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  Days slipped by slowly to Hermione, from that point on. She tried to keep an eye on Draco, but it seemed like he was purposely avoiding her. He came to defense class just before the bell rang each day, and hurried out immediately as it ended. He never stayed very long at meals, if he did show up at all. 

Hermione felt like the weeks until Christmas seemed to stretch further away as the days went on. 

Ginny tried helpfully to distract her, and they restarted the DA as a Defense Club. Not as many people joined as in the Umbridge days, but they had fun trying spells out and dueling.

Hermione continued to read her way through the Hogwarts Library, but to her disappointment, she never again ran into Draco there.

Little did she know, Draco was actively avoiding her. He memorized her scheduled and kept himself far away from anywhere Hermione might be. His housemates had started to bore of tormenting him, so he settled into a depressing routine of staying in his room anytime he wasn’t in class. 

Despite being surround by classmates, Draco had never felt more lonely. He was sitting by himself, and couldn’t seem to get his mind off Hermione. One of his housemates had left a copy of the Prophet on the floor, and he picked it up for something to read. It was a bad choice for distraction because the front page, of course, was an article about the Golden Trio. 

There wasn’t anything new to the story, just speculation about their lives, but what caught Draco’s immediate attention was a picture of Hermione that was included with the article. Someone had taken it in Hogsmede, the day he had kissed her. She was walking with Harry and Ron, and laughing at something they said. She obviously hadn’t known anyone was taking the picture, because she wasn’t looking at the camera. She looked relaxed and happy, flanked by her two best friends, in their Auror’s robes. 

They look like bodyguards. Draco thought to himself sadly. Just another reason you can’t spend time with her. Potter and Weasley wouldn’t let you live.

But after reading the article, which included a load of nonsense about Hermione being engaged to Potter and Weasley being considered as Minister for Magic, Draco carefully sliced the picture out of the paper. He cropped Harry and Ron out of it, so it was just Hermione walking down the cobbled street on a fall day. Wearing the sweater she let me take off, Draco thought. His thoughts drifted to the lacy camisole she had layered under the sweater.  Stop it Draco, he mentally scolded himself. 

He stuck the picture into his Divination book, and realized that if he wanted any dinner, he would have to hurry before Hermione left Defense Club.





The next morning, however, Draco wasn’t as lucky in his timing, and he and Hermione ended up arriving at breakfast at nearly the same moment. He pretended to tie his shoe to avoid bumping into her in the doorway.

Hermione watched him hurry into the Great Hall and duck into his usual place at the end of the Slytherin table.  

She was quickly distracted, however, by a pair of large Owls leading the mail call. One stopped at her side, and the other flew up to McGonagall. The owl dropped a large, ornate looking envelope in front of Hermione, and waited importantly for her to open it. 

“Oh no!” Hermione groaned, and dropped her head into her arms. The heavy and expensive parchment dropped to the floor.

“What is it?” Neville asked, reaching to pick up the parchment. 

“No!” Hermione grabbed it and stuffed it in her book bag.

“Is everything all right ‘Mione?” Ginny asked.

But before Hermione could answer, Professor McGonagall asked for the attention of the hall.

“Boys and Girls, I have just received very intriguing news from the Ministry!” She announced, “The Wizengamot has arranged that by New Years Eve, all trials related to the Wizarding War will have been completed. As such, there will be a celebration on the First of January to pay respects to those lost, and to to honor those amongst us who put the lives of others ahead of their own safety to bring about the end of the war.”

Excited chatter filled the hall, but Hermione had once again buried her head in her arms.

“Settle down!” Minerva called gently, “The Celebration will be broadcast over the Wizarding Wireless so that anyone who would like can join in the festivities, however there will be a formal ball held at the Ministry for invited guests.”

The chatter resumed. 

“Hermione Granger!” Minerva called over the din of the crowd. “Would you please come up to the front of the hall?”

Hermione tried to make eye contact with McGonagall to plead her way out of what was coming, but Minerva simply waved her up to the platform.             

Hermione’s feet felt leaden as she made her way up to the front. When she reached the podium, McGonagall put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Boys and Girls, we have one very good reason to be proud today, because our own Hermione Granger is to be awarded the Order of Merlin at the Celebration!”

The hall erupted in cheers, particularly from the Gryffindor table, with mostly polite applause coming from the Slytherins. 

Hermione just looked at her feet, she didn't want to make eye contact with anyone. This is ridiculous. Nearly everyone sitting here helped in one way or another on the night of the battle.

After a few moments of cheering, a beaming Professor McGonagall turned to Hermione and asked, “Would you like to say something dear?”

Hermione shook her head, certain that her face was a very Gryffindor shade of red. 

“Very well,” McGonagall said, “To help celebrate Miss Granger’s exceptional accomplishment, we will have a celebration of our own the first week of spring term. See the notice boards in your houses for more details.”

With that she dismissed the students, and Hermione practically flew off the platform and back to her seat. 

As Hermione finished her breakfast, there was chatter all around her about the possible celebration, who might be invited, or what they were going to wear to the party.

Only Ginny and Neville were quiet, and after a moment Neville asked, “So. That’s what was in the letter?” 

Hermione nodded, looking miserable. “Harry and Ron are getting them too.”

“Well, I think it’s probably to be expected, isn’t it?” Neville said gently.

“I was hoping everyone would come to their senses.” Hermione said. “I mean, there are lots of other people who did much more that I did. Harry should get one, obviously, but I walked away unscathed.”

