A/N: So, here’s chapter 8. We’re going to pick up where we left off in chapter 7. Just a little reminder, Hermione just told Ron that she and Draco are now a ‘couple’ and Ron didn’t take it very well, and Hermione is heading to the library to talk to Ginny. There’s a song in this chapter, but it isn’t essential. I just kind of threw in because I thought it made for a cute little scene and it fit well considering. Although overall everyone seems to enjoy the music, a couple of people have told me that they skip over the lyrics. That’s fine, but there are a couple of scenes in which the song is VERY important, so if that’s the case I will say so in the A/N at the beginning of the chapter. Anyway, I hope you enjoy! And don’t forget to review!!!

Chapter 8: An Unexpected Story

The library was almost completely deserted when Hermione arrived and a quick glance at the grandfather clock in the corner explained it; it was only a half hour into dinner. The only people in the library were those who (like herself) had skipped dinner for some reason or those who had eaten exceptionally fast.

She was surprised to say the least. It had felt like hours since she had pulled Ron away from the Great Hall, she felt like she had spent a lifetime in that lonely classroom with him. Hermione settled herself at a table and for the first time in her entire Hogwarts career, she only sat and stared at the scarred wood with unseeing eyes.

As students began to trickle in from dinner and walk past her table, they wondered why Hermione Granger wasn’t scribbling onto parchment or prowling through the stacks searching for the appropriate tome. But she was oblivious to their stares and curious glances; part of her was still in that deserted classroom and wondering if Ron had left it yet.

Hermione didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when Ginny ran in, slightly flushed and distracted. “Hey, sorry I’m late. I figured that since we were going to be in the library, you could help me with my Transfiguration essay; it’s due tomorrow and I haven’t finished it yet. So I ran back up to the Common Room to get it.”

“Sure,” Hermione answered despondently, continuing to stare at the tabletop as Ginny sat down across from her.

“Hermione? Did you tell him? What happened?” Hermione lifted her eyes to look at her friend, and what Ginny saw nearly broke her heart. She leaned forward empathetically. “Oh, Hermione… Are you okay?”

Hermione just lifted her hands off the table and gave a little shrug, as if to say that she didn’t know.

“What about Ron? How angry did he get?” Hermione didn’t answer except to lower her eyes back to the table. “You know how he is when he’s mad; I’m sure that he didn’t really mean whatever he said.”

“That’s just it, Gin,” Hermione said tonelessly. “He didn’t get angry at all.”

“Oh,” said Ginny, furrowing her brow in puzzlement. “Well… well, that’s a good, then… isn’t it?”

“You didn’t see him, Ginny. I would have preferred for him to get angry, to start yelling and cursing. Like you said, he gets carried away when he’s mad and he says things he doesn’t mean. I could have handled that, because I know him; after he cooled down, things would have been… well, not okay, but better. But he didn’t get angry, he didn’t yell or curse – he hardly spoke at all. He looked…” she paused and drew a shaky breath. “He looked broken, just… broken.” Even with her vast vocabulary, Hermione could not find a better word to describe Ron’s reaction. Tears gathered in her eyes as she thought about the twisted, frozen smile that had clung to Ron’s face when she told him. She put her head into her trembling hands. “Oh, God, what have I done?” she whispered, more to herself than to Ginny.

“You’ve done nothing wrong,” Ginny said fiercely.

Hermione’s head whipped up. “How can you say that, Ginny?” A tear rolled down her cheek and she wiped it away impatiently. What right to she have to be crying after what she had done to her best friend? She would not, could not, cry. “He’s your brother. And I just –”

“You’ve done nothing but start a new relationship,” Ginny cut her off. “Are you supposed to be alone for the rest of your life just to spare Ron’s feelings?”

“No, of course not, but –”

“You went out of your way to make sure that he heard about it from you rather than hearing some ridiculous rumor. Is that wrong?”

“Well… no, but that’s not –”

“And if Ron hadn’t deluded himself into believing that you were still in love with him –”

“SHH!” came the angry hiss of Madam Pince as she prowled past the bookcase behind them.

“– then none of this would be happening,” she continued in a fierce whisper. “And I don’t want to hear,” Ginny said quickly when Hermione opened her mouth to speak, “that it’s worse because of Draco. Ron would have reacted badly no matter whom you ended up with. It’s the same as the Yule Ball. Ron wasn’t upset because you were with someone from a rival school; that was just an excuse. He was upset because you weren’t with him.”

