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    Hermione sat upright underneath the tree by the lake with a book spread on her lap. Her legs were crossed on the lush green grass and the breeze in the air danced around her curls. It was sunny, but bearable, and the large amount of shade the tree provided her was comforting. Students were bustling about the Hogwarts grounds, soaking in their Sunday freedom. 

    She heard footsteps lightly approaching and tore her eyes from her book to see her unwelcomed visitor. Draco was waltzing over from the castle, complacent as always; his black button-up hugging his chest and slacks gracing his muscular legs. He was carrying a red, polished apple, tossing it up into the air carelessly. 

    “Granger!” he barked, just a few feet away. 

    Hermione arched her eyebrow. “Malfoy,” she said casually. 

    Draco searched the open area with his eyes for anyone familiar and nestled into Hermione’s shoulder when the coast was clear. A few stray locks of curls tickled his nose. He inhaled her intoxicating scent: sweet vanilla and lavender. He slumped a little against the tree trunk and continued to throw his apple into the air. 

    “Hot isn’t it?” she surveyed his long sleeves and pants, but he merely shrugged. “How have you been?” she asked sincerely while trying to make light conversation.

    “Can’t say I love being back. Apart from the evil glares I get, McGonagall interrogates me every chance she gets. It makes me feel right at home,” he said sarcastically, placing his apple on the ground.
    Hermione looked at him sorrowfully. "Can you blame her?"

    "No, but that's not really my point," he said grinning. Draco winked at her as he lowered his body to the lush grass. He lay parallel to her legs, propping himself on his arm. "I can't believe it's been weeks already."

    “Three, exactly. And I’ve barely seen you, except when you're with your friends” she put emphasis on the word as if she detested it. "You always seem to have time to lurk about the halls with them."

    Draco looked discouraged. “You know I can’t help that you’re Head Girl. Or that you're in Gryffindor for that matter," he added teasingly. 

    "Oh shut up." She nudged his leg with her foot.

    They finished the warm morning off with intense games of exploding snap, where Hermione beat Draco twice. They wrestled in the grass, in which they ended up in awkward, suggestive positions. Draco had cleared his throat shamefully and climbed off of her when she recommended she read a passage from her book to him. The skies were clouding over, causing the remaining students to head indoors.

    As Hermione finished reading “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, she felt a surge of contentment sweep over her limbs and rested her eyes on Draco. His head lay composed in her lap, and she grazed her fingers through his locks of blonde hair. 

    “Interesting,” he said, looking up at her. “Where did you get this book?” 

    “Dumbledore left it to me,” she replied boldly, opening her eyes. 

    Draco bolted up and sat Indian-style across from her. His arm stretched out to her with his palm open, motioning for the book. “And what’s the name of it?” 

    Her eyes darted towards his Dark Mark yet she did not feel sorrow or anger; instead she felt cautious about the perilous skull and snake. “I– I don’t remember.” 

    He detected her hesitation after noticing his Dark Mark. “You don’t remember? Hermione, I need to ask you something serious.” His face was suddenly grave, like it was rigidly etched in stone. His jaw was set and his charcoal grey eyes pierced hers. He almost looked angry. “It’s about that.” He flexed his arm causing his Mark to move unnaturally. 

    “What on earth could you possibly have to say to me about that thing, Draco?” 

    He readjusted his body to face hers completely and took her hand in his. “The war isn’t a joke–” 

    “I know it’s not a joke! I’ve watched people die because of your kind!” 

    The words just slipped out. Draco let go of her hand and clutched his stomach, as though her insult had physically been a blow to him. “I know you know,” he continued, “but I need you to understand that it’s going to end soon. And when it does, most of the wizarding world as we know it will be gone, including half the Ministry!” He tried to lay these facts out as careful as he could for her. “I just want you to maybe – I mean I wouldn’t even be asking you under any other circumstance.” 

    Hermione held Beedle the Bard closer to her chest. “Please, just be out with it, Draco.” 

    “I want you to consider changing sides. Just pretend, at least.” There. I said it, he thought. 

    His words were uneasy, shards of ice that entered quickly and deeply penetrated her stomach, freezing her insides as she struggled to comprehend them. When she opened her mouth to retort, the insolent icicles melted instantly, and the rising heat blew from her lips.

    “WHAT? And be branded with one of Voldemort’s hideous marks of enslavement?! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT FOR ME?” Hermione cried this so forcefully.

    She was waving her hands around their bodies in anger and frustration. Draco ducked a fraction before the book could smack his face. “Hermione, it’s not like everyone gets a Dark–” 

    “In case you’ve forgotten, Draco, the whole other side is Harry! And I will never leave his side!”

