“I’m serious Blaise, the girl won’t leave me alone. Shagged her once and she thinks we’re dating. It’s like Pansy all over again.”
“Is this shower girl? The one Granger heard?” asked Blaise.
“Yes! I almost wish Granger stormed into the bathroom and hadn’t waited for her to leave, maybe that would have scared her off.”
“Speaking of Granger, have you seen her today? She’s missed every class we have with Gryffindors.”
Draco shrugged, “Dunno, I hadn’t noticed.”
That was a lie, of course. Draco noticed right away Hermione was nowhere to be found. He didn’t see her that morning in the common room like he usually did, nor in their first class that morning that they took together. She wasn’t in the Great Hall for lunch, and missed advanced potions that afternoon. Draco wasn’t worried, per say, but he was curious. This was Hogwarts' infamous know-it-all after all, she wasn't one to miss classes.
Draco caught himself paying more attention to Hermione. He started to take note of a few mannerisms and habits he had never noticed before. They way she bit her lower lip when thinking deeply, or how she always fiddled with a curl when she seemed to be day dreaming. It was intriguing to him, watching her through different eyes. In the past he looked at her with hatred, she was the enemy after all. But never disgust, which is most likely what she thought. Blood status never mattered much to Draco, not deep down. But he had still hated Hermione for most of his life. First, for no reason other than she was a Gryffindor and was bloody annoying. Then, because of her friendship with Harry. As he got older, he felt he had to hate her, as she was clearly part of the Order, and Draco was a Death Eater.
But now, that all changed. It didn't matter what side of the war she fought on, her relationship with Harry, nor her Hogwarts House. Now, it was just Hermione, the girl.
Hermione walked alone along the beach at Botany Bay. She used to visit there as a girl and always loved how deserted it was this time of year once the water started getting too cold. She had left the castle before the sun even rose, walked to Hogsmeade, and apparated away. Today was her 19th birthday.
She thought the day would be more painful, more brutal. But she found it surprisingly calming. She needed time alone, time to let go of the grief and guilt she had been carrying all Summer. Here, she didn’t have to pretend. She cried, screamed, stared off into the distance, she could just let it all go. Hermione always thought she did an excellent job embracing every day, and being present in the moment. She learned at a young age, being friends with Harry, that life was short and you had to make the most of it. But now she truly felt it. She had overcome so much, survived against all odds last year with Ron and Harry, it was time to live life to its fullest potential.
As she kept walking, her mind wandered to Draco. She compared herself to him, both living without parents, completely independent. Hermione used to envy Draco for never seeming to let anything hold him back. It wasn’t until his trial this past Summer that she realized just what kind of prison he was forced to live in. In a way, Hermione pitied him. To have grown up with a father like Lucius, be thrown into the Death Eaters at only 16.
Hermione knew Draco had a number of flaws, but something in him was changing. Or was she the one who was changing?
She felt a pang of hunger in her stomach, and realized it was almost mid afternoon and she hadn't eaten all day. Climbing up the path to the main road, Hermione searched for the old tavern she remembered visiting as a child. There it was, perched right on the cliff overlooking the sea, sat a small white cottage with a rickety old sign reading "Mavis' Tavern".
Hermione walked in and took a seat at the bar. The old bar man limped over to her, "What'll it be lass?"
She thought for a moment, it had been a few months since Hermione was in a muggle establishment, "Ah, I'll take the fish and chips, and a pint of ale, thank you."
She ate quietly, sipping occasionally at the ale before her. It wasn't nearly as good as butterbeer, but it would suffice.
"What brings a lass like you here abouts?" asked the bar man as he wiped a glass clean.
"Just visiting," answered Hermione, "It's nice to walk the beach when it's empty."
"Ay," he replied, "It is. Fancy doing it myself every so often."
They continued their chit chat for the duration of Hermione's meal. Though a bit rough around the edges, the bar man, named Albert she had learned, was kind and intriguing. He had lived above the tavern all his life, taking over management from his grandmother, Mavis. He told Hermione about his life there, and his time serving in World War II.
"Almost lost the war, we did. I was one of the soldiers, stranded in Dunkirk. Thank bloody Christ for good old Winston, getting us boys out of there."
Hermione nodded along, smiling as Albert recounted his memories.
"War'll change ya, mark my words. No one came home in one piece, if you were physically, well then your mind was broken."
"It's like a part of you dies, and when it's reborn, it's never quite the same."
"Ay," said Albert, looking a bit confused, "wise words from a young girl like yourself. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you know first hand."
Hermione swallowed hard, realizing her mistake. "Well, I uh, my grandfather fought as well, and he used to tell me about it."
Albert nodded and kept talking, "Well, if ya ask me, it was a needless war. Half the men we fought didn't even care for Hitler and his regime. I got to know a few Germans who were prisoners in my camp, I was one of them guards you see? Well we got to talking often, a lot of them spoke English actually and we picked up some German during the years. And I've got to tell ya, they didn't care one bit for the man."
"But they fought for Germany," said Hermione, "Surely if they didn't agree they wouldn't have joined the army."
"Hah, you'd think it was that simple! Nah, those men had no choice. That's the thing with rulers like Hitler, the type that hold that much power through fear. You end up thinking, if you don't join, and at least pretend to follow, well you might as well be dead, your family too. Now of course I don't mean the entire German army, no sir there were plenty of Nazi's you take my word, but I know for a fact, there were more than a handful of young men who would have had no part. Most likely exceptions though, not the rule."
Hermione took it all in, not saying a word as Albert recount his thoughts on the German army. Listening him talk about the POW he met in his camp, and how some of them didn't even follow Hitler let alone want to fight for him, she couldn't help but think of Draco, and his own position in the Wizarding War.