You’re wrong, Hermione thought to herself. It is worse because of Draco. But she decided not to argue, especially since Ginny had crossed her arms firmly with a look on her face that clearly stated that it would be pointless to do so. “You remind me a lot of your mother sometimes, you know,” Hermione said waspishly, visibly annoyed. But Ginny didn’t care; she would rather Hermione be annoyed than depressed.

“Thank you,” she responded proudly with a small grin. “Let’s change the subject, yeah? How about a little Transfiguration discussion? Conjuring Spells, Hermione – help me.”

“Let me see your essay.” Hermione let out a resigned sigh, though she was grateful for the distraction. And Ginny considered herself lucky that Hermione seemed to have forgotten to ask why Ginny was so out of sorts that day.

Though Hermione was trying to give Ginny’s essay all of her attention, it was a little hard to concentrate when she was being stared at by Pansy Parkinson. And it wasn’t the usual hate filled glare that Hermione was accustomed to receiving from the Slytherins. Pansy’s stare was considering, and somewhat sad.

When Draco finally finished his patrol, it was nearly midnight. He and Hermione had agreed on a random patrol schedule, meaning that everyone patrolled with everyone else at some point, regardless of house, age, or status. It was a good idea; it promoted house unity and whatnot, but at the moment, Draco hated it.

He had spent the least two and a half hours with a nerdy, bespeckled Hufflepuff fifth year that was, as she put it, “Ever so excited to be chosen as prefect” and “ever so pleased to be patrolling with the Head Boy.” She hadn’t shut up since they had met in the Entrance Hall just after curfew. Draco now knew her entire schedule, that her middle name was Margaret, that she absolutely loathed Ancient Runes (which she had signed up for on a whim, she said), and that she preferred normal horses to hippogriffs. Having been attacked by a hippogriff in third year, even though it was his own fault, Draco couldn’t help but agree with her on that point.

But nevertheless, when patrol had ended, he hurried up to the Head dorms, tired and eager as hell to see Hermione. He couldn’t wait too slip into bed with her, and he was looking forward to the blissful quiet.

It never came.

The second he said ‘forgiveness’ and Sarah’s portrait swung open, he was hit by a blast of sound that consisted of pounding drums and roaring guitars and it sounded like two people (one of which he assumed was Hermione) singing at the top of their lungs. He pulled off his outer robe and threw it over the back of the couch on his way to the kitchen where the music (he supposed it was some of Hermione’s Muggle music, though he had never heard anything like it before) seemed to be coming from.

It was so loud that he put his hands over his ears to protect them, but they dropped in surprise when he reached the doorway. He was immediately enveloped in the scent of baking cinnamon. Hermione was standing at the sink with her back to him, wearing a Gryffindor T-shirt that was far too big for her and fell to her knees, her hair bundled haphazardly on top of her head, singing off-key to a song that he had never heard before. She was simultaneously dancing along to the song and vigorously scrubbing something. And she was the sexiest, most beautiful woman he had ever seen. A somewhat goofy smile grew on his face as he watched her, but he didn’t care.

Suddenly, the music cut to only the singer and a guitar, and Hermione sang along passionately.

Long-winded promises of future company
Up close the sound remains the same.
Without the reign of terror over every momentary change,
We are exactly as before.

As the music built again, she spun around quickly on one foot with her eyes closed, still holding a soapy spoon so that little drops of sudsy water flew around her. He ducked a bit so that he wasn’t hit. Hermione just continued singing.

You hit the road and left me an ocean,
I can’t swim in the silence of your skin – skin, please let me in
Side of the time I had to forget you,
Inside no chance of us at all.

Hermione bopped along until the music ended and Draco grabbed his chance. Leaning casually in the doorway, he said, “Hey, Granger.”

She spun around with a stifled scream and pressed her free hand to her heart as it began racing. Hermione could feel her cheeks grow pink as she realized that she wasn’t alone. How long had he been watching her? Letting out a relieved breath, she started to speak. “Draco…” she began, but her voice was drowned out completely when another song began to play.

“What?” Draco yelled, cupping his ear.

Hermione picked up her wand and flicked it silently in the direction of a small metallic box sitting on the far counter. The music was immediately silenced and he realized that the metal box must have been making the music; he had originally thought that it was simply in the air. “I said,” Hermione started again, “Draco, you startled me. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“That’s not surprising. You seemed very involved in your, er… music.”

