" She smiled as she looked up at Harry, happy she was able to slip back into a normal conversation. "It's my favorite subject now! It's-"

At that moment, a yell came from the boy's staircase and the whole common room went silent. Not long after, there was the sound of hurried footsteps then Ron came into view, holding what Hermione assumed was his bed sheet.

"LOOK!" He bellowed, throwing the bed sheet over her book and essays, some of which were still drying. "LOOK!" he yelled again, leaning over Harry to shake the sheets in her face. Hermione was terrified as she never saw Ron act like this before, even with Draco.

"Wha-"

"SCABBERS! LOOK! SCABBERS!" Hermione leaned away from Ron, her back pressing into the wall behind her. She forced herself to break her stare away from his angry eye and looked at the sheets, realizing they had- "BLOOD!" No one dared to speak as Ron yelled, not caring about the scene he was making. "HE'S GONE! AND YOU KNOW WHAT WAS ON THE FLOOR?"

"N-no." Her voice was trembling, and she felt herself starting to struggle with breathing as she started to panic. Adrenaline started to flood her veins, and she started to feel claustrophobic with Ron in her personal space.

Ron threw several long, spiky, ginger cat hairs on to her essay. Hermione felt her trembling stop as her anger came back, anchoring her to stand her ground- which she did. Hermione rose from her seat, standing so she was eye level to Ron. "Do not start with this rubbish, Ronald Bilibus Weasley." Hermione felt her magic immediately start to crack and sizzle between her fingers. Her wand, which was laying on the table, rolled to the edge closest to her and bumped the back of her hand.

"YOUR DEMON CAT ATE MY RAT!"

"THAT CAT HAIR COULD HAVE BEEN FROM WHEN HARRY WAS WATCHING HIM!"

"YOUR CAT WAS HARDLY IN THE COMMON ROOM AND WHEN HE WAS, WE-"

"STOP!" Harry stood up suddenly and placed his arms on their shoulders to push them away from each other. Ron was furiously balling up his bed sheets, not caring what essays he knocked to the floor, but said nothing. "Hermione,-"

"No!" Hermione didn't care that everyone had completely abandoned what they were doing to watch the three argue. "Ron has had it out for Crookshanks since he jumped on him at the shop! You have no proof that Scabbers was even eaten by Crookshanks and is probably hiding under some other bed up stairs- I bet you didn't even look for him, did you?" She said the last bit with a maddening superiority that had Ron change into a unique shade of purple she had never seen before on a person.

Ron opened his mouth to speak but Harry beat him to it. "There's blood on the bed sheets Hermione and Crookshanks fur everywhere. Your cat was the one who has had it out for Scabbers-"

"Fine, side with Ron!" Hermione picked up her wand and started sending things from the tables off to her room. "I knew you would!" She sounded completely shrilly and her voice broke again as she gathered the last few books on the tables. "First the Firebolt, now Scabbers, everything's my fault, isn't it! Just leave me alone!" She ran up the stairs of the girls dormitory and neither of them tried to stop her or coax her down. When Lavender tried to talk to Hermione a few minutes later, she cast a silencing charm so Lavender would think she was already sleeping, instead of crying herself to sleep again about everything wrong in her life.
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Draco watched Harry at breakfast the day that Gryffindor and Ravenclaw were to have their match against each other to determine who would go against Slytherin. Draco watched as Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and even Ravenclaws go up to Harry, patting him on the back for having the fastest broom in the world. Draco thought it was ridiculous as it wasn't even an accomplishment and people were still singing his praises. He found himself to be slightly jealous, but only a little bit. When news spread that Harry Potter had gotten his Firebolt back from Professor McGonagall, Draco alerted his father immediately who had a Firebolt of his own delivered that same day. Draco asked for it to be delivered after dinner so he could catch the next team Slytherin played against by surprise. The risk of being caught after curfew was worth it if it meant Slytherin got the quidditch cup. Draco shared a look with the Slytherin Team Captain, Marcus Flint- the only person other than Theo and Blaise who knew about Draco's Firebolt- and smirked. They both stood up, with Theo joining them, and made their way over to the Gryffindor table.

"Sure you can manage that broom, Potter?" Draco's eye glinted maliciously. "Shame it doesn't come with a parachute- in case you get too near a dementor." Draco didn't realize why he felt like something was off about the Gryffindor table but it dawned on him while Flint and Theo sniggered behind him. Hermione wasn't sitting with Harry and Ron, but by herself at the end of the Gryffindor table by the first years. He only noticed it when her bushy popped up from her Divination book when he mentioned a dementor. She frowned as she watched Draco and Harry, her eyes narrowing at the Firebolt.

Draco missed what was said by Harry but when Draco looked back at him, he had a sneer on his face and the Gryffindor team was laughing loudly. Draco narrowed his eyes and trudged back to the Slytherin table where his house surrounded him, asking him, Flint, and Theo about the Firebolt. He let his eyes slid over to where Hermione was sitting to see that she had left the Great Hall. He would be lying if he hadn't noticed the distance between Harry, Ron and her. It was odd as they were always a trio- hence why the Slytherins often referred to them as the Golden Trio.

"Firebolt got you shook, Malfoy?" Crabbe taunted from one end of the table, past the small group Malfoy had around him. Goyle matched the sneer Crabbe on his face and Draco rolled his eyes.

"Careful, Crabbe. It almost sounds like you don't want Slytherin to win the cup." His voice had a threatening drawl and the Slytherins sitting between Draco and Crabbe all turned to look at Crabbe with narrowed eyes. Crabbe looked down at his food, lips twisted as if he ate something sour, and said nothing else.

Draco leaned in close to Flint so only he could hear him. "You're still going out there on the field later, right?" Draco looked at Harry and Ron again, who seemed pink in the face from the attention they were getting. Wankers.

"Absolutely." It would make the victory more sweet if Gryffindor won today and Slytherin beat them in the final game but Draco did not take chances, he took every opportunity he had so he suggested that some of the team members went on to the field as dementors to spook Harry into falling off is broom.

His eyes slid over to Hermione's now empty seat. "I'll make sure Granger doesn't interfere this game."

Flint nodded, a glint in his eye. "Of course you get the fun part."

Draco shrugged one shoulder, allowing a small smile on his lips. "Mum's orders."

Flint and Draco laughed. When the Gryffindor team got up to head to the locker room, Draco waited thirty minutes before heading towards the quidditch field. It was thirty minutes earlier than what most students left for the game but Hermione's type was often early like that. He waited by the open door way that had a trail leading to the field and waited for her to appear. When students started to leave the Great Hall to go to the field twenty minutes later, he checked his watch, thinking he may have been wrong about her habits.

Ten minutes later, he saw the Weasleys who were not on the team leave the castle to get seats for the quidditch game. Another ten minutes, nearly all of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw had made it to the field and were seated in the stands. After another ten minutes, he noticed that the flow of students nearly trickled to a stop with only a few Slytherin and Hufflepuff stragglers. There was no way she went nearly two hours early... Did she? Draco used his wand to check the time again and decided that if she was coming, she was already there as the game started in fifteen minutes.

He looked into the doorway once more, and to his disbelief, saw Hermione running towards the entrance. He quickly ducked back and had a few seconds to think Merlin, this is going to hurt before he threw himself in front of her, knocking both of them over. On their way down, he stuck his hand down one of her robe pockets and his other hand felt the other pocket. Where the hell is her wand?

"Ow!" Hermione ended up on her back while he ended up on his stomach as they had both been turned around on impact. Even with the warming charms, the snow got through to his core. "Malfoy?!"

He got up and whisked the snow off of him with his wand, discreetly looking around to make sure no one saw them. "Granger." He extended a hand and she hesitated for a moment before taking it. "I didn't see you ther-"

She had turned away and started to fast walk towards the stands. He jogged so he could catch up to her and gave her a look that she didn't see as she kept looking forward. "It's rude to walk away when someone is talking."

"I'm in a bit of a hurry if you hadn't noticed." Her voice was thick with her annoyance but he hardly noticed, trying to think where she might keep her wand. Breast pockets are usually on male robes, so she could have it in her sleeve like I do... the only other place would be... His eyes dropped down to her skirt and if anyone was around to witness his blush, he would have blamed it on the cold. She's not the type of girl to wear a garter. But then again... "Why were you late? Aren't all swots early birds?"

She threw a glare at him and sped up her pace, ignoring the inquisitive part of her wanting to ask if that was another saying muggles stole. While she may have wanted to be on better terms with Draco, she was starting to grow upset that now was the time he decided to be friendly.

Draco was trying to be nice, but he hated being ignored. "Granger." He jogged to get ahead of her then stomped to block her way. She tried to step to the side but he mirrored her step. "I just want to know what the Wonder Duo did to piss you off."

Hermione looked up at him then and blinked, being caught completely off guard. "What do you know?"

He made a show of rolling his eyes. He was stalling as he didn't think his initial plan to pick pocket her would fail and needed to find another way to steal her wand. "Nothing, that's why I'm- Hey!"

She took off running again while he was distracted, forcing him to chase after her. Bloody hell, I'll never get her wand. She was fast and had nearly made it to the stairs of the stands before she slowed down, out of breath from the exertion in the cold February afternoon. He had been close behind her though, and they nearly had a full on collision again.

Thinking fast, he pretended that he couldn't stop and slightly brushed against her, and hand to grab her left arm for balance. He felt his face flush again when he felt nothing and his mind thought about her skirt. He tried to remember the times where he watched her at the manor or at Hogwarts to determine if she was left handed or not, but he could only remember her using her both hands, like at dinner or playing the cello. The other times, he could only remember the back of her head as he usually sat in the back of their classes while she sat in the front.

"What is your problem, Malfoy?" She pulled her hand away and stomped up the stairs, glancing back at him while he followed.

"I don't have a problem, I was just trying to be nice. You're the one who keeps running off on me, mid-sentence."

She gave him a wary glance and while she didn't slow her pace, she stopped stomping. He was running out of time and knew he needed a new plan as there was no way he could get her wand away from her. "They think Crookshanks ate Scabbers."

He gave her a questioning look but then it clicked. She was telling him why Harry and Ron were not on good terms with her. "Crookshanks is a cat though. It's in his nature if he were to eat a rat."

That stopped her in her tracks and she whirled around, eyes bright. The action caught him by surprise and he grabbed the rail to avoid falling back for stopping suddenly himself. "Exactly! But what drives me mad is that they don't even have proof he even ate the rat! First that stupid Firebolt, now Scabbers. They keep blaming me for things and they haven't even helped me with Buckbeak." Hermione ran a hand over her hair that was sticking up in every direction, even with it pulled back in a ponytail. She had heard of the term 'word vomit' before and imagined this is what it felt like to have it as she did not know what she was telling Draco this.

"Well you don't come between a man and his quidditch." She glared at him and turned from him to continue up the stairs but at that same moment, an idea popped in his head. "But you were right to report it." She turned around to face him again, only making it two steps higher, her lips parted in disbelief. It was one thing to be polite but another for Draco to admit she was in the right. "And they shouldn't be blaming you for the Rat's disappearance."

"Thats-"

"Mount your brooms... On my whistle..." Madam Hooch's voice rang through the stadium and Hermione started her ascension up the stairs again, this time, nearly running.

"That's very kind of you, but I have to go-" He ran up the rest of the stairs after her and grabbed her left arm, finally feeling her wand but he completely abandoned his plan for his new one.

"So why support Harry? He's a bit of a tosser and so it Ron with how the two of them had been treating you. You could skip the game-"

Hermione looked at him, completely scandalized he would suggest such a thing. "I have to. Especially with the dementors-"

Alarm bells went off in his head when she mentioned dementors. He needed to get her away from the stadium as soon as he could- any means necessary. "Do you even like quidditch? From how you talk about it, it doesn't seem like it- not to mention you congratulated me, the seeker of your rival house for winning the last game. If you're not on good terms, there's no point in going-"

"I have to support Harry. He's my best friend." She tried to pull her arm back gently as she didn't want anything to happen to her wand.

Draco thought of the flames she had conjured the last Gryffindor game. The stands were hundreds of feet away from the dementors and it was pouring but she cast her spells with ease. Flint, along with the majority of the Slytherin team members were going out on the field dressed as dementors to scare Harry and she could easily harm them, if not kill them. He thought back to his jealousy of Harry at Breakfast and figured speaking from a place of truth may help him in his favor. "Seriously Granger, that sort doesn't deserve your friendship." Draco released her arm and stuffed both his hands in his pockets. He hated Harry for always being in the spotlight and he hated Harry for having such good friends. Draco knew he had Theo and Blaise now but their friendship had just started and was completely fresh. It wasn't the brotherhood he hoped it would grow into yet. "It's been what? Two months and they haven't talked to you? Forcing you to sit with first years? Blaming you for either being cautious or not having control over an animal that hunts for itself?"

Hermione's eyes started to water and she felt like she was having tea with Lucius again. Jordan Lee, the announcer for the game along with Fred and George's best friend, could be heard in the back ground, giving her a moment to stop herself from crying before responding. "Gryffindor in possession, Katie Bell of Gryffindor heading for goal..."

Hermione looked up the stairs again then looked down at Draco. She shook her head. "Even if I didn't want to be here, I have nothing else to do at Hogwarts- And it's barely been over a month. I sit with the first years willingly, they need a lot of help adjusting." Hermione fidgeted with the ring on her necklace as she spoke. From his few personal encounters with her, he knew that fidgeting was a nervous habit she had when she was either thinking too hard or trying not to think and hoped his words were getting through to her.

"I'll go back with you." The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to think about it. His words shocked them both and he scrambled to cover up his surprise so she did not grow suspicious of his ulterior motives. "I shouldn't have pushed you on Christmas and I haven't been able to approach you after we got back." Draco refused to look up at her as he realized that he wasn't necessarily lying anymore and was speaking from another place that wasn't jealously, but still the truth. "I can help you with whatever you're doing with Buckbeak- or we can go to the music room." He thought about Christmas Eve in her room and figured he should return the sentiment. "It has a piano and I-"

He stopped as she shook her head, hair flying everywhere. "I can't." His head snapped up and Hermione had one tear going down her cheek. "As mad as they may be with me, I need them. And I need to make sure nothing else happens to Harry."

Both of them were silent for a few minutes until Jordan was heard again. "Gryffindor leads by eighty points to zero, and look at that Firebolt go! Potter's Firebolt really..." Jordan went on a small rant about the specifications of the Firebolt before Profesor McGonagall interrupted him again for being an ad rather than an announcer.

"Maybe another time-" She started, again but Draco bumped into her as he past her, knocking her into the wall. She didn't miss the dark look on his face as he did it and she felt her mood dip.

"No." He walked up the rest of the stairs, not bothering to look behind him again as he was more that disgruntled by her refusal, but hurt. Draco didn't understand how the brightest witch of the age was allowing herself to be kicked around by two boys who didn't seem to know their left from their right. Draco thought back over to his lessons from his mother and tried to remember if this was a response to the trauma she endured or if it this was due to Hermione's bleeding heart personality.

"Well someone is late." Theo moved over as he had saved a seat for Draco beside him. Blaise was on Theo's other side, his head in his hands as he was obviously bored with the game.

"I got tied up." Draco glanced over his shoulder to make sure Hermione had not gotten to the top of the stairs as he twirled her wand in front of him. Theo howled with laughter and Blaise's eyes went wide.

"You owe me ten galleons Blaise." Theo elbowed their Italian friend before turning to Draco when he slid into the seat next to them. Theo had the same glint in his eye that Flint did earlier. "So tell me, is she a fighter?" He laughed again at Draco's disgusted look. "I'm just pulling your leg, mate. How did you do it?"

"Pick pocket." He stuffed the wand into the breast pocket of his robes as he turned to watch the game.

"Why would a Malfoy need to know how to- do that? The last thing you need to do is steal from anyone else, you can just buy what you need." Blaise had his cheek resting on his fist as he looked at Draco.

Draco shrugged. "For instances like now. I only learned it to mess with people. Take what's not theirs, put it somewhere else or use it against them." The three Slytherin's watched the game for a couple of minutes before Theo nudged Draco.

"Well, you didn't do a good job." Theo was staring past Draco and when he turned around, he saw a furious Hermione making towards the top of the stands where Draco and all the Slytherin's sat. Shite.

She stood in front of him, arms crossed and magic crackling around her. "Give it back."

Even without her not having a wand, Draco was a bit scared of her and wondered why he thought taking her wand was a good idea in the first place. "Give what back?"

"My wand. I know I had it on me when I was on the stairs, and even checked the stairs, but after you bumped into me it was gone." If looks could kill he knew he would be dead ten times over.

Draco removed his own wand and cast the spell he had learned from the manor over the summer that had already proved to save his neck more than once. "Muffliato."The Slytherin's were starting to stare at them and the last thing he needed was someone from his house trying to embarrass him further than Hermione already was. Theo knew the spell that was cast and gave Draco a withering look as he was excluded from the conversation. He bought himself a few seconds of time casting the spell and decided to try and revert to his other plan as he had no better alternatives. "Go back to the castle with me."

Hermione scoffed. "You stole my wand because you want to hang out with me? Do you think I'm an idiot, Malfoy?" She pointed a gloved hand at her chest when he said this and he saw her hands were smoking through the gloves she wore. Theo noticed too and cast a weak Notice-Me-Not charm over the two so people would stop staring at them and pay attention to the game. Draco didn't speak until most of the students turned back to the game, blinking away the blank stares they had before turning away from them. He knew with Theo's charm being weak, it wouldn't work on anyone who was close to him or Hermione, like Pansy or Ron who were both staring at them at the moment.

