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A Complex and Many-Layered Thing

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To: Cleodoxa
From: Your Secret Santa

Title: A Complex and Many-Layered Thing
Author: odogoddess
Pairing: Draco/Hermione
Summary: Draco works to rebuild not just the school, but his family name and future.
Rating: NC-17
Length: ~18k
Warnings: breathplay, overstimulation
Author's notes: With thanks to my betas. This fic uses film canon. You mentioned not liking bashing, but also not wanting Draco white-washed so I hope his mental asides aren't off-putting. This is not my usual playground, but I enjoyed the mental exercise and I hope you enjoy the results, . :) Merry Holidays!

Everyone seemed to be discussing it the first week, but I had no need. I'd heard the whole pathetic thing and seen part of it.

I had long heard the Weasel was smitten with Granger, but had never believed it. I never saw them together, which was to the good of my easily upset stomach. He never acted smitten; he treated her like a nuisance or an afterthought. The only time one might have guessed there were any feelings was when he felt she needed defending, but then he would do the same for his sister. Still, word had been they were an item and I had chalked it up to post-battle euphoria and figured I'd see if it would ebb.

I had been doing Integrity charms on the still standing balusters in the corridor, kneeling to work on the base of one when it happened. I heard rushed footsteps and giggles approaching. I shook my head and kept working; let others play childish games. I did look up though as whoever it was slipped into the shadow of the columns I had yet to repair, but since they did not lean on them, but against the wall, I said nothing.

The ginger oaf had brought his bit of skirt to the fourth floor. Neither bothered to check if anyone was nearby so I did not bother to warn them; I had far more right to be there than they, after all. So I listened and kept working, although I soon wished I hadn't as I overheard what must pass for Gryffindor seduction. Crude bunch. Seemed the rumours "the Weasel was two-timing the bushy-brained menace" were true.

I heard later it'd been the usual dance -- she'd been crying over the Brown girl and the gormless ginger nebbish had put his arms about her. Greyback had killed Lavender, I heard. She wasn't the only one. I knew of at least five he had killed and two he had changed, but it had been war and he was dead now, too. Still, Patil considered her a good friend and having lost a few of those, I know how that could hurt.

Either way, to hear it told, she had cried, the Weasel had held her, she had kissed him and after a bit of a snog, they'd had gone and done the business right there in their common room. It was all the talk for days and I might have ignored it were it not for the fact it could change matters were it true. It was a long-shot, but possible and far more appealing than current plans. I had decided to rework my informal Arithmantic calculations by adding in these new probability factors later in the day.

It had gone beyond a theoretical consideration when the Weasel and Who Can Patil started to have it off less than six feet from my work space. The bird clung to him like a well-paid Knockturn Alley strumpet and was calling his name as he fumbled about. I heard footsteps and couldn't help it; I stood to watch what would happen. I kept waving my wand at the baluster, no longer working but it provided a ready excuse. Then Granger had come around the corner and they were for it.

I could have warned the Weasel, but that was his lookout and what did I care? Except so far as how this affected my plans, of course. Or perhaps, I should say, assignment, but after the Dark Lord, I hated that word.

Still, it was born of Mother's idea, but I couldn't very well say it mattered to her idea. Maybe the word future? Yes. It mattered to my future.

As Granger stormed off, less upset than angry, the Patil girl ran off sobbing and the Weasel made his choice by chasing after the bit of skirt who was letting him have it off instead of the one he was far too good for, I realised for the first time, that I truly did care. Not that what I care ever mattered, however.

My dearest Draco,
     I'm so proud to hear you have been given such a prestigious assignment in the rebuilding of the school. Word of your accomplishment can only work to the good of our family. I know you value our good name as much as I.
     To the ends which we discussed, I have enclosed clips from past Prophet articles that might be of use. Tinty was most helpful and remains my only comfort with you now toiling away at the school. I have also sent an assorted package of Honeyduke's finest. Our account at Fortescue's has been updated and I insist you and I meet on Sunday for lunch and a treat at his parlor which has re-opened now and is run by his son Fenton. I believe he attended Hogwarts three years before you, so you might know him although the poor boy was sorted into Hufflepuff.
     I trust you will write me of any favourable steps as regards our discussed options. Please write me regardless. I do miss you.
Love from your proud and adoring mother,

Lovegood was a tiny thing. Like a bird. Like a baby bird, with too large eyes and a guileless expression. I would have said vacant, but I'd learnt there was a lot going on behind those pale blue eyes.

If we ever had children would they have overlarge blue-grey eyes? I forced myself to consider this as I forced myself to consider many things now that once I would have laughed at.

What was Lovegood doing I wondered? She was studying me as I assessed a baluster I wanted to engrave in a spiral pattern. Thanks to Mother having been given her sister and brother-in-law's personal effects as their next of kin, I had acquired Uncle Rodolphus's wand. It worked for me, even better than my old wand. He had told me once with great pride that it was ironwood with a Quintaped hair, but I was fairly sure he was joking. My Aunt Bella had said she heard it was Quintaped foreskin. They had both laughed so hard food sprayed the table. My mother had shushed them. I had been seven at the time.


What on Merlin's green soil was Lovegood on about? I shook my head to show my lack of understanding and the chit smiled.

"I'm afraid I lost my Spectrespecs when your father had me kidnapped off the Hogwarts Express last holiday break. So I can't really tell, you see. They're really best for finding Nargle infestations."

How could she say such things? One I had no desire remembering, the other was utter nonsense.

"I find if I don't mention things most don't mention they're forgotten and maybe one shouldn't forget. If you forget, you're apt to do them again, don't you agree?"

Her eyes seemed to glow in an unnatural fashion and I noted how creamy and pliant her skin looked, almost otherworldly, and I did the only thing I could.

I left.

There were other areas that needed my attention.

Draco was watching her. She could not help but notice since he was working across the table from her. He had been surreptitiously watching her for some days. He had, she knew, been unfortunate witness to the debacle a couple weeks before, but to her pleasant surprise, he had said nothing nor had his attitude changed. He remained polite and a bit distant, but watchful. She wondered what he was thinking.

He usually stood or crouched at his work, whilst she sat repairing book after book. She rebound them when needed, carefully trimming overhanging leather pieces with her Potions knife, it being the sharpest one she possessed and the leather being exceedingly tough. Hagrid provided hides of leather and she did not ask where they had come, feeling it was best to know know. Either way, some of the leather was extremely tough. She had it in mind to buy a proper leatherworking kit the next time she was in London, but for now, her pearl-handled Potions knife served well.

Hermione had assigned herself the seemingly endless task of restoring the school's library. This included repairing and inventorying the books. Every volunteer had an assigned task or one they were naturally skilled at which they wished to work. Ron and Harry, for example, had joined the crew rebuilding the Quidditch stands and the Gryffindor team's changing and equipment rooms.

She ruthlessly stifled thoughts of what they might be doing. It was over between her and Ron. They would be, as they had always been, just friends. Not best friends in their particular case, but she felt she could just manage civility. In future, their camaraderie might return. Perhaps. Harry, of course, would always be her dearest of friends.

It was too bad, really, that she did not fancy him madly nor he her since they got along swimmingly. Harry's heart, though, she knew, belonged to Ginny Weasley. This suited her. Ginny was a good friend. Harry was a good friend. The Weasleys always treated her kindly. It did not matter if she would never belong to their family. She had one of her own to worry over, at least, she would once her services were no longer needed at Hogwarts.

Well, this was a lie, although technically the truth. The school did require help from all the skilled witches and wizards and squibs that could lend a hand, but she could have gone to sort out her parents if she had said. She chose to work on the tedious, if necessary work in order to think over scenarios as regarded informing her parents of what she had done to them and why. Hermione was a Gryffindor, but she intensely disliked confrontation. She also feared her parents' anger and resentment.

She wondered now about Draco, who was frowning as he worked, for the moment not looking at her and completely absorbed by the charms he was casting. She had seen firsthand the disrespectful way his father treated him when younger. She knew he had basically been forced into accepting the Dark Mark and becoming a Death Eater. Still, this had not earned him anything but scorn and she wondered if he resented his father. The fact he had ignored Lucius Malfoy's exhortations during the battle, but gone to his mother's side was quite telling, she felt. She wondered if he had chosen to work at the castle or been ordered to by his mother.

Lucius was no longer a guiding force in his life, not since the battle and for some time to come, having been imprisoned in Azkaban indefinitely by the new Minister for Magic. All Death Eaters had been, until they were sorted via trial or testimony, save Draco and his mother. Harry had spoken for both, informing the hastily convened Wizengamot that Draco had been given no choice over his actions and that Narcissa Malfoy had, in fact, saved him from Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest. His word alone had been enough to allow them their freedom. No one asked why Harry did not speak for Lucius Malfoy; the implication was quite clear.

Draco had been assigned to what Hermione thought of as 'the flourishes' team; a set of advanced students and talented adults with artistic skills. Once a repair crew had finished their work on a part of the castle, the flourishes team followed after, supplying the details that gave Hogwarts its atmosphere. The arcades, aumbreys, bartizans, brattices, chemise walls, chevrons, clasping, engraved columns, cornices, well, basically all the dressing involved in a castle stemmed from the artistry of such a team. Considering the amount of work they did using magic, it gave Hermione a new appreciation for the castles made by Muggles with cruder methods. She assumed Draco's mother had netted him the position since she well recalled various sets of doodles he had thrown at Harry over their school years; none of the drawings had impressed her with his burgeoning artistic talent.

Draco was doing exceedingly fiddly work, or so she determined, with a bressumer high above them. He had magically polished the raw wood to a warm, lustrous finish and was adding what looked like filigree to it.

Despite the beam being above them, when Hermione looked up from her own demanding work of adding strengthening charms to the spine of a book she was also rebinding, she had often found him studying her. He would quickly return his attention to the fine silver he was magically infusing into the thick ironwood. The last time she had caught him out, though, he had nodded slightly before looking back to his work and she had decided it was silly to be churlish simply because of school rivalry that seemed so very long ago now.

"Is that a new wand?" She enquired the next time she looked up to find him staring at her. They both knew it was; Harry still carried Draco's old wand and had shown no inclination to queue in the line outside Ollivanders and purchase a new one.

He frowned and cursed as the fine silver line trailed off high above. He sighed and put his arm down, before wincing and rubbing at his shoulder.

"You've been holding your arm up for almost two hours," Hermione noted. "Here, rest."