Her cheeks reddened again. “How, ah… how long were you standing there?” she asked, trying to sound casual and failing miserably.

“Long enough,” he answered with a smirk. “What were you listening to anyway?”

“Motion City Soundtrack.”

“Motion City Soundtrack?” he repeatedly slowly.

“Yes, that’s… um, that’s the name of the band. They’re an American band, my cousin told me about them when I visited on holiday last year and… What are you grinning at?”

“You’re cute when you’re flustered. I should fluster you more often.”

“You didn’t fluster me,” she said crisply before turning back to the sink to resume her scrubbing, though she couldn’t quite conceal her grin. “You… surprised me.”

“Uh-huh,” he smiled. He walked up behind her, wrapped his arms around her slim waist, and tucked her head under his chin, where it fit perfectly. Slowly, his head-ache, his exhaustion, the stress of the day – all of it – melted away. He closed his eyes, the better to appreciate the peace she brought him. Hermione, for her part, couldn’t help but lean into him a bit, closing her eyes and savoring the homespun magic of a kitchen embrace. “You’ve white dust on your cheek,” he said quietly, his breath tickling her ear.

“Well, its either flour or powdered sugar, I’m not sure which – oh!” There was a little ping and Hermione pushed Draco to the side, grabbed a thick piece of cloth, opened the oven and pulled out perfectly browned buns. Draco’s mouth-watered as the fragrant cinnamon-scented steam wafted toward him. She carefully removed them from their pan and placed them over a wire rack before turning and leaning against the counter. “Cinnamon buns, for tomorrow,” she explained.

“Why the sudden urge to bake?” he asked.

“I just… I needed something to do. It was so quiet and I wasn’t tired.” The truth of the matter was that she hadn’t wanted to go to sleep, worried that her dreams would simply replay her talk with Ron.

“You look tired,” Draco said quietly, and it was true. There were smudges under her eyes and her face was pale, though he doubted that the reason for both only had to do with needing sleep. For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to ask her what had happened with Weasley. He was almost afraid to know.

Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and shut her eyes, but she couldn’t stop the tears from falling; they had, after all, been fighting for release all night. Draco seemed to understand. He wrapped his arms around her wordlessly and let her cry. After a few minutes, she lifted her head from his chest. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“Why do you always apologize when you cry?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I’m always crying on you,” she answered with a soft smile. She looked into Draco’s eyes and immediately felt comforted. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me too.” He lowered his head and rested his forehead against hers. “Let’s go to bed.” Hermione nodded. Draco took her hand and led her to her bedroom.

Ron didn’t leave the empty classroom until after midnight. He didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. He was dreading the morning. Surely the whole school knew by now what was going on and he hated to think of the pitying glances that would be thrown his way.

The idea of seeing Hermione and Malfoy together was tearing him apart inside. He knew that they were together that very moment, and thinking about that felt poisonous.

He made his way slowly to Gryffindor Tower, bypassing the short cuts that he and Harry usually took. How he made it to the portrait of the Fat Lady without being heard or seen, and without encountering Peeves, he would never know. The trip itself barely registered in his mind since his thoughts were acidic and consumed with an imagined vision of Hermione kissing Malfoy the way she used to kiss him.

“Jobberknoll,” he said absently.

“What in Merlin’s name are you doing out so late?” the Fat Lady asked him.

“Just let me in,” he growled. She swung the door open with an annoyed look on her face and he clambered through into the nearly deserted Common Room. Though the only light was from the low burning fire, he could tell that someone was sitting on the worn couch in front of it. “Harry?” he asked.

“Hey,” Harry responded when Ron had plunked down next to him. Neither of them spoke for a while, absorbed in their own thoughts. Harry’s reasons were still being awake were two-fold. First, he was waiting for Ron to show up. He knew how Ron felt about Hermione and was worried about his friend’s reaction. And second, Ginny had returned to the Common Room just before curfew and had spent her time with Dean before going to bed. It was with dread that Harry began to truly accept that Ginny had moved on, while Harry felt completely stuck in place.

“Do you know?” Ron asked suddenly. Harry didn’t have to ask what Ron was referring to.

“Hermione told me just before lunch,” Harry responded. Ron only nodded, understanding that his friend had no objections; why should he? And for some reason, Ron couldn’t hold it against him. “You alright?” Harry asked. Ron didn’t answer, but Harry understood.

