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    Hermione sat on a large wingback chair in the drawing room. She knew that Harry and Draco were just trying to keep her safe, but she hated being treated like an invalid.

    This is it from now on. She thought. You can’t join in the fight anymore, so you’re just going to sit there like some damsel in distress while the men decided what to do with you. Stupid Cruciatis Poisoning.

    “Hermione?” Draco asked tentatively, knocking on the door.

    Hermione glanced at him and then turned to stare at the hearth.

    “Hermione, don’t be upset.” Draco pleaded gently. “You know we’re just trying to protect you.”

    “By treating me like a child?” Hermione asked, still staring into the fire.

    “Look, try to see this from our point of view.” Draco said, sitting down across from her. “We both love you, we feel very powerless right now, when all we can do is hide you away.”

    You feel powerless?!” Hermione snapped. “I’ve been sitting in bed for the past three weeks! No one will even let me get up on my own! Suddenly you’re all treating me like I’m made of spun glass, and do you know what the worst part is?”

    Draco shook his head.

    “The worst part is that you’re all right!” Hermione cried. “I’m useless now, I can’t fight, I can’t be anywhere that I might even chance getting hit with the Cruciatis Curse. So the life that I’ve lived since I was eleven is done, my fight is done, and I have to let others carry on on my behalf.”

    Draco looked at the floor.

    “Say something!” Hermione demanded.

    “Well, it’s not exactly the same thing, but I know how you feel. Being suddenly expected to change your ways, and be happy about it.” Draco said softly. “I know it hurts.”

    Hermione felt her anger slipping away. Of course Draco understands. He lives with this every day, in his own way.

    “You know, the thing is—I was happy to come home, go to school, pretend like it didn’t happen. Like the war didn’t happen.” Hermione sighed. “But it never quite goes away, every little noise, every smell. They’re all triggers.”

    Draco reached across and took her hand in his.

    “We slept in here.” Hermione said suddenly. “Right after the ministry fell, and we’d just gone into hiding. We were too afraid to sleep alone.”

    “You slept in here?” Draco asked, surprised.

    “Yes.” Hermione said, looking around the room. “The boys slept on the floor, and gave me the sofa cushions.”

    Draco didn’t know how to respond, so he just squeezed her hand.

    “It’s always been the three of us,” Hermione said sadly. “Now they’re off training to be Aurors, and I’m left behind.”

    “Well, if it really bothers you, you know Kingsley would let you join the department.” Draco pointed out. “Probably yesterday.”

    Hermione smiled sadly. “No, I can’t. Not as an Auror anyway.” She briefly explained her susceptibility to the Cruciatis Curse.

    “Merlin, ‘Mione.” Draco crossed the space between them and drew her into a hug. “I’m so sorry.”

    “There’s nothing for it now.” Hermione said. “I’m a useless lump, and require a load of people to hover over me.”

    “You know that’s not true.” Draco argued. “If you could apperate we wouldn’t be in this mess. It’ll only be for a short while more.”

    Hermione nodded.

    From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” Draco said with a smile.

    “Tolkein.” Hermione laughed.

    “Just… think of yourself as Bilbo, adjusting to a new life after his adventure.” Draco said, with a smirk.

    Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it.” Hermione quoted back to him.

    “Ok, so there’s still more to the story.” Draco agreed. “But you don’t know what it is yet, you just know what it isn’t.”

    Hermione burst out laughing. “That was a very Dumbledoreish thing to say.”

    “Well in that case we’re all doomed.” Draco laughed. “I’m sorry we talked over you.”

    “I’m sorry I reacted disproportionately.” Hermione said.

    Draco nodded. “Do you still want some lunch?”

    Hermione grinned. “Yes, lets go back in before Harry leaves.”

    Draco watched her leave, concern still written on his face.

    By the time Friday came around, Hermione was going stir-crazy again. She was tired of being carried up and down stairs, and tired of being cooped up.

