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    Hermione hardly looked up as Draco entered the common room. Draco shook his head and smirked when he saw her. “You know, if your nose gets any closer to that book, you’re going to fall into it,” he teased, “As it is, you can probably smell the person that wrote it.”

    Hermione glanced up briefly and stuck her tongue out at him before getting back to her book. She was thoroughly engrossed in the words she was reading and, considering the fact that she was researching the visions she and Blaise were having, no one could blame her.

    Draco smirked, yet again, and sat down in the arm chair across from her. “So… have you found anything on your visions yet?” he asked, picking up one of the many books that were strewn on the floor.

    Without a word, Hermione lifted a notepad that was resting next to her and handed it to him. Draco took the pad of paper and looked it over. “Um, Hermione am I supposed to be able to read this?” he questioned.

    Hermione looked up and examined the notepad. “What’s wrong with it?”

    “I don’t know how to read your shorthand,” Draco said with a soft chuckle.

    Hermione blushed a deep pink as she took her notes back from him. “I’m sorry; there’s just so much information about visions that I couldn’t possibly have written it all down long hand.”

    “It’s all right.”

    Hermione sighed heavily as she closed the book she had been reading. She set it down on the seat next to her and tossed her legs over the edge of the sofa, leaning down and resting her head in her hands.

    “Hermione, is everything all right?” Draco asked, leaning forward to gently touch her knee.

    She lifted her head and placed her chin in her hands as she replied, “I’m just feeling stressed.”

    Draco reached behind him and grabbed the throw pillow that was on his chair. He placed it on the floor between his feet and motioned for Hermione to sit on it. Hermione got to her feet and walked the few steps to where Draco was sitting. She looked at Draco questioningly. He rolled his eyes as he said, “Just sit down, will you?”

    Hermione sat and as soon as she was comfortable, Draco’s hands began massaging her shoulders. “You’ve been over extending yourself, Hermione,” Draco stated, “You’re overworking yourself.”

    “I can handle it,” she assured him.

    Draco chuckled as his thumbs slid up the back of her neck to loosen the muscles there. “I have no doubt about that, love,” he told her, “but I’d really like to have a healthy bride on our wedding day.”

    Hermione groaned and tilted her head back to look at him. “Can’t we elope or something?” she asked, “I can’t handle all of this planning.”

    “You’ve hardly planned at all,” Draco said with a laugh, “our mothers have been planning everything.”

    “That’s not completely true,” Hermione argued, “I’ve got my Maid of Honor, and I know what I want my dress to look like… I also know who at least one of my Bridesmaids will be…”

    Draco placed a hand over her mouth briefly before going back to work on her shoulders. “Hermione, stop… Over this past week you’ve been running yourself ragged with all of the things you’ve been doing,” he said, “Between Head duties, wedding planning, school work, and research you’re not getting enough sleep.”

    “I’ve never needed much sleep.”

    He put a hand under her chin and tilted her head back up at him. “Hermione, you’ve always been thin, but you’re getting thinner because you’re hardly eating,” he chided softly, “Please, just take this weekend off; refresh yourself… Let me take care of you.”

    Hermione took his hand in hers and turned herself around so that she was kneeling in front of him. “Draco, why are you being so kind to me? You hardly know me.”

    “I know you better than you think” Draco argued gently, “and the more time I spend with you, the more I fall in love with you.”

    A tear fell from Hermione’s eye and Draco wiped it away softly with the pad of his thumb. “There’s no reason for tears, Hermione I didn’t intend to upset you.”

    Hermione smiled. “I’m not upset,” she told him, “I’m happy. I was upset when I found out that a marriage had been arranged for me. I thought seriously about doing whatever I could to get out of it, but now… now I’d give up everything I have, my life even, just for the chance of knowing true love.”

    A small smile graced Draco’s features for a moment. “I’m not sure if that will ever be the case with us; I honestly didn’t even know that I was capable of feeling this way. I mean; I’ve never put myself out there like this before, but I’m willing to explore it.”

    Hermione felt that she understood what he was saying. He had always kept his personal thoughts and feelings bottled up. That was just his way of dealing with things, and with Lucius Malfoy always pushing him to be an emotionless shell, it was no wonder. Lucius Malfoy was a hateful, arrogant jerk that couldn’t allow his son to be any different. He wanted Draco to be just like him, but he was much better than his father.

    With a small amount of uncertainty, Hermione lifted her hand and placed it on Draco’s cheek. “I think there’s only one person in this world that is completely incapable of love,” she told him, looking directly into his eyes, “and you’re not him.”

    Draco gave her a small smile and placed his hand over hers. “I guess we’ll have to find out,” he whispered, staring at her lips.

    Hermione nodded, chewing on her bottom lip nervously. “Are… are you going to kiss me now?” she asked quietly.

    “Yes.”

    Hermione allowed him to tilt her head up a bit further. Draco stared at her for a moment longer, and then he dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers.

    He hadn’t thought it was possible, but this kiss was just as potent as the kiss they had shared after his proposal. More even. Kissing her was intoxicating. She was intoxicating. He didn’t think he had felt anything more powerful in his life.

    Draco slid one hand around Hermione’s waist while the other went into her hair. He could feel her shaking a bit as she moved her arms up to circle around his neck. “Am I making you nervous?” he asked, pulling out of the kiss just a fraction of an inch.

    “A bit,” she replied breathlessly.