He pointed at hand as she had not noticed that both of her hands were smoking herself. "Granger-"

"Malfoy just give me back my wand!" She stopped her foot and the smoke percolated through the gloves at an intense speed. He knew it was purely accidental magic that was being controlled by her emotions but he was intimidated. He never knew how to handle Hermione as she had been a wild card over the past few months, and had already found himself at the wrong end of her wand. Unsure if he had any other choice, he removed her wand from his breast pocket and handed it to her. She snatched it and immediately turned it on him. He put both hands in the air as a sign of surrender but she quickly canceled out the Muffliato charm along with the Notice-Me-Not charm and turned her wand on him.

Hermione was furious at Draco and wanted to hurt him for taking something that was not just as much as a part of her as her hand or foot, but something she made sure she kept on her person at all times as the last time she was without it, her parents died. Hermione considered using the Stinging Jinx, but with so many witnesses after she took down the privacy charms to publicly embarrass him, she settled for something more mundane and cast the Bat Boogey Hex on him.

Madam Hooch's whistle sounded signaling the snitch had been caught. The Gryffindor's were cheering and screaming as they ran down the stairs and Hermione quickly joined them, not just to see who won but to get away from the angry Slytherin's who were already starting to draw their wands to cast hexs back at her. She was immediately engulfed by her house mates and when she got to the bottom, she stayed with the crowd instead of heading back to the Gryffindor commons like she had planned before she came down for the game.

When she made it to the middle of the field where everyone was standing, she saw Marcus Flint, Crabbe, Goyle, and a Slytherin student she recognized as a chaser lying in a crumpled heap near by. What-

"The dementors didn't affect me at all!" Harry said excitedly. "I didn't feel a thing!"

Dementors? Hermione felt a cold that wasn't from the fading winter and she tasted bile gathering in her mouth. He was attacked and I wasn't there.

Professor Lupin laughed. "That would be because they- er- weren't dementors." Lupin gestured to the Slytherin's on the floor that Harry had not noticed yet. Upon Hermione's further inspection, it looked as if Flint and the chaser were standing on Crabbe and Goyle's shoulders as they were dressed as dementors. Hermione became heated once more and her face was nearly a replica of Professor McGonagall's current expression of utmost fury.

"An unworthy trick!" McGonagall was shouting. "A low and cowardly attempt to sabotage the Gryffindor Seeker! Detention for all of you, and fifty points from Slytherin!" Hermione felt herself starting to smile, even though she thought the punishment was light, until she heard Professor Snape's voice from behind them.

"If we are currently taking points from houses, I'm taking fifty points from Gryffindor." Hermione turned to look at him and saw that Pansy Parkinson was closely following behind while staring directly at Hermione with the biggest grin on her face. "Miss Granger attacked one of my students while the seeker had caught the snitch." Hermione quickly scanned the Slytherin's joining Snape behind him and didn't see Draco nor Blaise, but did see Theo.

Everyone turned to look at her and her face felt hot from the attention. The Slytherin's muttering as they smiled wickedly and the Gryffindor's whispered. Hermione tried to defend herself, "He took my wand-"

"Then how did you hex him, then? I can assure you there are more than enough witnesses here to confirm what was done." Pansy flipped her hair over her shoulder as Snape said this and Hermione understood she was the one who reported it, not Draco who had probably left to have the hex lifted by Madam Pomfry. "While you thought all the teachers were distracted, you thought you could get away with attacking Mr. Malfoy. It was- ah, what did you say Minerva? An unworthy trick."

Hermione was at a loss for words as she stared back at Snape. There was silence from everyone as no one knew what to say. She heard the whispers throughout the months and knew that while her housemates thought of her as a kind hearted person, they found it difficult to deny a part of her hadn't changed. They saw her on her worst days, where she was bawling and no amount of comforting helped until she came down after a while. They saw her when she was angry and she snapped at a teacher or at her peers for interrupting her while she studied. The Gryffindors could no longer put it past her that she had attacked another student as she came off as unstable now, even if the claim was coming from Professor Snape. They thought he was unfair but not a liar.

"That's not true." Her voice was small as the pressure of everyone's gaze overwhelmed her. She glanced and Harry and Ron who were furiously whispering to each other. She briefly wondered if it was about her or not, but then she wondered if they were on good terms if they would have stood up for her. If we were talking, I would have went to the game on time with Ron and not had my wand stolen. Hermione scowled at the thought which seemed to be taken as confirmation to Snape's story by everyone else. Snape grinned as McGonagall gave Hermione a concerned look.

For a heartbeat, no one said anything before George Weasley tried to get the Gryffindor's back into a celebratory mood. "Party! Gryffindor common room, now!"
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Hermione was nearly asleep that night when she heard very loud yelling.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

She sat up at first, waiting to hear anymore sounds of the party that had been going on until one in the morning before McGonagall insisted everyone go to bed. There was a sound of a door slamming in the distance and the soft pounding of foot steps. It hit her that it was not a yell from teens celebrating and she grabbed her wand, running to the girl's dormitory stairwell. She quickly cast a Glisseo charm on the stairs, turning it into a slide so she could get to the bottom faster. As she neared the bottom of the stairs she kept her wand in front of her, and at the level of her eyes so all she had to do was cast her next spell in the event there was an intruder in the dorm. Please let everyone be safe.

When she got to the bottom, she heard the portrait door close and the sound of several boys coming down the stairs of the dormitory, asking questions as they descended the stairs.

"Who shouted?"

"What're you doing?"

Harry was the first to reach the bottom of the boy's stairs, followed by Ron and Seamus Finnigan. Hermione kept her wand raised as she breathed a sigh of relief seeing they were safe but continued to walk towards the portrait door. The common room's fire was roaring and other than the remains of the debris from the party, it was deserted. More of the boys made it down the stairs and finally, some of the girls did too.

Hermione was almost to the entrance when she heard Seamus' thick Irish accent interrupt her thoughts. "Are you sure you weren't dreaming, Ron?"

"I'm telling you, I saw him!"

"Saw who?" Hermione turned around, finally lowering her wand to look at Ron. Please don't say Black. Ron scowled and looked away, not wanting to say who as he felt Hermione would only gloat about how she had a right to be paranoid about the Firebolt. "Ron this isn't the time!"

"Excellent," Fred interrupted as he and his twin finally made it to the bottom of the stairs. "Are we carrying on?"

"Everyone back upstairs!" said Percy, hurrying into the common room and pinning his Head Boy badge to his pajamas while he spoke.

"Perce- Sirius Black!" The common room got quiet at the name and Hermione gave a sharp gasp. Godric, no. "In our dormitory! With a knife! Woke me up!"

The common room went very still until Percy scoffed, breaking himself out of being startled. "Nonsense! You had too much to eat, Ron- had a nightmare-"

"Don't just brush him off! Sirius Black isn't something we should be lax about!" Hermione had a hand extended gesturing to Ron and he tried to hide the grateful look he had for her standing up to him .

Percy gave Hermione a sympathetic look. "Hermione, you've been through a lot. First the Firebolt, now my brother-"

"Just WHAT are you trying to say, Percy." Hermione's nostrils had flared and a spark came from the top of her wand. Hermione could hear Dr. Augsen's voice in the back of her mind warning her about the risks of letting her emotions rule her magic and she tried to fight very hard against hexing Percy on the spot for what he was insinuating.

Before he could continue though, Professor McGonagall crawled into the Common Room. "Now, really, that's enough! I am delighted that Gryffindor won the match, but this is getting ridiculous! Percy, I expected better of you!"

"I certainly didn't authorize this professor!" Percy puffed up indignantly, "I was just telling them to get back to bed! My brother Ron here had a nightmare-"

"IT WASN'T A NIGHTMARE!" Ron yelled. "PROFESSOR, I WOKE UP, AND SIRIUS BLACK WAS STANDING OVER ME, HOLDING A KNIFE!"

Professor McGonagall stared at him. "Don't be ridiculous, Weasley, how could he possibly have gotten through the portrait hole?"

"Ask him!" said Ron, who was pointing behind McGonagall at the back of Sir Cadogan's portrait, the only portrait in the castle who agreed to take over the Fat Lady's post after her picture was attacked by Sirius Black last time. "Ask him if he saw him!"

McGonagall huffed but turned around and climbed out of the portrait door hole. Hermione half expected McGonagall to leave it at that but then she heard McGonagall speak and the whole common room gathered on the other end of the entrance, listening with bated breath.

"Sir Cadogan, did you just let a man enter Gryffindor Tower?"

"Certainly, good lady!" Cried Sir Cadogan.

There was stunned silence from everyone and Hermione closed her eyes as she let her forehead rest on the wall by the entrance of the portrait. Hermione could feel a migraine starting to form. She was more than scared, she was panic-stricken. Not even Hogwarts, with its magically fortified walls were safe anymore. The only real solstice she felt anymore was... at the Manor. Her eyes drift open at that and she found herself biting back a manic giggle. Eight months ago, she would have never thought of the manor that way.
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No one had slept that night and once again, security was upped again at Hogwarts. Sir Cadogan was moved back to his original place in the castle and the Fat Lady returned with surly security trolls to guard her. Neville wasn't allowed to know the passwords to the common rooms as Sir Cadogan informed he let Black in due to Black reading all of the week's passwords that Neville admitted he had written down and lost one day. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was banned from all future Hogsmeade trips for the year and had received another howler at breakfast the following morning.

Hermione tried to approach Ron all of the following week, but people were constantly gathered around him, asking him to repeat his tale of his encounter with Sirius Black. For the moment, he was more famous that Harry and loved the attention he was getting. Harry was happy that the attention wasn't on him for once and not at Hermione's expense.

Hermione had hoped that Ron had realized she was concerned for him too and would put the Scabbers vs. Crookshanks argument aside but he still made no point to seek her out, although he had no issues socializing with Harry. Hagrid made an attempt to talk to them about Hermione, and she waited for them to try to approach her, but they said nothing to her in the common room that Friday night. She decided to do her studies in the common room the following day, hoping they would notice and approach her. Hermione was physically getting sick to the point Dr. Augsen had asked for Hermione to drop a class or two but insisted it was not her classes that were the issue. When Ron and Harry entered the common room after breakfast, they immediately started making plans to sneak Harry into Hogsmeade the following weekend.

"Harry!" Hermione was sitting on a table right behind them, clearing a path of books out of her way so she could properly talk to them. She hadn't eaten all day as she was waiting to see them and she looked completely shaken. She hadn't been sleeping properly since Black's second break-in and even when she was awake, her anxiety was triggering severe flashbacks. "Harry, if you go into Hogsmeade again..." Hermione took a deep breath. She didn't want to say what she was going to say next but Harry going to Hogsmeade was practically begging for death in her eyes. "I'll tell professor McGonagall about the map."

Harry opened his mouth but Ron beat him to it. "Can you hear someone talking, Harry?" Ron looked at Harry, refusing to look at Hermione.

Hermione's voice cracked when she spoke again. "Ron, how can you let him go with you? After what Sirius Black nearly did to you? Aren't you scared?" She saw Ron's back stiffen and hoped that meant he was listening to her this time. "I mean it, I'll tell-"

"So now you're trying to get Harry expelled!" Ron turned around, not hiding how furious he was with her. "Haven't you done enough damage this year?"

Hermione leaned back in her chair, completely dejected. Damage...? Hermione felt something inside of her break then and she could almost physically feel a snapping inside of her. It wasn't in her head like most people suspected had already happened to her, but in her chest. All of a sudden, she felt as if she was there but wasn't there at the same time- as if she was a passenger in her own mind. Someone was driving her and forced her to stand up as Ron turned back to Harry but Harry stared at her. A very far, and a very distant part of her recognized the look on Harry's face as guilt. That same part of her heard Harry tell Ron he was a complete arse and tried to talk to her, ignoring what Ron had said next. Harry grabbed Hermione's arm and she looked at him. She felt herself telling him to let her go and he did, allowing her to crawl out of the portrait door.

Hermione walked around the castle for hours. She didn't feel anything at first, not hunger, not pain as she had completely dissociated. After a few hours, she felt her shift back into the driver's seat of her mind and life became very real for her once again. It started with a silent crying, then she could feel her shoes hitting the cold ground, which woke up other parts of her body like her chest, which hurt from the pain Ron had caused. That pain only got worse as she became aware of her crying and started to sob so hard it hurt to breathe as her throat became scratchy. I only make things worse for them. They don't need me, they don't want me. Hermione paid no attention to where she was walking, even when she ended up outside, only wearing the sweater Molly had knitted and her school robes. It was almost the end of February, but still too cold as the weather ranged between 5 and 7 Celsius. They hate me.

Hermione continued to cry, not caring where she was going until she reached the Astronomy tower. Hermione looked at the barricaded doors and she left like she was in the bath tub on afternoon of Christmas Eve again. She pulled out her wand and with a sob cast an alohormora. The doors unlocked and swung open. In a fleeting thought, she was reminded of Dumbledore and how she thought he was a great wizard, but too trusting of his students. When she got inside, she didn't bother locking the door behind her and started her walk up the stairs.

They think I'm worthless. She hiccuped. I think I'm worthless. All my studying and I am still inadequate. Her head hurt and she felt as if it was ringing. She felt the puffiness of her face from the crying but she didn't care. I never was pretty anyways. Pansy was right, I'd never find anyone with my hair and my teeth. Hermione barely noticed the draft the stairwell had until a strong wind had pushed through and she had to physically stop to make sure she did not loose her balance. Mom would kill me if she saw me without a scarf. Hermione let out something that was between a sob and a scream at that. I was never going to make them proud. No matter how many subjects I took, no matter how many tests I passed, I was always destined to disappoint them. Hermione had thought going up the tower's stairwell was a long walk but soon she found herself at the top of it. Her eyes immediately floated to the unguarded ledge of the tower- A twisted part of her found it funny that the ledge was the reason the tower was supposed to be closed off unless there was a lecture in session, yet she was there. Hermione put her hands on the ledge and she didn't feel scared of the height that she was at, even though it was the tallest point at Hogwarts. She felt scared that she would chicken out and live another day with her pain. Hermione got on her knees on the edge, trying to force herself to stand. I don't deserve to live without them. I didn't protect them when I could have. Hermione felt herself taking deep breaths and she involuntarily shivered as it was much more cold this high up. I'm just a mudblood. Hermione repeated that last thought until she was standing up straight.

She looked to the left, thinking the view was beautiful as the sun started to set over the quidditch pitch. When she felt ready, she looked down and immediately regretted it. Her vertigo kicked in and cleared her mind for a brief second, wanting her to turn back and return to safety. She felt that jolt of shock course through her after another second, even worse than it was in the bath tub. However, Hermione being caught up in her head, failed to notice that there were no sounds of life around her, and the cold was more than numbing, but bone chilling. When she turned around to climb back down, she was face to face with a dementor who was pulling back its hood, taking in a rattling breath- causing her to faint and plummet towards the ground.
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Knowing that Slytherin was playing against Gryffindor, Draco suggested to Flint that they up their practices to several times a week after lunch but before dinner. Usually, he would not even bother suggesting it as Flint was the type to brush things off when there was something like a Firebolt on his side, but Draco used his humiliation at their failed dementor plan in his favor. Flint agreed and after showing off his Firebolt to his team- which Crabbe was livid about but refused to show it to anyone but Draco- they trained, hard. Draco had been training with the Beaters so they could practice hitting someone flying on a Firebolt while Flint had the rest of the team do their regular drills.

After practice was done, Draco stayed out on the field, practicing his turns and short stops. When he felt it was time to go inside, as his warming charms were becoming less effective the more the sun disappeared from view, he glided towards the ground, moving as a leisurely speed. He was grinning ear to ear and told himself he would send a letter to his father, thanking him a second time for the broom. Draco's thoughts drifted to Hermione and how she hated Harry's Firebolt. He had been avoiding her lately, as he was concerned she may come after him a second time: The look in her eyes when they were in the stands was one he noticed his father sometimes had. It was when Lucius was punishing Draco and wanted to do worse, but didn't because he was 'holding back.' Draco wondered what would have happened if she would have agreed to return to the castle with him instead of being the loyal Gryffindor Princess she was.

He was in the middle of daydreaming about what song he would have played for her if she wanted to go to the music room when he happened to notice an odd figure at the top of the astronomy tower. After he drifted a few meters closer, he recognized one to be the cloak of a dementor but the other... His eyes widened as he realized that the other figure was a student. Panic hit him and he turned to tell his Head of House but then the figure started to fall to the ground, falling at an alarming speed.

For a moment, he thought he wouldn't get there on time but then remembered he had a Firebolt. He gripped the handle and raced forward, pulling out his wand to cast a cushioning charm in the event he was wrong about the broom's speed.

Right when he finished casting the charm, he connected with the figure, grabbing them by the waist and he hoped he did not hurt them further when he felt pain shoot in his shoulder. The extra weight was something he did not account for and he ended up flying side ways until he was able to slow down and drift closer to the ground again. When they were low enough, he gently climbed down from the broom and froze as he finally saw who it was. The Firebolt had moved so fast her clothes were just a blur of color when he reached her, making her unrecognizable while they were in the air.

Merlin, no. Hermione's head lolled back as she was completely unconscious and when he used one hand to lift her head, he saw her lips were void of their usual pink and was a very pale blue. Please don't be dead. Draco looked back and could see the dementor in the distance. With the way it's cloak moved, he was unsure if it was coming closer but he had no intention to stay if it was. Draco removed Hermione's cloak and transfigured it into a stretcher, as transfiguration was easier than conjuration. He easily lifted her on to it, despite his shoulder objecting with pain, and looked back at the dementor that could tell was now coming closer. Draco cast a spell to link the stretcher to his Firebolt so he could guide her to the hospital wing.

Draco flew at a hurried speed but made sure it wasn't so fast to where she was in danger of slipping off the stretcher. He silently sent prayers as he flew, hoping that to whatever God was listening, she had not received the kiss and was still... Hermione. Draco passed by Filch who started to yell and chase after him but Draco refused to slow down. A small part of him hoped that no one else saw him but a bigger part of him did not care at that moment. Granger's a good person who doesn't deserve any of this. Please let her be ok.

