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“Common sense of the morning.” Hermione muttered to herself, at breakfast.

“What’d you say ‘Mione?” Ginny asked.

“Nothing Ginny.” Hermione shook her head, the memory of her strange conversation with Draco the previous evening felt more like a dream than reality.

Owls began soaring into the great hall, dropping off the day’s mail. Hermione spotted Ron’s owl Pig struggling under the weight of several letters.

The tiny owl crashed into the table, scattering food in his wake.

Ginny scooped him up and liberated him of the load of letters. “Here, two for you,” she said, passing Hermione letters from Harry and Ron.

“Harry needs to get a new owl.” Hermione pointed out, “I know he misses Hedwig, but Pig can’t keep carrying four letters at a time.”

“Or they could just use a ministry owl.” Ginny pointed out, feeding the tiny owl a scrap of bacon.

Hermione read through the letters from Harry and Ron, catching herself up on their news. “Oh Ginny, Harry says they’ll come visit at the next Hogsmede weekend!”

“Excellent! Does that mean you’ll come with us this time?” Ginny asked, prompting Hermione to remember her first odd exchange with Malfoy in the tower.

“Sure, I need a new quill anyway!” Hermione said, trying to press from her mind the last time she was in Hogsmede.

As students left the Great Hall for classes, Hermione lingered for a moment, she had a free period that day, so she took her time finishing her juice and re-reading Harry’s letter, trying to guess at what they might be studying. She had just gathered her bag to head upstairs, when she noticed Draco sitting at the end of the Slytherin table, alone. She watched him, as he picked up his books, and made his way towards the door, being careful not to turn his back on his housemates.

Hermione thought that odd, and then she remembered the black eye that had started their unusual conversation the previous evening. A passionate discussion with one of his housemates? Passionate discussion my arse. Hermione thought. He’s terrified of his house.

Just as he was leaving a sixth year Slytherin sent a stinging jinx his way, and caught Draco’s shoulder. Hermione heard him hiss softly, but he didn’t give any further indication that the curse had actually connected and caused him any pain.

She quickly followed him out of the hall, before any of the Slytherins could, and found him behind the staircase, rubbing his shoulder.

“Finite incantatem.” She whispered, stopping the jinx.

“What do you want Granger?” Draco said, looking away and hoping she wouldn’t notice the blush that had risen up his cheeks.

“A ‘Passionate Discussion’ with your housemate?” Hermione asked, still gripping her wand, “That’s what caused your black eye yesterday? What was the discussion about?”

“The Twelve Uses of Dragon’s Blood.” Draco said sarcastically.

“I see.” Hermione said, equally sarcastically, “And were you defending or rejecting it’s use as an oven cleaner?”

Draco slid down the wall and sat on the ground. “I don’t remember.”

“How long has this been going on?” Hermione asked, kneeling next to him.

“Well, Fall Term started on September 2nd, so…” Draco let his statement hang in the air.

“Have you reported it?” Hermione asked, “McGonagall need’s to know if there’s a bully at Hogwarts!”

“A bully? That’s cute Hermione.” Draco snorted, “Besides, it’s not like I don’t deserve everything that I get.”

“That’s nonsense Malfoy.” Hermione snapped, “It’s not like you to take that kind of treatment from a sixth year.”

“I don’t exactly have a choice Granger.” Draco pointed out, indicating at a thin black chain that was wrapped around his ankle.

“What’s that?” Hermione asked.

“Ha ha,” Draco sneered.

“Honestly, what is it?” Hermione repeated, confused.

“It’s so easy to forget that you’re muggleborn.” Draco muttered, and then after a moment explained, “It’s a dark magic detector. It’s part of my probation.”

“What, that can tell if you do a jinx?” Hermione questioned.

“Yep.” Draco said, popping the ‘p’ sound. “I’ve also had the trace put back on me. One dark spell and it’s back to Azkaban.”

“Back?” Hermione asked, trying to meet Draco’s eyes.

