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And We All Fall Down

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January 1999

Hogwarts restarted in January with a bang. The autumn term had been quiet, used as a time for reflection and mourning those who had died in the Great Battle the previous May. The spring term was shaping up to be quite different. It all started on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters; a flurry of scandalised whispers flew around as a tall, white-blond head was spotted.

Of course, everyone was aware that Draco Malfoy had been released from Azkaban at the beginning of December. Thanks to the Daily Prophet, everyone was also aware that he would be returning to Hogwarts to complete his education. It was part of his probation. McGonagall had insisted that if he was to return to the school, he at least be allowed to take lessons whilst he was in Azkaban so he would be up to date with his lessons. It had caused some comment when McGonagall mentioned this in her opening speech during the Welcome Back feast; the fact that the Malfoy heir had been out of sight and out of mind, safely tucked away in Azkaban, meant that the speculation surrounding his fate hadn’t lasted too long.

But now Draco Malfoy was back at Hogwarts, the first student-cum-Death Eater-cum- convict to grace its hallowed halls. The student body wasn’t too sure how to react. The younger students were, frankly, petrified. The stories about the notorious Draco Malfoy that did the rounds didn’t inspire much confidence that he wouldn’t callously kill any first-year who happened to get in his way. His stint on Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad was practically legendary. He’d revelled in dishing out the nastiest punishments possible and then there was the fact that he’d let Death Eaters into the school, which had led to Albus Dumbledore’s death. He’d spent much of his seventh year at Lord Voldemort’s side. His attendance had been sporadic and he hadn’t been required to help the Carrows terrorise the rest of the school body, like the other Slytherins. Rumour had it that Voldemort had been preparing him to be his heir. Little first-years, who were seeing the blond Slytherin for the first time, shook in their little shoes as he passed them by, his robes billowing behind him.

It would have been impossible for Draco not to notice the stares and whispers that followed him as he made his away across the platform to board the Hogwarts Express. He sneered at anyone brave enough to meet his gaze, but they weren’t too many. A couple of returning Dumbledore’s Army members had scowled at his appearance but he shrugged that off, uncaring. He slumped into a seat in an empty compartment, his angry demeanour more than enough to put anyone off from coming in out of curiosity. Astoria Greengrass started to wave cheerily at him but soon scurried away as he looked her up and down with no attempt to hide his scorn. He sat there brooding out the window, looking at all the pathetic, happy school kids running around until it was finally time to depart.

“That’s where you got to, mate,” Blaise Zabini said, slipping into the compartment with Pansy Parkinson.

“What do you want, Zabini? Permission to fuck Parkinson? I hear you’re already doing that,” Draco snarled.

“Don’t make me come over there and smack that nasty little smirk off your face,” Pansy scolded.

“Parkinson, if I wanted a fussing mother, I’d have stayed at the Manor. Now can the pair of you kindly fuck off? You’re disturbing precious drinking time with your inane babble,” Draco growled.

Blaise was about to say something when Pansy shook her head at him. She looked sadly at the angry blond currently gulping from a bottle of Firewhiskey. She took Blaise’s hand and pulled him outside the carriage.

“Leave him, Blaise. I know Draco in this mood and he’s impossible. He’ll just keep insulting us until one of us gets angry, which is what he wants,” Pansy cautioned.

“Now this is why I generally stay away from the prick,” Blaise moaned to his girlfriend.

“Please, Blaise, for me. I’m all he’s got and I need you to help me out. Greg’s gone to Durmstrang and Vincent’s dead. Not that those two goons were ever any good at standing up to him anyway.”

Blaise looked at his pleading witch. She tugged on his heartstrings and if it weren’t for her, he’d be more than happy to give Malfoy a wide berth. Draco Malfoy was trouble at the best of times and this was the very worst of times in the blond’s short life.

“Okay, okay. But you realise this is going to alienate us in our own house. No Slytherin is going to want to have anything to do with him. We’re all struggling as it is,” Blaise said.

Pansy nodded. Her last year at Hogwarts was proving difficult enough as it was without the added complication that was Draco Malfoy. The other three houses made it more than clear, that as far as they were concerned, Slytherin House was no longer welcome at Hogwarts. Even relations with Ravenclaws were strained. The Slytherins kept to themselves and looked out for their first-years who had been bullied mercilessly during their first few weeks. Slytherins tended to keep to their dungeons these days. You rarely even saw them studying in the library. They tended to go at unfashionable hours when you usually only saw Hermione Granger around. Although this year, you didn’t even see the celebrated Muggle-born war hero in the library very often as she had her own private dorm. McGonagall had been thrilled that Granger, along with Potter and Weasley, had decided to return and had jumped to make Granger Head Girl, along with Anthony Goldstein from Ravenclaw as Head Boy.

Pansy sighed as she and Blaise joined Theo Nott and Daphne Greengrass in another compartment.

“Given up on Malfoy, I see,” said Theo.

Pansy frowned at the brown-haired boy. “You know, Theo, you really should remember that it was only last year that you were jealous of Draco’s place. You begged your dad to let you take the Dark Mark, so please, cut it out.”

Theo scowled back at her. He didn’t need reminding of his stupidity.

“Come on, guys, please don’t fight. We have it hard enough as it is without turning on each other,” Daphne, forever the peace-maker, pleaded.

“As long as Theo learns to keep his mouth shut,” Pansy replied.

“Oho, here I thought you were madly in love with Blaise. I see it only takes Malfoy to come back on the scene for you to start scurrying after him again,” Theo said unkindly.

“Watch your mouth, Theo,” Blaise warned.

“And you know better than anyone that Draco and I have only ever been friends. He was my first friend and I’ll stay loyal to him, especially right now when he needs all the friends he can get,” Pansy said pointedly.

“He welcomed you with open arms, I see, which, of course, is why you’re sitting here with Daphne and me,” Theo responded.

“Fuck off, Theo. You’re such a twat,” was all Pansy said in response.

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Draco was pretty tipsy by the time the Hogwarts Express pulled into the station at Hogsmeade. He managed to not get blinding drunk by only allowing himself to take one bottle of Firewhiskey onto the train. He didn’t want to be passing out in front of everyone, but he did need the dullness that being tipsy gave him. He swayed slightly as he jumped into a carriage and smirked evilly as the third-years that had been about to get into the same carriage backed away in alarm. No-one wanted to share a carriage up to the castle in the dark with a potentially deranged murderer.

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The Great Hall was loud, bright and altogether too noisy. Good job Draco had had the foresight to bring a flask of Firewhiskey in his pocket. It would help get him through this mess. Six months in solidarity confinement in Azkaban, followed by a peaceful December at Malfoy Manor was not good preparation for a hall bustling with hundreds of school kids. The slight hush that followed him around was annoying but at least it gave him a few moments of blessed silence.

Draco saw that Pansy had optimistically left the seat next to her open. If she thought he was going to play nice and sit like the last three years hadn’t happened then she had it all wrong. Draco deliberately ignored her beseeching gaze and sat at the end, next to a couple of scared first-years. Salazar’s rod, this new bunch of Slytherins was a pathetic bunch. He scowled as they scooted away from him as he was fucking contagious. Well fuck them, fuck Hogwarts and fuck the Ministry for making him return to this hellhole.

Another silence descended over the Great Hall as the ‘Golden Trio’ walked in. Draco sneered as hundreds of eyes skittered between him and them as if they expected a confrontation. Mind you, Potter would be doing him a favour if he did hex him on sight. McGonagall had come to visit him during his last week in Azkaban to speak to him about his return to Hogwarts.

“Mr. Malfoy, you will be returning to Hogwarts at the start of the new term. I expect you to board the Hogwarts Express like everyone else on January fourth.”

Draco had nodded, knowing that no other response from him was expected. McGonagall had already made her feelings about him more than clear and they were contempt. She had to be strong-armed by the Ministry to even allow him back.

“Now, you may not be aware, but most of your year has decided to return so they can sit their N.E.W.T.s. This includes Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger. I will not tolerate a return to your behaviour towards them. You step a foot out of line, Mr. Malfoy, and you’ll be clearing out your dorm quicker than you can say Quidditch.”

Draco was seething inside but wasn’t going to give the hag the satisfaction of seeing how her words were affecting him. He didn’t want to be anywhere near her precious school, or her precious Gryffindor heroes. He’d prefer to remain at home and continue to learn away from Hogwarts.

Potter’s eyes rested on Draco for a few seconds. Draco raised his hip flask in a mocking salute to the wizarding world’s saviour. Potter eyes flickered back to the front as he failed to respond to the gesture. He was probably under McGonagall’s orders not to attack. Fucking prick. Oh well, he could always try to subtly wind up the Weasel. He was always the one out of the dickhead duo who couldn’t control his temper. Draco would just have to think of a way to subtly wind him up. He was surprised to see the ginger tumour wasn’t sitting next to the Mudblood. He’d seen them holding hands right after the Great Battle, and fully expected Granger to be sporting a pitiful excuse of a diamond on her ring finger by now. The Weaselette was happily splashing her left hand around, shoving her sparkling ring under the nose of anyone who stood still for a nanosecond. Stupid bitch had probably never had her dirty, poor hands on so much wealth before.

Draco sneered at the sight of the Gryffindors. How he hated being back here. It was like the Ministry had read his mind and thought up the worst punishment possible. If Draco wasn’t so skilled at Occlumency, he would bet Malfoy Manor that this is what had happened. He took another sip of Firewhiskey. Fuck it, alcohol would surely get him through the next few months and then he could happily never set eyes on this place again.

Draco scorned eating anything, pushing his plate away and just steadily sipping from his hip flask. Pansy eyed him worriedly throughout the meal. The whole of Slytherin House was on a tightrope and Draco was on the highest of them all. One little mistake and he would be kicked out gleefully by the faculty.

“Blaise, help me get Draco back to the common room when this is all over,” Pansy begged.

Blaise looked at the blond and saw that he was getting more and more drunk. His infamous constitution or control wouldn’t get him back to the common room unaided. Blaise really didn’t need this shit this year but Pansy was giving him those puppy dog eyes that made him melt.

“Fine! You’ll have to distract him whilst I get an arm around his shoulders. He’s going to need steadying. Put some bread in your pocket, too. He’s going to need it to soak up all that alcohol.”

Pansy leaned in and pecked Blaise on the lips. “You’re the best boyfriend ever.”

Pansy sat and observed for the rest of the meal. She could see McGonagall staring at Draco. The beady eyes of the Headmistress didn’t miss much and she’d be looking for one tiny little mistake to chuck him out. Slughorn was also glancing towards his biggest problem. Pansy could read all too clearly that the old Professor was wishing he hadn’t let McGonagall persuade him to come back to head the Slytherins.

Most surprisingly for Pansy, though, were the golden brown eyes that watched Draco from the Gryffindor table. Hermione Granger had been sneaking glances at the young Malfoy for most of the dinner. Pansy couldn’t read her expression. She just hoped for Draco’s sake that the Head Girl wasn’t looking for revenge for the years of insults.

Dinner finally finished and Pansy grabbed Draco’s arm as he stood swaying for a brief moment.

“Draco, you need the password to get into the common room,” she said.

“Well fucking give it to me then and piss off.”

Draco felt a strong arm go around his shoulders. “That’s no way to speak to a lady, Draco,” Blaise reproached.

Draco snorted. “You calling Pansy a lady?”

Blaise glared at Pansy as he steered the drunk blond out of the Great Hall and down to the Slytherin dungeon. He had a feeling he was going to have put up with the snarky insults for the rest of the year whilst he did this.

Draco was so far gone that he didn’t even seem to notice that he was back in his dorm room. Blaise pushed him down onto his bed, stuck a bread roll in his hand and escaped as quickly as possible. Draco’s constant cruel comments about Pansy throughout the walk had tested his self-control, but she would be pissed if he gave Draco a black eye.

“Pansy, that boy is going to make me snap,” Blaise complained as he reached the common room.

“He just needs time to readjust to things, Blaise, and he needs our help,” Pansy replied.

“Why, out of everyone, did he have to be your best friend?” Blaise asked.

Pansy didn’t bother responding to this. She knew she was asking a lot of Blaise as Draco was particularly foul at the moment.

“Did you notice anything strange from Granger?” she asked her boyfriend.

“No, but then again, I can’t say I actually spend much time looking at Gryffindors, let alone the Golden Trio.”

“She noticed Draco,” Pansy said.

Blaise shrugged. “What’s unusual about that? Everyone noticed Draco today.”

“No, I mean really noticed Draco. She kept looking at him and I can’t figure out her intentions,” Pansy said, frustrated.

Blaise knew this was serious. Pansy could read practically anyone. She had a natural antenna for people’s moods. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad, Pans,” he said, trying to comfort her.

“No, but if I were Hermione Granger then I’d be out for revenge. We made her life a misery and she’s Head Girl. She could get him kicked out easily. She’s McGonagall’s star pupil and she’s in a position of power. As much as Draco doesn’t think it, he needs the normality that is school, even if he does have everyone staring at him, petrified.”

“We’ll keep an eye on her and not give her an excuse to get rid of Draco,” Blaise promised, tucking his girl up against him.

Great, this year was getting better and better, Blaise and Pansy both thought.

Chapter Text

Hermione wasn’t sure why she was following the noise she heard down in the dungeons. She was just finishing her patrol when she heard a scraping noise. It sounded like someone was stumbling around. She was looking forward to getting back to her room to drink a cup of tea before going to bed, but instead here she was, creeping around in the dark. She sighed; it was a shame she’d seen too much to ignore such sounds. She bet her last Knut that Anthony Goldstein would have dismissed it as a mouse and gone back to his room if it was his turn to patrol tonight. The hushed whispers that followed the scrabbling made her decision easier. Something was definitely off, and it was her job to check it out and make sure the sleeping students were fine. She contemplated sending her Patronus off to McGonagall but thought she’d make sure it wasn’t a stupid third-year on a dare from a friend.

Hermione never felt at ease down in the dungeons. It was the lair of the Slytherins, and a Muggle-born could never be too careful. She rounded the corner noiselessly and stared at the sight in front her. Zabini and Parkinson were trying their hardest to keep a struggling Malfoy upright and between them.

“Draco, please, you know Granger is doing the patrol tonight. If she sees you out here then you’re toast,” Parkinson pleaded.

“Fuck off, Pansy, and take that oh-so-superior boyfriend of yours with you,” Malfoy replied.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at that. She thought Parkinson had been devoted to Malfoy. She’d spent enough of her time at the school following the blond around fawningly. Hermione had noticed Parkinson getting closer to Zabini, but she’d thought it was due to the fact that Malfoy was in Azkaban, Crabbe was dead, and Goyle had chosen not to return.

“Malfoy, listen to Pansy. I don’t know why, but she has your best interests at heart. Stop being a prat and do as she says.”

“Zabini, why are you here again? I have no interest in what you say, don’t give a shit about what Pansy thinks is best and would rather the pair of you just left me the fuck alone. You’ve been dogging my footsteps for weeks now,” Malfoy sneered.

Hermione had noticed this. She, like the rest of the Gryffindors, thought that Parkinson and Zabini were Malfoy’s new minions. A step down from the intimidating goons that were Crabbe and Goyle, but at least they had brains. But it seemed that things weren’t great in the house of snakes. Malfoy was obviously drunk, as he had been for quite a bit of his time back at Hogwarts so far. Hermione had tried to draw Harry and Ron’s attention to this, but neither boy was interested in the blond’s fate.

“He chose his side, Hermione. He deservedly ended up in prison and if he can’t appreciate his break in being allowed back here then that’s his problem,” Harry had said.

Luckily for the Slytherin, the professors had the same attitude and were doing their best to ignore him.

She had found herself more aware of Malfoy than ever. He may not have been slinging insults at her any more, but he still had impact on her life. He strolled uncaringly down the corridors with his shirt sleeves rolled up, seemingly not bothered by the smothered gasps that accompanied the sight of his Dark Mark. He barely ate and was starting to resemble the mess he’d been back in sixth year. He just sipped non-stop from that bloody hipflask. If Hermione was paranoid, she’d think he wasn’t Malfoy at all but someone impersonating him using Polyjuice Potion. It was all too reminiscent of Barty Crouch Jr.’s attachment to his flask during their fourth year.

“Fine, Draco, you won’t care what Granger thinks. But you should know that Slughorn comes along here regularly on the way to the kitchen. He’d be more than happy to drag you in front of McGonagall and get you kicked out. You’re already on your final warning with him and it’s not even February yet,” Parkinson pleaded with the uncaring blond.

“He’d be doing me a favour then,” was Malfoy’s response.

“You may not want to hear it, Draco, but Pansy’s right. You think it’s a punishment being sent back here, but it’s given you an opportunity to turn your life around,” Zabini added.

“Fuck me sideways, Pans, how do you put up with this dick’s self-righteous bullshit?” Malfoy asked scornfully, the effect ruined slightly by the fact that he chose that moment to stumble and fall over.

Zabini strained to pull him back off the floor. Hermione thought it was time to make her presence known. She came out of the shadows. “What’s going on here?” she asked.

Parkinson and Zabini both spun to face her. Malfoy slumped against the wall, paying her no attention.

“Er… Draco’s feeling a little sick. We’re just trying to persuade him to go to see Madam Pomfrey,” Parkinson improvised.

Hermione looked at her in disbelief. “I think you mean drunk,” she responded.

Parkinson looked at Zabini, who was disinterestedly staring at the wall. “We’re trying to get him back his dorm room, Granger. If you could just ignore this, we’ll be on our way,” Parkinson said.

Hermione bit her lip. She had heard Parkinson and Zabini begging Malfoy to return to the Slytherin common room. It would be unfair to dock them points and put them in detention for looking out for their friend. She’d do the same for Harry or Ron if she were placed in the same position. But then again, they were Slytherins, and it was Malfoy and Parkinson. Neither of them had made her life any easier at Hogwarts.

Before she could make up her mind on what to do, the shuffling sound of Slughorn shifting his immense weight down the corridor reached all their ears.

“Fuck,” Parkinson swore, “that’s Slughorn.”

She grabbed Malfoy by one arm and gestured to Zabini to grab the other. They dragged him a little way down the corridor and pulled a broom closet open. Hermione followed, starting to object, but before she could say much, Zabini shoved her into the cupboard along with Malfoy.

Hermione gasped as the weight of Malfoy landed on her, making her hit the wall behind her and slightly winding her. He started to slide down her, seemingly too drunk now to hold himself up. He grabbed her by the hair, making her wince and her eyes water. He shifted his arms so they encircled her shoulders, but his hands were still in her hair, pushing her head up slightly, and his face fell into her neck.

“Mm, you smell nice,” he muttered into her neck. “Did I say I would fuck you? Sorry, but I’m so drunk I can barely stand up. Maybe tomorrow.”

Hermione closed her eyes in frustration at her position and clenched her fists into her side. How did she manage to let Zabini shove her into the cupboard with Malfoy? She could hear them outside making excuses to Slughorn for being out past curfew.

“I’m so sorry, Professor. We lost track of the time,” Parkinson simpered.

Hermione imagined the Slytherin fluttering her eyelashes at the overweight Professor. She grimaced.

“Well, Pansy, dear, don’t do it again. Slytherin House is under enough scrutiny as it is without my students being caught out of their common room after hours. Is that Malfoy boy with you?” he asked, the venom clear as he spat “Malfoy” out of his mouth.

“No, Professor,” the deep baritone of Zabini answered, “he was holed up in the common room working on your Potions essay.”

“Hm,” Slughorn responded. “That boy is more trouble than he’s worth.”

Hermione agreed, but she didn’t think a teacher should be saying such things - especially his Head of House and to his friends.

A trail of wet kisses up her neck pulled Hermione’s attention back onto the aforementioned blond. She shivered slightly under his ministrations.

“Malfoy,” she hissed, “stop it!”

He lifted his head to stare blearily at her. “Mudblood, is that you?”

Great, Hermione thought. Here she was, stuck in a broom closet, keeping Malfoy from getting kicked out of Hogwarts, and he goes and harasses, and insults her.

“Yes, Malfoy, it’s me, Granger,” Hermione emphasised. “So stop kissing my neck. It’s disgusting.”

“You taste nice for a Mudblood,” he said, nibbling at her neck once more.

Hermione sighed in relief as the cupboard door was pulled open.

“Get him off me, now!” she ordered Zabini.

Zabini couldn’t help but crack a smile at the enraged Gryffindor who was suffering Malfoy kissing up and down her neck.

“This isn’t funny, you prat. He’s drunk and he’s molesting me,” she spat.

“Malfoy, leave the Head Girl alone,” Zabini said.

“Tastes good,” Malfoy slurred.

Parkinson was practically tearing her hair out. “Draco,” she wailed, “you’re going to be the death of me. Leave Granger alone and get out here now.”

“Can’t move,” replied the inebriated blond.

He pulled at his hands, still tangled in her hair, causing Hermione to cry out in pain.

“Malfoy, get your hands out of my hair. That bloody hurts,” she hissed at him.

“Can’t, they’re stuck. Your hair has a life of its own.”

Hermione looked at the openly laughing Zabini and the increasingly upset Parkinson.

“Blaise, if you don’t stop laughing this instant and help me out then I’m going to hit you,” Parkinson half-yelled at her boyfriend.

He looked at his enraged girlfriend. “Sorry, love, but you have to admit this is probably the funniest thing you’ve seen in ages. Malfoy and Granger pressed up against each other, necking in a broom cupboard.”

“You’re the one who pushed me in here,” Hermione growled at him. “It’s not as if I chose to be here.”

“All the hassle he’s put me through tonight is so going to be worth it when I get to remind him of this when he’s sober,” Zabini chuckled.

Malfoy was still nibbling on Hermione’s neck; he was clearly too drunk to care that it was her.

“He’s giving me love-bites… Get him off me now before I hex you into the middle of next week,” Hermione snarled.

Zabini took Malfoy’s weight, freeing up Hermione’s hands, which allowed her to detangle his hands from her hair.

“Get him back to the Slytherin dorms now before Slughorn comes back. Be grateful that I want to forget everything to do with this evening, or I’d be docking you about a thousand points right now and sticking you in detention for the next month,” Hermione lectured.

Zabini prised Malfoy off her, which was a relief. She could feel the wet kisses drying on her neck and she knew she was going to have a job hiding the hickeys she received tomorrow morning. She patted her ruffled hair down and sorted out her uniform, which had gone wrinkly with the weight of Malfoy leaning against her. She felt her dignity wrapping back around her.

“Just try and keep him out of trouble and out of my way until the end of the year,” she said to Parkinson.

“Thanks, Granger, for not handing him over to Slughorn. It was …er… really decent of you, you know, considering the last few years,” Parkinson said, looking down at the floor.

Hermione was surprised by Parkinson’s words. “Don’t mention it and I really mean that. I want to forget this ever happened.”

Malfoy chose this moment to have a lucid moment. He turned back to Granger.

“Bye, Princess,” he called.

“Princess?” Hermione queried.

Parkinson reddened slightly. “Draco likes to call you that.”

“Why?” Hermione asked.

“He’s says it’s all the airs and graces you put on,” Parkinson said.

Hermione snorted. “That’s funny coming from him, the poster child for pure-blood supremacy.”

Parkinson said nothing, shuffling slightly on the spot. “Yeah, well like I said, thanks for keeping quiet tonight. I’ll do my best to keep him in the common room.”

Hermione didn’t think the Slytherin girl would have much luck in doing that, but she just wanted to go to bed and wash her hands of the whole incident. Drunken Slytherins really weren’t her expertise and she didn’t want them to be. When the three of them shuffled off, she walked up to her room, which she had to herself this year. She thanked her rather erratic schedule and her status as Head Girl that had given her such a privilege, especially on nights like tonight where she was rather rattled and needed the peace and quiet of her own little sanctuary. She had a small common room and bathroom to call her own as well. She’d been thrilled when McGonagall had showed her quarters for the year. She’d also been the envy of her friends.

Right now she needed to be alone. She hadn’t planned on having such an eventful end to her day, especially with Draco Malfoy, someone she’d gladly kept out of the way of since he’d returned. She walked into her bathroom to survey the damage he’d done to her neck. There were several love-bites scattered down the side. “Great”, Hermione muttered. She was going have to spend ages the next morning covering those up. She decided to forgo the cup of tea and head straight to bed. She could smell bergamot mixed with the overpowering smell of alcohol lingering on her jumper and it made her want to change immediately. She chucked it into the laundry hamper, needing no further reminder of his kisses.

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The next morning, Hermione headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast. She had spent a frustrating thirty minutes attempting to cover the hickeys. She used a mixture of magic and concealer, but the result wasn’t up to her usually high standards. She would have to remember to keep checking her neck in the mirror throughout the day to make sure that they were remaining as hidden as possible.

When she got to the Great Hall, she sat down next to the blissfully happy Ginny and Harry. Hermione didn’t think she’d ever seen two people so in love. She was extremely happy for them, especially with how they’d had to put their relationship on hold. Ginny had suffered enough when Harry had been carried out from the Forbidden Forest by Hagrid, seemingly dead. But she couldn’t help but feel a small pang. Her own love story with Ron, which had spent such a long time building, turned out to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Apart from their passionate kiss during the Battle of Hogwarts, their other kisses had been disappointing to say the least. They’d been self-conscious and more than aware that neither of them was seeing fireworks. They tried to work on it for a month with a lot of encouragement from Harry and the Weasley family but it just wasn’t to be. Ron was now happily dating Hannah Abbott, whilst Hermione didn’t appear to be appealing to any of the boys at Hogwarts. Harry and Ron were the only two who seemed not to find her too bossy, and they were like brothers. She was held in high esteem by many, though, who appreciated her role in the war. The only other boys who didn’t try and put her on a pedestal to worship were the Slytherins, and that was because they hated her for her ‘dirty blood’. Hermione sighed; it seemed Malfoy’s drunken kisses were the only action she was going to get. How disappointing.

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Draco woke up feeling like shit. His head hurt like a bitch, and he was confused as to why he was lying sprawled out on his bed in his clothes, including his shoes. Damn, he must have gotten absolutely plastered last night. He had no clue as to how he got back to the dormitory - everything was a hazy blur. The last thing he remembered was sitting in the common room, drinking steadily through a bottle of Firewhiskey.

He stumbled to his feet, grabbing hold of one of the bedposts to steady himself as he swayed, and willed himself not to puke all over his bed. Once he got his bearings, he grabbed his towel, clean underwear and made his way to the shower room. He turned the faucet on, twisting it until it was cold, and flung himself under the stream of water.

“Fuck,” he shivered.

After this rather brutal way to clear his head, Draco switched the shower to hot and closed his eyes, trying to remember what his evening had consisted of. He had vague recollections of a warm body pressed up against him and hair that smelt of cinnamon. Had he gotten lucky last night? He couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten laid. He wasn’t exactly an attractive prospect these days. Fresh out of Azkaban, hated by many, and with a Dark Mark marring his left arm, he found that girls certainly weren’t flocking to his side. Even his money wasn’t a lure these days. The only girl who could stand him was Pansy, and she was like a sister. Oh, and that Greengrass girl two years behind them. But Draco knew better than to mess with Daphne’s sister, or any underage witch for that matter. He turned the water off and meandered back into the dorm room, where Zabini sent him an amused glance.

“Head hurting much, Draco?” he asked with mock sympathy.

Draco gave him the finger.

“Just be grateful Pansy’s such a soft touch. Otherwise you may well have found your ungrateful backside aboard the Hogwarts Express this morning,” Zabini continued.

“What the fuck are you talking about, Zabini?” Draco asked.

“Just that you better start sorting yourself out or your night-time activities will find you back in Azkaban."

Draco frowned as he tried to remember anything that could have led to this warning. The vague memories of a girl flashed across his mind again. Shit, he hadn’t sexually harassed anyone, had he? He might be a bastard, but he wasn’t that much of a bastard.

“Did you get me back to the dorm yesterday?" Draco asked Zabini.

“Yep. Pansy insisted I dragged you back here before you got yourself expelled,” Zabini said.

Draco really didn’t want to ask this, but he guessed he needed to if he wanted to find out what happened. He hated feeling beholden to anyone, let alone someone like Zabini, who would be a smug prat about it.

“Er, was I with a girl at any point?” Draco asked casually.

There! He knew he should have kept his mouth shut. There was that fucking smug smirk that Zabini loved so much. Fucking superior prick.

“If you want to call Granger a girl,” Zabini answered.

“What?!” Draco exclaimed.

“Yep, I stuck you in a broom closet to avoid Slughorn, and the infernally nosy Head Girl was around, so she got shoved in there with you. When I opened the door to retrieve you, you had your hands all over her and were giving her hickeys.”

What the fuck! “You’re shitting me, right?” Draco responded.

“Nope, you had a handful of the Golden Girl, alright, and you looked very happy to be there,” Zabini replied.

Draco was suffering from flashbacks now of the warm girl who smelled of cinnamon. In his mind, he looked up and there were Granger’s eyes staring at him in shock. Fuck, he had touched the Mudblood. Gross, he had kissed her neck. Draco bolted back to the bathroom. Zabini strolled after him, enjoying his revelation hugely. Draco found his bottle of mouth wash and proceeded to practically drink the whole thing, trying to swill his mouth out.

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

Draco was holding his head in his hands, trying his hardest not to vomit all over the breakfast table. He glared at Zabini, who was still smugly smirking at him every few minutes. Fucking prick. Draco glanced up and saw Granger looking at him. He couldn’t see any love-bites, so at least she had bothered to hide them, rather than shoving them in everyone’s face, proving that even she could get a man. He ignored the memories of how much he enjoyed kissing her neck and how delicious she tasted. Disgusting. He gulped back his black coffee and willed his hangover away. At least he didn’t have to see Granger until the last part of the day when they shared Potions.

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

By the time the last lesson of the day came round, Hermione was tired. Her eyes hurt and her back ached from her massive book bag. So far she’d managed to avoid any sight or sound of Malfoy, Parkinson and Zabini, which suited her fine. Sadly though, she had Malfoy and Zabini in her Advanced Potions class.

She was leaning against the wall, her head tipped up and eyes closed, waiting for Slughorn to get there, and was trying to block the murmurs around her when her arm was pulled.

“Hermione,” Harry called.

“Hmm,” Hermione responded sleepily.

“What the bloody hell is that on your neck?” he asked.

Hermione’s eyes snapped open. Shit, she’d forgotten to check them in the bathroom before making her way down to the dungeons.

“Er… Oh nothing. I…er, was trying out a new charm,” she responded lamely.

“A new charm? Was it a hickey creating charm?” Ron snorted.

Damn, damn, damn! Hermione chanted to herself. There was no way her best friends would fall for such a stupid excuse, but for once her brain was refusing to co-operate.

Draco listened in on Granger’s pathetic attempts to lie with glee. It was obvious Scarhead and the Weasel weren’t buying it. His devious mind, however, was coming up with the best way to pay Zabini back for delightfully informing Draco this morning of his attentions to Granger’s neck.

“Don’t lie,” Draco drawled, instantly grabbing the attention of the death-trap duo.

Granger glared at him, willing him with the sheer force of her gaze to be quiet.

“What do you mean, Malfoy?” Weasley spat at him.

“I caught her and Zabini making out down in the dungeons last night,” he said gleefully.

“What!” Granger and Zabini both yelled.

“Yep, I suspect it’s been going on for some time. They certainly were getting hot and heavy,” he continued, loving every minute.

Potter and Weasley stared at Granger in disbelief, who looked as if she was going to spontaneously combust with rage.

“Don’t tell me you actually believe the ferret. He’s lying,” Granger said heatedly.

“They’re blatant love-bites, Hermione. If Malfoy was lying about you and Zabini then who give them to you?” Potter asked.

“I can’t believe you are going to take his word over mine. It’s Malfoy!” she shouted.

Weasley, meanwhile, was giving Zabini a death stare, who in turn looked as if he was about to kill Malfoy. Draco himself was happily observing the fallout of his lies. Weasley suddenly launched himself at Zabini, landing a heavy right hook on the Slytherin’s chiselled jaw. Zabini flew back into the wall under the weight of the punch before he rallied and smacked the redheadback.

“Stop it!” Granger yelled. “Stop it now!”

She tried to separate the two fighting boys, only to be on the receiving end of Weasley’s right hook, who immediately tried to catch her as she fell. Ron, who had been aiming for Zabini, was a white as a sheet.

“What on earth is going on out here?” Slughorn’s booming voice fell over the seventh-years. “In all my time as a professor I have never seen anything as disgraceful as this, and involving the Head Girl and two prefects, too. Potter, take Miss Granger up to the Infirmary. Zabini and Weasley, you’re coming with me to the Headmistress’ office now. The rest of you, get in the classroom now and start reading up on Felix Felicis. If I come down and find that you haven’t made at least a page of notes on the potion then you’ll be in detention.”

Draco sauntered into the classroom, more than pleased with his ability to still cause mayhem when he put his mind to it. He was going to be yelled at by Pansy later on, but it was worth it. Zabini should never have taken so much pleasure in reminding Draco of his drunken activities last night. And Granger, well that would teach her to butt out of things that weren’t her business. And to stop smelling so good, a little voice in his head said. Draco silenced it ruthlessly. She was a Mudblood, for fuck’s sake.

Chapter Text

Hermione groaned as she regained consciousness. She had a thumping headache and her eyes ached. She opened her eyes and winced as sunlight hit them. One eye felt puffy and swollen. She turned her head to the side, away from the strong light flooding from the window and she saw the messy black hair of her best friend, Harry.

“Hey,” she said croakily. “Any chance of a glass of water?”

Harry smiled at her and passed over a glass. He had to hold it steady for her as she sipped, since Hermione’s hands had seemingly gone on strike.

“What happened? I feel as if I’ve been run over by a herd of Hippogriffs.”

“Almost as bad. You stepped in between Ron and Zabini, and you got clouted by Ron, accidentally of course,” Harry informed his friend.

Hermione scrunched her face up as she tried to remember the events that had landed her in the Infirmary. So far she was stubbornly drawing a blank.

“Why didn’t you tell us about you and Zabini?” he asked quietly.

“What?” she responded, more than a little confused.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were dating Zabini?” Harry asked again.

The events flooded back to her. Hermione growled and her fists clenched as she thought of all the trouble Draco Malfoy had made for her and also his friends - the only two people who seemed to give a damn if he got kicked out of Hogwarts or not.

“I’m not seeing Zabini,” she replied. “Merlin’s beard, Harry, I thought you knew better than to believe Malfoy in circumstances like that,” she exclaimed as she saw Harry’s raised eyebrows.

He looked somewhat relieved. “Thank goodness for that. I thought I was going to have to start being civil to Zabini for your sake.”

Hermione smiled at her loyal friend. “You would do that for me?”

“Of course I would. You’re like a sister to me and the only person who has stood by me at all times since I started Hogwarts,” he said simply.

She was extremely touched. It wouldn’t be easy for Harry to befriend anyone from the house of Slytherin, considering most of their families had tried to kill him at some point during his life.

“So where did the love-bites come from, then?” he asked curiously.

Hermione bit her lip. Harry’s little speech previously suggested that he would forgive her for anything but this was Malfoy. Harry certainly wouldn’t understand why she didn’t report Malfoy for being drunk, out after curfew, and for molesting her, whether Malfoy had been aware of it or not. He would most likely run straight to McGonagall and get Malfoy kicked out. Hermione wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want that to happen.

“It’s complicated, Harry, and not at all what you think,” she replied simply.

Harry was perplexed, but he respected Hermione’s privacy, even if he didn’t understand why she couldn’t tell him if she had a boyfriend, Slytherin or not.

“How’s Ron?” she asked, keen to change the subject.

“He got carted off to McGonagall’s office. I haven’t seen him yet.”

Hermione felt even guiltier now. If she hadn’t let Parkinson make her feel sorry for Malfoy then Ron wouldn’t be facing what would surely be a long string of detentions.

Madam Pomfrey bustled over after hearing Harry and Hermione talking.

“That was quite some punch you took, dear. How are you feeling?” The nurse asked Hermione.

“My head is pounding and the light is hurting my eyes,” she replied.

Madam Pomfrey nodded. That was to be expected from someone who had been knocked out. “I have a potion for your headache and, thanks to your friend George Weasley, I have a very good paste to take the swelling on the black eye down.”

Hermione reached up and touched her swollen eye.

“That is some shiner you’re sporting,” Harry said.

“It’s good to know that Ron manages to inflict so much damage on those being horrible to his friends,” she commented.

“Quidditch Keeper hands,” Harry replied.

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

Draco was sitting in the Slytherin common room on his own as usual. The room was packed but there was a circle of empty chairs around him, which was also the norm. The door of the common room banged open and Pansy barged through, looked around, spotted Draco and stalked over.

“You bloody prat!” she shrieked.

The common room fell silent as they watched the confrontation between the two friends.

“I take it you’ve seen Zabini,” Draco drawled.

“Why the hell did you do that to him?” she asked.

“What’s wrong, Pans? Worried you’ll lose him to the Living Library?” he mocked.

“You’re such a git. Blaise has done nothing but keep you out of trouble since you returned to Hogwarts and you repay him like this?!” she shouted.

Draco stood up. “I didn’t ask either of you to meddle in my business. Let this be a lesson for the pair of you, and tell Zabini not to be such a smug dickhead next time.”

He walked out of the common room and up to his room. He was feeling very pleased with himself. He had told Pansy and Zabini to stay out of his way several times but neither had paid any attention to him. Maybe they’d get the message now.

Pansy groaned as she saw her friend disappear up the stairs. This year was turning out to be such a big mess. Draco was falling apart, whether he wanted to admit it or not. It seemed that she was the only one who cared. She knew Blaise was only helping with Draco because she’d begged him to. He would now be so angry that she didn’t think anything would make him help her anymore with Draco.

At that moment, Blaise slammed through the door and looked around, as if willing Draco to be present. He had a score to settle with the snarky blond.

“Where is he?” Blaise snarled.

Pansy wrung her hands. She didn’t want Blaise chasing after Draco and giving in to the violence that she knew he wanted to commit.

“Gone to the dorm,” Theo responded before she could do anything.

Blaise stalked off and she whirled to face Theo. “What did you do that for?” she snapped.

“Malfoy had it coming,” Theo replied.

“You’re being such a brat,” Pansy said to him. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten how you followed Draco around like a little lost puppy whenever he made an appearance at Hogwarts last year, desperate for him to be your friend, and now you’re treating him as some kind of social pariah.”

Theo scowled at Pansy. The words stung all the more because they were true. He had wanted to be considered one of Malfoy’s good friends last year, the glamour of the young Death Eater attracting him. But the mess that Draco was right now made Theo really glad that his dad had protected him from such a fate. No-one wanted to spend six months in Azkaban. Theo’s dad hadn’t done much right in his life but he had been correct in stopping Theo from taking the Dark Mark.

“Guys, please, we need to stay together and not fight all the time. We have enough hostility from the rest of the school to start fighting amongst ourselves,” Daphne said.

“Try telling that to Malfoy,” Theo grumbled.

Pansy glared at the brown-haired boy, finding his attitude intensely irritating. He’d always been jealous of Draco.

“Instead of being a nasty prat, Theo, why don’t you come and help me break up the inevitable fight that is about to happen,” she said.

Theo could think of many other things he’d rather be doing, including the nasty Transfiguration essay they had been set, but Daphne squeezed his hand, and nodded for him to go with Pansy. He sighed; he guessed that he at least owed Pansy some help.

By the time Pansy and Theo made it up to the seventh-year boys’ dorm, Blaise had Draco pinned up against the wall by his throat. Draco was laughing so hard that he was in danger of choking to death.

“You fucking prick. Look at the state of my jaw and Pomfrey won’t give me anything to take the bruise down,” Blaise growled at him.

“What do you want? An apology? You know me better than that,” Draco mocked.

“Why did you do it?” Blaise asked.

“Because you were a smug bastard this morning. You found the whole situation way too entertaining, so I decided to amuse myself at your expense.”

“By getting the Weasel to punch me?” Blaise snarled.

Draco shrugged. To be honest, he was getting bored of the whole thing now and his Firewhiskey was calling to him.

“Whatever, Blaise,” he said before summoning his Firewhiskey in an impressive display of wandless magic. “Are you planning on letting me down? I can’t drink this with your hand around my throat.”

Blaise growled but let go of his blond housemate. His anger had started to dissipate and, if this had happened to anyone other than him, he would have found it vastly entertaining.

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

The next few weeks passed in an alcohol induced haze for Draco. He wasn’t particularly aware of much as he drank steadily, disliking any time when he was actually sober, which, to be honest, wasn’t very often. He did notice that whilst Pansy still tried to get him to stop drinking and pay attention in class, she was no longer joined in this endeavour by her boyfriend. At least one of them had got the message.

He wasn’t aware that the only reason a professor hadn’t caught him was because Pansy spent most nights sneaking around after him, casting disillusion charms, and silencing spells on him to try and mask the noise he made. She was also attempting to do his homework for him. He flatly refused to do any of it and Pansy had run out of his previous years’ homework that she could hand in for him. Draco hadn’t spent much time at Hogwarts during that year of Voldemort’s reign, especially after Christmas. He’d been constantly called back to the Manor by the Dark Lord and in the end had stopped bothering to come back to the school at all. Pansy was an average student and didn’t possess the brains that Draco did. Blaise had previously helped her out but now he was refusing to have anything to do with the blond. Draco’s grades were slipping and the professors were remarking on it, but as he paid little to no attention in class, the professors just put his worsening homework attempts down to that.

Pansy was trying to make a second Charms essay, this time supposedly by Draco, to sound different from the one that she had just completed for herself. She was exhausted and had drunk strong black coffee to try and stay awake.

“Sweetheart, just come to bed. You’re too tired to keep this up,” Blaise said softly next to her.

She turned to him. “Don’t, Blaise. You may have washed your hands of him but I can’t.”

“He’s a lost cause. You’re making yourself sick and the prick doesn’t even appreciate it,” he said harshly.

“That’s because he doesn’t appreciate anything at the moment. But I refuse to give up on him just because everyone else has,” she uttered fiercely.

“I will drag you to bed if you don’t come right now. I won’t have you getting ill over him.”

Pansy felt the tears spill over and run down her cheeks. “I won’t leave him to wallow in this mess. I will drag him out of it. I know you all think I’m crazy, but it’s Draco. He was my first friend and he’s looked out for me my whole life. He needs our help, Blaise. I know he’s doesn’t want it, but he needs it. How well do you think you’d be doing if you’d been in Azkaban for six months?”

“Look, I know he’s been there for you in the past, sweetheart, but I really don’t think you can help him with this. He’s not responding to anything.”

Pansy glared at her boyfriend. He was expressing exactly what she feared. She hated to see Draco in this spiral of self-destruction. Sure, he’d been a prat in the past but he didn’t deserve to have no future at all.

“I won’t give up on him,” she emphasised once more.

“I know and that’s why I love you. I’ll stop ignoring him and help you, but only if you promise that you’ll stop following him around and get some sleep,” Blaise said.

“Really? You’ll help me out again?” she asked.

He nodded and felt himself richly rewarded when she flung her arms around him and gave him the biggest smile he’d seen on her face for a very long time.

“But, if I am to help, then you have to realise that we cannot do this on our own,” Blaise said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, we have to get more help.”

“I think Daphne might help out, at least with the homework. Maybe you could threaten Theo into being useful,” Pansy suggested.

Blaise nodded. “Those are all useful ideas, but I meant we need help from someone a little higher up.”

Pansy looked sceptical. “I severely doubt Slughorn is going to be any use. He hates Draco, always has, and he’s desperate to have him off his hands.”

“I wasn’t thinking of Sluggy. He’d be useless anyway. He never knew how to speak to a Malfoy. I was thinking somewhere along the lines of our esteemed Head Girl,” Blaise remarked.

“Granger? Why would she raise a finger to help?” she asked incredulously.

“She helped when she came across us before. If I’m not mistaken, she’s the meddling kind. She may not like Draco but she didn’t get him expelled before when she could easily have accused him of sexually harassing her,” he commented.

Pansy thought about it. It would be incredibly useful to have someone with a little authority to help. She was the Head Girl and was often out on patrol. More importantly, she was a celebrated war hero and confidante of Professor McGonagall.

“What do you imagine her helping us with?”

“Not much. I don’t think she’ll go out of her way for him. But maybe she could help us with his wandering problem. She patrols more than other prefects and she may even be able to feed us the popular routes the professors take. Nothing too big,” he replied.

Pansy wasn’t too sure. Granger had no reason to help. No Slytherin would if the roles were reversed. “I guess I could ask her,” she said.

“There’s no harm in asking. The worse she can do is say no. She doesn’t strike me as the kind who’ll go running off to McGonagall.”

“Ok, I’ll go tomorrow. She has office hours then, I believe.”

Blaise laughed. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall during that conversation.”

She joined in. Draco better bloody appreciate the effort she was making for him when he came to his senses. She deserved the biggest present that had ever been given.

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

The one part of Hermione’s duty as Head Girl that she didn’t enjoy was her office hours. She and Anthony shared an office just off the Entrance Hall where a few times a week they were available for any student who wants to speak to them. Anthony generally used his time to catch up on his homework. Unfortunately for Hermione, she was usually bombarded with those who wanted her to recount the tales of being on the run with Harry. She had very few people come to her for actual help. The first-years were afraid to approach her because they thought of her as some glittering war hero, and most other students didn’t feel the need, usually going to their Head of House. So she was left with the glory-hunters; those annoying individuals attracted to her because she a now a ‘celebrity’ and best friends with Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Defeated-Voldemort-Twice.

There was a knock at the door and Hermione sighed, preparing herself once more to politely tell the hanger-on that no, she didn’t want to relive her adventures with them, no, war is not glamorous, and no, she did not feel noble when being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange. She was surprised, therefore, when Pansy Parkinson peered around the door.

“Can I come in?” Pansy asked.

“Sure. At least you won’t want to ask me horrendously personal questions about what it’s like to share a tent with Harry,” she said.

Pansy smiled weakly. “To be honest, I couldn’t care less. I hate camping and to be camping with two boys alone, while being on the run from Snatchers, would be my worst nightmare.”

“It wasn’t the nicest experience and I got stuck with the cooking, too,” Hermione commented.

“Typical boys!”

“So how can I help you?” Hermione asked.

Pansy clasped her hands together and looked around the small office as if to find some inspiration. Hermione had a horrible feeling that this was going to be about Draco Malfoy.

“Look, Granger, I feel really uncomfortable asking you this so I’m just going to come right out and say it,” Pansy started. “I need help with Draco.”

“And you’re coming to me why?” Hermione asked.

“Because I need your help.”

“What can I do?”

“I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that Draco is …er… a little unmanageable these days,” Pansy said.

Hermione had done her hardest to pay no attention whatsoever to the tall, blond Slytherin after her experience in the broom closet. But she hadn’t failed to notice that he was a mess. He paid no attention in class, she suspected he was often drunk, and how he was managing to keep this from the professors was beyond her. She suspected Parkinson had a lot to do with it. On closer inspection, she was looking a little rough around the edges. Her usually immaculate hair was a little ragged and she had bags under her eyes.

“Yes, I’d noticed,” Hermione replied with no encouragement in her voice.

“Well, he keeps wandering around Hogwarts at night when he’s drunk. The only reason he’s not been caught yet is because I follow him and cast disillusion charms and silencing spells on him.”

“You do realise that in telling me this I could dock Slytherin points and put you in detention?” Hermione said.

“Yes, but you won’t,” Pansy answered.

“Why do you think that? I have no love for Slytherins.”

“Yes, but you’re Hermione Granger; the poster child for fairness. It would go against your moral compass to punish someone who was coming to you with a problem, Slytherin or not,” Pansy commented.

Hermione wanted to object to this, especially as it was Pansy Parkinson, a girl who’d been a massive bitch to her throughout her life at Hogwarts. If the roles were reversed, she knew Parkinson would laugh in her face, put her in detention for the rest of the year, and dock Gryffindor so many points they’d be lucky to break even by the time the House Cup was awarded. All this flashed across Hermione’s face.

“I know you have no reason to help me. I’ve bullied you mercilessly along with Draco, but war changes people, Granger. Even people like me. We Slytherins fucked up and we’re now paying the price for it.”

“So you’re asking me for help, pretty much giving me all the reasons I need to refuse, but still sitting here hoping I won’t.”

“Basically, yes,” Pansy answered simply.

“So tell me why I should,” Hermione responded.

“Because you’re Head Girl and you take that responsibility seriously. You’re willing to bend a few rules if it’s the right thing to do, and mainly because you don’t hold grudges. That’s not what you won the war to do.”

Hermione smiled. Parkinson thought that she had her pegged. Whilst Hermione agreed with all the things Parkinson had listed, she didn’t actually see that helping Malfoy out was actually doing the right thing. He didn’t want to be at Hogwarts, McGonagall certainly didn’t want him there, and neither did Hermione. He showed no remorse for what he had done and he seemed to take delight in scaring the first-years. Many had ended up needing Calming Draughts from Madam Pomfrey after encountering Malfoy, strutting about with his Dark Mark on display. He hadn’t actually done anything to the first-years, so McGonagall couldn’t expel him but he was adept at threatening glances and using his left forearm to intimidate.

“I’m sorry, Parkinson, but I’m not interested. I want nothing to do with Draco Malfoy and I suggest that you stop shielding him and let him face the consequences of his continued actions.”

Pansy’s shoulders slumped. She’d been sure the curly-haired Gryffindor would be keen to help. She seemed addicted to lost causes, and Draco Malfoy was the biggest one at Hogwarts.

“You’re wrong to judge him the way you are,” Pansy remarked.

“And how am I judging him?” Hermione asked.

“The same way everyone else is. You’re looking only at his attitude and not beyond, which is easy to do. Hell, even Slytherin House has given up on the boy they idolised for the past few years. That’s the thing with Draco; he’s good at maintaining a façade. The difficult bit is digging down and finding the real Draco. Only a few of us know him,” Pansy informed her.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me, under that mask of blood supremacy, there’s a poor, little misunderstood boy desperate to come out.”

“Mock all you like, Granger, but it’s true. Draco’s lost and he’s hurting. He’s seen things that no-one should see-” Pansy started.

Hermione scoffed, interrupting her. “Really? I think I may have also seen some truly terrible things, but you don’t see me trying to forget it all in a bottle of Firewhiskey.”

“No, but you were on the winning side and you haven’t just spent six months in Azkaban, which we can both safely say hasn’t been a picnic,” Pansy defended.

“No, but if I wasn’t on the winning side, I would be dead and I doubt Malfoy would be sobbing at my graveside,” Hermione said harshly.

This cooled Pansy’s rising temper down. Granger was right; she would be laying six-feet under if Voldemort had been victorious. This was something Pansy had supported for a long while, something she was not proud about now.

“I’m not trying to say that you wouldn’t have had it worse under Voldemort, only an idiot would try and claim that, but that’s not to say that Draco isn’t suffering now. If he had truly wanted Voldemort to win then he would have gleefully killed Dumbledore and he would have happily handed you, Potter and Weasley on a silver platter to Voldemort at Malfoy Manor, but he didn’t because he hated his life by that point,” Pansy earnestly said.

Hermione’s eyebrows rose in disbelief.

“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hate the boy, Granger, but please don’t doubt what I’m telling you. Draco was a boy playing a man’s game and it’s destroyed him.”

“Ok, I concede to that but don’t get what I’m meant to do to help.”

“Just help us out a little with after-curfew patrols. I’d be grateful if you could let me know where teachers like to patrol the most and the prefect routes for when you aren’t patrolling.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Hermione asked.

“No,” Pansy replied.

“I can’t do that. McGonagall would have my guts for garters if she found out.”

“Maybe. But why would she find out?”

“Because Malfoy is reckless, and no matter how much you try to cover for him, it’s not going to hold for long, and when he is found out, it’ll be obvious that he had help and not just from you,” Hermione responded.

Again, Pansy’s shoulders slumped. Hermione took in the downcast girl in front of her. She respected what Parkinson was trying to do for her friend, she really did. She’d do the same in a heartbeat for Ron or Harry, but Hermione couldn’t participate in this. It was a risky strategy born out of desperation to protect someone who didn’t want to be protected.

“Look, I really am sorry but there’s no point in helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped,” Hermione said gently.

Parkinson glared at her fiercely. “You think you’re the only person that’s told me that? Everyone has but I’ll tell you what I told them: I won’t give up on Draco. He deserves to have at least one person believe in him.”

Parkinson stood up. “Thanks for your time, Granger, and for not getting us in trouble previously.”

Hermione watched the Slytherin leave her office. She felt bad for Parkinson. It was touching to see such loyalty to a friend but Hermione feared that it wasted on someone as selfish and uncaring as Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Hermione spent the next few days cursing her conscience. She couldn’t believe that she actually felt guilty for turning down Parkinson’s request for help. She didn’t want to get tangled up in whatever web Malfoy was spinning. It was bound to be messy and complicated, and she didn’t need anything like that in her life right now.

She couldn’t help but pay attention when Malfoy strolled into Charms twenty minutes late. He struck the same uncaring pose as always; his shirtsleeves were rolled up, exposing his Dark Mark as if he was proud of it; his tie was askew and he had no bag.

“Nice of you to join us, Mr. Malfoy,” Professor Flitwick said sarcastically. “Do you have your homework?” he asked, pointedly looking at Malfoy’s empty hands.

“Nope,” Malfoy replied.

“Oh, Draco, I put it in my bag for you,” Parkinson piped up. “You left it on a table in the common room.”

Malfoy looked quizzically at Parkinson but didn’t call her out on her blatant lie. “Cheers, Pansy,” he replied disinterestedly as Parkinson handed it over to Flitwick.

Hermione could easily read the situation. Parkinson was doing Malfoy’s homework. It would explain his falling marks. For all his faults, he was still intelligent. Only an intelligent wizard could have pulled off the stunt with the Vanishing Cabinets back in their sixth year. But since he’d returned to Hogwarts, he appeared downright disinterested in everything. He made no effort in class, just scraped along, and now it appeared he wasn’t bothering to do any homework. Hermione bit her lip; she couldn’t believe she was even this interested in what Draco Malfoy was or wasn’t doing. It was none of her business. Harry and Ron had the right idea in trying to ignore Malfoy’s existence. But it wasn’t in her nature to be so callous, especially when she’d been petitioned directly for help.

One thing that Parkinson had said to her had haunted Hermione. She had paid more attention than usual since the Slytherin witch had mentioned it, and found it to be the truth. She was right: Malfoy didn’t have anyone who cared - well, no one but Parkinson. The teachers were so unenthusiastic about having Malfoy return to the school that they willingly ignored him. If Hermione’s grades dropped as dramatically as his had, then she would have been hauled in front of McGonagall - and most of her teachers - by now to find out what was wrong, and to work out a solution. But it appeared that Parkinson could do Malfoy’s homework and not one teacher noticed or, more accurately, cared. This struck her as terribly sad. To have no one care what happened to you was a terrible fate.

By the end of Charms, Hermione had made her mind up and she called to Parkinson across the room:

“Parkinson, have you got a minute?”

Parkinson looked up in surprise and walked over to Hermione.

“Is everything okay, Granger?” she asked.

“Yes. I’ve just been thinking, and I’ve decided to help. You were right, this status quo cannot continue,” she said, hoping she wasn’t going to regret this decision.

Parkinson looked at her in surprise. “That’s great. Thanks a lot, Granger. So when do you think we could go over those things we discussed?”

Hermione was grateful that at least Parkinson wasn’t dumb enough to talk out loud in a classroom about schedules and patrol routes. That would make this a less risky thing to agree to.

“Come by the office during my next open hours. I’m in the office the day after tomorrow, between 7 and 8PM,” she informed the Slytherin girl.

“Okay, see you then,” Parkinson replied, walking back to Blaise’s side.

“What was that all about?” Harry asked. He and Ron had waited for her outside the classroom, completely baffled as to why she was talking to Pansy Parkinson.

“Oh, Parkinson came the office during my hours last week and asked me to help her with a little problem,” Hermione responded, off-handed.

“Since when does Parkinson, Queen of the Slytherins, ask Hermione Granger for help?” Harry asked her suspiciously.

“Since she’s been having trouble with some of the Slytherin first-years, who are still getting bullied, and she wanted my help in stamping it out. I said I’d think it over and try and come up with a strategy,” she made up on the spot.

There wasn’t a lot Harry and Ron could say to that. No one condoned the bullying of little first-years, who hadn’t even been in Slytherin last year. It also gave her an excuse to be seen talking to Parkinson on other occasions.

“Hmm… Well, be careful, Hermione. You can’t trust those snakes,” Harry cautioned.

She smiled brightly at him and linked her arm through his. Both her boys would have a hissy fit if they knew what she’d really been asked to help Parkinson with. There was nothing innocent about Draco Malfoy.

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

Draco stared grumpily at his plate at dinner that evening. The numbing effect that the alcohol had given him was starting to wear off. He found that going through the day in a haze of drunkenness could no longer combat his demons. He also had some serious health issues brewing thanks to his continued drinking. His liver felt as if he’d fed it to a Thestral, and his stomach was rebelling from the acidic liquid diet he was feeding it. It was a sad state of affairs when alcohol stopped working, and to make matters worse, the amount of time he could go sober was becoming less. He was getting shaky hands and terrible headaches, which he knew meant he was turning into an alcoholic. He probably should be worrying about this more than he actually was. He’d come to dinner today in an effort to eat something before his body completely collapsed. He certainly didn’t want to end up in the Infirmary under Madam Pomfrey’s care. He certainly wouldn’t get any Firewhiskey from her and she’d notice his nightmares. He’d probably be forced into actually dealing with his issues rather than drowning them in whatever alcohol he could get his hands on. Maybe he could start using recreational drugs. The Muggle Studies class that he was forced to attend had addressed the abuse of drugs the other week. Draco had cringed at the images of Muggles injecting themselves. If anything, it had re-enforced the stereotypes he’d been told about Muggles being inferior. Draco dismissed this idea as the thought of doing something so degrading was distasteful to him. Besides, there was the practicality of where he could procure such drugs; he doubted Hogsmeade had a roaring trade in heroin. No, he’d have to stick to the drug of alcohol.

Draco lifted his head from the bowl of soup he was unenthusiastically contemplating to find that Granger was watching him again. She’d been doing that for the past couple of days and it was getting on his nerves. Her brown eyes were too alert and seemed to bore a hole straight through to his soul. He’d bet she’d be a pretty good Legilimens if she was ever taught. Good job Snape was dead, and that he’d hated all Gryffindors, otherwise he might have taught her.

Draco sneered at the goody two-shoes Head Girl. It did the trick and she turned away to concentrate on whatever the Fuckwit-Who-Should-Have-Snuffed-It was saying. Draco wished he could dismiss her from his mind as easily. He kept thinking about her and flashes from the night in the broom closet kept replaying in his mind. To make matters worse, if the house-elves made anything with cinnamon, he was automatically reminded of her blasted scent. It was almost as if her smell had invaded his senses. He didn’t like it one bit. It was probably because it’d been ages since he’d gotten laid and he didn’t have a hope in hell of getting rid of his thoughts of the annoying Mudblood in another girl because they all kept a large distance from him. All of his dad’s bullshit about girls throwing themselves at Death Eaters wasn’t so true now that Voldemort was dead. Not that he ever believed it; look at Snape. Draco doubted if he’d ever lost his virginity.

Fuck, his life was shit. If Draco believed in karma then the saying that payback was a bitch would be more than true in his case. But he didn’t believe in any of that bullshit. You make your own luck, and in his case, he had little luck to make any out of it. It was rather ironic that the Weasleys - those poverty stricken pure-blood blights - now had a higher status in the wizarding world than the Malfoys. His grandfather would be spinning in his grave. It was at this point that Draco gave up trying to care about the state of his stomach, pushed his bowl of soup away, and started sipping from his hip-flask once more. He wasn’t aware that two pairs of female eyes watched this with immense sadness.

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

Parkinson was waiting punctually outside Hermione’s office on Thursday at. Hermione was running a little late and had debated for a minute about whether to turn up at all when she spied Parkinson waiting patiently from around the corner. She drew a deep breath. She couldn’t take back her offer of help now, and the performance Malfoy put up during dinner last night stiffened her resolve. She was a Gryffindor and once she gave her word, she kept it.

Parkinson sighed with relief when Hermione came up next to her and opened the office with a flick of her wand.

“Thought I’d changed my mind?” Hermione asked with a smile.

“I wouldn’t blame you - I probably would if I was in your position,” Parkinson replied.

Hermione didn’t let on that she’d come oh-so-close to actually turning and running away from her office. She didn’t want to give Parkinson any inkling of the agony this decision was causing her.

“Please sit down,” she said.

Parkinson sat right at the edge of the seat in front of Hermione’s desk.

“So, tell me again what you think I can help you with,” she said.

“Like I said earlier, I’m not asking for your actual involvement. I recognise how distasteful that would be for you. However, I could do with your collusion in keeping me informed of professor and prefect patrol schedules, routes and any other inside information you may have that could help keep Draco’s night-time wanderings a secret,” Parkinson replied.

Hermione knew that this would take little of her time. She had most of this information mapped out in her head. It was more the moral dilemma of helping a bunch of Slytherins break the rules to keep her school nemesis from being expelled. She knew that she had already made the decision; she’d made it when, acting on Parkinson’s words, she’d observed the rather pathetic life of Draco Malfoy. It was just taking that final plunge that would make her not able to step back.

“Okay, that should be simple enough. Following our conversation the other day, I took the liberty of getting the rotas for the rest of the month copied,” she said, handing Parkinson a few sheets of parchment.

Parkinson smiled at her. “I know you have no reason to believe me, but I really am grateful for your help.”

“Who else is helping you? Because, to be honest, Parkinson, you cannot keep following Malfoy around every night, doing your homework and his, and stay sane. Something will have to give and it will most likely be you,” she warned.

Parkinson gasped. “How did you know I was doing Draco’s homework?”

“It doesn’t take a genius to work it out. The only reason you’re getting away with it is because the teachers don’t care an iota for Draco Malfoy,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

Parkinson flushed but answered her original query. “Blaise and Daphne are helping with the homework. We’re splitting ‘Draco-patrol’ up between Blaise, Theo and me.”

Hermione nodded. “That makes a lot more sense. You can’t do everything on your own.”

Parkinson stood and went to leave the office. “One last thing, Parkinson. If anyone asks why you are coming to see me in the office, I told Ron and Harry that we are looking to tackle the bullying against Slytherin first-years.”

Parkinson was surprised; Hermione could see it on her face. “Don’t be so surprised, Parkinson. Harry, Ron and I didn’t manage to continuously defeat the evil schemes of Voldemort and his Death Eaters with luck. We’re good at thinking on our feet, and very adept at telling people one thing whilst doing something completely different,” she said with a smile.

“Now why am I not shocked?” Parkinson replied. “You would have made pretty decent Slytherins, all three of you.”

Hermione scoffed at the suggestion but left it at that.

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

Pansy made her way back to the Slytherin common room, still smiling at Granger’s parting shot. She could see how the Head Girl had gained her reputation as the ‘brightest witch of her age’.

“How did it go?” Blaise asked when she made it across the common room to him.

Pansy checked to see if anyone was listening. The involvement of the Head Girl was just between her and Blaise. They had decided to keep it from Daphne and Theo. Theo was still too bitter towards Draco to not possibly use this information to completely fuck him over, and, at the same time, a member of the Golden Trio. It would be a completely Slytherin thing to do.

“Fine. She already had the information we needed and came up with a cover story as to why I would be in her office,” she told him and then filled him in on the rest.

He whistled. “I may not like her but you have to give the girl credit. She does a thorough job.”

“We’re lucky that she’s inclined to help us at all,” she said.

He looked unimpressed at this. “It is Granger, Pansy. The girl meddles in anything she can get her hands on. It’s the typical Gryffindor mentality.”

“Well in this instant, I’m pretty happy for that characteristic. As you said, we need all the help we can get and I don’t know why, but I trust her,” Pansy replied.

“It’s because she practically oozes Gryffindor nobility. If she gave you her word then she won’t go against it.”

“Thank goodness. I don’t think I could cope with yet another Slytherin in this situation. It’s nice to deal with someone straight forward.”

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

Hermione was strolling down the corridor, feeling pretty pleased with herself. Professor Vector had just singled her out for excellent work in Arithmancy. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she failed to notice the pale hand that shot out until it grabbed her arm. She shrieked as she was dragged into an alcove behind a tapestry. She was held against someone whilst the hand covered her mouth so she couldn’t scream.

“Are you going to be quiet or not?” an aristocratic voice she recognised all too well drawled.

She nodded and the hand withdrew. She pushed it away and turned around.

“Malfoy, how dare you manhandle me like that?” she hissed.

“What, you’d rather I come up to you when you’re with Potty and the Weasel?” he mocked.

“I’d rather you didn’t approach me at all,” she responded.

“Like you haven’t been dreaming about my kisses,” he mocked.

“Please, Malfoy, if I thought about them at all, then it wouldn’t be in dreams but in nightmares.”

Malfoy looked Hermione up and down and it felt as if he was mentally stripping her.

“What do you want, Malfoy?” Hermione asked, tired of this mental game already.

“I want to know what you’re up to with Pansy,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Granger. You know exactly what I’m talking about,” he sneered.

“She came to me asking to help stamp out the bullying of some Slytherin first-years,” she said.

“Bullshit,” he snarled. “Tell me what’s really going on.”

Hermione closed her eyes and counted to ten. She really didn’t want to be having this conversation with him. She also didn’t know the dynamic between Parkinson and Malfoy, so she couldn’t even lie convincingly.

“Parkinson asked me to help her out with some patrol rotas,” she said, hoping that the minimal information she was giving would be enough. She didn’t have much hope in that.

“Let me guess: she wanted this in order to keep sneaking around after me to stop me being caught for breaking curfew and then being kicked out of Hogwarts,” he growled.

Hermione just nodded her agreement.

“You know, Princess, little Gryffindors such as you have no place getting involved in the schemes of Slytherins. If I were you, I would stay well out of my business,” he warned.

At that moment in time, Hermione fully agreed with him. She didn’t want to be anywhere near him or his problems. She cursed Parkinson for getting her involved at all.

“Believe me, Malfoy, I don’t want to touch your problems with a barge-pole. If you want to go and kill yourself with alcohol then feel free,” Hermione hit back.

“Then why are you helping Pansy out? It makes no sense, Granger,” he said, looking a little confused.

His expression was so unusual. She usually just saw the Malfoy sneer, so to see him looking puzzled made her think of Parkinson’s words about him being lost.

“Because she’s running herself ragged trying to keep you out of trouble,” she blurted out.

Malfoy sniggered at that. “Granger, you really are a soft touch.”

“She cares about you, Malfoy. She’s possibly the only person who does and you’re rewarding her by giving her a massive headache.”

“I don’t need sermons from a swotty know-it-all like you, Granger,” he snarled.

“Maybe you do because you treat your only friend like crap and you’re lucky that she’s still trying to save your arse,” she said passionately.

“You can shove your morality up your uptight arse, Granger. I don’t need your help, and Pansy doesn’t need your encouragement. You all just need to leave me the hell alone,” he growled before barging through the tapestry and down the corridor.

Hermione leant against the wall and closed her eyes. She guessed she should probably go and find Parkinson to let her know what had happened.

Chapter Text

Draco was putting off going to bed. His nightmares had continued to get worse and were back to the level they had been when he’d been in Azkaban. So he chose to sit by the fire in the common room, gently sipping some elf-made wine, listening to the sound of Theo Nott’s snores. Draco had stopped wandering around the school so much when drunk - probably because it was no fun when you had people tailing you. Also, Zabini’s favourite method of stopping him was to put him in a Full Body-Bind Curse and Draco hated feeling that helpless. It reminded him all too much of how helpless he’d felt during his ‘service’ to the Dark Lord. Being a Death Eater hadn’t turned out to be that much fun. In fact, Draco had seen through his father’s boasting to the painful reality of it all. Voldemort’s death had come as a relief, even if it had put Draco on the losing side. He would rather have that than a lifetime of serving a victorious psychopathic killer. Once Voldemort had gotten rid of all the Mudbloods, who knew who he would have gone after next. He’d never showed any hesitation in killing pure-bloods, and the Malfoys had sunk pretty low in Voldemort’s esteem after the whole Department of Ministries prophecy fiasco. Draco wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d been among the first of his followers the Dark Lord would have topped off.

Draco shifted restlessly in his chair. He was getting antsy and in need of stretching his legs and some fresh air. This was one of the nasty side-effects of being stuck inside. Ever since he’d been sentenced to Azkaban, and put in that tiny cell, he felt the need to stretch out once he was feeling stifled. This was why he kept breaking curfew. He knew that Zabini and Nott thought it was because he was an inconsiderate prat, but it had more to do with the need to feel free. He hated feeling cooped up; it reminded him all too sharply of being imprisoned. He looked towards Nott. At least he was sleeping; this would give Draco an opportunity to wander without one of his Slytherin guards on his heels. He could feel truly liberated then.

Draco slunk out of the common room and made his way up to the ground floor. He could do with a walk around the Great Lake and could almost feel the sting of the cold January air on his face. He was so absorbed with what he was going to do that he wasn’t paying too much attention. Then he spotted Filch’s blasted cat dash around the corner. Fuck, no doubt she’d be on her way to go and get the smelly Squib. Draco could practically hear the laboured breathing of the foul, asthmatic man already. He ran up the nearest staircase, looking to dodge the persistent cat and her creepy owner.

Draco was high up in the castle when he finally lost Mrs Norris. Filch had fallen behind a couple of floors below, bent over, hands on his knees, wheezing. That had been ten minutes ago. It had taken that long to shake off the feline stalker. Draco was just leaning against the wall, elated and congratulating himself when he heard voices.

“Argus said he was headed up here, Filius,” McGonagall said.

“Did he say who the student was?” Flitwick asked.

“No, just that he’s a Slytherin. I’ve asked Horace to guard the entrance back to the dungeons, so we should have him trapped,” McGonagall replied.

Draco swore under his breath. He leant against the wall next to a painting of an obese old lady dressed in pink. Luckily she was snoozing, otherwise she would have ratted him out to McGonagall. He stood there, trying to get his woozy brain in to gear. He didn’t have long to figure out how he was going to escape this mess and there was no exit apart from the way McGonagall and Flitwick were coming from. Just as the two professors were about to turn the corner, a hand shot out from the side of Draco and he was dragged through a door. A small hand was pressed over his mouth, stopping the exclamation he was about to omit.

“Well, he’s not up here,” Flitwick’s muffled voice could be heard saying. “Is Argus sure that it wasn’t a Hufflepuff?”

“He said he saw the flash of a green and silver tie but it is Argus. Let’s check in with Horace and see if he’s seen anyone trying to get back downstairs,” McGonagall responded.

Draco felt the girl behind him heave a sigh of relief and the hand was removed from his mouth. He spun round and took in the sight of Hermione Granger, standing in what must be the small common room of the Gryffindor Head Girl quarters. They stared at each other for a good few minutes, both in shock. Draco at who had ‘rescued’ him and Hermione wondering what on earth she’d done.

“What did I say to you, Mudblood? I told you to stay the fuck out of my business,” Draco snarled, suddenly in a fury at the petite girl.

There was no perceptible movement from Granger. She just stood there, gazing at him with those big doe-like eyes. Then he saw that her hands were clenched into fists and she was obviously attempting to breathe calmly. She picked up her wand and Draco flinched imperceptibly, thinking the girl was going to hex him. Instead she levelled it at the wall and cast a silencing spell.

“Call me a Mudblood one more time, Malfoy, and I’ll hex you back into Azkaban,” she hissed at him.

“Well, then stay the hell away from me and stop interfering in shit that doesn’t concern you,” he growled back.

“A simple thank you would suffice,” she said, disgustingly smug.