She kicked the chair across from her out with her foot and nodded at him as he took her advice and sat.

"If it's still bothering you after dinner, you should ask Madam Pomfrey for some Muscle Mend."

"I'll be fine," he said curtly.

"I'm sure," she responded coolly.

Draco sighed, seemingly exasperated, but he said nothing, instead closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against the chair. Then he frowned and looked around.

"Didn't these chairs not have headrests?"

Hermione smiled. "Guilty. I designed them. The seat will comfortably support you at an angle designed to keep you alert without tiring your leg or back muscles and you will find you can not only rest your head, but if you lean slightly, the chair will recline a fraction, useful for letting you contemplate."

"Won't that make the passage narrow?"

"I narrowed the tables slightly to accommodate it. I figure the more comfortable a person is, the better they can study." She smiled a bit sheepishly. "Or work all day rebinding books."

Draco chuckled at this and leaned back again, sighing with satisfaction. "Ah, but this could put me to sleep, Granger."

"Until the spelled timing charm alerts you. The chair only allows five minutes of rest. If you need more than that, you need to head for bed or stretch your legs."

"Clever, Granger."

"Thank you, Draco," she responded pointedly, refusing to use his family name.

He studied her again, this time with a distinctly different look in his eyes. "Credit where credit is due. Hermione."

The last time I had spoken her name aloud was the summer after my first year. I had regaled Mother and Father with the stories of my classmates, and no one who attended Hogwarts during Potter's years there could go without mentioning his frizzy-haired female sidekick. I said her name with the disgust I felt at the time.

Now, though, she was not a bucktoothed girl, but a proper witch, and she had trimmed her hair so that it brushed her shoulders prettily in undulating waves. Her name was fitting, I found. Lyrical.

She smiled at me for the first time after I said it and blast it all, I blushed. Can't be helped. My skin is quite fair and even rushing along could make me flush a bit. This, however, made me feel like I had my face too close to the fireplace. It made me think of Mother's advice and the heat increased... and spread.

I stood. "I'll be back."

So witty. I cursed silently as I hurried out and down the hall to the loo.

Still, a man can't say he's going to go have a slash and a wank, can he?

Later that afternoon, after lunch and a few more hours of work on both their parts, Hermione allowed herself a break, relaxing back in the chair for a moment and watching his work with interest.

"That's really quite lovely, Draco."

He started slightly and then shrugged dismissively.

"I'm glad someone appreciates it."

Hermione shook her head. "How can you think anyone would not appreciate it? And where did you learn this?"

He shrugged again. "No one's said anything about it so far, although I figured old McGonagall would say if she wasn't happy with it."

"Happy with what young Mr Malfoy?"

Draco straightened, flushing a bit as the elderly, but stalwart witch drew close to look him straight in the eye. Hermione wondered if he was upset more at being caught out or at the fact they were the same height.

"Sorry, Headmistress. I meant no offense."

"None taken. Now what is this thing about which I might or might not be happy?"

The Headmistress toured the castle every evening, making note of what needed doing and often made announcements at breakfast regarding what areas or projects she felt required more attention from her previous evening inspection.

Hermione pointed up to the bressumer, no longer a thick, rough, raw wood beam, but a warm, lustrous piece of art with delicate silver inlay.

"Draco finished that today."

"Are those Celtic animals?"

Draco flushed a bit more, but nodded. "A badger, a snake, a lion and a raven, Headmistress."

"Wonderfully well wrought. Good job." She patted his shoulder approvingly and looked about the rest of the library. Hermione gave her a pained smile. The stacks and stacks of damaged books seemed endless and clearly indicated the amount of work still needing doing.

"Well, I'll leave you to it," the Headmistress said, heading out the door.

Draco seemed to consider for a moment, before he gave her a lopsided sort of grin that Hermione could not quite read.

"You've done a lot." He shrugged and looked up briefly at his handiwork. "It's just... this sort of thing is showier."

He frowned as Hermione suddenly said waspishly, "Is that why you do it? To show off?"

"What?" He seemed honestly puzzled at her ire.

"I understand now," she declared, narrowing her eyes. "You don't really care about the castle at all. You only wanted to do something showy, maybe get your name in the Prophet? Something to make the Malfoys look a bit better in the public eye?"

Draco merely stared, seemingly flummoxed. He finally shook his head. "If that's what you want to believe, fine. Shows what you know."

To Hermione's surprise, he turned and left, a perturbed expression on his pale, pinched face.

I swear I'm cursed.

Had he been here I might have asked my godfather's advice. Godfather, I fancy this girl, but I've been told to curry this other one's favour. What should I do?

Be your own man.

I could almost hear his voice. And he was right.

Hermione was exhausted when she finally made it to her bunk that night in Gryffindor Tower, not that the designation had much meaning. Those staying at the castle were required to stay in the available and undamaged areas. Thankfully, Gryffindor tower was one such area. The Dungeons were another. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff dorms had both suffered enough damage as to make them unsafe until rebuilt.

Some few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs who were on friendly terms with one or more Slytherins had opted to stay in the Dungeons, but most did not. This meant she was bunking in one of the rooms with Luna, Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot. Thankfully, the Patil twins had chosen a different room with some of the Ravenclaws. Harry was in the Boy's dorm with Dean, Seamus, and Neville, again. Ernie MacMillan, Cormac MacLaggen, Michael Corner, Terry Boot and Justin Finch-Fletchley shared another room. Ron, she knew, Apparated with Ginny to the Burrow each evening, although she suspected he had been returning afterward for extracurricular activities. This was no longer her concern, she reminded herself.

Oddly, the extra people did not grate, but actually helped the nerves. She suspected it would not be the case if they had not all been involved in the battle -- if they had not all lost a good friend to the madness and evil. Someone was always there to talk or to listen or to soothe a nightmare. If one wanted privacy there were plenty of areas about the castle one could find for contemplation and if not, there was always outside, by the lake in the sunshine or in the courtyard under the stars. It helped knowing someone was nearby; there was, as the saying went, safety in numbers.

An owl waited in the room where Hannah was already sleeping. Susan and Luna were quietly chatting and looked up to greet her with smiles before slipping back into their conversation. The bird was gripping the back of the chair nearest her bed at the table in the center of the room. He held a small scroll and since none of the others had retrieved it, this meant it was for her.

She opted to shower and change before reading the message. She was drained and very glad it was the weekend. The work, not to mention the atmosphere, had made for a tiring and stressful week.

Once she had dried her hair with a soothing air-brushing charm that Luna had shown her during their stay at Shell Cottage, she felt more willing to read whatever the message was. She knew it might be from Ron; he had written once before, not apologising, merely trying to explain his perfidy and she had made a paper Swedish Greensnout of the note and used it as target practice. If it was him again, she wondered if she could manage a Chinese fireball.

She sighed and finally retrieved the small scroll from the by-then sleeping owl and gently stroked a finger along its soft tawny head as she read the creamy-coloured note. Sleek feathers and vellum felt remarkably similar, she noted. It was not Ron, she was glad to see. The penmanship was just shy of elegant, the impression spoilt by a slight waver in the lines, as if the writer had a tremor.

     I won't insult you by addressing you as dear or calling you by your given name. You would wonder if it was truly me, wouldn't you?
All I meant earlier was that you had done a lot. You have done a lot, Granger. More than you believe I've noted. I'm not an unobservant man. You have done a lot and I've just charmed the sconces into looking nice and made a bit of bric-a-brac. It's showy, but it's meaningless. Who cares if my name gets in the Prophet? It won't so far as I know. If it does, I shall be glad to point out your own work in the Library. Your efforts are worth far more in the end. That is what I meant by what I said, Granger. That is all I meant.

"It's not that simple, Mother."

"Nonsense. Focus is all that's required, in this and every other endeavour, Draco. Your father might not have been right about all things, but that was one thing he taught me that has served me well. Focus on the goal and you will not only see the obstacles but the ways you can overcome them."

Narcissa genteelly spooned up some ice cream, handling spoon and container with ease, despite her gloved hands. Draco sighed. He loved his mother, but sometimes he wished she could be more understanding.

He decided to push ahead. Perhaps she could be made to see?

"She brought up the fact Father kidnapped h--"

"Draco!" Narcissa gave him a sharp look as she glanced around. No one was near them and she relaxed, slightly. "We won't speak of such things in public."

"Mother, Father was put in Azkaban for it and for providing assistance to the enemy. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't know."

"Nonsense. Mr Flint wrote an excellent article criticising the unseemly haste with which the new Ministry acted. There is doubt. Doubt is our ally in this endeavour, Draco. We can supplant that doubt with deniability - plausible deniability."

"Plausible deni-- Mother, how could this possibly be denied?"

"Quite simply. They have the wrong end of the stick. You were bringing your friend to our Manor for the holidays, since you wished her to meet your parents as you had been considering her as a potential mate."

He sat, stunned, watching as his mother's eyes lit up in a too-familiar fashion. She had the bit between her teeth now and would not easily be swayed off course.

"Mother, you know I want what's best for the family, but this is insanity," he hissed, annoyed at her need to obfuscate.

"Nonsense! It can work, Draco, if you put a bit of effort into it. Charm the girl."

He considered this. "I'm not all that good with Charms, but I think I could manage a decent Obliviate."

"You are being deliberately provocative, dear. You know very well, I did not mean to use a Memory Charm."

"Well, unless I do something of the sort, she made it plain she's not willing to forget."

"She merely needs a bit of encouragement. Some gesture of conciliation and parity."

"We're already rebuilding their ridiculous home and you even gave them a house elf."

"A more personal gesture, Draco." Narcissa smiled. "Never underestimate the power of a gesture to a witch. It's enticing if done right."

Draco sighed again, setting aside his half-eaten sundae. "I will try, Mother."

"Oh, Draco!"

"But only one more time. I... I believe I might have found another solution, but I need time to iron out the details."

"Of course, dear. I'm sure Miss Lovegood will be putty in your hands."

Draco ignored this. His mother set aside conversation to dig deep into her cup for stray blackberries. He finally sighed and picked up his own cup.

Then he set it down, feeling the listless puddle of runny cream reflected his spirit a little too closely.

You're a fool.

You're a fool.

"You're a bloody stupid fool," he hissed under his breath as he approached the Lovegood girl. She was barefoot in the courtyard, levitating an enormous section of repaired and reworked cornice higher and higher where two small figures on brooms appeared to wait for it.