When he finally made it to the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey was finishing up her treatment on Crabbe who had gotten hurt in practice. Both Madam Pomfrey's and Crabbe's eye widened when Draco used his wand to throw open the doors, and end the spell on Hermione's cloak, letting her fall gently onto a hospital bed. Madam Pomfrey immediately ran over and started to check her vitals.

"What happened?"

"A dementor attacked her. Outside." Should I lie about where she was?

"Were you attacked, too?" He shook his head and, thankfully, Madam Pomfrey didn't ask him where exactly Hermione was. When she was done looking Hermione over, she looked him in the eyes, answering a question he did not know he was waiting an answer on. "She's going to be fine although she should have been covered up a bit more. She almost went into the second stage of hypothermia and has heavy bruising on her left side." Shite, I should've put a warming charm on her.

Madam Pomfrey walked off to get her supplies and Draco locked eyes with Crabbe who was staring him down. Draco put on a look of distaste that would have rivaled his father's and he removed his wand so the privacy curtains surrounded Hermione's bed. Draco pulled up a chair and sat next to her bed. What were you doing up there, Granger? There was a very short list in his mind on why a student would be at the astronomy tower and genuinely wanted to know why she was up there so he could rule out the bad scenarios.

Draco watched Madam Pomfrey work on Hermione, at first she cast a slow working warming charm, so she did not go into shock from the change in temperatures (which made him feel worse as he did not think of that either,) then she force fed Hermione a mixture of pure chocolate and milk down her throat to counteract the effects of the dementor on her. Madam Pomfrey then started to chip off chunks of chocolate from the small chocolate boulder the had on the plate in front of her. "Will she be waking up anytime soon?"

Madam Pomfrey gave a soft snort. "No, she won't. The poor girl is completely drained." Madam Pomfrey turned to him, wiping her hands off on her skirt. "I'm going to need you to leave Mr. Malfoy. I need to heal her bruises." She paused for a second, before putting her hands on her side. "Do you happen to know how she got the bruises?"

His shoulder and neck screamed 'YES' but what he told the healer was "No."

She nodded, as she had the tendency to not ask too many questions. "Very well." Madam Pomfrey turned back to Hermione and started to lift her sweater as he left. When he stepped out of the privacy curtains, Crabbe was gone and when Draco checked the time with his wand, he saw that dinner had just finished. His stomach growled but he reminded himself he had been through worse hungers and returned to his common room.

As he laid in bed, he tried not to think about Hermione, trying to remind himself that he should hate her for hexing him, for publicly embarrassing him, not wanting to figure her out like she was a puzzle. Draco hardly knew her and yet, every part that he saw of her left an impression that he wanted to explore. She was like the Manor or Hogwarts: a collection of secrets that he wanted to know.

After saving her, Draco had fully come to terms with the fact that he knew what he wanted. He wanted to be her friend and have the same loyalty she seemed to have with Harry and Ron.

Chapter Text

Knock, knock, knock. The study door creaked open and Crewe's head appeared in the room. "Master, Mr. Nott has come to-"

Lucius put the journal he was writing in into one of his desk drawers and set his white peacock quill down. "Let him in you vazey halfwit." The insult lacked its usual venom as he was feeling a bit depressed at how his usually busy days had slowed to a dull.

Crewe bowed his head and opened the door to allow Theodore Nott, Sr. to walk into the room, his Jaxon hat in his hands. "Thank you for having me, Lucius- I hope I am not disturbing you."

Lucius waved a hand, "Please, sit down, the only thing that is disturbing me is all the orders I have to sign off on. Would you like a drink?" Lucius got up and walked over to the globe behind him. He tipped it open to reveal two glasses and a bottle of gin. Lucius preferred Fire Whiskey but knew Nott preferred Gin so he kept a bottle around for his oldest ally. With his back turned he didn't see Nott raise an eyebrow at Lucius's desk that was bare of any orders that he mentioned.

"I'd love one, no ice, no water." Lucius poured two glasses, his having ice, and handed the other without ice to Nott. After he took a sip, Nott spoke again. "So business is good then?" Nott's eyes were as dark as his pupils and his son's were nearly the same, only a shade lighter. Lucius found it interesting how dark they were and questioned if they were natural or not, as he knew the nature of Draco's eyes.

"Of course." It was a lie. Nearly every single business he worked with had pulled out, even ones that had been in his family for generations. The few that didn't, he was hesitant to work with as he was concerned they had intentions to try and black mail him. All of the businesses he had worked with regularly were shady businesses though and it was to be expected for them to withdraw their interest as dark wizards usually went hand in hand as blood purists. Some wizards even considered blood traitors to be beneath muggleborns- Lucius being one of them.

"Mmmm," Knot took another sip of his drink, never breaking eye contact with Lucius. "I've heard differently. You know we have some of the same business' working with us. Some of them have been very vocal on how they feel about the Malfoy name. Others have offered to make better deals with me."

"I see." Lucius took a sip of his drink. He hated how Nott always had to beat around the bush or asked questions he knew the answer to. Lucius had always been a straight forward wizard. "So why ask? Better yet- what do you want, Nott?" Lucius used Theodore's last name as a reminder they were not friends, simply allies.

Nott nodded once and removed a envelope from inside his jacket pocket. It was nearly identical to the black envelopes that the Malfoys used when writing letters except this one had the dark mark in glossy black over the matte envelope. Lucius kept his face still to betray nothing but his stomach flipped and his mark itched. His loyal years of servitude to Voldemort were enjoyed but they came at the cost of fearing for not just his life, but Narcissa's. Even the most loyal were not safe when it came to the Dark Lord. "You didn't have to hand deliver this, you never had before."

Nott's eye twinkled as he spoke. "I wanted to make sure you would accept this time. You hadn't accepted in years and a lot of the inner circle doubts you now more than ever." Nott gave a sympathetic look that pissed Lucius off immediately. "The Quiddittch World Cup Tournament is coming in the summer. I assume you bought tickets?"

Lucius raised a blonde eyebrow. "Yes. A birthday gift for Draco." Lucius made a mental note to pick up another ticket for Hermione at the mention of it.

Nott leaned forward, his excitement becoming more evident on his face. "Then this will be perfect, he can join me, Theo and the rest of the inner circle to remember our Dark Lord. I have invited a few others, some of them possible business partners so you can get some connections back. Prove to them that the Malfoy name is still one of honor. I don't know how you ended up adopting a mudblood but the Lucius and Narcissa I know would have never let such filth be dragged into their home." Nott shook his head in disgust and took another drink. "I respect you enough not to pry. Your business has always been your business and I am sure you have your own plans for her." Nott straightened in his chair, grinning at Lucius. "So what do you say?"

Lucius had been half listening to Nott, a part of him focusing on the wards to locate Narcissa, while another part thought of how the Death Eaters getting together at the Quidditch World Cup would be the perfect opportunity to get rid of Hermione... If his wife allowed it. He had started to grow suspicious after Christmas about his wife's intent with the girl as her fondness for Hermione seemed too genuine to be an act. "I would need to speak to Narcissa before accepting."

Nott gave an unintelligent grunt and Lucius was unsure what it meant. "Of course. I don't know why you let her have so much say, I would have killed Theo's mother sooner if she even tried to have as much say as Narcissa does-" Lucius gave Nott a dark look at the suggestion and Nott put a hand in front of him to stop Lucius. "Your business is your business."

"You should do well to remember that she was ranked above either of us. If the Dark Lord could move past archaic views, so should we." Lucius never treated or saw Narcissa as an inferior but Nott was hard pressed like many men to let his misogynistic views go. Nott was always one to follow the crowd and if Lucius had to bring up other men's views on his wife to make sure Narcissa was shown respect, then he would.

Another grunt and Nott drank the rest of his whiskey. "After you two talk and are ready to accept, you know to open the envelope." Nott stood and Lucius escorted him to the front doors of the manor.

"I look forward to your reply." With a nod, Nott exited the front doors.

Lucius started to walk to the second floor balcony, where he sensed his wife. When he got there, she looked up at him, worry on her face as she held a parchment in her hands. He gave her a quick peck on the lips for comfort. Whatever had her worried had him alarmed as Narcissa did not often let herself become concerned with a lot of things. "What's wrong?"

She handed him the letter she received. It was another one from Draco about Hermione and as he read, the more confused he became. "Why are you so worried? She's unharmed." He knew Narcissa had a soft spot for children, even muggle ones- it was one of the reasons she made sure Voldemort favored her over most of his followers, she passed along any duties involving children to others so she did not have to harm them- but he did not see why she was this worried. His earlier doubts came to mind and he studied her as she spoke.

Narcissa blinked, slightly taken aback and looked away, hiding her face from him. "I don't see why she was on the astronomy tower. Even then, the ledge is tall and thick, she had to climb on to it for her to fall."

"You think she tried to kill herself? He said a dementor was present, it was probably just an accident." Lucius pulled a chair over so he could sit in front of Narcissa.

"I do. Even if it was an attempt to get away from the dementor... She's been through a lot and-" Lucius grabbed her hands, even though one of them was still holding the envelope Nott gave him. She removed her hand and saw the glossy emblem that was the dark mark. "What is this, Lucius?" She took it from his hand and made to open it, but he stopped her by placing his hands over hers.

"Nott delivered it. If you open it, it means we have accepted the invitation." She looked at him, her expression even more tense as Lucius spoke. "Nott wants to cause some commotion at the Quidditch World Cup Tournament. He didn't give me many details, other than the inner circle who is not in Azkaban would be involved, and that I may be able to save some business opportunities if we were involved."

Narcissa gave a sharp intake of breath, her mind already processing what he was saying. "We would have to accept it then." Her eyes narrowed at Lucius and leaned back. "Draco will not be involved, I don't care if Nott is having his own son join but both he and Hermione have to be kept safe. She's a muggleborn and they'll come after her."

Lucius was surprised, both at Narcissa's protectiveness of Hermione and the relief that released the vice on his stomach at her demanding Draco kept out of it. A part of him said that a twinge of relief was aimed at Hermione being kept safe but dismissed it entirely. She was entertaining to him at best but entertainment could be found elsewhere. He pursed lips and looked at his wife who was deep in her own thoughts. Lucius thought about all of the agreements that were terminated because of his false blood-traitor status the other wizards had labeled his family with. "What are your intentions with Hermione?"

Narcissa didn't look at him but he saw her breathing still. He's short-sighted, but not an idiot. "I already told you, I would take care of her."

"But you never gave 'take care of her' a definition. When Draco said he admitted that her adoption was forced, it should been a benefit to you from the impression I was initially given. Hearing that she nearly received the dementors kiss at Hogwarts, turning her into a zombie would give her a one way ticket to St. Mungo's. Theodore Nott wants to attack a place she will be present, and you jump to protect her." His voice was calm instead of accusatory as he wanted to talk to his wife rather than argue with her.

Narcissa looked at her husband and swallowed hard. After all the years they had been together it was one of two lies she had told him- the other being about Dr. Augsen being Andromeda- and she was not expecting to admit her true intentions until the end of the school year at worst. She wanted to cry with everything that had happened before it had even reached noon and Narcissa did not cry.

Lucius took the envelope from her hand and pinned it under her plate with Draco's letter. He grabbed her hands again and gripped them, suspecting she may try to run with what he said next. "After... After your last miscarriage-"

Narcissa took a deep breath and tried to pull her hand away but he held on to them. "I told you we don't talk about what Voldemort did!" Her voice came out as a hiss as she struggled.

"And we haven't. Not for fourteen years. But after that had happened, I had asked you if you wanted me to-"

"Murder a pureblood wizard family and take their child?!" Her voice became a roar and she pulled her arms so hard, it hurt. He finally let go of her, knowing she would hurt herself but grabbed the arms of the chair and stood, blocking her from leaving as he leaned over her. If they had a muggle wedding, Narcissa swore she would have divorced him that night when he made the suggestion and they had not talked for months afterwards. Her fury instantly came back to her at the mention of their biggest fight they ever had and Narcissa looked away, mentally damning them being wizards as she was unable to hurt him due to their vows. "Why are you talking about this, Lucius?"

"I was a Death Eater and did not fully understand the gift of a child, Narcissa. Not until Draco. Although, if you were to ask me tonight to get you a child I would do it," She looked at him, eyes wide from what she was hearing. "But only out of obligation to you. I would not enjoy it, I would only be doing it because you had requested it of me. I am a cruel person, Narcissa. That's not a secret," He took a deep breath and gathered his emotions to say what he was going to say next. "but if you asked for me to make an exception for Gr-Hermione, I would. I would treat her as if she was family if that's what you wanted of me."

Narcissa stared at her husband for a few minutes, processing what he said and did not speak until he sat in his chair across from her, allowing her to leave if she wanted to as he said what he wanted to say. "What?" Narcissa considered conjuring revealing water as she did not believe Lucius was the one standing in front of her.

"I would... try." He added. "I can't promise to not to hate everything she represents, her presence has disrupted so much. We are far from being broke but I don't have any business partners anymore and I have obligations as Head of House. I won't sit here and do nothing for the rest of my life."

Narcissa reached over to him and grabbed one of his hands between hers. "I know." She paused for a moment and cleared her throat before continuing. "It is what I want. I do feel bad for her, Lucius, and while I know Fudge is the reason she is here with us, I feel... it may have been fate." She played with his hand nervously as the words sounded weird when she said them as neither of them believed in such superstitions. "Or something. I can't think of a better family to protect her." She added.

Lucius bit his tongue at his thoughts on what his wife said and instead turned their palms upward to show the scars they made on their wedding day as part of their bonding ritual. "You cannot command me, for I am a free person, but I shall serve you in those ways you require. It was over twenty years ago we promised this to each other as you followed me into the Dark Lord's path-"

Narcissa made a sound similar to a soft snort. "More like you followed me."

Lucius shook his head as he closed his hands over the one with the scar. "I started it. It's the biggest regret of my life bringing you into those dark times and I promised myself I would spend the rest of my life making you up for putting you through that." He took a deep breath before continuing. "If this is the family you want to have, let me know so I may start preparing myself for summer. I want to do right by you." Lucius kissed her knuckles and looked into her eyes. She tried to look away to hide the tear that had fell but he wiped it away before she could fully turn away from him. "I know you believe in actions over words so I will serve you in every way to make you happy."

Narcissa nodded and kissed the hand he still had resting on her cheek. Again, she found herself wishing that he would show his more compassionate side to Draco, but knew with the conversations she and Lucius had been having lately, it would come with time. She grabbed the black envelope and ripped it open and it transfigured into a smokey figure of the dark mark before dissipating. He reached for her hand and stood, gently pulling her up to stand. "I suppose we should head to Hogwarts. No one of the Malfoy family should be attacked without us causing some uproar."

Narcissa playfully hit his arm and shook her head before allowing him to guide her into the house to retrieve their robes, after she sent the letter to Andromeda.

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Yellow Chrysanthemums, purple Aster's, white Babies Breath, and a Single pink Rose in the middle. This was the bouquet Hermione was carrying as she walked through the cemetery, towards where her parents were buried.

Or at least, where she thought they were buried. The fog was so thick in the cemetery that she couldn't see more than a meter in front of her, which threw her into a panic as she knew she was on a time frame. Hermione didn't know how she knew this or how much time she had, but she knew when her time was up, something bad was going to happen. She started to run across the graves, frantically reading the gravestones as she stepped over them. She was in the wrong year and she took a turn, hoping to get into the more recently deceased row of bodies. I have to find mum and dad. I have to find mum and dad. 1970, 1969- I'm going backwards-

"Hermione!" Her head whipped around, unsure where her father's voice was coming from. "Over here!" she turned again as it sounded as if the voice moved around her.

Hermione took a step forward in the direction she thought she heard her father. She took another and when she continued to hear nothing, she kept walking forward, this time calling out herself. "Dad! Where are you?" The feeling of impending doom got worse and her panic made her take off in a sprint. I have to find them.

"Hermione, please!" This time it was her mother calling out and when Hermione ran faster, she could see lights dancing through the fog in front of her, she sped up, only to feel something grab her ankle, letting her fall to the side, the flowers flying into the mist before her.

There was a growl and she looked back, to see a corpse wearing a trench coat and a black bowler hat had a firm grip on her ankle. She let out a cry as she clawed at the ground, trying to pull herself away but the half decayed hand tightened its grip. It pulled her closer and she did the only thing she could think to do: she pulled a leg back and kicked the head of the corpse as hard as she could-

"SON OF A-"

"Minister, are you all right?!"

Hermione scrambled in bed, pulling her legs up to her chest as pain shot up in the foot she had let fly forward, as she had not fully comprehended that she was no longer dreaming but in bed. She struggled with the covers that were covering her face due to her being tangled in them, before a hand grabbed the white sheets and lifted it from her face.

Hermione went still and blanched seeing Minister Fudge, Dumbledore, Narcissa and Lucius standing around her hospital bed. She looked at Lucius who still had the white blanket in his hand from when he freed her and took it from him, bringing it to her chin. His face was his usual neutral mask but his eyes revealed that he was amused her antics. "What is going on? Why am I in the hospital wing?..." Her voice got smaller as she slowly remembered. The astronomy tower. The dementor. Blacking out. She suddenly felt sick and it must have shown as Dumbledore conjured a bin for her to vomit into.

When she was done, he vanished the liquid, but not the bin, and picked up a small brick of chocolate by the hospital bedside to hand to her. The command to eat was a silent one, and despite her the disgusting taste it created in her mouth, she ate. "We were hoping you could tell us, Miss Granger." Dumbledore looked like he had the day Harry was attacked by dementors when Gryffindor went against Hufflepuff. He knows about the dementor... But how?

