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Reading Between the Lines by LadyTartan

Format: Novel
Chapters: 32
Word Count: 96,920
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Romance
Characters: Hermione, Draco
Pairings: Harry/Ginny

First Published: 06/24/2016
Last Chapter: 02/24/2018
Last Updated: 02/24/2018


"'Do you honestly think you’re the only one hiding behind books these days?' Draco said, with a smirk.

'I’m not hiding, I like books.' Hermione said, shutting her text and turning towards Draco. 'You shouldn’t be hiding, you were pardoned, if I remember correctly.'"


Banner by me.





Chapter 1: Chapter 1
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 ***Hi everyone! I'm not sure how long this story will be, I started it because I have writers block on my other story, I just couldn't get this conversation out of my head. Enjoy!*** 

At first it hadn’t been too strange; the castle was in shambles, and everyone was needed to help piece it together. Her dormitory was the same, except she was now sharing a room with Ginny, who was now a seventh year as well. The rest of the castle was so changed by the battle, that she didn’t recognize it as the place she spent most of her life. But as the repairs were completed, and decor restored, she began to feel as though she didn’t belong at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She was constantly turning to say something to Ron or Harry, and instead finding Luna or Ginny.

It confused her, to find things out of place. So she spent increasing amounts of time in the Library. Without the boys getting her off track, she always finished her studying well ahead of any deadlines, and found herself with a lot of spare time. Time she filled with books. Hermione thrilled to have the luxury of reading anything she wanted: literature, and arts, and science, and all manner of spellbooks.

It was one of these nights, when she had just finished a fantastic Wizarding fairy tale, that she noticed him sitting in a corner, also with a book. Malfoy. Her mind spat, as she took the book back to Madame Pince. Madame Pince removed a card from her desk writing the date that Hermione had returned it, before placing it inside the front cover, and dropping it onto a stack of books to be returned.

“Do you want me to shelve those?” Hermione offered, there were only a few books on the stack, and she often found interesting titles in the books discarded by her classmates.

“That would be most helpful Miss Granger.” Madame Pince said, with an approving nod.

Hermione scooped up the stack of books, reading the spine of each as she went along replacing them to their rightful shelf. Nothing struck her fancy, so she went to gather her book bag and return to Gryffindor tower, when Madame Pince called her back to the desk.

“That novel you were inquiring about last week has just been returned.” She said, passing the book to Hermione. Hermione was quite excited, it was a popular book, and she hadn’t been able to get her hands on it. She quickly took the card out of the front of the book, and signed her name. As she passed it to Madame Pince, she noticed the person who had just returned it was Draco Malfoy. 

Well, it’s not the book’s fault. She thought, tucking it into her bag, and hurrying out the door and running directly into Malfoy’s back. She let out an inadvertent yelp of surprise, dropping her book bag, and scattering it’s contents. 

“I’m not that frightening, am I Granger?” Malfoy said with a smirk, watching her scramble to collect her belongings. 

“I’m not afraid of you Malfoy, I just wasn’t expecting you to be blocking the door.” Hermione snapped, shoving her things back into her bag, and pushing past the tall boy in front of her. 

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” Malfoy muttered, as he stalked the opposite direction, into the dark.

Hermione blinked in surprise. Did he just quote “Of Mice and Men?” He couldn’t have read it, it’s a muggle book. Shaking off her encounter, she made her way back to Gryffindor to settle in for a good read by the fire.

Hermione finished her book quickly, and returned it for another, settling in to an obscure window in a tower near the top of the castle to read. It was the first Hogsmede weekend of the term, and Hermione didn’t expect to be disturbed. Wearing a comfortable pair of track pants and an old jumper, she reclined back in the rounded window, with her feet resting on the opposite sill. Time slipped away from her, as she turned the pages, until she was interrupted by an unexpected voice, “That’s not a particularly dignified position, is it?” 

Hermione startled, and found Malfoy staring down at her from on the stairs. “I would always rather be happy than dignified.” She responded, returning her gaze to her book.

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” Draco replied. 

Hermione gaped at Draco, who had continued down the stairs away from her. “You know Jane Eyre?” She called after him. 

“Of course.” He replied, simply, and without emotion. “Brontë is one of the greats.” He had not turned around to look at her.

“But, that’s a muggle book.” Hermione pointed out, directing her clarification to the back of his blonde head.

“It doesn’t diminish the book if the author was a muggle. ‘Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity.’” Draco quoted again, and disappeared down the spiral staircase.

Hermione was shocked; who would have thought that Malfoy would be familiar with any of the Muggle classics. She pushed him out of her head, Don’t waste any time thinking about that git.

Below her, just out of view, Draco sat at the bottom of the staircase with his head in his hands. So much for no one knowing about this tower. While he didn’t think Hermione would mention to anyone that she had spoken to him, he needed to find a new place to hide. Switching sides at the end of the battle may have kept him out of Azkaban, but it hadn’t endeared him with his fellow Slytherins. Jinxes were being sent his way with increasing strength and frequency, and Madame Pomfrey had started asking questions when he sought out her assistance, so it was just easier to hide. 

He hadn’t planned on returning to Hogwarts, but the Wizengamot had given him a choice: school or jail. He could either finish his education on probation and keep his nose clean, or join his parents for an extended stay in the Wizard Prison. He’d opted to finish school, thinking that a year at Hogwarts was a small enough stint in purgatory. Despite being of age, the trace was put back on him, as part of the terms of his probation was refraining from any dark magic. It didn’t stop him from from disillusioning himself and heading for the library, which was becoming his most common place of sanctuary. 

Author's Note:

 The quotes mentioned are from the the book Of Mice and Men written by John Steinbeck, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë!

Chapter 2: Chapter 2
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The days slipped into weeks, and Hermione saw fewer and fewer owls from Harry or Ron. She knew their Auror training was becoming more rigorous, as well they were beginning to dig into classified levels of training that they couldn’t officially share with her… not in writing at least.

Letters from Ron were particularly short and, Hermione guessed, sent at Harry’s insistence. After sharing a kiss in the heat of the battle of Hogwarts, the pair had become increasingly awkward around each other, never taking any further steps towards a relationship or discussing the absence of one.

Hermione figured it would blow over eventually, she and Ron argued more often than not, so awkward periods were rather their norm. In the meantime she sent both boys frequent letters of Hogwarts news.

More immediately troubling was the frequency in which she was running into Malfoy. He seemed to crop up everywhere she was, be it the library or a random staircase. Both seemed to be avoiding the company of other students, and in so doing saw more of one another.

Hermione was thinking about this very problem as she slipped into the Library one evening, near Halloween. She walked directly to the desk to return the book she had just finished, noticing once again, that the person who had checked the book out immediately before her was Malfoy. He seemed to be reading as much as she was. 

Browsing the shelves, Hermione selected a thick book of healing spells. She was toying with the idea of becoming a Healer when she left school, but wasn’t sure if she would really like the occupation. She had been digging into texts trying to learn as much as she could to determine if she’d enjoy it.

She headed over to a table, and dropped the heavy text down, not noticing that Draco was sitting at the other end. After she had turned a few pages, a cough drew her attention towards him.

“Goodness Malfoy, I didn’t see you there.” Hermione said, noticing that he had a black eye and a poorly healed split lip. “What happened to you?!”

“Nothing to worry about Granger, just a passionate discussion with one of my housemates.” Draco said, trying to hide behind the book he was reading.

“Nonsense!” Hermione argued, getting up and rounding the table to where he sat. “Let me see!” She put a hand under his chin and lifted it up to inspect his lip.

Malfoy stared up at her, surprised at her sudden concern. “I’ve already healed the cut, it’ll be fine.”

“Well, if you know a healing charm, then you must know that they won’t work if self applied.” Hermione lectured. “They draw on life force, and you can't repair your own life force. Hold still.”

She lifted her wand and expertly applied the Tergeo charm, cleaning the blood from his lip. “Episky.” She muttered, flicking her wand and properly healing his lip, and then repeating the charm for his black eye.  

“Th-thanks.” Draco stuttered, not meeting Hermione’s gaze.

As though suddenly realizing who she was talking to, Hermione jerked her hand off Draco’s face and took a sharp step back, “Don’t mention it.”

Returning to her side of the table, she delved back into her text, and tried not to think about the young man sitting across from her. 

“Why did you do that?” Draco asked her quietly.

“Fix your cut?” Hermione asked, feeling flustered, “Because it was going to scar if you left it as it was. Why didn’t you go to Madame Pomfrey?”

Draco looked down at the table. “She asks too many questions.” He said simply.

“But at least then you wouldn’t be in pain!” Hermione argued.

Draco shook his head, and laughed. “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

“You know The Princess Bride?” Hermione gasped. “How?”

“Do you honestly think you’re the only one hiding behind books these days?” Draco said, with a smirk.

“I’m not hiding, I like books.” Hermione said, shutting her text and turning towards Draco. “You shouldn’t be hiding, you were pardoned, if I remember correctly. I testified at your trial.”

“You did?” Draco asked, stunned. He hadn’t been allowed in the courtroom for most of the testimony. He knew that Potter had testified on his behalf, but he hadn’t known about Hermione. 

Hermione nodded, unconsciously rubbing the spot on her arm where Bellatrix had carved the word MudBlood. “I just told the truth, that you didn’t want to identify us that day at your house.”

“Maybe I really didn’t recognize Potter.” Draco said. “Why would you think differently?”

“I don’t believe that.” Hermione said softly. “I saw your face, you didn’t want your father to call Riddle. You were terrified” 

Draco snorted a laugh. “You may be right.” He scratched at an imperfection in the table, and asked without looking at her, “But seriously, why did you testify on my behalf? You of all people would have good reason to want me to rot in a cell at Azkaban for the rest of my life. You were tortured, in my home. I watched the whole thing, and did nothing!” He slammed his left fist on the table.

“Mister Malfoy!” Madame Pince chastised, coming over to their table. “Please keep your voice down!” 

“Sorry Madame,” Draco said, looking at his feet.

“Yes, sorry.” Hermione echoed. “Come on Draco.” She gathered her books, and her bag and motioned for him to follow her. 

After a moment of hesitation, Draco shrugged, and muttered, “It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.”

“The Time Machine.” Hermione quipped as they left the library, and headed up to the tower where the had previously met.

Hermione sat on one side of the rounded window, she motioned for Draco to join her, but he sat on the the steps instead.

“Explain to me, why you did it.” Draco demanded, looking a bit frantic.

“In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” Hermione quoted. “I’ll bet you don’t know that one.

“Is that a quote?” Draco asked, suddenly curious.

“Yes.” Hermione nodded, “it’s from one of my favorites, but not a happy ending book.”

“What book?” Draco pressed.

“The Diary of a Young Girl.” Hermione answered, “It’s the true story of a jewish girl living in hiding from the Nazi’s during World War II. The muggle war from the 19…

“I know about World War II.” Draco cut her off. “Why isn’t it a happy ending?”

“She gets discovered, and dies in an internment camp.” Hermione explained.

Draco looked up at Hermione, with new intensity in his eyes, “Why does she die?”

“Why?” Hermione asked, confused. “Well, if I remember correctly, she died of a muggle disease.”

“Because she was locked up in the internment camp for being Jewish?” Draco asked, looking rather desperate. 

“Well, yes…” Hermione didn’t understand Draco’s sudden anxiety, “There were eight people in hiding, but only her father survived after they were turned in to the Nazis.” 

“Did anyone ever pay for doing that to her? For killing her?” Draco demanded.

“I, I think so.” Hermione said, “There were trials and things after the war ended. I know a lot of the people responsible were hanged.”

“Those camps…” Draco struggled, “They were the ones that put tattoos on peoples arms.”

“Um, yes, I think some of them did that,” Hermione said, feeling uncomfortable, “Numbered the prisoners that way.”

Draco stood up and stalked across the small space to Hermione, grabbing her arm, and yanking up her sleeve to expose the word Mudblood on her arm.

“I behaved the same way, and yet you testify on my behalf!?” Draco cried, dropping to the floor with his head in his hands.

Hermione looked at him, shocked to see that he was crying. “Draco, you didn’t pick your side of the war any more than I did.” 

“But I didn’t do anything to stop it.” Draco sobbed, he pulled back his own sleeve exposing his Dark Mark. “I even accepted it. I joined them. I don’t deserve your help!” 

“Draco!” Hermione gasped, seeing the mark on his arm brought it all back, freshly in her mind. She squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the memories of Bellatrix out of her head. A tear escaped with them, “Draco, Riddle was living in your home. You were trying to stay alive, that’s human instinct.” 

Draco didn't respond, he didn’t meet Hermione’s gaze. 

“Draco, if it makes you feel better, testifying wasn’t my idea.” Hermione explained. “Kingsley asked me to do it, asked all the Order of the Phoenix Members to. I just told the truth, I didn’t care what they did with you after that. If they hadn’t forced you back here, I wouldn’t have known what happened to you.”

Draco looked up at her, tears running down his face. “You promise that’s the truth?”

“Of course it’s the truth Draco.” Hermione sighed. “I honestly don’t think my testimony was the one that helped you anyway. Harry was the one who did that.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.” Draco said with a snort. “Harry may have seen me fail to kill Dumbledore, but for someone who was tortured in my home to show up in my defense, that says more.”   

“I don’t know about that.” Hermione argued, “I don’t think I was helpful in your case at all. I completely… completely broke down on the stand. They kept asking so many qu-questions. About what h-happened that day.” 

Hermione had started stuttering with nerves, as she once again tried to push the horrors out of her head. She pressed a hand to either temple and squeezed, as though she could push the memories out of her brain entirely.

“I’m sorry.” Draco said, “Here you were just trying to read, and I’ve drug you down a horrible dark memory lane. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I think you’re incredibly brave."

“I’m not brave.” Hermione sniffed, “I just did what had to be done.”

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” Draco said, standing to make his way down the stairs. “And you always will be; the Princess of Light.”

"Dracula." Hermione said, recognizing the quote, but Draco was already gone.  

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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“Common sense of the morning.” Hermione muttered to herself, at breakfast.

“What’d you say ‘Mione?” Ginny asked.

“Nothing Ginny.” Hermione shook her head, the memory of her strange conversation with Draco the previous evening felt more like a dream than reality.

Owls began soaring into the great hall, dropping off the day’s mail. Hermione spotted Ron’s owl Pig struggling under the weight of several letters.

The tiny owl crashed into the table, scattering food in his wake.

Ginny scooped him up and liberated him of the load of letters. “Here, two for you,” she said, passing Hermione letters from Harry and Ron.

“Harry needs to get a new owl.” Hermione pointed out, “I know he misses Hedwig, but Pig can’t keep carrying four letters at a time.”

“Or they could just use a ministry owl.” Ginny pointed out, feeding the tiny owl a scrap of bacon.

Hermione read through the letters from Harry and Ron, catching herself up on their news. “Oh Ginny, Harry says they’ll come visit at the next Hogsmede weekend!”

“Excellent! Does that mean you’ll come with us this time?” Ginny asked, prompting Hermione to remember her first odd exchange with Malfoy in the tower.

“Sure, I need a new quill anyway!” Hermione said, trying to press from her mind the last time she was in Hogsmede.

As students left the Great Hall for classes, Hermione lingered for a moment, she had a free period that day, so she took her time finishing her juice and re-reading Harry’s letter, trying to guess at what they might be studying. She had just gathered her bag to head upstairs, when she noticed Draco sitting at the end of the Slytherin table, alone. She watched him, as he picked up his books, and made his way towards the door, being careful not to turn his back on his housemates.

Hermione thought that odd, and then she remembered the black eye that had started their unusual conversation the previous evening. A passionate discussion with one of his housemates? Passionate discussion my arse. Hermione thought. He’s terrified of his house.

Just as he was leaving a sixth year Slytherin sent a stinging jinx his way, and caught Draco’s shoulder. Hermione heard him hiss softly, but he didn’t give any further indication that the curse had actually connected and caused him any pain.

She quickly followed him out of the hall, before any of the Slytherins could, and found him behind the staircase, rubbing his shoulder.

“Finite incantatem.” She whispered, stopping the jinx.

“What do you want Granger?” Draco said, looking away and hoping she wouldn’t notice the blush that had risen up his cheeks.

“A ‘Passionate Discussion’ with your housemate?” Hermione asked, still gripping her wand, “That’s what caused your black eye yesterday? What was the discussion about?”

“The Twelve Uses of Dragon’s Blood.” Draco said sarcastically.

“I see.” Hermione said, equally sarcastically, “And were you defending or rejecting it’s use as an oven cleaner?”

Draco slid down the wall and sat on the ground. “I don’t remember.”

“How long has this been going on?” Hermione asked, kneeling next to him.

“Well, Fall Term started on September 2nd, so…” Draco let his statement hang in the air.

“Have you reported it?” Hermione asked, “McGonagall need’s to know if there’s a bully at Hogwarts!”

“A bully? That’s cute Hermione.” Draco snorted, “Besides, it’s not like I don’t deserve everything that I get.”

“That’s nonsense Malfoy.” Hermione snapped, “It’s not like you to take that kind of treatment from a sixth year.”

“I don’t exactly have a choice Granger.” Draco pointed out, indicating at a thin black chain that was wrapped around his ankle.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Ha ha,” Draco sneered.

“Honestly, what is it?” Hermione repeated, confused.

“It’s so easy to forget that you’re muggleborn.” Draco muttered, and then after a moment explained, “It’s a dark magic detector. It’s part of my probation.”

“What, that can tell if you do a jinx?” Hermione questioned.

“Yep.” Draco said, popping the ‘p’ sound. “I’ve also had the trace put back on me. One dark spell and it’s back to Azkaban.”

“Back?” Hermione asked, trying to meet Draco’s eyes.

“Yes, I was held there while I was waiting for a trial, for a few weeks this summer.” Draco said, sounding chilled. “Even though the demeanors are gone, that place still gives me nightmares.”

“I think we all have our share of nightmares these days.” Hermione said, staring across the hall at nothing.

“Ah yes, but my nightmares are deserved,” Draco said bitterly, “Whereas yours are not only undeserved, but my fault.”

“You know nothing of my nightmares.” Hermione spat, rubbing her arm unconsciously.

“No, but I can guess.” Draco said, nodding at Hermione’s arm.

The two sat in silence, on the floor under the stairs, for several minutes.

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things, because the shadow always follows.” Draco quoted, breaking the silence.

“You must know what I’ll say to that,” Hermione pointed out, “Choose a place where you won’t do harm, yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

Draco smirked. “I should have known you’d have read A Room with a View.”

“I’m surprised you have!” Hermione quipped. “I’m surprised you’ve read any muggle books at all in fact!”

“I may be a pureblood Wizard, but I was well brought up.” Draco said. “When I was young, anyway, and my choices somewhat my own.”

Hermione thought at that, “Some would argue that you are still young, Malfoy.”

“I haven’t been young in years, Granger.” Draco said. “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“Gatsby.” Hermione said softly, identifying the quote. “You’re not trapped by your history, Draco, you were cruel then. You’re not being cruel now; ‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.’” Hermione said, her hand still on her arm.

“Now that was a truly terrible book!” Draco laughed.

“No it wasn’t!” Hermione argued, “The Scarlet Letter is a classic! Besides, the quote is true enough!”

“The book may be classic and the quote may be true, but that doesn’t make it a good story.” Draco pointed out, “Nor a happy story.”

“Do all stories need to be happy?” Hermione asked. “That’s not very true of life?”

“I like my stories happy,” Draco said, “Because my life is not.”

“What happens after you leave school?” Hermione asked. “I mean, with your probation?”

“My probation.” Draco said it like a curse. “My probation will never end Granger. They may take this talisman off my leg, and they may remove the trace, but I will never be free to make my own choices. If I don’t walk perfectly in the light for the rest of my life, they’ll chuck me in prison or worse.”

“Do you think you can’t do it?” Hermione asked.

“Granger, I can’t even wear short sleeves in summer.” Draco said sadly, indicating to his Dark Mark. “The Dark is so a part of me it’s written on my very skin.”

“Perhaps you and I can invent a shirt with one long sleeve and one short.” Hermione said, with an irrational giggle.

“Now that wouldn’t make either of us look ridiculous!” Draco said, laughing.

“Draco, I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.” Hermione said, still laughing.

“I smile all the time.” Draco pointed out.

“You smirk all the time.” Hermione corrected. “And I’ve seen your ‘I’m evil, this is my evil grin’ smile.”

“This is my evil grin.” Draco said, waggling his eyebrows and grinning in a truly disturbing way. “I’ve distracted the Princess of Light from her first class of the day! It’s the only evil I can get away with, because there’s no magic involved!”

“Oh good god, don’t call me that. It’s bad enough that the Prophet calls me that.” Hermione said blushing and rolling her eyes. “And I just so happen to have a free period right now, so you’re not as evil as you think you are!”

“I guess you would know about having to walk perfectly in the light.” Draco acquiesced. “The world will be watching you as closely as they watch me.”

“Then I probably shouldn’t be caught sitting under a staircase with the Prince of Darkness.” Hermione joked.

“You’d be right about that.” Draco said sadly, offering Hermione a hand up. “Come on Your Highness, if I’m quiet maybe I can slip into Divination unnoticed and you can enjoy your free period.”

Hermione took Draco’s hand and let him pull her off the floor, and was surprised to find herself blushing at his touch.

“You did smile.” She pointed out, as he walked away. “It is possible.”

“I only smile for you Princess,” Draco said, before bowing and leaving a befuddled Hermione behind him.

Authors Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Chapter 4: Chapter 4
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Hermione found her Defense against the Dark Arts class to be particularly boring. Despite Headmistress McGonagall convincing Bill Weasley to come and teach the course, there was little that he covered that Hermione had not already taught herself out of desperation over the previous few years.

This particular Friday afternoon was especially dull, as they were covering the Patronus Charm. Thanks to Harry, Hermione had long since mastered the difficult charm and was spending her class time discreetly watching Draco, who was struggling to even cast a light mist.

You need a happy memory to make it work. Hermione thought to herself, and she was starting to think that Draco had none.

“Miss Granger, have you already mastered this charm?” Bill asked.

Hermione sent her Otter patronus running up to his desk with the reply, “3 years ago, Professor Weasley.” 

Sitting next to her, Ginny giggled and sent her Mare up beside Hermione’s Otter to further explain, “Harry taught everyone in the DA during Umbridge’s reign.”

“Alright you two, quit showing off and go help the people having trouble.” Bill said, pretending to be stern. “Anyone else here already know this charm?”

The classroom was suddenly filled with all manner of creatures, as it was the 7th year Gryffindors, and they had nearly all been part of the DA. 

Bill sighed, “Alright, those of you who can already produce a Corporeal Patronus may either help someone still working on it, or begin reading their next chapter of the book.”

Hermione settled in to re-read her textbook, there was nothing new in the next chapter, but it allowed her to continue watching Draco. 

He had the incantation and wand movement perfected. There was no doubt, his lack of success had to be due to a failure to select the correct memory. She quickly averted her eyes when he looked her way.

Draco was shocked to find Hermione watching him from across the room. I look like an incompetent fool, here she is bored at her ability to produce a talking corporeal patronus, and I can’t even get a mist going. He blushed and tried again, this time succeeding in a light shield variation. He wasn’t able to hold it for long, but it was much better than any previous attempts.

He realized he’d been thinking about Hermione at the time. He tried again, thinking of her hand on his cheek when she’d healed his lip; the patronus came stronger again, and he held it for several moments before letting it go.

Draco Malfoy, you are in big trouble. He thought to himself. She is part of the Golden Trio, you can’t think of her like that, you can’t have her like that.

He sat down and buried his nose in the textbook, as though he could hide from the realization that he’d just had, as soon as the bell rang, he bolted from the room.

“What’s with Malfoy?” Ginny asked, packing up her books, “He looked like he’d seen a ghost.”

“I dunno.” Hermione said, following Ginny and Luna back to their dorm. “Maybe he wants to be first down to dinner.”

But Draco wasn’t at dinner, and Hermione didn’t see him at breakfast the next morning before they left to meet Harry and Ron in Hogsmede.

She found her mind kept drifting back to the odd expression on his face before he’d ducked out of class.

She tried hard to keep her mind on the conversation, as she walked down the hill with Ginny, Luna, and Neville, who were discussing an article from the Quibbler.

When they reached Hogsmede, the boys were waiting for them outside the Three Broomsticks. They all exchanged hugs and headed inside, but upon seeing the already boisterous crowd of students, they immediately retreated back outside.

“Hogs Head?” Harry asked, he wasn't ready to face that large of a crowd. Going to the ministry every day was bad enough, and he'd started using his invisibility cloak to get down to the Auror department undisturbed.

“Hogs Head.” Neville confirmed, and they headed down the narrow street to Aberforth’s pub. 

Inside the pub was it’s normal quiet, dank appearance, with a hag sitting at one end of the bar. 

“Oh great, is this going to become habit?” Aberforth yelled from behind the bar. “A load of students and two Auror apprentices, you lot will drive my business away!” 

“You don’t exactly have a lot of business as it is Ab,” Neville pointed out, gesturing to the nearly empty pub, as the group sat down at a large table near the back. 

“Well now I won’t will I?” Ab said, feigning frustration. He grabbed a bottle from behind the bar, as well as a stack of glasses. “You lot are all of age, aren’t you?”

They all nodded, and Aberforth slapped a glass down in front of each of them, and poured a shot of Fire Whiskey into each one. “Now that’s as thanks for what you lot did this summer, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

They all stared at the drinks until Hermione said, “Oh what the hell.” She tipped her shot back, and tried not to cough as the whiskey burned it’s way down her throat.

“Bloody Hell!” Ron stammered. “Who are you, and what have you done with Hermione Granger?”

“Hermione is bored out of her mind Ronald.” Ginny pointed out, “DADA class is too easy.”

The rest of the group finished their Fire Whisky and they all chatted, catching up on gossip and ministry nonsense. Laughing and chatting like old times, Hermione didn’t feel quite so out of place as she had that morning.

After a while, Harry spoke up, “We better get back to London, we have a concealment exercise tonight.” He and Ron hugged everyone goodbye, leaving the Hogwarts students behind.

“One more round, Ab, on me.” Neville called, dropping some sickles on the table. 

The girls all stared at him, until he laughed, “What? In ten minutes we’ll be back at school repeating the same charms that Harry taught us in fifth year, and bored out of our minds.”

“He makes a good point you know,” Luna said, in her rather dreamy manner. “Besides, maybe if Hermione does another shot she will realize that she has a crush on Draco Malfoy.”

“WHAT?” Hermione gasped.

“Isn’t that why he was looking at you so strangely in Defense class?” Luna asked.

“LUNA!” Hermione exclaimed, “You weren’t even in Defense class with us, you have class with the Hufflepuffs! How do you know that Draco was looking at me strangely?”

“I told her about it.” Ginny said, with a smirk.

“Ginevra Weasley!” Hermione buried her head in her arms.

“I don’t hear you denying it.” Ginny giggled, as Aberforth poured them each another drink.

“Oh god, this is me denying it!” Hermione moaned.

“Well, Hermione, it seems like an extraordinarily bad idea,” Neville exclaimed, “But I guess if you want to date a Death Eater, we’ll make sure you don’t wind up dead.”

“I’m NOT dating a Death Eater!” Hermione cried, picking up her glass and downing her second drink. She coughed just as much as the first time, and got up and walked to the bar. “Ab, is that passageway still open?”

Aberforth rolled his eyes, and jerked his thumb towards the back room. 

“I thought you wanted to buy a new quill?” Ginny called after her.

“I’ll make do!” Hermione yelled, and climbed into the passageway behind Ariana’s portrait, shutting it to block out the sound of her friends’ laughter. 

“Thinks I’m dating a Death Eater.” Hermione mumbled as she made her way down the passage, realizing quickly that she was feeling the Fire Whisky much more than she’d originally thought at the table.

Upon reaching the Room of Requirement, Hermione realized that she had no idea if the room was even still standing after the Fiendfyre. But as she pushed the portrait open, she found the empty room standing just as it had been. She climbed down the ladder, and fell the last few rungs, twisting her ankle when she landed.

“Oh bollocks.” She cursed, and limping made her way to the door.

She hobbled down the hall, trying to make her way to the tower, and not having much luck with her quickly swelling ankle. She was sitting at the foot of a statue in the hall, and trying to apply a splint charm to her ankle when she heard a family voice call out, “if you know a healing charm, then you must know that they won’t work if self applied.”

“Stuff it Malfoy, it’s just a sprain.” Hermione snapped.

“Well, nonetheless.” Draco said, stepping from behind a column he drew his wand and muttered, “Ferula.

“Do you always lurk behind columns and spy on people?” Hermione grumbled, as the charmed splint straightened out her ankle.

“Not always.” Draco said, being evasive. 

“Hiding from the rest of your house?” Hermione asked.

“Not hiding, just… avoiding.” Draco explained. “Where were you trying to go with a sprained ankle. Actually, where were you coming from with a sprained ankle?”

“The Room of Requirement.” Hermione explained.

“That’s still there?” Draco gasped.

“Yes, it’s fine.” Hermione said, “I expected to find it destroyed, but it was exactly as it always is. I fell off a ladder, climbing down from… from something I probably shouldn’t tell you about.”

“I have to check this out!” Draco said, turning to head in the direction of the aforementioned room. “You ok to make it down to Pomfrey?”

“Oh, I can’t go see Madame Pomfrey,” Hermione said, struggling to get up.

“Why not?” Draco asked, reaching over to give Hermione a hand up, “Nevermind, I know why… do you have Fire Whiskey on your breath?

“I’m old enough to drink Fire Whiskey!” Hermione insisted, wobbling a bit as she stood up. 

“Ah yes, but you’re not allowed to drink Fire Whiskey while you’re at school!” Draco said, with a smirk. “What are we going to do with the Princess of Light, we can’t let people see you drunk!” 

“I’m NOT drunk!” Hermione shrieked. 

“That’s what they all say Your Highness.” Draco laughed. “Come on, we’ll wait it out in the Room of Requirement.” 

Hermione looked at Draco, and then at the long hallway, and gave up and began to follow him. 

She only made it a few steps before Draco sighed and said, “We’ll never make it at your speed.” 

“Well this is as fast as I can hobble, go ahead without me!” Hermione complained.

“No, I don't think I will.” Draco said, with a mischievous look in his eye he slipped her legs out from under her and tossed her up on his shoulder. 

“Malfoy!" Hermione screeched. “Put me down!” 

“Not a chance Granger,” Draco laughed. “We’ll never get there if I do that.”

 “Easy Granger, we’re already there.” Draco laughed again. He slid Hermione down until he was carrying her in his arms, and slipped through the door into the Room of Requirement.



Chapter 5: Chapter 5
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Hermione looked around the room, which was arranged like an old fashioned study with a dark leather sofa, roaring fireplace, and tall bookshelves. "What were you picturing when you opened the door?" She asked Draco.

“I dunno, I just figured since you and I were always reading the same books, we might like somewhere to read them.” Draco said, with a shrug.

Of course the shrug reminded Hermione that she was still being carried, something she wasn’t used to at all. She hadn’t ever really had a boyfriend, and being on the tall side meant that her guy friends didn’t pick her up and joke around with her the way some boys did. She had even passed up Harry height wise back in year 6, and she was just about as tall as Ron. Draco though, was quite a bit taller than her, and didn’t seem to have any trouble carrying her. 

“That was nice of you,” she said, turning to face him.

“Thanks.” Draco said, sucking in his breath; her face was just inches from his, he could smell her shampoo. Get a grip Malfoy, put her down. He chastised himself, as he set Hermione carefully on the sofa. 

“Thanks,” She said, blushing a bit.

“Don’t mention it,” Draco said, suddenly wishing he had asked the room to give him more than just the one couch so he could but some space between himself and Hermione. Instead he sat on the opposite end and tried to distract himself with a new subject. “So what drove you to drink, Granger?”

Hermione growled at him. “Nothing ‘Drove me to Drink’ Malfoy, we went to the Hogs Head and Aberforth gave us a shot on the house. It would have been rude to refuse.”

“We being?” Draco pressed.

“Hmm? Oh, um, Ginny, Luna, Neville, and I… and then we met Harry and Ron when we got there.” Hermione explained.

“Two Aurors and a bunch of students at the Hogs Head?” Draco laughed, “Old Aberforth must have been thrilled.” 

“He pretends to dislike us, but he’s part of the Order of the Phoenix, so he doesn’t really mind.” Hermione explained. “That’s why he gave us the drinks, as a thanks.”

“Aberforth?! Hog’s Head Aberforth, is a member of the Order?” Draco looked dumbstruck. “No wonder we could never shut down Potter Watch, our people had half their meetings in the Hogs Head. Merlin, who could have picked that one?” 

“What do you mean, of course Aberforth is in the Order.” Hermione laughed. “His brother started the whole thing.”

“What?” Draco was confused. “Who’s his brother?

“Dumbledore.” Hermione said, with a shrug.

“Aberforth Dumbledore.” Draco laughed. “Well, we never stood a chance, did we?”

“No you didn’t.” Hermione said, “But not because of Aberforth. Well, a little because of Aberforth.”

Draco watched Hermione for a moment, appraising her. She had alcohol on her breath, but it wasn’t just because she’d felt like drinking. A fellow solider had bought her a drink. 

“What?” Hermione asked.

“Nothing, I just… you read about things like that, soldiers buying each other drinks, and you expect it to be some old man at the end of a bar telling war stories.” Draco said sadly, “Instead it’s a teenage girl with ringlets who can’t hold her liquor.”

“I can hold my liquor.” Hermione rolled her eyes.

“You clearly can’t!” Draco teased. “One drink does not an alcoholic make!”

“Well I had two drinks!” Hermione argued. “Neville bought us a second round!”

“Longbottom?” Draco looked flabbergasted.

“Yes, he said that soon enough we’d all be back in DADA class, bored out of our minds waiting for you lot to catch up, so we might as well enjoy ourselves.” Hermione explained, leaving out the bit about them teasing her for having a crush on Draco.

“Yeah, how does Longbottom know how to do a Patronus Charm?” Draco questioned.

Hermione grinned. “Well you know that club you helped Umbridge break up in Fifth Year?”

Draco nodded. “Yes, you lot were all helping Dumbledore undermine Umbridge.” 

“Not even close.” Hermione giggled. “It was a secret Defense class. Harry taught us.”

“Seriously?” Draco laughed out loud. “Boy did my father underestimate you lot.”

“Well, Umbridge wasn’t letting us use defensive spells.” Hermione explained. “What did she expect, Riddle had just come back.” 

Draco pondered that for a minute. “Why do you call him Riddle?”

“Who, Tom?” Hermione clarified, “Well, that’s his name. Tom Riddle.”

“No one else calls him that.” Draco pointed out. “Everyone calls him the Dark Lord, or You-Know-Who, or Voldemort.”

“Well, once you know where he came from, and what his real name is… it seems rather absurd to call him anything else.” Hermione pointed out. “Although you can tell a lot about a person by what they called him.”

“How do you mean?” Draco asked.

“Well, you for example.” Hermione pointed out.

“Me?” Draco asked, nervously.

“Sure.” Hermione continued. “You call him the Dark Lord. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you refer to him otherwise. Which is logical, because you were raised in a pureblood household, your parents are Death Eaters, you’re a Death Eater.”

Draco looked uncomfortable, but Hermione continued. “People from the Order, they called him Voldemort. They obviously wouldn’t call him the Dark Lord, because they were fighting against him. And of course, there were all the people caught in the middle, and just trying to stay alive, they called him You-Know-Who. The Death Eaters didn’t call him that because they revered him, the Order didn’t call him that out of pride.”

“That still doesn’t explain why you call him Riddle.” Draco pointed out.

“I suppose, I call him Riddle because Harry calls him Riddle.” Hermione explained. “When your entire existence revolves around one other person, you tend to talk about them rather a lot. I’ve spent most of my life helping Harry defeat Riddle, one way or another. A year in a tent on the run with nothing else to do but discuss how to beat him, I guess I just picked up Harry’s habit.”

Hermione, then rather inexplicably, laughed out loud.

“What?” Draco asked, confused.

“Well, it’s probably what kept us alive for so long.” Hermione laughed. “We didn’t know about the jinx on his name. We just… never said it.”

“So how’d the snatchers catch you lot then?” Draco asked. “I thought they said that you tripped the jinx.”

“Oh, that was later.” Hermione said. “Harry said it, he was trying to prove a point.”

“Potter being stubborn is what got you snatched?” Draco smirked.

“Well, it actually was a good thing in the end.” Hermione said softly.

“You getting snatched, and brought to my house was a good thing?” Draco said, looking incredulous. 

“Well, yes.” Hermione said. “I don’t really know how much I should tell you about that though. It… doesn’t dovetail with the public story.”

“The public story?!” Draco all but screamed. “Hermione, you have to give me something. I’m sitting over here, wracked with guilt over the fact that I stood by and watched you get tortured. And then you say that it was a good thing, but you won’t tell me why?!”

Hermione just watched Draco, appraising him. His cheeks were flushed, and his hair was out of place from running his hands through it. He looked like a mad man.

“Hermione!” Draco begged. “Please! Your screams haunt my memory. I promise I won’t tell anyone. I don’t have anyone to tell!” 

“Will you make an unbreakable vow?” Hermione asked.

This stopped Draco short, “It’s that important?”

“Yes.” Hermione said. “It’s Dark Magic, forgotten dark magic, that needs to stay forgotten.”

“Hermione, if it’s Dark Magic, I’ve probably already done it myself.” Draco said sadly.

“Not this you haven’t.” Hermione said darkly. “I need to know that you won’t try it. That you won’t tell anyone about it. Ever.”

“Ok then,” Draco said, putting out his hand. “Unbreakable Vow it is.”

“Ok,” Hermione took a deep breath. “Can we do this without a third person?” 

Draco smirked. “Haven’t you made and unbreakable vow before?”

“No.” Hermione shook her head.

“There’s a variation.” Draco said, striding over to the bookshelf. “This room claims to provide everything we need.” After a brief search, he selected a book and brought it back to Hermione. “It should detail it there.”

“Do you know how to do it?” Hermione asked.

“Yes.” Draco said, “But it’s a borderline dark spell. I can’t do it, you’ll have to do the incantation if you want me to make the vow.”

“Ok, tell me what to do.” Hermione said.

“No.” Draco said, pointing at the book. “I want you to read it. I’m not teaching you any dark magic, you have to decide for yourself if that’s something you want to do.”

“But if you want to hear the story?” Hermione said, feeling uncomfortable.

“Hermione, every dark spell takes a part of your soul away.” Draco said. “It takes a part of the light and replaces it with darkness. And then, eventually, you will crave the darkness like an addict.”

“You sound like you know what that feels like.” Hermione said softly. 

“Which is why I won’t do the spell.” Draco said simply. “I can’t do the spell, and not because of my probation.”

“You crave the darkness?” Hermione asked, sadly. “All the time?”

“All the time.” Draco said, his eyes getting dark and scary. “You see, my father never gave me a choice. He never explained to me that I was walking down a one way road; never told me that each spell he taught me would pull me closer to the darkness. Which is why you have to decide for yourself if you want to do that spell. I won’t take the light away from you.”

Hermione swallowed, nervously, and opened the book. She didn’t break eye contact with Draco, however, and noticed that his eyes were still dark, and his fists were clenched.

She snapped the book shut. “I can’t tell you then, Draco.”

“I understand.” Draco said, “I don’t want to force you to do a spell you’re not comfortable with.”

“No, Draco, it’s not that.” Hermione said, shaking her head. “I just, I don’t think you should know about this. This magic, it’s… evil.”

“You’re probably right.” Draco said, pressing his hands to his temples. “Give me something else to think about.”

“What were you thinking about when you were working on the Patronus yesterday?” Hermione asked.

Draco sat up straight and glared at Hermione, “What makes you ask that?”

“Well, you wanted me to change the subject,” Hermione said, “I figured the opposite of Dark Magic is the Patronus charm.”

“Uh huh.” Draco said skeptically.

“Plus, whatever it was made you run out of class like there was a banshee chasing you.” Hermione grinned.

“Nope.” Draco said. “New question.”

“Oh, now I’m really curious!” Hermione said. “Have you ever tried to do that charm before?”

“No, it’s not exactly in the Death Eater repertoire.” Draco said, looking away.

“Well I can help you with it.” Hermione said, sitting up on her knees on the couch. “I helped Harry teach all the DA. If I can teach Seamus to do a charm without blowing up the room, I can teach you!” 

“Look, I appreciate the offer Hermione, but I just don’t see myself being able to do that charm.” Draco said, shaking his head. “I got enough of shield variation that I think I can pass the N.E.W.T., let’s not get overly optimistic.”

Hermione was too excited at the thought of helping Draco, she pressed on,“I think you’re just not applying yourself, if you tried…”

“No Hermione.” Draco cut in coldly. “No Patronus charm.”

“Oh, ok.” Hermione said, realizing she’d been sitting up on her knees in excitement, she leaned back into the sofa, rubbing her swolen ankle. 

“Look, I’m sorry.” Draco said, “I’m just not capable of doing that charm.”

Hermione nodded.

“New subject?” Draco asked.

“Why do you only use my name when you’re all serious?” Hermione asked.

“I use your name all the time.” Draco said. 

“No, you call me Granger. Or… other things.” Hermione pointed out. “Or, lately you’ve been giving me ridiculous nicknames. But you never just call me Hermione.” 

“What nicknames?” Draco said, grinning. “You mean Your Royal Highness, the Princess of Light?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yes, like that.”

“I… don’t actually know.” Draco said, tilting his head to the side in thought. “But I like ‘Your Highness’, so I’m sticking with it.”

Hermione growled at Draco and picked up a throw pillow from the sofa and hurled it at him. 

“Your Highness, you do not want to start a pillow fight with me!” Draco said, grabbing the pillow and aiming it back at Hermione. 

“Oh really?” Hermione challenged. “I don’t think the Prince of Darkness has a lot of spare time for pillow fighting. I’d imagine my technique is vastly superior!” 

“What, does the Princess spend a lot of time having pillow fights?” Draco teased. “Not a lot of time for that last year, so is it a new development? Are there an excess of Pillow Fights in Gryffindor Tower? Jumping from bed to bed in your underwear?”

“Good lord, no.” Hermione laughed. “You can’t jump on the beds in Gryffindor, they all have canopies.”

“I don’t hear you denying the rest of that statement!” Draco said, tossing the pillow at Hermione, who caught it and blushed.

“You are going down!” Hermione said, and with a flick of her wand, sent all the pillows repeatedly flying at Draco. 

“Alright, Uncle… uncle!!!” Draco said laughing, and trying to dodge pillows.

“You concede to my vastly superior pillow fighting skills?” Hermione demanded.

“I concede fair lady!” Draco said, running away from the sofa.

“Ha ha!” Hermione said, cancelling the charm. “I’m the champion!” 

“Of course, your majesty!” Draco said, bowing, “I submit to the superiority of the Princess of Light.”

“Oh honestly Draco,” Hermione growled. “That is not my name.”

“I’m forever indebted to the Prophet for coming up with it though!” Draco said, flopping back on the couch.

“Yes, heaven forbid they just let me live my life.” Hermione grumbled.

“Come on,” Draco said gently, “You had to know your shenanigans were going to get some attention.”

“For Harry maybe.” Hermione scoffed. “I didn’t have that much to do with it.”

“Look, I may not know the whole story, but I know that’s not true.” Draco insisted. “You can’t walk away from saving the world without a little attention.”

“I think that’s half the reason I came back to Hogwarts this year.” Hermione admitted. “They offered me any job I wanted in the ministry. But I don’t want to be an Auror, I’m tired of fighting, and running for my life.”

“Instead you’re bored out of your mind in Defense class.” Draco pointed out. “Why don’t you take McGonagall up on her offer to the returning Seventh years and test out?”

“And then what?” Hermione asked. “Have another free period? Take Divination?”

“Hey, Divination isn’t so bad without Harry’s death to predict.” Draco laughed.

Hermione laughed half-heartedly. “I don’t know if I even want to stay in the Wizarding World after school.” 

“What do you mean?” Draco asked.

“I mean, maybe I don’t need magic.” Hermione said sadly. “Maybe I’ll go to a muggle university, and get a non-magical job where no one knows me.”

“Hermione, you’re the brightest witch of the age!” Draco exclaimed, panicking slightly at the thought of never seeing her again. “You can’t just turn your back on all that!” 

“That’s the thing though,” Hermione said, looking determined. “I’m muggleborn. It wouldn’t even be that hard.”

“Hermione!” Draco exclaimed. “We need you!”

“No one needs me.” Hermione said. “I kept Harry alive, that was my job, and now it’s done. He’s an auror, and I’m a bored seventh year.”

“I need you!” Draco said, sounding desperate. “Humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.”

Hermione smiled sadly. “Invisible Man.”

Draco nodded, trying to quell the panic bubbling up inside; he knew he couldn’t have her, but his desire was thoroughly clouding his judgement.  

“Change will come as surely as the seasons and twice as quick, we make our peace with it as best we can.” Hermione said.

“Little Women.” Draco whispered. 

Hermione nodded, noticing that in this exchange, Draco had moved impossibly close to her on the sofa. She took a deep breath, and the smell of his cologne enveloped her senses. 

"Oh, what the hell." Draco whispered, before quoting, "We might as well know what we want." And with that, he placed both hands on Hermione's face and kissed her.

Authors Note:
The books quoted in this chapter are The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Hermione didn't know how to react, Draco was kissing her. And then, she felt herself kissing him back. She reached around his back and pulled him closer. Draco moaned, and twisted his hands into her hair.

Hermione knew it was crazy, foolish even. He was a Death Eater! But she didn’t want him to stop, for the first time in a long time, she was feeling… something! She pushed all her hesitations out of her mind, and slipped her hands under Draco’s shirt, feeling his muscular back.

Draco lifted Hermione onto his lap, without breaking the kiss. He didn’t know when this would end, when she would come to her senses and realize that it was all wrong. He teased at her lips with his tongue, and to his continued shock, she opened her mouth and deepened the kiss. Draco slid a hand under her sweater, losing all thoughts of control, he tugged it over her head. She was wearing a silky blouse under the old sweater.

Good God. Draco thought, she’s smart, gorgeous, and she tastes like Fire Whiskey. That stopped him short, and he pulled back.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“These violent delights have violent ends.” Draco said, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” Hermione responded, catching her breath.

“So we’re either a tragedy waiting to happen, or we’re under the spell of a mischievous fairy?” Draco asked. “Which is worse, do you think?”

“I… don’t know.” Hermione admitted.

“Well, we’re not finding out while you’re drunk!” Draco said, lifting Hermione off his lap, and sliding back.

“For the last time, I am not drunk!” Hermione insisted.

“Try again, Princess, I can taste the Fire whiskey.” Draco said.

“Well, so what!” Hermione exclaimed. “So I had two shots of Fire Whiskey two hours ago.”

“So… I’m not the kind of guy who takes advantage of inebriated women.” Draco said, his expression growing dark. “I might be a Death Eater, I might know every dark magic spell there is, and I might have the mark of true evil on my arm… but I am not that depraved.”

“You know,” Hermione said, pulling her sweater back on, “Most guys quote Shakespeare to try and get girls to start making out with them, not to stop them.”

“Well, I’m not like most guys.” Draco said, leaning over and resting his head in his hands.

“Yes, I think that’s true.” Hermione said softly. She reached over and took his hand, and began rolling up the sleeve of his shirt.

“What are you doing?” Draco asked, trying to pull his arm away.

“Hush.” Hermione said, rolling the sleeve up until his Dark Mark was completely visible. Then she rolled up her own sleeve exposing the scar that Bellatrix had left on her arm.

“Look, we’re both marked by something from our past we couldn’t control.” She said. “It doesn’t mean it dictates who we are for the rest of our lives.”

Draco tried to pull his sleeve down, but Hermione kept hold of it and continued, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

“The Lord of the Rings?” Draco laughed, “You pull out The Lord of the Rings on me. At least choose a muggle book if you’re trying to confuse me!”

“That is a muggle book!” Hermione insisted.

“It’s not!” Draco said, “Tolkien was a Wizard.”

“Well, I stand by the quote.” Hermione said, stubbornly.

“Hmmm.” Draco replied, and ran his hand over the word carved into Hermione’s arm. “They couldn’t heal this?”

“Well, I had a lot going on after that happened.” Hermione explained. “By the time I got to a real healer, it was too late. Apparently Bellatrix had cursed her knife somehow. The healers couldn’t figure out what it was.”

“Likely it’s the Permanens curse.” Draco said, “She used that one a lot. But the healers are right, it can’t be charmed away.”

“And what about yours?” Hermione asked, taking Draco’s hand.

“Nope, that one isn’t going anywhere.” Draco said sadly. “When you take the mark, you make a sort of unbreakable vow, for lack of a better term.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, and then Draco continued quietly. “I’ve never been as scared as I was that day. I just wanted it to be over. The Dark Lord was staring down at me, and I’ve never been so glad to be an Occlumens.”

“He did it himself?” Hermione asked, curiously.

“Yes, he had to, or he wouldn’t be linked to us.” Draco shuddered. “I knew he was gone when it stopped moving; before, it was always crawling under my skin. I’ve never been so relieved to see someone die.”

“Did your father teach you Occlumencey?” Hermione asked, still holding Draco’s hand.

“Yes, I think it’s the one thing he taught me that wasn’t Dark Magic.” Draco said, looking away from Hermione. “And it was also the most useful.”

“It is useful.” Hermione agreed.

“Are you an Occlumens?” Draco asked, surprised.

Hermione nodded. “Harry taught me… it, well lets just say it became a necessity.”

“What?” Draco asked.

“Well, ok… you know how Harry can speak Parseltongue?” Hermione asked.

“Ha ha, yeah. The only Gryffindor Parselmouth in the history of forever.” Draco said rolling his eyes.

“Well, the reason he can do that, is because Riddle transferred some of his power to Harry when he was a baby.” Hermione explained. “Or at least, that’s what Dumbledore thought.”

“You’re kidding.” Draco said, looking nervous.

“Not at all.” Hermione said, shaking her head. “He inherited a few other gifts as well, like Riddle’s temper… and his Legimancy.”

“Potter is a Legimiens?” Draco asked.

“Yeah,” Hermione laughed, “A pretty good one it turns out. Anyway, living in a small tent with a Legimens, Occlumencey becomes a requirement.”

“Who taught him how to control it?” Draco asked, sounding honestly curious. “Dumbledore?”

“No.” Hermione said, “Professor Snape.”

“You’re joking.” Draco said, seriously.

“No, he started teaching Harry Occlumencey in Fifth year.” Hermione explained.

“Wow, he really did have the Order trusting him.” Draco said, sounding surprised.

Hermione giggled.

“What?” Draco asked, confused.

“He was a double agent Draco.” She said with a grin.

“Well yeah, but… a lot of the Death Eater’s didn’t really believe him.” Draco pointed out.

“Well, they’d be right.” Hermione laughed, “He was a double agent… for us.”

“No!” Draco exclaimed, “He killed Dumbledore!”

“Draco, Severus killed Dumbledore, because Dumbledore asked him to.” Hermione said gently. “Dumbledore was already dying, and he knew what Riddle had asked you to do. He didn’t want you to have to follow through with killing him.”

Draco was shocked. “You’re not serious?!”

“I’m completely serious.” Hermione said, squeezing Draco’s hand. “It’ll probably all become public eventually, Harry is trying to get Severus some kind of posthumous award. He was the one who actually told Harry how to defeat Riddle.”

Draco slumped down on the sofa so his head was resting on the back, and Hermione was shocked to see tears in his eyes. Draco blushed, and covered his face with his hands.

“I’ve always been haunted by that day. I know I didn’t actually cast the curse, but I’ve always felt that it was still my fault.” Draco said, in bitter realization. “That old man cared more about me than my own parents, who were just trying to stay in the Dark Lord's good graces.”

“Of course he cared about you.” Hermione said, “You’re not as evil as you think you are.”

Draco sat up sharply and grabbed Hermione by the shoulders, with dark eyes and a terrifying expression he said, “I know exactly how evil I really am. And you need to stop thinking that it is safe to spend time with me.”

With that, Draco stood, rolled his sleeve down to cover his Dark Mark, and fixed his hair. “Can you make it back to your dorm on your own?” He asked coldly, pointing at Hermione’s ankle.

She shook her head no.

“Come on then,” Draco said, not meeting her eyes, he picked her up and carried her out of the room of requirement. He stalked quickly through the halls, until he spotted Neville and Ginny coming back from Hogsmede.

“Longbottom! Weaslette!” He barked, getting their attention. “You need to keep a closer watch on your friends, they could get themselves in trouble.”

“Hermione!” Ginny cried, rushing over “What happened?”

“She sprained her ankle,” Draco said coldly, dumping Hermione into Neville’s arms and walking away. “Next time I leave you there Granger.”

“I fell off the ladder in the Room of Requirement.” Hermione explained.

“Come on,” Neville said kindly, “Lets get you to the hospital wing.”

“Can you still smell the Fire Whiskey on my breath?” Hermione asked, worriedly.

“No, you’re fine.” Ginny laughed. “You barely had any.”

The trio headed for the hospital wing, as they left, Hermione watched Draco stalk his way up the stairs away from her. He never looked back.

“That was weird.” Ginny said.

“You have no idea.” Hermione said, sadly.

At the top of the stairs, Draco ducked into an empty classroom, and slid down to the floor and started to sob. Accept it. He told himself meanly, you can’t be with her, you can’t even be around her. She is too good for Death Eater scum like you.

After a long time, Draco had cried until there were no more tears. He promised himself that he wouldn’t talk to Hermione again. He would keep his head down in Defense class, the only class they shared, and avoid her. Soon it would be Christmas break, and she would leave for a few weeks, and he could clear his head.

Authors Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream(my personal favorite) by the incomparable William Shakespeare and The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Chapter 7: Chapter 7
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“So, explain me how you ended up being carried around the castle by Malfoy?” Ginny asked. 

They were sitting in the hospital wing, eating dinner off trays. Madame Pomfrey had insisted that Hermione remain there until bedtime to ensure she didn’t re-injure her newly healed ankle, and she had begged that Ginny be allowed to stay with her.

“Well, I fell off that ladder in the Room of Requirement, getting down from Ariana’s portrait.” Hermione explained, “I was trying to make my way downstairs, but I only managed to make it a little ways into the hall, and Draco found me sitting at the foot of that statue of a knight near the entrance.”

“Yeah, that part I understand.” Ginny said with a smirk, “What I don’t understand is the timeline. We wandered around Hogsmede for quite a while after you left. I even bought you a new quill.”

“Well I don’t know how long I was sitting there before Malfoy found me.” Hermione said.

“‘Mione, you’re wearing a watch.” Ginny pointed out.

Hermione took an overly large bite of her Shepard’s Pie to avoid responding.

Ginny just waited patiently, and when Hermione had finished her pie, she asked again. “Really Hermione, what happened? You’ve been so distant this year. I feel like you’re always hiding somewhere.”

Hermione mumbled something. 

“What was that?” Ginny pressed.

“I said we were talking.” Hermione hissed.

“You and Malfoy?” 

“Yes, he… he smelled the fire whiskey on my breath, and knew he couldn’t bring me straight here.” She explained.  

“So, you just had a friendly chat for a few hours, with a Death Eater?” Ginny asked, incredulous. 

“Well, it’s not really the first time we’ve talked.” Hermione admitted, staring at her empty tray.

“Oh no?” Ginny asked, “When have you been talking to Malfoy? And for Merlin’s Sake, what about?” 

“It’s been… weird.” Hermione admitted. “I keep running into him in random places, and we have these very intense conversations, that usually consist of a lot of quotes from books. And he’s even somewhat nice to me, and then all of the sudden he’ll clam up and slink off.” 

“Hermione, he’s a Death Eater.” Ginny pointed out gently.

“I… I know that.” Hermione replied, “He reminds me of that, quite frequently actually.”

“He reminds you that he’s a Death Eater?” Ginny asked, “What, does he think you could forget?”

“No, it’s more like he’s reminding himself.” Hermione admitted. “He’ll say something particularly nice to me, and follow it up with some horrific story about his past.”

Ginny didn’t know what to say to that, so she just nodded.

“He told me he think’s I’m brave.” Hermione whispered.

"He said that?" Ginny asked? "In what context?"

"Um, we were talking about the war. We usually talk about the war." Hermione said, still speaking softly so that Madame Pomfrey wouldn't overhear. "He actually apologized for everything that happened at his house, for what Bellatrix did to me. And then he said he thought I was brave." 

Ginny's eyes bugged out. "He apologized to you?"

"I know, I was surprised too." Hermione said, "and then of course, after he said that clammed up again. He quoted Dracula, and then disappeared."

"He quoted Dracula... you mean that muggle vampire book?" Ginny asked. "What on earth did that have to do with anything?"

"He just, quoted the book." Hermione said, cagily. 

"'Mione, what did he say?" Ginny pressed.

"He said that I'm the light in the darkness." Hermione said, blushing.

"Merlin!" Ginny gushed, "'Mione, I think he actually does have feelings for you. I was just teasing you earlier today, but I think I might be right!" 

Hermione didn't say anything, instead she busied herself with hovering her dinner tray over to a table out of the way.

"Hermione Granger!" Ginny exclaimed. "What aren't you telling me? What else have you talked about?”

“Um, we talked about life after Hogwarts, and a lot about the war. He explained about his probation, and we compared arm decor.” Hermione said, rubbing her arm sadly.

“Arm decor? You mean your scar?” Ginny pressed. “Did he actually show you his Dark Mark?”

“Yes, he did.” Hermione said, “We actually talked about it for a while.”

“How’d you get on that subject?” Ginny was shell shocked.

“Um, well, I… Ginny, you have to take this to the grave!” Hermione demanded. “I mean it, no telling Luna or Neville or Harry… especially not Harry!”

“Ok, I won’t tell.” Ginny said. “I promise.”

“He kissed me.” Hermione whispered.

“WHAT!?” Ginny shrieked. 

“Shhhhh, you promised!” 

“I know I promised, but Hermione, he kissed you?” Ginny hissed, “He’s a Death Eater!” 

“I know that! Besides, he stopped kissing me before it went very far.” Hermione pointed out, “He said he could taste the Fire Whiskey I drank this afternoon, and he said he doesn’t take advantage of inebriated women, so he stopped.”

“He could taste the Fire Whiskey?” Ginny said, raising her eyebrows.

“That's what he said.” Hermione exclaimed. “He quoted Little Women, and Shakespeare, and he kissed me.”

“If he could taste Fire Whiskey, he must have had his tongue in your mouth.” Ginny said, matter of factly.

“I am done with this conversation.” Hermione said, crossing her arms. 

“Oh no you’re not!” Ginny cried. “You snogged Malfoy, and I think you liked it!” 

Just then, Madame Pomfrey came over to released Hermione, with strict instructions not to do any climbing in the near future.

The two girls hurried out of the Hospital Wing and back towards Gryffindor Tower.

“So, did you like it?!” Ginny demanded, as they made their way up the stairs. 

“Yes, I bloody liked it.” Hermione snapped. “But it doesn’t matter, I don’t think he’ll do it again. Before we came back downstairs, he said that he’s evil and I shouldn’t spend time with him.” 

“Merlin’s Saggy Boxers, you’re not kidding?” Ginny’s eyes were bugging out of her head. “Is Malfoy a good kisser?”

“Well I don’t exactly have much to compare it to.” Hermione pointed out.

“Not true, you’ve snogged Viktor.” Ginny said, and then got an evil look in her eye. “And you snogged my brother.”

“How did you know?” Hermione cried. 

“Ron told Harry, Harry told me.” Ginny said, with a shrug.

“Good lord, no bloody privacy anywhere in the Wizarding World is there?” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “Funny Ron was able to discuss it with Harry, but hasn’t mentioned it to me.” 

“Oh you know Ron,” Ginny said, “He’s crap when it comes to emotional stuff.”

“Yeah, I know.” Hermione sighed. “I think we both just got caught up in the whole ‘what if we die tonight’ situation during the battle. And I never snogged Viktor, who said I snogged Victor?”