Draco watched as she calmly waved the large stone to the freshly carved and reworked section of castle that waited for its emplacement. Once the section was smoothly slotted into the grooved area that waited, the two figures began their work, one cementing the slab and the other following behind, using magic to smoothly integrate it and make it look all of a piece.

Draco nodded approvingly. That section of the castle looked quite like normal.

"Good work, Lovegood."

"Thank you, Draco." She stuck her wand behind an ear and looked up at him, her clear blue eyes staring at him with a dreamy expression.

He cleared his throat. "I was wondering..."

"Only two," she said. "The team can only repair the cornices so fast and the castle work itself is quite fiddly according to Charlie."

Draco frowned. "Charlie? Two?"

She pointed to one of the figures on a broom. "Charlie Weasley. The Dragon wrangler? He's quite good with stonework, but then that's hardly surprising seeing as he works with fire. Fire and stone or earth are quite compatible. Much better than fire and water, for example, which can be quite risky. Or air and air which become quite stormy when blowing opposed or worse, grow far apart."

He considered this, gazing at her and hoping she would clarify this baffling statement. "I'm afraid you lost me, Lovegood.'"

"Yes," she nodded. "Exactly."

He was still standing, looking stupefied after she had calmly walked back into the castle, picking her careful way over broken stone and jagged bits of glass with those pale, dainty and delicate-seeming feet.

Well, I kept my promise. Leastwise it's what I believed. I had talked to the chit, but she made precious little sense. It was like talking to a titmouse.

I tried to imagine a life of that. Talking to a titmouse over breakfast and dinner. I tried to imagine her, the Lovegood chit, at some fancy do and the ensuing headache sent me to the Infirmary for a potion. Mother is mad. I know what she wants, but her plan won't work in any way I can see. It sounded good, but it wouldn't work.

My own plan might not work, either, but it stands a better chance. That is, if I can just keep the communication open.

It can't be that hard.

I mean, she had nodded at me over breakfast. She wasn't upset or angry.

She was a reasonable witch. She did have a quick temper, but I can appreciate that. I have a quick temper, too. We were well-matched in many such ways.

If only I could make her see that.

The next morning, Hermione frowned at the envelope that dropped beside her breakfast plate.

"Letter from home?"

She smiled wanly at Susan; no one knew about her parents, aside from Harry and Ron. "I expect so."

She picked it up and opened it carefully, keeping it close to her. A card slid from the envelope, mauve in colour. It was a certificate worth 50 Galleons to be used at Flourish & Blotts.

Her eyes grew wide and Susan glanced over her shoulder.

"Oh! Hey, Hermione's got a secret admirer."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I do not."

"So who is it then?" Hannah leaned over to peer at the card. "Wow. Fifty Galleons?"

"It's Ron." Hermione slipped the card back into the envelope, shaking her head.

"Did he leave a note?"

"Ron doesn't have that sort of money, does he?"

"No, there's no note," Hermione admitted. "It's Ron, though, I'm sure of it. It's his way of trying to apologise."

Hannah and Susan exchanged glances.

"If it is -- will you accept?"

Hermione set aside the envelope and picked up her spoon. "I can't accept the card. We are over, except as friends."

Luna's dreamy tone made them all look across the table at her where she stirred her orange juice with her wand, making it sparkle and fizz.

"It would be rude to turn away an apology from a friend."

"I swear to you I did not lend Ron any money, Hermione."

Harry looked at her somberly. His now full beard gave him a surprisingly serious countenance and combined with his spectacles made him resemble a young and earnest professor. Not that anyone treated him without respect; even the Slytherins treated him with a sort of fascinated subservience at worst and wary avoidance at best. She couldn't help it; she smiled.

"That's better," he said approvingly, taking a moment to look away from his best friend to assess the work being done on the Hufflepuff viewing stands. He touched his wand to his throat and Hermione covered her ears. "THE SECOND ROW IS WOBBLY. IT NEEDS ADJUSTING TO THE LEFT AND DOWN."

"It's coming right along," she noted, seeing the stands already up for Slytherin. "I take it those didn't see much damage?"

Harry looked over to the green and silver banners covering one of the stands and back to her, a frown on his face. "What gave you that idea? The entire Quidditch pitch was razed to the ground, Hermione."

She frowned now, too. "So you rebuilt that from the ground up?"

"Yes. Ron and I did, along with Justin Finch Fletchley, Ernie MacMillan and Blaise Zabini. Why?"

She shrugged. "It's just... I would have thought..."

"We'd fix the Gryffindor stands first?" Harry shook his head. "For one thing, the Slytherin stands are the first in the circuit from the main entry, but for another, we didn't want anyone to accuse us of playing favourites. It's over now. We might have been better represented at the final battle, but many Slytherins lost their lives and in the aftermath, their families, even their reputations. How many Firsties will be Slytherin, Hermione? I was nearly placed in Slytherin House. There's nothing wrong with being clever or ambitious; hasn't it been said of you, in fact?"

She smiled. "Guilty."

Harry nodded. "We both could have been in Slytherin."

"And we could have been friends with Draco and Millicent Bulstrode."

Harry laughed. "Draco is a friend. Well, at least not an enemy."

Hermione nodded at this, agreeing. Of late, she was not sure how she would classify Malfoy, but certainly did not mind his company. He was certainly handsome company. This made her blush and nearly miss what Harry said.

"--not sure what I'd call him, but friend will do. Acquaintance sounds like my old aunt who I can't stand and nowadays I'd take Draco's company over hers. I hate the word ally, though; it makes it sound as if we're opposing countries who signed a treaty."

"Not far off," Hermione muttered, before adding, "If we had been in Slytherin, though, Ron would never have become friends with either of us."

Harry smiled now. "Possibly, but you and I would still have been friends. I can't imagine not being your friend, Hermione. You're the sister I never had."

She gave in to the impulse and hugged him tightly. He held her back just as tightly. They both pulled away and rolled their eyes as Seamus Finnegan wolf-whistled at them.


"I sense a theme," she said now with a smile. "You're concerned about the first years."

He stuck his wand in his pocket and ran both hands through his hair. "It's just... I can't help but recall my second year."

"When everyone thought you were the heir of Slytherin."

"In a way I was," Harry muttered darkly. "I could have been. I'm descended from the Peverells after all."

"So are a lot of other wizards and witches, Harry."

"My reputation precedes me. Which is what I'm concerned about. The next batch of first years, those sorted into Slytherin -- they'll have no clue why others seem to hate them. Some of them will have mothers and fathers in Azkaban. Teddy isn't the only orphan and death isn't the only means of becoming one."

Hermione nodded sadly. "I understand, Harry, but I don't know what can be done. Aside from what you're already doing -- making sure there is equity."

"I know. Of all the people here, I know you understand. I think Draco does, too."

"What makes you say that?"

"He came by the other day, took a look around as he had a smoke. I didn't even know he smoked, did you?"

She shook her head.

"He watched for awhile before leaving, but he stepped up for a minute and told me 'Good job, Potter.'"

She smiled. "It's good to see some things can change."

Harry shrugged. "He didn't rat us out to Voldemort at the Manor. I flew him out of that fire in the Room of Requirement. I'd say we're square."

"You also kept him out of Azkaban, Harry."

He sighed, looking suddenly troubled.

"I had to, Hermione. He let himself be marked to try to save his father, his family. He had no choice." Hermione was unsettled as she watched Harry suddenly reach up to scratch at the scar on his forehead. "He couldn't kill Dumbledore. Snape took on that task, that burden. It's unimaginable. I'm betting Draco still lives with guilt."

His voice trailed off and Harry sighed. "I can relate to that."

Hermione nodded distractedly, but her tone remained cautious. "Harry... does your scar still hurt?"

He started, pulling his hand away from his head. "No. Just a bit itchy. I think it's faded, don't you?"

He lifted his fringe to show her his forehead without any self-consciousness, something she was abruptly touched to realise he would not do for just anybody. She studied the infamous lightning bolt scar she well knew. It was no longer red, no longer raised, no longer prominent. It was thin, silvery and flat.

"It has. It looks very old now."

"It ought. I've had it all my life. Well, most of it," he amended, smoothing down his hair again. His smile was wry. "I was worried about it, too. It kept itching. I even went to Madam Pomfrey."

Hermione's tone was cautious. "What did she say?"

Harry's smile turned a bit crooked and sheepish. "Said I needed to rinse my hair better after shampooing. I'd left soap residue up there and it was irritating my skin."

She'd not said a word. I couldn't fathom she didn't understand. The chit had read every book in that sodding library. She had to understand. She had to.

So why was she throwing her arms around Potter on the Quidditch pitch? There were even wolf whistles and they pulled apart looking guilty.

Was there something between them? I knew she'd been his girlfriend Fourth Year, even had an article about it in the Prophet, but now? I'd heard he was with the Weasley girl. Was there still a spark between him and Granger? Was she doing this deliberately, to taunt me?

Sod it all to bloody perdition!

I felt a right fool. How on Merlin's green Earth had my Godfather coped?

You'll either understand in time or you'll be luckier than I.

I looked across the lake now to the small island where Dumbledore had been entombed. There was a large pillar there now, with the names of the fallen from the battle. The Ministry had set it.

On the other side of it was a black onyx tomb, contrasting the white marble of Dumbledore's. It was not quite as large as his, but it was sleek and the stone had been spelled as it was crafted into shape to repel water and shed fingerprints and dust. It would remain pristine through the eons.

I had not cared about the cost. I had even helped design and embed the silver plaque on the tomb that declared my godfather's name, his legacy.

It was the least I could do to pay my debt to him.

Nearly a week later, Hermione woke to the sound of girlish squeals. She groaned and rolled over, covering her head with the blanket.

"Hermione! It's another one!"

She sighed and set aside the pillow to peer through sleep-heavy eyes to the table where another package stood by her chair, the delivery owl still perched on the back of it.

"Oh, not again."

"Come on, Hermione, let's see it," Susan said encouragingly.

"It's just another guilt gift," Hermione mumbled, not wanting to wake so early, but propping herself up on an elbow nonetheless. "I haven't had time and I really didn't want to, but maybe I'd better go speak to Ron."

Luna tilted her head to study Hermione, a slight frown on her face, even as Ron's sister stepped into the room.

"Hello, everyone! What's Ron done now?"

"Hi, Ginny! We're just trying to get Hermione up so we can see what else Ron sent her."

"Ron?" Ginny peered at the package and shook her head. "I don't think that's from Ron."

