It was a golden Monday morning in Diagon Alley. The streets were flooded with shuffling feet, scurrying busily along. Dozens of young, new students littered the cobble street, transfixed on shop windows, in awe of the magical merchandise displayed at the front.
This was the final day Harry, Ron, and Hermione were to retrieve the last of their school supplies. This was also the day they were to enter Kings Cross and board the familiar scarlet engine. Anticipation sang through the children’s’ jovial faces to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hearts must have been dancing inside them. But to Hermione, this was a wretched trip she neither wanted nor deemed necessary anymore.
“Do you think if I sucked up to Fred and George, they’ll consider buying me that Firebolt?” Ron nudged Hermione’s elbow as he said this, in hopes to attract her attention.
Hermione turned to Ron and simply smiled at his imprudent question. Ron could dream of better days on the Quidditch field as long as he wished. She, however, could not push the war from her mind and she no longer attempted to.
She seemed a dose more absent-minded than her usual, alert self, and Harry and Ron exchanged befuddled looks at one another as they saw her eyes skim through the heads of people in the crowds as though she were searching for someone that was not ever to come. Ron shrugged, abandoning his curiosity and led them into Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, squeezing through two wizards exiting while Hermione followed, still craning her neck.
Upon entering the shop, Hermione deserted her search and falsified interest in their daily shopping. Mrs. Weasley was already inside with Ginny who was anything but happy with her parental company. Her mum was tugging persistently at the sleeves of her new robes. Ginny looked utterly mortified as a group of 6th year boys huddled around a rack of robes, watching her hopelessly. She glanced at Hermione and rolled her eyes, suppressing a giggle. Tossing her fiery red hair over her shoulder in the boys’ direction, she looked to her mother with a solid face, her bright brown eyes ablaze.
“They fit. Let’s go now, please?” Ginny pleaded.
“Ginny dear, don’t be so hasty,” Mrs. Weasley said almost hysterically. It was no news that she found it rather hard coping with her now-mangled boys. “Perhaps Ron would like new robes, as well.” Ron grimaced as she started tugging fruitlessly at his robes too.
“I’m good, Mum,” Ron said, pulling up his shoulders as if to make his arms shorter.
Harry and Ginny laughed at Ron as Mrs. Weasley forfeited her maternal strive and strolled to Madam Malkin to pay for the new robes. Ginny walked towards her mother, eager to leave the store, but eyed Harry as she went by, brushing her fingertips along his in a swift, quick movement. Harry grinned at her.
Hermione spent the rest of the day trailing behind Harry and Ron with Ginny at her side. It was unusual for the trio not to be together reminiscing, but Hermione hadn’t felt like herself in what seemed like years. Ginny remained behind with Hermione, keeping her friend irrelevant company. She felt Ginny’s eyes shift to her periodically through the silence, wondering what might be wrong with her, but Ginny's irritating questions were left stagnant after the interrogation upon greeting each other at the Burrow.
“Did you get everything Hermione?” Ginny said this gingerly behind Harry and Ron’s backs. Ron had just said “Dumbledore” and everybody attained a quiet stance, much like Hermione had displayed all morning.
“What? Oh, yes I think so.” She fetched her supplies list from her shoulder bag and skimmed down its contents to double check she had everything. “Oh no! I completely forgot about Ancient Runes!”
“That’s alright, you can just send for it once we get to Hogwarts,” Ginny consoled.
“I’m sure I’ll have Runes first day. Maybe I’ll just buy it since we’re here?”
At least one thing about Hermione had persisted normal. She halted and looked up at the Flourish & Blotts sign above the handsome shop. Fading memories infested her train of thought, causing glimpses of better times spent in Diagon Alley to flash before her: her first year with her parents, Gilderoy Lockhart, being close with Ron, and Draco Malfoy. All of these thoughts were emblazoned in the back of her memory, yet she felt sad that that’s exactly what they were: mere memories so distant now, it was difficult for her to recall that they even occurred.
Ginny stopped Hermione’s trance right away when she grasped her hand, trying to pull her inside with her to escape the boys’ uncomfortable manners.
