The next couple weeks at school passed much the same as they always had. Students adjusted to new schedules and new classes and the chill of Autumn had just barely started to seep in. Hermione completed her schoolwork with ease. She spent the bulk of her spare time in the library reading up on wizard law books and cases of creatures and muggle borns who had been treated unfairly by the Wizarding world. The library was where she found herself the night the owl arrived.
She was sitting in the corner next to one of the round windows. She had been engrossed in one of her texts, and hadn’t noticed darkness creeping over the grounds as night settled in. The tap of the talon on the window startled her, and her book dropped to the floor making a loud smack that caused her to jump again. She took a deep breath to slow her pounding heart and unlatched the window. She took the letter from the owl and he flew off toward the owlery. She tore the letter open excitedly and read it as quickly as she could, which for Hermione was pretty quick.
Everything is going well for us at the ministry. We’ve continued to round up Riddle’s followers. I hope all is well at school for you, Ginny (yes I wrote her too), and Luna. As for Malfoy, we don’t know a lot , but I can tell you he’s been ordered by the ministry to finish school. If he refused to go back they were going to send him to Azkaban. I know he switched sides after the war, but I don’t trust him. He always has a hidden agenda. Be safe and stay well Hermione. We’re sending our best your way and can’t wait to have you hear with us in a few months.
P. S. Ron says hello. Says he’s to busy to write, but we both know he just doesn’t want to.”
Hermione rolled the letter up and stuck it into her bag. She picked her book up off the floor, but she didn’t go back to reading. Harry’s letter had given her much to think about. To what end had the ministry sent Malfoy back to Hogwarts? Surely they would prefer him away with his mother where he couldn’t cause problems. Then again, perhaps it was better they kept an eye on him. In any case, it cleared up why Malfoy was so miserable here. Not only was he not receiving a warm welcome but he was being forced to study and take classes. School had to be better than a year with Voldemort. At least it was in her own mind. His return was certainly a puzzle. Luckily for Hermione she was quite fond of puzzles.
“Haven’t you read them all by now?” Hermione jumped at the voice and her book hit the floor once again.
“You shouldn’t sneak up on people,” she growled as she bent to pick up the book once more. She was surprised to Malfoy in the library. He was rarely seen outside of his classes these days.
“You should pay more attention.” Malfoy scoffed at her and she rolled her eyes.
“Yes Malfoy nothing is ever your fault. What is it you want now? I’m about to head to bed.” He was testing her patients more than usual this year.
“I don’t want anything from you. You however might want this.” He tossed a roll of parchment onto the table.
Hermione unrolled it and written across the top in tiny loopy handwriting was “The Effects Of War in the Wild” by Draco Malfoy.
“You did the assignment?” She asked incredulously.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I?” He asked like she had the intelligence of a teaspoon.
“You said you weren’t going to.” She answered and it was his turn to roll his eyes.
“Good grades are a condition of my...” he stopped mid-sentence and glanced around. “Good grades are important to me now,” he corrected whatever he had been about to say.
Good grades must be a condition of his probation. Hermione pondered this for a moment. She considered bringing it up but figured now wasn’t the best time. She wasn’t sure how confidential it was supposed to be.
“Well thanks. I’ll add it to mine to turn in on Friday.” She couldn’t quite smile at him, but she did manage to give what she thought was an encouraging nod.
“Okay,” and with that he turned to walk away.
“Malfoy?” She called after him. To her immense surprise he stopped.
“What is it Granger?” I have things to do.
“If you ever need help on assignments, I could help you study.” She didn’t know what possessed her to make the offer. Perhaps it was the need to share knowledge. Perhaps it was the small amount of sympathy she kept feeling for the Slytherin.
“Why on Earth would I want tour help?” He snarled.
“Because I’m offering and it’s not like people are lining up to be tour study partner.” She answered calmly.
“Maybe not, but I’m pretty intelligent. Just because those imbeciles you call friends are daft doesn’t mean all of the male students here are. I do fine on my own.” He had stepped back toward her and she looked him over.