Luna said, "Hermione think it's Ron's way of trying to apologise."

Ginny frowned, but said nothing to this, sitting down at the table and studying the owl that appeared to be sleeping.

"What's there been so far again?" Susan asked, looking to Hannah; the Hufflepuff prefect was well known for her meticulous notes and excellent memory.

"Well, last Tuesday was a certificate for Flourish & Blotts," Hannah said, totting up the items using the fingers of one hand. "Wednesday it was a pair of earmuffs & a mirror."

"It's a... (yawn) sorry... a reference to our second year," Hermione said sleepily, sitting up now. "Hi, Ginny."


"Maybe he just wants to keep your ears warm," Susan said with a smile. Ginny's frown increased, although no one noticed.

"Thursday's was my favourite," admitted Hannah. She and Luna chorused, "The plushy hippogriff!"

Luna pointed to Hermione's desk where a rather cute stuffed toy sat perched atop a small stack of books. Ginny smiled at this, but continued to look perplexed.

"Yesterday's was so romantic," Hannah said with a sigh.

Ginny looked curious and Hermione reached over to her desk and opened a drawer, pulling out a small wooden box the size of a large apple. She stifled a yawn as she handed it to Ginny.

Ginny opened the box and music wafted out of it as it revealed a small dancing figure inside. It was a woman, dressed in a pink satin dress with high heels. Brown ringlets of hair were bundled up into an elegant plait which hung to one side of her neck as she twirled.

"It's you in your Yule Ball dress," Ginny said, sounding a bit stunned. "Isn't that the opening Waltz?"

Hermione nodded, knuckling sleep from her eyes. "Yes. And enough is enough. I plan to give them all back. I don't want him going into debt. I'll accept his apology, but Ron needs to know he can't win me back. It is absolutely, incontrovertibly over."

"What makes you think it's Ron, Hermione?"

The rest all looked to Luna who sat, wand tucked behind one ear, smiling pleasantly at them all.

Hannah shrugged. "It would seem the most likely possibility."

"Well, there's Harry, too, but he's besotted with Ginny," Luna noted, making her friend blush slightly as the rest smiled in her direction. "And there's Draco."


"But he's a Slytherin."

"It's not Draco," Hermione insisted, although the memory of how he'd been watching her and their warm camaraderie made her feel a bit warm. Then there was that note... she shook her head. "These have all clearly been gifts designed to make me remember our years together at school."

Susan, who had grown solemn at Luna's suggestion suddenly shook her head. "Luna might be right."


Susan blushed, but pointed out, "Hermione, you're not a Pureblood, so you might not be aware of the customs, but when a boy is interested in you, and intends to plight his troth, he presents you with gifts."

Luna nodded. "Yes. They are meant to indicate a shared background or history, things that are unique to the witch and that show his awareness of her in his life, of her talents or skills, pointing out her beauty, as well as offering apologies for any wrongs done. It's sort of to wipe the slate before he approaches her about his feelings."

Ginny looked troubled. "They're right Hermione. And I'm pretty sure Ron didn't send these."

Hermione shook her head. "That's ridiculous. Draco? Besides, he called me a Mudblood in second year and made fun of my teeth in fourth and there's been no hint of apology. He--"

"--watches you all the time when he thinks no one is looking," Susan pointed out. "He tried to compliment you or so you said the other night, and--"

"It can't be Draco," Hermione insisted. Could it be? No, that was wishful thinking speaking. "That would be..."

"Rather sweet, actually," Luna finished. The rest all looked at her with varying expressions of disbelief, uncertainty or consideration.

Ginny shook her own head, gently placing the music box back on the table before her friend.

"Hermione, this music box -- it's very expensive. Ron couldn't afford it if he sold every last Chocolate Frog trading card he has."

Hermione studied the box and continued to shake her head in negation.

"Ron wouldn't have to buy it," she declared. "He could make one. Anyone with a bit of magic ability could."

Ginny sighed. "Hermione, we both know Ron never achieved any Outstanding marks in any class, including Charms or Transfiguration. He got A's and a couple E's. He's a good at things like strategy in Quidditch and chess, but he's not a particularly skilled or powerful wizard."

Hannah nodded. "She's right, Hermione. It would take both skill and strong magic to be able to design a gift like that."

"Draco could have made it," Luna said dreamily. "But it's more likely he bought it since he's been busier than Gringotts on tax day since he arrived."

"Look, I'm not denying Draco isn't attractive and he's doing quite good work, but..." Hermione stared at her friends, feeling a sinking sensation in her gut that she tried to dispel. She groped for what she felt was a far more logical possibility. "Harry said he didn't lend Ron any money, but he might have borrowed it from his father -- or George!"

Ginny looked sad. "Hermione, I came to see how you were doing because I know Ron has been an arse and because last night he brought Parvati to meet Mum and Dad."

Hermione considered this and Ginny added softly, "He's going to meet her folks tonight. He's borrowed one of Fred's suits from George."

The girls all looked between the two and Hermione managed a stiff smile. "Well, that's good. I had no intention of getting back together with him."

Hannah's voice was full of compassion, and her tone brisk and sensible. "Why don't you open this new gift, Hermione? Maybe it will help us figure this out."

She nodded, still looking disturbed, but turned to the package. The knowledge of what Ron was doing coupled with the fact he had never even asked to meet her parents was heavy on her heart, but not because she still harboured any hope. It was, she just realised, she'd never truly had any to harbour. They were and always had been friends. It was not knowledge to feel sad about and she refused to let it anger or depress her.

"Go on, Hermione," Ginny urged, mistaking her hesitation.

She nodded and picked up the package. It was large, but light. Perhaps, she thought now, Harry was doing this, to cheer her. Or maybe George. The only other boy who might would have been Cormac, but she privately felt he was not the romantic sort.

Her friends watched as she tore through the wrappings to reveal a rectangular box about the size of a masonry block. Hermione steeled herself and opened it.

They watched as she grew quite pale before setting down the box with trembling hands and sat back on her bed. When she said nothing, they all peered inside the box.

Luna nodded sagely.

"I told you they were from Draco."

The morning mail had been delivered.

She had to know by now. There was no question. But what would she say?

Hermione had wandered to the library, despite the fact it was the weekend and the Headmistress insisted everyone rest the weekends. She could not help it -- it was her refuge. It always had been.

She looked around at the dust and damaged books and half-completed fixtures and felt like crying. It wasn't the damage, however.

How could she have been so blind?

She held the new knife Draco had given her. Her old Potions knife, the one she'd been using to accomplish her work in the library had been inside the box, piercing through and pinning Draco's Inquisitorial Squad badge to an apple. Draco was the only one in her year that habitually carried an apple around to nosh on. She recalled him now, various moments in her mind when she had spied him eating one. The thought suddenly occurred that whilst he'd often received sweets from his mother during his years at the school and he had occasionally bragged about it, she could not remember ever seeing him eat any. He'd used to hand them out like an indulgent lord among the Slytherins, using them as bargaining chips when they were all younger. Then he'd eat his apples.

She smiled at the thought that her parents would definitely approve of him... if they ever regained their memories.

She sighed now and tucked the knife into her pocket, wishing Luna or Susan or both were with her so she could ask her many questions. In the room under the scrutiny of so many of her friends and classmates, she had felt too shy to enquire, but now she wished she could get some answers. She sat down heavily and sighed again.

"Hello. You busy?"

Hermione jumped at the voice of the person foremost on her mind. To her astonishment, Draco was peering around the corner of the doorway, a pleasant expression on his face.

She stared at him, momentarily dumbstruck to be facing him so soon after receiving what Luna and Susan called a revelatory offering. His grey eyes looked less icy and warmer, the colour of warm wool. His thin mouth looked surprisingly good when smiling politely and not smirking, and he certainly wore lovely clothes which displayed his trim figure to--

Head out of gutter, Granger. And at least nod a good morning to him or something. You probably look like a lemming.

She managed a smile and nod.

He seemed to relax. "Good, good. I, uh, meant to, er, been meaning to, that is, ask you about something."

She nodded uncertainly and he plowed on.

"It's about our library. The family library," he clarified. "I know you'll be at this for some time here, but um, after I was wondering if you'd consent to working on our own. The library, um, our family library, I mean. I know you do first rate work. I've been watching you."

She nodded again, trying to take in what he was saying. Was that what all the gifts had meant? Were they his way of buttering her up for a favour? How could he possibly ask her to work there, at the place she'd been held prisoner, tortured? She began to rub her left forearm in distress, trying to set aside the images that assailed her.

Bellatrix. On top of her. Foul breath. Laughing. Cutting.


She blinked, shocked to find Draco right before her, studying her with concern. His gaze slid to the spot on her arm she was obsessively rubbing at and he blanched.

"Shit." He blinked rapidly and his face flushed brilliant scarlet, but he did not back away. "Sorry. I'm so sorry. I... I honestly didn't think."

His normally pale thin face held an expression of misery she had never seen before. He was mortified, she realised, at his faux pas and more, he was afraid. Could this be the same boy, now man, who had once called her a Mudblood?

Hermione shunted the ugly memories aside and pulled her hand from her arm. She shook her head, unable to think of anything to say.

To both their surprise, she lifted a hand and reached over to touch his cheek, studying him, steadying him.

She wanted him to know she did not feel it was his fault, but could not formulate the words. The feelings he'd engendered were too deep for words and the sensations coursing through her a bit too complex

He seemed to understand. He took her hand in his own, briefly squeezed it in gratitude and then set it down gently at the table where she sat. It was a warm, capable hand, Hermione thought idly, looking at it. He wore a Slytherin crest ring, she realised.

Of course, he does. He's proud of his House, just as you're proud of yours. She recalled Snape now, suddenly assailed with the memory of having watched him die, of listening to Harry tell her and Ron about the truth of his loyalties, of his life, and swallowed. He has reason to be proud, even if others don't see it.

"Well," he managed to say now in a dry, somewhat self-deprecating voice. "Seeing as I think I've ruined both our mornings, perhaps I'd best be going."

He stood and headed to the door. She watched him, before finding her voice. "Draco."

He turned back with an expectant expression.

"I... I'm not sure how I feel about... all this." She drew in a steadying breath and added, "I just needed you to know."

He considered this, then graced her with a quirky smile she thought made him look surprisingly boyish.

"I'm just glad you haven't slapped or hexed me. You wield a heavy hand and a wicked wand, Hermione Granger." He admitted. Then he graced her with a grin. "Things I admire, by the by."

