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The morning dawned dark and wet at the castle. The rain pounded at the windows and the thunder could be heard even in the dungeons. The charmed ceiling of the Great Hall churned with grey and black clouds over breakfast. Hermione was quite dreading the walk to Herbology in the rain as she ate some toast and bacon. She turned to Ginny to ask her to pass the pumpkin juice when a commotion broke out at the Slytherin table. 
 

“What’s going on?” Ginny asked her, craning her neck to see over the heads of other students. 
 

“I have no idea, but it’s pretty bold of someone to start something in front of the professors.” She nodded at the staff table where Hagrid was already making his way over to the crowd in the far side of the room. 
 

“Break it up! Break it up!” Hagrid’s voice echoed through the room. “What’s goin on here?” He asked as the students parted for him. 
 

When the students moved to the side, Hermione could see Malfoy holding another Slytherin by the front of his robes with his wand pointed at his neck. She gasped in shock. No one had ever threatened anyone so openly at Hogwarts before. Tensions were running high. Malfoy did not lower his wand when Hagrid asked him too. 
 

“Alrigh’ then, both of ye to the Headmistress right now!” Hagrid’s voice boomed throughout the hall. Hagrid rarely got angry, but she could tell he had had enough. He grabbed both boys by the collar and half carried them from the hall. Hermione and Ginny watched in awe as the hall doors slammed shut after them. 
 

“What was that about?” Ginny asked. 
 

“I have no idea. Hagrid told me weeks ago that Malfoy was having a rough go of it. His own housemates hate him. I guess he snapped. You know how Malfoy is,” Hermione shrugged and went back to her breakfast. That unwelcome sympathy clawed at her once more. 
 

“Well come on then. We’ve got Herbology.” Ginny told her as she grabbed her bag and stood up off the bench. Hermione followed suit.
 

They headed for the heavy castle doors only to be met by Professor Sprout. 
 

“No greenhouses today class! They’re starting to flood and it’s all I can do to keep up with the water. Please use this time to study. I’ll have a short summary of the chapter on Dittany to be handed in tomorrow. It needn’t be more than a half a roll of parchment. Off you go.” The professor motioned them back toward the castle steps before magically donning a raincoat and some goulashes and heading back out into the storm. Hermione jumped as the thunder cracked when the doors opened. She watched Professor Sprout disappear around the castle. 
 

“Well now what? Fancy a game of chess?” Ginny asked quirking her eyebrows up. She greatly shared Ron’s talent for the game. She always left Hermione miserably defeated. 
 

“No thanks, Ginny. I think I’ll go up to the library and knock out that summary. I need to get some new books anyway.” Hermione smiled to Ginny. Ginny was her only girl best friend. She sometimes felt bad that she didn’t share more common interests with the girl. Ginny was all games and quidditch and curses. Hermione preferred books and puzzles and studying. 
 

“Alright then. I’ll see you at dinner!” Ginny smiled at her before trotting up the stairs, reminding Hermione why she loved her. Ginny would never care that they had no common interests. 
 

A while later Hermione found herself in the library once more. It wasn’t as empty as she would’ve liked with the other Herbology students also working, but she found a quiet corner amongst the shelves beside a window to read. It took her precious little time to finish her work for class. She found herself engrossed once again in the book she’d been unable to read last night due to interruptions.  She was finally getting into a chapter when chaos ensued  again. She stood up to investigate. When she turned the corner she saw a group of Slytherin fourth years casting dirty looks at Malfoy who was reading quietly in the corner. 
 

“No one wants you here. Why did you come back? You’re a traitor to your own people.” One of them, a tall thin boy with dark brown hair, scoffed at him. To his credit Malfoy did not acknowledge them. 
 

“That’s quite enough!” She snapped at the group. “The library is a common area. If you don’t care for the company I suggest you go to your own dormitory.” 

 

“Who are you to tell us what to do?” The dark-haired boy turned on her. 
 

“I’m head girl. Twenty points from Slytherin for being a bully and being rude now off you go!” She scolded. They acted like they wanted to argue, but Madam Pince had strolled over and cleared her throat. The boys quickly gathered their things and left the library. Madam Pince gave her a slight nod and returned to her desk.   
 

She glanced at Malfoy who was trying very hard to pretend he wasn’t watching her. He finally glanced her way with an agitated breath. 
 

“If you’re waiting on a thank you, you won’t be getting it.” He said rolling his eyes. 
 

“I don’t want your thanks, Malfoy. I was just trying to help.” She turned to return to her own private corner. 
 

“I don’t need your help. I don’t need someone like you defending me from a bunch of fourths years. I can take care of myself. I merely did not think they were worth my breath.” He rolled his eyes at her and she sighed. He was testing her kindness patience already. 
 

“That’s fine, Malfoy. I was just doing my duty as head girl. Bullying isn’t allowed nor is noise in the library. Enjoy the rest of your day,” and she walked away. 
 

 Bloody hell, Malfoy thought to himself as he watched Granger walk away. When had he stooped so low as to need rescued from a bunch of kids by Hermione Granger. More importantly why did he feel the need to go wherever she was. It wasn’t as if he was going to speak to her or be her friend. Deep down, it was because he knew she would speak to him. No one else would. Even if they just spat insults at least she acknowledged him. He still didn’t need her butting her nose into his business. The idiots at this school were better left ignored. It was only worse if he fought back. He’d already been landed in McGonagall’s office once today for retaliation. His father was what he was, but he would not listen to children who did not know what they were saying speak ill of his mother. She had never had anymore of a choice than she had. It still wasn’t worth the warning he’d received in the headmistress office. 
 