Hermione skirted around his silent question and answered with one of her own. "How did I get into the hospital wing?"

"I'm going to get Poppy." Narcissa spoke this time and gave the slightest of nods to Lucius who answered Hermione's question.

"Draco said he saw you collapse and managed to chase off a dementor with flames long enough for him to get you to the hospital wing."

"A third year, chasing off a dementor, ridiculous." Minister Fudge muttered under his breath as he rubbed his hand. Hermione's eyebrows raised as she looked at Fudge and she could feel her upper lip curl up from anger. "That's far too advanced-"

"We've had to do it several times already." Hermione looked at the Minister incredulously, fully awake from the chocolate and not believing that he was dismissing a danger he brought to Hogwarts. Narcissa was already returning with Madam Pomfrey close behind her. "Harry Potter has been attacked twice," She ignored the pang in her chest saying his name, but made emphasis on it knowing his life mattered to Fudge over hers. "I've been attacked twice-"

"Twice?" Madam Pomfrey used Narcissa's interruption to check Hermione's vitals. "Albus, why were Lucius and I not notified the first time she had an encounter with those- those creatures?"

"Professor Lupin-"

"I'm sorry, Lupin?" Lucius was the one to interrupt this time, his amused twinkle gone. "As in Remus Lupin? Former best friend of-"

"The very same." Dumbledore turned to face Lucius, and Hermione squirmed at his serious demeanor.

Lucius scoffed and looked at Narcissa, choosing not to address Dumbledore. "And we wonder why break-ins keep happening, if we could have just sent Draco to Durmstrang-"

Narcissa cut off his rant which he started in French with her own rebuttal. "I was NOT going to send our son so far away. And what about Hermione? She would have come here anyway." She waved her hand as a sign she was done with the conversation and Lucius turned away completely, running a hand over his hair. "Continue, Albus- Please."

Best friend of whom? Hermione listened intensely as Madam Pomfrey back off of her and handed her more chocolate. "Does anything hurt, love?"

Hermione nearly said no, but her attention was brought to her right foot that had a very uncomfortable throb. "My foot, actually." She started to take off her shoe and saw Lucius look at Minister Fudge with a smirk, the amused look in his eye again. She glanced at Fudge who had his lips pressed into a line as he continued to rub his hand. When Hermione took her sock off, there was some bruising where her metatarsal bones were. "Oh!"

"You kicked my hand in your sleep." Fudge said gruffly. He flexed his fingers and he made a sound between a whimper and a grunt when one did not move.

"You had your hand on the railing of the bed, Minister, surely you can't be upset at a child when you were the one to place your hand there." Lucius smirked at Fudge. "She's prone to nightmares, you know." Fudge decided to ignore Lucius although everyone noticed a blush started to creep across his face.

Narcissa walked over to the right side of the bed. "I'll heal her Poppy, you can tend to the Minister." Before Madam Pomfrey could protest, Narcissa had her Hawthorn Wood wand out and pointed it over Hermione's foot. "Reducere tumentes." Hermione watched closely as Narcissa healed her. "Poppy should have a salve for you to put over the bruising." Before Hermione could reply, Narcissa pulled her into a hug and whispered in her ear. "Dumbledore does not know you were at the top of the tower, however, Dr. Augsen will be here to visit you later today." Hermione was completely rigid and didn't move, even when Narcissa pulled away.

Hermione felt the tears pooling in her eyes and took another bite of chocolate just so she could focus on something, even though her throat burned. She felt ashamed, anxious, and everything in between. Narcissa stood and put her hand on her shoulder. Hermione couldn't help but compare how Narcissa comforted her to how her mother comforted her. The Malfoy's were reserved in every way and knew that the hug she just received was only done so she could whisper in her ear while her mother would have literally smothered her until Hermione was the one to move away. Narcissa however offered a hand on her shoulder that had a soft grip. A reassurance that she was there but nothing more and the gesture made her ache for her mother's touch.

"Perhaps we should let Hermione rest and take our conversation elsewhere?" Narcissa gave a pat then removed her hand from Hermione's shoulder before joining her husband at the end of the bed.

The adults gathered into a close circle as they walked off, leaving Hermione with Madam Pomfrey who was asking a house elf to bring Hermione lunch. Hermione could faintly hear Dumbledore's voice growing more and more faint. "Minister, the dementors need to be removed. They had been snuck by twice by Black..."

————————————

"We should have done more to stop her, Ron."

Hermione was laying in bed, curled into the fetal position and pretending to be asleep. She didn't want to face her best friends yet and hoped that they would leave soon. They had been bickering back and forth for the last thirty minutes about her and it made her heart ache even more. A part of her wanted to drop the act and make up with her friends but she felt deeply wounded by them. Hermione didn't want to face them yet after what she almost did.

"I know, Harry." Ron's voice was sad and full of regret. "I shouldn't of had been so hard on her about Crookshanks."

"What if she would have died? What if the dementor made her feel even worse?" Ron stayed silent this time. "Dumbledore told us to be there for her and we weren't." Dumbledore?

There was silence for a couple more minutes and behind them she could hear footsteps. "Maybe we should wake her?"

"Don't you dare! I think that's enough of you two, she obviously needs her rest!" Madam Pomfrey's voice was at a regular volume but left no room for an argument. Pomfrey was happy to hear Hermione wanted to stay in the hospital wing as most students tried to leave and was more than willing to play along with her fake sleeping, knowing it was a queue that she was not wanting to be bothered.

"What is he doing here?" Ron's voice had taken an angry tone and Hermione remembered how he looked at her when he was shoving the bed sheet in her face.

"I would suggest you buy some glasses, Weasley, but I know you'd have to sell a brother to afford it and no one would want to buy him. I'm bringing Granger books from her classes." When she heard Draco's annoying, drawling voice she nearly opened her eyes as she was hesitant to believe her ears. Why is he here? He shouldn't care if I miss homework. Lucius said that Draco had saved her and she tried to poke holes in the logic for hours but without more information she had nothing to disprove it. The fact that Narcissa knew she was on Astronomy Tower only proved he helped her, although she did not believed he chased off the dementor. He was no where near her from what she remembered on the tower and her blue flames only caused them to scatter from surprise, making them slow their accent to Harry when he fainted.

"That's enough, Mr. Malfoy. Go and take the books to her bedside." Hermione heard footsteps come closer to her and a heavy thud that she assumed was the books being set down. Madam Pomfrey's footsteps, accompanied by Harry and Ron's footsteps, became more and more distant until there was the distant thud of the heavy, wooden door closing behind them. The only sounds that came next was the footsteps of Madam Pomfrey passing by her bed to go to her office.

Half of Hermione's brain said she was alone because it was so quite while the other said that she wasn't as she never heard Draco leave her side. She stayed how she was for a few minutes, trying to keep her breathing as even and as slow as possible. "You can stop pretending, they left." Hermione hesitated opening her eyes but gave in. When she did, she jumped back as his face was so close to hers that his eyes looked like silver and black orbs.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Malfoy!" He threw his head back with laughter at her reaction. She had clutched her chest as a comfort to her racing heart. Hating how he was laughing at her, she grabbed her pillow and hit him with it.

"Hey!" He grabbed the pillow from her and scowled.

"Came to finish the job by heart attack?" Hermione regretted what she said immediately as she knew what she tried to do was not something to make light of.

"You have an odd way of thanking people, Granger." Draco sat in the chair that was farthest from her and put his feet on the one closest to her so he was facing her.

Hermione felt a pang of guilt and looked away. What is wrong with me? "I'm sorry." She glanced at him and resisted the urge to apologize a second time remembering that he didn't like the words.

"Don't worry about it." He waved a hand and looked down at the pillow in his lap. He thought about what he would say if she was awake but he couldn't remember any of it now. He didn't know how to interact with a Gryffindor he was supposed to hate due to her blood status. At least, not when he wasn't trying to bully them or get something from them. Draco thought about leaving, thinking he shouldn't be there but she interrupted his thoughts.

"Did you really- Did you save me from the dementor?"

Draco's gaze met her watery gaze for a moment before dropping his eyes back down to the pillow. Always the forward one. "Yes and no."

"What does that mean? What happened?" Her voice had gotten low again and he took his feet off the other chair and leaned forward so his elbows were resting on his knees.

"I was flying back to the castle after quidditch practice and I... I saw you fell from the Astronomy tower, so I caught you." She was silently crying again and while she cried a lot, he realized he didn't mind it in the same way he did with Pansy. He wanted Hermione to stop, but he wasn't annoyed with her as she had a genuine reason to be a constant mess.

"Why? Why did you bother?" Hermione wiped at her face, knowing she had ugly pink splotches on her pale face but didn't care. "I'm just a mudb-"

"Don't." His tone was serious and when she looked at him, he had an intense stare that crinkled his blonde eyebrows. "I don't-" He breathed deeply through his nose and scratched the back of his neck. It was one thing to think what he was feeling but another thing to say what he was feeling. He wasn't a Gryffindor, he was a Slytherin. They were known for self-preservation in every way. "I didn't want to watch you die." He shrugged as he settled on what he thought was a safe answer. He looked up at her and she looked like she was expecting more of an explanation. "You're a good person... And it's better that you're here, than not." Draco decided that it was all he would give as he wasn't completely comfortable with being so open around her.

When Hermione heard Draco call her a good person she found herself not trusting her ears for a second time since he arrived. Her bully had paid her a compliment and it completely whelmed her as her brain was still saying she belonged in a rubbish bin somewhere. She pulled her knees into her chest and hugged them, resting her nose on her arms. She forced herself to look at him when she spoke again. Hermione knew she wanted to believe what he was saying and she hoped it was the truth. She wanted validation even if the validation came from Draco. "And last year? When the basilisk was terrorizing muggleborns in the castle?"

He looked at her, meeting her gaze. Eye contact is important, Draco. His father's voice whispered in his head. It lets the other party know you're attentive and it makes them trust you, no matter what your intentions may be- always look people in the eye if you want them to hear you. "I said a lot of stupid things, Granger. Things I thought I meant until... Recently."

Hermione felt her lower lip tremble and buried her face in the space between her knees and chest so he didn't see her face. She hated this feeling of being so weak that she sought validation from someone she didn't consider a friend. She hated that she valued it just the same as she was that broken. Hermione bit her lip trying not to make any noise. She knew it was childish but she tried to pretend he wasn't there to save her from some embarrassment at how she was acting.

After a few moments, Hermione heard Draco stand so she looked up, rubbing the tears and snot from her face with a ragged breath. "When mother came by she brought etiquette books. They're not the most entertaining, but they're better than nothing." His hand rubbed the back of his neck again as looked at her face. She couldn't place what he was feeling but it was better than the unreadable mask she often dealt with when they interacted. She nodded her understanding and they both heard the hospital door open, followed by the loud clack of heels. "I'll be heading out." He tossed the pillow on to the bed before turning to exit.

When he placed a hand on the curtain she spoke. "Will you come back?" Hermione wanted to say that she didn't know why she wanted him to come back but she did. She didn't want to feel alone anymore and the thought of having to deal with anyone else at Hogwarts that was her age made her feel tired. Even Lavender who she knew would only want to talk about magazines, divination or horoscopes. There was something about the Draco that allowed her to feel like she didn't have many expectations to live up to and she figured it was due to the fact he had not just seen her at her worst, but acted as if he hadn't. Hermione never saw pity in his eyes when he looked at her and she appreciated that. He nodded once then disappeared behind the curtain at the same time the sound of heels stopped.

There was a pause before Dr. Augsen came in and sat in the chair Draco had his feet on earlier. Her hair was down and her eyes were completely soft, showing more emotion than she ever had before. It was a new-look that would have disarmed Hermione if she did not feel exposed already. "Hullo." Hermione looked into her therapist's eyes and her throat closed up from embarrassment and shame. She's going to want me to drop my classes. "Good afternoon, Dr. Augsen." She didn't want to be sitting in front of Dr. Augsen right now. She thought she should have been dead, which was an alternative she thought she still preferred at the moment.

Dr. Augsen crossed her legs and placed her hands in her lap. "Hermione, if there was something I did wrong or did not pick up on, I-I am so sorry." Dr. Augsen's hands were balled into fists and she looked as if she was in pain when she apologized.

"There wasn't-" Hermione shook her head when her body threatened to collapse into sobs. She cleared her throat and looked at her knees. "You didn't ask me how I am doing this time."

The light comment made Dr. Augsen tilt her head to the side. "I'd imagine after an attempt-"

"There was no attempt." Hermione's voice wavered and she gripped the ring on her necklace, digging the spikes in deeper than she had before. "There was no suicide attempt, if that's what everyone thought happened."

"Hermione, you don't have to lie." Dr. Augsen slipped her hands through the railing to place them on to the bed. She leaned to the side so Hermione could see she was trying to lock eyes with her. "I'm here to help you." Hermione looked up at her and her skin screamed as the ring dug deeper than it had ever had before into her flesh. The pain was grounding and she used it to keep her head above the storm inside of her that wanted to drown her in her own tears. "Listen, I think it's about time you dropped your classes, they're not help-"

Hermione let out a frustrated breath. "I'm not lying Doctor! Stop suggesting I stop taking so many subjects! I can't drop anything until I get through the year with an 'O'! I'm not allowed to drop anything!" Hermione hated that she lost the power struggle on staying calm but it was so hard. Everything was so hard and she wished it would either stop or get better.

Dr. Augsen's eyebrows came together. "Why do you feel that dropping the class isn't allowed? You said you would if-"

"Because I was never allowed to quit until I proved I was the best." Hermione's lower lip trembled as she spoke and she let out a dry sob before pressing a palm against her face. "My parents wouldn't allow me to quit unless I was the best. I always had to prove it somehow before they would allow me to withdraw from anything I hated. This is something I need to do." Hermione rubbed her sleeve roughly against her face and looked down at her hands. "I know I promised I would drop the classes if they were the problem, and they're not. The work keeps me busy."

Dr. Augsen was quiet for a moment, mulling over what Hermione said. It was new information she decided not to discuss it further as she needed to address the main concern she had. "Look at me, please." Her voice was soft and Hermione hesitantly looked into her eyes. "What pushed you to go to the top of Astronomy Tower?" Hermione shook her head just to have an excuse to break the intense eye contact before looking back into her therapist's blue eyes. Hermione read once that semi-truths were the best lies and hoped it was true.

"Ron and I had an argument and I wanted to get away from him. I was up there, but I didn't jump. The dementor caused me to faint." Dr. Augsen maintained her intense look and Hermione felt a slight tickle in her brain. It was the oddest sensation but as soon as it came, it was gone. Hermione resisted the urge to shift her weight. She was trying to think of anything else to help her as she played with her ring again but the only other fact about lying she could think of was keeping her answers short- something she was already doing.

Dr. Augsen blinked as it sunk in that Hermione was telling the truth. "Why were you on the ledge?" Dr. Augsen wondered if her magic was failing her as she and Narcissa were convinced Hermione wanted to off herself. Dr. Augsen didn't need to perform legilimens on Hermione to know if she was lying or not and everything Hermione said was true. Some thing still felt off but she she couldn't pin down what.

"The view was really pretty." Dr. Augsen's head tilted again and Hermione thought it was the wrong thing to say. "I'm afraid of heights, looking down clears my head when I'm at a height." Both are truths, but not why I was up there- nor does my head clear in a positive way. Hermione grew more and more nervous as Dr. Augsen continued to stare at her.

Finally Dr. Augsen spoke, with the barest hint of a smile on her lips. "How Gryffindor."

Hermione flashed the hint of one herself but she felt her exhaustion immediately take over again, closely followed by her depression. "I suppose if you believe in that type of thing." Lying had always been exhausting but doing it when she had no energy to spare in the first place left her wanting to sleep for the week. Hermione pulled the covers up to her chin again. "I'm really tired after... after the dementor." Hermione wasn't sure if she was referring to the physical one or the one inside her head. "Would you mind if we talked next session?" Hermione made herself yawn for emphasis and Dr. Augsen stood.

"Of course." Dr. Augsen was confused by her discoveries but felt elated at the news that Hermione did not try to kill herself. She was satisfied for now but would do more probing when they met again on Wednesday. "I'll see you in a few days, Hermione." Hermione nodded as she laid down, and Andromeda couldn't help but noticed how defeated the young girl looked. "I'm happy Draco was there to catch you, you know."

Hermione looked at Dr. Augsen, tears welling in her eyes. "Me, too."

Dr. Augsen knew her magic wasn't failing her then as she felt the familiar tell of heat welling behind her ears when someone lied to her. Baby steps. So long as she didn't try to kill herself... Dr. Augsen moved the curtain to the side and started towards the exit, but not before witnessing the blonde head of her nephew slipping out into the hallway, hoping he hadn't been caught eavesdropping.

Chapter Text

Draco's fist smashed into Crabbe's already bloody face a third time. Then a fourth time. A fifth time. Crabbe fully lost consciousness at the fourth punch due to his weak jaw, but Draco was making a statement to not just him, but to everyone in the main Slytherin common room. Draco pulled his arm back for a sixth punch for good measure, but Pansy's hiccup/ screech combination broke him out of the rhythm he had started to slip into. Draco let go of Crabbe's sweater vest, allowing the bigger boy to fall back with a heavy thud. No one moved when Draco straightened up, not even Goyle who was struggling moments before as Theo and Blaise held him back.

Draco's platinum eyes fell to Goyle and he spoke after a few heavy breaths. "Let him go." They did, and Theo pushed Goyle so he stumbled forward over his long legs like a newborn deer. Draco kept his fists up in case Goyle made to attack him again, but he didn't. Goyle crouched down by Crabbe, warily watching Draco as he tried to get Crabbe to wake up. When it was made obvious to Draco that Goyle had no intention of attacking him, Draco kept his shoulders back and his chin high as his gaze swept over his housemates, challenging any of them to say something or step forward. Most of the crowd had heard what Crabbe had said, and even if they didn't, he wouldn't explain. Malfoys don't owe anyone an explanation his father would say.