“Um, everyone?” Ginny pointed out.

“Ugh, no, we never had that kind of relationship.” Hermione insisted. 

“Hold up,” Ginny said, “So you’re telling me that your first kiss was my brother, in the middle of the Battle of Hogwarts.”

“Yes,” Hermione said, shrugging.

“Well that makes him a bigger Git then!” Ginny said angrily.

“Oh Ginny, it doesn’t really matter.” Hermione said. “Honestly, I’m just ready for the awkwardness between us to go away.”

“So what are you going to do about Malfoy?” Ginny gently pressed.

“I don’t know.” Hermione shook her head. “Probably nothing, he’s so… sure he’s not good enough for me. I don’t know if I’ll even get him to talk to me again.”

“Well he’s right,” Ginny said. “He’s not good enough for you.”

“Ok, but isn’t the fact that he’s the one insisting that he’s not good enough kind of a sign that he’s changed?” Hermione pointed out.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ginny replied, thoughtfully. “But honestly Hermione, if you are interested in him, how do you see that working? I mean, he’s a Death Eater, and you’re Hermione Granger, Princess of Light? Everyone would freak!”

“Ugh, don’t call me that!” Hermione groaned. “Seriously, I should write the Prophet and demand a retraction!”

“Ok, yes it’s a stupid nickname, but you see my point?” Ginny replied.

“Yes, Ginny… I get it.” Hermione snapped. “Good guys and bad guys can’t be friends.”

“I’m just trying to be the voice of reason here,” Ginny said, “Do you really want to be the one everyone stares at because you’re dating the enemy?”

“No, I want people to let me live my life in peace.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Honestly, I would love to open the Prophet without seeing my name plastered all over it.”

"'Mione, that's not going to happen anytime soon." Ginny grinned. "Just embrace it. You know they're talking about fiving oyu three an Order of Merlin."

 “Yes, I’m aware.” Hermione sighed. “Well, Dumbledore seemed to be able to do his own thing eventually after the whole Grindelwald fiasco, so maybe there’s hope for the future.” 

 “I think that’s the one thing we can count on.” Ginny smiled. “Hope for the future.”




Chapter 8: Chapter 8
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  Days slipped by slowly to Hermione, from that point on. She tried to keep an eye on Draco, but it seemed like he was purposely avoiding her. He came to defense class just before the bell rang each day, and hurried out immediately as it ended. He never stayed very long at meals, if he did show up at all. 

Hermione felt like the weeks until Christmas seemed to stretch further away as the days went on. 

Ginny tried helpfully to distract her, and they restarted the DA as a Defense Club. Not as many people joined as in the Umbridge days, but they had fun trying spells out and dueling.

Hermione continued to read her way through the Hogwarts Library, but to her disappointment, she never again ran into Draco there.

Little did she know, Draco was actively avoiding her. He memorized her scheduled and kept himself far away from anywhere Hermione might be. His housemates had started to bore of tormenting him, so he settled into a depressing routine of staying in his room anytime he wasn’t in class. 

Despite being surround by classmates, Draco had never felt more lonely. He was sitting by himself, and couldn’t seem to get his mind off Hermione. One of his housemates had left a copy of the Prophet on the floor, and he picked it up for something to read. It was a bad choice for distraction because the front page, of course, was an article about the Golden Trio. 

There wasn’t anything new to the story, just speculation about their lives, but what caught Draco’s immediate attention was a picture of Hermione that was included with the article. Someone had taken it in Hogsmede, the day he had kissed her. She was walking with Harry and Ron, and laughing at something they said. She obviously hadn’t known anyone was taking the picture, because she wasn’t looking at the camera. She looked relaxed and happy, flanked by her two best friends, in their Auror’s robes. 

They look like bodyguards. Draco thought to himself sadly. Just another reason you can’t spend time with her. Potter and Weasley wouldn’t let you live.

But after reading the article, which included a load of nonsense about Hermione being engaged to Potter and Weasley being considered as Minister for Magic, Draco carefully sliced the picture out of the paper. He cropped Harry and Ron out of it, so it was just Hermione walking down the cobbled street on a fall day. Wearing the sweater she let me take off, Draco thought. His thoughts drifted to the lacy camisole she had layered under the sweater.  Stop it Draco, he mentally scolded himself. 

He stuck the picture into his Divination book, and realized that if he wanted any dinner, he would have to hurry before Hermione left Defense Club.

The next morning, however, Draco wasn’t as lucky in his timing, and he and Hermione ended up arriving at breakfast at nearly the same moment. He pretended to tie his shoe to avoid bumping into her in the doorway.

Hermione watched him hurry into the Great Hall and duck into his usual place at the end of the Slytherin table.  

She was quickly distracted, however, by a pair of large Owls leading the mail call. One stopped at her side, and the other flew up to McGonagall. The owl dropped a large, ornate looking envelope in front of Hermione, and waited importantly for her to open it. 

“Oh no!” Hermione groaned, and dropped her head into her arms. The heavy and expensive parchment dropped to the floor.

“What is it?” Neville asked, reaching to pick up the parchment. 

“No!” Hermione grabbed it and stuffed it in her book bag.

“Is everything all right ‘Mione?” Ginny asked.

But before Hermione could answer, Professor McGonagall asked for the attention of the hall.

“Boys and Girls, I have just received very intriguing news from the Ministry!” She announced, “The Wizengamot has arranged that by New Years Eve, all trials related to the Wizarding War will have been completed. As such, there will be a celebration on the First of January to pay respects to those lost, and to to honor those amongst us who put the lives of others ahead of their own safety to bring about the end of the war.”

Excited chatter filled the hall, but Hermione had once again buried her head in her arms.

“Settle down!” Minerva called gently, “The Celebration will be broadcast over the Wizarding Wireless so that anyone who would like can join in the festivities, however there will be a formal ball held at the Ministry for invited guests.”

The chatter resumed. 

“Hermione Granger!” Minerva called over the din of the crowd. “Would you please come up to the front of the hall?”

Hermione tried to make eye contact with McGonagall to plead her way out of what was coming, but Minerva simply waved her up to the platform.             

Hermione’s feet felt leaden as she made her way up to the front. When she reached the podium, McGonagall put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Boys and Girls, we have one very good reason to be proud today, because our own Hermione Granger is to be awarded the Order of Merlin at the Celebration!”

The hall erupted in cheers, particularly from the Gryffindor table, with mostly polite applause coming from the Slytherins. 

Hermione just looked at her feet, she didn't want to make eye contact with anyone. This is ridiculous. Nearly everyone sitting here helped in one way or another on the night of the battle.

After a few moments of cheering, a beaming Professor McGonagall turned to Hermione and asked, “Would you like to say something dear?”

Hermione shook her head, certain that her face was a very Gryffindor shade of red. 

“Very well,” McGonagall said, “To help celebrate Miss Granger’s exceptional accomplishment, we will have a celebration of our own the first week of spring term. See the notice boards in your houses for more details.”

With that she dismissed the students, and Hermione practically flew off the platform and back to her seat. 

As Hermione finished her breakfast, there was chatter all around her about the possible celebration, who might be invited, or what they were going to wear to the party.

Only Ginny and Neville were quiet, and after a moment Neville asked, “So. That’s what was in the letter?” 

Hermione nodded, looking miserable. “Harry and Ron are getting them too.”

“Well, I think it’s probably to be expected, isn’t it?” Neville said gently.

“I was hoping everyone would come to their senses.” Hermione said. “I mean, there are lots of other people who did much more that I did. Harry should get one, obviously, but I walked away unscathed.”

“Hermione,” Ginny said, “You know that right now, Harry is sitting at breakfast saying the exact same thing.”

“But he at least died, for a few minutes anyway!” Hermione argued. “I mean, shouldn’t this be going to Fred? Or Tonks, or Remus, or Severus?!”

Ginny teared up at the mention of her brother. “‘Mione, Fred wouldn’t want an Order of Merlin any more than you do.”  

"I guess not." Hermione said, resting her head on her chin in her hands. "What do you think the odds of me getting out of going to that event are?"

"I'd say somewhere between slim and none." Neville said with a laugh, "Hermione, you're not going to want to hear this, but I think the world needs to see you in particular celebrating the end of the war."

"What? Why me in particular? Harry is the one who stopped Riddle!" Hermione cried.

"Hermione, Harry is a half-blood. Ron is a pureblood." Neville explained. "We just finished fighting a war, in defense of muggle borns, among other things. You are the 'brightest witch in a generation', which means that you personally prove the pureblood suprematists wrong, all on your own." 

"I just want things to go back to normal." Hermione said quietly.

"'Mione, when have things ever been 'normal' for you?" Ginny pointed out.

"Well, there was one year in primary school." Hermione grumbled.

"Are you coming to potions Hermione?" Luna asked, coming across the hall from the Ravenclaw table.

"Yes, I'm coming." Hermione called, suddenly feeling like she couldn't eat any more of her breakfast. She gathered up her books and followed Luna to the dungeons.

Draco watched her departure with interest, she looked distressed. He was disappointed he didn't have class with her, because he would have liked to study her response to this news closely. Most people were beyond thrilled to receive an Order of Merlin. It was a highly prestigious award, only a handful of Wizards or Witches alive held an Order of Merlin. Some Order of Merlin recipients were even knighted in the Muggle world. 

Draco guessed that she didn’t want the recognition; she just wanted to be left alone with her books. He turned quickly when she looked his way, and headed off to his Ancient Runes class. 


Hermione felt as though she wouldn’t make it through the day. By dinner, she was exhausted of the well wishers and hangers on and just wanted to be alone. Where the ruddy hell were all these people last week. She thought, as she tried to sit in her usual place at the Gryffindor table with Ginny and Neville. 

“Oh, yes, thanks.” Hermione said distractedly to a Hufflepuff girl who had come up to ask if she was excited about the upcoming party at the ministry. 

“Oh, shove off you lot!” Ginny shouted into the crowd that had formed around Hermione. “If you can’t tell me her middle name, then shove off!”

“Thanks Ginny.” Hermione said, ducking into her place, and staring at her plate.

“Just eat something Hermione.” Neville prompted. “You didn’t touch your lunch or finish your breakfast.”

“I know Neville, I’m just not hungry.” Hermione argued.

“Come on ‘Mione,” Ginny pleaded. “Eat that piece of chicken and we’ll let you alone.”

Hermione grumbled and ate the chicken, as well as some potatoes for good measure. “There, satisfied?” 

“Yes.” Ginny said with a smirk. “Don’t worry, someone will drop something shiny in the hallway and everyone will get distracted before you know it.”

“Ok, well in the meantime I’m going to the Library where no one will find me.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

“I’ll come with you,” Ginny said.

Hermione just smiled, and headed out of the hall, glancing discreetly at the Slytherin table on her way out the door.

“He’s not there ‘Mione.” Ginny said gently, “You know he doesn’t come to dinner until he knows you’ve left.” 

“You don’t know that.” Hermione argued. “Maybe we’re just on opposite schedules.”

“I don’t think so,” Ginny said. “Watch.”

Sure enough, as soon as the girls had reached the top of the staircase, and ducked behind a suit of armor, Draco appeared from a door near the great hall and slipped inside.

Hermione frowned. “Why is he trying so hard to avoid me?”

“Hermione, does it really matter” Ginny pressed. “You can’t be with him.”

“I know that, I just…” Hermione trailed off.

“Look, ‘Mione, I know you like him.” Ginny said. “I see the way you look at him. You think you’re being subtle, but I know you.”

Hermione blushed, but said nothing.

“Hermione, in a parallel universe maybe you and Malfoy could have worked.” Ginny said with a shrug. “Sometimes opposites attract. But you’re a public figure now.”

Hermione started to protest, but Ginny cut her off, “No, listen. You’re a public figure, whether you like it or not. The ministry will trot you out for years; at events, at celebrations. The Prophet will want your opinion on important things. And you can use all of that to your advantage for good! But not if you are with a Death Eater.”

“But I don’t want to be a public figure!” Hermione spat. “Ginny, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I came back to Hogwarts hoping to have some kind of epiphany! I didn’t think I’d survive last year! Your brother and I knew that Harry was the key; we had to protect him at all costs, and we expected to pay with our lives.”

“I know that.” Ginny said calmly. “But you didn’t die, and now you have a unique opportunity to really make the world a better place. ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’

“You did not just quote Shakespeare.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

“I did! He was pretty smart you know!” Ginny laughed.

“Ugh, come on.” Hermione said, “I want to change my books.”

“Plus you need to take out a few recent issues of Witch Weekly.” Ginny pointed out.

“Now why on earth would I want that rag?” Hermione asked, agog.

"Because you need to find a dress for the celebration, and they're the best place to start!" Ginny said, matter-of-factly, looking her arm through Hermione's and dragging her to the library.

Authors Note:
The quote in this chapter is from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

Chapter 9: Chapter 9
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“Oh no, not another one!” Hermione groaned, as a large white box was dropped on the table by a pair of owls who had been struggling to carry it.

“Well I think you should open it!” Ginny said, “Who knows, this might be one that you like!”

In the weeks since the announcement of the celebration, Hermione had received hundreds of letters and packages from all over. Included had been dresses from numerous Wizarding shops, all of whom hoped Hermione would make them famous by wearing one of their dress robes.

“Ugh, well then you be my Press Secretary and open it then.” Hermione grumbled.

Ginny tore open the box eagerly. “Yikes!” She exclaimed, pulling a gigantic purple and lime green frock from the swathes of tissue paper inside. She packed the frock back into it’s box and sent the owls back to their shop with it, and the group wandered out into the courtyard, as it was a Saturday.

“How am I meant to find a dress for this fiasco if there’s no Hogsmede weekend between now ant the celebration.” Hermione groaned. “I’ll never find something in the week before the celebration.”

“Maybe McGonagall would give you some kind of special dispensation?” Neville pointed out.

“I’m not going to start asking for favours!” Hermione cried.

“Well, you could wear your Yule Ball dress.” Ginny pointed out.

“No, it doesn’t fit any more.” Hermione groaned. “I’m taller than I was in fourth year, and I lost too much weight last year.”

“Well, I’m sure Luna could sort you out.” Neville suggested. “She makes most of her own things, doesn’t she?”

“I’m not sure that’s quite the statement Hermione wants to make Neville.” Ginny said with a giggle.

“I guess I’ll just have to go out on the first day of the Christmas Holidays and hope I get lucky.” Hermione said with a sigh.

“I’ll go with you, it’ll be fine.” Ginny said. “And if you can’t find anything good, I’ll just make Ron wear his old lacy dress robes and no one will notice!”

Hermione laughed at the memory of Ron in his old musty dress robes.

“What colour even goes with green anyway?” Hermione asked.

“Why green?” Neville asked.

“Because that’s the colour of the riband I’m meant to wear.” Hermione explained. The only interesting thing she’d received was a large stack of parchment detailing the protocol of an Order of Merlin recipient. “As ladies don’t generally have a lapel to pin the medal ribbon to, they are given a shoulder sash to wear it on. Apparently the First Class medal has a green ribbon.”

“Well that does make it more difficult.” Ginny said.

Hermione nodded.

“Just ask the Slytherins” Luna said, joining them.

“I think I’ll figure it out on my own.” Hermione laughed. “It’s freezing out here!”

“You said you’d help me in the greenhouses!” Neville challenged.

“Well then lets get there before we lose all our toes!” Ginny exclaimed, heading down the hill. “Maybe the greenhouses can enlighten us on what colour goes best with green.”

Sitting behind one of the courtyard pillars, Draco overheard their conversation. She’s trying to find a dress that doesn’t show her scar. He thought. He’d watched her open and discard dozens of dresses over the past week, and all of them had one feature in common: they were strapless, or had thin straps… none had sleeves. He knew she was self conscious about the scar carved into her arm.

He jumped up, and headed quickly back to his dorm to write a letter.

Just at the end of breakfast, before everyone was meant to leave on the train for the Holiday break, several owls dove into the hall and dropped a large black box in front of Hermione.

“I thought all those designers had given up!” Ginny said, pushing the box towards Hermione.

Hermione searched the box for a card, but there was none. “I don’t know who sent this.”

“Well, open it, you never know.” Ginny joked. “Twenty second time could be the charm.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, and opened the black box. Inside, hidden amongst black tissue, was a black dress.

“Well, at least this wouldn’t clash with the medal.” Hermione joked.

Pulling the dress out of the tissue, she gasped. “Ginny look!”

It was a plain black ball gown, of raw silk with a very full skirt, with a thick crinoline petticoat. The top of the dress seemed to be draped in sheer lace, that gathered over the left shoulder and extended down the arm in a single long sleeve, leaving the right shoulder bare.

“Oh Merlin!” Ginny said, rushing around the table to come inspect the dress. “Who sent it?”

“I don’t know, there’s no cart, no label, nothing.” Hermione said, quizzically, digging through the layers of tissue looking for a hint. “Oh merlin!”

“What?” Ginny asked, taking the dress from Hermione and swishing it around.

“There’s shoes too.” Hermione said, lifting a pair of sky high heels out of the box. They were plain black sandals, with silk bows on the back of the heel, a tiny strap around the ankle, and bright red soles.

“What kind of shoes are those?!” Ginny gasped.

“I… I think they’re Louboutin’s.” Hermione exclaimed. “They’re a muggle shoe, they’re quite famous, and expensive!”

“Well they’d have to be famous if you know the brand.” Ginny teased, still drooling over the delicate shoes. “Who in the world would send you the perfect dress, and muggle shoes, but no card?”

“I have no idea.” Hermione admitted honestly.

“Well, I’m willing to bet if this doesn’t fit you, mum can fix it up.” Ginny said. “Quick, put it back in it’s parcel so it doesn’t get ruined, and lets get to the train!”

Hermione carefully wrapped the dress and shoes back up in the tissue, and placed them into the black box. She hurried along with the throngs of students heading for the carriages. As she left the hall, she crashed directly into Draco, dropping the box.

“Sorry.” he said quietly, picking up the box and handing it to her.

“It’s no problem.” Hermione said, trying to meet Draco’s eye.

“Did one of those silly designers finally get lucky?” Draco asked, pointing at the box.

“Yes, actually.” Hermione said, with a smile. “But I don’t know who sent it, as there was no card.”

“Well, I’m sure it’ll look lovely.” Draco replied, moving to leave.

“Are you staying here for Christmas?” Hermione called, as he headed up the stairs.

“By court order.” Draco called back.

Hermione nodded, and said a bit lamely, “Well, have a good Christmas!”

Draco smirked at her, and continued up the stairs.

Hermione shook her head to clear it, and hurried to catch up with Ginny.

Christmas at the burrow was a rather spectacular event. All the Weasley’s, plus Harry and Hermione filled the kitchen to the brim. They ate a marvelous feast, and exchanged gifts, and generally enjoyed a holiday without having to constantly look over their shoulders.

Bill and Fleur announced that they were expecting a baby in the spring, and Mrs. Weasley had burst into tears of joy.

Even George got in a bit on the merriment, although he was much altered without Fred by his side.

As the sun sunk low in the sky Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron were sitting on the floor next to the crackling fire playing exploding snap, when a strange owl tapped on the window.

“Who could that be from, do you suppose?” Ron asked, opening the window and letting the owl in with a burst of cold air.

“Dunno,” Harry said, freeing a small parcel from it’s leg. “But it’s for Hermione.”

“For me?” Hermione asked, confused. She had already opened gifts from all the Weasley’s, Harry, and her parents.

Taking the parcel from Harry, she removed the simple brown paper, revealing a black velvet box. There was a small card attached with a black ribbon. It had a holly berry on the front, and inside written in beautiful script, “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

Hermione sucked in her breath, she recognized the quote from the Diary of a Young Girl. She turned the card over looking for a name, but there was nothing.

“No name.” Hermione said.

“Really?” Ginny asked, taking the card from Hermione.

Hermione opened the box and found, nestled in raw black silk, was a brooch. It was a small circle with alternating black and crystal stones, set in silver, with a tiny dragon in the center. “Oh merlin!”

“That’s gorgeous Hermione!” Ginny gasped. “That looks like Goblin silver.”

“It does?” Hermione asked, still surprised at the gift.

“Yes, it doesn’t look like regular silver.” Ginny pointed out. “Goblin silver isn’t usually used in jewelry though.”

“What do you have there Hermione?” Mr. Weasley asked, coming into the room.

“Hermione just got a Christmas present, with no tag.” Ron explained.

“Oh, that looks like a sash brooch.” Mr. Weasley said, “The round shape gives it away. It’s meant to hold a tartan sash.”

“‘Mione, you could use it for your Order of Merlin sash.” Harry pointed out.

“I wonder if it came from the same person who sent you the dress?” Ginny asked.

“Maybe, they didn’t say who they were either.” Hermione agreed, closing the box and placing it with her other gifts. “Do you think Gringotts would know where it came from, if it’s Goblin Silver?”

“They might.” Mr. Weasley nodded. “But I doubt they’d divulge the information. You might try taking it to the jeweler in Diagon Ally, they can at least tell you what it’s made of.”

“Well, we need to pick up the boys robes anyway.” Hermione said, “I guess I’ll bring it with me and we can find out.”

The next day, all the Weasley’s headed to Diagon Ally, by way of George’s shop. After picking up Dress Robes for Harry and Ron, who was thrilled to have new ones, they made their way to the jeweler.

As they entered, the tinkle of bells alerted the owner to their presence. “Merlin, what can I do for the Golden Trio?” The old wizard asked, in a wheezing voice.

“I was wondering, if you could tell me anything about this?” Hermione said, placing the box on the table in the center of the room.

“Well, lets have a look,” He said, bringing out a spectacle and pushing it in front of his eye. He opened the box, and removed the brooch. “Interesting.” He concluded, after inspecting it closely.

“What’s interesting?” Hermione pressed.

“Well, it seems to be a newly made piece, fashioned from old things.” The Jeweler explained. “The dragon looks to have come from a pendant, it’s quite old. Perhaps 200 years. The Goblin silver has been refashioned from another piece, likely a sword as it is discolored in several places. Quite unusual for jewelry. The diamonds are newly cut.”

“Diamonds?” Hermione gasped.

“Yes, nearly perfect black and colorless diamonds, all the way around.” The jeweler said. “Where did this come from?”

“It was a gift,” Hermione said, and then admitted. “I don’t actually know who gave it to me, I was hoping you might be able to help me with that.”

“Well, I don’t recognize it.” He replied, placing it back in it’s box. “None of the stones were sold by me, and neither was the dragon. I don’t work with Goblin silver, because it’s usually not desired in jewelry. Although I must say, this is quite a unique piece. If you were willing to part with it, I would give you a good price. How does 5000 galleons sound?”

“5000 galleons for a Dragon pin?” Ron exclaimed.

“Well, it’s quite unique. And the stones alone are worth nearly 4000 galleons.” The Jeweler said with a shrug.

“No, thank you.” Hermione said, collecting the box. “It was a gift, I don’t think I could part with it.”

“I understand.” The Jeweler said with a smile. “Should you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you for your help!” Hermione said with a smile.

As the left the shop, Hermione whispered to Ginny, “I think I know who sent me the brooch.”

Authors Note:

The quote in this chapter is from The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Chapter 10: Chapter 10
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“You think Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, sent you that brooch?” Ginny exclaimed. It was later on boxing day, and the girls were both in Ginny’s room experimenting with hairstyles for the upcoming celebration.

“Shhhh, yes.” Hermione chastised.

“What makes you say that?” Ginny asked, piling Hermione’s hair on top of her head.

“Well, who else do we know who has unlimited galleons at their disposal?” Hermione pointed out.

“Well, no one.” Ginny admitted. “But anyone could have sent you that brooch. What makes you think you know them?”

“Well, the quote, in the card… it was from my favorite book.” Hermione admitted. “And I told Draco that it was my favorite.”

“Really?!” Ginny exclaimed, dropping Hermione’s hair.

“Yes.” Hermione nodded. “Plus, well… the Dragon?”

“Yeah, the Dragon isn’t as random as you might think ‘Mione.” Ginny said.

“No?” Hermione asked.

“Well, there’s a lot of stories about Dragons. How, ages ago they taught wizards how to speak. They are said to be the wisest of all creatures.” Ginny explained. “You’re said to be the ‘brightest witch in a generation’. Maybe whomever sent you that pin, thinks you’re wise. You’ve been likened to a dragon in a few Prophet articles: the wise warrior.”

“I guess that could make sense.” Hermione sighed. “But why would a stranger spend that much money on me, and not say who they are?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny admitted. “And I will agree that the quote is making me think that it’s Draco.”

“I know.” Hermione said simply. “What does that mean?”

“Well.” Ginny said, giving up completely on Hermione’s hair. “I think he has feelings for you, but knows it won’t work. So he’s sending you randomly perfect, anonymous gifts.”

Hermione held her breath. “The dress.” She gushed.

“Yes, the dress.” Ginny agreed.

“No, Ginny! The dress!” Hermione cried, pointing to the gown that hung on Ginny’s wardrobe. “It has one sleeve, with a bit of lace that exactly covers the scar on my arm. Draco knows, he knows how self conscious I am about that scar! We once talked about making shirts with only one sleeve, to cover my scar and his Dark Mark!”

Ginny let out a low whistle. “I think you’re right.”

Hermione sat down hard on the floor. What does this mean? She thought. Draco had scarcely spoken to her in weeks. He’d told her to stay away from him.

“‘Mione?” Ginny asked gently. “Are you okay?”

Hermione nodded. “Don’t tell the boys.”

“Yeah, I think that wouldn’t end well.” Ginny agreed. “Come on, lets send Fleur and owl and see if we can get her to come over before the party and do our hair, because otherwise we’re going to look like a couple of hags.”

On New Years Day, the whole group left the Burrow in ministry cars. They arrived at the the ministry to a gaggle of reporters letting off flashbulbs. Hermione had let Fleur put her hair in a sleek bun, with a few loose curls framing her face. She was wearing the dress, which fit her perfectly, and the shoes, which she found had been charmed comfortable despite their sky high height.

Ginny, wearing a beautiful Gryffindor red gown, floated ahead of her on Harry’s arm. As she went to climb from the car, and hand appeared in her face to help her. She took the hand and found that it was Ron, who then offered her his arm. “Ginny said I can’t let you go in unescorted.”

They followed Harry and Ginny, and the other Weasley’s into the elaborately decorated hall. They were all seated at a table together, and they mostly settled in for the duration of the event. Harry and Ginny danced several dances together, and both Ron and Harry gave Hermione a turn or two on the dance floor.

She tried to relax, knowing the Order of Merlin ceremony was still ahead. She touched the brooch she had pinned to her shoulder. She didn’t want to get up in front of all these people. She was even expected to say a few words after accepting the award.

“You look like you’re extremely stressed.” Came the voice of George.

“I’m not particularly looking forward to the next part of the evening.” Hermione admitted.

“Come on.” George said, offering Hermione a hand. “Give me a dance with you, and I’ll cheer you up.”

Hermione didn’t feel like dancing, but George so rarely spoke anymore that she couldn’t refuse him. She took his hand and let him lead her out onto the floor.

“You know, Fred would say that you should enjoy the limelight.” George pointed out, as they worked their way slowly around the edge of the dance floor.

“Yes, well, Fred rather liked the limelight, didn’t he.” Hermione said with a smile.

“You know, you shouldn’t feel guilty.” George pointed out.

“How did you know I feel guilty?” Hermione asked.

“Ginny told me.” George admitted. “Look, Hermione, I know you think you don’t deserve this award. But you do. Think of it as the official end of the War.”

“The War ended months ago.” Hermione replied.

“Maybe it did for the average wizard. But be honest Hermione, for you and me, for Harry and Ron, for those of us that fought from the beginning, it doesn’t feel over.” George said sadly. “I don’t think it’ll ever feel over, we’ll always spend our lives with regrets, thinking we could have done things differently. For you, this is a public declaration that you’re allowed to go on with your life.”

And with that, Hermione knew what she was going to say in her speech. “Thanks George.” She said, and hugged him.

At that time, Kingsley stepped up to the front of the stage at the end of the hall. He sent everyone to their seats, and welcomed everyone to the celebration, and then he called the three friends up onto the stage with him.

Hermione took a deep breath, gathered her skirts, and stepped up beside Kingsley. He spoke about their bravery and how indebted the wizarding world was to them. He awarded first Harry, and then Ron their medals, pinning them to their dress robes. They both spoke briefly, Ron dedicating his medal to Fred, and Harry dedicating his to Snape, which drew some whispers.

Finally, Kingsley stepped up to Hermione. He draped the dark green sash over her head, and pinned the medal to it. It felt heavy on her shoulder, and she didn’t hear the words that Kingsley said to her, but she knew when it was her turn to speak. She lifted her wand, and whispered the sonorous charm.

“Thank you Kingsley.” Hermione began. “Most of you know, my parents are Muggles. I didn’t know anything of magic, or this world until I received my Hogwarts letter when I was eleven. I’ve lived in this world, for better or worse, since that day. And just a few moments ago, I was dancing with my friend, and he said something that reminded me of a muggle song my Grandfather used to play for me when I was a little girl. It’s called Green Fields of France, and it talks about a young man who was killed in the First World War. There’s a verse that goes: “Countless white crosses in mute witness stand, To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.”

The room was silent, listening to Hermione, who continued. “‘The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain… it all happened again.’ As a child, I didn’t understand those words. I don’t think I truly understood them until after we declared peace. But we cannot rest now. If we don’t change the way we think, and the way we interact with each other, this will just happen again. So I challenge all of you here tonight, to move on! Hug your family and friends. Celebrate what we have won! But when we are done celebrating, treat each other with respect. The war is over, there are no more ‘sides’ to be on, no ‘right’ way of thinking. Don’t judge people from where they come from, instead see where they go from there!”

Hermione cancelled the charm, and stepped back next to Harry and Ron. After brief pause, the room erupted into applause. Hermione blushed, and after the noise died down, And Kingsley thanked them, the trio returned to their seats. Hermione adjusted the brooch so that it held the sash in place on her shoulder.

For the rest of the night, the group danced and had fun. They ate too much, and laughed, and told stories.

Hermione was relieved when the night ended, and they headed back out into the night air to the cars. She walked on George’s arm this time, slipping quickly past the photographers with a demure smile.

When they got home and were comfortably in their pajamas, drinking hot tea, Mr. Weasley said to the group. “I’m very proud of all of you. You spoke very eloquently tonight, particularly you Hermione.”

“Well, it was really George who inspired me about what to say.” Hermione blushed.

“I’m glad to see you all supporting each other.” Arthur continued. “This is going to be a long year!”

The following day, when the post owl delivered the prophet, Draco unrolled it to see a picture of Hermione looking back at him. She was standing on the stage speaking, looking as though she was born to lead. There were lots of pictures, and lots of articles, detailing the events of the evening. He carefully clipped out all the pictures of her. One dancing with Harry before she received her medal. Another, speaking seriously with Kingsley, her Order of Merlin shining on her chest. A picture of her signing an autograph for a little girl who had been waiting outside the ministry. But his favorite one, was a picture of Hermione standing between Ginny and Fleur. The girls appeared to be giggling about something behind the camera, and it was the most relaxed Hermione looked in any of the photographs. She held a glass of champagne in her hand, and would turn to Ginny and laugh before Fleur whispered something in her ear. She looked beautiful, with her medal and sash contrasting against her inky black dress.

You’re a fool Draco Malfoy. He told himself, tucking the photo’s into his divination book. He had amassed quite a collection. You’re a fool to think she would even look at you.

Author's Note:

Hi all! Just a quick note about the song I quoted in this chapter, Green Fields of France (Also known as No Man's Land) was written by a Folk Singer called Eric Bogle. It's considered one of the best anti war songs ever written, and if you haven't heard it in it's entirety, I highly recommend you check it out. It's been covered by dozens of artists, but in my opinion, the best version is the live performance by the Irish group The High Kings.

Chapter 11: Chapter 11
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“You’re not getting another dress for the ball tomorrow Hermione?” Lavender inquired as they waited at Kings Cross for the train.

Hermione, adjusting the black box in her arms, replied awkwardly, “Well most people here haven’t seen this one yet.”

“‘Mione, you were all over the front page of the prophet. Everyone has seen it.” Pavarti pointed out.

“Well not in person.” Hermione said, turning towards her parents.

Their relationship had grown extremely strained after she had restored her memories, and the talk of Hermione being in the newspaper just exacerbated to the Grangers just how little they knew about their daughter.

Hermione had spent the days between New Years and Spring term with her parents, and she had been forced to tell them about her Order of Merlin when the numerous owls started to draw attention to their home. She showed them the prophet articles, and showed them her medal. Her dad had seemed quite proud, if not fully aware of exactly how important an Order of Merlin was.

As the Hogwarts Express rolled in, she hugged her parents, and retreated into the safety of one of the compartments.

“They’ll come around ‘Mione.” Neville said.

“I know, I just hate that they feel like I lied to them.” Hermione sighed.

The train ride was over quickly, and Hermione sadly patted the Thestral on the nose before hopping into the carriage for the ride up the hill.

Dinner was loud, with everyone excited about the ball the following day. Classes were cut short in the afternoon, so everyone could prepare.

As she was heading up to her dorm to get ready, McGonagall caught up with her in the Hallway.

“Miss Granger!” She called. “Miss Granger, if I could have a word.”

Hermione followed McGonagall up to her office.

“Miss Granger, I was wondering if you are planning on attending the ball this evening with anyone in particular?” She asked.

“You mean like a date?” Hermione clarified.

“Yes, precisely.” McGonagall confirmed.

“No, I was just going to come down with Ginny and Luna.” Hermione said.

“Ok, well I was wondering if there is anyone you would prefer to dance with for the opening ceremony?”

“I have to dance the opening ceremony?”

“Well yes dear, the ball is partially in your honor.”

Hermione paused. There was only one person she wanted to dance with, and there was no way he would even show up unless forced.

“Professor, I don’t want the spotlight to be on me. What if we opened the ball with all the Seventh Year prefects dancing. We can show school unity!” Hermione suggested slyly.

“That’s quite a good idea Miss Granger!” McGonagall said, “I’ll inform the house heads at once.

“Professor.” Hermione continued. “You know, I think if you had Gryffindor and Slytherin dance together, it would make the biggest statement about unity.”

“And you lot wouldn’t kill each other?” Minerva said, only half joking.

“I think we can survive for one dance.” Hermione laughed.

“Very well, off you go.” Minerva said, knowing very well why Hermione had made such a suggestion.

Upstairs in Gryffindor tower, the girls had all gathered in the Seventh Year dorm to do each others hair and makeup.

“Ok ‘Mione, I can’t promise this charm will turn out the same as when Fleur did it.” Ginny said, tentatively aiming her wand at Hermione’s head.

“HOLD IT!” Parvati yelled.

“What?” Ginny and Hermione said together.

“Ginny, let me do it. The last thing you need is for Hermione to show up at the party bald!” Parvati exclaimed.

“That sounds like a good idea.” Hermione said.

“Do you want it to look the same as it did at the Ceremony?” Parvati asked.

“It doesn’t have to.” Hermione admitted. “Just… better than it’s usual mess would be preferable.”

“Ok, let’s try something else.” Parvati said, flicking her wand around Hermione’s head. “Your dress leaves your right shoulder bare, yes?”

Hermione nodded.

“Ok, I’m going to balance the look a bit.” Parvati said. After a few more minutes of swishing and muttering charms, she said. “Tah dah!”

Hermione hurried to look in the mirror. Parvati had intricately braided the left side of Hermione’s head, so that all of her hair twisted around to a bun on the right side.

“Oh Parvati! That’s perfect!” Hermione gushed.

“And here, let me do your makeup.” Parvati said.

Hermione nodded, trusting Parvati’s skills after her hair turned out so well. “How’d you learn all this?” She asked.

“Witch Weekly.” Parvati said, with a smile.

“I think I might need some tutoring in that department.” Hermione admitted.

“Anytime.” Parvati said, flicking her wand at Hermione’s lips. “There. I went a little more striking than you did at the Ceremony.”

“Striking how?” Hermione asked, ducking back to the mirror. She almost didn’t recognize the person looking back at her. Parvati had defined her eyes with thick, dark lashes and black liner, and given her a deep red lip.

“Wow ‘Mione, you look incredible!” Ginny gushed.

“It’s not too much?” Hermione asked, nervously.

“Not with a simple gown it’s not.” Parvati explained. “Besides, this whole look is based on muggle style from the 1940’s. It’s actually pretty traditional.”

“Okay.” Hermione said, nervously looking at Ginny.

“Oh, you’re fine ‘Mione.” Ginny said, with a wink. “People are going to love it.”

Hermione nodded, and went to put on her dress.

“Parvati! What can you do for a Ginger?” Ginny called, enlisting Parvati’s help herself.

“I can’t believe McGonagall made you wear that.” Ginny said, pointing to Hermione’s medal.

“Yeah, I tried to get out of it.” Hermione sighed, adjusting the sash and brooch so they sat straight on her left shoulder.

They were waiting outside the Great Hall for everyone to go inside, and all the Seventh Year Prefects to arrive.

“Ladies and Gentlemen.” McGonagall said, hurrying out of the hall and clapping her hands for attention. “Now you are all going to be the openers of the ball, as Seventh Years, you represent the entire school. You will walk in with your partner, dance the first dance on your own, and then the second dance you will stay together as the rest of the school joins in.”

Hermione nearly squealed with delight. Two dances with Draco. Then she noticed that he hadn’t arrived.

“Now, do we have everyone?” McGonagall asked, counting the students, “No, who are we missing?”

“We’re missing Malfoy.” Neville pointed out.

“You’re not missing me, I’m here.” Draco said, coming down the stairs at that moment.

Hermione held her breath, Draco looked fantastic in his dress robes.

“Excellent.” McGonagall said, distractedly. “Now, we are trying to promote inclusion and house unity, so as such, Gryffindors will be dancing with Slytherins, and Hufflepuffs with Ravenclaws. Head boy and Girl, you dance together.

Professor Flitwick poked his head out of the door and waved to McGonagall.

“Here we go everyone, Heads, you lead the processional!” McGonagall said to Ginny and Neville.

All ten students matched up with their partners, Draco and Hermione bringing up the rear. Draco didn’t say anything, just offered his arm to Hermione, who took it and smiled up at him.

As they entered the hall, the students applauded politely, and when Hermione reached the door, some cheered.

Taking their places on the dance floor, Draco put a hand on Hermione’s waist and pulled her close to wait for their cue.

“You remember how to do this?” Hermione asked nervously, “I haven’t really danced like this since fourth year, and we’d just had lessons.”

“I know how to dance,” Draco said, “But not from the Yule Ball classes.”

With that the music started, Draco proved that he was in fact, quite a good dancer. He twirled Hermione around the floor, lifting and spinning her at all the right moments. She didn’t have to think about what her feet were doing, or where to put her hands. They easily looked better than those around them.

“Wow, Draco… where did you learn to dance like this?” Hermione asked, as Draco turned her in close, and then twisted her back out.

“Pureblood, remember.” Draco said with a smirk. “I’ve had a thorough training in all snobbery, waltzing included!”

Hermione didn’t want the dance to end, but the music changed all too soon, and McGonagall invited the rest of the students onto the dance floor.

“I don’t remember dancing with Viktor to be this easy.” Hermione commented.

“Well, dancing is a wonderfully sexist formula.” Draco pointed out. “If the man knows what he’s doing, the woman can just stand there and let him lead.”

“I guess.” Hermione said, as Draco lifted her up.

They turned a few more times, and then Draco said, “You look fantastic tonight, by the way.”

“Oh,” Hermione blushed scarlet. “Thank you, I had a bit of help.”

“Ginny?” Draco guessed.

“No, Parvati.” Hermione corrected. “Although she went a bit darker than I would have on the makeup.”

“Well, I should thank her.” Draco said, so quietly Hermione wasn’t sure she actually heard him.

“I had a bit of help with the dress too.” Hermione said, trying to look Draco in the eye, but he chose that moment to twirl her away from him.

“Yes, I saw all those designers were trying to get you to pick one of their creations.” Draco said.

“Yes, well. This was the only one that really felt like… me.” Hermione admitted.

“Yes, it’s better than that orange one you got in the post.” Draco agreed.

“Much better.” Hermione said, once again trying to meet Draco’s silver gaze. “It’s as though someone picked around inside my brain for the perfect dress.”

“It does fit you very well.” Draco said, wearing an expressionless mask.

“Yes it does.” Hermione said, quite sure of herself now. “Thank you for it.”

Draco’s carefully crafted mask broke. “What?”

“I said thank you.” Hermione repeated. “For the dress. And the brooch. I know they came from you.”

“Now why would I send you a dress and a brooch?” Draco stumbled, quickly spinning Hermione away from to try and buy himself a moment to compose his face. She wasn’t supposed to know they were from him.

“I don’t know.” Hermione admitted. “But I’d like to think, it’s because you know how stressed I was about this whole Order of Merlin business, and wanted to help.”

“You don’t know I sent them to you.” Draco insisted. “It could have been anyone.”

“Anyone who quotes Diary of a Young Girl?” Hermione asked.

Draco was now panicking. The dress was meant to help her with the ceremony, not draw her closer to him.

“Well, maybe whoever sent them to you was trying to tell you to move on and be happy.” Draco exclaimed.

“Maybe I don’t want to.” Hermione whispered.

“Merlin Hermione.” Draco said, as the music came to an end. “We can’t do this!”

“I say we can!” Hermione insisted, as Draco dipped her low to finish the dance.

Everyone cheered and the music switched from formal waltz, to more popular contemporary music and the students began jumping around, abandoning the traditional dance.

Draco grabbed Hermione’s wrist and pulled her out the doors of the great hall, and into an empty classroom.

“Hermione, we cannot go down this road.” Draco insisted, once they were alone. “Don’t you get it? I’m a Death Eater, and you’re a bloody Order of Merlin decorated war hero! This is way beyond Romeo and Juliette’s families not liking each other.”

“Oh you know I don’t want this stupid thing!” Hermione shouted, tugging at her sash.

“That’s not even what I’m talking about Hermione!” Draco said, grabbing her by the shoulders. “I’m not good for you, you have to see that!”

“I don’t have to see anything.” Hermione responded stubbornly.

“So what’s your plan then?” Draco demanded. “Start dating, tell everyone I’m reformed? They’ll think I potioned you, or worse.”

“We could figure it out!” Hermione insisted.

“Hermione, I’m a Death Eater! Please grasp that!” Draco pleaded.

“I don’t think you are!” Hermione argued.

Draco looked flabbergasted. “Hermione, you’ve seen my bloody Dark Mark. It doesn’t get any more ‘Death Eater’ than that!”

“I think, that you got thrown in with some very bad people, you made some decisions that let you survive.” Hermione said still stubborn. “I don’t think you believed in any of it. What kind of Death Eater sends a girl a gown so that she doesn’t feel like a fool at a party because she has a horrible scar that everyone stares at.”

“The kind who isn’t allowed to do Dark Magic anymore.” Draco said sullenly.

“I don’t think so.” Hermione persisted. “You didn't want to do that curse, when we were in the room of requirement. Not because of your stupid probation, but for yourself. I saw it!”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about Hermione.” Draco said, suddenly angry. “Of course I didn’t want to do the curse! Of course I don’t want to be this way! But this is the the reality! Every day, I fight against the darkness. Every day, I fear that it already has too much of a hold on me.”

“That’s exactly what I mean!” Hermione yelled, refusing to back down. “No Death Eater in the world would follow the rules of his probation! He’d curse that talisman off his leg and take off! But here you are, following the rules and trying not to give in.”

Draco sat down on a desk, and put his head in his hands. “Hermione, no one is going to let us be together.”

“Then we don’t tell anyone!” Hermione insisted. “We keep it a secret.”

“Keep it a secret?” Draco asked, skeptically, “Like what, meet in broom cupboards and after curfew so no one sees us?”

“I was thinking the Room of Requirement, but sure.” Hermione smirked. “If you’d prefer a broom cupboard.”

Draco looked at her, the gorgeous creature standing in front of him, and dared to let himself hope. “You really want to date me, the Death Eater, in secret?”

“Stop calling yourself a Death Eater.” Hermione insisted.

“This can’t work!” Draco insisted, somewhat halfheartedly. “It’s the Lion and the Lamb!”

All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” Hermione responded quietly.

Anna Karenina.” Draco responded, moving towards Hermione. “You know, next time I’m buying you a potato sack, because it’s impossible to argue with you when I’m distracted by how gorgeous you are.”

“Well, between your dress and Parvati’s tricks, it turned out pretty good.” Hermione blushed, as Draco pulled her closer.

“It’s not the dress.” Draco said, slowly backing Hermione up against the classroom door.

“And it’s not the makeup.” He placed a hand on either side of Hermione, and leaned closer.

“You’re just beautiful.” He whispered into her ear, giving her goosebumps.

Hermione didn’t know how to respond, no one had ever talked to her like that before. She was certain that she was blushing bright red. She took a deep breath.

“This is what you wanted?” Draco asked. “You wanted to date?”

He still had her pinned to the door. Hermione gulped, and nodded.

“Ok, but when this blows up in our faces, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Draco said, capturing Hermione’s mouth with a kiss.

They kissed like that for a few more minutes, before Draco took Hermione’s hand. “Now, my Princess of Light. There’s still a party happening downstairs in your honor. You can’t get away with any more dances with me, but you shouldn’t miss your own celebration.”

“I don’t want to.” Hermione insisted, breathless. “No one will notice I’m missing, and I don’t want to dance with anyone else.”

“Well, then lets sit.” Draco said, lifting Hermione up onto a table at the back of the room. Her skirts bunched up, revealing the delicate shoes Draco had sent her. “Dang, I wish I’d bought you a short dress, I’ll bet your legs look amazing in those shoes.”

Hermione playfully smacked him on the arm. “I can’t believe you bought me muggle shoes.”

“Well, I wanted to get you something incredible that you wouldn’t buy for yourself.” Draco said.

“And you thought, a diamond brooch wasn’t enough?” Hermione pointed out.

“Well, I wasn’t sure I could get that finished in time.” Draco admitted. “But I am curious, what gave me away? Besides the quote I mean?”

“Honestly?” Hermione asked, “It was the sleeve. You and I discussed one sleeved shirts a long time ago, remember?”

“I remember everything you say to me.” Draco admitted, hoisting himself up on the table next to Hermione. “I heard you talking about Dresses with Ginny and Luna, and you were so worried. You were rubbing your arm.”

“Was I?” Hermione asked, curiously.

“Yes. And I feel like it’s my fault you have that scar.” Draco said, “I just wanted to fix it.”

“And the brooch?” Hermione asked.

“Ah, now that has a story behind it.” Draco said with a smile.

“Really?” Hermione asked, curious.

“Yes, did you know… that there was once a Malfoy who married a muggle?” Draco asked.

“No!” Hermione gasped. “Is that allowed?”

Draco laughed, “No, as it happens, it’s not.”

Hermione tilted her head, confused.

“This was generations ago, one of the Malfoy men was absolutely smitten with a beautiful muggle girl.” Draco explained. “He showered her with all manner of gifts, including a necklace with a Dragon.”

Hermione gasped, and her hand flew to the brooch.

“Yes, it was that very Dragon.” Draco said. “Unfortunately, my family being quite cruel from the start, they cursed her so she could never have children and ruin the family line. So all her things were left in the family vault when she died. I had that dug out and re-set.”

“Wow, but Draco, I can’t accept a family heirloom!” Hermione insisted.

“Don't worry Hermione.” Draco laughed, “It’s not an heirloom that anyone in my family would want, and it’s not valuable. It just makes me think of you.”

“So, because the pendant wasn’t valuable, you felt the need to surround it with diamonds and Goblin silver?” Hermione smirked.

“Well, the diamonds you deserve. And the silver… is from a knife.” Draco look at Hermione hesitantly.

“What knife, Draco?” Hermione demanded.

“I thought it would be appropriate.” Draco explained, “Remaking the knife into something to hold up your medal.”

“What knife Draco?!” Hermione cried.

“Bellatrix’s knife.” He admitted.

Authors Note:

The book quoted in this chapter is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

Chapter 12: Chapter 12
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“It’s, gone?” Hermione asked, after a moment. “That knife is really gone?”

“Yes,” Draco said simply, taking Hermione’s hand. “I had it melted down. That’s all that survives.”

Hermione took a deep breath, and then another. She reached up and touched the brooch, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.

“Are you mad?” Draco asked, nervously.

“No.” Hermione breathed. “No, I’m… I’m relieved.”

“Relieved?” Draco asked gently.

“Yes!” I know Bellatrix is gone, but I just never really thought about what had happened to her knife.” Hermione admitted. “But Draco, what about the curse?”

“Yes, well…” Draco blushed. “That’s why I had it melted down. I was hoping the goblins could figure out what curse was imbedded in the silver, and we could fix that scar.”

Hermione was touched. “For someone who claims to be too evil to spend time with, you sure seem to be doing a lot of good.”

“For someone who is meant to be the ‘brightest witch of the age’ you sure don’t take a hint when someone tells you you’re doing something dangerous.” Draco said, trying to change the subject.

“Please.” Hermione scoffed. “Draco, you are probably the least dangerous ‘bad decision’ I’ve ever made.”

“Oh really?” Draco challenged.

“Absolutely.” Hermione insisted. “Bad decision number one: first year, teaching the boys the Alohamora spell. Resulted in being chased by a three headed dog, and drinking a potion that could have meant my death.”

“I didn’t know about the potion.” Draco smirked.

“Bad decision number two: second year, figuring out that it was a basilisk petrifying the students, and getting petrified myself in the process. Actually, that year was rather tame.” Hermione laughed. "Oh, and of course I accidentally polyjuiced myself into a cat.

“Wait, what?” Draco asked.

"Oh, I had brewed polyjuice potion so that Harry, Ron, and I could spy on you because we thought you were opening the chamber." Hermione said. "I used what I thought was one of Millicent Bulstrode's hairs. It turned out to be from a cat, so the boys had to spy on you without me. So that was a bit of time in the hospital wing as well."

"Hold on," Draco said, "you brewed a polyjuice potion in second year?"

"Well, we had to figure out who was opening the chamber!" Hermione said, as though that clarified things.

"And you spied on me?" Draco asked.

"Yes!" Hermione said, "the boy's looked like Crab and Goyle; but we're getting off topic."

Draco rolled his eyes.

“Third year! Chased by a werewolf! Fourth year! Tied to the bottom of the Black Lake for the Triwizard Tournament.” Hermione exclaimed. “Fifth year, fighting Death Eaters, including your dad, at the ministry. Sixth year, really, was pretty simple... I spent most of my time trying to keep Harry from killing you!"

"Ok, ok... point taken. You're an adrenaline junkie." Draco teased.

Hermione gave him an exacerbated look. "Yes, that's it." She said sarcastically.

"I didn't know you fought my father." Draco said, looking at his feet.

"Well, it was a team effort." Hermione admitted. "There were six of us there that night."

"Six students who walked away from an encounter with a mob of Death Eaters." Draco pointed out.

"Well, the Order showed up and lent us a hand too." Hermione said.

"Still. My father can be... brutal." Draco said bitterly. "I doubt he was pulling his punches. He never really told me much about that night. I think he was embarrassed to be caught."

"Well, that was the beginning of the end, so to speak." Hermione said softly.

They both sat in silence for a few minutes, before Hermione spoke up, "I don't want to talk about the war. It's all we ever talk about."

"That's fine with me." Draco said with a smile. "What do you want to talk about."

"Tell me something about yourself that I don't know." Hermione grinned.

"Ha ha, that's kind of a long list." Draco laughed. "I'm not exactly big on 'sharing'."

"Ok, then lets play 20 questions!" Hermione said with a smile. "We each get to ask the other person 20 questions, and they have to be honest!"

"Hmmm, ok. This sounds dangerous." Draco joked.

"It's not, it's easy." Hermione said. "Who was your first crush?"

"See, already dangerous territory!" Draco teased.

"Oooo, is it someone I know?" Hermione giggled. "It's not Pansy is it?"

Draco laughed, "Ha ha ha, no. Pansy was never really my type."

"Ok, who then?!" Hermione pressed.

"I'm never going to live this down." Draco said, and covered his eyes.

"Was it someone famous?" Hermione teased.

"Well, yes... but she wasn't famous at the time." Draco said, meeting her eyes.

"No!" Hermione gasped.

"Well, why do you think I always picked on you!?" Draco cried. "That's what boys do when they like girls!"

"You're teasing me!" Hermione cried.

"I'm not!" Draco said. "I had a huge crush on you, from the first time I met you. And then I found out you were Muggle born and I felt like a traitor. Everything I had ever been taught, you called into question."

"How so?" Hermione asked, honestly curious.

"Well, all my life I had been taught that Muggle borns were hardly better than squibs." Draco explained. "So I expected any that I met to be complete rubbish at magic. Instead I get you beating all my marks."

"Sorry about that." Hermione joked.

"Don't be." Draco said seriously. "It was the first time I ever questioned what my father taught me."

"Well, I guess that's a good thing." Hermione said.

"So do I get a question now?" Draco asked.

"Sure, we can switch off." Hermione said with a smile.

"Ok, you and Krum?" Draco asked with a smirk. "What was going on there?"

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, "He asked me to the Yule Ball."

"Sure, but did you date after that?" Draco pressed.

"Not really, he and I never quite... connected." Hermione admitted. "Viktor was sweet, but I think we both knew that there wasn't much point in getting too serious with him going back to Bulgaria. Plus, there was always something of a language barrier."

"Hmmm. What about you and Potter?" Draco said curiously.

"Isn't it my turn?" Hermione teased.

"I think that question is an extension of my first." Draco argued.

"Hmmm, then you should have just asked about all my past relationships." Hermione teased.

"Alright." Draco said, unfazed. "Tell me about all your past relationships."

"Well, that's it." Hermione laughed.

"What, just Viktor in fourth year?" Draco asked.

"Yeah." Hermione said. "Unless you count one really unfortunate date with Cormac McLaggen to the Slug Club party. And I only invited him to upset Ron."

"No, I wouldn't count that." Draco laughed.

"So nothing ever happened between you and Potter or Weasley?" Draco teased.

"No, Harry is like my brother." Hermione said.

"And Weasley?" Draco pressed.

"Well." Hermione stumbled on her words. "He and I have a... complicated history."

"Complicated how?" Draco asked. "This sounds interesting."

"Complicated as in, we've both been interested in each other at different times, but never at the same time or at an appropriate time." Hermione admitted.

"Appropriate time?" Draco asked, curiously.

"Like, we kissed one time." Hermione said.

"What, was it a bad time to kiss?" Draco laughed.

"Um, no... well, yes..." Hermione blushed. "It was in the middle of the battle, ok!?"

Draco burst out laughing. "You stopped in the middle of a war to snog Weasley?"

Hermione scowled at him.

"I'm sorry, that's just the funniest mental picture." Draco chuckled. "What happened after that?"

"Nothing, it was just one of those 'heat of the moment' type things." Hermione said. "Afterwards things were awkward, and eventually we settled back into our regular friendship."

"But he escorted you to the Ceremony last week?" Draco asked, nervously.

"Is that what you're on about?" Hermione laughed. "He didn't escort me, he helped me out of the car."

"But all the pictures in the paper showed you two together." Draco pointed out.

"Sure, because most of those pictures were from the same five minute walk down the red carpet into the party." Hermione shrugged. "I walked back out with George, there just weren't as many pictures."

"Was it a fun party?" Draco asked, sounding honestly curious.

"Honestly?" Hermione sighed. "It felt like I was an exhibit at the zoo. Everyone was taking pictures of everything I did, like me eating dinner is newsworthy. And everyone wanted to know my opinions on the oddest things."

"Was the food good at least?" Draco teased.

"Yes, the food was very good." Hermione laughed. "Do I get a question yet?"

"Fire away your Highness." Draco grinned.

"Well, we got to do my relationship history, which was fairly obvious. What about you?" Hermione asked.

"That is a rather complicated question." Draco admitted.

"How so?" Hermione asked.

"Well, because my parents getting thrown in Azkaban changed my life in more ways than you can imagine." Draco said.

"I never asked, what sentences did your parents end up getting?" Hermione asked quietly.

"They both got life." Draco said. "Due to Potter's testimony, they can appeal after 10 years."

"I'm sorry Draco." Hermione said softly.

"You're sorry?!" Draco exclaimed, surprised.

"Well, I won't say that they don't deserve it, but I'm sorry you've lost your family." Hermione said.

"Hermione," Draco sighed, "I'm just as afraid of my father as everyone else is. I got a chance to live my own life when he got locked up. And my mother tries, but she doesn't see who he really is."

"Well, I'm glad you're making the most of it then I guess." Hermione said, squeezing Draco's hand.

"But back to the question at hand though," Draco said. "The reason that my parents arrest changed my life, is that prior to all this, I had a marriage arranged."

Hermione stared at Draco, "You're not serious!"

"I'm completely serious!" Draco said. "It was set up the day I was born."

"I didn't know people still did arranged marriages." Hermione said finally.

"It's a Malfoy tradition. Actually, remember that ancestor of mine who married a muggle?" Draco asked, and Hermione nodded. "Well it started right after that.”

“So your family has arranged all its marriages to keep from marrying muggles?” Hermione asked agog.

“Well it started that way, and it’s been happening for so many generations that I don’t think anyone ever thought to question it.” Draco explained. “To be perfectly honest, it didn’t seem that unusual to me, because I grew up with the idea. It wasn’t until later that I started having second thoughts.”

Hermione thought about that for a moment, and said “I guess, if you don’t know any differently, it wouldn’t seem as strange.”

“Exactly. To me, it was just one of the things that was expected of me.” Draco said.

“So, you said this was before the war, what changed?” Hermione asked.

“We lost the war.” Draco said, picking at the edge of the table with a fingernail. “The Malfoy name doesn’t have the clout it once did, and the state of our family fortune is dependent on what the ministry seizes. Her father thought that she could do better, so he called off the betrothal.”

“When was this?” Hermione was still somewhat fascinated by the idea that such an old fashioned practice was still alive and well in the Wizarding World.

“Just after I was released from Azkaban.” Draco said, “He requested that we dissolve the contract, and to be honest, I leapt at the opportunity.”

“There was a contract?” Hermione was beyond curious now, “Like an actual contract, on parchment?”

“Sure.” Draco said, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. “Prenuptial agreements, percentages of estates that were to be inherited, what property would change families, how many children we would have. It was all in there.”

“Goodness!” Hermione exclaimed. “That doesn’t sound very romantic!”

Draco chuckled. “Well romance wasn’t really the point. It’s all about keeping the wealth in the family, keeping the bloodlines pure, insuring that the next generation of Malfoy’s are as stuck up as the last.”

“Did you like her?” Hermione was still curious.

“I didn’t dislike her.” Draco said. “She was always kind of like a ticking clock, waiting in the wings. To be honest I was always more fond of her sister.”

“Do I know her?" Hermione asked.

"Sure, it's Daphne." Draco said.

"Daphne Greengrass?" Hermione exclaimed.

"Yeah. Our families have always been close; we grew up together." Draco explained. "Like I said, I was always closer to her sister, so I wasn't exactly disappointed that her father wanted to void the contract."

"Wow." Hermione couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Surprised Granger?" Draco teased.

"Well, yes." Hermione said simply. "To be perfectly honest Draco, I never really considered what your home life might be like."

"Yeah, it just shows you that you don't really know as much about people as you assume." Draco agreed. "I mean, look at Potter. I always assumed his life was rather charmed, he always seemed to get away with everything here, but he lost his family and lives with muggles, so what do I know?"

"Harry was actually rather abused at home." Hermione said honestly.

"You're kidding?" Draco exclaimed.

"No, I'm serious." Hermione said sadly. "His aunt and uncle were terrified of magic, so they locked him in a broom cupboard for the first half of his life. It was rather miserable. He doesn't talk about it much, but I've pieced it together from a dozen conversations.."

"Wow, I wouldn't have guessed that." Draco said honestly. "Don't tell me you have a horrible home life, or I shall lose all faith in humanity."