The next morning was Friday. As always, the mood in the Great Hall was slightly more enthusiastic than normal. It seemed that even the teachers were eager to get through the day. But Ginny would have preferred for the day to trickle by as slowly as possible. Saturday night was rushing toward her faster than the Hogwarts Express, and she still had no idea what she was going to do about Dean.

He hadn’t asked her if she was going to meet him at the Three Broomsticks since his initial invitation, understanding that she needed time to think things through. They had spent the night before talking and it was nice, almost like old times. She was angry with herself for constantly comparing Dean to Harry, subconsciously using their differences as reasons to not get back together with Dean. Shouldn’t the fact that he was so different than Harry be reasons for getting back together with him? It was annoying to admit that the only things holding her back at this point were her residual feelings for Harry.

She missed him. Oh, how she missed just being able to talk with him the way they used to. She wanted him to reach for her hand the way he used to, she wanted to feel his fingers tighten in her hair when he kissed her, and she wanted to see him smile when she fought with Ron over something ridiculous. But wanting things she would never have was pointless. In her head, Ginny knew this, but her heart… her heart was being stubborn.

Even now, sitting across from him at breakfast, she could almost feel her heart straining in her chest to be closer to him. And it was bloody uncomfortable. Where the hell was everyone else?

“Where’s Ron?” she asked, unable to stand the silence any longer.

“I think he’s going to skip breakfast this morning,” Harry said after a surprised pause. He hadn’t expected to hear her voice.

It has to be serious if he’s skipping breakfast, she thought, suddenly more worried about her brother than she had been only five minutes ago. “I haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon. Is he alright?” she asked softly.

“I’m not sure,” Harry admitted. “I don’t think he knows.”

“Morning,” came Draco’s deep voice. He sat next to Ginny and she was surprised to see that he was alone.

“Where’s Hermione?” Harry asked before Ginny was able to.

“She left something in the Common Room and had to run back to get it. And I think you’ll be quite pleased when she gets here.”

“Why?” Ginny wondered.

“She made cinnamon buns last night.”

“You had better not be joking,” said Harry seriously. “That would just be cruel.”

“It’s the truth. I stole one this morning, just after she poured fresh icing all over them.” He rolled his eyes appreciatively. “Unbelievable. I tried to persuade her to let us keep them, but she insisted on sharing.”

“Too right,” said Ginny. “Hermione rarely makes those buns; you’re not hoarding them to yourself. It wouldn’t be fair.”

Hermione was busy hurrying down the marble staircase. She was a few steps above the second floor landing when she ran into Ron, although, thank Merlin, not in a literal sense. Time seemed to freeze for a second when their eyes met. He was standing, looking up at her, his face unreadable. Nerves fluttered through her; Hermione had always been able to read his face before, but now it was closed to her.

“Hello,” she said tentatively. He didn’t respond, so she took the next few steps down while saying, “I thought you would already be in the Great Hall.”

“I got a late start,” he said tonelessly.

“Yes, me too –”

“What’s that?” he asked suddenly, pointing to the small basket she held.

Hermione looked down at the basket. “I was up all last night baking,” she responded. “They’re cinnamon buns.” She had almost forgotten that she was holding them, though she supposed it was lucky that she had had to run back to the Common Room to get them; it would have been extremely uncomfortable for her and Ron to meet in the halls while she was holding hands with Draco.

The last time she had made them was Christmas, just before they had broken up. Ron knew she only baked when she was very happy or very troubled. He and Harry had been treated to a lot of Hermione’s baking while they were staying at Grimmauld Place searching for the Horcruxes. There was nothing quite like a gargantuan pile of oatmeal raisin cookies right after a successful mission, even if you were cut up and bruised.

They began walking down the steps in an edgy silence, not sure what to say to each other. Ron knew she hadn’t set out to hurt him; it just wasn’t something that Hermione Granger did. She would rather chew her wand arm off before hurting a friend, especially he or Harry. And cinnamon buns were a favorite of his, a fact that he knew Hermione was perfectly aware of considering the number of times he had begged her to make them. They were a peace offering and they both knew it.

Ron wanted things to be okay between them. Much as he knew it would kill him to see her with someone else, especially when that someone else was Draco Malfoy, he didn’t want to lose her from his life. There had been too many times in the past when their anger and stubbornness had almost caused the end of their friendship. They were fast approaching the doors of the Great Hall. Trying for normalcy, he said, “So… are you going to give me one? I’m starving.”

“What a surprise,” Hermione mumbled, but pulled out the biggest one she had and smiled sincerely as she passed it to him.