Draco came back from the hospital wing pissed to find that Hermione had left during Sunday's breakfast. Crabbe, had decided then was the best time to try to confront Draco in front of everyone about what he saw in the infirmary Friday night:

"So our infamous blood-traitor has decided to grace us with his presence." Crabbe had a weak imitation of Draco's confident sneer on his face and Goyle stood behind Crabbe, copying him. "Were you visiting your little pet just now? The one who would be better off dead, but you decided to save her instead? What would your father think?" Draco's face had turned red and he already decided that he was going to have to officially remind Crabbe where he stood.

Draco strode towards Crabbe, hands in fists, with Theo who immediately dropped the he was reading to join his side. "I thought I told you I wouldn't repeat myself in telling you to stop insulting me or my family you third rate blood purist." Blaise caught up a moment later, whispering to Draco that 'Crabbe wasn't worth it', but Goyle stepped in front of Crabbe and swung at Draco. Theo lunged at Goyle before he could land the blow on Draco, but Crabbe had used Theo's charge as a distraction for him to land his punch on Draco. Thanks to Lucius though, Draco took the punch with ease and quickly gained the upper hand while Blaise helped Theo hold Goyle back.

Reaching his bed, Draco quickly unbuttoned his shirt and threw it into the rubbish bin. He could have magicked the blood stains on his cuff out, but he didn't feel the need to bother when he would just buy another shirt if he needed. He turned to his drawer and pulled out another shirt. As he was buttoning up the shirt, Pansy walked into the room, trying to stifle her sobs but failing. He gave her a dirty look from barging in, and turned his back to her as he finished buttoning the last few buttons of his shirt.

"He's been talking about you the whole morning. Saying you're a disappointment to the Sacred Twenty-Eight." He turned to face her as he started to roll the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. It was a look he wore often on the weekends, as Hogwarts did not allow students to deform the school uniform when they were in class. His scowl deepened at the fact he chose not to roll up the sleeves this morning, which would have saved him the shirt, but reminded himself that clothes were easily replacable. Pansy had her hands crossed over her chest and a hand over her mouth. "Are you... Are you okay?" He took a moment to scourgify Crabbe's blood from his skin, leaving the area clean as if nothing happened.

"I'm fine, honestly, you're worse off than me." He finished rolling up his second sleeve as he opened a drawer to look for the bruising cream he kept and when he found it, he put a thin layer over the area where Crabbe's fist made contact. Pansy's crying didn't bother him as she whined or cried for everything, and even if it did, he found he wasn't the consoling type. "And what would Crabbe know about being a Pureblood? His family isn't a part of the Twenty-Eight like ours. He's a freaking half-blood." When Draco walked past her to go back down the stairs, he offered a handkerchief. She took it and blew her nose, following him down the steps of the boys dorm.

"Where are you going?" She asked between sniffles and Draco rolled his eyes.

"I need to get out of the dungeons, perhaps the library. Is that ok, mum?" He didn't slow his pace as he continued down the stairs and into the common room. Heads instantly whirled to give him their full attention, already whispering about what had just happened.

"I'll go with you!" She fast walked to maintain the same pace he had.

He nearly stopped and whirled around to tell her where she could go instead, but he needed the other Slytherins to think he was to be respected, not feared because he snapped on everyone who crossed his path. "I don't want company. I want to be left alone."

"You always want to be left alone! Unless you're with Blaise or Theo-" Draco glanced around the room quickly, only using his eyes. Speaking of, where had those two ran off to? Goyle was still on the floor with Crabbe while a seventh year Slytherin practiced their healing magic on him. While the school had Madam Pomfrey to utilize, when it came to inner-house feuds, Slytherin's cleaned up their own mess. Draco used to wonder if it was some secret Slytherin code but he realized over time that it was a learned behavior from how the old pureblood and halfblood families handled things. "You never want to hang out with me!" Pansy emphasized the last word with a whine and Draco thought that if students weren't staring at them before, they certainly were now. Draco opened the door and motioned for Pansy to walk in front of him without another word. Her face lightened up and she ran ahead, into the hallway that would lead them into the main dungeons.

Pansy nearly skipped out to the dungeon hall, she was so happy at the thought she was spending time with Draco that she hadn't noticed by the time she got to the staircase leading to the entrance hall, he had disappeared. He dipped into what looked like a regular alcove, but was actually an alternate hallway to another chamber in the dungeons. Draco moved quickly as he wasn't sure if Pansy knew about this hall, and did not want to have to try explaining to her a second time that he did not want to be bothered. To be sure he lost her, he moved through several of the hidden halls and small passage ways of the dungeons before emerging into the east wing of the ground floor. He didn't dare head for the library as he didn't put it past Pansy to actually step foot in there for once, trying to track him down after he ditched her.

He decided to head to the music room and after Draco got past the first two staircases, he stopped looking over his shoulder or trying to be careful. He didn't think Pansy would have thought to go anywhere above the second floor and he rolled his shoulders a few times, trying to relieve the built up tension in them. He was staring at the floor as he walked, his eyes furiously tracing the cracks in the stone as his adrenaline rush from the fight with Crabbe kept him alert, and sightly wired. Draco hoped the after affects of the rush would allow him to have more success when practicing the music pieces he was working on mastering. When he got to the end of the hall, he looked up and saw the gray tapestry in front of the music room door.

Draco made to turn around as he remembered that he wanted to find Theo and Blaise, but closed his eyes instead. He knew it was the tapestry trying to keep him away, but he had come by the music room so many times- even with other students in it- he was able to fight off the magic with some focus. He took a few steps forward, and he was reminded of all the homework he had not yet completed due at the end of the coming week. Draco was halfway to the door when the tapestry reminded him that his original werewolf essay Snape had asked the Defense Against the Dark Arts class to complete was pinned beneath his bed and bed side table. He was distracted for a second by the annoyance that ran through him as he had to rewrite the essay the night before it was due, since he had forgotten where it was. While Lupin said it wasn't needed, however, Snape still expected it from his god-son. When Draco was in front of the door, he could physically feel the magic wanting to push him away. It was an uncomfortable feeling, but he was determined to get into the room, and scare whoever was in the room off so he could have it to himself.

What he did not expect, was Hermione sitting on the floor with the etiquette books he dropped off to her the day before. When Draco opened then slammed the door behind him, she jumped, dropping the face fan she was holding in front of her. "Oh, it's you."

He paused, his annoyance evident on his face as he eyed the fan. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Hermione opened her mouth to say something but thought better of it and shook her head. "Nothing." She had not meant to sound rude but she was miffed he did not go back to the hospital wing yesterday when he said he would visit her again. Hermione told herself he was busy or couldn't get away, and said she would forgive him for not showing up. It was the least she could do when someone had just saved her life.

"Why are you practicing fan etiquette in a music room?" Draco gestured to the walls lined with song books, hymnals, and tune books for the string instruments that were on display and ready to be played around the room. Towards the back of the room, where she sat on the floor, was a Steinway & Sons grand piano.

Hermione picked up the fan from the floor and gripped it, she didn't look at him as she responded. "I snuck up here during breakfast. I didn't want to see Harry or Ron yet."

Draco walked forward, his annoyance thick in his voice as he thought about her disappearing after she asked him to visit her. "Couldn't have sent an owl telling me you were leaving the infirmary?" He walked past her, straight to the piano and sat in front of it. Draco accioed once of the piano sheet music books he often practiced out of. He was usually calm and collected, but his anger from Crabbe and Hermione got the best of him, causing the book to zoom across the room a bit faster than intended. He caught it though and acted like the spine hitting his palm did not bother him, even though it sent pain through his fingers if he tried to flex his hand.

She looked at him with narrowed eyes, her own anger emerging. "You didn't return yesterday so I assumed you did not plan on visiting me at all." She looked him up and down before looking away again. Hermione wondered if Hagrid was in his hut and if she would be able to stay with him for the day. She told herself she could be friendly another day if he was going to act like a prat.

Draco's annoyance eased up along with his tone as he realized she hadn't ditched him, but they misunderstood each other. "I went to the hospital wing today. I didn't think you wanted visitors after your therapist saw you."

Hermione nodded, not knowing what to say next while her anger dissolved. She never imagined that Draco could be so thoughtful, something that was rare from Ron and even more rare from Harry. She closed the fan etiquette book and reached for another book, suddenly feeling self-conscious for practicing something like fan etiquette. She always thought it to be not just fake, as muggle history books claimed the language to be, but asinine.

Draco hoped he had not said too much as he did not want Hemione to know he had eavesdropped on her yesterday. Draco had always hated not knowing things and even though he knew how personal the conversation was going to be, he couldn't help himself as he wanted to understand her more if they were going to choose to be friends. Friends- it was a topic he did want to bring up and make sure they were clear on. Both of them had expressed they did not want to be friends before, but their actions spoke differently, which made him think of something; "Did you drop the fan on purpose when I came in?" Draco lifted the keyboard cover on the piano as his eyes flicked over to where she was sitting, one eyebrow raised curiously. He was forced to study fan etiquette too when he was younger, as purebloods found it to be a relevant form of communication at parties. Draco just thought that most wizards looked stupid as they did not have much grace when using their fans.

"No." Hermione looked over to him, a questioning look on her face. "Does dropping your fan mean something?"

"No," He said quickly, causing Hermione to raise her eyebrows and reach for the fan etiquette book again, obviously not believing him. Shite, ofcourse it was an accident. He tried to think of other ways to distract her as she flipped through the book. He knew she would read the book and find the meaning eventually but he didn't want her to tease him on reading too far into things, now. "Fan etiquette of all things though? I would think you would need to study how to waltz properly or-"

"What makes you think I can't dance?" She looked back at him, slightly offended and the book temporarily forgotten.

Draco grinned at her as he accioed another piano sheet music book, this one flying at a regular speed. He thumbed through it, hardly paying attention to the titles as he flipped through the pages with his thumb. "I've heard muggles don't throw parties like we do so I imagine you have as much grace in a ballroom as you do on a broom." Hermione snorted and closed the book, plopping it on to the stack of books in front of her. Yes! Draco thought as he turned his attention to the titles in the musical book in front of him.

Hermione turned so she was facing him while she sat on the floor. It was no secret that she hated flying, when Madam Hooch came back after escorting Neville to Madam Pomfrey first year, she nearly hurled in front of the whole class when they tried flying again. "Do wizards not have 'regular' parties? Are they always galas or balls?"

Draco shrugged one shoulder. "At least for purebloods it is."

"So you've had a gala thrown for you every year for your birthday?" Hermione had an astonished look on her face, imagining a ballroom filled with steamers and balloons every year.

Draco made a face himself thinking about the people who appeared at the galas his parents threw or attended. They all smoked, bathed in their perfumes and laughed too loudly after drinking more than they should. He would have loved being the center of attention of a gala but doubted his father wouldn't use the gathering as an excuse to invite his allies and colleagues over to discuss business. "No, that's absurd. We usually travel."

"Oh." Hermione didn't know what to say to that and an awkwardness that they both had been avoiding settled over them. She felt as if there was an elephant in the room that neither of them were wanting to fully address yet. Hermione played with the hem of her jeans as she thought about what to say next. A thought crossed her mind and she almost dismissed it. It was a subject she had already approached with Harry and Ron, but they would have thought she was crazy if she would have said anything more about it. Worst he can do is call me a loon but... She thought back to when he found her in the Malfoy owlery over the summer. He already has.

Before she could stop herself she blurted out a question to test the waters: "Did you do the werewolf essay?"

Draco placed the music book on the piano's music rack, deciding to play Rêverie by Debussy, before raising an eyebrow at her. "You want to talk about homework?" He had the tendency to get a little self-conscious when playing in front of other people and usually eased himself into playing the more difficult songs. He knew from experience that playing something soft would help him get used to playing with a mildly injured hand.

Draco played the first few notes and Hermione's attention shifted to the piano, completely surprised by what she was hearing. He plays so delicately... I didn't even know he played piano. Hermione couldn't help but listen for a few seconds before mentally shaking herself. If she learned anything from Dr. Augsen, it's that talking about things on her mind was an effective outlet, but this wasn't something she was able to approach someone from the Ministry about. Hermione almost let her distraction drop the subject as she feared Draco's rejection, but she reminded herself that the Malfoys had all seen parts of her no one else had, and she thought it silly to be scared when she considered it from a logical standpoint- at least when talking to Draco. She wouldn't want Narcissa to think she belonged in St. Mungo's. Plus... Lucius seemed to know something about Lupin that Draco might know. She strongly doubted it but she allowed herself to be entertained by the idea to gain courage from it.

"I think Professor Lupin is a werewolf." She said it softly as she was nearly entranced by the calming music of Debussy but Draco heard her regardless.

When she said 'werewolf', Draco's fingers slipped and hit three of the wrong keys, forcing him to come to a stop so abrupt her body gave a slight jerk and she looked up at him. He had thought the same thing about the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher but told no one, except Snape, as he knew how he would sound. The only reason why the idea was brought up to Snape was due to the fact that Snape started to ask questions about who Draco thought might have fit the description of a werewolf. Draco didn't say any of this though as he was still in shock from her mirroring his suspicions. "What?"

Hermione's emotions seemed to have caught up with her brain as she started to ramble in the panic that was filling her, ticking off each reason with her fingers. "Well, His boggart- it's the moon, you know. I thought it was a crystal ball at first, but that didn't make sense to me. Harry saw him drink a potion once that fit the description of Wolfsbane. I have a lunar chart from Divination and he's always absent-"

"Around the full moon." Draco had kept track of the chart himself and Lupin was always 'sick' the week of the full moon. It was rather obvious after he realized it and was happy he wasn't the only one who noticed. Draco wondered if Snape had wanted all of the third years to come to the same conclusion about Lupin.

Hermione's eyes widened as she leaned forward. "Did you realize it too?"

Draco looked into her big, doe eyes, bright with something he recognized as excitement. Draco wondered why he never thought her to be pretty before. With eyes like that, it was easy to look past her wild hair and buckteeth. Surprised at his own thoughts, he looked back to the music sheet instead, not wanting to look at her anymore in case anymore unsettling thoughts arose. "I did." Draco focused on the music again and started to play where he left off. When she didn't reply almost a minute afterwards, he risked a glance at her and saw she was sniffling quietly while she pressed the balls of her palms into her eyes. He wasn't immediately annoyed like he was with Pansy, but he was hesitant to say anything and kept playing.

After a while, his curiosity got the better of him again. "Why are you crying?" He wasn't sure if he should stop playing so he didn't in case she did not respond and the awkwardness settled again. It was a good call as she didn't respond until he turned the page and started to play 'Clair de Lune' by Debussy.

"I'm just happy I wasn't the only one to think so. I tried to tell Harry and Ron, but they wouldn't hear it." He glanced at her then and was relieved to see she stopped crying although her nose was the slightest bit pink. "They haven't spoken to me really since Christmas. The handful of times they did, we ended up yelling at each other and..." Her voice wavered, but she took a deep and shakey breath to collect herself. "They're my only friends. It hurts so much right now though that I don't even want to forgive them."

Draco had gotten halfway through the song, and started the part that required him to focus on the more complex notes. He appreciated that he had something to do as he listened as he wasn't good with being compassionate. "So don't. I don't see why you have to when they treated you so poorly." He didn't bring up the obvious fact that they were adding more stress after her parents had died. Draco heard Hermione shift her weight on the wood floor but he remained focused on the keys of the piano until the song looped into the beginning melody again. He thought carefully about what to say next as this was his opportunity to verify she wanted to be friends too. "And you have me," He glanced at her, and saw she was staring at him. "I think one of me makes up for the two of them any day."

Hermione didn't say anything so he finished the song before looking at her. He was frustrated that she had not laughed or responded to his attempt at faux arrogance, but saw her smiling mischievously when he looked up at her. "Are you saying we're friends, Malfoy?"

Draco was caught off guard by her smile and turned a page in the music book. He tried to make himself look as bored and disinterested as possible. "If you wanted. I believe it was you who first said you wanted to act as if nothing had changed when we returned to Hogwarts." Draco watched her head dip from his peripheral and regretted bringing up summer. "I didn't mean to-"

"No, you're right. It's fine." She looked up at him, the smile back on her face, but not as big as it was before. Hermione picked up the fan with her left hand half opening it in front of her face: I desire your acquaintance. Then she dropped it again, revealing her grin on her face: We will be friends. Draco hoped the heat that rose to his face didn't cause too red of a blush tipping her off to his embarrassment.

"You knew what it meant!" He crossed his arms over his chest but he was smiling.

"I didn't, I just happened to find the meaning when I flipped through the pages the second time." She ran both her hands over her head still smiling. Draco shook his head and positioned his hands to continue playing, but he stopped when she stood and walked over to his side. "I do have one request though." Draco narrowed his eyes, suspicious of what she wanted. "Stop playing Debussy, it's making me more depressed." They both gave a small laugh that wasn't as awkward as either of them expected it to be.

Draco moved over on the piano bench so she could sit next to him. She bit her lip contemplating sitting down before she did. "Why were you sitting on the floor? There are chairs everywhere in this room." Draco removed the music book off of the rack and looked through the first book he accioed over as she looked around the room again. He was right, there were chairs with almost every instrument around the enormous room. She wondered if the other three music rooms were this big.

"I'm just used to it. I don't know why but at home-" She paused as she felt her chest tighten from talking about her childhood home. "Where I- The place where-" Am I still allowed to call it that if I live at the manor? Is the Manor my home? She still didn't know.

"I know what you're trying to say. Go on." He didn't look up from the book as he pretended to be considering the Mozart piece in front of him. Instead, he used his other senses to assess her reaction. He listened to her breathing and any felt the air between them for any movements she made.