    The Auror department raid had proven quite successful, and they had nabbed a few more Death Eaters, though Yaxley still evaded capture. Hermione was still officially under Ministry Protection until all the Death Eaters were caught, but their numbers were slowly dwindling.

    She had holed herself up in the Library that afternoon, and had lost track of time. When Healer Murphy appeared in the Floo with Harry, Draco led her up to the third floor.

    "Tell me you're giving her permission to travel!" Draco joked as they ascended the stairs.

    "We'll see how she looks." Healer Murphy laughed.

    "How who looks?" Hermione asked, as they came into the Library.

    "You." Draco teased. "I was just pleading with your Healer here to have mercy and let you out before you jinx us all."

    "Ha, bloody, ha Draco." Hermione rolled her eyes, shutting the book she had been reading. "Sorry, I lost track of time!"

    "It's no worry." Healer Murphy said. "I'm glad to see that you're not overexerting yourself."

    "No chance of that around here." Hermione grumbled.

    "Mr. Malfoy, if you could give us a moment?" Healer Murphy said, setting her kit on a table.

    "Sure thing." Draco said, winking at Hermione.

    "He seems to be much improved as well." Healer Murphy noted.

    "Yeah, I discovered something that helped him get through the roughest of his withdrawals, although it's not terribly practical." Hermione explained.

    "Really?" Healer Murphy asked, sounding surprised. "What did you do?"

    "I used my Patronus to alter his mood." Hermione said, explaining how it had worked.

    "Interesting." Healer Murphy said, "I never thought of that. It's a simple enough concept, in theory, if one can perform the charm."

    "The charm is easy enough to teach." Hermione pointed out.

    "I don't know, it's a Newt level charm, and most people can't manage it even then." Healer Murphy countered.

    "I dunno," Hermione shrugged. "Most of my year learnt it in fifth year."

    "You're joking!" Healer Murphy laughed.

    "No, not at all." Hermione said seriously. "That was the year that the ministry interfered at Hogwarts, prior to Riddle coming back. They wouldn't teach us practical defense, so we formed our own group and taught each other secretly."

    "And you taught the Patronus Charm?" Healer Murphy asked, incredulous.

    "Yes, well the dementors were something of a problem that year." Hermione explained.

    "Well, I must hand it to you, you are a formidable lot." Healer Murphy chuckled.

    Hermione shrugged. "We just did what we had to."

    "And then some, I'd say." Healer Murphy said. "Now lets get this physical done."

    She thoroughly checked Hermione out from head to toe, prodding at her side a bit, and making her stretch and move around.

    "Well Miss Granger," She said, when she had completed her work. "You're about 80 percent healed, physically anyway."

    "Okay." Hermione said, taking a seat. "So what does that mean?"

    "It means I'm going to ok you for minimal floo travel, no apperation yet." Healer Murphy explained. "You can go back to school, but I want you to spend the weekend in the Hospital wing so that Madame Pomfrey can watch for any adverse affects."

    Hermione grinned, she would finally get back to some semblance of normalcy.

    "However, you must be completely honest with her and yourself. If you are feeling weak, dizzy, sore... anything, you must get yourself checked by Poppy. I'll still be stopping by once a week to check on your progress as well." She continued, "Once you've completely healed, we will revisit the option of taking you to Malfoy Manor, but not before I'm convinced you are truly strong enough physically."

    Hermione nodded vigorously, "I promise!"

    "Ok, get your things packed up." Healer Murphy said. "I'm going to go back to St. Mungos and get a few things to bring with to Hogwarts for you, and then I'll take you through the Floo."

    "Ok!" Hermione grinned, and hopped up.

    "Take it easy, or I'll change my mind!" Healer Murphy said, with a wink.

    "Sorry! I'll be careful!" Hermione said.

    "I'll see you in an hour or so." Healer Murphy said.