    He swallowed hard before saying, “Do you want me to stop?”

    “No.”

    That was all the encouragement he needed. He tightened his grip on her slightly and touched his lips to hers again, this time with a little more urgency. The hand that was in her hair tightened even more as he tilted her head so that he could gain better access to her mouth.

    Hermione pulled him closer to her for a moment. She then brought her hands down to his chest and pushed him back. She managed to scoot herself a few feet away from him in the process and found herself practically gasping for air.

    She stared at Draco for several moments before standing up and bolting up the stairs. True, she wasn’t ashamed of what had just happened but she was confused all the same. She ran into her room and slammed the door shut, leaning back against it and sliding to the floor once it closed.

    Seconds after the door had shut, Hermione could hear Draco’s footsteps coming up the stairs. “Hermione,” he said, his voice muffled by the door, “Hermione, come on, open the door.”

    Hermione seriously thought about ignoring him and just trying to sort out her thoughts on her own but she knew that if they were going to have any sort of relationship, they’d need to talk to each other. So, with a sigh, Hermione stood up and opened the door.

    Draco gave her a look of concern as she came into view and asked, “Did I do something wrong?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, I’m just… I don’t know what I am.”

    Draco stepped into her room and tilted her head up to look at him. “Hermione, we’ve kissed before.”

    “Yes, because you had to go all romantic and propose to me!”

    Draco smirked playfully. “And that’s a bad thing?” he teased.

    Hermione scowled half-heartedly. “You’re a real rat, you know that?”

    “You didn’t have to agree to it,” he said with a small laugh.

    “I’m very well aware of that…”

    Draco smirked as he pulled her into his arms and leaned down so that he was merely centimeters from her face. “Then stop with the worrying and just go with it,” he whispered as he dipped his head and brought their lips together once more.

    This time, Hermione did not resist one bit. She allowed Draco’s lips to guide hers as they moved against each other. Her hands slid around his neck and into his hair as she instinctively tilted her head, in an attempt to deepen the kiss.

    As she tilted her head, Draco tilted his as well, but he didn’t do anything to deepen the kiss. He wanted to control his actions… to be a gentleman… and that wasn’t going to happen as long as Hermione kept pulling him closer and trying to deepen the kiss.

    With a small moan, he pulled her hands out of his hair and moved a couple of steps away from her, still holding onto her hands. “Hermione, we need to be careful,” he said softly.

    Hermione ran her hand through her hair and huffed, slightly annoyed at the fact that he had kissed her and was now telling her they had to be careful! “If you’re so concerned about taking it too far, then maybe you should have thought of that before you kissed me!” she said.

    Draco sighed in frustration as he got back close to her and looked her right in the eyes. “Hermione, you have no idea what I want to do to you right now, if we’re not careful, we could end up doing something we both aren’t ready for,” he explained as calmly as he could, “Is that what you want?”

    Hermione bit her lip and shook her head. “No,” she whispered, looking around at where they were, “Um, why don’t we go back downstairs?”

    Draco chuckled when he noticed her eyes dart toward the bed. “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

    The two headed back down the stairs, Hermione going directly to her pile of books, while Draco sat down at his desk and attempted to do some homework. His mind, however, was far from his school work. He was picturing what Hermione would look like sprawled out on his bed… Draco, stop it, he scolded himself, you shouldn’t be thinking like that yet!

 

 




 

 

The next morning…

 

    It was beautiful outside. The sunlight was streaming through the stained glass windows, casting colored shadows along the floors and walls. Hermione laughed as she exited the portrait hole of Head’s Tower and looked behind her. Draco stepped out after her, laughing as well as he slid his hand into hers. She looked up at him and smiled tenderly when he kissed her forehead. It was a sweet moment and she expanded on it by rubbing his arm with her free hand and resting her head against him as they walked.

    As they rounded the corner, Astoria stepped out from behind a nearby pillar. She glared in the direction they had gone and folded her arms. It made her sick to see them together. It made her sick to see that beautiful, sparkling, perfect ring on Hermione’s boney finger. She wanted to walk up to that twiggy little know-it-all and rip the ring right off her hand. It would look so good on her own.

    She huffed and ran a slim hand through her hair. A group of Hufflepuffs walked by, chatting about something, or other; she wasn’t paying attention. The only thing she was concerned about was getting Draco away from Miss Goody-Goody. But he’s stubborn, she thought. He won’t do anything unless he wants to…

    A sudden thought came to her. It was a last resort and she wasn’t certain that it would work, but she had to try something. She was getting tired of being pushed away from the one person she had ever actually had feelings for and she needed to do something about it.

    She adjusted her bag on her shoulder and headed to class. When she got there and took her seat, she immediately took out her quill and some parchment. She thought for a moment and then began penning the best letter she had ever written.

    If she was going to get her way in this, everything needed to be worded just right. She couldn’t have him declining her proposal right away. She needed him to give it some serious thought before agreeing, or disagreeing.

    She spent the whole lesson working on her letter, not caring about what was being taught. When the lesson was over, she quickly packed her things. She then rushed to the owlery and sent her letter off, hoping for a response. If she didn’t get one, she would know her answer, and she would have to figure out something else.

 

 




 

 

Later that night…

 

    Hermione sat bolt upright with her hand clutching at her chest. Her breathing was ragged as her eyes darted around. After a few seconds, she realized that she was in her bedroom, completely safe. She couldn’t even remember what had caused her to wake so terrified. Was it a vision, or just a nightmare? She took several calming breaths and ran her hands over her forehead.