    The book slipped from her fingers and landed clumsily into Draco's lap, but he did not budge to pick it up or even look at it. “Even if it meant not ever seeing me again?” Agony was creeping up in his voice. He seemed to be choking back a few tears, but she ignored all of it. 

    “Perhaps this is just another easy attempt for you to get rid of Harry.” She snatched up her book and rose from the grass, pointing at him with a shaking finger.

    “Oh, like any of it has been easy!” he yelled, trying his best to look up at her furious features while the sun threatened to blind him 

    “You know at times like these, I honestly wonder why I’m doing this.”

    She stomped away vehemently. Draco watched her walk fiercely back up to the castle with a heavy heart until her silhouette had faded completely. He relaxed against the bark again, banging his fist against it. “Stupid!” he cursed himself. 

    He sulked around for a while, feeling utter regret for what he had asked of her. With no friends to fully confide in about what just happened, loneliness enthralled him. The sun beamed upon the lake through the clouds, making the water glisten. He watched the ripples form in the center, growing larger and fainter as they reached the shore. 

    “Well, good day to meet the squid,” he said to himself sarcastically with a bit of revulsion. 

    He removed his shirt and pants without delay and waded into the loch because there was nothing left to do. The water was warm at the surface, the sun having heated its temperatures. But as his feet sunk lower, the icy water pierced his skin. When he reached levels deep enough to dive, he disappeared into the black water hoping for a moment to escape, or even just to drown there in the vast lake. A velvety layer of the ebony liquid spread over his limbs and engulfed his mind. He opened his eyes to see the endless quantities of deep green seaweed swaying beneath his feet. 

    At last, he could breathe.

    Hermione sat in the red, plush armchair in the Gryffindor common room talking with Ginny about her N.E.W.T.S.Her legs were curled up onto the chair with her body. Both girls gave a hearty laugh when Ginny did an impression of Professor Trelawney. As Harry and Ron walked through the portrait hole, Ginny stopped laughing abruptly and rendered Harry a mere wave. 

    “Hermione, could you please tell him he’s barking mad for going alone?” Ron asked, irritation blatantly in his voice. Harry expressed the same irritation on his face for his best friend. 

    “I already have,” Hermione said. 

    The boys clambered up the stairs to Ron’s dormitory and Ginny appeared to be sullen. Her eyes wouldn’t meet Hermione’s anymore as she fidgeted with her shoe lace. 

    “So he’s still going?” Ginny helplessly asked. 

    “I’m not really supposed to say anything.” Hermione was already regretting these words. Ginny evidently was frail; a single tear flew down her porcelain, freckled face, silently. “But...yes, he is. I’m really sorry, Ginny.” 

    Ginny wiped her face clean and nodded to her. “I think I’m just going to get some rest.” With a sympathetic look adhered to Hermione’s face, she said “okay” and Ginny vanished up the steps. 

    The next morning Hermione lay in bed, half-asleep, unwilling to start the day. She stared up at the ceiling of her canopy, watching the quilted lion cub pouncing on birds, dancing across the fabric. Her and Draco’s confrontation was crawling exclusively in her head, tempting her to leave everything behind as he had asked. But how could he even ask her of that? Did he honestly believe he stood a chance at coercing her? If that was true, then he hadn’t known the depths of her. He hadn’t known Hermione Granger whatsoever. 

    But perhaps his intentions were honorable. After all, Draco had the right idea. If Hermione had thought it possible to convince his change in allegiance, she would have approached the subject long before.

    She eventually staggered out of her four-poster and proceeded to get dressed. She peeked at the time on the grandfather clock in the corner of her room. Its short golden hand brimmed the nine. Already too late for the start of breakfast, she slowed her preparation for school and read over her essay for Charms before turning it in today. 

    On the way out of her portrait hole, Hermione met with Harry and Ron so they could walk to Potions together, discussing more of Harry’s upcoming trip. Since Potions was still being taught by Professor Slughorn, they all harbored no ill feelings about the class anymore. 

    “It’s near the Shrieking Shack,” Ron mumbled to Harry. 

    “You’re sure no one will be there?” Harry asked warily. 

    “Well that’s where we come in, mate.” 

    The boys were encased deep in conversation while Hermione observed the corridors. An Auror from the Ministry seemed to be placed in almost every other hallway. She wondered how the Ministry was even able to employ them all, as there were thousands of hallways in the castle. They did not act when school rules were broken, however, but were put there only to protect the students from danger. She painfully remembered last year. No matter how many Aurors or members of the Order had been present, someone had still died. This thought was sickeningly uncomforting to her, and she tried to jump into Harry and Ron’s talk. 

    When they reached the dungeon classroom, Draco and Blaise were already waiting patiently outside. Draco was back in his strange, business-like attire, standing inflexibly next to Blaise and clutching his Potions book. A few Gryffindors lingered somewhere around the door, making no contact with the Slytherins. 