After their Transfiguration class (which had been rather grueling) Harry, Ron, and Hermione split ways. Harry and Ron were headed up to the Gryffindor Common Room for a game of Wizard’s chess in which Harry would undoubtedly get trampled, and Hermione was headed to the library. She wanted to get a head start on the essay McGonagall had assigned them, even though it wasn’t due for two weeks.

Things were strained with Ron and herself, and though she had expected it, it still hurt her to know that there was distance between them. Through an unspoken agreement, Hermione and Draco decided not be obvious in front of Ron. They wouldn’t flirt, they wouldn’t hold hands, and they certainly wouldn’t kiss. And though she knew Draco wasn’t happy about the arrangement, he had accepted it without a word, knowing how important her friendship with Ron was, and she couldn’t be more grateful.

Hermione had just settled herself at her favorite table when Pansy Parkinson arrived on the other side, looking as though she would rather be anywhere else.

“Granger,” Pansy said tersely with a stiff nod of her head.

“What do you want, Parkinson?” Hermione asked without preamble. She wasn’t in the mood to exchange false pleasantries with Draco’s ex-girlfriend.

Responses flew through Pansy’s mind, like my best friend back and to be rid of my self-loathing, but she only said, “I need to speak with you.”


“Because…” she looked around in an annoyed manner, obviously becoming aware of the curious glances being thrown their way. “Can we go somewhere a little less public?”

“Why should I go anywhere with you? Especially after what you did to Draco.”

“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand,” Pansy growled furiously.

Hermione gaped at the other girl for a second before replying. It wasn’t the anger that surprised her (she had seen Pansy angry many times before); it was the underlying pain and sadness that Pansy was obviously trying to hide. But she recovered quickly enough. “All I know is that you hurt him.”

“There are a lot of things that you don’t know, Granger.” And with this, Pansy stormed away, her dark chestnut hair swinging around her. Hermione couldn’t see why Pansy should be angry at being rebuffed; had she really expected a warm reception?

Hermione’s mind was buzzing with questions and curiosity. She tried to convince herself that Pansy’s only reason for approaching her was jealously. But the more Hermione thought about it, the more she remembered the pain in the other girl’s voice and the glimmer of tears that had appeared in her dark eyes just before she left in a huff.

Guilt swam uneasily in Hermione’s stomach when she realized how she had brushed the girl off. Dumbledore had always taught her that everyone deserved a second chance, but really, what was she supposed to have done? Invite Pansy to tea and chat about the latest, juicy tidbit of Hogwarts gossip (which Hermione had to admit probably concerned herself and Draco)? She couldn’t do that. Every memory she had of Pansy Parkinson was of a callous, rude girl that taunted her at every turn.

But then she thought of sixth year after Christmas. Pansy had been the only person to stand by Draco after he had switched sides. Their bond was obviously very strong, but Draco never spoke about her. What the hell had Pansy done to break that connection?

And something else occurred to her after a few moments deep thought. She knew that Draco had Charms now, all the Slytherins did. This meant that Pansy had skived off, something that Hermione could never remember happening before. From what she knew of Pansy, the girl was extremely serious about her studies. She was one of the few Slytherins that actually went to the library to do work, and she always got good marks. (They weren’t as good as Hermione’s, but then, whose were?) And Pansy had missed class to talk to her, Hermione; it had to be important, more than mere jealousy.

“Damn it,” she whispered to herself. It was pointless to try and fight the urge to find out; she had to know. She grabbed her still unopened bag and left the library as quickly as possible, praying that Pansy hadn’t chosen to retreat to the Slytherin Common Room. Being Head Girl, Hermione had the password to get in, but she obviously wouldn’t be well received.

She could only ask herself where she would go if she were upset. Hermione’s immediate thought was that she would go to Harry and Ron, but Pansy didn’t have anyone like that in her life, not that Hermione knew of anyway. She undoubtedly wanted to be alone, so where could she go? There were so few places in Hogwarts where one could really be alone. Though Hermione was fairly sure that Pansy didn’t know how to work the Room of Requirement, it was worth a try.

However, as she was passing a window on the seventh floor, she saw out of the corner of her eye a lone figure moving swiftly toward the lake. It was the middle of October, and there was a definite chill in the air. One gust of wind off the water was liable to freeze a person to death. What sane person would be making their way to a giant lake? A person that wanted to be alone, perhaps, and knew that a windy lakeside was a good place to be when you didn’t want to be disturbed?