He couldn’t understand where her smugness was coming from. His brain wasn’t the quickest in these circumstances, being sodden from the wine he’d drunk earlier. “Why would I be grateful to the likes of you?” he asked.

Granger walked up to him, the anger shining brightly from her eyes. “Because, unless it escaped your notice, I just saved your unworthy backside there.”

“I didn’t need you to get me out of that fix. I could have sorted it myself,” he lied with narrowed eyes.

She laughed scornfully in his face. “Oh yes, sorry… Of course the great Draco Malfoy had a plan. It probably involved attempting to charm McGonagall, but let me lay it out on the table for you: None of the teachers want you here and would be more than willing to kick you out of Hogwarts and out of their lives.”

For some reason, her words stung. He knew all of this, knew it from the very first time McGonagall had visited him in Azkaban to lay out her terms for him returning to Hogwarts, and to explain the prison schooling she was setting up for him. The Headmistress hadn’t even bothered to attempt to hide her disgust of him. As far as McGonagall was concerned, he was the reason that Albus Dumbledore was dead.

“Fuck you, Granger.”

“Wow, Malfoy, that’s some hell of a comeback there. What’s wrong, the truth hurt?” she said snidely.

“I thought you were meant to be the compassionate Gryffindor. From where I’m standing you’re just a class-A bitch,” Draco bit.

“Excuse me for not lying down and taking your insults and ingratitude. I’m not a doormat.”

“Although with that wiry head, you might as well be,” he mocked.

“Grow up, Malfoy,” she replied wearily.

She sat down in an armchair and gazed into the fire. Draco just stood there, not sure what to do. He knew that Slughorn wouldn’t have cleared off just yet and Filch would definitely be prowling around somewhere, looking for him.

“Instead of just hovering over me like some moody black cloud, take a seat,” Granger said.

Draco moved towards the sofa and, for lack of something better to do, sat down. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. He had never spent any time with Granger alone.

“I guess we just wait it out,” she said and that was precisely what they did. They sat like that for goodness knows how long.

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

Hermione was engaging in an internal slanging match with herself. The callous part of her personality was screaming at her for getting involved. It told her what she already knew; that she was a fool for following that noise all those weeks ago. Instead, she should be totally oblivious to whatever shit Draco Malfoy was in. However, her larger, much more compassionate side was arguing that they didn’t win the war in order to continue the old divisions. The Hermione Granger who had massive plans for the wizarding world once she graduated with her N.E.W.T.s, couldn’t turn a blind eye to another student in distress, be it Malfoy or not. She didn’t know why she cared about the obvious pain he was in but she did. She’d followed his trial carefully, curious about what had happened to him after that night in the Astronomy Tower. The fact that he had been so unenthusiastic about identifying Harry, Ron and her when the Snatchers had captured them had intrigued her, and she would always remember the anguish on his face when she was being tortured and he was forced to watch. What she had read and heard about him had made her incredibly sad. He had blatantly been coerced into doing things that he hadn’t wanted to do. But the fact that he was a Malfoy had made sure he’d garnered no sympathy from the Wizengamot. In all honesty, she didn’t know very many people who felt sorry for his plight. But she couldn’t help it - she did. For all his arrogance, narrow-minded prejudice and bullying, he was an intelligent wizard, and it would be a shame if he didn’t manage to reach his potential because of things he was pushed into by his father and a sociopath.

A massive snore from Malfoy disturbed Hermione’s inner monologue and she couldn’t help but giggle. The proud and arrogant boy, who’d always looked down on her for her Muggle origins, was passed out on her sofa, snoring away inelegantly. Hermione stood up from the sofa and attempted to wake Malfoy, who appeared to be in a drunken stupor. When ten minutes of frantic shaking and shouting of ‘Malfoy!’ in his ear did nothing more than garner annoyed grunts and pathetic hand-shooing from the passed out blond, Hermione gave up. She summoned a blanket and pillow and tucked him in. Never in a million years had she envisaged herself doing something along these lines for the snarky Slytherin. She rubbed her eyes sleepily, glad that it was a Friday and she could lie in the next morning. She doubted that a foghorn could have raised her at seven o’clock.

When morning came, she snuggled into her duvet and willed herself back to sleep. The extra work of being Head Girl along with the intense N.E.W.T. classes were exhausting already, and it was only going to get worse as the exams got closer by the end of this term. A thud in her common room jolted her out of her sleepy state. She dragged her dressing gown around her, hunted down her slippers before stomping out of her bedroom to see what havoc that irritating ferret was creating.

She found him rooting through her bookshelves. “What are you doing, Malfoy?”

“Just checking out the favourite books of a Mudblood,” he responded.

Hermione rounded on him. “If you call me that one more time, Malfoy, I will go to McGonagall right now and tell her you attacked me. I’ll personally see that you spend at least twenty years rotting in Azkaban.”

“Sensitive much, Granger?” Malfoy drawled.

And there it was; the arrogance of a boy who she hated with a passion. “Just test me, Malfoy. In case it hadn’t sunk into that inbred brain of yours, that ideology lost the war. Muggle-borns like me prevailed and you better learn to deal with it.”

Malfoy just stared at her impassively before withdrawing his hipflask from his cloak pocket and flicking the cap open.

Hermione strode towards him. “Oh no you don’t. You are not getting rat-faced in my common room. It’s time you faced up to things and stopped trying to drink yourself to death.”

“And how do you know what I have to deal with?” Malfoy asked.

“Believe it or not, I know something about the darkness of the war. In case it escaped your notice, I was tortured in your house, by your aunt, and in your presence. You don’t see me skulking around trying to drown my sorrows,” Hermione bit out harshly.

“That’s because you’re Miss Goody-Goody Gryffindor, feted war hero,” Malfoy snarled.

“Boo-hoo, Malfoy, cry me a river. No-one is going to give you a chance unless you give yourself one and at the moment you’re condemning yourself to living in the past,” she said wearily.

Before Malfoy could spit a predictably nasty remark back to her, someone started banging on her portrait. “Hermione, are you awake yet? Fancy coming down to get some breakfast with us?” Ginny cheerily called out.

Hermione could hear the grumbling of first Gryffindor Head Girl, who guarded her quarters. Her friends were ignoring Rhiannon, who was scolding them for their rudeness.

“Why are we even knocking? Hermione gave us the password, just go in,” Ron’s voice could be heard saying.

“Because it’s rude to that, Ronald,” Ginny replied. Hermione could practically hear the redheaded girl rolling her eyes.

“Well, we’ve given her a warning now so shift it and I’ll say the password,” Ron responded.

Hermione froze for a quick minute before shoving Malfoy into her room. She put a finger across her lips, warning him to be quiet. She heard her door opening and glared once more at Malfoy before slipping back into the common room.

“Oh, did we wake you up?” Ginny asked contritely.

“Yeah,” she said, smothering a yawn. “Sorry, I had a late night reading.”

“That, or drinking,” Harry said amused, lifting Malfoy’s forgotten hipflask up off her coffee table. He sniffed it. “Hermione, what on earth are you drinking? That’s potent,” he said wrinkling his nose.

Ginny took in the rumpled blanket and pillow. “Did you get drunk and fall asleep on the sofa?” she asked, confused.

Hermione snatched the flask out of Harry’s hand. “Harry, you know me better than that. It’s not mine. I found it on my patrol the other night. And I didn’t get drunk and pass out. I couldn’t sleep last night so I was reading on the sofa.”

Ron ambled over to have a look. “Isn’t that the ferret’s? I’m sure that’s what he’s been drinking from,” he said before pocketing the flask.

“Ronald Weasley, what are you doing?” Hermione asked, outraged.

Ron smiled cheekily. “Nicking it. I’ll disinfect it and make sure I withdraw it in front of the ferret. It’ll drive him mad seeing his precious flask in my hands and I’ll get him back for that whole fiasco outside Potions.”

“It could be an heirloom or something,” Hermione said, scandalised.

“Now I’m definitely taking it,” Ron grinned.

Hermione threw her hands up in the air in defeat. There was no reasoning with Ron in this mood and she didn’t have the strength to win an inelegant scuffle with him for possession of the stupid thing. Anyway, if it was in Ron’s hands then Malfoy would probably be forced to drink less.

“Well, we’re hungry. Get your arse in gear and we’ll see you downstairs,” Ginny said.

Hermione just smiled good humouredly at the infamous Weasley appetite. How they all remained so thin she’d never know. Hermione went back to her room ready to kick Malfoy out and get on with the rest of her day. It was obvious that he’d be going through her belongings. Her diary was open on her bedside table where he’d been rifling through it. But when she walked in, his eyes locked on hers and they had an enraged gleam in them.

“You better get my flask back from that fucking moron,” Malfoy said before stalking out and banging his way out of her common room.

“Prick,” Hermione muttered to herself as she turned her shower on. He hadn’t even bothered to check with her if it was safe for him to leave. Anyone from Gryffindor could have seen him coming out her common room. That was just the kind of trouble that she didn’t need.

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

Draco was pissed off. He’d woken up with a stinking hangover (bloody wine), and a crick in his neck (crappy Gryffindor sofa), and then had to put up with a lecture from the self-righteous bookworm. And now he was without his main means to drink throughout the day thanks to the Weasel. It was only something cheap he’d picked up in Diagon Alley but that wasn’t the point, the point was that it was now resting in the hands of that sorry excuse for a wizard. He knew how vindictive Weasley could be, too. The ginger twat would be looking to get a rise out of him.

“Where have you been?” were the first words that Draco heard as he entered the Slytherin common room.

He really wasn’t in the mood for Pansy’s hysterics. He ignored her and walked up to his room. She followed. Stupid Hogwarts - the staircase to the boys’ dorms needed a girl-repellent charm, too.

“Draco, I asked you a question,” Pansy persisted.

“And I chose not to answer.”

He opened the door to his dorm. Nott was still passed out but Zabini was just finishing getting dressed.

“Oh joy, look what the cat dragged in,” he drawled.

“Sorry to disappoint you, Zabini, but I’m not dead yet,” Draco replied.

“I live in hope,” Zabini responded.

“Stop it! Stop it right now!” Pansy screamed.

Nott sat up in a rush, woken out of his sleep whilst both Draco and Zabini turned to her in shock. Pansy stood there with tears streaming down her face.

“I’m tired of this - all this fighting amongst ourselves. We should be sticking together. We need to stick together. In case it escaped your notice, we aren’t exactly doing too well with the rest of the school and the majority of teachers view us with contempt, and how do we respond? We bicker and bitch amongst ourselves!” Pansy cried passionately.

Zabini walked over to his girlfriend and pulled her over to his bed. He pushed her down gently before giving her a tissue and soothingly stroking her back.

“Pans, don’t do this. We’ll make more of an effort, I promise,” he said to his distraught girlfriend.

“You can, Zabini. I still can’t stand the sight of your fucking face,” Draco drawled.

Zabini, true to his promise to Pansy, did nothing but look at Draco with disdain. Theo sprung up off his bed. “Whatever, I need a shower. It’s too early to deal with these hysterics.”

“Oh no you don’t, Theo. What the hell happened last night? You were meant to stop Draco from wandering around the castle and he just gets in now. Salazar knows what kind of trouble he could have gotten into last night!” Pansy yelled.

Theo looked towards Blaise as if to say control your girlfriend, mate. “It’s not my fault. I was tired and Malfoy was playing the whole mopey ‘woe-is-me’ bullshit he’s so fond of at the moment. He was sitting there feeling sorry for himself for fucking hours. It was boring.”

Draco looked unimpressed towards them all. “Don’t mind me. Please continue to talk about me as if I’m not here.”

“You might as well not be for how inclusive you’ve been,” Theo said, disdainfully.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Nott, have I not given you enough cuddles this year? I didn’t realise you were looking for me to hold your fucking hand, you prick,” Draco snarled back.

Pansy threw her hands up in the air. “You are all unbelievable. What happened to us sticking together and not fighting?”

“I think you’ll find that only Blaise agreed to that,” Theo pointed out.

“And that’s because he’s pussy whipped,” Draco added.

Blaise shot them both a glare at the distressed whimper that Pansy let loose. “Ignore them, Pans, we’ll get there if I have to beat their heads together to get the required result.”

Draco just rolled his eyes and flopped onto his bed. Maybe he could get another couple of hours sleep.

Chapter Text

Hermione was pleased to note that none of her fellow Gryffindors were looking at her strangely during breakfast. She breathed a mental sigh of relief - it meant that Malfoy’s dramatic exit from her common room hadn’t been seen by anyone. She seemed to have dodged a bullet there. However, the presence of Parkinson in the Great Hall reminded her that she needed to inform her of Malfoy’s whereabouts, and the fact that he’d managed to slip out without any of them noticing last night. Hermione was pretty sure that Parkinson had chewed out whoever was meant to be minding him last night. There was one thing that she had come to realise and that was that Pansy Parkinson was a lioness when it came to defending her ‘cub’.

She waited until breakfast was over before hurrying after the Slytherin. She didn’t want to go up to her in front of the whole of Hogwarts since that would start too much gossip. Everyone knew that there was no love lost between her and Pansy. Hermione followed at a safe distance from Parkinson until she saw her veer off into a rarely used corridor.

“Parkinson,” she called, and the Slytherin girl turned to face her.

“Granger,” she acknowledged. “Is everything okay?”

“I just wanted to fill you in on last night,” Hermione said.

Parkinson closed her eyes briefly. Hermione sympathised with the anguished look on her face. She would have been desperately worried as well if she’d been in Pansy’s shoes.

“Don’t worry, no-one but me knows he was roaming around. He managed to give Filch and Mrs Norris the slip. He stayed on the sofa in my common room. I had to extract him from the entrance to Gryffindor Tower before McGonagall and Flitwick caught him, and he fell asleep on my sofa before enough time lapsed for him to go back down the dungeons.”

Parkinson exhaled deeply and looked at Hermione with shock and something akin to awe in her eyes. “Thanks for that, Granger. I know it must have been difficult for you to make the decision to help out that much and I doubt Draco was hugely grateful.”

Hermione scowled. “He did call me a Mudblood a few times, but I think I stressed how much I would hex him if he did it again, so hopefully he’s got the picture.”

The raven-haired Slytherin looked pretty embarrassed. “Yeah, well, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to put up with that,” she mumbled awkwardly.

Hermione couldn’t help but be a little impressed with how much Parkinson seemed to have changed her tune since she’d last gone to school with her. In their sixth year, she would have been right behind Malfoy, laughing and joining in on the insults, not looking ashamed and apologising. Hermione definitely preferred this new and improved Pansy.

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know. I guessed that Malfoy probably wouldn’t share where he was with you and, if it had been either Ron or Harry, I would have been worried sick,” Hermione said.

Parkinson smiled in gratitude at her. “Yeah, Draco never was one to share more information than he wanted to.”

She nodded her agreement. “Is everything all right? I mean, it’s been a while since he last wandered around like that.”

“Stupid Theo fell asleep. He got lazy because we’ve managed to keep Draco on a tight rein recently. Blaise and I will be watching him for the next couple of days so it should be fine.”

“Sounds like a good plan. If I know McGonagall then she’ll have the professors out patrolling for the next few nights just in case,” she said before walking away from Parkinson.

She failed to notice Neville Longbottom staring at both her and Parkinson with a worried look on his face.

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

Hermione made her way down to the Quidditch pitch where Harry was leading the Gryffindor practice for the day. She’d made it halfway down to the pitch before her name was called out. “Hermione, wait up.”

She turned around and saw Neville sprinting towards her. “Hi, Neville,” she said cheerfully, but noticed that Neville did not return her smile. Instead, he looked concerned. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Neville looked down at his feet before taking a deep breath. “Look, Hermione, I don’t want you to think I’m poking my nose into your business but I’m a little worried about you.”

Hermione frowned in confusion. “What? Why?”

He shifted his feet a little uncomfortably. “Well, I … er … saw something a little unusual this morning.”

“Is everything okay? Is it something you to need to tell me as Head Girl? Don’t worry, if it’s something bad then I won’t tell that it was you who told me,” she said.

He looked back up at her. “No, it’s not quite like that but, Hermione, I saw Malfoy leaving your room this morning. And now I saw you talking to Parkinson. Is everything as it should be?”

Hermione blushed bright red and swore. She’d thought that she had gotten away with that whole incident. “Did anyone else see him leave?” she asked.

“No,” Neville replied. “It was just me.”

“It’s not anything bad, Neville. He just fell asleep on my sofa,” Hermione said.

“What was he doing in your room in the first place?” Neville asked.

She really hoped that her shoddy explanation would have been enough but this older Neville wasn’t as easy to placate as he had been during his earlier school days. His year leading Dumbledore’s Army against the Carrows had matured him.

“I’ll tell you. But please, Neville, this has to stay between you and me. Please don’t go off and tell Ron and Harry,” she started.

He nodded his agreement, knowing that she wouldn’t open her mouth unless he agreed.

“Okay. Well, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Malfoy’s been a bit of a mess since he returned to Hogwarts. I stumbled upon Parkinson and Zabini trying to get him back into the Slytherin common room not long after term started. He was drunk. Parkinson was worried that I would go and tell either McGonagall or Slughorn about it, but I really didn’t want to get involved, so, I agreed to keep it quiet. Then last night I came across Malfoy wandering just outside Gryffindor Tower and he was drunk again. I brought him into my common room to try and sober him up and he fell asleep. I was just telling Parkinson where he was last night because she was worried about him,” she informed him, keeping several key things to herself.

Neville looked long and hard at Hermione. “Why do I think you’re not telling me the whole truth? For a start, I think Malfoy had something to do with those love bites you had and it would fit in with the time-line of your story.”

Hermione groaned. Damn Neville and his newfound confidence and shrewd ways. She’d give anything for the Neville of their first year right now. He would have accepted her explanation and gone on his way. She ended up having to fill him in on everything after swearing him to secrecy.

“But why are you involving yourself in this? If Harry and Ron find out, they’ll hit the roof,” he observed.

“I know and I don’t know why. It’s just that Parkinson’s doing everything that I would if one of my friends were in the same situation. She’s trying to keep Malfoy out of trouble and some of the things she said to me really hit home. It’s true: no one wants Malfoy here, including the teachers. I just think it’s such a shame that they aren’t even paying attention to the fact that his life is going up in smoke,” she answered.

“Yes, but that still doesn’t explain why you are getting involved. This is Malfoy we’re talking about. He’s never shown anything but contempt for you,” Neville pointed out.

Hermione grasped her hair in frustration. “You think I haven’t said all of this to myself? But I didn’t go through hell last year just to turn a blind eye to someone who is suffering, and no matter how much of a git he is, Malfoy is suffering.”

Neville smiled fondly at her. “I get it, really I do. You wouldn’t be the Hermione Granger we all love if you could turn a blind eye to this. Just please be careful, and I want you to come and talk to me if you need help. I’ll keep this secret for you but it also means that I’m here for you to confide in if you need to.”

She engulfed her friend in a massive hug. “I couldn’t ask for a better friend than you, Neville. Thank you so much for being so understanding. I love Harry and Ron but they wouldn’t get this or my need to help.”

“I know, which is why I’m prepared to keep this from them. But if you get in too deep, I will extract you from this whole situation even if that means going to Ron and Harry,” he warned.

She smiled at him. “I’d be more than happy for you to do that. Last night was a one-off and I have no desire to become more heavily involved. It is Malfoy after all.”

Neville patted her on the back and they walked down to check on the progress of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Hermione felt a lot happier now she had a friend who knew what was going on and who she could talk to about everything.

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

Pansy finally tracked Draco down in a secluded part of the Hogwarts grounds on the other side of the lake. This had been his spot for thinking and being alone since their third year. He’d increasingly used it as things had gone wrong during their sixth year. Only Pansy knew that he came here.

“What do you want, Pansy?” Draco asked without turning around.

“I spoke to Granger this morning,” she replied.

“What did that fucking know-it-all say now?”

“She told me about last night,” she said.

“I knew she’d be completely incapable of keeping her mouth shut,” he scowled.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” she asked.

“Because it’s none of your bloody business. When will you understand this?”

“You know, Draco, this attitude of yours is getting old. You can keep trying to push me away but I won’t desert you.”

He turned to look at her before dropping his head in his hands and closing his eyes. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget that you ever knew me.”

“I can’t do that. We’ve always looked out for each other and I won’t give up on you now when you’re at your lowest.”

Draco sat there for five minutes. If Pansy didn’t understand him as well as she did then she would have assumed that he hadn’t heard her, but he had.

“I’m a mess, Pans,” he finally whispered and that was the only opening that Pansy needed. She ran over to him and knelt down, putting her arms around him.

“I know you are but we can work on that. It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said.

“That’s easy for you to say. You’ll leave Hogwarts, marry some wealthy pure-blood, and, in a few years time, everyone will forget about the shit you did at school. Not me. I’ll always have this fucking Dark Mark to remind everyone that I was a stupid kid with dumb ideas.”

“So you don’t believe in all that pure-blood supremacy stuff?” Pansy asked, surprised.

He shot her a glare but sighed. “I don’t know. I mean it’s practically in my blood to do so. I’ve lived, slept and breathed it since before I can even remember, but the past two-and-a-half-years of my life have been a fucked up nightmare.”

She nodded in agreement. “I think we’re all feeling a little like that.”

“It became clear to me as soon as I was told to take the Dark Mark and given my mission that Voldemort was a sodding psycho, but I knew that if I started to question it all, I’d go insane. It was easier to swagger around and boast about how big an honour it was.”

Pansy looked at her best friend with sad eyes. Their sixth year had really showed them how dangerous their world was and their roles were. No matter what Crabbe and Goyle thought, Pansy had not enjoyed their seventh year at Hogwarts. It had been dark and gloomy, and she’d soon realised that she really wasn’t cut out to throw Unforgivables at other students, even the Gryffindors. Who knew the horrors that Draco had seen, especially as he refused to open up about any of it.

“If Voldemort had been about pure-blood supremacy then he wouldn’t have taken such delight in playing his Death Eaters off against each other. We were nothing but pawns in his game and our lives were forfeit the moment he no longer felt we were useful. The only thing that kept us alive was the fact that he needed my family’s money and the Manor,” Draco continued. “And now I find myself not caring about any of it. Who cares if Mudbloods are increasing and getting more powerful? It’s bound to happen, and to say that they’ve stolen magic is a little far-fetched. I really can’t bring myself to care about any of it anymore.”

Pansy looked at him confusedly. “Then why do you still call Granger a Mudblood?”

He smirked. “Because she’s still an annoying know-it-all swot who just loves to shove her superior brain in everyone’s face. It’s fucking infuriating. And besides, it’s what everyone expects of me. In their minds, I’m nothing more than a Death Eater.”

“Why don’t you give people a chance to actually judge you, rather than just live up to their expectations?” she asked.

“Yeah, because that’s working out so well for the rest of Slytherin House,” he said sarcastically. “No-one cares what we think, or if we’ve changed. They hate us and they want to pay us back for the last seven years. We could set up a fucking ‘I heart Harry Potter’ club and they’d still loathe us.”

There wasn’t too much she could say to that. He was right; no one wanted to cut the Slytherins any slack. She couldn’t even find it in her heart to blame them. Too much had been said or done for this to be a surprise. If she had belonged to one of the other houses she wouldn’t want to give herself a break either.

“You’re wrong about Granger though,” Pansy said as an afterthought.

“What do you mean?”

“She is the type to give us Slytherins a chance. She’s helping me out and I still can’t understand why.”

“She probably gets a kick out of it. She’s that type,” Draco sneered.

She shook her head. “No, she’s not. Blaise says exactly the same thing, but neither of you are looking beyond the fact that she’s Potter and Weasley’s little side-kick and a Gryffindor. I think she actually does want to make a difference and end this house rivalry.”

He rolled his eyes. “Could you get any more bleeding heart than that?”

“She did a nice thing for you yesterday.”

Draco scowled but didn’t answer. There was nothing snide he could respond with. Pansy had a point. She had stuck her neck out for him last night and he couldn’t work out why.

“If she’s truly so terrible and irritating then why the hell did she look to bail you out?” Pansy pushed.

He stood up and started pacing along the lake. “How the fuck should I know? She probably loves the fact that she had it within her power to completely screw me over and get me kicked out of Hogwarts for good.”

Pansy looked thoughtful at this. “No, I don’t think so. If she just wanted to let us know that she had the power to mess with us, then she would have played games after the whole broom cupboard incident. But the fact is, she didn’t want to think about it and kept it to herself. She only got involved because I asked it of her and even then she turned me down at first.”

Draco looked at her in disbelief. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Pans? You had to go begging a Gryffindor, and Granger of all people? We keep Slytherin business in our own house, you know that.”

“I don’t care, Draco. I’m doing what is necessary. I won’t sit back and do the bare minimum. If I had to go Potter himself, I would have.”

“At least he would have turned you down. There’s no way in hell that he’d ever lift a finger for me,” he sneered.

“Yeah, well, be thankful that Granger doesn’t think that way. The worst thing for you right now would be if you were kicked out of Hogwarts. The Malfoy name really doesn’t need any more bad press,” she hit back.

Draco ran his hands through his hair in agitation. “How the hell did my life get so fucked up?”

Pansy scoffed, but not unkindly. “Because we followed our parents, who stupidly followed a madman. It landed them in Azkaban, and us with our lives screwed up before we’ve even managed to graduate.”

He kicked a stone in response. Fucking stupid Lucius. Fucking crazy Voldemort. But most of all, fucking irritating Granger and her fucking big brown eyes looking up at him with such pity. He knew his life was shit when he’d become her latest charity case.

Pansy stood up. “Just cut Granger some slack, Draco. She doesn’t have to get involved but she has, and I really don’t think she deserves to be on the end of any more blood related insults by you. Besides, I think she might well hex you seriously if you continue, and that girl is too smart at magic for it not to hurt.”

“Whatever,” he replied.

She put her hand out to stop him from walking. “Please, Draco, do this for me. Leave her alone.”

He rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, Pans, are you her bloody bodyguard now? I’ll stay away from the uptight bitch. I won’t sully her with my presence. Not that it should be hard - I don’t exactly want to be anywhere near her. Happy now?”

“I’ll be happy when you’re more like yourself, Draco,” she answered.

Draco gave her a twisted mockery of a smile. “This is the new me, Pans. You better get used to it.”

She watched him stalk off and sighed. She’d managed a small breakthrough in at least getting him to talk about some stuff. But she knew that he was a deep well and that there would be a lot more going on below the surface. He was in a lot of pain and not coping well at all.

-----------

“Successful practice?” Hermione asked as she walked over to Harry, Ron and Ginny who were huddled together discussing tactics.

“Yeah, not bad. We’re going to have to be in better shape than we were against Slytherin last term to beat Ravenclaw,” Harry said.

Hermione winced as she thought back to that disaster of a Quidditch match. The first match of the Hogwarts Quidditch season was traditionally Gryffindor versus Slytherin. The triumphant return of Harry Potter along with Ron Weasley had made sure the match received maximum attention. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had turned out decked head to foot in red and gold. It was a damning indictment on Slytherin House, who had struggled to put a team together. Harper had been made captain in Malfoy’s absence and he’d had to turn to the lower years to find anyone willing to play. The older Slytherins knew that the rest of the Hogwarts teams would use any matches against them to exact revenge and their knack for self-preservation had kicked in, over-riding any desire to represent their house. To be fair, Harry had kept his team on a tight leash. He had warned his players before kick-off that he wouldn’t stand for any foul play, and he had largely been followed with the exception of a few lapses by Jimmy Peake, who had whacked the Bludger several times at Harper’s head needlessly, and barged into him a few more times. But the Slytherin team, consisting of mainly second-years, had been flattened by Harry’s streamlined, more experienced players, cheered on by three-quarters of the school. Hermione knew it had made sense to get the game out of the way before Malfoy potentially returned to the team, but it had seemed a little cruel, especially as he had made no effort to rejoin the Slytherin team.

“Calm down, Harry. The Ravenclaws have got nothing on us,” Ron said breezily, earning himself an annoyed glare from Harry, who never took Quidditch casually.

“Did Neville catch up with you?” Ginny asked, keen to avoid yet another heated discussion between her fiancé and her brother over Quidditch.

“Yes,” Hermione answered.

“Was everything okay? He seemed really worried this morning before you arrived for breakfast,” Harry said.

“Oh, yes. It was nothing too serious,” she said airily.

“Are you sure? I’m sure I heard him muttering on about Malfoy,” Harry persisted.

“Really? He didn’t say anything to me about Malfoy. It was something to do with the Herbology greenhouses,” she lied.

“Good,” Ron replied. “I’m starving. Let’s go up for lunch.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief that no one had thought to question her more closely. Ron’s famed appetite had once again come to her rescue. She’d never complain about him spraying her with crumbs again.

Chapter Text

Draco had taken to hanging out by the lake. It didn’t matter that the temperature was freezing, since it was pretty much deserted, and he could escape the prying eyes of everyone watching his every move. It was almost as if the population of Hogwarts was just waiting for him to do something evil. Maybe he was meant to make an attempt on Potter’s life or morph into Voldemort or something. Realistically, Draco just wanted to get this year over and done with. He wanted to move on with his life, get back to Malfoy Manor, and not deal with those who hated him and didn’t bother to hide their disgust. Draco sighed when he realised lunch was over and it was time for him to get to Advanced Arithmancy.

The problem with the smaller classes this year was that he couldn’t escape the other houses. Whilst he may still have popular classes like Transfiguration and Charms with only Slytherins, the smaller classes were mixed together. He had too many Gryffindors to be comfortable in Arithmancy. Granger was there, of course, but so were Finnegan and Thomas. Draco would be more than happy to ignore both boys if they would do the same but they had a lot of pent-up anger towards him. Thomas he could understand: he’d spent time in the dungeons at Malfoy Manor, but why Finnegan felt the need to barge into him every time they happened to pass each other was a mystery. Draco didn’t think he’d even spoken to him, even when he was at the top of his tormenting game.

Draco picked himself up off the rock he was perched on and moved towards the castle and up to Arithmancy. It was just his luck that he arrived a little early. He leant against the wall and closed his eyes. In the darkness, he could try and pretend that he wasn’t here. The loud, clunking footsteps that followed soon dispelled that pleasant dream.

“Oh look, if it isn’t the mini-Death Eater,” a sneering voice said.

Draco sighed as he recognised whose voice it was. He opened his eyes and saw Thomas standing aggressively opposite him. Next to him was his little sidekick Finnegan. He levelled a look at him as if to say, Yeah, and your point is? He didn’t bother to reply.

“What? Nothing to say, Malfoy? You don’t want to call me a Mudblood or say that my presence is infecting the air that you breathe?” Thomas continued.

Draco straightened up. It looked as if he was going to have to go through with this. He knew from his own personality that they wouldn’t back off until they’d had the fight they wanted so much. Thomas wanted to fight with Draco Malfoy - minion of Voldemort - so he might as well get it over and done with and give Thomas what he wanted.

“What do you want, Mudblood?” he drawled lazily, inspecting his nails.

He missed the flash of rage that passed over Thomas’ face and the nod that he gave to Finnegan. The next thing Draco knew, he’d been punched in the face.

“You don’t change do you, Malfoy?. Still the same fucking, disgusting little worm that you’ve always been,” Thomas raged.

Draco lunged forward to whack Thomas back but hadn’t counted on Finnegan moving behind him and seizing his arms.

“Not so fucking big now, are you, Malfoy? Daddy’s in prison and your goons aren’t here to save you now.”

Draco struggled against Finnegan, who was a lot stronger than his height suggested. Finnegan had a tight hold on his arms and the twisting that Draco was engaging in was just moving his arms into an even more uncomfortable position.

“You’re just the epitome of Gryffindor bravery, Thomas. What? Too afraid to take me on by yourself in case you end up back in my cellar?” Draco said cruelly.

That did it; Thomas went rigid before moving right into Draco’s face. “Fuck you, Malfoy. I hope I scar you,” he snarled before launching into him.

---------

Hermione giggled as Ron said with a flourish, “Lady Hermione, I will endeavour to carry your heavy book bag all the way to Arithmancy for you.”

“Chivalry isn’t dead yet, but I reckon it’s more for my Potions notes than for me,” she smiled before handing the bag to him.

Ron picked it up and dramatically staggered against the nearest wall. “Merlin’s beard, Hermione, do you have the whole library packed away in here? You must be as strong as an ox to carry this around.”

Hermione cuffed him around the head. “It’s not that bad, Ron. I just took a few extra books out. I’ve been neglecting Ancient Runes recently and I want to make sure I’m prepared for the N.E.W.T.”

“Hermione, you couldn’t fail Ancient Runes if you tried. You could not study for the whole year and still get an Outstanding in the final exam. Last year was practically one big Ancient Runes class for you,” Ron teased.

“Ronald, just because I translated The Tales of Beedle the Bard doesn’t mean I will pass this year.”

Ron was saved from getting into a heated discussion with Hermione over her obsessive studying habits with the arrival of Harry and Neville. “Hey, Ron, where’re you off to? Macmillan has challenged us to a Wizard’s Chess challenge. We need you to kick their arses,” Harry said.

Ron went to give Hermione back her bag and hurry off to wherever the chess battle was taking place. “Uh, where are you going?” Hermione asked. “If I’m going to give you my Potions notes, you’ll need to come with me as they are right at the bottom of my bag. And no, I will not empty everything out here and pack it all back up to save you some time. I’ll be late and you have a free period.”

“But, Hermione…” Ron whined.

“You better hurry up. You don’t want those Hufflepuffs to think you’re running scared,” Hermione mocked, making sure she left Ron trailing behind with the bag. It was pretty heavy, after all.

Hermione was grinning as she could hear Ron muttering during the short distance from the Entrance Hall to the Arithmancy classroom on the first floor. Harry and Neville had left him with the bag and were currently discussing tactics for their games. It was a good thing that Gryffindor had Ron because Harry was only marginally better than Hermione at chess.

Hermione turned the corner to the Arithmancy classroom and stopped in shock at the sight in front of her. Malfoy was half-collapsed against Seamus, practically dripping with blood whilst Dean went to town on him.

“Stop! Stop!” Hermione cried as she rushed towards the scene.

She got no reaction from either Seamus or Dean. Malfoy looked too far out of it to do more than slightly turn his head in her direction. Hermione turned towards Harry, Ron and Neville who had just stopped at the corner with amazed expressions on their faces.

“Harry, Ron, separate them,” Hermione ordered.

Harry and Ron just looked at each other before turning towards her. “Hermione, we don’t know what Malfoy said to Dean. I mean, I’ve never seen Dean react like this to anything,” Harry said.

“It’s not about what could have been said or probably was said, but the fact that I think Dean is going to kill him. We can’t let that happen.”

Harry and Ron were still seemingly undecided whether to get involved or not. Hermione looked beseechingly at Neville, who was the tallest and burliest of them all. He muttered briefly about “stupid bloody Malfoy” before stepping forward to restrain Dean.

“Dean! Dean!” Neville called. “Come on mate, that’s enough.”

Dean shook his head and seemed to come out of a trance. He looked at Malfoy and then down at his fists. A twisted smile settled on his face. Neville put a hand on Seamus’ shoulder, who let Malfoy’s arms go. Malfoy stumbled a little and slumped on the floor, resting against the wall.

“What the hell were you thinking, Dean?” Hermione asked.

“It’s Malfoy, Hermione. He’s a nasty little prick. He deserved it,” Seamus answered for Dean, who was still breathing heavily from all the exertion.

“You held his hands behind his back and made sure he couldn’t fight back and then proceeded to beat him to a bloody pulp,” Hermione said with a frown.

“I’m confused as to why you care, Hermione. He’s Malfoy and he calls us Mudbloods,” Dean replied.

“Yes, he has stupid and horrible views on blood purity, but that doesn’t mean I think he should be held down and hit until he bleeds. That makes us as bad as those who torture Muggles for sport!” Hermione cried.

The Gryffindor boys all shifted uncomfortably around her. None of them were feeling particularly sorry for Malfoy. His whole Hogwarts career had led up to a moment like this and Harry certainly wouldn’t forget that Malfoy had put him in the Body-Bind Curse and then stomped on his nose.

Hermione glared at them all. She tried to pull Malfoy up but he was too heavy and not exactly helping her. She didn’t want to levitate him as she’d never done that with a human before, and she was worried she would whack his head against the wall or something and kill him off. She didn’t bother asking Harry and Ron this time, knowing that they wouldn’t help. She looked at Neville who seemed to have accepted that his role in this was to help Hermione out. He dragged Malfoy up and pulled his arm around his shoulder and Hermione steadied Malfoy on his other side. “I’m Head Girl and I don’t think I can lie for you over this,” she said to Dean and Seamus.

They said nothing, looking at her as if she was deliberately choosing Malfoy over them. But she really couldn’t cover this up. Malfoy was bound to tell Madam Pomfrey about it and then Hermione would get in even more trouble for being caught out in the lie. At this moment in time, she wasn’t actually sure that she even wanted to protect her friends. She really didn’t agree with hitting someone, especially when they couldn’t defend themselves.

Hermione and Neville got Malfoy up the Infirmary in silence. Every now and again, Neville looked at her with a thoughtful expression on his face. Hermione didn’t think she especially wanted to ask him what it meant. Her life was complicated enough without adding anything Neville was thinking into the mix. They dropped Malfoy onto the nearest bed. Madam Pomfrey bustled over and tutted at the state of the Slytherin, but didn’t ask Hermione or Neville any questions. That was the great thing about Pomfrey; she tended to fix you up, no questions asked. Hermione thought she was too used to students coming to her with conditions they shouldn’t have. Pomfrey was well aware that if she got a reputation as a snitch then students would no longer seek her out and that was worse. Of course what Hermione and Neville didn’t know was that Pomfrey kept the Headmistress informed of anything too terrible, just in case. This incident would definitely have to be reported back.

Neville hung around for a few moments, speared Hermione with another one of his looks, and then disappeared out of the Infirmary doors.

“Is he going to be okay?” Hermione asked.

“He should be fine,” Pomfrey replied. “Do you have a lesson to go to?”

“Yes, I’m meant to be in Arithmancy,” Hermione responded.

“Just stay here whilst I fix the worst of the injuries and I’ll get you a note to give to Professor Vector.”

Hermione smiled her thanks and settled in the chair next to Malfoy. She watched Madam Pomfrey go about her business with interest. There had been a time when Hermione had considered a career in Healing. The amount of injuries and death she’d seen during her year on the run had changed her mind, though. She didn’t think she could cope with a whole career based on it.

When Madam Pomfrey had finished making Malfoy comfortable, she disappeared into her office to get Hermione the note. Malfoy hadn’t said anything to either woman nor had he even looked in Hermione’s direction.

“Do you want me to get you anything, Malfoy?” Hermione asked.

He turned his head slowly and then appraised her with his grey eyes. He shook his head and returned to contemplating whatever was fascinating him on the wall. Madam Pomfrey returned, gave Hermione the note, and sent her on her way to Arithmancy.

Just before she walked out of the Infirmary, Malfoy turned back to her and said “Pansy,” before tagging on a, “please” as an after-thought. Hermione nodded her understanding.

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

Hermione ran up to Gryffindor Tower. Even if Harry wasn’t around, she knew where he kept the Marauder’s Map, and she needed it to locate Parkinson. The common room was empty and Hermione sprinted up the boys’ stairs. She rummaged around Harry’s trunk for the map until she located it stuffed away towards the bottom. She opened it up and was happy to see that Parkinson wasn’t in a lesson; she was down in the Slytherin common room. Luckily, Hermione, as Head Girl, was privy to all the passwords and locations for the four common rooms. She folded the map back up, ran back downstairs and out the portrait hole towards the Slytherin dungeon.

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

To say there was some shock when Hermione Granger, best friend of Harry Potter and Muggle-born witch, waltzed into the Slytherin common room was an understatement. Hermione chose to ignore the gasps and stuttered comments, only freezing a sixth-year who’d attempted to call her a Mudblood with an icy glare, daring him to continue. Parkinson was sitting before the fire with Zabini and Greengrass. Hermione ignored the other two and walked up to Parkinson.

“Granger,” Parkinson acknowledged. “Is something wrong?”

“Malfoy’s up in the Infirmary and he’s asking for you,” Hermione replied.

Parkinson sat up. “What’s happened?”

Hermione looked briefly at Zabini and Greengrass and back to Parkinson, hoping that she would get the message. Hermione certainly wasn’t comfortable talking in front of the other Slytherins.

“I’ll walk you out,” Parkinson responded, picking up on Hermione’s unease.

Hermione briefly looked towards Zabini and Greengrass. Greengrass was staring at her with a wary kind of venom whilst Zabini was giving her that aloof look that always made her feel incredibly unimportant and small. Parkinson and Hermione tracked across the Slytherin common room, back towards the door. There was complete silence as everyone in there followed their progress.

“Am I going to get you in any trouble with the rest of the snakes?” Hermione asked once they were out in the liberating air of Hogwarts’ corridors.

Parkinson gave Hermione a disbelieving look. “As if anyone would dare challenge me, especially not the younger years.”

Hermione nodded. She didn’t want Parkinson having to face a mutiny because of their association.

“So why is Draco in the Infirmary?” Parkinson asked.

“He got himself beaten up by Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan. I don’t know what happened or what was said, but as I arrived to Arithmancy, Seamus was holding Malfoy down whilst Dean punched him,” she informed the Slytherin girl.

Parkinson’s eyes flashed with anger but that was the only visible reaction. “He asked for you,” Hermione added, not really sure why it felt important to mention that.

Parkinson smiled briefly at that and Hermione took it to mean that it was significant to her. “Thanks, Granger,” was all Parkinson said as they split up to go their separate ways.

Hermione made it into her Arithmancy class for the final twenty minutes. It was enough for her to pick up the homework and check what they were going to be studying next lesson. She noticed that Dean kept his hands under his desk at all times. You didn’t have to be a genius to work out he’d been fighting if you caught a glimpse of them and, as Hermione’s note from Madam Pomfrey had included some information on Malfoy, it wouldn’t take Professor Vector no more than a few seconds to piece it all together.

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

Pansy walked into the Infirmary. Madam Pomfrey gave her a level stare as if to check she wasn’t meant to be in class. She then gestured to the bed at the end of the ward with the curtain pulled around. Pansy nodded her thanks. She pulled back the curtain and gasped a little as she saw the yellowing bruises dotted over Draco’s face. Pomfrey had obviously healed them but they would remain yellowy for a few more hours.

“I see Granger found you then,” Draco said.

“Yes, she caused a bit of a stir walking into the Slytherin common room,” she replied.

Draco just quirked an eyebrow at that and went back to staring at the wall.

“What happened, Draco?” Pansy asked.

“I fell down the stairs,” he lied.

Pansy sighed. So it was back to this Draco. She had hoped that he’d want to be honest after their conversation at the lake.

“I’ve spoken to Granger,” she said, simply.

He grimaced. “She can’t stop meddling. Of course she told you everything. It would be impossible for her to keep her mouth shut.”

Pansy shook her head. “Why do you have to be so awful to her all the time? This is the second time she’s got you out of a mess in less than a week.”

He just looked at her. “What is it with you and Granger? Does Blaise have something to be worried about? You’re sounding as if you have a crush on her more and more these days. I remember when your day wasn’t complete without tormenting her at least once.”

“I grew up, Draco, and I appreciate that Granger is helping us out. She doesn’t have to. She could wish us a million miles away like everyone else but she can’t turn a blind eye and I respect that, which means I respect her.”

“Then it really is the dawn of a new era,” he said, sarcastically.

“Are you going to tell me what happened, then?” she asked again.

“Are you going to shut up about Granger if I do?” Draco bargained.

She rolled her eyes. “I won’t mention her for the rest of the day.”

“Thomas and Finnegan were looking for a fight so I gave them a reason for one,” he said briefly.

“That’s it?” Pansy said.

“Pretty much. Thomas has been angry with me since I got back. Can’t say I blame him. That prolonged stay in the Malfoy dungeons can’t have been pleasant. Finnegan appears to be along for the ride. They wanted a fight and were determined to press my buttons until they got one. I just decided to take the short-cut.”

Pansy looked at Draco with sad eyes and it made him sigh. “Don’t start, Pansy. Get rid of all that pity. That’s the situation and I’ve accepted it.”

“You shouldn’t have to accept it,” she replied.

Draco laughed bitterly. “I shouldn’t? People are hardly going to welcome me with open arms if I apologise for all the shit that went down at Malfoy Manor. What should I do? Walk hand-in-hand with Granger as if to proclaim my newfound love for Muggle-borns? The kindest thing anyone would say to that is that I’m being a typical Malfoy opportunist.”

Pansy recognised the reality of that statement. Draco had always so vehemently made his feelings on Voldemort and Muggle-borns known. She had, too, but people were willing to ignore her if she kept her head down. Draco wasn’t likely to be so lucky. He’d unwittingly come to represent Voldemort’s movement for their generation. Whilst Pansy might get away with a change in opinion, everyone would just view any such change in Draco with scepticism. He was too wealthy, too good-looking, and had been too conspicuous in his views to slide under the radar now.

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

Hermione walked into her common room after a long day. She was met with a welcoming committee of Harry, Ron and Ginny with Seamus and Dean hovering in the background. She sighed. “Do we really have to do this now?” she asked.

“Yes,” Ron and Harry said in unison.

Hermione’s shoulders slumped and she placed her bag on the floor next to her desk in the corner of the room. “Okay, let’s get it over and done with.”

“What the bloody hell was that all about today, Hermione?” Ron started.

Hermione gave him an unimpressed stare. “You really expected me just to step over Malfoy and go into the classroom?”

“Yes, it’s what he would have done if the situation had been reversed,” Ron replied.

Hermione huffed. “He probably would have kicked me in the stomach for good measure, actually. But I’m not going to lower myself to his level. I’m Head Girl at Hogwarts and I take my role seriously. That doesn’t just mean that I’m Head Girl for Gryffindor, but for Slytherins also, and if I see something like that taking place then I will get involved.”

“Look, Hermione, we get that, we really do. But you went out of your way for him,” Harry said.

Hermione could feel her temper rising. She got that Malfoy was a git who’d done lots of disreputable things but that didn’t mean she was going to realign all her morals for him. The fact that Harry and Ron didn’t get that made her very annoyed. “I don’t get why you are so surprised with me. You know how much I hate injustice and what Dean and Seamus were doing was wrong. Malfoy has done horrible things but I don’t condone revenge.”

“You don’t know what he said to me,” Dean said.

“You’re right, I don’t. But, I think, I - of all people - probably have a good idea. I’ve taken more than my fair share of Malfoy’s nasty comments and I bet there was something about Mudbloods in there,” Hermione replied.

“And he spoke about Dean going back into the dungeon at Malfoy Manor,” Ron jumped in, incensed.

Hermione briefly closed her eyes and cursed Malfoy for being such a monumental and insensitive prat. “And you couldn’t just insult him back or punch him once without Seamus holding him back?” Hermione asked Dean.

“Is that all you’ve got to say about it?” Ron gasped.

Hermione looked around helplessly. The only person who wasn’t getting aggressive and seemed to be watching from the sidelines was Ginny. She briefly met Hermione’s eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say boys. It was a small sign of support but Hermione latched onto it and used it help control her anger. “What do you want me to say, Ron? I’m not surprised. Malfoy was always good at opening his mouth.”

“You’re just shrugging it off. Probably because you didn’t see that dungeon,” Dean said bitterly.

“No,” Hermione bit back, “because I was upstairs under the Cruciatus Curse by Bellatrix. Were any of you tortured during the war? No, I didn’t think so. But that doesn’t mean I go around with a chip on my shoulder and looking to beat up Slytherins.”

Three of the four boys in front of her had the sense to look shamefaced at this. Hermione hadn’t been including Harry in that diatribe and he seemed to realise this. Ron shuffled his feet “Hermione, I …” He started to say.

Hermione held her hand up. “No, I don’t want to hear it. I’m tired of fighting, I’m tired of war, and more than anything I’m tired of being told that I have be hostile to groups of people. I want to move on and start living my life, and I don’t care if that doesn’t fit your agenda. Now if you don’t mind, I have homework to get on with.”

They all moved towards the door. “Hang on, what did McGonagall say about this?” she asked Dean and Seamus.

They looked confused for a moment and then a little startled. “She hasn’t come to find us, which means Malfoy hasn’t said anything about it.”

Hermione wasn’t too surprised. She’d noticed that the Malfoy that had come out of Azkaban wasn’t too interested in running to the professors to report Gryffindor rule-breaking anymore. “So it seems that Malfoy lied for you. Maybe that will be a reason to leave him alone. The Malfoy of old would have wasted no time in trying to get you both kicked out of Hogwarts.”

Dean looked a little thoughtful at this and nodded almost imperceptibly at Hermione. She took that to mean that he wouldn’t be seeking Malfoy out. Hermione knew that he’d keep Seamus in check, too.

After they’d left, Hermione collapsed onto the sofa and rubbed her hands over her eyes. She’d have to go and speak to Malfoy now and find out just why he hadn’t grassed up Dean and Seamus. There was something not quite right with Malfoy and it wasn’t the obvious fact that he had just got out of Azkaban and was drinking too heavily. The way Pansy was busting a gut to save him was suspicious enough, but now he’d passed up an opportunity to get Dean and Seamus in some real trouble. Malfoy wouldn’t usually hesitate in that situation but it seemed he was keeping his mouth shut and Hermione wanted to know why.

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

Later that evening, Hermione went up to the Infirmary. She’d needed some time to relax after being ambushed by her friends and didn’t want to face Malfoy when her nerves were strung way too tight. Now she felt slightly ready. She pushed open the door and stood there for a few minutes. The Infirmary was deserted. Damn it, this would mean that she would have to try and track him down at some point.

Chapter Text

If Hermione didn’t know any better she’d think that Malfoy was avoiding her. He had no reason to do so, as he wasn’t even aware that she wanted to speak to him about the events outside their Arithmancy classroom. But he was hardly ever around, and when she did see him it was in inappropriate places where they were both surrounded by people who would be far too interested in why she wanted to speak to him. Hermione contemplated asking Pansy to arrange a time.

She was pacing back and forth during her office hours, debating the pros and cons of such an action. After a while, Hermione gave up trying to make a decision. She looked up at the clock on the wall and gave a relieved sigh as she saw that her office hours were over. She hated being indecisive about things - they played over and over in her mind and stopped her from throwing all her energy and focus into studying. She locked the office with her wand and turned to go back up to her common room where she could spend more time trying to figure out what she should do. But her luck was seemingly in. There in the Entrance Hall, coming up from the Slytherin dungeon was Malfoy bundled up in his cloak and apparently heading outside. Hermione threw her own cloak carelessly over her shoulders and pulled up her hood and followed him as stealthily as she could.

“How the fuck you managed to sneak around the UK destroying Horcruxes is a mystery to me,” Malfoy commented when he’d finally reached his destination, a secluded area of the lake shoreline.

Hermione pouted a little at that. Okay, so she wasn’t the best at the whole moving-silently-thing but she didn’t think she was that bad. He took one look at her face and seemed to read her pique. “Yes, I knew you were following me pretty much as soon as we got outside. Your shoes squeak.”

Hermione shot a baleful glare at her shoes, as if they had done it on purpose.

“Are you just going to stand around sulking or did you follow me for a reason, Princess?” he asked.

She refused to take the bait. Malfoy looked as if he was itching for an argument and she wasn’t in the mood to give him the ammunition to start one. “I wanted to speak to you about the other day,” she finally said.

“What other day?”

“Don’t play dense, Malfoy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Why didn’t you tell Madam Pomfrey the real reason you were in the Infirmary?” she asked, getting straight to the point.

“There’s that Gryffindor subtlety again. If I tell you, will you stop meddling in my affairs?” he asked.

Hermione stalked forward until she was standing directly in front of the tall blond. “Why didn’t you tell on Dean and Seamus?”

“What good would it have done? Now Thomas has got his desire to punch me out of his system, we can go back to pretending the other doesn’t exist,” Malfoy said.

She thought about that for a moment. “Is that what you want? For everyone to leave you alone?”

“Wow, Granger, I can really see that you earn those top marks with brains like that,” he said sarcastically.

“You’d have looked to get Dean and Seamus kicked out as quickly as possible not that long ago.”

“Yeah, well, things change,” he murmured.

Hermione didn’t think she was actually meant to hear that. Although, it explained some things when she thought about it; she didn’t really expect Malfoy to come out of a life-changing experience like Azkaban with zero changes. “So if you want people to stop bothering you, why do you walk around the school with your Dark Mark on display as if you’re proud of it?”

Malfoy scoffed a little at that. “It’s what everyone expects. I’m Hogwarts’ very own Death Eater, a freak show on display for the masses to gawp at.”

“Why don’t you show them that you’re not that person?” she asked.

He rolled his eyes at that. “I’m not a Gryffindor, Granger, looking to go out and prove myself to everyone, desperate for their approval.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to give them what they want, either. Why did you mention the dungeons at Malfoy Manor to Dean?”

Hermione swore that Malfoy’s cheek tinged with the faintest colour of pink and he evaded her eyes, gazing out over the lake. “He’s wanted to fight me since I got back. I decided that instead of waiting for him to get the guts to punch me, I’d give him the ammunition he needed to get it out of his system.”

“It was cruel,” she responded.

“Yeah, well, I’m a Malfoy.”

“So was your mum a Malfoy when she opted to lie to Voldemort and tell him Harry was dead? A surname doesn’t define you, Malfoy, your actions do.”

He looked up at the sky for a brief moment. “Don’t you ever get sick of being so fucking noble and superior all the time, Granger?”

“Is that really how you see me?” she countered.

“I don’t think you want to know how I see you,” he commented.

“You’re so bloody predictable, Malfoy. I can make an educated guess on how you see me. It probably involves sentences with lots of ‘Mudblood’ and ‘typical Gryffindor’ added in.”

Malfoy smirked at her. It wasn’t the usual sneering smirk but one that looked a little endearing, as if he was actually amused. “If you say so, Princess.”

“So, are you going to stop trying to prove everyone right about you?” Hermione persisted.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re too optimistic?”

“Frequently.”

“Maybe, Princess, maybe.” he said before throwing her that smirk again and walking away.

Hermione couldn’t work him out at all. Sometimes he made her think that he hadn’t changed at all, that he was still the same little prick who firmly believed in pure-blood superiority. And then there were other times when he’d throw out a tantalising glimpse of a completely different Malfoy. One who’d have grown more philosophical. This was the Malfoy who Hermione thought Pansy was fighting for.

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

The next Hogsmeade trip was approaching. Hermione was feeling a lot more relaxed about this one.

The first trip at the end of October had thrown her into a flurry of anxiety. She and Anthony Goldstein were meant to be on hand for any mishaps in the village and there had been a few on that trip. Hermione had been annoyed to find that Anthony was no-where to be seen and she’d had to be the one to deal with third-years who’d eaten too many Honeydukes sweets and were vomiting round the side of the shop. She hadn’t been too impressed when she’d come across Anthony in the Three Broomsticks, sitting with a load of Ravenclaws, regaling them with stories of his time in Dumbledore’s Army and how great a Head Boy he made. But that was Anthony all around. He was vain and thought he was a lot better than he actually was. He barely pulled his weight and Hermione found herself picking up a lot of his slack. But he gave a good impression of being a bustling Head Boy and this annoyed Hermione even more. She found herself cursing McGonagall’s decision to appoint him alongside her more than once. She knew that Harry certainly hadn’t wanted the position, but thought that Neville would have made an admirable candidate. He’d led the resistance against the Carrows’ reign of terror and had become a figurehead in Harry’s absence. But she guessed that McGonagall hadn’t wanted to appear to favour her house over all others in her first proper year in charge and Hermione had always been a shoe-in for the position.

This trip Hermione was adamant that she wasn’t going to be doing all the work. Andromeda was bringing Teddy to see her. Harry and Ron had been upset to miss the visit, but they had detention after being caught spying on the Ravenclaw Quidditch Team. Madam Hooch had them helping teach the first-years to fly. This time Hermione was determined that the majority of her afternoon would be spent with them. Teddy was such a positive force in her and Harry’s life especially and Andromeda had pretty much become Hermione’s magical mother. She’d always love Molly, but she and Andromeda had become incredibly close over the summer. She had opted to stay with her whilst her parents were being tracked down in Australia because Andromeda had lost everyone: her husband, her daughter, and her son-in-law. She’d been left with only her grandson, and Hermione - who also felt very alone - had cleaved to her. Harry was a definite presence in Teddy’s life as his godfather, but he was immersed in the Weasley family. He’d wanted to make up for lost time with Ginny whereas Hermione had felt a little awkward after her romance with Ron had fizzled out.

Molly had made no secret of the fact that she’d wanted Hermione as a daughter-in-law, and she’d tried to push the pair back together even though it was obvious that they had no real romantic feelings towards each other. They were great as friends but really rubbish when it came to actually dating. Hermione found herself getting annoyed with Ron’s laid-back attitude and he’d resented that Hermione had held the reigns, making all the decisions and driving the relationship. It was unequal and it hadn’t worked because of it.

Hermione was meeting Andromeda in the much less frequented Hog’s Head Inn. Hermione suspected Andromeda wouldn’t want to deal with the hustle and bustle of the Three Broomsticks, and the bucket load of sympathy Madam Rosmerta would give her. As fortune had it, Hermione bumped into Andromeda on the road, a short way from the Hogs Head. A big smile broke out on Hermione’s face as she embraced the older witch and took Teddy in her arms for a massive hug.

“Teddy, you get bigger every time I see you.”

She got a gummy smile in return from the baby who was nearly a year old. He also changed his hair so it matched Hermione’s riotous brown curls. “That’s not a good look, Teddy. My curls are the bane of my life! Although, I like the bottom teeth you have now – they match your top two.”

“I’m not so keen on them. He bites me with them and they are razor sharp,” Andromeda moaned.

“You are as naughty as your daddy was, Teddy,” Hermione laughed.

When they walked into the Hog’s Head, Andromeda was filling Hermione in on Teddy’s exploits; it seemed the little tearaway could now cruise around the front room, grabbing anything at standing height. She was giggling at Andromeda’s story of Teddy almost getting his little hands on a Weasley Product when George had last visited. They definitely weren’t suitable for babies. Andromeda stopped mid-flow and Hermione looked up from Teddy, who was tugging on one of her curls rather painfully.

There, standing in front of them, looking just as uncomfortable, were Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. They’d obviously had the same idea about coming to the otherwise deserted Hog’s Head, albeit Malfoy probably wasn’t welcome in the Three Broomsticks, after using the Imperio curse on Madam Rosmerta.

“This isn’t too awkward,” Hermione heard Malfoy mutter sarcastically.

She looked at Andromeda who was looking a little stricken at the sight of her sister. She touched Hermione briefly on the shoulder before whirling around and dashing out of the pub. Hermione gazed after her with incredibly sad eyes. She knew how much Andromeda missed having a blood family, despite how supportive the Weasleys were to her.

An anguished cry of “Andromeda!” got Hermione’s attention back from the door towards Narcissa Malfoy, who then dashed after her sister. This left Malfoy and Hermione with nothing to do but to stare at each other awkwardly. Teddy broke the deadlock by gurgling and turning his hair to the Malfoy blond. Malfoy stared in puzzlement at the baby.

“He’s a Metamorphmagus,” Hermione explained. “Your cousin Tonks was one too.”

Malfoy just nodded, looking away from the infant, a little embarrassed to be caught staring. Aberforth Dumbledore chose to make his appearance just then. He looked from Hermione to Malfoy before addressing Hermione to see what she wanted.

“Er … I’m just waiting for Andromeda to come back,” she said, not sure if they would be staying now.

Aberforth just looked at Malfoy who ordered a Firewhiskey. Hermione tutted in disapproval at Malfoy’s drinking habits. He just smirked at her before subtly pulling a new hipflask from his pocket. “Guess I don’t need you to retrieve the other from the Weasel after all.”

Hermione pursed her lips and shifted Teddy to her other hip. He was squirming to get down but she wasn’t putting him near the floor of this grungy old pub. Not before she could Scourgify it thoroughly first. Hermione was taken unawares when Teddy suddenly lunged towards Malfoy. She had trouble grasping onto his wriggling legs, but luckily, Malfoy had the reflexes of a Seeker, and caught hold of the baby before he toppled head first out of Hermione’s arms.

“And my aunt left you with her grandson. Just because he’s not a book, Granger, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be handled carefully.”

Hermione just gave Malfoy a baleful glare but couldn’t help but laugh slightly when he winced as Teddy reached up and grabbed his hair. Aberforth looked unimpressed with the whole scene. Hermione meandered towards a table in the corner and jumped a little when Malfoy pulled out a chair opposite her.

“What?” he asked at her look of surprise as he sat down. “I couldn’t exactly leave with this brat attached to my hair. I’d probably be accused of kidnapping with intent to murder.”

There was nothing she could really say to that - it was true. Hermione snatched Malfoy’s drink from across the table as she noticed him raising his free hand to grab it.

“If you wanted one, you only had to ask,” he commented.

She flushed a little at her seemingly desperate actions. “You’re not drinking whilst holding Teddy.”

“I think I can manage a tiny drink and holding a baby at the same time,” he said.

“How many babies have you held before?” she asked.

“Well…none,” he confessed.

“So you aren’t drinking whilst holding him,” she emphasised.

Malfoy pouted, looking a little like Teddy if his milk wasn’t ready in time. He then attempted to hand the baby back to Hermione, but Teddy wailed, apparently liking his cousin. She was a little put out at Teddy’s behaviour. He normally loved sitting on her knee and playing with her, but instead he was choosing to sit with a snarky blond, who looked more than a little revolted by the baby’s gummy smiles and cheerful gurgles.

The pair sat opposite each other in silence for what felt like forever. Hermione had amused herself for a little while by playing peek-a-boo with Teddy until she’d caught sight of Malfoy, who was giving her a contemptuous glare. She then started sipping his drink just to have something to do with her hands. She kept her eyes firmly away from Malfoy’s face, not wanting to see him smirking at her.

Finally, Hermione heard the two women coming back. She suddenly thought about Malfoy’s nasty tongue. She wouldn’t put up with it if he were horrible to Andromeda. The woman had been through enough; she didn’t need her nephew giving her a hard time. She leant forward and grabbed Malfoy’s hand. “Don’t you dare say anything outrageous to Andromeda,” she hissed at him. “If you say anything about Tonks or Lupin or anything even remotely cutting, you’ll regret it. Do you understand?”

“Princess, I didn’t realise you thought so highly of me,” he replied.

“Have you ever given me any reason to think that there is even a shred of common decency in you?”

There was no time for anything else to be said as the women were practically upon them. Hermione whipped her hand off Malfoy’s before either sister could see it. She smiled and turned towards Andromeda. She was pleased that nothing too terrible seemed to have happened in their absence. Both women looked subdued and they had obviously been crying.

“Draco? Is that Teddy?” Mrs. Malfoy asked, seemingly surprised by the sight of her son holding a baby.

“I guess so. I didn’t ask Granger his name, but assumed that’s who he is. I had to take him off her, she practically dropped him,” he replied.

Hermione shot him a venomous glance before looking up at Andromeda. “I didn’t almost drop him, Andromeda. Teddy decided that he wanted to make Malfoy’s acquaintance and flung himself at him. Don’t ask me why he wanted to meet the horrible ferret,” Hermione mumbled at the end. The fact that Malfoy then shot her a nasty glare meant that she’d said that louder than she’d meant to.

Andromeda smiled at the bristling curly-haired witch. “Hermione, don’t worry, you know I trust you implicitly with Teddy and know that you wouldn’t drop him.”

The two sisters settled down at the table, Andromeda next to Hermione and Narcissa next to Malfoy. An awkward silence descended over the quartet before Teddy gurgled and playfully took a swipe at Narcissa’s earring.

“Oh you beautiful baby,” Narcissa cooed, tickling him under the chin. “Is it all right if I hold him, Andromeda?”

Andromeda nodded her consent. It would be ridiculous to refuse anyway, Hermione thought, considering that Malfoy was currently holding him. “He has my hair colour!” Narcissa exclaimed, seemingly thrilled at the prospect.

Andromeda smiled in apology. “Actually, we don’t know what his real colour hair is. He’s a Metamorphmagus, like my Nymphadora was. He likes to change his hair to match whoever is holding him.”

“I didn’t know Nymphadora was a Metamorphmagus. You must have been very proud,” Narcissa commented.

Andromeda smiled tearfully. “I was very proud of her. She could be infuriating, but she was such a passionate and intelligent girl.”

Narcissa leant across the table and patted Andromeda’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it all up again. And now you have Teddy, who is gorgeous.”

Hermione was feeling horrendously out of place. Whilst she was fairly amazed at the dynamic between the two sisters, and how friendly Narcissa Malfoy was being, she felt uncomfortable. Like she was horribly intruding on a sensitive family moment, which she supposed she was. It was some consolation to see that Malfoy wasn’t looking any more at home than she was, and he belonged to the family by blood.

Hermione saw Narcissa nudge Malfoy, who looked towards her and seemed to read something from her facial expression. “Would you like a drink, Aunt Andromeda?” he asked politely.

“A glass of wine would be nice, Draco,” Andromeda responded.

Malfoy rose from his seat and walked back towards the bar. Hermione now felt even more awkward. She apparently didn’t even rate the most basic of manners and was just ignored. What did she expect from the Malfoys? That they’d actually change their opinion towards Muggle-borns? Hermione went to gather up her belongings. “I’m going to go and check if everything’s okay with Anthony,” she murmured to Andromeda.

“Oh, Hermione, please don’t leave,” Andromeda said quietly back. “You being here means a lot to me.”

Hermione was now effectively trapped. There was no way she was going to desert Andromeda if she wanted her there. So she sat uncomfortably, listening, but not contributing, as the two sisters sat and talked, mainly about Teddy. It appeared the baby was a safe topic. Malfoy returned with a tray. He put wine glasses down in front of his mother and aunt and then a tumbler of Firewhiskey in front of Hermione. She looked at him, confused.

“I didn’t know you drank spirits, Hermione,” Andromeda commented.

“I don’t. I’m not very good with alcohol.”

“Why did you get Miss Granger Firewhiskey, Draco?” Narcissa asked.

“She did a pretty good job of draining my previous drink,” Malfoy replied.

The older women looked at Hermione, who blushed. “I didn’t mean to drink it. I was just making sure you wouldn’t drink it when holding Teddy,” she responded.

“If you say so, Granger,” he responded.

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

Draco sipped his drink contemplatively. He could see how happy his mother was to be talking to her sister after so many years. He knew that she’d missed her a lot, but had never suggested getting in contact before. Lucius would never have allowed it. Andromeda had betrayed pure-blood society by marrying Ted Tonks, and then her daughter had compounded the bad blood by marrying that werewolf freak, Remus Lupin. Draco would have paid half his fortune for his father to see his wife sitting there cooing over the half-lycanthrope baby. Lucius would’ve had a fit but Draco was pleased to see his mother actually enjoying herself. Not many people would acknowledge her these days. The pure-blood families who’d escaped being too closely connected to the Dark Lord certainly didn’t want anything to do with the Malfoys now.

His aunt Andromeda seemed pretty pleased by the situation that had developed, as well. He didn’t know much about her. She hadn’t really ever been mentioned in their house whilst he was growing up. He’d been vaguely aware of her, but that was it. He hadn’t known that she’d had a daughter who’d married Remus Lupin until Lord Voldemort had started to mock his father about it. That had rankled them pretty highly. He was surprised to see that his aunt was close with Hermione Granger. He thought Granger had been immersed into the Weasley family and would spend every second with them, but from what he’d gathered from the conversation between the three witches, Granger had been staying a lot with Andromeda.

Draco did find it amusing to see that the Head Girl got gigglier with every sip of Firewhiskey she took. It seemed that she really couldn’t hold her alcohol. He wasn’t surprised, seeing as she was the goody-goody type. She probably hadn’t drunk anything stronger than Butterbeer before.

After about forty minutes, Andromeda and Hermione got up to leave. Narcissa had been clinging onto Teddy for the entire time and was now looking upset at having to let him go. Draco had never understood why she hadn’t had more children. The one time he’d mentioned it, she’d murmured something about his father and Malfoy tradition.

“Just don’t hand the baby over to Granger,” Draco whispered into his mother’s ear.

She turned to look at him, surprised. “Why not?” she asked.

“Because she’s barely steady on her feet. The girl really can’t drink,” he replied.

Narcissa seemed to take this advice on board and gave Teddy back to Andromeda. The sisters hugged and promised to stay in touch. Draco looked over to Hermione, who was viewing the situation with teary eyes. Bloody bleeding heart. “Guess I’ll see you around, Granger,” he said.

She started and looked towards him. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Don’t sound too enthusiastic at the prospect.”

The brunette just looked confused at his words. He decided he liked the bewildered look in her eyes. She never looked at a loss, she was always so commandingly in control of situations, and it was fun to mess with that.

“Okay, whatever, Malfoy,” she responded, ineloquently.

Draco smirked at her before turning towards his aunt, who was watching the pair of them with a question in her eyes. Great, now he’d sparked curiosity about his feelings towards the insufferable know-it-all. Draco said his goodbyes to his aunt and didn’t look at Granger again. The last thing he needed was for people to think he was actually interested in the girl when he just liked to rile her up.

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

Hermione giggled once more as she bumped into the doorframe on her way out.

“Minerva is going to have my head for getting her Head Girl drunk,” Andromeda commented, amused at Hermione’s intolerance for Firewhiskey.

“You can just blame it on Malfoy. She’d be happy to blame him and finally be rid of him,” Hermione responded.

Andromeda thought about that. She hadn’t really given her only nephew much consideration before. “Is he having trouble fitting back into Hogwarts?” she asked.

“It’s Malfoy, of course he has trouble. He’s just lost the ability to swagger around the place and bully those younger and weaker than him.”

Andromeda snorted a little at that. Like father, like son, it seemed. She’d never liked Narcissa marrying Lucius Malfoy. He’d encouraged the snob in her sister to run amok. But Narcissa had been wildly in love with him. “So what does he do, then?”

“Drink. He’s trying to drown his sorrows away,” Hermione replied.

Andromeda thought back to the small conversation between Hermione and her nephew just a few minutes ago. “Does he give you much trouble?” she asked, interested.

“Not really. Well, I mean, he has a bit but not deliberately. I’ve just caught him out and about after curfew a bit, and, well, there was that incident in the broom closet,” Hermione said, blushing as she realised the alcohol had loosened her tongue a little too much.

“What incident in the broom closet?”

“Oh it was nothing,” Hermione said airily. Andromeda shot her a knowing look. She could read the conflict on the younger witch’s face. There was obviously something bothering her and by her indecision, it was obviously important.

“Well, we got dumped in a broom closet when he was really drunk and he … er … kissed me, well, my neck … er … a lot,” Hermione said, turning bright red.

Andromeda’s eyebrows rose. Maybe there was more to the strange chemistry between the two youngsters than she’d initially picked up on. “He kissed you?” she repeated.

“He was really drunk and didn’t know what he was doing. He thought he’d arranged to meet me in there for a rendezvous, but Parkinson and Zabini had just shoved us in there to stop Slughorn from finding him drunk,” Hermione explained. “But it was confusing. I mean, he was completely out of it, but then he seemed to know who I was at the end and didn’t go on about catching Mudblood germs or anything.”

Andromeda tried to keep the smile from her face. Hermione was obviously confused about it all, but it was a pretty amusing situation. The pure-blood Malfoy heir and this intelligent - but slightly uptight - young girl. Now that would make for an interesting and fairly explosive combination.

“What are you thinking?” Hermione asked.

“I think Draco may have slightly deeper feelings for you then even he realises,” she replied.

Hermione pressed her hands against her reddened cheeks. “I’m sure you’re wrong. He’s always been so horrible to me and he’d never lower himself to date a Muggle-born.”

Andromeda knew not to push that idea. It would only confuse Hermione even more. “What do you think of him?”