Hermione laughed, "No I had a lovely childhood. A bit confusing perhaps, before I got my Hogwarts letter."

"I never really thought about how odd that must have been for your parents." Draco laughed.

"Yes, I think when McGonagall showed up with my letter my parents were actually a bit relieved." Hermione smiled.

Draco laughed, and then asked, "Do they know... about last year?"

Hermione sighed. "They know now, I modified their memories and sent them into hiding last year, so we're not on the best terms right now. They think I should have just told them what was happening and trusted them to handle it. And they're rather confused by the attention I've been getting at the train this year."

"You haven't explained about your Order of Merlin?" Draco pressed.

"Well, I told them I got an award, but I'm already living so much in this world and not theirs that I didn't elaborate too much." Hermione explained.

Draco seemed upset by this. "Hermione, you should tell them! They sound like nice decent people, and they should know that you're a hero!"

"I don't want them to treat me differently." Hermione whispered. "Everyone treats me differently."

Draco said nothing, but simply put an arm around Hermione's shoulders.

"New subject?" Hermione asked.

"New subject." Draco agreed, with a smile. "I believe it's my turn for a question?"

"Fire away!" Hermione jokingly commanded.

"Ok, I'm honestly curious about this, and you can just answer yes or no. I don't need details. And I won't be offended if you don't want to answer." Draco said.

"Well now I'm intrigued." Hermione laughed.

"Have you... been with anyone?" Draco asked.

"Draco Malfoy, are you asking me if I'm a virgin?" Hermione cried.

"Well... yes." He said, ducking his head. "I'm just curious, you don't have to answer."

"If I tell you, you have to tell me." Hermione demanded.

"Fair enough." Draco smirked. "I am not."

Hermione nodded, taking the information in stride. "I am."

"I thought so." Draco said.

"Well it's not exactly a stretch." Hermione laughed. "I've had one boyfriend, and we only dated for a few weeks during the school year. It's not like we had the option even if I'd wanted it."

"Hey, I don't know what you got up to last year! You said yourself it was a small tent." Draco teased.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "We were a bit preoccupied with other things."

"I suppose." Draco joked. "And by the way, there's plenty of opportunity at Hogwarts if you use your imagination."

Hermione's eyes bugged out. "No!"

Draco laughed, "Yes."

"This is a school!" Hermione cried.

"And you, oh Princess of Light, clearly do not have a dirty mind." Draco said.

Hermione gave an exasperated sigh, "Ok, new subject!"

Draco laughed, "I believe you have the floor."

"Why did you change your mind." Hermione asked softly.

"What do you mean?" Draco replied.

"About me. You've been pushing me away all year, why change your mind now?" She pressed.

Draco laughed bitterly, "Because I'm a fool."

"No seriously," Hermione asked. "You didn't speak to me for weeks, you avoided me. And then all of the sudden you buy me a dress!"

"I... couldn't stand to see you so unhappy." Draco admitted. "That dress fiasco was making you more stressed than I've ever seen, and that's saying something because I've seen you push through a fair few stressful situations!"

Draco paused for a moment and then continued, "And then McGonagall made me come to the Ball tonight, and then made me dance with you! I wasn't going to come until she said the prefects had to attend. I don't think she even remembered that I'm a prefect."

Hermione giggled, "I made have put that idea in her head."

"Of course you did." Draco sighed. "Hermione, you really don't understand this situation."

"You can't back out now." Hermione exclaimed.

"I'm not, I just... Hermione." Draco struggled to get the words out. "I want to be with you, you have no idea how badly. And I'm beyond thrilled that you're even entertaining the idea! But I don't think you understand what you've signed up for!"

"I understand perfectly!" Hermione argued.

"No, Hermione, you don't!" Draco said. "Just listen... I told you we could try this and I'm not changing my mind, but you have to listen to what I have to say, ok?"

Hermione nodded.

"No one. No one in the world, is going to accept us as a couple. And Hermione, that is because I am not a good person." Draco said, putting a finger on Hermione's lips before she could argue. "You say it's because I was in a bad situation, and maybe that's what gave me the opportunity, but I made my own choices. I believed in what I was doing, what we were doing. I only started to rethink things after I became a Death Eater."

"Ok, but I know you've changed." Hermione stated.

"And I'm not arguing with you." Draco said, "But you still need to understand where I'm coming from. Just because I'm trying to be better doesn't mean I'll succeed. And even if I do, no one in their right mind would ever trust me!"

"I trust you." Hermione said softly.

"Don't give your trust away so freely Hermione." Draco said sadly. "Maybe I can earn your trust, but right now I need you to keep a bit of caution."

"Draco, I can handle myself." Hermione said, sounding frustrated.

"Believe me, Hermione, I know that." Draco said. "I wouldn't even be considering this if I didn't know you could beat me in a duel."

"Draco, why would we ever duel?" Hermione groaned.

"I'm not saying we would," Draco smirked. "I just like a girl who can hold her own."

"Ok then." Hermione said. "I've heard your crazy speech, I promise I will be careful. Can we please just try to be happy now? I think we both deserve it!"

"I absolutely do not deserve it." Draco laughed, "but 'I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.'

Hermione laughed. "I still can't believe you've read anything by Jane Austen, much less Pride and Prejudice."

"I like books." Draco shrugged.

"So do I." Hermione said with a smile.

"You know what?' Draco asked.

"What?" Hermione replied.

"I want to dance with you again." Draco said.

"Ah yes, but wouldn't that be a bit suspicious if we suddenly showed back up at the ball together?" Hermione teased.

"Who said anything about going back to the ball?" Draco smirked.

He flicked his wand and transfigured a discarded book into a music box. After stowing his wand he turned, lifted Hermione off the table, and they picked up where they had left off.

Authors Note:

Hi everyone!!! I usually don't do this, because I don't like breaking up the flow of a story, but I wanted to give a shoutout to Bhdeering and AppreciativeReader for their frequent reviews! They mean so much to me, and your feedback is always welcome!

There will very likely be a small break in posting after this chapter, as I'll be at Comic Con International this week, and won't have much of an opportunity to post. Don't give up on the story, there's still lots more to come!

Thanks for reading, and thanks for all of your reviews!

xoxo Lady Tartan

The book quoted in this chapter is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Chapter 13: Chapter 13
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"I still can't believe that you know how to dance properly." Hermione said with a smile.

"Of all the potentially shocking things about me, the fact that I know how to dance is the one you latch on to?" Draco said with a laugh.

"Do you know other dances besides the waltz?" Hermione asked.

"Sure, which one do you want to do?" Draco asked.

"I don't even know." Hermione laughed. "The tango?"

"Mmmm, that one's a bit hard with an inexperienced partner." Draco laughed. "What about swing?"

"Swing dancing?" Hermione giggled.

"Sure!" Draco said, and then quickly twisted Hermione around him, and then picked her up and swung her around his back.

Hermione shrieked and grabbed Draco around the neck as soon as he finished the complicated move.

Draco burst out laughing, "Ok maybe not swing."

"I like to keep my feet on the ground thank you." Hermione said.

"Hmmm, so what are your thoughts on flying?" Draco teased, pulling Hermione in close.

"Not favourable!" Hermione cried.

"Well then it's probably good that we can't exactly go circle the Quidditch pitch." Draco laughed, and leaned down to kiss Hermione.

Just at that moment the door to the classroom opened, and Ginny burst in.

"Busted." She said, shutting the door behind her.

"Ginny!" Hermione cried. "What are you doing here."

"Looking for you." Ginny said, with a smirk. "McGonagall is trying to find you, she wants to give you a plaque or something. I told her you turned your ankle and went to change your shoes."

"Oh." Hermione said, looking a bit like a deer in headlights. "Well, thanks?"

"I figured, better me than her." Ginny said, and then she glanced at Draco and back to Hermione. "So I guess you did like snogging him."

"Ginny!" Hermione turned bright red. "Seriously!"

"Seriously... so you two." Ginny asked, putting her hands on her hips. "What's the deal."

Draco seemed frozen. Hermione glanced up at him, and then back to Ginny. "You can't tell anyone."

"Yeah, no kidding." Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "Do you have any idea what Ron and Harry would do to him if they found out."

"Ginny please, you can't say anything. Not even to Harry." Hermione pleaded.

"I won't..." Ginny said, looking back to Draco. "For now. I'll reevaluate if needed."

"What does that mean?" Hermione snapped.

"It means, as long as he doesn't hurt you, I won't sic the Aurors on him." Ginny said. "You'd better get downstairs, before someone else comes looking."

Draco still hadn't spoken, Hermione squeezed his hand and said, "Hey! You ok?"

He looked from Ginny to Hermione, and then said softly, "I'm fine. Go get your plaque, and I'll see you later."

"Ok, where will you be?" Hermione asked.

"Our library." He said, leaning down and kissing Hermione, before stalking out the door, his dress robes billowing in a very Snapeish manner.

"Not a man of many words, is he?" Ginny pointed out.

"Well of course not." Hermione said with a scowl. "You scared him to death coming in here. How'd you find us anyway?"

Ginny pulled the Marauders Map out from behind her back. "When you disappeared I figured you were looking for something a little more... interesting?"

"But you didn't come up until now?" Hermione asked.

"Well, you said that you and Malfoy have been talking frequently, and he hasn't killed you yet." Ginny pointed out. "Plus, you were just sitting in the corner for like an hour."

"You really won't say anything?" Hermione asked.

"'Mione," Ginny sighed. "I'm not going to say that I think this is a good idea, but honestly, I think you need to do something to get yourself out of the depression you've been in. If snogging Malfoy in empty classrooms is what does the trick, who am I to judge?"

"I haven't been in a depression!" Hermione argued.

"You have." Ginny said. "And it's understandable, we all have. You just seem to be taking a bit longer to come 'round."

Hermione looked at the ground. "You might be right."

"I am right." Ginny grinned. "Now come on, McGonagall really does want to give you a plaque."

The two girls left the class and made their way back to the Great Hall. No one questioned where Hermione had disappeared to, and she quickly accepted her plaque for "Services to the School", and escaped without having to make another speech.

Ginny left with her as the rest of the students continued to enjoy the dance. "Are you going to go meet him?

"Of course." Hermione said, then looked down at her gown. "Do you think I should change first?"

Ginny laughed, "No Hermione. I guarantee he likes the way you look."

"Ok." Hermione said uncertainly.

"Just go 'Mione." Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "But please be careful. Send a patronus if you need... anything."

"You mean if Draco tries to kill me?" Hermione scoffed.

"Yes, exactly." Ginny said, and headed back into the Hall.

Hermione was about to head to the Library, when she remembered that Draco had specified that he was going to their library. She changed directions, and headed to the room of requirement.

She found Draco sitting on the leather sofa, his robe discarded on a coat rack he must have summoned, and he had loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.

"You look much more comfortable." Hermione said, as she slipped into the room.

Draco looked up and smiled, closing the book he was reading. "Well, they may look nice, but dress robes aren't the most comfortable."

"Too bad, because they do make you look quite dashing." Hermione agreed. "I haven't seen you roll your sleeves like that in a few years."

Draco looked down at his partially visible Dark Mark. "Does it bother you?"

"No." Hermione said, with a small smile. "Actually, I'm glad that you feel comfortable enough around me to not worry so much about it."

Draco looked at Hermione for a moment, appraising her, and then said, "Are we going to have trouble with Weaslette?"

"Ginny." Hermione corrected. "And no, she promised not to say anything. She thinks I'm going through some sort of Post Traumatic Reaction."

"That would explain a lot." Draco said thoughtfully.

"Draco." Hermione sighed.

"I know, I know... you know what you're doing." Draco said, holding his hands up in truce.

"Thank you." Hermione said, smiling smugly. "What do you want to do now?"

"Well, we could finish our game of 20 questions?" Draco suggested. "I was rather enjoying the last one, and we only made it through about 4 questions."

"Ok!" Hermione said, sitting next to Draco on the sofa.

"Are you comfortable in this thing?" Draco asked, tugging on her skirts. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I could stare at you all day dressed like that, but it looks uncomfortable."

"Well, I'm a bit chilly, but other than that I'm fine." Hermione said, and then moved to kick off her shoes and unpin her Order of Merlin sash. "Well, actually, once I take off these I'll be fine."

As she took off her shoes, Draco summoned his robe from the coatrack, and draped it over Hermione's shoulders.

"Thanks." She said, tucking her feet up under the giant skirt and snuggling into Draco's robe.

"Sure." Draco said, with an odd look in his eye.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"Sorry, I just... I'm having trouble believing this is real." Draco said honestly, "That you're sitting here with me, wearing my robe, and you seem completely content."

"I am content." Hermione said with a smile, and leaned into Draco's shoulder. "I think it's your turn to ask a question."

"What happens after Hogwarts?" Draco asked.

"That's your question?" Hermione asked.

"Yes. I mean, seeing each other while we're here is one thing. You're essentially just down the hall." Draco said. "But what about after we leave school?"

"I don't know." Hermione said honestly. "I don't know what I want to do with my life, and I'd imagine that will dictate a lot, like where I would live."

"You know, at some point, we're going to have to make a choice." Draco said. "Either to go our separate ways, or go public."

"I know." Hermione said." Turning her head to meet Draco's eye. "What do you want to happen after Hogwarts?"

Draco laughed. "I want to not go back to Azkaban."

"Ok, but seriously, think beyond that." Hermione said. "Say you complete your probation successfully, what do you want to do?"

"I've honestly never thought about a career." Draco said. "Malfoys don't work."

"Oh, right." Hermione said. "Silly question."

"No, not silly." Draco said. "And something I should probably consider. The ministry froze all of my parent's assets, and I don't know if they'll ever release to me."

"Well then how did you pay for that brooch? And the dress!?" Hermione cried.

"My trust fund." Draco replied, and then laughed. "Which would be more than enough to live on for the rest of my life, if I'm not trying to maintain Malfoy Manor, and bribe public officials."

"What will happen to the Manor?" Hermione asked softly. "Will you go home after you leave school?"

Draco put an arm around Hermione and squeezed, "If I do, I promise I'll never make you come with me."

Hermione nodded. "Thank you."

Draco kissed the top of her head, and said, "Tell me something about yourself that no one would believe!"

"Hmmm, besides the fact that I'm seeing Draco Malfoy, Prince of Darkness?" Hermione teased.

"Yes, besides that." Draco laughed.

"I want to get a tattoo." Hermione admitted.

"Really?" Draco was surprised. "Of what?"

"I can't decide." Hermione said, "But I want it to mean something. Of course, I'm rather scared of needles, so I don't know if I'll ever work up the courage to do it."

"I wouldn't have guessed that!" Draco said honestly.

"No? Hermione asked. "Why not?"

"Well, now that I think about it, I really don't know." Draco chuckled, "Because the more I learn about you the more that I realize that you're kind of a bad ass."

"Not in those shoes." Hermione joked, pointing at the extra girly stilettos.

"Especially in those shoes." Draco said seriously. "You're quite intimidating in that getup. Gorgeous, but intimidating."

Hermione rolled her eyes, "There's nothing intimidating about me."

"On the contrary Your Highness, you are exceedingly intimidating." Draco said.

"Well you would know, you picked the whole outfit." Hermione teased. "I should let you pick my clothes out from now on."

"I would be ok with that." Draco teased. "I'll buy you a whole new wardrobe."

"There's nothing wrong with my wardrobe!" Hermione insisted.

"Ok, can I still buy you one?" Draco asked.

"Do not spend all your money on me!" Hermione cried.

Draco chuckled. "Well, at least I know you're not dating me for my money."

"Of course I wouldn't do that!" Hermione snapped.

"Easy there Little Dragon, I know that." Draco laughed. "I meant that by saying that you truly don't understand that money isn't an issue."

"Little Dragon?" Hermione asked.

"Yes." Draco said, sounding satisfied. "I think it suits you: beautiful and powerful, with the potential to spit fire."

"Spit fire?" Hermione cried.

"Yep." Draco said with a grin. "It's not a bad thing, even the prophet compares you to dragons occasionally."

"Yes, Ginny pointed that out to me." Hermione said, dryly. "This is why I don't read the prophet anymore."

Draco chuckled, and kissed Hermione again. "Ok Little Dragon, it's your turn."

Hermione rolled her eyes, realizing that Draco wasn't going to drop the nickname. "What is your favorite book?"

Draco thought for a moment and then replied, "'The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters'.”

"You're telling me that your favorite book is Pride and Prejudice?" Hermione asked, surprised.

"Sure! Handsome, rich guy falls for the pretty, clever girl... but only after they both drive each other nearly crazy?" Draco laughed. "Seems rather lifelike to me."

"You left off the part of that quote though." Hermione pointed out.

"I did." Draco agreed, “'There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well'.”

"Is that true?" Hermione queried.

"There is one person in the world that I love." Draco said.

"Who is that?" Hermione asked?

"I'll tell you sometime." Draco said, and then thought, when I'm not being such a chicken.

"Not now?" Hermione asked?

"Well, it's a rather long story, and I'm assuming you don't want to be out past curfew?" Draco asked.

"It's not curfew yet?" Hermione asked, and then grabbed Draco's hand to check his watch. "Merlin, how is it already midnight?!"

She jumped up and starting putting on her shoes. Draco laughed, and rolled his sleeves back down. "Come on Little Dragon, you'll be fine. The ball just ended, which means everyone is just loitering in the hall."

Hermione untangled herself from Draco's robes, and handed them back. He slipped back into them, and then took Hermione's Order of Merlin sash, which she had bunched up and was going to carry back to the tower.

"No Hermione," Draco said, smoothing the riband and gently draping it over her head, before carefully pinning it to her shoulder with the brooch he had bought her. "Be proud of this."

Hermione smiled sadly, and hugged Draco. "Back to reality?"

"Back to reality." He nodded.

Author's note:

The book quoted in this chapter is Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Chapter 14: Chapter 14
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Hermione hurried through the halls, and found that most of the students were still making their way up from the ball, as Draco had said, and she spotted Ginny.

"How was the library Hermione?" Ginny asked, teasing her friend.

"Very enlightening." Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"Only you would leave a party to go to the library Hermione." Seamus teased.

"Well, I found a really interesting book!" Hermione defended.

"Yeah, a book on the history of snogging." Ginny laughed.

"Ha, bloody, ha Ginny." Hermione grumbled.

When they had made it up to their dorm, and changed out of their fancy clothes, Hermione started feeling more like herself than she had in days.

"I am so glad that is over." Hermione said, as she laid her Order of Merlin in her empty school trunk.

"Well you made it through without committing any serious faux pas." Ginny said with a smile. "You look happier than you have in a long time."

“I think I am.” Hermione said with a smile.

“So he… treats you nicely?” Ginny asked, sounding skeptical.

“Yes, he does.” Hermione said, blushing. “He did send me the dress. And the brooch.”

“No way.” Ginny said. “He gave you a brooch worth thousands of galleons and you weren’t even dating at the time?”

“He said he didn’t like seeing me unhappy.” Hermione explained. “He watched me open all those ridiculous dress robes that kept getting sent, and he knew I wanted something that covered my scar. And the brooch he had made from an old family heirloom… and Bellatrix’s knife.”

“Wait, what?” Ginny demanded. “That’s where the goblin silver came from?”

“Yes, he had it melted down, but used some of it for the brooch. He said it would be fitting to make something to hold up my medal.” Hermione said.

“Wow.” Ginny said, scrunching up her face in distress. “‘Mione, you are seriously messing with my worldview here. I can’t grasp the concept of a Malfoy who gives thoughtful, and expensive, presents to the person he tormented all through school.”

“Yeah, about that.” Hermione said, blushing again. “He said he has had a crush on me since first year.”

“Come again?” Ginny asked, agog.

“Yeah, I asked him who his first crush was, and after a bit of prodding he admitted it.” Hermione explained.

“Wow, you covered a lot of ground tonight.” Ginny said.

“Yeah, we did.” Hermione said, smiling.

“Ok, don’t hate me for this, but… Hermione, how do you know he’s really changed?” Ginny asked. “I mean, he’s done some pretty awful stuff. You don’t know how bad it got here last year.”

“I know, believe me, it’s always in the back of my head.” Hermione sighed. “I can’t explain it. It’s something about the way he talks.”

“The way he talks makes you think he’s changed?” Ginny said, skeptically.

“Yes, it’s hard to explain.” Hermione sighed. “He’s constantly reminding me that he’s not a good person, and that I shouldn’t be around him. The way he talks about trying to follow his probation, it’s like he’s not doing it because he has to, but because he wants to do it for himself.”

“Well, I guess that’s good?” Ginny asked.

“I think it is.” Hermione said, “He really doesn’t want to go back to the way he was. I think he’s actually happy his parents got put in Azkaban, he said it gave him a fresh start.”

“Ok, but ‘Mione… say you’re right. Say he’s completely changed, and wants to be a ‘good guy’ now.” Ginny pressed, “You guys are still going to have a hell of a time if you want this to go anywhere. I mean, eventually you’d have to go public, and everyone would freak!”

“Yeah, he said as much himself.” Hermione said sadly.

“Ok, so… are you prepared for that?” Ginny asked. “Because lets face it, the whole wizarding world expects you to marry my brother.”

“Is that what Witch Weekly decided?” Hermione said sarcastically, “Because the last I’d heard, it’s readers couldn’t decide if I should be with Ron or Harry?”

“Well, the pictures from the Ceremony kind of sealed the deal.” Ginny smirked. “Now that everyone knows Harry and I are together, they’ve automatically paired up you and Ron. And I thought you liked Ron?”

“I do like Ron, Ginny.” Hermione said, “But you have to admit, we’ve never been able to make it happen. We never seem to be interested in each other at the same time, and now he’s busy with Auror training, and I’m here. I feel like we only work as friends.”

“You know he’s not assertive enough to make anything happen.” Ginny said.

“He was plenty assertive with Lavender.” Hermione snapped.

“I guess.” Ginny said, looking at the floor.

“I’m sorry Ginny, I just… I don’t want to be in a relationship because people expect it.” Hermione explained. “I mean, what if Draco is the love of my life, and I don’t take a chance because we fought on different sides in a war neither of us wanted any part in?”

“I’m sorry, I just don’t understand.” Ginny admitted.

“Ginny, you got lucky.” Hermione explained. “You’ve always loved Harry, it worked out for you. But I’ve always done what other people needed. I kept the boys going, I kept them alive. Now I have to keep myself going. And I like the way I feel when I’m with Draco. It’s exciting, and interesting, and it makes me feel… awake!”

She ran her hands through her tangled hair. “Maybe it will end in disaster, maybe we will date for a few weeks a fizzle out. But I feel like I need to know.”

“Well, I would be more concerned if you didn’t seem so much happier tonight than you were before the dance.” Ginny admitted. “So obviously he’s doing something right. Just… don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

“I don’t think I am.” Hermione smiled.

The girls’ conversation ended abruptly when their dorm mates started returning from the ball, and Hermione fell asleep feeling more content than she had in months.

The next morning, it seemed like everyone was running late to breakfast after a late night out. The Great Hall was only about half full of students, but Draco was one of the first down.

He usually didn’t come down this early, but he was hoping to see Hermione, and he knew that she was usually an early riser.

He waited at the Slytherin table, carefully watching for her to make her way in, hoping that she hadn’t come to her senses in the reality of the morning. It wouldn’t be surprising if she realized she made a mistake. Draco told himself, trying to temper his hope. But when Hermione came into the room, she looked for him immediately and risked a small smile in his direction. Relief flooded his mind, and he smiled discreetly back.

He watched her interact with her housemates; the makeup and finery of the previous evening had made her look radiant, but Hermione in her school uniform looked more natural. Draco was sad when breakfast ended, and the students began making their way to class. He shouldered his bag and headed upstairs, reminding himself that he’d see her in defense, and it was a double period.

Hermione was giddy all morning, Draco had smiled at her at breakfast, and he never smiled in public. She wade her way to defense that afternoon with anticipation of seeing him again. When she got to class, she was intrigued to find the desks moved to the sides of the room, and a dueling space set up in the middle.

“What’s going on?” She whispered to Ginny, as the students crowded around the edges of the room.

“Dunno, Bill didn’t mention anything.” Ginny whispered back. “I know he was trying to find something more engaging for the group.”

At that moment, Bill tapped his wand on the blackboard for attention and called, “Good morning everyone. As you can see, we’re going to be trying something new today. Due to the fact that you have already exhausted the required Newt subjects, I thought we’d try something a little different in defense. An inter house Dueling Competition.”

Whispers of excitement filled the room, and Bill held up his hands for quiet, before continuing. “There will be several different ways to earn points. The first, obviously, is defeating your opponent in a duel, which will take place at the end of each week. Additional points can be earned for mastering difficult or unusual dueling spells.”

Hermione was thrilled to hear the second part of the information, and couldn’t wait to get to the library.

“For todays class, we’re going to be learning the formal rules of dueling. I know most of you have real life dueling and fighting experience, but this is sport dueling, and it’s quite different.” Bill continued.

They spent an engaging double period going over the rules of competitive dueling, as well as formal stances and techniques. The whole class seemed thrilled to have new material, and were listening closely.

When the double period ended, and they all left to go down to dinner, the group was buzzing with excitement.

“Did you really not know Bill was going to have us start dueling?” Hermione asked Ginny.

“No, he never mentioned it.” Ginny said, “But I’m glad people seem excited. Bill was getting really frustrated trying to teach us the Newt information, only to find that almost everyone already knew it.”

“I can’t wait to start looking up unusual spells!” Hermione exclaimed, as they sat down to dinner. “I wonder if Bill is going to limit how many extra credit points we can earn?”

“That was the most Hermione-ish question ever.” Ginny teased.

“Well if he puts a cap on the extra points, I can just teach spells to you and Neville so that Gryffindor can win!” Hermione gushed. “I wonder if we’ll get house points for this?!”

“Down girl.” Neville joked.

Hermione was bouncing in her seat, as she quickly ate her dinner. She was about to jump up to head to the Library, when Ginny passed her a bit of parchment.

“Almost forgot to give you this term’s Prefect rotations.” She said, with a wink.

Hermione took the parchment from Ginny, and noticed that she had been paired with Draco for every patrol. “Thanks Ginny!” She exclaimed.

“You’re welcome. Now go ahead and go to the library before you burst.” Ginny laughed.

Hermione laughed, and practically skipped out of the Great Hall, and up the stairs.

“Fancy meeting you here.” Draco whispered, as he sat down behind Hermione in the library.

“I was wondering if you would come this way.” Hermione replied. “I was just thinking of heading up to the other Library.”

“Hmmm, that sounds more to my liking.” Draco whispered.

Hermione grinned, and packed up her books. She quickly took the large stack up to Madame Pince who checked them out without comment, as she was used to Hermione taking out large amounts of books.

She balanced the large stack, and made her way up to the Room of Requirement, and picturing the library room, backed in and dropped the load off on the table.

She quickly settled in to study, searching for new and interesting spells to use in the Dueling Tournament. She didn't hear Draco when he came in a few minutes later.

"I don't think I've seen you this excited about an assignment all year." He laughed.

Hermione jumped at the sound of his voice. "I didn't hear you come it."

"You were quite focused!" Draco laughed. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"I'm trying to find spells for Bill's class." Hermione said, with a book still open in her lap. "How was today?"

"Today was a lot of waiting around to see your smiling face in defense class." Draco said, leaning over and kissing Hermione on the cheek before sitting down.

"This would be easier if we were in same house." Hermione said.

"If we were in the same house, I doubt we'd have to keep the relationship a secret." Draco joked. "I've never heard of an evil Gryffindor."

Hermione glared at him. "Please stop referring to yourself as evil."

"I'm not going to lie to you Hermione." Draco said seriously.

"I don't want to have the 'I'm so evil' conversation again." Hermione said stubbornly. "I just want to work on Bill's assignment."

"'Bill's' assignment, huh?" Draco teased.

"Professor Weasley." Hermione corrected, rolling her eyes. "I went to his wedding for crying out loud, I practically live with his family."

"Really?" Draco asked curiously. "I didn't know he was married."

"Yeah, he married Fleur Delacour, the summer before the war." Hermione said.

"Triwizard Fleur?" Draco asked, agog. "From Beauxbatons?"

"Yes. They're expecting a baby in the spring." Hermione said with a smile.

"Wow. You're really that close to the Weasleys?" Draco asked. "I mean, I know you're friends with Ron and Ginny, but I didn't know you were close with the whole family."

Hermione smiled. "I spend more time at the Weasley's house than I do at my own home."

"Really? Your parents don't mind?" Draco was curious.

"Well, I think they miss me, but they really don't understand this world." Hermione said. "I feel very disconnected when I'm at home. Harry did too, before he moved out."

"Hmmm. I haven't spent much time in the Muggle world." Draco said.

"Yeah, I didn't suspect you had." Hermione teased.

Draco glared at her, and then winked. "So what are you working on for 'Bill's class'?"

"Nothing in particular yet." Hermione said. "Just doing some preliminary research."

Draco chuckled. "Are you planning on winning by checking out every book in the library so no one else can even attempt?"

"Yeah right." Hermione said. "Everyone went straight up to nap after the ball last night."

"Well give me one of those." Draco said, grabbing a book. "If Slytherin is going to beat Gryffindor, I'm going to need to stay on my toes."

"Nice place?" Hermione asked.

"Is what a nice place?" Draco said, confused.

"That fantasy world you're living in." Hermione teased.

"Is that trash talk?" Draco laughed, "From Hermione Granger? I'm impressed!"

"Well while you're being impressed, be quiet." Hermione said. "I'm already behind on my study schedule."

Draco smiled, and settled in with his book, but he spent more time watching Hermione than he did reading.

After a several hours, Hermione feverishly taking notes the whole time, Draco put a hand under her chin and lifted her head up to break her concentration.

"Hey!" Hermione said, in the middle of copying out a paragraph from a defense book.

"It's been three hours Little Dragon." Draco said. "Can you spare some time for a distraction?

"Has it really been that long?" Hermione said, flexing her hand.

"Yep." Draco said, with a laugh.

Hermione put her book down, and stretched, "Well what kind of distraction did you have in mind?"

Draco laughed and snatched Hermione's book, tossing it on the table he slipped an arm around her and pulled her onto his lap.

"Oh." Hermione said, blushing. "That kind of distraction."

"You're adorable when you're shy." Draco teased, kissing Hermione softly on the lips, which only made Hermione blush a brighter shade of red.

Draco laughed and kissed Hermione again, this time she relaxed into the kiss, and slipped her hands into Draco's hair.

She found it so easy to let go when she was with him; it was as though her usual logical, calculating self disappeared. When she had kissed Ron, her mind had been racing the whole time, trying to analyze the situation. She found it both invigorating and slightly terrifying, as she slid down on the sofa and Draco moved with her.

Draco had one arm around her waist, and the other behind her head pulling her impossibly close. Hermione moaned involuntarily against Draco’s lips, and he deepened the kiss, teasing her mouth with his tongue.

Draco couldn’t calculate how much time had passed if he wanted to. It could have been five minutes or fifty. It was as though they were made to fit together, and he didn’t ever want the moment to end.

Hermione had slid a up the back of his shirt, and he was suddenly nervous that she would notice the scars on his back. Sure enough, she ran her fingers over one of the many lines and he briefly pulled back from her.

“Draco, what?” She asked, breathless. She realized that her skirt had ridden up dangerously high, and her sweater was askew; she tugged the fabric, trying to right it.

Draco noticed her trying to fix her skirt, and realized that he’d probably pushed her further than she was comfortable with. He knew she was inexperienced, and he immediately felt like a jerk.

“I’m sorry Hermione, I got carried away.” He whispered, backing away from her on the sofa.

“I’d say we both did.” Hermione laughed, noticing that she’d untucked Draco’s shirt and completely messed up his hair.

“I’m sorry.” Draco repeated, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to pressure you.”

“Draco!” Hermione exclaimed. “You weren’t pressuring me, we were just kissing.”

“Yes, but I don’t ever want to be that guy.” Draco said, shaking his head. “And I practically climbed on top of you without even asking.”

“Draco.” Hermione said, exasperated. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Your skirt was all pushed up.” Draco said, disgusted with himself.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty sure that was gravity Draco. I’m not that fragile, you don’t have to be afraid you’re going to break me or offend me.”

“I just know… that I’m more…” Draco struggled to explain. “I have more of a past than you. I don’t ever want you to feel uncomfortable.”

“Draco, answer a question for me.” Hermione said.

“Anything.” Draco said, immediately.

“If I had asked you to stop, what would have have done?” Hermione questioned.

“I would have stopped.” He said simply.

“Ok, then we don’t have a problem!” Hermione insisted. “I never told you to stop, I never felt pressured. If anything, kissing you is the only time I can get out of my own head and relax!”

“So I just ruined the moment for nothing.” Draco sighed.

“Actually, you started pulling away when I felt that scar on your back.” Hermione pointed out.

“Damn.” Draco hissed. “You noticed that?”

“Well it feels pretty deep.” Hermione said.

“They are, it is.” Draco said, kicking himself.

“What are they from?” Hermione asked.

“My past.” Draco said, resting his head in his hands.

“That’s a bit vague.” Hermione said softly.

Draco didn’t respond, and after a moment Hermione rested a hand on his back. He jumped briefly in response, but then relaxed and allowed her to push his sweater and shirt higher up and see the collection of scars on his back.

“Draco!” Hermione gasped, “What happened to you?”

“Do we really need to discuss this Hermione?” Draco asked softly.

“We don’t need to discuss anything.” Hermione said gently, “But I’d hoped you’d trust me enough by now to tell me.”

“It’s not that interesting of a story.” Draco said quietly. “My father is an asshole.”

“Your father did this?” Hermione gasped. “How? Why?!”

“Well, you might remember around our second year, the ministry was doing loads of raids, trying to track down dark objects?” Draco asked.

Hermione nodded, remembering the argument between Lucious and Mr. Weasley at Flourish and Blotts.

“Well, obviously they found more than a few banned items when they raided the manor.” Draco explained. “My father should have gone to Azkaban then, but he managed to buy his way out and get probation.”

Hermione nodded again, letting Draco continue.

“Well, obviously the terms of his probation were similar to what mine are now: no dark magic.” Draco said, sounding detached. “So while he was on probation, he couldn’t use the Cruciatis curse, so he had to switch to muggle methods of punishment when I misbehaved.”

“Let me get this straight…” Hermione exclaimed. “You father couldn’t use magic to torture you, so he whipped you? When you were twelve?”

Draco just nodded, looking embarrassed.

“I’m going to kill him!” Hermione cried. “I'm going to get Harry to sneak me into Azkaban and I’m going to kill him.”

Draco wasn’t sure what Hermione’s reaction would be, but he certainly hadn’t expected a death threat. He burst out laughing.

“What?” Hermione said, distracted from her plans.

“Hermione, my father isn’t worth your time.” Draco laughed, pulling Hermione close. “He can’t hurt me anymore. Don’t waste another minute thinking about him.”

“But Draco!” Hermione was still upset. “He tortured you. He doesn’t deserve to live.”

“Hermione, he doesn’t deserve the honor of you killing him.” Draco said, seriously. “He doesn’t even deserve to have you think about him.”

“It wouldn’t be honorable.” Hermione grumbled.

Draco chuckled again. “Besides,” He said, “What makes you think that I would let you go anywhere near Azkaban?”

“I think I’d like to see you try and stop me from going anywhere I want to go!” Hermione said, indignant.

“I’m not trying to control you,” Draco said, honestly, “I just don’t want you anywhere near that place. I don’t want it to taint you.”

“It wouldn’t ‘taint me’.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “And I refer to my earlier statement about not being as fragile as you think I am.”

“I know you’re not fragile.” Draco said, “But you don’t understand what it means to set foot in that building. You said Potter goes there; ask him sometime.”

Hermione didn’t back down, “I can handle it Draco.”

“Little Dragon, I didn’t for a moment think you couldn’t.” Draco explained. “I just don’t want you to ever experience anything like that. I want to protect you from everything evil in the world!”

“Including you?” Hermione asked. “Is that why you’re always trying to convince me that you’re evil?”

“Of course,” Draco said simply. “One day you’ll realize it, and you’ll go back to Weasley, and have the life you deserve. A life where you don’t have to hide; where you can have a fabulous career and a bunch of kids, and the only reason anyone takes your picture is because you’re a hero, not because you’re seeing a Death Eater.”

“Draco, I thought we were in this together?” Hermione cried, “You want me to go be with Ron?”

“Of course not,” Draco said. “I want to live in an alternate reality where I didn’t make so many mistakes, where I could marry you, and have children with you, and see you every day for the rest of my life. But I know that’s not this reality, and I love you too much to want anything but the best future for you.”

Hermione was shocked; she felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. She counted down from ten, trying to gather her thoughts. He loves me? She thought to herself, replaying the moment in her head. Then she thought back to their previous conversation, he had said that there was only one person in the world that he loved.

“Look, I can see you overanalyzing the situation.” Draco said, with a sad smile. “I understand completely if you don’t return my feelings, I just wanted you to know where I’m coming from.”

“But Draco, you said there was only one person you love in the world?” Hermione gasped.

“I did say that.” Draco said, looking at his feet.

“I… I don’t know what to say?” Hermione said, uncertainly. This was unknown territory for her.

“You don’t need to say anything Hermione.” Draco said, “I know that this is too much to process. So just don’t say anything, let the moment pass and we can forget it ever happened.”

“But I don’t want to forget it ever happened.” Hermione said quietly.

Draco’s head popped up and he met Hermione’s eyes, “You don’t?”

“Well no!” Hermione said, “Look, just because I don’t know if I feel the same, doesn’t mean I want to forget it! 'Sometimes she did not know what she feared, what she desired: whether she feared or desired what had been or what would be, and precisely what she desired, she did not know.'

“Anna Karenina?” Draco said with a smile. “I’m going to choose to take the fact that you’re quoting one of the greatest love stories of all time as a good sign.”

Hermione blushed. “Well, it’s not a bad sign.”

Authors Note:

The book quoted in this chapter is Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.

Chapter 15: Chapter 15
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The next morning, Hermione was happily eating her breakfast, and reading a defense book. She had found the perfect spell to try in Defense Class, and she was reading the finer details about it’s execution.

Ginny appeared at the table, and served herself some eggs. “How was the library last night?”

“It was great!” Hermione grinned.

“Must have been.” Ginny smirked, “You’ve got the cheesiest grin ever on your face this morning.”

Hermione just grinned again, and went back to her book.

“Incoming!” Neville called, as owls began to fill the hall.

Hermione wasn’t expecting any letters, as she had just had some from both Harry and Ron as well as her parents, so she was quite surprised when a large owl dropped a black box in front of her.

“What on earth?!” Hermione gasped, dropping her book.

“Looks like that mystery designer sent you something new.” Ginny said, with a wink.

“Well what would he… they, send me now?” Hermione wondered aloud. “The celebration is over.”

“You’d better open it and see.” Ginny said. “Because I’m curious too!”

Hermione was stunned, she was sure the box was from Draco, but she couldn’t imagine why he would buy her something else. When she lifted the lid off the black box, sitting inside on top of black tissue, was a sliver card.

She opened it and inside, written in the same perfect script as the Christmas card, were the words, “Just in case you ever foolishly forget; I'm never not thinking of you”.

“No signature again? Just a random quote?” Ginny asked, peeking at the card.

“Not so random.” Hermione grinned. “It’s from the Selected Diaries.

“This person has a thing for literature, doesn’t he?” Ginny asked, prodding Hermione with her elbow.

“It appears so.” Hermione said, tucking the card in her bag, and delving into the sheets of black tissue. “Oh wow!”

She lifted a beautiful coat from the box, it was rich black, with an asymmetrical row of silver buckles closing the front up to a high collar, and a deep hood. She turned the coat over to see that the back was long, and gathered almost like a bustle. The whole coat was lined with deep red silk, and when she opened it, there was a large dragon embroidered on the back of the lining.

“This might be the most beautiful coat I’ve ever seen!” Hermione gasped.

“It’s dragon hide.” Ginny said, touching the collar. “It must have cost a fortune!”

“He shouldn’t have spent so much on me.” Hermione whispered.

“I think he’ll manage.” Ginny laughed.

Hermione carefully tucked the coat back into the box, and hurried to put it away in her dorm before her first class of the day. As she left, Draco followed her out and they made their way up the stairs, as though by coincidence.

After checking that they were out of earshot of anyone else, Hermione whispered, “This coat is gorgeous! You shouldn’t have spent so much on me!”

“I told you I wanted to buy you a whole new wardrobe, and anything else you deserve.” Draco said softly. “I meant it.”

“I remember,” Hermione said. “I also remember saying I don’t need anything from you. I’m not with you to try and pressure you to buy me gifts!”

“I know.” Draco grinned. “That’s why it’s fun!”

“You shouldn’t spend your whole trust fund on me!” Hermione hissed.

“Hermione, I could buy you a gift every day for the rest of the year, and it wouldn’t dent my trust fund.” Draco winked at her. “You are seriously misunderstanding the perks of dating a Malfoy.”

Hermione rolled her eyes, and said, “Well I just want to go on the record as having said that you don’t need to buy my affection.”

“Noted.” Draco said with a grin. “And I want to go on record as saying that I’m going to buy you a gift every day for the rest of the year.”

They had paused at the top of the stairs, and Hermione hugged the box to her chest and looked out over the balcony. “Draco, I don’t need…”

“Everything in order here Miss Granger?” A voice interrupted her. She whirled around and saw Bill standing behind them.

She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing.” Draco snapped, and stormed off.

Hermione held in a grin, she knew the rest of the quote, “Holding the universe together.

“What’s that Hermione?” Bill asked.

“Nothing Bill, just on my way to Arithmancy.” Hermione sighed.

“Malfoy wasn’t bothering you was he?” Bill asked. “He’s on probation, he knows he can’t harass students.”

“No, we just bumped into each other.” Hermione explained.

“Ok, well you let me know if he gives you any trouble.” Bill said, in a brotherly way. “I’d love to have a little conversation with him Man to Man.”

“I doubt it’ll be an issue Bill.” Hermione said. “I only have your class with him.”

“Well good, at least I can keep an eye on him there.” Bill said, and then resumed his Professor attitude with a wink. “Get to class Miss Granger.”

Hermione sighed, and hurried up to her dorm. So many people ready to try and knock Draco down. She thought.

She tucked the box into her trunk, next to the dress and her Order of Merlin. Her trunk was already full of gifts from Draco, but she thought back to their brief conversation: "I want to go on record as saying that I’m going to buy you a gift every day for the rest of the year.”

He can’t really buy me a gift every day. Hermione thought, as she hurried back down from the tower.

She suffered through Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Herbology (which she was only still taking to make Neville happy) before she made it to Defense class.

She smiled discreetly at Draco, who was standing on the Slytherin side of the room leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, as though it were beneath him to be there. His winked back at her.

Bill paired the class up for their first round of duels. Hermione wanted to fight Draco, but she got paired up against Daphne instead.

They were only allowed to use spells that had been covered in class for the first round, as Bill wanted to correct their stances and technique as they went, so the going was quite slow.

Hermione quickly got frustrated, and when it was her turn, she hurled a stinking jinx at Daphne a bit harder than she intended.

“Ouch!” Daphne cried. “You stupid mud blood bitch!”

“Oh calm down you hag,” Hermione rolled her eyes. “It was just a little stinging jinx, we covered it on our second day here.”

“Ladies!” Bill called, trying to settle the situation.

“I’ll show you a stinging jinx!” Daphne screamed, “Bombarda!”

Hermione casually put up a shield charm, blocking the blasting spell which deflected against the blackboard, shattering it. “Don’t use spells you don’t understand sweetheart.”

“Enough!” Bill shouted, stepping in between them. “Both of you, to the Headmistresses office right now!”

Hermione rolled her eyes again. “So does that make it a draw?”

“Now Hermione.” Bill snapped, pointing to the door.

Hermione summoned her bag, and headed out the door behind Daphne. She truthfully didn’t know why she had gotten so frustrated. Daphne hadn’t ever done anything to her, not really.

When they reached McGonagall’s office, she looked particularly disappointed that Hermione was being sent up for arguing in class.

“Ladies, this behavior is particularly unbecoming of Seventh years.” McGonagall said, referring to the note that Bill had sent up detailing the argument.

“Miss Granger, you were instructed to use only known spells for this round of dueling.” McGonagall pointed out.

“It was a stinging jinx Professor.” Hermione explained. “We learnt it in second year.”

“Ok, well perhaps not so much force next time?” McGonagall said, trying to hide her smirk. “And Miss Greengrass, you know that the language you used is completely unacceptable.”

“She started it.” Daphne pouted.

“Next time bring the problem to the attention of the professor.” McGonagall said. “Both of you will serve detention, in place of the next Hogsmede outing this weekend.”

“Fine.” Hermione said, honestly glad to have an excuse to skip the journey.

“Whatever.” Daphne grumbled.

“In addition, Miss Greengrass, fifty points will be taken from Slytherin house for your use of appalling language.” McGonagall held up a hand to silence Daphne’s upcoming argument. “If I hear of you uttering such a word in this school again, you will be expelled immediately.”

Hermione smirked.

“You may return to class Miss Greengrass.” McGonagall said. “Miss Granger, please remain here.”

After Daphne left, Professor McGonagall summoned a tea service that had been sitting near the fire place, and poured them each a steaming cup.

“Now, Miss Granger.” McGonagall said, “I must say, I’m a bit surprised to see you up here. Usually when you get in trouble it is in the company of Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley. I assumed, that without their rather… enthusiastic… disregard for the rules I wouldn’t see much of you this year.”

“Well, I did last until Spring Term.” Hermione quipped.

“Indeed.” Minerva said, smiling into her tea. “And this sudden change in personality wouldn’t have anything to do with a certain Slytherin student, currently on probation for crimes committed during the war?”

“What?! No!” Hermione gasped, “Er, I don’t know what you’re… how did you know?”

“The paintings are rather fond of gossip dear.” McGonagall said with a smile.

Hermione flushed, and fiddled with her teacup. She hadn’t considered the paintings. They probably reported back every time she and Draco were together. “I didn’t think of the paintings.” She finally said, lamely.

“Miss Granger, I’m not going to tell you to tell you to end your relationship; in all my years as an educator, I have never seen that work.” McGonagall said, honestly.

“Well… thank you?” Hermione said, confused.

“The purpose of this little chat, is to ensure your motives are in the right place.” McGonagall said. “When one goes through a traumatic experience, there are often lingering psychological effects.”

Hermione blushed, and finally struggled to get out, “I’m doing ok Professor.”

“Oh my dear, I don’t think any of us is ‘ok’.” McGonagall said with a smile. “I just wanted to make sure that you’re not spending time with Mr. Malfoy because you see him as dangerous.”

“I don’t think he’s dangerous at all Professor.” Hermione exclaimed, getting angry. “He got caught up in the war as much as the rest of us, he just got caught on the wrong side!”

“You might be correct dear.” McGongall said gently, “And all the reports I’ve gotten suggest that Mr. Malfoy is treating you appropriately. I just want to make sure you fully understand the ramifications of your choices.”

“I’m well aware of what my choices mean.” Hermione grumbled.

“Well then let me be blunt.” McGonagall exclaimed. “While you might see Mr. Malfoy to be a reformed individual, many in this school—most in fact—do not. I’d imagine the reaction of the student body finding out about your relationship would be less that positive. This would have particularly negative consequences for you; as an Order of Merlin recipient, you are held to a higher standard than that of the rest of the wizarding world. Whereas Mr. Malfoy is a Death Eater on probation, this type of behavior is expected of him.”

“What type of behavior?!” Hermione shouted. “Having a relationship with someone who has similar interests? Someone you can talk to without them bringing up your Bloody Order of Merlin!”

McGonagall seemed a bit surprised by Hermione’s outburst, but she wasn’t finished, “Professor, I didn't’ ask for any of this. For heavens sake, I was just trying to help Neville find his bloody toad! I didn’t want to fight a war, and I don’t want to be a public figure, and I don’t want to sign my name as ‘Hermione Granger, Order of Merlin First Class’ for the rest of my life!”

“I’m sorry my dear, but you lost me on that comment about the toad… what are you talking about?” McGonagall asked, calmly.

“Oh, first year.” Hermione explained, bursting out laughing from the insanity of it all. “I was helping Neville find his toad on the Hogwarts Express when I met Harry and Ron. If Neville hadn’t lost Trevor, I probably wouldn’t have ever talked to them.”

Hermione laughed until tears ran down her face, McGonagall didn’t say anything, just conjured a handkerchief and handed it over.

When Hermione had stopped laughing, and dried her eyes, she said, “I’m sorry Professor, I don’t know what came over me.”

“What came over you is that you fought a war last year, and you’ve tried to come back to school and treat it as though nothing has changed.” Minerva pointed out. “You’ve had an extremely stressful few weeks, with a lot of attention focused on you. I want you to take the rest of the day off from your classes. Spend some time considering what I have said.”

“But professor, my defense class just started, and it’s a double period!” Hermione argued.

“And I frequently must hear from Professor Weasley about how everyone in his class could already pass the Newt. I’m sure your grades will not suffer from one afternoon off.” McGonagall said with a sly smile.

“But Professor…” Hermione started to object, but there was a knock at the door.

“Come in Mr. Malfoy.” McGonagall called, and Draco slipped in wearing his usual sneer, until he saw Hermione and his face softened.

“You sent for me, Headmistress?” He said, his voice devoid of any emotion.

“Yes, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall said, indicating that Draco should take the chair next to Hermione. “I just wanted to go over a few things with you, of which I feel Miss Granger should be aware.”

“Ok.” Draco said, looking nervous. "What does Granger need to know?"

"Draco, she knows." Hermione said gently.

Shock registered on Draco's face, and then he quickly rearranged his features.

“First of all,” McGonagall said, “How much have you told Miss Granger about your probation?”

“Well, we didn’t exactly get out the parchment and read the fine print, but she’s aware of the situation.” Draco said, cooly.

“Excellent.” McGonagall said. “Well, the two of you should know, that several members of the Auror department will be here on Friday to conduct a Probationary Assessment.”

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“It’s an interrogation.” Draco said, quietly. “They give me Veritaserum and check to make sure I’m not getting around their dark magic detectors.”

“Precisely.” McGonagall said. “However, unlike your previous assessments, the Aurors will be considering downgrading your Probation type from First to Second.”

“Really?” Draco said, sounding hopeful.

“What does that mean?” Hermione asked, feeling out of the loop.

“What it means Miss Granger, is that the Auror Department feels as though Mr. Malfoy has been performing admirably on his probation, and they are considering taking him off of location arrest.” Minerva explained.

“It means I could go to Hogsmede weekends, or home for the Easter break.” Draco explained, and then turned back to McGonagall. “What does this have to do with Hermione?”

“She has been summoned to testify on your behalf as to your behavior over the past term.” Minerva said. “I thought you might like a bit of forewarning?”

“Oh… why are they asking me to testify?” Hermione asked nervously.

“Well Miss Granger,” McGonagall said with a smirk, “I would guess it is because the Auror department assumes you are not fond of Mr. Malfoy, and would be the most likely to be honest about his actions since September.”

Draco and Hermione looked at each other nervously.

“I do not intend on informing the department of your relationship, as I do not see how it pertains to Mr. Malfoy’s case.” Minerva said. “However, you should be aware that the questioning may unintentionally reveal more than you intend.”

“Well, that would be the point of the Veritaserum.” Draco said dryly.

"Quite." McGonagall said. "Mr. Malfoy, I have informed Professor Weasley that you will not be returning to class today. Please use this time to prepare yourself for Friday."

"Thanks Professor." Hermione said, standing to leave.

"Oh, one more thing Miss Granger. Mr. Malfoy you are excused." McGonagall said.

After Draco had left the office, Minerva passed Hermione a small box. "I assume, that you desire to remain involved with the Order of the Phoenix?"

"Yes, of course." Hermione exclaimed.

"Excellent. In that box is a pendant with a Protean Charm." McGongall said, with a smirk. "I assume you are aware of the properties of the Protean Charm?"

Hermione nodded again.

"Excellent. Please wear the pendant at all times, you may transfigure it into any shape you prefer, and it will alert you if you are called up or there is a meeting." McGonagall said.

"Thanks professor." Hermione said, pulling a plain silver pendant out of the box.

"Hermione, when we are discussing Order business, I think it would be appropriate for you to refer to me as Minerva." McGonagall said with a smile. "After all, I won't be your Professor for much longer."

"Are we having a meeting soon?" Hermione asked, quickly transfiguring the pendant into a silver bracelet with a dragon that matched the pin Draco had given her.

"I know Kingsley wants to have one, and discuss structure for the future." McGonagall said. "The Aurors are having trouble locating all of the remaining Death Eaters, so I think he wants to stay ahead of any potential reprisals and maintain the Mad Eye standard."

"That makes sense." Hermione said, standing to leave. "Thanks."

As she left she realized what McGonagall meant, and poked her head back in the door and called, "Constant Vigilance Minerva!"

"Quite, Hermione." McGonagall said with a smile. "Quite.

As Hermione turned to head down the stairs, she ran right smack into Draco. "Whoa!"

"Easy there Little Dragon," Draco said softly, catching her.

"I figured you'd already be upstairs!" Hermione said with a smile.

"I wasn't sure how long you would be." Draco said, taking Hermione's hand.

They made their way to the room of requirement, carefully listening for anyone that might be in the halls.

Once they were tucked away in relative privacy, Hermione pulled Draco down for a kiss, but she could feel that he was distracted.

"Worried about this assessment?" Hermione asked.

Draco nodded. "I honestly didn't expect this until graduation. I figured they'd want me kept where it was easy to keep an eye on me."

"Well, you've not broken any of the terms of your probation." Hermione pointed out. "Maybe this is normal procedure?"

"I don't know." Draco said, looking worried. "It feels more like they're trying to give me the opportunity to mess it up."

"Well, just because they say you can leave, doesn't mean you have to do it." Hermione pointed out. "If you're not comfortable going somewhere for the break, then don't."

"Good point." Draco said, looking slightly less concerned. "What did McGonagall want? Did you get in trouble?"

Hermione laughed, "Yes, detention next Hogsmede weekend."

"Really?" Draco asked. "I didn't think you really did anything to warrant detention!?

"Oh, it wouldn't be a proper year at Hogwarts without at least one detention." Hermione chuckled. "Besides, Daphne got fifty points taken for calling me a mud blood."

"Well, you can see why I was perfectly happy to let her father back out of that deal." Draco laughed.

"I completely forgot about that!" Hermione laughed. "Gosh, what would she think if she knew about us?"

"She would be appalled, as any snobbish pure blood would." Draco said, sticking his nose in the air, before breaking out laughing again.

"I'm sure." Hermione giggled.

"So... what did McGonagall want after I left?" Draco asked curiously. "Was she warning you off seeing me?"

"No, she did that before you got there." Hermione said, fingering the new bracelet. "She actually had Order business to discuss."

"Order or Merlin or Order of the Phoenix?" Draco teased.

"Order of the Phoenix." Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "I've got to limit the number of Orders I join."

"Are you doing something for the Order?" Draco asked, sounding surprised and concerned.

"No, not at the moment." Hermione explained. "We're just going to be meeting soon, and she wanted to let me know that I could get called up."

"Called up for what?" Draco asked, panicking. "The war is over!"

"Nothing specific." Hermione said vaguely. "We just want to be prepared. Constant Vigilance, and all that."

"You're not meant to discuss this with me are you?" Draco asked

"Not you specifically," Hermione said. "We don't share information with anyone who isn't an Order member."

"The war isn't really over. Is it?" Draco asked.

"Well, Draco... you tell me." Hermione said, softly. "Are all of Riddle's followers in Azkaban?"

Draco shook his head.

"And are the ones that haven't been caught willing to just walk away from their agenda?" Hermione continued.

"Probably not." Draco sighed.

"Ok, so you see why we can't just pretend everything is ok." Hermione said, resting a hand on Draco's knee.

"Do you have to stay in the Order?" Draco asked, taking her hand. "Is it a lifetime commitment?"

"No, that's what Minerva was asking." Hermione explained. "We're not like the Death Eaters, Draco. Anyone can walk away at any time."

"So you just voluntarily agreed to let them call you up for Merlin knows what, and put your life on the line?" Draco demanded. "Did 'Minerva', say what they would expect you to do?"

"No, it's early days." Hermione said. "It might be nothing. I just have to wait for their signal."

"Why do you have to do anything?" Draco asked. "I think you've done enough!"

"I know you do." Hermione said quietly.

"So then why are you doing it!" Draco demanded. "You hate all the hero worship, I know you hate it!"

If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.” Hermione replied.

"Damn it, Hermione!" Draco cried. "I don't want to have some high handed, intellectual conversation about War and Peace. I want to know why you are volunteering to put your life on the line!"

"Because that's who I am Draco!" Hermione said, refusing to raise her voice. "You know that. I haven't changed, just because Riddle is gone, and we have a moment of peace. I don't do it for power or fame, I do it because it's what's right!"

Draco dropped his head into his hands. "Hermione, you don't understand!"

"What don't I understand, Draco?" Hermione asked.

"They'll kill you!" Draco cried.

"Who will kill me?" Hermione asked.

"The Death Eaters." Draco practically sobbed, "There was a plan, for if the Dark Lord lost. They're going to kill as many of you as they can!"

"Ok, well that's not really surprising." Hermione said calmly.

"How is that not surprising?" Draco demanded. "How are you not reacting to this. I just told you people want to kill you. Not hypothetically want to kill you, but actually have a plan to kill you."

"Draco, that's not new." Hermione said gently. "And I can take care of myself."

"But suppose you can't." Draco sighed. "Suppose they catch you off guard, Hermione, they're not going to kill you quickly. It will be drawn out, and horrible. I've seen it all before."

Hermione reach over and hugged Draco tightly. "Draco, this isn't the manor. No one can get to me here. It's just me and you."

"So, what if they get into Hogwarts?!" Draco said. "It's happened before!"

"Well, not to pour salt in the wound, but the last time the Death Eaters got into the castle, you let them in." Hermione pointed out. "Were you planning on doing that again?"

"Of course not!" Draco snapped. "I told them..."

"You told them what?!" Hermione demanded. "Have you been talking to them?"

"They've been sending me owls." Draco admitted, after a long pause.

"Have you told anyone about this?" Hermione hissed.

"No, I didn't want anyone to find out." Draco whispered. "I only answered to try and get them to stop contacting me."

"How long has this been happening?" Hermione asked.

"Since the announcement of your Order of Merlin." Draco admitted, his hands shaking.

"Ok, so... when is this supposed to happen?" Hermione asked, fumbling in her pocket and pulling out her DA Galleon.

"Um, they're going to try it on the next Hogsmede weekend." Draco said. "They're going to try and get in through the tunnels."

"Ok." Hermione said, tapping her Galleon with her wand.

"What are you doing?" Draco asked her.

"I'm calling up the DA." Hermione said, and fired off a Patronus to Ginny.

"You're what?" Draco asked, looking confused and nervous.

"You remember that secret defense class from fifth year?" Hermione asked.

Draco nodded.

"Well, we called it Dumbledore's Army." Hermione explained. "And the members all still carry a galleon like this, so they can be called up if needed."

"You have your own army?" Draco asked, in disbelief.

"It's not my army." Hermione said, shaking her head.

"Wait, is that a Protean Charm?" Draco asked, agog.

"Yes." Hermione said shrugging.

Draco shook his head, and at that moment, there was a knock on the door.

"That'll be Ginny." Hermione said. Come on, we need to leave so we can re-set the room."

"Should I even be here?" Draco asked, skeptically.

"Yes, you have to tell us what the plan is." Hermione explained. "I've only called up the senior officers, and we're going to say that you were concerned about your upcoming Assessment and asked me for advice."

They stepped out of the Room of Requirement, and Ginny was standing outside panting.

"Did you bring it?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, and Neville is getting Luna and they're on their way." She said.

"Doesn't she have her Galleon?" Hermione asked, pacing back and forth three times to re-set the room.

"Nargles." Ginny said, as if that explained everything.

"Hold up," Draco said. "Your response to this is to ask Longbottom and Loony for help?"