Hermione was grateful for Draco's relaxed attitude, as it allowed her to breath and think properly. He didn't treat her as if she was a crystal piece that was teeter tottering on the edge of a shelf, threatening to break- even after he saved her life. "When mum, dad, and I would spend time together in our living room, it didn't matter if I was watching the tele, reading, or listening to music- I somehow always ended up on the floor. It was just comfortable for me. Dad used to call me his little cabbage because of it."

Hermione had a sad smile on her face, but Draco didn't notice it as he buried his face in the music book, trying to stop his shoulders shaking with mirth from attempting to hold his laugh in as he thought of the French nickname. "Mon petite chou?"

"Yes, actually." Her voice was flat and Draco stopped laughing immediately. He removed the book from his face to see her face was pink with annoyance.

He made a face as he chastised himself again. "I didn't mean-"

"It's fine. It was silly." Hermione felt herself closing herself off. She wasn't sure if she wanted to stop talking to Draco, but her depression didn't give her a choice. She rubbed her arm, and looked at the pile of books she left on the floor. "I should go. Lunch will be starting soon and I hardly ate the food I was given this morning." Another partial lie, she didn't eat it at all. Hermione stood up and picked up the books from the floor.

Draco watched quietly, panicking, knowing he messed up again. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out as memories of Lucius flooded his mind.

Lucius pulled on Draco's collar rather roughly for a six year old. Draco had been wanting to run after one of his father's peacocks, but had been stopped. "Malfoy men don't chase after anyone or anything, Draco. Chasing is for the under classed. You're not a dreg are you?" Young Draco had shook his head in response and Lucius stuck his nose in the air as Narcissa fixed Draco's collar. "That's right, you're part of the elite." They continued walking, with Draco silently sulking as he watched the peacocks around him.

Hermione was more than half way to the door and Draco sat there watching, shame filling him and confusing him with what he was taught was right. "Wait."

"I admit a lot of the things I taught you or the ways I did teach you things were not the greatest." Lucius paced Draco's room, having a conversation that was both an apology, but not an apology. It was a memory from the winter holiday that Draco had thought about a lot until his head hurt. He did not understand his father's change in behavior or attitude towards him or Hermione. "It was wrong of me to ask you to make her miserable when she's hardly in the right mindset. I know you can't just return to Hogwarts with her as friends- not that I'm asking you to be friends with her-" Lucius made a disgusted face. "But don't overwhelm her if you can help it."

Draco realized that was one piece of advice his father passed along to him that he felt he could trust- he shouldn't overwhelm her or suffocate her in any situation. "Will you come back after lunch?"

Hermione dropped her eyes to the floor. "No, there's work I should be starting and it's in the common room." She didn't know why she lied or why she was leaving. Maybe it was due to how easy it was to talk to him about her parents or how she realized that her supposed-to-be nemesis is now a new ally. It scared her and made her think about things she had been avoiding. She looked up at him and was surprised to see him look a little worried. "Another time though." Hermione closed the door behind her and Draco turned back to the piano, putting his head in his hands causing his elbows to press into keys, sounding the frustration he aimed at himself.

Always messing things up. Draco withdrew his wand and checked the time, confirming a suspicion about her leaving, lunch wasn't for another hour and a half. He wondered if she still wanted to be friend's after he laughed, but reminded himself that worrying about something he could not fix right now would result in nothing but continued stress.

So Draco turned back to the piano and started to play, using the piano as he often did as a way to sort out his thoughts.

———————————————

A week. Blaise wanted Draco to wait a week before approaching Hermione if she did not come to him first.

Draco vented to a perceptive Blaise and a sulking Theo the following day during potions about what had happened. He knew Blaise was more of a social butterfly than him and hoped he would have advice on what to do next. Theo wasn't fond of the idea of befriending a muggle born, but so long as he did not interfere with Draco's choices, Draco would not interfere with his. Draco, however, didn't expect the advice from Blaise to be waiting. It was difficult having most of the classes with her, and not being able to say anything, more so than before they agreed to be friends. Especially since he was willing to approach her anyway, but she was always surrounded by other Gryffindors- specifically Lavender and Parvarti. Draco hoped she would not go back to Harry and Ron, but was confused why the two female Gryffindors acted as her guard. He finally got his answer midday Thursday when both Harry and Ron tried to chase Hermione to talk to her, but Parvarti blocked them both while Lavender ran up the stairs with Hermione to their Divination class.

"You don't get to ignore her for two months then harass her when she refuses to accept your sorry excuse for apologies!"

"But we-" Ron started but Parvarti turned her full attention on him, shutting him up. Draco thought about chiming in but he had never seen the usually giggly, but quiet witch so bothered before, causing him to remain quiet.

The slender Indian was nearly as tall as Ron and had a temper that was as bad as his it seemed. "Twice you embarrassed her in our common room! Twice! Over a broom and a rat who couldn't even carry a message! After her parents died this summer? What kind of friends are you? I would never do any of that to Lavender!"

Draco couldn't help but grin ear to ear at how miserable Ron and Harry both looked as they hung their heads, following Parvarti to their Divination class. It was refreshing to see Harry be yelled at by someone in his house, instead of being praised.

Friday came along and Draco was back to wondering if Hermione was ever going to approach him when she sat next to him in Arithmancy that morning after breakfast. He looked over at her in surprise as there was another desk with Terry Boot still available, but quickly looked forward. Draco often sat with Theo in the back of Arithmancy, but Theo seemed to be running late. Draco crossed his arms on to the desk and laid on them, "What are you doing here?"

"I can't sit next to my friend?" Hermione looked down at him. She had been worried herself on if he hated her for running out on him, but she needed to be alone at that moment. It frustrated her that one day she was a blubbering mess for feeling as if she had no one, but the next day she insisted on being alone. Hermione wanted to approach Draco during the week, but she either had Pavarti and Lavender with her, Ron and Harry trying to corner her, or Draco had Pansy or Flint by his side.

"Are we friends?" He knew he sounded accusatory, but keeping people at arms length is what he had been taught. "Don't you have that Patil twin and her girlfriend- Lilac or something?"

Hermione glanced at Professor Vector at the front of the room, who was writing on the chalkboard on what their lesson for the day would cover, something she did before she started her lecture. When she saw that she still had time to speak she gave Draco a skeptical look. "I find it hard to believe that you don't know Pavarti or Lavender's names when you've had classes with them since we first year." He didn't say anything as he wanted her to address the other half of his statement. She huffed as she looked at the desk, somewhat sad. "And I don't think they see me as a friend. They're kind and have helped me in situations but... It's not exactly the same as a regular friendship. I think they believe I'm more a project for them to work on."

"Oh." Draco understood the feeling. Daphe had made him feel like that from time to time, especially since her little sister Astoria, started this year. It was aggrevating more than anything as he hated the feeling of not being seen. "I suppose I could make an exception for you to being a friend."

"You 'suppose'?" She had a smirk on her face and her eyes twinkled at him. "I think one of me makes up for Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson any day." Theo slunk into the room at that moment and was completely surprised to see Hermione in his seat. He glanced at Draco who gave the slightest shrug with one shoulder. Theo rolled his eyes and sat down next to Terry, dropping his bag with a loud thud. Professor Vector turned around and gave him a warning look for his attitude before turning back to the chalk board. "And maybe one of Theo, too. Not Blaise though." Hermione had Blaise to thank for distracting Theo in conversation so she could get to Arithmancy before him and take his seat by Draco. Hermione wasn't sure if it was intentional, but when she looked back while she was rushing to class, she saw Blaise wink at her.

"Not Blaise?" Draco bit the inside of his cheek so he could control the smile on his face.

"No. Blaise is alright. Not as much fun as a Gryffindor, but close." Hermione grinned as she removed parchment and a quill from her bag.

"'Not as much fun?'" Draco wasn't sure if Hermione was joking or not. "Are you having a lau-"

"Mr. Malfoy, would you like to teach the lesson today?" Professor Vector interrupted him as she turned to face the class, hands on her hips like they often were, even when she was in a good mood.

"No, professor." He straightened his posture so he was no longer slouching on the desk. "Forgive me, ma'am."

Professor Vector nodded then started her lecture. Hermione nor Draco made a move to communicate until they were working on problems from their text book after the lecture. Draco slide over a piece of parchment with a question on it:

Music room later?

Hermione thought for a second before writing her reply. Should she tell him she was working on Buckbeak's trial? She was always taught to put her best foot forward when making decisions, but that did not mean she had to trust him. The first time he suggested they should hang out was when he was trying to steal her wand.

I'm working on something for Hagrid due tonight.

Draco scrunched up is face, wondering what Hagrid would want done as he never gave out homework. He thought back to their classes together and didn't remember Hagrid mentioning anything to the class, but it was possible he gave the golden trio a special task. If Draco didn't have to work with Harry, Ron or Hagrid, he wouldn't mind assisting her.

What is it? Maybe I can help?

Hermione bit her lip as she thought about his offer. What am I doing? He saved my life, I should be able to trust him.

It's for Buckbeaks's trial. I'm helping Hagrid build a defense.

Draco's reply came much faster than his others:

I'd really like to help then, library later?

Hermione risked looking over at him, smiling and nodded. With a flick of his wand, a small flame consumed the parchment before he vanished the ashes it left behind.

———————————————————

Draco took his time after classes today going to the library. While he wanted to be friends with Hermione, he didn't want to seem overly eager to hang out with her, as interesting as he found her. He realized though when he got to the library, they should have at least determined where in the library they should meet up as he was unsure where her usual spot was. He walked past Madam Pince and the study tables that were mostly empty as students were still wondering what to do now that the day school day was over until they could go to the next Hogsmeade trip tomorrow. He didn't see Hermione in one of the open tables which he was grateful for. They hadn't discussed it, but the last thing either of them needed was the whole student body knowing about them becoming chums all of a sudden.

Draco walked past the many aisles with books, the first few aisles had a few of the younger years in them but it quickly became completely deserted the further he walked. He almost went down an aisle leading to the other side of the library, thinking she would not have been so far in to the library, until he until he heard books slamming and voices coming from behind the restricted section. Draco, being the busybody he was, slipped into the restricted section and into an aisle he was positive was right on the other side of the arguing party. With the books being in their special, gated shelves, he couldn't see the other side but he could hear them clearly trying to keep their voices down and failing.

"You can't stay mad at us!" The voice was male and familiar, but Draco couldn't put his finger on it.

"And why not?" Draco knew the suppressed, shrilly voice to be Hermione's even if the books between them kept her voice muffled. "I'm not allowed to ignore you for months like you did me?"

"Because we tried apologizing to you, 'Mione!" It was another male voice, and by the cadence of it he recognized it to be Ron's. Draco knew that if Ron was there, the other male voice had to be Harry. "I only wanted for you to apologize for Scabbers and admit that Crookshanks-"

"Where you going to admit that you and Harry were shoving Crookshanks into cabinets when I wasn't looking?" Draco's eyes widened at that. "So not only did I have to wait until March for you to talk to me, you were being cruel to an innocent cat?"

"That's not fair, we've tried talking to you since Sunday-" Ron interrupted, his determination wavering, and Draco rolled his eyes.

Hermione continued as if Ron had not spoke. "Tell me," Hermiones voice shook and Draco recognized she was going to start crying again. "If I hadn't fallen off Astronomy Tower Saturday, would you be trying to apologize?" Draco winced at that even though the question was not at him and he inched closer to the shelf waiting to hear their answer.

Neither Harry nor Ron spoke for a moment. Draco could hear Hermione's sniffling as she waited. When one of the boys spoke, it was Harry. "What were you doing at the top of Astronomy Tower?"

Hermione went completely silent for a second before a sob escaped. Idiots. "Get out."

"'Mione-"

"I said. Go. Away. I don't want to talk to either of you. I don't have to accept your apologies." Draco felt like he could hear the dams in her voice that were trying to hold back the floodgate of tears her body wanted to cry.

"Please talk-" Ron tried again but there was the sound of a book slamming loudly."

"Go away before I start yelling for Madam Pince!" Almost immediately, Draco heard the foot steps of Harry and Ron retreating down the aisle and Draco had only a few seconds to press himself into the shelf and hope they didn't notice him as they passed by. They didn't due to them both keeping their heads low as they rushed out, whispering to each other.

With her two housemates gone, Hermione burst into heart wrenching sobs, but she sounded as if she was trying to muffle the sounds in her robe sleeves. Draco stood there for a moment, debating if he should go around the corner and make his presence known or if he should act as if he stood her up. He hated having to deal with Pansy's crying, and there was always the possibility of Hermione not wanting anyone to be around her like last Saturday. Draco looked up at the high ceiling of the library, letting his head hit the books behind him. Draco knew he couldn't treat Hermione like he would Pansy and he knew if it was Pansy in hysterics for any of her usual reasons, he would walk away. He stood there for a moment, trying to ignore her sobs as he collected what courage he had and walked around the shelf.

Hermione was seated at the chair closest to the wall and window, borderline hyperventilating as she couldn't breath properly through her robe sleeves. Draco walked over to her and cast muffliato. "No one will be able to hear us with that charm." Draco didn't want Hermione to feel like she was disrupting the library with her crying and used a plural pronoun instead of a singular one.

Hermione immediately removed her arm from her mouth as a wail escaped her throat, causing Draco to wince at the loud sound. Hermione tried apologizing for scaring him, but her breathing patterns were too abnormal, "I'm so-so, s-s-s, sor," Draco watched her for a moment before he grabbed her hands as they started to wave wildly in front of her.

Draco had seen one of her panic attacks before and hoped what is mother taught him would work. "Hermione, you need to take even breaths." Hermione looked up at Draco suddenly, with her eyes wide and forced her body to listen. It took a few failed attempts, but she was able to get the hang of breathing in and out properly. "That's good." Draco let go of her hands and Hermione watched them return to his side of the desk. Suddenly unsure of what to do with his hands, he picked up a book that she had piled next to her, Fowl or Foul? A Study of Hippogriff Brutality.

He flipped open to the table of contents, looking for a chapter that looked like a promising starting point when she finally spoke. "You called me Hermione." Draco looked up at her then, then out of the window, not wanting to meet her intense stare. He thought back to what he just did and realized he had called her that on accident. "And you didn't wipe your hands off after touching me like you usually do."

Draco glanced back at her then out the window again, suddenly interested in the grime building up in the corner of the glass. He liked being the center of attention, but not this kind of attention. "Am I not allowed?" He refused to bring up that they agreed to be friends, in the event she thought about Ron and Harry again, causing her to cry harder.

"Only if I can't call you by your first name." He looked up at her and she gave a weak smile. Her face was red and blotchy but he liked how long her dark eyelashes were when wet. It was a weird thing to notice when she was emotionally distraught and an even weirder thing for him to think. "Would that be alright, Draco?"

Hearing his name come from her was something else he found weird but he didn't shy away from the fact that he liked it. He would try to suppress his other thoughts except that one. "I suppose that would be fine." He gave her a smile and she grabbed the other book she had, playfully smacking his arm with it. She gave a small laugh which he followed up with a weak one.

Hermione opened up the book she had along with the parchment on the desk to start taking notes. Draco thought about telling her then he hated being hit, even when horsing around, but hardly found the moment appropriate. Instead he allowed the only sound to come from either of them were their quills on the parchment, as they took notes until the sun had set and there was no more candle light to burn- forcing them to go to the main hall for dinner.

Chapter Text

"How are you, Hermione?" Dr. Augsen had her legs crossed and her hands resting off of the arms of the chair- Her quill and notepad ready to take notes in the air next to her.

"I'm fine." Hermione ran her hands over the tops of her jeans.

"Just fine? I heard you had a rather exciting week."

Hermione looked up at Dr. Augsen, her face completely unreadable past the polite smile on her lips. It annoyed Hermione. "I'm fine now."

The therapist chuckled. "You started a fight with another student and dropped a class after causing a scene with a teacher. I'd imagine you would feel better now ." Dr. Augsen teased Hermione, her tone implied she was expecting an explanation for her behavior.

"Both of them deserved it!" Hermione retorted immediately.

Dr. Augsen's quill scribbled into the notepad. "I'd like to talk about it then and why you felt they deserved it." Hermione inhaled through her nose then let it out at once. Hermione toyed with the ring on her finger as she spoke. "Last Saturday was the day of Buckbeak's trial- Buckbeak is the Hippogriff that attacked Draco- and he lost."

"I remember you mentioning you put a substantial amount of hours into a defense for Buckbeak." Dr. Augsen sympathized.

"I did! And Goyle had the nerve to make fun of Ha- Professor Hagrid while he was talking to me about it." Hermione had confided in to Dr. Augsen about helping Hagrid, but made sure to word her explanations in a way that their relationship seemed like any other one she had with her professors. "Goyle called him pathetic, Doctor." Hermione didn't mention Hagrid's crying or that Goyle said he was blubbering- a word she was surprised he used correctly.

"And you felt physical violence was necessary?" Dr. Augsen somehow managed to ask the question casually which made Hermione unsure how to respond at first.

She thought back to running up to Goyle, her right arm reaching up to pull him down while her left palm smacked him. The sound of her palm meeting his cheek was oddly satisfying, and she would have smacked him a second time if Ron hadn't grabbed her wrist. She then yelled at Ron and tried to ignore that it also felt good to surprise everyone in her class as she was only known to be confrontational with her studies. While she was on her way back to the common room, she had witnessed Draco's exaggerated reenactment of the scene, causing her to laugh when he thought he only had the eyes of his fellow Slytherin's on him. In all honesty, she thought it was warranted.

"It wasn't necessary," Hermione replied carefully. "But he deserved it. I understand it may have been wrong."