“He’s just as infuriating and annoying as ever, but I can’t find it in my heart to hate him like Ron and Harry do. From things he’s let slip, he’s hurting more than anyone realises and I think he just needs help.”

Andromeda suppressed the smile that wanted to come out. Maybe Draco wasn’t the only one who had hidden feelings. It was more than possible Hermione was just being compassionate. She never could bear to see anyone suffering for no reason and it was certainly in her nature to try and help. But there was just something between the pair that, if allowed, could blossom into something much deeper. Andromeda couldn’t help but think that was exactly what the wizarding world needed right now - something unexpected to unify them. Hermione and Draco certainly would fulfil the unexpected bit, but she also thought that they could unify sections of the community who would otherwise have remained stubbornly apart.

Oh, but it wouldn’t be easy. Hermione’s two best friends, for a start, and Lucius Malfoy would pitch an almighty hissy fit, which would be heard all the way from Azkaban. But Hermione was more than capable of handling Harry and Ron, and, if Draco could live up to the potential she saw in him, then he would be more than capable of putting his father in his place. It was all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ at the moment but Andromeda reckoned with a little encouragement and support, the pair could make a go of it. She’d have to see what Narcissa made of it and if she’d picked up on any of the vibes between her son and Hermione that Andromeda had.

Fortunately, Hermione had no inkling of the radical thoughts currently racing through Andromeda’s mind, or the trouble they were about to unleash.

Chapter Text

Pansy almost choked on her toast as she read the letter from Narcissa Malfoy she had received that morning. She’d made sure Draco wasn’t around before opening it. He may be withdrawing into himself at the moment but she was pretty sure that he would show some interest if he noticed that she was receiving post from his mother. The letter was an interesting read and made Pansy realise that she would have to keep her eyes open a lot more. It seemed that Andromeda and Narcissa had picked up on something during their recent trip to Hogsmeade, more than Pansy had in six weeks back at Hogwarts. She supposed that sometimes it helped having a fresh pair of eyes but she still felt slightly annoyed that she hadn’t even had an inkling of any possible feelings between Draco and Granger.

“What’s wrong?” Blaise asked as he rubbed her back to help calm her coughing fit from the stray piece of toast currently lodged in her throat.

Pansy debated for a brief moment on whether she should mention anything to Blaise or not. She decided against it. Not because she didn’t trust her boyfriend, but because he was more likely to be shocked and accidently screw everything up. He had a rocky relationship with Draco and could always be counted on to annoy the volatile blond out of principle.

“Nothing,” she said, tucking the letter into her bag. “I just got a letter from Pippa. She’s pregnant.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. Her older sister was pregnant but she’d forgotten to tell Blaise when she found out last week.

Blaise offered his congratulations. Pansy smiled; it wasn’t so exciting as this was her sister’s second child.

Pansy looked across the Great Hall at Granger and once again thought about the letter. It was an interesting concept, Granger and Draco, and she could see it working. It would take Hogwarts by surprise of course, and there would be the people who would be scandalised. Pansy moved her eyes to the brunette’s two best friends. Potter and Weasley would do their utmost to nip any potential relationship in the bud. There was no love lost between them and Draco. But she was getting ahead of herself. There was nothing concrete to work with yet, and if Draco did harbour any feelings for Granger, then he certainly wasn’t aware of them. Granger’s own feelings towards Draco were of an unknown quantity. Pansy decided it was time that she properly befriended the girl. She doubted that she would succeed but it was worth a go.

So she made sure she fell in step next to her on their way to Ancient Runes and started up a conversation on the latest topic they were covering. When that had been exhausted, Pansy looked to start on what she really wanted to talk about: the Hogsmeade trip. She wondered whether she could get Granger to open up to her about it. She wasn’t holding her breath, though.

“Did you have a good time at Hogsmeade last weekend? I didn’t see you about. I saw Goldstein looking pretty annoyed at having to deal with some bratty fourth-years.”

Granger smiled a little cheekily. “I made sure I paid Anthony back for his disappearance during the last Hogsmeade trip by planning my own vanishing trick.”

Pansy laughed. “It serves him right. I swear, if I have to overhear one more conversation about how he’s the greatest Head Boy since time began, I’m going to puke.”

Granger sighed. “It is rather tiresome. I wish he’d spend as much time on his actual duties as he did on boasting about how brilliant he is at them, especially as I have to pick up half of them in the end.” Granger then looked guilty at speaking badly about her co-Head. “Don’t mind me. I’m just a little cranky.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to run off and tell anyone. The Slytherins don’t care either way.”

Granger smiled back. “I didn’t think you would.”

“Yes, you did, and I don’t blame you. Three years ago I’d have spread some pretty nasty rumours if I’d overheard you say something like that.”

“Given a scoop to Rita Skeeter about the jumped-up Muggle-born?” Granger teased.

Pansy looked a little guilty. “Well, yes, probably. I do apologise for that, Granger.”

Granger patted her arm. “It’s okay. Many worse things have happened since then and it would be churlish of me not to forgive you. I think you can call me Hermione, too.”

“I’d like that but only if you call me Pansy,” Pansy replied. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard getting Granger to trust her after all. “So where did you disappear to? I didn’t see you around at all.”

“I met up with Andromeda Tonks. I stayed with her over the summer when the Ministry were trying to track my parents down. She’s become like a second mother to me,” Hermione said.

“Oh, I thought that would be the Weasley mum,” Pansy said.

“I love Molly dearly but I guess Andromeda’s was an easier place to stay at. She had no one - like me.”

“Isn’t she Draco’s aunt?” Pansy asked.

“Yes, although she’s been estranged from her birth family because she married a Muggle-born,” Hermione explained.

Pansy waited in vain for anything else to be added. Obviously she knew that they’d bumped into Draco and his mum but Granger wasn’t opening up on that. If anything, this made Pansy like the Gryffindor girl even more. She wasn’t one to go around blabbing secrets to everyone who would listen and Pansy respected that a lot.

-----------

Hermione was having a strange day. Seamus and Dean were finally talking to her again, which she was really pleased about, but it did lead to lots of barbed comments about putting snakes before your friends. Ron, in particular, was joining in with these enthusiastically. He had been pretty disappointed when his plan to wind Malfoy up using the stolen hipflask had failed miserably. Malfoy, it appeared, had not cared and, as she now knew, had easily replaced the item. Then Pansy had become super-friendly towards her. She supposed she shouldn’t be too suspicious about this. It was obvious that the Slytherin had undergone a radical change towards her previous beliefs, but Hermione couldn’t help feeling cautious about it. Maybe it was because she had been thinking so much about the conversation she’d had with Andromeda last week.

The fact that the older woman had implied that Malfoy may have some sort of feelings - other than revulsion - towards her had thrown her a little. She couldn’t help but think that this could in no-way be true. It was Malfoy; he’d always made Hermione feel like the ugliest woman in the universe. He’d spent years picking apart her appearance. She had already been confused about the whole situation, but now she was even more uncertain. She didn’t loathe Malfoy the way she had done previously. Indeed, she actually felt sorry for him. She also found herself noticing small things about him; like how attractive he was when he wasn’t putting on that irritating sneer. He had a nice smile and he flashed it at the most unexpected moments. Hermione also found herself wanting to smooth away the pain that she saw lurking deep in his eyes at times. She certainly wanted to shake him and make him stop drinking. But most of all she couldn’t work out why she cared what happened to him at all.

Hermione found herself enjoying the quiet of her patrol. She needed the time in order to try and sort out her disordered thoughts. However, she was cursing it being her day to patrol five minutes later when she happened upon the boy disturbing her thoughts passed out in the middle of the corridor. How he managed not to be found by any professors was beyond her. This was the third time she’d come across him in her patrols since he’d been back. She couldn’t help but note the location of where he was - it was outside the Room of Requirement. She guessed that he’d been thinking back upon events in their sixth and seventh years. She kicked his empty bottle of Firewhiskey away before realising that she should probably take it with her to dispose the evidence.

Hermione bent down and shook his shoulder. “Malfoy, wake up,” she whispered. “Come on, Malfoy, you’re in the middle of the corridor. Get up.”

Annoyingly, he was dead to the world. If anything was an advert for not drinking, he currently was it. What if someone who actually wished him harm had passed by? They could have done anything to him and he wouldn’t have been aware. She thought back to the incident with Dean and she was certain that if Dean ever caught Malfoy in such a state, the blond would be in for a lengthy stay in St. Mungo’s.

There was no way that Hermione would be able to pick up the dead weight of the tall Slytherin. She was going to have to levitate him, which meant taking him back to her common room. She was never going to be able to get him all the way back down to the dungeons without coming across Filch, Mrs Norris or, more worryingly, Peeves. Besides, this would be the first time she attempted to levitate a human.

Hermione lowered Malfoy onto her sofa and released a big sigh of relief. She’d nearly whacked his head on the door coming in, but had otherwise managed to get him back to her common room with no problems. He turned and snuggled into her cushions. She rolled her eyes but summoned her spare duvet and left a bottle of water sitting on the coffee table in front of him. It would be nice if he appreciated her actions in the morning but she wouldn’t hold her breath. She’d probably get another mouthful of insults from him, although he hadn’t used the ‘M’ word on her for a little while. That was appreciated. Hermione turned and went up to bed.

-----------

It was still dark when the crash woke her up. She sat up, disorientated, and grabbed her wand, which she still kept close to her at all times. It took Hermione a few seconds to realise that she was in her room at Hogwarts. She could hear some muttering coming from her small common room and her heart pounded in fear. Had Death Eaters managed to infiltrate the castle once more? She slid out of her bed and tiptoed across the floor. She pulled the door open slowly and rubbed her eyes a little when she saw Malfoy sitting on her common room floor, tangled up in a mess of duvet covers. Her sleep-filled brain then remembered that the war was over and she’d had to bring Malfoy back here because she’d found him passed out in the corridor.

Hermione couldn’t help but burst into laughter at the sight of the usually so proud young Malfoy.

“Granger? What the fuck? Where am I?” Malfoy growled, confused as he struggled to his feet.

“You’re in my common room, again, I hasten to add,” she replied.

“What the hell am I doing here?” he asked.

“You passed out and I found you in the middle of the corridor.”

Malfoy ran his hands through his hair. “Shit,” he said. “I don’t even remember leaving the Slytherin common room.”

She tutted and put her hands on her hips. “You can’t keep behaving like this, Malfoy. You could end up getting in a lot of trouble, or seriously hurt. You had no idea where you were and I couldn’t even rouse you,” she lectured.

“You sound just like Pansy. I don’t think I can deal with two bossy women nagging at me all the time.”

“If I didn’t have to keep dragging your ungrateful backside out of stupid situations, then you wouldn’t have to listen to me at all, let alone the nagging,” she huffed, stung that he was always so whiney about her help.

“Whatever, Granger,” he replied.

“No, that’s not an acceptable answer!” she shouted. “You have to stop drinking, Malfoy. It’s beginning to destroy you. You have no recollection of what you’re doing, and you’re wasting this last year at Hogwarts. How can you expect to get a job if you have bad N.E.W.T. results?”

“I hate to be the one to break it to you, Granger, but I actually don’t need to work,” he said smugly.

“So, what? You’re just going to hang around at home and get yourself into bad situations like your father?”

Hermione saw his jaw tense up. Okay, so maybe she shouldn’t have gone there. She had no idea what Malfoy’s relationship with his father was like and judging by that murderous look on his face, she probably shouldn’t have brought it up.

“Just because you spent a modicum of time with my mother and me doesn’t mean that you have any idea about my life.”

“I’m not presuming to tell you about your life…”

“It sounds like it to me,” he interrupted.

“But everyone knew your dad spent his time and fortune for nefarious purposes,” Hermione doggedly said.

“If I was you, I’d drop it, Granger.”

She sighed in frustration. She really had no idea how to talk to Malfoy. He was always so prickly but she couldn’t just sit back and not say anything to him about how ruinous his life was at the moment. He wasn’t even nineteen yet but he seemed determined to destroy himself.

“Look, all I’m saying is that you need to think of your future and not wallow in the past.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you have a glorious future mapped out in front of you. The golden girl of Hogwarts, the war heroine who will light up the wizarding world with her immense intelligence and dedication to improving society,” he said bitterly.

If Malfoy hadn’t all but spat that at her then she’d have been basking in the glow of his words. But, of course, he didn’t view his words as a compliment.

“Stop feeling so sorry for yourself. This self-pitying attitude you have isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Instead of moping around, why don’t you take it? You’ve always been so proud of your name. Why don’t you actually do something to make others proud of it too?” she said passionately. She really couldn’t abide this ‘woe is me’ attitude that Malfoy was adopting. It was weak and it was a waste of his talents.

He just looked at her, a little shell-shocked. “You were a pretty shitty Death Eater, thankfully, but you showed ingenuity and talent to get that Vanishing Cabinet working again, and, as much as it pains me to admit it, you’ve always been good at school. You were always only just behind me in the marks,” she continued.

Hermione was feeling a little shaky at all this emotion. Malfoy was now intently studying the fire, so she couldn’t tell if he was paying any attention to her words or not but she thought she might as well continue until she got it all off her chest. “Just start applying yourself again, Malfoy. Don’t let those that wish to see you fail win. You’re proving everyone right at the moment. Don’t you want to prove them all wrong about you? Don’t you want to hold your head up and show the world that you’re not just some little boy with stupid ideas who got used by Voldemort?”

He looked down at her and she could read the conflict in his eyes. At least she appeared to have breached the wall he had built so high up around him. Maybe he’d actually listen to her and act upon her words.

“Anyone ever tell you that you preach too much, Princess? Save the sermons for your friends, I’m not interested,” he replied with a sneer.

Hermione watched with sad eyes as he walked out of her common room and into the dark castle. She slumped down on the sofa he’d been sleeping on and put her head in her hands. She wanted to shake him and scream at him. How could he remain so unaffected by what she’d said to him? How could he just be content to throw his life away? It was infuriating. She didn’t even know why she was wasting her breath trying to get him to see what a mess he was making of his life. He was right, it was none of her business but, for some reason, she couldn’t just sit back and watch it happen.

She would’ve been less disheartened had she been able to delve into Malfoy’s head as he made his way back to the Slytherin common room. She would have been pleased and probably more than a little relieved that she hit home with her words.

--------

Draco did realise that he was monumentally fucking up his life by his current actions; he just didn’t have the inclination to stop it. He was more than a little shocked by Granger’s words. She’d spoken passionately about his fate and had even managed to highlight talents that he possessed. Hermione Granger, the girl he’d spent the last seven years looking down on and calling all the names under the sun. He was surprised she’d even noticed that much about him. The only reason why anyone knew that she was so intelligent was because she bludgeoned everyone to death with her superior intellect.

He was even more surprised that she even cared what he did. The only other people who would’ve given him such an impassioned speech were his mother and Pansy. But there she’d stood, pretty much imploring him to sort his life out. It was making him look beyond her deeds to the girl behind the reputation. Put in her position, Potter and Weasley would be breaking out the popcorn, happy to see him collapse, and even more ectastic to have front row seats to the spectacle.

Maybe Pansy had a point when she told him to cut the Gryffindor girl some slack. He’d assumed that she’d gotten involved because she was a busy-body who couldn’t help put poke her nose into every little thing. But personalities like that didn’t rant and rave at you to try and get you to change your ways. They stood back, feeling superior to the mess that you are. He’d been making an effort not to call her a Mudblood, but not to spare her feelings, but because he knew that her threat last time to seriously hex him had been real. Now he’d look to cut it out because it wasn’t nice and she didn’t deserve that.

Draco dragged himself through the door into the Slytherin common room, right into the middle of a welcoming committee. Pansy had obviously been pacing a hole into the floor and was looking pretty distressed. Blaise was up because he hated to see his girlfriend so upset by her best friend’s actions.

“Where the hell have you been, Draco?” Pansy screeched.

“Just don’t, Pans, I’m not in the mood for another confrontation,” Draco said warily.

“Don’t give me that. Blaise goes up to the dorm room to find you gone and then you come waltzing back into the common room hours later as if you’ve just been to the library,” Pansy wailed.

“To be honest, I have no recollection of leaving my room, okay? So just drop it and stop acting as if I’m doing this to annoy you,” Draco snarled at her before stalking up to his room.

----------

Pansy stamped her foot in frustration and groaned. Blaise would have found it cute on any other day, but he knew that Pansy was rapidly losing it. If he didn’t want to have a break-up fight in his dorm room, he was going to have to handle this for her.

“Let me speak to him, honey,” he said coaxingly. “Go up to bed, okay?”

He could tell she was torn. It was obvious that she wanted to scream at Draco herself, but knew that having the entire body of Slytherin boys crowding into the room to gawk at the spectacle was not a good idea. She nodded at him, leant up and kissed him briefly before making her way over the girls’ dorms. Blaise drew in a deep breath and willed his patience to hold. He didn’t have the best relationship with Draco and he was going to need all his tact in order to get information out of the stubborn blond.

Blaise walked into the dorm room as Draco was pulling on some pyjama bottoms before he crawled under his covers.

“Are you going to tell me where you were?” Blaise asked.

“What the fuck is it to you?” Draco snarled back.

“Pansy was worried sick. She refused to go to sleep until she saw that you were back. Don’t you owe it to her to at least let her know where you were?”

“No disrespect Blaise, I get that you are good for Pansy, but I’m really not in the mood for a heart-to-heart right now,” Draco replied.

“Good. Because to be honest, I don’t want to know what’s going on in your head. However, I don’t like to see my girlfriend stressing out unnecessarily. I stopped her from coming up here and causing a scene by saying that I’d speak to you, so cut me some slack and just tell me where you were,” Blaise said wearily.

Draco shot a look over at Theo to check that he was still sleeping. Theo had a big mouth and Draco wouldn’t put it past him to blab Draco’s personal business all over Hogwarts. He leant closer to Blaise. “I passed out in the corridor. Granger found me and I spent the last few hours sleeping it off on her sofa. Happy now?”

Blaise looked a little taken aback. Draco smirked. It didn’t take much to shock the pompous arse.

“Now are you going to let me sleep?” Draco asked.

Blaise just nodded and Draco settled down in his bed. He drew his curtains with a swish of his wand and stared up at the dark canopy. He needed to think about what he was going to do about his life. Granger had been right about one thing: he couldn’t continue this way. It was destroying him.

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

Pansy was laying in wait for Blaise the next morning. She’d grabbed him as soon as he wandered down from his dorm room. “What did Draco say?” she asked.

Blaise quirked an eyebrow. “Good morning to you too. Yes, I did sleep well, thanks for asking.”

Pansy just huffed at him. Blaise chuckled and gave her what she wanted. “He said that he passed out and that Granger found him. He spent a couple of hours on her sofa.”

Instead of looking shocked, Pansy just looked thoughtful as if that piece of information fitted into a larger puzzle she was putting together in her head. This instantly got Blaise suspicious. “What? Why are you not surprised?” he asked.

Pansy looked up at him. “Well, he had to have been somewhere sort of ‘friendly’ for him to not be caught, so I guess Granger’s common room isn’t that shocking.”

“ Do you know something? What’s going on between the pair of them?”

Pansy shushed her boyfriend, looking around to see if anyone had heard before pulling him back up to his dorm room, which was thankfully empty. She set up a locking spell on the door and silenced it for good measure.

“You have to swear that you won’t say anything to anyone and certainly not rib Draco about this,” Pansy said.

Blaise just nodded. His curiosity was too high for him to look to get one over on Draco.

“The letter I got yesterday wasn’t from my sister but from Narcissa Malfoy. You know she met up with Draco at the last Hogsmeade weekend?” Pansy started.

“Yes, they were meeting somewhere quiet to avoid the crowds,” Blaise replied.

“Exactly. Well, they bumped into Andromeda Tonks, you know Narcissa’s sister, the one who married a Muggle-born. And she happened to have Hermione with her,” Pansy continued.

“So?” Blaise asked.

“It’s just that both Narcissa and Andromeda picked up on some curious chemistry between Draco and Hermione. Narcissa went to visit Andromeda earlier this week and they discussed it. It appears that they both think that there could be deeper feelings between the two,” Pansy finished.

Blaise didn’t look too impressed. “Are you sure that this just isn’t two sisters gossiping? I mean it is Draco and Granger we’re talking about. It’s not as if they are a match made in heaven.”

“Firstly, this is Narcissa. She wouldn’t sit there gossiping about Draco and a Muggle-born unless she thought there was something to it. And she knows Draco better than anyone else. And secondly, don’t you think Hermione is precisely what Draco needs?”

Blaise snorted. “Not really, no. They’d be rocking the boat in every quarter. Even if they do have feelings for each other, and I need to be convinced on this, getting past Granger’s two bodyguards, who hate Draco’s guts, and the whole pure-blood lineage that the Malfoy name stands for would be immensely difficult.”

“But that’s exactly what the wizarding world needs. They would be completely against the odds and would unite people in a way that no amount of new legislation will,” Pansy argued.

“Or they’d split the community even further. Are you sure that you are not just three meddling women who are reading far too much into the fact that Granger doesn’t hate Draco like her two friends do? As for Draco, he doesn’t even care about himself at the moment, how do you expect him to care for someone else?”

Pansy put her hands on her hips. “I am not meddling.”

Blaise just shot her an unimpressed glance. Okay, so maybe she was meddling a little bit but only because she wanted her best friend to be happy.

“And surely caring about himself doesn’t mean that he can’t care for someone else,” Pansy said.

“This is Draco we’re talking about - one of the most selfish people I’ve ever met. He looks out for himself first and foremost.”

“That’s not true. Draco’s always looked out for me. He protected me from a lot of shit that happened in the past. And I haven’t forgotten the broom closet incident. He obviously has some attraction to Hermione to attack her neck the way he did.”

Blaise rolled his eyes. “Now you’re trying to put a romantic spin on it. He was drunk, he had a girl in his arms - events followed a natural course.”

“I’m going to prove you wrong on this one. I bet you that by the end of this academic year, Draco and Hermione are together,” Pansy promised.

“Whatever you say, Pans. I think this is all wishful thinking,” Blaise replied.

“Get ready to be proved wrong,” Pansy said smugly.

Blaise said nothing but gave his girlfriend a patronising smile. Oh, she was going to show him and get Draco mended. Hermione Granger was exactly what Draco needed in his life. She would keep the blond on his toes, giving him no time to be surly and sullen.

Chapter Text

Pansy was getting really worried about Draco. He spent hours each day lurking down by the lake, completely withdrawn from everything. She was even beginning to wonder if he was contemplating suicide. He barely interacted with anyone and seemed totally wrapped up in his own mind. He was a physical presence inside of Hogwarts but his thoughts were elsewhere. Pansy had kept up her fledging relationship with Hermione but she wasn’t saying anything about the night Draco had stayed in her common room. She’d given Pansy the bare bones but hadn’t elaborated on anything. This cemented in her mind that something had happened and neither of them was keen to speak about it. She wondered if they’d got in another fight - it wouldn’t be unusual. Most of their past history was defined by spats and harsh words, after all.

A week later, Pansy finally got tired of Draco’s avoidance. She looked for him at the lake but he wasn’t there. She then proceeded to search the castle until she tracked him down at the top of the Astronomy Tower.

“What are you doing here?” Pansy asked, concerned.

Draco turned around from the railing he was leaning on. “I’m not going to throw myself off so you don’t need to worry. No matter how shitty things are, I’d never do that to my mother. Not after what she did for me.”

“So why are you up here?”

“This is where so many things in my life went wrong,” he replied.

“I was under the impression that your life got screwed up the moment Voldemort was resurrected and your father dragged you into his schemes,” Pansy commented.

“True, but this is the epitome of how fucked up things got.”

Pansy leant against the railing next to Draco and looked out over the vast expanses of the Forbidden Forest. “It’s strange to think one of the most iconic events of the war happened up here. It’s so peaceful now,” she remarked.

“He offered me protection for mother and me. Did I ever tell you that?”

“Who did?” Pansy asked, confused.

“Dumbledore,” he replied simply.

“You never told me anything about that night,” she responded.

“I had him defenceless at the end of my wand and he wasn’t afraid. He knew I wouldn’t be able to kill him. He kept me talking and waited for Severus.”

Pansy didn’t know what to say. Draco had always refused to discuss that night. She knew something had gone badly wrong for although Dumbledore had died, it was Severus Snape who had killed him and not Draco as ordered. Draco had been severely punished for his failure. The Dark Lord had been furious as had his aunt Bellatrix. She’d been proud that her nephew had been chosen for such a task, and the fact that he’d failed had led her to use him as target practice for weeks. He’d been mocked mercilessly by other Death Eaters for lacking the killer instinct. He’d been labelled as pathetic.

“I thought it would be easy. I thought all you had to do was say a spell and it would be over. I didn’t realise how different it is when you have someone at your mercy and they look you in the eye. He wasn’t afraid of me at all. And he was right, it was the other way around and it was I who was at his mercy.”

“His mercy? But you had his wand. What could he have done to you?” Pansy asked, confused.

“He offered me a way out. For a brief moment, I saw light at the end of the tunnel and I was so close to taking it. But then the Carrows, Rawle and Greyback showed up and the moment was gone. It was the only time he was afraid, you know.”

“Dumbledore?”

“Yes, when he saw Greyback. He looked at me briefly with real disappointment. He hadn’t been let down by all my actions before, like the fact that I was trying to kill him. But when he saw Greyback, he looked at me for the first time as if he didn’t know me,” Draco said. “And I wanted to reassure him. I wanted to let him know that he hadn’t misjudged me and, that for all my faults, I would never have let Greyback into Hogwarts.”

Pansy shuddered in revulsion at the thought of Fenrir Greyback. She had met him once, quite by accident. Her father had shouted at her afterwards for coming downstairs when he’d told her not to. He then proceeded to tell her in graphic detail what Greyback liked to do to young girls, and none of it was pleasant. Greyback had killed Lavender Brown later on, mauled her so much so that even though Hermione had helped her out, Brown hadn’t recovered from her injuries. It felt so much more real when it was someone you knew, someone you’d gone to school with for seven years, even if you’d never been friends.

“I’m sure he knew that, Draco,” she reassured.

“But I did let him into Hogwarts, didn’t I? I might not have realised that he would be coming along, but I let people who wished Hogwarts ill into the castle. What if Greyback had gone a rampage? It would have been my fault.”

“You didn’t have a choice. You either did the Dark Lord’s bidding or you and your family would have been killed,” she said.

He turned to face her then and Pansy was shocked by the sheer despair in his eyes. “I keep telling myself that as if it’s some excuse. But I always had a choice. I could’ve refused. For once in my life, I could’ve been brave and not done something I knew was wrong. Potter would have - no matter the consequences.”

Pansy grasped his hand. “Draco, you had a completely different upbringing. You were told your entire life that the Dark Lord was protecting the wizarding world. You can’t compare yourself to Potter. It will drive you crazy.”

“Granger told me I have a chance to change things. That I’m wasting an opportunity to reinvent the Malfoy name and make it something to be proud of. She said I could prove to the world that I’m not just a little boy who followed Lord Voldemort.”

She finally realised why Draco had withdrawn so completely. Hermione had done what Pansy had been completely unable to do; she had broken down the wall Draco was hiding behind, and her words had hit a nerve.

“But what if that’s all I am? What if I can’t be anything else?” he said brokenly.

“Oh Draco, you can be so much more,” Pansy said, flinging her arms around him. “You have depths hidden inside you that even Granger can see. Why do you think I’ve been fighting for you so hard? I know you and I see what you don’t let the world see. You couldn’t kill Dumbledore because you are not that person, no matter how hard you strived to be.”

Draco buried his head in Pansy’s neck. “I don’t want to be a mess, Pans. I don’t want Voldemort to have any further hold over me,” he muffled into her hair.

“And he won’t, Draco, I promise you.”

He lifted his head and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I love you, Pansy. Without you, I’d be even more of a loser than I am already.”

“Shh, you need to keep that quiet. We can’t have everyone know what a softie you really are,” she teased.

He tucked her head under his chin and just hugged her. He owed her more than he could ever pay back. If she’d given up on him, there would have been no way back for him. They stood like that silently for a long time, just holding onto each other and watching the world pass by. It was the most peaceful Draco had felt for years.

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

Hermione giggled as she, Ron and Harry snuck along the passage that led to the kitchens.

“Hush, Hermione, you’re going to get us discovered and then your reputation as a squeaky clean Head Girl will be gone forever,” Ron chastised.

“I can’t help it. This feels like we’re back in our first year except we’re all squashed under this cloak,” she whispered back.

“Shame it doesn’t respond to an expanding charm,” Harry sighed as Ron accidentally trod on his foot for the fifth time.

“We’re here,” Hermione said, lifting the front of the cloak and tickling the pear.

As the door to the kitchens swung open, Ron, tallest and at the back, tripped over Harry’s feet, knocked over Harry, who in turn toppled onto Hermione. The momentum of the two heavier boys at her back pushed her forward and she fell over. Harry went flying on top of her and Ron, dragged by the front of the cloak now trapped under Hermione, fell on top of him. The thump of the three falling caused the house-elves to stop what they were doing and stare in astonishment as Hermione, Harry and Ron were revealed by the cloak, which landed in a puddle on her head.

“Get off me, you oafs!” she yelled, squashed.

Instead of answering her, she could feel Harry’s body tensing up. “Come on guys, I’m seriously starting to struggle to breathe.”

There was still no answer, then a voice she knew all too well drawled, “You heard the girl. You may want to get off her before you suffocate her to death.”

She cursed the fact that her face was squished into the floor with her hair tumbling over her eyes, impeding her vision. All she could see were two shiny black shoes come into her vision.

“What are you doing down here, Malfoy?” snarled Ron.

“It’s a free country isn’t it?” Malfoy sneered back.

“Sadly for us, you are free,” Ron growled.

Hermione wriggled and bucked like mad trying to get her two heavy best friends off her. Finally Harry seemed to notice her and pushed Ron up and off him and stood up. Hermione took some much-needed deep breaths, knelt on the floor and pushed her hair out of her eyes. The hostile environment was not encouraging. Malfoy was facing the three of them with his jaw tensed and clenching. Ron was getting redder by the second and his hands were clenched into fists. Harry was looking calmer but Hermione could see from the way his right eye was twitching that he wasn’t as composed as he appeared to be. She sighed; she really wished she stopped getting into these little situations; they were beginning to show on her patience and temper.

“Get out, Malfoy,” Harry said coldly.

Malfoy raised his eyebrows. “Why should I?”

“Because we don’t want to see your nasty, ferrety little face, that’s why,” Ron replied.

Malfoy strolled over to the one of the replica house tables and sat down. “I don’t think I will.”

Ron stepped forward aggressively. “Get out or I’ll make you.”

“Guys, come on, here’s Kreacher. Let’s just get the stuff and go,” Hermione interjected before a full-scale fight could break out.

The ancient house-elf shuffled over to them. “How can Kreacher help Harry Potter?”

Harry was so busy staring Malfoy down that he didn’t pay any attention to the house-elf at first. Hermione nudged him in the side.

“Oh, hi, Kreacher. We’ve just come for some pumpkin juice and Cauldron Cakes,” Harry said.

“And some sandwiches,” Ron tacked on the end.

“Please, Kreacher,” Hermione added, glaring at the boys for forgetting their manners. Kreacher bowed low and bestowed a smile on the three of them.

The hostility continued between the three boys and she felt like an extra in a scene of rampant machismo behaviour. She inwardly tutted but was just grateful that no further words were being exchanged

A small house-elf came hurrying over to Malfoy, a bag in its hands. “So sorry Master, Noktok did not mean to be late.”

“No problem, Noktok. I’ll see you the same time next week,” Malfoy replied.

The house-elf nodded and disappeared with a click of its fingers. Malfoy stood up, ready to leave.

“Not so fast, Malfoy,” Harry said. “What have you got in that bag?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Potter,” Malfoy replied, swerving around Harry to get out.

Harry put his hand out and grabbed Malfoy’s arm. “Give me your bag; I want to know what’s in it.”

“Get your hands off me - now,” Malfoy growled.

“Open the bag first,” Harry insisted.

Malfoy went to push Harry away from him but Ron pulled out his wand and levelled it at the blond. “Show him what’s in the bag.”

Malfoy scoffed. “What are you going to do to me, Weasley? Curse me to eat slugs only to have the spell backfire on you? Oh wait, that already happened.”

Hermione threw up her hands. “Oh for goodness sake, this is ridiculous. Harry, take your hand off Malfoy. Ron, lower your wand and stop being an idiot. Malfoy, give me that bag. I’ll check it as I’m Head Girl.”

Malfoy tightened his grip on the bag. “I don’t see how this is any of your business. Why don’t the three of you take your meddling noses back up to Gryffindork Tower?”

“I don’t trust you, Malfoy, and you’ve tried to smuggle harmful things into the castle before,” Harry explained.

“Fuck off, Potter.”

Hermione looked Malfoy in the eye and put her hand out for the bag. “Just give it to me, Malfoy, and this will be over so much quicker and more pleasantly.”

Malfoy scowled but handed her the bag. She opened it and groaned when she saw the bottles of alcohol. So that was how Malfoy had been getting all his booze in. If he had a house-elf bringing him stuff then it explained it all.

“Happy now, Granger? Give it back,” Malfoy said.

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t. As Head Girl, I’m not allowed to turn to a blind eye when you break the rules,” Hermione responded.

Malfoy glared at her balefully. After she’d said it, she released how stupid it sounded as she had actively helped him break the rules previously. She saw the glint in his eye and pleaded with him silently not to say anything that would lead to more conflict with Harry and Ron.

“Whatever you say, Princess,” Malfoy said maliciously before sauntering out the kitchens leaving both Harry and Ron staring at her in shock.

“What did he call you?” Ron asked.

Hermione could feel her face reddening and cursed Malfoy for opening a new can of worms. At least he hadn’t mentioned anything about her help but to call her that in front of Harry and Ron was downright mean.

“Nothing. It’s Malfoy being Malfoy,” Hermione said.

“It doesn’t sound like nothing and how come he didn’t fight you over the bag like me?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“Try because Ron had his wand raised and you grabbed his arm. He was probably looking for a way out to save his face and I was it,” Hermione answered.

“I don’t know, Hermione. First you got involved between him and Dean and now he’s calling you pet names,” Ron said.

“Are you really accusing me of having some kind of secret relationship with Malfoy?” she asked.

“Don’t be stupid, Hermione, but something isn’t right,” Ron replied.

“Look, I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but I couldn’t allow Dean to beat Malfoy up. I’m Head Girl, which means I have to stop things like that when I see them, otherwise I will lose my position,” Hermione remarked, exasperated by having to explain this one more time.

Fortunately for Hermione, Kreacher chose to make his presence known again. “Sorry, Master, but do you want your things?” he asked.

Ron was over like a flash, taking the bag of food from Kreacher’s hand and looking through what he had given them. “Kreacher, you’re the best,” he said with a big grin.

Kreacher hadn’t lived with Ron for a few months without realising what his favourite foods were and how infamous his appetite was. He’d included several of them without being asked, knowing that Ron would happily scarf them down.

Harry took a little longer to look away from her. He was much more discerning than Ron and she breathed a little sigh of relief when his piercing gaze left her face. She knew this wasn’t the end of it, but at least she had a little break in which to think of some more convincing answers before he started back up with his interrogation. He really would make a fantastic Auror when he finally graduated.

The trio went to leave when Kreacher called her back. “Miss Hermione, Winky made something for you.”

Hermione beamed in pleasure at that news. Winky had blossomed under Kreacher’s guidance. Whereas Dobby had tried to help her nicely and by covering her alcohol abuse, Kreacher had treated Winky with some brutal honesty. Having been fiercely loyal to some dark wizards, Kreacher had known better than Dobby which tact to take with her. Hermione had hardly recognised the little elf when she’d come to visit the kitchens to see Kreacher and the other elves at the beginning of the new school year. Winky was clean and a lot more cheerful. She could still become morose, but she no longer blamed herself for Barty Crouch Jr.’s downfall. She’d also struck up an unlikely friendship with Hermione. She was the house-elf charged with cleaning the Head Girl’s quarters and she and Hermione got along famously now.

Ron rolled his eyes and stared hungrily at the food he was carrying. “Go on ahead,” Hermione said with a smile, knowing that Ron’s stomach couldn’t cope with her holding a prolonged conversation with Kreacher about Winky.

Ron rushed out and Harry gave her a look said that he hadn’t finished talking to her about Malfoy. She nodded her understanding gravely back at him.

Hermione turned her attention back to Kreacher. “So where is Winky?”

“She is on the early duty so she is sleeping but she planned on putting this in your common room tomorrow morning and Kreacher knows she will not mind Kreacher giving it to you early,” Kreacher said.

Hermione peeked in the bag and licked her lips at the sight of her favourite lemon drizzle cake. She often had little goodies like this waiting for her. “Winky spoils me so much. Tell her thank you from me.”

“One more thing, Miss Hermione,” Kreacher said.

She turned back and gave Kreacher her attention.

“It is about Master Draco,” Kreacher said, looking a little unsure if he was speaking out of turn or not.

Hermione groaned. It was bad enough having Harry breathing down her neck about it. “Go on, Kreacher.”

“He is not a bad wizard, Miss. He has been drinking too much. Noktok tells me about it. He is sad. He is like Mistress Narcissa. He feels things more than a normal Malfoy.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because he listened to you. He listens to no one this year but you,” Kreacher said.

Damn, Hermione thought. If Kreacher had picked up on that then she was going to have to have a stellar excuse for Malfoy’s strange behaviour to Harry. Mind you, Kreacher was familiar with the Black family. Hopefully he was just sensitive to the Black moods through years of training.

“Thanks, Kreacher,” she said.

“Please, Miss Hermione,” Kreacher continued. “Kreacher loves Master Harry but he does not understand. I think you do. Try and help him, Miss.”

Hermione gave Kreacher a reassuring nod and smile before leaving the kitchens. But she was feeling very far from comforted as she meandered her way back up to Gryffindor Tower. This whole situation with Malfoy was getting complicated and messy. It was very close to causing a rift between her and her best friends and she wasn’t happy lying to them about him. She, Harry and Ron had been through too much together. They weren’t her friends - they were her family. She didn’t want to fight with them about Malfoy, but she also knew that she couldn’t confide in them about what was happening. They would never understand. They would look to intervene and most definitely would forbid her from any contact with Malfoy. Hermione didn’t react too well to being told whom she could talk to even if it came with good intentions.

Which brought her back the question that lurked in the back of her mind, bugging her. Why was she getting involved with Malfoy? She didn’t particularly like the guy. Okay, so she could admit that he’d changed somewhat from the jumped-up little snot that’d swaggered his way around Hogwarts previously. But that didn’t mean he still didn’t have a nasty streak. It also didn’t explain why she felt the desire to help him. She thought it was because she could read a panicked, desperate plea for help in his eyes when he looked at her. She recognised that he was out of control. She thought it was probably most likely because she couldn’t stand by and not help when she saw a lost cause. And Draco Malfoy certainly represented that. He was as lost as anyone could be.

But was she missing something deeper? First Pansy had begged for her help. Then Andromeda had suggested that Malfoy might feel something other than loathing for her. And now Kreacher, most unusually, was asking her to help him. Since when did house-elves look to involve themselves in such matters?

Hermione rubbed her forehead in exasperation before saying the password to the Fat Lady. Malfoy was not good for her mental state. He was posing unanswerable questions for her when all she wanted was a quiet life and Outstandings on all her N.E.W.T.s.

Chapter Text

Draco was struggling. He really did want to stop drinking his problems away but he had planned on a little-by-little approach and not cold turkey. But since his run in with Scarhead and his pet Orang-utan, and Granger’s confiscation of his weekly bag of alcohol, that was now the nightmare he was living. And speaking of nightmares, without the numbing effect of the alcohol, his were back with a vengeance. He had taken to silencing his bed every night because he did not want either Blaise or Theo to hear him. Whilst in Azkaban, he’d dreamt of living under the same roof as Voldemort and the horrors that implied: from Muggle Study professors being eaten by Nagini to dead Goblins punished for allowing Hufflepuff’s Cup to be stolen from Gringotts. Now, he found himself dreaming of Granger writhing on his dining room floor being tortured by his aunt. He wasn’t quite sure why this was - maybe because he faced her everyday. But the dreams were horrific.

He’d already lived the terrible unease he’d felt when he’d seen Granger, Potter and Weasley being dragged into Malfoy Manor by the Snatchers. His father had been keen that he identify them and regain some of the prestige they had lost in the eyes of the Dark Lord. But he hadn’t been able to. Despite how much he detested Potter, he hadn’t wanted to see him captured by Lord Voldemort. Not then, not after what he’d seen the Dark Lord do. He knew that if he did identify them, they wouldn’t be killed quickly; they’d be paraded around by Lord Voldemort. The Dark Lord would have his very own pet Potter and he would taunt the Order of the Phoenix with his capture.

No, Draco had hoped against hope that they would miraculously escape - and they had - but not before he had to endure Granger being tortured by his aunt repeatedly. He’d put that day to the back of his mind, not wanting to deal with the emotions it brought out and it had soon been replaced by other dark events. But it was reappearing again and it was unwelcome. He didn’t want his nights haunted by the screams of Granger. He didn’t want his nights haunted at all. He wanted the blissful sleep of the innocent but he couldn’t have that. So he’d settle for the passed-out sleep of the drunk. The main problem was that Granger had his bag of contraband and Noktok wasn’t returning for another three days.

That was why Draco found himself wandering around the school aimlessly at three o’clock in the morning. He wasn’t so worried about being caught at this time of night. Everyone else was sleeping and the professors had stopped patrolling hours ago. No, he was feeling lost and he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t face seeing Granger’s eyes pleading with him to do something. He already knew that he had done nothing to help her that night at the Manor. He didn’t feel the need to relive that.

But apparently his walking wasn’t so aimless at all, as he realised that he’d ended up outside Granger’s common room. Was he really so desperate that he’d wake her up to beg for his Firewhiskey back? He didn’t need long to figure it out. Yes, he was. He hadn’t been sleeping and his brain had stopped functioning rationally sometime during the afternoon. Sleep deprivation was never a good thing. Draco had had more than enough time to experiment with it during his sixth year and he knew his limits.

Sod it, he wasn’t too proud anymore. It was Granger. She already knew how pathetic he was; she had stumbled across him several times already this term when he was more than a little worse for wear. He tapped on the portrait ignoring its snotty huff. He heard a muffled thud as if something had literally just fallen over or off something and then there was a stumbling tread across the floor and Draco found himself face to face with a flushed Granger.

“Malfoy,” she said, blinking owlishly at him. “What are you doing here?”

Draco staggered back slightly under the impact of Granger’s breath. “Have you been drinking my Firewhiskey?” he asked, shocked.

“Maybe,” Granger replied with a smirk any Slytherin would’ve been proud of.

Huh, was all Draco could think. The prissy Head Girl and all-round teacher’s pet was drunk off his secret stash of alcohol. She was now waving a bottle temptingly in his face. “I can see why you do it, Malfoy, it makes everything numb.”

“What sordid secrets do you have?” Draco asked, feeling confused by this naughtier version of Granger.

Her face fell slightly before she rallied and flung her arm wide, inviting him into her common room. “Want to step into my lair?” she asked. “I’ll give you some of your Firewhiskey.”

He was more than a little tempted to snatch the bottle off her and make good his escape. Hermione Granger with few inhibitions was a little scary. But then again, it was his chance to turn the tables slightly. She had more than enough dirt on him. Maybe it was his chance to get some on her. It was practically un-Slytherin to turn such an opportunity down. Think of all the trouble he could cause between her and her stupid sidekicks. How she could cope being around two such numbskulls so much was beyond him. At least Crabbe and Goyle had done his bidding with no questions. Well, up until that last year anyway.

Draco warily entered Granger’s common room. The place was becoming too familiar to him. He needed to stop ending up in here. He sprawled out on his usual sofa. “So what’s the occasion, Princess?” he asked.

The smile disappeared off Granger’s face and she stared moodily into the fire. Was she going to steal all of his moves? The drunken, brooding look was practically patented to him.

“Ron’s getting engaged,” she informed him in a neutral tone.

“Someone actually wants to marry that ugly oaf?” Draco exclaimed, surprised.

“Hannah Abott.”

He sniggered. “Only Weasel could be proud at landing a Hufflepuff.”

“Your cousin was a Hufflepuff.”

“Huh? What?”

“Tonks. She was a Hufflepuff.”

“Yeah, well, she married a werewolf,” he said dismissively.

Granger sprang up, eyes flashing. “Don’t you dare say anything bad about Tonks.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Okay, Granger, I’ll leave your precious Hufflepuffs alone.”

She was still standing over him like an avenging harpy. “Don’t you have any feelings about Tonks? You can’t just sit there and mock her after holding her baby on your lap for hours. It’s not even been a year since she died and she was your only cousin.”

That was what he hated the most about Hermione Granger; she had a horrible habit of making him feel guilty for being his usual self. It was almost as if she expected better from him and it was annoying. “I’m a Malfoy, Granger, I don’t do sappy sentiments.”

“That’s not true. I’ve spoken in length to Moaning Myrtle about you and she insists that you are sensitive.”

He scowled in annoyance. Was there anyone more annoyingly meddlesome than the bushy-haired Head Girl?

“What’s wrong, Malfoy, cat got your tongue? No witty comeback this time?” she smirked.

“So even the Weasel has found someone to marry him. What about you, Granger?” Draco said cruelly, wanting to get back at her.

Her face fell again. So that was why she was getting drunk. She was moping because her two best friends were in serious, committed relationships. Not that Draco would want to be engaged at eighteen. Then again, the gormless Gryffindors probably had to snatch whatever girl was dumb enough to say yes. “Don’t worry, Granger. I’m sure Longbottom is still available.”

“No, he’s not. He’s dating Parvati Patil,” Granger mumbled.

Draco couldn’t help it. He guffawed at that. “Longbottom has a girl? Wow, I didn’t expect that.”

She frowned and stared at the carpet. “Must you always be a cretin, Malfoy?”

“If you wanted tea and sympathy, shouldn’t you be talking to that red-headed shrew Potter plans on marrying?”

“How selfish would that be? Ginny’s so excited. She’s young, in love and engaged and then I come along and dump all my anxieties on her.”

“Great. So that’s what I am; someone so pathetic that I make your pitiful excuse for a love life feel better.”

“Pretty much,” Granger said with a smile.

“You promised me some of my own alcohol. Hand that bottle over. I think I’m going to need it if you’re going to make yourself feel better at my expense.”

“I learnt from the best,” she said giving him a pointed look.

Okay, so he hadn’t been the nicest of blokes, and, yes, he’d bullied others to make himself look better, but wasn’t Granger meant to be a bleeding heart? “So is that what’s got you drinking tonight? The Ginger Growth has found someone stupid enough to tie themselves to his underachieving arse.”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me,” Draco encouraged. He was at a loss as to why he was giving Granger the green light to unburden herself to him. He wasn’t the sympathetic ear type. Other people bored him.

She gave him a distrusting look but then shrugged her shoulders as if to say fuck it and started talking. “It’s not that I want Ron per se, but I want what he represented.”

“And what was that?” he asked a little puzzled as to why he cared.

“A stable future with kids.”

“Booooooring,” he said, drawling the word to out to emphasise how stupid he found it.

Granger huffed at him, looking petulant and more than a little adorable. “What’s boring about that?”

“Don’t you want to do something with your talents? If you marry Weasley you’d be tied to his mediocrity. Anything you do that is amazing will be tainted with the fact that you know that you’ve dented his masculinity. The Weasel is the eternal sidekick and he has the lack of self-esteem to go with it. Slytherin House picked up on this in our second year and we’ve played on it relentlessly. Those ‘Potter Stinks’ badges in the fourth year were in reaction to the fact that you were the only one to stick with Potter. Sadly, Potter’s ego isn’t as delicate as the poverty stricken prat’s and he didn’t let it bother him. Unlike Weasley with his song in our fifth year,” Draco said, reminiscing about better times.

She looked thoughtful at this, almost as if it had never crossed her mind. “Do you really think I threaten him?” she asked.

“Merlin’s Beard, Granger, you’re supposed to the Brightest Witch of the Age. Why do you think he’s proposing to a Hufflepuff? Abbott is about the right mental capacity for him to feel superior.You leave him trailing in your wake. It’s okay in a friend. You can marvel at their intelligence, but in a wife? No. People will constantly look at you and compare your paltry achievements to hers,” he dissected.

“Do you feel like that, then?”

Draco smirked. “No, I’m a Malfoy. Any girl is lucky if they catch me.”

She burst into a peel of laughter. “Malfoy, could you get a bigger head? I don’t exactly see the girls flocking to your side these days.”

He acknowledged the hit. “So I’m a little down. Malfoys always spring back to the top.”

Hermione snorted. “On the coattails of whatever dark wizard emerges from Slytherin next.” She regretted the words as soon as they came out of her mouth. Malfoy lost the cocky, arrogant smirk that she hadn’t seen on his face for a long while and the withdrawn look came back.

They sat in silence like that for a long while. Hermione didn’t ask for the Firewhiskey back. She’d only opened it because she had been feeling ridiculously maudlin. Surprisingly, Malfoy had done a good job in dragging her out of that mood. Now she was curious about his opinions on things. He’d brutally assassinated Ron’s character, but then again, she didn’t expect Malfoy to appreciate the things that made her love and admire Ron platonically. But he’d hit the nail on the head with some things. Ron was low on self-esteem - not that she was any better - but he did hold it against his friends when they did glorious things. He’d had a chip on his shoulder about Harry’s fame for a long while, and had only come to terms with what a burden it really was after he’d run out on them in the tent. He did tend to belittle her as well. Not maliciously, but he said little things to her that hurt. The fact that he viewed her as one of the lads had always depressed her. He also mocked her studying habits and obsessive desire to know more. She’d thought for a long while that if they got together, their differing personalities would complement each other. He’d mellow her out and she’d give him a little more fire. But instead, they’d just annoyed each other and bickered incessantly. Apparently, it wasn’t unresolved sexual tension but actually very incompatible personalities.

Hermione looked back at Malfoy. He was now steadily swigging his way through the bottle. She put her hand out and stopped him raising it back up to his lips. “I’m sorry, Malfoy. That was out of order.”

He looked at her in surprise. Just because he never apologised when he was wrong didn’t mean that no one else did. He nodded his acceptance.

“You never did answer my question,” she said, holding her hand out for the bottle of Firewhiskey. She didn’t want to drink anymore but she didn’t want him to either.

“What question?” he asked, surrendering the bottle.

“Do you feel the same? Would a girl like me intimidate you too much?” she asked once more. For some reason, her heart was pounding. It was as if his answer was something that mattered to her. It didn’t matter. Of course, it didn’t. It would be strange if she cared what Malfoy thought, wouldn’t it?

Malfoy looked at her as if pondering the question for a while. “No,” he stated simply.

“Why not?”

“Because I would be proud that such a girl chose to marry me. Besides, I’m not as thick as Weasley so I could keep up to a certain extent.”

She rolled her eyes at that. Although to be fair, Malfoy did have a good brain.

“So did you think about what I said to you the other week?” she asked, not really expecting Malfoy to answer.

“Yes.”

“Is that it?”

He sighed. “You’re not happy until you’ve had your pint of blood, are you?”

“What did you expect, Malfoy? If I gave up easily then I wouldn’t have been much help to Harry over the years.”

“Yes, I’ve thought about it and yes, some of what you said is true.”

Hermione tried not to look too surprised. She didn’t think he had taken any of her words on board and his grudging admission was the best answer she was going to get. “So are you going to quit drinking?” she pushed.

“I’ll give it a try,” he said, making a play for the bottle resting on her lap.

“Then you can start now,” she said, moving the bottle out of his reach. She stood up, moved to the bathroom and poured the rest of it down the sink.

“Hey!” he protested. “That’s Ogden’s Finest.”

“How can you sit there, tell me you’re going to try and give up drinking and then snatch the bottle off me to continue, all within the space of a minute?”

“Because I’m a ball of contradicting statements,” he said, pouting at the empty bottle Hermione held in her hands.

She couldn’t help but laugh at that. Malfoy might be a snarky git but he was entertaining with it at least. She was also realistic enough to know that he was going to struggle to quit drinking completely if he wasn’t given an incentive. She’d tried to think of things to motivate him after she’d confiscated his alcohol last week. Whilst she’d been able to take one bag of him, she wasn’t stupid enough to think that he wouldn’t be back in the kitchen to collect his next load. But now she’d had an idea.

“I tell you what, Malfoy, I’ll cut a deal with you.”

“What kind of deal?” he asked suspiciously.

“I’ll let you continue to receive alcohol from Noktok but only if I’m the one who picks it up and it stays here in my common room.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you’re never going to moderate your drinking if you have the temptation there in your room. You would have to be teetotal in the week so you can start participating in your lessons but at the weekend I’d let you have some,” she outlined.

“So I’d have to come up here to drink. Wouldn’t that be defeating the purpose of it?”

Hermione frowned. “What purpose?”

“I drink to forget and to sleep. Why do you think I’m knocking at your door at three o’clock in the morning?”

This wasn’t an aspect that she had considered. She had thought that Malfoy just drank to drown his sorrows. She hadn’t realised that he needed it to sleep. “That’s not healthy. You can’t keep drinking so you can sleep.”

“Tell that to my blasted nightmares.”

Hermione knew that Harry had had terrible nightmares after the Great Battle of Hogwarts. He’d been to see someone at St. Mungo’s to receive help. He’d even used a Dreamless Sleep Potion for a while. Surely Malfoy could do something similar.

“Can’t you get help for your nightmares? I know there is a Healer at St. Mungo’s who specialises in such things,” she suggested.

Malfoy just shot her a glare. “You want me to go and talk them over with some stranger? How very Gryffindor of you, Granger.”

She acknowledged the truth of that. He wasn’t one to attend therapy. He would spend the whole time on the defensive. “Okay, well, I get that was ambitious of me, but what about a Dreamless Sleep Potion?”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Yeah, because Madam Pomfrey loves me so much and I’m sure she’ll just hand over her stash and I’ll be on my merry way.”

Hermione sighed. “Well, if you’re going to be this difficult, I can see why she wouldn’t want to help. Stop shooting down all my suggestions.”

“Well, stop coming up with daft ones.”

“They’re not daft,” she argued. “I’m trying to figure out ways in which you can move on from being dependent on Ogden’s Firewhiskey. Don’t you think being a sot is a little demeaning for a Malfoy?”

“That was a low-blow,” he commented.

“But true. Now, are you going to take my deal or not?”

“As fun as it’s been seeing you wrack your immense brain for ways to help me, I think I’ll stick to my current arrangements, Princess.”

She figured he’d turn her down. But if he thought she’d give up just like that then he was in for a rude awakening. “Take my deal or I’ll make sure Noktok is unable to deliver any alcohol to you.”

“How are you going to do that, Granger? He takes my orders, not yours.”

“I don’t need Noktok to obey me. I have Kreacher and he rules that kitchen. He also knows all sorts of loopholes in house-elf magic. I’ll sit down with him and work out a way.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re a bitch?”

Hermione smiled. That comeback from Malfoy was telling. If he was resorting to insults then it meant she had him trapped in a corner. “Bitch or not, Malfoy, those are my terms.”

He looked away from her and glared into the fire. “I guess I’ll take it.”

She beamed. “Good. So, you’re clear that there is no more drinking during the week?”

“You’ve been rather vocal about that part.”

“And you have to start participating in lessons and doing your homework. No more relying on Pansy to pull you through.”

“You act like I asked Pansy to sort that out for me. I was happy for the professors to know that I was doing jack-shit.”

“Malfoy!” she groaned, frustrated with his delaying tactics. “Are you going to agree or not?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess you give me no choice.”

“Your enthusiasm astounds me,” Hermione replied sarcastically.

“Don’t push your luck, Princess. I’m doing what you want so quit whilst you’re ahead.”

She smiled angelically at him. “If you think I’m a quitter, Malfoy, then you’re in the wrong room. I won’t give up on you or allow you to continue down this route.”

“Why you care, I don’t know,” he grumbled.

She patted his cheek. “Because I’m a caring, compassionate Gryffindor, of course.”

Malfoy pretended to vomit, which just made Hermione laugh. “Now get your no-good Slytherin backside out of my common room. I want to sleep.”

“A drink for the road?” Malfoy asked hopefully.

“In your dreams, Malfoy. You’ve had more than enough Firewhiskey for today.”

“Stingy cow,” he muttered as he left her common room.

Chapter Text

Hermione was surprised to see that her deal with Malfoy was holding. He’d come to class on Monday with a new attitude. He no longer slouched at the back doing nothing and he actually turned up to Potions with a bag, his textbook, some parchment and a quill. He took notes when Slughorn explained which potion they would be making that lesson, and he started to brew it. Pansy and Blaise sat next to him with their mouths open. Pansy looked towards Hermione who couldn’t help but give the Slytherin girl a smug smile. Pansy winked back and got on with her potion. Slughorn was fairly astounded when Malfoy handed in a perfect potion at the end of the lesson. Hermione bristled for the blond when Slughorn plainly showed his surprise at Malfoy’s skill. Surely he knew that Malfoy was good at Potions? After all, he’d received an Outstanding on his O.W.L. from Snape, who - even when biased in favour of Slytherins - didn’t just hand out top marks.

Pansy caught up with her as she left to go to Herbology. “Hey Hermione, wait up!” she called.

“Hi Pansy,” she said, stopping so the raven-haired girl could catch up with her.

“What did you do to Draco?” Pansy asked.

Hermione smirked.

“Stop it,” Pansy begged. “That looks too weird and Slytherin on you.”

She laughed. “Well, I feel rather Slytherin. I manipulated Malfoy into a deal.”

“How?” Pansy asked, shocked.

“Did Malfoy tell you that I ran into him in the kitchens with Harry and Ron?”

Pansy shook her head and Hermione rolled her eyes. “That boy! He’s hopeless at sharing any important information.”

“Tell me about it,” Pansy said with narrowed eyes.

“So, I bumped into Malfoy just over a week ago with Harry and Ron in tow. I doubt I need to explain the confrontation that took place between the three.”

“No, I think you can skip that. I can use my imagination as it tends to happen on a daily basis in the Slytherin common room between Draco, Blaise and Theo.”

“Yes, well, it seems that Malfoy was getting one of his house-elves to drop off alcohol into the kitchen for him to pick up and, of course, I had to confiscate the bag, being Head Girl.”

“I wondered where he was getting his alcohol from. I’ve been shouting at some of the older sixth years, thinking that Draco was bribing them to sneak it back from Hogsmeade.”

Hermione nodded and continued, “Then the other night he turned up at my door at three o’clock in the morning, looking sleep deprived and a little pitiful. It was obvious that the lack of alcohol was causing him some distress. Anyway, I made Malfoy a deal that if he stopped drinking during the week and participated in lessons then I would let him continue to receive alcohol that he can drink on the weekends. But there is something that I’m worried about. He’s been having bad nightmares, which he told me he was using the alcohol to suppress so he could sleep.”

Pansy furrowed her brow. “Blaise hasn’t mentioned anything about nightmares.”

“I think he’s probably been silencing his bed so his roommates won’t hear him.” Hermione bit her lip, unsure whether to ask the next question, but she decided she would just go for it. Malfoy was hiding too much from Pansy. “Do you think that you could get him to go and see a Healer at St. Mungo’s?”

Pansy tilted her head in curiosity. “It’s just that Harry did that after the war finished. He was suffering from horrendous nightmares and the Healer helped him to move on past them,” Hermione explained.

“I doubt it,” Pansy said a little sadly. “Draco’s not one for spilling his guts to random strangers. He even has problems doing that with people he knows. I mean, I didn’t even know he was having any nightmares or using the alcohol to suppress them.”

Hermione’s shoulders slumped. “I thought so. It was worth a try, though.”

It was at that point that Harry shouted down the corridor to her: “Hermione, are you coming or not? We’re going to be late unless we hurry up.”

She adjusted the bag on her shoulder and gave Pansy a brief wave before walking away.

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

“Why is she talking to that pug about so much?” Ron asked Harry.

Harry shrugged. “Dunno, but she’s getting awfully cosy with the Slytherins these days.”

“I guess she has to talk to them if they come to her with problems,” Ron said, dismissing Harry’s concerns from his mind. “By the way, I got permission from McGonagall to go into Hogsmeade to choose a ring for Hannah this weekend. Can you come with me and help?”

“Yes,” Harry said, but his worries over Hermione did not leave his mind. He hadn’t forgotten that Malfoy had called her 'princess' down in the kitchen. Since when did Malfoy use any endearing term - even if it was a mocking way - towards Hermione? He would have felt a lot happier if Malfoy had continued to refer to Hermione as ‘Mudblood Granger’ and had continued to sneer down at her. But whilst he remained hostile to him and Ron, he’d seemed almost teasing towards Hermione. And her friendship with Pansy Parkinson was just strange. No matter how many times she insisted that she and Parkinson had become friendly over their desire to stop any bullying of the Slytherin youngsters, there was something about the story that didn’t fit. Harry couldn’t put his finger on it as it was just a feeling, but he’d come to trust his instincts over the years. He didn’t want to have a confrontation with her over this. She had become defensive previously about it and he didn’t want to seem that he didn’t trust her. But he was worried about her. You couldn’t trust Slytherins. That had been proven many times over their years at Hogwarts.

----------

Pansy smacked herself on the forehead as she realised she’d missed something hugely important in her conversation with Hermione. Blaise eyed her, askance. “Is everything okay, Pans?” he whispered.

She nodded back, not wanting to bring attention to them as they were meant to be writing notes off the board, but she could kick herself for being so slow. Hermione had asked her if Draco would speak to a Healer about his problems. There was no way Draco would talk to a Healer, but he was talking to someone about his issues: Hermione Granger.

He’d been speaking to Hermione for the past weeks about things that he certainly wasn’t talking to Pansy about. He’d listened to Hermione’s words about what he was doing to himself when he barely ever gave her a chance to open her mouth. It was quite obvious that Hermione was becoming the key to Draco confronting his problems. If anything, this led more credence to Andromeda’s idea that Draco harboured feelings towards Hermione. And Hermione, despite her better judgement, and going against her friends’ wishes, was getting more and more involved with him. Pansy knew what she would be doing during her free period next. She was going to be writing a letter to Narcissa and Andromeda. She didn’t care what Blaise said; there was definitely a spark between the pure-blood Slytherin and the Muggle-born Gryffindor.

----------

 

Hermione happily sat in the library. She felt at peace there. All the horrors and hardships that had gone on before were stripped from her mind as she immersed herself in the studious atmosphere. She didn’t have any homework due but she had plenty to get on with. Malfoy was never going to ask Madam Pomfrey for a Dreamless Sleep Potion, so Hermione was researching that and other methods to help him sleep. She’d found that the potion was only generally prescribed under medical supervision. It had addictive qualities in it and Hermione was fairly certain from his drinking habit that he would probably end up using it as a crutch in place of the alcohol, which was just shifting the problem into another avenue rather than eradicating it. No, she needed to find something that would help him move forward.

Hermione was lost in the world of Magical Maladies of St. Mungo’s when she felt someone tapping her shoulder. She looked round and saw Harry.

“Have you got a moment, Hermione?” he asked.

“Sure, what’s up?”

He sat down next to her and turned to face her. “I’m worried about you.”

She frowned. Had she let on how depressed she was feeling about being the odd one out in the group of their friends? Hermione didn’t think for a minute that Hannah Abbott would turn Ron’s proposal down, and she really didn’t want to put a dampener on their good moods. It wasn’t their fault that she hadn’t found the person who would make her that happy yet. Although deep down in her stomach, Hermione worried that she would never find that person.

“Why?” she asked, not showing any of the fears that worried her.

Harry scratched his head. He didn’t want Hermione to think that he didn’t trust her. He did - with his life - which she had saved several times already. But Hermione could be naïve and she wanted to see the good in everyone. “Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m only saying it because I love you and don’t want to see you get hurt,” he quantified.

She was thoroughly confused now and then it clicked into place. She’d hoped that Harry would’ve forgotten his desire to have a talk with her about Malfoy, and what he’d said in the kitchen to Hermione. Blasted ferret and his stupid words, she thought savagely.

“It’s just that you seem to be getting close to some of the Slytherins and I’m worried that you’re being used by them,” he rushed his words as if he was concerned she was going to explode at him.

“Are you saying this because I was talking to Pansy earlier?”

“Yes and no. I mean it’s just weird how you and Parkinson have suddenly become friends. She spent six years being foul to you and now she’s as nice as pie.”

Hermione smiled a little. Harry, for all his maturity in dealing with Voldemort, didn’t read people too well. “Harry, don’t you think the fact that she was on a losing side of the war means that she may well have had time to reflect on things and had a change of heart?”

“I guess but … it’s just … it’s Parkinson,” he responded hesitantly.

“Yes, so I get the scepticism, but she’s not that bad when you get to know her, and it may come as shock but she has apologised for being so horrible to me.”

“I don’t get how you can just forgive and forget so easily.”

“Because I’m tired of all the conflict. Aren’t you?”

Harry nodded his head fervently at that. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to befriend Slytherins.”

“No one’s asking you to.”

“How can you trust her?” he asked.

“Because she’s not done anything for me not to trust her yet,” she said simply.

Harry looked frustrated at Hermione’s logic. She felt sorry for him. It was irritating when your friends were doing things that you thought were bad for them. Hermione had suffered with this for years with Harry and Ron starting back with the whole three-headed-dog-called-Fluffy incident. But Hermione wasn’t going to drop Pansy just to make Harry and Ron feel better, and she wouldn’t expect them to do the same if the roles were reversed.

“Look, I know you’re looking out for me, but could you please trust me on this? If Pansy gives me any reason to cut my friendship with her, you’ll be the first to know, and she’ll regret it quicker than she can say Marietta Edgecombe,” she said, reminding him of what she did to those who betrayed her or her friends.

He smiled at the memory of Cho Chang’s best friend and what Hermione had done to her. “Okay, I get it. You’re not one to mess with and can probably come up with a more vindictive revenge then I could ever dream of.”

“Glad you’ve finally realised it. I love you, Harry, but I really don’t need a big brother. Besides, I’m nearly a year older than you and little brothers are never listened to, but beloved best friends most certainly are.”

“Okay, I’ll stop being annoying and little brother-ish and trust you when it comes to Pansy. But Hermione, as a best friend, I really do feel that I must ask: what the hell is going on between you and Malfoy?”

She decided an innocent front was her best bet with this. “What do you mean?”

“That whole thing in the kitchen. What was that about?” he asked.

“I told you: Malfoy was being Malfoy.”

“No, that doesn’t explain it. Malfoy was certainly his usual, less-than-pleasant self towards Ron and I, but there was something about the way he was towards you that was off. I mean, since when did he switch ‘Mudblood’ to ‘princess’?”

Hermione was really going to kill Malfoy for that stunt. “He’s probably afraid that using the term Mudblood will get him kicked out of Hogwarts. Besides, calling me that lost its effect a long time ago, whereas - by the looks of it - calling me princess has ruffled your feathers nicely. Malfoy would be pleased if he knew a simple word was having this effect.”

“I don’t know, Hermione. He gave up that bag for your inspection awfully quickly once you asked,” he pointed out.

“Yeah, but the other choice was getting hexed by Ron.”

Harry looked unconvinced. “I guess, but it was still weird. I can’t help but think that you are more involved with Malfoy than you’re letting on. And don’t think I’ve forgotten that Neville was muttering something about you and Malfoy last month.”

Hermione swore internally. Bloody Harry and his elephant memory for annoying details you didn’t want him to remember. “That was about Herbology and the greenhouses.”

“You can say that a dozen times, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to believe you any more than the first time you said it. Neville’s keeping quiet about it, too, but I’m keeping my eye on that ferret. He steps one foot out of line regarding you and he’ll be back in Azkaban like a shot,” Harry threatened.

She patted his hand. “Malfoy won’t do anything but I love you for looking out for me.”

He rolled his eyes, gave her a peck on the cheek and left her to her studies. Hermione had dodged a bullet there. She’d gotten Harry off her back regarding both Pansy and Malfoy without actually having to divulge any relevant information and she was feeling rather pleased with her bluffing abilities. Now she just needed to find something to help Malfoy with his nightmares and she’d feel as if she accomplished a lot today.

“That red-headed Weaselette better watch out. Looks like you’re moving in on her man,” a drawling voice said from behind her.

Hermione jumped a little and spun around to see Malfoy leaning against the stacks closest to her table.

“Malfoy! I thought eavesdropping would be beneath you?”

“Then you thought wrong. I’m a Slytherin in case you’d forgotten,” he replied.

She rolled her eyes. “What are you doing in the library?”

“Sticking to our deal, remember? If I work in the week then I get Firewhiskey at the weekend.”

“I was hoping you’d get a lot more out of it than just that,” she said.

Malfoy shrugged. “So. Trouble in paradise, Princess?”

“Thanks to you,” she muttered.

He just quirked a questioning eyebrow. “Your use of the term ‘princess’ in the kitchens has got Harry suspicious.”

Malfoy smirked. “Potter’s got his knickers in a twist in case you’re secretly snogging me?”

Hermione pretended to gag. “Thanks for that mental picture, Malfoy. I think I’m scarred for life.”

He leaned in close so that their lips almost were touching and his breath ghosted across her skin. “Aw, come on, Princess, you know you’d swoon if these luscious lips touched yours,” he said with a wink.

Hermione rolled her eyes and swatted him on the head with the tome she was trying to read. “Ouch, woman, that hurt,” he said, rubbing his head.

“It serves you right for being a lecherous pig. A big-headed, lecherous pig at that.”

“You have no sense of humour,” he sulked.

She smiled wryly at that. “Says the boy who can never take a joke.”

“I can take a joke,” Malfoy complained. “I just don’t find Gryffindor ones funny.”

“Yes, well I can sympathise, because I found your attempt at humour distinctly unfunny. Call me Princess in front of Harry again and I’ll hex your tongue off. In fact, stop calling me that full stop.”

He smirked. “It will cost you,” he said.

“No more deals,” she replied firmly.

“Then the name remains,” he responded stubbornly.

Hermione pursed her lips in annoyance. “Stop being irritating, Malfoy.”

“So did Potter really accuse you of sneaking around to see me?” he asked, amused at the dense nature of his one-time rival.

“Pretty much,” she sighed. “He’s concerned that I’m getting, and I quote, ‘too cosy with the Slytherins.’ He doesn’t trust you snakes.”

“Can’t say I blame him. You and Pansy are getting a little too friendly. I must warn Blaise that he’s in danger of losing his girlfriend to you.”

Hermione just shot him a withering glare. She was not encouraging the unrepentant blond to start traversing down that conversation alley. He seemed to get a kick out of teasing her and would take it ridiculously far.

He plonked his bag on the table. “So which homework essay are you doing? I thought I should probably tackle Slughorn’s feeble attempt to set us something difficult.”

She suddenly thought that it was not a good idea for Malfoy to realise that she was researching things to help him with his nighttime terrors. She didn’t think he’d appreciate her butting into his business even more than she already had. “Oh, I finished that the other day. It wasn’t too hard.”

Malfoy shot her an amused look. “Of course you’ve already completed it. I guess I’m a good few essays behind.”

“Probably,” Hermione said airily.

“Goody two-shoes,” he muttered.

“I’ll take that as a compliment and leave you to sweat over your essay,” she said, getting up from her seat.

“Ha!” Malfoy exclaimed. “It’s Slughorn. After Snape, he’s a piece of piss.”

Hermione nodded her head in agreement. It was true that Potions had gotten easier since Slughorn had taken over from Snape. It wasn’t as if the potions set had been any easier, it was just making them became easier when you didn’t have a professor staring over your shoulder, willing you to make a mistake. And the homework was less sadistic. But Hermione did miss the challenge that Snape had posed. She’d felt every time that she received an Outstanding that she had bested the sullen Professor in a game of wits. It had made it all very satisfying. There was nothing like that with Slughorn. He fawned over Hermione’s intelligence but she found it all a little distasteful. He didn’t actually like her; he liked her title of “Brightest Witch of the Age”. And Hermione certainly didn’t approve of how he was behaving towards Malfoy. It was unprofessional in a teacher to show such a dislike of a student. It had been in Snape and it was in Slughorn.