    She closed her eyes and continued breathing deeply. Now that she was more calm, she realized that there was no pain behind her eyes. Knowing that, and considering she couldn’t remember anything once she woke up, she was convinced that whatever had woken her wasn’t a vision. Well, I’ll take a nightmare over a vision any day of the week, she thought.

    With slightly shaking hands, she pushed the covers back and padded over to the bathroom. She took a long drink of water and splashed some on her face. As she ran a towel over her neck, she looked at herself in the mirror.

    To say that she looked rough would be an understatement. She looked more like a zombie. Her eyes had dark circles under them, her hair and skin were looking dull, and she could see that she looked thinner than she had at the start of term. Draco had been right when he had told her that she was spreading herself too thin.

    It was a fault all her own. She had never been able to just leave a problem unsolved but it seemed that’s exactly what she was going to have to do for the time being. At least until the wedding is out of the way, she thought.

    She looked down at her left hand and ran her thumb along the bottom of her ring. The corner of her mouth tilted up ever so slightly as she stared at the sparkling jewel set into the snake’s mouth. Of all the people in the world, she never would have guessed that she would be marrying Draco Malfoy.

    Of course, she had never guessed that she was a Zabini either.

    With a sigh, she put the towel down and walked out of the bathroom. She looked at her bed and realized that she knew she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. She picked up a couple of the books she had been looking through and headed down the stairs to the common room. It had been hours since she had last been down there, but she was certain that the fire would still be blazing.

    The fire was roaring, as Hermione had been expecting, which would make for a cozy study environment. What she hadn’t expected, was to find Draco lying on one of the sofas, sound asleep, with a book lying open on his chest. And he talks about me studying all the time, she thought, shaking her head.

    She walked over to him and carefully moved his hand. Keeping an eye on him to make sure she didn’t wake him, she picked up the book on his chest. It was one of the books that had been in the various stacks she’d been looking through, but she hadn’t gotten a chance to go through the stack this particular book had been in. She smiled softly and quietly set the book on the end table behind his head. She then placed the blanket draped over the back of the couch on top of him, gently tucking it around him.

    As she tucked the blanket, she felt something wedged between him and the back of the couch. She gripped it and tugged. Her brow furrowed when she recognized her notebook. She flipped it to where it was right side up and looked at the writing. She had assumed he had just been going over the notes she had written, but it wasn’t her writing on the page; it was Draco’s.

    She was a little astonished to see the care and attention to detail he had taken when writing these notes. It was obvious just how much he cared for her and Blaise. She picked up the book he’d been reading and thought it might be a good idea to go over what he’d read and see if she could make any more sense of it than he had. Not that his notes really needed to be made sense of; he had been very thorough.

    It was then, upon closer inspection, that she noticed that he had even made notes of her notes. Little connections between what he had read, and what she had already made notations on. It was clear that he hadn’t understood the connections he’d made, but they were there all the same.

    Draco shifted onto his side and sighed deeply with sleep. She smiled at how peaceful he looked. Gone was the usual scowl he wore daily. He was relaxed and unburdened. It was the first time Hermione had really seen him as the seventeen year old he was. Oh sure, she had witnessed him enjoying himself but there was always something that seemed to hold him back from really letting go. It was in his eyes.

    Hermione had noticed it several times; the far off look that spoke volumes if one cared to actually pay attention. She had sensed a long time ago that he wasn’t accustomed to freely showing his emotions, but until she had actually witnessed him with his father in a more personal setting that she saw just how much damage his father had done to him emotionally.

    She picked up a cushion from the chair in the corner and placed it on the floor so that she could be close to him. A piece of hair fell across his forehead. Her fingers flexed, itching to touch, and she chewed on the inside of her cheek as she silently debated on whether or not to brush the hair away. The side of her curious about the texture of the white-blond strands won out.

    Stretching her arm out, she gently smoothed the hair away from his forehead. She allowed her fingers to linger in his hair a little longer than she had planned, feeling the soft silkiness of it. Draco sighed deeply and stretched his head slightly, pushing into her hand.

    Hermione smiled tenderly and moved her hand to his cheek, stroking his skin soothingly. He relaxed again, reaching for her hand and tucking it to his chest. For a moment, Hermione thought he had woken up, but his breathing was slow and deep with sleep. Well, it looks like I’ll be studying one handed, she thought after trying to remove her hand from his grasp. She then opened the book and began reading.

    Several hours later, Draco woke from the most restful sleep he’d had in weeks to find Hermione’s head resting on the couch near his chest. He stretched and looked around, confused as to why she would be in his bedroom but he quickly realized that he wasn’t in his room. He gazed down at his chest when he felt a small movement and noticed her tiny hand tucked comfortably in his.

    This shocked him somewhat because he had never pictured himself to be one to do things like that. Even on nights when Astoria had shared his bed with him, he had never unconsciously searched her out. Well this is certainly a new development, he thought as he rubbed his thumb across her knuckles.

    She shifted a little but showed no sign of waking. This gave Draco the perfect opportunity to look her over.

    He couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t seen her with stress and worry etched into her expressions. She looked so peaceful and so… beautiful. With his free hand, he cupped her cheek and ran his thumb under her eye.

