The days slipped into weeks, and Hermione saw fewer and fewer owls from Harry or Ron. She knew their Auror training was becoming more rigorous, as well they were beginning to dig into classified levels of training that they couldn’t officially share with her… not in writing at least.
Letters from Ron were particularly short and, Hermione guessed, sent at Harry’s insistence. After sharing a kiss in the heat of the battle of Hogwarts, the pair had become increasingly awkward around each other, never taking any further steps towards a relationship or discussing the absence of one.
Hermione figured it would blow over eventually, she and Ron argued more often than not, so awkward periods were rather their norm. In the meantime she sent both boys frequent letters of Hogwarts news.
More immediately troubling was the frequency in which she was running into Malfoy. He seemed to crop up everywhere she was, be it the library or a random staircase. Both seemed to be avoiding the company of other students, and in so doing saw more of one another.
Hermione was thinking about this very problem as she slipped into the Library one evening, near Halloween. She walked directly to the desk to return the book she had just finished, noticing once again, that the person who had checked the book out immediately before her was Malfoy. He seemed to be reading as much as she was.
Browsing the shelves, Hermione selected a thick book of healing spells. She was toying with the idea of becoming a Healer when she left school, but wasn’t sure if she would really like the occupation. She had been digging into texts trying to learn as much as she could to determine if she’d enjoy it.
She headed over to a table, and dropped the heavy text down, not noticing that Draco was sitting at the other end. After she had turned a few pages, a cough drew her attention towards him.
“Goodness Malfoy, I didn’t see you there.” Hermione said, noticing that he had a black eye and a poorly healed split lip. “What happened to you?!”
“Nothing to worry about Granger, just a passionate discussion with one of my housemates.” Draco said, trying to hide behind the book he was reading.
“Nonsense!” Hermione argued, getting up and rounding the table to where he sat. “Let me see!” She put a hand under his chin and lifted it up to inspect his lip.
Malfoy stared up at her, surprised at her sudden concern. “I’ve already healed the cut, it’ll be fine.”
“Well, if you know a healing charm, then you must know that they won’t work if self applied.” Hermione lectured. “They draw on life force, and you can't repair your own life force. Hold still.”
She lifted her wand and expertly applied the Tergeo charm, cleaning the blood from his lip. “Episky.” She muttered, flicking her wand and properly healing his lip, and then repeating the charm for his black eye.
“Th-thanks.” Draco stuttered, not meeting Hermione’s gaze.
As though suddenly realizing who she was talking to, Hermione jerked her hand off Draco’s face and took a sharp step back, “Don’t mention it.”
Returning to her side of the table, she delved back into her text, and tried not to think about the young man sitting across from her.
“Why did you do that?” Draco asked her quietly.
“Fix your cut?” Hermione asked, feeling flustered, “Because it was going to scar if you left it as it was. Why didn’t you go to Madame Pomfrey?”
Draco looked down at the table. “She asks too many questions.” He said simply.
“But at least then you wouldn’t be in pain!” Hermione argued.
Draco shook his head, and laughed. “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
“You know The Princess Bride?” Hermione gasped. “How?”
“Do you honestly think you’re the only one hiding behind books these days?” Draco said, with a smirk.
“I’m not hiding, I like books.” Hermione said, shutting her text and turning towards Draco. “You shouldn’t be hiding, you were pardoned, if I remember correctly. I testified at your trial.”
“You did?” Draco asked, stunned. He hadn’t been allowed in the courtroom for most of the testimony. He knew that Potter had testified on his behalf, but he hadn’t known about Hermione.
Hermione nodded, unconsciously rubbing the spot on her arm where Bellatrix had carved the word MudBlood. “I just told the truth, that you didn’t want to identify us that day at your house.”
“Maybe I really didn’t recognize Potter.” Draco said. “Why would you think differently?”
“I don’t believe that.” Hermione said softly. “I saw your face, you didn’t want your father to call Riddle. You were terrified”
Draco snorted a laugh. “You may be right.” He scratched at an imperfection in the table, and asked without looking at her, “But seriously, why did you testify on my behalf? You of all people would have good reason to want me to rot in a cell at Azkaban for the rest of my life. You were tortured, in my home. I watched the whole thing, and did nothing!” He slammed his left fist on the table.
“Mister Malfoy!” Madame Pince chastised, coming over to their table. “Please keep your voice down!”