Dr. Augsen nodded, satisfied with the answer. With what she, Narcissa and Lucius had planned she couldn't completely hold it against Hermione on confronting Goyle, especially when Hermione seemed aware it was not the best course of action. "And what about Professor Trelawney?"

Hermione sighed. While she knew smacking Goyle may have been an over reaction, she almost wished she had done the same to Professor Trelawney. "Divination is a waste of time and Professor Trelawney ought to be sacked."

Dr. Augsen's head cocked to the side. "What happened to make you say that?"

Hermione closed her eyes and took a another deep breath, trying to calm the anger she felt rising. Hermione felt that with each passing day she had became angrier and angrier. The day she attacked Goyle and dropped Divination had been a bit of a breaking point for her as she was able to let out a bit of steam. When she opened her eyes, she recounted the Divination class.

Hermione mentally kicked herself for allowing herself to be distracted by Goyle to the point she headed to the common room for a nap, completely forgetting about Professor Flitwick's Charm's lesson. Then she berated herself for feeling guilty about snapping at Harry and Ron when they woke her up in the common room to inform her she missed the lesson. They were trying to be nice to her, when they got the chance to be close enough to her, but she was still livid on how her "best friends" had treated her for the past four months. Falling off the Astronomy Tower had opened her eyes to that and she vowed that she would not allow herself to be treated like that again. Her mother would have been livid to see she hadn't had the self-respect to stand up to them sooner.

Hermione had reached the ladder leading up to the classroom. As always, the room was hot and stuffy, having too much frankincense and sage burning to be comfortable or calming. I just need to finish the year with an 'O' and I will never take this waste of a class again. Hermione didn't care she was ten minutes late because she was profusely apologizing to Professor Flitwick for missing the lesson on Cheering Charms, but she did care that the only open seat was next to Harry and Ron. Hermione glanced over to where Parvati and Lavender sat, apologetic looks on their faces as Neville had decided to take his seat with them.

Ron immediately leaned into her, seeing the unfortunate seating as an opportunity to get into her good graces, but she held up a finger. "Professor Trelawney is talking."

He sighed, and gave her a pleading look, "You don't care, you hate this class-"

"Shh!" Hermione hushed him then turned back to Trelawney. "I knew you would be late! I had saved the most important part for last to make sure you would be present to hear it, dear!" It physically hurt Hermione not to roll her eyes and she forced herself to keep the pleasant smile on her face as she eyed her least favorite professor. Hermione's parents would have dubbed the woman to be what they called a 'Naff Nutter', with her magenta scarf worn as a head band with dingy lime green robes. Hermione wouldn't of had judged the woman so harshly, and would have settled for calling her a quack seer. "The fates have informed me that your examination in June will concern the orb, and I am anxious to give you sufficient practice, so we will no longer be practicing palmistry."

What an amazing prediction! 'The fates have informed her.' SHE is the one who set the exam! Hermione snorted in her head- or at least she thought she did. She didn't realize it may have been out loud until she noticed Trelawney blink several times at her though her coke bottle glasses. Hermione glanced over at Harry and Ron who were both looking at her, too, trying not to laugh. Hermione acted as if she didn't notice, allowing Professor Trelawney to continue.

"Crystal gazing is a particularly refined art," Hermione hated that the professor insisted on using a dreamy tone. It was completely fake and drove her up the wall. "I do not expect any of you to See when you first peer into the Orb's infinite depths. We shall start practicing by..."

When the last of Trelawney's instruction was over, Hermione opened up her copy of Unfogging the Future. Partially to read further instruction on how she may be able to get something out of the glass sphere in front of her, partially to ignore Harry and Ron further. It was working, as fifteen minutes later, Harry turned to Ron without speaking a word to Hermione. "See anything yet?"

"Yeah, there's a burn on this table," Ron said pointing. "Someone's split their candle." Hermione felt her mouth twitch wanting to laugh, but did not want to say anything. She put the book closer to her face to hide her attempts at stamping down on her urge to laugh.

Another five minutes passed by and Harry spoke again, "I'm starting to see something, Ron." Hermione looked over her book in disbelief and watched the two boys lean into the crystal ball. "I keep seeing 'This is stupid' drift across it." Harry and Ron laughed again, glancing at Hermione who had used the book to as a cover again, this time to hide her grin.

Hermione then dropped the book on to the desk, using action to cover up another action. "This is such a waste of time," Hermione hissed, moving her face closer to the orb so they didn't think she was trying to make conversation with them. "I could be practicing something useful-"

Professor Trelawney rustled over to them, her electric blue skirt an obvious trip hazard. "Would anyone like me to help them interpret the shadowy portents within their Orb?" Her bangles clinked loudly and Hermione felt the urge to roll her eyes again.

"I don't need help," Ron replied. When she took a few steps away, he thought it was safe enough to whisper behind her back. "It's obvious what this means. There's going to be loads of fog tonight."

Ron and Harry laughed and Hermione bit the inside of her cheek hard, but her lips still betrayed her as they split into a grin. She missed them, but Godric, she was too hurt to forgive them.

"Now really!" Said Professor Trelawney as everyone's heads turned in their directions. Parvati and Lavender both frowning as they disagreed with Hermione's view on Divination- something that made sitting with them in class very hard as they were all aggravated by the end of the lesson, trying to be too polite to bicker. "You are disturbing the clairvoyant vibrations!" This time Hermione did not stop herself from rolling her eyes as Trelawney approached their table again, bending to peer into their crystal ball. Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose as she silently prayed for the first time in years to have the strength to get through the rest of the lesson. Hermione caught a whiff of something that smelled familiar but was hard to place though the incense thick air. "There is something here!" Professor Trelawney whispered, lowering her face to the ball, so that it was reflected twice in her huge glasses. "Something moving... but what is it?"

Hermione leaned in, feigning interest in the orb while trying to get a better sniff of the smell coming off her professor. Hermione was annoyed not just by Trelawny but the fact she knew the smell and could pin point it immediately. Hermione looked over at Harry, and she saw a worried expression on his face. Even if Harry hadn't talked to her about it openly, she knew he was concerned about 'the Grim' that he had mentioned multiple times through out the year. She imagined that Trelawney also noticed this, and extorted his fear all year. It was similar to the same tactics muggle magicians would use in big crowds and fueled Hermione's distaste for Trelawney. Hermione's protective nature kicked in again, despite her anger and hurt, as she watched their professor with narrowed eyes.

"My dear..." Hermione watched Trelawney's bug-like eyes flicker up at Harry. If you mention the grim one more time... Hermione swore in her head. "It is here, plainer than ever before... my dear, stalking towards you," Harry's eyes widened even more, "Growing ever closer... The Gri-"

Hermione realized what the smell was at that moment as Trelawney labored her breathing to come off as more dramatic. Her mother was not a heavy drinker, but when she did, she always drank Sherry. With the realization that Trelawney was not only a fake seer who was taking advantage of Harry's angst, but a possible drunk, she snapped. "Oh for goodness' sake!" Said Hermione loudly. "Not that ridiculous Grim again! You keep talking about Harry getting hurt, or dying, but have you ever stopped to think that he doesn't need to hear your grotty, cocked up predictions?"

The room was completely silent like it was when Hermione challenged Professor Lupin at the beginning of the year with his practical lesson on boggarts. Trelawney straightened up, keeping her enormous eyes on Hermione, but Hermione's firm comportment did not waver. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Lavender glaring in her direction after whispering to Parvati. Hermione realized that Trelawney had the look of unmistakable anger and wanted to grin at breaking the professor's dramatically airy facade. Hermione didn't know how she felt about taking pleasure in that, but didn't focus on it as she waited for Trelawney to react.

"I am sorry to say that from the moment you have arrived in this class, my dear, it has been apparent that you have arrived in this class, my dear," Trelawney said the word with a sneer, "it has been apparent that you do not have the noble art of Divination requires. Indeed, I don't remember ever meeting a student whose mind was so hopelessly mundane." Trelawney started to walk back to the front of the room before stopping and turning around to face a bewildered Hermione. "It's a shame really. I hoped to help you predict anymore tragedy's that are bound to happen in your life."

Before Harry and Ron could finish their gasp, Hermione stood, hands on the table in front of her, barely registering the scent of burnt wood. "Excuse me?!" Professor Trelawney's already big eyes seemed to become bigger as she stared at the table. Hermione took no notice though as her fury made her tunnel visioned. "Before you talk about other people's tragedy's perhaps you should address the one that leaves your breath smelling of Sherry, Professor." Trelawney's jaw dropped as Hermione stuffed her copy of Unfogging the Future into her bag. Hermione now noticed the two hand prints now burnt into the wood, but refused to stop. Hermione recognized that her body was moving based off of her emotions of anger and if she tried to stop now the rest of her emotions were going to crash down on her. She didn't turn around until she had kicked open the exit for the trap door to go down the ladder. "And in case the fates don't inform you, I'm dropping this bloody class!"

Hermione looked up at Doctor Augsen after finishing her story. Hermione was hesitant to mention the hand prints she left in the table, but knew it was an issue waiting to be addressed. She wanted to act like she hadn't noticed this before, but after the panic attack she had over dropping a class- something she never dreamed of doing- she thought about it. Her hands got "weird" when she was overwhelmed and it happened since the murders in France. It happened at the manor, on the quidditch pitch, everywhere. What seemed to calm it was playing with her wand as it was made to conduct magic, but even that had its limit on helping.

"How does dropping Divination make you feel?" Of course. Dr. Augsen wasn't going to address my lack of control immediately.

Hermione grabbed the ring on her necklace. "I feel some relief at not having to force myself into something I find to be a waste of time. I do feel like a failure though. It's like I- like I broke a promise." Hermione's eyes watered, but she told herself she wouldn't cry. The only other option was to talk to Dumbledore, redact everything she said as she demanded she be taken out of the class, and go back to Divination. Possibly having to give an apology to Trelawney and her non-exsistant 'fates.'

"You mentioned before that you weren't allowed to quit anything unless you succeeded in it. Do you think that is why you are holding yourself to such high expectations?"

Hermione was aware that Dr. Augsen knew the answer already, but asked to have Hermione say it out loud. "Yes, I do. Mum served in the military, you know." The healer nodded, encouraging Hermione to continue. "She had a very strict outlook on things, and wanted me to be active in some way. She enrolled me in several different things, and if I hated it, I had to prove I was the best at it, before I could quit." Hermione thought about Divination. She was passing; book work had always been an easy thing to complete, but when it came to the actual lessons, she felt nothing. Saw nothing. Assumed there was nothing. "There was nothing for me to prove with divination though. It was a waste of time." Hermione looked at Dr. Augsen for confirmation on her feelings, but per usual, her face was like marble. Completely smooth, and untelling. "I don't think my parents would have approved of the subject very much and might have been alright with me dropping it. Both were very practical, Mum especially." Hermione felt the familiar feeling of her throat closing up. Everything hurt all the time, but speaking of them in the past tense was a special kind of pain.

"I see." Dr. Augsen paused, allowing her quill to catch up. "So how do you feel about Harry and Ron? I know its been roughly two weeks since you decided to avoid talking to them instead?" Hermione had hoped Dr. Augsen would talk about the accidental magic instead, as Dr. Augsen expressed mild disapproval in Hermione not forgiving the boys despite understanding the reasons why she had not. Dr. Augsen did not try to pressure Hermione into being lenient with them as she too felt ignoring them was warranted, but even she could see how much Hermione cared for the boys. It was obvious that Hermione was still being torn up about not being on good terms with her friends, even when it was her call.

"Two weeks exactly." She corrected. "And I still feel the same way I did Wednesday when you had last asked. I can't imagine forgiving them right now." Hermione stopped playing with her ring. "Draco and I have become friends so I'm not in a state by myself all the time." Hermione gave a small smile thinking of her unexpected friend. She wished they would have just agreed to become friends from the beginning of summer as he was delightful when he wanted to be. They hadn't been able to spend time in the music room again, but they regularly met in different spots of the library to study.

"And you mentioned Parvati and Lavender had taken you under their wing?"

Hermione grimaced. "They had." The magical quill scribbled with supreme verve into Dr. Augsen's note pad, when she stated her answer in past tense. "Turns out they were just as devout to Trelawney as they are to Woman's Journal . They haven't really talked to me since I stopped going to Divination." It left her more open to Harry and Ron trying to talk to her, but they had eased up after her outburst in Trelawney's class. It was nice having female companionship, but she did not have much in common with the duo. While they tried to gush about wizard celebrities to her, Hermione would sit there with a lost look on her face. When Hermione tried talking to them about Ancient Runes or Arithmancy, she got the same response.

Hermione and Dr. Augsen sat in silence for a couple minutes. Hermione was waiting for her healer to ask about the flames that she seems to be conjuring, but it did not seem that Dr. Augsen had intentions on asking, or saying anything else as the seconds ticked by. Finally, Hermione broke the silence. "Are you not going to ask about the accidental magic?"

"Do you want to talk about the accidental magic?" Dr. Augsen tilted her head to the side, assessing Hermione. She's grown so much since we first started. Getting information or a response no longer seemed like prying prophecies from a centaur. Dr. Augsen wanted to tell Hermione she was proud of her, but knew that was something she would share at another time, when it was needed.

Hermione's eyebrows came together from her confusion at the question. "Why, yes. You said if I was having trouble controlling myself I could lose the ability to do magic." I've been trying every method you've taught me to control it but it seems I've only been able to control my outbursts into one form of magic."

"That is true." Dr. Augsen paused. "Have you been working on meditation or trying to find your quiet place when you are able?"

Hermione paused, that was the only thing she did not practice regularly. Hermione drowned herself in homework and the case with Hagrid. She found that being alone with her thoughts with nothing left to keep her mind busy was the worst thing she would do. Her thoughts wanted to assault her throughout the day, but when she had downtime with nothing to distract her, it turned into open season for her depression and PTSD. "Not as much as I should, I imagine. It's rather difficult..." Hermione let her voice trail off, hoping Dr. Augsen got the hint.

Thankfully, she did. "You're a hard worker Hermione, you work harder than any student in your year and a few above yours I'd imagine. However, too much work- too much of a distraction I should say- can hinder you. Too much of anything, even good, will hurt you." Dr. Augsen paused to make sure Hermione understood the weight of her words. "I should have been more clear before, but now that you will have a bit of free time with Divination no longer being a factor, I want you to use that time to find that quiet place for yourself. When I said 'control your emotions,' I did not mean 'avoid your emotions.' Feel them, understand them, but do not let them be what breaks you." Hermione's face went from cautious to determined, understanding Dr. Augsen's words, despite being frightened by them. She hated how she had to walk on eggshells around herself, but she hated the panic attacks, and the flashbacks more. She would learn to be better. "I know that will be easier said than done though."

"I've learned that's one of life's themes." Hermione smiled humorlessly and Dr. Augsen returned the gesture before looking at her watch.

"I believe that's all the time we have for today. Will you and Draco be heading back to the manor next week for Easter?"

"No, Draco and I decided to stay as the professors seem to be doubling down on the school work before the holiday. We'll need to utilize the library." Hermione rubbed the back of her neck, knowing she would not be able to practice controlling her emotions for the next couple of weeks.

"I understand. I'll see you here Wednesday."

Hermione smiled at Dr. Augsen. "Wednesday."

—————————————————

The next couple of weeks of Easter holiday had been worse than what anyone had imagined it to be. Even Seamus Finnigan, who was as easy going as a Gryffindor could be, exclaimed in frustration at one point while several third years were studying together in the common room, "Call this a holiday!" Neville jumped at his housemate roaring all of a sudden. "The exams are ages away! What are they playing at!"

Hermione, however, still had more to do than anyone else. She was usually the last to leave the common room every night and the first in the library every morning. She didn't have time for many people, and was back to snapping at whomever approached her in the common room while she was studying. The only person that did not bother her was Draco who joined her several times a week in the library to study. Hermione did not know what Draco did in his free time, but whenever he joined her, he seemed to be in a right mood- nearly slamming his books down before sitting down next to her. She would verbally greet him, he would nod, and they would work for hours. They didn't talk for the hours spent together, but it was a comfortable silence that satisfied them both.

At least it was silent until the last Friday of the Easter Holiday. Hermione was sitting in the original spot they had worked at together when they were working on the last bits for Buckbeak's trial four weeks ago. Hermione had shadows under her eyes that looked like Lupin's, and she had closed her eyes to rest them for the umpteenth time that day. A few seconds later, her eyebrow smacked down on to the edge of a text book, one of the many stacked on top of others, causing her to groan in pain as she gripped her face.

Draco who had arrived just in time to watch it happen, started to laugh so hard he had to grip the table in front of him to stay up. Hermione felt her cheeks grow hot as the pain in her eyebrow throbbed. She opened her mouth to tell him to shove off, ready to slip back into her old ways with him when she realized there was blood on her fingers after she pulled her hand away. "Bugger!" Hermione had been so tired lately that her eyes were constantly watery but the pain and the thought of leaving her books around her to be healed by Madam Pomfrey had her tear ducts stinging.

"Language, Herm-" Draco cut himself off seeing her blood. "How the bloody hell did you manage that?" Draco slid into the desk next to her and she pressed herself, farther into the corner, hand back over her brow. Draco was offended by her moving away from him and he held out his hand. "Let me see."

Hermione had a bit of a guilty look on her face at her instinct to keep her distance from him, so she did what he said to show that she trusted him. When she held her hand out to him, he grabbed it and vanished the blood. She then turned her head to the left so he could better see her damaged right eyebrow. Draco leaned in close to her and Hermione went completely rigid, not used to having people in close proximity to her. His breath smelled of mint, but he smelled of amber with a bit of vanilla musk. It caught her completely off guard, but she thought the smooth scent complimented him. She glanced at Draco's face and saw that he had a determined look as he placed his wand closer to her face. He whisked the blood off her brow and narrowed his eyes.