He kissed her neck and shoulders and her hand snaked up 
through his hair to pull him forward, to kiss her mouth.

He did, and soon they were moving together, pressing on toward 
one goal.

She drew her wand, feeling the power and pleasure build. 


Soon Draco was tied firmly to her bed with green and silver scarves. 

"I've wanted to try this for a long time," she admitted, sliding the tip
of her wand along his pale, smooth skin.

Hermione gasped, sitting straight up in bed.

Thankfully, none of the other girls were in the room.

She had headed to her room in the hopes of quiet contemplation instead of eating lunch and ended up taking a nap.

The dream was certainly telling, although to be honest she had been having some version of it from time to time since her third year. There had been something released within her not long after she had held Draco at wandpoint and punched him. Some part of her she had, at first, found shameful, truly enjoyed the scenario.

Age brought perspective and acknowledgement that Draco was not at all bad looking and that a girl could not help what she dreamt. The only drawbacks, of course, for so long had been his attitude and personality. She could no longer say that and it was of this her subconscious was reminding her.

Her erotic dreams tended to present her as being in charge and she knew deep down she did relish the thought of being in a relationship with a man who enjoyed her in that position, at least occasionally.

There was room for romance, of course, and she could already tell Draco was the romantic sort, but there was also room for passion.

She wondered now if he was passionate and if he would allow her to take such liberties and her thoughts wandered until she grew quite flushed, and when Ginny stepped in, greeted her and headed toward the girl's lav, Hermione shook herself from her reverie and headed out for a bit of a walk.

I've never cared for the Gobbledegook when dealing with Goblins, but my father had insisted I learn it at his knee when I was old enough to start signing my name. He never trusted translators and he certainly never trusted Goblins, not even Grindlgruf, our family's liaison officer at the bank. Hence I'd been speaking Gobbledygook with perfect fluency since I started Hogwarts, along with Japanese and Djinn; the languages of what my father called High Finance. I knew a smattering of Dementish, as well, seeing as Slytherins are not passing fond of allowing anyone to see either their worst fears or the true nature of their hearts.

I hadn't wanted to deal with Goblins so soon after having a decidedly odd meeting with Hermione, but needs must. As head of our house now, I had to see to the family's accounts, including those of my dead aunt and her incarcerated husband.

Grindlegruf had sat stone-faced as I garbled my way through standard greetings. He put up a hand when I was half-way through the elaborate flattery I'd been taught to use that did not impress the Goblins, but served the purpose of both amusing them and letting them know one was about serious business.

"Grr'up'ek," I managed to say, the closest Goblin's came to an apology and which loosely translated meant "I'll wait."

Hudied ow, tilting his head this way and that, his thick-lensed spectacles making him look like a frog inside a bowl. A rather hairy frog, I assessed.

"I'm a busy goblin," he finally said in perfect Scottish-tinted English.

I nodded.

"I asked you in because we need to know one thing and one thing only."

He stopped speaking and the room filled with what he clearly felt was a portentous silence.

I swallowed back a sigh and wondered how many listening devices were in the room and how many wagers were being placed against me and my family.


He lifted a bushy eyebrow at this. I had said "I'm waiting."

It was perfectly true. It was also absurdly rude per their customs as well as something of a joke since a similar sounding saying meant "with a sharp knife."

He sat back against his high-backed chair and cleared his throat. This meant he was nervous and was allowing me to see it. It also confirmed that whatever he was going to enquire about was something of import. I certainly hoped so; I didn't care to take time away from my other pursuits to speak Gobbledegook and breathe in the scent of wood, marble and the polish that treated both.

"We need to know if you intend to press charges against the individuals who broke into your Aunt's vault."

I considered this. It was irksome to know someone had accomplished this, although not as irksome as it no doubt was to the Goblins, but it was also an unneeded hindrance and time-suck, as the Muggleborn liked to say. If I pressed charges, I would have to appear before the Wizengamot with my legal counsel -- I would have to start paying them per diem instead of the simple retaining fee that stemmed from my mother's account on the continent.

Aunt Bella was dead. Uncle Rodolphus was in Azkaban, like Father, and since Aunt Bella had been a trifle paranoid, he did not share her vault and had his own. Being a prisoner, however, and his wife being dead meant he had no usual 'head of family' rights to her property - the disposition of her effects fell to me.

To buy time to consider the matter further, I asked, "Was it ever determined who accomplished this feat?"

Grindlegruf smiled toothily. "Harry Potter."

I stilled, feeling suddenly cold.

"Ronald Weasley."

I held my breath now.

"And Hermione Granger."


"You're very near a nest of Nargles."

Hermione started, looked to a ledge overlooking the courtyard where she had wandered in her dazed state to find Luna sitting barefoot in quiet contemplation, a pair of Spectrespecs perched on the end of her nose. Susan was next to her, reading a book.

"I'm sorry, Luna, but I don't believe in Nargles."

"Whether you do or don't, they're already clouding your thoughts and making your mind go fuzzy. If any more slip out of that nest and infect you, you might find yourself blibbering like a humdinger."

Hermione sighed, giving in to what she privately thought of as Lunacy.

"All right, fine. Where is the nest?"

Luna pointed above her and slightly to the left. Hermione looked up to find a creeping vine inching closer to her.

"I thought they liked mistletoe?"

Luna smiled. "They like any plant that grows. Ivy is as good as mistletoe or Cat's Claw."

Hermione skirted the issue, as well as the vine, to sit near her odd, but kindly friend.

"Luna, I have a question."

"It means he's acknowledging he knows he did wrong, or that he knows that the wrong he did hurt you."

Susan looked up briefly to study Hermione over her book before returning to her reading.

"How do you do that? Do you read minds?"

Luna looked sad for a moment. "The only ones I think who could do that were Professors Snape and Dumbledore. I just know what question has been on your mind since you looked into that box."

Hermione sighed. "Why did he use my knife?"

Luna sat back, wrapping her arms around her knees. "It has to be a personal item because it represents his concession. In this case, he feels it was wrong to have chosen to be on the Inquisitorial Squad. Using your knife to pierce his badge and present it to you is like giving you an apology."

"What does the new knife mean?"

Luna smiled. "It's his way of saying he wants a fresh start, to break with the past and begin anew. It's his way of showing sincerity."

Susan suddenly spoke, setting her book aside. "Is the knife better than the one you had or about the same?"

Hermione swallowed. "It's much better. It's exquisitely sharp and cuts through the leather I'm working with like a hot knife through butter. It's also light in my hand and very easy to manipulate. I don't think my hand will get so stiff using it all day."

"Then he's quite serious about wanting a relationship with you. If the knife had been about the same, it would have meant he sees you as a friend and he hopes you reciprocate that feeling. Since it's better, it means he wants to be with you as much as you will allow and is willing to do whatever it takes to make you see him in that new light."

Luna and Susan watched as their troubled friend lifted her knees and hugged them, looking distressed.

"Hermione, if you don't want his attention, all you have to do is tell him," Luna pointed out.

"I'm not sure," she admitted now. The two girls exchanged glances as she continued, "I spoke with him earlier. He seems so different now. We all do, really, but.... he's changed."

"I think we all sort of grew up a bit quicker than we might have liked," Susan noted.

Hermione nodded and sighed. "I had been thinking of thanking him, but giving back all his presents. I'm not sure I'm comfortable keeping them."

"If you do that, it would mean you never want anything to do with him again. A bit harsh, but if that's how you honestly feel--"

Hermione groaned. "Why isn't this in Hogwarts: A History? Why does no one teach Muggleborns about these matters?"

"Well, for one thing, it's something we learn growing up from the fables our parents teach us."

"Fairy tales."

"Yes, and real life stories from the Prophet or family history. Our parents discuss their own courtships. Isn't that how Muggles learn?"

"A bit, yes. You said for one thing -- is there any other reason no one teaches Muggleborns about these matters?"

Luna smiled dreamily and her sense of joy was nearly palpable to Hermione, but it was Susan who spoke and her words stunned her.

"Yes. The other reason no Muggleborn is taught this particular custom, Hermione, is because very few have ever been subject to it. A Pureblood wizard choosing a Muggleborn witch is scandalous, almost unheard of. It's a bit different when the witch is Pureblood and the wizard is a Muggleborn, like with Andromeda Tonks. The witch does not have to woo, as the saying goes."

"Why is it considered scandalous for a Pureblood wizard then?"

Luna answered her. "When a Pureblood wizard chooses a witch, he's not just showing his interest, he's declaring this woman is worthy of bearing his heirs. Their blood will mingle and become part of a dynasty. It's not something most Muggleborns like or understand, but it's just a part of our world."

Susan added helpfully, "Luna's right, of course, but it's more common a custom amongst the older and more traditional Pureblood families."

"So... he's saying he wants to marry me?"

Susan and Luna exchanged glances and Susan leaned closer to Hermione. Her voice was quiet and solemn.

"I can't speak to all his reasons, but I can tell you this -- by doing this Draco Malfoy is announcing to all and sundry that he wants you, as wife, as lover, as friend, as ally, in whatever way you are willing to be with him. He has shown you he feels he wronged you. He has shown you that he feels you have a shared history and that he values your skills, your work, your everything. If being with you gains him or his family respect, it's incidental to his feelings, although, knowing Mrs Malfoy somewhat, I would venture to guess she might have suggested he try to polish up the family honour. Still, he wouldn't do this for that alone. It means more -- a lot more -- to a Pureblood, but especially to one in Slytherin House. They might not make a move without assessing their situation at every step, but they will certainly not make a move without being totally sincere about it."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "I need to ask, is it possible this is just his way of trying to improve his family name and their standing in wizarding society?"

Luna's gaze sharpened again and Hermione felt distinctly uncomfortable being considered by those pale blue-grey eyes.

"It's possible that is one of the reasons he's doing it, yes, but he would never do it for that reason alone. It would be dreadfully improper and the loss of honour wouldn't be worth whatever you think he might gain from it."

"And even if that is one of the reasons, like I just said, it would be incidental to his purpose," Susan reminded her. She smiled at her friend. "You need to stop analysing eventually, Hermione, and just accept it -- you have a suitor."

"Yes. And his next gift will be presented to you directly." Luna smiled as her gaze began to grow dreamy again. "I wonder what it will be."

"Are you quite sure?"

I nodded at Mother and watched her set her cup down, sit back and consider.