“See you around, Malfoy,” she said, packing up her belongings and getting up from the table.

“Not if I see you first, Princess,” he responded immaturely.

Hermione rolled her eyes but chose not to reply. He didn’t need encouraging in that department.

--------

By the time Thursday rolled around, Draco was feeling as if he’d been run over by a herd of hippogriffs. He had only managed a few hours sleep, and he was being tormented by his nightmares. His fatigue was so great that he was struggling to complete the homework that was due by the end of the week.

“Draco, this is ridiculous. You need to go and see Hermione,” Pansy said after watching him struggle with his Charms essay. “You’re too tired to manage this without a good night’s sleep.”

“I’m not going to Granger. We had a deal and I’m not going to give her a reason to renege on it,” he said stubbornly.

“How many times do I have to tell you that she’s not like that? She’s going to understand that not sleeping for five days is more detrimental to your schooling and she’ll find a way to help you sleep.”

“No,” he said firmly. “I’m going to be fine. I won’t go to her begging.”

“This is ridiculous, Draco. You’re pushing yourself too far too fast.”

“Pansy, drop it,” he growled.

Pansy threw her hands up in the air. “Your pride will be the death of you.”

“Only if your nagging doesn’t kill me off first,” he muttered irritably.

----------

Pansy paced across the seventh-year Slytherin boys’ dorm. She’d left Draco down in the common room, fighting his need to sleep to track Blaise down. “He’s being stupid,” she ranted. “He’s running himself into the ground.”

“Tell me again, why do we care?” Theo asked.

Pansy stopped and glared at the unrepentant Nott. “You know what, Theo? I’m tired of your jealously where Draco is concerned. You’d think you would’ve got over the fact that he was made a Death Eater and you weren’t, especially as we saw the toll it took on him. Would you have preferred to have been in Azkaban instead of him?”

“Pans, how many times do I have to tell you? I’m not jealous of Draco. Why would I want to be an eighteen-year-old alcoholic loser?” he sneered.

“Maybe because it’d make you more interesting than the nineteen-year-old boring loser you currently are,” she snarled back.

“As fun as this is, maybe we could go back to discussing something useful,” Blaise interrupted before Theo attempted to deck his girlfriend. The red flush staining Theo’s face suggested he was in a rage.

“Keep your girl in check, Blaise, or otherwise she may find herself hurt,” Theo threatened.

“Oh yeah, are you going to try and hit me, Nott? I think it would take a better wizard than you to best me,” she spat.

Theo stepped threateningly towards Pansy but before he could get too close, Blaise took hold of his arm. “Careful, Theo. I won’t tolerate you hurting Pansy.”

Theo glared at the feisty witch before storming out the room and slamming the door shut behind him.

“Insufferable little shit!” Pansy yelled after him.

“Have you finished?” Blaise asked calmly.

She scowled. “I don’t know how to cope with him. He’s awful.”

“His life hasn’t been easy, you know that, Pans. He never quite got over seeing his mother killed by those Muggles.”

She took several deep breaths to get rid of all her anger. “I get that, but you’d think he’d have got over this ridiculous obsessive envy he has of Draco by now.”

“I would too, but it’s Theo. He’s also still reeling over the fact that Narcissa lied to the Dark Lord just to save Draco’s life. He wishes he had his mother in his life and that she loved him that much,” he explained.

Pansy ran her hands through her hair. “He just gets on my nerves”

Blaise pulled her in for a hug. “I know, but just try to ignore it. I do and so does Draco and he doesn’t hold it against Theo. He knows where it all stems from.”

“What are we going to do about Draco?” Pansy asked. “He’s going to really damage himself trying to exist with no sleep. I don’t get why he won’t just go to Hermione and tell her that he needs help.”

“Because this is Draco and he hates admitting he has any weaknesses. It’s beneath Malfoys, apparently.”

Pansy giggled a little at that. It was true that the Malfoy pride was large even for pure-blood families. “I’ll go and see Hermione myself,” Pansy said.

“If you think that’s a good idea.”

“I’m at a loss for what else to do,” she admitted.

-----------

Hermione was suffering yet another session of her office hours. Luckily, she’d bought some of the research books with her. She hadn’t really found anything that could help. She’d come across a temporary spell that would allow the person suffering to get around five hours of sleep if it was cast on them just before they went to bed. But it wasn’t a long-term fix. However, it might help. It hadn’t escaped her notice that Draco was obviously suffering from sleep deprivation. He didn’t look as if he’d slept for more than a few hours all week so this spell could be at least help with that.

She was dragged from her practice of casting the spell by a knock on the door. “Come in,” she called.

Pansy walked in and sat down opposite her. “Is everything okay?” she asked.

“It’s Draco,” Pansy sighed. “He won’t come to you no matter how many times I nag, but he’s suffering.”

“He’s not sleeping, is he?”

Pansy shook her head. “But he’s determined to limp along to the weekend. Is there anything you can do to help?”

“I think I’ve found something that may help. It’s not great and isn’t going to be much use in the long-run but it might help him get more than a few hours of sleep a week,” she said.

Pansy looked at her curiously.

“It’s a spell that can be cast just before sleep that will render him dreamless for a short space of time. It’s relatively new so there isn’t a lot of research. The people who have used it have generally managed between four to six hours of sleep at night.”

“It sounds pretty perfect, Hermione.”

“Yes, but the long-term effects aren’t known and I don’t think it should be presented to Malfoy as such,” she warned.

Pansy nodded. “That sounds sensible. Can you teach me the spell? And possibly Blaise?”

Hermione agreed. It would be better than Malfoy continuing to get hardly any sleep.

Chapter Text

Gryffindor’s Quidditch match against Ravenclaw dawned with beautiful spring weather. Hermione had barely seen Harry, Ron or Ginny as Harry had been pushing the Gryffindor team to train all hours of the day. He was really taking Quidditch this season seriously. If she didn’t know how much he wanted to be an Auror, she would assume he was looking for a scout to pick him up to play professional Quidditch. In fact, he was doing such a good job with the team that there were a couple of scouts coming to the match today. Goldstein, who was a Chaser on the Ravenclaw team, tried to convince everyone that all the scouts were coming to see him, but that was a little hard to believe as one was from the Holyhead Harpies, who were an all female team.

Hermione was sure that a few scouts had come to see if they could tempt Harry away from his chosen career, but Ginny was also getting a lot of attention. She was just as talented as Harry in flying and could play two positions, which would make her a valuable asset on any team. She had another year to go at Hogwarts but Puddlemere United had signed up Oliver Wood in the summer prior to his final year at Hogwarts. It had just been kept quiet to try and avoid other teams from attempting to poach him.

Harry stood and led his team from the Great Hall at exactly 10 AM. Hermione couldn’t help but smile. It seemed that Harry had turned into Wood with his intensity this year. She was pleased to see him finally be able to give his undivided attention to Quidditch. He loved the game and hadn’t been able to fully express it with all his off-field antics foiling Voldemort’s plots.

Hermione went to move down to the Quidditch pitch ten minutes before the match started, along with most of the school. She noticed, however, that the majority of the Slytherins seemed to be heading either to the library or back to their common room. She saw Pansy walking off with Blaise and jogged over to them. “Not going to the game?” she asked.

Pansy looked at Hermione as if she was a little crazy. “No, we got the message after the first game of the season: we aren’t too welcome.”

“Oh,” she said a little sadly. “It’s just such a shame. Most of your boys and a fair few of your girls are as crazy over the game as the rest of the school.”

Blaise gave Hermione one of his patented aloof but faintly amused looks. “Granger, do we look like the kind of fools who go to be booed at for fun?”

“Okay, point taken. I’ll leave you to get on with whatever you were planning on doing,” Hermione said with a smile at Pansy before turning to walk down to the Gryffindor stand.

Blaise shook his head slightly in the wake of the bushy haired Head Girl. “She really is crazy at times,” he commented to Pansy.

“She just doesn’t get the whole self-preservation thing,” Pansy replied.

“Yeah, I realised that after our fifth year when she went haring off to take on fully grown Death Eaters at the age of sixteen.”

“Gryffindors!” Pansy remarked. “So, what are we planning on doing? Taking advantage of the fact that most of the school is at the match and taking a romantic stroll around the lake?”

He looked a little shame-faced. “Actually, I arranged to meet the boys. We’re going to watch the game from the Astronomy tower with our telescopes.”

He saw how crestfallen she looked. “But, if you want, I can do something with you instead.”

She rolled her eyes. Blaise was Quidditch crazy. The fact that he offered to do something with her instead was good enough for her. She patted his cheek and gave him a kiss. “Don’t worry. Go and watch the game. I’ll get that Transfiguration essay finished.”

“You’re the best, Pans,” he replied and enthusiastically kissed her before disappearing up the stairs.

---------

Thanks to Harry’s draconian training schedule, the Gryffindor steamrolled Ravenclaw. Hermione couldn’t help but feel smug about it. Goldstein had been driving her up the wall about it all week, going on about how this was the year for Ravenclaw to win the Quidditch Cup, how it was going to happen under his watch as Head Boy and various other obnoxious things. Hermione had risen above it all, completely uninterested, but she also had faith in Harry and his talented team to highlight what a non-entity Goldstein really was. Now, as she gave Ginny a massive hug, she couldn’t help but smirk a little the Head Boy's way. Maybe Harry was right about getting too close to the Slytherins. They seemed to be rubbing off on her.

“Before you all go back to enjoying your Saturday afternoon, I believe Ron Weasley, Gryffindor Keeper, has something to say. This better be good, Weasley, some of us have places to be,” the spiteful voice of Zacharias Smith rang out.

“I do hope the Wrackspurts are keeping away,” the dreamy voice of Luna Lovegood, Smith’s co-commenter, drifted across the pitch.

Hermione looked up, a little confused, and saw the grin on Harry and Ginny’s face as well as Ron’s terrified expression. She realised that Ron was planning on proposing to Hannah here after the game and she couldn’t help but grimace a little. This was the worst place for a proposal, in her opinion. It was so unromantic. But then again, she wasn’t a Quidditch fanatic. Ron and Hannah had bonded over their mutual love for the Chudley Cannons. Hermione caught a quick glimpse of McGonagall’s surprised and confused face. The Headmistress wasn’t going to find this romantic at all.

Ron was bright red. He used the Sonorous spell on his throat before reaching for Hannah’s hand and kneeling down. Hannah seemed to realise what was happening and was currently competing with Ron in the ‘who can go as red as possible’ competition. Ron fumbled around his robes before pulling out a little velvet box.

He cleared his throat. “Hannah, I know we haven’t been dating for long, but I love you and cannot imagine anyone else completing me the way that you do. I would be incredibly privileged if you would do me the honour of being my wife,” Ron said with rare grace before proffering the engagement ring to Hannah.

Hermione was rather blown away by Ron’s eloquence. If she had known about this beforehand she would have bet that he would be bumbling and hesitant in his proposal. She then heard Ginny whispering the speech along with Ron. Of course; they weren’t Ron’s words. Ginny had done a good job in coaching him so he didn’t forget anything, as well as keeping it short and sweet so he couldn’t mess it up too much.

Hannah seemed slightly overwhelmed by everything and was staring at the engagement ring in awe and shock. Ron cleared his throat again, now looking a little unsure. It was one thing to plan to propose in public, it was another thing to be rejected in front of practically everyone you went to school with. It also wasn’t like the UK magical community was very large and he’d see these people for the rest of his life. If Hannah turned him down, Ron would never hear the end of it. He looked up at Hannah with an imploring expression in his eyes. She seemed to come out of her trance, shook her head and looked around at everyone staring at them. “Yes,” she whispered shakily so only Ron could hear.

He leapt up and engulfed her in a massive hug. Whistles and catcalls echoed around the stadium and the happy couple were in the middle of a massive scrum of well-wishers.

Hermione stayed back to allow the initial rush to die down. She looked up and caught the eyes of McGonagall who looked both pleased for Ron and Hannah and a little annoyed at the timing of such an event. Hermione could almost hear the Headmistress’ clipped tones acerbically suggesting that school Quidditch matches were not the time and place for marriage proposals.

“Well, now that Hannah has demeaned our noble House of Hufflepuff by accepting Ron Weasley’s rather inept proposal, we can now get on with our day,” spat Zacharias Smith in a bitter tone.

Hermione was pleased to hear him getting roundly booed for such vindictive sentiments.

“Oh! That was so romantic,” gushed Luna, who also managed to get a sly dig into Smith’s ribs, using her elbows. “Congratulations to Ron and Hannah.”

There were loud cheers from the Hogwarts student body as Ron and Hannah were carried off the pitch on the shoulders of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Hermione followed behind. She hadn’t yet been able to get near to Ron or Hannah to offer her congratulations.

----------

The party appeared to be set to go on in Gryffindor Tower for the rest of the night. Hannah, and a couple of other Hufflepuffs, was also present. Hermione had finally managed to get close to the newly engaged couple to say congratulations. She’d given Ron a massive hug and cooed (as was expected of her) over Hannah’s ring. She really was happy for them but she couldn’t help but feel as if she was being left behind. Her group of friends were now nicely paired off, and Hermione didn’t really fit in anymore. Ginny and Hannah kept gushing about ideal wedding dresses whilst Ron and Harry sat by looking slightly self-conscious at all the dress talk. Hermione was shunted to the side of the group where she sipped butterbeer and tried to appear interested. She wasn’t, and she was also a little hurt that she hadn’t even known that Ron was going to propose today.

Hermione sneaked out of the common room as soon as she was able to. She really wasn’t in the mood to sit there with ridiculously happy couples that seemed to shove her own single state in her face. It wasn’t their fault, but Hermione was feeling bitter about it all. She was also upset with herself for feeling that way.

The main problem Hermione now had with keeping hold of Malfoy’s booze was that it was there when she was feeling down and the temptation to drink was high. She got back to her common room and cracked open a bottle of Firewhiskey. She was only going to have one glass to help pull her out of this funk she’d gotten in to.

-------

Draco waited until the Slytherin common room was empty before leaving it and travelling up to Granger’s Head Girl digs. It was good that he’d become so adept at travelling around the castle after curfew because he now did it every weekend to sneak the small amount of alcohol that Granger let him have from his stash. She was so harsh on rationing him that she had dismissed Noktok from picking anything up this week. She claimed that Draco had more than enough to last him for another week. As he didn’t know where she kept his contraband, he couldn’t check for himself. Not that she would be stupid enough to trust him with the password to her quarters.

Draco had been on his new regime for a few weeks. He was still a little sleep deprived. Apparently, Granger’s new spell didn’t work quite as well on him as it had on those she had read about. He tended only to manage just over four hours sleep under it before the nightmares returned. The alcohol also didn’t chase the nightmares away as well as it used to. Draco had hoped that they would begin to fade the further he got from Azkaban and his Death Eater days, but it appeared that they were getting worse. They seemed to be exclusively about Granger these days and the worst ones were where he took Aunt Bellatrix’s place and tortured the Gryffindor himself.

He still silenced his bed for although Blaise now knew about his night terrors, Theo Nott didn’t and Draco wanted to keep it that way. He had no desire for the hostile Slytherin to have something like that to hold against him.

Draco was also eager to come to find Granger today because he had a feeling that she might need some company. He didn’t for one minute imagine that he was the company she would have planned but if there was one thing he’d picked up from Granger over the last few months, it was the fact that she didn’t like to feel as if she was a burden on her friends. Draco had watched the Quidditch match with some other Slytherin boys up in the Astronomy Tower. They’d all been fairly revolted by the spectacle that had taken place afterwards. To want to marry your girlfriend quite so young was unpalatable to most of them, but by far the most vomit-inducing aspect of the whole thing was that he was that desperate to marry a Hufflepuff! Mind you, it was Weasley.

Draco knocked quietly and waited for Granger to open up. She knew he’d be coming so he wasn’t worried that she would be asleep and wouldn’t hear him.

“I doubt she’ll want to see you today,” the portrait snootily said to him.

“Piss off,” he replied.

“She’s pretty upset.”

“Do I look like I want to converse with you?”

“Slytherins! You’re all alike.”

He was saved from having to respond by the sound of Granger padding over the floor towards the door.

“Hey, Malfoy,” she said a little softly. “Want to come in?”

Usually, she had the bottle in her hand and shoved it into his, happy to get rid of him as soon as possible. But tonight he could tell from the expression in her eyes, and the fact that she was cradling a glass of Firewhiskey herself, that she could do with the company.

“Do you want me to go and wake Pansy up?” Draco asked, thinking that Pansy would do a much better job at consoling Granger than he would. It was obvious that that was what she needed and he remembered their conversation from a few weeks back where she’d opened up to him about some of her insecurities.

“No, it’s okay,” she said, not even questioning him about why he would suggest that. It was all very un-Granger like.

She wandered away from the door, leaving it open so he walked in and closed it behind him. He wasn’t even sure why he was doing this. Why didn’t he just demand she hand over the bottle of grog? Then he’d be on his way back down to the dungeons to get smashed on his own. Now he was opening himself up to another Granger pity party –again.

“So I take it you’re feeling all sorry for yourself after the events this afternoon?” he commented.

Granger turned and looked at him at little in surprise. “You know about that?”

He smirked. “Salazar’s rod, Granger, I know you’re doing the whole moping thing at the moment but it would be strange if I didn’t know about it. It’s all the castle is talking about.”

“It was all very romantic.”

Draco sneered at that. “It didn’t look like it from the top of the Astronomy Tower. In fact, it looked like a jeering circus.”

“Maybe you just had to be there.”

“Maybe you have to be immune to Weasley’s abrasive and unimaginative nature to appreciate it,” he shot back.

She snorted at that. He flopped back on the sofa and picked up the bottle of Firewhiskey and a spare glass. “See, Granger, I knew you weren’t so sappy as to really think that was a romantic proposal.”

“Well, it’s not what I would want but Hannah thought it was perfect,” she defended.

“The Orang-utan really has found himself the perfect wife if she actually appreciated that.”

Granger cuffed him around the back of the head. “Stop being so cutting, Malfoy. It’s not nice.”

“Who says I am nice. You should know better than to think that.”

Granger shot him a knowing look. “You don’t fool me, Malfoy.”

He huffed. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“You know precisely what I mean. If you were such a mean person as you try to make out to be then you wouldn’t be sitting here trying to make me feel better.”

“I’m just here for the Firewhiskey. Don’t fool yourself that I care one way or another about your love-life.”

She turned on the sofa to look at him. “And I suppose the running down of Ron and his methods of wooing Hannah are all about the Firewhiskey, too?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “That’s just my dislike of the Weasel coming through. As I’ve said before: you had a lucky escape.”

“I never thought I’d be saying this but you’re nicer than you make out.” Granger persisted.

“If you’re going to continue like this then I’m out of here. Aren’t you just going to talk my ear off about whatever it is that you’re so maudlin about?”

Hermione sighed and looked into the fire. Part of her recognised how strange it was to be sitting with Malfoy, talking about what had upset her. It was weird to think that she would trust him with some of her inner most thoughts and expect him to keep her secrets to himself. But something had changed between them; an inexplicable bond had formed over the course of the term. He was no longer just a sarcastic, nasty prick down on his luck, but someone whom she had come to view as a friend of sorts. The kind of person who didn’t sugar coat things for her, and just told her his opinion whether he thought it was going to hurt her or not. She appreciated that about him. It was abrasive but it was also something she didn’t have from any one else.

“I don’t know; it just feels as if I’m drifting so far away from Harry and Ron. I didn’t even know Ron was planning on proposing to Hannah today at the game,” she said forlornly.

Malfoy did a double take at that. Hermione picked up on the shock that it indicated. “Yeah, it was a little like that for me too,” she said.

“I thought you three were joined at the hip?”

“So did I. Ron didn’t even come to me to ask about what he should say. He and Harry always used to come to me for that kind of thing.”

Malfoy didn’t say anything to that. There wasn’t much to say. They sat there for a short while just sipping from their glasses of Firewhiskey companionably in silence. Hermione reached down to refill her glass and giggled.

“What?” he asked.

“You’ve corrupted me! Look at Hogwarts’ Head Girl sitting in her common room on a Saturday night drinking Firewhiskey.”

“You’ve missed out on one important factor.”

“What?”

“Hogwarts’ Head Girl is drinking Firewhiskey with a former Death Eater,” he said off hand.

Hermione couldn’t help it. It wasn’t that there was anything hugely amusing about his statement but the ridiculousness of it made her laugh even more. Malfoy looked at her and joined in. It appeared that they both just needed a night to unwind without thinking too hard of the consequences.

---------

It was much later, after many inconsequential things had been discussed, dissected, and argued over that Malfoy stood up. “I think I should probably leave,” he said.

“Don’t be a sore loser,” she teased. “Just because I won the argument about Buckbeak.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “You did not win the argument. I still think that Hippogriff was a menace to society and should have been put down.”

Hermione stuck her tongue out at him. “You deserved what you got and Buckbeak barely scratched you.”

“I’m not going back over this again. I think it’s time to say that we agree to disagree about Hippogriffs and that great oaf, Hagrid.”

“That’s what people say when they are about to lose an argument,” she persisted.

“No, that’s what people say when they are tired with arguing the same point with tipsy, extremely stubborn witches.”

“You don’t have to go,” she suggested as he moved towards the door.

Malfoy quirked an eyebrow in her direction and she blushed a little at how her remark had come out. “I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant that you could stay on the sofa again if you wanted. I don’t really want to be alone.”

He sighed and sat down. “I thought we’d gotten you out of this mood.”

“Yeah, well, as you just mentioned, I’m extremely stubborn.”

He turned to face her and looked her straight in the eyes. “Stop thinking that you are some kind of unattractive loser because you aren’t engaged at the age of eighteen.”

“Nineteen,” she pointed out.

“What?” Malfoy asked, confused.

“I’m nineteen. I think I’m the oldest at Hogwarts. My birthday is mid-September.”

“Oh,” he said. “Anyway, that’s not important. You need to stop thinking that you’re unattractive because you’re not engaged along with your friends. Do you even want to be?”

Hermione shook her head ‘no’. “But I don’t want to be the single friend who has to tag along at the end of the group. The one that turns the table from a cosy foursome to an awkward quintet with the stupid chair stuck on the end that the waiters trip over. Why is it always so difficult for me in this department? I’ve never even had a proper boyfriend.”

He frowned. “I thought there was Krum followed by the Weasel King.”

“Krum took me to the Yule Ball and watched me study a bit. I wasn’t really interested in him that way. We were friends more than anything. I think he liked the fact that I wasn’t gooey-eyed over him. Besides, I was into Ron then.”

“So, you didn’t even kiss?”

“Well there was a small kiss before he left, but to be honest, it was a little yucky and neither of us continued it for very long.”

“But then you dated Weasley for a bit,” he pointed out.

“I guess you could have called him my boyfriend for a month. But that was really to please his mum. Do you know how weird it was to make out with Ron?”

He screwed his face up with distaste. “Thanks, Granger; I really didn’t want that imaginary. The ginger buffoon doesn’t do much for me.”

She playfully whacked Malfoy before sobering up and looking mournful again. “But both times, it wasn’t how I imagined a relationship to be. I don’t even think they count as relationships. They certainly aren’t anything like the feelings Harry and Ginny or Ron and Hannah have for each other.”

He made a frustrated noise. “You’re not getting the point, Granger. It’s hardly the end of the world, and, besides, it’s not as if you’ve spent your last few years unoccupied. You’ve been pretty busy fighting off a crazy psychopath who wanted you dead.”

Hermione sniffled a little. “I know it’s not the end of the world but I am a female and I do want to feel attractive. All anyone ever seems to see are my brains.”

“Your brain is pretty scary, Granger.”

“See! That’s exactly my point. It’s almost as if because I’m intelligent that’s all that I have to define me. Do you know Parvati even had the nerve to tell me not worry about boyfriends because I’m the kind of girl who will have a career instead? I do want a partner, kids and a family life too,” she said, working herself up.

“First off, why are you listening to Parvati Patil? She worships Trelawney, for goodness sake. Secondly, there is plenty of time for you to have both. You’re not even twenty yet, so calm down.”

Hermione ran her hands through her hair. “Merlin, I’m a mess. If you’re sounding like a voice of reason then I know I’ve officially lost it.”

He snorted. “Princess, I’m always a voice of reason. The world just hasn’t caught up yet.”

“Either that or I’ve actually gone insane and you now sound like you make sense,” she teased. Her smile dropped and looked up at him. “So you don’t think I’m some hideous, unattractive troll who’ll never get a boyfriend?”

Malfoy groaned. “Are you ever going to drop this? I hereby declare your friends more than useless if you actually have this low self-esteem.”

Hermione looked away and stared into the fire.

“What? What did I say?” he demanded.

“You don’t want to know,” she replied.

“Just spit it out!” he ordered.

“You’re the reason I have such low self-esteem. You and your friends always went on about how ugly I was. It’s pretty much ingrained in me now,” she all but whispered.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Hermione didn’t want to look at Malfoy, but she couldn’t bear not knowing what he was thinking. She peeked up at him and saw him staring down at her in silence.

“Is that really true?” he asked.

Hermione just nodded her head.

“Shit!” he swore. “I thought you knew better than to believe anything that comes out of my mouth.”

She just stared up at him mutely.

“Listen, Granger, I was a jealous prick with a chip on my shoulder a mile wide. I thought it was cool to swagger around making everyone else’s life a misery. I thought I was so fucking superior to everyone else, but the irony is my life is more messed up than anyone else at Hogwarts.” he picked up her hand and began to play with her fingers. “Don’t spend your life worrying over what I said to you over the years. You’re smart, you’re witty and you’re fucking beautiful.”

Hermione gulped at that a little. She looked down at their entangled hands and back up at him. She smiled a little tremulously at him.

He stared back her before quietly whispering, “Fuck it.”

The next thing Hermione knew, his lips were on hers, giving her the softest kiss of her life. Her eyes fluttered shut and she leant into him and ran her hands up his chest to link them behind his neck. She speared her fingers through his silky hair as he dragged her closer and deepened the kiss. Her heart was pounding as his tongue slid into her mouth. No kiss had ever felt this addictive to Hermione. She always found the concept a little disgusting and when Krum had done what Malfoy was currently doing, she had gagged. But she definitely wasn’t now. Then as abruptly as it had started, the kiss ended and she opened her eyes in disappointment. He was staring down at her with dilated pupils that made his eyes seem more black than grey.

“What was that for?” she whispered.

He shrugged a little. “I wanted to,” he replied simply.

Hermione moved back and removed her arms from around him. She felt flustered and a little hot. She squirmed a little on the sofa. Malfoy cleared his throat and made to get up again. “I should really go this time.”

She put her hand on his arm. “Please don’t go, Malfoy. Just stay here tonight.”

He looked down into her vaguely pleading eyes and nodded. She poured them both another glass of Firewhiskey and they settled down into a comfortable silence.

Chapter Text

It hadn’t escaped Ginny’s notice that Hermione had disappeared during the night. One minute she’d been sitting with all of them as they sipped butterbeer and celebrated Ron’s engagement, and the next minute she was gone. It worried her that Hermione had sneaked out. She hadn’t said goodbye to anyone. That meant that something wasn’t right.

The thought that they had done something to upset Hermione had disturbed her dreams. Although Hermione had been much closer to Ron and Harry, she’d been like an older sister to Ginny. She had given her advice on trying to move on from Harry during Ginny’s fourth-year, which, ironically, had got Harry in the long run. And the girls had become very close in the last couple of years. So the morning after the party Ginny got up ridiculously early – she wanted to see what really was going on with Hermione.

Ginny had noticed that Hermione had been on the periphery of things last night. She had also realised that the Head Girl hadn’t known about Ron’s intentions to propose at the match. She hadn’t been left out on purpose, it was just that Harry had them training so much that the plan had been hatched on the Quidditch pitch and Ginny had helped Ron with what he was going to say during the long hours of their training. None of them had thought to tell Hermione. Ginny had been the one left on her own last year so she knew how it felt to be left out. Her heart hurt for Hermione.

Only a couple of first and second-years were scampering around in the common room but Ginny paid them no heed. She left the Gryffindor common room and headed over to Hermione’s independent dormitory. She said the password and walked in and stopped, struck dumb at the sight that greeted her eyes.

First off, it looked as if Hermione had taken the Gryffindor party into her own room. There was a bottle of Firewhiskey upturned on the coffee table and some sweet-wrappers scattered in between. But that wasn’t what had captivated Ginny. There, lying intertwined on the sofa, snuggled under a blanket, was Hermione with Draco Malfoy of all people. When Ginny was able to breathe, blink and have thought processes again, she crept further into the room and peered over at the sleeping pair. Hermione was tucked into Malfoy’s side, her head resting on his shoulder with his chin on top of her curls. They looked incredibly peaceful and if it was anyone else Hermione was curled around, she would be silently cheering. She hadn’t failed to notice that her friend was lonely. But this was Draco Malfoy. The Draco Malfoy. The pure-blood supremacist who had tormented and bullied Hermione mercilessly and had openly wished that she would die. Also, he had become a Death Eater - a group whose very ideology was to torture and kill Muggles and Muggle-borns alike. It was incongruous to say the least.

Ginny had spent the last few weeks listening to Harry’s theories that Hermione was hiding something and that that something had to do with Draco Malfoy. Ginny hadn’t paid him much heed. She had told Harry to trust their friend and that it was Hermione - she wouldn’t be as stupid as to get herself involved with the ex-Death Eater. But it seemed Harry had been right. Ginny was close to waking the pair up when she realised that she didn’t really want to have this confrontation with Hermione in front of the snarky Slytherin. It would likely lead to an argument and Hermione becoming defensive and unhelpful. Ginny sighed and left Hermione’s common room. She might as well eat a leisurely breakfast and think things over.

----------

The noise of the door clicking shut woke Draco up, although he wasn’t aware of it. For a brief moment he was confused by where he was and the warm heavy weight of someone lying on him. He looked down and saw Granger still sleeping and frowned as he remembered last night. What had he been thinking? Why had he kissed her and then stayed when she’d asked? In fact, why had he stayed at all? Why hadn’t he just asked her for his bottle of Firewhiskey at the door and just headed back down to the Slytherin dorms? With these questions swirling around his head, Draco slid out from Granger’s embrace. He was grateful that he didn’t jostle her too much and wake her. He needed to get his head in order and work out why the fuck he had done anything he had last night. Draco stopped briefly to stare down at the sleeping girl. He couldn’t help but smile at the sight she made. It was the one time where she actually seemed to switch off and just relax completely. He could almost hear her brain snoring. Usually, it was working overtime. He pulled the blanket up around her more securely, leaned down and brushed his lips over her forehead. He straightened up quickly and shook his head again. What was it about this girl that was making him act so abnormally?

Draco was pleased that it was still early. The corridors were silent with only a few sleepy people meandering about. He was about to go straight down to the dungeons to take a shower and change when the aroma of fresh coffee and croissants called to him from the Great Hall. It made sense to grab some breakfast first as he was there. He walked into the Hall and saw Blaise was apparently up and eating. Fuck, he thought. That meant that Blaise knew he hadn’t slept in his bed last night. He was the only Slytherin over the age of thirteen currently awake and it would look strange if Draco ignored him and sat at the other end of the table - as far as away from Blaise as he could get - although, it was highly tempting.

Draco slid into the space next to Blaise and poured himself a glass of fresh pumpkin juice. It would help get rid of that fuzzy taste in his mouth and fresh juice was brilliant at clearing your head before you hit it with a large dose of caffeine.

Blaise turned his head and looked at him with an eyebrow raised. “Good morning, Draco. Or should I be saying ‘good night’?”

Draco bristled slightly. This was why he and Blaise could never be close friends; he was too damn annoying. He just nodded his head in acknowledgement, hoping Blaise would get the hint and shut the fuck up.

“So, who was the lucky lady? Or did you just pass out in some dark passage?”

“What do you think?” Draco drawled, not wanting to say anything about where he had been.

Blaise looked him up and down. “Well, whilst you look crumpled and a bit dishevelled, I don’t think it reaches the proportions as if you had slept on a hard, stone floor. So I take it some female took pity on you and offered you her bed for the night?”

Draco didn’t confirm or deny anything. He just shot Blaise a disinterested glance, hoping the other Slytherin would just drop it.

Blaise leant in slightly and smelt Draco’s shoulder. “Hmm … and judging by the faint smell of something definitely feminine coming from your jumper, I’d say she slept in that bed with you. Cinnamon - nice.”

Draco was feeling pretty tense now and regretting his decision to come into the Hall. Blaise was too sharp for his own good. “So what if I did spend the night with a girl? What’s it to you?”

“No need to get defensive. I’m just surprised there’s a girl here willing to sleep with your sorry arse. Is that why you’re here so early? Did she realise who you were and kick you out for waking her up with your nightmares?” Blaise remarked cruelly.

“Fuck off,” Draco snarled and then stopped. He tried to remember how he had slept and realised that he couldn’t remember anything about it. He recalled Granger snuggling into his shoulder, yawning and falling asleep. He also remembered thinking that he should leave but he was feeling too comfortable to move and so he summoned a blanket instead and settled them both down in a more comfortable position to sleep in. And then… nothing. The next thing he could remember was waking up twenty minutes ago, feeling well rested and extremely cosy with his armful of Gryffindor. There was no dark nightmare that had pulled him out of his sleep, no sweat and heart thumping. It was the first time he could remember where he’d slept without waking up terrified since the enormity of his task to kill Dumbledore had dawned on him.

“So it isn’t anyone in Slytherin because you would have showered and changed before coming up here. I doubt it’s a Hufflepuff because you would have stayed below and returned to our dorm afterwards. Which makes me think it was either a Ravenclaw or a Gryffindor. I can’t see a Gryffindor wanting to touch you, which makes it likely to be a Ravenclaw,” Blaise deduced. “Are you planning on telling me who it is or am I going to have to go through all the Ravenclaws old enough and dumb enough to want to have sex with you?”

He ignored Blaise. He wasn’t in the mood for this bullshit. He’d just had the most bizarre twelve hours of his life in which he’d comforted Granger, kissed her and then fallen asleep with her on her sofa and slept peacefully. And, despite feeling confused about it all, he didn’t regret any of it.

A deep chuckle from Blaise pulled him out of his thoughts. “Oh, maybe it was a Gryffindor. Did you bag Potter’s little fiancée? From the way she’s been staring at you since you walked in, it could be her.”

Draco looked over to the deserted Gryffindor table and saw Ginny Weasley staring at him. She wasn’t giving him the usual sneer that she reserved purely for Slytherins. Instead, she seemed to be almost contemplative as she looked at him. She realised both Slytherins were staring back at her and quickly looked down at her book.

“If I remember correctly, Blaise, it’s always been you who’s had a thing for the little Weasley.”

Blaise turned to look at Draco and scowled. “I mentioned once to Pansy that she wasn’t bad looking for a Gryffindor or a Weasley, and you two built it up into some unrequited love. Besides, Potter’s sloppy seconds aren’t my style.”

Draco saw an opportunity to steer the topic away from where he’d been last night. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep it that way because if you hurt Pansy, I swear to Salazar, I’ll make you regret it for the rest of your life,” he threatened.

Blaise scoffed at him, finished his coffee and stood up. “You don’t scare me, Draco,” he said before strolling out of the Great Hall.

Draco was pleased to have gotten rid of him and was finally able to relax and sip his coffee. He kept his eye on the Weaselette but apart from a few thoughtful looks in his direction, she kept her eyes on the book she was reading.

--------

Hermione surfaced out of the hazy depths of her sleep and opened her eyes. She jumped slightly as she locked eyes with the brown-eyed gaze of Ginny.

“Ginny!” she exclaimed. “You made me jump out of my skin.”

Ginny said nothing but handed her a cup of coffee. Hermione took a sip before putting in the on the coffee table and groaning at the sight of last night’s bottle of alcohol.

“Heavy night?” Ginny asked.

“You have no idea,” she murmured back.

Hermione was a little unnerved by the look that Ginny gave her at that. At least she hadn’t come in and stumbled upon her and Malfoy. She didn’t think the redhead would be sitting there quite so calmly if she had.

“So, what happened? You just disappeared last night.”

Hermione looked down at the coffee. Should she unburden herself on Ginny? She really didn’t want to bring her friend out of the bliss she was currently experiencing. “Oh, nothing. Just tired, you know.”

“So it had nothing to do with the fact that I found you curled around Draco Malfoy on that sofa this morning?” Ginny casually asked, pointing to where Hermione was sitting.

For once in her life, Hermione’s brain couldn’t think of anything. She sat there with her mouth open, just staring at Ginny. The redheaded Gryffindor looked at the brunette and folded her arms. “You better start talking, Hermione.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“I don’t even know what to think at the moment. I have so many thoughts going through my mind. Are you secretly dating Malfoy?”

“No!” Hermione all but screamed. “It’s nothing like that.”

“Talk to me. You’ve started to become so distant.”

She raked her hands through her hair before explaining the whole situation to her friend. At least she didn’t have to worry about Ginny running off to Harry and Ron as she had when Neville had confronted her about Malfoy leaving her rooms. Ginny would keep her secret, but Hermione would definitely keep quiet about the kiss last night.

By the end of the story, Ginny’s eyes were round in disbelief. “I can’t believe Harry was right again. His gut instincts are spot-on.”

“Right about what?”

“He said that you were involved in something to do with Malfoy. He never believed that Parkinson was talking to you about bullied first-years.”

Hermione had the shame to blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to lie but you know how Harry and Ron are. They didn’t even step in when Dean was beating the shit out of Malfoy.”

“I get why you lied, I just wish you hadn’t.” Ginny said, a little sadly.

The two girls sat across from each other and sipped their drinks. Hermione felt a weight lifted off her shoulders now that at least one of her good friends knew about the situation with Malfoy. She wasn’t counting the kiss last night because that was an anomaly.

“So Malfoy is really screwed up,” Ginny said.

Hermione nodded. “He’s mess, alright. Pansy and I have managed to rein in his drinking a little but there are still a lot of problems. I tried to convince him to speak to the Healer that Harry went to at St. Mungo’s, but he refused.”

“And he doesn’t call you Mudblood?” Ginny asked, a little bemused by this change in the dynamic.

“He did at the beginning but he cut it out after I threatened to hex him so badly he’d end up in St. Mungo’s.”

“What’s up with the ‘princess’ thing? That’s driven Harry nuts.”

She rolled her eyes. “I just ignore it. It’s Malfoy trying to be annoying.”

“Are you sure it’s not something else?” Ginny asked suspiciously.

Hermione thought back to the conversation she’d had with Andromeda in Hogsmeade. She hadn’t mentioned that to Ginny either. She felt no need to open that particular can of worms. After what Ginny had witnessed this morning, she could see what she would read into it.

“Ginny! Really! Can you imagine Malfoy harbouring secret and tender feelings towards me? It would just be weird.”

Ginny recognised the truth of that and giggled. Hermione eyed how Ginny relaxed back into the sofa and breathed a mental sigh of relief. The interrogation, it seemed, was over. It was then Ginny’s turn to look tense. “Look, Hermione, I realised late last night that we’ve been leaving you out of things.”

The pain that had consumed her yesterday at the seeming betrayal of her closest friends returned briefly, but she ignored it. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No, I will worry about it. You mean the world to us, Hermione, and Ron not telling you about his plans to propose at the game wasn’t because he didn’t want you to know, but purely because we’ve been training so hard.”

Hermione suddenly felt a lot lighter. Her friends weren’t pushing her away. “I blame myself really,” Ginny continued. “I know how absorbed Ron gets when he’s in the middle of plans. And Harry… Well, Harry is wrapped up in actually having a normal year. But I should have sought you out and told you.”

She smiled at her anxious redheaded friend. “Stop being so hard on yourself. These things happen. It did hurt but I’m not going to hold on to it, especially as I know more than anyone how oblivious those boys can be.”

Ginny gave a massive sigh of relief and grinned at Hermione. “We didn’t mean to – literally – drive you into the arms of Draco Malfoy.”

Hermione blushed bright red. Ginny stayed to chat with her for another hour or so before she had had to meet Harry and Ron down at the Quidditch pitch. It appeared that Harry wasn’t letting his team have a day of rest this season. Once Ginny had gone, Hermione could finally sit back and think about what on earth had happened the night before.

For once, her brain seemed incapable of putting everything into a logical order. This was one giant mess and that kiss had just confused everything even more. She wasn’t sure what she thought of Malfoy any more. She certainly didn’t hate him as she once had. She’d seen through the bravado that Pansy had spoken of, back in January, and down to the Malfoy that lay underneath it. And she found that she liked that Malfoy - he could be kind and caring. The fact that he’d stayed with Hermione last night, and hadn’t laughed at her insecurities, was testament to that.

She sighed as she thought back to the kiss. Maybe it had just been a comfort thing. That would make it a lot easier to understand. He’d been feeling sorry for her and feeling ashamed at the fact that he was to blame for lots of her insecurities. Yes, she was sure that’s what it was. It was just a kiss to make her feel better about herself. She ignored the pang of pain that shot through her at that thought. If it was anything more then it would complicate everything, and Hermione really didn’t need complicated this year. She needed quiet and easy. She had had enough difficult situations already over the past years.

Besides, she didn’t want Malfoy to have any feelings for her, did she? No, of course she didn’t, she told herself. It was Malfoy. Besides, she was a Muggle-born and he was the pure-blood poster child. How would that work? And then there was Harry and Ron to think of, and Malfoy’s parents. No, it would be best if it were just a comfort kiss.

Hermione put any thoughts of wanting it to be anything else out of her mind and went on with her day. She was grateful she had a complicated Arithmancy project to do.

---------

Hermione spent the rest of the day in the library, sorting her homework out. She also decided to start drawing her up her N.E.W.T. revision timetable. It was now March and there wasn’t long to go until the exams would be on them. Whilst she was at it, she decided to sort Harry’s and Ron’s out as well. The boys would never get round to doing them, and it was taking her mind of things like troublesome Slytherins and their intoxicating kisses. Hermione shook her head. She was not going to think about it anymore.

--------

It wasn’t until dinner that Hermione left her sanctuary at the back of the library. She’d been pleased that the castle seemed extra lethargic this Sunday. The library had been quiet just as she needed. She hadn’t seen anyone and that was exactly what she needed, too. She found herself enjoying the solitude these days. Maybe it was because last year had been so claustrophobic in that blasted tent. The three of them had been living on top of each other in incredibly stressful circumstances. It wasn’t surprising that she now enjoyed days like today where she didn’t need to see Harry and Ron until dinnertime.

Harry, Ron and Ginny were looking suitably worn out after yet another brutal Quidditch practice.

“Merlin’s beard, Harry, you think you could give it a bit of a rest,” Ron complained. “We only played just yesterday but you had us back out on the pitch today, and not a little gentle flying and fun, but a full blown, hardcore training session.”

Ginny winced as Ron accidentally elbowed her in the side. “Watch it, Ron, that Bludger did more damage than I realised.”

Harry looked at Ginny in concern. “Do you want go to the Infirmary after dinner?”

Ginny smiled across the table at him. “Don’t worry, I have some of that bruise paste that George invented. I thought it would come in handy this year.”

Hermione sat down and tried not to smirk at the state of her friends. Ron still looked majorly hung-over and Ginny and Harry looked dead on their feet. “Good evening. Good practice?” she asked innocently.

Ron broke out into fresh grumbling under his breath but Harry smiled at Hermione. “Hey, where did you get to last night? One minute you were there and the next you were gone.”

Hermione couldn’t help it; she involuntarily flicked her eyes towards Ginny who was just staring down at her plate. She felt a flood of gratitude towards the youngest Weasley - Ginny hadn’t said anything to Harry. She didn’t think she would but you could never be sure when relationships deepened and couples became engaged.

“Oh, I was just tired. It was a bit of a long day,” Hermione said casually before starting to search through her bag. “By the way, I drew up my N.E.W.T. revision time-table this afternoon and did one for the pair of you, too.”

Ron groaned once more. “Hermione, we’ve got ages until exams. It’s not even Easter yet.”

“Ronald, its March already. Before you know, the exams will be upon us. Do you want to be unprepared?”

Ron huffed and looked at the time-table Hermione gave him. “I can’t study that much, my brain will burst!” he exclaimed.

“What brain?” Ginny murmured.

Ron glared at her before flicking a pea off his plate in her direction. “Ron, that’s disgusting!” Ginny yelled.

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said, giving her a kiss on the cheek before the two hotheaded siblings could break out into a full argument.

She grinned at her green-eyed friend and started to pile some food on her plate. In the midst of spooning some rice onto her plate, she caught sight of Malfoy. He held her gaze for a minute before Hermione pulled her eyes away and focused back on the rice. She willed herself not to blush but felt the blood pour into her cheeks. She let her hair down from her ponytail to try and put a curtain between her and Harry. Luckily, the conversation had returned to Quidditch and Ron was currently regaling them all with his highlights from yesterday’s match. Hermione couldn’t help herself; she stole another glance towards the Slytherin table at Malfoy who was now turned away and chatting to Pansy. She took a moment to just drink him in. There were things that she had never noticed about him before that were now fascinating to her. The way that he gestured when talking had seemed like arrogance before, but she now realised that it was passion.

He had always come across as cold and unfeeling previously, but Hermione noticed that he was just incredibly controlled. She supposed he’d been taught to be like that from Lucius Malfoy, with whom he shared this characteristic. But when you observed him with his friends, he was much more relaxed. Instead of sneers, he often wore warm smiles that crinkled the corners of his eyes. He’d given her that smile a few times the night before during their light-hearted chat and it had melted any hostility she previously held.

Malfoy’s grey eyes flashed in her direction again and an eyebrow rose at her. Mortified at being caught staring at him so intently, she smiled shyly at him before zoning back into what Harry was saying.

---------

On the way back up to Gryffindor Tower, Ginny grabbed hold of Hermione’s arm and held her back so they dropped behind Ron and Harry. “What was that at the table?” she asked.

“What?” she replied, confused.

“You were staring towards the Slytherin table for ages.”

She flushed. “I don’t know. I was just thinking about stuff.”

Ginny turned to face her, blocking the staircase. “Hermione, be careful. Don’t get yourself in too deep with Malfoy. Based on what you’ve told me, he’s seriously screwed up at the moment.”

“I don’t plan to get any more involved with him,” she protested.

“Do you like him? And I mean romantically,” Ginny asked in her typically blunt fashion.

“No…” Hermione said a little hesitantly. She saw the sceptical look on Ginny’s face. “I don’t think so, okay? It’s hard to explain. He’s different when you get him alone.”

“Well I guessed that. I would be worried if he was same git and you were feeling this confused over him.”

“I know you’ll find this hard to believe but he can be really kind and caring,” she confided.

Ginny looked a little disturbed. “To be honest, I do find that strange. This is Malfoy, kind and caring aren’t two words I would usually associate with him. Mean and spiteful definitely, but not kind and caring.”

Hermione nodded in agreement. “I know, but it’s true.”

Ginny looked at her seriously. “Just think about what getting in any deeper with Malfoy will do. Harry and Ron won’t understand. They’ll think you’ve lost your mind.”

She blushed. “Ginny, you’re jumping the gun. I don’t even like Malfoy like that. And even if I did, I have no idea how he feels about me or even if I’d want to take a step like that.”

“Just talk to me before you do anything. Please.”

Hermione felt a little guilty at that. She was already leaving much of the narrative out for Ginny already, but, until she could analyse what happened last night, she couldn’t put it coherently for anyone else to understand. Ginny was already jumping to conclusions about Hermione and her feelings for Malfoy. The kiss would just amplify that.

Chapter Text

Blaise found himself in the unusual position of being eaten up with curiosity since yesterday when Draco had turned up in the Great Hall for breakfast looking dishevelled and smelling distinctly feminine. He usually couldn’t care less about what was happening with others, but this was just strange, as even girls in Slytherin House had kept a distance from Draco this year. Well, unless you counted Astoria Greengrass, and Daphne would disembowel him if he touched her sister. Besides, Draco wasn’t interested in Astoria, who was young and romantic enough to think that he was a fallen hero. She was also more than a little attracted to his riches and the idea of playing ‘lady of the manor’. Draco was aware of this and so he didn’t give the little Greengrass girl the time of day. Blaise was irritated with himself for being so interested in whom Draco had been with, but it was a mystery, and it was bugging him.

Draco, of course, was being his usual non-verbose self. Pansy had received no information from him about where he’d been when Blaise had set her on the case. Instead, she’d returned with a twinkle in her eye that clearly said ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, but there was no way Blaise was falling for the insane idea that Draco and Head Girl Granger would make a good couple, or even be interested in each other. It was too crazy. Draco had hated Granger purely for her blood. He’d made her life a living misery for years, and had, on occasion, wished for her death. And now Blaise was suddenly meant to believe that Draco had been hiding secret feelings for her all this time? Or had suddenly discovered that Granger was everything he was looking for? There was no way. He may not be calling Granger a Mudblood any more, but things were changing after the war, and a spell in Azkaban probably had a profound impact on your outlook.

And then there was Granger herself. Blaise was hard-pressed to believe that she would be attracted to Draco. She was sensible and had a brain, and whilst she may be able to see past his bullying of her to help him, it didn’t mean she would subject herself to a relationship with him. Besides, it would mean fighting with her friends, and Blaise couldn’t comprehend her putting Draco in front of her two best friends since she’d been prepared to fight and – potentially – die for them. Nope, Blaise was not buying this ‘relationship’ that Pansy was pushing. It made no sense whatsoever.

Talk of the devil, there was Granger rushing down the corridor to get to class on time. Blaise looked towards Draco who was paying no attention to the bushy-haired Gryffindor. Ha! He knew it was all in Pansy’s imagination. The two didn’t even look at each other - so much for Pansy’s dramatic love affair. They didn’t even shoot little secretive glances towards each other.

Blaise suddenly realised that everyone was going into the class and moved to hurry up to get inside before he was penalised for being late. He was so busy sorting his bag out that he didn’t notice the girl he’d previously been staring at as she rushed down the corridor, and bumped into her into the doorway.

“Ooof!” Granger exhaled, as Blaise’s book bag collided with her stomach.

“Oh, sorry, Granger,” Blaise apologised. “I didn’t see you there.”

Granger rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I’m sure it’s so difficult to notice others from your Olympian height,” she said scathingly before haughtily stepping in front of him, whipping her hair across his face.

Blaise was about to give a scornful reply back when the scent of cinnamon stopped him in his tracks. He froze as his mind processed the ramifications of it. No! It was impossible. He was sure it was just some new, popular hair product that the girls at Hogwarts were using. There was no way that it was Granger that Draco had been with on Saturday night.

“In your own time, Mr. Zabini,” Professor Vector intoned sarcastically from the front of the classroom, sounding scarily like Professor Snape for a minute.

He flushed slightly as he realised everyone was staring at him, waiting for him to move. Draco was giving him that irritating ‘look at the idiot’ amused look he usually saved for Hufflepuffs and Longbottom.

“Sorry,” he said for the second time in a minute and took his seat next to Draco.

Draco turned towards him and raised an eyebrow. “You okay, Blaise? You look a bit dazed. Did Granger pierce your thick hide with one of her nasty witticisms?”

Blaise refused to rise to Draco’s bait. He was too busy realising that Pansy might well be right. He internally groaned as he thought of the smug gloating Pansy would indulge in if that were the case.

Throughout the lesson, Blaise kept his eye on the snarky blond and Granger. If they had indeed been together then they were good at hiding it; they thoroughly ignored each other. But then again, he guessed they would have to be good at covering up any romantic interaction. Her friends would throw a hissy fit, and Draco had a name to maintain in pure-blood circles. After all, it could be nothing. Blaise was sure that Granger wasn’t the only witch to smell like cinnamon, despite the majority preferring floral perfumes or shampoo.

However, just before the lesson was about to conclude, Blaise caught a moment between the pair that had him realising that Pansy was right. They did fancy each other, they just weren’t necessarily aware of it. Blaise thought Draco had been staring at the wall, but when Granger turned her head in their direction, he felt Draco tense up. Not wanting to look directly at Draco in case he drew attention to the fact that he was following what was happening between the two of them, he studied his friend out the corner of his eye. Draco was staring intently at Granger with a look in his grey eyes that could set fire to Hogwarts. Granger caught sight of the tall blond, nibbled at her lip and unconsciously squirmed in seat, moving her hair off her neck as if she was hot. Blaise heard Draco’s breath hitch in his throat, leaving him under no delusions as to where his mind was currently going. Then Professor Vector spoke and the tension between the pair was broken. Blaise was stunned by the interaction. Thank Salazar he hadn’t made a bet with Pansy. He would definitely be losing if he had.

-------

Hermione thought that a good night’s sleep would sort out her feelings, but it hadn’t. She was still feeing just as confused about everything as she had been yesterday. It didn’t help that she shared quite a few lessons with Malfoy today, and had felt his eyes on her. She couldn’t help but steal some glances his way as well. All of a sudden she was acutely aware of his mouth, how his bottom lip was so much fuller than his top. And now she knew how soft his lips were she found them fascinating. She had to pull herself out of several daydreams during lunch when he’d sat eating grapes and driving her nuts. It really wasn’t fair. She was firmly blaming Ginny for this mess. If she hadn’t spoken so much about how dangerous a relationship with Malfoy would be, she probably would have forgotten all about that kiss by now. Hermione had also thought that she was above all that nonsense about falling for the ‘bad boy’. Not that she really saw Malfoy as one. She viewed him instead as spoilt and arrogant. But she’d seen beyond that and she now knew that he had hidden depths, which were calling to her.

She really needed to stop this nonsense. Malfoy would probably piss himself laughing if he knew how much his little pity kiss had turned Hermione’s emotions upside down. Merlin, she was turning into one of those pathetic girls who gets a small amount of attention and makes a mountain out of it. She should be focusing on her N.E.W.T.s, not mooning over a boy who was probably regretting sullying his lips with her inferior Mudblood ones.

So instead, Hermione turned her attention to the letter she’d received from Andromeda that morning. She was thrilled to read that McGonagall was allowing Andromeda and Teddy to come and visit this weekend. It was close to the first anniversary of Ted Tonks’ death battling Snatchers. In normal circumstances, a visit would not be permitted in the middle of term, but McGonagall knew how close Hermione had become to Andromeda, and Teddy was Harry’s Godson. Hermione was aware that McGonagall was showing a little bit of favouritism in bending the rules for them, but she was just happy it was happening. It would also give her the option to open up to Andromeda about the kiss if she wanted to. She was currently debating whether to do so or not.

-------

Blaise grabbed hold of Pansy as she exited the Great Hall. He pulled her to a nearby empty classroom and warded the door against intrusions. Pansy looked at him in confusion. “I think I know who Draco was with on Saturday, but first I need to ask you a question,” Blaise said.

“So ask me, then. I’m going to be late for Divination.”

“Is there a popular shampoo that smells of cinnamon that all the girls are using?”

Pansy looked bemused at the question “Er … not that I’m aware of.”

He groaned. “You’re going to be insufferable now. Draco had to be with Granger, then. He smelled like cinnamon on Sunday morning, and today I bumped into Granger and she smelled exactly the same.”

She smiled cheekily. “I told you. So if Draco stayed up there and smelled of Hermione, it meant he slept in her bed.”

He shuddered. “I really don’t want to think about what the two of them were doing. It’s disturbing.”

Pansy frowned at him. “No, it’s not. It’s cute. They look so sweet together.”

“This is Draco we’re talking about. He doesn’t look sweet at any point. And if he gets together with Granger, it’s just weird. Isn’t she meant to go off and marry a Weasley, whilst he preserves the pure-blood lines of the Malfoy family?”

She huffed. “You’re so unromantic. I don’t know why I put up with you.”

Blaise leered down at his witch teasingly and pulled her close. “Because no one else kisses you as well as I do,” he whispered in her ear before giving her a demonstration.

Pansy had to admit that he was right.

--------

Draco dragged himself down to Potions. It was exactly how he wanted to end his Monday afternoon: a double dose of Slughorn, he thought sarcastically. The Head of Slytherin House didn’t bother to hide the fact that he disliked Draco. Draco himself didn’t care. He’d grown out of wanting to be invited to the Slug Club because it was – supposedly – elite. He didn’t need some old name-dropper to give him creditability.

It was also another lesson with Granger. That was more problematic. He’d spent his Sunday brooding over her and that kiss. It wasn’t healthy. He was putting it down to the fact that he hadn’t had any female interaction for longer than he wanted to remember. Missions from the Dark Lord didn’t really lend themselves to dalliances with the opposite sex, neither did having said psychotic Dark Lord living in your home, torturing and murdering people over your dinner table. The last girl he remembered kissing, let alone doing anything more with, was a seventh-year Ravenclaw right at the beginning of his sixth year, before the burden of trying to kill Dumbledore had become too great.

Draco walked into Potions classroom and sat at the table behind Blaise. He was in the process of spreading his books across the table when Slughorn walked in.

“I have an exciting lesson planned for you all today,” the Professor beamed.

Several students sat up, eager and curious. Draco smirked slightly as Granger was one them. She looked so intrigued that he thought she was going to fall off her seat in suppressed anticipation.

“Today we’re going to be brewing something difficult but fun: Amortentia,” Slughorn announced.

Draco groaned. This day was just getting better and better.

“I’ve decided to set up a little competition, and because this is a love potion, I’m making this competition boys versus girls. The winning gender will have the opposition clean their Potions set for the next month. Now, if the boys on the right side of the room could please move across to the left side? Thank you.”

Draco was pleased that he wasn’t being asked to move, but it meant that someone would have to sit next to him as the class was divided unevenly with one extra boy. He didn’t really care who it was and put his head down, reading through the instructions for the love potion. It was the hissing argument that gained his attention. He looked up to see Potter and Weasley fighting over who would get to sit next to the one Hufflepuff with a space next to him. Draco rolled his eyes. Of course he would be stuck with one of the Death-trap Duo. That was all he needed. He focused on his book again and didn’t bother looking up when the chair next to his was pulled back noisily, as if it was protesting having to move.

“Malfoy,” spat the familiar voice of The-Boy-Who-Refused-To-Fucking-Die.

“Potter,” he sneered back.

“Do anything to my potion and it’ll be the last thing you do,” Potter warned.

“It might come as a surprise to you, Wonder Boy, but I couldn’t give a flying fuck about you or your potion,” Draco snarled.

“Excuse me for not believing you with all the times that you’ve tried to sabotage Gryffindor potions over the years.”

Draco didn’t bother to respond. He just gave Potter his best contemptuous look. Bandying words with the Scarred One just wasn’t worth his time or his effort right now. They settled down to working on their potions in silence, refusing to acknowledge that the other existed.

Draco was sitting there waiting for the potion to simmer and brew. He was inspecting his nails in an attempt not to stare at Granger. He didn’t want his eyes to wander in her direction, as they had done earlier in Arithmancy. He also wouldn’t put it past Saint Potter to notice who he was looking at. Potter would probably start a fist-fight right there in the classroom and, with how Slughorn thought the sun shone out of the suicidal prick’s backside, he wouldn’t be surprised if all the blame was landed on him and he found himself kicked out of Hogwarts and hauled in front of the Ministry for breaking his parole.

“Malfoy,” Potter broke into his thoughts in a much less hostile tone of voice.

“What?” Draco asked, annoyed.

“Why did you call Hermione ‘princess’ in the kitchens?”

Draco smirked and looked at the worried face of Harry Potter. Granger had been so anxious that he would let her current role in his life slip when she confiscated his alcohol. He hadn’t planned on saying anything to give away how she had been helping him and had given her his bag because he realised how pointless it would be to take on all three of them. Besides, Granger’s way had been the most pleasant on offer. Also, he would much rather give in to her requests than be forced to go along with the heavy-handed tactics of either Potter or his pet side-kick, Weasley. He doubted he would come out of any further encounters with those particular Gryffindorks with his dignity intact. He never did manage to do that with them; they brought the worse out in him.

“What’s it to you, Potter?” he drawled.

“Don’t give me that, Ferret Boy, just tell me what you meant,” the Gryffindor said angrily.

Draco yawned - Potter really lacked any subtlety. It was all overblown threats and insults with him. “I really don’t see what business it is of yours,” he needled.

The other wizard pointed his finger in Draco’s face. “I’m warning you, Malfoy, leave Hermione alone. I don’t want to see you anywhere near her.”

“What if she doesn’t want me to leave me alone?” he asked with a wink.

Potter went bright red and spluttered ineffectively for a minute. If Draco cared, he’d be worried that the Gryffindor was having an aneurysm. “What do you mean by that?”

“Granger’s a big girl. I’m sure she can look after herself.”

“She’s naïve and she’s compassionate. She doesn’t need you taking advantage of her.”

Draco actually felt insulted on Granger’s behalf. She was the most talented witch he’d ever met with a brain to match. Yes, she cared about others, but that didn’t make her a fool. But the way Potter was talking about her, you’d think she was a delicate flower who couldn’t hex someone a million different ways, which Draco knew that she actually could. “I’m sure Granger would be thrilled to hear how highly you think of her.”

The Gryffindor’s eyes flashed. “Hermione knows I respect her and her magic, but that’s not what I’m talking about. She’s more willing to give others a second chance than most other people. She’s stood up for you, and I don’t want you thinking that means you can use her for your own gain.”

“Stop getting your knickers in a twist. Granger scares me more than you ever will.”

Potter narrowed his eyes at him. Draco could practically hear the cogs in his brain moving. It was a good thing that he had his bravery and good wand work because if he had to rely on his intellect then he would have been dead a long time ago.

“Promise me you’ll stay away from her.”

“I’m not promising you jack-shit. Why should I? I don’t give a fuck about what you want.”

“I could make your life really difficult, Malfoy. It’s no state secret that I’m heading into the Auror Office after finishing up at Hogwarts. I could use my position to hound you out of the country for the scum that you are,” Potter threatened.

Draco didn’t respond well to threats. In fact, unless his or his mother’s life was at stake from a hugely powerful dark wizard living in his house, he usually did the complete opposite out of sheer contrariness. “Potter, you are too full of all those boring morals to do something so underhand.”

“Don’t push me, Malfoy. Where Hermione is concerned, I would do anything to protect her.”

“You’re such a hero.”

“You’re not taking me seriously. I will make your life a living misery.”

“And how do you think Granger would react if she knew you were doing something so immoral? I don’t think she would be impressed,” he taunted.

“This is none of Hermione’s business. This is strictly between you and me.”

Draco scoffed. “You’re full of contradictions, Potter. You’re doing all of this to protect Granger but it’s none of her business. I’m sure she’d love to know how helpless you view her.”

Potter growled but turned back to his potion, which made Draco smirk even more. His tactics to scare him were all wrong. All Draco had to do was go to Granger and repeat bits of what Potter had said and she’d have her attack dog back on the leash as soon as he could say ‘Quidditch’.

------

Hermione was watching the conversation between Harry and Malfoy out of the corner of her eye. She’d been worried when she’d seen that Harry had lost the toss and had to sit with Malfoy. Despite the fact that Ron probably would have instigated a fight with Malfoy, she’d rather he was sitting in Harry’s place. Harry was still so suspicious of what was going on between her and Malfoy after the kitchen fiasco. She wouldn’t put it past him to try and bludgeon some information out of the blond Slytherin. She gnawed on her lip in worry. She didn’t think Malfoy would say anything but she wouldn’t put it past him to lose his temper and blurt something incriminating out. That would be disastrous. Harry would go nuts and Hermione wasn’t in the right frame of mind to smooth those waters over.

She sighed. She usually enjoyed tasks as the one Slughorn had set, and the challenge of a competition. But she was so fraught with worry about what Harry and Malfoy were talking about that it was all she could do to keep her mind on what she was doing and not mess her potion up completely. She released a massive breath of relief when she saw that the pair had stopped talking and were working in silence once more. She hadn’t missed the anger that had suffused Harry’s face or the rather malicious looks Malfoy had shot her way.

The rest of the lesson passed without any more potential heart attacks for her. She leaned over the spiralling steam of her completed potion and expected to smell the familiar scents of parchment, freshly mown grass and the rather earthy smell of Ron’s hair before realising that she didn’t feel that way for Ron anymore. Now she was even keener to find out what she would smell in the powerful love potion. She smelt the first two as normal, but instead of Ron’s hair, she smelt something a lot muskier, a hint of bergamot that seemed to be infused with the oaky tones of Firewhiskey. It was a scent that immediately brought late nights in her common room to mind and of being cuddled up against another warm body as she slept peacefully. She whipped around and gazed rather mournfully at Malfoy.

Oh dear! She’d done the impossible and had developed feelings for the most unsuitable boy at Hogwarts. She felt like banging her head against the table in defeat. Why did she make her life so complicated?

Chapter Text

Saturday was one of those gorgeous spring days that made you cheerful about everything. It was rather ironic, Hermione thought as she rubbed her sleepy eyes, considering that today was bound to be full of bitter memories. She stretched and winced as she felt the crick in her neck; she’d fallen asleep waiting for Malfoy to show up for his weekend alcohol, but he hadn’t come. She should be happy about this – it meant that his alcohol consumption was going down. However, she couldn’t help but think it wasn’t due to that but because he wanted to avoid her. They’d stayed away from each other all week. There had been the odd, occasional glance but nothing like the Monday where she could barely keep her eyes off him. She’d given herself a good talking to on Monday night. And by Tuesday she wasn’t raising Ginny’s suspicions anymore. It appeared that Malfoy had done the same because he no longer stared at her, either. She missed the feeling of his eyes boring into her, but had then realised that she was getting way too fond of the snarky Slytherin.

She sighed as she sat up - sleeping on the sofa really hadn’t done her body any favours. You just missed the warmth of Malfoy, the little voice in her head whispered to her. Hermione shook her head. She was not going down that route!

Hermione moved towards the shower, stumbling slightly due to her tiredness. She smiled as she remembered that she was seeing Andromeda today. That was just what she needed; someone who could tell her to stop being so silly and help sort her feelings out. She was tired of feeling so confused by everything. Hermione sobered as she realised that Andromeda would also need her help today. It was just over a year since they had found out that Snatchers had killed Ted and Andromeda had an emotional couple of months coming up: the anniversary of Ted’s death, Teddy’s first birthday and commemoration of the Great Battle, where she had lost her daughter and son-in-law. This put all Hermione’s worries over silly feelings towards Draco Malfoy in perspective. Nothing she was going through could compare to the emotional upheaval that Andromeda must be suffering from right now.

-------

Hermione was just putting the finishing touches to her toilette when she heard the portrait slam open.

“Hermione!” yelled Ron. “We’re ready.”

“Coming!” Hermione shouted back.

She slipped her feet into her shoes and grabbed her wand, rushing out of her bedroom. Ginny, Harry and Ron were sprawled out over her common room and her eyebrows rose at the sight. “Are we planning on staying here all day or going to breakfast?”

Ron jumped up. “Definitely breakfast. I’m starving.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “When are you not hungry?”

“I need coffee if you two are going to squabble,” Harry said. “They’ve been at it all morning,” he said quietly to Hermione.

Hermione chuckled. She loved the Weasley siblings. The little spats they got into were always good-natured and loving. Being an only child, she wished she could’ve experienced the same when she was growing up.

-----------

Soon breakfast was over and Hermione had steadfastly not looked in the direction of the Slytherin table. In fact, she had taken to sitting with her back to it. She caught a glimpse of the distinctive Malfoy white-blond hair when she walked in, but that was all she allowed herself. When they’d finished breakfast, the four of them made their way up to McGonagall’s office.

Hermione said the password and the gargoyle let them in. The office had changed a lot since the days of Dumbledore; gone were all the fascinating magical gadgets that Dumbledore seemed to collect around him. McGonagall was a lot more organised and clean. She kept the perch for Fawkes but the room felt empty without the Phoenix’s presence.

Andromeda was already in the office with Teddy who was getting bigger by the day. The older witch and the baby were engulfed in hugs and kisses. They really had been missed by all of them. When Harry grabbed his godson, Teddy changed his hair and eyes to match his. He even managed a little lightening scar in the same place that Harry’s was.

“Do you mind if we take him for a walk around the grounds? We’re supposed to meet Hannah in a few minutes” Harry asked.

“No. Feel free to take him out. He’s missed you a lot,” Andromeda replied.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” McGonagall asked Andromeda.

The witch looked towards Hermione, who read her expression perfectly. “Actually, I was going to take Andromeda down to my common room,” she said.

“All right. Well, come and find me when you need to return home,” McGonagall replied.

Ron and Ginny, followed by Harry who was carrying Teddy, headed downstairs and outside and Andromeda followed Hermione over to her little common room. She looked around. “So this is Gryffindor Tower,” she remarked.

Hermione laughed. “Yes, it’s slightly nicer than your Slytherin dungeon.”

Andromeda smiled. “Ted and Remus always spoke about this place but I’ve never been in this part of the castle before.”

Hermione realised that she had never asked Andromeda how she and Ted had met. She just assumed that it had been at Hogwarts - that was how most relationships were formed in the wizarding world. She said the password to her common room and they settled down on the sofas. “This is very nice,” Andromeda commented.

“Yes, I really love having my own space this year. It makes such a big difference.” Yeah, you get to have Draco Malfoy over for sleepovers, the treacherous voice in her head said.

“Yes, sleeping in a dormitory probably was my least favourite thing at Hogwarts.”

“It takes some getting used to. As an only child, I found the lack of privacy difficult to cope with at first.”

Andromeda nodded at that and sipped her tea reflectively. She looked so sad that it broke Hermione’s heart. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Andromeda sighed, looking fairly miserable. “Okay, that’s a lie. I’m hurting, Hermione. I can’t understand why everyone has been taken away from me.”

Hermione jumped up and hugged the older witch fiercely. “I don’t know why. It’s so unfair.”

“I miss Ted so much. When I had him and Nymphadora it didn’t matter that everything else was so bleak. They were worth all the pain that my family put me through.”

“How did you and Ted meet?”

Andromeda chuckled. “I rescued him from a bunch of pure-blood wizards down in Knockturn Alley. I was fresh out of Hogwarts. He had been a few years ahead of me but I had no recollection of him. He’d wondered down the Alley, not realising quite how dangerous it was and was cornered by Avery, Yaxley and Mulciber. It was before Voldemort was at the height of his power and he was just starting to collect his Death Eaters. I knew all about them because of Bellatrix and Rodolphus. Anyway, the three of them were planning on practicing some vile curses on him so I stepped forward and my surname meant they had to obey me. Anyone in Voldemort’s circle was already petrified of Bellatrix. She had a reputation of immense cruelty early on. No one wanted to cross her sister even if she was spoiling their Muggle-born baiting fun. Ted - being the Gryffindor that he was - wasn’t at all pleased with my actions. He insisted he had the situation under control and didn’t need a Slytherin coming to his rescue. I was outraged, of course, and we had a big row in the middle of the street.”

Hermione laughed - it didn’t sound like a very promising start. “So how did you build your relationship from that?”

“I kept bumping into him. It seemed that fate had determined that we were going to be together and I saw him everywhere I went. The sparks between us meant we couldn’t ignore each other, and soon the arguments died out and we got to know each other. Love sneaked up on us, and suddenly he was all I could think about and vice versa. I had no plans to defy my family and not to make the pure-blood marriage that was expected of me. But Ted was everything I wanted, so we eloped, and I never saw my parents again.”

“Did you ever regret doing it?”

“No, never. Ted was worth going against everyone for. I would never have been happy in a marriage like either of my sisters. Ted brought the best out in me and our house was happy and full of laughter. That is why I was so supportive when Nymphadora came to me, talking about her feelings towards Remus. That was another relationship that wasn’t meant to work but did. They went against society to be together and they should have had more years together.”

