Sorry it took so long!! The next morning Hermione awoke to a cavernous yawn, and the smell of bacon from a sizzling frying pan. Smiling to herself, she strode out of her bedroom, clambered down the steps, and stretched her arms above her head as she walked into the kitchen. “Morning,” she said sleepily to her aunt, as once again her jaw lowered so that a yawn could escape out of it. “Well, it’s about time you’re out of bed! I was beginning to wonder whether you were sick or not! It’s not like you to sleep in this late in the mornings,” said her aunt in a motherly tone, as she examined her niece with a skeptical eye, “Why are you dressed in the clothes that you wore yesterday?” Feeling flighty, for she had forgotten to change out of yesterday’s clothes, she pretended to giggle, and remarked, “Oops! Well, I tell you Aunt Loretta, I stayed up really late last night, and dozed off while immersed in one of my books I am currently studying, and seemingly enough, I fell into a deep sleep without even the thought of changing passing through my mind.” “Reading a book, eh?” said Hermione’s aunt as she flipped a pancake on a large griddle resting upon the burner of a country-style stove, “What was it about?” Hermione plopped down on a kitchen chair placed in front of a rectangular mahogany dining table, and poured herself a glass of fresh orange juice. “Oh, you know, the usual,” lied Hermione as she held the glass to her lips, “different sorts of spells and such.” “Oh really?” said Loretta with an overly-interested tone, as she served up the pancakes and bacon onto the table, “would that involve sneaking out of the house at the hour of midnight without my permission?” Hermione choked on her juice, and looked up at her aunt whom was staring her square in the eyes. “I don’t appreciate you doing that, dear. You scared me right out of my wits when I heard the backdoor shut. I’m a light sleeper, you know, and can hear the littlest sounds. Next time you decide to rendezvous into the night, be sure to let me know first. Heaven knows what sort of criminals lurk around here during the sleeping hours of the night! I grabbed the revolver from my nightstand in fright that someone had entered the house, until I discovered your bed empty, and realized that you must have ventured off to the Malfoys.” Hermione hung her head over her plate, feeling incredibly terrible for having worried her aunt, and she apologized sincerely. “It’s quite all right, but I want you to know that as long as you are under this roof, you are not to run off without my permission. I will even consent to letting you go at two in the morning, just as long as you ask first.” “Yes Aunt Loretta.” Hermione took up her fork in her hand, and began to slice the large pancakes, which were smothered with maple syrup. Before she had the chance to take a bite, a tapping noise came from the window that was set above the kitchen’s sink, and she looked over towards it. She spotted a tawny owl perched on the window’s sill, and hurried across the creaky, wooden floor to open it. The moment she threw the windowpane open, the owl gave a pompous hoot, and tossed a copy of the Daily Prophet into Hermione’s hands. Realizing that she needed 5 knuts to pay for the paper, she invited the delivery bird into the kitchen for a bite of something to eat, and dashed up the staircase to retrieve her coin purse in which she kept her wizarding gold. She returned downstairs quickly, and placed 5 copper knuts into the leather collecting pouch that was tied to the owl’s crooked leg, and shoed it out the window. Her aunt, whom was already used to the owl’s daily deliveries, leaned over her plate, chewing a piece of bacon absentmindedly as she deeply immersed herself in the latest edition of ‘Woman’s World’ magazine. Hermione pulled the string tie that held her newspaper together in a roll; unaware of the headline news she was about to read. She propped the paper up against the sweating jug of orange juice that was shining brightly in the mid-morning sunlight, and once again lifted the fork to her mouth, but suddenly dropped it to her plate with a clatter as she read in bold print, the most eye-opening article that she had ever chanced to look upon: THE WAR AGAINST THE DARK LORD HAS BEGUN Ministry officials have finally come out into the open, and have announced that they are rounding up several skilled witches and wizards to wage war against the arising power of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. “It’s time that we accept the fact that the Dark Lord has indeed returned,” states Cornelius Fudge, current Minister of Magic, “and in doing so, we must prepare ourselves for the worst. We can use all of the help we can get from wizards, witches, and creatures alike.” Through the summer, there have been many duels amongst Death Eaters and Aurors. One particular duel, happened in today’s early morning hours near the outskirts of Azkaban Prison. Those detained in the prison were set free, since the dementors which once resided there had taken off in late spring. With prison cells empty, havoc is surely about to spread around the globe as the followers of the Dark Lord return to their master. “It’s truly a triumph for the Death Eaters,” remarks William Wrightwin, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, “but the more skilled witches and wizards we get, the greater our chances of over-powering the Dark Lord will be.” Continued on A2 Hermione reread the