To someone who did not know her, it would seem my mother was reminiscing about something, but in reality, her sharp and clever mind was testing all angles of my solution. It was to the good she had not argued with me about Lovegood. I'm no longer a boy under her direction, but the de facto head of the family.

She could advise and suggest, but no longer could she order me. Her gaze returned to her cup and she sipped at it.

"It is bold, inspired, but, and I don't mean to pry, son -- I must ask -- do you have true feelings for the girl?"

"Yes, Mother. I think I have for some time."

She nodded.

"She is a clever little thing." My mother sighed. "I suppose even if she turns you down, the gift will show our good will and allegiance."

"It's the right thing to do. The scar will never fade. The blood blade holds too much dark magic." I did not tell her of the other enchantments I had spelled into my gift; she likely had guessed and they were not her business.

"Bella always did love her 'sharp pointy things' as she called them." She spoke with a touch of fondness and regret and I reminded myself that long before my aunt had gone insane, she had been one of three sisters who all cared for each other deeply. Mother smiled suddenly. "As for Andy, the gift will be a matter of public record and will work to our favour."

"It's the right thing to do," I reminded her. "She's my aunt and the boy is my cousin."

"She looked so thin at the funerals. I did mention possible visits. The little one looks to be a handful."

"I sent an invitation via our solicitor."

"I wonder if she would care for a house elf. Two of ours bore little ones. It's not like we'll run short."

"I leave such matters to you, Mother." I bowed my head.

She smiled at me, thankfully not tearfully. "Like your father. You have some of his graces."

"I just hope I haven't inherited his poor judgement."

She said nothing to this, focusing instead on her tea and biscuits for some moments. I sipped at my own awaiting her advisement.

Finally she set down her tea cup and cleared her throat.

"They both might turn us down."

"It's still the right thing to do," I pointed out, relieved. The fact she was not arguing, merely indicating what we both knew meant she had no argument against my proposal.

She tipped her head at me, the way she used to toward my father and I realised she was giving me my due as head of house. It made me smile and I relaxed for the first time since I'd arrived.

I spoke sotto voce. "Besides -- the goblins weren't too keen on having to publicly admit one of their top security vaults could be burgled."

Mother considered this and suddenly laughed. Her voice was full of admiration.

"True, and I suppose there might be something to be said for being related to someone clever enough to accomplish such a thing."

He'd been staring at her since the start of the rebuilding, but when she wanted to stare at him in exchange, he was nowhere to be found. She hadn't seen him yesterday and he wasn't at the breakfast table today.

Was it all just for show? Had he only sought to impress her to ask a favour? That would seem to be his nature, but he'd changed since the end of their fifth year. He'd saved their lives and had asked no recompense. It was almost unSlytherin.

He was different, she realised, remembering the few moments in their recent history where he had shown a surprising amount of sensitivity.

She had to stop viewing him through the lens of childhood, she realised. She would have to look at Draco Malfoy with new eyes.

"Good morning!"

She blinked to find Harry sliding into the seat across the table from her.

"Good morning. You're awfully chipper."

He tossed a copy of the Daily Prophet in her direction.

"Page 3."

She frowned, picking it up and opening it.

He waited while she read the pertinent article and smiled as she looked up, gobstruck.

"I'd call that more than a flag of truce. More like a declaration of cessation of all hostility," he noted calmly, sipping at orange juice with satisfaction.

She nodded, but now looked a bit troubled.

"I'm not arguing the need of what we did, not at this stage of things, but Harry -- we were going to see Kingsley about this after the rebuilding."

"No more need. As head of the family, it's Draco's decision to press charges and he chose not to. Plus..." he reached into his back pocket and retrieved a folded letter. "Andromeda wrote me. It seems half the contents of Bellatrix's vault have been apportioned to Teddy as a trust fund. She was also informed the funds for his Hogwarts education were set aside in a separate account that will be transferred directly to Hogwarts for each year he attends."

"I thought you were going to--"

Harry waved her off. "I was. I am. Teddy is my godson and I intend to do all I can for him, but... I think this is Draco's way of letting us know there are no hard feelings. He's turned a new leaf."

"It could be," she said slowly. "Or it could be that this is his way of ensuring his family remains in the good graces of the community."

"Does it matter?" He sat back, studying her. "I don't really care if he's doing it to help his family or help his cousin. I'm part of that family now, in an official capacity if not by blood, after all. If he reverts to form, fine -- I know how to deal with him. Honestly, though, I like to think we've made our peace. He's not the same ferret face and I'm not the same scar head. We've grown up, at least a bit."

Harry smiled and Hermione nearly told him of her own revelations in Draco's regard, but she picked up the paper again and re-read the article instead.

Harry tried hard to stay out of his friend's love lives, even when it had been all-too-briefly her and Ron. Upon their break up he had merely asked if she was all right, hugged her as she wept angry self-recriminatory tears, and nodded without offering platitudes when she'd told him it was definitively over no matter what Ron said. They had learnt a lot together during those months in that tent.

Now she wondered about the article. Was this the gesture Susan and Luna had mentioned? Could this be construed as the gift? Ensuring she was not prosecuted for breaking into his aunt's vault? Hadn't they said the gift had to be given personally, though? She'd received no visit, not even an owl post.

She was suddenly glad of Ron's retreat. One thing that could always be counted on was his hair-trigger reaction against Slytherins and Slytherin House. Even if she weren't being pursued by one, she would hate for him to burst Harry's bubble of optimism or diminish his newfound joy in life. She smiled.

Hermione was also glad that at least Harry would be pleased for her if she should choose to accept Draco's offer of... what?

According to Luna and Susan, she could choose to simply be friends. She already knew she could count on him. She already felt like his friend. She did not find him objectionable in looks or prospects. Could there be more? Her dreaming mind certainly seemed to think so! A warm thrill ran through her and she set down the paper with exaggerated care, hoping she wasn't blushing.

"Well, I'm off to the stands. We're working on Gryffindor tower now," Harry said cheerfully, getting up and tucking a wrapped piece of toast into his pocket.

She nodded, waving, and set about finishing her own breakfast. She had a long day with a very long stack of books and a great deal of thinking to do.

It was nearing tea time when I heard the commotion in the adjoining room. I tried to straighten up but my knees protested.

I'd been kneeling for quite some time in one of the Infirmary's reconstructed quarantine rooms, carefully painting whimsical images of magical creatures and some carefully rendered scenes from The Tales of Beedle the Bard on the walls. Frankly, if that had been all I was doing, I would have finished much earlier, but I had decided to weave some spells into the imagery.

A sudden cry for Madam Pomfrey and shocked voices alerted me to goings-on in the main Infirmary. I gave up trying to get up with my knees aching. Moreover, my lower legs were nearly asleep despite the cushioning charm I'd used. I let myself fall back to sit slumped on the floor, rubbing at my knees as I listened and tried to figure out what had happened. A wave of my wand and an amplification charm became of able assistance.

"Up there. Be quick about it. You! Fetch Blood-Replenishing solution straight away! Don't move that arm, young woman. I need to see if you damaged any arteries."

What had happened?

"It's so deep."

"It was my fault."

I froze. That was Hermione's voice.

"I was working with a new knife, very sharp. There was a stubborn bit of dried binding glue I was trying to remove. I shifted the book as I worked and when the clump broke loose, the knife just kept going, right through my hand and into my forearm."

"You shouldn't be working with such a sharp instrument, Miss Granger. Magic ought suffice."

"Can't be helped. The work is so fiddly and time-consuming. I'd have to sustain various charms and spells for ages and I'd be drained at end of day. Too exhausted to work more than a day a week and it can't take that long. I need to have the library mostly completed by the time Term resumes. That's why I'm using mostly Muggle methods with some minor magic to speed things along."

Pomfrey grunted. "Well, you might wish otherwise before we're through. This won't be pleasant. Oh, thank you, young lady. Drink that up first, Granger."

I heard her gagging down what I knew was a truly foul potion and the sound of farewells from at least two people, followed by footsteps.

I levered myself up and headed for the main Infirmary, cancelling the Amplification charm.

"All right! The lot of you clear out. Miss Granger will be here until morning and you can see her then."

When I stepped into the room, Pomfrey was bent over a table where Hermione held her injured arm.

I moved steadily and slowly in their direction in deference to my knees, that is, until he heard the whimper of pain she made and I made myself walk faster.

She did not seem surprised when I took her free hand in mine, although I noted she blushed. Pomfrey scarcely registered my presence, working a complex spell over a ghastly amount of torn flesh that made me want to gag. I looked away.

"My gift did this?"

Hermione looked to me, winced at something Pomfrey was doing, and nodded.

I sighed with dissatisfaction and not a little dismay. Would nothing ever go right in her regard? Perhaps it was a sign.

"Don't blame yourself," she whispered now, squeezing my hand. "If I'd been using my old knife, the inertial rebound would have been much worse. I might have lost an eye."

"Maybe Pomfrey's right. You shouldn't be doing this."

She bristled. "It's my job and I will finish it, injuries notwithstanding!"

"Silence the pair of you," Pomfrey growled. "This is difficult enough. I need to concentrate unless you want the nerves realigned incorrectly.

"Sorry, Madam Pomfrey," I said. Hermione just sighed, but I watched her until she looked up at me, then I mouthed silently, "Sorry."

She just nodded and I suddenly realised this might be all there would be from her. A sort of warm regard and it filled me with a sort of horror. I grew cold.

Well, if this was all there might be from her, I'd best make the most of it. I slowly lifted her hand up and waited until she was looking at me. Then I carefully kissed each of her knuckles followed by her thumb joint.

She seemed dumbstrick, but it was possible she was just letting her anger build, so I again mouthed silently, "I'm sorry."

I meant it more than I'd ever meant it before. Then I let her go and headed back to the quarantine room.

It took three hours for Pomfrey to finish, although once she had finished healing the more complex internal injuries, Hermione had been able to take a Pain potion and sleep through the rest of the more routine repair work the Matron had to do.

Draco had gone to supper and returned, intent on working as late as he could in order to be near Hermione, even if he no longer expected anything beyond friendship and perhaps some allegiance. He would accept friendship, if that was all he could earn, and friends stood by one another. They visited each other when they were ill or injured.

He studied his handiwork with a Lumos spell, unwilling to light the room. The dimness soothed his tired spirit and the moonlight was bright enough for all but seeing his handiwork against the window wall.