Draco walked awkwardly along the streets of Diagon Alley with his strutting mother, Narcissa, and house elf. People were either cowering at the sight of them or had fixed glares glued upon their faces. Some onlookers muttered curses and degrading statements in their direction. Draco’s house elf was heaving numerous objects for him, swaying from side to side from the toppling stack of books.
“Straighten up dear, we are still the proud Malfoy family,” said Narcissa with acute dignity in her voice.
Draco made to stick out his chest a bit more in a desperate attempt to please his loving mother. But after all, he would be heading back to Hogwarts this day, the very place he loathed and was hated by the majority of students. He had been dreading this all summer, and the idea that he would have to face the students’ whose hearts had broken at the news of Dumbledore’s death caused him to slump even further down into the pavement. He wished for a moment that he could melt into the gravel, invisible and forgotten.
He hadn’t spoken of Dumbledore or the incident at the tower to anybody except Voldemort, to explain and possibly escape alive. There had been no desire inside of him to recollect those treacherous events.
Draco and his mother neared Madam Malkin’s shop just when he glimpsed Hermione from the corner of his eye. He stopped dead in his tracks when she acknowledged him as well, causing his mother to lightly collide into his back. Hermione gave him a reproachful look when she noticed the house elf stumbling with the tower of things in his arms. Draco quickly skimmed four books off the top, clutching them in his hands and looked back to her pretty face for reassurance. But her expression was empty, and she entered Flourish & Blotts with that Weasley girl attached to her side. He longed to go in after her, maybe even to just take in her scent.
Narcissa smacked Draco’s shoulder. “That filthy mudblood was looking at us!”
Draco cringed when he heard this term, for this is exactly what he chose to call Hermione for the last six years; a torturous nickname. Narcissa turned with her nose in the air into Madam Malkin’s, her white blonde hair flowing behind her. Draco obediently followed.
He riffled through the clothes, avoiding his mother’s eyes, but thought of nothing more than Hermione and the summer. It had been a new ordeal to drop “mudblood” from his vocabulary, as it had been to have one in his room. Narcissa had been gone those two months, no doubt doing Lord Voldemort’s bidding in replace for her son’s spared life. He was thankful for his mother’s deep yearn to keep her son alive and even more thankful she had been absent. Nevertheless, he betrayed her ultimately by bringing a muggle-born to their manor.
As he absentmindedly picked through Madam Malkin’s untailored robes, visions of his summer that transpired with Hermione had taken a choking hold on his body. He wondered if he were to ever breathe normally again.
The scenes were hard to shake off whilst his daily activities wore on, or trying simply to converse with his parents. Lately, they had seemed to be strangers, people he once knew ages ago. The only living being he felt truly connected to now, the only person who knew him completely, was Hermione. He confided in her, told her things. Things he had never told anyone. Things Draco felt ashamed for his whole life until he finally put them into words and rested them in a trustworthy soul.
The mudblood and the pure blood Slytherin; it was unheard of.
The ride on the Hogwarts Express always seemed to extend an unearthly amount to Hermione the more she ventured it. As the eleven year old girl was happily waltzing around the cabins correcting spells the other students attempted, time meant nothing. But now, seventeen and more unstable than she ever imagined she would ever be, Hermione was traumatized and ready for the train ride home. The experiences and duels she had endured at such a young age had left her in pieces, constantly searching for things that might make her feel whole again. The only luring appeal inside Hogwarts to her now was, shockingly, Draco Malfoy.
She had long before admitted to herself the abnormality of her feelings. Their difference in allegiance was not the only aspect that held anxiety for her. This had been the meager boy who had badgered her and her friends for many years. The boy who attempted to wreak havoc in their lives every waking moment inside Hogwarts. The boy she punched in her third year over Buckbeak. The boy who now wanted her, unconditionally.
She tossed and turned the night before, arguing with herself about the revelation. Frequently, she had to talk herself into keeping quiet about her undying affection for the Slytherin boy, mustering every consequence she could think of. Not for a single moment did she believe any of them would accept the truth, but she had never been too keen at keeping secrets from her boys, nor did she appreciate when they kept things from her. A lie was a lie, and it didn’t matter the circumstances. Now that she was in one of those situations, she felt remorse for Harry and all his secrecy throughout the years.