newspaper to make sure everything she had just taken in was true…War? Already? She quickly rose from her spot at the table, cleared her dishes, dashed upstairs to change her clothes, and then raced back down with the Prophet in her hand. “I’m going out for a while!” she shouted to her Aunt from the living room, as she quickly slammed the front door shut behind herself. She jumped from the steps leading off of the white-wash painted porch of the house, and flew off over the rolling field until she reached the edge of the forest, that of which Draco and his mother lived in. It had taken her approximately 15 minutes to reach the dwellings of the Malfoys, and when she began to pound harshly on their tattered wooden front door, she coughed and wheezed a few times from her brisk and hurried run. A few seconds later, the door opened, with Draco standing behind it. His lips rose into a sideways grin, and he leaned against the doorframe with his elbow raised above his head. “Miss me already, Hermione?” he asked quirkily, as one of his brows arched above his eye. “May I come in?” she panted, as she clutched a rather annoying and painful stitch in her side. Sensing the urgency in Hermione’s voice, he stepped aside quickly, allowing her through. Narcissa came from the upstairs of the house, looking almost as bushed as Hermione was. “I’ve heard the news,” remarked Narcissa as she led Hermione to a dust-covered couch, “I was listening to WWN (Wizarding Wireless Network), the news station on my portable radio. I couldn’t believe it. War already?” Draco took a seat on the couch, ignoring the cloud of dust that followed, and Hermione joined him. “Here’s the Prophet’s edition,” she said as she handed the newspaper over to Mrs. Malfoy, “Front page headlines. It’s continued on the next page. I didn’t read it over much. But you know what this means, don’t you? Lucius Malfoy, your, erm—husband is now running about, doing errands for V-Voldemort, since he’s been broken out of prison.” “I’m not worried the slightest bit,” replied Narcissa dismissively, as though the thought of her husband, one of the more dangerous Death Eaters escaping, was as passive as talking about the weather, “The only thing that I am worried of is the fact that the Ministry, though are true in their word of searching for people to fight against the Dark Lord, are not realizing the army that he has risen up. It’s anything from Dementors, to Giants, Lethifolds, Runespores, Trolls, Chimaeras, and even the extremely dangerous Manticore. There are also more human-like creatures such as Vampires, hags, and banshees…” Hermione chewed one of her fingernails, deep in thought, and asked, “Does anyone else know this? How did you find this out?” Narcissa shuddered fearfully for a moment, and looked at Hermione with a sense of fear in her eyes, “The Dark Lord, along with several other Death Eaters, attended a meeting at our manner one night, and I overheard it while listening in the hallway, out of the vision of the conspirators, of course.” “But, don’t you think that it’s important that we relay this information to the Ministry? It seems rather important, don’t you think?” From Hermione’s right, Draco gave a rather loud snort, and chimed into the conversation, “Right. We’ll just say, ‘Hi, this is the Malfoy’s who have gone missing from London. We’re just writing to tell you a friendly ‘hello’, and oh, by the way, here’s a list of creatures that the Dark Lord has risen up for his army,’” he rolled his eyes to the ceiling, “That would go over real well.” “Well, I could write it,” suggested Hermione spontaneously. “Oh, and that’s even better,” said Draco, now getting slightly annoyed, “What would you write? ‘This is Hermione Granger, a student at Hogwarts. I’m writing you this friendly little letter to let you know of what creatures He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,’ or whatever all the other witches and wizards call him nowadays ‘has collected for his fearsome army.’” “Well?” said Hermione agitatedly, “How else are we supposed to tell them?” “We can’t,” said Narcissa with a tone of sadness and despair, “at least not at this point in time. All we can do now is hope for the best.” “We have to do something!” snapped Hermione, as she rose from the old, musty couch, “We can’t just sit back and watch Voldemort take over the Ministry with the use of foul creatures! There has to be SOME way we can warn them! What about an anonymous letter?” “It’s not even worth it to try,” said Narcissa as she slumped her shoulders forward slightly, “The Ministry won’t be able to detect if the thing is a hoax, or misleading information written from Death Eaters to try and steer them off the track of defeating the Dark Lord…I’m afraid that every idea is useless. Besides, I’m sure that the Ministry is intelligent enough to figure out that the Dark Lord will use every possible vile person, or thing that he can get his hands on to reek havoc everywhere. They’re more prepared now than you think they are.” Hermione opened her mouth to question the matter further, but Narcissa held up a milky-white hand, “I’m afraid that it’s of no further use to argue. As I said, there is absolutely nothing that we can do at this point.” They sat in silence for a moment, while Hermione forced back the feeling of frustration that had lumped up in her throat, and held back angry tears. She knew that she had to do all that she could to protect the Malfoys, but not feeding the