He studied the unicorns in a glen he had fashioned, as well as the gamboling mooncalves. He gently stroked the neck of one of the unicorns and smiled as it began to leap and prance.

"Nice work."

He jumped, then caught his breath as he saw her standing behind him.


He looked a bit relieved, but uncertain and she moved to sit on the cot in the moonlit room.

"I saw the light moving and thought I'd see who was in here."

"I've been doing some work here."

"It's lovely. Did you draw all of this?" She gestured at the images, which did not quite form a mural. It was more of a series of images that decorated the walls in a pattern of intervals that was attractive and oddly soothing to the eye.

"Guilty." He put down his wand. "Nox."

She gently touched the image of a tree near the bed and smiled with delight as it suddenly branched and bore fruit. It slowly dropped heavy branches and a small child stepped from behind it and plucked a sagging fruit and settled under the tree's shade to eat it.

"That's wonderful, Draco. What gave you the idea?"

He shrugged, uncomfortable with her praise. "My old nursery at home had similar images. I just thought if I was sick in here, a small kid, it'd be nice if there was more to look at than a table of potions and a bedpan."

Hermione smiled. "True. And it really is lovely. Your work is inspired."

He shook his head. "It's just artistic bric-a-brac, Hermione."

She shook her head back at him. "No, Draco."

He was uncertain when she took his hand in her undamaged one and urged him to sit beside her.

"It shows sensitivity and compassion. It's a side of you few ever get to see and I feel privileged to have seen it."

He swallowed. "It's nothing, Granger. Just... decoration."

"What happened to Hermione?"

He looked down. "Look -- I know my gestures haven't gone well. The last one went disastrous, but... well... if all we're to be is friends, maybe it's best I just think of you that way."

"The knife was lovely. It is lovely. Very thoughtful," she began.

He held up a hand. "I know what you're going to say, but one thing my godfather taught me is Slytherins face unpleasant truths head-on to deal with them. I'd rather take my lumps and keep moving forward. I don't want to dwell on might-have-beens. It's no way to live your life. That's another thing he taught me."

He suddenly stood and moved to the window, to stare out at the moonlit grounds of the school. He wondered how many sick or injured students had done the same thing over the centuries and his fingers clutched the edge of the sill.

Suddenly her hand rested over one of his and he turned to look at her.

"Thank you. I read the Prophet this morning. It was a very kind thing you did."

He nodded. "You're welcome, but really it saved me time and money and the nuisance of dealing with the M.L.E. and the Wizengamot."

Hermione smiled. "I was referring to your kindness to Teddy Tonks and Andromeda, but fine."

He seemed taken aback. "Oh, well... she is my aunt."

"I approve of justice. Nothing more just than making reparation to a woman who lost a husband to the regime and her daughter and son-in-law to the madness of war."

"Or the madness of my other aunt," he muttered with a sigh. "In case you're wondering, the other half of her money went to the rebuilding fund."

Hermione's smile widened. "I imagine she wouldn't be too happy about that."

"She may have been my aunt, but I recognised her madness," Draco murmured. "She wasn't always that way, though."

Hermione nodded. Then she sobered as she looked down on her bandaged arm where Bellatrix's handiwork was currently hidden. Her gaze looked momentarily haunted, before she shook herself from her reverie and muttered, "Well, one more scar hardly matters."

"It matters to me." His gaze was implacable.

Hermione nodded. "I know that now. I need to know one thing, Draco."

He nodded.

"Your gifts. I think I know the answer but I have to hear the words. Is this all because you want to change your family's image? Or do you genuinely feel something for me? Something beyond physical attraction?"

Draco closed his eyes and sighed before presenting her with a bittersweet smile.

"My godfather told me once that my antagonism toward you could be mistaken for Interest. You've taught me, though, that my interest can be mistaken for antagonism."

Hermione's expression gentled as she smiled. "So there's interest?"

He groaned and held a hand up to touch her face, run his fingers gently through the strands of hair at her temple. His voice was strangled. "Yes. Merlin, yes."

She studied him for a long moment and he could hold out no longer.

"Hermione. May I kiss you?"

This nearly made her chortle, being unused to gallantry. The boys had always treated her like one of them and Cormac McLaggen had always treated her like a commodity. She had to think back to Viktor to remember how it felt being treated in this manner. She smiled in reminiscence and nodded up at him.

Bending close, he carefully pressed his thin, but warm lips to hers. Then he did it again and again, bestowing the gentlest of kisses on her lips, her cheeks, her eyelids. This was more than he'd dreamed of being allowed and it thrilled him.

To his shock, Hermione suddenly groaned and pushed him back with her one good hand, against the sill, and began to snog him thoroughly, heatedly, and he realised how very wrong he'd been.

This was truly thrilling, more so than anything he'd done before in his life, not to mention arousing. He quickly hardened to painful lengths, something he could not hide very well as she was trying to press against him fully.

He squirmed away as much as he could. He wanted to hide his reaction from her, not that he felt she would mind, but he'd been taught chivalry since he'd been old enough to toddle and it was a habit he was incapable of breaking.

"Mm... Hermione..."

"Draco," she breathed, frustrated at the loss of use of one hand for her current endeavour.

"Wait, sweetheart," he said huskily and she stopped, looking up at him.

"Say that again," she whispered.

"Sweetheart," he repeated in a voice full of feeling.


He smiled. "Listen, are you sure you want to do this... here?"

She considered this and then her eyes gleamed and she nodded.

"Pomfrey might hear us," he pointed out.

"Not if we're quiet," she riposted.

The thought of being caught made him grow even harder and Draco groaned.

"You're a saucy little minx, aren't you?"

To his delight, she grinned back rather wickedly. "Gryffindor. Remember?"

He nodded with a smile and then asked, "Sweetheart, just how far do you, um..."

"I think we could both do with a bit of relief. But I also think our clothes shouldn't come off."

He nodded, grateful she had mentioned relief, because he thought he might burst and wasn't sure if he could walk elsewhere to toss off, at least not without some pain or risk of humiliation.

They settled on the moon-lit bed and began to snog again. Soon enough, Hermione straddled him and Draco capitulated, growing ever more aroused by the feel of her atop him. He'd die before admitting it, but the women of his erotic dreams had nearly always been rather bushy-haired and bossy.

For her part, Hermione rather felt Draco enjoyed being held down. She decided to experiment a little.

"Do you trust me?"

He looked up her through lust-fogged eyes and nodded emphatically. She drew her wand and whispered, "Incarcerous."

Rather than the vicious vines he had been expecting, soft, but strong silky scarves wrapped about his chest, pinning him to the bed, if not holding his arms down. One slid along his throat and he swallowed.

"There. It's easier to hold you down this way if I've only the one hand to do it."

He nodded as best he could, finding his erection had gone so rigid it ached.

Then she bent and began to kiss him, kissing along his jaw and he held her to him, gripping her arse as best he could and striving to press his cock against her tightly. She shifted forward and off of him.

"Oh, you wicked, wicked woman," he moaned.

"Not yet," she whispered, before waving her wand once more.

Suddenly the scarves slid along his arms, over his wrists and he found himself restrained, arms held to the bars of the headboard.

Draco groaned as she grinned. Hermione was relishing living out one of her fantasies. She reached behind her and cupped his testicles through his trousers.


With another quick wave of her wand, a knotted section of scarf slid over his mouth and his moans were stifled.

Draco could feel the scarf sliding about his neck and briefly wondered if her intent was other than pleasure, but decided to trust his little bookworm knew what she was doing.

Hermione listened intently but no one seemed to have heard, so she bent to her task. She massaged his bulging crotch with determined one-handed assiduity.

Draco made a whining noise in his chest.

She lay against him then and slid down until she was resting between his spread thighs.

"Do you know how good you smell to me?" She sniffed appreciatively at him, finding the warm musky smell coupled with the tang of herbal soap and his own scent which was reminiscent of apples a powerful aphrodisiac. "You always have, but this, here, you smell very, very nice."

She took a moment to move her wand down and slid it high between her thighs. She pressed them tightly together to hold it in place and slid her hand back up to slowly rub her thumb along the base of his cock, sorely wishing her other hand was free, as well.

He arched, unable to cry out and she smiled as the scarves tightened slightly. It was a spell she'd overheard Charlie sharing with the twins one holiday at the Burrow. It had been late at night and she'd heard voices in the sitting room. Not wanting to interrupt a conversation, she sat on the stairs and listened, an Amplification Charm providing her details of a new and heretofore unimagined bit of sexual play.

She had heard of the practice afterward on the Muggle news and, as with every other thing about which she was curious, Hermione had studied it. It was dangerous for Muggles, who died at an alarming rate of the practice, but thankfully, magic rendered it a harmless thrill to wizarding kind.

The scarves would only tighten so far and a resistance charm woven into the spell kept the airway open and even strengthened the blood vessels and the small bones in the neck so they would not collapse, no matter how much a man writhed. She had only tried it once, herself, and found the experience a bit too much stimulation. It seemed men really enjoyed it best, seeing as women were blessed to be able to enjoy multiple orgasms already. According to the literature, it felt akin to this, but more like one long continuous orgasm to a man. It also reportedly suffused them with feelings of euphoria.

Hermione hoped he was enjoying himself. Judging by the growing dampness at the tip of the rearing bulge where the head of his cock was, he must be. She nearly opted to open his trousers, but stopped herself. She had said clothes stayed on, and so they would.

She moved from rubbing the base of his cock to stroking the length through the fine woolen fabric. Draco made an unintelligible noise and Hermione closed her eyes and sent a non-verbal command to her wand that made it start to vibrate vigorously. At the apex of her next stroke, she focused on rubbing the head of his cock with firm circular strokes.

The scarves tightened and Draco's head swam as he felt his bollocks tighten, as well. Then he writhed as he came, semen surging into his smalls. To his shock and delight, he felt an odd giddiness and it seemed as if his orgasm just went on and on for ages, the head of his cock pumping against Hermione's talented fingers. The pleasure was so intense it was nearly too much.

After what seemed a minor eternity, the scarves loosened and he slumped, arms akimbo on the cot, listening to his lover making soothing, pleased-sounding humming noises from between his legs. He was too tired to even open an eyelid and peer down, although the tingling and abrupt lack of damp stickiness told him she'd used some form of cleansing charm.

"H...Hermione..." I could not believe she had done that.


Instead of asking where she'd learnt such a thing; no Slytherin ever asks a question he doesn't want to know the answer to, I urged her up.