    Hermione practically skipped out the door, and followed her down the stairs.

    "Thanks Healer Murphy!" Hermione grinned, as Harry led her back through the Floo.

    "Don't thank me yet." She laughed. "You've never done an emergency Floo transport."

    Hermione had no idea what she meant, but she hurried to find Draco.
    "Well you look happy Little Dragon," Draco said, when Hermione found him in his room. "I take it Murphy let you loose?"

    "We're going back to Hogwarts!" Hermione grinned. "In an hour!"

    "Are we now?" Draco teased. "Are you sure you don't want to stay here? Have a bit of a rest?"

    Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just get ready to go!"

    Draco chuckled as Hermione disappeared to go pack her things.

    Harry knocked on the door. "So how do you want to do this?"

    "I was hoping you'd have a good idea about that." Draco said honestly. "I can't exactly appear at Hogwarts the same moment she does. It would make too many people suspicious."

    "Yeah." Harry scratched the back of his head. "No one knows why you left, right?"

    "Not that I know of." Draco said. "It's not like the Slytherins are exactly my biggest fans these days."

    "Hmmm. Well, we could say that when your probation was lowered, you left to check on family affairs." Harry suggested.

    "I think it's going to need to be a bit more involved than that." Draco pointed out. "After all, the Prophet suggested I helped with the "Death Eater Escape".

    "Point." Harry said, "Well, what if we go the other direction. Say we brought you in for questioning regarding Hermione's disappearance."

    "That could work." Draco said, leaning against the wall. "And it could be used to your benefit too, if you release a statement saying you held me for questioning and then released me. I'd imagine Yaxley would make some sort of move after seeing that."

    "You think?" Harry said, switching to Auror mode. "I wonder if Kingsely would be on board. It would be ideal if you could reach out to Yaxley after you return to Hogwarts. Try and keep him trusting you."

    "I don't know if Kingsley would go for it, but I'm game if he is." Draco said, pushing off the wall. "I'd better go give Hermione a heads up. At the very least, I need to go back to Hogwarts a few days from now."

    Harry nodded, "I'll chat to Kingsley and see what he thinks."

    "Why don't you just come with me?" Hermione asked. "We can tell everyone that they dropped us off at the same time for convenience."

    "You know why, Little Dragon." Draco said softly. "Everyone is safer this way, particularly you!"

    "I don't like it when you're away from me." She replied. "You start slipping."

    "I promise I won't." Draco said. "I'm just going to sit in my room and read."

    Hermione sighed. "Ok, but if you turn up at Hogwarts all angsty you'll be in trouble!"

    Draco chuckled, pulling her close. "Trouble you say? What kind of trouble? This sounds interesting!"

    "Be serious Draco!" Hermione pleaded. "You have to take care of yourself!"

    "It's only going to be a few days Hermione." Draco whispered into her ear. "You can show me how much you missed me when I get there!"

    Hermione blushed at his tone.

    "It is far too easy to make you blush." He chuckled. "Come on, I'm sure the Auror squadron is downstairs ready to take you back to Hogwarts."

    Hermione reached for her bag, but Draco snatched it up before she could get to it. "You're still meant to be taking it easy."

    "It's not even that heavy Draco!" Hermione argued.

    "Sure, but I'd carry your bag all the time if I could." Draco pointed out. "If we didn't need to hide at school I'd carry your book bag, like a gentleman should! At least let me carry it downstairs."

    Hermione caught a touch of sadness in Draco's eye, she got the sense that he felt guilty that she had been carrying her own books all year.

    "Ok." She acquiesced.

    "No argument?" Draco asked, surprised.

    "It seems important to you." Hermione shrugged.

    Draco smiled, and took her hand as they went down the stairs.

    "I can't reconcile this in my head." Ron said when they reached the bottom of the stairs. "You two are meant to hate each other. You throw the whole world off balance by not fighting."

    Draco was about to make a snide comment to Ron, when Hermione started giggling.