"Yes." Hermione said. "And here they are."

The five students ducked into the Room of Requirement, which now was set up as the DA practice space.

"What in the world is this?!" Draco asked.

"Better question: what in the world is he doing here?" Neville demanded.

"Draco has information for us." Hermione explained.

"Ok, well he may have information for us, but I'm not super comfortable with him seeing everything we have up here." Neville said, walking over to the mirror and taking down the picture of the Original Order and the list of DA members.

"Draco, tell them what you told me." Hermione said gently.

Draco filled the rest of the group in on what the Death Eaters had asked him.

"Ok, let's check the passages." Ginny said, pulling out the Maunders Map.

"I'll tell Ab." Neville said, heading for the ladder next to Arianna's portrait.

"Everything looks the same as it did at the end of last term." Ginny said. "There's no new passages, just the one to Ab's."

"We ought to re-enchant the suits of armor for detection." Luna said. "I remember the spell that Professor McGonagall used in the battle."

"Do it Luna." Hermione said, still pouring over the map with Ginny.

Luna nodded, and slipped out the door.

"I'm going to alert the Order," Hermione said, "I just wanted to make sure we had everything covered before they come in."

"Wait, you're telling the Order of the Phoenix?" Draco said, looking panicked.

"Yes, Draco... this is a credible threat, isn't it?" Hermione said gently.

"Well yes, but..." Draco started in.

"Look Malfoy, you have to pick sides right now." Ginny said. "No one knows about you two, so unless you want to tell people, Hermione can't vouch for you. You'll have to convince everyone you've changed."

"Ok." Draco said quietly.

"I'll be here the whole time." Hermione said into his ear, and she tapped her Dragon bracelet with her wand.

"You lot enjoy the Protean charm, don't you?" Draco asked, sarcastically.

"Hey, it beats an ugly tattoo." Ginny snapped, and pulled her necklace out of her shirt. "It worked 'Mione."

"Ok, Aberforth is all set." Neville said, as he climbed back down the ladder.

"So that's how you messed up your ankle." Draco said, watching Nevill make his way down.

"Is he going to lock down the back room?" Hermione asked.

"Ab? No." Neville laughed. "He's going to keep standing behind the bar yelling at customers."

Hermione rolled her eyes. There was a knock on the door, and Luna reappeared with McGonagall, Kingsley, Harry, and Ron in tow.

"What's up 'Mione?" Harry asked as they came into the room.

"Ok, Draco... one more time." Hermione gently prodded.

Draco filled the group in on the Death Eaters who had tried to contact him. Hermione could see him getting stressed trying to keep his temper each time someone asked him a question. She discreetly placed her hand on his back when the group had all gathered around the Map to strategize. She felt him relax almost immediately.

After a long conversation, they had decided upon a course of action for the impending attack, and started to go back to their appropriate dorms and offices to prepare.

"You're sure George will be up for this?" Hermione asked Ron.

"He'll have to be." Ron said honestly, "It's the only way we'll be able to keep the students inside without attracting suspicion."

"Yeah, and we can't risk anyone leaking that we're aware of the plan." Harry pointed out. "Malfoy may be the only Death Eater here, but there's loads of sympathizers in Slytherin."

"Yeah, because a trio of uniformed Aurors suddenly descending on the school is a model of subtlety Potter." Draco snapped. "You could have at least worn civilian clothes."

"Actually, we considered that." Kingsley said. "But I put on the books that we did your Assessment today, rather than Friday. If there's any leaks in the department, it'll just look like we were doing a routine probation assessment."

"So what happens to me then?" Draco snapped.

"Well, that'll depend on whether or not your tip is credible." Kingsley said. "If we nab a few Death Eaters out of this, then consider yourself a Level Two probationer.

"Great." Draco said dryly.

"Consider it incentive to not tip off the rest of your housemates about the plan." Harry said, crossing his arms.

"Not a problem." Draco said, glaring at Harry. "The people in my house aren't exactly my biggest fans since the battle."

"I think we should make him take Veritaserum anyway." Ron said, "What if he's setting us up?"

"Whatever you need to help you sleep at night Weasley." Draco snapped.

"All of you, knock it off." Hermione said, putting herself in the middle of the three boys. "We're allies now!"

"Hermione, you know what Sirius said." Harry said, glaring at Draco.

"And you know what Dumbledore believed." Hermione glared. "We're done here, so get back to the Ministry before it becomes suspicious. We've got things under control."

"She's right gentlemen." Kingsley's deep voice boomed. "He's not going anywhere, and you have a law class you're missing."

Hermione watched as the trio of Aurors followed McGonagall back to her office. She frowned at the sight of Harry and Ron looking like ministry officials, their black Aurors robes intentionally intimidating, with bars marking them as Order of Merlin holders.

"Don't worry." Draco said, gently. "They haven't changed, they're still your friends."

Authors Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are the Selected Diaries by Virginia Woolf, and A Girl I Knew, a short story by J.D. Salinger.

Chapter 16: Chapter 16
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Hermione was very caught up the next few days preparing for the impending attack. Draco had responded to the Death Eaters and tried to put them off the scent by explaining that the previous methods of entry into the castle were destroyed during the battle. He confirmed to Rodolphus that it was in fact a Hogsmede weekend.

From that point, Hermione was simply studying trapping spells and other potentially useful tricks.

"I don't like this plan." Draco said, as Hermione was gathering her supplies in the DA room the evening before they were to spring the trap.

"So you've said." Hermione sighed. "Multiple times."

"Well why do you need to be at the gate?" Draco asked. "Let the Aurors do it!"

"Because I'll be on the school side of the gates." Hermione explained, for what felt like the hundredth time. "If there are spies in the forest, it won't be unusual for students to be seen walking towards the gate on a Hogsmede weekend."

"Ok, but isn't the point for them not to see you?" Draco pressed.

"Yes Draco, we're just hedging our bets." Hermione sighed. "I wish you would stop worrying!"

"I always worry about you!" Draco said, hugging Hermione from behind, he whispered into her ear, "I'm sure I could tempt you with something more interesting to do!"

Hermione sighed involuntarily, and leaned into his embrace. "You could, but you wouldn't." She said.

"Ugh, you're right." Draco said, pressing a kiss into Hermione's hair. "You realize this is all very impressive, right?"

"What, this pile of books?" Hermione asked, distracted.

"No, Hermione... you!" Draco exclaimed. "I warn you that there's someone plotting to kill you, and expect you to show at least a little fear. But no, you just summon your army and come up with a genius plan to take them out."

"For the last time, it's not my army!" Hermione said.

"Dragon dung." Draco said, matter-of-factly. "I asked Ginny, and she said the whole DA was your idea. You know they all listen to you."

"Yes, me and my army of petulant teenagers." Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Seriously Hermione," Draco insisted. "You know most people would have just told the Aurors and gone to hide under their bed. How do you do it?"

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked. "Someone has to do it. 'Blow, wind! Come, wrack, At least we’ll die with harness on our back.'."

"MacBeth?" Draco asked, skeptically.

"Yes." Hermione said with a smile.

"Hermione?" Draco asked softly.

He sounded so nervous, that Hermione turned around to face him, and asked, "What Draco?"

"Please don't let them catch you." He said, pulling her close, as though his life depended on it. "I can't lose you."

"I'm not going to get caught Draco." Hermione said with a smile.

"I know you believe that, but just promise me you'll get yourself out of there if it all goes wrong!" He said, still holding Hermione.

"Hey, Draco... it's going to be fine!" Hermione said. "I promise to get out of there if it gets bad, but honestly, I don't think we're going to have any trouble. If your estimate is correct, we've got them outnumbered."

"Yeah, but it's just an estimate Hermione." Draco said, "I could be way off."

"Ok, well if you're off we'll reevaluate." Hermione promised, taking his hand. "Come on, I want to show you something."

She led Draco out the door, and up to the astronomy tower. "Ok, I want you to wait here at the bottom of the stairs. Give me 30 seconds, and I want you to come find me."

"What?" Draco asked, confused.

"Just trust me." Hermione said.

Climbing the stairs, she found a place that was out of the way enough that Draco wouldn't run into her, and applied the enchantments she had used to hide from Voldemort the previous year, as well as a few new ones.

After a moment, she watched Draco come up the stairs, and look around confused. He searched a bit, and finally pulled out his want and whispered the Homenum Revelio charm.

He looked even more confused for a moment, and then Hermione took pity on him and canceled her charms, appearing suddenly.

"What did you do?" Draco asked.

"I just put up my usual protective enchantments." Hermione said with a smile.

"I couldn't even find you with a charm!" Draco said, surprised.

"I know." Hermione said. "Why do you think I chose those wards?"

"Is that how you hid from the Dark Lord?" Draco asked.

"Yes." Hermione nodded. "It worked until Harry tripped that jinx."

Draco fingered Hermione's order bracelet. "Why did they give you a dragon bracelet?"

"Oh, they didn't." Hermione blushed, "They gave me a plain pendant and I transfigured it."

"You picked a Dragon?" Draco asked.

"Well, it's meant to look like the pin you gave me." Hermione admitted, blushing darker. "I'm too scared to wear that one around and knock the diamonds out of it or something."

"Hermione, I think it's a bit more sturdy than that." Draco laughed. "But I'm glad you like it, even if it isn't 'casual wear'."

"I like everything you've given me." Hermione smiled. True to his promise, Draco had sent her a gift every morning at breakfast. There were more beautiful clothes, chocolates, and books starting to fill her school trunk. "I feel bad that I haven't been able to give you anything in return."

"Hermione, you've given me more than I've ever dreamed possible." Draco said. "I never dared hope you'd even lower yourself to spend time with me."

"You know I hate it when you talk like that." Hermione said. "Come on, lets relax a little. Tomorrow is going to be long."

She conjured a blanket at the edge of the balcony so they could see the stars, and lay down on her back. "Come on!"

Draco sat down next to her and watched her scan the stars. "Looking for anything in particular?"

"Are you named for the constellation?” Hermione asked, pointing to the stars that formed Draco the dragon.

“I don’t know.” Draco said honestly. “When I was younger I used to tell myself I was.”

“Not anymore?” Hermione asked curiously.

“I haven’t had much time for stargazing the past few years.” Draco said, looking away.

“You haven’t been up here since he died.” Hermione realized.

“No. I didn't take astronomy after I got my Owl.” Draco said, trying to avoid the question.

“Draco…” Hermione pressed gently.

“No.” De said shaking his head. “I couldn’t face it.”

“Did…” Hermione started to ask, and then stopped. “Never mind.”

“Did what?” Draco asked.

“I don’t know if I want to know the answer.” Hermione admitted.

“Go on.” Draco said. “This conversation is overdue.”

“Did you want to kill him?” Hermione asked, after a long pause.

“Yes.” Draco said, he didn’t elaborate, he just waited for Hermione to respond.

Hermione gathered her thoughts, and then asked, “why?”

’His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem; you wonder... if he was really evil at heart.’” Draco said in response.

“Tolkein.” Hermione whispered.

Draco smiled bitterly. “I wanted to kill him, because I thought he stood between myself and what I wanted most. You know I didn’t have, well let’s just say, a ‘normal’ childhood. The first time I ever saw my father look proud of me was when I took the mark. And the second time was when the Dark Lord gave me the mission to kill Dumbledore.”

Hermione realized she’d been holding her breath, and she let it out in a rush as she said, “But Harry said you weren’t going to do it. You were lowering your wand. Even before Snape arrived.”

“In the end I couldn’t do it.” Draco agreed, “I’d tried several times, and I kept failing. And with each failure I could see my happy ending slipping away, so I got more desperate. I’d like to say that I lowered my wand because I saw the error of my ways, but it wasn’t that. I was just too much of a coward.”

“I don’t think sparing a life could ever be considered cowardice Draco.” Hermione said softly.

“Of course, I spent the next year struggling with the fact that Snape had done my dirty work.” Draco sighed. “My father was so sure he’d cheated my family out of some great honor. His position was so elevated after; that’s why the Dark Lord put him in charge of Hogwarts.”

“Don’t call him that.” Hermione said. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Of all the pieces of this conversation that could make you uncomfortable, it’s the fact that I call him the Dark Lord?” Draco asked, surprised.

“Only Death Eaters call him that.” Hermione said. “Are you a Death Eater?”

“You know I’m a Death Eater Hermione.” Draco said softly.

“No, I know you were a Death Eater.” Hermione said. “Are you still?”

“I don’t know.” Draco said; after a long while, he continued, “I don’t think I believe the same things anymore. I don’t know if I ever really did.”

“Then what are you holding on to?” Hermione prodded.

“If I’m not a Death Eater, then I’m just a horrible person.” Draco admitted. “It’s easier to keep the mask, than admit who I am underneath it.”

“Figuratively or literally.” Hermione asked quietly.

“Ha, well I guess in this case, both.” Draco said, with a hard laugh. “Although the Death Eater masks are an enchantment.”

“They are?” Hermione asked, curiosity overcoming the seriousness of the topic.

“Yeah, trade secret.” Draco said. “They’re kind of a big deal, only the innermost circle were allowed to wear the masks. Just one of the terrifying bonuses to getting marked.”

“Ok, well…” Hermione took Draco’s hand. “If you want to give up the mask, what if I modify your memory so you don’t remember the enchantment?”

“I never thought of that.” Draco said. “But wouldn’t I have to do the charm for you to know what to remove.”

“Well, yes.” Hermione said, uncertainly. “Is it a dark spell?”

“No, it’s actually not.” Draco said. “I can do the charm, I just… I wasn’t sure if you’d want to see me like that.”

“Oh.” Hermione said, realizing what Draco was saying.

“Yeah, oh.” Draco said. “I appreciate the offer, but you don’t need to see that Hermione.”

“But would it help?” Hermione asked, “I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure?” Draco said gently, “I really don’t want you to do anything that you’d be uncomfortable with.”

“No, it’s fine.” Hermione said. “Do the charm, and I’ll watch.”

“Ok… you’re really sure?” Draco asked again.

“Yes, just do it.” Hermione said, pulling out her wand.

“Ok,” Draco said, still sounding uncertain as he spoke the incantation, “tenebrisumbra.”

Hermione sucked in her breath as Draco’s face was obscured by his Death Eater mask. Even though she knew it was coming, as the mask was designed to do, it still made her blood run cold with terror.

She forced herself to meet his eyes behind the mask, and waited until she was sure her voice would be steady and said, “ok… you can take it off.”

Draco cancelled the charm, and as the mask disappeared it revealed the concern on his face. “I’m so sorry Hermione!”

“It’s fine.” Hermione said, relived that the mask was gone. “Ok, are you ready?”

Draco nodded.

“Ok, think of the charm.” Hermione instructed, and raised her wand. “Obliviate.”

“I… I can’t remember it!” Draco said, relief flooding his voice. “Thanks Hermione!”

“You’re welcome.” Hermione said, with a small smile.

“And you just helped me realize something.” Draco said, pulling Hermione into a hug.

“What?” Hermione asked.

“I realized that I never want to see fear like that in anyone eyes, ever again.” Draco said, pressing a kiss into Hermione’s hair.

“I’m not afraid of you Draco!” Hermione insisted.

“Well you may not be afraid of me, but you were definitely afraid of my mask.” Draco pointed out. “It’s a conditioned response, Little Dragon.”

“I can’t believe they were just enchantments.” Hermione said, trying to change the subject. “Why were they all different?”

“They reflect something of the caster in their appearance.” Draco explained. “I can’t prove it, but I think the more detailed the mask, the more evil the person.”

“Your’s was quite plain.” Hermione pointed out.

“Was it?” Draco asked, curiously. “I never saw my own.”

“No?” Hermione asked. “Well it was silver, with just a small amount of detail around the eyes.”

“Hermione…” Draco whispered.

“Yes?” Hermione asked, pulling back from Draco’s embrace so she could see his face.

“Thank you.” Draco said, his voice thick. “Thank you for believing I could change when I didn’t believe it myself.”

“So, are you finally admitting that you’re not evil?” Hermione asked

“No,” Draco said, quietly. “I’m admitting that I might not always be, and that is only because I love you.”

Hermione grinned, and Draco captured her lips in a searing kiss.

When Draco broke the kiss, “’You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death’.

Hermione smiled at him again, and replied, “Charles Dickens.”

“I’ll never stump you with a quote from a book.” Draco said, pretending to be exacerbated.

“Probably not.” Hermione teased.

“How am I to truly woo you, if I can’t steal lines from better men?” Draco joked.

“Perhaps you should consider stealing from better women?” Hermione laughed.

Draco didn’t respond, but instead looked deep in thought. “Hermione, I want to help tomorrow.”

“You are helping,” Hermione said, “You gave us all those names, and descriptions, and potential numbers. Without you we’d be going in blind.”

“No, I mean I actually want to help you bring them in.” Draco said.

“Ok, but if you do that, we lose our inside source.” Hermione pointed out. “You’re more valuable to us as a double agent.”

“Wouldn’t I actually need to be a member of the Order of the Phoenix to be a double agent?” Draco asked. “I doubt they’d trust me enough to let me do anything.”

“Not necessarily.” Hermione said. “Snape was a Death Eater before he joined the order.”

“He was?” Draco asked curiously. “When you said he was a double agent, I assumed Dumbledore sent him to infiltrate.”

Hermione shook her head. “No, Dumbledore wouldn’t have asked anyone to take the Dark Mark.”

“So how did he get the Order to trust him?” Draco asked.

“A lot of us didn’t.” Hermione said. “Dumbledore was the only one who knew the whole story, back then anyway.”

“Is that part of the story I can’t hear?” Draco asked.

Hermione had forgotten about that conversation, “Well, it all ties together in the end, but no… Snape didn’t have anything to do with Riddle’s dark magic.”

“So what convinced Dumbledore?” Draco pressed, sounding honestly curious.

“Well, he was in love with a girl who Riddle was planning to kill.” Hermione explained. “When he found out Tom’s plan, he ran straight to Dumbledore, and begged him to protect her.”

“Really?” Draco was quite interested, “I thought I knew Snape pretty well, and he never mentioned having any sort of family or anything.”

“Well, he didn’t.” Hermione said sadly. “He was in love with Harry’s mum. He always had been.”

“Merlin, you’re serious?!” Draco cried. “But after she died, why was he still working for the Order?”

“Because he wanted to protect Harry for her.” Hermione shrugged. “Harry has his mum’s eyes, Snape saw her every time he looked at him.”

“So that’s why he never got married or anything.” Draco said absently. “How did you find all this out?”

“He gave Harry his memories, just before he died.” Hermione said sadly. “He’d been helping us all along. He even sent his patronus to show us where the Sword of Gryffindor was when we needed it. His patronus was a Doe, just like Harry’s mum.”

“Wow.” Draco said quietly. “I don’t know if that’s beautiful or tragic.”

“Well, can’t it be both?” Hermione whispered.

“It’s history repeating itself.” Draco said softly.

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.

“A Death Eater turning his back on evil because he’s in love with a girl.” Draco said.

“I don’t think that’s the only reason you’ve changed Draco.” Hermione pointed out.

“You can think that.” Draco said, “But I know what’s in my heart.”

“Ok, is that such a bad thing?” Hermione asked. “Who cares what your motivation is?”

“You might.” Draco said. “I’ve been working on something, and I wanted to show you, but I’ve been too nervous of what you might think.”

“You don’t have to be afraid of what I think Draco.” Hermione said.

“You might change your mind when I show you this.” Draco said, and he took out his wand. He concentrated for a moment, and then said in a clear voice, “Expecto Patronum.” A silver vapor burst out from his wand, and organized itself into a shape.

“Oh Draco!” Hermione gushed, and then she took a closer look at the small animal in front of her.

It was an otter.

Authors Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are Macbeth by William Shakespeare, The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien, and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.

Chapter 17: Chapter 17
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“Draco!” Hermione gasped, as the silvery otter circled around them, before disappearing.

“I… can’t make it talk.” Draco said, watching Hermione’s reaction.

“You said you couldn’t do a Patronus charm!” Hermione exclaimed. “How did you manage it?”

“I practiced a lot!” Draco smirked. “There’s not much to do in Divination.”

“Still, that’s a difficult charm!” Hermione said, “Even I have trouble with it sometimes.”

“Well, I guess I just needed the right motivation.” Draco said, taking Hermione’s hand. “You are my happy memory.”

Hermione felt tears forming in her eyes, and she tried to blink them away. “It’s an otter?”

Draco nodded. “I didn’t want to make you cry!”

“Oh Draco, they’re happy tears!” Hermione laughed, wiping her eyes. “I told you! I knew you could do it.”

Draco gave Hermione a small smile, “Hermione, you make me question whether I believed any of it. I feel like I need to do something to make it right!”

“Well, I know the Order needs all the help it can get.” Hermione said. “It’ll take a bit of convincing, you understand.”

“I know.” Draco said, “I’ll do whatever they want me to do.”

Hermione met his Grey eyes, and all of the sudden she realized something had crept up on her, and she whispered, “’I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun’.”

Draco recognized the quote, and asked, “Hermione?”

“I love you Draco!” She breathed.

Draco could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He was shocked, and pulled Hermione into a tight hug.

“This is insane.” Draco said, as he held Hermione close. “It was one thing when it was one sided. When you could walk away, and not be hurt.”

’And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays’.” Hermione replied.

“So we’re going with the ‘Mischievous Fairy Spell?” Draco teased.

“Draco, it was never one sided.” Hermione explained. “You might have felt things a bit earlier than I did, but I think this was inevitable.”

“How was it inevitable?” Draco asked, leaning back to look Hermione in the eye. “You and I hated each other for years!”

“Hate is a strong emotion.” Hermione said simply. “You can’t feel strongly for people you care nothing about.”

“Well, from this point on, I’m going to spend the rest of my life making you happy!” Draco said, pulling Hermione back in. “Happy and safe. Whatever it takes.”

Hermione smiled to herself and relaxed into Draco’s shoulder. The reality of the morning, and the upcoming attempt to capture the remaining Death Eaters could wait.

Draco conjured a pile of pillows, and relaxed back into them, pulling Hermione down with him. She happily curled up against his chest, his arm around her. “Draco? What are you going to do if they lower your probation?”

“I hadn’t really let myself think about it.” Draco admitted. “Plus, I’m not really sure I want to leave the castle at Easter, even if I’m allowed.”

“Well, wherever you are is where I want to be.” Hermione said.

“Let’s get through tomorrow first.” Draco said. “I still want to help, but if you think I’m more valuable as a double agent, then I’ll stay back as planned.”

“I’ll talk to the others and see what they think.” Hermione said, yawning. “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to convince them of if we’re keeping our relationship a secret though.”

“I know.” Draco said, “And I don’t think we should change that. I know you believe that I’m different, and maybe I’m on the way to being a better person, but there are a lot of people who are justified in being hesitant to trust me.”

“We’ll get there.” Hermione smiled.

“You really think so?” Draco asked, his voice sounding skeptical. “You really think that people will forget about the past enough to accept you and I as a couple?”

“Well, if they don’t we’ll move to Australia.” Hermione teased.

Draco ran his fingers through Hermione’s hair. “I don’t ever want you to settle for less than what you deserve because of me!”

“I’m not settling.” Hermione insisted.

“We’ll see.” Draco said.

While it wasn’t their intention, Draco and Hermione drifted to sleep lying under the stars. Draco awoke when he felt Hermione growing restless in his arms. He glanced down at his watch and realized it was three in the morning, and they were way past curfew. Hermione was becoming more and more restless, but she hadn’t woken up.

I wonder if she’s having a nightmare? Draco thought.

He pulled her closer to try and comfort her, but it had the opposite effect, and she started struggling against him. Definitely a nightmare. Draco told himself, relaxing his arms and holding her loosely.

Hermione continued to struggle and began whimpering in her sleep, and finally Draco couldn’t take it and he gently shook her awake. Hermione woke up and cried out in fright, struggling to get away from Draco.

Draco released Hermione from his arms immediately, and in her half asleep state, she scrambled away from him on the blanket, before looking around and realizing where she was.

“It’s ok Hermione,” Draco said gently, reaching out a hand. “We’re at Hogwarts, we’re in the astronomy tower.”

Hermione shook her head to clear it, and took a deep breath.

“You were having a nightmare.” Draco said. It wasn’t a question.

Hermione nodded, and crawled back to the blanket. “I’m sorry, I’m not used to waking up with someone next to me.”

Draco put his arms back around Hermione, and he could feel her heart racing. “What was your dream?” He asked, almost afraid to know.

“Just… things from last year.” Hermione said vaguely.

“Were you dreaming you were back at the manor?” Draco asked.

Hermione nodded.

“I’m sorry.” Draco said, sounding devastated. “Do you still have them often?”

“Every night.” Hermione admitted, taking a calming breath. “I put a soundproofing charm around my bed, so usually no one notices. Although I think Ginny knows.”

"You really have nightmares every night?" Draco asked quietly. "What about taking the dreamless sleep potion?"

"I don't want to become dependent on a potion Draco." Hermione said quietly. "This will pass. We won't always have nightmares."

"I hope you're right." Draco said, holding Hermione even more tightly.

Hermione nodded her agreement, and snuggled into Draco's chest. He felt his heart melt as Hermione rested up against his side.

"Are you sure you don't want to go up to your dorm, Love?" Draco asked gently.

"No, we have to be up in two hours as it is." Hermione said, "I don't want to go back to a cold bed."

"Ok." Draco breathed, and he cast a charm to wake them a few hours later.

He didn't sleep again, however, he lay on the conjured blankets with his arm wrapped around Hermione as she slept against his chest.

Draco tried to absorb every moment of their time together. He knew she thought they could make it work; that the world would eventually accept them. Draco knew better, and he felt that every moment with Hermione was stolen from someone else’s happy ending. He knew that eventually, the moment would come when he would have to step away.

“I love you Hermione.” He whispered into her hair, and then thought to himself, But do I love you enough to let you go?

That morning, when Draco’s alarm went off, he gently stroked Hermione’s cheek to wake her. “Good Morning Little Dragon.”

Hermione’s eyes fluttered open, and she realized she hadn’t had any nightmares after going back to sleep. Despite only having slept for a few hours, she felt better rested than she had in weeks.

They got up, and banished the pillows. Hermione stretched, and as they were leaving, Ginny came darting up the stairs.

“Come on, you need to change before everyone else gets here.” She said, tossing Hermione a shirt and a pair of jeans, and then turning to Draco, “You always wear black, so I doubt anyone will notice you were wearing the same thing yesterday.”

“Thanks Ginny, I hadn’t thought of that.” Hermione said, ducking out the door and hurrying to the bathroom down the stairs. She quickly tossed on the clothes that Ginny had brought her, shrinking the previous evenings clothes and sticking them in her pocket.

She hurried outside and found Draco and Ginny standing in the hallway, speaking in hushed, angry tones.

“You can’t get her in trouble!” Ginny was hissing at Draco as Hermione approached him.

“I’m not trying to get her in trouble Weaslette.” Draco snapped.

“Hey, both of you stop it!” Hermione said, stepping between them. “No one is trying to get anyone else in trouble.”

“Yes, I’m sure it was your idea to stay out all night.” Ginny said rolling her eyes.

“Ginny! It wasn’t anyone’s idea.” Hermione exclaimed. “We just fell asleep.”

Ginny looked at Hermione skeptically. “Well whatever, you guys need to be more careful if you want to keep this thing under wraps.”

“Yes,” Hermione sighed, “You’re probably right about that.”

“Should we go meet the others?” Draco asked quietly.

“Yes, we’d better get to the room of requirement.” Ginny said, consulting the Marauders Map. “Harry and Ron just got here.”

“They did?” Hermione asked. “They’re early!”

“Yeah, Auror training is whipping them into shape.” Ginny agreed.

To keep their arrival a secret, the Aurors and Order Members had flooed into McGonagall’s office, and were making their way upstairs.

Hermione got to the Room of Requirement and quickly paced back and forth, setting up their DA room. When they entered, all their plans were laid out on the table.

“Looks like a war room in here.” Hermione heard Harry call, as they arrived.

“Well, it kind of is.” Hermione admitted. “Are you all ready?”

Draco hung towards the back of the room. As much as he loved Hermione, and wanted to prove himself worthy of her, he still felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in this particular group. He watched Hermione hug her friends, and begin preparations. The jeans Ginny had brought her were a pair Draco had given her as one of her daily gifts. They were magically tailored, and fit her like a glove.

Hermione caught him watching her, and she blushed. Draco winked at her, and she blushed darker before turning back to the map on the table. He wasn’t paying attention to the conversation until he heard his name.

“…Malfoy?” Harry was asking.

“Sorry,” Draco said, moving closer to the table. “What did you say?”

“I asked if you had heard anything further from the target?” Harry repeated, every inch the auror, his voice radiating authority.

“No, not since I tipped them off that this was in fact a Hogsmede weekend.” Draco replied. “To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t ask for my assistance.”

“Yeah, I’m a little curious about that myself.” Ron said, glaring at Draco.

“Stop it Ron, he’s here to help.” Hermione snapped.

“Well, I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” Harry said, and turning to the map, “George, are you ready with that Portable Swamp?”

“It’s all ready to go.” George said, dully. “I’ve already handed it off to Neville.”

“Ok, just a quick rundown of the timeline.” Harry said, quickly ticking off the group. “Ginny, Luna, Hermione, Neville, and Draco go to breakfast as normal. Once the students are all in the great hall, everyone but Draco leaves to get into position. Draco remains as scout at the Slytherin table. Ginny, Luna, and Hermione leave via the front doors, after which Neville deploys the swamp in the entrance hall, blocking the students either in the Great Hall, or upstairs.”

They all nodded.

“After the swamp is deployed, Neville returns here to the RoR and leaves with the remainder of the team via Arianna’s portrait. Once we are all clear, McGonagall will cancel the Hogsmede trip until the swamp can be removed. Professor Flitwick will ensure that the swamp remains in the entry hall until the entire operation is complete to keep the students out of harm.” Harry continued.

“The girls set up their charms at the front gates, while the rest of the team circles around via Hogsmede. Draco, along with Hagrid in the Great Hall will be watching for any communication outgoing from the Slytherin table. We want to know if anyone else has been contacted by the DE.” Harry finished. “Remember, if your charms activate at any point, return to Hogwarts, as the castle has been breached. Arthur will be watching the Marauders Map to ensure that the Castle remains secure.”

“Alright.” Hermione said, squaring her shoulders. “Let’s get this over with.”

Those who lived at Hogwarts, headed downstairs to breakfast, while the rest of the Order waited in the Room of Requirement.

Draco once again dropped to the back of the group, and Hermione joined him.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione whispered, once they were out of earshot of the others.

“I’m just worried about all of this.” Draco admitted, in hushed tones. “It’s a good plan, there’s just so much that can potentially go wrong. I’m worried about you, you’ll be unable to apperate from where you are.”

“I have lot’s of tricks up my sleeve.” Hermione said, with a small smile. “I’ll be fine.”

“I know, I just… I don’t want to lose you.” Draco said. “You don’t know these people like I do. They’re all evil; the ones that will be here today, they really believed the Dark… Riddle’s nonsense.”

Hermione smiled at Draco’s self correction. It was the first time he’d called Tom anything other than the Dark Lord. “I know that Draco, but I’ve been up against much worse, and we have the element of surprise.”

Draco nodded sadly. “I know, but I’m still allowed to worry.”

“Ok, but don’t let it distract you.” Hermione said gently.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Draco said, changing the subject. “I have something for you.”

“What?” Hermione asked, confused.

“Hey, I told you a gift every day.” Draco smirked. “Today is no exception.”

“I know you said that, we just have other things to worry about!” Hermione smiled.

“You might, the only thing I have to worry about is you.” Draco whispered.

Hermione blushed, and Draco slipped a tiny velvet bag into her hand. She opened the drawstrings and tipped the contents into her palm. It was a small silver charm, in the shape of a flame, encrusted with red and orange gems.

“Draco!” Hermione gasped.

“It wasn’t expensive.” Draco said, “I just wanted to give you something that you could wear every day, as the brooch isn’t exactly casual. I figured you could put it on your Order bracelet.”

Hermione nodded, and linked the charm next to the Dragon on her bracelet. She checked that everyone was walking ahead of them, before quickly giving Draco a hug.

“It’s beautiful!” Hermione gushed quietly. “But you really need to stop spending all your money on me!”

“I can’t think of a single better reason to spend money.” Draco shrugged, and then smirked. “Besides, those jeans fit you like a glove, and I enjoy the view!”

Hermione blushed bright red, and hurried to catch up with Ginny. As they made their way to the Gryffindor table, she glanced back at Draco who waggled his eyebrows at her.

“What’s got you all hot and bothered?” Ginny asked Hermione, who was still beet red from Draco’s comment.

“Draco got me a present.” Hermione said, showing Ginny the charm.

“Wow, that’s pretty ‘Mione.” Ginny said, examining the bracelet. “Is this your Order charm?”

Hermione nodded. “He said he wanted me to have something that I could wear every day, so he picked a charm that would match.”

“I’ve got to give him credit, he does give you amazing gifts.” Ginny said, raising her eyebrows. “Especially considering the fact that you are so not dating him for his money.”

“I think that’s why he likes buying me things.” Hermione admitted. “I just wish I could reciprocate.”

“Didn’t you reciprocate last night?” Ginny asked, prodding Hermione with her elbow.

“What?” Hermione asked, and then figured out what Ginny was saying. “No! Ginny, for Merlin’s sake, we fell asleep. That’s it.”

“Well I’ll believe it, but many wouldn’t.” Ginny smirked. “Come on, that’s the signal.”

Hagrid had “accidentally” tipped over the head table, drawing the attention of the students, and letting the girls and Neville slip out of the Great Hall. Draco watched them leave looking worried.

“Ok, off you go.” Neville said, pulling the Portable Swamp out of his bag.

“See you on the other side.” Luna said, as the girls disillusioned themselves, and slipped out the front door.

As they left, they heard Neville yell as he set off the swamp.

Hermione picked her way carefully down the hill. Fortunately, as they approached spring, most of the snow had melted from the grounds and they were able to move without leaving many footprints.

They set up camp by the front gates, and Hermione threw up all her usual protective enchantments, as well as anti-apperation spells.

They were expecting the Aurors and the rest of the Order to circle around through Hogsmede and drive and Death Eaters who weren't already there, towards the front of the castle.

After what seemed like an eternity, they saw a group running through the trees. As they got closer, the girls saw the Order in hot pursuit.

“Here we go!” Ginny said, bouncing up and down, wand in hand.

They pushed the gates open, and burst out to cut off the wizard’s escape. There were six men in the small clearing, and they were surrounded.

“There’s no point in trying anything.” Harry called to the group. “We’ve got you surrounded and outnumbered.”

“Piss off Potter!” Hissed a man with a long dark beard.

Spells flew in every direction. Hermione ran around the side of the group, trying to dodge curses.

Slowly, but surely, they had managed to disarm most of the men.

As they closed in on the last two, one of them hit Kingsley with the Sectrasumpra curse and he went down.

“Kingsley!” Hermione cried, and hurried over to him, throwing spells behind her as she ran.

All hell broke loose, as spells suddenly came at them from the bushes, and trees where they weren’t expecting them.

“There’s more of them in the trees!” Ron yelled.

“Someone cover Hermione!” Ginny yelled from across the clearing.

“I’ve got her!” Luna cried from somewhere behind her.

It was complete chaos, as Hermione threw herself on the ground next to Kingsley. Keeping her body low, she tried repeated charms to heal the multitude of cuts that had opened on Kingsley’s body.

“‘Mione!” Harry yelled as he passed her. “Vulnera Sanentur!”

Hermione nodded and copied the incantation. She breathed a quick sigh of relief as she saw the blood stop pouring out of Kingsley’s body. She repeated the incantation, and saw the gashes close themselves. “Kingsley?” She asked quickly.

“Good as new Hermione!” Kingsley said, trying to sit up.

“Not a chance!” Hermione said, and she quickly charmed a knut that was in her pocket into a portkey. “You’re going to Mungos!” She pressed the portkey into Kingsley’s hand, and he disappeared.

Hermione jumped up, and got her bearings. “Stupefy!” She shouted as a Death Eater crossed her path.

She quickly muttered the charm to bind him in ropes, but as she turned around, she was hit with a stunner herself and blacked out.

Authors note:

The books quoted in this chapter are A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.

Chapter 18: Chapter 18
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Hermione awoke with a splitting headache. What happened? She asked herself.

She forced her eyes open, and found herself in an unfamiliar bedroom. It was extremely ornate, with black silk bedding on a huge canopy bed. Glancing around the room she saw that she was alone, but when she tried to sit up, she found that her arms were bound over her head.

She struggled a bit, a looked for her wand in vain. Calm down Hermione. Think rationally, how do you get out of this.

She tried to temper her panic, as she looked around the room for anything familiar. She tested the bonds on her wrists, and found them too tight to wriggle out of.

Where in the world am I? She wondered. Something about this room seemed familiar.

Hermione wasn’t sure how long she would be alone, so she took a few minutes and carefully memorized the room. There were several doors, and she tried to guess which was an exit. She was quite certain it was the double doors that were opposite the bed she was laying on.

Just as she had returned to trying to figure out how to loosen her restraints, the doors slammed open, and in walked Rabastan Lestrange.

“She’s awake.” He called over his shoulder, as he approached Hermione.

He was shortly followed by his brother Rodolphus, who leered at Hermione with a sinister eye. “Hermione Granger.” He said, with a laugh. “The brains of the Golden Trio.”

You know," Rodolphus said, leering her way, "I was really after the Weasley girl. I'm going to kill her as payment to her mother for killing my wife. But there's no reason we can't have a bit of fun before we get there. We'll use you to draw them here."

Hermione shivered, but she didn't give Rodolphus the satisfaction of a response.

"No wise remark to that?" Rodolphus teased. "I don't know if you'll enjoy the process. We'll really need to get them worked up, otherwise they might have their wits about then when the arrive, and we can't have that."

Hermione shrugged her shoulders, trying to appear less terrified than she really was. "You don't scare me."

"Hmmmm." Rodolphus said, appraising her. "I believe that might be true. For now."

He turned to leave the room, and said to his brother on the way out, "Not the face, she needs to be recognizable."

Rabastan nodded, and drew his wand.

"What do you mean, 'They took her'!?" Draco yelled. "Who took her? Who was there?!"

"Quiet Draco!" Ginny hissed, "Do you want to keep your relationship under wraps or not?"

"I don't care about that anymore, we have to go find her!" Draco cried, his voice ringing with desperation.

"Well that's what we're working on now." Ginny said. "I thought you should know."

"We who?" Draco cried, "The Order?"

Ginny nodded. "Come on, they're in the room of requirement."

"Are they going to let me help?" Draco hissed.

"Well, your information about the Death Eaters was accurate, and they think you might have more inside information." Ginny explained. "But understand, no one here trusts you."

"Including you, I get it." Draco said dully. "I don't care what happens to me, we just need to get Hermione back before something horrible happens to her."

"Like what?" Ginny asked, appraising Draco.

"I... You really don't want to know." Draco said, running his hands through his hair.

"Don't I?" Ginny hissed, "That's my best friend!"

"I know that Ginny." Draco said, "Which is why I'm not going to tell you. These are the worst sort of people. I wish I didn't know."

They reached the room of requirement, and found everyone sitting around the table.

“Malfoy.” Harry nodded at Draco. “Lestrange took Hermione. Any idea where they might have gone?”

“There’s half a dozen safe houses that I know of.” Draco said, striding over to the table and grabbing a quill. He circled points on the map in Romania, Bulgaria, Scotland, and scattered throughout England. “But there’s bound to be more. No one in Riddle’s operation ever knew the whole story.”

Ginny’s head shot up at Draco’s use of the name Riddle. “So he could have her at any of these places, or none of them?

“I’d say he’s more likely to have her in a new location.” Draco said, shaking his head. “I doubt he trusts me, not after you tried to round them all up.”

“Well, we can test that theory.” Ron said, rubbing his temples. “Send him an owl. Tell him you heard there was a raid, and you’re concerned for his safety. See if he buys it.”

“It won’t work unless there’s some public knowledge of the raid.” Draco pointed out. “Put it in the prophet or something first, and then I can try… but we’re going to run out of time before that gives us any meaningful leads.”

“I agree.” Kingsley said. “I think we should have teams clear these safe houses now, just to be sure.”

“Can the Auror department operate on this information?” Arthur Weasley asked Kingsley, “After all, the information was obtained through a non-sanctioned operation.”

“Not really.” Kingsley said. “Hermione was kidnapped during a non-sanctioned op. The information was handed over by a confidential informant.”

“I thought I couldn’t be an informant if I’m on probation.” Draco said dryly. “That’s why you’ve never asked me for any of this before.

“Well, I told you your probation would be downgraded if this morning’s information panned out.” Kingsley said. “Consider yourself a level two probationer.”

“Ok, then what other information do you want?” Draco said, taking a seat. “What would help?”

“Any of Lestrange’s known friends?” Harry asked. “People he would trust?”

“That’s a pretty short list.” Draco replied, shaking his head. “And most of those people are dead or in Azkaban. Bellatrix and his brother Rabastan were usually his confidants.”

“Well, that narrows it down.” McGonagall said, “But Rabastan was never collected after the battle, nor was he detained in the raid this morning.”

“Rabastan is still out there?” Draco cried, trying to temper his panic.

“Yes, he’s a slippery one.” Kingsley said, shaking his head.

“Well, that means we have even less time.” Draco said, looking pale. “Rabastan is a particularly nasty bloke. He took care of most of Riddle’s torturing; he enjoys it.”

“Well, bloody hell.” Ron said, slamming his fist on the table. “Kingsley, get some teams out there to clear the safe houses. We have to start somewhere.”

“So. Miss Granger?” Rabastan said, leering down at Hermione. He ran a hand up the side of her body, stopping at her neck and forcibly turning her head so she was looking at him. “Too bad my brother said I have to leave your face alone. That’s taking away half my fun!”

Hermione tried to jerk her head away, but Rabastan held her fast. “Tsk tsk tsk. Don’t try and move away. I’ll show you what happens if you move!”

Suddenly Hermione’s world was pain as Rabastan hit her with the cruciatis curse. She bit her tongue until she tasted blood, refusing to cry out.

When he released the curse, Hermione lifted her foot and kicked him in the gut.

Rabastan groaned. “That was a mistake dearie.”

“Oh yeah?” Hermione asked, “Well then so is this!” She jerked her leg around again and kicked Rabastan directly in the nose, hearing a satisfying crunch as the bone broke.

“You’re gonna pay for that one Love.” Rabastan said, wiping blood off his lip, and raising his wand.

Hermione wasn’t sure how much time passed; she felt like it could have been minutes or days. In between the cruciatis curse, Rabastan hit her with other things. She lost track of what most of them were.

Someone has to be looking for me. She told herself. They wouldn’t just let him take me without a fight.

After what seemed like an eternity, Rodolphus returned to the room.

“I said not to hit her in the face!” He hissed at his brother.

“I didn’t! She bloody keeps biting her lip.” Rabastan argued.

Hermione ran her tongue over her lip and realized it was swollen.

“Well, she looks rough enough to take some pictures I’d say.” Rodolphus said, and he tossed a ball of fabric at Hermione. “Change into that girl, and lets show your little friends what they’re missing!”

Hermione shook her head. “I’m not helping you!”

“Do you want another round of the cruciatis first?” Rodolphus demanded. “Thus far you’ve done an admirable job of holding your tongue. Most people break down and scream.”

“You’re not worth the energy of screaming.” Hermione spat, sounding stronger than she felt.

“Hmmm.” Rodolphus circled the bed. “I think we’re going to have to get a little creative with this one.”

“What did you have in mind?” Rabastan asked, running his hands along Hermione’s collar bone. Suddenly, he grabbed her sweater and tore it open right down the front. Hermione had never been so happy to have layered her sweater over a shirt.

“Nothing for the time being.” Rodolphus said, leaving the room. “Lets send off some pictures and see how they respond.”

“Pity.” Rabastan said, creepily. “But we’ll get there. Here's how this is going to work girl.I'm going to undo your wrists, and you are going to change into that gown. When you're finished, I'm going to tie your wrists back up."

Hermione snorted. "I really don't see myself cooperating with any part of this."

"Well, we can always use a bit more of the cruciatis to convince you." Rabastan said with a smirk.

"If that hasn't worked so far, what makes you think it's going to work now?" Hermione said, trying to stall.

"I didn't say I'd be using it on you." Rabastan laughed, and snapped his fingers.

In the corner of the room appeared a tiny house elf. She was clearly very young, and very scared.

"I heard you have an ill informed attachment to these creatures." Rabastan said. "Either you follow my instructions, or I'll use the cruciatis on her."

Hermione felt herself begin to panic; the poor elf was terrified. She clearly knew what was coming.

Rabastan raised his wand and pointed it at the little elf.

"Don't!" Hermione screamed. "I'll change, just don't hurt her!"

"Pity." Rabastan said, lowering his wand. "I thought we'd need a bit more convincing."

He strode over to the bed and began to undo Hermione's wrists. "Remember, any funny business, and the elf gets it."

When her wrists were free, Hermione lowered her arms, and rotated her shoulders, which were sore from having been in the same position for so long.

"Get on with it." Rabastan snapped, pointing at the ball of fabric on the bed.

"I'm not going to change with you watching me." Hermione insisted.

"Well I'm not going to leave you alone in here, so the choice is yours." Rabastan shrugged, pointing his wand back at the elf.

Hermione tried to weigh her options, but every scenario led to the poor elf getting tortured in her stead.

Finally, she decided she would try and change by layering. She picked up the wad of fabric, and unrolled it. It was a white silk nightgown, that seemed to fall to her knees.

She pulled it on over her clothes, and then carefully pulled her T-shirt and jeans out from under the gown, folded them and set them on the bedside table.

"Well, you're just too clever for your own good, aren't you?" Rabastan said, rolling his eyes. "Get back on the bed."

Hermione groaned inwardly. She'd have to think of another way out of this. She climbed back up on the bed, and tried to remain sitting up as Rabastan retied her hands over her head.

Hermione flexed her wrists as he tied, hoping to create some space in the rope, but it was no use.

"Nice try dearie, but this isn't my first time tying a person up." Rabastan sneered.

Hermione cursed his expertise. “Piss off.”

“Hmmm, you’re a feisty one, aren’t you?” Rabastan chuckled. “I think I’m going to enjoy this!”

Hermione glared at him. She remembered that most instances of accidental magic happened when a witch or wizard was angry or upset. Deciding to channel her anger, and see if she could perform wandless magic, she spit at Rabastan.

Rabastan backhanded her across the face, “Now, now my pet. Play nicely, or Fifi over there will get it.”

Hermione could still feel the sting of his hand when Rodolphus returned to the room with a camera. “Well done, that’s perfect.”

“Do you think the bruises will show enough in the picture?” Rabastan asked.

“I think it’ll be enough for the first demand.” Rodolphus said, studying Hermione, and making her want to crawl away from his gaze.

“No one is going to give you anything Lestrange!” Hermione shouted at him. She found that anger not only distracted her from her fear, but from her pain.

“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we.” Rodolphus said. “Gag her, it always makes them mad when they get the pictures, and it’ll shut her up.”

“With pleasure.” Rabastan said, turning to the wardrobe in the corner and digging through until he came up with a Slytherin tie. “This one’s ironic.”

Hermione struggled to turn her head away from Rabastan, but he forced the gag into her mouth.

"This is useless." Draco said, scratching off yet another safe house from the map. He was desperately trying to maintain his composure, but Hermione had been missing for two days.
Ginny was finding herself in a bit of an internal crisis; Draco was clearly trying so hard to find Hermione, and no one else seemed to understand why he was helping. She felt the need to try to console him, as he tried to hide his ever increasing panic.

"Come on Malfoy, lets go get something to eat." Ginny said. "I'm starving."

Draco didn't want to step away from the map, be he needed a moment to let himself go, so he followed Ginny. No one seemed to notice as they left.

As they made their way down to the kitchens, Draco caught his reflection a few times--he looked like a mad man, his hair was a mess, his shirt was dirty. He was a shell of his former self.

When they got into the safety of the kitchens and the house elves had produced a small feast, Ginny said, "We'll find her Draco."

"Sure, but will we find her in time." Draco said, his voice thick.

Ginny noticed he was crying. "You're really worried about her?"

"Of course I'm bloody worried about her!" Draco cried, angrily wiping the tears off his face with the back of his hand. "I know what these monsters are capable of. I've seen it happen."

"Hermione has been tortured before Draco." Ginny said gently. "She's tough, she'll be alright."

"You don't understand Ginny." Draco sobbed. "The Lestranges, well let's just say Bellatrix was the least crazy of the bunch. If they have her long enough... I can't think about what shape she'll be in."

"Ok, well what aren't we thinking of." Ginny said. "There must be something we're missing."

"What about the Black family house?" Draco wondered aloud. "Bellatrix's family home. I'll bet no one's been there in ages!"

"Not quite." Ginny said, with a sigh. "Sirius left that to Harry. He and Ron are living there."

"Ha ha. Bella would hate that." Draco chuckled sadly.

"Eat something Draco." Ginny prodded, handing him a sandwich.

Draco shook his head. "I'm not hungry."

"Ok, well think of how mad Hermione will be when she gets back if you don't at least attempt to take care of yourself." Ginny argued. "Eat a sandwich, and go have a shower. I'll send you a patronus if anything breaks."

Draco felt like arguing, but Ginny was right. Hermione would be furious if she saw him in his current state.

"Thanks Ginny." Draco said, taking a sandwich and heading for the door. "I'll just be a few minutes."

Ginny took a platter of sandwiches up to the Room of Requirement, where Harry and Ron looked just about as rough as Draco. They'd been going on nearly continuous raids of Draco's list of safe houses since Hermione disappeared.

"We're making no headway." Harry was saying. "You don't think Malfoy is covering for Lestrange do you?"

"I doubt it." Ginny said, passing him a sandwich.

"What makes you say that?" Ron asked, with his mouth full.

"Say it, don't spray it Ron." Ginny exclaimed. "And you haven't been around Draco much this year. He's... well let's just say, he's not the same person he used to be."

"Yeah, I'm kind of getting that." Harry said, looking perplexed. "He does seem genuinely concerned about Hermione."

"Which is weird on so many levels." Ron said, reaching for a second sandwich. "Come on, we need to check out that last place in London."

Harry sighed, and straightened his Auror robes. "I'll let you know what we find."

"Ok." Ginny agreed, kissing him goodbye.

"Oi! Sister!" Ron cried.

"Oh, give it up Ron." Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

Ron and Harry left, and just a few minutes after, McGonagall came bursting into the room. "Where's everyone gone?" She gasped.

"Out on various raids." Ginny said. "And I sent Draco to go have a shower, because he was starting to look a bit homeless."

"That boy is probably going out of his mind." McGonagall said, dropping a flat parcel on the table. "That just arrived, for the Order. We might want to call everyone back in."

"Have you opened it?" Ginny asked.

McGonagall nodded grimly. "It's... a ransom letter. More or less."

Ginny slid the parchment out of it's envelope. Two pictures slid out with it, of Hermione tied to a bed in a ridiculous satin nightgown, gagged and looking furious.

"Well, I've seen her look worse." Ginny sighed. "She's angry, which I'm going to take as a good sign."

"I thought as much myself." McGonagall agreed. "I'm going to call everyone back in. We need to reconsider our position."

Ginny nodded, and felt her Order charm heat up as McGonagall performed the incantation.

"I told Draco I'd summon him if we got any new information." Ginny said, sending a patronus.

However, the patronus didn't go far, as Draco was just coming in the door. He had showered, and shaved, and put on clean clothes. "Did you find something?"

"More like, something found us." Ginny said, holding the pictures against her chest to hide them from Draco.

"Is it a ransom letter?" Draco asked, monotone.

"Yes, although I'm not sure how serious we're meant to take it, as the letter demands the release of all the Death Eaters including Voldemort." McGonagall said.

"That sounds like Lestrange." Draco said coldly, "Refusing to believe Riddle is dead."

"Well, at least we have some new information." Ginny pointed out.

"Yes." Draco said, holding his hand out for the photo's. "Hand it over Ginny."

"Look, Draco... I don't think..." Ginny started to say.

Draco cut her off, “Give me the pictures. I know what they are, I can figure out how much time we have.”

"Fine, but you need to react rationally." Ginny pressed, before handing the photographs to Draco.

Draco took a deep breath and turned the pictures over. There was his beautiful Hermione, bruised, exhausted, and restrained, but still looking furious at the situation.

"Well?" Ginny asked? "Can you tell what they've done to her?"

"Yes." Draco said coldly. "Not only that, I can tell you we have only a few hours to find her."

"Why is that Mr. Malfoy?" McGonagall asked.

"Because this is definitely the Lestrange brothers." Draco said, his voice monotone. "And they have a pretty specific sequence of events they use to try to break people."

He looked at the picture again, and did a double take. "No freaking way!"

"What? What is it?" Ginny asked.

"I know where they're keeping her!" Draco cried, setting the pictures on the table and charming them larger. "I'd recognize that bed anywhere."

"Draco, are you sure?" Ginny asked, skeptically.

"I'm positive... That's my room." Draco said, cracking his knuckles and looking murderous. "They're keeping her at Malfoy Manor."

Chapter 19: Chapter 19
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Hermione let out an exasperated sigh. If only she could figure out how to send a message. If only she knew where she was being kept. If only I could get these damn knots untied! She twisted her wrists until they were raw, but the ropes held fast.

Hermione kicked the mattress in response, and then realized with a start that with only her wrists bound, she could turn over!

She awkwardly rolled onto her stomach, and managed to get up on her knees. She was still tied to the bed, but she could awkwardly reach the gag in her mouth. She gripped the Slytherin tie, and pulled it down over her chin. “Stupid Slytherin.” She muttered to herself.

With the gag gone, Hermione considered her options. She needed to free her hands, and she needed a wand, and she needed to escape.

“One thing at a time Hermione.” She whispered to herself. The knots, while tight, weren’t magic. She considered them for a moment, before realizing that her teeth were her best tool at this point. She bit down on the rope and tried to loosen the knot but it didn’t budge.

After a moment, she realized that the rope was fastened to the headboard around a single carved rung. The bed was ornate, but if it had a weak point, it was one of these matching rungs. They were designed for appearance, not function.

She gripped the rope with both hands and managed to get her feet up on the headboard. She kicked at the piece of wood until it started to buckle, and then pulled on it with all her strength until it finally broke and she fell backwards on the bed.

“Ha!” Hermione cried, and then chastised herself for making too much noise. She didn’t want her captors to discover her now.

She listened for a moment, but heard no reaction to her cry, though she didn’t know what kind of spells were placed on the room. She glanced around for anything that might be useful in getting the bindings off her wrists, but found nothing of value.

Noticing her clothes still sitting on the nightstand where she had set them when she changed into the nightgown, she grabbed her jeans and shoes, and managed to awkwardly get them on. The gown would have to suffice for a shirt for the time being, and she wasn’t sure how long the knots in her laces would last, but considering her wrists were still bound she was quite proud of herself.

Now what? She asked herself. Steeling her nerves, she muttered, “There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now.”

She crossed the room quickly, and opened the door she thought might lead to a bathroom, and she was correct. She opened the drawers in the vanity, once again hoping for some sharp implement, but mostly they were empty, as though the occupant of the room were away.

She slipped back out into the bedroom, and quickly checked the wardrobe and chest of drawers as well, finding only mens clothes, and what seemed like several years worth of old Hogwarts uniforms. She tugged at a sweater to look at the name tape, and gasped when she saw the name Draco Malfoy sewn into the collar.

She dropped the sweater and backed away from the wardrobe in horror. She was back at Malfoy Manor, the source of all her nightmares. She tried to steady her breathing, but memories of Bellatrix, coupled with two days without food or sleep was making it difficult. I must get out of here!

She hurried over to the door, trying to hold back her panic. She paused for a moment to listen, before fleeing into the dark hallway.

She realized she had no idea what time it was, but it seemed to be evening. She crept down the hall, not knowing which direction would lead her out of the house, nor what she would do when she got there.

The hallway seemed endless, with tall doors and portraits of frowning blond witches and wizards adorning the walls. Thankfully, most of the portraits seemed to be asleep. She wasn’t sure if they would know who she was, but she was quite sure they would alert her captors of her escape.

After a long search, she noticed a stairway. It didn’t seem like it led to any important part of the house, but that was probably better. Less likely to be populated. She surmised.

Making her way carefully down the stairs, Hermione guessed that she was on the third floor, so when she came to a landing, she opted to continue down the stairs rather than venturing into a new hallway.

At the bottom of the stairs, she found herself in some sort of workroom. These must be servants stairs. Hermione guessed, considering how old the manor likely was, it would make sense that there would be separate stairs for the ‘help’.

She listened again at the door, and then slipped out of the room. As she hurried along, she noticed a doorway with a stained glass window surrounding it. The glass depicted flowers and plants, intricate and colorful. I wonder…. Hermione carefully slipped the door open, and found exactly what she was hoping for: a conservatory.

The magical greenhouse would have an exit for sure, and there might even be pruning shears or something else to cut the ropes off her wrists. Spotting a work bench in the dim light, she hurried through the greenery. Spotting a collection of shears, hanging on pegs, she selected one and tried to figure out how to go about cutting the rope without the use of her hands.

She was so distracted by her task, that she didn’t notice the plant looming up behind her until it was too late.

It wrapped around her, growing tighter. Hermione struggled against it, until she realized that it was Devil’s Snare. She tried to relax, and realized that the shears had been wrapped up with her, and were cutting into her side. She held as still as possible, but the Devil’s Snare did not release her.

Probably some subspecies. If only I had a wand. Hermione was well and truly trapped. She could feel the shears cutting deeper, and she was sure she was bleeding. At least Lestrange doesn’t know where I am, was Hermione’s last thought as she drifted into unconsciousness.

“You’re telling me that we’ve been searching the whole bloody countryside, had men out all hours for the past two days, and she's in your bloody house?!” Ron roared at Draco, across the table. “Why didn’t you mention that you were letting the Lestranges’ stay there?”

“Because I didn’t bloody know they were there, Weasley!” Draco shouted back. “If you’ll recall, I’ve been under location arrest here at Hogwarts, I haven’t seen my home since summer! More to the point, it was seized from my parents by the ministry… why didn’t you have someone keeping an eye on it?”

“Both of you stop this minute.” Minerva snapped, “We know where Hermione is, let’s focus on recovering her before they relocate her or worse!”

Draco nodded, turning to the plans he had sketched on the table. “If we go in through the front door, they’ll be the least likely to expect us.”

“And why is that Malfoy?” Harry asked coldly.

“Because the front walk is protected by a variety of traps.” Draco snapped. “And they won’t know how to disable them, and they won’t expect trespassers to make it through them. So I’ll disable the traps and we walk right in.”

“I don’t trust you as far as I could throw you.” Harry pointed out. “What makes you think we’re letting you come on this little escapade?”

“Because I’m your best shot at getting Hermione out of there alive.” Draco argued, “Because I know the manor inside out, because I can tell you where the traps are, and because we are bloody running out of time! Take my bloody wand and I’ll go in unarmed if it makes you feel better, but we have to go now. When Lestrange gets bored of magical torture, he moves on to physical abuse, and I don’t mean beating her up.”

“Bloody hell,” Ginny gasped. “Is that what you meant when you said I didn’t want to know?”

Draco nodded, looking pained.

“What?” Ron asked, “What’s he talking about Ginny?”

“He means, Ronald, that Lestrange will rape Hermione before he kills her.” Ginny said bluntly. “So we need to go now.”

“Bloody hell.” Harry cursed, “Look Malfoy’s right. We need his help. There's plenty of us to take him out if he turns on us, and he still has the bloody trace on him. He's our best option."

"Your faith in me is overwhelming Potter." Draco said sarcastically. "What are we waiting for?"

"You're sure this is our best option?" Kingsley asked.

"Ginny?" Draco said, turning to the redhead with pleading eyes.

"He's sure." Ginny said, staring Draco down. "He knows what is at stake better than anyone. I'll vouch for him."

