Hermione paced outside the Burrow, ringing her hands together, something she always did when her stress was high. She hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in months, and was up before the sun even rose most mornings. When you stayed at the Burrow, there were little, if any, moment of quiet. These early mornings were the only time Hermione had to herself, alone with her thoughts. She was so caught up in her own thoughts, Hermione hadn’t heard the front door open and close as Ginny came outside.
“Still not sleeping?” Ginny asked as she reached Hermione.
“Ginny!” Hermione said with a jump, “I didn’t hear you come out. What are you doing up this early?”
“Got up to use the loo and realized you weren’t in bed. What are you thinking about, school?”
Hermione nodded. “I just don’t know if I’m ready to see everyone again. It was all over the Daily Prophet, the entire school will know what happened.”
"But you'll have us, being with the people you love will make things easier, I promise."
Instead of spending the Summer celebrating the death of Voldemort, Hermione’s Summer was riddled with tragedy. Shortly after the final battle, Hermione went off to look for her parents who were now living in Australia. She hoped to restore their memories and go back to being a happy family, but things didn’t go as planned. A couple of rogue Death Eaters who had yet to be captured made it a point to track down Hermione’s family and murder them in cold blood. Her mother and father were both dead in their home by the time Hermione reached them.
The amount of guilt she felt overwhelmed her and caused her to spiral down into a deep depression. She was barely eating and sleeping, but beyond that, Hermione struggled to find meaning in things. She felt numb to her life, feigning interest and minor excitement when she had the energy to do so.
To make matters worse, her relationship with Ron was passionless and cold. By August, she couldn’t bring herself to keep up the facade, Hermione knew she could never love Ron the way he loved her. It broke her heart to hurt him, but she had to end it. Ron was devastated, but luckily their friendship meant too much to them to lose, so they were able to move on and go back to the way things were. There were uncomfortable moments, but every day got a little easier.
This all took its toll on Hermione, and she was a far cry from the vibrant witch she once was. The lack of sleep showed in her hollow, deep set eyes and tired face. Having lost a dangerous amount of weight from the stress and grief, she looked weak and frail. Her friends were in a constant state of worry about her. Hermione needed something to bring the life back into her, something to show her that life was beautiful, and worth living.
Draco was standing in the east wing study, firewhiskey in one hand while the other rested on the mantel, watching the flames dance in the massive fireplace. He still couldn’t believe he decided to return to Hogwarts to complete his final year, especially after everything that had happened. But what else was he supposed to do? Finally free from the influence of his parents, Draco had the ability to pave his own way for once. And the first thing he wanted to do was complete his education, have something to be proud of. Not to mention he didn't think he'd get a suitable job without having graduated. And the last thing Draco wanted to do was whither away surviving on the Malfoy fortune, not making any of his own money.
The flames suddenly burned green, and gave way Blaise who stepped out of the fireplace.
“Got one for me?” asked Blaise as he dusted soot off his jumper.
Draco walked over to the table, poured his friend a drink, and handed it over. “Come to make sure I haven’t changed my mind?”
Smiling while swishing his drink, “No mate, I’m not worried about you changing your mind. Just wanted a nightcap with a friend. Do you still want to come over before heading to the station in the morning?”
Draco nodded and took a seat on a sofa opposite the fire, “Absolutely, I don’t want to show up to the station alone.”
Blaise sat in a chair next to Draco. He had been visiting his friend a lot throughout the Summer, helping him rebuild his life. Draco’s father, Lucius, was sentenced to a lifetime in Azkaban for his role in Voldemort’s inner circle. Narcissa, his mother, was given a much more lenient sentence and only had to serve 10 years. Draco was awarded a full pardon and made the sole controller of the Malfoy fortune and all the Malfoy enterprises. The very first thing Draco did once given control was list Malfoy Manor on the market. It had sold almost instantly to a rich muggle from Asia, and the contract would be finalized by the end of the year.
“So have you given any more thought to McGonagall’s offer? You had until tonight to submit your response, if I’m not mistaken” said Blaise.
Draco nodded, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small gold badge. “Hogwarts’ new Head Boy, in the flesh.”
“Any news on who the Head Girl will be? I hear you’ll be sharing living quarters with them.
Draco scowled into his drink, “Take a wild, insufferable, guess.”
Hermione stood staring at the platform. Once she walked through, there was no turning back. She’d be lying to herself if she didn’t admit to considering it at least once. Disappearing from the Wizarding world, starting fresh somewhere on the other side of the globe. But her love for her friends wouldn’t allow it. Life with them, even a hard life, was worth it. Not to mention she was pretty sure Harry would track her down. She had spent years trying to make Harry understand she was with him until the end, and she knew he'd felt the same about her.
Draco approached the platform, Blaise was still saying goodbye to his parents and Draco didn’t want to impose. He recognized that head of curly brown hair anywhere, though it was on a much thinner body than he remembered.
“Please, take your time. It’s not like other students have to pass through the Platform before the train leaves.”
Hermione turned to look at Draco. He was instantly taken aback. This wasn’t the Granger he remembered, this looked like a mere shadow of the girl, a hollow version. Instead of the usual look of anger, she stared at him with a dull expression. Draco expected her eyes to flash their usual anger once she realized who spoke to her, but they didn't. They remained lifeless and empty.
“Still as charming as ever…”, she said in a low, monotone voice. Hermione turned back to face the platform, gripped her trolley, and passed on through.
“What the bloody hell?”
“What?” asked Blaise as he approached, “you look confused. Trouble passing through?”
Draco shook his head, “I just saw Granger.”
“It looks like she used the Confundus charm on you or something” said Blaise with a laugh.
Draco shrugged it off. In reality, what does he care if Granger’s different. He’s hated her for the better portion of 10 years. He was less than pleased at the fact that Hermione, the Head Girl, and he would have to share living quarters this year. His plan was to try and ignore her as much as possible.
But as he passed through the platform he couldn’t help but think that she really did look surprisingly thin and frail, in a way just utterly exhausted. Once through the platform, Draco came to an abrupt halt.
“Ow!” exclaimed Blaise after bumping straight into Draco’s back. He looked up at his friend and saw what made Draco freeze. The amount of students, and parents, giving Draco disgusted, awful looks was shocking. Blaise knew there were plenty of people who hated the Malfoy family, but he never thought it would be so blatantly obvious.
“Come on mate,” he said, giving Draco a shove, “just ignore them. Let’s find a compartment before they all fill up.”
Draco looked away towards Blaise, a look of hurt embarrassment in his eyes. No matter what, he’d never escape the Malfoy reputation.
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