Hermione made her decision quickly. She made her way down the marble staircase and in minutes was rushing through the oak front doors. Her steps slowed the closer she came to the lake. What was she going to say when she got there? Should she apologize? No, Pansy couldn’t blame Hermione for her hostility. After all, what reason did she have to be civil? Pansy hadn’t given Hermione any reason to trust her; it was natural for her to be suspicious. She supposed she would have to do what they had done quite a bit while searching for the Horcruxes; she would just have to wing it.

Ron was a mess. He had lost to Harry twice in chess and he was dreading lunch time, which was usually one of his favorites times of the day. That morning had been pure torture, though he had tried not to let it show.

Hermione and Malfoy had not touched in any way, which he knew was probably deliberate on Hermione’s part. But there was still such a sense of togetherness radiating from them both. They would share side-long glances and half hidden smiles that were obviously unconscious. It had made Ron sick to his stomach; he hadn’t been able to finish his bacon.

He could only comfort himself that they didn’t have Potions today. Malfoy had taken to sharing their table during class and Ron had often had to endure Malfoy flirting shamelessly with Hermione. Ron knew it wouldn’t help his frame of mind to watch them making cow eyes at each other over a simmering cauldron.

After their second chess game, Harry had suggested that they get to work on the Potions essay they had due on Monday. He wasn’t oblivious to Ron’s pain, but he wasn’t sure what he could do to help. He couldn’t assure Ron that it would get better with time. Aside from the fact that he would sound like a complete prat saying something like that, he also knew it wasn’t true. His own experience with Ginny had proved that time didn’t make things better; the longer he was without her, the more he wanted to be with her, the more it hurt to be distant. Especially now, when it seemed sure that any day she would be back on Dean Thomas’ arm.

As Harry watched Ron brooding out of the corner of his eye, he couldn’t help but think about how he and Ron were in very similar boats.

Hermione walked up behind Pansy warily. Though the other girl’s back was to her, she figured that Pansy knew she was there, if the sudden stiffness in her shoulders was any indication. She was sitting on the hard ground, her cloak drawn around her body. The wind off the lake was icy, as Hermione had known it would be, and she watched for a moment as Pansy’s dark brown locks danced in the breeze. She wondered briefly what it would be like to have hair that was straight as a pin (certainly a lot easier to deal with then her own messy curls), but then she told herself to stop stalling. Drawing a deep breath, she took the last few steps and sat down a couple feet away from where the Slytherin girl was huddled.

“Go away, Granger,” Pansy said without heat, as though she already knew Hermione would ignore the request. She didn’t turn her head, leaving her chin on her up-drawn knees and continuing to stare unseeingly at the lake’s surface. It was obvious that she had been crying.

Hermione made no move to leave. Pulling her wand from the pocket of her robes, she pointed it at the ground in front of them and silently conjured a small, warming fire of bright blue flames, an art she had mastered in her first year. Pansy turned her head slightly and looked at the Gryffindor with an arched brow, a small, humorless smile playing around her mouth. Hermione had realized with a start that Pansy’s eyes were not black as she had always thought they were. They were the deep, dark blue of the midnight sky.

“You chose the location; I choose not to freeze,” Hermione began a bit defensively. Pansy turned back to look over the lake again, her smile falling away. “You’re the one that wanted to talk, Parkinson, so start talking.”

For a few long minutes, Pansy stayed silent, gathering her thoughts. Just as Hermione was ready to inform her that she had more important things she could be doing, and that she would be leaving to do them if the Slytherin had decided to become a mute, Pansy opened her mouth to speak. Her words came in a flood as though she had longed to say them for quite some time and had been denied the privilege.

“I need you to understand what kind of a man my father was,” she began, taking Hermione by surprise. That certainly wasn’t what she had expected Pansy to open with. “My mother died when I was just two, and I’m the only family that he has left. He always told me that I looked just like her. His biggest concern was always to keep me safe, so when the war broke out, he refused to choose a side to fight on. He knew that to openly defy You-Know-Who would put both of us in danger, but he also couldn’t bear to serve him. My father was a good man, and a proud one.