"I'm going to heal it, if that's all right with you. You got yourself pretty good there." Draco waited for her reply to make sure he had her permission to take care of the wound on her face.

Hermione thought about it for a second, "Maybe I should go to Madam Pomfrey if it's that bad." Her eyes drifted down to the books in front of her again and she wanted to cry thinking about the time she would be losing going to the other side of the castle and back.

"For a minor gash? I know losing that precious time is going to drive you mad, even with your 'special privilege' from the Ministry." Draco rolled his eyes and she narrowed hers at him.

"The time-turner is more of an albatross, not a privilege- and what do you mean gash?" Hermione's hand flew to her eyebrow but he grabbed her wrist.

"You're bound to get your blood everywhere if you keep messing with it." He sounded slightly annoyed with her and still had his wand poised, ready to heal her. "Honestly-"

"If it's a gash and not a cut I should go to Madam Pomfrey."

"I've been studying healing magic for a few years now and practice regularly on my housemates. For Merlin's sake, Hermione, let me help you." Draco kept his volume low but she didn't miss how exasperated he sounded.

Hermione gave him a hard look for a moment and he scourgified her eyebrow again as the blood had nearly ran into her eye. She believed him, but the idea of someone performing magic on her face concerned her. Finally, she gave in. "Fine. But if I come out of this with one eyebrow..."

Draco snorted as he pressed his wand to her brow. " Episkey. " He watched her face intently as he watched the wound healed itself. Hermione thought it was an odd feeling as she could literally feel her skin grow then close over the wound in seconds.

Draco stayed staring at her eyebrow and Hermione grew alarmed. "What is it?"

"Nothing." Draco's eyes flicked down to hers then back at her eyebrow. "I, um, just realized I don't know any hair growth spells."

" Draco ." She warned before turning to face the window next to her. She transfigured one of the glass panes into a mirror and gasped at the missing hair. "I look like a bloody chav!" Hermione was completely horror stricken as she looked at her reflection, both hands on her cheeks, mouth agape.

"It's not that bad, it actually adds an edge to your look if you ask me." Hermione didn't say anything as she leaned in closer to the mirror. "The hair will grow back on it's own if you can't-."

"No," Hermione ran a finger over the bald cut in her eyebrow. "It scarred." Hermione's awe turned into anger as she turned to look at Draco red in the face. "I should have gone to Madam Pomfrey."

"That's impossible." Draco looked at the eyebrow again and realized that she was right, the skin had scarred over. "That should be impossible." He corrected. "That spell never leaves a scar. What book did you cut yourself on?" Hermione grabbed the book that was piled on top of three books to the right of the textbook she was working out of. The cover was actual wood, which explains how she actually cut her self on it. Draco grabbed the tome and started to flip through it. "These are Ancient Runes." He chuckled humorlessly. "That explains it."

"How does ancient runes explain your inability to use a simple healing spell?" When Draco looked up, he saw that she was completely seething and had her arms crossed over her chest.

Anger bubbled up in his belly. He hated when people assumed he was incompetent. Draco, having the rough childhood he did, was raised to be a perfectionist. He was precise and planned every move he made. There was no way he had botched healing her and was outright offended she suggested it. "So there are simple things you don't know. Tell me Hermione, have you ever wondered why those electric things muggleborns have a habit of trying to bring into the school don't work?"

Hermione's nostrils flared at his condescending tone, but she answered anyway, wondering where he was going with it. "In Hogwarts a History it's explained that the magic of the castle interferes with electronics."

"Correct, five points to Gryffindor for memorizing the only book more boring than a Professor Binns lecture." Hermione huffed and slammed the book in front of her book closed, gathering up her things to leave. "Now, your key word is interfere. This -" Draco lifted the Ancient Runes book and dropped it. "Is filled with literal runes of all kinds, and runes are known for being some of the most literal magic out there. You don't even need a wand to use them. I'm amazed you didn't feel the magic practicality pouring out of it." Hermione stopped and looked at him. "When you hit your head on it, the magic from it ended up interfering with me trying to heal your little laceration there." He made a circle in the air in front of her face as he said 'little laceration.'

Hermione's anger left her and she slumped into her chair, processing what she said. "Oh."

" Oh. " He mimicked. Draco crossed his arms and looked away from her. This isn't what I came here for. He counted down from ten trying to diffuse his anger.

"Draco, I'm- I shouldn't have insulted you. That wasn't right of me and I appreciate you trying to heal me." She placed a hand on his arm, but he pulled his arm away, still angry. Hermione's ears went hot with shame but before she could say anything else he decided to speak.

"You're pushing yourself too hard. You need to give yourself a break." He slowly turned his head to face her, platinum eyebrows lowered and together, indicating he was still annoyed despite the change of subject.

Hermione sighed turning back to her parchment. "I can't. I need to get through the school work for the holiday then go back to doing research for Buckbeak's appeal." A wave of exhaustion hit and Hermione rubbed her face to fight it.

"And how do you expect to pass your exams in June if you burn yourself out now? And I'm helping you with the appeal, remember?" Draco raised an eyebrow to challenge her. "Stressing yourself out more so than usual is not going to help you."

Hermione pulled one of the books she was working out of closer to her. She started to ignore Draco but the more she tried to focus, the more she felt a headache creep on. She closed one eye and put her head in her hand, watching him with her other eye. "I'm beginning to think you're starting to worry about me, you know." She attempted to make the remark snarky but she just sounded tired.

Draco gave her a weird look before answering. "I promised mother I'd keep an eye on you."

She opened both eyes and faced him again. "Narcissa is that worried about me?" Hermione was aware that the Malfoy matron cared for her, but it did something to her heart and spirits hearing it.

"You've hardly given her a reason not to worry." Draco flicked his hand to gesture over the small towers of books loitering the table. Hermione bit the inside of her cheek. A part of her felt possessed, completely obsessed with getting her work done. Another part was screaming for her to put the quill down and curl into a ball to sleep until seventh year. She sat there silent, unsure of what to do. Even when Draco sighed she did not move, too caught up in her internal war. "How about a compromise? You move your studying to the music room and listen to me play? It'll be a change of scenery and some music will do you good."

Hermione looked up and into his silvery eyes at that. The description sounded so similar to how she would spend her summer days with her parents that it almost hurt, but instead of wanting to run from it, she found herself wanting to give into the cravings of a much similar time. Hermione knew it would not feel the same, but couldn't imagine it being a terrible idea. "Alright."

Draco blinked twice hesitant to believe his ears, but cleared his throat as he stood up. "Alright, then." He grabbed at several of the books, creating a stack in front of him.

"What are you doing?" Hermione looked between him and the books he was grabbing.

"It's an incentive to make sure you're going to follow me. You're not able to check out all of these books at once, anyway. The library has a limit on what you can leave with." He paused and looked down at her. "I know you're aware of the limit because I clearly remember you arguing with Madam Pince first year about it."

"I did not argue!" Draco tilted his head to the side, completely unconvinced. "I simply questioned her on it." Hermione added before he could try to contradict her version of the story. "And that's very nice of you. I'll have to tell all of Gryffindor how considerate you are." Hermione smirked when she saw him throw her a dark look.

"Wait ten minutes before heading up. It'll look less suspicious."

"I can be subtle, you know." Hermione started to stack the remaining books into a pile for her to carry herself.

"And I can be poor muggle."

Hermione whipped her head around to ask what he meant by that, but he was gone. Hermione yawned and shook her head. She spent the next ten minutes flipping through the runes textbook, looking at the different meanings, wondering what their history was. When she got up, she checked out the books, squirming under Madam Pince's glare before making her trek up the stairs to the strings music room. Hermione glanced around the third floor hallway before trying to get into the room. It was slightly difficult and very uncomfortable, but Draco informed her the trick into getting into the room when someone else was already in it, was to look away from the tapestry instead of straight at it.

With that knowledge in mind, she was able to get into the room. She was completely caught off guard watching Draco transfigure two chairs into pillows to throw into a pile of blankets and pillows already on the floor. A quick glance around the room and she guessed that the pillows on the floor were also chairs found around the room.

Hermione leaned against the closed door watching him. Draco looked up at her and put his wand away before shoving his hands in his pockets. "I thought about making a lounge chair, but you said you liked the floor better." He did look up at her as he spoke, even when she walked over to where he was standing. Hermione thought he almost looked embarrassed, as if he was uncomfortable with being so kind to someone. The feeling didn't last long as he straightened up, nose in the air, looking like a young, short haired, Lucius. "I would've been insulted if I wasted magic just so you could lay on the floor."

Hermione snorted at that. "I bet." She put her pile of books by the ones he already had laid next to the pillows and blankets. Hermione sat on the pillows and put a blanket over her legs, allowing herself a moment to relax before she went back into full study more. His magic had left the smell of him on the transfigured chairs and she inhaled deeply, deciding she liked the smell a lot. Draco sat in front of the piano, flipping through a music book he had already selected. She watched him, wondering why he was so kind to her when he had hated her for years. "Draco..." He looked up at her, but she chickened out of what she wanted to ask him and asked something else instead, too afraid of what the answer was. "Why do you think there is a piano in a the strings music room? Piano is a percussion instrument."

Draco didn't pause before answering. "I wondered the same thing myself when I first started coming here. I think it's because there's a lot of music where the pianist accompanies a violinist or some other string musician. The room wasn't designed for just one person to play, but for whomever is in the room to play without being interrupted."

"That makes sense." Hermione grabbed the book she was working out of in the library. Hermione absentmindedly flipped through the pages, looking for the page she left off at as Draco started to play Chopin's Nocturne. Hermione found herself closing her eyes again as the notes danced around the room from his smooth playing. Hermione wanted to ask her question again, but despite the burning feeling the query left in her throat, she could not ask it. Hermione settled on another question she found herself wondering about. "Who is your favorite composer?"

Draco didn't answer for a long time, until the song was done in fact, and when he did it was with a slight frown. "I suppose if I had to pick it would be Chopin." He wasn't sure why, but it bothered him that he didn't have a favorite composer. There were pieces that moved him, but they were all from various some of them being Chopin as he felt that he could emotionally relate to a hand full of his pieces.

"You have more than one favorite?" Hermione looked up from the parchment she tucked inside one of the books and watched Draco who seemed to be deep in thought as he stared off into space.

"No." He replied distractedly. "I don't have a favorite composer. I enjoy playing the piano, it helps a lot with my stress as it's something I get lost in but..." He thought of how she played the cello. It's not the same as you. It's beautiful, but not passionate. "I don't know how to describe it." Is what he said instead.

Hermione pursed her lips, but accepted the answer, as a thought struck her from he had said. "You've been in a bad mood when I've seen you lately- More so than usual." She added teasingly, not wanting to seem too serious. "Are you stressed?"

He glanced over at her. He thought she hadn't noticed much of him as she was always, sometimes to the point of literally, nose deep in a book when she was studying. It always gave him a nice feeling when he felt noticed, and it caught him off guard that she had noticed. "It's the Quidditch Final next month."

Hermione rolled her eyes and he narrowed his. "It's not you," she waved a hand in front of her. "I'm tired of hearing about quidditch- the whole common room is talking about it. Wood has been harassing Harry about it and it's still another two weeks away. You would think they should be more worried about passing." Or staying alive. She thought as she remembered the extra pressure Harry was under. She still had not talking to him and the only good thing about Gryffindor being excited about the coming game is that Wood had arranged for Harry to be accompanied everywhere in case a Slytherin tried to put him out of commission. It allowed her not to worry as much as she kept her distance from him and Ron. Hermione wanted to be friends with them again, but she was determined to have them grovel in the meantime. "I ought to cheer for Slytherin at the final."

Draco couldn't help but chuckle at her small rant, despite his own love for the sport. "I'm sure Potter would love that." Draco flexed his fingers as he flipped to the pages so could practice Etude No. 6 by Paganini and Liszt. As he played the first few notes he gave her a playful smile. "Although if you really do want us to win, you could tell us their strategy." Hermione wasn't listening though as she stared at the book in front of her, deep into her thoughts as she considered what she was thinking. "Are you all right?"

Hermione looked at him and closed the book in front of her. "What if I went to the game cheering for Slytherin?"

He missed a note and frowned, but continued playing. "What?"

"What if I showed my support for Slytherin in the final? It would drive both Ron and Harry mad."

"I'd personally have a laugh, but the rest of the school would be convinced you've gone completely barmy." He looked over at her to make sure he had not offended her. He did not expect to see the twinkle in her eye and a mischievous grin on her face.

"As if they haven't already." Her grin lessened at her words but she shrugged the negative thoughts off. "Ron was actually worse to me than Harry over a broom that wasn't even his. I think rooting for the enemy team will settle the score, 'hurting them where it really hurts' and all that."

Draco stopped playing and stared at her for nearly a whole minute. Hermione was staring at the floor, fingers laced together under her chin as she thought about how Harry and Ron would react. "Is Hermione Granger, Gryffindor Princess and insufferable know-it-all, plotting revenge before mine own eyes?" He grinned as she scrunched up her nose in distaste.

"'Gryffindor Princess'? Is that what you call me?"

"That's what a good portion of Slytherin calls you. I'm unsure who made it up." The last part was a lie. Draco had actually came up with the name while he was venting about how Dumbledore obviously favored the Gryffindor house when he had tacked on extra house points at the end of their first year, robbing Slytherin of the house cup.

Hermione's face flushed at the idea of people calling her 'Princess' while saying malicious things about her. "What do they call Harry and Ron?"

Draco laughed. "Potty and Weasel. Peeves picked fitting names for them if you ask me."

"That's terrible." Her nose was still scrunched up but she was smiling. Hermione missed her friends, but she felt gits was not a strong enough word for them at the moment. Draco watched as her face began to fall, thinking about them.

"I would say go for it if I was positive your own house wouldn't hex you for it. There's been fights breaking out in a hall way where we had one of our sixth years ending up in the hospital wing. He isn't even on our quidditch team."

Hermione nodded considering what he was saying as he made a strong point. Draco resumed his playing as Hermione thought about it. After half an hour, she spoke again. "So I'll just make Ron and Harry think that I'm a traitor. I'll explain it to anyone else who asks me, quite a few of my house owes me a favor or two so I doubt they would tell. I'll just torture them for the next two weeks and afterwards I'll make up with them. My point would be made and we'll all be done with it."

Draco paused his playing when she talked about forgiving Harry and Ron. "You want to be friends with them still?" He could feel the slimy feeling of jealousy wriggling in his stomach. He enjoyed Hermione's company just as much as he enjoyed Blaise and Theo's. Draco didn't want her to make up with them not because he was afraid they would not hang out as often, but because he was afraid she would stop spending time with him entirely. It was a part of the reason he made sure to be kind to her, he wanted to show her that he was a part of a better sort- unlike Harry and Ron.

Hermione looked up at him, a surprised expression on her face. "Harry, Ron and I became best friend's on Halloween first year. Do you remember what happened that day?"

Draco remembered she started the story in Diagon Alley in the summer, but never finished it. He had been curious about it but forgot about it before he had the chance to ask her. "No?"

"That was the day there was a troll in the girl's bathroom. I happened to be locked in with the troll-"

"How did you manage that?" Draco was completely interested in her story as he had not heard her side before and couldn't resist asking his question.

Hermione shifted uncomfortably, unsure of how he would react. "Harry and Ron may have locked me in the bathroom." Draco's jaw dropped as he was completely dumbfounded. She continued her story in a rush, "But as soon as they realized it, they faced the troll and managed to knock it out when they're resistant to magic in the first place. They saved my life. Ever since they we were inseparable."

Draco ran a hand over his hair as he gave a humorless laugh. "So, you're telling me you want to be friend's with a couple of blokes who nearly had you killed by a troll- because they locked you in a bathroom with one- then saved you when they realized they would probably be expelled if anything happened to you? They were just righting their wrong."

Hermione frowned and crossed her arms over her chest, not appreciating Draco's tone or what he was saying about her two friends. "That's not why they did it- and we've bonded in other ways over time."

"Of course, when you were doing their homework for them I'm sure." Draco rolled his eyes completely annoyed with her thought process. "Tell me, were you only hanging out with me because you didn't have any one else to hang out with? Am I just some place holder for Potty and Weasel?"

"What- no!" Hermione was confused and offended he would say such a thing, but Draco appeared to not be listening.

"'Brightest-Witch-of-the-Age', alright." He thought he mumbled the last part low enough, but apparently he did not. He had turned back to the piano only to have a book hit him in the shoulder. "What-"

"Get stuffed, Malfoy!" Hermione waved her wand angrily at the books she had checked from the library. His anger bubbled inside of him as he stood, hands clenched into fists. Draco fumed silently as he watched her march towards the door, his lips pressed into a thin line. Before exiting, she turned around to face him, angry tears in her eyes. "Maybe you'd know what having friends were like if you grew up with them!" Without allowing him to reply, she slammed the door and bolted to Gryffindor common room.

Draco started to walk to the door, but stopped a quarter of the way there. He ran back and kicked a pillow, but was unsatisfied with how easy it was for it to fly and flop to the ground. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at the pillows and blankets. " Finite Incantatem! " The pillows instantly returned to their original state as chairs and he kicked one, feeling the satisfaction of the metal bangs it made.

"Stupid, little, mud- Ugh!" As much as Draco wanted to say the slur he couldn't. His heart not in it anymore. "I didn't want to be your friend anyway!" He kicked another chair, but it wasn't as enjoyable as the first chair he sent flying. He knew he had reacted poorly, even though it was honestly, and he recognized he was already trying to lie to himself like he did every time he was rejected by someone. Draco stood there for a few minutes, letting the events that had just passed fully sink in.

Draco's anger gave way to panic; He wasn't sure if Hermione would forgive him, like she was trying to do with Ron and Harry, but he hoped she did as he already regretted what he said.