    "Ron, since when have you ever been able to understand human emotion?" She laughed.

    "But seriously," Ron said, with a grin. "At least call him Ferret or something!"

    "I'll call him whatever I want Ronald!" Hermione said, sticking her nose in the air and squeezing Draco's hand.

    "So, what's the plan then?" Draco asked, awkwardly.

    "Just waiting for Harry to get back with the Healers." Ron explained. "I'm just going to check the perimeter."

    After he disappeared, Hermione turned and grinned at Draco.

    "What are you so happy about?" Draco asked, curiously.

    "Ron was taking the Mickey!" She said, still smiling. "He hasn't done that... well, in a long time. That's as close as we're going to get to approval from him. He's finally acting normal around me again!"

    "You mean since he kissed you?" Draco asked, sounding strained.

    "Yes." Hermione said. "Things are finally getting back to normal!"

    "And that's good?" Draco asked, trying to ascertain Hermione's feelings.

    "Merlin yes!" Hermione said. "There's been this awkwardness hanging over us since the battle. Maybe he'll go find himself someone now!"

    Draco nodded, his feelings a tangle of confusion.

    Just then the fireplace roared to life, and Harry came through, followed by Healer Murphy, and Kingsley.

    Without Hermione seeing where he had come from, Ron appeared in front of the newly arrived group and quickly challenged each of them to check for imposters. Hermione was impressed; Ron was acting like a professional.

    “All ready then, ‘Mione?” Harry asked, after Ron had cleared him.

    Hermione nodded. She was ready for this ordeal to be over.

    “Alright Miss Granger, give your bag to Auror Potter, he’s going through first.” Explained Healer Murphy, “And then I’ll be bringing you through.”

    Draco handed Hermione’s bag to Harry, and turned to give her a hug. “I’ll be just a few days behind you.”

    Hermione nodded, and then turned to Healer Murphy. “Ok, let’s do this!”

    "Ok, I'll put you in a body bind to minimize how much you get knocked around, and then we'll follow Auror Potter." Healer Murphy explained.

    Hermione wasn't thrilled with the idea of being put in a body bind, but she was anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

    "Petrificus Totalus" Healer Murphy called, and Hermione felt her arms lock at her sides.

    Harry tossed in the Floo powder and disappeared into the flames with Hermione's bag.

    Kingsley helped Healer Murphy maneuver Hermione into the grate, and then they were spinning, which felt odd as she couldn't move. At last they tumbled out of the grate, and Harry caught Hermione with a charm.

    Healer Murphy quickly canceled the body bind, and Hermione shook her head to clear it from all the spinning.

    "Welcome back Miss Granger." Madame Pomfrey said, coming over to shake Healer Murphy's hand.

    "Thank you." Hermione said with a smile. "It's good to be home."

    "I've got a bed ready for you, just there." Madam Pomfrey said, gesturing to a bed in the far corner, which already had a stack of books beside it.

    "Thanks." Hermione said, resigning herself to a few more days in bed, as she knew that Madam Pomfrey wasn't about to let her charge leave the Hospital wing without her healer's permission.

    Harry followed Hermione over, and set her bag down next to the bed.

    "Well, finally back to Hogwarts." He said.

    "Yes, I'm so relieved." Hermione said. "Not that I minded staying with you, but it'll be nice to not have to be under 'ministry protection'."

    "You're still under an order of protection, 'Mione." Harry explained. "Kingsley will be here in a bit to explain it to you."

    "What can the Auror department do at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked, curious. "I mean, this is the safest place I can think of to be!"

    "Well, we always have an eye on Hogwarts." Harry said with a smirk. "But specifically, you'll have an Auror staying on site until this mess is cleared up."

    "They're not going to follow me around are they?" Hermione asked, aghast.

    "No." Harry chuckled. "They'll mostly be keeping an eye on the Slytherins actually."

