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{Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, much as I may wish it were otherwise. Darnnnn it, learn how to share, J.K. Rowling!}

 

Hermione Granger climbed onto the Hogwarts Express, dragging her trunk behind her with difficulty. It was the first day of her final year at the castle, and this time she could enjoy it. Harry and Ron were nowhere to be found as of yet, so Hermione just pushed her things into the Heads' Compartment and made her way down the length of the train, her Head Girl badge pinned proudly to her chest. Her brown curls had tamed over the summer, now no longer bushy and frizzy, but smooth and silky as they fell upon her shoudlers. She was glancing into the compartments as she passed them, not exactly paying attention to the time, and was suddenly thrown off-kilter as the train lurched forward with an alerting shrill blast of the whistle. A small cry came from her as her equilibrium was upset and she felt herself teeter before beginning the downward topple to the floor. Everyone else had long since been seated, save for one, and it was him that she fell back into when she lost her balance. A pair of strong arms stopped her from tumbling to the floor of the rumbling train. She felt heat rushing to her face as she flushed embarrassedly, and she turned to thank her rescuer.

When she faced the unknown person, her eyes were greeted with an expanse of masculine, black-clothed chest with a Head Boy badge attached to the expensive looking robes. Hermione's gaze traveled up slowly, taking in the rather broad shoulders, the pale, elegant neck, the almost pointed chin, thin but full mouth, and defined cheekbones. She should have realized who it was immediately.

"Sorry, didn't mean to stumble into you. Thanks for that, though. Train caught me off guard, I'm afraid." She apologized, an easy smile turning up her mouth. It was then that her gaze finally reached his storm-grey eyes, and she realized exactly who it was that was holding her and she was being supported by. He looked different somehow; his platinum blonde hair wasn't greased back this year, instead it fell down to partially cover his emotionless eyes. Well, maybe not so emotionless; for a split second, Hermione thought she saw a flicker of something other than disdain and coldness. It was there and gone in a flash, disappearing so quickly she doubted it was ever there. The girl dismissed the thought and too a quick step away from Draco Malfoy and his embrace. She caught sight of his one raised eyebrow, and a half-smirk, which caused her to blush two shades brighter than before, right before she turned and fled back to the Head's Compartment, trying to hide her scarlet cheeks, still hot with humiliation.

 

Harry and Ron were waiting outside the door when she got there, so she let them in and then slammed the door behind her. The two boys didn't notice her flushed face or her hurry to enter; they were too busy arguing over which team was better, the Chudley Cannons or the Bulgarians. Hermione simply sat down, staring at the window as she got lost in thought. After a couple of hurried hugs and absent-minded "We've missed you"'s, they left, still arguing heatedly about Quidditch. The Gryffindor witch's brown orbs gazed out the window, though she wasn't taking anything in. No, her mind was still back in that corridor, trying to grasp what had happened. She'd been wrapped up in his arms, close to his chest, his heat like a radiator that had warmed her through in a split second. And in that tiny moment, she'd felt more emotions that she had in the past year.

She was so preoccupied that she didn't notice when the person her ponderings were focused on stepped silently into the compartment, sliding the glass-windowed door shut behind him. His tall 6' 2" frame created a very commanding presence, and that plus his arresting eyes and silvery hair made him an amazingly attractive man. His mercury-coloured eyes took quick note of her farway expression, and he took immediate advantage of her distantness, allowing his orbs to lazily rake down her. She'd matured astonishingly over the summer. Instead of the annoying, stick-figured, bushy-haired know-it-all he'd been expecting, Draco had been astounded that the first thing he'd been greeted with was an armful of a girl with sweet-smelling chestnut curls and curves in all the right places. And she wasn't dressed as she had always been for the last six years of their acquaintanceship. She had decided this year, she was going to actually dress and behave as a girl. This year, there would be no chance of people forgetting she was a female. She hadn't gone out and bought slutty or provacative outfits, she just wasn't wearing a shapeless school uniform any longer. It was mostly jeans and tee shirts, but she wore them well, that was for sure. The girl was dressed in a black T-shirt and a pair of light blue denim jeans. Both articles of clothing were fitted on her body very attractively. Over her shirt was a long, black cardigan sweater that stopped about four inches above her knees, with sleeves so long they covered her hand all the way to the second knuckle of her fingers. The body of the sweater hugged curves that had either been hidden since he'd known her or had grown miraculously over the past three months, and he had to admit, he was thoroughly enjoying looking at them now.