    Hermione breathed in deeply and lifted her head sleepily. “Good morning,” Draco said softly.

    She looked at him and her eyes widened. “I… um… when did I fall asleep?” she stammered.

    “I don’t know, but you must have been tired because you never fall asleep anywhere other than a bed,” he replied, letting go of her hand and sitting up.

    Her cheeks pinkened as she stood up and stretched her stiff body. Draco’s eyes roamed over her slight frame for a moment before he, too, stood. “I was surprised to find you down here when I came down last night,” Hermione said.

    The thunk of a book hitting the floor broke the silence that was filling the room and Draco stooped down to pick it up. “I see you’ve picked up where I left off last night.”

    Hermione rubbed her face to get rid of the remaining tiredness and smiled sweetly at him. “Yes, well, I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep for a while so I just thought…” she began, “Um… did you have any luck? With anything you might not have written down yet, maybe?”

    “I’m sure you could tell by my notes that I was kind of at a loss, so… not so much,” he replied, shaking his head, “What did you come down for? You’d already gone to bed.”

    Hermione picked up her books and took them over to her desk. She chewed on her lip as she set the books down and turned to face him. “Something woke me up.”

    “What was it?”

    She shrugged and shook her head. “I can’t remember. I woke with a fright though so I came down to get some more studying done and found my notebook with your notes scribbled in it.”

    Draco smiled slightly. It was so typical of her to turn to books whenever she didn’t understand something, or was uncertain of things. “Well, it’s Saturday, what should we do?”

    Hermione ran her hand through her hair. “Well, first thing I’m going to do is go freshen up, and then I’m going down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Would you like to join me?”

    “For the freshening up, or breakfast?”

    The suggestive smirk on his face was all she needed to flush with embarrassment. She picked up the pillow that was in her desk chair and threw it at him as he began laughing. “You are just… You little… Ugh! Go fall off a hippogriff!”

    Draco laughed louder as she stomped up the stairs and slammed her dormitory door.

 

 




 

 

    Owls flew overhead as the students of Hogwarts ate their breakfast, dropping off packages and letters to their respective owners. Draco’s brow furrowed when an envelope with his father’s writing on it landed next to his plate. His father didn’t often write to him. Actually, he couldn’t recall there ever being a time when his father had written to him. It had always been his mother.

    Curious, he put down his fork and opened the letter. With each word he read, confusion and curiosity filled his mind. There was something off about this letter and the so-called reason it had been written.

    He quickly re-read the letter and shook his head, crumpling the parchment and shoving it into his pocket roughly. “What was that all about?” Blaise asked as Draco went back to his breakfast.

    Draco shrugged as he chewed. “My father wants me home for the Christmas holiday,” he said after he swallowed.

    “Well, that’s not unusual,” Blaise replied, “You almost always go home for Christmas.”

    “Yes, but this is different because my father wants me to join him at the Goyle’s for dinner.”

    Concern crossed Blaise’s features as he took a drink of pumpkin juice. Both he and Draco had been somewhat estranged from Goyle since Blaise’s and Hermione’s birthday party. It worried him because he knew that Goyle’s father was a Death Eater, like Draco’s father and his own. With what he knew about why Hermione had been sent to live with the Grangers, this dinner Lucius wanted Draco to attend sounded suspicious.

    Draco knew what Blaise was thinking, because he was thinking it himself. His father was planning something and he wanted to involve him. “There’s only one way to figure out exactly what my father wants.”

    Blaise nodded. “You have to go to that dinner.”

    “I have to go to that dinner,” Draco agreed.

    “There’s something else bothering you,” Blaise stated.

    Draco chewed a bite of toast as he nodded distractedly. A moment later, he shook his head and came out of his thoughts. “I’m sorry, what?”

    “Man, your head is really somewhere else lately,” Blaise said with a light chuckle, “What’s got you so distracted? Wait, don’t tell me! It’s got to be Hermione.”

    “It is, but it’s not what you’re thinking.”

    The seriousness of his tone, and the look on his face told Blaise that he was really worried about something and that it wasn’t to be taken lightly. “Are you done with you food?”

    Draco’s brow furrowed questioningly as he nodded. Blaise wiped his mouth and stood up. “Come on; let’s get out of here.”

    The two of them left the Great Hall, aimlessly walking through the corridors until Draco suggested going to his dormitory. “Hermione’s eating breakfast so she won’t be there.”

    “Good idea,” Blaise agreed.

    It was just a few minutes later that the two boys were sitting in the common room of the Head Boy and Girl. “all right, Draco, other than your father, what’s got you worried?”

    Without hesitation, Draco told him about what Hermione had told him that morning. “What she doesn’t know, is that she’s been talking in her sleep… Screaming actually. Sometimes she wakes up, but most of the time she doesn’t,” he said, “Blaise, I’m worried about her; these visions of hers are getting worse and there’s nothing I can do to help her.”

    Blaise leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees. “Are you sure it’s the visions causing her to scream like that?”

    He ran his hands over his face and sighed heavily. “Honestly, I don’t know, but it sounds a hell of a lot like what she described you went through before term started,” he replied, “How are you doing? Have you been having any visions lately?”

    He was silent for several moments. “I don’t know. Well, I know I haven’t had any while I’ve been awake; we both know what happened the last time that happened.”

    Draco leaned back and sighed, running his hand over the back of his head. “Yeah; that wasn’t fun, for any of us.”