    "Oh." Hermione said, sitting on the edge of the mattress. "Well I guess that makes sense. Who's going to be here?"

    "Dunno yet." Harry said. "Kingsley is still sorting that out. I volunteered, but he said that since I'm still technically a Trainee, I can't be on assignment alone."

    Hermione smirked. "Either that, or he doesn't want you to spending all your time hanging out with Ginny."

    "Yeah, that might have something to do with it." Harry said with a wink. "No one is listening, how are you really feeling 'Mione?"

    "Honestly?" Hermione said, "I'm exhausted, but I'm so happy to be able to get back to my schoolwork. I was so stressed not knowing what I was missing."

    Harry sat next to her and nudged her shoulder. "You promise you'll behave, and not run yourself ragged?"

    "Yeah, yeah." Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

    "I mean it Hermione." Harry said, seriously. "I know how tempting it is to bust out of here, but you're nearly free."

    "I know." Hermione smiled at her friend's concern. "I'll be careful."

    "And I know you're tired of hearing it, but I have to remind you one more time..." Harry said hesitantly. "Please be careful around Malfoy. I know you think he's changed, and I'll admit that he's been very helpful these past few weeks protecting you, but he's still a Death Eater."

    "It's always going to be that way, isn't it?" Hermione looked at the floor. "Everyone sees the Death Eater, and not the boy."

    "I just don't want you to get hurt." Harry said softly.

    "He won't hurt me." Hermione said sadly. "You don't like it when people judge you by your scar. This is the same thing."

    "Maybe." Harry admitted, "But he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. Not with you."

    "It's nice to have a big brother." Hermione teased. "Even if he's a little overbearing at times."

    "Well, I wouldn't be much of a brother if I didn't point one more thing out to you." Harry said, with a small smile.

    "What's that?" Hermione asked.

    "You know Hermione." Harry said. "You know Ron is in love with you."

    Hermione sighed. "I don't know that Harry. I can guess. I can assume. But he's never given me the slightest hint that he's interested. We kiss one time, and then he doesn't talk to me for weeks. At a certain point, a girl just can't take the rejection."

    Harry nodded. "Yeah, you're right. But do you think Malfoy really loves you?"

    Hermione mumbled something.

    "What?" Harry asked, trying to meet her gaze.

    "I said, his Patronus is an Otter." Hermione said softly.

    Harry went a stiff beside Hermione. "You're serious?"

    Hermione nodded.

    "I didn't know Malfoy could produce a Patronus." Harry said, after a moment.

    "Well, he can't always." Hermione admitted. "He hasn't been able to do one since the Manor. I don't know if he'll be able to do it again. But he showed me once, the night before the raid."

    "Wow." Harry said, shocked. "It's like Severus, all over again."

    Hermione nodded.

    "Ok. Well, I trust your judgement 'Mione." Harry said, after a moment. "Just... let me know if I need to knock him around at any point."

    Hermione shoved Harry jokingly, and he got up to head back to the fireplace. "Oh, Kingsley wanted me to give you these." He handed her a stack of pamphlets.

    "What's this?" Hermione asked, leafing through them.

    "The Legal Apprenticeship, for the DMLE." Harry said with a wink. "Kingsley wants you in the department, in any way he can get you."

    Hermione laughed, "Tell him I'll think about it."

    Harry gave Hermione a hug, "Well, back to work."

    "See you soon?" Hermione asked. Despite the reasoning, she had enjoyed getting to see so much of her two best friends.

    "I'll be around." Harry said with a smile.

    Hermione turned to the pile of books at the side of the bed, sitting on top was a note in Ginny's handwriting. Thought you might like to get a jump on your work, the parchment read, followed by a detailed list of the assignments she had missed.

    "Thank Merlin." Hermione muttered, pulling her feet up onto the bed and opening her Transfiguration book in her lap.

    Author's Note:

    The books quoted in this chapter are The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

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