The pang of pain that Hermione always felt whenever she thought of Remus and Tonks swept through her. Remus had waited so long before he’d got together with Tonks and their life together had been cut so short. Andromeda looked at Hermione’s heartbroken face. “I felt angry at first. I was so angry that someone like Voldemort could destroy my beautiful family with his hate and I was filled with rage towards Bellatrix. How could my own sister kill my daughter, and with such glee? But I wouldn’t change what I had for anything. I know Nymphadora wouldn’t either. She and Remus died for a world where their relationship would be accepted and encouraged.”

The sheer wastefulness of the war hit Hermione once more. Too many good people had been cut down in their prime, and for what? Some outdated ideas of blood superiority that would end up dying out soon, anyway. “It’s just such a waste. So many people could have lived if we all just accepted that magic chooses the person and not the other way around,” she mused sadly.

The older witch kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her shoulders. “Enough of the maudlin. I’ve been like this for days now and I’m tired of feeling sad. My Ted would shout at me if he could see me right now. He would tell me to stop wasting my life thinking about what could have been, and get on with what is going to happen.”

Hermione smiled warmly at her role model. “You really are the strongest witch I know. Not many people could suffer through what you have and still have a positive attitude.”

Andromeda laughed a little. “It comes and it goes. It’s easier to look on the bright side whilst I’m here at Hogwarts. This place is the future and I know your generation will be smarter than mine.”

Hermione shook her head. “I’m not so sure. The old boundaries are still very much in evidence at the moment.”

“Really? I thought you would have all pulled together and been closer than ever. Your generation have faced things that no young adults should have to face.”

“Parts of us are stronger. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are united in our desire to move forward. But there is still a lot of enmity between Slytherin House and the rest of the school. They aren’t very welcome at Hogwarts this year.”

Andromeda pursed her lips and looked sad at that. “It’s understandable, really. There weren’t too many Death Eaters outside of Slytherin House. But I still have hope that the barriers will come down eventually.”

“Maybe. I still think we have a long way to go.”

“Speaking of troublesome issues: how’s that nephew of mine?”

Hermione couldn’t help it; she blushed under Andromeda’s gaze. “He’s okay.”

Andromeda looked at her, amused. “That’s it? He’s okay? Why do you look so guilty, then?”

This was it. Hermione had come to the moment where she either spoke to someone about her and Malfoy’s conversations, that kiss and how confused she was feeling, or kept everything to herself. She felt torn either way. She needed to discuss it with someone, but also didn’t want to say any of it out loud. Doing so would make everything feel more real and she really didn’t need to encourage the parts of her that were increasingly attracted to the boy. And then there was the fact that they were now avoiding each other. It really was too much for her battered nerves.

“Come on, spit it out. I can see how desperate you are to speak to someone. What’s happened? Did he kiss you again?” Andromeda badgered.

She went even redder and the former Slytherin laughed. “He did, didn’t he? Oh wait until I tell Narcissa.”

“No, you can’t tell anyone, especially his mother!” Hermione protested.

“Are you going to tell me about it or not?”

Hermione buried her head in her hands, felling embarrassed and confused all over again. “I don’t know what’s going on,” she said, her voice muffled.

“He kissed you, then?”

Hermione just nodded, took a couple of deep breaths and pulled herself together. It was a little too late not to say anything more now. “We’ve had a few more run-ins since I saw you last.”

Andromeda cocked her head, waiting to hear more.

“He’s spent a few nights up here and I came across him in the kitchens when I was with Harry and Ron. He was waiting for his weekly alcohol delivery from one of his house-elves.”

“Hmm … I’ll have a talk with Narcissa about that.”

“You don’t need to. I sorted it out,” she responded.

Andromeda just raised an eyebrow in reply.

“I made a deal with him. He would start buckling down and doing his schoolwork and stop drinking during the week, and I’d let him have alcohol on the weekends. I keep it here for him. So far he’s kept to the deal.”

“Narcissa will be interested in knowing your techniques. He was a nightmare in December and she is worried sick about his drinking and general mental state.”

“I told him I’d make sure no alcohol could come in through the house-elves. Kreacher runs the Hogwarts kitchen now and he said he would be able to prevent Malfoy’s house-elf from coming in if needed.”

“Tut, tut, Hermione, are you sure you’re not a Slytherin deep down? That’s very crafty and manipulative.”

Hermione just grinned cheekily. “I’m Gryffindor through and through with maybe a hint of Ravenclaw.”

“So Draco is now behaving himself?”

“He’s getting better. The main problem Pansy and I have is that he’s suffering from nightmares. I found a spell that would give him some temporary relief but he’s still not getting enough sleep. Do you think Narcissa would be able to get him to go to a Healer for help?”

“No chance. That boy is as stubborn as his father. Narcissa had already set up an appointment for him when he came out of Azkaban but he flat-out refused to go. Narcissa has been pulling her hair out over him.”

“So things between you and Narcissa are okay? I was worried after the Hog’s Head incident.”

“We’re rebuilding our relationship. It can be rocky at times but we’ve both lost too much for us not to work at it.”

“And you’ve forgiven her for how she treated you over the years?”

“I’m not going to lie, I still feel some resentment, but I’m getting there. We’ve had some much-needed heart-to-hearts and I recognise that she’s come out of this war as a changed person. It took the prospect of her losing Draco to realise how wrong Voldemort and his ideology was.”

“I’m pleased for you. It would be awful having a sister out there that you don’t get to speak to.”

“We’re making progress. We’ve found a project to work on together,” Andromeda said mischievously.

“Oh, really? What is it?” Hermione asked curiously.

“Never you mind. I’ll tell you all about it one day. So, back to my nephew. You haven’t told me about the kiss yet.”

She groaned. “I was hoping you had forgotten about that.”

“Nope. Now give me the details.”

So Hermione told her all about Ron’s proposal, how she’d been feeling and the two late-night chats with Malfoy. Then she told her about the kiss and how they’d been avoiding each other ever since.

“So I was correct when I said he had deeper feelings for you,” Andromeda said when Hermione had finished her explanation.

Hermione shook her head vehemently. “It was blatantly a pity kiss. I mean, there I was, unburdening myself to him and he felt he needed to make me feel better.”

The other woman looked at her in disbelief. Hermione could clearly see that she was related to Malfoy at that moment. He looked at her just like that at certain times too. “This is Draco Malfoy we’re talking about. I don’t think he does anything to make anyone feel better, especially not girls he’s spent a good part of his life tormenting.”

“I don’t think so. He was just feeling bad for me,” she insisted.

Andromeda dropped it, seeing that her young friend was getting worked up about it.

“How are you feeling about it all?”

“I’m so confused,” Hermione whispered. “I don’t know what I’m feeling. I’m not sure if I keep thinking about this because I’m lonely and all my friends are in relationships, or because there’s something about Malfoy that I genuinely like.”

Andromeda smiled a small smile. Some of this was so reminiscent of her early feelings towards Ted. She’d been as confused as Hermione was. The decision that Hermione was wrestling with might not mean she’d lose her family but it still was massive for the young woman. “I don’t think you have to rush into understanding your feelings just yet,” she comforted. “Just let the situation play itself out.”

Hermione nodded. “Thanks for listening to me. It’s helped a lot just getting it off my chest. I couldn’t tell Ginny, she already thinks I’m crazy for getting involved in helping Pansy with Malfoy.”

“It’s not easy for others to understand, especially when you are going against what appears to be logical.”

“I don’t want Harry and Ron to find out. They’d be so upset and they won’t understand.”

Andromeda patted Hermione’s knee. “Don’t feel pressured to tell anyone anything that you aren’t comfortable with. You deal with this at your own pace. They are your emotions and no one else has any right to judge you for them. Now, how about we go and rescue Harry from his godson?”

Hermione grinned. “Don’t you mean rescue Teddy from Harry and Ron?”

The two witches left the small common room laughing, feeling a lot lighter for having talked to each other.

----------

“Draco, I wish you’d talk to me about whatever is on your mind,” Pansy persisted, following him around the lake.

“Pans, it’s nothing.”

“It’s something. You’ve been so quiet all week.”

He felt annoyed at Pansy’s perceptive nature. It was at times like this that he wished he only had minions like Crabbe and Goyle in his life. There would be no awkward questions then, only unswerving loyalty to whatever scheme he could think up for their entertainment that day. He sighed as he thought back to his early years at Hogwarts. Life had been so much simpler then - before the Dark Lord had come back and ruined everything. He had known his role in life. He was a Malfoy and he was superior to everyone else. He looked down on blood traitors and Mudbloods and had a great time lording it over his circle of pure-blood friends.

Now everything was complicated. He no longer believed unquestioningly in blood superiority. His father was imprisoned in Azkaban for life, and the Malfoy name was in the dirt. Pure-bloods avoided them and he had gone and kissed Muggle-born Granger. Worse than that, he’d enjoyed it. And now he was running scared.

He was so desperate to avoid her and all the uncomfortable feelings she brought up that he hadn’t even gone to pick up any alcohol last night. He’d rather face a broken night’s sleep and nightmares before he had to face Granger, her big brown eyes and her luscious lips. To make matters worse, Pansy was bugging him about his feelings. He didn’t want to talk to anyone about them. He wanted to bury them deep inside where he could smother them in the shame he was feeling. Draco knew Blaise suspected something and it was stupid to think that he would have kept this to himself. He had gleefully run off to his girlfriend and put her on the case, which was why he was practically sprinting away from Pansy. He was desperate to put some distance between himself and her incessant questions.

“Draco!” Pansy called. “Are you aware that there is a baby crawling after you?”

This made him stop and he turned to see Teddy Lupin crawling determinedly towards him, his hair already glinting white-blond in the sunshine. “Teddy, what are you doing? Where is your grandma?” Draco asked the little boy before picking him up.

Teddy did nothing but grin happily at him and gurgle, “Ba ba ba.”

Pansy came up and stared at the baby curiously. “Whose is he?” she asked.

“He’s the son of my cousin Nymphadora and our former Professor Lupin.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“Aunt Andromeda must be visiting. She’s chummy with Granger and her dopey friends,” he said, looking around for his aunt.

“There’s Potter, under that tree,” Pansy said, pointing.

“Why my aunt would leave her grandson in that moron’s charge is beyond me. He hasn’t even noticed that Teddy has gone. I’ll keep him with me until I find her.”

“But won’t Potter worry when he realises the baby is missing?”

“So? That’s not my problem. It’ll serve Potter right. Now, Teddy, how about I show you the Quidditch pitch?”

Pansy bit her lip as Draco walked away with Teddy. Potter was going to go nuts when he realised the baby was missing. Then she shrugged. Oh well, it’d serve him right for failing to look after his charge properly. There were four of them and not one of them had kept an eye on the little boy. She reckoned that he’d be safe with Draco judging from the way the snarky Slytherin was chattering away to him. However, she’d better go with them just in case. Not that she thought Draco would do anything to Teddy but he might need some backup when the Gryffindors realised that the baby was missing and was in Draco’s arms.

--------

Ginny looked away from Ron who was entertaining them with a witty story. She glanced down at the ground where Teddy had been sleeping and promptly panicked when she noticed that he was no longer napping on his blanket and actually was nowhere in sight. “Harry, where’s Teddy?” she asked nervously.

“Calm down, Ginny, he’s just there-,” Harry started before breaking off when he realised that Teddy wasn’t where he’d left him. “Oh Merlin! Andromeda’s going to murder me. Split up! He’s not even one yet so he can’t have gone far.”

Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hannah jumped to their feet and separated to find the missing baby. Harry went towards the castle and groaned when he saw Hermione and Andromeda walking towards him. How the hell was he going to explain this? He was just going to have blurt it all out. He hurried over. “Andromeda, I’m so sorry. He was sleeping and we didn’t think he would be so fast-,”

Andromeda put a hand up to stop Harry’s flow. “Slow down, Harry, and tell me what’s happened.”

“It’s Teddy, he’s disappeared. We’ve split up to find him.”

Hermione swore as Andromeda’s face went deathly pale. Trust the boys to lose Teddy, and at this point in Andromeda’s life.

“We’ve split up to look for him,” Harry repeated quickly.

Hermione put her arm around Andromeda’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, we’ll find him.” She then turned to Harry. “Which way have Ginny and Ron gone?”

“Ginny went towards the Forest and Hagrid’s hut, Hannah went to cover the lake and Ron went towards the Quidditch pitch.”

As Harry finished, a shower of sparks went up from the Quidditch pitch and he let out a massive sigh of relief. “That’s the signal to say one of us have found him,” he explained.

Andromeda stopped shaking and ran in the direction of the sparks. Hermione and Harry followed her.

Hermione closed her eyes briefly at the sight that greeted them when they reached their destination. Malfoy was holding Teddy, who was gurgling happily at him. Ron had his wand drawn and trained on Malfoy whilst Pansy had hers pointed at Ron. This was all she needed right now. “The ferret had Teddy,” Ron snarled when Harry sprinted in front of Andromeda and her.

“Give me my godson, Malfoy!” Harry shouted.

Hermione watched as Malfoy looked maliciously at the two Gryffindor boys before deliberately ignoring them and heading towards Andromeda. “Hello, auntie,” he greeted before handing Teddy to her.

Andromeda clutched Teddy tight to her body. “Thank you, Draco, but why did you wander off with him?”

Draco gave Andromeda the patented Black mischievous look. “I wanted to give him a Slytherin perspective on Quidditch before he was indoctrinated by all the Gryffindors surrounding him.”

“What? How to lose Quidditch whilst cheating?” Harry sniped.

Draco didn’t even bother to turn around. Andromeda sighed and looked at Hermione. The poor girl looked conflicted and torn and was trying her hardest not to stare at Draco. Harry marched over to Draco and shoved his wand against the Slytherin’s throat. “Don’t go near Teddy again. He doesn’t need the likes of you in his life.”

Draco just smirked down at him and Andromeda found herself getting annoyed at Harry. She loved him, and knew that her son-in-law had viewed him as a member of his family, but it wasn’t up to him who was or wasn’t in Teddy’s life.

“Harry, lower your wand and stop racketing up the tension!” Andromeda ordered. “And try to remember that Draco is my nephew.”

Harry flushed in embarrassment at being scolded. “It’s funny how he and his mum are interested in you now that they lost the war,” he snapped.

Draco scowled and Andromeda frowned. “Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, shocked.

“I’m not the one too busy talking to take care of a baby, Potter,” Draco pointed out. “Teddy crawled halfway across Hogwarts to me.”

“That’s enough. The pair of you are being ridiculous. Draco, you should have taken Teddy back to Harry so he didn’t worry. And Harry, you need to realise that the war is over and Draco is my family. You don’t get to choose who is in Teddy’s life - I do.”

The two boys looked petulant at being told off as if they were eight and not eighteen but Andromeda could see why Hermione was so confused about it all. If she did develop anything with Draco then it was going to be difficult for Harry and Ron to accept it.

“I need to start making my way back home,” Andromeda said, enveloping everyone in a hug. “Hermione, walk me back up to Minerva’s office, please. I find I’ve forgotten my way around this place.”

Hermione smiled and started to lead the way back up the castle but Andromeda hadn’t quite finished meddling. “Oh Draco, come here, I have a message from your mother.”

Andromeda shook her head mentally as she watched how Hermione and Draco dodged each other’s gazes, whilst still sneaking little peeks at one another. She caught Pansy’s eye briefly and the Slytherin girl nodded back at her. So, she wasn’t the only one who noticed the awkward sparks flying between the two. Good job Ron and Harry were too wrapped up in their hatred towards Draco to pay attention to how uncomfortable Hermione was in his presence. It was a dead giveaway to those who were paying attention.

Chapter Text

Hermione slowly made her way back up to her common room. She’d been out on patrol tonight and had deliberately scheduled it that way. She was trying to keep herself busy, as she didn’t want to be holed up in her common room thinking about this time last year. She, Harry and Ron had cleaved to each other throughout the day. Ron, in particular, had been feeling very protective towards Hermione. It helped that it was the Easter holidays once more, since Hermione didn’t think she would have been able to actually attend classes on this particular anniversary. She sighed sadly; she hadn’t been looking forward to this part of the year at all. At the moment it felt as if it was all just horrible anniversaries leading up to the one-year commemoration of the Great Battle.

She didn’t want to think about her time at Malfoy Manor last year. The immense pain of Bellatrix’s Cruciatus Curse had stayed with her despite all that had happened since then. Sometimes it seemed that her time on the run, hunting down Horcruxes, was a lifetime away. But today it felt raw as if it had just been yesterday. Hermione wasn’t sure how she’d done it, but she had kept a distance from Malfoy’s stash of alcohol, although the temptation to numb the pain had been large.

She shivered and clutched the cup of hot chocolate she’d brought up from downstairs tightly. Her fingers were icy cold. The weather seemed to have picked up on her mood and had turned cold and windy earlier that day. By the time she reached Gryffindor Tower, she was thinking lovely thoughts about her warm fire. She stopped as she took in the slumped figure outside her door. At first she thought it might be Ron - he hated the thought of what happened to her and for some reason, he felt guilty that Bellatrix had tortured her and not him. Hermione had tried disabusing him of this many times. It didn’t matter which of them it had been, it would have been just as awful. But Ron still felt as if he could have done something to protect Hermione from the torture. He had her password, though, and would have been waiting for her inside.

The slumped figure raised his head and Hermione saw the trademark head of white-blond hair. “Malfoy? What are you doing here?”

The Slytherin pulled himself to his feet and she saw his face for the first time. He looked distraught. Hermione panicked, wondering what on earth had happened to make him look so distressed. She said the password and opened her common room before she pulled him inside, where she proceeded to push him on the sofa and grabbed a blanket to put around his shoulders.

“What’s happened?” she asked frantically.

Hermione was surprised that he was here. They had continued to avoid each other since Andromeda’s visit last Saturday. There had been some awkward moments, but apart from a couple of words then, they hadn’t spoken to each other since the night he’d kissed her.

Malfoy finally seemed to pull himself together enough to answer her. “I know what today is,” he said cryptically.

She frowned. What was he going on about? Then it dawned on her and she gasped. “I didn’t think you’d remember.”

“How could I forget? That was a brutal, hideous day in more ways than one.”

“Why are you here?”

Malfoy lifted his head out of his hands to look at her. “I thought I should see how you were bearing up.”

Hermione was hugely touched. She didn’t think he would remember, or particularly care even if he did. Yet, here he was. He had waited outside her dorm room to check on her.

“I’m okay,” she said softly.

He looked piercingly at her. “Where are those friends of yours?”

“I sent them away. I had patrolling to do and, to be honest, Ron was starting to smother me a little.”

“You couldn’t get Goldstein to swap patrols with you?”

Hermione smiled. “I wanted to patrol today. It’s better to be busy than sitting here thinking about things I can’t change.”

Malfoy flinched a little at that. She guessed that was exactly what he had been doing and probably not just this evening. Most likely, he had been doing it since he had returned to Hogwarts. Perhaps it was a symptom of sitting in his cell in Azkaban for six months. Whilst Hermione was pleased that he was thinking about these things, he needed to stop wallowing and start moving on with his life. He needed to learn from his mistakes and make himself a better person.

Hermione picked up her hot chocolate and sipped from it. “Do you want something to drink?”

“A Firewhiskey?”

She rolled her eyes. “No! You can have something non-alcoholic though.”

Malfoy sighed. “I guess I’d better take what I can then. I’ll have the same as you.”

Hermione called for Kreacher. “Could you bring Malfoy some hot chocolate, please, Kreacher?”

Kreacher bowed and disappeared and Malfoy quirked an eyebrow at her. “I thought you were all about house-elf rights.”

“I am. I just wasn’t going to break curfew to go all the way back down to the kitchens. Besides, I wasn’t about to leave you alone in here where you can snoop about.”

“Worried I’ll find out where you keep my alcohol?”

She laughed. “Frankly, yes! You’d go back to your old habits of being roaring drunk all the time.”

Kreacher Apparated back and handed him a steaming mug. Hermione looked pointedly at Malfoy and he pulled a face but got what she was trying to say to him. “Thank you, Kreacher,” Malfoy said.

Kreacher beamed a smile. “You are most welcome, Master. If Master doesn’t mind, could you please tell Kreacher how Mistress Narcissa is?”

“She’s well.”

“Kreacher is pleased,” the house elf said before disappearing once more.

Hermione burst out laughing. “Your face was a picture.”

Malfoy grimaced as he took a sip of his drink. He could moan all he liked but at least it would be better for his liver. “Well, it’s just strange. Last time I interacted with that house-elf, he was snivelling on the floor before Bellatrix, happy to betray Sirius Black.”

Hermione sobered instantly. Fifth year felt so long ago. If anyone had told her then that three years later, she’d be sitting in the Head Girl common room drinking hot chocolate with Draco Malfoy she would have thought they were crazy.

“How did you get Kreacher to like you? He never had a good thing to say about you before.”

“Kindness,” she said simply with a sad smile.

He looked at her disbelievingly. “It’s true. That’s all he wanted: to be treated nicely. After all, isn’t that how Bellatrix got him to open up to her?”

“Well, yes, but that was from a Black. He’s been brought up to adore the House of Black and hate Muggle-borns. I didn’t think you’d find it that easy to win him over.”

“It’s surprising how powerful something so simple is. Dumbledore warned Sirius about him and tried to get Sirius to treat him with some respect, but Sirius didn’t listen. Then when he got the chance, he ran off to Bellatrix, and helped get Sirius killed. When we went back to Grimmauld Place at the start of last year, we treated Kreacher with some respect and he responded to it.”

They fell silent. Hermione couldn’t help but think of Dobby. Harry had shown him basic kindness after he suffered a lifetime of misery at the hands of the Malfoys and he had ended up saving their lives. “Like Dobby,” she murmured.

“Dobby?”

Hermione flushed, embarrassed that she had said that aloud. “I was thinking of Dobby. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be alive today.”

Malfoy looked stricken once more. He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands. “I’ll never forgive myself for just standing there,” he mumbled.

Hermione looked at him in shock. Had he just said what she thought he had? “There wasn’t much you could do.”

“I should have intervened. I should have stopped it.”

“And how were you going to do that? Bellatrix wouldn’t have listened and you could hardly have taken everyone in the room on.”

“I don’t know but I should have done something.”

Hermione scrambled up on her knees and tore Malfoy’s hands away from his face. She stared into his eyes. “There was nothing you could do, Malfoy. In fact, you tried to help us by not identifying us. It was obvious who Ron and I were, but you still didn’t tell them it was definitely us.”

“It doesn’t feel like enough,” he said quietly.

She looked into his eyes. The remorse shone out of them and she felt desperately sad for all the hurt and pain she could see in his face. “Draco, I don’t blame you and I don’t hate you.”

“You should.”

“What will blaming you achieve?”

“You should hate me. You should hate me for how I treated you, for what I stood for and the fact that I stood by and allowed my aunt to abuse you!” he yelled angrily.

She could see that he was working himself up. He would feel better if she would shout and insult him, but she couldn’t do it. She didn’t hate him. She might have, once upon time, but that was before she saw what hatred did to the world. That was what Dumbledore had tried to stress to them over and over again. If you allowed love to guide your decisions rather than anger - or hate - then you would lead a more fulfilled life. Voldemort had been incapable of understanding that, which is why he ultimately lost.

“No, that’s not me. I won’t be filled with hatred. I won’t waste my life feeling such useless things. If I do that then Voldemort and Bellatrix will have won. They will have changed me for the worse. I refuse to be defined by their actions,” she said calmly.

He looked at her silently for a few moments, almost as if he was digesting what she said. He finally spoke and his words amazed Hermione. “I admire you, do you know that? I think it started that day, or maybe it was earlier, when I realised how screwed up this Death Eater gig was. I just remember how amazingly strong you were that day.”

Hermione couldn’t help but just stare at him. Never in a million years had she thought Malfoy would say something that nice to her. It wasn’t just nice - it had meaning - and it showed Hermione that, despite all the hardships she and her friends had gone through, all the friends they had lost, that the war had been worth it if it changed just one person’s mind. And unless she was completely misreading Malfoy, he was telling her that he no longer held onto the notions of blood supremacy. That, for her, was something immense.

A tear rolled down her cheek and Malfoy wiped it away. “Why are you crying?”

Hermione shook her head a little, willing away the tears that wanted to break free. She cleared the frog from her throat. “I never imagined you would ever say something so lovely to me.”

Malfoy’s blushed slightly and went to look away but she grabbed his face between her hands. “Don’t. It means a lot that you think that. It’s fairly obvious that you’ve changed your opinion on blood superiority.”

“Don’t give me that impressed look, Granger. It wasn’t something intentional. I’m not even sure if I came back to Hogwarts with a changed outlook. I’m not some kind of hero. I’m pretty sure I’m still a prick with a chip on his shoulder. I’ll leave the hero complex to Potter.”

Hermione smiled a little at him. She felt like she knew him now. She recognised these little characteristics. Right now, he was feeling embarrassed and a little insecure about what they were discussing, so he was withdrawing back into his comfort zone with snarky comments about her friends. It was almost as if he was worried that she’d start to realise that there were hidden depths to his character and needed to make her only see his hardened, cynical shell. But she’d already peeled back some of his layers and glimpsed at the Malfoy below. It was this Malfoy with whom she had become obsessed, the Malfoy that she watched across the Great Hall with hungry eyes and it was this Malfoy who had waited outside her common room to check that she was okay on today of all days.

Hermione flopped back down on the sofa and patted Malfoy’s hand. “Don’t worry; I won’t let anyone know that you have a nice side.”

Draco scowled at the Gryffindor witch. He knew coming here had been a mistake, but he couldn’t resist seeing how she was. Despite avoiding her for the past fortnight, he couldn’t ignore her on this day. During the day, he’d seen her sandwiched tightly between Potter and Weasley at mealtimes where she had picked unconvincingly at her food and generally looked a shadow of her usual self. He was used to the bustling confident Granger who swept around the halls of Hogwarts as if she owned the place, not this shrinking violet. He didn’t like the quiet, unsure Granger.

Earlier that night, after dinner, he’d returned to the Slytherin dungeon and been prepared to have an early night. He wasn’t going to get anything done today with his head filled with the stress of what happened - exactly a year ago - at the Manor. He’d lain on his bed, staring at the walls and eventually fallen asleep, only to be woken up by a horrendous nightmare. He’d been the one throwing the Cruciatus curse at Granger, but this time he’d waited until she was a quivering mess, and then he’d killed her. He’d woken up with his heart pounding, covered in sweat and tangled in his sheets. He’d felt an overwhelming need to go and find her, which had led him to go and wait outside her door, reliving the nightmare.

Draco looked towards the bushy-haired witch. He was meant to be the one comforting her, but so far it had been her making him feel better. He couldn’t understand how she could be so forgiving towards him and her compassion made him uncomfortable. He’d grown up around people who held grudges and didn’t forgive or forget anything. If you suffered a slight then you held onto it until you could get back at the person. But Granger was the complete opposite. Potter and Weasley were more understandable as they too liked revenge and exacted it when they could. But she wasn’t like that. Her actions towards him and other Slytherins, this year showed that and he looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. It was hard to believe that such power lay in such a petite frame but she could take out most wizards with her magic. It wasn’t about size or strength, but magical ability. Draco chuckled a little as he remembered the pure-blood rubbish about Muggles stealing magic. If that was the case then Granger had gone back in time and stolen Merlin’s magic. She was that powerful.

“Stop it. I’m not an specimen for you to study,” Granger objected.

“You shouldn’t be so interesting, then.”

She scoffed. “I’m boring, remember? The boring, nerdy bookworm of Gryffindor.”

“I doubt you’ve ever been boring in your life,” Draco replied. He thought back to the Amortentia he had brewed, which had smelled of cinnamon, the scent of rain on grass (which never failed to remind him of Quidditch) and the smell of the library at Malfoy Manor. It had freaked him out a little. The musty smell from the library and the reminder of Quidditch he’d expected, but he hadn’t thought that Granger’s unique scent would be there.

The bushy-haired witch rolled her eyes. “The whole of Hogwarts thinks I’m dull and spends all day in the library. In fact, I think you’re the one who started everyone thinking that way.”

It was his turn to snort. “Hogwarts is hardly a barometer of good taste, then. And I told you already that I was an idiot and I was incredibly jealous of your brains. Besides, I think your stock went up after all your thrilling adventures last year.”

Hermione grimaced a little at that. She’d rather be considered boring than to have gone through last year.

“So are you okay?” Malfoy asked.

It took Hermione a second to realise what he was talking about. He’d done such a good job of distracting her. It was weird that it was him rather than Harry or Ron who was able to take her mind off the events a year ago. “Yeah, I think I am,” she said, surprised.

He smiled at her, one of his proper smiles, the one that made her all tingly inside. “Good, I’m glad.”

She grinned up at him. “So, did you really come up here to check on me?”

“Surprisingly enough, I did.”

“I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“Yeah, well don’t go spreading it about. I have a reputation as a heartless Death Eater to maintain.”

“It’ll pass, you know,” Hermione commented.

“What will?”

“All the problems you’re going through right now. Time will pass and people will forget.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think the Malfoy name will ever hold the same power that it did before.”

“Perhaps that’s a good thing.”

Malfoy shrugged. “Possibly, but I’m not too worried about it. I’m more concerned about what I’m going to do with my life.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. I thought about what you said, though.”

“What did I say?” she asked, puzzled.

“About not being the same as my father and actually doing something with my brain and having a career.”

“Yeah?” Hermione said, a little shocked. “I really didn’t think you took anything on board that night.”

Draco smirked at her. “Well, I couldn’t let you know how much I thought about what you said.”

She lightly smacked his arm. “Prat!”

“Like I said, I have a reputation to uphold.”

Hermione shook her head. “So what do you want to do?”

“I think I’d like to be a Healer.”

“Really?” She couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice.

“Yes. I’d get to use my skills in Potions and I’d like to give something back.”

“Pay your debt to society?”

“Something like that.”

“Wow, the soft side of Draco Malfoy really is coming out tonight.”

“It’s alright. It’s only to you. First off, you aren’t going to tell anyone that you let me into your common room willingly, and, secondly, who would believe you if you repeated this conversation?”

She nodded her head in acknowledgement. Both those things were true. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of him exactly, but the fuss her friends would kick up was too much for her to cope with right at this moment in time. And no one would believe anything that had happened tonight. Malfoy actually coming to check she was okay, apologising to her for not helping her last year at the Manor, practically admitting that he didn’t believe in pure-blood supremacy and then opening up about his career plans? Not bloody likely. “Good for you, Malfoy. I think you’d make a great Healer. You might need to work on your bedside manner, though.”

He chuckled at that. “I think mean and snarky is the way to go but it’s only a pipe dream anyway.”

“Why?”

“Because there’s no way St. Mungo’s would even consider training me. Can you picture anyone wanting to be treated by the notorious Draco Malfoy? I either have to stay home or work somewhere like Borgin and Burkes, where my past won’t count against me.”

Hermione looked down, a little depressed by that. It was true; mainstream society wouldn’t be ready to accept that Malfoy had changed. Look at the professors at Hogwarts; they were so blinded by their hatred of the boy who had been instrumental in the death of Dumbledore that they willingly ignored the obvious signs that things weren’t right with him. She sighed.

“Don’t get depressed, Granger. That’s life. I made my bed and now I have to lie in it.”

“I guess, but your bed was pretty much made for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, how many of us would have turned out like you if we’d been raised the same way? I doubt many people would have been different. And it’s not as if you were given too many options when it came to becoming a Death Eater.”

Malfoy just shrugged at that and looked away. She recognised that as his ‘I’m embarrassed and would like to move this conversation onto something else now’ look.

McGonagall had spoken to Hermione at the beginning of the year about the Healer training programme. You could only get in if you had a letter of recommendation from the Head teacher of your school, as well as stellar grades. Malfoy was never going to go and speak to McGonagall about it, and Hermione thought that McGonagall might laugh in his face. Well, perhaps not laugh - that wasn’t her style - but she would probably be scornful of his ambitions, but Hermione could go and speak to her about it. Malfoy would kill her for meddling, but now he had opened up about this, she wanted him to have the opportunity to do it. Besides, she thought, it would do him good to have something to focus on.

Malfoy stood to leave. “I better get going. It’s getting late and Filch keeps guarding the Slytherin dungeons.”

Hermione nodded. “Thanks for coming by, Malfoy. I won’t say it was nice of you, because I know you hate that, but I’ll be thinking it.”

He groaned. “Get it out of your head that I’m nice, Granger. Thoughts like that will get you into trouble.”

She couldn’t help but think that she was already in trouble where he was concerned. “Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re a Malfoy, which means you’re contractually obliged to be evil and cruel.”

Malfoy smirked at her. “Just you remember that.”

Hermione watched as he left her common room. She sat for a few seconds staring into the fire. The common room felt lonely and cold without his presence and all the feelings regarding the previous year that he had chased away came flooding back making her shiver slightly. She really didn’t want to be alone now and although she could go and get Ginny to stay with her, she didn’t want to. Hermione liked the minimal questions that Malfoy asked. He seemed to know that she enjoyed just having someone there, who didn’t necessarily want to discuss the event in huge detail. She debated briefly about going to fetch him back, before jumping up and running after him.

Malfoy had made it halfway back to the Slytherin dungeon. Hermione, aware that Filch and Mrs Norris could be lurking nearby, ran up as quietly as she could behind him. He spun around when she was a few feet away, his wand raised. “Granger?” he asked, surprised.

Hermione caught her breath. She wasn’t the most athletic of people, despite living on the run for almost a year. “Malfoy, I … er … I,” Hermione started before trailing off. She really wasn’t sure how to ask this and she felt her cheeks redden.

“Just spit it out, Granger.”

“Would you stay with me tonight?” she whispered, looking down at her feet.

Silence greeted her request and in the end she was forced to look up. Malfoy was staring down at her with a slight frown on his face. “Please,” Hermione continued, “I really don’t think I can be alone tonight.”

He just nodded and didn’t question why she didn’t go to one of her close friends. The bond that was growing between them did away with such necessities. He turned and they walked back to her common room in silence. She had the urge to grab his hand but knew that would be pushing her luck. He was still Draco Malfoy after all.

Chapter Text

It took Hermione a little while to work out that she wasn’t still at Malfoy Manor and at the mercy of Bellatrix when she woke. It was pitch black outside and she sat upright in her bed, trying to calm her pounding heart. She hunted around for the familiar warm presence of Crookshanks, who usually slept at her feet, but he wasn’t there. The crack in her doorway showed that he’d left at some point after she retired.

She swigged the water she’d left at the side of her bed to get rid of the dry feeling in her throat before she got up and padded out of her room. There was no way she could sleep right now as she knew the sight of Bellatrix, wand raised, would be waiting for her if she closed her eyes. She might as well go and see if Malfoy was still awake.

She padded out of her bedroom and saw Malfoy sitting on her window seat, watching the sleeping world. Crookshanks was curled up next to him and the blond was absently stroking his fingers along the cat’s spine. Crookshank’s rumbling purr was the only noise. She walked towards them and Malfoy looked up at her.

“Can’t sleep?” she asked him.

He just shook his head and looked at her enquiringly.

“Me neither. I had a nightmare,” she explained.

“Want me to cast that spell you found to give you a few hours of dreamless sleep?”

“I’ll be alright. I just need to get the images out of my mind.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really. I was just back at the Manor with Bellatrix.”

“I guess it’s understandable that your subconscious would take you back there tonight of all nights.”

Hermione shuddered. “Yes, but I’d rather it didn’t.”

He smiled a little at her. She peered out of the window behind him and shivered a little as she saw the weather; it was windy with rain pouring down in sheets. “Well, the weather seems to be mirroring my mood,” she murmured.

They stayed like that for a while before she realised she was cold and had goose bumps. She rubbed her arms trying to warm herself up. “You should go back to bed,” Malfoy remarked.

Hermione didn’t feel like going back up on her own. She didn’t know why, but Malfoy’s presence was comforting to her and she found herself biting her lip as she realised where her mind was going. She was really pushing at his personal boundaries tonight, but she couldn’t help it. “Would you…” she started before feeling unable to continue.

Malfoy looked at her. “Would I what?”

Hermione took a deep breath and went for it. “Would you mind staying with me?”

He stared at her in disbelief. “You want me to get into bed with you?”

Well, when he put it that way, it sounded much worse than it had in her mind. She flushed a little. “Forget it, it was a stupid idea.”

“Don’t get defensive. I was just surprised that you’d allow me, of all people, that close to you whilst you’re sleeping.”

She huffed, feeling ridiculous. How could she forget it was Malfoy she was talking to? He’d been so nice this evening that it was only now she was remembering how snarky he could get. Hermione was about to flee back to her room, feeling like an idiot, when he stood up fluidly.

“Lead on, Granger, unless you were just teasing me with the prospect of a comfortable bed, instead of your lumpy sofa.”

She stood there looking at him in shock. He ended up grabbing her hand and hauling her back up to her room. Feeling more than a little awkward, Hermione settled under the covers, leaving enough space for Malfoy to climb into the bed next to her. What had she been thinking? She was crazy. Then she remembered the sheer despair of her dream, and she put how nuts this whole idea was to the back of her mind. She needed some human warmth to drive the terror away tonight.

He pulled his t-shirt off, leaving him in the transfigured pyjama bottoms she had made for him earlier that night. Hermione felt wide-awake for a different reason now. He looked far too dishevelled, undone and down-right sexy with only those on.

Malfoy thumped his pillows a few times before getting comfortable under the covers. “Stop thinking so much, Granger. I might be a former Death Eater but I’m not going to assault you.”

Hermione giggled a little at that. She felt even more stupid now. “I know that. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”

“So go to sleep, then.”

Hermione, surprisingly, did just that.

----------

Draco watched over the strange girl as she slept. He was still confused over what was happening between them and he was becoming fascinated with the intelligent Gryffindor despite his best efforts not to be. He glanced down and caught sight of his Dark Mark. It was a good thing Granger hadn’t seen it before falling asleep, as she’d probably have worse nightmares than the one that’d woken her up in the first place.

He traced the ugly mark and looked up at the canopy. Why was everything proving to be so confusing for him? Why couldn’t he stay away from Granger? He found himself doing things for her that he wouldn’t have done for anyone else. The way that she looked at him with her big, brown eyes - almost as if she was pleading with him - it tore a little at his heartstrings. He found that he actually cared if she couldn’t sleep and he wanted to do whatever he could to comfort her and make sure she didn’t have the nightmares that were his nightly bane.

His mind returned to the previous time they’d slept together. Tonight would be a good opportunity to check if she was the cure for his nightmares. His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. It would be messed up if she actually were. He couldn’t exactly stay with her every night. Maybe he could just steal something of hers that he could hug whilst he slept. Draco scoffed - he must be sleep deprived if he was getting such ridiculous ideas. Besides, it was time for him to test his theory and get some sleep. Before he could stop himself, he pulled Granger over to him and tucked her against him and breathed in her familiar scent. In for a penny, in for a pound; that saying seemed more than apt right now.

---------

Hermione woke to the rain pounding against the windowpanes in her bedroom. If there was one thing she loved, it was snuggling under her duvet whilst the weather grew wild outside. She’d grown up in the southeast of England, where the weather rarely got too bad. Scotland, by contrast, gave her ample opportunity to indulge in this habit. She went to snuggle deeper into her pillow when she realised that it stayed firm. It was warm and moving slightly too.

She peeked open an eye and was met with an expanse of pale flesh so she moved her head slightly and looked up into the sleeping face of Draco Malfoy. He was still deeply asleep with his hair flopping over onto his eyebrows. Who knew he could look so peaceful and almost angelic when he slept? There was no sneer, snarky expression or outright cynicism marring his features.

She should probably feel embarrassed at being in the same bed as him, but she could only think about how supportive he’d been during the night, not only when she had run after him to ask him if he would come back to her common room, but also when he hadn’t laughed outright at her suggestion to sleep in her bed. Hermione was aware that she had seen a softer side to Malfoy recently, but last night he’d proven that he had a heart, and a rather large one at that. She smiled softly at the memory of how unquestioning he’d been about her demands on him. He’d just checked that she really wanted his presence in her bed.

However, this was troublesome as her feelings were even more engaged than before last night and the butterflies were currently fluttering around her stomach like crazy. He smelt divine and his bare chest was tempting her to smother it with kisses. Hermione grinned as she imagined his shock if she gave into that impulse. Malfoy was turning her life upside down. Maybe this strange feeling was what drove Harry and Ron to propose to girls before they’d even completed their N.E.W.T.s. Hermione sighed. The difference was her friends were in love. Did that mean she was in love with the Slytherin? Or was it just lust? Unlike her best friends’ relationships, this whole thing with Malfoy was complicated. Did he even feel the same way about her? Did she want him to? She felt like banging her head on something, but as that something was currently Draco’s chest, she decided against it. It would wake him up and he’d think she was even weirder than he already did. Instead, she settled for snuggling up against him. Who knew what the future held, but she might as well get her thrills whilst she could.

---------

Draco surfaced a couple of hours later. He felt as if he hadn’t moved his body in hours, and judging by the light outside, it was late morning. He looked across the bed for Granger, but all he found was a piece of parchment.

Malfoy,

I’ve gone to get breakfast. I’ll bring you something back to eat.

Hermione.

Draco figured that his experiment had shown results. He wasn’t sure if it was the result that he wanted, or even desired, but it was an indisputable fact that Granger appeared to be the cure for his nightmares. Maybe it was just the warmth of another body next to him, but Draco thought it was most likely the warmth of her personality. She was remarkably accepting of him and not many people were. She saw beyond the prickly exterior he liked to keep wrapped around him and instead of dismissing him as someone unworthy of her help, she went out of her way to pull him out of the morass that his life was. He had needed someone from outside his circle of friends to do so. Speaking of friends, Pansy was going to be unbearable. There was no way he could dodge explaining yet another overnight absence.

The door opened and Granger peeked her head in. “You’re awake,” she said. “Come into the common room, I have food sitting on the table.”

She disappeared before Draco could say anything. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept for this long. He felt deliciously languid and loved every moment of it and he stretched his muscles out before climbing out of the bed to find his t-shirt. He located it over the back of a chair and pulled it on. He then walked into the little common room and saw the plate piled high with food waiting on the coffee table. There was a cup of coffee sitting next to it, but there was no sign of Granger. He looked around and spied her curled up on the window seat with a mug in her hands.

“Thanks, Granger,” Draco said huskily before taking a swig of his coffee to clear his throat.

He was starving and set about demolishing the large breakfast she had assembled for him. She seemed to pick up on his mood and hunger and sat quietly contemplating life outside the window.

“Pansy asked if I had seen you,” Granger commented when he was nearly finished.

“What did you tell her?”

“I was saved by Ginny, but she’ll probably question you later.”

“She always does.”

“What are you going to tell her?”

Draco sighed and ran his hand through his hair. He really wasn’t sure that anything but the truth would satisfy his nosy friend. “If you don’t mind, I’ll tell her truth. She knows there aren’t many places I could be.”

“I don’t mind, but won’t she think it’s strange that you…you know…slept in my bed?” her voice went down into a whisper at the end and she blushed.

He understood her embarrassment. If he were in her position, he wouldn’t want people to think that they were having sex either. It was the conclusion everyone would jump to even if it weren’t true. “I won’t tell her the details, but just say that I slept on your sofa once more. She knows that has happened before.”

Granger let out a large breath. “Sorry, it’s just I don’t want people to think that…” she trailed off, looking far too embarrassed to continue.

Draco gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I understand. People have dirty minds and they won’t get that a boy and a girl can sleep in the same bed without anything happening.”

Granger got down from the window seat and sat down next to him. She put her hand on his arm. “I’m not ashamed of our friendship, or whatever it is we are, Draco,” she reassured him.

He smirked at her a little. “I should hope not, Princess. Not many people get to say that they’re friends with the great Draco Malfoy.”

She rolled her eyes at the return of his usual arrogance. “So we’re friends?”

Draco grimaced at her. “I guess we’re friends. It sounds sappy, though.”

“Well, I’m glad we are and I don’t want you to think that I’m hiding you away or anything,” she persisted with an exasperated look.

Draco wasn’t good at all this mushy feeling stuff and Granger kept going there with him. It was starting to disturb him how much he wanted to continuously reassure her about things. Once upon a time, he’d liked making this girl feel as uncomfortable and awkward as possible, but now he found himself always trying to smooth her path. “So are you planning on telling Scarhead and Weasel, then?”

“What have I said to you about calling them by their proper names in front of me?”

“Not going to happen. Learn to deal with it.”

“You’re impossible!” she declared.

“And this surprises you?”

“I guess not. I suppose there are some things you cannot change. But, no, I haven’t really thought about telling Harry or Ron. Maybe we need to get used to the change in our relationship first. Do you want me to tell them?” she asked worriedly.

“I do actually want to live to see nineteen. I don’t think telling Wonder Boy and his Ginger Growth will help me with that,” he said.

“Draco!” Granger protested. “It is that hard to say Potter or Weasley?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Draco said. He then kissed her cheek before he even realised he was doing it. Granger was looking flushed once more. He probably should leave now before he ended up doing something stupid, like kissing her again. “Anyway, thanks for the bed and the dreamless night’s sleep. I’ll just disillusion myself and get out of your hair.”

Hermione looked bemused as Malfoy all but sprinted out of her door and her hand grazed her cheek and once more. His actions left her confused and she didn’t like feeling this way. She was Hermione Granger! She was meant to always know what was going on. Then again, for all her despair at Ron and Harry’s inability to comprehend complex emotions, she wasn’t too good when it came to deciphering the opposite sex - which was ridiculous, really - considering that her two best friends were male. But Harry and Ron had never been particularly complicated. They didn’t have the maddening layers that seemed to make up Draco Malfoy. Just as she thought she had him all figured out, he did things like seek her out to make sure she wasn’t in the midst of a breakdown and alone. He then snuggled up to her all night and she certainly hadn’t pictured Malfoy to be someone who did that. If she’d thought about how he slept at all, she would have undoubtedly placed him in the ‘stay the hell away from me or I’ll hex you category’. He didn’t strike her as someone who would actually want to cuddle up to others as he always appeared so cold.

Thinking about Malfoy’s sleeping habits had Hermione thinking about the words he’d uttered before he’d fled. He had a dreamless night’s sleep? That meant he hadn’t been plagued by nightmares. Thinking about it, both times they’d fallen asleep together, Hermione hadn’t been disturbed by any shouts or thrashing around. She’d spoken to Pansy and Blaise and knew that Malfoy did both of those things. He’d forgotten to silence his bed once or twice when sleeping in the Slytherin dorms and he had woken Blaise up a few times.

Hermione didn’t want her mind to wander down the paths it currently was and she certainly didn’t want to think that sleeping next to her somehow drove Malfoy’s demons away.

---------

Once Draco got back to his bedroom, he thanked whoever had created the Disillusion Charm. In his rush to escape Granger’s quarters before he did something monumentally stupid, like snog her senseless, he’d forgotten to transfigure his clothes back into what he’d been wearing prior to sleeping in Granger’s bed. He would have received some strange looks if he’d been caught wandering around Hogwarts in a pair of pyjamas.

He ended the charm and flung himself back on his bed. He probably should get in the shower and do something with his day, but he felt like lazing around, contemplating how far in over his head he was getting. He didn’t know whether to panic or just let himself fall. Nothing good could come out of him falling for Granger. It would be messy.

He sighed as the door swung open and then groaned as Blaise marched through with Pansy in tow.

“Here you are,” Pansy said. “Can you please stop disappearing all night? It’s making me worry that you’ve been hauled in front of McGonagall and sent home.”

“I think Blaise would notice if all my stuff went missing.”

“Still, it’s giving me sleepless nights.”

“Yes ma’am. Would you like to place a tracking spell on me? That way you can keep tabs on me wherever I am.”

Pansy rolled her eyes and sat down at the foot of Draco’s bed. “So are you going to tell me where you’ve been?”

“Are you going to bug me until I do?”

“Of course. Now spill.”

“Alright, but only to get you off my back. I was with Granger.”

Pansy smirked triumphantly at Blaise. “Oh, really? The whole night?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “You can stop what you’re thinking right now. I slept on her sofa.”

Pansy pouted a little. “Oh,” she said, disappointed.

“Why did you go to there?” Blaise asked.

Draco shot him an annoyed look. He only answered Pansy’s questions because he’d grown up with her and they had been friends for a long time. He didn’t want Blaise involved. But Pansy tilted her head in interest, so he gave up and decided to give the nosy pair what they wanted. “I went to see if she was okay.”

“Why?” Pansy asked, confused.

“Yesterday was the anniversary of her trip to Malfoy Manor.”

Pansy paled. “Oh! I didn’t realise.”

“And she wanted to see your face?” Blaise commented.

Draco suppressed the snarky comment that was on the tip of his tongue. It wouldn’t help matters if he and Blaise got into yet another fight, as it would just cause Pansy to cry. “Well, she didn’t kick me out.”

“Was she okay?” Pansy asked, concerned.

“Yes, surprisingly so, but she didn’t want to be alone and asked if I would stay on her sofa.”

“I’m sure that was a hardship,” Blaise interjected sarcastically.

Draco ignored his roommate. He’d answered more than enough questions. “Anyway, now that you know where I was, you can get off my back. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll go and have a shower.”

Pansy watched as her blond best friend disappeared as fast as he could into the adjoining bathroom.

“Disappointed, love?”

Pansy looked up at her boyfriend. “A little, I guess. But have you noticed how much happier Draco’s been recently?”

Blaise grudgingly acknowledged this point. “He’s started less fights, I’ll give him that.”

“I wish something more was going on between them, though. They would be so good together.”

“Not this again. I thought we’d worked through your obsessive need to meddle in things that aren’t your business. Besides, do you really want to experience the fallout should those two become an item?”

She sighed. “I guess not. It wouldn’t be easy for either of them.”

“Or for Hogwarts. The fights those two would start is too painful to think about.”

“Yeah, I suppose I should stop harbouring any hope that they will get together, especially if I want an easy life.”

Blaise sat down next to her and looped an arm around her shoulders. “I know you want Draco to have something positive in his life, but do you really think this would be good for him?”

“She’s worked wonders on him. I’ve never seen him as relaxed as he is after he’s been with her.”

“Okay, so she’s good for him, but I don’t think anyone could argue that he’s good for her. Pans, think about it. She would have to fight so many of her friends to have him. People would gossip about her and she’d get an unfair reputation.”

Pansy rubbed the back of her neck. “You’re right. I know you’re right, but it’s just not fair. It’s obvious they like each other. I’ve been watching them for the past weeks and it’s killed them both to stay away from each other. And you heard him, he went up to see her yesterday, to check on her and make sure she was okay. Since when does Draco do anything like that for other people?”

“Besides for you and his mother, yeah, he wouldn’t do that for anyone else but he’d be condemning her to yet another battle. I really don’t think the world is ready for that kind of partnership.”

Pansy put her head on her boyfriend’s shoulder and wiped away a tear. “But it should be.”

----------

Draco turned his back to the bathroom door and leant against it, his head tilted towards the ceiling. Pansy and Blaise had said nothing that he hadn’t already thought, but hearing it out loud made it hit home all the more. As much as he’d like to discover where he and Granger were headed, it was a really bad idea and it would cause a lot of friction amongst the Hogwarts student body. Knowing what he did about Granger, she wouldn’t care. She wouldn’t think it was anybody’s business but her own. She’d probably put some weight to her friends’ advice, but, ultimately, would expect them to trust her.

However, he found himself not wanting Granger to have to fall out with her friends over him, or face the scandalised whispers that would follow her around. He was used to this. He had been since people had found out he was a Death Eater, but he knew how difficult it was to plough on as if people’s outraged stares and blatant distrust of your intentions didn’t matter. Obviously, things had gotten a lot worse for him since Voldemort had been defeated. Now he was openly despised and no one would understand Granger’s desire to help a former Death Eater.

Draco smiled bitterly as he realised that the bubble of anticipation he’d been carrying around with him since he awoke that morning had burst. He was crazy to think that he could have anything with the war hero. She was so far above him and he wouldn’t drag her down. He didn’t want her being gossiped about or splashed all over the Daily Prophet, where she’d probably be labelled as having a fetish for ‘bad boys’. Strangers would dissect her decisions and would tut over her forgiveness of his previous actions and beliefs.

He knew that Granger was developing feelings for him. He didn’t have problems reading the opposite sex. He may not have been some kind of Casanova, but he’d had enough girls after him to realise when a girl had a crush. And Granger had the classic symptoms. She was also stubborn enough to want to pursue it, despite what others thought. He’d have to be the one to nip it in the bud but his heart felt heavy at the thought of causing her any pain. He wasn’t sure when she’d wormed her way into his affections, but she had. Her warm personality and loving nature were a much-needed balm for his wounded soul but if he cared for her at all, he would ignore her and turn his back on his feelings.

Chapter Text

Hermione found herself nervously pacing outside Professor McGonagall’s office. She really was in two minds about what to do. Four days ago, when she and Malfoy had opened up to each other in her common room, she’d been prepared to go to the Headmistress and speak to her about Draco’s ambitions to become a Healer. But since then, she’d received the cold shoulder from him and was wondering if she had done something wrong. He’d seemed perfectly fine when he left her common room. Okay, so he had basically fled, but she put it down to his confusion over kissing her on the cheek. She couldn’t see Draco doing casual affection, probably not even to his own mother. But now he was ignoring her and not how he had previously. This time there was a return to his cold demeanour of previous years. He wasn’t sneering or making any snide comments, but he was looking through her as if she didn’t exist and it hurt. She’d shed one or two tears over his behaviour.

But she hadn’t forgotten the conversation they had had or that he’d confided his deepest wishes and ambitions to her, and she wanted them to come true for him. She didn’t want him to follow the same path as his father and become a miserable, cold shell of a man. He had warmth in him that needed to be nurtured and nourished. She sighed once more as she really wanted to be the one who helped him but now she wasn’t sure he would accept it with the distance he was currently keeping from her.

At least he hadn’t returned to his ruinous drinking habit. In fact, Hermione had a stash of leftover bottles that he hadn’t come to collect, and Noktok was no longer delivering any new ones to the kitchen. The Malfoy control was back but how Hermione wished it wasn’t. Out-of-control Draco needed her help and in return, he had helped her, too.

Now, Hermione didn’t know what to do. She vacillated all week about whether she should still go to talk to McGonagall or not. She had found herself pacing outside of the Headmistress’ office several times and now, she was back.

Hermione jumped when the gargoyle stepped aside and revealed Professor McGonagall. “Hermione, this is the third time in two days that you have been hovering outside my office. Is something wrong?”

Hermione didn’t realise that the Headmistress knew if someone was looking to gain entrance to her office, although she supposed it made sense. It also seemed that her decision about whether to speak to McGonagall about Draco had been made for her. She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. She was meddling but it was with good intentions. That made all the difference in her eyes. “Could I speak to you about something?”

McGonagall nodded and gestured for Hermione to follow her back up to her office. Once there, Hermione smiled at the portrait of Dumbledore that twinkled down at her. It still didn’t feel like Hogwarts without him in charge. She briefly looked at the portrait of Severus Snape next to him, but her former Potions Professor ignored her.

“So, is everything all right?” the Headmistress asked.

“I wanted to talk to you about Draco Malfoy.”

McGonagall shuffled some papers around her desk. “I knew letting him back was the wrong decision but the Ministry forced me,” she muttered to herself.

“No, you misunderstand me, Professor. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

McGonagall stopped her fidgeting and looked at her curiously. “If he isn’t bothering you, then what is it?”

Hermione bit her lip nervously. She really didn’t know how to explain this, especially as she didn’t want to get either Draco or Pansy in trouble. She couldn’t reveal anything regarding Draco’s drinking or his late night excursions, or, indeed, Pansy’s pleas for her to help out with him. Maybe she should just stick to basic information: the fact that they had been talking. “I’ve had a few conversations with him.”

McGonagall looked her a little confused. “Draco Malfoy has been speaking to you?”

She tried her hardest not to blush; it sounded strange when your Headmistress said it. “Yes, as hard as it is to believe.”

“What about?”

“Lots of things, really. He has a lot of suppressed feelings.”

McGonagall just blinked in surprise and Hermione smothered her smile. It was true: when looking at him, it didn’t seem as if he had hidden depths at all. If someone had come to her in similar circumstances in January, she would have dismissed them. In fact, she had done so with Pansy.

“So … er … Mr. Malfoy has been opening up to you?”

“Yes, but I wanted to speak to you about something in particular.”

“Go on.”

“It’s regarding his career ambitions.”

“He wants a career?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes, he does. He wants to use his skills and not just sit at home counting his money.”

“What career does he want?”

“He wants to be a Healer.”

McGonagall looked completely taken aback by that. Hermione guessed that she expected Draco to want to be something flashier, possibly a professional Quidditch player or something and Hermione didn’t blame her for thinking that. If she had been asked before having the conversation with Draco, she probably would have thought the same thing. Draco liked to be at the centre of attention and becoming a Healer was a lot more understated as well as a lot of hard work.

“A Healer?”

“Yes, Professor.”

McGonagall leant back into her seat. “It’s not something that I would have expected from him.”

Hermione let the smile she’d been fighting out. “No, I don’t think it’s a career you would have matched him with. For a start, it requires some tact and this is Draco.”

McGonagall stared at her and she flushed a little as she realised that sentence revealed how intimate she’d become with him. Then Hermione shrugged; this whole conversation was going to show how close the pair of them now were, but it was necessary if she was going to help Draco achieve his ambitions. “But, as you know, he needs a letter of recommendation from you in order to be accepted into the St. Mungo’s training programme.”

“Is this why he sent you to speak to me?”

“Oh no, Draco doesn’t know I’m here, but I came because I knew that he would never approach you himself.”

“Why would he not speak to me?”

Hermione frowned as she realised she was going to have use all her diplomacy. It felt awkward to have to point out to the Headmistress, someone whom she had respected ever since she’d started at Hogwarts, how badly Draco was being treated by the professors, including Professor McGonagall herself. “I think he thinks he would be unwelcome in this office.”

McGonagall sighed and rubbed her temples. “I suppose he may have a point. I have found it difficult to look past his previous actions whilst a student in this school, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t do my duty as his Headmistress. If this is truly what he wants to do then I will, of course, help him.”

Hermione beamed at the older witch. She knew that McGonagall, whilst stern, was rigorously fair in her dealings with others. She took her position as a Headmistress very seriously and would do all she could to improve the chances of her students. “He will need to drastically improve his grades. It hasn’t escaped my notice that his marks have been falling.”

Hermione nodded. “He knows that already, and I think, if given hope, he will knuckle down and study very hard. At the moment, he is uncaring because he doesn’t think he will be able to use his education for anything.”

“Well, you may tell Mr. Malfoy that he can come to me regarding this.”

Hermione bit her lip once more. “Er … he actually doesn’t know I’m here. Obviously, when he speaks to you, it will be apparent that I approached you about this, but if you could ask him to come and see you himself, I think that would be best.”

McGonagall smiled at her Head Girl. “All right. I’ll arrange an appointment with him. Thank you for coming to me about this. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to do so.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Hermione said before making her escape.

Once outside McGonagall’s office, Hermione leant against the wall. She felt happier to have done something about getting Draco the help that he needed, but also felt a little guilty, as if she had betrayed his confidence. She didn’t like meddling and she only did it when necessary, but it sat uneasy on her conscience. She knew how much of a big deal it was for Draco to have opened up to her even a little bit. He wasn’t going to be happy when he realised what she had done.

--------

Draco was sitting in the Slytherin common room surrounded by Charms books, trying to concentrate on his essay and not the hurt that radiated out of Granger’s eyes every time she saw him. He knew that ignoring her was going to be hard, but also knew that it was for the best. Overhearing Pansy and Blaise’s conversation had re-enforced how much of a burden he would be to her if he continued to encourage her friendship. Whether she wanted to only be friends, or was looking for it to develop into something more, he was not good for her. He was too bitter, too twisted and far too messed up, and that was without taking on board what the rest of the community currently thought of him.

Draco sighed and looked up as Harper, the sixth-year Slytherin Quidditch Captain, called him. He needed to stop obsessively thinking about her.

“Mate, McGonagall just asked me to give this to you,” Harper said, dropping a folded piece of parchment into his hand.

Draco nodded his thanks and carelessly discarded the note on top of his pile of books. It was never very wise to look more than passably interested in notes from teachers around other Slytherins. He picked his quill back up, ready to try and get this blasted essay finished.

“Listen, have you thought anymore about what I said to you?” Harper said, looking uncomfortable.

Draco frowned as he tried to recall the last time he’d spoken to the fellow Slytherin. Then it came to him. Harper had approached him during his first weeks back at Hogwarts and asked him if he would rejoin the Slytherin Quidditch team. To be honest, he had practically begged him and once Draco had since seen the game against Hufflepuff, he understood why. The team was awful and made up of far too many young players.

“Sorry, I don’t think it’ll do the team any good if I’m on it.”

Harper shook his head in frustration. “Just think about it, Draco. We need to beat Ravenclaw if we don’t want to finish at the bottom. It’s been over two centuries since the Slytherin team finished last and I don’t want to be the captain who was responsible.”

“Have you tried either Blaise or Theo?”

“Yeah, neither were interested either. If you think you can work on them, I’d appreciate it. We need to win our next game.”

Draco nodded. He felt for Harper. It wasn’t easy trying to pull together a Quidditch team this year with how the rest of the school viewed their house.

He waited for Harper to make his way over to his friends before he opened the parchment from McGonagall.

Dear Mr. Malfoy,

I’d appreciate it if you could pass by my office tomorrow at 3pm. There is something I would like to discuss with you.

The password is Scribblifors.

Professor McGonagall.

Draco frowned at the note. Being summoned to see McGonagall was never a good thing and he was slightly puzzled by the timing of it all. He’d calmed down hugely since Granger and Pansy had got to work on him. He had managed to wean himself off his alcohol problem and was actually working hard in class and turning in essays. He had also abandoned his night-time excursions, although there were times when he thought he was going to go crazy cooped up in the Slytherin dungeons. He could only think that Granger had grassed on him but couldn’t see that happening because if she was going to do something like that then she would have done it back in January when she first came across him drunk.

----------

It was with some trepidation that Draco made his way up to McGonagall’s office the following afternoon. He wasn’t sure what to expect, as McGonagall had never made any effort to hide her contempt for him. She was a true Gryffindor and was very fond of Potter, Weasley and Granger. He, on the other hand, was a typical Slytherin, and, as such, was never going to endear himself to the Headmistress. He said the password and soon found himself on the travelling spiral staircase. He took a couple of deep breaths before schooling his features to show none of his anxiety and knocking on the door.

“Come in,” the stern voice of McGonagall called out.

He opened the door and walked into the office.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy, please take a seat,” the Headmistress said.

Draco sat down; ignoring the gaze of the Headmaster he’d attempted to kill. He really didn’t want to see the portrait with twinkling blue eyes gazing down at him with understanding.

“Mr. Malfoy, you are probably a little confused as to why I organised this meeting.”

He just nodded. True to his Slytherin nature, he didn’t want to give too much away or appear interested enough to ask any questions. McGonagall appeared to anticipate that and continued on. “It has been brought to my attention that you require my help in pursuing your post-Hogwarts career aims.”

He scowled as he realised what this was about. He should have known that the bloody Gryffindor couldn’t keep her bushy hair out of his business. Why he had thought that he could confide his ambitions to her, he’d never know. She was the type who would look to act on it, whether he wanted her to or not.

“I’m not sure what you are talking about, Professor,” he said contrarily.

McGonagall sighed at the irritating boy in front of her. The insolent expression never disappeared from his face when he was confronted by any of the Hogwarts teachers, other than the deceased Severus Snape. “Mr. Malfoy, we could play this game or we could just make an arrangement where I write a letter of recommendation for you under certain conditions.”

“I can’t say that I’m impressed that the Head Girl came to speak to you about this, but it is Granger, so I should have expected it. Let’s hear the deal.”

McGonagall decided to ignore his rude tone. If she took umbrage then this would probably descend into an argument that would end with Malfoy leaving the castle for good, which would land him back in Azkaban. Even though she had done her best to ignore him since he’d returned, she wanted the best for all her students, whether they were snooty Slytherins or not.

“I want reassurance from you that you will improve your marks. At the moment, you won’t get into the St. Mungo’s training programme. I know you have the capacity to improve, and you have always been towards the top of your class. But if I write this letter for you and your grades don’t improve, there will be stain on my reputation as Headmistress and St. Mungo’s would think twice about any future letters I write on behalf of students.”

Draco wasn’t a fool. Granger had got McGonagall to do something that she wouldn’t have otherwise done and he would be cutting his nose off to spite his face if he turned this opportunity down. Having a letter from McGonagall, a celebrated war hero, and an original member of the Order of the Phoenix, would give him a much better chance of getting in, as it would give him some credibility.

He nodded at her. “I’ve already started to study hard and I won’t disappoint you if you do this for me.”

McGonagall pursed her lips. “See that you don’t, Mr. Malfoy. You have managed to disappoint quite a lot of people over the last few years. It would be nice if you could surprise me for a change.”

He clenched his jaw; he hated being lectured by do-gooder Gryffindors. It went against his personal code and he just about let Granger get away with it but he swallowed his anger and made his way out of the office before he blew up. Catching sight of Severus Snape’s portrait had helped him in that respect. Snape had put up with a fair share of barbed comments over the years, and if he could do it, then so could Draco. But this didn’t mean he was going to let Granger get away with sticking her nose in his business. It wouldn’t be hard to track her down as she spent most of her Easter holidays in the library and he headed straight there.

-------

“Hermione, what is wrong with you?” Ron asked, exasperated. “You’ve been fidgeting and looking at the clock non-stop.”

Harry cracked a grin. “That’s normally behaviour reserved for the likes of us,” he said, pointing to him and Ron.

“Nothing,” she huffed. “I’m just a little tired today.”

Ron’s eyes lit up. “Why don’t we take the rest of the afternoon off?”

Hermione pursed her lips and looked disapprovingly at her redheaded friend. “Come on, Hermione,” he whined. “We’ve been here for hours and look, I’ve got two whole completed.”

Hermione caught sight of a flash of blond hair over Ron’s shoulder and saw the angry face of Draco Malfoy. She knew he’d be mad but she didn’t think he’d come straight from his meeting to track her down. Yesterday, McGonagall had sent her a note to inform her that she’d arranged for Draco to come and see her at 3 o’clock that afternoon. She probably felt that Hermione would need warning.

“You know what? You’re right, Ron. We’ve studied really hard. I think we should take the rest of the afternoon off. How about we go and see Hagrid?” she suggested.

Both boys stared at her in stunned silence before jumping up and grabbing their bags before she could change her mind and make them start the difficult Charms essay they had been set. Hermione made sure she sandwiched herself in-between Harry and Ron as they exited the library. She briefly caught Draco’s eye as he flashed an irate look her way. Yes, she was being a coward and running away and she just hoped he wasn’t as annoyed when he finally caught up with her. At some point she was going to have to face him.

--------

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief as she peered out of the Gryffindor portrait hole and saw no angry blond Slytherin waiting for her outside the common room. She’d spent the rest of the day at Hagrid’s hut before scurrying up to the Great Hall for dinner with Ron and Harry where she’d sat with her back to the Slytherins, not wanting to make any eye contact with Draco. She knew she was firmly in his bad books and didn’t want to encourage him in thinking he could seek her out later on. She then spent the evening in Gryffindor Tower, but since it was getting late she wanted to get back to her own common room.

She said the password to get into her room and was halfway through the door before she felt someone pushing her the rest of the way in. She pulled her wand out and turned around to see Draco lifting a Disillusion Charm off himself. She cursed silently. What an idiot she’d been; of course he’d been waiting for her, he’d just Disillusioned himself. It was practically a Slytherin trademark.

Draco stalked menacingly towards her before physically wrestling her wand out of her grasp and flinging it across the room. He glared down at her and she was shocked at the little thrill of anticipation that slithered its way down her spine. Draco looked dangerously out of control and Hermione had missed that look on his face. The last few days all he’d shown her were icy facades.

“What gives you the right to meddle in my affairs?” he bit out.

“Someone had to. You were never going to go and speak to McGonagall about it.”

“It wasn’t up to you to do so!” he spat.

Hermione huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Listen here, Draco Malfoy: you don’t get to ignore me for days, and, when I do something nice for you, come barging into my common room and yell at me for it.”

“No, you listen, you over-bearing, irritating, bushy-haired Gryffindor: you don’t get to go behind my back and talk to the Headmistress about me.”

“You were never going to do it, so I don’t get why you’re so mad at me!” Hermione yelled.

“Because it’s my decision to go to McGonagall or not, not yours!” Draco shouted back.

Hermione bit her lip and looked down at her feet. Her anger deflated dramatically as she realised that he was right. She didn’t have the right to meddle and force his hand and although she’d known that deep down, she had ploughed on anyway.

“You’re right. I was wrong. It wasn’t my place to go and talk to McGonagall.”

Draco stared down at her in surprise. She guessed he had been expecting more fight from her. He nodded at her curtly and spun on his heel to march back out of her common room.

“Draco, wait!” Hermione called as he reached the door.

He turned but looked somewhere over her shoulder. She closed the distance between them. “Why are you being like this?” she asked.

“Like what?”

Hermione gestured impatiently with her hands. “You know what I mean. You came to check up on me, we opened up to each other, we slept in the same bed and now you’re acting as if you don’t know me.”

He moved his gaze to her. “We had a random night where we comforted each other, Granger, that’s it,” he sneered.

She looked at him in silence. His casual dismissal of what they’d shared hurt more than she wanted to admit. But if she was anything then she was persistent. “And how are you going to explain away the other couple of nights spent in this room?”

“It was nothing, Granger, get over it. You had my alcohol, I was bored and you were entertaining with your pathetic self-pity,” he said cruelly.

Hermione stepped back from him as if he’d slapped her. It was like she had gone back in time and was looking at the Malfoy who bullied and belittled her. She hunched her shoulders and turned from him as a tear slipped out. It served her right for starting to think that she meant something to him, but to have him throw everything back in her face hurt. The pain was burning a hole through her chest but her pride demanded she try to be dignified.

“Get out!” she spat at him.

She heard his feet walk back towards the door and door-handle down going down, however she couldn’t control the sob that ripped its way out of her throat. The next thing she knew, she was wrapped in his arms, her faced squashed into his chest. “I didn’t mean it,” he muttered into her hair.

“You still said it.”

“And I’m an idiot, you know that.”

“Why are you doing this? I can’t handle you blowing hot and cold on me. If you don’t want me in your life, then just go. Please, Draco.”

He sighed and Hermione felt it ruffling the top of her head. “I don’t want to screw up your life,” he finally said.

“Why would you be screwing up my life?”

Draco let her go and raked a hand through his hair. Hermione hunted through her pockets for a tissue, which she used to dry her face.

He glanced at her. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on between us. It’s confusing for me. I feel things when I’m with you that I’ve never felt before. I talk to you about stuff that I don’t even discuss with Pansy. I mean, I even told you about what I want to do with my life and no one but you knows that. And to top it all off, you are so warm and kind and forgiving, and it’s throwing me off balance. You should hate me and be throwing me the death stares that your friends do when they see me, but you don’t. Instead, you’re inviting me into your personal space and helping me out and I don’t know how to feel about it.”

A small smile broke out on Hermione’s face as he ranted at her. He was pretty much describing her feelings, and she was glad that she wasn’t the only one puzzled by the relationship developing between them.

“Why are you smiling? You should be throwing me out and telling me to piss off!” Draco yelled, frustrated at her.

“But I don’t want to throw you out, I like spending time with you.”

“You shouldn’t,” he warned. “I’m not good for you. I’m a messed up freak with a nasty reputation and even nastier past.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at him. “I’m a big girl, Draco. I think I can make decisions on who are my friends or not.”