    “Huh, try being the one it happened to,” Blaise retorted, not unkindly.

    “Yeah. So what about while you’re sleeping? Any visions then?”

    Blaise shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of,” he answered, “Dumbledore’s got me under orders to take a Dreamless Sleep Draught every night.”

    Draco nodded in understanding. “Which means you wouldn’t know if you were having a vision,” he said, closing his eyes and pinching the area of his nose between them.

    When he finally looked back at Blaise, he could see the confusion written all over his face. “Dreamless Sleep shuts down the part of the brain that causes us to dream, that much is self explanatory,” he explained, “but it doesn’t completely shut down the subconscious. Our subconscious is too powerful to be shut down totally. You could still be having visions even with the Dreamless Sleep. At least, I think you could.”

    Blaise shook his head in amazement. “How do you know all of this?”

    Draco reached over to a pile of books and picked up the one that was on top. It was his Potions book. He handed it to Blaise as he said, “It’s my best subject.”

    Blaise quietly flipped through a few pages before tossing it aside. “Draco, what do you think is happening to Hermione and me?” he questioned softly.

    Draco rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head. “I don’t know, mate,” he said, “but whatever it is, we’re going to beat it.”

    He wasn’t so sure. “You can’t know that.”

    “Sure I can!” Draco stated, “Hermione’s the smartest witch I know. She’s so smart there were hardly any brains left for you!”

    Blaise chuckled a little at his playful jibe. “Besides, we’ve got Dumbledore,” Draco continued, “and nothing gets by him.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Blaise agreed after several moments.

    Draco could see that his best friend was really struggling with this new power. The stress was written all over his face. Blaise needed a distraction and he needed one fast. “How are wedding plans going for you?”

    “Beatrice is having the time of her life,” Blaise told him, “She and my mum have been sending owls to each other everyday, I think, with ideas. Then there’s the owls from her mum. I’ve never seen so many letters in my life!”

    “Aren’t you helping at all with the planning?” Draco questioned with a laugh.

    Blaise grinned as he shook his head. “Nope. I told Beatrice that I don’t care where or how we get married, I just want to show up.”

    Draco let out a low whistle. “I think if I did that, Hermione would flay me!”

    “You mean; you’re helping plan?”

    “It’s not just her wedding, you know. I have to be there, too, and I don’t want to be wearing some silly frock or something like that,” Draco explained, “You know how I am; I like having a say in the things I do and since I’m going to be spending the rest of my life with Hermione, I want our wedding to be special. Besides, it’s better if I don’t cause her more stress than necessary.”

    “Maybe I should help Beatrice, huh?”

    “You’d be surprised at how much the smallest thing, like giving an opinion on a color of flower, can help her.”

    “You should listen to him, Blaise, he knows what he’s talking about.”

    The two boys turned at the sound of her voice to see Hermione coming toward them, her arms filled with books. “Well, it’s not my good looks that got me Head Boy,” Draco said as he and Blaise stood and relieved her of her burdens, “What’s all this?”

    “Seriously! Did you clean out the entire school library?” Blaise teased, “What do you need all these books for?”

    Hermione set her school bag down and began pulling more books from within. “Well, some of them are to help me with Professor McGonagall’s essay, some I thought might be useful in figuring out this vision thing you and I have going on, Blaise, and these,” she plopped a stack of what looked like magazines on her desk, “were sent to me by our mothers this morning.”

    Draco’s eyes widened slightly. “Wedding catalogues?”

    “Mmm,” Hermione said with a nod, “I spent so long looking through them I didn’t get any school work done. Madame Pince was a little short with me when I told her I wanted to check all these books out.”

    “Well, we all know how that woman feels about books,” Blaise joked.

    Hermione and Draco laughed. Hermione checked her watch and nearly jumped. “Heavens, we’re going to be late for Professor Snape!”

    The three quickly grabbed their things and rushed out of the Head’s common room. They made it to Defense Against the Dark Arts just ahead of Professor Snape. He gave them a disapproving look, but said nothing.

    He waved his wand and instructions appeared on the chalkboard at the front of the classroom. “Please take out your completed essays and your text books,” he said in his usual brisk manner as he flicked his wand again. Rolls of parchment flew through the air and landed neatly on his desk, “Today we will be discussing the benefits of Occlumency.”

    His black robes swept across the floor as he turned and faced the class. “Who can tell me…?”

    Hermione’s hand shot up.

    “Miss Zabini, kindly allow me to finish the question before raising your hand.”

    The class sniggered softly and Hermione went pink as she put her hand down. Harry nudged her elbow gently and gave her a small smile as Snape continued. “Who can tell me what Occlumency is?”

    Everyone looked at Hermione, but to their surprise, she remained silent.

 

 




 

 

    The floor in front of the fireplace in Head’s Tower was a mess. Books, papers, and magazines were scattered everywhere and Hermione was was the tornado that had caused the damage. She had been going through the various things that either her mother, or Narcissa Malfoy had been sending her. Suggestions about wedding dresses, locations, and anything else they could think of that had to do with planning a wedding. There was also a plate of uneaten ham and cheese sandwiches that she had brought up for lunch instead of eating in the Great Hall.

    There was a knock that sounded off like a cannon, startling Hermione so badly that she nearly jumped out of her skin. She got up and went to the portrait hole, throwing it open and smiling when she saw Ginny and Luna standing in the corridor. “Thank Merlin you’re here!” Ginny said with exasperation, “Please save me from the tedium of this day! What are you looking at?”