“Hermione,” Ginny said, “You know that right now, Harry is sitting at breakfast saying the exact same thing.”

“But he at least died, for a few minutes anyway!” Hermione argued. “I mean, shouldn’t this be going to Fred? Or Tonks, or Remus, or Severus?!”

Ginny teared up at the mention of her brother. “‘Mione, Fred wouldn’t want an Order of Merlin any more than you do.”  

"I guess not." Hermione said, resting her head on her chin in her hands. "What do you think the odds of me getting out of going to that event are?"

"I'd say somewhere between slim and none." Neville said with a laugh, "Hermione, you're not going to want to hear this, but I think the world needs to see you in particular celebrating the end of the war."

"What? Why me in particular? Harry is the one who stopped Riddle!" Hermione cried.

"Hermione, Harry is a half-blood. Ron is a pureblood." Neville explained. "We just finished fighting a war, in defense of muggle borns, among other things. You are the 'brightest witch in a generation', which means that you personally prove the pureblood suprematists wrong, all on your own." 

"I just want things to go back to normal." Hermione said quietly.

"'Mione, when have things ever been 'normal' for you?" Ginny pointed out.

"Well, there was one year in primary school." Hermione grumbled.

"Are you coming to potions Hermione?" Luna asked, coming across the hall from the Ravenclaw table.

"Yes, I'm coming." Hermione called, suddenly feeling like she couldn't eat any more of her breakfast. She gathered up her books and followed Luna to the dungeons.

Draco watched her departure with interest, she looked distressed. He was disappointed he didn't have class with her, because he would have liked to study her response to this news closely. Most people were beyond thrilled to receive an Order of Merlin. It was a highly prestigious award, only a handful of Wizards or Witches alive held an Order of Merlin. Some Order of Merlin recipients were even knighted in the Muggle world. 

Draco guessed that she didn’t want the recognition; she just wanted to be left alone with her books. He turned quickly when she looked his way, and headed off to his Ancient Runes class. 





 

Hermione felt as though she wouldn’t make it through the day. By dinner, she was exhausted of the well wishers and hangers on and just wanted to be alone. Where the ruddy hell were all these people last week. She thought, as she tried to sit in her usual place at the Gryffindor table with Ginny and Neville. 

“Oh, yes, thanks.” Hermione said distractedly to a Hufflepuff girl who had come up to ask if she was excited about the upcoming party at the ministry. 

“Oh, shove off you lot!” Ginny shouted into the crowd that had formed around Hermione. “If you can’t tell me her middle name, then shove off!”

“Thanks Ginny.” Hermione said, ducking into her place, and staring at her plate.

“Just eat something Hermione.” Neville prompted. “You didn’t touch your lunch or finish your breakfast.”

“I know Neville, I’m just not hungry.” Hermione argued.

“Come on ‘Mione,” Ginny pleaded. “Eat that piece of chicken and we’ll let you alone.”

Hermione grumbled and ate the chicken, as well as some potatoes for good measure. “There, satisfied?” 

“Yes.” Ginny said with a smirk. “Don’t worry, someone will drop something shiny in the hallway and everyone will get distracted before you know it.”

“Ok, well in the meantime I’m going to the Library where no one will find me.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

“I’ll come with you,” Ginny said.

Hermione just smiled, and headed out of the hall, glancing discreetly at the Slytherin table on her way out the door.

“He’s not there ‘Mione.” Ginny said gently, “You know he doesn’t come to dinner until he knows you’ve left.” 

“You don’t know that.” Hermione argued. “Maybe we’re just on opposite schedules.”

“I don’t think so,” Ginny said. “Watch.”

Sure enough, as soon as the girls had reached the top of the staircase, and ducked behind a suit of armor, Draco appeared from a door near the great hall and slipped inside.

Hermione frowned. “Why is he trying so hard to avoid me?”

“Hermione, does it really matter” Ginny pressed. “You can’t be with him.”

“I know that, I just…” Hermione trailed off.

“Look, ‘Mione, I know you like him.” Ginny said. “I see the way you look at him. You think you’re being subtle, but I know you.”

Hermione blushed, but said nothing.

“Hermione, in a parallel universe maybe you and Malfoy could have worked.” Ginny said with a shrug. “Sometimes opposites attract. But you’re a public figure now.”

Hermione started to protest, but Ginny cut her off, “No, listen. You’re a public figure, whether you like it or not. The ministry will trot you out for years; at events, at celebrations. The Prophet will want your opinion on important things. And you can use all of that to your advantage for good! But not if you are with a Death Eater.”

“But I don’t want to be a public figure!” Hermione spat. “Ginny, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I came back to Hogwarts hoping to have some kind of epiphany! I didn’t think I’d survive last year! Your brother and I knew that Harry was the key; we had to protect him at all costs, and we expected to pay with our lives.”

“I know that.” Ginny said calmly. “But you didn’t die, and now you have a unique opportunity to really make the world a better place. ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’

“You did not just quote Shakespeare.” Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

“I did! He was pretty smart you know!” Ginny laughed.

“Ugh, come on.” Hermione said, “I want to change my books.”

“Plus you need to take out a few recent issues of Witch Weekly.” Ginny pointed out.

“Now why on earth would I want that rag?” Hermione asked, agog.

"Because you need to find a dress for the celebration, and they're the best place to start!" Ginny said, matter-of-factly, looking her arm through Hermione's and dragging her to the library.






Authors Note:
 
The quote in this chapter is from Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

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