“You’re not thinking this through. People are going to talk and they aren’t going to say nice things. They’re going to suggest that I’m using you for your status.”

“So what’s new? I’ve been gossiped about before. In fact, if I remember correctly, you aided that foul little sneak, Rita Skeeter, to spread some nasty lies about me.”

“This is what I’m talking about, Granger. It’s not normal. This friendship - or whatever it is - between us, isn’t right.”

“What’s so wrong about it?”

“I’m a former Death Eater and you’re a Muggle-born. Doesn’t that strike you as being odd?”

Hermione shrugged. “So, you were a kid, brought up to think only one way. Then you grew up and realised things weren’t how you were told.”

“You’re being deliberately obtuse.”

“What do you want me to say, Draco? Yes, I recognise everything you’re saying but I’m not bothered about it. I’ve spent my entire time in the wizarding world being unconventional and frowned upon for being ‘different’, but I don’t care what anyone might think about us being friends. It’s none of their business.”

“What about your two friends? Are you telling me it’s not their business, either?”

Hermione frowned. Harry and Ron would be a problem. They were incredibly over protective of her and they also mistrusted Draco hugely, which meant they wouldn’t accept that she was friends with the Slytherin. They’d think that he had somehow duped her, but she was also confident that she could handle them. They might rail at her a bit, but they would come round.

“Don’t worry about Harry and Ron. I’ll talk to them when the time comes.”

“If you could leave it until we’re out of Hogwarts I would appreciate it. I’ve already been half-killed by Potter once, I don’t fancy giving him the chance to finish me off.”

“Okay, I’ll make you a deal. I won’t say anything to Harry and Ron until you are comfortable with me doing so if you stop ignoring me because you’re worried about what people will think.”

“I didn’t stop talking to you because I was worried about what people would think, I did it so you wouldn’t find yourself the centre of nasty whispers and stares.”

Hermione burst into laughter. “Oh dear, trust you to try and be noble the one time you shouldn’t be.”

He scowled at her. “I was not being noble. That’s so Gryffindor,” he huffed.

She patted his shoulder and smiled at him. “Of course you weren’t.”

“And stop mocking me.”

Hermione ignored his sulking. “So, is it a deal?”

“What is it with you Gryffindors and deals?” he muttered, but held his hand out anyway for her to shake.

Chapter Text

Hermione smiled as she sat down opposite Draco and spilt her books across the table. She sighed as she released the weight from her hands, as the majority of tomes in the Hogwarts library were heavy and unwieldy.

“Aren’t you courting danger by sitting here?” he asked as he raised his head from the parchment he was currently scribbling on.

“Gryffindor has Quidditch practice and who else is going to find us all the way back here?”

He nodded his head before bending it back over the book he was currently flicking through. Silence prevailed for another ten minutes before Draco, flinging his book across the table and then leaning back in his chair, disrupted it.

Hermione looked up in enquiry. “What’s up with you?” she asked as she observed the pout on his face.

“Stupid Muggle Studies. I have to take a special course to prove that I’m interacting with Muggle culture as part of my release.”

She couldn’t help but giggle. “I’m glad you find it amusing,” he said bitterly.

“Well, you have to admit, it has its funny parts.”

He frowned at her before grinning back and her breath hitched in her throat. Would she ever get used to the blinding smiles he was capable of producing? She looked down and cleared her throat quietly. There was no need to give him any idea of how big her crush was getting. “So, what are you stuck on?” she asked.

“This module regarding the Internet. I’ve been set an essay about how it’s impacted on the life of Muggles. I’m still not sure what the Internet is.”

She grimaced. “To be honest, I don’t think I’m much help. I haven’t really been at home all that much in the last few years, so the Internet revolution has pretty much passed me by. When I finally contacted some old Muggle friends from primary school, they were all asking me for my email address and inviting me to join them on something called IRC Chat.”

He groaned. “I was so hoping you’d be able to make some sense of it all.”

Hermione held out her hand. “Give me the book and your essay question. I’ll look through it and see if I can make head or tail of it.”

“Thanks, Princess, you’re a life saver.”

“Not that again. I thought we’d got rid of the stupid nickname.”

He just smirked at her. She rolled her eyes and buried her head in his Muggle Studies book and was soon deciphering the world of cyberspace.

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

“Wow, this is really interesting,” Hermione said an hour later.

Draco was back in the world of the familiar and tackling his Ancient Runes translation. “What?”

“The Internet. It’s fascinating.”

“If you say so.”

“I’m going to have to see if I can get my hands on a computer. I wonder if there is anyway to get a dial-up modem installed in a magical building? Hmm … No, I distinctly remember Hogwarts: A History outlining reasons why Muggle technology doesn’t work inside the castle,” she muttered distractedly.

“Granger, if you’ve quite finished rambling on about illegible things, would you care to explain the purpose of the Internet to me so I can write the damn essay?”

She smiled and launched into an explanation that Draco was hard-pressed to follow. But soon, with copious amounts of Hermione’s help, he had managed to complete his essay.

“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked.

“Says you. I hate having to do this stupid extra course. If anything, it’s making me resent Muggles even more.”

A few months ago, she would have taken that statement at face value, but now she recognised it for what it was: Draco mouthing off to show his annoyance at being forced to do something he wasn’t good at.

“It wasn’t that bad. You even asked me additional questions about Muggle things,” she pointed out.

He looked a little embarrassed at that. “It wasn’t too bad with your help, I guess. At least you make it sound interesting.”

“Draco!” Pansy called, coming around the corner. “So this is where you’ve got too.”

“Hi, Pansy,” Hermione said. “Anyway, I better go. Quidditch practice will be finishing up, and Harry and Ron will want to bore me with all the new tactics they’ve designed.”

Pansy laughed. “Good luck with that. Luckily for me, those days are behind me.”

Hermione groaned. “How I envy you. Only a few more months of it and then they’ll be finished with Quidditch. Well, playing it anyway. Let me know if there’s anything else you need any more help with, Draco,” she said as she grabbed her bag and left.

Draco’s eyes involuntarily followed the curly-haired witch until she disappeared around some stacks. He then looked up at his unusually quiet best friend. Pansy was grinning at him.

“So you and Hermione are friends again now, huh?” she said, waggling her eyebrows.

He just scowled at her. “She helped me out with an essay on Muggle stuff.”

“She called you Draco,” Pansy said in a singsong voice.

“It’s Granger; if you talk to her for longer than three seconds she thinks you’re best friends.”

Pansy flopped down in the seat that Granger had vacated. “You don’t fool me one bit, Draco Malfoy. You’ve actually smiled in the last few days. Have you given up trying to stay away from her?”

“I think I’m going to stay away from you in future,” he muttered.

“Tut, tut, Draco. Stop stalling and tell Aunty Pansy all about it.”

He rolled his eyes. Pansy was insufferable when she was in this mood. She would tease and torment him until he gave up what she wanted to hear. “Okay, so we’ve decided to stop avoiding each other.”

“More like you’ve decided to stop cutting your nose off to spite your face,” she murmured.

“Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Okay! Okay! Keep your hair on.”

“Well, stop interrupting then.”

Pansy made a zipping motion across her lips, mimed locking them and throwing away the key.

“She went to McGonagall about something I told her in confidence, I tracked her down, yelled at her, made her cry, and then realised that I needed to stop being such a git,” Draco summarised.

“Wow, Hermione is working miracles. She actually got to you to admit that you’re a git!”

“Ha, ha! Very funny, Pans.”

“So, the two of you are friends now?”

“I guess. We’re not going to start hanging out in the Great Hall or anything. I mean, I do want to live and her moron friends would probably think I’ve used the Imperius Curse on her and kill me for using their precious princess if they found out.”

Pansy smiled at her snarky friend. “I’m happy for you. I like Hermione. She’s a nice girl.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Why are you happy for me? It’s not as if I’m marrying her or something.”

“You can’t fool me, Drakey-wakey. You have a thing for her.”

“Use that name one more time and I’ll risk a life sentence in Azkaban. Oh, and I don’t have a thing for Granger.”

She leaned across the table and patted his cheek. “Of course you don’t,” she said condescendingly.

Draco scowled - he hated it when Pansy got insightful on him. Sure, he liked Hermione but he wasn’t going to do anything about it. Besides, she deserved better than him. “We’re just studying together.”

“That’s how it started with Blaise.”

“No it didn’t,” he objected. “If I remember correctly, you set your sights on Blaise in our sixth year. In fact, I think the exact words you said were along the lines of: ‘Blaise is fit. I think I’ll go for that.’ It was very eloquent.”

“Yeah, well, I started studying with him and one thing led to another,” she defended.

“Poor sod.”

Pansy flicked her hair behind her shoulders. “I think you’ll find that he is one lucky man.”

Draco smiled at his friend. Blaise was luckier than he realised, as Pansy was one in a million.

“I think you lorded the Quidditch thing over Granger too early, by the way,” Draco said.

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Blaise and Theo were chatting to Harper yesterday about helping him out with the last Slytherin match of the season.”

Pansy groaned and banged her head on the table. “No! I thought I had banished Quidditch from my life forever.”

“Come on, Pans. You don’t want us to finish last, do you?”

“Has Harper persuaded you back also?”

“No. I doubt my playing would add anything other than extra motivation for the other team.”

Pansy pouted. She got angry that Draco was so hated by the rest of Hogwarts -it was unfair. He’d been a messed up kid, dragged into something by his family and the Dark Lord. How many of them would have refused if they’d had to stand in front of Voldemort, and be told that if they didn’t do a mission then their parents would be killed? And lots of them had been more than willing to mock Potter, too; especially during their fifth year, when the Ministry was leading the smear campaign against him. The hypocrisy they now showed towards Draco - and Slytherin House - was infuriating. She sighed; no matter how upset she got over what happened in the last few years, it would change nothing. She could only hope that the future would be kinder to them all.

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

Later that night, Hermione sat in the Gryffindor common room smiling as she thought about her encounter with Draco. She couldn’t help it, she felt so much lighter now that they were friends again. Not that they had really been friends before. They had just started talking to each other before the ignoring had started. But since their confrontation in her common room, she felt that they were friends now. It was something that they both wanted - and had accepted - even if they weren’t going to be announcing it.

This brought her back to her friends. Would they ever accept something as radical as her friendship with Draco? She hoped they would. At some point she was going to have to speak to them about it. She didn’t want to keep things from them – it didn’t sit well with her – and she hadn’t fought a war alongside them to have to do so. But Hermione had also fought to end centuries old prejudices and she wouldn’t accept her friends being prejudiced towards Draco, either. She wasn’t asking that they become his friends or anything, but did expect them to accept that she was, and not push her to dismiss him.

“Earth to Hermione,” Ron called, waving a hand in front of her face.

“Sorry, I spaced out a little there,” she replied.

“You’re telling me. I’ve been trying to get your attention for ages.”

“Well if you are going to drone on about Quidditch, then I am going to zone out.”

“We finished talking about Quidditch ages ago,” Ron objected.

“You were talking about it five minutes ago, something to do with Hawksfeet Formations.”

Harry and Ron both groaned dramatically. “What?” she asked.

“It’s the Hawkshead Attacking Formation,” Ginny pointed out.

“You’d think you’d be able to retain such basic information in your head, considering you’re a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to everything else,” Harry said.

“It’s Quidditch and it’s boring, so I don’t bother to remember any of it,” she remarked.

“Boring? Boring?!” Ron exclaimed, scandalised.

She just smiled apologetically. “Sorry, but to me it is. I don’t care about Wonky Faints or Hawksfeet Formations.”

“Wonky Faints! Harry, how has she been our best friend for the past eight years?” Ron cried out.

“It’s the Wronski Feint, Hermione,” Harry corrected.

Hermione smiled mischievously. “I know that much. Viktor drones on about it in every other letter.”

“Oh, so when Viktor talks to you about Quidditch, you remember, but when little ol’ Harry or me do so, it’s not important,” Ron huffed.

“Are you still on about Viktor? I thought you got over that at Bill and Fleur’s wedding,” she said.

“I just think he’s creepy. I mean, what kind of eighteen-year-old asks a fourth-year out? It was gross.”

Hermione sighed and Ginny rolled her eyes. Ron was still insanely jealous of Viktor. She didn’t know why he was still so threatened by him. It wasn’t that he had any hidden feelings towards her anymore, as they had been there, done that - and it hadn’t worked out. Besides, he was head-over-heels for Hannah now.

“Ron, I was fifteen. It wasn’t that much of a massive age gap and it wasn’t as if we did anything other than kiss, once.”

He covered his hands over his ears. “La la la! I don’t need to know that kind of information.”

Harry sniggered at his best friend. “Ron, really, you’re being a bit ridiculous. Why are you having a go at Hermione about this anyway?”

The redhead scowled. “I just don’t get why she’s still in contact with that creep.”

“We’re friends, which is allowed. And he’s not a creep, he’s a nice guy.”

“He was a Durmstrang.”

She threw her hands up. “You are impossible. So what if he was a Durmstrang?”

“I still don’t trust them. They’re all into dark arts and stuff.”

Hermione looked sternly at Ron. “You need to stop being so prejudiced. It’s a reputation, and one that Viktor does not deserve. He’s more than proven that he’s not into things like that.”

“Yeah, come on, Ron. He’s not exactly Malfoy,” Harry pointed out.

Her stomach churned at that and her eyes flashed involuntarily to Ginny who looked pointedly at her. Hermione couldn’t help the flush that coloured her cheeks a pale pink. What kind of mess was she getting herself into? There was no way Ron and Harry would be anything other than hostile towards any friendship she had with Draco. Ron couldn’t even say anything nice about Viktor. And she hadn’t seen him in years.

“I just don’t get why Hermione can’t be interested in one of the Gryffindor guys,” Ron whined, bringing Hermione’s attention back to the conversation. “What’s wrong with Dean or Seamus?”

She tapped her foot irritably. “I am here so you don’t need to talk about me as if I’m not.”

Ron leaned forward confidentially. “Why don’t you ask Seamus out? He’s good looking.”

Hermione felt her temperature rising. She hated it when Ron got like this; he was so tactless at times and it drove her nuts. He had as much sensitivity as a bulldozer and he seemed to be continuously trampling all over her feelings. “Because I don’t like Seamus in that way. Why don’t you let me make my own decisions?”

“Because your decisions suck. Look at Viktor.”

“I agree with you in one thing: my decision ‘sucked’ when I decided to give it a go with you!” she yelled before storming out of the Gryffindor common room.

Ron looked, bemused, at his sister and best friend. “What did I say?”

Harry just groaned and Ginny smacked herself on the forehead. “You never know how to talk to Hermione,” she remarked.

“It’s not my fault she’s always so sensitive about everything.”

“Ron, you basically just attacked her for having a friendship with Viktor, who, I hasten to add, is a really nice guy, and then you acted as if she has a thing for dark wizards,” Harry said.

The redhead just continued to look confused. “You explain it to him!” Ginny ordered her fiancé. “I’m going to check that Hermione isn’t plotting some awful revenge on Ron.”

----------

Hermione slammed the door to her common room and then her bedroom behind her and threw her pillow across her room. Ron was so frustrating at times. He just didn’t get her, which was one of the main reasons they hadn’t worked out. He was uncomplicated, and life for him was simple, which meant he failed to realise that not everyone was like that. It was infuriating. She flung herself on her bed, growled in frustration and kicked her feet against the mattress. She felt better after a minute of this tantrum.

When she had got her irritation out, she couldn’t help but feel sad. When Ron had mentioned Seamus as a potential boyfriend, the image of a tortured blond-haired Slytherin had flittered across her mind. She put face in her hands. She’d hoped that the attraction she felt for Draco would start to disappear but it was just getting stronger. Nothing but trouble lay down that road, but it was increasingly the only one that interested her.

There was a quiet knock on her door. “Come in,” Hermione said, praying that it wasn’t Ron. She thought she would completely lose her temper if it were. The familiar red hair of the Weasley clan popped around the door, but Hermione was relieved to see that it was Ginny rather than Ron.

“I don’t understand how he is my brother at times,” Ginny offered as an opening.

“He drives me nuts. He’s so judgemental.”

“I blame mum for insisting he have the middle name Bilius. All my brothers have our uncles’ names, apart from Bill, who has Dad’s. By the time Ron was born, there was only Uncle Bilius left and, sadly, he’s inherited some the old man’s traits. The inability to keep his mouth shut or to say anything with any tact being two of them.”

Hermione smiled weakly at that. She knew Ginny was trying to make her feel better. “You’d think after eight years, he would at least have some idea of how to talk to me.”

Ginny snorted. “He’s known me for seventeen years, and he still puts his foot in it on a regular basis. Ron, bless him, is one of those who never learns.”

“I don’t know why I let him get to me so much.”

“Because he can be an annoying arse at times.”

Hermione giggled at that and sat up. Ginny had her uses and cheering Hermione up when Ron drove her mad was one the main ones.

----------

They were both snuggled under the duvet a few hours later when Ginny brought up the topic that Hermione had been dreading. “So what’s going on with you and Malfoy now?”

Hermione stared up at her canopy. She felt as if she really needed to talk to one of her friends about this. It was playing on her mind and she was so anxious about it all. She wanted to explore her friendship with Draco, but was worried about the potential problems it could cause with her friends. She hated feeling so torn about it all. All she wanted was an easy last year at Hogwarts, not one that was defined by arguments with her friends. Ginny poked her arm and she turned to see that her friend had raised herself up onto her elbow and was staring at her.

“Well?” Ginny asked.

She sighed. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Are you still talking to him? I haven’t seen either of you making any eye contact recently, and, yes, I have been looking.”

Hermione took a deep breath and decided to go for it. What was the worst thing that Ginny could do? She could run and tell Harry and Ron everything, the cautious voice in her said, but she ignored it. She had to start somewhere if she was serious about keeping Draco as a friend, and Ginny was the least likely to have a temper tantrum about it.

“He was sort of ignoring me for a while,” Hermione finally said.

Ginny scowled. “What do you mean he was ignoring you? Shouldn't that be the other way around?”

“Ginny, please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”

The redhead remained silent and Hermione took that as her encouragement to continue. “He came to see me on the night of the anniversary of Malfoy Manor,” she said.

Ginny looked as if she was about to jump in so she raised her hand. “Please, just let me talk before you react. He wanted to check I was okay, and we spent the night talking.”

“The night? He spent the night here?” Ginny squeaked in shock.

Hermione really was jumping off the deep end. “Not at first. He left in the middle of the night, but I ran after him and asked him to come back and stay.”

Ginny groaned and pressed her face into a pillow. “Hermione, you really are something else. What were you thinking? Shouldn’t you have kicked him out on his ear when he first came? I mean, he stood there and watched you being tortured.”

She fired up in his defence. “He came to apologise and to see if I was alright. Besides, what was he meant to do that day at Malfoy Manor? He was hardly in the position to help me.”

Ginny looked at her in shock. “Why are you defending him so vehemently?”

“Because you’re being unfair towards him. Why should I chuck him out without even listening to him? He was coming to show he was sorry and I respect him for that. It couldn’t have been easy for him to do that.”

“Poor little Malfoy, he’s the victim in all of this,” Ginny bit sarcastically.

She sat up and glared at her friend. “Why am I even bothering to tell you any of this? You’re being so judgemental about it all.”

“Hermione, I think you’re losing your mind. This is Malfoy - he’s hardly an innocent caught up in it all.”

Hermione jumped out of the bed and starting pacing around her room furiously. “That’s where you’re wrong. He is innocent in a way. He didn’t want to be a Death Eater. Well, not once he realised what it involved, but he was in an impossible position. What would you have done if Voldemort threatened to kill your family if you didn’t do what he wanted?”

“I would have fought. I would have refused to bow down to the dictates of such an evil person.”

She looked at her friend sceptically. “Are you so sure? Even if you’d been brought up to think that Muggle-borns were inferior and that Voldemort had the right idea?”

“Yes!”

“You’re deluding yourself. If you had been in Draco’s position, I bet you would have done the same thing,” she scoffed.

Ginny’s face turned the red the same way Ron’s always did when he was in a rage. “I think you’ve gone insane. I know you believe in giving people second chances, but you’re wrong in this. You’re letting your attraction to him cloud your judgement,” Ginny said before leaving the room.

Hermione followed the angry redhead out of the bedroom and into her common room. Now she was just as upset at Ginny and this was descending into a nasty argument. “Oh please, just because I won’t see things your way, somehow I’m being irrational about it all. I’m the most logical person you know!” she yelled.

“You’re also a soft touch and I guarantee Malfoy knows this and using it to his advantage.”

Hermione screamed in frustration. “You go on about Ron, but you’re just the same. You’re just as narrow-minded and incapable of seeing beyond your own black and white world!”

“Why don’t you go and cry on the shoulder of your new best friends, the Slytherins, and see how accepting they are of you when they don’t need your reputation anymore!” Ginny shouted back.

The door clicked open, stopping both girls in the middle of their fight. Hermione’s chest was heaving from all her pent-up anger, and she closed her eyes as the tall figure of Draco Malfoy stepped through, carrying his book bag. He stopped as he took in the stilted figures in the common room and raised an eyebrow.

This was all that was needed to set Ginny off again. “Oh look, here comes your Death Eater to the rescue!”

Chapter Text

The door clicked open, stopping both girls in the middle of their fight. Hermione’s chest was heaving from all her pent-up anger, and she closed her eyes as the tall figure of Draco Malfoy stepped through, carrying his book bag. He stopped as he took in the stilted figures in the common room and raised an eyebrow.

This was all that was needed to set Ginny off again. “Oh look, here comes your Death Eater to the rescue!”

Draco sneered at the younger witch. “Something got your knickers in a twist, Weaselette?”

“Fuck off, Malfoy. Why don’t you go back to whatever rock you crawled out from and leave Hermione alone.”

“I see dating Saint Potter has given you delusions of grandeur. Who are you to order me around? You’re nothing but a jumped-up Weasley.”

“And you’re nothing more than Death Eater scum and too much of a coward to even do that properly.”

Draco went rigid with rage and clenched his jaw. He hated it when people called him a coward. As if any of the Gryffindors could understand anything he had gone through in the last two years. No, they were too busy sitting on their pedestals, judging.

He fingered his wand, a hex on his tongue but then he caught sight of Granger’s face. She was as pale as a sheet and looked as if she was on the verge of collapsing from the stress of it all. It gave him time to think and some of his anger abated. She didn’t deserve to have to deal with a fight in her common room between him and one of her best friends. That thought was the only thing holding him back.

Instead, he curled his lip and stepped a little closer to the redheaded bitch. “I know things that you cannot even comprehend, little girl. I suggest you run back to Wonder Boy and keep pretending that the world is so very black and white.”

The young Gryffindor’s face was puce with fury. “You think I’m going to leave you here alone with Hermione? You can think again. You stay the hell away from her!”

Draco pushed away the wand Weaselette was brandishing in his face. She was shaking so hard that she could barely even keep it in her hand. Granger decided then that enough was enough. She stepped in between them and put her hand on each of their chests. “Stop it, please! Stop it! I can’t bear this.”

Draco folded his arms and continued to eyeball the youngest Weasley. She turned away from him and looked at Granger. “Tell him to leave and then we can talk about this. I’ll make you see that he’s a bad person.”

Granger’s face set in that stubborn look she got when she was being told what to do. “You’re not getting it, Ginny. It’s not up to you who is my friend and who isn’t. If I didn’t want Draco here then he wouldn’t have the password to get in.”

Weasley stared at her in disbelief. It was obvious to Draco that she hadn’t even realised that he’d let himself in.

“What’s wrong with you, Hermione? He’s bad news, why can’t you see that?”

“That’s for me to decide. It’s not your place to tell me what to do.”

Draco smirked at the sanctimonious Gryffindor. “I think it’s time you fucked off now, Weasley. I need to speak to Granger about something and your Weasley germs are poisoning my atmosphere.”

“He’s so very charming, Hermione. I can see why you put him before your real friends. You know, the ones who stood by you when he was wishing you dead.”

Granger flinched as if Weasley had hit her. The redhead gave him another filthy look before turning on her heel and marching out, her shoulders rigid.

As the door slammed shut, Granger swayed as if she was going to collapse. Draco stepped towards her and steered her towards the sofa. He sat down next to her and she buried her face in his chest, her shoulders quivering with pent-up tears. He stroked her hair as she sobbed a little uncontrollably. After five minutes of this, and as his shirt was getting too soggy, he decided to put an end to it. “Come on, Granger. She’s not worth all these tears.”

“Don’t you start,” Granger muffled into his chest. “I wish people would stop telling me who I should be friends with.”

“I’m not stupid enough to tell you to stop being her friend as you always were a sucker for lost causes. Befriending house-elves, the Weasleys, the eternal martyr Potter and one seriously screwed up ex-Death Eater. Only you could manage that combination.”

That got the watery chuckle that he had been aiming for. She finally lifted her head and started trying to wipe the tears away using her hands. Draco rolled his eyes, before leaning over to grab a couple of tissues from the box on the coffee table. He handed them to Granger so she could dry the flood on her face.

“If you’ve got snot on me, Granger, I’m hexing you,” he said, inspecting his wet shirt between his index finger and thumb.

“It would serve you right if I had,” she said.

“You’re in luck. I do seem to have smears of make-up on me. Lovely,” he teased.

She got up. “Where you going?” he asked.

“I’ll be back in a minute. I need to wash my face and I’ll get you something to dry to wear.”

Draco was left on the sofa for a good few minutes, wondering what the hell he was doing. Causing havoc between Granger and her friends wasn’t his plan. He might hate the stupid Gryffindors but he didn’t like seeing her so upset over them. That Weasley bitch was something else. It’s none of her business what Granger and I do, he thought indignantly, completely forgetting that he’d spent the better part of the Easter Holidays ignoring Granger precisely because he didn’t want to be the reason for her fall out with her friends.

--------

Hermione was trying to regain her equilibrium upstairs. She had been horrified when she’d seen the state of her face. How embarrassing to not only cry all over Draco but to have a red, blotchy face as well. The cold water wasn’t doing much to help so she cast a calming spell. It got rid of the redness but left her eyes still puffy. She tidied her hair into something more respectable and took a few deep breaths. She quickly rummaged through her wardrobe looking for something to give Draco to wear but could only find an old Quidditch shirt that belonged to Harry. He’d leant it her over the winter when she’d gotten completely drenched during a snowball fight and he’d had it in his bag. She flung it over her arm and ran down the short stairs back to her common room. Draco was sitting there staring out the window.

“You took your time,” he commented as she reappeared.

“Sorry. Here,” she said, flinging the top at him. “It was the only thing I could find.”

Draco picked it up, before disdainfully dropping it onto the coffee table. “Have you lost your mind, Granger?”

“What? It’s dry and it’ll fit you.”

“I’d rather parade around in your clothing than something that has ‘Potter’ across the back.”

“It’s the only thing I have that’ll fit you.”

“I’ll give it a miss, thanks.”

“What are you doing?” Hermione squeaked as Draco got up and started unbuttoning his shirt.

“I’m taking the wet shirt off.”

“But you have nothing else to wear.”

“I’m not going to sit around in wet clothing. I can’t afford to get a chill this close to our N.E.W.T.s.”

“You’ll get a chill sitting around with no clothes on,” Hermione all but hyperventilated.

Draco rolled his eyes. “I’m not exactly going to be naked! Besides, you have a fire. We can light it and then my shirt will dry extra quickly.”

Hermione pulled her eyes away as Draco finished unbuttoning his shirt and pulled it off. Of course he wasn’t wearing a vest underneath, Hermione noticed bitterly. That would make her life too easy. There was no way she was going to be able to cope with his bare chest. She’d just about stopped herself from smothering it with kisses the only other time she’d seen it. Hermione heard rather than saw the whoosh of flames that instantly made her common room a little warmer. She felt the sofa dip as Draco sat back down next to her. She hoped that Ginny wouldn’t feel the need to come back and check on her any time soon as this wouldn’t look good: a cosy setting with a half-naked Slytherin.

Hermione searched her mind for something to say, before hitting on something that had puzzled her. “How did you get my password?”

“I overheard you say it when I was waiting for you the other day.”

“And you thought you’d just start using it without my permission?”

Draco chuckled. “I can’t keep lurking outside your door. At some point a Gryffindor is going to catch me and that’s going to look even dodgier, and I could end up in the Infirmary again.”

“I get that, but it would’ve been nice if you’d asked me before just waltzing in and causing mayhem with your presence.”

“Sorry, Princess,” Draco said, sounding unapologetic.

Hermione gave up. “What did you want?”

Draco bounded up, located his book bag and hauled it onto the table. “I wanted to run the latest Arithmancy project by you.”

“And this couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

“Granger, I’m shocked! I thought you’d be open all hours for study questions.”

Hermione turned and rolled her eyes at him. As she expected, his arrogant smirk was back. But it no longer infuriated her. Maybe because she saw the teasing behind it. Whenever he’d used it on her before, it had been malicious and nasty. Now it came with a glint in his eye and a slight softening of his lips.

“Prat,” Hermione said, smiling as she whacked him.

Her hand came into contact with an unnaturally bumpy ridge. She looked down at his chest and gasped as she saw the jagged scar. She didn’t know how she’d missed it the other week in her bed. “Draco, where is that from?” she asked, her eyes glued to it.

His silence pulled her attention back to his face. He was staring into the fire, his face tense. She put two-and-two together. “It’s from Harry,” she stated. “When he used Sectumsempra on you?”

He was still refusing to look at her but nodded his confirmation. Hermione’s fingers caressed it. “He felt really guilty about that,” she said.

Draco shifted his body away from her but looked at her with flashing eyes. “Oh poor Potter! I bet he sobbed away in remorse after cutting me open,” he sneered.

Hermione looked down at her hands, now resting on her lap. She knew Harry was a sore point with Draco. She suspected that he always would be. “Draco-,” she started.

“No, Granger. I’m not interested in going there. I don’t give a flying fuck what Potter thought. He’s not the innocent little saint you always make him out to be. He threw that curse aiming to hurt.”

Hermione felt her temper bubbling back to the surface. “You were going to hit him with an Unforgiveable, so don’t give me attitude over what he used on you.”

“Yeah, well, I told you not to mistake me for someone nice, didn’t I?” And as if to prove his point, he reached for his shirt and Hermione caught a glimpse of his Dark Mark. She hadn’t seen it up close before and recoiled a little.

Draco caught her action and where her eyes were gazing and he rapidly pulled his shirt back on. “Don’t confuse me with someone who’s all sweetness and light, Granger. There’s a side to me that you’ll never understand,” he growled at her before picking his bag up and leaving.

Hermione stayed rooted to the sofa, her mind whirling over the abrupt change in his personality. One minute he was teasing her about her studying habits and the next he was fired up and snarling at her. Despite it being a reminder that he had grown up very differently to her and her friends, it didn’t serve as the warning that Draco obviously wanted it to. As much as he may try and reference back to the boy he had been prior to the war, she knew that he had changed. His desire to keep seeking her out proved that, as the old Draco Malfoy wouldn’t have been caught dead in the company of a Mudblood. Her eyes were drawn down to a flash of green on her floor and she bent down and picked up his forgotten tie. She drew it through her fingers as she contemplated the man that he had become.

-------

Ginny stared thoughtfully across the table at where Hermione was nibbling on some toast. The curly-haired witch looked how Ginny felt and it appeared neither of them had got much sleep last night. She wondered if it was because Malfoy had stayed the night once more. She felt a flash of anger at that before realising that Hermione looked miserable and not as if she was in some loved-up daze with the snarky snake. Ginny moved her eyes from her friend and gazed across the hall to the Slytherin table. It hadn’t been lost on her that Hermione had sat with her back towards them and she caught the bleak look that was on Malfoy’s face. He was obviously brooding and every now and again would cast a brief look in Hermione’s direction. He was ignoring Parkinson, who was chattering in his ear and trying to shove food down his throat. Ginny flushed and hastily turned away as he caught her staring and sneered at her.

Her attention was caught as Hermione flung the toast back down on her plate and grabbed her bag. She was obviously giving up the pretence that she was actually eating. She left the hall and Ginny briefly looked back Malfoy’s way. He was staring after Hermione with a torn expression.

She quickly pecked Harry on the cheek. “Got to rush, love. I forgot my Potions book in my dorm room.”

She hurried out of the hall and ran to catch up with Hermione. She grabbed the Head Girl’s arm on the stairs and Hermione jumped and turned around. Ginny couldn’t help but be a little annoyed as she caught the disappointed look that flashed through the brunette’s eyes as she saw it who it was. She was obviously hoping that she was Malfoy.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at Ginny, unconsciously copying the look Malfoy had given her when he’d walked into Hermione’s common room and into their fight. She dampened down the snappish response she wanted to make at that. “I wanted to apologise for last night,” she said.

And she did. She’d rushed back into the Gryffindor common room last night in such a rage and had been halfway up the stairs to Harry and Ron’s room before she paused to think. It was her intention to wake both boys and get them to kick the ferret out of Hermione’s room, but then she realised that it would be a massive breach of her friendship with the other girl, and would cause an even bigger argument. She also didn’t think her friendship with the older witch would have recovered if she had done that, and, despite last night, she valued Hermione’s friendship hugely.

“Why?” Hermione asked icily.

Ginny bit her lip. She didn’t blame Hermione for not making this any easier on her. “I was wrong to blow my top the way that I did, and it isn’t my place to tell you what to do.”

Hermione released a massive sigh and engulfed Ginny in a massive hug. The redhead was startled to realise that Hermione was crying on her shoulder. “Hey Hermione! Please, don’t cry.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just so confused right now.”

“You had a fight with Malfoy, didn’t you?”

Hermione looked up in shock. “How did you know?”

“Because you look as if you got about as much sleep as I did, which is none at all, and he has a black cloud hovering over him.”

The Head Girl just nodded. “Want to talk to me about it? I promise to keep my temper in check and my opinions on Malfoy quiet.” Ginny said.

Hermione smiled at her. “Could you come to my room during lunch? I’ll get us some sandwiches from the kitchen. I really need to talk to someone about things. I’m tired of carrying it all around by myself.”

She squeezed her tight. “Of course. No matter how it seemed last night, I love you.”

Hermione hugged her tightly back and then gave a laugh that broke in the middle as she wiped another tear away. “I’m turning into a watering pot!”

“Here,” Ginny said, pressing a packet of tissues into her hand. “I think you need these more than me right now.”

“Sadly, I think you’re right.”

With one last smile at each other, the two reconciled friends turned and went off to their separate lessons.

---------

By the time lunchtime came round, Hermione had her emotions under control. Well, her tears anyway. She was still feeling a little vulnerable but then again, two arguments in one night would do that to anyone. At least she had managed to stop crying before she got to her Ancient Runes class, which was a good thing considering Malfoy was in that class with her. She sat right at the front and kept her head down. It was probably the first time in a long while that she hadn’t attempted to answer every question the teacher asked.

After her morning lessons finished, Hermione made a detour to the kitchens to get some sandwiches, fruit and juice. She levitated them in front of her and made her way up to her common room. She’d just settled everything down when there was a knock on her door. She opened it to find Ginny outside.

“Why didn’t you just come in? You know the password,” she asked.

“I didn’t think this was the right circumstance to do so.”

“You’re always welcome here.”

Ginny sat down on the sofa and Hermione looked across at her. She’d been surprised that Ginny had been so quick to apologise this morning since she had been so vehement in her displeasure of Hermione’s conduct. But that was Ginny all over: she was quick to anger but fast to forgive. Hermione had just never been at the end of her temper before.

“This isn’t too awkward,” Ginny laughed.

“I don’t really know where to begin,” she said.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning? I won’t get angry, I promise.”

“You might,” Hermione warned before launching into everything that had happened, including the events that she had previously left out to Ginny when they had last talked about Draco.

At the end of her recital, Ginny was pretty much sitting there open-mouthed. “I can’t believe he actually kissed you.”

“Why does everyone get hung-up over that point?”

“Try because it’s Malfoy and he willingly put his lips on a Muggle-born, and not just once, but twice.”

“I don’t really count the first time. He pretty much assaulted my neck and was completely out of it.”

“And what did you mean by ‘everyone gets hung-up’? Who else knows?”

“Only Andromeda, but she seems pretty obsessed by the kissing, too. Oh, and probably Pansy, but I haven’t told her, and she hasn’t spoken to me about it either.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me this last time.”

Hermione just blushed. “I needed time to come to terms with it all and having you sitting there opposite me when I woke up didn’t help me try and analyse what had happened the night before, including the kiss.”

“I guess. I haven’t been supportive about it, either.”

“Not really, no. Maybe the big blow-up we had yesterday was needed in order for us to get to this point.”

“It’s just that it’s Malfoy. It’s so weird to think that he has changed.”

“I think Azkaban made a big difference on him.”

“And you threatening to hex him if he called you a Mudblood one more time,” Ginny said gleefully.

Hermione smiled at that. It was strange to think of their early encounters to where they were now. She didn’t think Draco had called her a Mudblood back in February because he truly believed in blood supremacy any more, but more out of habit.

“Hermione, when are you going to tell Harry and Ron?”

She buried her hand in her hands. “I don’t know. I mean, your reaction was bad enough, and you don’t hate him nearly as much as the boys do.”

“You can’t keep this from them forever, especially if you and Malfoy get into something more.”

She grimaced. “I really don’t think we’re likely to start dating or anything. Can you imagine how weird that would be?”

“It would be an unusual development, certainly,” Ginny said and Hermione gave her a disbelieving look, which caused the redhead to burst into laughter. “Okay, it would be fucking freaky!”

“I doubt we’ll ever stop arguing enough for it to even develop that far.”

“What did you guys fight about?”

“Harry.”

Ginny just nodded and Hermione wasn’t surprised when she didn’t ask any more questions about it. Draco had always had a chip on his shoulder about Harry. When they were younger it had been jealously as well as anger at his gesture of friendship being spurned. For someone bought up to believe that he was the best, to have his handshake rejected in defence of a Weasley was unthinkable. When they’d become older, they’d found themselves on opposing lines. Harry had gone up directly against Draco’s father and landed him in jail, which had then put Draco in Voldemort’s firing line. Circumstances had always made them rivals and the intense emotions this had unleashed weren’t going to be buried over night.

“It’s a shame, really, since they are both more alike than they realise,” Hermione remarked.

Ginny’s eyebrow rose at that.

“What? They are! They both had too many expectations piled on them at a young age and a brutal awakening to the realities of the world. Okay, so Malfoy had a pampered background, and was a spoilt little brat, but would you want his father as yours?”

“I guess not. It’s just strange to think of it that way. They also both had mothers who’d do anything for them.”

“Yeah, thank goodness Narcissa loved Draco as much as Lily loved Harry. Otherwise that whole scene in the Forbidden Forest could have turned out a whole lot worse,” Hermione commented and both girls fell silent as they pondered that thought.

Their contemplative silence was broken when the bell that rang, signalling the end of lunch.

“Thanks so much for listening and not shouting,” Hermione said.

“Thank you for forgiving me for being a bad friend last night.”

“You weren’t a bad friend,” Hermione admitted. “I would react in a similar way if I was in your shoes. However, it feels good to have it all off my shoulders. It was becoming too much of a burden to carry.”

Ginny looped her arm around Hermione’s shoulders. “Friends for life?”

Hermione snorted at her corny line but agreed. They had been through far too much to fall out over this. As two young teenage girls pitched into a war, they’d had each other’s backs for the past few years. That wasn’t changing anytime soon.

Chapter Text

Draco was on his way back to the Slytherin quarters after dinner. He’d been surprised to see that Granger and the Weaselette were acting completely normal after their argument yesterday. He had noticed that they had both been missing during lunch and briefly contemplated tracking Granger down, before he remembered that she wasn’t likely to be talking to him either after their fight. But it appeared the two Gryffindor girls had been making up rather than having another argument. They had smiled and talked all the way through the meal and then left with their arms linked, which had left him feeling slightly anxious. Maybe they had made up because Weasley had managed to convince Granger that he was a waste of space and not worth her attention. A bubble of anger rose up as Draco realised that if this were true then there would be no more late-night chats with the Head Girl. He’d come to look forward to them, even if the last one had ended in him storming out in a rage.

He sighed and put his head down as he slowly made his way back to his common room. He wasn’t prepared for the two small hands that shot out and dragged him into a disused classroom. The door was slammed shut behind him and spelled closed. Draco looked behind him in shock and met the brown eyes of Ginny Weasley.

“Does Potter know that you lurk around the dungeons kidnapping unsuspecting Slytherins? Mind you, it doesn’t surprise me; Scarhead is probably incapable of satisfying you.”

Weasley looked at him confused for a few minutes before a look of disgust crossed her face. She stepped a few feet closer to him. “Please, Malfoy-,” she started disdainfully.

Draco put his arms out as if warding her off. “You can beg me as much as you like, but I’m not debasing myself by touching you.”

He watched as the red spread from her cheeks to suffuse her whole face. Was there anything more satisfying that winding up a Weasley? He didn’t think so. He was waiting for the inevitable shouting when she seemed to gain control of herself and rolled her eyes at him. It was very disappointing.

“Perhaps because you prefer kissing a different Gryffindor altogether,” she said with a smug smile on her face.

He was surprised that Granger had told her that much, especially as she and Weasley had been having a screaming row about his role in the older witch’s life just last night.

Draco - suspicious as any good Slytherin - decided to play dumb. “I don’t know what you could possibly mean.”

“Hermione told me everything. I know you kissed her in her common room and then avoided her for days.”

He nonchalantly inspected his fingernails. “And your point is?”

“I know that you had a fight with her last night.”

“So basically you dragged me in here to list the amount of arguments Granger and I have had? Newsflash: we’ve always fought.”

“No, you’ve always bullied her because you are a nasty little shit.”

“Why, Weaselette, I love you too,” he drawled sarcastically.

“I don’t know why you’ve decided to befriend her, but Hermione trusts you. I want to say that if you hurt her in anyway, I will kill you,” Ginny hissed.

Draco yawned. “I see why you and Saint Potter are so suited. You both come out with the same boring, sanctimonious threats.”

She narrowed her eyes menacingly at him. “I think you remember my hexes well and you know that I turn my threats into reality.”

Draco dropped his languid posture immediately. He allowed the tension that he felt infuse his body language and was satisfied when he saw the Weaselette recoil slightly. “I told you this last night, and you’re even more of an idiot than I thought if you ignore it, but I’m not some little kid you can impress with your childish hexes.”

She snorted at him. “Malfoy, you’ve always been all mouth and no action.”

Draco laughed mirthlessly. “Living in the same house as the Dark Lord and his inner circle changes you. You should forget what I was in my fifth year and realise that I’m infinitely more dangerous now.”

He saw the brief flash of fear that went through the youngest Weasley’s eyes, however, her Gryffindor nature came to her rescue as she straightened her shoulders and held her head up. “I’m not scared of the likes of you. I took on your father and aunt when I was only fourteen.”

“Of course you aren’t. That’s why you’re breathing faster and standing rigidly with your wand grasped so tightly in your hand it’s in danger of breaking. But at some point that sheer dumb luck of yours will run out and who knows what kind of dark magic I’ve been taught by Aunt Bella,” he threatened menacingly.

“Maybe I should tell Hermione how you are threatening me. I doubt she’d be impressed. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’d realise you aren’t worth her time.”

Draco couldn’t help the telltale clench of his jaw that gave away how much he cared about that remark. It was the Weaselette’s turn to smirk. “Oh, so that would bother you, would it?”

He said nothing but turned his gaze to sweep around the dusty classroom whilst Weasley took a deep breath.

“Look, believe it or not, I didn’t come here to fight with you. I wanted to tell you to stop being such a prat. For some reason, Hermione likes you and she’s really upset over your argument yesterday. If you like her back, then make up with her. Personally, I hope you don’t as I’d rather you stayed a million miles away from her.”

“So why are saying this to me?”

“Because you matter to her and she matters to me.”

“It didn’t seem that way last night.”

“From the sounds of it, you didn’t exactly cover yourself in glory last night, either. You appear to have more of a hang-up about Harry than you care for Hermione, but as we both know, looks can be deceiving.”

Draco had nothing to say in response to that. The redhead shot him a knowing look.

“I really don’t know why I’m saying this, but Hermione is possibly the one good thing in your life right now so don’t chuck that away, Malfoy. Stop being such a coward and own up to your feelings.” She swept out of the room after delivering that knockout blow.

Draco stood in the cold, disused classroom for twenty minutes thinking about what the Weaselette had said.

---------

That Saturday was Teddy’s first birthday. Well, his first birthday had been earlier in the week, but Andromeda was throwing him a party that Saturday so the large Weasley clan could attend along with Hermione and Harry. They gathered in McGonagall’s office waiting to travel by the Floo Network to Andromeda’s house. They were a happy, smiling bunch until the door opened and revealed Draco Malfoy. The tension was immediately palpable. Harry gave the Slytherin a glare whilst Hermione bit her lip and looked down at the floor. There was something that was just too stressful about having all three boys in the same room at the same time.

“What’s he doing here?” Ron hissed at her and Harry.

Harry shrugged. “He’s been making nice to Andromeda. Maybe he’s realised that she’s the only decent member of his family.”

“Harry!” Hermione objected. “Aren’t you forgetting that Narcissa saved your life? Surely that makes her more than a little decent.”

Harry looked a little shamefaced. “I haven’t forgotten, Hermione. But she still fully believed in all that blood supremacy rubbish. Don’t forget how she spoke to us in Madam Malkin’s just before sixth year.”

“Her husband had been sent to Azkaban because of us. I don’t think she was going to roll out the welcoming mat,” Hermione remonstrated.

“I worry about you, Hermione. First you start defending Malfoy and now his mummy dearest, too,” Ron said, gazing at Hermione as if she was mental. “Besides, it’s Malfoy! He’s probably realised that Andromeda could come in handy in making him look reformed.”

“I can hear you, you know. For three people who snuck around hunting for Horcruxes, you’re terrible at keeping your voices down,” Draco sneered from across the room.

Hermione blushed under his glare whilst Ron became belligerent. “Who said we’re trying to stop you from over-hearing? You need to realise that just because you’ve cozen Andromeda into believing you are some poor, misunderstood soul, it doesn’t mean you can do the same to us.”

It spoke volumes of Draco’s self-control that he managed not to spring at Ron there and then and physically attack him. The Draco of old would have done precisely that. It was lucky that he had gained that restraint as McGonagall appeared at that moment.

“Good, you’re all here. Let’s get this going, Mr. Weasley. Take some Floo powder, please.”

Harry was ushering Hermione towards the fireplace, not wanting to leave her alone in the room with Draco even if McGonagall was there. “Mr. Potter, if you could go through first, please? I need to speak to Miss Granger for a minute,” McGonagall said.

He shot the Headmistress as mistrusting look but only received a firm nod in return. He scowled at Draco before turning and taking a handful of Floo powder and stepping into the fireplace, calling out Andromeda’s address.

McGonagall turned to the two students left in the room. “Now, it’s taken the combined efforts of both Andromeda and I to get permission from the Ministry for Mr. Malfoy to leave Hogwarts for this event. Andromeda is going to be incredibly busy, so as Head Girl, Miss Granger, I’m putting you in charge of Mr. Malfoy whilst you are both away.”

Draco frowned. “I’m not a child. I can take care of myself.”

“That’s debatable, Mr. Malfoy.”

Hermione could see the tension in Draco; his jaw was clenched and his left hand had curled into a fist. She jumped in before he could say something that would send him straight back down to the Slytherin common room. She knew how much he found being confined irksome, and so the relative freedom of going to his aunt’s house would be a welcome relief to him. “Don’t worry, Professor. I think I’ll be able to manage that.”

“Of course you can. You’re Granger: Super Head Girl,” Draco muttered bitterly.

“That’s enough Mr. Malfoy. I will be asking Miss Granger how things went, so you’ll want to be on your best behaviour.”

Draco rolled his eyes but kept quiet. Hermione walked to the fireplace and threw some powder into the grate and called out the address for Andromeda’s house. As she suspected, Harry was lying in wait for her the minute she stepped out of Andromeda’s fireplace.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“McGonagall wanted to run some Head Girl business past me.”

“And she chose to do this when Malfoy was present?”

Hermione shrugged noncommittally. There was no way she was going to tell Harry that she was, for all intents and purposes, babysitting Draco. That would not only humiliate the blond, but Harry would definitely tell Ron, who would then try his hardest to start a fight to get Draco in trouble with the Ministry.

The roar of the flames went again and Draco stepped out, brushing his clothes off. Hermione couldn’t help but ogle him slightly. It was unfair how amazing he always managed to look even when wearing the simple black robes he currently wore. He glared at her and Harry as he left the small travelling room Andromeda had set up in her house. She sighed. Why did everything with him have to be so difficult? She hated being at outs with him. In a short space of time, he’d become so important in her life.

Harry and Hermione walked through to Andromeda’s front room and she smiled at being back in this house. Although it recalled a difficult time in her life, it reminded her of long chats where she and Andromeda would sit up through the night talking about everything. They had grieved together, healed together and taken turns in getting up with Teddy at ridiculous hours of the morning. She didn’t realise how much she had missed the whole experience. She engulfed Andromeda in a massive hug.

“I’ve missed this place,” she whispered to her.

“And this place has missed you. It’s good to have you back even if it is only for an afternoon,” Andromeda said back.

Hermione finally looked around her and took in the other occupants of the room and was tempted to burst into laughter. The Weasleys stood on one side of the room with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy on the other. Draco had withdrawn behind his sulky façade and was scowling, whilst Narcissa was smiling - uncomfortably - but at least she was trying. George was openly sneering at Draco, whilst Molly was looking a little flustered at the Slytherin addition to the party. Hermione, Andromeda and Harry were in the middle of the room, Harry now giving Andromeda a kiss on the cheek and carrying his godson.

Andromeda steered Harry and Hermione over to the isolated Malfoys. “Hermione, you remember my sister, Cissy.”

Hermione couldn’t help but giggle at that. As if anyone could forget Narcissa Malfoy, even without all the rather awkward run-ins she’d had with her over the years. “Yes. Hello, Mrs. Malfoy, it’s lovely to see you again,” she said graciously.

Narcissa’s smile broadened. “I hope you are well, Miss Granger, and that my son isn’t giving you too much of a headache as Head Girl.”

Hermione blushed and didn’t know where to look. She briefly caught Harry’s eye – he looked confused - before her gaze moved on to Draco, who was glaring at his mother. Andromeda stepped in. “Cissy, I won’t ask if you remember Harry.”

Narcissa held her hand out to Harry, who flushed and looked unsure of whether to take it or not. Hermione nudged him with her elbow and he quickly shook the hand of the woman who’d lied to Voldemort for him. “Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry said stiltedly.

“Mr. Potter, it’s nice to see you.”

Harry mumbled something rather indistinct before fleeing across the room to the familiar Weasleys but Hermione felt that would be too rude so she just waved to the redheaded clan but stayed put. Andromeda gave her a wink and a happy smile.

“So, Miss Granger, are you prepared for your N.E.W.T.s?” Narcissa asked.

“Oh, please, call me Hermione. And yes, I’m studying hard.”

“Mother, it’s Granger. She lives in the library at this time of the year.”

“Draco!” Narcissa objected. “Don’t be rude.”

“She doesn’t see that as rude, do you, Granger? She thinks it a badge of pride.”

“Some of us could do with being in the library a little more often,” Hermione pointedly said to Draco.

“My grades are fine, thank you very much.”

“How did you do on that essay on the Internet?” she asked snidely.

He narrowed his eyes at her. “I passed.”

“Good job I happened to be in the library that day, then.”

“If I remember correctly, you’re the one who invaded my personal space, not the other way around.”

“You still needed my help to explain it to you,” Hermione retorted before childishly sticking her tongue out at the infuriating blond.

She then blushed a vivid red as she caught sight of Narcissa’s amused expression. Draco looked at his mum and shifted on his feet as if suddenly remembering her presence.

“So, Hermione, what do you want to do when you leave Hogwarts?” Narcissa asked.

“I have applied for a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,” she said enthusiastically.

“Oh,” Narcissa said a little unsurely.

“Granger’s in love with house-elves, mother. What was the name of that group you set up? SPEW?”

“Er, what’s SPEW?” Narcissa asked. She looked confused as to why she was even asking this question.

She glared at Draco. “It’s the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare or S.P.E.W. for short. I set it up in our fourth year at Hogwarts to campaign for greater rights for house-elves.”

Draco sniggered at her.

“Draco, stop teasing Hermione,” Narcissa ordered. “I think it’s great that she feels so strongly about things. At least she knows what she wants to do after Hogwarts, which is more than I can say for you.”

Hermione was about to open her mouth when she caught Draco’s warning glance. Why didn’t he want to tell his mother about his ambitions to be a Healer? She suddenly realised that maybe it wasn’t deemed a good enough career for a Malfoy, even if it was eminently respectable. Maybe that was the problem, the fact that it was respectable.

Before Narcissa could try and think of another conversation topic, she was called away by Andromeda, leaving Hermione standing next to Draco. “Why haven’t you told your mum about wanting to be a Healer?” she asked bluntly.

“You don’t beat about the bush do you?”

“Come on, Draco, just answer the question.”

“Because there’s no point. She’ll only get excited and then really sad when I don’t get accepted into the training programme.”

“Oh, so it’s not because it’s not a good enough profession?”

He glared at her before he sighed. “No, being a Healer would be fine. Besides, Mother doesn’t have the same prejudices as Father. She certainly wouldn’t have become involved with the Dark Lord if it wasn’t for him.”

“She seems very different to the other times I’ve met her,” she commented a little timidly. She knew that Draco was incredibly protective of his mother.

He looked sharply at her as if sizing her intentions up but seemed to come to the conclusion that she wasn’t trying to get a dig in. “She’s a lot happier without Father. She loved him, still does, but she recognises that he damaged us a lot.”

Hermione didn’t dare ask if he meant their reputation or their mental state. She didn’t think that he would be willing to open up that much, especially in this environment with the Weasleys staring at them. Then, at the worst possible time, Harry called her over from across the room. She couldn’t help but think of hers and Draco’s vivid argument on the topic of her best friend.

“Go on then, you don’t want to keep your precious Potter waiting.”

“Don’t be like that, Draco. Stop pushing me away.”

But he just turned away from her and made his way into the kitchen to join his mum and aunt. Hermione sighed; she hated feeling torn the way she currently was.

She made her way over to the Weasleys.

“What were you doing over there for so long?” Ron asked her.

“I was being polite, Ronald.”

“But you were talking to the Malfoys.”

“Thanks for stating the obvious.”

“But that’s just weird. Why would you talk to them?”

“Because they are guests at this party, too.”

“They don’t exactly like you.”

“Mrs. Malfoy was perfectly polite. She was asking me what I wanted to do after Hogwarts. I’m not going to be rude back.”

“But-,” he started.

“Leave Hermione alone, Ron. She can talk to whomever she likes,” Molly interrupted.

“But Mum, it’s the Malfoys.”

“Yes, but Andromeda obviously wants them here.”

“Anyway, I got a letter from the Holyhead Harpies,” Ginny said introducing a topic that was guaranteed to distract Ron and take the heat off her. Hermione threw her a grateful glance.

“What!” Harry exclaimed. “When?”

“This morning. They wanted to invite me to a summer training programme. They know I’ll be back at Hogwarts next year but are possibly interested in signing me once I finish my N.E.W.T.s.”

“That’s so exciting!” Ron all but squealed.

Molly looked less thrilled. She was always trying – unsuccessfully - to keep her children out of harms way, and professional Quidditch could hardly count as a safe profession.

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

Draco stomped off in the direction of the kitchen. There was no way he was going to remain in the front room alone like some kind of freak show for the Weasleys to gawp at. He felt his irritation rising at Potter once more. It was always Harry Fucking Potter who got in his way.

He found his mother and aunt giggling away and finishing off the decoration on Teddy’s birthday cake. He didn’t even realise his mother knew what a kitchen was for, let alone how to ice a cake.

“Draco dear, what are you doing in here?” she asked.

“Well, you left me on my own and I wasn’t going to stand out there by myself.”

“I left you with Hermione.”

“Yeah, well, Potter called her over,” he said, scuffing his shoe on the tiles of the floor and unconsciously looking like a five-year-old again. Narcissa caught her sister’s eye and they suppressed smiles at the sight.

“I’ll just put this on the table,” Andromeda said, carrying the now finished cake outside.

“What’s wrong, darling?” Narcissa asked.

“Nothing. Why should there be anything wrong?”

“Because you’re standing here in the kitchen, scowling.”

“I hate being a fucking freak show for the Weasleys out there. Why did we come to this stupid thing, anyway?”

“Language, Draco! And your aunt invited us. It means a lot to her having us here.”

“I don’t see why. It’s obvious she has more than enough people masquerading as family members,” he objected.

“But none of them are her sister or her nephew. Stop sulking and don’t ruin this for me.”

Draco looked up and saw the worried expression on his mother’s face and he dampened down his anger. His mother was desperately trying to forge a new relationship with her sister, and he didn’t want to be in the way of that. He put his arm around her shoulders. “Sorry, Mother. I just don’t like being stared at it. It’s hard to move on.”

She leant up and kissed his cheek. “I know it is. But you’re doing a great job. You look so much better than when I last saw you.”

“Mother, when you last saw me, I’d just gotten out of Azkaban. I doubt anyone looks good after six months in there.”

“I didn’t mean then, sweetheart. I meant when I saw you in Hogsmeade. It didn’t escape my notice that you were drinking before you went back to Hogwarts and, from the look of you then, you were continuing to do so at school. But now, well, I can tell that you aren’t and you appear to be eating properly again.”

Draco felt a pang of guilt; he had hoped his mother hadn’t noticed what a mess he’d been. He supposed he should give her more credit as she wasn’t stupid - the opposite, in fact.

He went to open his mouth but his mother covered it with her hand. “You don’t need to say anything. I can see you have something good in your life now.”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Hermione Granger.”

“What?” he spluttered.

Narcissa gave him a knowing smile. “Draco, you’re my son and I’ve watched you grow up and, no matter how good you are at Occlumency, there are things you’ll never be able to hide from me. It’s obvious that you and Hermione have some sort of relationship. You are friends?”

“Sort of,” Draco muttered.

“I could tell. You tease her but it’s good-natured and you only tease those that you like. I take it her friends don’t know?”

“I hardly think I’d be alive if they did.”

She sighed sadly. “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because I did such a bad job as a parent. I let your father fill your heart with hate and that was wrong. I encouraged you to think you were better than others because of your blood and your name, and all it did was nearly get you killed and land you in prison.”

Draco squeezed his arm around her shoulders. “Mother, don’t…”

“I can’t help it. When I think of how much of a mess I made of it all I get so angry at myself. But I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see you changing. You’re becoming a man and someone who I’m so proud of, and if Hermione Granger has something to do with that then I’m pleased she’s in your life.”

Draco was embarrassed. He didn’t like to see his mother cry or admit faults and he had never seen her apologise before. He knew that she had radically re-evaluated things since Voldemort’s downfall; her relationship with Aunt Andromeda was testament to that. “You’re a great mother. I wouldn’t change you for the world.”

She wiped a tear away and smiled tremulously up at him. “I only did one good thing in my life and that was pretend Harry Potter was dead. I did that for you, Draco. I would never have lived with myself if you had died in that battle.”

“Well, I didn’t and I’m not going anywhere now.”

“Good. Promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“Do what makes you happy. Don’t worry about what other people may think or what you are due your name. If the war has taught me anything, then it’s that blood and reputation means nothing in the long run. Don’t let that hold you back.”

Draco had a very good idea of what she was talking about, but wanted to make sure. “What do you mean?”

“If you have more than friendly feelings for Hermione Granger, don’t suppress them. Be happy, Draco.”

Chapter Text

Hermione sighed as she collapsed on her sofa and put her feet up. She was glad that Teddy’s birthday party was over - she didn’t think she had ever been to such a tension-filled party before. She’d no chance to talk any further to Draco or his mother as Harry and Ron had stuck rather closely to her, almost as if they realised that Hermione wanted to go and chat to the isolated figures across the room. She was rather intrigued by Narcissa Malfoy since the woman appeared to have undergone a miraculous change of heart where Muggle-borns were concerned. Narcissa had been very friendly in the short time that Hermione had spoken with her. Then again, look at her son. Who would have thought that he would strike up a friendship of sorts with Hermione Granger?

She groaned when there was a knock on her door. All her friends had her password, which meant that this was an official Head Girl call. She dragged herself up and walked over to the door and poked her head out but was confused when no one was there. She growled. The stupid second-years were probably playing ‘Knock Down Ginger’ on her door again. They kept doing this sporadically throughout the year, thinking it was really funny to make her open her door repeatedly.

Then she saw Demelza Robins walking towards the Gryffindor common room. “Hey Demelza,” she called. “Tell those second-years to lay off knocking on my door.”

“Sure thing, Hermione,” Demelza said.

She was turning to go back inside when she felt herself being slightly pushed, which caused her to let out a small shriek. “Hermione?” Demelza queried.

Hermione felt someone barging past her and smelt the familiar scent of bergamot. Draco. Typical, she thought. Another bloody Disillusionment Charm to freak me out. Hermione looked out back into the corridor. “Don’t worry, Demelza. I just caught my foot on something and tripped.”

She ignored the grin on Demelza’s face, shut her door and turned back to her common room. Draco was now standing there with his hands in his pockets.

“What the hell are you trying to do?” she snapped at him.

“I wanted to see you and I couldn’t exactly walk up to your door and knock without every passing Gryffindor noticing and running to tell your friends.”

“You know the password, why didn’t you just use that?” She stomped past the Slytherin and slumped back onto her sofa.

“I wasn’t sure if I was welcome,” he said, continuing to hover close to the door.

“Well, are you going to sit down, or what?”

“Wow, that’s a gracious offer, Granger.”

“Take it or leave it,” she shrugged but looked up to see Draco smiling down at her.

“So I take it I am welcome?”

“I’m not kicking you out, am I?”

“You’re in a good mood,” he commented sarcastically.

“I’m tired. Today was-,” Hermione started.

“Awkward!” he finished for her.

“It certainly was. Who knew a birthday party could be so fraught?”

“With both the Malfoys and Weasleys in attendance, it was bound to be the case.”

“I’m just glad its over.”

“Me too,” he said. “My father would have a fit if he had to spend an afternoon in the same room as the Weasleys.”

This made Hermione laugh. Soon she was creased up on the sofa, giggling so hard she could hardly breathe. Draco was looking at her as if she was a crazy. “I’m sorry. I’m imagining Lucius sitting next to the Weasleys singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Teddy and helping him blow out the candles.”

“Cake is for Mudbloods and Blood Traitors,” he sneered in a perfect imitation of his father. “We Malfoys do not lower ourselves to such vulgarities.”

“Stop it,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I refuse to celebrate the birthday of a half-breed freak.”

Hermione collapsed against the sofa. “Please, Draco! My stomach hurts.”

“What’s that? The Granger Girl can’t breathe and is in pain? How lovely.”

Hermione clawed at his arm and Draco grinned down at her. It took her a good ten minutes to regain her breath and it didn’t help that she kept breaking out into new spasms of laughter. “You’re evil,” she accused.

“It would have been an ignoble end for so prominent a war hero: Death by giggling.”

“I’d have come back to haunt you.”

“Just what the world needs: another Moaning Myrtle.”

“Hey, I resent that!” she exclaimed, whacking him with her hand.

He caught her hand and held it, caressing it with his thumb. “Thank you for being so kind to my mother.”

So Draco was in this mood; the one where he actually spoke to her about things. Maybe she would finally get to the bottom of what he thought of her. “It was nothing.”

“No, it meant a lot to the both of us.”

Hermione squeezed his hand. “It didn’t take much effort. She was nice.”

“She likes you.”

“Really?” she asked sceptically.

“Yes. Mother’s grateful to Potter for killing Voldemort, but she still doesn’t like him. With you, she tried to make conversation. It means Mother likes you.”

Hermione felt happier at that. She didn’t know why. It should make no difference to her whether the icy blonde Malfoy matriarch liked her or not, but it did.

“I’m pleased she’s trying with her sister. The Weasleys have taken Andromeda into their midst, but it’s not the same as having the sister you grew up with.”

“Yeah, it’s good for Mother also. She doesn’t really have anyone any more.”

“She has you.”

“But I’m here, and it’s not the same.”

“You remind me of her.”

“Everyone says I’m the spitting image of my father,” Draco said a little bitterly.

“You may look like your dad but you have your mum’s personality.”

He snorted. “No, really!” Hermione insisted. “You have this façade that you put up to those you don’t know, but once you get past that, the real you comes out.”

She smiled as she saw the pink tinge in his cheeks. She liked that she could embarrass him with little snippets of her insight. It proved that she was spot-on.

“Pansy told me that when she first came to me. I didn’t believe her, of course,” Hermione added.

“You shouldn’t believe anything Pansy says about me. That girl is blind when it comes to her friends.”

“She told me to look past your attitude and she was right; behind it is a very different person.”

“If you don’t stop talking about this, I’m going to leave.”

“Okay, I’ll shut up. But I’m glad I did look past Malfoy and found Draco. I like him a lot,” she said before leaning up and kissing him on the cheek.

She pulled away but halted when she saw the look in his eyes - it was intense - and her heart started to pound. He raised his hand and brushed his knuckles down her cheek, raising a pink blush in their wake. Hermione’s breathing hitched and she couldn’t help but lean into him.

His eyes followed his hand down the side of her face and stared at where it rested - at the side of her mouth. He lifted them again to meet hers and raised an eyebrow as if asking her permission. Hermione’s heart briefly stopped as she realised what he was asking her for. Did she want to do this? It was different to the previous time he’d kissed her; that had been an impulse and had ultimately meant nothing. This would be premeditated and would definitely mean a shift in their relationship. She hesitated for a few seconds, feeling torn, before she made her mind up and gave a brief nod.

He bent his head and she sighed as his lips covered hers. She moved her hands up over his arms until they were resting on his shoulders. He playfully nipped on her lower lip, which caused her to dig her fingers into his shoulder slightly. He groaned and the teasing, soft kiss disappeared into something infinitely more passionate.

-------

Many breathless minutes later, Draco raised his head and rested his forehead against hers. Hermione felt as if she was surfacing from an incredibly pleasant dream, one that gave you tingles. “Why did you stop?” she whispered, almost as if anything louder would somehow break the moment.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Draco!” she whined. “Will you stop questioning everything? If I didn’t want you to kiss me then I would have said no, pushed you away and kicked you out. The fact that I grabbed you, kissed you back and am now complaining that you’ve stopped pretty much says that I want you to continue.”

He cupped her face and stroked his thumb repetitively over her cheek. Hermione shivered. “Are you planning on just teasing me?” she asked.

Draco looked confused for a brief moment before he smirked. “So you want more?”

“Shut up and kiss me,” Hermione growled at him. She was pleased when he did precisely that.

-------

Much later, Hermione was snuggled into Draco’s side, his arm looped around her shoulders and her head resting on his chest. “What made you do it?”

“Hmm?” he asked.

“What made you throw caution to the wind and kiss me?”

He chuckled. “Ginny Weasley and my mother.”

Hermione looked up at him in shock. “What?” she shrieked.

“Well, my mother is more understandable. She guessed that I had deeper feelings for you than I was letting on, and she told me to go for it.”

Hermione blushed. “Do you have deeper feelings for me?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “No, but you’re the only girl who will snog me so I put up with you.”

“That is pretty true.”

“I thought we’d gotten rid of low self-esteem Granger for good.”

“But I don’t really understand why you like me.”

He growled in frustration and grabbed her face in between his hands. “Stop being an idiot,” he said, punctuating each word with a fierce kiss. “You’re amazing, you know I think that.”

Hermione shifted upwards and pulled him closer but he resisted. “No kisses until you agree that I’m lucky to have you,” he said.

She peppered kisses up his neck trying to tempt him.

“No, you stubborn witch, I want to hear you say that you, Hermione Granger, are amazing and I, Draco Malfoy, am lucky you even bothered to look my way.”

Hermione pouted, not wanting to give in, but he ran his hands down her sides and she arched into him, now needing him to kiss her. “I, Hermione Granger, am amazing, and you, Draco Malfoy, are a terrible tease with kisses to die for.”

Draco smirked at her. “It’s not quite right but I’ll give in,” he said before swooping down to claim her lips again.

-------

It was later still when she remembered that he’d said Ginny had played a role in getting him to the stage where he was kissing her. They were now sprawled out on the sofa, Hermione half on top of Draco, who had his hands under her top and was running his fingertips up and down her spine in a strangely hypnotic manner. She could see why Crookshanks liked this so much. If she could, she would be purring right now. She lifted her head up and looked at Draco, who had his eyes closed and the most peaceful look she’d ever seen on his face.

“Draco?” she asked

“Hmm?” he replied, his right eye peeking open.

“You said Ginny had something to do with you finally coming to your senses and kissing me.”

“I like the way this decision has rested firmly on my shoulders. What was to stop you from kissing me?”

“Stop digressing and tell me what Ginny has to do with it.”

“She kidnapped me.”

“What?” Hermione squeaked.

“She dragged me into an old classroom down in the dungeons and after we’d traded insults, proceeded to lambast me for being a coward.”

“She did that?”

“Yep.”

“But she really doesn’t approve of this.”

“I know, she told me, but she also said that she wants you to be happy.”

Draco watched as the sappiest smile crossed Granger’s face. He mentally rolled his eyes but kept quiet, as he didn’t want to ruin her moment. She was looking content and happy and he liked that he was the cause of that. Now who’s being a soppy git? he thought.

“She did that for me?”

“Uh huh. Well done, Granger. You’ve found a friend who’ll look beyond what they want and instead who cares about what you want. Unlike those useless, deadbeat boys-,”

Granger scrambled up and put her hands over his mouth, muffling his next words. “Don’t you say it! I do not want to fight tonight and we will if you continue down that road.”

When she gave no sign of removing her hands, Draco bit her palm gently. “Ouch!” she cried. “Watch it!”

“It’s not a good idea to suffocate your boyfriend the first night you get him,” he teased.

When her face fell and she looked serious, his smile faded. “What?” he asked.

“What are we going to do?”

“Do about what?”

“About this,” she said, pointing from her to him.

Draco was confused. “What about this?”

“Well, we can hardly start skipping down the corridors holding hands tomorrow. We’ll cause a riot.”

Draco felt crushing disappointment overwhelm him. Was she going to say they couldn’t be together just because of what others would think? Just as he had become used to his feelings and comfortable enough to do something about them, she was going to cut up any possibility of them being together. He pushed her off him and sat up.

Granger sat up on the sofa looking bemused. “What was that for?”

“If you’re going to break up with me because of what others think then I’d rather you didn’t do it when straddling me,” he replied icily.

“Who said I was breaking up with you?”

“Oh I don’t know, the fact that you got all serious and started questioning us.”

“I wasn’t questioning us!” she objected. “I was questioning how we’re going to deal with this in public.”

“Granger, I’ve just gotten used to the idea of there being an ‘us’. Do you think I’ve really thought as far ahead as to how we should act outside of this room?”

“I know you haven’t. Neither have I. This is why I’m asking the question now.”

“Well, the only person I know who will care in a negative way is in Azkaban for life, so we don’t have to worry about him. I’m persona non grata in Slytherin House, so I doubt there’ll be any hostility from them. And my mother, aunt and best friend have been singing your praises for weeks now.”

Granger looked down at her hands. “My friends won’t understand,” she said sadly.

Draco rolled his eyes. “I know that. I’ve already had the ‘stay away from her or else’ speech from your annoying guard dog.”

Granger riled up. “Who?” she asked, irritated.

“Who do you think? Perfect Potter of course.”

He was satisfied when he saw the anger infuse Granger’s face. “When?”

“During Potions when you kept throwing me all those anxious looks.”

“That’s what you were talking about? What did you tell him?” she asked nervously.