"That's good enough for me." Harry said, shrugging his Auror robe on, and pocketing his wand. "Let's get outside the gates so we can get moving."

The group headed down the stairs, and out the front doors. When they reached the gate, they were joined by a squad of Aurors.

“I thought the ministry were short on Aurors.” Draco whispered to Harry.

“We are.” Harry replied honestly. “This is just about everyone who survived last year. There’s a few back at headquarters with the rest of the trainees.”

“Hell of a gamble, bringing them all in on one job.” Draco said softly.

“It is.” Harry agreed, “But I think it’s worth the risk.”

“I’m not keen on having squatters in my home, so I'd agree.” Draco agreed, trying to sound disinterested.

They crowded around the portkey, a deflated football, and each grabbed hold.

"Ok, everyone has an emergency portkey?" Kingsley addressed the group. After a chorus of 'yes sirs' from the Aurors and a mumbled yes from Draco, he continued. "By the book on this one. If we're able to pick up Lestrange it would be a bonus, but our primary function is to evacuate the hostage. According to Mr. Malfoy here, she will be located in a bedroom on the third floor. As soon as someone locates Miss Granger, I want a patronus to the team, and everyone out."

The portkey activated, and they landed just outside the front gates of Malfoy Manor. "Follow Malfoy's lead." Kingsley whispered.

Draco approached the gates, and unlocked them with a spell. He carefully made his way down the front walk, canceling curses as he went. When he reached the front door, he turned back to Kingsley, and then reconsidered his thought and removed the remaining spell from the door. He felt the Dark Magic detector on his ankle begin to warm as it alerted the Ministry that he had performed a dark spell.

It had been so long since he had cast a dark magic spell, that he felt it in his core; the darkness that had slowly begun to leave him over the past months came roaring back.

Draco’s face hardened, and he grasped the door handle, yanking it open. Once inside he ignored the agreed upon procedure and did a locator spell. It was a dark spell, and he relished the feeling of it.

Kingsley seemed to know what he had cast, and asked, “where are they?”

“There’s two bodies in the kitchen, and one in the conservatory. Doesn’t seem to be anyone else here.” Draco said, rolling his shoulders.

Harry started to cast a homenum revelio charm, but Draco stopped him.

“You don’t wan to tip them off, and they’ll feel that.” He sounded cold, and heartless as he continued. “If you want to pick up those two oafs, they’re down that staircase.”

“What about Hermione?” Ron asked.

“She’s in the conservatory.” Draco replied. “This way.”

They started down the hall when suddenly, the Lestrange brothers came bursting up from the kitchen, wands drawn blasting spells.

Draco used the chaos to slip away from the group and run to where he had felt Hermione’s presence.

He opened the door to the conservatory, and started searching. After a few minutes, he repeated the tracking curse, darkness flowing through his veins again. He realized that Hermione was trapped in the Devil’s Snare on the other side of the room.

“Bloody hell.” Draco cursed, and hurried over towards the plant, hitting it with bluebell flames. “Hermione? Hermione!”

Hermione, still unconscious, fell from the plant as it released it’s grip, and Draco spotted the gash in her side where the white slip was stained with her blood. “Oh god no!”

Draco pulled off his robe, and bundled Hermione into it, he used his wand to sever the ropes on her wrists, realizing that she must have escaped and run right into the Devil’s Snare trap. He picked her up, her form feeling light and cold, and ran outside to activate his portkey.

The portkey dropped them in the Saint Mungos lobby, and Draco immediately cried for someone to help them.

“Bring her this way!” A healer called, waving him into the emergency ward.

Draco ran down the hall, and gently laid Hermione on the hospital bed the Healer pointed to. “Please help her, I think she’s lost a lot of blood!”

“What happened?” The healer asked calmly, already setting to work on Hermione’s bruised and bloody form.

“She’s been tortured,” Draco said, “She’s been held hostage for several days, I don’t know what spells have been used on her.”

“Fine, well my immediate concern is this gash in her side.” The healer called for assistance, and someone eventually sent him from the room.

Then he realized that he hadn’t alerted anyone that he’d left with Hermione. He couldn’t produce a talking patronus on a good day, and he knew he’d never be able to get even a mist after all the dark magic he’d performed in the last hour.

Now that his adrenalin was slowing, he felt the darkness beginning to crush him. Hermione was unconscious, hurt in ways he couldn’t identify. He collapsed into a chair in the waiting area, and realized that he was covered in her blood. He dropped his head in his hands. I should just leave. She won’t want me here, she’s going to think I was in on it. She was in my own bloody house and I didn’t know it!

Just then, several Aurors burst into the waiting area, wands drawn. “Draco Malfoy?”

“Yes?” Draco asked, coldly.

“You’ve violated your probation.” One of the Aurors said, “You performed multiple dark spells, we have to take you in.”

Draco considered them for a moment, and then set his wand on the ground, and put his hands up. “Fine. But please get word to Shacklebolt and Potter that Hermione Granger is here at St. Mungoes.”

One Auror bound his wrists, and another retrieved his wand, and they disapperated to the Ministry.

“Where the bloody hell did Malfoy go?” Ron yelled through the commotion.

“No idea.” Harry called back, after blasting a spell towards the Lestrange brothers.

“I told you he’d take off!” Ron replied.

“Well go look for him then!” Harry yelled back, “We’ve got things under control here.”

Ron nodded, and turned in the direction Draco had pointed out earlier. “He said she’s in the conservatory, what the hell is a conservatory?” He muttered.

He made his way down the hall checking doors, until he found an ornate door surrounded by stained glass standing open. Maybe this is it.

He slipped into the room, wand drawn and quickly looked around. A greenhouse? There was no one in the room, but he noticed bluebell flames across the room, so he hurried to where the Devil’s Snare plant was being held back. There was blood on the floor, and on a pair of pruning shears, but no Hermione and no Draco.

Ron hurried back to the foyer, where he saw Harry blasting happily away at the Lestrange brothers. He didn't seem to be driving them back or attempting to stun them, just toying with them enough to keep them occupied.

"You find Malfoy?" Harry called, ducking a green jet of light.

"No, looks like he took off." Ron said, joining in on the fight. "Looks like he might have taken Hermione, but I can't tell."

"Ok, well let's finish this and we'll find her." Harry said. "You're the one who's meant to be brilliant at tactics Mr. Wizard's Chess, what do you suggest?"

"Stupefying them?" Ron shrugged.

"Some tactical genius you are." Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"What can I say, sometimes the Kings Pawn works." Ron laughed, parrying Rodolphus.

"I have no idea what that means." Harry said, stupefying Rabastan. "Is that a chess move?"

"See, this is why I always beat you at Wizards chess." Ron said, as he stupefyed Rodolphus. "You have no respect for the game."

"No, I just have more interesting things to do with my life." Harry teased.

"Sure that's it." Ron said rolling his eyes, and hitting both men with incarcerous, binding them tightly with ropes.

"Are you two really having an argument about chess in the middle of a fight?" Kingsley came down the stairs behind them. "Honestly, if this were training I'd write you both up for letting yourselves get distracted with chat."

"Awe Kingsley, there's just two of them." Ron said.

Kingsley shook his head. "You two need to take this seriously, you'll get yourselves killed if you don't. You're first year apprentices, you shouldn't even be in the field."

"Yes sir," Harry said, turning serious. "Sorry."

"Well, Hermione isn't upstairs." Kingsley reported.

"She's not down here either." Ron said, "It looks like there was some kind of struggle in the conservatory. Maybe she got away?"

Just then a patronus of an owl appeared. "Hermione Granger at St. Mungoes, Draco Malfoy apprehended for use of dark magic. Awaiting orders."

"Bloody hell Dawlish." Kingsley said, rubbing his temples. "Now it's going to be a mountain of parchment to get Malfoy sorted out. I'll deal with this lot, you two go check on Hermione."

Authors Note:

The book quoted in this chapter is The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Chapter 20: Chapter 20
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"She's still not awake?" Ginny asked Harry, as she slipped into Hermione's hospital room.

"No, they're keeping her asleep. The healers want her to be more stable before she has to deal with this, emotionally." Harry said, hugging Ginny. "McGonagall let you leave?"

"She said it's basically a family emergency." Ginny said with a sad smile. "She looks so small."

"Yeah, Ron's having a tough time with it. He's back at the office doing the paperwork. Kingsley's not much better; blames himself." Harry explained.

"Oh Hermione'll love that when she wakes up." Ginny laughed, "She likes pity as much as you."

"Yeah." Harry said sadly. "She shouldn't have even been helping. This should have been an Auror operation."

"Well, I wouldn't want to be in the room if you tried to tell her that." Ginny argued. "You needed the help from the Order. I know there's not enough Aurors. You're still a first year trainee, you shouldn't have even been there, but this is the world we live in right now. It's precariously peaceful, and it's going to take everyone to keep it that way."

"I know." Harry sighed.

Just then a healer came in and checked on Hermione.

"Any change?" Harry asked.

"No Auror Potter, that gash in her side was deep. I want to keep her asleep until it's completely healed. Probably the end of the week." She said, checking Hermione's bandages before leaving.

"Why are her wrists bandaged?" Ginny asked.

"Apparently she had some blisters and cuts from the ropes they used to tie her up." Harry said, shaking his head.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"Hey, where's Draco?" Ginny asked suddenly.

"Bloody Dawlish took him into custody for using dark magic when we were getting into the manor." Harry explained. "Now Kingsley's got a load of parchment to get him released."

"Isn't he technically still the Minister?" Ginny asked. "Can't he just pardon him?"

"Well, he's trying to get the Ministry to hold an election to replace him in the position, so he's trying not to throw his weight around." Harry explained. "Plus, Draco did technically violate the terms of his probation, which means he's supposed to face a trial. Kingsley is trying to get around it by claiming Malfoy was deputized by the DMLE, but it's a lot of paperwork."

"Hmmm. Well where are they keeping him, is he in Azkaban?" Ginny asked.

"No, he's in the lockup at the ministry." Harry explained. "Kingsley didn't transfer him to Azkaban because he was helping us when he did the spells."

"Well, that's something I guess." Ginny mumbled. "Has anyone told him about Hermione's condition?"

"I don't know." Harry admitted. "I doubt it."

“Ok, if I send a patronus will it make it to where he is?” Ginny asked.

“It should.” Harry said, curiously. “The lockup is just in the back of the Auror Offices.”

Ginny sent her Mare patronus off to let Draco know what was happening. “We owe him that much.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Harry said.

Sitting on a hard chair in the ministry lockup, Draco was having a round robin of emotion. No one had spoken to him since they tossed him in here, but he was relieved that no one seemed to be preparing to take him to Azkaban. He was worried about Hermione, and when a Magical Law Enforcement officer passed the cell, he asked if anyone had heard anything about her.

The officer just fixed Draco with a cold glare, and kept moving.

Draco slumped down in his chair, and was startled when a Mare patronus pranced into the cell. Then it began speaking in Ginny’s voice, “‘Mione is stable, expected to make a full recovery, Healers are keeping her asleep for the time being.”

Draco let out a sigh of relief. Hermione was ok. He silently thanked Ginny for her kindness of letting him know she was alright.

After a few moments, the Mare disappeared, and Draco resumed staring at the bars. He wasn’t sure how long he had been there, when Ron appeared in front of the bars.

“Malfoy.” Ron said, unlocking the cell.

“Weasley.” Draco responded in kind.

“Come with me, Kingsley has some parchments you need to sign.” Ron said, stepping back from the door and indicating that Draco should walk with him. “We’re working on getting you out of here. Hermione owes you her life, and for that I thank you.”

Draco was surprised, Ron had only ever shown him distain in the best of times. “Oh. Well, of course I helped. I don’t want to think about what the Lestrange’s would have done if we hadn’t gotten her out.”

“Yes, well..." Ron said awkwardly. "Anyway. This way."

Draco followed Ron to an office at the other end of the Auror department. When they went inside, Kingsley motioned for Draco to sit across from him. Ron also pulled out a chair.

"Weasley, sign your testimony sheet and then get to class." Kingsley said. "And I want Potter back here by lunch."

Ron nodded. "Yes sir." He quickly signed several parchments, and then pushed them across the desk to Kingsley, and stood waiting.

"Dismissed." Kingsley said, and Ron hurried out of the room.

"I don't think I've ever seen Weasley stand up that straight." Draco laughed.

"Discipline is important." Kingsley shrugged. "Ron knows what is expected of him."

"You just didn't seem that formal yesterday." Draco pointed out.

"Well that was in the field," Kingsley explained. "The chain of command is more fluid. Which is why it's important for the trainees to respect the chain of command here."

"That must be challenging with Weasley and Potter." Draco chuckled.

"I thought it might be, but it's actually quite the opposite." Kingsley said with a smile, "They are both very hard workers, and I'm tougher on them than the rest of the trainees."

"Go figure." Draco shrugged. "So, what happens to me?"

"Well, we're going to complete paperwork to retroactively deputize you into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement." Kingsley explained. "Then I can file the necessary forms stating that you performed dark magic at the request of the department, in a life or death situation."

"That seems... complicated." Draco said, nervously.

"It is, but it's technically the truth." Kingsley pointed out. "And despite your reputation, and your parents reputation, I must say I'm impressed with how you have performed on your probation. I know it hasn't been easy, being in Slytherin after defecting."

"Thanks." Draco said coldly.

"Are you ok Mr. Malfoy?" Kingsley said, a touch of concern in his voice. "I've been an Auror for a long time. I know more about Dark Magic than most. I know what long term exposure can do. It's like a drug addiction, and you'd been clean for a long time before last night."

"I'm fine." Draco snapped. "I can handle it."

"Well please reach out if you find yourself backsliding." Kingsley said. "Lets get this paperwork sorted."

Just then there was a knock on the door. "Come in." Kingsley called.

It was Harry. "You wanted me to report in, sir?"

"Yes, Potter... I have some things for you to sign, and then I want you back in class. You and Weasley have missed enough already." Kingsley said.

"Yes, sir." Harry said, and sat down next to Draco. He quickly signed the parchment, and then stood.

"Dismissed Potter." Kingsley said.

"Sir, if I may?" Harry asked.

"I just wanted to thank Mr. Malfoy." Harry said.

Kingsley nodded, and Harry put his hand out towards Draco. "Hermione is alive because of you. I owe you one."

Draco looked at Harry somewhat skeptically, but then shook his hand.

The next morning, Kingsley got word from the Wizangamot that they had approved Draco's use of dark magic on behalf of the DMLE, and he released Draco.

"Ok Mr. Malfoy, you're free to go." Kingsley said. "Your probation is still in effect, but you are officially a Stage 2, so you can leave Hogwarts when appropriate."

Draco nodded, as Kingsley handed him a parchment detailing his new restrictions.

"Professor McGonagall has requested that you report to St. Mungos and have them give you a once over before you return to Hogwarts."

"Ok." Draco nodded, and headed for the lifts. He noticed a classroom as he passed by, Harry and the other trainees were working on dueling. The trainees who weren't participating were standing at attention around the room. It was odd, he recognized most of them from Hogwarts. A few months of Auror training had taken a group of mostly pranky Gryffindors and had them looking like an army.

"Weird." Draco muttered to himself, shaking his head at their change in demeanor.

He hurried outside, ignoring the stares of the witches and wizards bustling around the ministry, and apperated to St. Mungos.

Despite McGonagall saying he needed to get checked out by a healer, he went immediately to the witch working the greeter podium and asked for Hermione's room.

"Are you family?" She asked, giving Draco a skeptical look. "I'm afraid her room is restricted access."

"No, not exactly." Draco said, frustrated. "I'm a friend, I'm the one who brought her here."

"Well, I'm sorry, but with high profile patients, we can't release room information." She stuck her nose in the air. "I'm sure you understand."

Draco was trying to decide if he should just make a run for it, when he heard Ginny call his name.

"Draco!" She came jogging down the hall to his right. "This way."

"Thanks for your help." Draco said to the greeter, with a smirk before turning to Ginny. “How’d you know I’d be here?”

“I didn’t, I was going to the tea room.” Ginny said, and then lowered her voice. “So they got you out ok? Harry said they didn’t send you to Azkaban.”

“No, they kept me at the Auror office.” Draco replied, surprised by Ginny’s interest. “Your brother told me that they weren’t meant to arrest me at all, it was a mistake.”

Ginny nodded. “Ron wasn’t mean to you, was he?”

“No.” Draco said, as he followed Ginny around a corner. “Actually, he was very polite. He even thanked me, so did Harry. It was weird actually. Have you ever visited the Auror department?”

Ginny nodded. “Sure, loads of times. You forget, my dad works in the Misuse office.”

“Right. I forgot.” Draco said. “It just… it was weird. Seeing Potter all ‘yes sir, no sir’ and standing at attention.”

Ginny laughed, “Yeah, Harry says it’s like being in the Muggle Special Forces; he takes it really seriously. Ron not as much.”

“Ron seemed just as serious when I was there.” Draco pointed out.

“Oh he does his job well, I’m just not sure if it’s really his calling.” Ginny explained. “Harry lives for it. Ron… tolerates it. Honestly, I think he secretly just wants to go joke around with George.”

She stopped outside Hermione’s room, just as a healer was leaving. “Hi Healer Murphy.”

“Oh, hello Ginny, I wondered where you’d gone.” The healer replied, eyeing Draco. “Aren’t you the young man you brought her in?”

Draco nodded, suddenly nervous.

“Well, you saved her life.” She put out her hand. “Stacey Murphy.”

“Draco Malfoy.” He said, shaking her hand.

“No kidding?” She said, shaking her head. “Well, I wouldn’t have predicted that. Guess you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Or, rather, a person by their name.”

“Is she going to be alright?” Draco asked, sounding worried. “She was unconscious when I found her, I don’t know how long she had been like that.”

“She’s not out of the woods yet,” Healer Murphy admitted. “Did Ginny fill you in?”

“No, we hadn’t gotten that far.” Ginny explained.

“She had lost a lot of blood.” Healer Murphy elaborated. “And that wound in her side was deep, she has damage to several organs. Not to mention the fact that she has clearly been tortured, and she is extremely high risk for Cruciatis Poisoning.”

“She doesn’t have symptoms of Poisoning does she?” Draco cried, horrified.

“Not that I can tell, but we won’t know for sure until I wake her up.” Healer Murphy explained. “Which will possibly be tomorrow.”

“Possibly?” Draco asked.

“Yes, I want her blood pressure to come down first.” Healer Murphy said. “I’ll be back in a bit. Nice to have met you Draco.”

Draco stared at the door, terrified. “Do we… go in?”

“I know it’s scary.” Ginny said, taking Draco’s arm. “But she needs you.”

Draco nodded, took a deep breath, and then let Ginny lead him into the room.

Hermione was tucked into the hospital bed, the drab hospital gown doing nothing to help her pale complexion. Draco's heart broke for her when he saw her bandaged wrists, a clear sign that she had struggled for a long time.

"Did... Did the healer say if they..." Draco felt himself begin to break down, and he scrubbed his eyes with his fists.

"You got there in time Draco." Ginny said gently.

Relief flooded Draco's system. "She doesn't look like herself."

"No, I thought that too." Ginny agreed. "Hermione was never one to wait around for things to happen. I think that's why they're keeping her asleep. It would be hard to get her to be still and rest any other way."

Draco nodded, sitting beside Hermione's bed. He wasn't sure what to do with himself.

"Just hold her hand, be there for her." Ginny said softly. "I know how useless you feel right now, but you have to let the healers do their work."

Draco was surprised that Ginny seemed to know what he was feeling, and then he took a second look at the redhead. It was easy to forget that Ginny had been a part of the battle and the war as much as the rest of them, she was as good at masking her emotions as he was. But she had watched her brother die, thought her beloved was killed only to have him come back to life before her eyes. He knew they'd all spent time in St. Mungos after the battle.

"I've never had to do this before." Draco admitted.

"Wait in the hospital?" Ginny asked, taking a chair across from Draco.

Draco shook his head. "No. Riddle killed our wounded."

Ginny didn't know how to respond to that, so she simply continued, "Well, I've spent a good bit of time waiting around in hospitals."

Draco nodded. “You were in hospital after the battle, weren't you?"

Ginny looked at Draco, as though evaluating him, and then responded, “Yes, we all were, for a bit. I had some injuries from the battle. And I had some scars from the Carrows that they tried to treat. They didn’t keep any of us for very long; too many wounded. They kept Harry the longest, to be honest, I don’t think they knew what to do with him.”

“Was it like this?” Draco asked? “Was it this…”

“Difficult?” Ginny finished. “No. Even though people were hurt, dead, there was this great sense of relief. I can’t explain it.”

“I think I understand.” Draco said. “I felt that way too, when my dark mark stopped moving.”

“Really?” Ginny asked, honestly curious. “I didn’t know they did that.”

Draco nodded. “Yes, when he died… we all felt it.”

“That’s a bit creepy.” Ginny said. “I knew he could call you all, but I didn’t know how they worked. I’ve never seen one up close.”

“A Death Eater?” Draco teased.

“No, stupid.” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “A Dark Mark.”

“Most people would say that’s a good thing.” Draco pointed out.

“I suppose.” Ginny agreed. “I was underage for most of the war, so my parents kept me as far from most of it as they could. I didn’t really get involved until Snape took over Hogwarts, and even then my parents yanked me out as soon as they figured out how bad things had gotten.”

“Well, count your blessings Ginny.” Draco said, wringing his hands. “Some of us were far too close.”

“I know.” Ginny said, watching Draco watch Hermione. “Draco, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” Draco said, “Ask me anything.”

“Hermione seems convinced that you just got caught up on the wrong side of things; that you didn’t want to be a Death Eater.” Ginny said. “Is that true?”

“I know Hermione thinks that.” Draco sighed. “She tends to see the best in people.”

“So, is she right?” Ginny pressed.

“Well, she’s not completely wrong.” Draco said, “I don’t know what I would have done if I’d grown up in a different family. I don’t think I believe the same things as the other Death Eaters.”

Ginny didn’t say anything, just waited for him to continue.

“I know Hermione thinks the best of me, but she gives me too much credit. I’m certainly not a good person.” Draco tried to explain. “While I may not believe in the finer details, I still willingly took the mark, carried out Riddle’s tasks.”

“She said you keep telling her that you’re not a good influence, that she should stay away from you.” Ginny questioned.

“I did do that.” Draco nodded. “I tried to push her away. I avoided her. You saw it.”

“But Hermione is stubborn.” Ginny smiled. “And you really do seem to make her happy. She deserves to be happy.”

“I’ll make her has happy as I possibly can.” Draco said seriously. “And when the time comes for her to be happy with someone else, I’ll let her go.”

“You’re in love with her.” Ginny said, it wasn’t a question.

“Yes.” Draco agreed. “I have been ever since she first spoke to me in the library. I’d had a crush on her when I was younger. She was pretty, and forbidden, the perfect combination to a rebellious young teen."

"But that night in the library… I had a split lip, from a fight with one of my housemates. They were none too thrilled with my defection at the end of the war, so I'd been hiding out from them. Hermione just healed my lip, as though I were anyone. She treated me like a person, not like a Death Eater or a Traitor. She saw pain that she could fix, so she fixed it... no questions asked." Draco sighed. "I struggled with that for a while. I couldn't understand why she would help me, when I'd watched her get tortured in my own home and did nothing."

"That's just Hermione." Ginny nodded. "She can't stand to see anyone suffer."

"Yes, I realize that now." Draco said.

"You know, I think this is the longest conversation we've ever had." Ginny chuckled. "Hermione is right though, you're surprisingly easy to talk to."

"She said that?" Draco asked, surprised.

"Mmm hmm." Ginny said. "I think you've really helped her get past some of her issues about the war. She was kind of struggling at the beginning of the year."

"I'd say we all were. Are." Draco said.

"You're not wrong." Ginny said, and then after a pause asked, "Draco... I have a question. You can say no if you want."

"What?" Draco asked, curious.

"Can... can I see your Dark Mark?" Ginny asked.

"Oh, is that all?" Draco laughed. "I thought you were going to ask something outrageous of me." He rolled up his sleeve and turned his arm over for Ginny to inspect.

"I guess it's not all that scary close up." Ginny said.

"Ha. Easy for you to say!" Draco said, rolling his sleeve back down. "I've never been as scared in my life as I was when I took that mark."

"Really?" Ginny said, curiously.

"Really. It was terrifying." Draco said seriously.

"I guess I never thought a Death Eater would be afraid of Riddle." Ginny said. "Huh."

"Ginny, how did you think he got so many followers?" Draco asked. "Most of us were terrified of him. There were just a few fanatics, like Bellatrix and my father."

"This is depressing." Ginny said. "Let's talk about something else."

"Like what?" Draco asked.

"What are you going for Easter Break, now that you're allowed out?" Ginny asked.

"I hadn't really thought about it." Draco said honestly. "I don't particularly want to go to the manor. I'll probably just stay at Hogwarts."

"You don't want to go home?" Ginny asked, surprised.

"Not really. I mean, it'll just be me in an empty manor with a couple of house elves." Draco shrugged. "Unless I decide to go on a holiday or something ridiculous like that."

"You should!" Ginny squealed! "Take Hermione somewhere!"

"What?" Draco was surprised at Ginny's suggestion.

"Yeah! You should totally take her someplace fabulous!" Ginny pressed. "She's going to need to get away after this. I usually invite her to come home with me, because her parents make her crazy, but honestly I think my mum would be a bit over the top after all this."

"Do her parents know she's here?" Draco asked suddenly. "I mean, do they know she's in hospital... and, everything else?"

"I doubt it." Ginny said. "She's of age, so the school wouldn't have notified them."

"You're kidding!" Draco cried. "Her parents don't know she's here?"

"Well, they're muggles Draco," Ginny pointed out. "How would they even get here?"

"They should be here." Draco insisted. "Do you know where they live?"

"Yeah, why?" Ginny asked.

"Because I'm going to go get them, that's why!" Draco snapped.

"I don't know that Hermione would want that... she doesn't exactly give her parents all the details of... well... everything." Ginny said, lamely.

"Ok, but if it were you lying in that bed, would your parents want to know?" Draco insisted.

"Well, yes... but." Ginny started, before Draco cut her off.

"Ok, then we need to tell them." Draco said. "They deserve to know. Come on."

"Ugh, ok." Ginny said, "You're probably right."

They hurried out of Hermione's room, and outside to apperate.

Chapter 21: Chapter 21
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"Now what?" Draco said, he hadn't thought this through at all.

"Doorbell." Ginny said, pointing to the round button next to the door.

"Here goes nothing." Draco muttered, pressing the button. He heard a chiming inside the house, followed by footsteps.

The door opened and Mrs. Granger's surprised face appeared. "Ginny?"

"Hi Mrs. Granger, can we come in?" Ginny asked.

"Sure," Mrs. Granger seemed confused. "What are you doing out of school in the middle of term?"

"That's... a bit of a long story." Ginny said. "That, Drake here is going to tell you."

Draco looked at Ginny oddly as they followed Mrs. Granger into the sitting room, and whispered, "Drake?"

"They know about Draco Malfoy picking on Hermione during school." Ginny hissed back. "Do you want to have that conversation right now?"

Draco blushed, and shook his head.

"So, what's going on?" Mrs. Granger asked. "Is Hermione in trouble?"

"Actually, Mrs. Granger, Hermione is in hospital." Draco said gently.

"What!?" Mrs. Granger leapt out of her seat, and then sat back down abruptly. "What, how, why..."

"I can explain everything." Draco said, putting a hand on Mrs. Granger's arm. "Do you want to go to the hospital first, or do you want me to explain now?"

"We have to call Robert." Mrs. Granger said. "He's still at work."

"Have him come here," Ginny said, "And then we'll take you both to the hospital."

After the phone call to Mr. Granger was placed, as they waited for him to return home, Draco and Ginny filled Mrs. Granger in on the details of Hermione's kidnapping, rescue, and subsequent hospital stay.

“So, she’s… not conscious yet?” Mrs. Granger sniffed, she had cried silent tears throughout most of the story, but had never gotten overly emotional.

“Well, the Healer is keeping her asleep intentionally.” Ginny explained. “She wants Hermione to be a bit more stable before she has to deal with this emotionally.”

Mrs. Granger nodded, and reached for a tissue. Just then they heard a door slam, and Mr. Granger shout, “Jean?! What’s going on, what’s happened to Hermione?!”

“We’re in the sitting room.” Mrs. Granger called.

They repeated the story again, quickly for Mr. Granger, as they all piled into his car and drove to St. Mungo's. Draco was uneasy in the back of the car, he’d thrown himself headfirst into the muggle world, and he felt completely out of sorts.

When they reached the Shop Window that hid the entrance to St. Mungo's, the Grangers looked skeptical until they were pulled through by Draco and Ginny.

Finally at their daughter’s side, even Mr. Granger had a tears in his eyes. “She always kept us at arms length. Tried to protect us from these “Death Eating” people.” He said sadly. “I wish she understood that she can trust us.”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of Trust.” Draco said softly. “She knows you wouldn't have been able to defend yourself against Death Eaters.”

“I could’ve done something.” Mr. Granger insisted.

After a long silence, Mrs. Granger spoke up. “I think I need a cup of tea.”

“Come on,” Ginny said. “I’ll show you where the tea room is.”

The two ladies left, and Draco felt a bit awkward sitting there with his girlfriend’s father, even though Mr. Granger didn’t know about their relationship.

“You said she’s a member of a secret organization?” Mr. Granger said softly, running a hand over Hermione’s curls. “That’s what got her into this mess?”

“Well, kind of.” Draco said, awkwardly. “Mr. Granger, how much has Hermione told you about last year?”

“Not much.” Mr. Granger said sadly, “I know she’s leaving out big gaps. She said there was a fight, and I know she got that award.”

“Yeah, those would be a few gaps all right.” Draco sighed. “Mr. Granger, Hermione will probably be furious with me for telling you this, but it wasn’t a fight. It was a war.”

Mr. Granger’s eyes bugged out. “A war, as in… a war?”

“Yes sir, it was actually known as the Second Wizarding War, and it took place more or less over the last several years. The worst of the fighting was last year, culminating in the Battle of Hogwarts last spring.” Draco said, trying to keep his voice calm. “Hermione was pivotal to ending the war. She saved hundreds, if not thousands of Witches and Wizards.”

“How.. how did she do that?” Mr. Granger asked, sounding somewhat in awe of his daughter. “Did she fight in this war?”

“She did, yes, but mostly at the end.” Draco explained. “Last year, when she sent you into hiding, she was on the run. She and her friends were at the very top of the Death Eater’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.”

Draco carefully explained about Hermione helping Harry fulfill the prophecy, realizing that he didn’t even know the true story of what had happened to her last year himself. They had discussed the war at length, but she’d never elaborated on where she’d been or what she had done.

“I don’t understand.” Mr. Granger said. “Hermione couldn’t fight a war, she’s never even held a gun!”

“Mr. Granger, wands can be as deadly as guns.” Draco explained.

“So, she… defended people?” Mr. Granger said.

“Yes. She defended people who were being oppressed.” Draco said, and then hesitated before continuing. “And she didn’t get ‘an Award’, she was made an Order of Merlin, First Class. It’s our world’s equivalent to being knighted.”

“Hermione, my Hermione: the odd, little bookworm… was knighted for defending oppressed people in a war?” Mr. Granger asked.

“Well, more or less.” Draco said, with a shrug.

“Why wouldn’t she tell us about all of this?” Mr. Granger gasped. “Why wouldn’t she want us to know?”

“She doesn’t like the attention, the limelight as she calls it.” Draco said, glancing around the room and finding a discarded copy of the Daily Prophet. Sure enough, there was an outdated story on the front page about Hermione’s love life or supposed lack thereof; he showed it to Mr. Granger. “She didn’t want you to treat her differently.”

“Good lord.” Mr. Granger said, resting his head in his hands.

“I’m sorry Mr. Granger, I know it’s a lot to absorb, but I felt you deserved to know.” Draco said quietly. “About last year, and about her being in hospital.”

“You’re right.” Mr. Granger said. “I think sometimes the people in your world forget about people like us.”

“Well, that’s rather a large part of what the war was about.” Draco explained.

“I’ve just realized I don’t know your name.” Mr. Granger said, turning to Draco.

“Um, it’s Draco.” He said. “Draco Malfoy.”

“Draco, as in the boy who bullied my daughter all through school?” Mr. Granger asked sharply.

“Yes sir.” Draco said, hanging his head.

“And what, may I ask, are you doing here now?” He pressed.

“Well, I… I’m in love with your daughter, sir.” Draco said in a rush, feeling horrible.

“I see.” Mr. Granger said. “And is Hermione aware of your feelings?”

“She knows I love her.” Draco said. “She doesn’t know I’m in love with her.”

“That seems a rather pivotal distinction.” Mr. Granger said.

“Yes, it is.” Draco agreed. “I don’t want Hermione to know. If she doesn’t know, she can still walk away if she doesn’t share my feelings.”

“And you would let her?” Mr. Granger asked, “Let her end any relationship if she chose to?”

“Of course!” Draco said, without hesitation. “She has a million reasons to walk away from me, and I can’t figure out a single reason why she wouldn’t. I just want her to be happy, whether that is with me, or someone else.”

Draco stood, and said, “I’ll give you some time alone with her.” He slipped out the door, and into the waiting room.

After a while, Ginny joined him. “I’m sorry Draco, but Mrs. Granger knows who you are. I said your name accidentally, and then I had to explain.”

“What did you explain?” Draco asked softly.

“That you were the one who saved Hermione.” Ginny said.

“Well, no harm done Weaslette.” Draco teased gently. “I already told her father who I am.”

“You did?” Ginny gasped, “Like… everything?”

Draco nodded.

“Well, you don’t have a broken nose, so I’m guessing he didn’t try to kill you?” Ginny joked.

“No, but I kind of hit him with a lot of information.” Draco admitted. “I told him about last year. What I know, anyway.”

“Ooooo, you’re going to be in trouble when Hermione finds out!” Ginny teased.

“They should know.” Draco insisted. “They have a daughter they can be proud of.”

“Your parents have a son they can be proud of.” Came Mr. Granger’s voice, from across the room.

“No sir, they don’t.” Draco said.

“I disagree.” Mr. Granger said, taking a seat across from Draco. “Look son, I’m guessing from the way you’ve been talking the you and my daughter were on opposite sides of this war.”

Draco nodded, and looked at the floor.

“Well, I thank you for that.” Mr. Granger said, and Draco’s head snapped up.

“What?” He asked, agog.

“I mean it.” Mr. Granger said, “Jean just filled me in on the little detail you left out: that it was you who saved my daughter from these kidnappers. So whatever mistakes you made in the past, I’m glad you made them, because you were clearly the only one who had the information needed to save my daughters life.”

“Sir, you don’t understand.” Draco started to say, before Mr. Granger cut him off.

“I’ve only know you about an hour Mr. Malfoy, and I’ve already seen you put my daughter ahead of yourself several times.” He said, putting his hand out for Draco to shake. “That’s all I need, Draco, to know you’re a good man.”

Draco didn't say anything, he just hesitated for a moment, before shaking Mr. Granger's hand.

"We spoke to the Doctor, and she said that she won't be waking Hermione up until tomorrow at the earliest, so we're going to go home and sort things out at the surgery." Mrs. Granger said. "Please tell us if anything changes?"

"Of course." Draco said.

The Grangers left, and Ginny and Draco headed back to Hermione's room.

Ginny prattled on about nothing in particular, but after a few one word responses from Draco, she asked. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, just thinking." Draco mumbled.

"Dragon dung." Ginny said simply.

"No one's ever called me a good man before." Draco said. "Other than Hermione."

"Yeah, I think I'm starting to see where Hermione gets her tolerance." Ginny teased.

"He's got me all wrong." Draco sighed.

"I don't think he does." Ginny said, softly.

"What?!" Draco scoffed at Ginny. "You of all people know who I really am Weaslette. Hermione didn't grow up in our world, she doesn't truly understand what my family is, what I am. You know better. My father caused you to get possessed by Riddle your first year, for crying out loud."

"I know all of that Draco, I'm not saying I think you're a good guy." Ginny explained. "But I can see why the Grangers would think that. They know you picked on Hermione in school, but I'd imagine she didn't tell them the full extent of what that meant. And here you show up all helpful, after rescuing their daughter from a potentially horrible fate. I can see why they might like you."

"I guess." Draco said thoughtfully.

"That being said," Ginny continued. "You haven't been behaving like a complete jerk the past few days. And you did save Hermione's life. So I reserve my right to change my opinion of you, if necessary."

"Don't hold your breath Weaslette." Draco scoffed. "I'm still not a nice guy."

"I guess we'll find out." Ginny said.

The next morning, Healer Murphy came to check Hermione's progress, and found that Ginny, Draco, Harry, and Ron had all slept in the hospital waiting room.

Professor McGonagall had appeared at one point the previous evening to check on Hermione's progress, and halfheartedly demand that Draco and Ginny return to class. They had refused, so McGonagall had allowed them to stay after they promised to catch up on their schoolwork in a timely manner.

"Come on you lot, we're going to wake her up." Healer Murphy said. "I want familiar faces around her, she won't know where she is."

"We need to wait for the Grangers." Draco said, stretching after a night in a plastic chair. "I promised them I'd tell them if anything changed."

"You did?" Ron asked, shocked. "When?"

"We went to get them yesterday Ron." Ginny explained. "Draco thought they should know what was going on."

"You don't have to get us, we're here." Came Mrs. Granger's voice. "That mannequin in the window remembered us apparently."

"Oh, excellent." Healer Murphy said. "Let's get going."

The all filed into Hermione's room, and gathered near the bed and slightly out of the way, at Healer Murphy's request.

Draco watched as the healer performed a few more checks on Hermione, and then lifted the charm that was keeping her asleep.

Hermione's eyes fluttered open, and she rubbed them, trying to focus. Where am I? She immediately tried to scramble off the bed.

"Hermione, you're ok!" Draco called. "You're in St. Mungos!"

Hermione's fight or flight response was still in the front of her mind, and she didn't fully process Draco's voice. It wasn't until she heard her mother say "Hermione, sweetie, take a deep breath!" that she calmed a bit, and looked around.

"What... what happened?" Hermione gasped, looking around at the odd collection of familiar faces. "I feel like I was run over by a truck!"

Healer Murphy took over, "What do you remember Hermione?"

"I was helping the Order, with..." Hermione looked up at her parents, "Um, with that issue in Hogsmede, on Saturday morning. Kingsley, he... oh! Is he here, is he okay?"

"Auror Shacklebolt is fine, he's happily back at work thanks to you." Healer Murphy said. "Do you remember anything after Saturday."

"No, not really." Hermione admitted. "What day is it?"

"It's Friday honey." Mr. Granger said, gently.

"Friday?!" Hermione gasped, "How is it Friday?"

“I’ve kept you asleep while you’ve been here.” Healer Murphy said. “We wanted to give you a chance to overcome your injuries a bit more before you woke up. Mr. Malfoy here said you were unconscious when he found you.”

“Draco found me?” Hermione looked puzzled. “Draco, what were you doing out of the castle? You were meant to maintain your cover at Hogwarts, or we’ll lose you as a double agent.”

“A Double Agent?” Mr. Granger asked, looking at Draco.

“Yes, well…” Draco muttered.

“Nothing Dad, never mind.” Hermione insisted, trying to change the subject. “Just a game at school. Like capture the flag!”

“Or a secret organization fighting to defend your world from Dark wizards?” Mr. Granger asked.

“Um, how… how do you know about that?” Hermione stammered.

“Your Mr. Malfoy filled me in.” Mr. Granger explained. “Seem’s there was rather a lot you weren’t telling us about last year. Although he didn’t mention being a double agent.”

“Yeah, his cover is pretty well shot.” Harry said. “Particularly now that he’s a deputized member of the DMLE.”

“He’s what?” Hermione gasped. “What in Merlin’s name happened this week?”

“Why can’t she remember?” Mrs. Granger asked, patting Hermione’s hand.

“Memory charm?” Ron suggested.

“That doesn’t make sense.” Draco pointed out, “Lestrange wouldn’t want to remove last week from her mind.”

“Ok, let the professionals do the guesswork!” Healer Johnson said, pushing through the crowd. “I want everyone out, except Mr. Malfoy.”

“Why him?” Ron protested.

“Because he found Miss Granger, so it stands to reason that he would be able to fill in the most gaps in her memory.” Healer Murphy said. “Go on, scoot. I don’t care if the lot of you are famous, you’re in my hospital!”

Everyone but Draco left the room, hugging Hermione on the way.

“There we are.” Healer Murphy said. “That’s a bit better, isn’t it? Not so many people.”

Hermione nodded, nervously. “Why can’t I remember the past week?”

“Well, I have a few theories about that.” Healer Murphy said, pulling up a chair.

Hermione wrung her hands nervously, so Draco reached over and wrapped his larger hands around her smaller ones. Hermione took a deep breath, “Like what?”

“Well, my first guess is the simplest. You lost quite a lot of blood last week; your brain may have been deprived of oxygen and you’re experiencing temporary memory loss. Classic Neurological Amnesia” Healer Murphy said.

“What are the other possibilities?” Draco asked, squeezing Hermione’s hands.

“The first is that she’s blocking the memories out, protecting herself from the experiences of the past week. That’s called Psychogenic Amnesia.” Healer Murphy explained.

“That seems plausible.” Draco said.

“Yes, and the last possibility is early stage Cruciatis Poisoning.” Healer Murphy said.

“But you said she might not have Cruciatis Poisoning!” Draco cried.

“Wait, quit talking about me like I’m not here.” Hermione said. “What is Cruciatis Poisoning?”

"You read Healer texts for fun and you haven't come across Cruciatis Poisoning in any of them?" Draco asked incredulously.

"No. Is that bad?" Hermione asked, looking scared and even more pale.

“Well, Miss Granger, you like reading Healer’s texts?” Healer Murphy asked.

Hermione nodded. “I was trying to decided if I wanted to be a Healer. After Hogwarts.”

“Well, I respect a girl who does her research.” Healer Murphy said with a smile. “Did you read anything about the Cruciatis Curse.”

Hermione shook her head. “I… I didn’t want to know.”

“That’s understandable.” Healer Murphy said. “Miss Granger, I’m sure you know that the Cruciatis works in the mind. The curse makes you think you are in pain, but your body is not actually enduring any physical harm.

Hermione nodded.

“Well at a certain point, after prolonged or extreme exposure, the lines between physical an psychological begin to blur. Your limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for our body’s involuntary reactions, starts trying to stop the pain.” She continued. “This can manifest itself in many ways, the most dangerous of which is the loss of regular brain function. There can also be physical symptoms such as numbness and paralysis.”

“Ok, but I haven’t had that much exposure to the Cruciatis curse.” Hermione asked, “Have I?”

Draco checked with Healer Murphy, who nodded, before he started to explain. “Hermione, after you helped Kingsley during the raid, you got hit by a stunner, and kidnapped.”

"What?!" Hermione gasped. "How, wait... who kidnapped me?"

Hermione was on the verge of panic, Draco squeezed her hand and softly filled her in on everything that had happened.

"But we don't really know what kind of torture the Lestranges used on you." Draco finished. "I can guess, because they have a pretty typical pattern. And when I found you, you had a wound in your side, and were unconscious. You'd lost a lot of blood."

"Oh god." Hermione whispered. "I was back at the manor?"

Draco nodded grimly.

"But, why there? How did they get in?" Hermione was starting to panic, "Draco, I cant..."

"I know," Draco said, pulling Hermione into a hug. "I know. We'll figure it out."

Hermione started to hyperventilate. She hated not knowing things, and not remembering what had happened over the past week scared her.

"Ok, deep breath." Healer Johnson said. "We're going to do some tests, ok? Let's get to the bottom of this. If we can rule some things out, we're that much closer to figuring this out!"

Hermione nodded, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.

Draco felt horrible, she was terrified and there was nothing he could do to fix it.

"I'm going to get you some Calming Draught, ok Hermione?" Healer Murphy said, and motioned for Draco to follow her.

Hermione nodded her head, swiping under her eyes to brush away the tears.

Draco smiled at her and then slipped out with Healer Murphy.

"Ok, what was that reaction?" Healer Murphy said. "What happened at the manor that had her so upset?"

Draco blushed scarlet. "She was tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange at the end of the war. Snatchers brought her in, and they were trying to get information out of her."

"Ok, so I'm going to assume that she doesn't have Psychogenic Amnesia. If she were prone to that she would have blocked out the previous torture as well." Healer Murphy said. "I'm going to get her calmed down, and then I'm going to test for CP. Why don't you go and wait with the rest of the group."

"Ok, are you sure she shouldn't have someone with her?" Draco asked, immediately worried.

"I'll chat to her about that, but I need to do some physical examinations anyway, and I'm sure she wouldn't want company for those." Healer Murphy said. "I'll keep you informed."

"Ok, thanks." Draco said, hesitant to leave.

"It's ok Mr. Malfoy." Healer Murphy said. "We'll get this all figured out."

Draco nodded, and started to choke up. "Please, just..."

"I know." Healer Murphy said, patting Draco's arm. "I promise I'll take good care of her."

Draco watched her slip back into Hermione's room, and then took a moment to compose himself before walking back to the waiting room and filling in Hermione's friends and family.

Authors Note:

Sweet Merlin! Over 5000 reads? You lot are the best! And I really appreciate all the reviews!

Chapter 22: Chapter 22
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"Ok Miss Granger?" Healer Murphy asked, as she finished up the last test.

Hermione nodded. "Well, what's wrong with me?"

"Well, there's good news and bad news." Healer Murphy said. "The good news is, that you haven't started showing symptoms of Cruciatis poisoning. The bad news, is that we don't know for sure what is causing your memory loss."

"You don't know for sure?" Hermione asked, "Does that mean you have a theory?"

Healer Murphy nodded, and pulled up a chair. "I think your memory loss was caused by Neurological Amnesia. You lost a lot of blood from the wound in your side, and judging by the types of bruising you have, you were already in a rather weakened state when that happened."

Hermione nodded, looking frustrated. "So how do I fix it?"

"Well, unfortunately, the best cure for Neurological Amnesia is time." Healer Murphy said. "I want to keep you here for observation, and we're going to try a few types of treatment. Nothing is proven to work, and we're not sure that this is really the cause, but it's the best place to start."

"How long do I need to stay here?" Hermione cried, "I've already missed a week of classes, I'll never catch up!"

"Somehow I think that's probably not an issue." Healer Murphy smirked. "No one who reads Healer Texts for fun will have difficulty catching up on a little schoolwork."

"Well can I at least send an Owl to Professor McGonagall and ask her to send my lessons?" Hermione whinged.

"No." Healer Murphy said. "I want you to relax. I've read about you Hermione."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"No, not the gossip nonsense." Healer Murphy laughed. "About everything you did during the war. I'm willing to bet you've kept yourself right in the thick of it since. Auror Shacklebolt said you saved his life."

"Well I was just the closest to him." Hermione said. "Harry was the one who knew the counter curse."

"Still, to be able to counter a Sectumsempra, while people are shooting spells over your head is impressive." Healer Murphy said. "Sounds like you'd make a good healer."

"I thought about becoming a Healer." Hermione admitted. "I don't think I could give people bad news that frequently."

"Well that's not the whole job, but I know what you mean." Healer Murphy laughed. "But back to the topic at hand, I want you to relax. Read, sleep, stare out the window, but no work."

"I can read?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, as long as you're not reading anything stressful." Healer Murphy said. "I'd avoid the Daily Prophet."

"What kinds of treatments are do I have to do?" Hermione asked.

"Well, to start with, you're going to have some sleep therapy." Healer Murphy said. "Which is a fancy way of saying that you're going to be put on a regime of Dreamless Sleep potion. I want you sleeping at least eight hours a night. Preferably more."

Hermione nodded, that wasn't so bad.

"I'm also concerned about your weight." Healer Murphy said. "I'm guessing you lost quite a bit last year, and haven't been able to gain back to a healthy weight?"

Hermione nodded. "I eat every meal, but I'm not gaining anything."

"Well that's quite common." Healer Murphy said. "You're probably eating less than you used to without noticing it. Which is fine, as long as you are consistently eating healthy things. And judging by your mothers build, you probably were quite slim before the war?"

Hermione nodded.

"Ok, well since you're here, we're going to keep an eye on it." Healer Murphy said. "Since we're not precisely sure what is causing your memory loss, I want to get you into top physical condition to rule out other possibilities."

"Ok. Eat and Sleep." Hermione said. "Why do I feel like it's not that simple."

"Because it's not." Healer Murphy agreed. "The other thing we're doing, besides fixing up the external damage, is getting you in to see a mind healer."

"What?!" Hermione cried. "I'm not crazy!"

"Miss Granger, I didn't for a moment suggest that you were!" Healer Murphy said. "You're thinking of a muggle psychiatrist. I'm not sending you to someone to talk out your problems, although that's never a bad option. A mind healer uses Legilimency to see if there's anything you might be blocking out."

"I hate Legilimency." Hermione mumbled.

"You've been around a Legilimens before?" Healer Murphy asked, surprised.

"Harry." Hermione sighed. "He taught me Occlumency."

"Hmm, I didn't know you were an Occlumens." Healer Murphy said, making a note in Hermione's chart. "That will make this more difficult."

"Well, I never do things the easy way." Hermione said, falling back against the pillows.

"It's going to be fine Miss Granger." Healer Murphy assured her. "We'll get you sorted out. Do you want one of your friends to come back in? For the moment, I'm going to restrict you to one visitor at a time. I don't want you getting overwhelmed."

"Oh, ok... um." Hermione was torn. She really just wanted Draco back with her, but it would seem odd if she requested him again right away. "I guess send my dad?"

Healer Murphy nodded, and left the room.

After a few minutes, Mr. Granger came in. "Hello Princess, feeling better?"

Hermione smiled at her father's use of her childhood nickname. "A little. Healer Murphy talked me down a bit."

Mr. Granger smiled. "Hermione, why didn't you tell your mother and I about last year?"

"I didn't want you to worry." Hermione explained.

"I've been reading those moving newspapers in the lobby." Mr. Granger said. "They say some pretty incredible things about you."

"Oh, don't believe everything you read in that rag." Hermione scoffed. "What does it say now, that I'm pregnant with triplets?"

"No sweetie, it was talking about some of the things Draco was telling me about." Mr. Granger said. "About you helping people. About your medal."

"Oh." Hermione blushed. "It's not a big deal Dad."

"I disagree." Mr. Granger said. "I think it's a very big deal when you find out your daughter has been spending most of her semi-adult life fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves. I'm incredibly proud of you Hermione."

Hermione looked at her scar, partially covered by the baggy hospital gown she was wearing. "Really?"

"Of course Princess." Mr. Granger said. "Parents can only teach their children right from wrong, and hope they learnt the lesson. It feels like a victory when your child chooses the right path."

Hermione didn't know what to say to that, so she just nodded.

"I know you're confused right now, but you'll be just fine." Mr. Granger said. "Do you remember when you were little? Before we knew you were magical?"

Hermione shook her head. "Not that much, no."

"Well your mother and I were completely bemused by your magic." Mr. Granger said. "We had no idea what was going on. We were terrified to take you to a Doctor because the things you could do seemed impossible. We just didn't know that there was another possible answer."

Hermione smiled. "Draco was asking about that a few weeks ago. About how you handled finding out about me being a witch."

"He sure seems to have grown up from the boy who used to tease you." Mr. Granger said with a wink. "He seems quite taken with you."

"Um, yeah. He is." Hermione blushed scarlet. "Don't mention it to anyone else dad, the others don't know... about us."

"Why is that?" Mr. Granger asked.

"Well, I don't know what he told you about himself, but he..." Hermione started.

Mr. Granger cut her off, "I know he was on the opposite side of the war from you."

Hermione nodded. "Harry, Ron... they wouldn't understand."

"Hermione, I've only known your Mr. Malfoy for a day, but he has already demonstrated multiple times to me that he puts your safety and happiness ahead of his own." Mr. Granger said. "I don't understand anything about these Death Eating people, but I know that no truly bad person would do that."

Hermione smiled. "He's a better person than he knows."

"Well I'm glad you can see past the mask sweetheart." Mr. Granger said.

Hermione giggled manically, her father didn't realize how literal he was being.

"I'm going to send your mother in, I'm sure she's chomping at the bit." Mr. Granger said, hugging Hermione tightly. "Please don't shut us out again."

"I won't daddy." Hermione promised.

"Okay then." Mr. Granger said with a smile.

"Ugh! Get me out of here!" Hermione cried. "You can smuggle me out! You know all kinds of sneaky tricks!"

Draco chuckled. It had been almost a week, and Hermione wasn't taking well to being in the hospital.

"It's not funny!" Hermione said, and crossed her arms, inadvertently knocking herself in the side. "Ouch!"

"Take it easy Little Dragon." Draco said, as Hermione winced. "I know you are bored, but you're not back to 100 percent yet, so you stay!"

"Argh!" Hermione yelled.

"You're meant to be trying to relax." Draco pointed out.

"I can't relax." Hermione pouted. "Don't even have something normal to wear."

"Well Ginny is going to bring you some things when she visits at the weekend." Draco smiled.

Ginny had returned to school when McGonagall insisted that she not miss any more days. She had tried to say the same to Draco, who had flat refused. He took a room at the Leaky Cauldron to sleep and shower each evening after Hermione had been given her sleeping potion.

He had stayed by her side through the additional tests and prodding the next several days by Healer Murphy. He had held her and let her cry when she came back from her first appointment with the Mind Healer with no clear progress.

"I just want things to go back to normal." Hermione mumbled.

"We'll get there Little Dragon." Draco said. "And when you get out of here, we're going to take a trip, just the two of us and get away from all of this!"

"Draco, I can't afford to take a trip, and I can't ask my parents for money to go galavanting on a holiday... they are still paying bills from the move I tricked them into making." Hermione sighed.

"Do you remember that conversation we had ages ago about you not understanding the perks of dating a Malfoy?" Draco said with a wink.

"Hmmm." Hermione glared at him. "I still say you spend too much money on me."

"Which reminds me..." Draco said, fishing something out of his pocket. "You didn't get your present today!"

He tapped a black box with his wand, and it expanded in size, and then he passed it to Hermione.

"Draco, honestly." Hermione sighed. "I'm not this materialistic! I don't need a present every day!"

"I know." Draco said gleefully. "That's why I like buying you things. Let me enjoy this Hermione, it's one of the few things that have ever brought me real joy in life!"

"Oh, no pressure there." Hermione teased, rolling her eyes and lifting the top off the box. "Where do you even get all these black boxes?"

"The black box fairy." Draco said deadpanned.

"Wow Draco! When did you even have time to find this?" Hermione gasped, as she lifted a beautiful black silk robe out of the box. It was a Japanese style robe with a red and gold dragon embroidered on the back.

"I sneak around when you nap, or go to appointments." Draco said with a wink.

"This is beautiful." Hermione said, sitting up on her knees to put it on.

Draco helped her slip it over her shoulders and she sighed back into the pillow. "Now I don't look like an invalid in a hospital gown!"

Draco laughed, "No, you certainly don't"

"You buy me a lot of black clothes, you know?" Hermione asked, with a smirk. "Not trying to influence my fashion sense, are you?"

Draco chuckled. "Hermione, I love you, but you have no fashion sense."

Hermione grinned. "You're telling me that black silk and faded blue striped hospital cotton don't go together?"

"Not in the slightest." Draco teased. "I told you it was my goal to buy you a whole new wardrobe."

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, "And I buy you black, because on you it looks very naughty."

Hermione shivered, and blushed. "Why?"

Draco traced Hermione's collar bone with his thumb, before lifting up her chin and kissing her. "Because you are the Princess of Light, so the black is a contrast."

Hermione was sure her face was scarlet red.

"Merlin, it is so easy to make you blush." Draco chuckled.

"That's not fair!" Hermione said, still rather breathless from the kiss.

"I don't claim to play fair." Draco said, giving her a sinister grin.

"No Death Eater smiles from you!" Hermione said, tossing one of her pillows at Draco. "Too creepy."

Draco laughed, smiling a genuine smile. "Alright, you win. Creepy Draco is back in his box."

Hermione ran the fabric of her new robe between her fingers, and suddenly gasped, "Black sheets!"

"What?" Draco asked.

"I remember black sheets!" Hermione cried, grabbing for Draco's arm. "Black silk sheets... is that at your house?"

"Yes, that's my room." Draco said softly, "That's where Lestrange was keeping you."

"He kept me in your room?" Hermione asked, "Why?"

"No idea, Love." Draco said. "Maybe it was just the first room he checked... it is right near the stairs."

"You have black sheets?" Hermione said, curiously. "You really like black, don't you?"

Draco chuckled. "Black like my soul."

"That's not funny!" Hermione snapped.

"Isn't it though?" Draco whispered.

"Draco!" Hermione scolded. "Are we really going through this again? You are not evil!”

“Hermione, why is it that everyone can see what I really am except you?” Draco said, his eyes darkening, and his face growing hard.

“I’d say I know you better than the rest of that lot.” Hermione argued. “My dad thinks you’re a good person!”

“You father has known me for a few days.” Draco contended, “And in that time I’ve only been here… worried about you. He’s impressed with my dedication, but he doesn’t know me.”

Draco closed his eyes, and rubbed his temples.

“I still trust his judgement.” Hermione said.

“Like you trusted him when you sent them into hiding?” Draco demanded. “Like you trusted them with the truth about last year?”

Hermione winced, looked at the floor. Draco knew he’d gone too far, and he searched for a way to explain. “Hermione, I’m…”

“No, you’re right.” Hermione said sadly. “I didn’t trust my parents with the truth.”

Draco didn’t know how to continue; he’d never had to fix a mistake in a relationship before.

Just then, one of the assistant healers came hurrying into Hermione’s room. “Everything alright here Miss Granger? Your heart rate has spiked a bit.”

“Yes, yes. I’m fine.” Hermione said, cursing the magical monitoring of her hospital gown. “I… I think I remembered something from last week.”

“Oh, well I’ll need to report that to Healer Murphy right away!” the Healer said with a smile. “Let me just check your vitals first.”

She pulled a curtain between them and Draco, and quickly checked Hermione’s blood pressure and heart rate with a few charms, before hustling back out of the room.

“Stacey will be here soon.” Hermione whispered, knowing that her healer would come running at the slightest bit of progress.

“Well, focus on what you remembered.” Draco said, quietly. “Why did you remember the sheets?”

“I don’t know.” Hermione said honestly. “Maybe they feel a bit the same as the robe.”

Draco nodded. “I’m sorry that you have to associate that memory with me, but maybe it’ll give you some perspective.”

“On what, where you grew up?” Hermione asked.

“Sure.” Draco said. “On where I grew up, how I grew up.”

“I’m playing my Hospital card.” Hermione said stubbornly. “No arguing with people while they’re staying in hospital.”

Draco chuckled. “Fine, Hospital rules. You win.”

“What’s this I hear about a recovered memory?” Healer Murphy called, coming into the room.

“I remembered black sheets.” Hermione explained. “Draco says that’s what the room I was being held in looks like.”

“Ok, well the easiest way to check is for you to give Mr. Malfoy a memory to verify.” Healer Murphy said.

Hermione nodded. “Okay, do you have a Pensieve?”

Healer Murphy nodded. “I’ll bring it in.” She hurried out of the room.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Draco asked. “I know you want your memories back, but you’re still fragile. Your side isn’t completely healed.”

Hermione huffed. “I’m not as…”

“I know, I know… you’re not as fragile as I think you are.” Draco acquiesced. “And ordinarily that would be true, but you are in hospital, Little Dragon.”

“Well, Stacey obviously thinks it’ll be fine.” Hermione pointed out. “You can’t protect me from everything Draco.”

“Obviously.” Draco said darkly.

Hermione glared at him, and he rearranged his features.

Healer Murphy came back in with the Pensieve, and Hermione picked up her wand, withdrew the memory and dropped it into the bowl.

Draco hesitated, and then let himself slip into Hermione’s memory. It was quite short, only a few moments, but he looked around his familiar bedroom from Hermione’s perspective.

