Hermione found her Defense against the Dark Arts class to be particularly boring. Despite Headmistress McGonagall convincing Bill Weasley to come and teach the course, there was little that he covered that Hermione had not already taught herself out of desperation over the previous few years.
This particular Friday afternoon was especially dull, as they were covering the Patronus Charm. Thanks to Harry, Hermione had long since mastered the difficult charm and was spending her class time discreetly watching Draco, who was struggling to even cast a light mist.
You need a happy memory to make it work. Hermione thought to herself, and she was starting to think that Draco had none.
“Miss Granger, have you already mastered this charm?” Bill asked.
Hermione sent her Otter patronus running up to his desk with the reply, “3 years ago, Professor Weasley.”
Sitting next to her, Ginny giggled and sent her Mare up beside Hermione’s Otter to further explain, “Harry taught everyone in the DA during Umbridge’s reign.”
“Alright you two, quit showing off and go help the people having trouble.” Bill said, pretending to be stern. “Anyone else here already know this charm?”
The classroom was suddenly filled with all manner of creatures, as it was the 7th year Gryffindors, and they had nearly all been part of the DA.
Bill sighed, “Alright, those of you who can already produce a Corporeal Patronus may either help someone still working on it, or begin reading their next chapter of the book.”
Hermione settled in to re-read her textbook, there was nothing new in the next chapter, but it allowed her to continue watching Draco.
He had the incantation and wand movement perfected. There was no doubt, his lack of success had to be due to a failure to select the correct memory. She quickly averted her eyes when he looked her way.
Draco was shocked to find Hermione watching him from across the room. I look like an incompetent fool, here she is bored at her ability to produce a talking corporeal patronus, and I can’t even get a mist going. He blushed and tried again, this time succeeding in a light shield variation. He wasn’t able to hold it for long, but it was much better than any previous attempts.
He realized he’d been thinking about Hermione at the time. He tried again, thinking of her hand on his cheek when she’d healed his lip; the patronus came stronger again, and he held it for several moments before letting it go.
Draco Malfoy, you are in big trouble. He thought to himself. She is part of the Golden Trio, you can’t think of her like that, you can’t have her like that.
He sat down and buried his nose in the textbook, as though he could hide from the realization that he’d just had, as soon as the bell rang, he bolted from the room.
“What’s with Malfoy?” Ginny asked, packing up her books, “He looked like he’d seen a ghost.”
“I dunno.” Hermione said, following Ginny and Luna back to their dorm. “Maybe he wants to be first down to dinner.”
But Draco wasn’t at dinner, and Hermione didn’t see him at breakfast the next morning before they left to meet Harry and Ron in Hogsmede.
She found her mind kept drifting back to the odd expression on his face before he’d ducked out of class.
She tried hard to keep her mind on the conversation, as she walked down the hill with Ginny, Luna, and Neville, who were discussing an article from the Quibbler.
When they reached Hogsmede, the boys were waiting for them outside the Three Broomsticks. They all exchanged hugs and headed inside, but upon seeing the already boisterous crowd of students, they immediately retreated back outside.
“Hogs Head?” Harry asked, he wasn't ready to face that large of a crowd. Going to the ministry every day was bad enough, and he'd started using his invisibility cloak to get down to the Auror department undisturbed.
“Hogs Head.” Neville confirmed, and they headed down the narrow street to Aberforth’s pub.
Inside the pub was it’s normal quiet, dank appearance, with a hag sitting at one end of the bar.
“Oh great, is this going to become habit?” Aberforth yelled from behind the bar. “A load of students and two Auror apprentices, you lot will drive my business away!”
“You don’t exactly have a lot of business as it is Ab,” Neville pointed out, gesturing to the nearly empty pub, as the group sat down at a large table near the back.
“Well now I won’t will I?” Ab said, feigning frustration. He grabbed a bottle from behind the bar, as well as a stack of glasses. “You lot are all of age, aren’t you?”
They all nodded, and Aberforth slapped a glass down in front of each of them, and poured a shot of Fire Whiskey into each one. “Now that’s as thanks for what you lot did this summer, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
They all stared at the drinks until Hermione said, “Oh what the hell.” She tipped her shot back, and tried not to cough as the whiskey burned it’s way down her throat.
“Bloody Hell!” Ron stammered. “Who are you, and what have you done with Hermione Granger?”
“Hermione is bored out of her mind Ronald.” Ginny pointed out, “DADA class is too easy.”
The rest of the group finished their Fire Whisky and they all chatted, catching up on gossip and ministry nonsense. Laughing and chatting like old times, Hermione didn’t feel quite so out of place as she had that morning.
After a while, Harry spoke up, “We better get back to London, we have a concealment exercise tonight.” He and Ron hugged everyone goodbye, leaving the Hogwarts students behind.