“I didn’t tell him anything. I don’t answer to Saint Potter. I never have and I never will.”

“Oh,” she said, looking a little taken aback by the whole thing.

“I don’t know why you’re surprised. It’s Scarhead; if he’s not protecting something from evil then he’s at a loss.”

Granger didn’t even fire up at his nasty names for her friend. This meant she wasn’t paying him any attention. Draco wasn’t sure that he liked that. He was a Malfoy and he expected to be the centre of attention at all times. He poked her.

“Hey, what was that for?” she asked.

“I don’t like being ignored.”

Granger rolled her eyes. “Of course you don’t.”

“What are you thinking about?”

“I was just wondering what will be on the Charms paper… What do you think I’m thinking about?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you. It’s too Slytherin.”

She threw a pillow at him and he smirked back at her. She was adorable when she was distracted from what she wanted to be doing. He didn’t want to push his luck, though. It was Granger and her hexes hurt. He settled back to sprawl across the sofa and watched her sitting bolt upright, gnawing on her lip. They were bee-stung from his kisses and her hair was even wilder than usual, thanks to his ministrations. Her top was askew and she had a love bite on her neck. He had to say that it made her all the more attractive. The straitlaced, put-together Granger had disappeared. He grinned as he thought back a few months at all the trouble he’d caused when he’d given her love bites before. He’d known back then - deep down - that she would cut up his peace and she had. His life hadn’t been the same since that whole broom cupboard incident.

He was pulled from his memories when Granger turned to him and clasped his hand. “Okay, I think I have a solution but I don’t want you to get upset.”

“I’m not a little kid, Granger, I doubt I’ll get upset.”

“That’s debatable. Look what happened last time you were here.”

“Well, as long as you don’t try and make excuses for your pathetic friends, I should be fine.”

“I wasn’t making excuses, I was trying to explain.”

“Do you really want to continue this line of conversation? Or are you actually going to tell me what you’ve spent the last twenty minutes thinking about?”

Granger glared at him. “I don’t want you to get upset and I don’t want you to think you’re some kind of dirty secret, but I think we should hold off going public for now. That way I can try and prepare Harry and Ron for the truth.”

Draco was already prepared for something like this. He didn’t really expect Granger to waltz out and snog him in front of her friends. In fact, he wasn’t too sure he wanted to deal with the craziness that their relationship would cause. Hogwarts was like a goldfish bowl, and they would be under inspection at all times. He knew Granger felt guilty about it, though. She probably thought that he would feel upset and that think that she wanted to hide him away. Draco was never keen on the rest of the school knowing the ins-and-outs of his life anyway. It was one thing to go around boasting and bragging about his material possessions, but it was something entirely different to have your emotions on show for everyone.

When he looked back at Hermione, she was staring at him anxiously.

He pulled her back on top of him. “Don’t worry, Princess. I like being your dirty secret. I find it has all sorts of perks.”

She titled her head back so he couldn’t kiss her. “Are you sure?”

“Granger, since when do I go about shouting my business for everyone else to know? What happens between us is no-one else’s business.”

She still looked worried that he’d be upset. He decided that actions would speak louder than words, so he yanked her head down and kissed her until she couldn’t think anymore.

-------

Draco stroked Granger’s hair as she dozed on his chest. She looked completely knackered. Today had been emotionally stressful. That birthday party had to be one of the worst things he’d ever been forced to attend. Well, apart from Voldemort’s Death Eater meetings, of course. At least no one had been tortured and killed in front of him today.

He looked down at his exhausted witch and decided that he’d better get her to bed.

“Princess?” he said, gently shaking her.

She squirmed and snuggled deeper into his jumper. “Granger, you need to wake up. It’s time to go to bed. ”

The annoyed murmurings continued and he smirked. As he sat up, he kept a hand on her to make sure she didn’t land on the floor in a heap. He kissed her on her lips and whilst she softly returned it, she failed to wake up so he gave up and carried her into her bedroom. Luckily, she had changed out of her clothes when she returned from Andromeda’s house so he didn’t have the dilemma of whether he should attempt to undress her so she’d be more comfortable. He would feel more than a little creepy doing that. He prised her arms from around his neck and tucked her under the duvet.

“Draco,” she muttered sleepily as he made his way to the door. “Where are you going?”

“It’s late. I’m going back down to my dorm to sleep.”

She blinked at him blearily. “Don’t go. Stay here.”

Draco knew he probably shouldn’t keep giving in, but there wasn’t really any competition to the offer she was making. It was either the prospect of an interrupted night’s sleep full of hideous dreams and waking up to Theo Nott slamming around their dorm room, or snuggling up to Granger and waking up to possible kisses. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make. He shucked his trousers and pulled his jumper off and climbed into the bed, pulling Granger into his arms. She made a contented noise and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder.

“Goodnight, Princess,” he whispered into her hair.

Chapter Text

Pansy didn’t bother to knock on the door to the seventh-year boys’ dormitory. Instead, she stormed through it, which led to Theo swearing and quickly pulling his boxers up, since he was in the middle of changing into his school clothes. “For fuck’s sake, Pansy! Knock, why don’t you?”

“Why? It’s not like you have anything I want to see,” she retorted, looking him up and down disparagingly.

Blaise walked out of the attached bathroom with a towel slung low on his hips. He sauntered over to Pansy and gave her a kiss. “Good morning, sweetheart.”

Pansy looked meaningfully at Draco’s empty bed and Blaise shook his head infinitesimally.

Unfortunately, their byplay wasn’t lost on Theo, who was now buttoning up his shirt. “So, Pans, come to track down your errant friend?” he asked with a knowing look at the bed.

“I came to see my boyfriend,” she stressed.

“Sure, sure, I believe you. It’s not like you haven’t spent the past eight years running after Draco.”

Pansy glared at the brown-haired boy and turned to Blaise. “Do you know where he is?”

“No, he must have got up early and gone up to breakfast already,” Blaise said, but with an intense stare that Pansy easily deciphered as meaning that Draco hadn’t slept in his bed.

Theo snorted behind them. “He hasn’t been back all weekend. And you can drop the codes. I’m not stupid. He’s slept away from home a few other nights as well. I take it he’s convinced some poor girl to take pity on him and pander to his needs. Let’s just hope he hasn’t had to use Imperio on her. He’s dragged Slytherin House through enough mud.”

Pansy stalked towards Theo, enraged. “Shut up, Theo! Start spreading rumours about Draco using Imperio on anyone and I’ll hex your measly balls off.”

Theo cackled with laughter. “Please tell me that angry response doesn’t actually mean it’s true.”

“Of course it’s not,” Pansy snapped defensively.

Theo looked amused. “I can’t believe he’s managed to get himself a girlfriend. She’s probably some poor Hufflepuff he’s terrified into shagging him.”

Pansy narrowed her eyes menacingly at him. “Get out, Theo. And I mean it: if I hear anything about you talking about Draco’s absent nights, I’ll make sure the Nott line dies out with you.”

Theo looked at Blaise. “Put her on a leash, Blaise. She’s a bloody menace to society.”

Blaise inspected his fingernails casually. “If you feel the need to hide behind me, Theo, I’ll ask Pans to play nice and leave you alone.”

Theo flushed. “I’m not scared of her,” he sneered.

“Of course you aren’t,” Blaise replied, blatantly amused.

“I’m not. I’m just fed up of trying to get in the room to find you’ve locked it so you can shag her. Salazar’s rod, if Draco starts doing that, I’ll go to Slughorn and inform him about the pair of you.”

“Stop being bitter because you can’t get a girl,” Pansy said dismissively. “Now run along, Theo. The adults need to talk.”

He shot Pansy a filthy look before stomping out the room and slamming the door. “Always a pleasure, Theo!” Pansy called in a faux sweet voice. The muttering from the other side meant he heard her.

“So he hasn’t returned all weekend?” Pansy asked, turning her attention back to Blaise.

He pulled his trousers up. “Nope,” he said, grabbing his shirt and sliding his arms in. “Not even to get a change of clothes.”

“You haven’t seen Granger around, have you? Not even at mealtimes?”

“Nope, and I’ve actually looked for her.”

Pansy smiled at this admission. Blaise usually refused to acknowledge Gryffindors, stating that they didn’t rate high enough to warrant his attention. “I wonder if they’ve finally owned up to their feelings towards each other,” she mused.

Blaise rolled his eyes. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough. If they are dumb enough to be open about it, the ensuing outcry will be loud enough to hear in Australia.”

Pansy shuddered at that thought. “Potter and Weasley haven’t looked too upset. There’s no way that Hermione would spring this on them without any prior warning.”

“Then I guess they are either still doing the boring ‘I like you but I’m too afraid to do anything about it’ thing, or they are dating secretly. Either way, it’s not’s very interesting.”

She pouted at her boyfriend. “It’s not boring. If they are dating then I’m so excited for Draco.”

Blaise groaned, checked his appearance in the mirror one last time, grabbed his bag and Pansy’s hand and dragged her out of the room. “Let’s go and assuage that rampant curiosity of yours.”

---------

Hermione was awakened by the bang of her portrait door slamming shut. “Hermione!” yelled Ron.

She swore as the arm that was encircling her waist tightened in response to all the noise. She sat up, shaking Draco off but the blond just groaned and buried his head under the pillow. Hermione checked the time and swore once more as she realised that she had overslept. She had a vague memory of her alarm clock ringing and Draco turning it off before kissing her sleepily. He was not a morning person.

However, the last thing she wanted was anyone coming into her room. She leapt out of bed and flung the first available clothes on. She then rushed out of her door, careful to keep it closed and rubbed her eyes tiredly as she paused just outside her bedroom. She stopped as guffaws greeted her appearance and scowled at Ron and Harry who were lounging on her sofa.

“Wow, Hermione, I don’t think I’ve ever known you not to be ready for the first day back at school after the holidays,” Ron sniggered.

“Tut, tut Hermione, you could be missing vital revision time by sleeping,” Harry teased.

“Nice jumper. Who does it belong to? Hagrid?” Ron chuckled and she looked down to see that she’d put Draco’s jumper on by mistake. It was massive on her.

“Oh, be quiet! My alarm didn’t go off,” she lied, neglecting to mention that she’d been distracted back to sleep by the snarky Slytherin currently sleeping in her bed.

“Why don’t we let Hermione have a shower and you guys go eat?” Ginny suggested.

Hermione hadn’t even seen her sitting there quietly in the armchair. She threw the youngest Weasley a grateful smile.

“As Hermione has a long way to go before she’s decent enough to be seen in public, that’s a great idea. I’m starving,” Ron said.

Both he and Harry leapt up and headed towards the door. “You coming, Ginny?” Harry called when he noticed that his fiancée had remained seated.

“No, I’ll wait for Hermione,” she said.

Hermione shot the witch a sharp glance but her friend waited for the two boys to leave. “I haven’t seen you since Teddy’s party,” Ginny commented.

“Yeah, I’ve been revising,” Hermione said a little vaguely.

“Hmm…with Malfoy by the looks of it,” Ginny said, standing up and revealing the blond’s cloak underneath her. “Good job I got in here before either of the boys. If he’s going to stay over, either change the password so we can’t visit you by surprise or make sure you leave nothing of his lying around.”

Hermione flushed in embarrassment at being caught out. But it was nothing compared to the bright red she blushed when Draco opened the door and waltzed out in just his trousers. “Granger, if you’re going to steal my clothing, at least have the courtesy to let me know beforehand.”

She looked pained and shamefaced towards Ginny who was staring at the blond in disbelief. “Er… Sorry, it was the first thing I found.”

“Can you transfigure it into a Slytherin shirt for me? I don’t have my uniform up here and I don’t have time to stop by my dorm before lessons start.”

“Sure,” Hermione squeaked, very aware of Ginny’s censorious stare.

The blond disappeared into the bathroom and the sound of the shower soon filled the silent common room.

“Are you sleeping with him?” Ginny asked in a disapproving voice.

“No!” Hermione shrieked. “Well, yes, I’m sleeping with him, but no we’re not having sex.”

Ginny wiped a hand across her forehead in mock relief and Hermione regained her equilibrium. “I can’t believe you asked me that!”

“He just walked out of your bedroom half naked. How could I not ask you?”

“But, still, talk about embarrassing.”

“What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t ask?”

“A less nosy one!”

“I’m nosy because I care. Although I can’t believe I just saw Draco Malfoy without a shirt on.”

Hermione giggled. “He does look good, doesn’t he?”

Ginny tried to look disgusted but the truth won out. “This goes against everything I was brought up to believe in, but, yes, that is one good looking Malfoy.”

“Hands off, Weaselette. I told you the other day that there’s nothing I can do if the Chosen One can’t hit the spot.”

Ginny glowered at the smug looking Slytherin. She refused to blush at being caught saying he was hot. Hermione on the other hand felt that she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. She was not prepared for him to stumble out on conversations like that.

“Princess, if you want to make it to Potions, you need to move your arse.”

She saw the time on the clock above the fireplace and squeaked. She was running so late.

Hermione missed breakfast. There was no way she was able to get herself into gear to make it down to eat, as she was still a little jittery about the close call this morning.

She sorted Draco out a Slytherin uniform of sorts. He complained bitterly that the snake on the crest of his shirt wasn’t right but Hermione shut him up by saying that if he could a better job then he should feel free to give it a go.

She couldn’t help but smile as he kissed her thoroughly in front of Ginny before disillusioning himself and disappearing out of the portrait hole.

“He loves to rub it in, doesn’t he?”

Hermione gave Ginny an enquiring look. “You know, the fact that he has you. He made such a song and dance about snogging you in front of me just then.”

“It’s still all very new to us.”

Ginny looked amused. “And it is Draco Malfoy. Have you ever known him not to brag?”

“We better go,” Hermione said, catching sight of the time and keen to end the conversation.

--------

Draco smirked as he watched his frazzled girlfriend rush through the classroom door and slam her bag down on the table next to her imbecilic friends.

“Pansy’s not happy with you,” the smooth voice of Blaise said next to him.

Draco dragged his eyes away from Granger and turned towards his housemate. “Why?”

“Try because you’ve been gone for the whole weekend and you know how she hates losing track of you.”

“You can reassure her that I haven’t been lying face-down in some ditch out in the Forbidden Forest.”

“Oh, it wasn’t hard to guess where you were.”

He narrowed his eyes at Blaise. “How about you tell me where I was if you’re so knowledgeable?”

Blaise scoffed. “Please, Draco, it’s fairly obvious to anyone with a brain that you’ve been shacked up with our esteemed Head Girl all weekend. The fact that both of you managed to miss all meals, and the sickening display of puppy dog eyes you just made towards her doesn’t make it at all difficult to guess.”

He scowled. “If I’m that predicable then why is Pansy annoyed?”

“It’s Pansy. She hates not having all the latest information.”

“I’ll let her interrogate me at lunch.”

“Oh, and a word of warning: Theo’s noticed your absence. He’s assuming you’ve got a girlfriend. He did have a charming theory about you using Imperio on a girl. Although, looking at who your girl is, it’s more than possible.”

“Fuck off!”

Blaise smirked. “You have to admit, you are an unlikely couple.”

Draco just glared at Blaise.

“I think Theo’s thinks you’re sleeping with a Hufflepuff,” his friend continued.

“As if I’d sully my hands with a Hufflepuff,” he sneered.

“I remember you saying the same thing about Muggle-borns not that long ago.”

Draco had never been so pleased for Slughorn to start the lesson. He didn’t want to remember all the things he’d said about Granger in the past. It didn’t make him feel good about himself. It seemed that Blaise’s purpose this year was point out all the reasons why he should be staying the hell away from Granger. He turned his head to the right once more, watching her. He couldn’t end it, though. She was the one thing in his life that had him positive at the moment. Things had started to look up the moment she had stuck her nose in his business and he was selfish enough to not want to walk away from that.

He smiled as he watched her scribble furiously on her parchment. Her hair was coming loose from her hair-band and was starting to cloud around her face, the way it always did in the damp air of the Potions classroom.

Draco was pulled from the pleasant exercise of staring at Granger by the scramble of everyone getting up from their seats.. He turned to the blackboard to see that they were to practice making the Draught of Living Death. It was probably a good thing; it had been two years since they’d made it in their sixth year.

He leisurely got up and sauntered over to the supply cupboard and smirked wickedly as he realised whom he was standing behind. He stood closely behind her and chuckled as she tensed when he ran his fingers down her spine. He took advantage of a brief push from behind him to press himself up against her and put his hands on her hips. Her breath hitched and came out in rapidly shallow bursts. Deciding to rile her up further, he pretended to stumble and ducked his head, which allowed him to kiss her neck, nipping it briefly before soothing the bite mark with a lick. She was so tense in his arms; he thought she was going to snap.

“Draco! Stop it!” she hissed at him.

He flexed his hands against her hips and couldn’t help but feel proud at the shiver that wracked her body. “You know you don’t want me to,” he whispered in her ear.

“Someone could see!”

Before he could answer a hostile voice intruded on his fun. “Get away from her, you creep!”

He looked past Granger’s hair to see the hostile stance of Weasley. He had his wand drawn and aimed at Draco.

“Jealous, Weasel?”

“Get your disgusting, Death Eater hands off her NOW!” Weasley yelled.

Draco knew that now was not the time or the place for a prolonged confrontation. He was also aware that Granger would be angry if he angered her friend any more than he already was. He made a show of slowing removing his hands, making sure he lingered. The Weasel King’s face was puce by the time he stepped back from the brunette.

He shook his robes out before her leered lecherously down at his witch. “Just let me know when you fancy playing with the big boys, Princess,” he said with a wink.

He sauntered over to the shelves and picked up the ingredients he needed. Weasley and Granger hadn’t moved - they just stared at him. He winked and blew Granger a kiss before strolling back to his table.

Hermione was in a state of shock. She couldn’t believe Draco had done that and in front of Ron. He was living dangerously indeed. What if Ron had seen him kiss her neck? There was no way he would believe that something wasn’t happening between the pair of them. She bit her lip; was this the moment she was going to have to tell her best friends about her boyfriend? She had planned on it being done in as calm a manner as possible in her common room late one night. Not in the middle of a Potions lesson, where anyone could hear the blowout.

“I’m going to kill that bloke,” Ron muttered.

Hermione glanced up - he looked incandescent with rage. “It’s okay, Ron.”

“No, it’s not. How dare he think he can molest you?”

Hermione needed to figure out some rapid damage limitation. At some point she was going to have to come clean and it wouldn’t do for Ron or Harry to think Draco was some pervert who was sexually harassing her until then. “He was winding you up. He was pushed from behind and stumbled into me. I would have fallen over had he not caught me.”

Ron stopped and looked thoughtful at this. She was pleased to note that she could think so quickly on her feet. Besides, it wasn’t a complete lie.

“He didn’t need to be so intimate about it.”

“It’s Malfoy. As soon as you shouted at him, he had to do something outrageous.”

He frowned. “I suppose.”

“Please don’t make a big deal out of it. I really don’t want any more fights this year.”

Ron nodded at her and they left the supply cupboard. He didn’t look happy, though, and scowled at Draco as they went back to their table.

“What happened? You’ve been gone for ages,” Harry said.

“Malfoy was being a git,” Ron growled.

“How?”

“He had his arms around Hermione and was being all sleazy.”

She rolled her eyes. “Harry, ignore him. He’s being melodramatic. Malfoy caught me and stopped me from falling over.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at her and she groaned mentally. So he was still suspicious about Draco’s motives. Granted, he was right, but Hermione wished that he would trust her. If she didn’t want the Slytherin to touch her then she wouldn’t allow it. She’d hex him into the middle of next week. Harry could be too overprotective and often forgot that she had stood by his side throughout the war and would easily be able to handle one failed teenage Death Eater.

“Stop it, Harry. Both you and Ron need to remember that I am more than capable of holding my own. I do not need two bodyguards.”

Her best friend at least had the shame to blush. “I know. I worry that someone will take advantage of you. He could easily overpower you.”

“In the middle of a Potions lesson?”

“Just be careful when patrolling, please?”

“I always am, Harry.”

“He called her ‘Princess’, too,” Ron butted in just as she’d thought she’d laid the topic to rest.

Harry looked over at Draco and then back towards Ron. “I think he has a thing for Hermione.”

She cringed slightly. This was not going her way. Harry was too perceptive at times.

Luckily, Ron wasn’t. “Ha!” he guffawed. “Good one, Harry. This is Malfoy - as if he’d have feelings for a Muggle-born.”

Hermione joined in Ron’s laughter but noted that Harry looked far from convinced.

----------

Hermione cornered Draco later that day. She was not pleased with his behaviour at all.

“What the hell was that about earlier?”

He just smirked down at her. “Something wrong, Princess?”

She grabbed his arm. “Ron nearly caught you kissing my neck. Do you really want to have a big revelation in front of the whole Potions class?”

Hermione was pleased to see the smirk disappeared off his face. She decided to emphasis the point to her nuisance of a boyfriend. “Harry is already suspicious enough of your intentions towards me and it doesn’t help when Ron goes back to our table, going on about you molesting me.”

He scowled at that. “As if I’d need to molest you! Just because that’s the only way that Weasel-bee can get a girl.”

She huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Is that all you are getting out of this conversation?”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Okay, okay, I get it. Keep my hands off you at all times in public, lest pratty Potter and his brain dead side-kick get all antsy.”

Hermione groaned. “The three of you are going to be the death of me. Is it too much to ask for you try and be civil when talking about my friends?”

“Was Merlin a wizard?”

Hermione sighed. That was what you got when you decided to date Draco Malfoy.

Chapter Text

Hermione saw the Malfoys enter the Hall over Harry’s shoulder. Andromeda had invited them to the memorial service. She’d asked Hermione’s advice before doing so and Hermione had replied that very few had lost as much as she had, and if she wanted her sister and nephew to attend then everyone else could put up or shut up.

Hermione smiled as she realised that they had come. Draco hadn’t spoken to her about it and she hadn’t wanted to push him to do so. It must have been incredibly difficult to turn up, knowing that the majority of those attending would view you as the enemy. Besides, he’d been uncomfortable enough at Teddy’s birthday party and that was with just the Weasleys in attendance.

“What are they doing here?” Ron hissed, having spotted Draco and his mother.

“Andromeda invited them for moral support,” she replied.

Ron opened his mouth a few times, resembling an overwrought goldfish. “Well, they’re not welcome. They shouldn’t be here.”

“Why not?” she asked calmly.

“Because they’re bloody Death Eaters, that’s why,” he spluttered.

“They are also Andromeda’s family,” she pointed out.

“She should know better, inviting them to places they’re not welcome.”

“Who are you to decide who is welcome or not?” Hermione asked coolly.

“My brother died! I should get a say as to who attends. I’m going to tell Andromeda to tell them to leave.”

She grabbed his arm as he made to leave. “Andromeda lost pretty much her whole family, Ronald, so don’t you dare go and make this day even harder for her.”

Ron looked flabbergasted at Harry. “You talk to her, mate. She’s mental.”

She felt her temper rising at Ron’s words so she took some deep calming breaths, determined not to turn today into a shouting match with her redheaded friend. It was so strange to think that this time last year she had thought herself in love with him.

Harry looked torn as Ron appealed to him and she pinned him with a stern glare. He hated the Malfoys, and would rather they were not present, but he remembered Andromeda’s words on accepting her decisions in allowing her family back into her life. In the end, he just shrugged and looked away, not wanting to get involved in yet another conflict between his argumentative friends.

Ron stuttered a few times before he settled at glaring in the Malfoys direction. Hermione’s heart sank. She had no idea how she was going to tell Ron and Harry that Draco was - to all intents and purposes - her boyfriend. They couldn’t even accept his role in Andromeda’s life and that was much more understandable.

She spotted the dark-haired witch standing across the room and tapped Harry on the shoulder. “I’m going to speak to Andromeda.”

He nodded at her, but Ron refused to look in her direction. Fine! If he was going to be petty because she disagreed with him, then so be it. She wasn’t going to care.

She cheered up and forgot Ron’s tantrum as she neared Andromeda.

“Hello!” the older witch greeted her. “I was wondering when you were going to leave your boys and come over.”

Hermione hugged her tightly. “Where’s Teddy?”

“I got a babysitter. One of Nymphadora’s friends was more than happy to take him for the night.”

“I guess he’s too young for this… but I miss him.”

“He misses you too. He keeps changing his hair to a curly white-blond mop,” Andromeda said archly.

Hermione couldn’t help the blush that stole up her cheeks. Andromeda grabbed her for another hug. “I’m really happy for you and that nephew of mine,” she whispered in her ear.

Even though she had been the one to write to Andromeda and tell her the news, it felt so much more embarrassing when she was face-to-face with the older woman. “Thanks,” she mumbled, ignoring the amused look on her friend’s face.

She looked around the Great Hall, still unable to comprehend that this was the same place it had been a year ago. “It all looks so different,” she sighed.

Andromeda’s smile melted away as she, too, gazed around. “Parts of me wish I’d insisted on coming in Nymphadora’s place. She beat me down on the fact that she was an Auror and trained for this, but I don’t think Bella would have been able to kill me.”

“You’d be wrong. She didn’t view you as a sister anymore and would have taken great pleasure in killing you,” a cool voice said from behind them.

Both witches spun around to see Narcissa standing behind them.

“Cissy!” Andromeda exclaimed. “You came!”

“It was touch and go. Draco’s around here somewhere, too. Sulking in a corner, no doubt.”

“Thank you. It means a lot to have you here.”

Narcissa smiled slightly. “I think after all these years, I owe you this at least.”

Andromeda wrapped a supportive arm around her surviving sister. Hermione could see the glares that were coming Narcissa’s way from many of the other attendees. She thought of Draco – he would be getting far worse treatment – but she couldn’t find him in her quick scan of the Hall.

“It’s good to have my remaining sister standing next to me. I still can’t believe that Bella killed Nymphadora.”

Narcissa grimaced. “She would have killed either of us if it meant doing Voldemort’s bidding, let alone a niece.”

Andromeda frowned and looked down. “I know that deep down, but I can’t help but still see Bella as a twelve-year-old, splashing water at us during trips to the beach.”

“She hadn’t been that girl for a long time, ‘Meda. She was truly twisted. Our children were nothing to her.”

“She was fine with Draco, surely?” Andromeda asked.

“She was awful to Draco. She encouraged him to take the Mark and punished him terribly when he couldn’t live up to what was expected from him.”

Hermione kept quiet. This was a rare and fascinating insight into Draco’s life for her. It was almost as if the two sisters had forgotten she was present.

“She wouldn’t have killed him, though?”

“She told the Dark Lord to do so.”

“No!” Andromeda gasped.

“When he returned from the night Dumbledore died, she was disgusted with him. It was only the intervention of Severus that saved Draco that night.”

Hermione was horrified. The thought of how petrified he must have been, and then his own aunt had petitioned for his death.

“I thought she had a soft spot for Draco,” Andromeda commented.

Narcissa scoffed. “The only person she had a soft spot for was the Dark Lord, if you could have called him a person.”

Andromeda shook her head sadly. “You have to ask where it all went wrong.”

“We followed our parents, let prejudice cloud our judgements and encouraged our children to do the same. Fortunately, some of us were smart enough to look beyond that and get out,” Narcissa said, squeezing her sister’s hand.

Andromeda’s eyes filled with tears. “You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that, Cissy.”

“It’s taken me long enough. I had to nearly lose my son for me to realise how wrong I’d been.”

“The important thing is that you did and you still have Draco.”

“I practically ruined him,” Narcissa said sadly.

“But you didn’t. He’s come out the other side now.”

“No thanks to me,” the blonde said. She turned her head and smiled softly at Hermione. “I can’t take credit for Draco’s current state of mind.”

Hermione blushed as Narcissa put her hand on her arm. “I want to thank you for looking beyond the façade Draco shows the world and seeing the real him.”

Hermione didn’t know what to say as she looked into the emotional face of Narcissa Malfoy. This was a woman who always appeared so controlled in front of outsiders and she had also been so scornfully disdainful of her and her Muggle origins in the past. Yet now, she was expressing her pleasure that Hermione was dating her son. Coming on top of listening in on a very intimate conversation between two sisters, it was a lot for her to take in. She was grateful when Andromeda picked up on this and intervened for her.

“Come now, Cissy, you’re overwhelming poor Hermione. She’s only just getting used to the fact that Malfoys actually have emotions.”

Narcissa laughed. “I’m sorry, Hermione. I find myself undergoing so many changes that I forgot how this can confuse others.”

“You remind me so much of Draco that it’s not too much of a shock,” she said, somewhat shyly.

“Really?” Narcissa exclaimed. “Most people think that Draco is the spitting image of his father.”

“That’s because they see only the physical resemblance, but I think he has a lot of you in him.”

Narcissa smiled warmly at her. “Thank you for that. If I didn’t already know what a good influence you were in his life, this would prove it.”

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

Ginny sidled up to Harry, who was staring rather intently across the room. “What’s got you so serious?” she asked.

“Hermione,” he sighed.

She scanned the Great Hall until she picked out their bushy haired friend. “Oh!” she said as she took in the scene of Hermione standing and talking with Malfoy matriarch.

“Is that all your going to say?”

“Well, what do you want me to say?”

“She’s chatting, smiling, and laughing with Narcissa Malfoy of all people. Surely that should shock you?”

Ginny shrugged; there wasn’t much she could really say to Harry without destroying the trust Hermione had placed in her. “She’s probably doing Andromeda a favour. I mean, there aren’t too many people here who are willing to talk to Narcissa.”

“I dunno,” he responded. “There’s something fishy going on. Why is it constantly Hermione?”

“Because she’s close to Andromeda,” she said soothingly. Oh, and she’s dating Draco Malfoy.

“Maybe,” Harry replied unhelpfully.

She turned his face to her. “What are you thinking?”

“There’s something going on with Hermione and I cannot help but think that Malfoy is involved somewhere. He just keeps on popping up and, despite Hermione’s glib explanations about nicknames, and his questionable actions towards her, something doesn’t ring true. She’s hiding something and I wish she wouldn’t.”

Ginny mentally sighed. Harry really was too insightful for his own good at times. He had this air of general obliviousness that fooled a lot of people, but he could pick up strange vibes a mile away. She supposed it was due to all the fact that he’d spent years having to read between the lines. He had been at the heart of the whole struggle against Voldemort, but had never known the full picture. She really hoped that Hermione was going to tell him about Malfoy soon, because it would be a lot worse if he stumbled upon the intelligent witch’s secret.

“You need to trust her.”

“I do!” he protested. “With my life.”

“Yes, you trust her to step up and fight alongside you, but you aren’t being too trusting towards her right now.”

“I can’t help it. I have this feeling that she’s lying to me. She never lies to us.”

“Well, if she is, then I’m sure she has her reasons. She wouldn’t lie to you for fun,” Ginny said diplomatically.

He ran a hand through his already messy hair. “I guess you’re right.”

“You only guess I’m right?” she said snootily, teasing him.

That got the smile she had been looking for. “Okay, I know you’re right. But I can’t help it. Hermione, for all her brains, is trusting, and unscrupulous people could look to take advantage of her.”

“She’s not as naïve as you and Ron make out.”

“She doesn’t have a lot of experience with guys,” he stubbornly continued.

Ginny snorted. “Because you have so much experience with girls? Listen, I’m the youngest of all of us, but I’ve interacted with a lot more people.” She paused as Harry pouted. “Come on, you know it’s true. You, Hermione and Ron were always rushing off to save the world. It didn’t exactly leave a lot of time for socialising.”

“I socialised fine!” he huffed.

“Yes, with those you shared a common room with. But apart from Luna, did you really spend a lot of time with any of the other houses?”

“There was Ernie, Justin, Hannah, Michael-,” he started.

“Yes, and you trained them in Defence Against the Dark Arts, but you didn’t sit and chat to them outside of Dumbledore’s Army.”

Harry was quiet. She took that as permission to continue. “Anyway, as I was saying, Hermione is a big girl, she will be fine, and even if she isn’t, she needs to make mistakes and learn from them.”

“Not with Malfoy she doesn’t,” he said sulkily.

Ginny wasn’t going to go down that road. She was already lying to her fiancé enough as it was. Harry was going to be so pissed off at her was when he finally found out the truth. She placed her hand on his arm and steered him towards the Patil twins. “Just trust her, Harry.”

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

Hermione stayed talking to Andromeda and Narcissa until the brief ceremony started. The Ministry of Magic had been keen to award some medals at this memorial. Several key Aurors and members of the Order of the Phoenix were getting Orders of Merlin, as well as Harry, Ron and herself. Severus Snape was also being awarded posthumously. For Hermione, it was all very unnecessary, but she guessed it was part of the healing process.

As she stood on stage, self-consciously clutching her award, she gazed around the Hall, trying to locate Draco. She hadn’t seen him since that brief glimpse when he’d walked in with Narcissa. She finally located him, standing by the large doors. She couldn’t read the expression on his face, but she smiled in his direction.

Finally, it was over and Hermione could escape all the staring eyes. She walked towards the doors where Draco waited for her. As soon as he saw that she was on her way over, he slipped out. She followed as he made his way up a couple of flights of stairs and where there was little chance of running into anyone from the function. The curfew was also in effect, so there were no students milling about.

By the time she caught up to him, he was leaning against the wall, looking serious. She stood in front of him and lifted her hand to stroke his cheek. “Hey,” she whispered.

He smiled at her but she could read the hurt and anger in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head at her. “Draco, don’t be like this. If we’re going to make this relationship work then we have to be open with each other.”

He scoffed bitterly. “We’re insane to think this could go on longer than a few weeks. This evening was a reminder of why we can’t be together.”

Her temper rose and she whacked him on the chest. “Don’t you dare be so pessimistic! I won’t be dictated to about whom I can or cannot date.”

“Granger, did you even notice the looks my mother and I were getting tonight?”

“I saw them!” she snapped. “I don’t see why that’s relevant.”

He grabbed her wrist as she went to thump him once more. “You’re little Miss Perfect, the girl who stood by Harry Potter and helped him defeat the Dark Lord. I’m the opposite. I took the Dark Mark aged sixteen, for fuck’s sake.”

“I don’t get why we are rehashing this again,” she huffed.

“Because it matters. Outside, in the real world, away from the cocoon that is your common room, it matters who we are.”

Hermione pulled her wrist out of his grasp and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t care! I’ve never cared what people think. What matters to me is that is that I love you, Draco.”

He stopped and stood stock-still. She was shocked herself - she hadn’t even voiced that thought in the privacy of her own head. But she didn’t regret saying it. As soon as it left her lips, she recognised it for the truth. She did love him. He’d wormed his way into her affections and then her heart. He was impossible, snarky, defensive and a git, but he could also be sensitive, caring and he was hurting. He had allowed her to see this and she’d fallen for this side of him. And now he was trying to take it away from her. Well, she wasn’t having that.

He turned away from her. “You can’t love me,” he growled.

“Well I do,” she insisted stubbornly.

He whirled back to her and grasped her shoulders. “Hermione, you didn’t hear the things they were saying whilst you were talking to my mother; the derogatory remarks they made about you as well as her. Imagine how bad this will be when they find out about us.”

She looked candidly up at him. “You mistake me for someone who cares what idiots have to say. They don’t know you and I won’t allow mindless gossip determine what we have.”

The tension went out of his frame. He leaned down and placed his forehead against hers. “I’m selfish. I should walk away and not put you through this, but I can’t.”

She smiled tenderly at him. “You think I would settle for playing some weak little martyr, who would just allow you to do that? I would fight you every inch of the way. I’m not a wilting flower, Draco.”

“No, you’re a fierce Gryffindor lioness,” he teased.

She punched him playfully. “And don’t you forget it!”

He closed the last few centimetres of space and kissed her. He poured his emotions into it and she felt every one of them. He would probably never admit it, but he felt just as strongly about her as she did about him.

As she melted into his embrace, she failed to hear the slight noise of a shoe scuffing against the wall.

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

Neville took the Cloak of Invisibility off once he returned to his dorm room, sat pensively on his bed and thought through the scene he’d just witnessed. He should really be down in the Great Hall, but had no stomach for the memorial. He had shown his face, before sneaking off just before the medal awarding ceremony, having arranged to borrow Harry’s Cloak so that he could get a Herbology book out of the Restricted Section, and certainly had no plans to go back now. He was far too unsettled to do so.

Rubbing his hands over his face, he tried to digest what he’d seen. Having already agonised over his decision to leave Hermione embroiled with the Slytherins, he now berated himself for not getting more actively involved after watching her with Malfoy. Harry was already suspicious of Hermione’s relationship with Malfoy and had voiced it often enough. It appeared that his roommate had been spot on.

Now Neville had to decide what he wanted to do. He’d told Hermione when she had confessed her involvement with the blond Slytherin that if she became too immersed with Malfoy, he would look to extract her. Despite her reassurances that that wouldn’t be the case, it had happened and now he was in a quandary. Telling Harry would inevitably lead to a confrontation, but Neville didn’t think it was good that she was hiding her relationship. If everything between her and the Slytherin were fine then she would surely have told her friends by now.

Neville folded Harry’s Cloak and put it back in his friend’s trunk. There was no point waiting to speak to Harry up here. He didn’t think this was something that Dean and Seamus should hear and he wasn’t so sure whether he should mention something in front of Ron. The redhead’s temper was so volatile that it could do more harm than good. But it would be hard to separate Harry from Ron; he’d just have to have faith that Harry could keep his best friend in check. So he padded back down to the common room, which was pretty empty, choosing a warm seat in the corner and opened the pilfered Herbology book, waiting for Harry to return.

It was a couple of hours later when Harry came in to the room. The Boy-Who-Lived looked worn down. This caused Neville to hesitate for a few seconds. Would it be a good idea to add to whatever woes Harry was currently carrying? But Neville knew that his friend would rather know this than be kept in blissful ignorance.

“Harry!” Neville called. “Can I have a word, mate?”

Harry looked round and spotted Neville sitting in the shadows. “Yeah, sure.” He then caught sight of Neville’s face. “Is everything alright?”

The other boy grimaced. “Not really, but I don’t know how to tell you this.”

Harry’s worry-o-metre immediately kicked in. Neville wasn’t one to be concerned unnecessarily. He certainly wouldn’t be speaking to him if it weren’t something important, so he waited. He knew Neville would get to the point.

Neville ran a distracted hand through his hair. “I’m really not sure how to tell you this, but it’s about Hermione. I saw her with Malfoy tonight and … er … they were kissing.”

It took Harry a couple of seconds to digest this information. His first urge to was to burst out laughing and tell his roommate to pull the other one. But the serious expression on Neville’s round face was telling. He also wouldn’t tease him about something like this.

He sat heavily down into a chair. “What?” he asked faintly.

“I saw Hermione with Malfoy. I think they might be seeing each other.”

“No!” Harry whispered.

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

Draco paced up and down the Gryffindor Head Girl’s small common room. He’d returned briefly to the Great Hall to escort his mother back to the Floo connections that had been set up especially to transport guests to the memorial to and fro Hogwarts. He’d glimpsed Granger in the midst of the Weasley family where she looked content and very happy.

He, on the other hand, was confused. He couldn’t believe that she had said that she loved him and he wasn’t sure what to do with the information. He had only just gotten used to the thought of them being romantically involved and now she dropped the L word on him. Part of him felt warm and fuzzy at the thought of such a brilliant witch being in love with him, but the other part screamed that everything was happening too quickly between them. He, too, found that his emotions were deeply involved with the bushy haired Gryffindor. He didn’t think he had ever had so much affection for someone as he did for her. However, he baulked at the word love, as he wasn’t too sure that he wanted to admit anything that drastic right now.

The door clicked open and Granger walked in. She stopped and smiled that heartbreaking smile of hers. “I wasn’t sure if you would be here.”

He shrugged. “There’s not really anywhere else in this castle I would want to be.”

She grinned at that and bounded over towards him. “I don’t want you to be anywhere else, either.”

She nestled into his arms and sighed as she snuggled her head under his chin. “I wanted to be able to do this in the Great Hall.”

“What? And start a riot?”

He could feel her grimace against his collarbone. “Maybe we should elope?” she suggested hopefully.

“Great!” he sarcastically enthused. “Then I can be accused of your kidnap and murder.”

“I hate all this hiding and sneaking around,” she moaned. “Maybe you could rescue me from a dangerous situation and then everyone will love you?”

He snorted. “Next you’ll suggest I use Polyjuice to turn into Potter so you can snog me in the corridors.”

She lifted her head and pouted up at him. “You’re not taking this seriously.”

He smirked in amusement. “Because you are?”

She laughed lightly. “Okay, I admit I’m being silly.”

“Hermione Granger can be silly? Quick! I must alert McGonagall and Madam Pince!”

She glared at him. “That’s not funny.”

“You know you would have turned into either of those sour faced women if it wasn’t for me.”

She stepped back from him and put her hands on her hips. “I would not!” she said before smiling mischievously and tilting her head, looking him up and down. “Then again, McGonagall did have a star-crossed romance when she was about our age.”

“Someone feel in love with that?” he asked incredulously.

“Draco!” she objected. “McGonagall is an amazing, powerful, intelligent, kind and caring witch. Why would someone not want to fall in love with her?”

“Try because she has a face that could curdle milk.”

“You’re so shallow! It’s all about looks for you.”

“No it’s not. But her personality matches her face.”

Granger huffed, clearly not amused by his teasing. He decided to humour her. “So who was this ill-fated lover?”

“He was a Muggle farmer.”

“Figures,” he muttered.

She ignored him, just giving him a stern look, and continued. “But McGonagall’s mum had to give up magic to marry her father and McGonagall realised that she loved magic and couldn’t hide that side of her. She’d seen the pain it caused her mother.”

“How do you know this?” he asked, fascinated.

“She told me.”

“I thought she’d be as closed mouthed as Snape.”

“She likes me. I’m her favourite,” Granger said with a cheeky grin.

He slung an arm around her shoulder, steering her to her bedroom. “She won’t when she finds out you’re dating me. She’ll think you’re insane.”

“Either that, or you’ve been using Imperio on me.”

This made Draco chuckle darkly. Granger looked up in surprise. “What?” she asked.

“You’ve just reminded me that Theo thinks that’s how I got a girlfriend. Either that, or I’ve terrified a Hufflepuff into shagging me.”

“Nott knows you have a girlfriend?”

“I think it’s a bit hard to explain my constant absences otherwise.”

“Did you tell him it was me?”

“Does the whole of Hogwarts know?”

“I take it that’s a no.”

“Smart girl,” he said patronisingly.

That would normally incur a playful slap from Granger, but she wasn’t paying any attention to him. Instead she was staring at her bed thoughtfully. Draco tapped his foot as he waited impatiently for her to focus on him again. It took a good thirty seconds, which didn’t amuse him. She finally looked back up at him again and he paused at the gleam in her eye. Granger was always dangerous when she looked like that. He’d first seen the look when she’d slapped him in their third year, and again when she’d lied to Umbridge in their fifth year. She’d also worn it during the final battle. It usually meant she was planning something or was utterly focused. He didn’t dare think what it would mean in this instance.

He didn’t have long to wait. She literally pounced on him, her weight taking him by surprise, causing him to fall backwards onto the bed. They ended up in a sprawled mess, but that didn’t faze Granger. She soon had him on his back whilst she straddled him. She smiled smugly as she leaned down and moulded her lips to his. This he could cope with. Usually it was him who took the lead in their kissing sessions, but Granger seemed determined to take control tonight. He found her bossy persona more than a little bit of turn-on, so he happily laid back and let her have her way.

It wasn’t until she had stripped him of his shirt and was proceeding to fling her own clothes off that Draco decided to try and slow her down. It was getting very hot and heavy, and he wasn’t sure that if they continued much longer he’d be able to stop. He didn’t think she was ready to take this step.

“I think we should stop now,” he panted.

She didn’t even bother replying and just kissed her way down his chest. “Er … Hermione, you need to stop,” he insisted.

“Why?” she asked, finally paying attention to his words and not his body.

“Because I’m going to lose control in a minute.”

She smiled wickedly at him. “That’s the general idea.”

“You’re missing the point, Princess. If we continue then my body is going to expect to go all the way.”

“So? What if that’s what I want?”

Draco stared up at her. “What?”

She rolled her eyes. “What if I want us to go all the way?”

He was struggling to comprehend what she was saying and was feeling a little dazed, as he hadn’t expected this at all. He wasn’t going to lie and say that he hadn’t thought of it - he had. He found Granger incredibly attractive and his body betrayed him every time it got close to her. However, he didn’t like the amused smirk that was dancing around her mouth as he just continued to stare up at her. She made to move off him.

“Well, if you don’t want to have sex, Draco, you just have to say.”

He gripped her hips and stopped her. “It’s not that. Of course I want to have sex with you, but I didn’t think you’d done this before.”

“I haven’t,” she replied.

“And you’re sure you want to now?”

She growled at him. “Draco, why do you have to question absolutely everything?”

“Because, usually, losing your virginity is a big thing.”

“It’s hardly like I’m picking up some random stranger in a club and deciding to go for it. You’re my boyfriend. I kind of assumed we’d do this at some point.”

“We’ve not been dating for long,” he pointed out.

“No, but I love you and I’ve known you for a long time already.”

He grimaced. “I was hardly nice to you.”

She flicked him on the forehead. “Why are you making this so hard? Most boys would be tearing my knickers off by now. Besides, we’ve spent the last few months getting to know each other pretty well.”

“I just don’t want you to regret doing this.”

“Give me some credit. I’m not some silly little girl making decisions too old for me. I’m nineteen years old.”

“And you really want to do this?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, exasperated.

He looked up into her eyes; she looked determined and the gleam was back. For some reason, this made his mind up. That gleam was usually a sign that whilst she might be doing something reckless it was something she wanted to do. He thought he’d give it one more go.

“Are you sure this isn’t because I mentioned Theo thinking I was shagging a Hufflepuff?”

She scoffed. “It may have given me the idea for tonight, but I’m not so weak minded that I would feel threatened. Anyway, you’d have a tough job finding a Hufflepuff who’d want to sleep with you.”

He huffed, insulted. “What’s that meant to mean?”

“You’re not exactly a great catch in their circles,” she said with a smile.

“They would be lucky to snag a Malfoy,” he sneered.

She laughed at him. “Are we really going to argue about this when we could be doing much more pleasurable things?”

He pouted a little, which made her grin. “You’re adorable when you sulk,” she teased, before lowering her head to kiss him once more.

Draco pulled away briefly. “I do not sulk!” he objected.

“Of course you don’t,” she soothed. “Now shut up and kiss me.”

Chapter Text

Neville ran a distracted hand through his hair. “I’m really not sure how to tell you this, but it’s about Hermione. I saw her with Malfoy tonight and … er … they were kissing.”

It took Harry a couple of seconds to digest this information. His first urge to was to burst out laughing and tell his roommate to pull the other one. But the serious expression on Neville’s round face was telling. He also wouldn’t tease him about something like this.

He sat heavily down into a chair. “What?” he asked faintly.

“I saw Hermione with Malfoy. I think they might be seeing each other.”

“No!” Harry whispered.

Harry put his chin in his hand and stared down at his feet. Something had been up with Hermione for months now. He’d wanted to dismiss it, but had known that her glib explanations weren’t ringing true. Now he knew why. Hermione and Malfoy! It didn’t seem possible. “How? When?” he asked Neville.

Neville looked sympathetically at him. “I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I saw them tonight when I was returning from the library.”

Harry closed his eyes. He really didn’t want to voice the next sentence aloud but he felt compelled to do so. “Tell me exactly what they were doing.”

To his credit, Neville didn’t give him the pitying look he was sure he deserved. “It seemed at first as if they were arguing. Hermione looked as if she was pleading with him about something before she got angry and Malfoy turned away. But whatever it was they were fighting about, they seemed to resolve it. They hugged and then kissed,” he outlined in a matter-of-fact way.

Harry wanted to vomit at the image Neville’s words had burned into his mind. He could barely stomach the thought of Hermione being intimately involved with anyone – but Malfoy?! That was too much to bear. However, it really did explain some of the things that had happened over the last few months that had made him uneasy. Firstly, why had Malfoy been happy to hand that bag of alcohol over to Hermione when he had been all but ready to hex him and Ron over it? Also there was the teasing quality of Malfoy’s voice as he called her ‘Princess’. Then there was the whole incident in Potions last week. Ron had insisted that Malfoy had been harassing Hermione, but she had been quick to dismiss his concerns. Maybe it hadn’t been so much harassment as a tryst that Ron had interrupted.

Neville broke through Harry’s ruminations. “That’s not all though, Harry.”

“Wait, there’s more?”

His roommate nodded. “Back at the beginning of March, I caught Malfoy coming out of Hermione’s room. She swore that it was nothing, that she had found him wandering the corridors and brought him back to her room because he was drunk.”

Harry thought back and groaned. He remembered a morning, back in March, when they’d gone to get Hermione and go to breakfast. There had been blankets on the sofa and Malfoy’s hip flask had been on the coffee table.

“Was this before or after we’d left for breakfast?” he asked.

Neville frowned as he thought about it. “It’s a long time ago, Harry, how am I meant to remember that?”

“Just try.”

The other wizard took a good few minutes to think whilst Harry tried to remain patient.

“I think you’d already gone down. The common room was pretty deserted. I had woken up late, and our dorm room was empty.”

Harry nodded grimly. It confirmed his suspicions: Malfoy had been there when they had. Hermione must have stuffed him in her bedroom. She had seemed a little skittish at the time, and now he knew why.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Neville looked guilty. “I spoke to Hermione about it. She assured me that she wouldn’t get too involved.”

He scoffed. “I can’t believe you just let her reassure you. You should have come to me straight away.”

“Give me a break, mate. She’s an adult and I chose to believe that she wouldn’t want to get that close to Malfoy. Besides, she might be compassionate but she’s not a soft touch.”

Harry made a frustrated sound. “Well, she obviously is a soft touch if she’s let Malfoy sweet talk her into some kind of relationship.”

Before Neville could reply, the portrait hole opened and Ginny stepped through. She was talking intently to Demelza Robbins but caught sight of Harry and Neville and waved goodbye to her fellow Gryffindor Chaser.

“Hey,” she greeted cheerfully. She then seemed to take stock of Harry’s facial expression. “What’s wrong?”

Harry just continued to stare across the common room. He was struggling to take it all in and, although he heard Ginny’s question, he didn’t have the words or the motivation to answer it at the moment.

Neville stepped in before the brief silence got any longer and Ginny got angry for being ignored.

“I saw Hermione with Malfoy tonight,” Neville said.

If either Harry or Neville had been paying any attention, they would have seen the brief flicker of guilt that flashed over Ginny’s face, followed by an anxious look. She smothered them before anyone looked at her. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Neville looked uncertain whether to continue but Harry waved him on. There was no hiding this from Ginny and he would probably need her insight anyway. It was going to be difficult to tell Ron, though. The thought of that stressed him out. Ron was a react-first-think-later type of person, and he had never mastered the art of not reacting to Hermione’s love life. Ugh, there it was again - the nausea in the pit of his stomach, as he thought of Hermione, Malfoy and love life all in the same sentence.

“Er … I saw Hermione kissing Malfoy tonight.”

Ginny gasped. “What? When? How?” she spluttered.

“It was the on Third Floor. I was returning from the library and I spotted them down a corridor.”

“Did you catch anything of what they were saying?” she asked.

Neville flushed. “I’m not a snoop! Besides, I’m sure they would have heard me if I had tried to move any closer.”

Harry hadn’t really been paying much attention to this exchange. He was getting over the shock of Neville’s revelation and was now becoming angry. He never thought that he’d be filled with so much rage towards Hermione, but he was. He was upset that she had hidden this from him and annoyed that she had put herself in this position - with Malfoy of all people. What was she thinking? He was a pure-blooded bigot! A nasty piece of work who had made their lives a misery. How many times had he taunted her cruelly about her looks and her blood? And yet, here she was, kissing the bloke. This wasn’t even taking into consideration that Malfoy was a Death Eater just released from Azkaban.

He suddenly jumped up, startling both Neville and Ginny. “I’m going to confront her,” he stated.

Neville nodded stoically, as if it was something he had already expected. Ginny, however, stood in front of Harry. “Do you think that’s really the best idea right now?”

“I need to know what the hell she’s thinking.”

“Harry, it’s getting really late and I don’t think barging into her bedroom right now is going to garner many answers.”

“I don’t care. I have to know what’s going on,” he said stubbornly.

He went to walk around Ginny, but she grabbed his arm. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. You’re upset, you’re angry and you’re going to end up shouting at her, which is just going to put your friendship in peril.”

“Ginny, take your hand off me and let me go.”

“No,” his fiancée replied. “You’re not going over there now. Wait to speak to her in the morning.”

“I DON’T WANT TO WAIT UNTIL THE MORNING!” he yelled, losing his temper in frustration at being told what to do.

Ginny gave him a look straight from the Molly Weasley Handbook of Annoyed Glares. She cast a Muffliato around them. “You don’t need to wake the whole of Gryffindor Tower up, Harry. And you’ve proved my point exactly,” she stated.

He raked his hand through his hair in annoyance. “What do you mean?”

“You’re going to go in there shouting and screaming at her. What do you think that is going to achieve?”

“It’ll make me feel a lot better about this whole fucking situation,” he growled.

“Precisely. You’ll get brief satisfaction at chewing her out, but you’ll get no answers and drive a wedge between the pair of you. Is that what you want?”

He paced up and down. “No! I want to shake some sense into her.”

Ginny smiled at him. “In order to do that, you’ll have to be a lot closer to her than you will be if you march over there now.”

“Ginny’s right, Harry,” Neville butted in. “Hermione is as stubborn as you. If someone came to you ranting and raving in the middle of the night, what would your reaction be?”

Harry huffed and flopped down onto a sofa. He put his head in his hands. “Okay, I get it. Let my anger cool down and then confront her before I make it all worse.”

He felt the sofa dip and he looked up as Ginny rested her head on his shoulder. “As much as you hate having to wait, love, it would be the smartest thing to do.”

“Besides, you don’t want to run the risk of Hermione hexing you,” Neville piped up. “I still haven’t forgotten the Body-Bind Curse she cast on me in our first year.”

Harry couldn’t help but smile at the reminder of simpler times. Well, simpler in the sense that you ran no risk of Hermione wanting to snog Malfoy. The good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. And Hermione detested Malfoy’s guts.

The frustration remained, though. He was never the most patient of people and preferred action to sitting and thinking things through. Hermione had always been the research-and-plan-person. He was the run-off-and-wing-it person. Sitting here waiting for his temper to cool and for daylight to break wasn’t his cup of tea.

Neville seemed to realise that Harry was settled for the night on the sofa. “Goodnight,” he whispered to Harry and Ginny.

Harry just nodded back, still annoyed with Neville for not coming to him months ago. He could have snuffed out all involvement Hermione had with Malfoy there and then - before her emotions had become engaged.

--------

“Did we do something wrong?” he asked Ginny finally. They had been sitting there in silence for at least forty minutes.

“Hmm?” she responded sleepily.

“Did we do something that drove Hermione into Malfoy’s arms?” he repeated.

This caused Ginny to sit up. “No!” she exclaimed. “I don’t think this is about Hermione feeling isolated and unloved.”

“Are you sure? I mean, we’ve spent a lot of time playing Quidditch this year, which is something Hermione can’t become involved in.”

Ginny thought back to the night that Ron had proposed to Hannah, and what she had stumbled upon the next morning. Her first response was that they hadn’t been neglecting their friend, but then she remembered that night. Hermione hadn’t even been aware what Ron was going to do. “I guess we have a little. I mean, she didn’t even know Ron was proposing to Hannah.”

Harry sighed. “I didn’t even think to tell her. It didn’t cross my mind that she didn’t know.”

“But I spoke to her about it afterwards. I think she was a little hurt, but didn’t hold it against us.”

“But maybe that’s why she’s been keeping secrets.”

Ginny was pretty sure Hermione was keeping secrets because she knew how unpopular her decision to help Malfoy in any way, shape or form would be with her two best friends. After all, Ginny’s own reaction hadn’t exactly been measured.

It was why she had done her utmost to stop Harry from rushing over there. Nothing she had said in the heat of the moment could compare to how hurt Hermione would be at what Harry could possibly throw at her. If a rift developed between the two friends, they would both be devastated. They had a bond forged over years of standing side-by-side and fighting.

Ginny couldn’t say any of this to Harry, though. Not without revealing that she already knew of Hermione’s relationship with Malfoy. She didn’t think that was something he needed to be made aware of tonight. It would just make him angrier and more likely to rush off to confront the Head Girl.

“You can’t help who you like,” Ginny replied simply.

“But it’s Malfoy. Why would Hermione even like him?”

“I don’t know, Harry. You’re going to have to ask her.”

“I think she may have lost her mind.”

“I wouldn’t suggest you say that to her. It’ll just make her angry.”

“I’m not Ron! I do have some tact!” he exclaimed.

Oh Merlin! Ron! “Where is Ron?”

“He’s staying with Hannah.”

“Where?” Ginny asked, momentarily confused.

“The Room of Requirement of course.”

She shook her head; the stress of keeping Harry from storming in on Hermione – and probably Malfoy – was making her slow! Despite the Room of Hidden Things being destroyed by Crabbe’s Fiendfyre, the Room of Requirement had remained intact, continuing to give lovers a place to rendezvous, especially those divided by house. Ron and Hannah had taken to using it over the weekends.

“Thank goodness for that,” she breathed.

“Yeah, I guess we’re lucky he’s not here. You might be able to talk me down from storming into Hermione’s room, but I doubt Ron would listen,” he said, tugging on a strand of her hair.

Ginny sighed in relief at Harry’s small attempt at teasing. It meant he was calming down. She didn’t think for a moment he was coming to terms with Hermione’s relationship with Malfoy, but it might mean that he wouldn’t start shouting at her as soon as saw her.

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

“WHAT THE FUCK!”

Hermione was pulled out of sleep by the yell and opened her eyes to the enraged face of Harry. Having got to sleep so late, it took a while for her brain to function, but reality came crashing in on her as she felt the warm body snuggled up behind her. Oh Merlin, her secret was out and in the worst possible way.

Hermione arm was gripped tightly and she was dragged away from Draco. She squeaked and held on to the duvet with a firm grasp. She really didn’t want to be flashing one of her best friends. Unfortunately, that meant it was whipped off Draco and left him sprawled on the bed in just his underwear. The cold air and loss of Hermione woke him up and he sat up sharply.

He took in the situation remarkably quickly. “Fuck off, Potter,” he snarled.

Harry just gawped at the half-naked blond on the bed. Hermione didn’t know where to look. She didn’t want to meet Harry’s gaze, as she was hugely embarrassed to be caught in such a fashion.

The door flew open, distracting her, and Ginny bounded in. The redhead shrieked as she caught sight of Draco and clapped her hands over her eyes.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Sorry, Hermione, I tried to stop him.”

Harry rounded on his fiancée. “You knew about this?”

“If you mean that Hermione has generally lost her mind and is dating Malfoy, then yes.”

“How could you not tell me? We sat in the common room all night talking about this and you didn’t think to tell me?”

“Because it’s not my place to tell you. It’s Hermione’s business.”

“You think this,” he yelled, gesturing to the semi-naked Malfoy, “isn’t something that should concern me?”

“How was I to know you’d walk in on them in bed?! And if I had told you, you would definitely have come storming over, which wouldn’t help,” Ginny defended.

“I can’t believe you hid this from me!”

Ginny flushed angrily. “Why are you yelling at me? Shouldn’t you be yelling at Hermione?”

Hermione looked up from where she was contemplating the floor. “Thanks, Ginny,” she said dryly.

“Sorry, Hermione. I may have kept this a secret for you, but it doesn’t mean I’m prepared to get shouted at.”

Harry looked at both girls in disappointment. “You’re my fiancée and you’re my best friend… I can’t believe either of you would keep him a secret!”

Hermione cringed as Draco decided that now would be a good moment to speak.

“I hate to break up the domestic thing you have going on, Potter, but I’d appreciate if you would get the fuck out, and take your Weasley with you. Some of us don’t think it’s a privilege to see your face when they first wake up,” he sneered.

He was propped up against the headboard, his arms crossed over his chest, looking completely at ease, despite the fact that he was just wearing underwear.

Harry glared at the Slytherin before he regained some composure. “You might want to get dressed, Hermione. I’ll be waiting in the common room for you.”

He didn’t spare another glance at Draco before he stalked out.

Hermione sank onto the bed with her hand in her hands. “Oh, what am I going to do?”

“You might want to take Saint Potter’s advice and put some clothes on.”

“I can’t believe he found out about us like that.”

“Is it usual for him to go around bursting into girls’ bedrooms?”

She wasn’t in the mood to be distracted. “Please Draco, now is not the time for this.”

Hermione was distraught and she was pleased when he realised this and pulled her into a fierce embrace. “Hermione, as much as I detest Potter and the Weasel, I don’t want to come between you and your friends.”

She sniffled slightly and slapped his shoulder. “After last night, you’re meant to fight for me.”

“I would face a thousand Potters for you, but I don’t want you to be torn apart,” he said melodramatically before his words dawned on him. “Fuck! I’m turning into a sappy Hufflepuff. Are you sure you didn’t Imperio me?”

This had the desired effect; it broke some of Hermione’s tension and she burst into giggles. “I never thought I’d see the day when Draco Malfoy would say he’d fight for me.”

He smiled down at her. “Don’t get used to it. This is a purely ‘Granger’s crazy friends have found out’, once-in-a-lifetime declaration.”

Hermione’s smile turned back into a frown. “What am I going to do?”

“Do you want me to come down there with you?”

“I asked for advice on what to do, not on how to make matters a hundred times worse.”

Draco rolled his eyes at her. “Just remember that I was all supportive and shit and offered to hold your hand.”

“Yeah, great. Thanks for that,” she sniped.

“Don’t get bitchy with me, Granger. Save it for Perfect Potter.”

She groaned. “Why me? And why now?”

“I did try to warn you that Potter was prick, but you insisted on befriending him.”

Hermione looked confused. “Huh? When?”

“I’ve made my feelings clear on The-Boy-Who-Lived since we started this school. It’s not my fault no one bothered to listen to me.”

She glared at him. “You’re not helping,” she scolded.

She got up and moved around the room, gathering her clothes up. She probably should feel self-conscious parading around naked in front of Draco, but right now her mind was preoccupied with real concerns, such as how to reconcile her best friends with her boyfriend.

She groaned as she looked into the mirror. “Great! My hair is a complete mess.”

She caught Draco’s eye in the mirror. “What are you looking so amused at?”

“It’s your hair, Princess. It always looks like it has a nest of Doxy’s living in it.”

She threw her hairbrush at him. “You are the worst boyfriend ever! You’re meant to be reminding me right now why I want to go and fight with my friends over you.”

He languidly got out of bed and padded towards her. He slowly stroked his hands up her arms until she shivered and leant down to kiss her. Hermione reached up on tiptoes to deepen the kiss further, pressing herself up against him. This was probably the best remainder he could give her.

She allowed a couple more minutes of the passionate kiss before she reluctantly pulled away. “I don’t think a repeat of last night is what is needed right now.”

He smirked. “We could give Potter and Weasley some lessons.”

She rolled her eyes at him, but that kiss had stiffened her resolve. Draco might not be a bed of roses, but he was what she wanted. Her friends were going to have deal with that.

Chapter Text

Hermione quietly shut the bedroom door behind her. She was under no illusions that Draco would have his ear pressed up to the wood, listening to every word that was being said. Mind you, with Harry’s temper, he might not even have to go close to the door to hear what they were saying as Harry could shout with the best of them.

She turned and saw her friend sitting on the sofa, staring stonily at her. Ginny was sitting next to him, but – unusually – Harry was not aligned to her. His body language was telling: turned away from the redhead and withdrawn. Hermione took a deep breath. This was going to be miserable.

They stayed quiet for several awkward moments. Finally, Hermione caved. Putting her hands in her pockets, she quietly said, “Hey.”

Harry scowled at her. “That’s all you’ve got to say for yourself?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me for a start why you’ve been lying.”

“I haven’t been lying, per se - just concealing,” she said flippantly. She felt a moment’s regret after the smart remark was out of her mouth. She knew it was weak and would enrage her friend further.

Harry’s eyes flashed with anger. “Concealing? You’ve told outright, bare-faced lies about this whole situation and now you try and make a joke out of it?”

“I didn’t meant it like that. It’s just… complicated,” she finished lamely.

He scoffed. “Right! Complicated! That makes it so much better.”

“What do you want me to say, Harry?”

“I want to know why you couldn’t even tell us about this? Why you’ve lied consistently about Malfoy’s role in your life?”

“You’re acting as if this has been going on for ages.”

“I’ve spoken to Neville. I know that this … this thing has been going on for a while.”

She frowned. Harry hadn’t discovered them by accident?

“How did you find out?” she asked.

“Neville saw you and Malfoy kissing last night. He told me all about it and how you got him to cover for you.”

Shit! she thought. Neville suddenly acting on his threat to step in if she got too deeply involved with Draco was just what she needed. She also didn’t like how Harry was making her feel as if she was little girl caught playing with something forbidden.

She put her hands on her hips. “If you’ve spoken to Neville then you’ll know it’s not like that at all. You’re twisting this and making it seem as if I’ve been seeing Draco for all this time and that’s not true.”

“But you have been helping him.”

She spread her arms out wide in a dramatic admission of guilt. “Yes. I stumbled on Pansy and Zabini back in January, when they were trying to get Draco back to their common room. He was drunk. Pansy then came to me and asked for my help.”

“I knew it!” Harry mumbled to himself. “There was just something fishy about you and Parkinson.”

“It’s not a crime, Harry!”

“It’s Malfoy!”

“So?” she asked.

“What do you mean ‘so’? He made our life in this place miserable. He became a Death Eater, let other Death Eaters into the castle and tried to kill Dumbledore.”

“I am aware of this, Harry. I was there too.”

“Then how can you stand there and act like sleeping with him is normal?”

She blushed; she hated that they had been discovered that morning of all mornings. She was just getting used to the change in their relationship herself and didn’t regret last night, but for Harry to make it sound so sordid was upsetting. It was far from that.

“You don’t understand,” she mumbled.

“THEN EXPLAIN IT TO ME!” he roared.

“I can’t. Not when you are being like this,” she whispered, the tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t want to appear weak or indecisive, but this wasn’t how she imagined telling her best friend about her boyfriend. She hadn’t even planned the words she was going to say, but imagined that she would be able to explain it all whilst Harry and Ron were still in a state of shock. But now this angry Harry confronted her and he was making her relationship with Draco feel tainted and dirty.

“Well, then I guess we have nothing to say until you can,” he said coldly.

“Harry, stop this. Give her opportunity to tell you,” Ginny jumped in.

He turned to his fiancée, waving his hand dismissively in Hermione’s direction. “I’m giving her the chance, but she seems completely unable to say anything.”

“No, you’re being judgemental and harsh. No wonder she can’t say anything to you. She’s not betrayed you, so stop acting like she has,” Ginny said.

“Don’t! Don’t you dare! You lied to me about this. You sat with me all through the night as I pondered what I had done to cause Hermione to do something like this, and you pretended you knew nothing about it. As far as I’m concerned, the pair of you betrayed me. And for what? A no good pure-blood bigot.”

Harry stalked from the room, refusing to look at them. Hermione’s tears escaped her eyes and slid down her cheeks. Ginny looked bewildered as if she wasn’t sure what had just happened.

“I’m so sorry,” Hermione sobbed. “I didn’t mean for him to turn on you, too.”

Ginny made an effort to smile. It was a shaky effort. “This is Harry, you know what he’s like. He gets angry, blusters and then he calms down.”

Neither girl wanted to admit that Harry had never been this angry with either of them in the past. Before, his anger had been directed at events he couldn’t control, such as the death of Sirius, or being kept in the dark.

The door behind Hermione opened and both witches whirled around as Draco, now dressed, came through. “I take it you heard,” Hermione said quietly.

“I think it would have been impossible for me not to.”

He walked over and tipped her face up and wiped her tears with his fingertips, kissing her forehead. The concern on his face was the balm that Hermione’s hurt soul needed. She wrapped her arms around his chest and hugged him fiercely.

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

Harry stomped his way down to the Entrance Hall before his anger cooled enough for him to realise where he was. He was at a loss at what to do and he needed to find Ron. The smell of breakfast permeating from the Great Hall focused his mind. If he was looking for Ron then all he needed to do was follow the smell of food.

He walked in and there was Ron, happily sitting at the Gryffindor table, stuffing his face. At least Ron hadn’t gone and changed on him. He wasn’t so pleased to see that his friend was sitting with Neville, Seamus and Dean. He needed to talk to him alone.

He slipped into the seat beside Ron, perfecting a calm façade. He proceeded to eat his way steadily through a bowl of cereal, some toast and honey and drink a cup of coffee. He waited until Seamus and Dean left but didn’t mind Neville’s presence, as he already knew about Hermione and Malfoy.

“Okay, mate, spill it,” Ron said as soon as the other two Gryffindors were out of earshot.

Neville just looked at him. “I take it, it didn’t go so well,” he said.

Harry shook his head. “It was pretty terrible. I think she’s lost her mind.”

“Okay, is anyone going to tell me what the bloody hell is going on?” Ron asked.

“Hermione’s sleeping with Malfoy,” Harry said with no attempt to soften the blow.

“WHAT?” Ron yelled, startling the Great Hall into silence.

Dozens of pairs of eyes turned to face them as if expecting a drama of some kind. The way Ron was foaming at the mouth, it was highly likely that their Sunday morning breakfast would prove entertaining.

Harry and Neville both shushed Ron and let the conversations around them start up again before Neville said, “They were only kissing, Harry.”

“That was yesterday. I walked in on Malfoy in her bed this morning.”

Neville frowned whilst Ron just looked confused. “What the fuck? Is anyone going to explain to this to me?” he asked.

Harry succinctly outlined the situation to Ron, who, despite going as red as the Hogwarts’ Express, managed to keep to his temper in check. The fact that the majority of the students present in the Great Hall were keeping the three Gryffindors under observation kept him in control somewhat.

“I can’t believe she lied so brazenly to me the other day in Potions. He had his hands all over her, and she just brushed if off as an attempt to annoy me. Now I know it’s because she wanted those slimy hands touching her. Ugh … he was so smug about it all. The prick! I think I’m going to be sick,” he ranted.

“At least you didn’t have to see them this morning. What the hell is she thinking?”

“I don’t think she is,” Ron growled.

“Maybe she sees something in him the rest of us are missing,” Neville said fairly.

“It’s Malfoy! Don’t tell me he’s hiding a caring, sensitive side behind that gitty façade,” Ron mocked.

“But Hermione isn’t stupid,” Neville insisted.

“I don’t think she’s exactly thinking with her head,” Harry said dryly. “At least, not after what I saw this morning.”

Ron shuddered in disgust before tensing up. His fists clenched and Harry eyed them in concern. “What?” he asked.

“The bastard just strolled in here as if nothing happened,” Ron replied, snarling.

Harry’s head flashed to the door, where Malfoy stood, supremely indifferent to the death stares he was receiving from Ron. Harry noticed that he’d changed his clothes, which for some reason enraged him even more. He shouldn’t be calm enough to do something that mundane. He didn’t even bother to look in their direction before he sauntered over to the Slytherin table. Harry put a hand on Ron’s shoulder as he rose, looking as if he was going to punch the blond git’s lights out.

“Sit down! Not here!” he ordered. “We don’t need the whole of Hogwarts knowing about Hermione’s mistake.”

“You’re just going to allow him to sit there normally?” Ron asked, outraged.

“For now,” Harry growled.

Neville just sat there looking indecisive, almost as if he was questioning whether he had done the right thing in telling Harry before Hermione had the chance to do so.