“Yes, I was held there while I was waiting for a trial, for a few weeks this summer.” Draco said, sounding chilled. “Even though the demeanors are gone, that place still gives me nightmares.”

“I think we all have our share of nightmares these days.” Hermione said, staring across the hall at nothing.

“Ah yes, but my nightmares are deserved,” Draco said bitterly, “Whereas yours are not only undeserved, but my fault.”

“You know nothing of my nightmares.” Hermione spat, rubbing her arm unconsciously.

“No, but I can guess.” Draco said, nodding at Hermione’s arm.

The two sat in silence, on the floor under the stairs, for several minutes.

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things, because the shadow always follows.” Draco quoted, breaking the silence.

“You must know what I’ll say to that,” Hermione pointed out, “Choose a place where you won’t do harm, yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

Draco smirked. “I should have known you’d have read A Room with a View.”

“I’m surprised you have!” Hermione quipped. “I’m surprised you’ve read any muggle books at all in fact!”

“I may be a pureblood Wizard, but I was well brought up.” Draco said. “When I was young, anyway, and my choices somewhat my own.”

Hermione thought at that, “Some would argue that you are still young, Malfoy.”

“I haven’t been young in years, Granger.” Draco said. “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

“Gatsby.” Hermione said softly, identifying the quote. “You’re not trapped by your history, Draco, you were cruel then. You’re not being cruel now; ‘No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.’” Hermione said, her hand still on her arm.

“Now that was a truly terrible book!” Draco laughed.

“No it wasn’t!” Hermione argued, “The Scarlet Letter is a classic! Besides, the quote is true enough!”

“The book may be classic and the quote may be true, but that doesn’t make it a good story.” Draco pointed out, “Nor a happy story.”

“Do all stories need to be happy?” Hermione asked. “That’s not very true of life?”

“I like my stories happy,” Draco said, “Because my life is not.”

“What happens after you leave school?” Hermione asked. “I mean, with your probation?”

“My probation.” Draco said it like a curse. “My probation will never end Granger. They may take this talisman off my leg, and they may remove the trace, but I will never be free to make my own choices. If I don’t walk perfectly in the light for the rest of my life, they’ll chuck me in prison or worse.”

“Do you think you can’t do it?” Hermione asked.

“Granger, I can’t even wear short sleeves in summer.” Draco said sadly, indicating to his Dark Mark. “The Dark is so a part of me it’s written on my very skin.”

“Perhaps you and I can invent a shirt with one long sleeve and one short.” Hermione said, with an irrational giggle.

“Now that wouldn’t make either of us look ridiculous!” Draco said, laughing.

“Draco, I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile.” Hermione said, still laughing.

“I smile all the time.” Draco pointed out.

“You smirk all the time.” Hermione corrected. “And I’ve seen your ‘I’m evil, this is my evil grin’ smile.”

“This is my evil grin.” Draco said, waggling his eyebrows and grinning in a truly disturbing way. “I’ve distracted the Princess of Light from her first class of the day! It’s the only evil I can get away with, because there’s no magic involved!”

“Oh good god, don’t call me that. It’s bad enough that the Prophet calls me that.” Hermione said blushing and rolling her eyes. “And I just so happen to have a free period right now, so you’re not as evil as you think you are!”

“I guess you would know about having to walk perfectly in the light.” Draco acquiesced. “The world will be watching you as closely as they watch me.”

“Then I probably shouldn’t be caught sitting under a staircase with the Prince of Darkness.” Hermione joked.

“You’d be right about that.” Draco said sadly, offering Hermione a hand up. “Come on Your Highness, if I’m quiet maybe I can slip into Divination unnoticed and you can enjoy your free period.”

Hermione took Draco’s hand and let him pull her off the floor, and was surprised to find herself blushing at his touch.

“You did smile.” She pointed out, as he walked away. “It is possible.”

“I only smile for you Princess,” Draco said, before bowing and leaving a befuddled Hermione behind him.

Authors Note:

The books quoted in this chapter are A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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