His eyes were bloodshot as if he hadn’t been sleeping. His hair wasn’t nearly a tidy as he usually kept it, and despite filling out on the last year she could tell he’d lost a fair amount of weight in the recent weeks. Her sympathy reared it’s head again, and she took a deep breath.
“I was only trying to help, Malfoy.” She answered calmly once more.
“Well don’t. I certainly don’t need help from someone like you.” His face was contorted in anger once more, thought the arrogance seemed to have faded.
She gathered her things and prepared to leave the library. Malfoy watched silently as she packed up, unsure if he should leave or not. As she moved to brush last him she stopped to tell him one last thing. As she inhaled to speak she noticed he smelled strongly of mint.
“The war is over Malfoy. You don’t have to like me. We don’t need to be friends. There are no sides anymore though. If you want to be enemies then you’ll be enemies on your own. I don’t have it in me to fight with anyone anymore.” She left him staring after her as she exited the library.
Malfoy had never given the idea much though, but as usual Granger was right. There were no sides to be on now. Of course evil would rise again in some form, but he could not seek it out. He did not want to join anymore dark wizard armies. He just wanted to be left alone. To do that, he would have to suffer through another eight months of school. He wasn’t brave enough to break the rules anymore. With that thought clouding his brain, he headed back for the dungeons. Back to the people who hated him. They didn’t understand though. They didn’t know what it was like to live with Voldemort. He wasn’t just evil to those who opposed him. He was inherently evil to all. He would dare any one of them to try what he had done and walk away alive if he could. They didn’t care about his opinions anymore. He had no friends. He had no family. He had no respect. The Malfoy name was dirt. The only thing he had left was money. He’d never been one to think it before, but there were some things money could not fix. Money could not cure loneliness. He’d never minded being alone when his friends, or rather followers, were not around, but he knew they’d come running if necessary. Being alone was not the same as being lonely. So lonely in fact that he’d spoken to Hermione Granger multiple times in the last few weeks just to have a conversation. She seemed the only one willing to not treat him like dirt beneath their feet. How had he sunk so low that only that bushy haired know-it-all would speak to him? Surely he was bound to awaken from this nightmare. Although this nightmare was better than the alternative. He for one was not sorry Voldemort was dead.
Hermione found herself thinking of Malfoy even more as she headed back to her dorm. It was plain to see he was suffering, and she hated to see anyone suffer. She did concede that a bit of suffering was not unwarranted in the case of Draco Malfoy, but all the same weren’t they all worthy of forgiveness? They had all made choices during the war, some of them impossible. Not all of Malfoy’s had been deplorable. He’d refused to identify them at the manor house, giving them valuable time to escape. He’d refused to take part in any kind of torture while they had been there, though he did nothing to stop it either. She wouldn’t soon forget him watching as Bellatrix had tortured her nearly beyond her limits. She’d thought she’d saw that same imperceptible sadness then, but she’d written it off. Malfoys simply did not pity those who were not pure bloods. Now, however, she wasn’t quite so sure. Perhaps Draco Malfoy wasn’t the smug arrogant jerk he pretended to be. Perhaps underneath all the bravado there was a sad little boy who had never known kindness, for money and wealth were not the same as kindness and love. Harry, for example, had grown up poor and abused and never shown much kindness was incredibly selfless and loved his friends dearly. Perhaps knowing that his parents had loved him and hoping for something better is what kept him going. Draco had never known or thought of something better. He had been taught that what he had was the best and there was no better.
How terribly sad, Hermione thought to herself. As she changed into her pajama bottoms and a matching camisole she made a new promise to herself. She would show Malfoy kindness so long as he deserved. She would not be kind when he was being insulting or mean, but she wouldn’t retaliate either. It was going to be kindness or indifference from here on out. Plus there was the added bonus that if she didn’t react to his insults he may grow tired of using them.
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