The memory must have been sometime after the ransom pictures were taken, because Hermione was wearing the white nightgown. He watched as she frantically glanced around the room.

Draco very suddenly found himself furious. He’d been so focused on rescuing Hermione, that he hadn’t thought of what to do with the Lestrange brothers. Now he just wanted revenge; he wanted to make them suffer the way she had suffered.

He yanked his head out of the Pensieve. “Yes, that’s it. That’s from last week.”

“Excellent!” Healer Murphy exclaimed. “I’m going to leave the Pensieve in here, and anytime you get a memory back like that, I want you to do the very same thing.”

Healer Murphy didn’t notice the change in Draco’s mood, but Hermione did. His “Malfoy Mask” was back: face uncaring, eyes cold and sinister.

Hermione waited for her Healer to leave before she asked, “Draco, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing Hermione.” He said, tone matching his expression. “I’m going to go for a walk.”

“I don’t think so!” Hermione said, scrambling to try and get off the bed to block Draco from leaving the room. She put both hands on his chest and shoved him away from the door.

“Hermione.” Draco sighed, exasperated. “Get back in bed.”

“No!” Hermione insisted, standing in the doorway. “Something is wrong, and you’re going to tell me what it is!”

“You have to get back into bed first.” Draco insisted.

“That’s not happening Draco.” Hermione argued. “You’ve got your ‘Arrogant Prat’ mask on, so I know you’re up to something. You haven’t looked at me like that all year.”

Hermione was set on blocking the doorway, but the ache in her side had increased exponentially, and she began to feel dizzy. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead, and she leaned against the door for support.

Draco sighed, “Come on Hermione. You are not up to this conversation. You aren’t even able to stand up on your own yet.”

“I’m just fine Draco Malfoy!” Hermione insisted, sounding stronger than she felt. “Tell. Me. What. Is. Wrong.”

Draco watched Hermione for a moment. She’s as stubborn as she is beautiful. She’s going to get herself killed. Just as he was about to push his way around her and leave, her eyes rolled back into her head, and she started to fall. He caught her before she hit the floor.

“Bloody Hell.” Draco cursed. He picked Hermione up, and laid her back on the bed.

“Can we get some help in here?” He called out the door, before turning back to Hermione, who was just opening her eyes. “Told you.”

She scowled at him, and crossed her arms as a healer came hurrying in. “What’s happened?”

“She got out of bed, it was a bit too much for her.” Draco explained. “She blacked out.”

“You know you’re not meant to be up and about young lady.” The healer chastised a furious Hermione. “You’ve just regrown a load of new tissue, you’re going to split your side back open!”

The healer pulled the curtain round Hermione’s bed, and Draco could hear Hermione trying to convince her that everything was fine while the Healer checked her wound.

“Not even close!” The Healer snapped. “You’ve broken this open again.”

The Healer came whirling past the curtain, and quickly summoned several potions. After a few minutes, and some coughing from Hermione after swallowing them, the Healer said, “You’re having your sleeping potion now, I’ll not have you running around mucking up your injuries. You need to be still while this re-heals.”

The Healer left again, returning the curtain to it’s proper place. Draco looked over at Hermione from across the room. She was tucked back into bed, still wrapped in the robe he had given her. She looked pale, and frustrated.

“Hermione, we’ll have plenty of time for the ‘What’s wrong with Malfoy’ conversation later.” Draco said softly. “It’s nothing pressing, and nothing you need to concern yourself with now.”

Hermione shook her head. “I know something is wrong, Draco. You think I don’t know you well enough to see that you’ve been struggling all week? You’re like you were when we first came back to school: you’re twitchy, and moody, and you keep rubbing your temples like you’ve got a headache.”

Draco sighed, and sat back down next to Hermione. “You’re too perceptive for your own good, you know that?”

Hermione smiled. “I get that a lot.”

“Well, the truth is…” Draco rubbed his head again. “When we went to fetch you back from the manor, I took the Aurors in the front door. I figured it would be the easiest way to surprise the Lestranges, seeing as how the protective enchantments on the front of the house hadn’t been shared with the other death Eaters. Father always made them use the back door.”

“And you had to do Dark Magic to get in.” Hermione finished. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because I let you down Hermione.” Draco admitted. “I shouldn’t have told you about the plan to break into Hogwarts. You were meant to have detention that day, you wouldn’t have been anywhere near them. You would have been safe.”

Hermione started to argue, but Draco put a finger on her lips to silence her. “If I hadn’t been so scared, if I hadn’t told you they’d been contacting me, you wouldn’t have called up your army. You wouldn’t have gotten hurt, you wouldn’t have gotten kidnapped.”

“And the worst part was knowing exactly what the Lestranges were doing to you. Were going to do to you if we hadn’t gotten you out, I didn't think about the repercussions of using those spells.”

Hermione whispered, “ What repercussions?”

“I liked using the spells Hermione.” Draco sighed. “The Dark Magic… it felt good, I’d been craving it for a long time. And now I’m having to fight twice as hard to resist the urge. Seeing that memory, seeing you in that position and knowing it was my fault, it pushed me over the edge.”

“But it’s not your fault Draco.” Hermione insisted, with a tear rolling down her cheek. “It’s because of you that I’m alive! I don’t remember last week, but I do know that. Harry told me all about it.”

“Well, one good deed doesn’t undo a lifetime of evil.” Draco said sadly.

“And a lifetime of evil doesn’t mean that a person cannot do good!” Hermione insisted, fighting the sleeping potion.

Draco stood, and kissed Hermione on the forehead, and said as she drifted off to sleep, “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.”

Author's Note:

The book quoted in this chapter is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Chapter 23: Chapter 23
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Draco!” Hermione gasped, when she woke up.

It was early the next morning, but instead of finding Draco in her room, she found Harry.

“Ok there Hermione?” Harry asked.

“Yes.” Hermione said, quietly, rubbing her eyes. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have class on weekdays?”

That’s when she noticed that Harry wasn’t sitting in a chair, or reading a paper like everyone else who had waited around at the hospital. He was standing next to her door, wand drawn, in full uniform.

“What’s going on?” She asked, sitting up abruptly. “Why are you here on duty?”

“What makes you think I’m on duty?” Harry asked, twirling his wand in his hand.

“Because you only ever stand up that straight when Kingsley tells you to.” Hermione said, point blank. “And you don’t cruise around with your wand out, either. You do most things the muggle way still.”

Harry deliberately slouched. “Is that what’s bothering you?”

“If you’re not on duty, come sit down and have a chat.” Hermione challenged.

Just then Ron came to the door with another Auror. “This floor is clear mate, we’re going to check above and below. Morning ‘Mione!”

Harry nodded, and turned back to Hermione guiltily. “Ok, there have been some new developments.”

“Spill Harry.” Hermione demanded. “What’s going on?”

“Sorry. I can’t say.” Harry said, sheepishly. “Direct Order.”

“From Kingsley?” Hermione asked? “Why wouldn’t he let you tell me what’s going on?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s acting on instructions from your healer.” Harry explained. “Who, incidentally, won’t let us move you.”

“Won’t let you move me? Where?” Hermione insisted.

“Never you mind that, Miss Granger.” Healer Murphy said, bustling into the room. “Auror Potter, I assume you can do your job just as well outside the door?”

“No ma’am.” Harry said. “I’m under orders to remain in the room. You can close the curtain if you need to.”

Healer Murphy sighed, and pulled the curtain around them. “So what’s this I hear about you trying to get up and run around the Hospital last night?”

“That’s not what happened.” Hermione grumbled.

“It might as well have been.” Healer Murphy argued, examining Hermione as she spoke. “What did I tell you on Monday?”

“No getting out of bed without help.” Hermione sighed.

“Did you think I said that for fun?” Healer Murphy asked.

Hermione shook her head.

“To be honest, I’m shocked Mr. Malfoy allowed it.” She continued.

Hermione grabbed her wand, and cast a quick Muffliato. “Do you mind? I don’t want the whole Auror department knowing my business!”

“Hey, what charm is that?” Healer Murphy asked.

“It doesn’t matter, look… I really don’t need everyone knowing just how much time Draco spends here.” Hermione hissed. “The others don’t know… that we’re close.”

“Hmmm.” Healer Murphy scolded, “Well that’s your business I suppose.”

“Can we keep it that way?” Hermione asked.

"Sure. Here’s the thing,” Healer Murphy said, perching on the edge of Hermione's bed. “I wanted to test your blood for something that required a fairly complex potion, and I’ve just completed it.”

Hermione nodded for her to continue.

“Well, you remember how we tested you for Cruciatis Poisoning?” Healer Murphy asked.

“Yes, you said I didn’t have symptoms.” Hermione responded.

“That’s correct. However, you’re very high risk for symptoms.” Healer Murphy said. “I wanted to see just how high risk, so I tested your blood.”

“Ok, so what happened?” Hermione pressed.

“To be honest, your blood is so reactive to the curse I’m surprised you’re not paralyzed.” Healer Murphy admitted. “We see this sometimes, in highly intelligent people. It’s all to do with how your mind works when you’re in pain. I’m guessing that every time you’ve been tortured with the cruciatis, you spent the whole time convincing yourself it wasn’t really hurting you.”

Hermione nodded.

“Ok, well… that can be counter productive to the body’s natural defenses.” She continued, “In this case, you’re subconsciously convincing your body that nothing is actually wrong, allowing the curse to do more damage than normal. Most people pass out before the reach that point.”

“You’re saying I’m more susceptible because I’m smart?” Hermione asked, agog.

“Yes, more or less.” Healer Murphy sighed.

“Ok, so what do I do about it?” Hermione asked.

“There’s really nothing you can do, except avoid the curse completely.” Healer Murphy said. “And if you ever get hit with it again, you need to come straight here, regardless of how you feel.”

“Ok.” Hermione whispered.

“Any other questions?” Healer Murphy asked.

“Yes, why won’t you let them tell me anything, or move me?” Hermione asked.

“You’re not stable yet, Hermione.” Healer Murphy explained. “You don’t have your memories back yet, and your wounds are healing slowly. I know you think you feel better, but you’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Ok.” Hermione sighed. “Ok, have you seen Draco lurking around here?”

“No, he left last night.” Healer Murphy said, patting Hermione arm. “He told me to take care of you.”

"He said that?" Hermione asked, suddenly sounding desperate. "What did he say exactly?"

"He said, 'Take care of her, don't let anyone bully her into leaving the hospital before she's ready.'" Healer Murphy explained.

"Did he say where he was going?" Hermione asked, pained.

"No, didn't he tell you he was leaving?" Healer Murphy asked.

Hermione shook her head. "It's not like him to not be here when I wake up."

"Well, perhaps he overslept?" Healer Murphy suggested. "He has been burning the candle at both ends."

"Maybe." Hermione said, skeptically.

"Your blood pressure is high, do you want a calming potion?" Healer Murphy asked.

"No, I'd feel better if I knew what was going on." Hermione insisted.

"Nice try, but no." Healer Murphy laughed. "Just relax. Your breakfast will be here soon.”

Hermione shook her head, and canceled the Muffliato, and Healer Murphy pulled the curtains back open on her way out.

“What’s so secretive that it needed a Muffliato?” Harry asked, still watching out the door.

“What’s so secretive that Kingsley gave you a gag order?” Hermione retorted.

“Touché.” Harry said.

Just then another Auror came up escorting the Lollypop Lady with Hermione’s breakfast.

“That’s been cleared?” Harry asked, pointing at the food.

“I watched them make it myself.” The Auror confirmed.

“Honestly, Harry. What is going on?” Hermione demanded.

“He’s following Orders.” Came Kingsley’s voice, as the tall man came into the room. “Which I’m rather impressed by, I figured you’d wear him down by now.”

“Not for lack of trying.” Hermione sighed.

“It’s only 9:00 o’clock, sir.” Harry teased.

“That it is.” Kingsley chuckled. “Potter, I want you and Edinger on two helping clear the floor.”

“Yes sir.” Harry said. “If I could trouble you for the release code?”

Kingsley beamed at Harry. “It’s Tentacula today, Potter. Dismissed.”

“Yes sir.” Harry repeated, and marched out of the room.

“Well, you’ve got him whipped into shape.” Hermione commented.

“Yeah, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, either.” Kingsley laughed.

“It’s rather annoying when you toss him in my room and tell him he can't say why.” Hermione muttered.

“I’m sorry about that Hermione, but it’s Healer’s Orders.” Kingsley explained. “You’re on a need to know basis until you’re stable.”

“I am stable.” Hermione insisted.

“Well, I’m going to go against my better judgement and stick with the professional opinion on that one.” Kingsley said. “However, I owe you a visit. I’m sorry I haven't had a chance to stop by since you woke up.”

“It’s ok.” Hermione said. “You’ve been busy, I know.”

“Still, I owe you my life Hermione.” Kingsley pointed out.

“I was just the closest one to you.” Hermione argued. “Anyone else would have helped.”

“Ah, but not anyone else could have.” Kingsley said, with a smile. “I know you turned me down once before, but the offer still stands to join the Auror department anytime.”

“Thanks Kingsley, but I think my fighting days are done.” Hermione said softly. "So are you my guard now?"

"For the moment." Kingsley said, "I'll have to switch out with someone in a bit."

"Do I need a guard?" Hermione asked.

"Well, let's just say we're being extra cautious following some recent developments." Kingsley smiled. "Here, do you want my copy of the Prophet?"

"I don't read that rag." Hermione huffed.

"You should take a look." Kingsley said. "There might be something interesting above the fold."

Hermione gave Kingsley a skeptical look, but took the paper and unfolded it.


"What!" Hermione was shocked, "Kingsley, how is this possible?"

"I don't know what you're talking about Hermione." Kingsley said, looking at his watch. "I'm under strict instructions from your Healer not to tell you anything."

Hermione nodded, and quickly read the article that suggested a successful escape from Azkaban had let out Lucious, the Lestrange Brothers, and a few other names she didn't recognize. It also went on to suggest that Draco had plotted the escape, citing his recent absence from Hogwarts as proof.

Hermione crushed the paper into a ball. "Ugh!"

"My thoughts exactly." Kingsley said.

"Kingsley, you know Draco had nothing to do with this!" Hermione cried.

"Oh, I'm well aware of that." Kingsley said. "All of those Death Eaters are still in Azkaban."

"Wait, what??" Hermione asked.

"Yeah, Malfoy and the Lestranges are still safely in Azkaban. We're assuming there is polyjuice being used to start a panic." Kingsley said. "We were planning on releasing a statement, however there's a small problem."

“What?” Hermione asked, cocking her head to the side.

“We can’t find Draco.” Kingsley said. “We were hoping you might know where he is.”

“What do you mean you can’t find him?” Hermione hissed. “He’s got the trace on still from his probation, doesn’t he? And why are you assuming I would know where he is anyway?”

“The trace only tells us if he’s performing dark magic.” Kingsley explained. “He’s of age, it’s not going to alert us if he’s doing regular everyday magic. And Hermione, I've been an Auror since before you were born. I'm good at reading people, and you and Malfoy are close.”

“Kingsley, I haven’t seen Draco since last night.” Hermione acquiesced, “And he was acting really oddly.”

“Odd how?” Kingsley said, scanning out Hermione’s door.

“He… He was talking about doing Dark Magic, about how he was craving it more since using it at the manor. And that one good deed can’t undo a lifetime of evil.” Hermione admitted. “And he said something strange as I was falling asleep. A quote from a book, about me being his last dream.”

“Hermione, has he been acting oddly for a while?” Kingsley asked sharply. “Has he been getting headaches? Seeming twitchy, nervous?”

Hermione nodded. “He was rubbing his head a lot last night. A lot all week actually.”

“He’s relapsing.” Kingsley said. “I was afraid of this when I released him last week, but I’d hoped that he’d pull through.”

“Relapsing?” Hermione asked. “You mean because he used Dark Magic?”

“Yes.” Kingsley said, he quickly tapped his wand against his wrist, and Hermione heard footsteps hurrying down the hall towards them. Ron and two other Aurors appeared at the door.

“Sir?” Said the shorter of the two. He seemed to be a higher rank, because he had more insignia on his uniform, and Ron stood behind him at attention.

“Picard, I want you to take Weasley back to headquarters and put out an APW on Draco Malfoy. He may be a danger to himself, I want him brought directly to St. Mungo’s if located.” Kingsley said.

“Yes sir.” The Auror, presumably Picard responded, and he hurried out the door. Ron gave Hermione a small smile, and followed quickly behind his superior.

"Hermione, is there anywhere Draco would go that was important to him?" Kingsley asked. "Somewhere special from his childhood, or anything like that?"

Hermione shook her head. "He didn't really have a great childhood."

"Yes, I can imagine." Kingsley said. "But think Hermione, is there anywhere he would go for solitude? Anywhere we can start to look for him?"

"Well, I doubt he'd go home." Hermione sighed. "He was really happiest at Hogwarts, has anyone looked there?"

"That's a good idea, I'll have Minerva check around the Slytherin common room and the like." Kingsley nodded.

"No, check the Library! And the Room of Requirement and the Astronomy Tower. He wouldn't be in Slytherin." Hermione said, "Did anyone check the Leaky? He's been staying there."

"Yes, I've got someone watching his room, but if we don't hear from him soon I'll send someone in to check that everything is in order." Kingsley said.

Just then Healer Murphy came bursting back into the room. "Honestly Auror Shacklebolt, if you're not going to listen to me, why do you ask for my advice?"

"I think she needs to know." Kingsley said. "I only showed her the Prophet. She doesn't have all the facts yet. And I still think it would be safer to move her, despite the risk!"

"Well, as her Healer I still say that she's too high risk to go spinning through the floo." Healer Murphy exclaimed. "And apperating would be worse."

"So you'd rather have her here like a sitting duck?" Kingsley asked, rolling his eyes.

"Wait, why would I be a sitting duck?" Hermione asked.

"Oh go on then." Healer Murphy sighed. "You're obviously going to ignore me."
"Hermione, there has been an official threat to your life." Kingsley explained. "We received an anonymous letter at the ministry."

"Ok?" Hermione asked. "Is that all?"

"Is that all?" Healer Murphy gasped.

"Well, that's not exactly surprising." Hermione shrugged. "Granted, it's the first time it's been in writing. I've had a price on my head for the last few years."

Kingsley burst out laughing. "I told you she'd be better off knowing."

"Well that doesn't change the fact that you can't move her." Healer Murphy said, exasperated.

"Well why do I need to move?" Hermione asked.

"The letter said they knew you were here." Kingsley explained. "I think it would be much simpler to move you to a safe house and guard that, than it is to try and vet everyone that comes into the hospital."

"Ok, so lets do that." Hermione said.

"Hermione, you can't handle the floo yet." Healer Murphy explained. "It would tear you up."

"Ok, but why don't we just have a car take me somewhere in the city?" Hermione pointed out. "Let me go to Harry's house. He already has a Fidelius charm in place, what could be safer than staying with two Aurors?"

Kingsley and Healer Murphy just stared at Hermione.

"Well... that would be fine." Healer Murphy said. "I hadn't thought of using Muggle transport."

"No one ever does." Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "Why don't I just have my parents come pick me up?"

"No, that would be too obvious." Kingsley said. "We already have Aurors keeping an eye on your parents as a precaution, let's not involve them any more than necessary."

Hermione nodded. "Ok, well... ministry cars would be a bit obvious."

"I agree..." Kingsley sent a patronus off. "I'll sort something out."

Harry appeared back in the door. "Yes sir?"

"Take over for me Harry," Kingsley said. "I think we have a plan. You can fill him in Hermione."

"Sure, just as soon as he tells me where we were last year when his wand was broken." Hermione said with a wink.

"Godrick's Hollow." Harry said, with a smirk.

"You're sure you don't want to be an Auror, Hermione?" Kingsley laughed.

"I'm quite sure." Hermione said.

"Very well." Kingsley said, clapping Harry on the shoulder as he left.

"Kingsley let the cat out of the bag?" Harry asked.

"Yes, and I was expecting something horrible after all the buildup." Hermione sighed. "You should have just told me that it was only another death threat."

"Miss Granger, you will be the death of me." Healer Murphy exclaimed. "You know, most normal people would be a little worried about someone putting a price on their head!"

"I've got bigger concerns at the moment." Hermione muttered.

"Hmmmm." Healer Murphy said. "Well, I'm going to go sort out some things for you to take with you."

Chapter 24: Chapter 24
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"How'd you managed to talk them into moving you?" Harry asked.

"I pointed out that there are other ways to travel than floo powder." Hermione laughed. "They're sorting out a car. I hope you don't mind, but I've invited myself to stay at Grimmauld Place."

Harry grinned. "That'll be great!"

"Thanks Harry." Hermione sighed.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Harry asked, twirling his wand between his fingers. "You're not really worried about these people finding you, are you? Ron and I have it under control!"

"No, Harry. I'm not worried about that." Hermione said.

"Well then what is it?" Harry pressed. "Is you side hurting?"

"No, Harry." Hermione said, sounding exasperated. "Don't worry about it!"

"You know you can trust me, right?" Harry said softly.

"What makes you think I don't?" Hermione asked, after a moment.

"Because you haven't told me what's going on between you and Malfoy." Harry said, fidgeting with his auror bars.

"What makes you think there's something going on?" Hermione whispered.

"Look, Ron might have the emotional range of a teaspoon," Harry said, "But I don't. When you disappeared, Draco was like a mad man. He didn't sleep, barely ate. He told us about every death eater safe house and possible hideout he could think of, information he could have used to his advantage later on.”

“Well, he is trying to get off probation.” Hermione suggested.

“Yes, but I don’t really see that as his motivation.” Harry explained. “The guy has feelings for you.”

Hermione studied the sleeve of her black robe intently, not wanting to respond.

“Am I wrong?” Harry asked gently.

“No.” Hermione whispered. “No, you’re not wrong.”

“I didn’t think so.” Harry said with a smirk.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “Tell me what you really want to say.”

“You should be careful.” Harry said, and shrugged. “The guy isn’t exactly… stable.”

“What is that supposed to mean.” Hermione exclaimed.

“It means exactly that.” Harry said seriously. “Hermione, he's a Death Eater.”

“I know that!” Hermione cried.

“Ok, well… how much has he told you about what he did during the war?” Harry asked.

“We haven’t gone into explicit detail.” Hermione admitted, “But I know he regrets the things he did. He’s really struggling with it.”

“People don’t just stop being Death Eaters ‘Mione.” Harry said sadly. “I’m the one handing Malfoy’s probation. It’s part of my training. I know his crimes better than anyone.”

“Harry. There is some good in Draco!” Hermione insisted. “Maybe it’s only a tiny bit, and maybe it’s buried deep down where only I can see it… but it’s there. What if someone had loved Riddle, when he needed it most? The whole world could be different!”

Harry absorbed what Hermione had said. “If someone had loved Riddle? Do you love Malfoy?”

“It’s my business if I do.” Hermione said, clamming up.

“Ok.” Harry said, turning his attention back to the door.

Draco sat staring over the water of the Thames in Muggle London. I’m screwed. Either the ministry catches me and I end up in Azkaban, or I’m a dead man.

“Malfoy.” Came a voice from over Draco’s left shoulder.

“Yaxley.” Draco responded coldly. “What do you want?”

“I’m just working on a few of the contingency plans, and I was wondering why you hadn’t reached out to us.” Yaxley said, leaning against the railing at the edge of the water.

“I’m sure you’re quite aware of the fact that I have the ministry breathing down my neck.” Draco snapped. “If I play their games for the rest of the year I can go about my business without their meddling.”

“A little birdie told me you’ve been playing their games rather well.” Yaxley hissed. “That it was you who let the Aurors into your own home, and lead to the capture of the Lestrange Brothers. What would your Aunt think of that? What would your father?”

“My father is the one who taught me how to watch my own back.” Draco said, his voice dripping with distain. “He wouldn’t expect me to throw away the Malfoy name and fortune because those idiots decided they could trespass on my property. The Aurors agreed to lessen my probation in exchange for information. How else do you think I was able to meet you today?”

"Still, you've made this more challenging for us." Yaxley insisted. "We had Hermione Granger as our prisoner, and now we have nothing."

"So typical of you Yaxley." Draco said dryly. "Going after the small fish. It's Potter we want, and thanks to me, you know exactly where he's going to be for the next few days. Why bother with Granger, when killing Potter will throw the wizarding world into chaos?"

"You Malfoy's always did have monstrous egos." Yaxley drawled.

"Say what you want Yaxley." Draco said, rolling his eyes. "Your opinion means little to me, I'm playing the long game here."

"Then we'll see you at the next meeting?" Yaxley insisted.

"If I can get away without suspicion." Draco said. "They trust me now, and we have no one inside."

"I'll be in touch." Yaxley said, and then chuckled. "Have fun at school."

Draco made a rude gesture to Yaxley as he left, still laughing.

Once he was gone, Draco let out a sigh of relief. I can't believe I made it out of that alive.

He stared out over the water for another hour or so, trying to decide what to do next. He didn't want to return to the hospital and put Hermione at risk. She'd be mad, but hopefully she would understand. He'd violated his probation by meeting with Yaxley, so he'd need to figure out his next step to avoid Azkaban.

He was still trying to decide what to do, when he heard someone else approaching him from behind. "Can't a guy get a little privacy?" He turned around expecting Yaxley again but instead found Ron Weasley and another Auror standing behind him.

"Hey Malfoy." Ron said awkwardly.

“Weasley?" Draco said in response.

"Kingsley wants us to bring you in." Ron explained.

"I'm just minding my own business Weasley." Draco argued.

"Come on Draco.” Ron said, "You're technically in violation of your probation by being out of school anyway."

"Sure, but I've technically been violating my probation all week." Draco shrugged. "It didn't seem to matter then."

"Well, there have been some developments." Ron said. "And Kingsley has some questions."

"Well, I'm trying to get him some information." Draco said, scuffing the toe of his black shoe in the dirt. "That's why I came out here, I needed to meet with Yaxley. You lot need someone on the inside if we're going to finish this thing."

"Ok, well... thanks?" Ron said, uncertainly. "I'm meant to bring you to St. Mungo's, but I think maybe we should go to headquarters."

"Just as long as you're not throwing me in Azkaban, I'll go wherever you want me to." Draco said, sounding relieved.

"Ok, well… let’s just portkey then.” The unnamed Auror said, sounding surprised.

Draco nodded, and the Auror pulled an old length of rope out of his pocket. They all grabbed hold of it and were whisked directly into the Ministry of Magic.

Draco followed Ron into Kingsley’s now familiar office, and Kingsley looked up in surprise. “Weasley, I told you to take him directly to St. Mungo’s!”

“Yes, well… let me explain.” Ron said, filling Kingsley in on Draco’s odd behaviour.

“Very well Weasley, dismissed.” Kingsley said with a sigh. “Have a seat Mr. Malfoy.”

Once Ron was out of the room, Kingsley appraised Draco’s temperament. “Hermione is rather worried about you.”

“She doesn’t need to concern herself.” Draco said, looking at the floor.

“Well, regardless, you know Hermione. That’s easier said than done.” Kingsley pointed out. “I also have some things to discuss with you but, to be frank, I’m concerned that you’re a danger to yourself.”

“Why?” Draco said, being careful to control his tone. “I haven’t done any Dark Magic since we got Hermione back.”

“I’m aware of that.” Kingsley said. “I’m also aware of the fact that you’re suffering withdrawals.”

“I’m fine.” Draco snapped, with a twitch.

“Yeah, that’s not really convincing me.” Kingsley said, shaking his head. “Now I know that your desire to change is largely rooted in your feelings for Hermione.”

Draco’s head shot up, “We were trying to keep that private.”

“I’m aware.” Kingsley said. “But I’m also aware that because of your feelings for her you would never, say, let your father out of Azkaban.” He passed Draco a copy of the Daily Prophet.

Draco’s pale skin turned white as he read the headline. “This… this can’t be true? He hasn’t escaped?!”

“No, he hasn’t.” Kingsley reassured Draco. “However someone out there is toying with us, causing the public to panic, and blaming you for the lot of it. There’s been a threat on Hermione’s life.”

“What? No… there can’t be. You have to stop them!” Draco couldn’t form a coherent thought. “It’s Yaxley, he’s trying to find out who I’m loyal to.”

“Is that what he discussed with you when he met?” Kingsley pressed.

“In so many words.” Draco said, getting up and pacing the room. “Do you have someone watching her? She can’t be moved yet, who is guarding her?”

“It’s ok Draco, she’s being looked after by Potter, until we get her moved.” Kingsley said, looking at his watch. “Which incidentally, is happening in about 10 minutes.”

“You’re moving her now?” Draco hissed. “I don’t care what she’s told you, she is not strong enough to use the floo or apperate yet!”

“Relax Draco, we’re moving her by muggle transport.” Kingsley reassured him. “We’ve gotten a muggle emergency vehicle, she won’t even need to get out of bed.”

“Where are you moving her to, you won’t make it far using muggle transport!” Draco exclaimed.

“We’re taking her to a safe house.” Kingsley said. “Which I can’t tell you about because it’s under a Fidelius charm, and I’m not the secret keeper.”

“Yaxley thinks I’m helping him.” Draco sighed. “I can’t even go help move her, I can’t let them think I know where she’s going.”

“Why did you meet with Yaxley?” Kingsley asked. “It’s a pretty clear violation of your probation.”

“Well, I figured it was my only shot at making him think I’m still on their side.” Draco explained. “Hermione’s kidnapping was my fault, and if I’m going to stop that kind of thing from happening again, I need inside information!”

“Draco, I fail to see how any of this was your fault.” Kingsley said, “That’s just your depression talking.”

“I’m not depressed!” Draco snapped, “I’m angry! I’m stressed! I feel like my skin is crawling! The one person who can make all of that go away is lying in hospital because I let her go and fight a battle that I knew would end in disaster. But I’m not depressed!”

“You know you couldn’t have stopped Hermione from going out there.” Kingsley sighed. “And you know she would hate that you’re blaming yourself.”

“Well Hermione doesn’t seem to comprehend who she’s dating.” Draco mumbled.

“Well, that’s between the two of you,” Kingsley said. “But I’ll just throw it out there, that I wouldn’t try and stop Hermione from doing something and end up on the other end of her wand.”

“Yeah, she can be pretty scary when she wants to be.” Draco admitted, with a small smile.

“Very true.” Kingsley laughed. “I seem to remember a story about her punching you when you were younger, 11 or 12?”

“No, we would’ve been 13.” Draco laughed. “It was third year. She got me right in the nose. She has a good punch too.”

“I don’t think I need to tell you to be careful,” Kingsley said, “But I’m going to say it anyway. She's beloved, by her friends as well as the rest of the Wizarding World. Hurting her… it wouldn’t end well for you.”

“Yes, I know.” Draco sighed. “That’s why I’m going to take myself out of the picture. Put me undercover with Yaxley, and I’ll feed you information. I just want her to be safe, and she won’t be while they’re out there loose.”

“A noble plan.” Kingsley said, rubbing his chin. “But unfortunately, in order for it to work, you would need to finish school and your probation. Keep up appearances. Being a double agent is about meticulous detail, and it’s not something to be taken lightly.”

“Well I can’t just do nothing!” Draco snapped.

“For the moment, you’ll have to.” Kingsley explained. “I want you to get past these withdrawals. You need to get checked out by a healer, and I don’t want you put into any high stress situations.”

“What could a healer possibly tell me.” Draco argued. “Withdrawals aren’t exactly something you can cure with a potion.”

“You’re right.” Kingsley nodded. “But we might be able to do something about the symptoms, the headaches for example.”

Draco sighed. It’s for Hermione, it’s for Hermione. He repeated it in his head like a mantra.

“You need to write to Hermione at the very least.” Kingsley continued. “She’s worried about you, and that won’t help her recovery.”

“How did she take it when you told her about the Death Threat?” Draco asked softly.

“To be perfectly honest, she’s more worried about you.” Kingsley explained. “She seems to think that Death Threats are rather routine.”

“Well, if you’re not going to let me work undercover, I’d rather be protecting her myself.” Draco sighed.

“Well, that will be up to Professor McGonagall.” Kingsley said. “Your probation still requires you to finish school. Why don’t you go see our Healer in the first aid room at the back of the department. If he gives you the all clear, you can go and speak to Minerva and see if she’ll let you out for a bit longer.”

“I still say this is more obvious than just changing my hair color.” Hermione argued, as Harry handed her his invisibility cloak.

“We want anyone staking out the Hospital to think that a wizard is being transferred from a Muggle hospital, not the other way around.” Harry explained.

They were going to have an Auror fake an injury and be brought in by befuddled muggle paramedics. Then they were going to put Hermione on the stretcher, and cover her in the cloak to take her back out.

“Yes, but Polyjuice potion would make it completely unnecessary.” Hermione pointed out.

“Miss Granger, did you forget once again that you have a rather large, newly healed hole in your abdomen?” Healer Murphy chastised. “I was going to allow you one hour a day to be out of bed, but I’ll keep you on total bedrest if you don’t yet comprehend the seriousness of your injury.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. Her side ached all the time, and there was no possibility of her forgetting about it. She just had more pressing concerns at the moment.

“They’re here.” Ron said, coming into the room.

A moment later, two paramedics hurried in with a stretcher, and a rather amused looking Auror Trainee. Harry quickly closed the door, and brought out a flask of polyjuice potion. He and Ron quickly drank the potion, transforming themselves into lookalikes of the paramedics, and swapping clothes with them.

The other Trainee then took them back to Auror headquarters by portkey to have their memories modified.

At that point, Ron lifted Hermione off the hospital bed and onto the stretcher, and they tucked the cloak over her, hiding her from view.

They carefully moved the stretcher out of the hospital, and into the ambulance, where they befuddled the driver to take them to Grimmauld Place. After Ron quickly scooped up Hermione and ducked into the house, Harry sent the driver away to pick up the paramedics.

"Just put me down Ronald." Hermione said, exasperated. "I'll go sit in the living room!"

"You'll do no such thing!" Ron laughed. "Your Healer said specifically that you are to stay in bed!"

"And I'm going to tell Kreacher to make sure you stay there, so no funny business!" Harry said.

Hermione rolled her eyes and sighed, "I've been in bed all week."

"Well, that's kind of the point of being in hospital." Ron said, as he carefully set Hermione down on the bed in her usual room.

"I'm not made of spun glass." She muttered, sitting up, and taking in the room.

"No one is saying that 'Mione." Ron said, sounding exasperated. "But if you don't keep still for a while you're never going to get better."

"Yeah, yeah." Hermione said, fluttering her hand as if to dismiss his comment. "I just want to get my memories back. I don't think that's going to happen sitting around in bed all day."

"Just give it time 'Mione." Ron sighed. "Do you want a book or something?"

"Are you leaving?" Hermione asked, surprised.

"Harry and I have to go Floo Kingsley and report." Ron explained. "And then it'll probably only be one of us here with you at a time."

Hermione nodded, and Ron hesitated before giving her a quick hug, and then slipping out of the room.

Harry had been living at Grimmauld Place for nearly six months, but other than removing the elf heads from their former place on the wall, he hadn't done much in the way of redecorating. Hermione looked around the familiar, dark space. It was odd to be here without Ginny taking up the other side of the room.

She let her thoughts drift to the beginning of the war when they had hidden out at Grimmauld while searching for Horcruxes. They'd been so naïve back then, despite everything they had endured over the years at Hogwarts.

Hermione realized she had tears running down her cheeks, and she pushed the dark thoughts out of her head. She was stressed, and worried about Draco, and in pain.

She dropped back down onto the pillow, and threw her arm over her eyes. Don't be silly, Draco is a strong Wizard. He's fine. But she didn't feel reassured.

Hermione wasn't sure how much time had passed, when there was a knock at the door.

"Come in." She called, her voice sounding a bit rough from crying.

Kingsley came into the room, and sat down in a chair opposite the bed. "How are you feeling? Nothing battered in the move?"

"I'm... I'm fine." Hermione said, sitting up and trying to smooth her hair.

"Excellent." Kingsley said. "Well, first things first. We've located Draco."

"You did!" Hermione cried. "Where is he?!"

Kingsley explained about Draco's meeting with Yaxley. "He was checked out by our department Healer, and I sent him to Hogwarts to check with Minerva about coming to stay here with you."

"You're going to let him stay here?" Hermione said, aghast.

"Yes, I can't spare as many Aurors as I would like to protect you." Kingsley explained. "Draco is technically still deputized as a member of the DMLE, so I can claim that he's here on assignment."

"And you want to be able to keep an eye on him." Hermione accused.

"You're too smart for your own good." Kingsley chuckled. "He's struggling Hermione. I want him somewhere he can't isolate himself."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "I'll keep an eye on him."

"I was hoping you'd say that." Kingsley said. "You know him better than anyone else."

"I'm not going to spy on him for you, but I will help him." Hermione said, looking poignantly at Kingsley.

Kingsley grinned. "Your moral compass is absolute Hermione. I'm going to make one last attempt to sway you, you're sure you won't join the department? You could catch up with this training group, no sweat. I know you and Harry taught most of them what they know anyway."

"I'm sorry Kingsley, but that's an option for me anymore." Hermione said quietly, and then explained about her susceptibility to the Cruciatis curse.

"I'm sorry, Hermione, I didn't know." Kingsley said. "Yes, you wouldn't pass the physical to be an Auror. But that doesn't mean there's not a place in the department for you. Have you ever thought of studying law?"

"Law?" Hermione asked, pondering the question. "I hadn't really thought about it."

"Well you should." Kingsley said. "Once we pick up the pieces a bit more, a lot of our laws are going to be rewritten. I can't think of anyone better to work on that project."

"I'll think about it." Hermione said, refusing to commit herself to anything.

"You do that." Kingsley said, seriously. "Now, down to business."

Kingsley carefully explained all the details of the protection detail assigned to Hermione, provided her with a panic button to push if she ever lost her wand and couldn't send a patronus. He explained that Healer Murphy would be escorted over twice a day to check on her, but other than the few people who already had been shown the house, no one else would be allowed inside the fidilious.

"Ugh, I'm going to go crazy here." Hermione sighed.

"I can't do anything to help with that." Kingsley chuckled. "Except remind you that there is a library on the 3rd floor."

"Oh right!" Hermione said, making to get out of bed. Kingsley was about to stop her, but as soon as her feet hit the floor, Kreacher appeared with a crack.

"Miss Hermione is not to get out of bed!" He hissed, "Is there something Kreacher can get for Miss?"

Kingsley chuckled. "Well, I see that you're in good hands Hermione, I'm going to go tie up some loose ends."

Hermione groaned, as Kreacher coaxed her back into bed. "Kreacher, I just wanted to go up to the Library."

"Master said that Miss is not to get out of bed until she is well!" Kreacher insisted. "Kreacher will bring Miss anything she needs."

"Okay. Can you bring me some books?" Hermione asked, softly. "Just a selection of anything, I don't really know what they have up there."

"Yes Miss!" Kreacher said. He snapped his fingers, and a large stack of books appeared on the bedside table. "Kreacher will have dinner ready soon." And with another crack, he disappeared.

Hermione was once again alone. She took a deep breath, and tried not to let the weight of the day drag her down. Looking through the stack of books, she was delighted to see that she had not yet read most of them, and that they were all books on Dark Magic.

She picked one up and settled in to read, realizing that if she was going to help Draco, she would need to know a lot more about Dark Magic than just how to defend against it.

Authors Note:

Sorry about the long wait for this chapter, I had the worst trouble with this one. I just felt like I had written myself into a corner, and I redid it about 3 times. I'm still not thrilled with it, but it got me to the next bit of the story... so I hope you enjoyed!

Chapter 25: Chapter 25
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She read for what felt like ages, but when she glanced at the clock, only an hour had passed. “Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” She muttered to herself.

She ate the food that Kreacher brought her, and then turned back to her book and tried to follow the explanation of a Dark Locator spell that was described there. She was practicing the wrist motion, when there was a soft knock at the door.

"Come in," she said absently not seeing who entered, as she continued flicking her wrist in the odd movement, the book open on the bed beside her on the bed.

"You're swishing your wrist too much." Draco said, looking at the book. "It's more of a snap. And why are you trying to do the Mortalis Quaerere curse?”

Hermione’s head jerked up at the sound of his voice, and she fixed him with a glare. “Just practicing.”

Draco stalked across the room, grabbing the book he snapped it closed to look at the cover. “In tenebris: Spells, Hexes, and Curses? What are you reading this for?” He demanded.

“I don’t know if that’s any of your business.” Hermione said, reaching for the book in Draco’s hand.

Draco stepped out of her reach, and asked quietly, “Isn’t it though?”

“Well, yesterday I might have thought so.” Hermione snapped. “But then you disappear; no note, no message, after telling me a cryptic Charles Dickens quote! And I wake up to find Harry standing at my door like the palace guard, refusing to tell me why, and then I see your name in the papers and no one can find you!”

Draco looked at his feet, and there was a long silence before he whispered, “I didn’t think you heard me, the quote I mean. I thought you were asleep.”

“Well I wasn’t.” Hermione said. “And then Kingsley tells me that you’ve met with Yaxley. Draco, what were you thinking?!”

“That I had to protect you.” He said softly, toying with the binding of the book.

“What?” Whatever Hermione was expecting, it wasn’t that.

“Look, I had a small window of opportunity to convince the Death Eaters that I’m still one of them. I had to try and gain their trust back.” Draco explained. “I wanted to find out what the plan behind kidnapping you was. The Lestrange brothers are animals, but they’re not that bright. They didn’t come up with that plan on their own. There’s an end game here, and we need to find out what it is!”

“So, you’re trying to get back in to the Death Eater circles?” Hermione asked.

“Well, I’m not much use as a double agent if I can’t get information from the other side.” Draco said with a smirk. “Not that Kingsley will let me.”

“Honesty time Draco,” Hermione said, crossing her arms. “What is going on with you. Kingsley send you to the Healer, why?”

“Because I’m having withdrawals and he wanted to see if he could sort me out.” Draco admitted.

“Did he?” Hermione pressed.

“Well, it’s not like there’s a potion for Dark Magic Addiction.” Draco snapped, and then winced. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.”

Hermione just looked at him, he still hadn’t looked her in the eye.

“You didn’t answer my question.” Draco said, paging through the book.

“Well, I decided that since I’m stuck here and not able to move around, I would start learning everything I can about Dark Magic.” Hermione said, gesturing to the pile of books beside her.

“Why on earth would you do that?” Draco snapped.

“Because you can’t fight what you don’t understand.” Hermione said simply. “I’ve spent most of my life learning how to defend myself from the Dark Arts, but not as much actually learning what they are, aside from some very specific things.”

“You can’t do these spells Hermione.” Draco said pleadingly, shaking his head, “They’ll ruin you.”

“I’m not actually doing the spells Draco. Not yet anyway.” Hermione explained. “But I am trying to learn as much about them as I can. Wand motion tells you a lot about the casting of the spell.

“Not yet?” Draco asked, incredulous.

“Well I’m not saying I won’t ever try some of them, for the sake of my research.” Hermione explained.

Draco raked his hand through his hair. “This isn’t a game Hermione! This isn’t DADA class, you’re not earning extra points by figuring out a clever jinx!”

“I’m well aware of that Draco.” Hermione said, chillingly. “You forget that I’ve dealt with some of the darkest magic there is, and walked away from it.”

“I don’t though.” Draco said. “Because you haven’t told me what happened to you last year.”

“Everyone knows what happened to me last year.” Hermione cried. “I’m pretty sure someone has written a book about it by now!”

“I know what the papers say, what did you call it? ‘The public story’?” Draco argued. “I don’t know what you were really doing!”

“Well I have no idea what you were up to last year either, if we’re splitting hairs Draco!” Hermione’s face was flushed, and she yelled. “You said you did Riddle’s bidding, what was that? Torturing people? Killing them?”

Draco sat on the bed opposite Hermione, and to her surprise, he said softly, “I knew we would have this conversation eventually.”

“What?” Hermione said, shocked.

“I’m not an idiot.” Draco said, laughing bitterly. “You’re always telling me that I’m a good person, and you argue with me when I disagree. But I knew eventually your curiosity would get the better of you. This is the part of the story when you find out just how evil your boyfriend really is. ’I am in so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin’”

Richard III.” Hermione whispered.

Draco nodded. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.” Hermione said softly. “But that doesn’t seem fair, since I can’t tell you what I was doing last year. Not without an unbreakable vow.”

“I don’t mind.” Draco said, sitting on the edge of Hermione’s bed. “But can I do something first?”

Hermione nodded, “Sure, what do you need to…”

But Draco had silenced Hermione with a searing kiss. He slipped an arm gently around her waist, and pulled her has close as he dared. He twisted the other hand into her curls, trying to memorize every part of her.

When he let her go, Hermione seemed in a daze. After a moment, she asked, “What was that for?”

Draco shrugged, and moved to sit on the other bed. “Just making a memory.”

Hermione looked at him oddly. “Why?”

“Because,” Draco said sadly, “Once I tell you my story you might not want to see me again. Which would be completely justified.”

“Draco, don’t be overly dramatic.” Hermione said rolling her eyes.

“I’m not Hermione.” Draco said, taking on a detached tone. “Just let me get this out. Please don’t interrupt.”

“Okay.” Hermione agreed, suddenly realizing why she hadn’t ever asked this particular question before.

“Well, obviously you know all about my mission from sixth year.” Draco said, wringing his hands. “After I failed to kill Dumbledore, and fled with Snape, I was sure the Dark… Riddle… was going to kill me.”

He seemed to be struggling with what to call Voldemort as he told the story. “To my surprise, we fled to the Manor. I felt like such a failure, I was so miserable that I was honestly ready to die.”

“To my utter disbelief, Snape made it seem as though we had worked together to kill Dumbledore. That it was the plan for me to distract him, so Snape cold make his move.” Draco said, sounding bitter. “Now that I know why he did it, it makes more sense, but at the time I figured he was setting me up. Death Eaters aren’t exactly team players.”

Draco rubbed his temples. “I didn’t leave the manor again, until the next school year started. R-Riddle used it as his base, coming and going with prisoners and informants. He… he gave me another job. He said since I’d come through for him successfully at Hogwarts, I was trustworthy enough to be put in charge of his prisoners. He had me make sure that no one could escape, making sure they had just enough food and water to keep them alive.”

“When he wanted to see one of them, I’d drag them out of the dungeon, and up to the parlor he used. If he didn’t kill them, I’d drag them back. By the time the summer was over, I was thrilled to return to school. Of course that presented an entirely new set of challenges, because I was given pretty much the same job… dragging students to and from the dungeons for the Carrows'. Only it was worse, because I knew most of them.”

Hermione noticed that he had tears running down his face. “I stood around watching innocent people get tortured, and murdered. People I could have easily helped. But I was too worried about my own sorry hide to do anything but watch.”

“By the time the break came, and I was back at the manor, I was so broken and terrified that I didn’t want Riddle anywhere near me.” Draco fisted the tears away. “He’d become so unstable by that point, that he’d kill if you moved in the wrong direction. When you lot turned up, I refused to identify Harry because I was petrified that my aunt would call the Dark Lord back.”

He looked up and met Hermione’s gaze. “That’s why I didn’t tell them who he was. I wasn’t being heroic, or trying to protect anyone. I was a coward. Dozens of lives are on my head because I was a coward.”

“That’s the real mark of a Slytherin.” Draco spat. “Selfishness.”

There was a long silence, and after a while, Hermione spoke up. “You know, the Sorting Hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin.”

Draco’s head shot up. “You’re joking.”

“No, I’m serious.” Hermione said quietly. “He told us in second year, during the whole 'Heir of Slytherin' thing, after everyone found out he was a Parselmouth. He’s only in Gryffindor because he asked the hat not to put him in Slytherin.”

“Wow, I wonder how all of this would have turned out if he had been put in Slytherin?” Draco pondered. “Why aren't you demanding that I leave? I’m responsible for dozens of deaths.”

Hermione sighed. “Draco, I’m not going to pretend that I agree with all of your choices, but you didn’t actually kill anyone yourself.”

“I as good as killed them.” He said, ducking his head. “I didn’t help them.”

“Draco, you were a pawn in all of this as much as Harry was.” Hermione said softly.

“Harry wasn’t a pawn,” Draco said. “He was fated to kill Riddle.”

“Harry will probably skin me for this, but you need to hear the whole story.” Hermione said, taking out her wand. “Give me your hand.”

“Why?” Draco asked, confused.

“Because I’m doing the Unbreakable Vow, now give me your hand.” Hermione insisted.

Draco looked at her skeptically. “You don’t have to do this, Hermione.”

“Oh, don’t get your knickers in a twist.” Hermione scoffed. “I’m not going to turn into your Aunt Bellatrix because I do one Unbreakable Vow. Give. Me. Your. Hand.”

Draco acquiesced, and took Hermione’s hand. “You know how to do the spell?”

“Yes, I learnt it after our previous conversation about it.” Hermione said simply. “I figured you’d get curious too.”

Draco sighed.

Perpetua.” Hermione said, flicking her wand in a complicated motion over their clasped hands. “Do you Draco Lucious Malfoy, promise to keep the details given to you regarding the past year a secret, speaking about them only to those involved in the situation?”

“I do.” Draco said coldly, he could feel the slight darkness of the spell tugging at his willpower.

“And do you promise never to attempt to replicate the Dark Magic used by Tom Riddle mentioned in this conversation, or attempt to help another replicate it in any way?”

“I do.” Draco said, sounding suspicious.

“And do you promise if questioned on your knowledge of My, Harry, or Ron’s actions regarding the past year, that you will only provide information available in public record?”

“I do.” Draco said, starting to sound irritated.

Iuravit.” Hermione said, twisting her wand away, and leaving the faint impression on their wrists of the Vow.

“Well that was thorough.” Draco growled.

“It’s necessary.” Hermione said simply.

“It had better be.” Draco said coldly, rolling his shoulders and letting the affects of the spell wash over him.

“Do you have a handle on yourself?” Hermione asked, watching Draco closely.

“I’m fine Granger.” Draco growled, his eyes dark.

“Clearly not.” Hermione said, reaching for her wand.

“What are you doing?” Draco demanded.

“Oh calm down.” Hermione said rolling her eyes. “I just want to try something”

“What?” Draco asked, leaning away from her.

“I have a theory.” Hermione said. She flicked her wand, and cast a Patronus, sending the Otter to go and sit beside Draco. “I would suggest you cast your own, but I’m guessing you’re probably not capable of that right now.”

Draco shook his head, feeling his mind clear as the Otter climbed up and sat on his shoulder. “That… that’s actually helping.”

“I thought it might.” Hermione nodded. “You look calmer already.”

“Yes.” Draco said, sounding distant. “My headache is gone too.”

“Good.” Hermione said, smiling for the first time in a while. “I’m glad. Not so jumpy now?”

“No… I, Merlin.” Draco said, raking his hands through his hair. “It feels… I can’t explain it. How long can you hold this for?”

“I guess we’ll find out.” Hermione said, keeping a grip on her wand. “Draco, have you ever heard of a Horcrux?”

Draco shook his head.

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Richard III by William Shakespeare.

Chapter 26: Chapter 26
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“So, you’re telling me that Potter wasn’t faking it.” Draco asked, stunned. “He was actually dead?”

“Well, no when Hagrid was carrying him out of the forest he was alive. He was alive when your mother told Voldemort he was dead.” Hermione explained. “He was dead for a moment, although he said time was inconsistent, because he had a long conversation with Dumbledore. Then he chose to come back. If he hadn’t, his soul would have gone On, and he would have remained dead.”

“Good god.” Draco whispered. “And Dumbledore knew he would have to die, all along?”

“Well, yes.” Hermione said. “Once he figured out that Harry was a Horcrux. Which he really hates talking about, by the way, so I wouldn’t mention it.”

“And when you said that Riddle transferred some of his power to Harry, that’s what you meant.” Draco said, connecting the dots.

Hermione nodded, yawning. "Anyway, that's why Riddle got so unstable, especially towards the end. Dumbledore, all of us really, were slowly killing him over the last 2 years of the war."

“You destroyed one of the Horcruxes?” Draco asked, appraising Hermione.

"Yeah. Hufflepuff's cup. I stabbed it with a Basilisk fang." She nodded, looking exhausted. “Draco, if you’re feeling ok, I’m going to stop the charm.”

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry.” Draco said, crossing over and taking Hermione in his arms. “You’ve been holding that Patronus for nearly an hour, you must be exhausted.”

Hermione set down her wand, relieved not to be pouring all her energy into the charm. She wasn’t going to admit it, but she was starting to feel lightheaded from the effort.

Draco lowered her gently down onto the pillow, brushing her hair back from her face. “You’ve used entirely too much energy. I shouldn’t have let you do that.”

“Mmmm, but I got Sweet Draco back.” She said, with a smirk.

“I do feel better.” Draco admitted. “Thank you for that. I don’t deserve you.”

“Don’t start that again.” Hermione muttered, as she started to fall asleep.

“Alright.” Draco chuckled. “Get some rest.”

“Don’t go!” Hermione said, clutching his shirt. “Don’t disappear again.”

“I’ll be here when you wake up.” Draco said. “I promise.”

He watched as Hermione gave in to her exhaustion, and drifted off to sleep. Then he gathered his courage, and went downstairs to find Harry.

Draco found him in the sitting room, his auror texts spread out on the coffee table, a fire in the hearth.

“Potter.” He said, breaking the silence as he came into the room.

“Malfoy.” Harry answered, gesturing to the chair opposite. “You look better.”

“I feel better.” Draco admitted, sagging into the old wingback chair. “Thank you. For letting me stay here, I mean.”

“No problem.” Harry said, setting down his book. “I like the idea of having someone here consistently with her anyway. And you’ve already proven you’ll go above and beyond to protect her.”

Draco nodded. “I take it, you know.”

“Well, I’m a pretty observant person.” Harry said with a smirk. “It is my job.”

“And yet, you haven’t killed me.” Draco said, “Should I watch my back?”

Harry chuckled. “I made it through the war without killing anyone, so I don’t see a reason to start now. Don’t give me a reason to, yeah?”

Draco nodded. “‘The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness…’ I’m selfish. I need her.”

“That’s from War and Peace.” Harry said.

“Yes, you’ve read it?” Draco asked, surprised.

Harry nodded. “Hermione gave it to me, when I was in hospital… after. I was having trouble coping. She thought it might help, and it actually did.”

“She told me.” Draco said, “About last year.”

“Did she?” Harry said, harshly.

“She made me promise not to say anything.” Draco reassured him, “Even made me make an Unbreakable Vow. She wanted me to understand what she went through last year.”

“Leave it to Hermione to keep everything in order.” Harry sighed.

There was an awkward silence, which Draco eventually broke. “I haven’t been in this house since I was a kid.”

“You’ve been here before?” Harry asked, surprised.

“Sure, my mother was a Black.” Draco said. “We used to come at holidays, things like that.”

“I always forget that your mother was Sirius’ cousin.” Harry laughed.

“They were definitely different.” Draco agreed. “You know, you and I are probably related too.”

“How do you figure?” Harry asked, skeptically.

“Well, the Potters are a pure blood family. All pure bloods are distantly related.” Draco said with a shrug. “I know there was a Black marriage to a Potter a few generations back, so we’re likely cousins, a few times removed.”

Harry looked like he’d drunk sour milk. “I guess I forget that the Potters are a pureblood line.”

“Well, the Potters are like the Weasleys… not concerned with Blood Status.” Draco explained. “My parents would have called your family blood traitors. Especially since you’re a half blood.”

“Your parents?” Harry asked, “Not you?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Draco said. “This is the first time I’ve been allowed to examine my beliefs for myself. Falling for a Muggle Born who is more powerful than any Pure Blood I’ve met, kinda shakes up preconceived ideas.”

“Yeah, it would do.” Harry said thoughtfully. “And Hermione is probably the most powerful Witch I’ve ever heard of.”

“Well, you’re not exactly struggling in that department yourself Potter.” Draco pointed out.

“Malfoy, was that a compliment?” Harry asked, agog.

“No.” Draco said, putting on his ‘arrogant prat mask’. “I don’t give compliments.”

Harry chuckled. “My mistake.”

Draco smirked. “Can I ask you a favour?”

“Hmmm, that depends.” Harry said.

“It’s for Hermione.” Draco insisted.

“Oh, sure… for her, anything.” Harry said seriously.

“I’m not a fool, I know what she and I have can’t last.” Draco said sadly, “People won’t accept it, and I don’t want her to live her life in the shadows because she is with a Death Eater. When this ends, however it ends, will you take care of her?”

Harry looked shocked. “Well, of course all I can say is yes, Malfoy.”

“Thank you.” Draco said, looking relieved. “She’s going to need someone to turn to, someone who knows about us. You and Ginny, I know you’ll protect her. She tends to put everyone else ahead of herself.”

“She does do that.” Harry agreed, and then put his hand out, “You’re a surprising person Malfoy. I’m glad she has you, for however long it lasts.”

Draco shook Harry’s hand, and stood up. “I better get back upstairs, I promised I’d be there if she woke up.”

“I’ll have Kreacher bring you something to eat.” Harry said.

“Thanks.” Draco said, nodding to Harry.

"Malfoy?" Harry called, as Draco left the room.

Draco turned back to Harry at the door.

"This doesn't mean that I like you." Harry said with a smirk.

"I wouldn't have it any other way Potter." Draco chuckled. "I don't like you either."

"Alright then." Harry said, turning back to his homework.

Hermione’s recovery was slower than she anticipated, and whenever she tried to do anything more than lay in bed and read, she found herself exhausted.

After a week of pouring through Dark Magic books, and occasionally sending her Patronus to perk Draco up, Hermione was frustrated.

“I just don’t understand why I’m so exhausted all the time!” Hermione complained to Healer Murphy on one of her visits.

“Hermione, you had a six inch gash in your side. Not to mention the fact that you haven’t made much progress on your memory loss.” Healer Murphy explained. “Your body is trying to send you a message. You aren’t ready to be up and running around. Why don’t you try a hot bath?”

“Well that would at least be a change of pace.” Hermione muttered.

“No change in my instructions.” Healer Murphy said. “You may have one hour per day to get out of bed. No stairs, no strenuous activity.”

Hermione nodded. If she was honest with herself, getting up and walking around took so much out of her that she really only got up to use the loo or shower.

"In another week I'd like to have you start back with your Legilimency therapy." Healer Murphy said, packing up her kit. "I want to get your memory sorted out."

"Okay." Hermione said quietly. She wasn't thrilled at the prospect of someone picking through her mind, particularly a stranger.

"I'll see you tomorrow." Healer Murphy said, heading out the door.

As she left, Draco came in. "What did she say today?"

"More of the same." Hermione said, fussing with her blankets.

"You look awfully stressed for a routine exam." Draco pointed out, taking Hermione's hand. "What happened?"

"She wants me to carry on with the Legilimency next week." Hermione said softly. "I hate those treatments."

"Hermione, they might help you." Draco reasoned.

"Yeah, but I feel like the healer who does it is just picking through my brain looking for more interesting things." Hermione explained. "I spend so much effort hiding the details from last year that we don't make any progress."

"Yes, I can see how that would be a problem." Draco said, looking thoughtful. "And you can't exactly mention the issue to your Healer."

"Precisely." Hermione nodded. "It's just frustrating, Occlumency is exhausting."

"Well, how are you approaching Occlumency?" Draco asked, seriously. "You said Harry taught you, but did you do it all the time, or just when you thought he was digging around in your mind?"

"Well, he... it wasn't really like that." Hermione said, shaking her head. "He's good at it, and he didn't realize he was doing it at first. He'd answer my thoughts instead of my questions. Once he realized what he was doing he stopped."

"But he still taught you Occlumency?" Draco asked.

"Yeah, he... he thought it might be important, if we ever came face to face with Riddle." Hermione explained. "He tried to teach Ron too, but never had much success."

"So you don't Occlude your mind all the time?" Draco specified.

"No, should I be?" Hermione asked, worried.

"Well, that's where the term Occlumens comes from." Draco explained. "An expert Occlumens protects their mind at all times.."

"Wouldn't that be exhausting?" Hermione gasped.

