Hermione Granger was not at all prepared for the Hogwarts Express to stop at the platform in Hogsmeade. All summer she had waited for this. For things to return to some sense of normalcy, but things were not normal at least not the way they used to be. The month after the Battle of Hogwarts had been a blur of memorials and celebrations and cleanup and so much more that her head hurt just to think about it. It was after July that things began to change. The dust settled and people started back to their normal lives. She had spent so long with Harry and Ron it had felt weird to leave them and return to her muggle home. Her parents had been retrieved and their memories restored by Kingsley Shacklebolt, the minister of magic himself. Telling them where she’d been and what had been going on for the last seven years of her life wasn’t easy. They were frightened. They were proud. They were scared. They were also sad, sad that so much had happened and she hadn’t trusted them with it. The last month of them watching her over meals and sneaking looks when they thought she couldn’t see was something she just couldn’t stand anymore. She was more than ready to return to Hogwarts and finish her last year, if just to get a break. Or so she thought she was.
Shortly after leaving the Burrow, she received two owls on the same night. The first was an offer from Kingsley for an immediate auror position at the ministry. The second were letters from both Harry and Ron saying they had accepted Kingley’s offer and would not be returning to school. They both felt their abilities had gone beyond what school could teach them. While they weren’t entirely wrong, Hermione wanted to study law. She wanted to make a difference in the world for muggle borns and magical creatures. To do that she would need to go back and finish her N.E.W.Ts. Kingsley has changed a lot but he would not allow her to practice wizard law until she completed her final year. She had thought Harry and Ron would be coming with her. Now she felt her heart sink at the thought of going back alone. Of course Luna and Ginny would be there finishing as well, but they weren’t Harry and Ron. She’d sent Kingsley back her plans and a letter to Ron and Harry congratulating them but that she had chosen a different path. As usual, Harry was understanding a supportive while Ron was in disbelief over her decision to return. Their relationship had not gone well.
After a heated kiss in the midst of battle, Hermione had thought that they would have a normal relationship. Ron was not on the same page. Ron wanted sex. Hermione wasn’t ready for that yet. With their celebrity status, there was no shortage of girls throwing themselves at Harry and Ron. Harry only had eyes for Ginny, but Ron wanted to sow some wild oats. She didn’t begrudge him this. Their relationship had always been awkward at best. Their friendship was all the better for it. They had taken a chance. It hadn’t worked and they seemed to be just fine with it. Though she would miss him as much as she would Harry for the next nine months. She would probably see them at Christmas she reminded herself. Harry and Ron were roomies in a flat they had rented near the ministry. She’d been to visit a few times and for two boys, it was surprisingly lovely. She could have been their third she thought wistfully.
“Stop it!” She scolded herself. “This is the life you want and you’ll be with them soon enough. It’s only nine months.”
Now here she sat alone in the compartment for Head Girl on the Hogwarts Express about to go back to an old life without her old friends. And of course it was raining. She sighed and pulled her cloak out of her suitcase before latching it back. She pulled the thick velvet over her shoulders and the hood over her head. She opened the door to the compartment and stepped out into the car. Other students were crowding at the doors and shoving.
“Mind your manners.” She shouted over the students. She was after all Head Girl. Where were the bloody prefects? She turned to look for Luna. She was the only prefect she knew so far and figured her blonde head would be easy to find. Not being very tall she couldn’t see much over the sea of black school robes. She made to move past a group of students, and caught her foot on the hem of her cloak. She pitched forward grabbing the closest thing she could find to catch herself.
“Watch what you’re doing Granger!” A snotty voice screamed at her. She’d recognize it anywhere. Draco Malfoy. Of all the students finishing their final year she never dreamed he would be one of them.
“Malfoy?” She asked incredulously.
“Watch where the hell you're going next time.” He shouted and shrugged her arm off of the shoulder that she’d used to steady herself. He shoved past her, knocking her into the wall. He was taller than most and she watched his white blonde hair disappear off the train and up the path still speechless.
No Harry. No Ron. And now Malfoy. She wondered idly if it was too late to start auror training. She pushed the thought away. Dark wizard catching was not what she wanted to do with her life.
She performed her Head Girl duties and checked the remainder of the compartments to make sure all the students made it off the train. By the time she made it out onto the platform only a few prefects and the Head Boy, whom she did not know, were straggling behind. Malfoy stood away from the others but still behind the rest of the school. She’d nearly forgotten he was a prefect.
The rain was coming down in sheets now and she did not envy the first years and their boat ride. Two carriages pulled by thestrals, which she could now see, stopped in front of their party. She finally spotted Ginny and hurried over to climb into her carriage. Sadly they were followed by Malfoy after the occupants of the other carriage refused to let him in.
“Great, stuck with the mudblood and the blood traitor.” He scoffed as he took a seat as far away as he could manage.
“You can always walk.” Ginny smarted back. To Hermione’s surprise he did not respond.
The carriage rocked forward and he crossed his arms and stared at the rain out the window. His scowl was so deep Hermione thought it might be permanent.
“Ignore him.” Ginny snapped as they rolled up the hill. “Clearly he’s learned nothing in the last year. He’s not even worth the air he’s breathing.” She gave him a mean look that he didn’t acknowledge. Not for the first time, Hermione felt sympathy for the boy.
She could only imagine what it must be like to have parents like his, to never know love and hugs and kindness. Not that that excused his cruel behavior. It was classic nature vs nurture. He’d been taught to be cruel and hate, but the she’d been taught she was a normal human. People were capable of changing. They just had to want to. He’d been a bully since she met him and that didn’t seem to be changing despite his side switching at the end of the war. He’d only done it to save himself. She couldn’t wait to owl Harry and Ron and get their opinions on this new development. She was dying to know why he’d returned when he was so clearly hated or at the very least disliked by his peers. The Slytherins surely thought him a traitor. The rest of the school thought he was an evil coward. So why come back at all? The question ate at her mind. Hermione Granger did not believe in questions to which she would not find an answer.
The carriage finally reached the school and Malfoy disembarked before it came to a complete stop. She and Ginny followed his blonde head up the castle steps to the great hall. The school had been restored after the battle. All of the original structure had been rebuilt. It looked exactly the same as she remembered it. When she entered the great hall though she knew much had changed. The students at the tables were younger than she remembered. The staff table had a few adjustments as well. McGonagall was headmistress though she had decided to keep teaching transfiguration. Slughorn, Hagrid, Professors Trelawney, Flitwick, and Sprout were all there as well. She didn’t recognize the new astronomy professor. However, Fleur Delacour gave her a friendly wave. She was to be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. Other than that the hall looked the same. The cheery candlelight danced around the room reflecting off the golden dishes. She wished with all her heart that Harry and Ron were waiting for her at the Gryffindor table. She felt tears threaten as she took her seat beside Ginny. Hogwarts itself was the same, but her life was so incredibly different. The only person who looked more miserable than she felt was Malfoy. He sat quite alone at the end of the Slytherin table. The arrogant expression never slipped from his face, though Hermione noticed an imperceptible shift of his body that told her he was as uncomfortable as she felt.
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