Draco had been so stunned at the change, he hadn't even acknowledged her apology or expression of gratitude, except with a raised eyebrow and a half-smirk. And while she might believe the latter had been directed at her, it hadn't been. It had been directed at himself. There had once been a time when he'd thought her ugly. Now he wondered how he could have ever seen her as anything but the beautiful girl she was. Yes, Draco Malfoy just admitted he thought the Muggle-born witch was lovely.Things had changed for him the past summer. His father was dead; he'd died during the last battle. His mother was dead, too. She'd been victim of Voldemort's torture and his own father's as well. Her death was what had changed him so. He had thrown off his father's oppressive control and turned against Voldemort, joining the Order of the Phoenix with Professor Snape's help. In all truth, he'd never wanted to serve "Lord" Voldemort. He had no desire to serve a half-blood egomaniac and no wish to be played with or treated as a mere servant. And he never really hated Muggles or Muggle-borns; it was just one more way he'd let himself be controlled, and once he pushed it all away, he left it ALL behind, including the immature and cruel name-calling and disrespect. Draco had been an invaluable spy, and even more valuable in the battle through his anonymity. He'd been destroying Death Eaters from within their ranks, and none of the enemy could tell who was the traitor, so they'd all turned against one another. It had been his help that had allowed the battle to be won, and Potter's defeat of the maniacal Voldemort had finished the war.

None of the "Golden Trio", as he liked to call them, knew about his betrayal of the Dark Lord, and so he didn't expect anything other than the exact same treatment he'd recieved in all previous years. He didn't really want to be anything other mortal enemies with Potter and Weasley. It would be nice to have something that wasn't going to change, and plus he still detested the two bungling, lucky idiots. However, he couldn't tell himself in all honesty that he wanted to remain hated by the female part of the trio. Back in that hall, it had stirred unfamiliar emotions when he heard her being nice and kind to him. Him, Draco Malfoy. Given, she didn't realize who he was when she was speaking, and she'd run as though a bloody plague were after her when she had figured out who was holding her so intimately, but that didn't change how it had made him feel. It was something he would have never foreseen, nor would have foretold his reaction to Hermione's grateful words of thanks. As soon as he'd seen her falling, his arms had seemed to automatically raise to brace the unbalanced girl, and he'd definitely been hard pressed to release her. Maybe this year wouldn't be a complete disaster, after all.

As though suddenly sensing the presence of another in the shaking train compartment, her head snapped around, chocolate brown eyes catching his immediately. He just continued to watch her in silence, stormy eyes cloaking his slight amusement when her cheeks flushed a becoming pink. A smile of amused tolerance graced his features for a moment before he shook it off and took a seat opposite her on the red velvet cushions. Hermione looked at the other student for a second before returning to staring blindly outside.

"You're welcome, by the way," he drawled blandly, not looking away from the Muggle-born witch. The girl glared at him for a bit, then she reached into the messenger bag that sat beside her. She rummaged through it and soon, pulled a thick book from its depths. The spine of the huge voume was worn and faded with age and use, but she opened it without hesitation to a page somewhere in the middle of the book. Hermione stared at the book for about ten minutes, and then glanced up at the Slytherin student to find that his eyes were still trained intensely on her. She frowned at the other student and spoke coldly.

"What are you looking at, Malfoy? Bugger off and quit looking at me." Draco was snapped out of his musings about the creaminess of her skin and the lushness of her mouth by her spiteful remark. Inwardly, he was laughing; it had never taken much to get a rise out of her. Outwardly, the teen wizard shrugged and smirked.

"I do believe I'm looking at you, Granger, and I'd much rather bugger you." His last words were drowned out, luckily, by the high-pitched blow of the train's whistle which signaled their imminent arrival at the school. It was lucky because, one- her eyes had begun to narrow dangerously as he'd spoken, and two- he needed a quick escape route. The last time she'd looked at him the way she was now, he'd been called a foul little cockroach and ended up with a broken nose and bruised jawbone, courtesy of Ms. Granger herself.

Draco stood quickly, ignoring the Head Girl's words, which were, "Excuse me? Bugger WHO?" He walked to the door quickly, eager to escape as he slid it open, and was about to exit out into the bustling crowd of disembarking students when he heard her speak again, more quietly this time.

"Something's different about you." That was all she said, so Draco paused, looked back at her with those mesmerizing grey eyes, and smiled. He really smiled at her with no sarcasm or malice, and it took her breath away. With that he stepped into the throng of teenagers, and Hermione rushed to the door, watching the unmistakeable firgure as it worked through the mob of people. Questions flitted through her head in a jumble, all of them wanting ungiven answers.

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