    Professor Slughorn burst through the door with a jovial look. “Harry, my boy! Been busy, eh? You’re still avoiding our little meetings.” 

    “Yeah,” he simply replied. 

    “And Hermione.” Slughorn gave a little bow to her. 

    The students filed in one after another, scrambling to find a good seat in the classroom. 

    “Looks like I’m back to being ignored,” Ron mumbled to Harry. 

    “Believe me, I’d fancy trading places with you,” Harry said as he took his seat next to Ron in the middle of the room. 

    Hermione examined the room and pulled out a chair just as Seamus Finnigan urgently dropped himself into it; the only remaining seat on the other side of Ron. She looked taken aback, put her hands on her hips, and huffed loudly. 

    “I just don’t want to be stuck with the Slytherins again this week,” Seamus complained to her with his thick Irish accent. Hermione looked around again. She was the only one left standing and felt slightly embarrassed as the other students gawked at her. 

    “Come Miss Granger, please take your seat,” Professor Slughorn said. She scanned the room but could find no empty space. “How about you sit next to Mr. Zabini and Mr. um…” 

    “Malfoy,” Draco said, irritably. He despised moments his name was unknown. 

    “Splendid! Mr. Zabini and Mr. Malfoe.” 

    Everyone but the Slytherins laughed and Draco spilled his ink in frustration. Its bleak thickness swallowed the whole side of his table.  Hermione involuntarily walked to the end table in the back of the classroom and carefully sat down next to Draco, avoiding all eye contact. She placed her Potions book at the corner of the mahogany table and cleared the ink with a flick of her wand. Slughorn began his lesson, although most of what she could hear sounded more like a boast. 

    Hermione began scribbling notes down with her quill, half listening, and let her tawny brown curls fall to the side of her face, creating a barrier between the two of them. Draco was no longer paying attention to the many ways one can screw up an Everlasting Elixir. He was listening keenly to the scratches her quill made on her parchment. 

    “I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said in a hushed tone, still looking at their Professor but stealing quick glances at Blaise. 

    Hermione stiffened in her seat and pulled the blanket of hair behind her ear. “I’m fine,” she whispered back. Blaise looked at them both with extreme inquisition. 

    “No, you’re not. I’m really sorry. It was selfish.” 

    She stopped marking her notes with ink. “You’re right, it was selfish. Just don’t–” 

    “Quiet please, Lovebirds!” Slughorn bellowed. 

    Hermione’s face grew scarlet. Harry and Ron whipped around in their chairs only to find her and Draco nodding in reply. “What do you suppose they’re talking about, Harry?” Ron asked. 

    Harry could hint the desperation in his question. “He’s probably just insulting her.”

    At the end of class, Hermione scrambled to collect her things, shoving them quickly into her bag. Draco stood with Blaise and discreetly trailed his finger along her wrist. Hermione paused with her quill in her hand to look to him, but the moment her brown eyes swept the room, he and Blaise had both disappeared. She resumed packing and exited the dungeon classroom, not waiting for her friends. She tried uselessly to get to her next lesson without talking to Harry or Ron, but they quickly caught up with her on the stairs to the third floor. 

    “So how are things with your Lovebird?” Harry asked, teasingly. 

    “Oh shut up. He was just asking me something.” 

    “Asking you what?” Ron questioned. 

    Hermione promptly thought of a lame excuse. “For tutoring.” 

    “Oh," was all Harry said, disappointment moving in his eyes.

    “Tutoring for what?” Ron pried.

    “Everything, I’m assuming,” she said. Here she was, lying to them again. She hated herself even more for it, detecting Ron’s suspicious digging.

    When they reached the third floor and entered the Charms corridor, Ron directly stopped in front of a notice on the wall. “Look, Harry!” 

    All students wishing to go to Hogsmeade Village on October 7th should report to your Head of House before the end of the week. You must bring along with you a partner, as there will be no students walking the grounds of Hogsmeade alone. No exceptions!

    “That’s only in a couple of weeks, Harry,” she lectured. 

    “Then it will be a quick goodbye, won’t it?” Harry said. 

    Hermione took hold of Harry’s wrist and Ron just stared menacingly at the Hogsmeade notice. He seemed to be trying with all his might to burst it into flames, because his face had gotten slightly redder than normal. Hermione tried to progress them forward into Professor Flitwick’s classroom, but Ron wasn’t budging. 

    “It’s too soon, Harry,” he said. 

    “It is what it is, Ron.” 

    Harry was being too nonchalant for Ron’s temper. “Aren’t you the least bit scared?” Ron’s hands were now folded over his chest. He was beginning to look a lot like Mrs. Weasley. 

    “Yes, I’m scared Ron!” Harry jerked his arm away from Hermione’s hold. “But I haven’t got a choice, have I!?”

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