By dinner, Draco’s curiosity became angered frustration. Normally he wouldn’t give two pisses if Hermione skipped an entire day of classes, but as the Head Girl, she was also faulting on her duties that now fell to Draco. He had to break up 4 fights that afternoon, and had to cover Hermione’s corridors during the evening patrol. And all that without even a note from Hermione letting him know of her absence.
He approached the Gryffindor table in a huff. If anyone would know where she went, it would be Harry or Ron.
“Oy, Potter!” shouted Draco as he approached.
Harry lifted his head slowly and met Draco’s gaze. “What is it, Malfoy?”
“Normally I wouldn’t waste my time wondering, but do you know where the hell Granger’s run off to this entire day?! I’ve had to cover her Head duties with no notice and I’m not happy about it.”
Harry and Ron exchanges a concerned look. One that did not go unnoticed to Draco. “Alright, what’s going on?”
“It’s none of your business Malfoy!” shot back an angry Ron. “You don’t need to keep tabs on Hermione.”
Draco raised his eyebrows, “Oh really? In case you didn’t hear the first time, Weasel, I’m stuck covering her duties, which means double the time. So I may not need to know, but I sure as hell deserve some explanation.”
"Oh is it too much for the spoiled prat to have a little extra work to do?!" Ron shot back while standing, hands in fists at his sides, "God forbid you have to lift a finger."
"You better watch you mouth, Weasel. You may be a prefect but I'm Head Boy and have every right to throw you in detention for a month!"
"Don't call me Weasel!" shouted Ron, slamming his hand down on the table. Most of the hall had turned by this point to watch the exchange.
Harry spoke next, so calmly that it really surprised Draco. “It’s her birthday.”
“I’m sorry, what?” asked Draco turning to face Harry.
Harry sighed and started again. “Today is Hermione’s birthday. Her first birthday without her parents.”
Draco began to understand what Harry was getting at. “Ah.”
“Just try to cut her some slack today, I don’t think she’s handling it well.”
"Just stay away from her, Ferret." said Ron as he sat back down.
With an understanding nod to Harry, and a dirty look at Ron, Draco turned on his heel and left the Gryffindors.
“Bloody prick” said Ron between clenched teeth. “I can’t believe Hermione has to live with that all year long.”
Harry didn’t respond.
Hermione walked through the portrait hole later that evening, feeling emotionally exhausted and drained. She had her head down, and almost reached her stairs before a voice stopped her.
“Well, look who decided to show up.”
Hermione jumped with fright, before turning to see Draco laying on the couch reading a Quidditch magazine.
“Malfoy! You frightened me.”
He closed the magazine and sat up. “Toughen up Granger.”
“I- I’m sorry I disappeared today. I’m sure it wasn’t easy being the only Head. It won’t happen again.”
Draco looked at her. His first thought was to come back with a snippy comment. But something stopped him. She looked so sad, so defeated. Even he couldn’t hurt someone when they were already this down. Instead, he stood and walked towards his own staircase.
“You get a pass”, he said as he began climbing, “but you owe me one.”
As Hermione turned to climb up to her own room, she heard Draco call back down, “I hope you like vanilla.”
“Vanilla?” she whispered, confused. Hermione went up the stairs and into her bedroom. She needed a long hot shower to wash the day away.
Entering the bathroom, she understood what Draco meant. There on the marble counter sat a vanilla cupcake with a lit candle sticking out the top. The site brought a tear to Hermione’s eye. She walked over, and gently blew out the candle, silently thanking Draco. She stripped down and climbed into the shower, letting the hot water beat down on her, drumming out her thoughts. It had been a difficult, painful, yet good day. She felt a weight lift off her shoulders, and for the first time in a very long time, she felt hope.
Draco collapsed into his bed, looking up at the ceiling. As he heard the water running, he thought of what Hermione must have thought when she saw the cupcake. He conjured it up just a short while after returning to their dormitory. There was something about the thought of Hermione spending her birthday completely alone that made Draco feel sorry for her. His birthday fell almost every year during final exams, but he at least got to spend it, usually, with his friends. But to be completely alone, with not even an ounce of celebration, didn't seem fair to Draco.
Lucius Malfoy sat on the thin mattress he called a bed, leaning against the stone wall of his cell in Azkaban. One of the few allowances prisoners were allowed was a copy of the Daily Prophet. It was passed around, and Lucius didn't get a chance to read it until late that evening. It was an old edition, from the beginning of the month. He read, slowly, taking in every word. It was an article about Hogwarts, and how his son, Draco, would be named Head Boy.
But instead of feeling pride for his son's accomplishment, Lucius was filled with anger and disappointment. He couldn't believe Draco, his only son and heir to the Malfoy name, would be returning to that ridiculous place. And under McGonagall's charge, no less. Filled with mudbloods and half-breeds, Lucius couldn't understand how Draco would make such a decision. To make matters worse, the article named none other than Hermione Granger as Head Girl. Lucius thought back to that day in Malfoy Manor where his sister-in-law tortured the girl to near death for information. The next time he had seen Granger was at Hogwarts, fighting alongside Potter and against the Dark Lord. The last time was at his hearing this Summer. He saw Potter, Weasley, and the girl all watching as Lucius was sentenced to a life in prison. He hated the lot of them, mere children, yet so powerful.
Lucius grew angrier at the thought of Draco working with Granger. He would have loved to break out of Azkaban and kill her, the whole lot of them. It was their fault, after all, their fault the Dark Lord fell. Their fault Lucius was stuck in this cell for the rest of his life. Lucius swore to himself, in that moment, that if he ever were to escape, Granger would be at the top of his kill list.
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