"Well, you have to develop the skill." Draco chuckled. "Sometimes the alternative is worse."

"You Occlude your mind all the time?" Hermione asked, sounding skeptical.

"Sure." Draco said with a shrug. "That's Death Eater 101."

"Can you teach me how?" Hermione asked.

"Well, I can try." Draco said, sounding skeptical. "I don't know how good of a teacher I would be."

"Well how did you learn to do it?" Hermione sighed.

"Yeah... if I'm teaching you we definitely won't be doing it the way I learned." Draco laughed. "My father and my aunt have much harsher methods than I would be comfortable with using."

"Oh." Hermione said softly.

"Yeah, oh." Draco chuckled, pushing a strand of hair out of Hermione's eyes. "We'll figure something out."

"You seem much better today." Hermione pointed out. "You're actually smiling."

"I am, aren't I." Draco grinned. "It's your fault, you keep messing with my emotions, sending your Otter to chase me around."

"Be serious for two seconds Draco." Hermione said, rolling her eyes. Secretly she was happy, his moodiness had tempered greatly, and he really did seem to be doing better.

"Ok." Draco said, "Actually... I have a serious question for you."

"Ok?" Hermione looked at him skeptically.

"You said you destroyed the Horcrux with a Basilisk fang?" Draco asked.

Hermione nodded, "Yes, a Horcrux must be destroyed with Dark Magic."

"Yeah, you said that." Draco replied. "But where in the world did you get a Basilisk fang?"

Hermione laughed, "From the Chamber of Secrets."

"Wait... you've been in Slytherin's Chamber?" Draco asked, agog. "How? Where is it?"

"Under the castle." Hermione said simply.

"Wait, is it still there?" Draco sounded excited. "Can we still get in?"

"Uh, probably." Hermione shrugged. "You have to speak Parseltongue to open the chamber though."

"Oh, yeah I guess that makes sense." Draco said sadly.

"I could ask Harry what to say." Hermione laughed. "There's nothing down there but Basilisk bones and a lot of moldy water."

"Yes!" Draco hissed. "That's at the top of the Slytherin bucket list."

"It's really not that fascinating." Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"Wait, when did you go down there?" Draco asked. "During the battle?"

Hermione nodded. "It was before we, er, bumped into you in the Room of Requirement."

"Oh, right." Draco said, remembering. His face darkened at the memory.

"New subject?" Hermione asked, touching his arm gently.

"New subject." Draco agreed.

Hermione watched him for a moment, and conjured her Patronus to sit beside him.

"Thanks 'Mione." Draco said, leaning over and kissing her forehead.

"Hey 'Mione!" Ron's voice came into the room, as he rapped on the doorframe.

"Hi Ron." Hermione said, smiling.

Draco muttered something about looking for a book in the Library, and made to leave, when Ron stopped him. "Actually, Malfoy... we need to borrow you downstairs for a few minutes."

"Oh, sure." Draco said, glancing back at Hermione. "What for?"

"Kingsley sent some parchments for you to sign." Ron shrugged.

"I'll be right back." Draco said to Hermione, who nodded. He followed Ron down the two flights of stairs to the parlor. "What's really going on?"

"We've got a few odd looking blokes sitting across the street." Ron said. "They've been there for the past two hours. Obviously they're staking the place out, we wanted to see if you recognized them."

"Well, the Death Eaters probably assume Harry lives in this area," Draco explained. "They wouldn't be able to find this place with all the protections though.”

He crossed to the window and peered out. "Steve Beeler and Patrick Hays. Low level snatchers."

"Not Death Eaters?" Harry asked.

"They never took the Mark, no." Draco said, shaking his head. "There aren't that many still loose that did."

"Present company excepted." Ron said, glaring at Draco.

"Something you want to say Weasley?" Draco asked, rolling his eyes.

"Both of you knock it off." Harry interjected. "Ron, he was pardoned. He's following the rules of his probation."

"Let him get it off his chest Potter," Draco shrugged. "He'll feel better for it. It's the elephant in the room anyway, isn't it?"

Harry just shrugged, "Your funeral."

"What were you saying Weasley?" Draco asked, pleasantly, keeping his eyes on the snatchers in the park.

"Well, it's just that you seem to have made quite an about-face here Malfoy." Ron said, crossing his arms. "I mean, the last time we saw you was when you set FeindFyre loose on us in the room of requirement."

"I believe we've interacted a few times since then." Draco laughed. "Besides, it was Crabbe that did the FeindFyre. If it had been me, it wouldn't have been out of control."

"But you see my point." Ron said. "You can understand why we don't necessarily trust you, particularly with Hermione who seems, inexplicably, to be in a relationship with you."

"I'd be disappointed in your skills as an Auror if you weren't skeptical." Draco said simply. "But I care about Hermione, and I would gladly put my life on the line for hers."

"Well... Ok." Ron said, sounding more confused than before Draco spoke.

"Here Weasley." Draco said, rolling up his sleeve. "I'll put all my cards on the table. You want to know if I'm really a Death Eater? I am."

There was a pregnant pause as both Ron and Harry stared at the Mark on Draco's arm.

"You said there weren't that many still free?" Harry asked, breaking the silence.

"No, granted I'm not positive who you already have," Draco said, "But based on my communications with Yaxley, I'd say there's five Marked men left, myself excepted."

"I can get you a list." Harry said. "If you can confirm it. How many took the mark, our intelligence doesn't have a consensus?"

"28." Draco said.

"That's it?" Ron exclaimed.

"Riddle didn't trust people." Draco shrugged. "Taking the mark was seen as sign of honor, something he bestowed upon you. He used it as a form of control, in more ways than one. Those who didn’t have the mark had to earn it.”

“And there’s no way to remove it?” Harry asked. “Or hide it?”

“Not that I’ve found.” Draco said, rolling his sleeve back down, self-consciously. “The only change since you killed him was that it stopped moving.”

“Well, I appreciate your candor.” Harry said honestly. “Obviously, none of the Death Eaters in Azkaban have been exactly forthcoming with information. I assume Dumbledore asked all of these questions of Severus, but obviously that information died with the two of them.”

Draco nodded, uncomfortably. “So… what do you want to do about them?”

“Nothing, at the moment.” Ron explained. “If we pick them up, it’ll just tip off where we are.”

“I’d feel better getting Hermione out of here.” Draco admitted. “She’d be better off back at Hogwarts, getting cared for properly.”

“I agree,” Harry said, “But do you think she could make the trip?”

“Not yet.” Draco shook his head. “She tries to hide it, but she gets exhausted just walking down the hall. She needs more time.”

“I’ll get you that list.” Harry said, and Draco disappeared back up the stairs.

“I don’t like this Harry.” Ron said, once Draco was out of earshot. “I don’t trust him, and I don’t want Hermione near him.”

“I don’t trust him either.” Harry admitted, “But he seems to have Hermione’s best interests at heart. And you know how she’d take it if we told her we didn’t want her to spend time with him.”

“But Harry, they’re together.” Ron insisted, “She shouldn't be spending time with a Death Eater!”

“And what happened the last time you tried to comment on Hermione’s love life?” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “And besides… I think she gave you a pretty solid window of opportunity after the battle, during which you were a git and never told her how you felt. So you’ve lost your shot for the time being.”

“Harry.” Ron said, sounding irritated. “He’s a Death Eater!”

“I know that.” Harry said, sounding exasperated. “But wouldn’t you rather have them here, where we can keep an eye on him? It’s much harder to have him followed at Hogwarts.”

“You’ve having him followed?” Ron asked.

“It’s Malfoy,” Harry said. “Of course I’m having him followed, as much as I can anyway.”

Authors Note:

Hey everyone! I'm soooooo sorry about the massive delay on this post! I was travelling and didn't have internet access! Thanks to all who have continued to read and review! I promise, this story is not abandoned!

The book quoted in this chapter is War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy!

Chapter 27: Chapter 27
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

So Potter is having me followed. Draco chuckled to himself as he climbed back up to Hermione’s third floor bedroom. I pity the poor bloke who has to do the following; he’s probably right bored.

When he returned to Hermione’s room, she sat up in bed and asked, “So what’s really going on down there.”

“Nothing gets by you.” Draco laughed. “There’s some snatchers outside, Potter wanted me to identify them.”

Hermione shivered. “Do they know we’re here?”

“Probably not.” Draco said. “I think they’re just hedging their bets. And anyway, they can’t get into the Fidelius, it’s a particularly strong one.”

“It should be, I cast it.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

You cast Potter’s Fidelius Charm.” Draco asked, agog.

“Sure, it’s the safest protection for a building.” Hermione shrugged.

“Hermione, do you understand how many people in the world can cast that charm?” Draco asked.

“I dunno?” Hermione replied. “The steps are listed in several books…”

“Hermione, the only person I’ve ever known to be able to do that charm was Dumbledore.” Draco insisted.

“Ok, well I’m sure there’s more. I know Moody could do it.” Hermione pointed out.

“Ok, there’s two.” Draco rolled his eyes.

“Draco, it wasn’t really that complex, people probably just don’t talk about it.” Hermione sighed. “After all, you wouldn’t want to go blabbing around that you know the identity of a secret keeper.”

“You’re not the secret keeper?” Draco asked.

“No, Harry insisted.” Hermione explained. “Said he didn’t want that on my head, and figured it’d be too much of a hassle anyway… what with being away at school.”

“Well, at least he’s not a complete idiot.” Draco mumbled.

“Dray-co.” Hermione chided.

“Ok, sorry.” Draco smiled. “I take it back. Isn't Healer Murphy coming by soon?"

"Yes, she said she'd be by before lunch." Hermione said.

"Well, I had an idea." Draco said. "What if you have Potter help with your Legilimency Therapy. You said he's a good Legilimens, and he obviously knows about any of the trade secrets you were trying to conceal from the Healer."

"I don't know." Hermione said doubtfully. "I still don't think the Legilimency is the way to go. The memories I've recalled, they were all triggered by something tangible."

"Well, I don't know how to fix that." Draco admitted.

"I... I have an idea." Hermione said, steeling herself. "You won't like it, but I think it's my best option."

"Oh no." Draco said, crossing his arms. "I know where this is going."

"Draco, I think I need to go to the Manor." Hermione said, "I think it will help with my memory, and with my nightmares."

"Hermione, I promised I'd never make you go there." Draco insisted.

"Well, you're not making me, are you?" Hermione pointed out.

"I don't think traumatizing you is going to fix the problem." Draco argued.

"Well, we've tried everything else." Hermione countered, "And you have to admit, I remember the most when I connect something physical, like with the robe."

"I won't let you go there." Draco snapped. "I won't put you through that. You don't need those memories anyway, you have enough nightmares as it is.”

“Draco, I’m not asking.” Hermione said, stubbornly. “Although, I do know it will be easier to get in with your help.”

“So your plan,” Draco growled, “Is to break into my home to try and fix your memories? You wouldn’t make it to the front door alive.”

“You’ve already told me that’s where the strongest charms are.” Hermione said, crossing her arms. “I’d go in another way.”

“This is a useless conversation.” Draco said, fixing Hermione with a glare. “I’ll tell Potter, he’ll help me keep you away from there.”

“Away from where?” Came Harry’s voice from the door.

“Malfoy Manor.” Hermione said, not breaking eye contact with Draco.

“As much as I’d hate to agree with Malfoy on anything,” Harry said, coming into the room. “I’d agree with this. Why would you even want to go to Malfoy Manor?”

“I think it’ll help me get my memories back.” Hermione admitted, turning to Harry.

“Or it’ll just stir up old memories and give you more nightmares.” Harry suggested.

“Well you went back with no issues.” Hermione pointed out.

“Well sure, I was only locked up for most of the first visit.” Harry explained, glaring at Draco. “That place doesn’t hold the same trauma for me that it does for you. Hell, it was worse for Ron than me.”

“What?” Hermione asked, looking confused. “What happened to Ron?”

“We could hear your screams.” Harry shrugged. “I thought he was going to take the Manor apart with his bare hands.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be any worse for him than it was for you.” Hermione argued.

“You know it would Hermione.” Harry said, a bit of sadness in his eyes. “And you know why.”

“Do I?” Hermione snapped.

“Well, you’re smart enough to figure it out.” Harry said, softly. “Healer Murphy is here, I’ll just… send her up.”

Hermione blushed red, she hated that Harry insinuated that Ron had feelings for her. I bloody well gave him plenty of time after the battle to do something about it. It’s not my fault he’s a oaf.

Draco looked at her oddly. “Ask her about the Legilimency.”

“I’m asking her about the Manor.” Hermione said stubbornly.

Draco sighed, and followed Harry out the door.

Healer Murphy came in a moment later. “How are you feeling today Miss Granger?”

“Outnumbered.” Hermione muttered.

“What?” Healer Murphy asked, as she unpacked her kit.

“Nothing. I’m feeling ok.” Hermione sighed.

“Well, you look a bit better than yesterday.” Healer Murphy said. “You’ve got some color to your cheeks.”

“Any chance of getting sprung from this prison soon?” Hermione asked hopefully.

“Let’s see.” Healer Murphy said, drawing her wand. “Have you been getting dizzy?”

Hermione thought about it. “Not often.” She replied honestly.

“Ok, I’m going to check your side.” Healer Murphy said, performing a complicated motion over Hermione’s torso.

“Well?” Hermione asked, impatiently.

“It’s looking rather well healed.” Healer Murphy said, “Have you finally been following my instructions to stay in bed?”

“More like, there’s an overenthusiastic House Elf who won’t let my feet touch the floor.” Hermione groaned.

“Well, my thanks to Kreacher.” Healer Murphy chuckled. “You’re strong enough now for me to do something about the scarring. If you want.”

Hermione’s hand went immediately to her side. “You can get rid of the scar?”

“Sure.” Healer Murphy said. “It wasn’t magically made, so there’s nothing to prevent me from charming it away.”

Hermione had already prepared herself to live with the large scar on her abdomen. “I guess I never thought about it being removed.”

“Like I said, I don’t have to.” Healer Murphy explained. “It’s just an option.”

Hermione thought about it for a moment. “I… don’t think so. Scars are a part of life.”

Healer Murphy smiled. “Miss Granger, I’m sure you have heard this before, but you are much too wise for your age.”

Hermione smiled sadly, “I think my generation learnt their life lessons early.”

“You’re probably right.” Healer Murphy sighed. “I see more teens with that same haunted look in their eyes than I care to.”

“I don’t looked haunted.” Hermione argued.

“Yes you do Miss Granger.” Healer Murphy said, “You have every time I’ve seen you. Even right after the battle, when you were all celebrating… you, and Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley. Mr. Malfoy has the same look in his eyes, though I expect it’s for different reasons.”

Hermione considered this, she hadn’t noticed the change among her friends. “I guess… I didn’t notice.”

“I’d imagine that it wasn’t a change that took place overnight.” Healer Murphy explained.

“True.” Hermione agreed. “Well, regardless. I don’t think you need to remove the scar.”

Healer Murphy nodded. “I’m not quite ready to let you apperate yet, but I think you could Floo by the end of the week.”

“That’s fantastic! Then I can get back to school!” Herman gushed.

“Well, we’ll see what happens between now and Friday.” Healer Murphy laughed. “No running around yet.”

“I promise.” Hermione grinned.

“And I also want you to start your Legilimency again tomorrow.” Healer Murphy said.

“About that…” Hermione said, “I don’t think it’s going to help me.”

“Who is the Healer in this conversation?” Healer Murphy asked.

“You are. But that’s not my point.” Hermione said. “There are things that I must conceal. Things that are classified. I don’t think it’s going to help because I must Occlude my mind to most of the things the Healer is looking for.”

“I can get you an Auror Healer.” Healer Murphy explained. “They have clearance to work with classified information.”

“It’s not that simple.” Hermione tried to explain. “Even most of the Aurors don’t know these details. There’s only about five people in the world who do. I can’t compromise the information, not even for my own well being.”

“Well, that does put us in a difficult position.” Healer Murphy acquiesced.

“I had another idea though.” Hermione went on. “The few memories I can recall, have been brought on by a tangible connection; a touch or a smell triggers them. I think if I went back to the Manor, it would trigger them all.”

“Well, that was my last resort plan.” Healer Murphy admitted. “But to be honest, I wasn’t sure it was worth the possible trauma. You reacted so badly to finding out that’s where you had been.”

“I was in shock.” Hermione admitted. “And honestly, I think going back to the Manor would help me with some of my other—personal issues—as well.”

“Well, we’ll consider it.” Healer Murphy said, after contemplating for a moment. “Lets focus on getting you back to Hogwarts first. I’ll be back on Friday to see how you’re doing. I don’t think you need me daily anymore.”

Hermione nodded. “Ok, I’ll see you Friday.”

“You can move about the house, as long as you’re careful.” Healer Murphy told her. “And no climbing stairs. Get someone to levitate you.”

Hermione smiled. “Will you tell that mob downstairs, otherwise they won’t let me out of here.”

Healer Murphy laughed. “Yes, I’ll let them know. It’s nice to see that someone is keeping an eye on you.”

She packed up her kit, gave Hermione some potion refills, and headed out the door.

Hermione grinned, and threw back the covers. She couldn’t wait to go somewhere else in the house. I can eat lunch at the table!

She looked around the room, and realized she didn’t have any proper clothes with her. Disappointed that she would have to go about in pajamas, she picked up the robe Draco had gotten her, and wrapped it around herself. Before she knotted it, she pulled up her pajama top, and inspected her scar in the warped old mirror on the dressing table.

It was a large scar, about six inches, and jagged. Draco said it had been from a pair of pruning shears that she’d had in her hand when she’d been trying to escape.

“She couldn’t remove that?” Came Draco’s voice from the door.

“She offered.” Hermione said, blushing and pushing her top back down over her stomach. “I told her to leave it as it is.”

“You want the scar?” Draco asked, incredulous.

“Well, it’s not as if I don’t have others.” Hermione said, holding up her arm. “Besides, scars just show that you were stronger than the thing that tried to hurt you.”

“Well that’s a very enlightened idea.” Draco said, crossing his arms.

“You don’t like it?” Hermione asked, looking worried.

“That’s not what I mean Hermione,” Draco sighed, pulling her into his arms. “Of course your scars show that you’re strong. I just meant that I was surprised you wouldn’t remove it since you have the choice.”

“I’m Muggleborn Draco,” Hermione explained. “I grew up with the idea that scars are a part of life, not something that can be magicked away.”

“That makes sense.” Draco said, giving her a squeeze. “Now, Healer Murphy said you're allowed to be up and about?”

“Yes! I want to eat lunch in the kitchen like a real person!” Hermione grinned. “I was getting so tired of eating off a tray like a convalescent.”

“Ok, I’ll take you downstairs.” Draco said, keeping an arm around her as the left the room. “Healer Murphy said no stairs.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “She said no climbing stairs, I’m quite sure I can make it down with no problem.”

“You probably could.” Draco said with a smirk, “But I’m not letting you test that until Healer Murphy says its okay!”

As soon as he said that, he hooked an arm behind Hermione’s knees and swept her into his arms.

Hermione sighed. “You could just levitate me down you know, rather than lugging me around like a sack of potatoes.”

“You’re a very light sack of potatoes.” Draco teased. “Besides, I thought you liked doing things the Muggle way.”

Hermione simply rolled her eyes in annoyance as Draco descended the stairs and headed into the kitchen.

Installed at one end of the table, surrounded by parchment, Harry was trying to catch up on correspondence.

“Hey, she lives!” He teased as he looked up.

“Ha, bloody, ha.” Hermione grumbled as Draco set her on her feet. She pulled out a chair near Harry. “What are you working on?”

“Trying to catch up on mail.” Harry said, dipping his quill.

“Too much fan mail Potter?” Draco joked, a bit of the old cynic in his tone.

“More or less.” Harry said, honestly. “Mostly requests for interviews.”

“Oh the poor Boy-who-lived.” Hermione teased. “No trouble from Skeeter, I hope?”

“No,” Harry grinned. “She’s conspicuously absent.”

“Why doesn’t Skeeter bother you?” Draco asked, curiously.

“Because Hermione blackmailed her into leaving us alone.” Harry laughed.

“You could have been in Slytherin!” Draco teased. “Blackmail is something we master in first year!”

“Hmmm, thanks but no thanks.” Hermione laughed. “I look terrible in green.”

“So what’s on the agenda for the afternoon?” Harry asked, capping his ink bottle.

“Lunch!” Hermione said eagerly. “Then, who knows? Too bad you don’t have a TV.”

“Yeah, I tried it.” Harry laughed. “Too much magic in these walls. I never could get it to work properly.”

Hermione laughed. “I guess it’s more books then. Unless I could convince someone to go to Hogwarts and pick up my homework?”

“I’ll consider it, after lunch.” Draco said.

Hermione grinned. “Really?!”

“Really will I consider it?” Draco asked seriously, “Yes, but you’ve been sitting in bed for the past few weeks. We’ll see how you handle being up and around.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“He’s right ‘Mione.” Harry said. “And besides, I need you to stay here this afternoon Malfoy. We have a raid planned, and we need all hands on deck."

“So you’re leaving her unguarded?” Draco asked harshly.

“No, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Harry said. “You’re still deputized, Kingsley kept it on the books intentionally. Unless you think you can’t protect her on your own, our plan is to leave you with a set of emergency Portkeys.”

“She’s not strong enough to Portkey yet.” Draco pointed out.

“Hello, sitting right here!” Hermione interjected.

“I know she’s not, but an emergency Portkey is better than capture, is it not?” Harry pointed out.

“True.” Draco said, “And we haven’t had any interest in this building anyway.”

“Pardon me, third party present in this conversation!” Hermione tried again.

“None at all, and we’re not acting on a tip.” Harry continued, “So there’s no reason to suspect a setup.”

“YO!” Hermione shouted, sparks shooting from the end of her wand.

Both men turned to look at her, surprised.

“Will you both please stop talking about me like I’m not here and capable of defending myself!” Hermione said angrily. “I have gotten both of you out of plenty of scrapes, I can activate a Portkey on my own in an emergency.”

“I know that ‘Mione,” Harry said softly, “But you’re under sanctioned Ministry protection. There’s specific protocols that have to be followed.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ok, Auror Potter.”

“‘Mione, don’t be like that!” Harry pleaded. “You know I’m just doing my job!”

“Whatever you say Auror Potter.” Hermione said, getting up from the table. “You and Deputy Malfoy can discuss it to your hearts content.”

She angrily banged out of the kitchen and into the hall, where they heard Kreacher denying her access to the stairs. She stormed into the Parlor, and they heard the door slam.

Draco sighed. “She hates being unable to help.”

Harry nodded in agreement. “I’m not used to her anger being directed at me.”

“I’ll keep her safe.” Draco said, sitting across from Harry. “What do you need me to do.”

Chapter 28: Chapter 28
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Hermione sat on a large wingback chair in the drawing room. She knew that Harry and Draco were just trying to keep her safe, but she hated being treated like an invalid.

This is it from now on. She thought. You can’t join in the fight anymore, so you’re just going to sit there like some damsel in distress while the men decided what to do with you. Stupid Cruciatis Poisoning.

“Hermione?” Draco asked tentatively, knocking on the door.

Hermione glanced at him and then turned to stare at the hearth.

“Hermione, don’t be upset.” Draco pleaded gently. “You know we’re just trying to protect you.”

“By treating me like a child?” Hermione asked, still staring into the fire.

“Look, try to see this from our point of view.” Draco said, sitting down across from her. “We both love you, we feel very powerless right now, when all we can do is hide you away.”

You feel powerless?!” Hermione snapped. “I’ve been sitting in bed for the past three weeks! No one will even let me get up on my own! Suddenly you’re all treating me like I’m made of spun glass, and do you know what the worst part is?”

Draco shook his head.

“The worst part is that you’re all right!” Hermione cried. “I’m useless now, I can’t fight, I can’t be anywhere that I might even chance getting hit with the Cruciatis Curse. So the life that I’ve lived since I was eleven is done, my fight is done, and I have to let others carry on on my behalf.”

Draco looked at the floor.

“Say something!” Hermione demanded.

“Well, it’s not exactly the same thing, but I know how you feel. Being suddenly expected to change your ways, and be happy about it.” Draco said softly. “I know it hurts.”

Hermione felt her anger slipping away. Of course Draco understands. He lives with this every day, in his own way.

“You know, the thing is—I was happy to come home, go to school, pretend like it didn’t happen. Like the war didn’t happen.” Hermione sighed. “But it never quite goes away, every little noise, every smell. They’re all triggers.”

Draco reached across and took her hand in his.

“We slept in here.” Hermione said suddenly. “Right after the ministry fell, and we’d just gone into hiding. We were too afraid to sleep alone.”

“You slept in here?” Draco asked, surprised.

“Yes.” Hermione said, looking around the room. “The boys slept on the floor, and gave me the sofa cushions.”

Draco didn’t know how to respond, so he just squeezed her hand.

“It’s always been the three of us,” Hermione said sadly. “Now they’re off training to be Aurors, and I’m left behind.”

“Well, if it really bothers you, you know Kingsley would let you join the department.” Draco pointed out. “Probably yesterday.”

Hermione smiled sadly. “No, I can’t. Not as an Auror anyway.” She briefly explained her susceptibility to the Cruciatis Curse.

“Merlin, ‘Mione.” Draco crossed the space between them and drew her into a hug. “I’m so sorry.”

“There’s nothing for it now.” Hermione said. “I’m a useless lump, and require a load of people to hover over me.”

“You know that’s not true.” Draco argued. “If you could apperate we wouldn’t be in this mess. It’ll only be for a short while more.”

Hermione nodded.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” Draco said with a smile.

“Tolkein.” Hermione laughed.

“Just… think of yourself as Bilbo, adjusting to a new life after his adventure.” Draco said, with a smirk.

Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it.” Hermione quoted back to him.

“Ok, so there’s still more to the story.” Draco agreed. “But you don’t know what it is yet, you just know what it isn’t.”

Hermione burst out laughing. “That was a very Dumbledoreish thing to say.”

“Well in that case we’re all doomed.” Draco laughed. “I’m sorry we talked over you.”

“I’m sorry I reacted disproportionately.” Hermione said.

Draco nodded. “Do you still want some lunch?”

Hermione grinned. “Yes, lets go back in before Harry leaves.”

Draco watched her leave, concern still written on his face.

By the time Friday came around, Hermione was going stir-crazy again. She was tired of being carried up and down stairs, and tired of being cooped up.

The Auror department raid had proven quite successful, and they had nabbed a few more Death Eaters, though Yaxley still evaded capture. Hermione was still officially under Ministry Protection until all the Death Eaters were caught, but their numbers were slowly dwindling.

She had holed herself up in the Library that afternoon, and had lost track of time. When Healer Murphy appeared in the Floo with Harry, Draco led her up to the third floor.

"Tell me you're giving her permission to travel!" Draco joked as they ascended the stairs.

"We'll see how she looks." Healer Murphy laughed.

"How who looks?" Hermione asked, as they came into the Library.

"You." Draco teased. "I was just pleading with your Healer here to have mercy and let you out before you jinx us all."

"Ha, bloody, ha Draco." Hermione rolled her eyes, shutting the book she had been reading. "Sorry, I lost track of time!"

"It's no worry." Healer Murphy said. "I'm glad to see that you're not overexerting yourself."

"No chance of that around here." Hermione grumbled.

"Mr. Malfoy, if you could give us a moment?" Healer Murphy said, setting her kit on a table.

"Sure thing." Draco said, winking at Hermione.

"He seems to be much improved as well." Healer Murphy noted.

"Yeah, I discovered something that helped him get through the roughest of his withdrawals, although it's not terribly practical." Hermione explained.

"Really?" Healer Murphy asked, sounding surprised. "What did you do?"

"I used my Patronus to alter his mood." Hermione said, explaining how it had worked.

"Interesting." Healer Murphy said, "I never thought of that. It's a simple enough concept, in theory, if one can perform the charm."

"The charm is easy enough to teach." Hermione pointed out.

"I don't know, it's a Newt level charm, and most people can't manage it even then." Healer Murphy countered.

"I dunno," Hermione shrugged. "Most of my year learnt it in fifth year."

"You're joking!" Healer Murphy laughed.

"No, not at all." Hermione said seriously. "That was the year that the ministry interfered at Hogwarts, prior to Riddle coming back. They wouldn't teach us practical defense, so we formed our own group and taught each other secretly."

"And you taught the Patronus Charm?" Healer Murphy asked, incredulous.

"Yes, well the dementors were something of a problem that year." Hermione explained.

"Well, I must hand it to you, you are a formidable lot." Healer Murphy chuckled.

Hermione shrugged. "We just did what we had to."

"And then some, I'd say." Healer Murphy said. "Now lets get this physical done."

She thoroughly checked Hermione out from head to toe, prodding at her side a bit, and making her stretch and move around.

"Well Miss Granger," She said, when she had completed her work. "You're about 80 percent healed, physically anyway."

"Okay." Hermione said, taking a seat. "So what does that mean?"

"It means I'm going to ok you for minimal floo travel, no apperation yet." Healer Murphy explained. "You can go back to school, but I want you to spend the weekend in the Hospital wing so that Madame Pomfrey can watch for any adverse affects."

Hermione grinned, she would finally get back to some semblance of normalcy.

"However, you must be completely honest with her and yourself. If you are feeling weak, dizzy, sore... anything, you must get yourself checked by Poppy. I'll still be stopping by once a week to check on your progress as well." She continued, "Once you've completely healed, we will revisit the option of taking you to Malfoy Manor, but not before I'm convinced you are truly strong enough physically."

Hermione nodded vigorously, "I promise!"

"Ok, get your things packed up." Healer Murphy said. "I'm going to go back to St. Mungos and get a few things to bring with to Hogwarts for you, and then I'll take you through the Floo."

"Ok!" Hermione grinned, and hopped up.

"Take it easy, or I'll change my mind!" Healer Murphy said, with a wink.

"Sorry! I'll be careful!" Hermione said.

"I'll see you in an hour or so." Healer Murphy said.

Hermione practically skipped out the door, and followed her down the stairs.

"Thanks Healer Murphy!" Hermione grinned, as Harry led her back through the Floo.

"Don't thank me yet." She laughed. "You've never done an emergency Floo transport."

Hermione had no idea what she meant, but she hurried to find Draco.
"Well you look happy Little Dragon," Draco said, when Hermione found him in his room. "I take it Murphy let you loose?"

"We're going back to Hogwarts!" Hermione grinned. "In an hour!"

"Are we now?" Draco teased. "Are you sure you don't want to stay here? Have a bit of a rest?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just get ready to go!"

Draco chuckled as Hermione disappeared to go pack her things.

Harry knocked on the door. "So how do you want to do this?"

"I was hoping you'd have a good idea about that." Draco said honestly. "I can't exactly appear at Hogwarts the same moment she does. It would make too many people suspicious."

"Yeah." Harry scratched the back of his head. "No one knows why you left, right?"

"Not that I know of." Draco said. "It's not like the Slytherins are exactly my biggest fans these days."

"Hmmm. Well, we could say that when your probation was lowered, you left to check on family affairs." Harry suggested.

"I think it's going to need to be a bit more involved than that." Draco pointed out. "After all, the Prophet suggested I helped with the "Death Eater Escape".

"Point." Harry said, "Well, what if we go the other direction. Say we brought you in for questioning regarding Hermione's disappearance."

"That could work." Draco said, leaning against the wall. "And it could be used to your benefit too, if you release a statement saying you held me for questioning and then released me. I'd imagine Yaxley would make some sort of move after seeing that."

"You think?" Harry said, switching to Auror mode. "I wonder if Kingsely would be on board. It would be ideal if you could reach out to Yaxley after you return to Hogwarts. Try and keep him trusting you."

"I don't know if Kingsley would go for it, but I'm game if he is." Draco said, pushing off the wall. "I'd better go give Hermione a heads up. At the very least, I need to go back to Hogwarts a few days from now."

Harry nodded, "I'll chat to Kingsley and see what he thinks."

"Why don't you just come with me?" Hermione asked. "We can tell everyone that they dropped us off at the same time for convenience."

"You know why, Little Dragon." Draco said softly. "Everyone is safer this way, particularly you!"

"I don't like it when you're away from me." She replied. "You start slipping."

"I promise I won't." Draco said. "I'm just going to sit in my room and read."

Hermione sighed. "Ok, but if you turn up at Hogwarts all angsty you'll be in trouble!"

Draco chuckled, pulling her close. "Trouble you say? What kind of trouble? This sounds interesting!"

"Be serious Draco!" Hermione pleaded. "You have to take care of yourself!"

"It's only going to be a few days Hermione." Draco whispered into her ear. "You can show me how much you missed me when I get there!"

Hermione blushed at his tone.

"It is far too easy to make you blush." He chuckled. "Come on, I'm sure the Auror squadron is downstairs ready to take you back to Hogwarts."

Hermione reached for her bag, but Draco snatched it up before she could get to it. "You're still meant to be taking it easy."

"It's not even that heavy Draco!" Hermione argued.

"Sure, but I'd carry your bag all the time if I could." Draco pointed out. "If we didn't need to hide at school I'd carry your book bag, like a gentleman should! At least let me carry it downstairs."

Hermione caught a touch of sadness in Draco's eye, she got the sense that he felt guilty that she had been carrying her own books all year.

"Ok." She acquiesced.

"No argument?" Draco asked, surprised.

"It seems important to you." Hermione shrugged.

Draco smiled, and took her hand as they went down the stairs.

"I can't reconcile this in my head." Ron said when they reached the bottom of the stairs. "You two are meant to hate each other. You throw the whole world off balance by not fighting."

Draco was about to make a snide comment to Ron, when Hermione started giggling.

"Ron, since when have you ever been able to understand human emotion?" She laughed.

"But seriously," Ron said, with a grin. "At least call him Ferret or something!"

"I'll call him whatever I want Ronald!" Hermione said, sticking her nose in the air and squeezing Draco's hand.

"So, what's the plan then?" Draco asked, awkwardly.

"Just waiting for Harry to get back with the Healers." Ron explained. "I'm just going to check the perimeter."

After he disappeared, Hermione turned and grinned at Draco.

"What are you so happy about?" Draco asked, curiously.

"Ron was taking the Mickey!" She said, still smiling. "He hasn't done that... well, in a long time. That's as close as we're going to get to approval from him. He's finally acting normal around me again!"

"You mean since he kissed you?" Draco asked, sounding strained.

"Yes." Hermione said. "Things are finally getting back to normal!"

"And that's good?" Draco asked, trying to ascertain Hermione's feelings.

"Merlin yes!" Hermione said. "There's been this awkwardness hanging over us since the battle. Maybe he'll go find himself someone now!"

Draco nodded, his feelings a tangle of confusion.

Just then the fireplace roared to life, and Harry came through, followed by Healer Murphy, and Kingsley.

Without Hermione seeing where he had come from, Ron appeared in front of the newly arrived group and quickly challenged each of them to check for imposters. Hermione was impressed; Ron was acting like a professional.

“All ready then, ‘Mione?” Harry asked, after Ron had cleared him.

Hermione nodded. She was ready for this ordeal to be over.

“Alright Miss Granger, give your bag to Auror Potter, he’s going through first.” Explained Healer Murphy, “And then I’ll be bringing you through.”

Draco handed Hermione’s bag to Harry, and turned to give her a hug. “I’ll be just a few days behind you.”

Hermione nodded, and then turned to Healer Murphy. “Ok, let’s do this!”

"Ok, I'll put you in a body bind to minimize how much you get knocked around, and then we'll follow Auror Potter." Healer Murphy explained.

Hermione wasn't thrilled with the idea of being put in a body bind, but she was anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

"Petrificus Totalus" Healer Murphy called, and Hermione felt her arms lock at her sides.

Harry tossed in the Floo powder and disappeared into the flames with Hermione's bag.

Kingsley helped Healer Murphy maneuver Hermione into the grate, and then they were spinning, which felt odd as she couldn't move. At last they tumbled out of the grate, and Harry caught Hermione with a charm.

Healer Murphy quickly canceled the body bind, and Hermione shook her head to clear it from all the spinning.

"Welcome back Miss Granger." Madame Pomfrey said, coming over to shake Healer Murphy's hand.

"Thank you." Hermione said with a smile. "It's good to be home."

"I've got a bed ready for you, just there." Madam Pomfrey said, gesturing to a bed in the far corner, which already had a stack of books beside it.

"Thanks." Hermione said, resigning herself to a few more days in bed, as she knew that Madam Pomfrey wasn't about to let her charge leave the Hospital wing without her healer's permission.

Harry followed Hermione over, and set her bag down next to the bed.

"Well, finally back to Hogwarts." He said.

"Yes, I'm so relieved." Hermione said. "Not that I minded staying with you, but it'll be nice to not have to be under 'ministry protection'."

"You're still under an order of protection, 'Mione." Harry explained. "Kingsley will be here in a bit to explain it to you."

"What can the Auror department do at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked, curious. "I mean, this is the safest place I can think of to be!"

"Well, we always have an eye on Hogwarts." Harry said with a smirk. "But specifically, you'll have an Auror staying on site until this mess is cleared up."

"They're not going to follow me around are they?" Hermione asked, aghast.

"No." Harry chuckled. "They'll mostly be keeping an eye on the Slytherins actually."

"Oh." Hermione said, sitting on the edge of the mattress. "Well I guess that makes sense. Who's going to be here?"

"Dunno yet." Harry said. "Kingsley is still sorting that out. I volunteered, but he said that since I'm still technically a Trainee, I can't be on assignment alone."

Hermione smirked. "Either that, or he doesn't want you to spending all your time hanging out with Ginny."

"Yeah, that might have something to do with it." Harry said with a wink. "No one is listening, how are you really feeling 'Mione?"

"Honestly?" Hermione said, "I'm exhausted, but I'm so happy to be able to get back to my schoolwork. I was so stressed not knowing what I was missing."

Harry sat next to her and nudged her shoulder. "You promise you'll behave, and not run yourself ragged?"

"Yeah, yeah." Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"I mean it Hermione." Harry said, seriously. "I know how tempting it is to bust out of here, but you're nearly free."

"I know." Hermione smiled at her friend's concern. "I'll be careful."

"And I know you're tired of hearing it, but I have to remind you one more time..." Harry said hesitantly. "Please be careful around Malfoy. I know you think he's changed, and I'll admit that he's been very helpful these past few weeks protecting you, but he's still a Death Eater."

"It's always going to be that way, isn't it?" Hermione looked at the floor. "Everyone sees the Death Eater, and not the boy."

"I just don't want you to get hurt." Harry said softly.

"He won't hurt me." Hermione said sadly. "You don't like it when people judge you by your scar. This is the same thing."

"Maybe." Harry admitted, "But he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. Not with you."

"It's nice to have a big brother." Hermione teased. "Even if he's a little overbearing at times."

"Well, I wouldn't be much of a brother if I didn't point one more thing out to you." Harry said, with a small smile.

"What's that?" Hermione asked.

"You know Hermione." Harry said. "You know Ron is in love with you."

Hermione sighed. "I don't know that Harry. I can guess. I can assume. But he's never given me the slightest hint that he's interested. We kiss one time, and then he doesn't talk to me for weeks. At a certain point, a girl just can't take the rejection."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, you're right. But do you think Malfoy really loves you?"

Hermione mumbled something.

"What?" Harry asked, trying to meet her gaze.

"I said, his Patronus is an Otter." Hermione said softly.

Harry went a stiff beside Hermione. "You're serious?"

Hermione nodded.

"I didn't know Malfoy could produce a Patronus." Harry said, after a moment.

"Well, he can't always." Hermione admitted. "He hasn't been able to do one since the Manor. I don't know if he'll be able to do it again. But he showed me once, the night before the raid."

"Wow." Harry said, shocked. "It's like Severus, all over again."

Hermione nodded.

"Ok. Well, I trust your judgement 'Mione." Harry said, after a moment. "Just... let me know if I need to knock him around at any point."

Hermione shoved Harry jokingly, and he got up to head back to the fireplace. "Oh, Kingsley wanted me to give you these." He handed her a stack of pamphlets.

"What's this?" Hermione asked, leafing through them.

"The Legal Apprenticeship, for the DMLE." Harry said with a wink. "Kingsley wants you in the department, in any way he can get you."

Hermione laughed, "Tell him I'll think about it."

Harry gave Hermione a hug, "Well, back to work."

"See you soon?" Hermione asked. Despite the reasoning, she had enjoyed getting to see so much of her two best friends.

"I'll be around." Harry said with a smile.

Hermione turned to the pile of books at the side of the bed, sitting on top was a note in Ginny's handwriting. Thought you might like to get a jump on your work, the parchment read, followed by a detailed list of the assignments she had missed.

"Thank Merlin." Hermione muttered, pulling her feet up onto the bed and opening her Transfiguration book in her lap.

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Chapter 29: Chapter 29
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Draco was feeling more than a little anxious being away from Hermione, particularly because he was still staying in Harry's house. Despite the two having reached something of an understanding, there was a lot of history keeping them from being anything but semi-tolerant of each other.

Draco just kept to the room he had been given, writing Hermione the occasional letter, and sending her the daily gifts he had promised. He was having to get a bit more creative in what he bought her; the clothing and books he usually sent were fine, but he wanted each gift to have some meaning to it.

Letters in reply were filled with news of Hogwarts, and classes. Hermione had quickly caught up on her missing lessons while captive in the hospital wing, and had jumped right back into her classes in without skipping a beat. She also reported that the attention she had received upon her return had waned a bit, and things were starting to feel more normal.

Draco hoped that was the case, because he figured his return would give him a fair bit of infamy and subject him to the gossip chain for quite a while. He, Harry, and Kingsley had decided that the best thing to do was to return Draco to Hogwarts during mealtime, and give him a bit of a shakedown. They assumed that the students would overhear the commotion in the entry, and the rumors would handle the rest.

Draco was even hoping that it might restore his credibility with the Slytherins to some extent. While he no longer felt the desire to join in on most of their escapades, he did still have to live with them, and a bit of respect would make it much easier.

"You want dinner?" Came Harry's voice at the door.

"Sure." Draco said. He wasn't really hungry, but he hadn't been downstairs all day, and he didn't want Harry to think he was avoiding him.

He got up from the desk he'd been sitting at, sealing his latest letter to Hermione. "Can you send this when you go in tomorrow?"

"Sure thing." Harry said, pocketing it.

The went down to the kitchen in silence, and saw two places laid at the table.

"No Ron tonight?" Draco asked, trying not to sound relieved.

"No, he's doing stealth and concealment drills." Harry explained. "Shadowing one of the senior Aurors."

"Ah." Draco said, pulling out his chair to sit. "Isn't that a little redundant?"

"Not particularly." Harry laughed. "Hermione did all the concealment charms for us last year."

Draco perked up as Kreacher laid a platter of roast on the table. "Thanks Kreacher."

Kreacher didn't respond, just bowed and began serving them.

"I can do that," Harry said, halfheartedly.

"No Master!" Kreacher insisted, pushing his hand away from the tray. "It is Kreacher's job!"

Harry sighed, and once Kreacher was gone, he looked over at Draco. "Is there any way to get him to stop calling me Master?"

Draco chuckled. "Not that I know of."

"Bummer." Harry said, smirking and digging into his roast.

They ate in silence for several minutes, until Draco chimed in, "So is everything all set for Monday?"

"It should be." Harry said, taking a sip of pumpkin juice. "We had some of the trainees go to one of Rita Skeeter's known hangouts and 'gossip' about you being picked up in relation to Hermione's kidnapping. I'm expecting to see it in tomorrows prophet."

"Hmmm, yes she wouldn't be able to resist that one." Draco said thoughtfully.

"Then of course, Kingsley will be 'forced' to issue a statement in response explaining that you weren't actually involved, and that you're being released." Harry continued. "That should get everyone nice and stirred up by Monday."

"Seems like you've thought of everything!" Draco pointed out.

"It's going to be rough on you, for a few days when you get back." Harry pointed out.

"That's nothing new." Draco admitted. "If anything I'm hoping the Slytherins will ease up a bit if they think I was involved."

"Well, that could only be good I guess." Harry shrugged.

"Well, it'd be nice to be able to walk through my own common room without getting jinxed." Draco explained.

"That bad?" Harry asked.

"It had calmed a bit by Christmas, but yeah." Draco said, stabbing at his roast. "I spent a lot of time hiding out."

"Sorry." Harry said, not really knowing what else to say.

"It's no more than I deserve." Draco shrugged, standing up and clearing his plate. He wandered upstairs to kill more time before bed.

Hermione looked anxiously at her watch for the third time since she had sat down to breakfast.

"'Mione!" Ginny hissed across the table. "Looking at your watch won't make the time go any faster. You're going to draw attention to the fact that you're waiting for something."

Hermione immediately dropped her hand; she knew that Draco was returning today, sometime during breakfast. But she wasn't supposed to know, or react. She spooned some eggs onto her plate absently.

"It'll be fine." Ginny insisted, "Harry planned the whole thing out. He wouldn't mess this up."

Hermione nodded, still distracted, and tried to focus on eating. After what felt like an eternity, she heard a commotion in the entry way.

"Get your hands off me Potter." Came Draco's voice, loud and angry.

"Relax Malfoy," Harry said, his voice commanding authority. "You know why we have to do this."

"Just trying to abuse your authority." Draco snapped.

Ginny was red in the face, trying not to laugh. "Drama queens much?"

"Isn't that kind of the point?" Hermione whispered.

With a bang, the doors to the Great Hall burst open, and a very angry Draco Malfoy stormed in and sat at the end of the Slytherin table.

Harry and Dawlish followed him into the room, but went up to the head table to speak with Professor McGonagall.

Voices rose to a slight roar as the students quickly exchanged information, trying to figure out where Draco had been. They were surprised to have the Aurors in their midst, and most of them hadn't seen Harry in his Uniform yet.

Hermione, in the confusion, risked a glance across to Draco who was putting on a very convincing display of sulking.

"What are you lot looking at?" Draco snapped loudly at those sitting near him on the bench.

At that moment, Professor McGonagall stood up and called for silence, and after getting no response, used a sonorus charm to shout above the din, "That's enough, cease with this gossiping and get to class!"

Of course that only meant that the gossip would spread further, as was her intent. As the students got up to leave, they all glanced at Draco curiously, and he made a great show of glaring dangerously at all of them.

As the hall slowly emptied out, Draco finally stood up and 'accidentally' crashed into Hermione in the doorway.

"You dropped this Granger." He said, handing her a crumpled bit of parchment.

"Thanks." She said, looking confused.

"Just watch where you're going next time." He snapped, stalking up the stairs.

Hermione stuck the parchment in her pocket, and once she was out of sight of most of the students she smoothed it open and saw his elegant handwriting.

Our Library, Lunch? I love you.

He hadn't signed it. Clever Hermione thought. That way if anyone is being nosy and reading over my shoulder they won't know it was from him.

She smiled to herself, knowing that after just a few short classes she would finally get to see Draco after a long week apart. She tucked the note back into her pocket and hurried to Ancient Runes.

Downstairs in the Slytherin dungeon, Draco was putting his things away, and checking over the belongings he had left behind. He still had a few minutes to spare before he had to be upstairs for Divination.

He quickly locked his things in his trunk, and looked around the mostly deserted dormitory. With the few returning Slytherins, he only shared the room with Blaise, something he was grateful for. While certainly not friendly towards Draco, Blaise was not cruel. The two roommates simply tolerated each other in silence most of the time.

So Draco was surprised when Blaise suddenly came into the room, with so little time before class.

"Where were you?" He asked.

It took Draco a moment to respond; other than one word interactions, it was the first time Blaise had spoken to him since the battle.

“The aurors picked me up when Granger went missing.” Draco explained, giving his over story. “They figured I had something to do with it.”

“Did you?” Blaise asked.

“No, I’m trying to get the bloody Ministry off my back.” Draco said, his voice cold. “Why would I bother with Granger when I just have to hold out until the end of term to get off probation?”

“Ok.” Blaise said, turning to leave.

“Blaise, wait.” Draco said, “Why the sudden curiosity?”

“I just like to know who I’m living with.” Blaise said, with no emotion in his voice.

“Blaise, you’ve known me since we were six.” Draco pointed out.

“Yes, I have.” Blaise said, leaving the room.

That was odd. Draco thought, hurrying to make it to class on time.

The rumor mill was working overtime, and by lunch it seemed the whole school knew Draco’s cover story. He ducked into the great hall to make an appearance at lunch, and quickly ate.

Hermione had already bolted down her food and left, which wasn’t really a surprise to anyone as she’d been spending all her free time in the library trying to catch up on the things she’d missed. When Ginny pointed out that she had already turned in all her missed assignments, Hermione argued that she was weeks behind on her supplemental reading.

When Draco made it up to the Room of Requirement, he wasn’t surprised to see Hermione with a quill in hand feverishly working on an essay. She dropped the quill at the sound of the door closing and sprang from her seat.

“How are you feeling?” Draco asked, as she launched herself into his arms.

“I’m fine Draco, how are you feeling?” Hermione asked, pulling back so she could meet his eyes.

“I’m just fine.” Draco said, with a smirk. He leaned down and kissed Hermione’s forehead. “I’m happy to have the last few weeks behind us."

"Me too." Hermione agreed, leading Draco to the sofa. She was very aware of his gaze watching her carefully as they crossed the room.

"Inventory complete?" She teased, as they sat down.

"I'm just making sure!" Draco admitted with a smirk. "It wouldn't be the first time you said you where fine when you really weren't."

"Fair enough," Hermione sighed, "But I really am fine. Madame Pomfrey has been keeping a close eye on me, and if she wasn't then Ginny would be."

"Ok, ok." Draco grinned. "I'll lay off the overprotective boyfriend bit."

"Thank you." Hermione smiled. "Now catch me up on the past week, we only have about twenty minutes before we need to be in Defense."

"Ah yes, Defense Against the Dark Arts, the class I always feel the most uncomfortable in. And a double period to boot!" Draco teased.

"You shouldn't feel uncomfortable in DADA." Hermione exclaimed. "You probably have a better understanding of the topic than anyone else in the room. I know you're holding back."

"On some things." Draco admitted. "Others, the Patronus Charm for example, I'm just not built for."

"Hey, you can do a Patronus." Hermione argued.

"Just an example Little Dragon." Draco chuckled.

"Actually," Hermione said, "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."

"About what?" Draco asked, toying with the end of Hermione's braid.

"The Dark Arts." Hermione said. "I want you to teach me some of them."

"Absolutely not." Draco said firmly, coldly.

"Hear me out..." Hermione started.

"I will not." Draco said, cutting her off. "I can't do those spells and I won't let you."

"Draco, just let me explain." Hermione huffed, rolling her eyes. "I want to rewrite the DADA text."

"You... what?" Draco asked, whatever he had been expecting, it hadn't been that.

"Everything we are taught in DADA is useful, but we're only seeing half of the theory. I think people need to better understand the spells they are fighting." Hermione explained. "If students were more knowledgeable about what the Dark spells consist of, they might more readily understand why defense is so important."

Draco had a stony expression that Hermione couldn't read.

"Draco?" Hermione coaxed after a moment.

"You don't think that would just draw curious students to test out dark spells?" Draco asked softly.

"I'm not necessarily suggesting that we include the steps of the spell itself," Hermione elaborated. "More the... effects and general feel behind the spell. But in a more detailed way."

"I still can't do the spells." Draco pointed out, after a moment.

"I'm not asking you to." Hermione said firmly. "I'm asking you to go through them with me, detail everything you know that's outside of the texts. There's not exactly a plethora of dark magic information available at Hogwarts, and I really don't want to wait until I have access to Harry's library. Plus I'd rather have the firsthand descriptions."

Draco sighed. "I'll consider it."

Hermione grinned, and threw her arms around him. "Oh thank you Draco! I just know that we can expand on what is currently being taught!

"Easy there Little Dragon, I said I'd think about it." Draco said, "Why don't you take a breath and get back into the swing of school before you start trying to revolutionize DADA?"

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Hermione responded with a grin.

"Anne Frank again?" Draco asked. "I'm starting to see why you relate to that book."

"She's not wrong." Hermione pointed out.

"Neither am I." Draco responded.

"Touché." Hermione laughed.

All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen.” Draco muttered.

"Matilda?" Hermione asked, questioningly.

Draco nodded.

"I hated that book." Hermione said suddenly.

"Really?" Draco asked, sounding surprised. "I would think you'd relate to it a bit. Brilliant girl who can move things with magic?"

"Well that's just it." Hermione explained. "Muggles don't respond too well to things like that. Let's just say I had a very different experience in school."

"I'll take your word for it." Draco said with a smile. "We should get to class."

"You're right." Hermione said, hopping up. "It's dueling in DADA today!"

"Come on Little Dragon." Draco chuckled, pulling Hermione in for a kiss. "Let's go destroy the rest of the class in dueling."

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank and Matilda, by Roald Dahl.

Chapter 30: Chapter 30
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Hermione was possibly the only one who noticed the constant presence of an Auror on the premises. Her name was Emily Sherman, and she was a third year trainee. Due to the shortage in the department, she had been deemed competent to protect Hogwarts, something she took extremely seriously. She had introduced herself to Hermione, but from then on had remained distant and alert.

Hermione had inquired about her in a letter to Harry and Ron, and they had responded that she was top of the class of third year trainees. Her heart dropped a bit when Harry explained that Emily had been recruited and partially trained by Tonks. It spoke volumes to her commitment and skill that she had not only joined at such a dangerous time, but survived the fall of the ministry.

Draco had seemingly gained a bit of respect back from the Slytherins, who now treated him mostly with indifference. He wasn't sure what to think of their reaction, because it meant they thought he was slipping back into his old ways. However, at the same time it meant that he could go through his day somewhat normally, and he no longer had partners forced on him in potions. In fact, more often than not, he found Blaise willingly sitting at his table in potions.

Finally, one afternoon as they were leaving Potions, Draco noticed that Blaise was waiting for him in the hall as he left. He jerked his head to the side, indicating that Draco should follow him, and turned down the corridor leading deeper into the dungeons. Curious where Blaise was headed, Draco shrugged his shoulders and followed him.

“Where are we going, there’s nothing down here but Snape’s old office.” Draco asked.

Blaise didn’t answer, until they were a bit farther down. He cast a Muffliato around them and the asked, “Are you working with them again?”

“Working with who?” Draco asked, confused.

“The Death Eaters.” Blaise said, as though it were obvious.

“I… I don’t think I can talk to you about that.” Draco said, being evasive.

“Look, there’s a rumor going around that when Granger went missing, she was at your house.” Blaise hissed. “Are you really going to throw your life away like this?”

“Blaise, what are you talking about.” Draco said, putting his ‘Arrogant Malfoy’ façade on. “The Ministry let me go, they obviously can’t pin anything on me.”

“Look, I’ve avoided you this year because I thought you’d turned into a complete Blood Traitor.” Blaise pointed out. “But if siding with Potter was all just a front to stay out of Azkaban, then I apologize. But you must know, throwing your lot back in with the Death Eaters is suicide. The Aurors are rounding them up faster than you can say Hippogryph.”

“I know what I’m doing Zabini.” Draco said, trying to sound angry.

“If you’re trying to get back into the circle, you obviously don’t.” Blaise snapped. “Look, your probation is almost over. If you stay out of trouble, you can get on with your life. Get the hell out of here. I know you hate Mudblood Granger, but killing her is just going to end your life too.”

Draco winced at the word Mudblood.

Blaise thought he’d figured Draco out, so he continued, “Let the Mudblood go, she’s too high profile. Suck it up for the next few months, and then we can get the hell out of here. Go see the world. Your father is obviously off your back, and my mother has a new boyfriend in Italy, so she’ll be out of my hair.”

“Why the sudden interest in being my friend?” Draco asked, redirecting the conversation.

“Well, besides the fact that most of our class is dead or in hiding because they were stupid?” Blaise pointed out. “I know you didn’t want to join when you did. Your father made you.”

“There’s no such thing as an unwilling Death Eater Zabini.” Draco said, though not as harshly as he’d intended.

“Okay, but were you willingly following Voldemort, or were you trying to make your father proud?” Blaise said, cutting right to the point.

Draco didn’t say anything, he hadn’t realized that Blaise had been paying that much attention to him over the years.

“Look, Draco… I don’t remember my father, so I can’t even imagine the pressure of living up to that kind of expectation.” Blaise admitted. “But I’d hate to think that we’ve treated you unfairly all year and driven you away from having some semblance of a normal life. And I think, you and I probably have more in common than you realize.”

“I’ll… keep that in mind.” Draco mumbled.

Blaise canceled the charm, and stalked back up the hallway, leaving a confused Draco in his wake.

“So he just… left?” Hermione asked. “He didn’t say anything else?”

It was after dinner that evening, and after a bit of prodding from Hermione about Draco’s odd mood, he had relayed the whole conversation to her.

“No, and he sat by me at dinner.” Draco said, still sounding confused. “I don’t know what to do about it.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked, genuinely confused. “It sounds like he’s trying to be your friend.”

“I think he is, but that’s a complicated game to play.” Draco sighed.

“How so?” Hermione asked.

“Well, for starters, it would mean acting like a different version of myself.” Draco explained. “He… called you a Mudblood.”

Hermione stiffened at the ugly word, as it hung between them.

“It made me mad.” He admitted. “It took everything in me not to jump to your defense. And that just made me mad at myself.”

“For not defending me, or for wanting to?” Hermione asked softly.

“For not defending you, for such a petty reason as having someone to talk to at dinner.” Draco said, sounding disgusted with himself. “I thought… I thought… ‘I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape’.”

Great Expectations.” Hermione murmured, and threw her arms around Draco, “That isn’t petty at all!”

“You’re not mad at me?” Draco asked, surprised.

“Mad at you for being upset with someone calling me a bad name?” Hermione asked, incredulous. “No. Of course not.”

“But I just stood there, and let him call you that.” Draco said, ducking his head.

“Well, it sounds a bit more complicated than that,” Hermione admitted, “But you’re the one who wants to keep our relationship a secret. I understand that that’s going to create some unusual situations.”

“Hermione, you know why we have to keep this a secret!” Draco whined. “The whole world loves you, and the whole world hates me. And I’m just getting Yaxley’s trust back, how am I going to be a double agent for you if I out myself as a blood traitor?!”

“That’s rubbish, the whole world doesn’t love me.” Hermione blushed, rolling her eyes.

“You don’t think so?” Draco asked. “One of the third years was discussing at dinner, if you would take a picture with him. Apparently he’s been bragging to his cousin at Ilvermorny that he knows you.”

“One kid in America hearing stories about me from his cousin isn’t the same as the whole world loving me.” Hermione pointed out.

“Still.” Draco said sadly. “You know once people find out about us, it’ll become a circus.”

“I don’t know that.” Hermione said stubbornly. “You’re assuming that.”

“You know I’m right ‘Mione.” Draco said softly.

“Well, back to the subject of Blaise.” Hermione said, “I don’t want you to drive away a possible friend because you’re concerned about spying for the Order.”

“You don’t?” Draco asked, agog.

“Of course not!” Hermione said, exasperated. “Draco, you’ve been isolated all year! When we’re not together, I have Neville, and Luna, and Ginny, and Ron, and Harry, and my Parents. You sit in your dorm and read.”

Draco mumbled something.

“What?” Hermione asked, laying a hand on his arm, right over his Dark Mark.

“I’ve never really had a real friend.” Draco admitted softly. “I had Crabbe and Goyle, who were really just goons.”

“I always wondered why you spent time with them.” Hermione admitted. “You may have been a prat when you were younger, but you were always smart. I never understood why you’d hang round with those oafs.”

“Convenience.” Draco sighed. “All our fathers were Death Eaters, so we were thrown together a lot as kids. And then later, they were the only ones who—understood isn’t the right word—the only ones who knew about my assignment in sixth year.”

Hermione nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Draco, I think maybe you shouldn’t spy for the Order.” Hermione said softly. “There is too much to lose, and too little to gain.”

“But you don’t have a spy inside.” Draco pointed out.

“No, but we’ve managed without a spy for a while now.” Hermione explained. “And you know, eventually, you’d have to do something Dark. You saw what it did to Severus, after all those years.”