    Hermione giggled as she lifted the bridal magazine she had been looking through, and still had in her hand. Ginny grinned as she took the magazine from her and looked at the open page. “You’re really getting into this, aren’t you?” she asked as Hermione let them in.

    “I think so,” Hermione agreed, “It’s certainly a welcome distraction from the more serious of my problems.”

    “The visions?” Ginny whispered.

    She nodded as the three of them sat down. “I’ve been searching and searching and while I’ve found out some very interesting facts, I’ve found nothing even remotely similar to my situation with Blaise.”

    Ginny gave her an understanding look and squeezed her hand. “We’ll find something,” she consoled, “it’s just going to take time. I can’t imagine something like this is too common.”

    Of course, Hermione knew Ginny was right. It just didn’t sit well with her that this mystery was no closer to being solved than it had been at the beginning of term. “I just know there’s something I’m missing,” she said.

    “Honestly, Hermione, even someone as brilliant as you can’t be expected to solve everything.”

    “I know, but…”

    Ginny shook her head and took a bite of the ham and cheese sandwich Hermione offered. Luna took a sandwich as well. “No ‘buts’. You expect too much of yourself. Why don’t you focus on something else for a while, give your mind a break and come back to your personal mystery later with fresh eyes.”

    Hermione sighed and chewed on a pickle. “I do need to get some wedding plans taken care of,” she said thoughtfully, “And, of course, I’ve got loads of school work to do.”

    “Naturally,” Ginny commented with a grin.

    “How would you like to help me narrow down some of the suggestions in these wedding magazines?”

    “I’d love to!”

    “Can I help, too?”

    Hermione and Ginny smiled at Luna. “Of course! I’ve got plenty to go around.”

    Luna pulled a small stack toward her and began flipping through the magazine on top. “Have you decided on anything else for your wedding?” she asked.

    “You mean like location and such?” Hermione inquired.

    Luna nodded. “Not so much,” Hermione replied, “You know I’ve asked you both to be in the wedding, so that part is taken care of. I’ve got to ask a few more girls to be part of the wedding party in order to match Draco’s side, but that won’t be too difficult. Draco’s going to make my tiara, but other than that, I have nothing.”

    “No dress ideas, or what kind of wedding you want?” Ginny questioned.

    Hermione laughed. “Considering who our families are, there’s no way I could get away with having a small, simple wedding. I doubt our mothers would allow it.”

    Ginny huffed a little. “Well, it’s your wedding. Yours and Draco’s. Don’t let someone else dictate what that’s going to be. Make your own decisions,” she said.

    She chewed on her bottom lip and twirled her engagement ring around her finger. “I know, I know, and I agree with you.”

    Ginny arched her brow. “But?”

    Hermione sighed. “But there’s a part of me that feels like I owe it to my mother to have whatever kind of wedding she sees for me.”

    “Why?”

    “Because she missed out on seventeen years of my life. Because I’ve missed out on seventeen years of being raise by my biological parents. I mean; I know it was all for a very good reason, and if certain things hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been raised by the most amazing parents ever, but I can’t help feeling like a part of me was jipped out of the life I was supposed to have. Does that make sense?”

    Ginny took Hermione’s hand and squeezed it comfortingly. “Yes; perfect sense. Ahem, so how have things been going with Professor Firenze? Are you making any progress with controlling your visions?”

    “Some,” she admitted, “It’s been a slow process but Professor Firenze says I’m doing much better and that I’m ready to dive further into his lessons.”

    “And what about Blaise? Has he had any more visions?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, but I know he’s worried about them,” she said, “I’ve been trying to convince him to see Professor Firenze with me, but he’s shunning the idea for the time being.”

    “Why?”

    “He’s worried about someone getting into his head, which is ironic considering he and I are able to do that very thing,” she answered, “In a manner of speaking.”

    “Ooh, this one is lovely!” Luna cooed, leaning over and showing Hermione.

    Hermione smiled. “It is lovely, but I’m not sure it’s me,” she said kindly.

    Luna shrugged and went back to looking through the magazine. “So, are you going to keep trying, or are you going to let it go?” Ginny asked.

    She smiled and grabbed a stack of bridal magazines. “Have you ever known me to give up?”

    After a couple of hours, Hermione told the girls that she needed to be going. She had a lesson with Professor Firenze and she didn’t want to be late. As she was on her way, she ran into Blaise. “Hey, where are you headed?” she asked.

    He grimaced. “I have a detention with McGonagall,” he replied.

    She frowned. “What did you do?”

    He had sense enough to look ashamed. “I got a little over zealous during her lesson today and ended up breaking a window.”

    Hermione gasped. “Blaise!”

    “It’s not completely my fault!” he exclaimed, lowering his voice to make sure no random passersby could hear him, “I felt like a vision was coming and I sort of seized up and couldn’t control what I was doing.”

    She looked worried. “Blaise, you could’ve hurt someone,” she said, not unkindly, “Did you explain what happened to Professor McGonagall?”

    He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. “I’m not sure who on the staff knows about our visions, and no one other than your friends and Draco know about them, so I couldn’t just come out and say, ‘I’m sorry, I think I was having a vision, sorry about the window.’ Everyone would think I’m as crazy as they’ve always thought Potter was.”