She sat in a compartment with her three best friends, her mind miles away from their Quidditch conversation. She had Hogwarts; A History sprawled out onto her lap with her chin in her hand, barely reading it. She periodically raised her eyes inconspicuously out of the glass compartment and into another to peer upon Draco’s back, his bright blonde hair gleaming in the sunlight. He seems happy, she thought lamentably.
As if Draco could feel her penetrable gaze upon him, he turned around while Pansy Parkinson latched onto his arm; her feeble way of keeping his attention on her. Pansy’s bony fingers clutched Draco’s robes and Hermione immediately felt a rush of jealousy churning inside her.
Hermione was not aware she was glaring at Draco but he shot her a confused look that said so and threw his eyes towards the train’s bathrooms, mouthing the words “meet me”. She melted for those gray eyes and gave an insignificant nod in return. He repeated the slight nod with his own and a few blonde strands of hair fell over his sparkling eyes.
Draco was aging beautifully. He no longer kept his vibrant hair smoothed back, but instead he let it fall freely about his angular face. Yet his change in appearance was hardly what had undergone such drastic adjustment, in Hermione’s opinion. There was no doubting he had been a rude, spoilt coward most of his life. But Draco had since exchanged his dastardly anima for something of a heart, if you could call it that.
“I’ll be back, I’m going to the lavatories,” Hermione said, interrupting Ron and Ginny’s heated argument about Quidditch tactics. They stopped talking and gaped at her, presumably unaware that she had even been there. Hermione was invisible when there was talk of that sport.
“Okay…” Ginny said. She was now eyeing Hermione suspiciously for leaping into the conversation unwarranted. Hermione didn’t look at her, but instead looked to Ron, who she seemed to be addressing in the first place.
Ron exhibited puppy dog eyes. “Alright, we’ll be here when you get back.”
Harry snorted at this reply and Ginny hit Ron’s arm. “Where else would we be, Ron?”
Ron’s face turned a deep red and he averted his eyes out the window of the train. Hermione smiled guiltily and instantly slid the compartment door open. As she shut it behind her with little force, she took a deep breath, mumbling to herself. “For everyone’s own good,” she said, “that’s why.”
She cleared her throat and Draco spun around in his seat yet again, watching her walk off to the bathroom. His pale lips separated as his mouth hung slightly open, watching her hips sway from one side to the next, lust filling his head almost instantly.
“Draco, do you think – Draco?!” Pansy shrieked when she said his name, causing him to snap back into reality. Her arms were folded and she looked cross at him. Her horrible brown hair bounced above her shoulders with each haughty breath she took.
“I’ll be in the loo,” he said. Draco rose from his compartment and sped towards the lavatory in which Hermione just entered. He rapped on the door to be sure he chose the right one. He checked left and right to see if anyone was watching him.
An angelic voice emanated from inside and he grasped the metal handle to push the door open, hurrying inside.
Hermione was sitting on the counter next to the sink. Her hands were at her sides, clutching the counter top, and her ankles were delicately crossed. He briefly observed her, wanting every inch of skin he could take stock of. Her black skirt fell inches short above her knees, revealing her legs, and for a second he felt like ravaging her without any words spoken. Hermione leapt off the counter and onto Draco’s chest, wrapping her arms securely around his neck.
“I missed you so much,” she breathed into his ear, her lips brushing his lobe.
Draco smiled; relieved she had forgotten about Pansy. “I missed you too.”
His hands tangled into her golden brown curls, and he held her tighter against his body, afraid to let go. Hermione felt at last that it was okay to feel light. Away from Draco, everything seemed to be sheathed in darkness with the war going on and everybody so frightened about the future. She rejected the thought that he had a hand in any of it so that here, for a fleeting moment, she could have her Draco.
“This past week felt like forever,” she said, releasing him to look into his eyes. He took her hand into his and kissed her palm. Hermione marveled at his ivory skin and tears welled up in her eyes.
“Hey, don’t cry,” he said. “I’m here now.”