"Kiss me, you wicked wanton witch."

When she was done, she looked at me. ""Well? Feeling better?"

I nodded, just glad to be able to move again, and speak. "That was incredible."

"Just a spell I overheard one holiday."

"You are incredible."

She shook her head. "Just well read."

"Well, yes, I know you are, but I think it's fantastic. If that is what you can do, just by reading about it--"

"No, really," she interrupted me. "It's nothing."

I frowned at this. One thing I had noted over the years was her self-effacing manner, which was very unGryffindor in my opinion.

"Don't ever denigrate your talents or downplay your skills to me, Hermione Granger. I think you're brilliant and I'll be proud to be yours. In any way you'll have me."

There. Don't let it be said Slytherins can't be brave.

Hermione's eyes grew bright, but she smiled at me in a rather lascivious manner and I swear I felt my cock twitch in my smalls.

"Well... I was hoping the having might be mutual. Maybe next time somewhere with a larger bed?"

I smiled. "As my lady commands."

We snogged a bit and then I suddenly recalled. "You know, I was supposed to give you a gift."

Hermione shrugged. "That's all right."

"No, tradition must be honoured."

I looked about for my wand and once I'd retrieved it, I dug out a tiny box from my pocket and tapped it with my wand. "Engorgio!"

Hermione seemed impressed at the ornate wrapping and the delicate lace bow. They weren't too badly done. The paper wasn't much, but that lace had cost a fortune. I smiled.

"I'd noticed you don't wear a watch. I don't know if you know but by wizarding tradition a witch or wizard who comes of age is gifted with one."

She nodded. "I heard of it."

"Well," I cleared my throat nervously. I did not want her to think, ever, that I felt she was ignorant or that her Muggle upbringing was somehow lacking. No witch who could do what she did was lacking in her upbringing, and I do not mean sexual skills, but all she had done, especially during the war.

I cleared my throat again and finally managed to say, "I would be honoured if you'd wear this, as proof of my affection."


"Of my feelings."

She seemed to accept this and turned to carefully open the box. The watch was ornate and I hoped the decorations I had imbued it with would suit. It lay nestled in green silk within the box. She lifted the watch out and exclaimed over the markings.

"These are runes! And Arithmantic sigils. Oh, and the watch face is perfect!" Hermione studied the image of an open book. "Is that writing? The book has writing."

"Every good book does," I pointed out with a smile, pleased to have pleased her.

I took the watch from her and slipped it on her uninjured arm. I found the words just came without my bidding them.

"There are fourteen hundred and forty minutes in a day, Hermione. I should very much like if you grant me the right to look on your beautiful face as many of those minutes as you would allow."

She grew suddenly tearful, and I grew a bit alarmed. "You mean as your girlfriend?"

I hesitated. I would take girlfriend, but I wanted so much more.

"As whatever you want to be. Just please know -- you will never be less than a trusted friend from now on. And I your faithful servant."

She nodded at this and finally said, "I... I think I'd like to try being your girlfriend and lover for now."

My heart began to soar, but she was still talking and one thing both Father and Godfather had taught me was to keep listening when a witch was speaking.

"-- then we can see about the future. And I agree -- I've never cared for acrimony. If we choose to part ways, you can always trust I will treat you as a friend. Your confidences will remain as mine."

That sounded good. I decided to focus on the rest of what I had to say.

"In that case, maybe we should see about one of the other things that go with this gift."

"The watch is more than enough, sweetheart," she said, thrilling me with the sound of that small word. I don't know why. Mother said it to me often enough, but it seemed to mean much more now.

Then she said, "Besides, I've nothing to give you."

I shook my head. "You've given me everything, Hermione, simply by allowing me to be in your life."

I plucked the silk from within the box. It was a fine ribbon, with silver edging. I hoped she would understand.

"You needn't unless you wish, but I will be honoured whenever you wear this."

She smiled and took it from me, and then placed it in her pocket. Well, that didn't go as I thought it might.

Her tone was apologetic, though. "I'd put it on, but my hair is a fright right now. I promise I'll wear it tomorrow for you."

"For us," I said now, relieved. "It will be a sign to everyone. Everyone from an old wizarding family will know instantly what it means and they will expect you know, as well, by wearing it."

"I understand. And I want to be known as... yours."

I thought my face might crack from the smile this brought. It certainly felt as if my heart had stopped. Well, if it had, I would die very happy, I reckoned.

"There is one more thing."

"Draco, this is... lovely, but it's a bit much."

"It's reparation and your due," I told her in my most serious tone.

She frowned and I could tell she wondered what I meant. In response, I lifted her uninjured hand and tapped her new watch.


She gasped and I knew she would feel the spell wherever she had scarring. She looked at me for explanation.

"Let's see your scar," I said, lifting her left arm cautiously.

The bandages ended halfway up her arm, not quite enough to obscure the filthy slur my mad aunt had carved into her flesh. Hermione frowned as she saw the scar was gone. She stared and then rubbed at the spot where she knew it to be. "What...?"

"As head of our family, I now handle all our affairs, not just financial but magical debts and obligations," I explained. "Bellatrix Lestrange caused you a permanent disfigurement. That is a debt I would see repaid. This watch will help keep the time for you. You noticed it has writing. The watch face does provide an interesting story if you care to ever read it and has been spelled with dozens more for those times when you have nothing else with which to entertain yourself and no other means at your disposal."

"Oh, Draco!" She nearly cried, but managed to control herself, although she had to wipe her eyes. "That's the loveliest gift anyone has ever given me."

"It has two other purposes. You've seen one -- with the use of the spell I cast, when you wear it, it will hide every scar on your body. If you choose to, that is. If you don't wish to hide them, just don't use the charm. It's not a perfect solution to a permanent scar, but the dark magic of her blade is too much for any spell or potion to fully eradicate it. So the obscurement spell built into the watch will have to--"

I got no further as Hermione's arms flew about my neck and I found himself holding her tightly as she wept against my shoulder.

"Thank you," she kept saying in a tearful whisper and I sighed, cradling her head and stroking that soft hair I'd been longing to feel in my hands.

"I should be the one to thank you," I told her before pulling back and taking her hand up again. There was no time like the present, I thought. "Be ready."

I my index finger and used it to tap the watch face twice and then swiped my finger along it. Suddenly I felt a familiar pulling sensation I knew Hermione was feeling to and we wound up stretched out on the ground in a dark glen.

"Where are we?"

"Somewhere safe. Watch."

I swiped a finger along the watch and then used it to tap it twice. The dizzying, swooping sensation died off quickly and left us once more atop the cot in the Infirmary.

"The spell is permanent. It will transport you at random to one of a dozen places which are generally safe and secluded, but still within reach of food and shelter. Share that with no one save those you love," I told her. Then I smiled and swallowed down a lump in my throat myself. "And thank you, Hermione."

"Me? I haven't given you anything."

I shook my head and stroked a hand along her cheek. I wanted to do that for hours. She was such a lovely, accomplished woman.

"You just gave me everything, Hermione. The watch will only transport you with those you love... or at least have deep feeling for."

Her eyes widened and suddenly she swatted at me. I waited her out in only moderate fear. A wizard would do well to be fearful in the presence of an angry witch and this one had proven herself in battle... but she had also proven she cared for me.

"That was a terrible trick, Draco! What if I hadn't felt that way? I would have found myself God knows where and not had a clue how to return."

I shook my head at this. "You're a capable witch. You can Apparate. You had your wand, you could summon a broom or the Knight Bus. I have every faith in your resourcefulness."

I punctuated this with a kiss to her lovely forehead and she snorted in a rather unladylike fashion, but looked mollified.

"Besides, I could never give such a gift to someone who didn't have the capacity to at least develop those feelings if they didn't already exist." I took her uninjured hand in mine again.

"I love you, Hermione Granger. I have for some time and I don't care who knows it."

She looked down at his hand in hers, at the watch on her wrist and remembered the warm, lovely feelings of their prior closeness slipping over her. It felt good. It felt... right.

She suddenly had to know.

"Did you make this, Draco?"

He looked down and shrugged. "Well, sort of. I didn't make the watch, I bought the finest one I could find. The decoration and enchantments I spelled into it. Permanently, of course, and I made the Portus reversible; I didn't want you whisking off somewhere never to return, after all."

"Something tells me," Hermione said with a smile. "That I will always want to return to you, Draco Malfoy."

His eyes filled at this and his expression was one of such joy she felt deeply touched. She could not remember Ron or Harry being so expressive, not even at the height of a moving moment, although she forgave Harry as much given his horrid and neglectful family. Ron had no such excuse, but he had always scoffed at her sentimentality.

She realised now just how hurtful and stifling such derision could be. It had made her mistake accepted proximity with true intimacy. That was a trap her mother had warned her of in regards to boys as friends, a warning given when her Mum had realised her only friends were boys.

As he moved closer to kiss her, Hermione suddenly put a hand to his lips. She noted he waited patiently and silently approved.

"There's something you need to know before we go on, Draco," she admitted.

He nodded. "All right."

"It's my parents. They're... in Australia. I sent them there. After I Obliviated them," she suddenly felt the words flooding out and hung her head in shame. "I know it's a crime, but I was so afraid for them! I tried to talk to them once about what was happening and they nearly decided to keep me from attending Hogwarts and that last year -- it was so horrid and Harry needed me so much and I didn't know what else to do! So I did it and I've been so afraid, but I need to go look after them and--"

His fingers suddenly stopped her as he touched them to her lips. She stared at him, abjectly afraid, but he merely smiled, shaking his head.

"Hermione. Love. I'll be more than happy to go with you to fetch your parents and sort them out... later. Whatever problems we'll sort out, as well. Later." He bent to kiss her again and this time she let him, still trembling.

Soon her fear dissipated and she was filled with a sense of elation. She knew he meant what he said, even if it sounded as if he was being flippant. She knew that he truly cared, but more, she knew Draco would always support her, always stand by her.

He cared for her, he had proven it, and not just as someone he tolerated in order to have access to her skills or abilities. He was proud of her and her bookishness. He thought she was beautiful and he made her feel that way with every touch.

Overwhelmed by her epiphany she finally set aside her prior concerns and gave herself fully to her newfound lover. She somehow knew he would treat her heart with tender care.


And he did to the end of their days.



"The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure.
Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader.
The mind is a complex and many-layered thing, Potter - or at least, most minds are."
~ Severus Snape, OoTP