“Why don’t we put a pin in it, and see what happens.” Draco suggested. “Kingsley won’t let me near anything until I finish out my probation.”

Hermione knew it was a pointless argument, so she nodded. “It’s a Hogsmede weekend next week! Do you want to go to the village? You should get Blaise to go with you!”

“You trying to get rid of me?” Draco teased.

“No!” Hermione groaned. “But if you insist on keeping this a secret, it’s not like we can just cruise into the Three Broomsticks together.”

“I thought you were more of a Hog’s Head girl these days.” Draco chuckled. “Or have you kicked the Fire Whiskey habit.”

“Um, actually…” Hermione’s voice cut off.

“What is it?” Draco pressed.

“Well, I am going to the Hog’s Head.” Hermione admitted. “For an Order meeting.”

“You have got to be kidding me!” Draco cried. “You’ve been back at school for a few weeks, you’re still not even cleared by your Healer yet!”

“Draco, it’s a routine meeting.” Hermione explained. “We’re just getting updates, new codes and things. It’s not a big deal.”

“I want to come with you.” Draco demanded.

“Well, you can’t.” Hermione said sharply.

“Look, I don’t care if people find out about us.” Draco argued. “I’m not going to let you walk into the lions den alone.”

“Draco, don’t be overdramatic.” Hermione sighed. “You can’t come to the meeting because you’re not in the Order.”

Draco groaned. “It’s not such a secret society you know! Everyone knows about you!”

“No, they think they know about us.” Hermione insisted. “But they can only speculate on who is a member, and what we are doing. Which is basically nothing, now that the Aurors are getting their numbers up to snuff.”

Draco growled, crossing his arms. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it.” Hermione said with a smirk. “You do have to accept it.”

Draco sighed, he knew eventually this would come up. Just because Hermione was meant to avoid the Cruciatis didn’t mean she would automatically resign herself to sitting home and knitting.

“Nothing crazy happening?” He asked. “Just a routine meeting?”

“I promise.” Hermione said.

“Fine, but I’m going to come lurk around Hogsmede like a Dementor then.” Draco pouted.

“You can surely think of something more interesting to do on your first day of freedom.” Hermione laughed.

“In Hogsmede?” Draco chuckled. “I’m not exactly a Honeydukes man.”

“There’s a lot of new shops there now.” Hermione said. “So much closed down during the war, and didn’t open back up. You might be surprised.”

“Well, I do need to do some shopping.” Draco said, scratching his chin. “My gift stash is getting low.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yes, heaven forbid you go a single day without giving me a present.”

“I said a gift every day, and I am nothing if not a man of my word!” Draco insisted.

“Hey, how have you been doing that?” Hermione asked, looking curious. “How did you do the dress even? You’ve been under house arrest all this time.”

“Well…” Draco scuffed his toe along the rug. “My house elf has been helping me.”

“Your what?!” Hermione gasped. “Draco… you know how I feel about house elves!”

“Well, she wanted to help.” Draco said, sounding a bit defensive. “And besides, Darby is a free elf.”

“She’s… a free elf?” Hermione stuttered.

“Yes.” Draco said, matter-of-factly. “Darby was my personal elf, she was given to me the day I was born. When I was eleven, I freed her when I left for Hogwarts. I didn’t want my father to be able to give her orders.”

“You freed her when you were eleven?” Hermione was shocked. “And she’s still with you?”

“Well, I explained that I was doing it to protect her from my father.” Draco said softly. “Once I turned 17 and had access to my trust fund, I tried to pay her, but she wouldn’t have it.”

Hermione gaped at Draco.

"What?" Draco asked, looking nervous.

"I just..." Hermione was speechless, and threw her arms around Draco.

"Whoa, it's ok!" Draco said, hugging her back.

"Where is she?" Hermione asked, softly.

"She comes and goes from different Malfoy properties." Draco explained. "Unless I call her, she doesn't have specific chores, so she kind of maintains things at her own discretion."

"And she's been buying my presents?" Hermione inquired.

"Yes, she has access to my accounts, and I tell her things to bring back." Draco said, playing with Hermione's hair.

"Wow." Hermione said. "That's incredible. That's really a testament to the kind of man you are!"

"How do you figure?" Draco asked, softly.

"Well, you freed a slave when you were eleven, to keep her from being abused!" Hermione exclaimed. "And you obviously treat her well enough that she doesn't leave, even though she could! Draco, that says more about you than everything else I've learned this year!"

Draco blushed red. It didn't seem that complex to him. Darby had been his nanny and best friend all in one when he was young. Being an only child in an enormous manor hadn’t afforded him much in the way of entertainment, and she had kept him amused and out of trouble. There was no way he could leave her to his father’s devices.

“I don’t know about that.” He muttered, trying not to blush deeper.

“I do.” Hermione said, squeezing his hand.

“Can we talk about something else?” Draco asked.

“Sure.” Hermione chuckled. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Let’s play some more 20 Questions!” Draco grinned.

The book quoted in this chapter is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Chapter 31: Chapter 31
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Author's Note:
Hello my lovely readers, and thanks for sticking with me after all this time! Truth be told, I've hit a major patch of writers block. In order to force my own hand, I'm going to drop everything that I am uncertain about in one chapter so that it's done and I can quit fussing with it. I actually wrote the last chapter of this story before anything else, and I have been working on slowly developing the circle to get there. So enjoy the very long, if not somewhat rambling chapter, and hopefully this gets us all where we want to go! We're getting closer, but there's a few more twists and turns yet!

Hermione drew her cloak around her tightly as she made her way towards Hogsmede with Ginny, Neville, and Luna. Although it nearing spring, there was still snow in the shadows of buildings, and a chill in the air.

Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, the prospect of an Order meeting, followed by an afternoon in Hogsmede was a great start to the weekend.

Their moods were dashed rather quickly, when they discovered a mob of reporters hanging round the Hogwarts gates.

“Bloody Hell.” Neville muttered.

“How’d they know we’d be going into town?” Hermione grumbled.

“Probably a student with an exceptionally large mouth.” Ginny said angrily. “Luna, any chance you can put them off the scent?”

“I can try.” Luna said dreamily. “I don’t see anyone from the Quibbler there though.”

Hermione shot a patronus off to Professor McGonagall, warning her of the unwelcome visitors. “Nothing to do but lose them.”

“Yes, you’re right.” Luna said. “Let go do lots of boring things, and they’ll lose interest.”

Ginny chuckled. “Well, I need to get some potions ingredients. We can go take an appallingly long time picking out newt eyes.”

“Perhaps you just need the right kind of distraction.” Came Draco’s voice from behind them.

Hermione grinned. “What did you have in mind?”

“Nothing elaborate.” Draco shrugged, and used his wand to begin pelting them with snowballs.

“Malfoy!” Neville yelled, ducking out of the way of the snowballs. “Not cool!”

“Oh for the love of Merlin.” Ginny gasped, grabbing Hermione by the hand, and running for the gates.

Draco was right though, as the group ran down the hill with both him and his snowballs on their heels, the reporters quickly cleared out of the way, lest they be hit with flying snow themselves.

They ducked into the Hogs Head, relatively unscathed, and Draco headed away into town.

“That was quite effective.” Luna smiled. “Lucky Malfoy was there to hassle us at the right moment.

“Er, yes.” Hermione blushed. “Quite.”

“Yes, miraculous.” Ginny chuckled. “Looks like we didn’t give them all the slip though.”

At that moment, Rita Skeeter had ducked into the pub wearing a florescent green cape.

“Well, we’re early, so lets get a drink.” Neville said, moving to a table in the corner.

Aberforth wandered over, with a disgruntled look on his face. “You lot gonna make this a regular thing now?”

“It’s quieter here Ab.” Ginny grinned. “We like privacy.”

Aberforth grumbled under his breath about students filling up his pub, as he wandered away to get them a round of Butterbeer.

The group chatted, and enjoyed their Butterbeer while they waited for the meeting to begin.

“Fancy meeting you here!” Came Ron’s voice from the door, as he and Harry joined them.

“Yes, imagine my surprise.” Hermione laughed, giving Harry a hug. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you in that Uniform.”

“They are a bit much.” Harry said, tugging on the front of his ornate shirt. "Luckily we only have to wear them in training, and on ministry business. Once we're in the field we'll be in plain clothes most days."

"Well, you would be a bit obvious wandering around on patrol in Ministry Robes." Ginny grinned. "That being said, there is something about a Wizard in Uniform."

Harry blushed, and Ron rolled his eyes.

"You're not wrong Ginny." Hermione said with a wink.

"That should be in your recruiting parchments." Neville teased. "Learn how to catch Dark Wizards and Single Witches."

"That mean you're signing on after you graduate Neville?" Harry joked.

"I told you before, I'm considering my options." Neville took a sip of his Butterbeer.

"We've gotta keep the team together!" Ron insisted. "You should sign on! You can always change jobs later."

Neville didn't respond, just indicated behind Ron, where Rita Skeeter had moved to the closest possible table and was trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.

"Not bugging anyone today, are we Skeeter?" Hermione called, casting a non-verbal Muffliato.

"Now she'll think we're discussing something important." Harry pointed out.

"No, she'll just get frustrated and leave." Hermione explained. "She can't print anything about me anyway."

Sure enough, Rita eventually stormed off in a huff, and the group all burst out laughing.

Harry followed her to the door, and then quickly returned.

"Tracking spell?" Ron asked, with a smirk.

"Well, we don't want her wandering in on anything important." Harry shrugged. "Speaking of which, we'd better get upstairs."

They left a pile of sickles on the table and headed for the stairs.

"End of the hall." Aberforth grunted.

They settled in around the room, as the rest of the Order members made their way in.

Draco wandered around Hogsmede, trying to ignore the stares he was getting from passers by. He was quite proud of himself for leaving Hermione to her meeting at the Hogs Head, rather than doing what he really wanted, which was stand outside the door with his wand drawn.

If I don't find something to buy, she'll think I just loitered all day. He thought, as he wandered the snow lined streets.

Hermione had been true to her word, there were lots of new shops. Draco was curious about one at the edge of town that had a distinctly Muggle appearance; it was an odd shopfront, in an all wizard village. He moved closer to the glass, and saw that it seemed to be tattoo parlor.

That would explain it. Draco thought. There weren't really any Wizard tattoo parlors. Most wizards didn't have tattoos, and if they did, they got them in the Muggle world. It was part of why the Dark Mark was so taboo. Perhaps whomever owned this shop was trying to change that.

Draco peered in the window for a few more moments, before the shop keeper noticed him and waved him inside. Draco shrugged, and pushed open the door. There was a tinkle of a bell as he ducked into the warm space. There was odd music playing from the back of the room, and a long counter running most of the front. There were a few racks of earrings and other trinkets, as well as books of tattoo designs.

“You looked curious mate.” The shop keeper said, coming to lean on the counter. “Never seen a Tattoo Parlor before?”

“No, actually.” Draco said. “This is my first visit to Hogsmede in over a year. I didn’t even know you were here.”

“Well that would explain it.” The shop keeper chuckled. “Lots of changes to Hogsmede in the past few months. We weren’t sure how a Muggle business would do in a Wizard community, but we figured some Wizards aren’t entirely comfortable in the Muggle world.”

“You’d be right about that.” Draco said, looking around curiously. “Are you getting much business?”

“Well, not as much as we’d like.” He shrugged. “But we’ve only just opened, and we’re sort of bucking the status quo as it were.”

“How are you doing the Tattoos?” Draco asked, honestly curious. Hermione had mentioned wanting one, but he never really gave much thought to how they were created.

“We’re using Muggle Tattoo machines.” He said. “They run on electricity, which is why we’re on the edge of town. We’ve got a generator rigged up, and Tricia has created some kind of shield spell to protect it from going on the fritz with all the magic around here.”

“Tattoo machines?” Draco asked, peering past the shop keeper.

“Pure blood, are you?” The shop keeper joked.

“Was it that obvious?” Draco smirked.

“Just taking the Mickey.” The shop keeper laughed, putting out his hand. “Name’s Han.”

“Draco.” Draco said, after a moments hesitation.

“I know who you are.” Han said, smirking back.

Draco nodded, his face turning red.

“Don’t worry about it mate.” Han said, with a chuckle. “We all make mistakes.”

Just then a blonde girl, with tattoos covering most of her exposed skin came in the back door of the shop with several parcels in her arms.

“Han you scoundrel, come take these off me before I drop them all!” She called, wobbling a bit. As she turned to hand off the parcels, Draco noticed she had a bright splash of pink in her hair, and was immediately reminded of his late cousin Tonks.

“Keep your socks on!” Han joked, as he took the pile of brown wrapped packages.

The girl, whom Draco assumed was Tricia, was unwinding a red scarf from her neck. Draco would have thought it was a Gryffindor scarf, except it had blue stripes instead of gold.

“Tricia, this is Draco.” Han said, jerking his head in Draco’s direction. “He’s curious about our tattooing process.”

“Oh, well it’s pretty simple.” Tricia said, picking up a bulky silver object and bringing it over to the counter to show him. “It’s electric. We set in sterile needles, and it injects the ink into the skin at a very high rate of speed.”

“Needles?” Draco asked, hesitantly.

“Sure, you have to get the ink deep enough into the skin for the tattoo to take properly.” Tricia shrugged, setting the machine down. “It doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think.”

Draco suddenly was once again awed at Hermione’s bravery. She wanted a tattoo, and knew that it meant a painful process.

“You thinking of getting a tattoo?” Tricia asked.

“If I’m not off my mark,” Han said, with a smirk. “I’d say he’s already got one.”

“Er, yes. I do.” Draco said, blushing again. “I didn’t get it the Muggle way though.”

“I didn’t know there was a magical tattoo method.” Tricia said, leaning on the counter looking curious.

“There’s not one for polite company.” Draco admitted.

Tricia looked confused, but Han chimed in, “This is Draco Malfoy. He was a few years behind me… in Slytherin.”

“Is that the evil green house?” Tricia asked, rolling her eyes.

“Yes, that’s us.” Draco chuckled. “Did you not go to Hogwarts?”

“No, my dad is American and my mum is a NoMaj.” Tricia said with a shrug. “I grew up here, but I went to Ilvermorny; Dad thought that Hogwarts was too prejudiced against Half-Bloods.”

“Hey, not everyone is like that!” Han argued.

“Yes, yes, I know…” Tricia chuckled. “You amazing Hufflepuffs and your love of everyone.”

Han rolled his eyes and said sarcastically. “Now you’ve let the cat out of the bag, and Draco here will take his business elsewhere rather than be seen speaking to a Hufflepuff.”

“I’m not that rude.” Draco chuckled.

“Can I see your tattoo?” Tricia asked, “I’ve never seen a tattoo made with magic.”

“Um, ok…” Draco hesitated.

“Unless it’s somewhere you’d rather not share?” Tricia amended.

“He’s hesitating because his tattoo is a Dark Mark.” Han explained. “The mark of Voldemort’s followers.”

“No kidding?” Tricia asked, looking more curious than anything.

“She has no sense of self preservation.” Han chuckled. “She would have been a Gryffindor, no question.”

“I don’t know about that.” Tricia said. “Aren’t they the ones who are always fighting everyone’s battles? I’m not a Wampus, I’m a Thunderbird.”

“Gryffindors are meant to be very brave.” Han explained.

“Is that true?” Tricia asked Draco.

“It’s true of the Gryffindors I’m familiar with.” Draco shrugged.

“What an odd quality to apply to children.” Tricia shrugged.

Draco decided that he liked Tricia; she had an honest quality to her. He rolled up his sleeve. “Here, you can have a look if you want.”

“Wow!” Tricia said, grabbing Draco’s arm. “This is incredible.”

She prodded at his skin, “It looks like it’s sitting on top of your arm, rather than being sunk into the Dermis.”

Han looked uncomfortable, and Draco smiled sadly. “Sorry.”

“You were released by the Wizengamot, that’s good enough for me.” Han said. “Hell, Potter himself testified on your behalf.”

“Can you teach me this spell?” Tricia asked.

“No.” Exclaimed Draco and Han together.

Tricia looked shocked at their joint reaction.

“Sorry, but I wasn’t kidding when I said this method isn’t for polite company.” Draco gently explained. “It’s a very Dark spell.”

“Oh.” Tricia said, prodding Draco’s arm again. “Bummer.”

“I wondered if those would still be visible, after Potter finished him off.” Han said, sounding curious.

“Yes, they’re permanent.” Draco said. “Although they used to move. It was… disturbing.”

“You ever thought about covering it with something else?” Han asked.

“Is that possible?” Draco asked, surprised.

“I don’t see why not.” Han said. “It’d have to be something rather large, maybe a half sleeve, to make it look good.”

“A sleeve?” Draco asked.

“Yeah, like this.” Tricia pushed up the sleeve of her baggy sweater showing an intricate design covering her entire arm.

Draco was surprised that she had tattoos covering that much of her body, but they were strangely beautiful. He was suddenly struck with a thought, “Could you cover other things? Like scars?”

“Yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite things to design!” Tricia said excitedly.

“Really?” Draco was thrilled. “Do you have any designs I could see?”

“Well, there’s some in these books, but for a scar it would have to be more custom than that. Could I see the scar?” Tricia asked.

“It’s not for me… it’s for my friend.” Draco admitted. “She mentioned wanting to get a tattoo a while back, and I’d forgotten about it until I saw your store. But she has a scar on her arm that bothers her quite a lot.”

“Well, how big is the scar?” Han asked, popping open one of the design books.

“Maybe, 10 centimeters?” Draco guessed. “Perhaps a bit longer.”

“Hmmm, well… here it is.” Han turned the book around to show Draco some pictures of tattoos that had been done over scars. Some of them incorporated the scar into the art, while others hid the scar completely. “Do you think she’d want to hide it, or show it off?”

“Well, I’d imagine she would want to hide it… but at the risk of getting hexed, I’d say I should probably check with her.” Draco said.

“Smart man.” Han chuckled.

“Tell you what.” Tricia said, “If you bring her back in, I’ll give you two for one.”

“You don’t have to do that.” Draco said, smiling. “I’m definitely going to bring her in here. Later this afternoon in fact. She’s in a meeting until later.”

“Ok, well bring her in.” Tricia said, grabbing a parchment and quill. “In the meantime, I’m going to work on something for you. What kinds of things do you like?”

“Things?” Draco said curiously, as he watched Tricia quickly sketch a rough but accurate outline of his Mark.

“Your hobbies, likes, dislikes. Things you might want in a design.” She pressed.

“Oh.” Draco scratched his head. “I… don’t really know.”

“You must have some interest.” Han chuckled.

“Well, I like Quidditch.” Draco said, uncertainly. “And books. I like to read.”

“I can work with that.” Tricia said, her hand flying over the paper. “Come back in an hour, yeah?”

Draco nodded, watching her curiously as she sketched, and then he looked at the time and realized that Hermione’s meeting was meant to be finished. He thanked Han, and slipped out the door.

He followed the streets until he came back to the Hog’s Head, and went to sit at the bar. Aberforth came over and passed him a glass of Mead, unasked. Draco nodded his thanks, and waited for Hermione to emerge. Eventually she came out of the back room, laughing at something Potter had said. He noticed that only Hermione’s usual friends were with her; the rest of the Order, whoever they were, must have left another way. Smart, they’re still hiding their numbers. He thought.

Hermione passed him, without a glance, and went back to the table in the corner. Ron and Harry hugged the the girls goodbye, shook Neville’s hand, and were on their way.

“Hey Ab!” Ginny called. “Can we get a round of something over here? Neville has just decided to join the Aurors when he leaves school!”

Aberforth grumbled again about his bar being overrun with Aurors, and brought over a bottle of Firewhiskey.

The group laughed, and had their drinks, and then they all headed on their way. Ginny and Luna wanted to go to Honeydukes, and Neville was heading back to the castle to help out Professor Sprout. Hermione had planned to follow the girls, but when she retrieved her robe from its peg by the door, she found a note in the pocket. She turned around and sent Draco a questioning glance, and he gave a minute nod.

She smiled and followed the girls out the door before unfolding the parchment. Draco had drawn a map to the edge of the village.

“You coming with us ‘Mione?” Luna asked.

“Actually, I need some things from the stationary store.” Hermione replied. “I’ll see you back at the castle?”

“Sure thing ‘Mione.” Ginny said, with a smirk. “Be careful. I’ll expect you by three if I don’t hear otherwise?”

“That should be plenty of time.” Hermione agreed. She wasn’t sure what Draco had in mind, but anyone listening in would buy it. She headed off in the direction that the map indicated.

When she reached the shop number, she was very surprised to see the Muggle tattoo shop. Curiosity getting the better of her, she opened the door and let herself in.

“Well Merlin’s Beard, you’re Hermione Granger!” Came a mans voice from behind the counter.

“Er, yes.” She said, blushing furiously.

“Well what brings you into our shop today?” The man asked. The woman, sitting behind the counter, had still not looked up.

“Um, I’m meant to be meeting someone here.” Hermione said. “At least I think it’s here. My directions where a bit vague.”

“Hmmm. Well we’ve only had one other customer today, but I doubt you’re meeting him.” The man said. “I’m Han, that’s Tricia.”

At this point, Tricia waved, but didn’t look up from the sketch she was working on.

“Nice to meet you both.” Hermione said, “Is this a Muggle tattoo parlor?”

“Yes, well there’s really no such thing as a Wizarding one.” Han explained.

“No?” Hermione asked, curious. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s still considered a bit taboo.” Han explained.

“Not in America.” Came Tricia’s voice.

“Oh, well I’ll take your word for it.” Hermione said with a smile.

“Were you looking to get a tattoo?” Han asked.

“Well, not specifically… but I’ve always wanted one.” Hermione admitted.

“If you want the work done, we would be discreet.” Han explained. “I understand you might not want this all over the papers.”

“Well, I like to stay out of the papers as much as I can, as a general rule.” Hermione grinned. “But I appreciate your discretion.”

“I like her.” Tricia said, still focused on her drawing. “Is she the friend?”

“I very much doubt that.” Han chuckled. “Remember I told you about Harry Potter, and his friends?”


“Well she’s the brainy one.” Han explained.

“Oh.” Was Tricia’s only reply.

Hermione smiled, it was nice to meet someone seemingly unimpressed with her reputation.

“So who are you meeting?” Han asked. “It’s not Harry, or Ron, is it?”

“No.” Hermione chuckled. “They have classes. I’m meeting a friend.”

“I told you.” Tricia said.

“I would be very surprised if that was the case!” Han argued.

“Don’t let your Hogwarts prejudice cloud your judgement!” Tricia yelled, throwing an empty ink bottle at Han.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Han said, ducking.

Hermione stepped back out of the way, and turned when she heard the bell on the door.

“Han, Tricia, I see you’ve met Hermione.” Draco said softly.

“Told you.” Tricia said, as Han’s mouth just hung open.

“How are you two friends?!” Han gasped, looking back and forth form Hermione to Draco.

Hermione was surprised that Draco was suddenly ok with the possibility of someone seeing them together in public, even without the full details of their relationship. But then again, they had been in the shop for nearly half an hour and no one had so much as passed by the front window.

"Draco, why did you bring me here?" Hermione asked, looking around the shop curiously.

"Well, I was wandering around a bit while you were in your meeting, and I found this place and we got to chatting. Tricia here likes to design tattoos around scars." Draco explained, pulling the still open book of photo's across the counter. "You mentioned wanting to get a tattoo, but I wondered if you'd thought about something like this?"

Hermione paged through the book silently for a few minutes. "You designed these?"

Tricia nodded. "To be honest, that's what got me started in this business. I have a nasty scar on my leg; I was always self conscious about it, until one day I started drawing over it with Texta, and here we are!"

Draco couldn't read Hermione's expression, as she continued to turn the pages. "I think this a brilliant idea." She said, suddenly grinning. "I'd much rather have people stare at my arm because of something I chose to put there."

"That's the idea." Tricia smiled.

"Would you be able to cover the scar completely?" Hermione asked.

"Usually." Tricia shrugged. "It depends on the scar. Can I have a look?"

Hermione blushed, and pushed up the sleeve of her robe, and then her jumper, before resting her arm on the counter. She felt tears pricking at the back of her eyes, and took a deep breath to steady herself. She never showed her scar to anyone, and rarely looked at it herself.

Draco sensed her discomfort and discreetly rested a hand on the small of her back.

"I can't reconcile this picture." Han said, shaking his head at Hermione and Draco.

"We have a lot in common." Hermione said softly, feeling for the first time, the concern Draco had for their relationship becoming public information.

Draco felt her tense up under Han's scrutiny, and glared. "We would appreciate you keeping the commentary to a minimum. I'm willing to pay you for your service, but if you can't respect our privacy, we will take our business elsewhere."

Hermione didn't need to look at him to know that he had assumed his terrifying, Death Eater persona.

Han shied away subconsciously. "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it."

"We're just a bit tired of being in the spotlight." Hermione said, nudging Draco to calm him.

"Sorry." Draco mumbled, with a sheepish grin.

"You're not as scary as you think you are." Hermione chuckled.

"Says you." Han laughed.

"I don't think I've ever seen a scar like this." Tricia said, having completely ignored Draco's display. She ran a hand over it, pressing the skin and feeling it's depth. "It's quite deep."

"Yes, it couldn't be healed." Hermione explained.

"This will be challenging." Tricia said, sounding excited, and passed Draco a parchment. "I've gotten a start on yours."

Draco unrolled the parchment and his eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline. "This is incredible, you just drew this?"

It was a sketch of a dragon, which clearly aimed to use the Dark Mark as it's overall shape. Surrounding the dragon, was a detailed tangle of scrolls, books, brooms, snitches, and interesting swirls and stars. Despite the size of the sketch, it wasn't gaudy looking--somehow it all fit just right.

Tricia nodded. "Yes, but I can change anything you might not like, and I'd like to add a bit more personality to it. I just took the Dragon from your name."

"Wow!" Hermione said, peering over Draco's shoulder at the sketch. "Are you thinking of getting this?"

"Well, I was skeptical before, but I'm not now." Draco said, clearly impressed. "How long does something like this take?"

"A few weeks, probably." Tricia shrugged. "We can't do it all at once, so you'd need to make a few trips."

"Ok, when can we start?" Draco asked.

"Well, we're not exactly swamped with business, so whenever you want." Han said. "When is the next Hogsmede weekend?"

"Six weeks, I think." Hermione said. "We have the Easter break coming up."

"Well, we can just make you a reservation for that day." Tricia said. "Try to get as much done as possible and reevaluate from there."

"Ok, what time do you open?" Draco asked.

"Usually about 10." Han said. "We don't really have set shop hours."

"Well, let's say 10:00, in six weeks." Draco said.

"Ok, let me make a copy of that." Tricia said, reaching for the sketch she had done for Draco. "I'd like to put a bit more personality into it, so owl me with anything that comes to mind about your hobbies or passions... anything really. I want it to be totally unique. Same for you Hermione."

"I like it just like that." Draco said, he sounded a bit concerned, but only Hermione noticed his change in tenor.

"Well, if you really like it obviously it's your arm..." Tricia said. "But I'd love to work more of you into it."

"We'll keep that in mind." Hermione said.

"Anything you'd like me to start on, offhand?" She asked Hermione.

"Well, I love to read." Hermione said thoughtfully, "I like Arithmancy and Ancient Runes."

"Got it." Tricia said, making notes. "Oh, one more thing... what are your wands made of?"

"Mine is Dragon Heartstring and Vinewood." Hermione said, "His is Unicorn Hair and Hawthorn."

"Great." Tricia said, scribbling on her parchment. "I'll see you in a few weeks time! If you think of anything else you want worked into the design, owl me!"

Hermione and Draco left the shop, finding Hogsmede fairly deserted in the late afternoon. It was starting to turn dusk, and Hermione realized that Ginny would be looking for her in the castle any minute.

She quickly shot off a Patronus, and her Otter danced off through the village, towards the Castle.

"Reassuring Ginny?" Draco asked darkly.

"She said to let her know if I wasn't going to be back by three." Hermione explained.

"Overprotective much?" Draco muttered.

"We always do this Draco," Hermione explained. "It's just a safety precaution."

"Ok, well now I don't know whether to be pleased you are being cautious with your life, or offended that the Weaselette thinks I'm still a threat." Draco chuckled.

"She doesn't think you're a threat." Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes.

"She does think I'm a threat." Draco insisted. "And she's not wrong about that."

"I'm not having this conversation again." Hermione snapped. "I refuse."

Draco laughed. "Ok Little Dragon, you're the boss."

Hermione sighed again. "Are you really walking through the middle of Hogsmede with me right now? In public?"

It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends, and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason.” Draco said, noticing Hermione shiver. “Besides, if you haven't noticed, the village is all but deserted. Probably because it's freezing."

“It is cold.” Hermione agreed, bundling her robe tighter. “And that quote is from The Mysterious Island.”

Suddenly, she felt a weight on her shoulders, and realized that Draco had taken off his cloak and placed it over her. It was heavy, fur lined and warm.

“But now you’ll freeze!” Hermione argued, reaching to give the cloak back.

“I can do a warming charm.” Draco said, with a smirk. “Come on, walk this way, no one will see us in the trees.”

They headed off the road and into the woods near the Shrieking Shack. As they got closer to the Hogwarts gates, they noticed the reporters were once again waiting around the entrance.

“Tossers.” Draco muttered. “Well, do you want to go up first, or should I?”

“I’ve got a better idea.” Hermione said, turning back towards the shack. “Follow me.”

“Where are we going?” Draco asked.

“It’s a secret.” Hermione grinned. “Promise not to tell?”

“Sure.” Draco said, sounding curious.

Hermione led the way to the door of the Shrieking Shack, and let them in.

“Wicked!” Draco grinned. “I’ve never been in here before. But what’s your plan?”

Hermione lifted the trap door to the tunnel. “I’ve always been a fan of secret passageways myself.”

“Come here Witch.” Draco grinned, pulling Hermione in for a kiss.

“Apparently you like passages as much as I do.” Hermione said, breathless and slightly pink cheeked from the kiss.

“Passages I can take or leave,” Draco said. “I just don’t get enough opportunities to kiss you properly. ‘You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how’.”

“Gone with the Wind.” Hermione smiled. “Come on, lets get going, I want to go to the Library!”

The Library or Our Library?” Draco asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“First one, then the other.” Hermione laughed.

“Lead the way, fair maid.” Draco said, bowing deeply.

“You’re in a good mood all of the sudden.” Hermione said, climbing down into the tunnel.

“Well, I get to avoid the reporters and instead get to kiss you.” Draco shrugged. “What’s not to like?”

Hermione blushed, and was glad for the dim light of the tunnel, as Draco followed her down the ladder.

“You can’t just walk right in, can you?” Draco asked, pulling the trap door shut behind him.

Lumos.” Hermione muttered, lighting her wand. “No, you can’t. It had some protection before the war, which you’ll see in a minute. But we’ve added a few more things.”

Reaching up, she touched her Order talisman to an ordinary looking rock, which promptly glowed, she then tapped it twice with her wand.

"A Phylacteri portal?" Draco asked, sounding impressed. "Who did the enchantment?"

Hermione looked at him curiously. "I did."

Draco laughed. "I don't know why I bother to ask."

"Why do you say that?" Hermione said, starting down the passage.

"Because you're an extremely powerful witch." Draco shrugged, following her. "I should stop being surprised when you do disturbingly difficult magic without a thought."

"It's not that difficult." Hermione argued.

"Sure it is." Draco laughed. "Particularly because you clearly added a secondary incantation to limit the number of people entering the portal."

"Well, otherwise anyone could follow you in." Hermione said.

"I know Little Dragon," Draco said, still chuckling. "But that charm isn't even taught at Newt level. It's very complicated."

Hermione just shrugged.

"So where does this passage lead, anyway?" Draco asked.

"The Whomping Willow." Hermione said.

"Wait, what?" Draco asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, there's a gap at the base of the trunk where the tunnel lets out." Hermione grinned.

"So, we just get bludgeoned to death?" Draco smirked.

"Nope." Hermione giggled. "Have a bit of patience!"

They reached the base of the tree, the passage growing narrow, and Draco having to duck his tall frame to avoid hitting his head. Hermione reached up with her wand and prodded the knot on the tree and felt it stop moving, and then climbed out.

"That's a neat trick." Draco said, eyeing the tree warily.

"Yes, it was put in place when Lupin was a student." Hermione explained. "He used it on full moon nights."

"Creative." Draco said, hopping neatly over a fallen branch. "So what are you so excited to get to at the Library?"

"Well, I wanted to start on that DADA project I mentioned." Hermione said. "I'm trying to decide if it would be most advantageous to begin with the first year text and work up, or start with the seventh year text and work down."

Draco scowled.

"I hadn't forgotten about it, if that's what you were hoping." Hermione said softly.

"A bloke can hope." Draco muttered.

"I didn't say you had to help me." Hermione said.

"No, but you want me to." Draco argued.

"Yes." Hermione admitted. "That's why I asked. It would make the whole process much faster, and more accurate."

Draco said nothing, just shoved his hands in his pockets as they approached the castle.

"I'll work on it another time if it bothers you that much." Hermione said.

Draco appeared to be mulling things over, and after a few moments, he said quietly, "No, I'd rather you worked on it with me there."

"It's just research, Draco." Hermione said gently, laying a hand on his arm.

Draco just nodded, his face void of any expression.

When they reached the Castle, Draco hung back and told Hermione to go in first.

"I'll meet you in our Library." He insisted.

Hermione nodded, and hurried up to her dorm to collect her old Defense books. Opting to change out of her nicer clothes she'd worn to Hogsmede, she slipped into a comfortable pair of faded black track pants and an old jumper.

She tried to balance seven years worth of textbooks, as well as the few books she had borrowed from the Black Library about dark magic as she made her way to the room of requirement.

She found that Draco was already installed at one end of the table with some parchments, and his defense book.

"I'm thinking I'd be better off starting with the Seventh Year text and working down, that way I know what each year needs to build to." Hermione said, dropping her load of books on the table and summoning a great length of parchment.

Draco chuckled. "I really cannot believe that you are this bored in defense."

"Well, I'm not so much anymore." Hermione shrugged. "Or at least I wouldn't be if I was allowed to duel properly."

Draco sighed and started, "Well, you're not clear..."

"Cleared by my Healer." Hermione huffed. "I know that Draco. So let's just work on this!"

Draco watched Hermione for a moment, before asking, "You're really sure you want my help? You might not like what you hear."

"Draco, I'm just asking you to describe the spells that we are teaching the counter to." Hermione said. "We can start with an easy one! The Imperious Curse."

"An 'easy one' she says." Draco muttered, rolling his eyes.

"Well, have you performed that curse?" Hermione asked.

"Yes." Draco said, hesitantly, "I've done it."

"Ok, well one of the two curses I want to focus on by the end of Fifth Year are the Patronus and the Imperious." Hermione said. "The students need to be able to produce a Patronus and throw off the Imperious by the time they take their O.W.L.'s."

"You realize you're talking about expecting 16 year old kids to perform two of the most difficult tasks in the Wizarding World?" Draco asked, smirking at Hermione.

"Harry learnt both those things in Fourth Year." Hermione pointed out.

"Hermione," Draco sighed. "As much as I hate to admit it, and I'll deny it if questioned, Harry is an exceptionally powerful Wizard. It's almost scary, really. It's a damn good thing he has such a hero complex, because he'd make a fairly unstoppable Dark Wizard."

"Oh, that's a load of nonsense." Hermione rolled her eyes.

"It's really not." Draco said. "Why do you think Riddle, Fudge, hell... even my Father were afraid of him as a child? Harry can do things that don't make sense, particularly of a Wizard his age."

"Ok, so he's gifted." Hermione argued. "That doesn't mean that with the right coaching, any student couldn't apply themselves and learn these tasks."

"Ok, but why the Imperious Curse?" Draco pressed.

"Imagine a world where no one could use the Imperious to their advantage?" Hermione insisted, getting excited. "It would be like unloading a gun, it wouldn't matter if it were Unforgivable, because it wouldn't be of use to anyone!"

"Well, how do you aim to go about this?" Draco asked, starting to sound curious.

"Well, that's a bit more challenging." Hermione admitted. "I'd like to start with the theory, and work from there. Ideally, I'd get someone to put the curse on me, and work from there."

"Well, we're not doing that." Draco insisted.

“Why not?” Hermione asked. “The Imperious Curse doesn’t hurt you, if you trust the person doing the curse.”

“Well, aside from the fact that it’s unforgivable, it’s still a dark curse. It still has side effects.” Draco pointed out.

“Ok, that’s what I’m talking about.” Hermione said, sitting up in her seat and starting to take notes. “How does the curse feel when it’s being performed?”

“Well…” Draco hesitated.

“Harry said that it felt like an extension of your limbs, so to speak.” Hermione said. “Does that sound right?”

“Potter has used the Imperious Curse?” Draco asked, sounding surprised.

“Yes.” Hermione said simply. “When we were breaking into Gringotts.”

“Interesting.” Draco said. “Well, that’s a rather generous description, and it speaks to Potter’s character rather impressively.”

“Really?” Hermione asked, feverishly taking notes. “How so?”

“Well…” Draco looked skeptically at Hermione. “You’re not going to like this.”

“That’s rather the point, isn’t it.” Hermione huffed.

Draco sighed, “It’s a feeling of complete control. Complete power. You have someone’s very life in your hands.”

“Interesting.” Hermione said, scribbling on her parchment. “And when you’re controlling someone, do you have to ask them to do things, or is it more unconscious?”

“I’d say it’s fairly unconscious.” Draco said, absently rubbing his arm over his Mark. “I didn’t have to be specific, such as saying ‘walk across the room’. Rather like deciding to walk across a room yourself, the Imperioused person would just respond to what I was thinking.”

“That does sound like an extension of limbs.” Hermione said, absently.

“Yes,” Draco agreed. “It wasn’t a bad description, it just wasn’t the whole experience.”

They continued going over the curse until Draco was irritated of Hermione’s questions, and finally said. “Can we talk about something happy for a change?”

Hermione’s head shot up from her writing and saw that Draco’s eyes had taken on a dark, angry glint. “Of course, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, I just…” Draco struggled for the right words. “I just need a break.”

“This is as bad as performing the magic yourself.” Hermione said.

“Not quite that bad.” Draco admitted. “I don’t get the rush that I get from actually doing the spells.”

“Well, let’s take a break then!” Hermione said with a smile. “

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Chapter 32: Chapter 32
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

"You don't need to do this." Draco said for the fifth time since they had left the castle.

"Yes, Draco, I do." Hermione insisted, her voice firm. "I want my memories back, even if they're horrible, and this is the only way I can think of to do that."

Draco sighed. "Fine, but I just want you to know that I don't agree with this at all, and I'm taking you there under protest."

"And what does that look like?" Hermione asked, curiously.

"It'll be the same," Draco huffed, "I just thought you should know."

"Consider me warned." Hermione said, trying to hide her grin.

"You Gryffindors are impossible." Draco mumbled. "Did it ever occur to you that sometimes bravery is just stupidity in fancier robes?"

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear." Hermione replied.

"What book is that from?" Draco asked, after a pause.

"It's not from a book." Hermione grinned. "It was something that an American folk singer said once.

Draco looked at her like she was mad.

"What, he's not wrong!" Hermione pointed out.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Draco responded, absently.

"That's C. S. Lewis." Hermione smiled, "I love his books. He actually said one of my favorite quotes ever, though it's not in one of his books."

"And what was that?" Draco asked, as he reached out to push open the Hogwarts gates.

Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” Hermione said, following Draco through the gates.

Surprisingly, Draco chuckled. "You never stood a chance did you?"

"A chance at what?" Hermione asked.

"At being in any house other than Gryffindor." Being out of view of the castle, Draco held out his arm for Hermione to take. "You realize, now you are one of those stories."

Hermione shuffled her toe in the dirt, but took Draco's arm. "Maybe a subplot."

"No, you're going to do great things still Hermione Granger." Draco laughed. "I would not at all be surprised to find myself being bossed through a crisis by you in the future. You'll probably end up as Minister for Magic."

"Well, if that does happen, you have to at least pretend to like it." Hermione laughed.

"I promise to do that." Draco grinned. "Are you ready?"

Hermione steeled herself, set her jaw, and nodded.

"Ok Little Dragon." Draco said sadly, and they disappeared with a pop.

They landed at the front door, a place Draco had specifically chosen because he figured Hermione had never seen it.

"Where are we?" Hermione asked, confirming his suspicions.

"The Vestibule." Draco said, not letting go of her arm.

"Fancy." Hermione said, sounding nervous.

"It's an old house." Draco chuckled. "Filled with every pretentious architectural option you could think of."

"Why don't I remember this?" Hermione asked.

"Probably because no one can come through the front door without a Malfoy." Draco explained, darkly. "The other times you were here, you would have been brought in other ways."

He lifted his wand to the door to unlock it, but Hermione grabbed his arm.

"Wait!" She cried. "If it's a Dark spell, let me do it!"

"It's not Little Dragon, I never reset those curses… after the last time. Just a simple unlocking charm." Draco flicked his wrist in the familiar motion for the spell. "Although that hardly seems necessary, as there is a old Blood Ward protecting the front door."

"A Blood Ward?" Hermione asked, having not heard the term.

"Yes." Draco said, opening the door and allowing Hermione to step into the entry hall. "Never discussed in polite company, but the gist of it is that your blood must be tuned to the wards to be allowed access unaccompanied."

"Why have I never read anything about that?" Hermione rambled, and Draco knew she was distracting herself.

"Because it's not written anywhere. The wards are passed down through generations. I couldn't even tell you who did the original enchantment." Draco explained.

"Oh." Came Hermione's quiet response.

"Come on, let's get this over with." Draco said, heading for the grand staircase.

Hermione said nothing, but allowed herself to be led across the echoing hall. They were nearly to the stairs, when she caught site of a room she recognized, the drawing room. All at once her memories came flooding back.

I'm going to have a conversation with this one, girl to girl. Unbidden, Bellatrix’s voice popped into her head. Hermione shivered, and turned towards the drawing room.

"You don't need to go in there Hermione." Draco said.

"Yes I do," Hermione insisted. "For my own sanity."

Draco looked down at the girl he loved, and once again was struck by the bravery she exhibited. They had just been discussing it, and yet--when she was faced with moments like this--a deeper part of Hermione seemed to take over. The solider she was underneath the school robes shone through, and when she looked like that, it wasn't hard to imagine her taking on the Dark Lord.

Draco said nothing, but turned and led her into the drawing room.

Hermione crossed the threshold, looking around, her wand in hand. Removed of its terrifying former occupants, and with the dark furniture swathed in dust sheets, she couldn't remember just what about the room itself gave her nightmares. She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding with a laugh.

Draco looked at her like she'd lost her mind. "Did you just laugh?"

"Well, it's not quite what I'd built it up to be in my head." She shivered. "It feels... off. But not in the way I was expecting."

Draco knew what she was talking about, the room had an otherworldly feel about it. So many people had been killed there, it wasn't surprising.

"Come on, I want to get this over with." Draco said, a bit snappishly.

"There's a lot of cursed things in here," Hermione said softly. "Aren't there?"

"Yes, the whole house is practically a curse." Draco admitted.

"Are you okay?" Hermione asked.

"Am... am I okay?" Draco asked incredulously. "Am I okay? We're standing in the room you were tortured in, the room that gives you nightmares every day, and you want to know if I'm okay?"

"Yes." Hermione said, curiously.

"Mother of Merlin." Draco swore, "You're not brave, you're insane."

Hermione quirked her head to the side. "No, I just know how Dark Magic effects you."

Draco rolled his eyes, and pulled Hermione from the room. As they approached the stairs again, she cast her Patronus.

"Thanks." Draco said, with a bit of a sigh. "If I ever come back here, I'll have to hire a fair few curse breakers to clear it out first."

"Bill could probably handle that for you," Hermione said.

"Maybe I'll just burn the place to the ground." Draco said thoughtfully, releasing Hermione's arm and placing a hand on her back as he followed her up the stairs.

"I'm not going to fall Draco, you don't need to hover behind me." Hermione said.

Draco chuckled. "Sorry Little Dragon, but some habits cannot be unlearned."

"Unlearned?" Hermione asked, curiously.

"A Gentleman follows a Lady up the stairs, so as to catch her if she falls." Draco recited. "A rule admittedly from an era where Ladies couldn't really hold up their own gowns."

"Old habits die hard, I guess." Hermione said, as they reached the landing and Draco once again offered her his arm. "You've just never been this formal with me before."

"Well, you've never really interacted with me in public." Draco explained, sounding sad. "We don't walk places together, we always meet up. I'm actually like this most of the time."

"Is that why you were so fussed about not being able to carry my books?" Hermione questioned, putting two and two together.

"Of course," Draco said simply. "It's not like I want to disrespect you like that, it's just... how things are."

"Draco, you're not disrespecting me." Hermione insisted.

"A lifetime of etiquette training would disagree." Draco sighed.

"Well, I would argue that intent is 9/10ths of any law." Hermione said, looking cautiously around as they may their way up another flight of stairs, Draco once again following behind her. "This looks familiar."

"Yes, my room is in the west wing, and we're nearly there." Draco said softly.

"Am I meant to stay away from the West Wing?" Hermione giggle manically.

"What?" Draco asked confused.

"Nothing, something from a muggle movie." Hermione said, "The antagonist locks a girl up in his castle and tells her to stay away from the west wing. Except in the end, he's actually a good guy who has been living under a curse that he's trying to hide from her."

"Sounds... relatable." Draco muttered.

"It's a cartoon." Hermione said. "We can watch it sometime."

Draco had no idea what she was talking about, so he turned her to face his door. "Ready?"

He watched once again as Hermione the Bookworm was replaced with Hermione the Solider, and she nodded.

"Ok." Draco said, reaching for the doors, he pushed them open.

Hermione took a deep breath, let go of Draco's arm, and stepped into the room.


It had been cleaned up, probably by Draco's elf, because there was no sign of a struggle of any kind having taken place in the room.

Hermione marched over to the bed, and put her hand on the sheets, knowing that it would spark a memory.

She was right, and the events of her kidnapping came rushing back, and she dropped to her knees on the floor.

"Hermione!" Draco cried, hurrying to her side. He was about to lift her up and carry her out of the manor, when she put a hand up.

"Give me a moment please." She said. "I'm trying to sort through it, and I have a hell of a headache."

She started looking around, as if trying to place the memories. "It was Rabastan." Hermione said, matter-of-factly. "He was the one who was torturing me."

"Yes, that was my guess." Draco said sadly.

"What gave it away?" Hermione asked, rubbing her temple.

"He sent a ransom note," Draco explained. "It was his usual style."

"Oh god!" Hermione gasped. "Draco, he had an elf... he threatened to torture her if I didn't do what he said. She was so scared!"

"Well, she'll be free now." Draco pointed out. "When you go to Azkaban, you lose ownership of your elves. It's meant to stop people from using them to escape."

Hermione let out a sigh of relief. "I wonder where she is now?"

"Probably Hogwarts." Draco explained. "That's where most freed elves end up."

"Maybe I can find her." Hermione said thoughtfully.

"I wondered how they'd gotten you to change into that gown." Draco said softly. "It's usually something like that."

"Yeah, I was refusing to do anything he said until he called the elf." Hermione nodded. "I didn't know where I was at the time."

"You figured it out while you were here?" Draco asked curiously.

Hermione nodded. "Rabastan... I broke his nose. He went to clean up, and left me tied to the bed. But he didn't tie my feet... oh Draco! I'm so sorry, I broke part of your bed!"

"Little Dragon, that is the least of my concerns." Draco laughed, hugging Hermione to him.

"When I got free of the bed, my hands were still tied, so I started looking around for something to cut the rope off with. I found one of your sweaters, with a name tape in it." Hermione explained.

"That explains what you were doing in the Conservatory with the pruning shears." Draco muttered, "Do you remember how you ended up down there?"

"I found some stairs." Hermione said. "Not the way we came in though."

"Those would be the servants stairs." Draco nodded. "Back in my great-grandfathers day, it was fashionable to have employed servants as well as elves."

"That was my guess." Hermione nodded. "I found the shears and tried to get the ropes off my wrists when the Devil's Snare got me."

"That's where I found you." Draco confirmed. "I'm impressed you made it that far on your own."

"So after that, you took me to St. Mungos?" Hermione asked, clarifying.

"Yes, you had passed out... probably from blood loss." Draco explained, looking haunted.

Hermione nodded. "I think I remember everything, but I want to go over it in the pensive."

"Well, lets get you back, so that Madame Pomfrey can look you over." Draco said, leading her back out of his room.

"Your room." Hermione said, "It doesn't seem like you at all."

"My mother decorated it." Draco chuckled. "I had very little say in the matter. Although it did choose the color.”

"I thought so." They had reached the stairs, and Hermione expected Draco to follow her again, but instead he stepped in front of her, raising his hand up to his shoulder so she could hold it.

"More etiquette?" Hermione asked, hiding a grin.

"A Gentleman precedes his lady when traveling downstairs, so he can catch her if she falls." Draco recited.

"How much time did you spend learning etiquette?" Hermione asked, as they reached the entry hall once again. "Between that and dancing, you sure spent a lot of time in lessons as a child, didn't you?"

"You have no idea." Draco chuckled. "My mother was very particular about it."

“Well, let’s get back to Hogwarts and get this over with.” Hermione said.

“I still don’t know how you convinced Healer Murphy to wait in the Hospital wing, rather than coming with you.” Draco said, after they apparated back to the gates.

“I told her I’d feel too claustrophobic with a lot of people watching.” Hermione explained. “Besides, I think she trusts you more than she trusts me.”

“Well, I do seem to take better care of your health than you do.” Draco said with a grin.

“Yeah, yeah.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “Once she clears me, no more coddling me.”

“Of course not Your Highness.” Draco teased.

Hermione just sighed. “You know, we never did discuss what we would do over the break if I’m able to leave.”

“Well, let’s not put the carriage ahead of the Thestral.” Draco said, as he released Hermione’s hand. “You go up to the Hospital Wing, I’ll meet you up there in a few minutes.”

Hermione nodded. She would have preferred Draco to just come with her, particularly as there were so few students still at school, with it being the first day of the Easter break. But she was used to Draco’s overprotecting nature, and just went along with it.

When she reached the Hospital wing, she found McGonagall waiting with Healer Murphy and Madame Pomfrey. All at once, the weight of what she had just been through came crashing over her, and she started hyperventilating.

Madame Pomfrey hurried over and took charge of the situation, giving Hermione a calming draught, and hurried her over to a bed.

Healer Murphy quickly checked her over with a few spells, and then asked, “So I take it the experiment was a success?”

Hermione nodded, watching the door for Draco. It was at that moment that she realized just how much she had been relying on him in the days since her kidnapping.

“Are you missing any gaps that you’re aware of in your memory?” Healer Murphy continued with her examination.

"Not that I can tell." Hermione said, taking a deep breath. "Although I would like to go through the memories in a pensive to be sure everything makes sense."

"That's a good idea, for a later time." Healer Murphy said with a smile. "For now, I want you to stay here in the hospital wing until your blood pressure comes down a bit. This was a lot for you to process."

"I'd really rather go somewhere else." Hermione pressed. "Anywhere else."

"Not a chance." Came Draco's voice from behind the curtain.

"Come in Mr. Malfoy." Healer Murphy sighed. "She listens to you."

"She does no such thing." Draco chuckled, setting a book down on the table, and sitting on the edge of the bed.

"What did you bring me?" Hermione asked, leaning back and trying to reach beyond Draco to the book he'd brought along.

"Something I ordered a while ago." Draco said. "I just didn't want to give it to you until you had more to work with."

He passed the book to Hermione, who eagerly scanned the title. “Neuropsychology of Memory.Neuropsychological studies of patients during the 1960s and 1970s attempted to locate the source of memory loss at the encoding, consolidation, or retrieval stages of memory’.”

“It’s a textbook.” Draco shrugged. “I thought you might appreciate it.”

“It’s fantastic Draco!” Hermione said, skimming the chapters. “I can’t wait to read it!”

“Ok, the Neuro-analysis can wait until I’m done with your checkup.” Healer Murphy signed, pulling the book from Hermione’s hands.

“But that explains…” Hermione complained before Healer Murphy cut her off by putting a tongue depressor in her mouth.

“It explains the physical mechanics of the human brain, something that I would prefer you didn’t delve into until we are certain that your own is functioning at one-hundred percent.”

Draco chuckled Hermione glared at him.

“How did you feel as your memories came back?” Healer Murphy asked, checking Hermione’s pupils.

“I had an instant headache.” Hermione admitted, toying with the edge of the blanket. “Like someone split my head in two. And then I felt dizzy for a bit.”

“You didn’t tell me that!” Draco cried, reaching for Hermione’s hand. “For heavens sake, I let you walk back up the hill!”

“Well, it didn’t last very long.” Hermione explained. “And I knew if I said anything, you would have pulled me out of there before I was ready.”

Draco threw his hands in the air a stormed across the room to the window, muttering about Gryffindors under his breath.

“That’s quite normal,” Healer Murphy explained, as she checked Hermione’s reflexes. “Well Miss Granger, I would like Madame Pomfrey to keep an eye on you for a few hours, make sure all your vitals stay strong. But barring any unforeseen complications I think you’re ready to be signed off. Ordinarily I’d recommend routine visits to a mind healer, but considering the circumstances I’d say a monthly checkup with myself would be the best course of action for the time being. If Poppy clears you after lunch, you’re free to carry on normally.”

“Finally!” Hermione grinned. “This means I can actually duel in class!”

Healer Murphy chuckled, “So it would seem. But remember our discussion about the Cruciatis Curse.”

Hermione’s face darkened. “I remember.”

“Don’t dwell on it.” Healer Murphy said. “And if you change your mind about studying Healing, you know where to find me.”

Hermione nodded. “Thanks.”

Madame Pomfrey walked Healer Murphy to the floo, and Draco returned to Hermione’s side. “Looks like you’re free.”

“Thank Merlin!” Hermione sighed. “I was getting so tired of being watched like a science experiment.”

Draco quirked an eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “Do you still want to leave Hogwarts for the Easter break?”

“I’d love to get out of here, but I can’t think of anywhere we could go together. My parents would smother us, and I’m not ready to revisit the Manor.” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I suppose we could just stay here, and spend our time in our Library. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing my parents for a short time.”

“Well...” Draco said, hesitating slightly. “If you’re up for it, we could go to one of the other Malfoy properties, spend a few days there, and then you could spend a few days with your parents after.”

“What do you mean, like a holiday home.” Hermione asked curiously.

“More or less.” Draco shrugged.

“Where?” Hermione asked.

“Um, there’s a few you could pick from.” Draco blushed. “Paris, Rome, Barcelona. Although the one I have in mind is actually my mother’s. It was part of her dowry.”

“You weren’t kidding when you said you’d never be able to spend all the money in your vaults were you.” Hermione asked, and then cocked her head to one side. “People still have dowries?”

Draco grinned, “In my world they do. That was the only thing I was disappointed about when I broke off my betrothal to Daphne... her dowry included a Puddlemere Quidditch box.”

“Hmmm, rethinking your choices there Malfoy?” Hermione teased.

“Not on your life Granger!” He said, squeezing her hand.

“So where is this house of your mother’s?” Hermione asked.

“Australia.” Draco shrugged. “It’s a small house, but it’s part of a wizarding resort island. There’s swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurants and such. But it’s not very large, and not usually very crowded.”

“That sounds lovely.” Hermione sighed.

“Then that’s what we’ll do.” Draco smiled, kissing Hermione softly. “You enjoy that book until Pomfrey lets you loose, I’m going to go sort everything out.”

“Wait, Draco…” Hermione caught his sleeve as he went to leave. “This isn’t going to cost you anything, is it?”

“Let me have my fun Hermione!” Draco said, with a wink.

“Seriously,” Hermione said. “If it’s expensive for you I’ll just be uncomfortable because I can’t contribute.”

Draco cocked his head to the side. “Well, we own the house, so I’m just going to make sure we have a bit of food and such.”

“Ok.” Hermione acquiesced. “But I want you to come stay with me at my parents house after.”

Draco looked nervous. “You want me to come to your house?”

“Yes, I know you’ve met my parents,” Hermione said. “But I’d like you to get to know them when I’m not in hospital. Plus I want to show you where I grew up!”

“Are you sure?” Draco asked, scuffing his toe at something on the floor.

“Of course I’m sure.” Hermione, reached out for Draco’s hand. “I want you to meet my parents properly!”

“Mind if I interrupt?” Came a voice from the door.

“Hello Auror Sherman.” Hermione smiled.

“I’ve told you to call me Emily,” She laughed, appearing around the curtain. “Besides, I’m still a trainee, not a full Auror yet.”

“You’re as good as.” Hermione shrugged. “Credit where credit is due.”

“I still have trials to pass.” She smiled. “I hear it went well today?”

“Yes, I believe I remember everything.” Hermione nodded. “I’m still… sorting through most of it.”

“That’s understandable.” Emily said. “However if you have regained your memories sufficiently, we need to take a formal statement from you.”

“Really?” Draco asked, incredulous. “Now? She’s still sitting in a hospital bed.”

“No time like the present Draco.” Hermione sighed. “I’d rather get it over with, rather than have it looming over all of the Easter holiday.”

“Are you sure?” Draco asked, “You don’t have to do this.”

“I’m sure.” Hermione said, steeling her gaze. “Will you sit with me? Is that allowed?”

“It is.” Emily said, “however I need another Auror present to take your statement officially.”

“Ok…” Hermione hesitated. “Who else?”

“Well, that’s up to you.” Emily said, “Would you like someone familiar?”

“Um, I guess.” Hermione nodded.

“Oh good, I was afraid you were going to pick some stranger over me!” Came Harry’s voice.

“Hi Harry.” Hermione smirked. “Ditching class again?”

“You two have been spending too much time together.” Harry said, rolling his eyes and pointing between Draco and Hermione. “You’ve picked up his smirk.”

Harry and Emily set about collecting Hermione’s official statement. By the time she had finished, Hermione was exhausted of the questioning and both Draco and Harry looked furious. Only Emily remained calm, as she rolled up the parchment with the pertinent details.

“Thanks Hermione, I know that that was hard, but I appreciate your candor.” She said, gathering up her bag. “I’ll just pop over and hand these off to Shacklebolt.”

After she left, Hermione put up a hand to cut off both Draco and Harry. “I don’t want to discuss it any more, it’s behind me and I’d like to keep it there.”

“Well, if you’re sure ‘Mione.” Harry said uncertainly.

“I’m sure!” Hermione insisted, starting to climb out of bed. “I’m going to go get Madame Pomfrey to sign me out, and we can get going!”

“Hold it!” Draco said, blocking Hermione from standing. “I’ll get Pomfrey, you sit here until she actually releases you.”

“But Draco I feel fine!” Hermione insisted.

“Keep her there.” Draco said to Harry, heading for Madam Pomfrey’s office at the back of the hospital wing.

“Bloody interfering boyfriend.” Hermione mumbled.

Harry laughed. “Hey, someone has to get you to sit still. I’m glad Draco can do it.”

“Alright Miss Granger, let’s have a look at you.” Madame Pomfrey said, coming around the curtain. “You boys out!”

“I’ll arrange things.” Draco called, as he and Harry left the hospital wing.

“How is your head?” Madame Pomfrey asked, waving her wand over Hermione’s eyes.

“It aches a bit, but it’s getting duller.” Hermione admitted.

“If it’s not unmanageable, I’d prefer you didn’t take a potion for it today.” Madame Pomfrey said. “I’d like you to be able to tell me when it stops.”

“Can I leave with everyone on the train tomorrow?” Hermione pressed.

“Lets see how you feel after dinner.” Madame Pomfrey said. “For the time being, I’d like you to wait here for at least the next hour and see how it goes.”

Hermione sighed, and reminded herself that she was nearly free of the clutches of the hospital wing. She picked up the textbook, and settled back into the pillows of the cot.

Author's Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis and Neuropsychology of Memory by Larry R. Squire.