He climbed onto the counter, still holding her hand in his. He pulled her forward towards him, tilting her head up with his other hand that cupped her chin. She gave him a weak smile. He hated when she smiled at him like that. It was true, Hermione cared for Draco, but he was not a saint and he wouldn’t pretend to be. He was not oblivious to what was going on outside of Hogwarts. He knew what Voldemort was doing. What his mother was doing. What he had done himself, and the defensive guilt he harbored was inevitable.
“The ministry’s not doing anything about the muggles in danger.” Draco looked at her curiously as she said this. “I mean my parents,” she corrected. “I don’t even know where the Order is taking them, Draco. Where will I go if there’s not even a home to return to?” Hermione put her face in her hands and sobbed.
He naturally grew angry when spoken to about Voldemort and the Ministry, for he had known all along that what they were doing, including himself, was wrong. Perhaps if it hadn’t been for the violent threat towards him and his family from the Dark Lord, his cowardice wouldn’t have lead to Dumbledore’s death. He resented the thought of Potter and how quick, he knew undoubtedly, he would sacrifice himself for the greater good. No one could possibly understand what it felt like to carry that weight around everyday. He didn’t need reminded of it anymore, especially from her.
“There’s always that filthy blood traitor,” Draco said with a sneer as he looked away.
Hermione removed her hands from her face looking incredulous. “Don’t call him that, Draco!”
He sighed deeply and kissed her forehead. “I know. I’m sorry. I just…hate that you could call that place home. I hate that of all the things I have, I can't give you that.”
Hermione felt rueful when he said this. She had not really wanted to live with Narcissa, or anywhere else Lucius might reside. The truth was, she was absolutely terrified of Lucius Malfoy and questioned herself as to why she wasn’t equally afraid of Draco.
Draco leaned in for a kiss and placed his hands at the small of her back, running his fingers along her velvety skin. Hermione, sulking or not, would never try to resist him. For denying herself something that she craved more than anything would be an insult to what was left of her pitiful life.
She pulled away from him momentarily as he slid his robes off his arms. He moved towards her hips, slowly gliding his fingertips up underneath her shirt to feel the grooves in her sides. Hermione let out an approving moan from the tingling sensation his touch embarked on her.
She planted her lips aggressively to his neck, kissing upwards towards his jaw line and finally to his parted lips. Her hands trailed down his arms and suddenly she stopped, inhaling sharply when she felt the inked mark on him. She scrutinized it quickly: there laid a dark skull, a snake coming out in place of a tongue on Draco’s left forearm, mocking her. Hermione jerked her hand away from it and deflected her eyes to her shoes.
Draco clasped his right hand over it, instinctively covering it. It’s not like she hasn’t seen it before, he thought. But still, he realized, it can’t be appealing to anyone except girls like Pansy Parkinson. He released his arm and tilted her chin up to him again, searching for her eyes.
“Hermione? Are you alright?”
“It still gets to me, Draco. I just can’t believe you’ve allowed him to brand you with a shameful thing like that!” She was on the verge of tears again, and her arms wrapped instinctively around herself.
“It's not like I had any say in it! Hermione, we’ve been over this,” he said as he dropped his hand from her face.
“Yes but you’re a –” she paused and lowered her voice to below a whisper, “a Death Eater.” She scrunched up her face as she said this as if she had tasted something foul and backed away from Draco, allowing him to get off the counter.
“Yes. And you want me all the same,” he said, hopping off and pulling his robes back on.
He was being smug. That was the Draco she knew and accidentally fallen for. Yes, she cherished him deeply but did that mean she would support the killing and torturing of innocent people? No, she was Hermione Jean Granger, a smart, muggle-born, Prefect! And who was he? A Death Eater, she thought. Just another Death Eater.
Draco said nothing as these thoughts raced through her head. He smoothed his beautiful blonde hair back and looked at her with those intense, grey eyes, a storm swimming inside them. Her eyes lay upon him, examining the shadows in which his cheek bones cast upon the hollow of his face.
Who was she kidding? This was her Death Eater; the most gorgeous creature ever to walk the earth.
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