“One more round, Ab, on me.” Neville called, dropping some sickles on the table.
The girls all stared at him, until he laughed, “What? In ten minutes we’ll be back at school repeating the same charms that Harry taught us in fifth year, and bored out of our minds.”
“He makes a good point you know,” Luna said, in her rather dreamy manner. “Besides, maybe if Hermione does another shot she will realize that she has a crush on Draco Malfoy.”
“WHAT?” Hermione gasped.
“Isn’t that why he was looking at you so strangely in Defense class?” Luna asked.
“LUNA!” Hermione exclaimed, “You weren’t even in Defense class with us, you have class with the Hufflepuffs! How do you know that Draco was looking at me strangely?”
“I told her about it.” Ginny said, with a smirk.
“Ginevra Weasley!” Hermione buried her head in her arms.
“I don’t hear you denying it.” Ginny giggled, as Aberforth poured them each another drink.
“Oh god, this is me denying it!” Hermione moaned.
“Well, Hermione, it seems like an extraordinarily bad idea,” Neville exclaimed, “But I guess if you want to date a Death Eater, we’ll make sure you don’t wind up dead.”
“I’m NOT dating a Death Eater!” Hermione cried, picking up her glass and downing her second drink. She coughed just as much as the first time, and got up and walked to the bar. “Ab, is that passageway still open?”
Aberforth rolled his eyes, and jerked his thumb towards the back room.
“I thought you wanted to buy a new quill?” Ginny called after her.
“I’ll make do!” Hermione yelled, and climbed into the passageway behind Ariana’s portrait, shutting it to block out the sound of her friends’ laughter.
“Thinks I’m dating a Death Eater.” Hermione mumbled as she made her way down the passage, realizing quickly that she was feeling the Fire Whisky much more than she’d originally thought at the table.
Upon reaching the Room of Requirement, Hermione realized that she had no idea if the room was even still standing after the Fiendfyre. But as she pushed the portrait open, she found the empty room standing just as it had been. She climbed down the ladder, and fell the last few rungs, twisting her ankle when she landed.
“Oh bollocks.” She cursed, and limping made her way to the door.
She hobbled down the hall, trying to make her way to the tower, and not having much luck with her quickly swelling ankle. She was sitting at the foot of a statue in the hall, and trying to apply a splint charm to her ankle when she heard a family voice call out, “if you know a healing charm, then you must know that they won’t work if self applied.”
“Stuff it Malfoy, it’s just a sprain.” Hermione snapped.
“Well, nonetheless.” Draco said, stepping from behind a column he drew his wand and muttered, “Ferula.”
“Do you always lurk behind columns and spy on people?” Hermione grumbled, as the charmed splint straightened out her ankle.
“Not always.” Draco said, being evasive.
“Hiding from the rest of your house?” Hermione asked.
“Not hiding, just… avoiding.” Draco explained. “Where were you trying to go with a sprained ankle. Actually, where were you coming from with a sprained ankle?”
“The Room of Requirement.” Hermione explained.
“That’s still there?” Draco gasped.
“Yes, it’s fine.” Hermione said, “I expected to find it destroyed, but it was exactly as it always is. I fell off a ladder, climbing down from… from something I probably shouldn’t tell you about.”
“I have to check this out!” Draco said, turning to head in the direction of the aforementioned room. “You ok to make it down to Pomfrey?”
“Oh, I can’t go see Madame Pomfrey,” Hermione said, struggling to get up.
“Why not?” Draco asked, reaching over to give Hermione a hand up, “Nevermind, I know why… do you have Fire Whiskey on your breath?
“I’m old enough to drink Fire Whiskey!” Hermione insisted, wobbling a bit as she stood up.
“Ah yes, but you’re not allowed to drink Fire Whiskey while you’re at school!” Draco said, with a smirk. “What are we going to do with the Princess of Light, we can’t let people see you drunk!”
“I’m NOT drunk!” Hermione shrieked.
“That’s what they all say Your Highness.” Draco laughed. “Come on, we’ll wait it out in the Room of Requirement.”
Hermione looked at Draco, and then at the long hallway, and gave up and began to follow him.
She only made it a few steps before Draco sighed and said, “We’ll never make it at your speed.”
“Well this is as fast as I can hobble, go ahead without me!” Hermione complained.
“No, I don't think I will.” Draco said, with a mischievous look in his eye he slipped her legs out from under her and tossed her up on his shoulder.
“Malfoy!" Hermione screeched. “Put me down!”
“Not a chance Granger,” Draco laughed. “We’ll never get there if I do that.”
“Easy Granger, we’re already there.” Draco laughed again. He slid Hermione down until he was carrying her in his arms, and slipped through the door into the Room of Requirement.
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