    Hermione thought for a moment. “Well, no, I don’t suppose you could have, but, Blaise, you have to do something,” she pressed gently, “If your visions cause you to seize when you’re awake, you could end up hurting yourself, or someone else. Blaise, please, I don’t want to see you lying in the hospital again.”

    Blaise sighed. “All right, you’re right. I’d better go before McGonagall gives me another detention for being late, but tell me when your next lesson with Professor Firenze is and I’ll go with you, if he’s not opposed to it.”

    She hugged him. “I’ll talk to him,” she said, “I’m on my way to see him now.”

    “All right, well, good luck and I’ll see you later.”

    Blaise rushed off and Hermione continued on her way to Professor Firenze’s classroom. He greeted her warmly and the two sat by their tree. “I must say, Hermione, you have come a long way in such a short amount of time,” he praised, “Have you had any visions?”

    “No, sir, not in a while.”

    “Excellent,” the professor said, “Now, we’ve covered clearing your mind, and you have done exceptionally well at that, so tonight we’re going to work on opening your mind.”

    Hermione nodded and listened intently. “You should know that what we are about to do is quite dangerous and carries much risk. Opening one’s mind, especially one whose mind is so attuned to the unknown, must be done delicately, especially considering the mind is so powerful,” Firenze explained, “Of course, you know this because you have a very knowledgeable mind.”

    She blushed slightly at the compliment. Professor Firenze gestured to his cupboard of herbs and potions. “Would you be so kind as to gather these ingredients?” he questioned, handing her a small piece of parchment with four ingredients listed on it.

    “Yes, of course,” she replied, taking the list and going to the cupboard.

    “Tell me, Hermione, what do you know of your connection with your brother?”

    “Not much, as of yet, I’m afraid,” she confessed, “But I do know that it’s much stronger when we touch.”

    She brought the ingredients back to where they were sitting and carefully set them on the grass. Firenze looked the ingredients over and nodded. “Very good. Tell me more.”

    “Well, when Blaise was in the hospital wing, he was lying there for days and I couldn’t sense him,” she began, “Then one day he suddenly sat up and I grabbed hold of his arm. There was this immense energy that went through me and then it was like I was seeing what he was seeing, but different.”

    “Explain.”

    Hermione took a breath to collect her thoughts. “I could see what was happening as though I was third party. I could interact, and touch, but Blaise said he couldn’t see much of anything. How is that possible?”

    Professor Firenze smiled as he mixed the ingredients into a paste not unlike porridge. “I cannot be certain, but the way you have described your visions, it seems as though you project yourself in such a way that allows you either to simply see things, or to take physical form. Blaise, on the other hand seems to project himself into another form. Of course, without seeing him I cannot say this for sure.”

    Her brow furrowed as she grasped what he was telling her. “So, you’re saying that when we’re having a vision, it’s not really a vision, but a form of astral projection?”

    “Not exactly,” the centaur replied, “If you recall, I once told you that astral projection isn’t something the unconscious mind can do. There is no question, however, that what you and Blaise share is an extraordinary gift, and very powerful. Very rare, too, at least from what I’ve been able to discern from the stars. Tell me, have you convinced your brother to come see me?”

    At this, Hermione smiled. “He told me to let him know when our next lesson is and that he would come.”

    “Wonderful! Well then, I look forward to seeing him,” he stated, “Now, this paste will be a chore to eat, but I’m afraid you must eat it all. Eat it slowly, in small portions.”

    “What will it do?” Hermione questioned, sniffing at the paste and grimacing.

    “It will lower your inhibitions.”

    Hermione furrowed her brow. “I’m not so sure about this.”

    “Hermione, these things I am teaching you will only work if you trust me. I know there are risks with everything I show you, but the risk becomes greater without trust.”

    “I do trust you, Professor, I’m just a little worried about not having control.”

    He smiled kindly. “Dear girl, this is not about losing control, it is about finding it.”

    Hermione took a deep breath and hesitantly spooned some of the paste into her mouth. She had barely swallowed the foul tasting paste before she began gagging. “You were right about that stuff not tasting pleasant,” she commented, grimacing and shaking her head, “I really have to eat all of that?”

    Firenze gave a soft chuckle. “I’m afraid so,” he replied.

    Her expression changed to one of determination. “Well, bon appetite to me then,” she said as she ate another spoonful.

    It took her a while, but she was finally able to finish the paste. She felt sick, but not to the point of throwing up, which she really wanted to do, in all honesty. “Good,” Professor Firenze said, “Now, how are you feeling? Can you describe it?”

    She blinked and shook her head as though trying to come out of a daze. “Don’t fight the feeling, Hermione,” Firenze told her, “You need to embrace it. Breathe.”

    Hermione obeyed and allowed the feeling of nothingness to slip over her. “Listen to my voice,” the centaur commanded gently, “It’s getting further and further away, but you can still hear it. Can you hear my words?”

    He sounded far off, like he was at the opposite end of a tunnel from her, but she could still hear him. “Like an echo,” she breathed.

    “Excellent, now use your mind to get closer. Open yourself up to it.”

    “How?”

    “You already know how, Hermione, you just need to wake up to it!”

    Hermione furrowed her brow and scrunched her nose. Firenze continued speaking and she tried bringing herself closer to his voice, but she was met with little success. It frustrated her to the point where she forced out a scream. Firenze took her hands in his and squeezed. “Hermione, relax… breathe. You’re not going to get anywhere if you let your power control you! You need to control it!”