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

Draco left Hermione and the Weaselette in a state of shock. He organised for Kreacher to bring some tea and breakfast up to them, knowing that the pair would probably forget to eat otherwise. He wanted to find Potter and smack him one for causing his witch so much pain, but he knew that would just cause Hermione more grief. Instead, he went to the Slytherin dungeons. He could do with a shower and a change of clothing. He also needed to speak to Pansy.

Unfortunately for Draco, the first person he ran into was Theo, who’d spent the last few days badgering him about who his mystery girlfriend was.

“So, you’re still alive?” Theo asked sarcastically.

“For now,” Draco muttered, thinking about how angry Potter had been.

“Who’s your girl, then?”

“None of your business.”

“Just tell me it’s not an underage Hufflepuff you’ve scared into shagging you.”

Draco didn’t even bother dignifying that with an answer. He just flashed Theo an annoyed glare before deciding that, as Blaise wasn’t around, he and Pansy were probably eating breakfast.

He was pleased to see that he was correct, as he paused for a second at the entrance to the Great Hall. The seat opposite the pair of them was open and he slid into it gratefully.

“Hello,” he said.

Pansy looked up from the toast she was buttering to beam at Draco. “There you are!” she exclaimed.

“I’ve not been kicked out yet,” he replied sarcastically.

She ignored him. “How was the memorial?” she asked, concerned.

“Shit. But what did you expect? For me to be welcomed with open arms?”

“Andromeda must have appreciated it.”

“She did, as did Mother.”

Pansy was about to ask more questions, when Blaise interrupted. “What have you done to cause Potter and Weasley to look as if they want to Avada Kedavra you on the spot?” he asked.

Draco didn’t bother turning around to see what Blaise meant. After listening to Potter chew Granger out this morning, he wasn’t too opposed to throwing a dark curse or two at the Boy-Who-Lived. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” he said.

“They know!” Pansy gasped.

The good thing about Pansy was that you didn’t need to spell things out to her. Her infernally nosy personality meant that she picked things up without having to be told.

“Potter walked in on us this morning.”

She stared at him in shock for a good few moments before blinking several times. “Is Hermione okay?”

“He was a wanker to her. She’s upstairs crying her eyes out with Ginny Weasley in attendance.”

“Can I do anything?” she asked.

“Give her some moral support. She’s scared that she’s losing her friends.”

Pansy nodded. “I can do that. Where’s her common room?”

Draco gave her directions and the password just in case Hermione didn’t open when Pansy knocked. The Slytherin witch stood and, with a brief glare at the Gryffindor table, left the Great Hall.

Blaise raised an eyebrow at Draco. “You know, I didn’t believe Pansy when she told me.”

“Told you what?” Draco asked impatiently.

“That Granger would be good for you.”

“Your point is?”

“That - as usual - Pans was right. You’re not being a selfish prick about this.”

“I’d have to be a nasty piece of work if I didn’t give a shit that Granger is fighting with the Dickhead Duo over me.”

Blaise smirked. “But that’s precisely what you were.”

Draco was about to argue, but realised that there was no point. Blaise was right. Even a few months ago, he wouldn’t have given a damn. Look at the drama he’d caused for Granger and Blaise over the broom cupboard incident. However, he didn’t like the smug look on the other Slytherin’s face, so he just shrugged his shoulders and stared into his glass of pumpkin juice.

“So, you’re not going to go over there and smash Potter’s face in?” Blaise probed.

“Are they still there?”

“Yep, and staring daggers at you.”

“Granger wouldn’t like it. She’s always been one to fight her own battles. I respect that.”

“She’d probably hurt them more than you could, too.”

Draco wanted to take offence at that, but there was no point. Granger was a damn sight more powerful than he was. In fact, she was more powerful than anyone else in the school, including the professors.

Instead, he smirked at the thought of what damage she could do to Potter. “Oh, I really hope Scarhead pisses her off enough for her to hex him.”

The two Slytherin wizards grinned evilly at the prospect.

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

Pansy looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings of Gryffindor Tower. It was weird to think that she’d spent eight years at Hogwarts and this was the first time she was going into the lair of a rival house. Maybe, if inter-house visiting was encouraged, there wouldn’t be so much hostility – well, between Slytherin House and the rest of the school, anyway.

She knocked at the portrait Draco said housed the entrance to Hermione’s room. She waited anxiously for some minutes as nobody came to answer.

“Who are you?” the snotty-nosed portrait asked.

“A friend of Hermione’s,” Pansy replied.

The portrait gave her a narrowed-eyed stare. “I haven’t seen you before.”

Pansy rolled her eyes and pointed to her Slytherin badge. “I’m not a Gryffindor.”

“Hmm … I guess you are friends with that other one. The boy who’s always visiting at ungodly hours. Fine goings on for Head Girl.”

She was spared any further conversation with the annoying portrait by it swinging open. Pansy stared into the brown eyes of Ginny Weasley.

“What do you want?” The Gryffindor asked.

“Is Hermione there?”

“Yes,” Weasley said unhelpfully.

“Draco told me what’s happened. I’d like to come in,” Pansy said, remaining calm. It wouldn’t do Hermione any good if her two friends, who were meant to be supporting her, started to fight.

“Hermione!” Weasley yelled. “Is Parkinson allowed in?”

There was some shuffling and Hermione came into view. She looked awful with her red, puffy eyes and hair that looked as if it hadn’t been brushed – ever.

“Pansy?” she croaked.

Pansy smiled at her. “Hey. How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” came the reply. “Come in.”

Weasley moved aside so she could enter and shut the door behind her. Pansy engulfed Hermione in a massive hug. “Are you okay?”

The Gryffindor clung to her. “Not really,” came the muffled response.

“Here, come and sit down,” Pansy said, steering Hermione back to the sofa.

Pansy grimaced slightly at the mountain of tissues before sweeping them away with a vanishing spell, and sitting down. Hermione didn’t follow her; she remained standing in the middle of the room looking lost. “You Gryffindors really do go for big emotions.”

Hermione chuckled slightly before it cracked. “I’m sorry,” she replied. “I’m bit of a mess at the moment.”

“I think that’s why Draco sent me up. You know what’s he like when it comes to crying women - he’s clueless.”

Instead of laughing along with her, Hermione looked down at the floor. “I’m worried he’s going to break up with me,” she whispered.

“Why would you think that?”

“Because he tried last night. He didn’t want me to fight with my friends over him and is bound to break up with me now that it’s happening.”

Pansy stood back up, walked to Hermione and grasped her hands. “You don’t have to worry; he’s too selfish to do that. Besides, he’s head over heels for you.”

“But what if he decides I’m not worth all this drama? It’s not exactly what he needs in his life right now.”

Pansy exchanged looks with Weasley, before pulling Hermione down on the sofa next to her. “Believe me, Hermione, for Draco, you are worth much more. You are the reason he’s no longer a drunken mess. He wouldn’t give you up for anyone.”

Pansy spent the next hour soothing the Head Girl’s fears. Finally, Hermione fell asleep, her head cushioned on Pansy’s lap. “Does she really think Draco will walk out?” Pansy asked the redhead, who hadn’t contributed anything since she had arrived.

“Yes,” Weasley answered. “Hermione doesn’t have much self-confidence when it comes to guys.”

“Do you think he will?”

Weasley shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t really say as I don’t know him well enough. But he’s never come across as the most courageous of wizards before.”

Pansy took a moment to dampen down her temper, which always rose when people were disparaging towards Draco. It wouldn’t do any good to get into a shouting match with the Gryffindor. Weasley couldn’t be expected to know that the blond was fiercely loyal to those he loved. And he undoubtedly loved Hermione.

“He won’t,” she replied with absolute certainty.

Weasley coolly looked back at her. “He better not. It would destroy Hermione. She’s put her best friends on the line for him, and if he shoves that back in her face, he’ll have me to deal with.”

“He won’t,” Pansy reiterated emphatically.

Weasley just nodded. The two girls then fell silent, lost in their own thoughts about how to help the girl who was uniting them.

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

Ginny didn’t return to the Gryffindor common room until after dinner. Kreacher and Winky had been supplying food to the three girls all afternoon, so she didn’t have to go to the Great Hall to eat, Hermione had woken up after a few hours of sleep, no longer crying, but still emotionally fragile and Parkinson had left just before Ginny had. Ginny had offered to stay but Hermione had been adamant that she try and find Harry to patch up her own relationship. Nothing would have made Ginny leave if she hadn’t been so sure that Draco would be turning up shortly.

She scanned the common room looking for Harry, but could only see Ron in furious discussion with Neville. She didn’t need to be a lip-reader to work out what they were talking about. But Harry wasn’t with them and her heart sank. Was he avoiding her? She had been so focused on Hermione and her problems that she hadn’t even thought about what she would do if Harry felt so betrayed that he broke up with her.

A tap on her shoulder sent her whirling around. She came face-to-face with a serious looking Harry. “Come up to my dorm room. The rest of the boys won’t be going up for a while.”

She just nodded. They certainly needed to talk. Ginny couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this nervous and followed Harry upstairs with her heart pounding. She wasn’t sure what she would do if he told her they were over. He paused at the door to usher her in and shut it behind her, locking and silencing the room. That didn’t fill Ginny with confidence.

She hesitantly perched on the edge of Ron’s bed as Harry continued to stand by the door.

“Why?” he finally asked.

She didn’t bother playing dumb. That wouldn’t help her at all. “It wasn’t up to me to tell you.”

“You’re my fiancée,” he stated.

“And Hermione’s my friend.”

“You still should have come to me.”

“What would have happened if I had?”

“I would have put a stop it. I wouldn’t have allowed this ridiculous relationship to start.”

“You think I didn’t try all of that? You think I found out and automatically supported it?”

“You support it now?”

Ginny thought about it for a moment. She had gone from the shock of first walking in on Hermione and Malfoy asleep on the sofa all those weeks ago, to anger when Hermione finally admitted all that had happened between her and Slytherin, to resigned acceptance that the brunette was in too deep to listen to them.

“Yes, I think I do.”

This seemed to motivate Harry to move once more. He paced across the room and back again. “Are you insane? It’s Malfoy.”

“Look, I’ve been through all the reactions you’re having now. I had a stand-up screaming row with Hermione over it and it achieved nothing. She loves him, Harry, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“She’s not in love with him, she’s in lust with him,” he dismissed.

“If you really think that then you don’t know Hermione at all.”

Harry raked a hand through his hair. “She can’t love him,” he said quietly, as if he was trying to convince himself.

“She wouldn’t put herself - and us - through this if she didn’t.”

“So, what? You think I should just accept it and pretend that the past eight years never happened?”

Ginny shrugged. “I don’t see what else you can do. She’s not going to dump him because you tell her to. But it doesn’t mean you have to be his friend.”

Harry slumped down on his bed, looked at the floor and hunched his shoulders. “I don’t think I can handle this.”

Ginny looked sympathetically at him. “You don’t have much of a choice.”

“What if I can’t?” Harry whispered.

She didn’t dare answer that question. Harry would lose Hermione if he couldn’t come to terms with her choices. So she sat there, letting him digest what she had said to him. They still hadn’t spoken about their own problems. At least he didn’t seem so angry with her any more.

He finally stopped thinking and sat down next to her on Ron’s bed. He picked up her left hand and ran his fingers over her engagement ring. “I can’t believe you lied to me.”

“It’s not something I was keen about, either. But look at it from my point of view; it would have been a massive breach of Hermione’s trust if I had come to you.”

“You still should have.”

“No, I shouldn’t. I love you but that doesn’t mean I ignore what Hermione expects from our friendship. I’ve told her personal things in the past and she’s never run to tell you or Ron.”

“She’s not my fiancée.”

“No, but she’s practically your sister. She’s been with you at times when you wouldn’t let me near you.”

“Only because I was trying to protect you.”

“And I appreciate that. I’m not upset with you, but you didn’t feel the need to protect Hermione and she got to stand next to you when I wished with all my heart to do so.”

He ran his hand through his hair. “It wasn’t like that. I just couldn’t cope if something happened to you.”

Ginny smiled at him. “I know, which is why I wasn’t angry with you. But you could take that risk with Hermione and Ron.”

“They didn’t give me much choice.”

“You could’ve left without them but you needed them near you, and that’s fine. We both know you wouldn’t have completed the task without them. Don’t you think that friendship means more than your hatred of Malfoy?”

He looked conflicted and she decided to press home her advantage. “You took a risk with your friendship with Ron for me. You knew he hated me dating but you didn’t think of that when you kissed me. All you thought about were your feelings for me. Don’t you think it could be the same for Hermione?”

“It’s Malfoy,” he insisted stubbornly.

She sighed. She knew that he knew she was right deep down, but he was never going to admit it. The anger over Hermione’s lies burnt too brightly. She decided to leave it there. He would eventually calm down and think about what she was saying. All she could do was to continue whispering things in his ear that made him think. She also decided she needed to sort out their relationship.

“Are you still angry with me?”

He looked at her. “I’m upset you didn’t tell me when you first found out, but I can’t stay angry at you for long.”

She smiled and leant in for a kiss. “I’m sorry I lied, particularly last night.”

Pain flashed through his eyes. “I’m not sure I’ll understand why, but I get that you feel loyal to Hermione. I’d prefer it if you didn’t lie anymore, though.”

She grimaced. “Believe me, I’d like that, too. I don’t like keeping things from you.”

He pulled her tight and buried his face in her hair, breathing in deeply. They stayed like that until Ron came to find them.

Chapter Text

Ron glared across the Great Hall at Malfoy. It was Monday morning and he was having breakfast and the Slytherin was just sitting there as if nothing had happened, which was infuriating. Especially as Hermione hadn’t come out from her room all day yesterday, and the password had been changed when he’d tried to barge his way in.

“When are we doing something about that prick?” he asked Harry.

Harry looked indecisive. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I for one am not going to sit here and pretend it isn’t happening. I want to give that snarky bastard a piece of my mind and let him know that Hermione is off-limits to the likes of him.”

Ron then watched as Malfoy got up and swung his bag over his shoulder. The blond said goodbye to Parkinson and Zabini and made his way out of the Hall.

“Look, this is our opportunity, let’s go.”

He stood and checked that Harry was following and felt the adrenalin pump through him. So far, he’d felt helpless at the whole situation, but confronting Malfoy would make him feel a damn sight better.

He sped through the Hall and saw Malfoy disappearing down to the dungeons for their first class of the day, Potions.

“Malfoy!” he shouted.

He saw the blond tense his shoulders, recognising Ron’s voice before he’d even turned around.

“Weasley,” Malfoy said, spinning around to face him.

Ron stalked forward aggressively. “Stay the fuck away from Hermione,” he snarled, his wand brandished in the Slytherin’s face.

“Or what? You’ll hex me?”

“Yes.”

“I hate to break it to you, Weasel, but you’ve never frightened me.”

Harry stepped up so the two Gryffindors had the Slytherin trapped against the wall.

“I think we could do some damage,” Harry said.

“You really are the epitome of bravery, aren’t you, Potter?”

“Better than a snivelling coward like you.”

Ron felt a hand on his shoulder shoving him away. He turned around, angry to see Zabini and Parkinson standing behind him.

“Potter, Weasley, grow up,” Zabini drawled.

Parkinson gave the pair of them a disdainful look before sniffing, “I’m sure Hermione would be thrilled to know how you are both behaving.”

“Stay out of this. It’s none of your business,” Harry snapped.

“She’s my friend, too, and you’re being idiots,” the dark-haired girl said.

“Your friend when it suits you,” Ron growled.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Parkinson asked.

“You know exactly what I’m getting at. She’s good enough for you to befriend now that she’s a war hero and you’re nothing but a bunch of pathetic Voldemort supporters.”

Parkinson looked him up and down. “If you think Hermione’s that stupid then maybe you deserve to lose her friendship. And believe me…continue like this, and you will.”

She darted between the two Gryffindor wizards, grabbed Draco’s hand and dragged him towards her and Zabini. “Leave Hermione and Draco alone. If they want to be together they certainly don’t need your permission.”

Ron narrowed his eyes as he watched the three Slytherins head off down the corridor. “I really hate that prick.”

Harry nodded his head. “I completely agree. I’m sure Hermione will see through him soon.”

“She better!”

>center>-------

 

Draco wasn’t an empathic person. He really didn’t care if others around him were upset. In fact, he would quite often look to exploit those emotions, viewing them as a weakness. He only cared if his mother or Pansy were troubled, and maybe his father, depending on his mood. But now he could definitely add Granger to that list.

As he sat in Potions and took in his girlfriend’s heartbroken expression, he couldn’t help but feel her pain. She was so isolated. It was the first day back to class since her imbecilic friends had found out about their relationship and whilst she was sitting at the same table as Potter and Weasley, it was as if an invisible barrier was dividing it. The two Gryffindor wizards were ignoring her completely and she looked miserable. Draco sighed; he felt powerless to help her.

“Aren’t you going to do something about that?” Blaise asked.

Draco turned to face his friend, who was gesturing across the room to Granger.

“What can I do?”

“Go public with your relationship!”

A flash of irritation crossed his face. “If it was up to me, I’d go marching over right now, but Granger is the one who wants to keep us a secret.”

“Oh!” Blaise remarked. “So it’s not you?”

He rolled his eyes. “What reputation have I got left to care about?”

The dark Slytherin smirked. “True!”

“You don’t need to look so fucking smug about it.”

“It has its amusing points.”

Draco just muttered under his breath. Despite getting on better with Blaise since quitting his short - but ruinous - alcoholic career, Pansy’s boyfriend still managed to annoy him several times a day. It was almost a point of pride for Blaise and it had always been that way.

He didn’t bother responding. Instead, he turned his attention back to Granger. She looked so unhappy that it was beginning to eat away at him. He stood up. “Fuck it,” he said, before stalking over to her desk.

“About time,” he heard Blaise mumble as he walked away.

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

Hermione couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so miserable. No, scrap that, she could. It was in her third year, the last time Ron and Harry had decided to stop talking to her, and, like then, not having them constantly chattering in her ear was like losing a limb. The pointed silence and refusal to look at her was too much and she was struggling to even concentrate on what Slughorn was explaining. It was a good job they weren’t brewing today, as she would most likely have failed for the first time ever.

It was the shocked silence that gained her attention. Even Slughorn had stuttered to a halt. She looked up from her notes at the Professor, who was gawping at something just over her shoulder. She turned around to see Draco standing just behind her.

“Granger,” he greeted.

“Draco!” she hissed. “What are you doing?”

“Moving you,” he said, bending to get her bag and gathering her books in one hand.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Malfoy?” Ron asked aggressively.

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” the blond drawled.

“Give Hermione back her stuff,” Ron snarled.

“Why? So she can continue to sit here while you ignore her? I think she’ll find it a lot more pleasant at my table,” Draco said, holding his hand out for her to take.

Hermione looked confusedly at it. If she took Draco up on his offer then this would be a very public declaration of their relationship and one she wasn’t sure she was ready to take. She turned back to Harry and Ron, but, as had been the case all lesson, they were refusing to look at her. All it would have taken for her to remain sitting next to them would be for one of her friends to look at her and ask her not to do this. But the stubborn pair wouldn’t do that.

She shifted her gaze back to Draco. He might have been projecting a calm, unconcerned façade, but she could see what it was costing him. If he hadn’t already wormed his way into her heart then this would have been the moment it happened.

She placed her hand in his and felt reassured as he squeezed it gently. She stumbled to her feet, her nerves making her uncoordinated. He tightened his grip on her hand and led her over to the table he shared with Zabini, who’d already moved over, leaving the space next to Draco empty for her. She slid into the seat and stared a little blankly at the desk, before her books and notes were placed in front of her. She looked up and met her boyfriend’s grey gaze. She read the worried question in his eyes and nodded infinitesimally. She then pulled herself together, stacked her books in the way she liked and spread her parchment out, her quill gripped in her hand, ready to start taking notes again. She was sandwiched between the two Slytherins and - for some reason - that was hugely comforting. She felt supported once more; the way Harry and Ron had always made her feel in the past.

The classroom was still deathly silent. Slughorn continued to stare, slack-jawed at her and Draco. She didn’t dare gaze around to see the expression on her classmates’ faces and she refused to look back at her old table. That left her with either Zabini or her parchment. She wasn’t going to bow her head as if she was doing something wrong.

“Zabini,” she said in acknowledgement of his presence.

“Granger,” he replied, a small smirk dancing around his lips. “Nice of you to join us.”

She smiled at that. She caught the small hint of approval in his tone. At least some people were prepared to accept her and Draco.

Slughorn seemed to regain his bearings. “Yes … well … er … if we’re all comfortable, I’ll continue.”

And the class started up again almost as if nothing had happened. Hermione appeared assured and calm to the many eyes that strayed her way. However, beneath the desk, she continued to clutch Draco’s hand as if it was a lifeline.

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

That set the tone for the rest of the day. It was almost as if rumours had their own legs and had been able to run out of the Potions classroom before the class had even ended. Hermione had walked out, still hand-in-hand with Draco and into the maelstrom that was the Hogwarts rumour mill.

Unfortunately, for the gossips - and for Hermione - Potions was the only lesson that she shared with Draco that day. He walked her to her next lesson, Transfiguration, while the other students in the corridors continued to gawp at them. He stopped just before the door to the classroom, where the Gryffindors were lined up waiting for McGonagall.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

She smiled. “I think I’ll survive.”

He ran a hand through his hair anxiously. “And you’re fine with us being out in the open? I just couldn’t watch you be so miserable in Potions.”

She cupped his jaw with her free hand. “It was a bit of a shock, but I’m glad you came over. I’m not ashamed of you, Draco.”

He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss on her lips.

“As affecting as that is, Mr. Malfoy, I’m sure you have a lesson to go to,” McGonagall said acerbically behind them.

Hermione’s face flamed bright red and she caught McGonagall’s eye as she stepped around the pair.

“Miss Granger, you might want to get a move on. If you’re not right behind me through that door then I’ll dock you points for being late.”

“See you later,” she said hurriedly to Draco. She turned to go but he refused to release her hand and dragged her back. “I’ll wait for you in the library,” he whispered in her ear before kissing her quickly once more.

He whirled her round to face the classroom and pushed her slightly forward. She turned to glare at him, frowning as she saw his smug face. However, it was the action she needed to galvanise her as she took in the dirty looks she was receiving from quite a few of her Gryffindor classmates. She stiffened her spine and rushed into the classroom before McGonagall could make good on her promise.

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

Draco arrived ten minutes late for Charms. “Thank you for joining us, Mr. Malfoy,” Professor Flitwick said, irritated. “That’ll be five points from Slytherin for your tardiness.”

He shrugged and sat down in the only space left, in between Pansy and Blaise. He rolled his eyes at Blaise, knowing what this seating arrangement represented: Pansy wanted all the gossip on what had happened in Potions. He was amused as she fidgeted all the way through Flitwick’s brief lecture. She obviously couldn’t wait until she could question him.

The Charms Professor finished and Pansy heaved a big sigh. “Finally,” she muttered, before turning around to face Draco. “Did you really go and claim Hermione in front of the whole Potions class?”

“She’s not a chocolate frog card, Pans.”

She shook her head at him in annoyance. “You know what I mean!”

“If you mean did I go and rescue her from being ignored and insulted by Scarhead and Weasel-bee, then yes.”

“That’s so romantic,” she gushed.

Draco turned to Blaise in disgust. “I told you to stop her Witch Weekly subscription. It turns her into a moron.”

“I swear she gets it sent to her secretly,” Blaise defended.

Pansy cuffed both of them on the head. “Stop being cheeky. I can’t help gushing over that. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“From the surprise on Granger’s face, I don’t think she did either,” Blaise remarked.

“I take it you walked her to class afterwards?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said in a long-suffering voice.

“Were the rest of the Gryffindors okay?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really care enough to notice what they were doing.”

“I hope they won’t give her a hard time,” Pansy said worriedly.

Draco didn’t respond. He really didn’t want to be worrying about more things he couldn’t change.

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

Hermione hurried to her seat with her head down, trying to avoid the many pairs of eyes that were currently sending her accusatory glares. She sat down in her usual seat, happy that she didn’t have anyone in the seat next to her.

Ron turned around from the desk in the front. “What the hell was that all about?” he hissed at her.

“Oh! So, you’re talking to me again?”

“Just answer the bloody question.”

Her temper began to rise. She was not a child who could be ordered around. “You know what, Ron? I don’t think I will,” she said snootily, sticking her nose in the air.

“Annoying, stubborn witch,” she heard him mutter but she ignored him and before he could demand any answers, McGonagall called the class to order.

Hermione always enjoyed the way that McGonagall ran her class. She had been pleased that the Professor had been unable to fill the Transfiguration post this year and was taking on the double duties of being Headmistress and a teaching professor. Hermione wanted the best for her final year at Hogwarts, and her former Head of House was undoubtedly that. It also meant that the silence McGonagall insisted on in her classes was enforced, which was a balm for the serious student. Now, Hermione was doubly grateful for the ‘no talking unless necessary’ rule. It meant she wasn’t bugged by the whispers she was sure would follow her around otherwise. Today, the Headmistress had them working extra hard and in silence. She was taking the revision classes for their N.E.W.T.s seriously.

“Right class, that’s it for today. Handing in your homework this late in the year is non-negotiable so I won’t be accepting any excuses, even those of the Quidditch variety,” McGonagall said and Harry and Ron groaned. “Please pack up and make your way to your next class. Miss Granger, if you wouldn’t mind staying behind for a moment. I’d like a word.”

Hermione’s heart pounded. She was under no illusions about what McGonagall wanted to speak to her about and wasn’t quite sure what tact the Headmistress would use. She cleared her books away and sat primly at the desk waiting for the classroom to clear. As usual, there were those who hung around, curious to see if they would manage to overhear anything. Both Harry and Ron looked at her from the door and she thought she could see concern in their gazes, but couldn’t be sure.

Once everyone had left, McGonagall walked around her desk and towards her. She pulled the seat out next to her and sat down. “I don’t want to pry, Hermione, but I do want to check that everything is fine. The tension between you and the rest of the Gryffindors didn’t escape my notice and I can imagine the scene I witnessed outside had a lot to do with it.”

Hermione blushed and looked down at her interlocked hands.

“I take it you and Mr. Malfoy are dating?”

She nodded. “Yes, we’ve been seeing each other. We went public today. I think people are in a state of shock.”

“That might be an understatement. It’s not my place to comment on your relationship or speak to you about who you should be consorting with. However, I will say that friends are important and sometimes that is overlooked at the beginning of a relationship.”

Hermione looked to the blackboard where Professor McGonagall had charmed a piece of chalk to write out the instructions for her third-year class. She really couldn’t face actually looking at her professor.

“I don’t plan on losing any friends over this.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw McGonagall nod curtly. “How are Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley taking the news?”

She grimaced. “As well as you’d expect. They aren’t happy.”

“Give them time. They are a stubborn pair, but they love you.”

Hermione looked down at the desk, not wanting McGonagall to see the tears in her eyes. “I hope so,” she said quietly.

The Professor patted Hermione’s folded hands. “Don’t think the turnaround in Mr. Malfoy’s behaviour has gone unnoticed. I wrote his recommendation letter for St. Mungo’s yesterday and will be sending it this evening.”

Hermione couldn’t help but beam at McGonagall. “Can I tell him?”

“Please do. Now, I suppose I better release you to your next lesson.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

“Anytime,” McGonagall responded.

Hermione rose from the table and walked to the door.

“Be careful, Hermione. This path you have chosen is not easy and you won’t have many supporters. I suggest you try and get Harry and Ron to stand by you sooner rather than later.”

“That might be easier said than done.”

“I have confidence in you,” was the Headmistress’ only reply.

-----------

Theo fell into step with Draco as he made his way out of the Charms classroom. He looked the blond up and down and nodded his head. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“What are you going on about now?” Draco asked, irritated.

“Granger. Now that was a surprise.”

“Only because you were so sure it was a Hufflepuff.”

Theo huffed. “I was certain it was Alathea Winslow.”

He snorted at the mention of the sixth-year Hufflepuff. “I’m not desperate!”

“No, apparently not. Although, considering it’s Granger, I haven’t ruled the use of Imperio out.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Surprisingly enough, I haven’t sunk that low.”

“But it does explain all those nights away. She has her own quarters this year, doesn’t she?”

He just nodded, not keen on encouraging Theo, who was from the ‘speak-first-think-later’ school of thought.

“So, what’s she like in bed?” Theo asked conspiratorially.

Draco whipped his head round and glared, taking his wand out of his pocket and pointing it at his roommate. “Continue down that line of conversation and I’ll make sure you take your N.E.W.T. exams in the Infirmary.”

Theo raised his hands in surrender. “Calm down, mate! I was only asking. I didn’t realise you had it bad for her. For all I knew, you were using her for sex and her reputation. I mean, she is a Mudblood.”

The blond pushed Theo up against the wall, his left arm on his throat and his wand pointed into the wizard’s cheek. “Watch what you say, Nott!”

Pansy barged through the group of Slytherins that had gathered around the arguing pair. “Draco! Put him down before you get yourself into trouble.”

He continued to glare at Theo, as if daring him to open his mouth. When the other boy kept quiet, obviously realising that it would be unwise to rile the blond up any further, Draco dropped his wand and his arm, allowing Theo to move away from the wall.

Pansy grabbed his arm and moved him away. “What the hell are you playing at?” she scolded.

Draco scowled at the staring Slytherins before turning to Pansy. “He stepped out of line.”

“So you push him up against the wall? Do you want to sit your N.E.W.T.s or find yourself back in Azkaban?”

“He called Granger a Mudblood.”

Pansy gasped and then turned to glare at Theo, who was being commandeered to walk next to Blaise and not the many other Slytherins eager to hear his point of view.

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

“What the fuck did you say now?” Blaise asked.

“I only made a joking remark about his sleeping arrangements. How was I to know he was serious about the girl?” Theo complained.

Blaise groaned. “You never learn, do you?”

“Come on! Have you ever heard anything as ridiculous as Draco and Granger?”

Blaise acknowledged the truth of that statement but cautioned his friend. “Just watch what you say about her around Draco.”

“I know that now!” Theo said before laughing. “Granger! I still can’t get my head around it.”

Blaise chuckled. “Only Pansy saw that one coming.”

-----------

By the time lunchtime drew round at the end of her next lesson, Hermione was exhausted. She was rapidly developing a headache and she couldn’t wait to meet Draco in the library. She was on her way down to the third floor when an arm blocked her passage and she looked into the upset face of Dean Thomas.

“Have you lost your mind?” he asked.

She rubbed her temples. “Dean, I’m really not in the mood for this.”

“Have you forgotten everything? All the names he’s called you over the years?”

“No,” she answered briefly.

“Then how can you date him?”

“Because he’s changed.”

Dean scoffed. “Don’t be an idiot, Hermione. You apparently can’t see the wood for the trees. He’s using you.”

“Of course he is. Is there anything else you want to add?” she asked sarcastically.

He pursed his lips in irritation at her dismissal. “Mark my words, as soon as he doesn’t need you, he’ll drop you.”

“Then I guess you’ll get to tell me that you told me so. In the meantime, I would prefer it if you minded your own business,” she sniped before walking around him.

“He’s not worth it.”

She whirled back and stabbed her finger into his chest. “You don’t get to tell me what he is or isn’t. You don’t know him at all, so back off, Dean. This is none of your concern.”

Hermione moved off down the corridor, her anger propelling her along. Why couldn’t people just give her the benefit of the doubt? She wasn’t stupid and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought long and hard about this. She finally reached the library and pushed the doors open. She spotted Draco immediately; he was leaning against a stack of books, staring towards the door. She rushed over and threw herself into his arms.

“What’s happened?” he asked, alarmed at her tearful expression.

“I’m sick and tired of everyone telling me what I should or should not do,” she muffled into his shirt.

“I take it the last lesson was bad.”

She nodded. “Dean just accosted me in the hallway to chew me out for dating you.”

“Thomas did what?! I’ll fucking kill him.”

“Shush, please. Don’t, Draco. I don’t think I can cope with any more arguments today.”

He looked down at her and his eyes softened when he saw the stress on her face. “Come on, let’s get you some lunch,” he said, tugging her out of the library by her hand.

“I don’t think I can face it. I’ll just grab something from the kitchens.”

“Hiding isn’t going to do you any good.”

“I know that,” Hermione snapped, irritated. “But the Great Hall is going to be awful.”

“We’ll face it together.”

“Do not suggest that I sit at the Slytherin table. I can’t imagine anything worse.”

He smirked a little at that. “I wasn’t planning to.”

“What? You’re going to attempt to sit with me at the Gryffindor table? You’ll end up pelted with food.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “I wasn’t planning on sitting with you. However, I have arranged for reinforcements,” he said, pointing down the main flight of stairs into the Entrance Hall.

And true to his word, he had; there was Ginny waiting by the foot of the stairs.

“Hurry it up, Hermione. I’m hungry,” Ginny complained.

“You don’t want to keep the Weaselette waiting. She probably doesn’t get fed at home.”

Ginny shot the blond an irritated glare but Hermione giggled. “You obviously don’t know anything about Molly. No one goes hungry in her house. She’d even feed you if you turned up.”

“It might be laced with poison, though,” Ginny added wickedly.

Draco compressed his lips but said nothing in response. They had now reached the doors leading into the Great Hall. “You ready for this?” he asked her.

She nodded her head and gripped his hand tightly. “Let’s get this over and done with.”

The unlikely trio walked through the door and the Great Hall fell into silence. The majority of the students gawped at them, wondering if it was some kind of joke. Draco, with his usual arrogance, ignored everyone around them, kissed her on cheek before releasing her hand and walking over to his table.

Hermione was close to joining him but she knew that the gossips would get a massive kick out of such an action. Instead, she followed Ginny over to the Gryffindor table, which wasn’t the friendliest of places.

“Ignore them,” Ginny whispered to her.

Hermione turned to her friend and was touched to see that she had a fierce expression, daring any of the Gryffindors to say anything. They sat at the end of the table closest to the doors.

“Did you manage to patch it up with Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Yes, but he’s still not happy with me,” Ginny replied, looking down the table towards her fiancé.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault he’s a stubborn arse.”

Hermione smiled ruefully at that. “But it is my fault you two are fighting.”

“Look, I might wish you weren’t in love with Malfoy, but you are, and I’m not going to hold that against you. He’s a git but if you trust him then I’ll go with your judgement.”

“But?”

Ginny grinned evilly. “But if he screws you over then, just in case, I’ve been corresponding with George and I’ve got some goodies lined up especially for him.”

Hermione laughed. “If he screws me over, I might just add to your arsenal.”

“Believe me, we are a damn sight scarier than anything Harry and Ron could come up with and I bet Malfoy knows it.”

Hermione thought back to the beginning of spring term when Malfoy used to call her a Mudblood until she threatened him with serious harm. He’d soon stopped. “I bet he does.”

Ginny kept her entertained for the rest of lunch and she was grateful for it. The rest of the school day brought no further cheer. Harry and Ron continued to treat her as if she didn’t exist and the other Gryffindors were keen to voice their displeasure at her decision to date Draco. By the time the last lesson ended, Hermione was closer to tears than laughter.

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

Draco was waiting for Hermione in her common room when she wearily walked in at the end of the day. She dropped her bag down by the end of the sofa and flopped onto it next to him.

“Hey,” she said quietly.

He looped his arm around her shoulders and dragged her closer to him. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” she said before her voice cracked and she started to cry.

He pulled her onto his lap. “Please, Hermione, don’t do this to yourself.”

“I can’t help it,” she sobbed. “They’re my best friends. We’ve been through so much together, but they are being so hard-headed about this.”

“Give them some time. They’ll come to terms with it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think they will. They’re acting as if I’m betraying them.”

Draco grimaced before resting his chin on top of her head. He hated seeing her so upset by the arguments she was having and hadn’t really thought about what they would do once her moronic two best friends found out. He hadn’t actually believed they would last that long, never too sure that he wasn’t just a passing fancy. Now, he was in the position of having his girlfriend cry on his shoulder and not knowing what to do. So he settled for just sitting there and being supportive. Words weren’t really his strong suit anyway. He wasn’t sure how long he would be able to go without insulting her friends and didn’t think she would appreciate that.

Finally, Granger calmed down enough to stop crying. She looked at his shirt before giving a watery chuckle. “What is it with me and making your shirts soggy?”

“At least you won’t have to offer me any of Potter’s reject clothing this time.”

She smiled at him. “No, you’re gaining quite a wardrobe here.”

“You do realise it’s been ages since I’ve actually gone back to my dorm to do anything other than grab a change of clothing?”

She pulled away. “Do you want to return tonight? You don’t have to stay here with me if you don’t want.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “How many times do I have to tell you that you are infinitely more appealing than Theo or Blaise?”

“I better be!” she teased.

He tipped her chin up and kissed her. “You are. With you is the only place I want to be.”

“Make me forget all the fights, Draco,” she mumbled against his lips.

And he did precisely that.

Chapter Text

Hermione spotted Harry and Ron across the Entrance Hall and hurried outside. She really didn’t feel up to a confrontation with the boys right now and had been avoiding them for the past few days, which had just made them look angrier and angrier with her. Unfortunately, today she was out of luck - she barely got across the courtyard before she felt someone grab her arm and spin her around.

“You can’t keep running away from this, Hermione. You have to talk to us eventually,” Ron said.

“I wasn’t aware that I was the one who’d been giving you the silent treatment.”

“We need to discuss this.”

“Are you going to talk to me or are you going to just scream at me?”

“We want to understand.”

Hermione looked at Harry’s closed off face. He didn’t look like he wanted to understand at all.

“Are you sure? Maybe you do, Ron, but I don’t think Harry does.”

“I don’t think I can understand,” Harry replied. “But I do want to know why.”

“Feelings aren’t easily explained. It’s not like I woke up one morning and thought ‘you know what? I think I’ll fall in love with Draco Malfoy today. That should shake things up around here.’ It just happened.”

“How can it ‘just happen’ with someone like him?” he asked, frustrated.

“Because he’s not the bad person you think he is. I spent time with him, I got to know him and he’s different once you get past the prickly exterior.”

Harry snorted. “Please, Hermione, are you really going to give us that old chestnut?”

“It’s true! How can you suddenly think so differently about Snape but you can’t think the same way about Draco?”

“Snape’s actions showed us the true quality of his character.”

“So did Draco’s! We know what kind of pressure he was under. You said yourself that he couldn’t go through with murdering Dumbledore - he lowered his wand - and he didn’t tell Bellatrix who you were at Malfoy Manor. His reluctance to follow through any order he was given as a Death Eater shows that he wasn’t capable of being such a person!” she cried passionately.

“Are you really trying to make out that Malfoy being a massive coward is some kind of redeeming feature?” Harry asked incredulously.

“Yes, I am. He was a coward in the sense that he knew deep down that he was doing the wrong thing. He lacked the conviction to fully throw himself into his role as Death Eater. Is that really cowardice? Or is that wanting to do the right thing but not having a clue how to go about it?”

“Merlin, Hermione. He’s really done a number on you if you’re spouting such rubbish,” Ron scoffed.

“Oh right! That must be it! Stupid Hermione is too naïve to be able to tell the difference herself. Or maybe it’s because I have some weird fetish for Dark Wizards. Is that it, Ron?” she yelled.

“You are always too compassionate for your own good. Malfoy sells you some sob story about how misguided he was and you drop your knickers for him,” Ron responded crudely.

Hermione flinched as if he’d hit her. She felt hurt that he would throw such a thing in her face. “You really think that about me?” she asked quietly.

“We think you are inexperienced with guys and you are keen to always believe the best in people,” Harry jumped in.

“I’m not an idiot. When will you get that?”

“When you make better decisions.”

“I’ve stood by you in every decision you made, Harry, even when I disagreed with them. I do one thing – one thing – that you disagree with and you’re so quick to judge.”

“This is hardly a small little mistake,” he countered.

“And neither was the Department of Mysteries.”

Harry drew back, his face as white as paper. He raised a shaking finger towards her. “You know the circumstances around that,” he hissed. “That was hardly comparable to this situation.”

She chewed her lip. She felt bad that she had thrown that in his face, but was tired of always being held accountable when neither Harry nor Ron was. “Look, I didn’t bring that up to say it was your fault. I was just pointing out that this isn’t as black or white as you are making out, either.”

“It’s a damn sight more black and white than that was,” Ron growled.

Hermione wearily rubbed her eyes. “You know what? You can happily exist in a world where you keep all your prejudices from before Voldemort’s demise, but I’m not going to reside there with you. I won’t be held back by petty grievances.”

“What we feel about Malfoy is hardly petty,” Harry interrupted.

“No, it’s not. But if you gave him a chance, you’d see that there needn’t be grievances at all.”

“What? He’s going to say sorry for all the shit he’s caused over the years?”

“Yes,” she replied simply.

“Please, Hermione! Get your head out of the sand,” Harry scoffed.

“He apologised to me.”

“Yeah, because he knows a soft touch when he sees one,” Ron mocked.

“Oh right! Because that makes so much more sense than the fact that he might actually be sorry.”

“It’s Malfoy. He’s a git.”

“Is that your answer to everything?”

“What other answer is there?” Ron insisted stubbornly.

She shock her head sadly as she looked at her best friends. “You know, I feel sorry for you. You’re so narrow-minded that you cannot see the good in people.”

“Not people like Malfoy.”

“Then I guess we have nothing to say to each other.”

“Don’t walk away, Hermione!” Ron shouted.

“Why not? Are you going to actually listen to anything I have to say or are you just going to demand I break up with him?”

Harry and Ron only stared at her. She gave them time to answer but they said nothing. “I thought so,” was all she said before walking away.

She waited until she out of their sight before she collapsed against the nearest wall. Arguments with Harry and Ron always left her feeling shaky and vulnerable and today was no exception. All this emotional upheaval was playing havoc with her N.E.W.T preparations.

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

Ginny watched the argument from the top of the stairs into Hogwarts. The rift between Harry, Ron and Hermione was actually widening. She had thought that Harry would start to calm down after the conversation she’d had with him, but that had been days ago now, and he was still incandescent with rage over the situation, having worked himself back up over it. Ron would be easier to bring around if Harry wasn’t so adamant that Hermione had lost her mind.

Ginny was officially stuck in the middle. She was trying her hardest to make Hermione’s case with the boys, but they were stubbornly refusing to listen. She could see that a lot of it was wounded pride. For some reason, Harry was convinced that Hermione wouldn’t be with Malfoy if he had known about her interaction with the Slytherin earlier. However, Ginny doubted that. Hermione wouldn’t have stopped helping Malfoy because Harry demanded it, just as she refused to stop dating him now because Harry ordered her to.

Ginny sighed and slowly made her way down the steps.

“When are the pair of you going to accept it?” she asked, coming up behind them.

“How can we accept that?” Ron asked belligerently.

“Because it’s what she wants. Would you have listened if she had told you that you couldn’t be with Hannah?”

“That’s different. Hannah isn’t some slimy snake who made our lives a misery.”

“Imagine it was Parkinson, then. If you felt for her the way that you do for Hannah, would you give her up because Hermione told you to do so?”

“Ginny! Have you lost your mind? I’d have more luck imagining myself with Buckbeak!”

She rolled at her eyes at her brother and turned to Harry. “You’re doing nothing more than driving her further into the arms of Malfoy. I didn’t think you’d be this stubborn about it.”

Harry looked unsure of himself. “I don’t know why I can’t accept it. I just…can’t.”

Try!” she commanded. “Before you lose her for good. If you don’t buck up your ideas, that’s what will happen.”

Harry looked at her and she could read the conflict in his eyes. It was obvious that he missed his friend but his stubborn inability to listen to what Hermione was telling him, and his desire to hold on to his hatred of Malfoy - justified or not - was destroying any attempt to try and get him to see reason over this. But at least he wasn’t completely dismissing her words.

“I’ll try,” he said with a nod.

Ron just snorted, but Ginny ignored him. Her brother was full of righteous anger over the situation, but if Harry backed down and grudgingly accepted the situation, then he would, too.

Ginny, pleased that she had made Harry think, walked back into the castle.

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

Hermione stayed outside, hidden away around the back of the castle for the rest of lunch. She wasn’t remotely hungry and her stomach was a swirling mass of nerves and had been for days. So she sat and contemplated what to do if Harry and Ron wouldn’t forgive her. She was never going to ditch Draco because they told her to do so. Besides, giving them that much power over her was not a smart idea. They would get ideas that they could meddle in her love life whenever they wanted. But she also didn’t want to give up on her friendship with them. Yes, they were being infuriating and stubborn and – frankly - gits about the whole thing, but she knew it came from love and concern for her. It didn’t excuse their impossible behaviour but she couldn’t hate them for it. She could never hate them.

She heard the bell go for the start of afternoon classes and slowly got to her feet, wiping the dried grass off her robes. At least she’d have a break from their glares as she had Arithmancy next, although that brought a whole new set of problems in the form of Dean and Seamus. Not that Hermione was going to give them the time of day. If she wasn’t listening to Harry and Ron then she sure as hell wasn’t listening to them.

As she rounded the corner to the Arithmancy classroom, she saw Draco anxiously waiting by the door. He saw her and his tense expression loosened. “There you are!” he exclaimed.

“Sorry, I spent lunch outside.”

He came up to her and rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “I was worried.”

“I had a run-in with Harry and Ron and I didn’t feel like coming back in to eat.”

His expression darkened. “What did they say now?”

“Nothing new. I think they are still hoping I’ll get rid of you.”

Draco scowled. “Hey!” she said. “It’s not going to happen.”

“I wish Potter would pull his head out of his arse.”

She smiled. “Would you do things any differently if it was Pansy dating Harry?” she asked, unconsciously echoing Ginny.

He clenched his jaw. “Pansy would never be so brain dead.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And the situation between us is so different because?”

“I’m not a prick like Potter.”

“That’s debatable.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, I see your point,” he conceded grudgingly.

“See, that wasn’t too hard.”

“That’s what you think,” he mumbled.

“I wish I knew when he’ll come to terms with it.”

Draco looped his arm around her shoulder as he steered her into the classroom. “He’ll come round. Probably when he wants to borrow an essay for revision,” he said, kissing her temple.

Hermione wanted to hope it would be that easy but she knew it wouldn’t be the case. At least Draco was trying to make her feel better about the whole situation rather than firing up and adding to her woes with his ranting.

She probably would have been less sanguine about Draco’s reaction if she knew what was going through his head. He’d observed her problems with her two best friends with a deepening gloom. He wasn’t stupid and understood that they wouldn’t work in the long run if Potter and Weasley didn’t come to terms with their relationship. Stubbornness and a desire not to be dictated to would only get them so far, but Granger would not be happy if she didn’t make it up with her friends soon and it would start to take a toll on their relationship and nothing would break them up quicker.

It might have taken Draco a while to come to terms with his feelings for her, but once he had accepted and acted on them, he was in for the long haul. He wasn’t going to give her up without a fight and if that meant having to do what he was about to do then so be it. It was worth the hit on his pride if it meant that she could be happy and at peace.

The whispers and glares of others would mean nothing to Granger if she had her two best friends standing by her side. But with them remaining so angry with her, the stares were beginning to get her down. He felt it in the tensing of her shoulders as they’d walked into the Arithmancy classroom where Finnigan and Thomas had glared at her and curled their lips in distaste. She’d looked stricken and he knew she cried during the night about it as he’d woken up more than once as she suppressed her sobs into her pillow.

He had been a loss to know what to do, but with his newfound conviction, he was more positive about the whole situation. There was no way he was going to allow a bunch of outsiders to break them up. He’d spent his life living according to the dictates of others and wasn’t settling for that any more. He had her and was damned if he was going to let her go. He could feel the glares of Thomas to the side of him so threw the Gryffindor a smirk. Fuck him and fuck every other judgemental bastard out there.

--------

Draco waited until Potter was coming back up from Quidditch practice that evening. He placed himself by the door and intercepted the Boy-Who-Lived when he entered the Entrance Hall.

“Potter, if I could have a word?” There was no way he was adding a ‘please’ to it.

The small group around Potter stopped and stared at him. Weasley had his mouth open in surprise - how Granger had ever found him attractive, he would never know - whilst her other best friend was frowning at him.

“In your own time, Potter,” he drawled.

The Gryffindor Captain waved the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team away and soon Draco was left with just him and Weasley. “I was hoping we could talk alone.”

“I’m not going anywhere alone with you, Malfoy. Last time that happened, you put me in a Body-Bind Curse and assaulted me.”

“This is an invitation rather than you sneaking around in your Cloak of Invisibility, eavesdropping on conversations that are none of your business.”

“You becoming a Death Eater was very much my business. It should be Hermione’s, too.”

“Are we going to stand here and rehash history or do you actually want to know what I have to say to you?”

“I’m not sure I want to hear anything you have to say.”

“Fine! Well, I’m more than willing to tell Granger that I tried but you weren’t interested.”

The Chosen One took of his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Okay, spit it out then.”

“Get rid of the sidekick.”

“Hey!” Weasley protested.

“This is between you and I, Potter - it always has been. Weasley is superfluous to this conversation.”

“Fuck you, Malfoy. I have as much right to be here as Harry does.”

Draco didn’t even bother looking at the ginger Gryffindor. He kept his eyes trained on Potter and he saw the acceptance in his green eyes.

“Ron, let me talk to Malfoy alone.”

“What?! No! I should be here too.”

Potter turned to face Weasley. “Let me hear what he’s going to say.”

“That’s not fair! She’s my friend as well.”

“I know! But he wants to talk to me. I doubt it’s going to be anything illuminating, but I might as well hear him out.”

Draco smirked as Weasley looked as if he was going to have a full-blown tantrum. He finally glared at them both before stomping off.

“Toodle-loo, Weasel,” Draco called out mockingly.

“Fuck you, Malfoy,” Weasley growled back.

“Yeah, you’re making me regret bothering to listen to you already,” Potter said.

“Neither of us would be here if it wasn’t for Granger, so save the martyr bullshit for someone who buys it.”

“What she sees in you is a mystery.”

“I could say exactly the same thing about you.”

“Get on with it then.”

Draco took a minute to compose himself. The other boy always managed to rile him up, but for the sake of Granger, he was going to have to battle against the instinct to hit out at the speccy git.

“What are you doing to Granger?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t play dumb. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Did you just want to insult me or do you actually have something to say?”

He ran his hand through his hair. “Look, this isn’t easy for me. I don’t like you, I never have. You bring out the worst in me, but you are Hermione’s best friend and you mean a lot to her.”

“Thanks for that ground-breaking summary, Malfoy. I’m so glad I stopped to listen to it,” Potter said sarcastically.

“Shut the fuck up for once and let me finish,” he snapped. He waited for confirmation that he wouldn’t be interrupted again. The Gryffindor nodded at him.

“She’s miserable. This rift with you is breaking her apart. She doesn’t want your blessing - she knows that’s not going to happen - but she wants you to try and understand and to stop putting so much pressure on her.”

“Why doesn’t she come and say this to me herself?”

“You think she sent me to speak on her behalf? Engage that brain I think you possess. Would there be anyone worse than me coming to plead her case?”

“So why are you here?”

“Because you’re not listening. I have no idea what that red-headed shrew you plan on calling your wife is saying, but, whatever it is, you’re refusing to take it on board.”

“And you think you have more of a chance.”

“The fact that I’m here should tell you something.”

“And that is?” Potter asked mulishly, not wanting to give an inch.

“You really are a stubborn arse,” Draco said, amused. He’d usually get irritated with the Chosen One’s intractability but Granger must be mellowing him.

“I may be stubborn, but I’m not the one who spent years making her life a misery.”

“I’m not going to tell you what I told her as it’s none of your business, but Hermione knows that I regret my previous behaviour.”

“I hope she at least thought that, otherwise I’d be concerned for the state of her mind. Whether it’s true or not is a different matter.”

Draco could feel his temper rising. He struggled to not just tell the self-righteous prick to fuck off. He didn’t appreciate having to bare his soul to someone who would throw it all back in his face.

“I’m here talking to you because I care for her.”

“You care for her? Wow! That’s profound.”

It took all of his will power to swallow the retort he wanted to make. Instead, for the sake of his girlfriend, he allowed the sarcastic remark to pass. “This relationship is not what you think.”

“And what am I thinking?”

“That I’m dating her as some kind of PR stunt.”

“And I’m just meant to take your word for it?”

“No, but you are meant to trust her. She’s decided that she wants to give our relationship a chance. You should trust her judgement.”

“What if I think her judgement is clouded?”

“By what?”

“After the scene I witnessed, how about lust?”

Draco scoffed. “You really don’t know Hermione if you think that. She weighs up everything and would never put her friendship with you on the line for something as fleeting as lust.”

“How do I know you aren’t using her?”

“You don’t, I can only tell you that I’m not and that I love her. What you do with that information is up to you.”

“You love her?”

“Why do you think I’m standing here, swallowing my pride, talking to you? If I didn’t give a shit about her then I wouldn’t care if you never spoke to her again.”

Potter fidgeted with his broom, switching it from one hand to another. “What am I meant to do with that information?” he asked, confused.

“Stop being a prick and go and make up with her.”

“And then what?”

“Accept my place in her life as I accept yours. I doubt we’re ever going to be friends but she’s not happy without you standing by her side. Maybe you should realise the same.”

“When did you get so mature?”

He smiled grimly. “Azkaban has a funny way of doing that.”

The Gryffindor stared at him wearily. “And if you make her unhappy?”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if I do fuck this up then I give you permission to beat the shit out of me. I would deserve it.”

Potter grunted before he reluctantly held his hand out for him to shake. Draco hesitated for a brief moment before he took him up on his offer. The significance of this, after all that had happened between them, was not lost on either wizard.

“I respect that you came to talk to me,” Potter said begrudgingly.

He nodded curtly, refusing to be grateful for a few kind words from the Chosen One. “Tell your Gryffindors to lay off. No more hissed comments or giving Hermione the cold shoulder, and make sure Thomas doesn’t confront her again.”

Potter frowned. “Dean spoke to her about this?”

“He shouted at her and gave her a hard time. I don’t appreciate it when she comes to me in tears, upset.”

“I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. She doesn’t deserve that.”

“She doesn’t deserve her two best friends treating her as if she’s some kind of pariah, either,” Draco commented, observing the guilty look that passed over Potter’s face with satisfaction.

“I’ll talk to her,” The Gryffindor muttered.

“No, you’ll do more than talk: you’ll apologise and make it up to her.”

It looked as if Potter was going to rebel for a moment, but resignation settled across his features and he nodded, before walking away across the Entrance Hall and upstairs to Gryffindor Tower.

Draco flexed his shoulders, releasing the tension that had settled there since he’d come to the conclusion he’d have to speak to Granger’s friend earlier that day. He wanted nothing more than to cuddle up next to his witch but, knowing Potter’s character, he knew that the Gryffindor would be on his way to Hermione’s quarters. He doubted that they would finish early. So he reluctantly headed down to the Slytherin dungeon. He hadn’t slept there in weeks.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ron asked for the fifth time.

“No,” Harry responded. “I hate to admit it, but Malfoy is right: we have treated Hermione badly and should go and apologise and make it up to her.”

“Blimey, Harry, did he Imperio you whilst you were alone?”

He grimaced. “I’m beginning to wonder that myself. I can’t believe I’m going to do this.”

“I’m not sure I should allow you to.”

He stopped and grabbed Ron’s arm. “You do agree to this is the right thing, don’t you?”

Ron looked indecisive for several moments. “I’m not sure. I mean, we’re effectively giving her our blessing and that doesn’t sit well with me, but things can’t continue as they are.”

“I know and I’m in two minds, too. It is Malfoy after all.”

“Yeah, but it’s also Hermione and I don’t like not being her friend so let’s just get this over and done with before we lose our nerve.”

The two boys stopped in front of Hermione’s common room, taking a few deep breaths before raising their hands to knock.

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

Hermione was lonely. Her common room felt strange without Draco’s presence and where she once revelled in the peace and quiet, it now felt silent and cold. She was so used to snuggling up to Draco at the end of the day. They would revise together before he would tempt her away from her studying and into bed with his kisses. Now she was left with only her books for company and didn’t like it.

She sighed, aware that she was being ridiculous. They couldn’t spend all their time together. He had friends and so did she – well, she’d had once. She flung her Ancient Runes book back on the table and slumped into the sofa cushions. Now that Draco wasn’t here to distract her, all her fears and worries about her friendship with Harry and Ron came crowding in.

Ginny assured her that she was working on Harry, but it was slow going. But what if Harry and Ron never forgave her and refused to speak to her again? She didn’t think she could cope with that and who was to say that she would always have Draco? How many teenage relationships lasted forever? She rubbed her eyes. This was why he shouldn’t leave her alone - because she got a little insane. But she couldn’t exactly go track him down and demand that he drop whatever he had planned to do with Blaise and stay with her, although it was seriously tempting.

The knock on her door made her jump, as she wasn’t expecting anyone. If it were Ginny then she would have just breezed in. Maybe it was something official for her to do. At that moment in time she’d take any distraction going.

She jumped up and hurried over to the door, pulling it open. She froze as she looked into the green and blue eyes of her best friends.

---------

Draco dragged his way through the Slytherin common room, ignoring the eyes that followed him. After his contretemps with Theo the other day, no one dared to say anything about Granger, not even to whisper the word Mudblood around him. They were too worried about what his reaction would be. He might not have covered himself in glory as a Death Eater, but he had shown that he was unpredictable when roused.

He pushed the door to his dorm room open and groaned when he saw that it was full. Both Theo and Blaise were there, along with Pansy.

“Draco!” Pansy exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“Has Granger finally seen the light at last and dumped your pathetic arse?” Theo asked.

Draco sent him a dirty look but otherwise ignored him and flopped down on his bed.

“This is my dorm room, Pans. Am I not allowed to be here?”

“Of course you are, I just thought you’d be with Hermione.”

“We can have a break every now and again.”

“Yep, she’s definitely ditched him,” Theo commented to the room at large.

“Shut up, Theo!” Pansy yelled.

“Don’t let him get to you, Pans. His point of view is meaningless and, besides, I don’t see him with a girl. You spent how long sniffing around Daphne? But she’s got better taste than that.”

Theo glared at him and descended into sulky silence.

“So, where is Hermione?” Pansy asked.

“She’s probably making up with Potter and Weasley.”

“What? How did that happen?”

“I might have done the unthinkable and gone and spoken to the Chosen Prick.”

“You did?” Blaise asked, surprised.

“It was getting ridiculous. You’d think she’d gone and announced that she was pregnant with Voldemort’s love child the way Potter was carrying on.”

Blaise laughed. “Now that really would be something.”

Pansy ignored her chuckling boyfriend. “What did he say?”

“He was aggressive at first but I think I got through to him. I gave him permission to beat me up if I broke Hermione’s heart.”

Pansy got up and threw herself on Draco, strangling him in a massive hug. “I’m so proud of you,” she sniffled.

“Pans, I can’t breathe!”

She loosened her grip around his throat but continued to hug him. “It’s not that big a deal,” he complained.

“Yes, it is. You did something incredibly selfless for Hermione.”

“Salazar’s rod, you’re all getting fucking sappy,” Theo whined from his bed.

The other three occupants of the room just glared at him. Theo huffed and pulled a pillow over his face. “I’m going to ask Slughorn for a room change. The hormones in here are stifling.”

-----------

“Hello,” Hermione said hesitantly.

“Hi,” Harry said with uncertainty in his voice. “Can we come in?”

“Sure,” she said, stepping aside so they could pass.

The three of them looked at each other nervously and the tension ratcheted up in the room.

“I’m just going to come out and say it,” Harry blurted out. “We were wrong to treat you the way we have been the last few days. We might not be happy about you dating Malfoy but that doesn’t excuse our treatment of you.”

Hermione stared wide-eyed at them. “You mean that?” she asked, shocked.

“Yes,” Ron replied.

“What’s brought this on?”

Harry and Ron exchanged glances before turning back to her. “Malfoy came to find me,” Harry admitted.

“What?”

“Malfoy sought me out to talk about this.”

Hermione groped behind her until her hand made contact with the sofa and she sat down slowly, struggling to take everything in. “He did that?”

“As much as it pains me to admit it, yes.”

“Not before he sent me away as if I’m some kind of child,” Ron said sulkily.

She gave a shaky laugh. “It wouldn’t be Draco if he wasn’t annoying at least one of you.”

“It was touch and go for a while regarding whether we were going to be able to maintain a civil conversation or start hexing each other,” Harry said.

“That sounds about right.”

“Look,” he continued. “I’m not sure if this is the right thing or not, or even if you will care, but you have our blessing.”

Hermione looked back and forth between the two wizards standing in front of her. She’d been through so much with the pair of them and the distance between them over the past week had torn her up. But she wasn’t sure she liked the idea of them bestowing their blessing on her.

“And I’m meant to be grateful for that? I don’t need your blessing.”

Her green-eyed friend shuffled nervously on the floor. “I realise that and I know that we’ve been absolute gits to you over this.”

She folded her arms and looked unimpressed. She wasn’t going to let them off the hook with some half-hearted apology. She wanted them to know how much they’d hurt her with their reaction.

“I didn’t expect you to be happy about it and I would’ve accepted that but you treated me as if I’d suddenly become some kind of social pariah.”

Harry ran a hand around the inside of his collar almost as if he was loosening it because it had become too tight. “It was a shock,” he defended.

“That’s not an excuse.”

“I know that. I think I’ve known that for a while but I needed time to come to terms with it. But now that I have, I accept that it’s your decision and that it’s not as if you can control your feelings or that you should have to suppress them to make your friends happy.”

“Hmm …” she said, pursing her lips and giving him a stern stare before turning to Ron. “And what about you? Harry appears to be doing all the apologising here.”

“I can’t say I like the fact that you’re dating the ferret but I guess it’s your decision at the end of the day.”

They weren’t the most gracious of apologies but as she took in their unsure expressions, she knew how much this had cost them. It was probably almost as much as it had cost Draco to approach Harry.

She jumped up and flew across the room to them and dragged them into a group hug.

“Thank you,” she said tearfully.

They squeezed her hard before letting her go. “Just to let you know, if he does anything to hurt you then I reserve the right to go and hex his bollocks off,” Harry warned.

Hermione giggled. “You’ll have to wait your turn.”

Ron ruffled her hair. “That’s my girl. Don’t let Malfoy give you any grief.”

“I almost feel sorry for the sucker now,” Harry added.

They all squished onto the sofa, with Hermione in the middle. It seemed that now they had made up, they were determined not to let anything come between them again, not even a cushion.

“I can’t believe Draco spoke to you about this,” she said incredulously.

“Me neither. It was strange when he accosted me demanding that we talk.”

“It was okay, though?” she asked worriedly.

“I’m not going to lie and say that we didn’t insult each other or that we’re now best buddies or anything, but we managed to talk without any violence.”

“And you’re fine with Malfoy and me?”

Ron grimaced. “To be honest, the thought makes me sick and seeing him touch you makes me reach for my wand, but if that’s what you want then I’ll put up with it.”

“At least you didn’t walk in on them practically naked,” Harry said with a shudder.

She blushed; that incident still mortified her.

He looked sternly down at her. “Just don’t lie to us again.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“I’m being serious, Hermione. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have tried to keep you away from Malfoy, so I understand why you lied, but I think we’ve all learnt something from this argument.”

“Kill Malfoy when we have the chance?” Ron asked hopefully.

Harry and Hermione both rolled their eyes. “No. We should trust each other’s judgement,” Harry continued.

“Meh! That’s boring. I prefer the kill Malfoy option,” Ron teased.

Hermione grinned at Ron. “I’m so happy we’re friends again.”

They both looped an arm around her. “We missed you too,” Harry said.

“Besides, McGonagall’s disapproving glares were starting to get to me,” Ron said.

Hermione looked at him. “She was giving you disapproving stares?”

“Yes, and muttering about how disappointed she was under her breath every time she passed us.”

She laughed. “At least you didn’t have to endure an embarrassing conversation with her about your relationship with Malfoy.”

“So she did keep you back to question you?” Harry asked.

“Ugh! It was mortifying.”

Ron sniggered. “I still can’t believe you’re snogging the ferret.”

Hermione pressed her hands against her hot, pink cheeks. “At least I’m not engaged!”

Ron’s face paled. “You don’t think he’s going to propose or anything, do you?”

She looked alarmed. “I hope not! I’m too young to get married.”

“You’re older than us!” Harry protested.

“Yes, but you’re crazy!”

“Hey! I resent that,” Ginny said from the door. She put her hands on her hips and sternly looked at her fiancé. “It’s about time.”

Harry reddened and looked chastised. Hermione suppressed her smile. She could already see Ginny ruling the Potter household.

The redhead grinned and bounded over. “I knew my constant nagging would work eventually.”

“Ha! It wasn’t you! Malfoy jumped out at us in the Entrance Hall and spoke to Harry,” Ron crowed.

“What?” Ginny asked, wide-eyed and even more annoyed that she'd gotten a detention and had to miss Quidditch practice.

“Yep, he was lurking in the shadows like the creepy Slytherin he is.”

“I can’t believe Harry listened to him and not me,” she said indignantly.

Harry and Hermione shared an amused glance as the siblings continued to bicker. They relaxed back against the sofa cushions and just watched it play out.

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

Draco tossed and turned for what felt like the hundredth time. It was no good; his bed wasn’t as comfortable as Granger’s. Either that, or he couldn’t sleep without her anymore. No, it was bound to be the beds. He bet Dumbledore had neglected replacing them with something as comfortable as the ones he gave the Gryffindors. There was such a pro-Gryffindor bias in this place.

“For fuck’s sake, Draco, piss off back to your witch if you’re going to be this fucking irritating,” Theo moaned from across the room.

“As much as I don’t want to agree with Theo’s obnoxiousness, your constant shifting about is getting on my nerves,” Blaise added sleepily.

“All we need to make this more miserable is one of your fucking nightmares,” Theo continued.

Draco sat up, flung his covers off and got out of bed. “Fine!” he said crossly. This was why he didn’t like having roommates other than his girlfriend: they were fucking moody.

He stomped around the room gathering up his clothes and then slammed the door behind him.

“He’s such a delight,” he heard Theo say sarcastically.

He slipped silently up to Gryffindor Tower. This was the last time he was giving Granger space to make up with her friends, as all it resulted in was him having to deal with Theo.

He swore as he stopped outside her door and heard the riotous laughter, which was loud enough for him to hear even with the portrait hole closed. Great! Here he was moping around without her and she was having a whale of a time with her moronic friends. If it didn’t mean having to face Theo’s nasty barbs, he would’ve turned back round and gone back to the dungeons. Then again, he got to kick the annoying Gryffindors out. An evil smirk formed on his lips. He said the password and entered.

It was a cosy scene inside the common room; Cauldron Cakes and butterbeer surrounded the four Gryffindors and there was a party-like atmosphere. The green-eyed monster surfaced briefly as he saw Hermione tucked into the side of Ron but her beaming smile as she saw him soon slayed that beast.

She bounced up, ran over and jumped into his arms. He stumbled as he caught her. “Hello,” she said softly.

“Hello back. I see everything worked out okay,” he said with a nod in the direction of the three staring Gryffindors.

She pecked him on the lips. “Yes, thanks to you, you meddlesome Slytherin.”

Weasley coughed pointedly, clearly uncomfortable at the affectionate welcome she was giving him. Draco smirked in the redhead’s direction as his grip around Hermione’s waist tightened. For good effect he leaned down and kissed her properly.

“Okay, that’s enough. Break it up. Just because I said you can date him doesn’t mean I want see you snogging him,” Ron grumbled from the sofa.

She turned in his arms and frowned at Weasley. “Ron, you’re going to have to get used to seeing me with Draco.”

“Can’t you just do that stuff when I’m not around?”

“You hug Hannah all the time! And kiss her!”

“Don’t you mean inhale her?” Draco commented wickedly.

Granger elbowed him in the ribs, whilst the Weaselette grimaced. “Malfoy has a point, Ron. You do look like you’re eating her. It’s a little gross, really.”

“At least you don’t walk in on your sister making out with your best friend in your dorm room. You’re lucky I haven’t told mum about your shenanigans,” he scolded.

“At least you didn’t see Malfoy in his underwear lounging in Hermione’s bed. That traumatised me,” Potter commented to Weasley, who gagged.

Draco looked down at the witch currently snuggling into him. Predictably she was blushing but at least she had changed the password after that fiasco.

“It might have distressed you, Potter, but little Weasley enjoys seeing me half-naked,” he said with a wink at the redhead.

“Well, if you’re going to parade around Hermione’s common room like that, I might as well enjoy the show,” she replied with aplomb.

Draco laughed as Potter and Weasley looked really disturbed at the turn this conversation was taking. “How many times have you seen Malfoy half-naked?” Potter asked.

“Only twice,” she said sadly, enjoying teasing her fiancé.

“Don’t forget to tell him about the time you kidnapped me in the dungeons,” Draco added, smirking at the look on Potter’s face.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” Potter asked, crossing his arms and glaring at his fiancée.

The Weaselette shot Draco a mock-reproachful look. “Now you’re not shouting at every mention of Malfoy’s name, I guess I can fill you in on everything.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” Draco said before he strolled over to the door and pulled it open. “How about you go and tell him back in the Gryffindor common room.”

“Hey! You can’t kick us out,” Weasley protested.

“Well, unless you want to join the club and see me without my clothes, I suggest you leave now.”

“Eww … I really am going to be sick now.”

“Just pretend that she reads Hogwarts: A History to him. That’s how I deal with it.”

“Thanks for the suggestion, Potter. I like it when Granger gets all swotty.”

Granger groaned. “Draco!” she objected, turning bright red.

Amusingly, her two male best friends blushed as well. The only other person in the room as unaffected as him was the Weaselette, who just looked amused.

“Your friends have had your attention long enough. Now it’s my turn.”

“Trust Hermione to get the spoiled, demanding boyfriend,” Potter grumbled.

“Tut, tut, Potter, you need to learn to share.”

“And I’m not an object for the pair of you to fight over!” Hermione said.

The Weaselette got up and dragged her fiancé with her. “Come on, Ron!” she ordered. “It’s time to give the lovebirds some privacy.”

The three Gryffindors made their way out of the common room, the two boys glaring at Draco on their way out. He smirked at them, knowing they were desperate to stay and play chaperone but were too scared of either witch to suggest it.

“Finally,” he mumbled, grabbing Hermione, pulling her flush against him and backing her into her bedroom.

“You can’t just kick my friends out,” she started to argue.

“Yes, I can. They were in the way,” he said before kissing her and effectively shutting her up.

--------

Hermione sighed as she curled into Draco’s side, her head resting on his shoulder. The peaceful moments they shared in her bed were worth all the trouble they’d suffered to get there.

“Do you ever think what would have happened if I had ignored the noise in the dungeons in January and not come across you, Pansy and Blaise?”

He tugged playfully at the curl he was winding around his finger. “You would have found some other way to meddle. You can’t help it.”

“I do not meddle,” she objected.

“Hermione, you are the bossiest woman I’ve ever met and that includes McGonagall. You’re not happy unless you’re telling someone what to do.”

She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at the blond. “That’s not true.”

“I’m not complaining. I find your bossy persona has all sorts of perks.”

“You’re such a sleaze.”

“But you love it,” he said with a wink.

She huffed but smiled as she kissed him briefly. “I didn’t thank you for today.”

“I thought you just did.”

She thumped his chest. “Draco, why do you make everything so difficult?”

He shrugged. “It’s all part of my charm.”

“Charm? What charm?” she scoffed. “But thank you for going to Harry.”

He shrugged nonchalantly as if it was nothing but Hermione wasn’t fooled. He wouldn’t have approached Harry for just anything; he’d done it for her and it was a declaration of how he strongly he felt for her. When she thought back to those fraught weeks at the beginning of term, she could never have imagined that she would end the school year wrapped in his arms. It just went to show how giving someone a chance, even against your better judgement, could be rewarding.

“I love you,” she said, leaning down and kissing him.

“I love you, too, Princess,” he murmured against her lips.