Ministry highly important information was an emotional strain on her, one that she couldn’t let get in the way of the safety of Draco and Narcissa. They were depending upon her. “Well, if you’ll excuse me,” said Narcissa in a polite manner, “I have plenty of work to get done around here today,” she spotted the tear-filled eyes of Hermione, and gently said, “Like I said, there’s nothing we can do. We have no choice but to leave it alone for now. It’s just as frustrating for me as it is for you.” Hermione nodded as a tear splashed down onto her lap, and stood up, wiping her eyes with her sleeve, “Is there anything that I can help you with around here, Narcissa?” Mrs. Malfoy smiled appreciatively, and shook her head, “No, but thank you for the offer. I’d like to be able to keep myself busy for the remaining time that Draco and I are here. It will keep my mind off things to have a bit of work to do. Why don’t you and Draco go outside? It’s too lovely of a day to be stuck inside a shack full of dust and grime.” Hermione and Draco both looked at one another while Narcissa strode out of the room. “Well, what do you say then?” Hermione narrowed her eyes at Draco, and began to walk out of the door, “Sounds fine to me, but let’s get one thing straight, shall we?” “I’m listening,” said Draco with a smirk. “We aren’t friends…we’re acquaintances. Nothing more, and nothing less, got it?” “Yeah, sure,” he replied with an airy tone, as he followed the curly-haired brunette out of the door. Checking to be sure she was well ahead of him and out of earshot, he muttered to himself, “Acquaintances always turn out to be friends in the end. And I thought she was smart and read books like there was no tomorrow?” “So,” said Draco loudly as Hermione walked by his side, a good distance away from him, “if we are to be ‘acquaintances’,” he emphasized the last word of his sentence strongly, “then what do you say that we get to know each other a little better? For instance, what’s your favorite color?” “Well, if I answered that question, then we would hardly be acquaintances anymore. We’d be well on our way to an established friendship.” “Have you ever considered the fact that it will be awfully hard to remain acquaintances, if we are to spend the whole summer together?” “Yes,” replied Hermione confidently, with her lips set in a firm, thin line, “It’s not like it’s going to be that hard, considering your past. Though you’re not Malfoy, the bad-boy anymore, I still see a great deal of cockiness in you.” Draco rolled his eyes to the clear, blue sky, and retorted, “Oh, so Miss Perfect over here sees my flaws, but completely ignores hers, is that it?” “What are you talking about?” questioned Hermione, raising her voice slightly, “What sort of ‘flaws’ do you see in me? I think I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much.” “See,” pointed out Draco, “you’re displaying one of your flaws already.” “And that would be…?” said Hermione as she gave him a stern, yet inquiring glare. “Miss Perfect only wants to see the faults in others, rather than picking out her own and fixing them.” “For the five-hundredth time, what sort of flaws do I have?!” “For one,” began Draco as he cast her a devilish grin, “you’ve got to stop pursing your lips like McGonnagal. It’s freaking me out.” Hermione pursed her lips again, caught herself doing so, but then managed to break out a smile from her firm-set face. “Secondly,” said Draco as he snapped a dead twig from a tree as they continued meandering through the forest, “you’re incredibly bossy and overbearing every so often. It’s a wonder that Potter and Weasley can even handle you at times!” Hermione gritted her teeth as though she had just been pinched, and agreed, “I suppose your right…I can get carried away at times…” “Third of all, you are completely oblivious—” “Excuse me?!” countered Hermione as she looked at him wildly, “I’m…what was it? Oblivious?” “Whoah! Hold on a moment, you didn’t let me finish what I was going to say!” Hermione crossed her arms ferociously, and looked at him with tiger-eyes, “I’m listening.” “As I was saying,” continued Draco, as his face softened and he looked into her dark brown eyes. Hermione felt that familiar feeling within her stomach arise again as she saw his supple, gray eyes bore into her own again, “You are completely oblivious, because you cannot even realize when someone has feelings for you.” “Of course I can,” replied Hermione, not realizing what Draco had truly meant, “I’ve got friends and such, don’t I?” Draco laughed softly, and shook his head back and forth, “That’s not what I’m talking about.” Hermione became so flustered that she almost ran into a large oak that she failed to see from the shock of what Draco was implying. “Wh—what?” “Lovely day, isn’t it?” said Draco, suddenly changing the subject; “I haven’t seen one like this in a long time.” Hermione stood rooted to the ground, stunned and amazed. She was beginning to think that her ears were deceiving her, when Draco realized that what he had said was a very serious matter to Hermione. “What’s the matter?” he asked knowingly, with a crooked, handsome grin. “What did you just say?” said Hermione very slowly. “I said that it was a lovely day…” “No, before that!” Draco sighed, and continued walking, “You know what I just said, and you heard me crystal clear.” Hermione followed Draco, not uttering another word on the topic.

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