    He helped her relax and had her try again. “That was a very good first attempt, but I think perhaps I have steered you wrong. Well, maybe not completely. Let us try a different approach,” he said, “Your connection with your brother is a strong one, yes?”

    She was still loopy from the paste, but she was able to nod. “Very good, then let’s try that. I want you to try reaching out to him.”

    “He’s in detention with Professor McGonagall,” she replied groggily.

    “Well, if anything happens, I will speak with her so as not to get him into further trouble. Come now… open your mind and reach out for your brother.”

    Hermione cricked her neck and shook out her hands the way she would before attempting a difficult spell. She then breathed deep. Blaise, she thought, Blaise, can you hear me?

    At first, nothing happened, but she tried again. Blaise… can you hear me?

    She cocked her head and listened. She could hear a scratching noise, like quill on parchment. It was quiet, but slowly getting a little louder. Her head ached slightly but it was bearable. Things were fuzzy, but she was beginning to see shapes and colors.

    Desks. Chairs. It was a classroom. Professor McGonagall’s classroom to be exact. Everything became clearer and she looked around. The scratching she heard was definitely a quill scraping against parchment. She figured that out when she saw Blaise sitting at a desk nearby, writing lines. Blaise?

    He nearly jumped out of his seat. “Whoa!” he said.

    Professor McGonagall looked up from the stack of papers she was grading. “Mister Zabini, kindly continue your lines quietly,” she told him.

    “Yes, Professor. Sorry.”

    He lowered his head back to his parchment and thought, Hermione?

    She smiled. Yes! I’m sorry for startling you.

    Professor Firenze squeezed her hand. “You’re smiling. Have you reached him?”

    Like an elastic, she was snapped back to his classroom. She blinked and found that she was no longer groggy. “I… I saw Blaise! I spoke to him!”

    “Well done, Hermione! That is some impressive progress,” Firenze said, “How do you feel?”

    “Tired,” she replied with a soft chuckle.

    “Yes, I imagine you do. Let us pick this up on Friday night.”

    Hermione gathered her things and smiled at him. “Thank you, Professor. Good night.”

 

 




 

 

Late that night… Malfoy Manor...

 

    There was a knock on his study door. He didn’t bother looking up from the letters he was going through as he called, “Enter.”

    The door opened and the familiar sound of his wife’s heels clacking on the marble floor caused him to look up. “We’ve just had an owl,” she told him, putting the letter down on his desk with angry force, “Can you explain this?”

    He opened the letter and read it. “I cannot.”

    Narcissa sighed and fixed her husband with a glare of exasperation. “I’ve read the letter, Lucius, I know what she’s asking,” she said, “What I don’t know, however, is whether you’re going to decide to help her.”

    Lucius rubbed his face tiredly. “Narcissa, what can I do? There is so much that you don’t know.”

    She looked at her husband silently for a while. She could see that something was weighing on him but she knew better than to ask him any questions about it. Asking Lucius questions always led to arguments and as tired as she was, she really wasn’t looking for one of those right now. “Lucius, I’m begging you, please, don’t do anything to ruin Draco’s engagement.”

    “I’m the one that made the agreement with Pietro, why would I want to risk ruining it?” he questioned.

    Narcissa sat in one of the arm chairs across from him. She leaned forward slightly, her expression pleading. “He’s happy, Lucius. He’s happier than I’ve ever seen him and it’s because of Hermione,” she said, “Marjorie and I have been talking and we both feel that this marriage will be the best thing for both our families, but especially for Draco and Hermione.”

    Lucius sighed. “I’m not against Draco marrying the girl,” he said, “but you can’t disagree that there are some things, some… underlying issues.”

    “Oh, Lucius, not this again!” she said with annoyance.

    “Narcissa, they sent her to be raised by Muggles. How can you not have an issue with that?”

    “Lucius, the girl was sick and it was their only choice,” Narcissa argued, “You can’t blame them for wanting the best for their daughter; it’s all we’ve ever wanted for Draco.”

    “I can understand that, and I don’t fault them for wanting what’s best for her, but why wait so long to bring her home?”

    “Pietro has explained all of this to you, Lucius. You believed him then, why are you questioning him now?”

    Lucius let out a heavy sigh and stood, walking around his desk to sit in the arm chair next to her. He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Darling, there is so much that I wish I could tell you, but…”

    She nodded in understanding. “The Dark Lord won’t allow it,” she finished for him.

    She stood up and pulled her hand from his. “Well let me tell you what I won’t allow, Lucius,” she told him, “I won’t allow you to ruin Draco’s happiness. He wants to marry Hermione and she wants to marry him. I know this is merely about family duty, obligation, and nobility with you, but for Draco… For Draco it’s about love.”

    “What are you saying, Narcissa?”

    “I’m saying that you’ve pushed Draco to do your bidding since he was a child, and he has; he’s done everything you’ve asked of him. He would probably marry Hermione just to fulfill family duty if that’s what you wanted, but we agreed to let him and Hermione decide whether, or not, to get married, and now they’ve chosen,” she explained, “I may not agree with how Hermione was raised, but she’s a brilliant young woman and she loves our son. So, I’m telling you that I don’t care what The Dark Lord says or thinks about this. If I have to I will face him down myself if it means my son gets to marry the girl he loves.”

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