“His mother was from Poland and she named him Lolek; it means ‘free man;’ that legacy is something that he took pride in. He refused to serve under someone he didn’t believe in, who spouted ideas and values that he vehemently disagreed with. After Hogwarts closed last summer, everything seemed like it was falling apart, and You-Know-Who was gaining more and more power. My father was becoming extremely paranoid, convinced that we were in imminent danger. He sent word to his mother’s family in Poland, asking for a safe haven, and they said yes. One night in early July, he sent an owl to Yaxley. He and my father had business dealings, and my father was going to ask him to handle them until we returned. He wasn’t stupid; he knew Yaxley was a Death Eater, but Yaxley is also an old friend of the family. Yaxley had told my father that out of respect for him, he wouldn’t speak of You-Know-Who in our home. My father thought he could trust Yaxley; they had grown up together, like Draco and I.

“When Yaxley arrived, he tried to persuade my father to stay and fight for You-Know-Who. My father refused and sent me from the room, but I hid outside the door. They were yelling at each other. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but all of sudden there were flashes of light and bangs. They had started dueling.” Pansy paused in her story to draw a deep, unsteady breath. “It’s all my fault,” she continued quietly, tears glistening in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. “I was only trying to help, but if I hadn’t run in the room when I did, my father would never have been hit. I distracted him, you see. Just as I burst in, Yaxley yelled, ‘Dementis Imitatus.’”

Hermione gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. She had heard of the spell before – she read about it in Magick Moste Evile when trying to find information on Horcruxes in sixth year – but had never known it to be used. The spell imitated the effects of the Dementor’s Kiss, though the victim didn’t actually lose their soul. It was supposed to be like having a Dementor around you constantly and would slowly drive the victim into insanity. They were completely unresponsive, and would eventually waste away, unable to save themselves. There was no known cure.

“I see you’ve heard of it,” Pansy said. Hermione could only nod; what could she possibly say? Pansy continued her story, her voice thick with emotion.

“I Stunned Yaxley without thinking. I don’t know how I managed it; I must have surprised him. I didn’t… I had no idea what that spell was. My father didn’t answer me when I tried to wake him up. At first, I thought he was dead, but I could hear him breathing and he had a pulse. I did the only thing I could think. I Apparated us both to the home of my grandmother’s family in Poland, and I can only thank God that they took us in. I didn’t have their letter with me, no clothes except for what I was wearing; all I had with me was my wand and my father.

“Agata – she’s an aunt of mine – took us to the Wizard hospital there. They told us… they explained what the spell was and what it did. I was in shock, and by the time I was able to think about anything else… by the time I thought of Draco, it was two weeks after the fact. And I was afraid. I was afraid that if I tried to contact him, they would find out where we were and come after us. Yaxley is a vengeful man. I couldn’t risk it,” she said, turning to look at Hermione for the first time since she had started speaking, her eyes pleading for the other girl to understand. “Maybe it was cowardly. I don’t care if it was. My father might be dead to the world, but he isn’t dead yet. Someday, they’ll find a cure. Someday, I’ll have him back. He’s all I have left, I couldn’t risk his life.”

Hermione wasn’t surprised to feel tears slipping out of her eyes. “Of course you couldn’t,” she said after a moment. “But… Pansy, why are you telling me this? Why haven’t you told Draco?”

Pansy drew another deep breath and wiped her eyes. “He won’t talk to me. He’s furious that I left without telling him; he thinks we just ran away. Nobody knows what really happened to my father except for my family in Poland… and now you. Most of the Parkinson’s used me and my father’s sudden disappearance as an excuse to flee, so I’m not surprised that when I came back everyone assumed that I had fled as well.”

They sat in silence for a few moments. After a while, Hermione said, “What was it that you wanted to speak to me about?” At Pansy’s confused look, Hermione added, “I highly doubt that you planned to tell me about all this.”

“No, that I didn’t. I just wanted to know how he is. Draco, I mean. This is going to sound a little ridiculous, considering that he won’t even look in my direction, but he’s my best friend. I just wanted to know if he’s happy… if he’s okay.”

“I think he’s getting there. But I also think that you need to tell him –”

“Granger, I tried. He won’t speak to me.” Just then, a bell rang out over the grounds, signaling the beginning of lunch. Pansy stood suddenly. “I should get back to the castle. I need to talk to Flitwick about missing class.” She picked up her bag and turned to leave. But after taking a few steps, she stopped and looked back at Hermione. “Granger…” she sighed. “Thank you.”

“For what?” Hermione asked, completely thrown.

“The chance to let me talk. It’s more than anyone else would have given me.” She turned again and walked quickly back to the school, her cloak flying behind her.