“Sorry Madame,” Draco said, looking at his feet.
“Yes, sorry.” Hermione echoed. “Come on Draco.” She gathered her books, and her bag and motioned for him to follow her.
After a moment of hesitation, Draco shrugged, and muttered, “It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning.”
“The Time Machine.” Hermione quipped as they left the library, and headed up to the tower where the had previously met.
Hermione sat on one side of the rounded window, she motioned for Draco to join her, but he sat on the the steps instead.
“Explain to me, why you did it.” Draco demanded, looking a bit frantic.
“In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” Hermione quoted. “I’ll bet you don’t know that one.
“Is that a quote?” Draco asked, suddenly curious.
“Yes.” Hermione nodded, “it’s from one of my favorites, but not a happy ending book.”
“What book?” Draco pressed.
“The Diary of a Young Girl.” Hermione answered, “It’s the true story of a jewish girl living in hiding from the Nazi’s during World War II. The muggle war from the 19…
“I know about World War II.” Draco cut her off. “Why isn’t it a happy ending?”
“She gets discovered, and dies in an internment camp.” Hermione explained.
Draco looked up at Hermione, with new intensity in his eyes, “Why does she die?”
“Why?” Hermione asked, confused. “Well, if I remember correctly, she died of a muggle disease.”
“Because she was locked up in the internment camp for being Jewish?” Draco asked, looking rather desperate.
“Well, yes…” Hermione didn’t understand Draco’s sudden anxiety, “There were eight people in hiding, but only her father survived after they were turned in to the Nazis.”
“Did anyone ever pay for doing that to her? For killing her?” Draco demanded.
“I, I think so.” Hermione said, “There were trials and things after the war ended. I know a lot of the people responsible were hanged.”
“Those camps…” Draco struggled, “They were the ones that put tattoos on peoples arms.”
“Um, yes, I think some of them did that,” Hermione said, feeling uncomfortable, “Numbered the prisoners that way.”
Draco stood up and stalked across the small space to Hermione, grabbing her arm, and yanking up her sleeve to expose the word Mudblood on her arm.
“I behaved the same way, and yet you testify on my behalf!?” Draco cried, dropping to the floor with his head in his hands.
Hermione looked at him, shocked to see that he was crying. “Draco, you didn’t pick your side of the war any more than I did.”
“But I didn’t do anything to stop it.” Draco sobbed, he pulled back his own sleeve exposing his Dark Mark. “I even accepted it. I joined them. I don’t deserve your help!”
“Draco!” Hermione gasped, seeing the mark on his arm brought it all back, freshly in her mind. She squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the memories of Bellatrix out of her head. A tear escaped with them, “Draco, Riddle was living in your home. You were trying to stay alive, that’s human instinct.”
Draco didn't respond, he didn’t meet Hermione’s gaze.
“Draco, if it makes you feel better, testifying wasn’t my idea.” Hermione explained. “Kingsley asked me to do it, asked all the Order of the Phoenix Members to. I just told the truth, I didn’t care what they did with you after that. If they hadn’t forced you back here, I wouldn’t have known what happened to you.”
Draco looked up at her, tears running down his face. “You promise that’s the truth?”
“Of course it’s the truth Draco.” Hermione sighed. “I honestly don’t think my testimony was the one that helped you anyway. Harry was the one who did that.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.” Draco said with a snort. “Harry may have seen me fail to kill Dumbledore, but for someone who was tortured in my home to show up in my defense, that says more.”
“I don’t know about that.” Hermione argued, “I don’t think I was helpful in your case at all. I completely… completely broke down on the stand. They kept asking so many qu-questions. About what h-happened that day.”
Hermione had started stuttering with nerves, as she once again tried to push the horrors out of her head. She pressed a hand to either temple and squeezed, as though she could push the memories out of her brain entirely.
“I’m sorry.” Draco said, “Here you were just trying to read, and I’ve drug you down a horrible dark memory lane. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I think you’re incredibly brave."
“I’m not brave.” Hermione sniffed, “I just did what had to be done.”
“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” Draco said, standing to make his way down the stairs. “And you always will be; the Princess of Light.”
"Dracula." Hermione said, recognizing the quote, but Draco was already gone.
The books quoted in this chapter are The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, and Dracula by Bram Stoker.
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