Hermione didn’t move for several minutes, puzzling over what she had just learned. If it was true (and Hermione suspected that it was; no one was that good an actress), then Draco needed to know. He and Pansy both deserved that much. She extinguished her blue fire and stood up. It looked like she was going to miss another meal.

By the time Hermione reached the Great Hall, Draco was already half-way through his steak-and-kidney pie. He and Harry were having a good-natured argument about Slytherin’s chances that year. Though Draco had decided to abstain from Quidditch that year because he knew that he would never be accepted by his teammates, they had both been Captains in sixth year (and Harry again this year); he obviously had a vested interest in the team that he helped form.

“You’re completely mental!” Harry was saying. “Do you really think that Derrick and Bole are going to be able to stop the Gryffindor Chasers? They haven’t played in four years, not to mention that they weren’t all that good to begin with. I mean, they had to replace them with Crabbe and Goyle.”

“Slytherin’s got Milicient Bulstrode in as Keeper. I picked her myself. Gryffindor may have a strong front, but there’s no way they’ll get anything past her.”

“You may have a good Keeper, but so do we.” (Ron had gotten over his confidence problem ever since coming back from the war; the improvement was rather staggering.) “And with Ginny leading the Chaser’s, and me in as Seeker, there’s no way Slytherin can win.”

“Well, I’ll admit the Slytherin Seeker isn’t near where I was talent wise,” Draco smirked cockily. “But word is that the new kid, Farrell, is pretty decent. And we’ve got better brooms than you lot. Well, all except for you.”

“‘Pretty decent’ isn’t going to cut it. And better brooms don’t mean anything up against superior talent. I think I proved that second year, remember?”

“Oh, shut up.”

Harry laughed at Draco's scowl. “Not to mention that the majority of your team is brand new. The only returning players from last year are Bulstrode and one of your Chasers. Bulstrode is good, I’ll give you that, but… come on. Gryffindor’s side is strong and experienced. Sorry, mate, but you’ve really got no chance.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at the boys’ argument; it was so typical of them. She wouldn’t really have expected Ron to join in, which he didn’t; rather, he sat a little to the side, picking dejectedly at his food. She tried to ignore the stab of guilt that she felt, but it was impossible. She wanted things to be simple again. But she feared that they never would be.

Draco glanced to the side and saw her. The smile that split his face at the sight of her lit her up inside like nothing else ever had. “Hey, there you are,” he said as she took the seat next to him. He deeply wished he could lean in and kiss her, but knew that she wouldn’t want that. Not when Weasley was present. “Hermione, do me a favor and tell Potter here that Gryffindor hasn’t got a chance next Saturday.”

“Are you asking me to lie to him, then?” she asked, forcing a small smile.

Harry went back to eating his lunch. Draco, however, wasn’t fooled. He turned his body more fully toward hers and took her hands. “What’s wrong?” he asked quietly.

“I need to talk to you,” she whispered. Draco opened his mouth to speak, but Hermione shook her head. “Privately. Let’s go up to the dorm.”

He searched her face intently for a moment. Draco didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on, but it must be extremely important if Hermione wanted to hide it from her friends. “Okay, come on.” He stood gracefully and pulled her with him.

“Hermione, are you okay?” Harry asked, noticing that they were about to leave.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’ll see you in Herbology after lunch, yeah?” She sent him a look that plainly said she would explain everything to him then.

Ron’s eyes followed them as they left the hall with a clenching in his heart. For one of the first times in his life, Ron was losing his appetite.

A/N: Okay, first of all let me say that I am sooo sorry for the long wait between chapters. I was having a little trouble with this chapter, plus I started classes again, so I haven’t had as much time to devote to my writing. I’m really sorry and I’ll try not to let it happen again. Second of all, I know this chapter isn’t very satisfying, especially after all that waiting you had to do, but trust me, it’s important. Not just because we find out all about Pansy, but because I needed to illustrate Hermione’s guilt and everything that goes along with that. If everything goes as planned, the next chapter should be very satisfying, at least, I hope. And that chapter is fully planned out, so it shouldn’t take me too long to update. The song in here is “My Favorite Accident,” by Motion City Soundtrack. Oh, and that reminds, while I was so creatively blocked with this chapter I got an idea for a one-shot, also a dramione. I’m almost done with it, but its crazy long, so I might split it in two and make it a two-part short story. We’ll see. But be sure to keep your eye out for it! It’s called “This Is For Real.” The title is inspired by a Motion City Soundtrack song from their new album. Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. Please don’t forget to review! It means so much when you do! ~Meghan

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