“Mr. Malfoy, need I remind you of the terms of your agreement with myself and the ministry?” McGonagall has asked as he seated himself across the desk from her. 
 

“Of course not. I live that nightmare everyday.” He spat back at her. He saw her nostrils flare at the edges and figured he had better backpedal.  “I apologize for my actions. It won’t happen again.”  
 

“It best not.” She looked at him seriously and her expression softened. “I know things are difficult for you here at the moment. I would step in if I thought it would do any good. I fear it will only make the situation worse. You’ve been given a lot of leeway here over the years because of your father Draco. That’s over now. I’m not speaking ill of your family, but your father is not a role model I think you want to admire anymore. Some of us are fortunate enough to escape our raising. Do try to be one of them.”

 

Malfoy wasn’t quite sure what to say. The urge to defend his father was strong. Why should he want to escape his raising? He’d grown up with the best of everything. And you nearly died for it, the voice in his head whispered. He took a deep breath before speaking. 
 

“I know the terms. I didn’t use magic against another student. I don’t want your help. I just want this year to be over,” he yelled. 
 

“Lower your voice, Malfoy. I won’t be shouted at. I’ve spoken to Zavits about taunting people about their families. He will receive a detention. I will not give you a detention provided I don’t find you here again this year. Do I make myself clear?” She asked him. 
 

“Clear as glass. May I go now?” He asked her.  He was off the chair and out the door before she finished her nod. 
 

He had already missed half of his first lesson. There was no need to go now. When he’d heard the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors  were dismissed from Herbology, he’d wandered up to the library. His intent was to read and be left alone. A small part of him also thought maybe he could find Granger and pick a fight. That idea had fizzled when he saw that the library was quite busy and there were too many witnesses. Which brought him back to sitting here watching her read in the corner. She always read by the windows. He liked to be near them too. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one who felt like a prisoner here. 
 

He needed to get his head on straight. Instead of sitting in libraries watching mudbloods, he needed to be more productive. He hadn’t lied about grades being important to him. Outstanding grades were a condition of his agreement with the ministry as was graduating. He would toe the line only as long as he had to. Then he would be free. He would escape to America with his mother and they would be happy. Or at the very least they would be away from the watchful eyes of everyone waiting for them to screw up again. The likelihood of that was next to zero. Neither of them wanted to be sharing a cell with Lucsious. Neither of them wanted to see another Dark Lord rise. Draco wanted to be left alone and his mother had always only wanted to keep him safe. Five years, he thought to himself. He was only seventeen. Five years until he could walk away from all of them. If he kept his word. His word had heretofore not been much good. This time he was going to keep it. For his own selfish reasons. Draco only ever did things for his own selfish reasons. 
 

********************************
 

Over the next several days Hermione found herself keeping an eye on Malfoy. She didn’t step in to stop anymore bullying. She’d found that her intervening had only caused more tension amongst the Slytherins. The more she watched him the more she saw of the sadness within him. His face slipped often when he thought no one was looking. It must be incredibly exhausting to keep up such a persona all the time. She’d thought she’d caught him watching her a few times as well. That had to be a figment of her imagination though. Malfoy hated her quite literally down to her blood. 
 

He spent nearly as much time in the library as she did. She suspected he did so to hide from his tormentors. Students used the library, sure, but aside from herself no one spent all of their time there. Slytherins in particular seemed to avoid it. He would find a table back in the stacks where no one would see him. He certainly did not strut about the castle like he once had, but there could be no mistaking the arrogance and contempt he still possessed. She felt sorry for him regularly now. He had truly lost everything. Her kindness project had not been forgotten. 
 

Over those few days before Friday she saw Malfoy more than she saw her own friends. She cited studying as an excuse, but she knew Ginny had noticed her absence. She made mention of it Thursday evening at dinner. 
 

“Hermione, I know your N. E. W. T. level and all, but we both know you’re going to kill those exams. It’s only mid-October. You’re going to study yourself mad.” Ginny lamented over a lovely shepherds pie. 
 

“Its not just about that, Ginny. I’m trying to focus on my career after this year. You should too you know.” She scolded her, knowing Ginny hoped to play quidditch. It would never be Hermione’s first choice, but Ginny was good and Harry also supported her decisions. 
 

“I’ll be fine. You on the other hand need a break. After quidditch practice tomorrow please come hang out with us in the common room. We’re having a bit of a pre season celebration.” She smiled and Hermione couldn’t help but share her enthusiasm. 
 

“I’ll try,” she promised. “Right now I’d just like to go get ready for bed.”

 

Hermione left the hall and retrieved her shower bag and robe from her room. Most of the students were still at dinner so she hoped to catch the prefect bathroom empty before it got too late. 
 

“Pine Fresh,” she called to the portrait. Before she could get the words out, the door swung outward and she jumped back. Malfoy collided with her yet again. She retained her grip on her things as well as her balance this time though. 
 

“I’m sorry,” she said remembering her promise to be kind. 
 

“You should be,” he shouted at her. His hair was damp from the shower and he was wearing what appeared to be black satin pajamas. “Why can’t you watch where you’re going?” 

 

“I said I was sorry, Malfoy. I’ll be more careful. May I use the bathroom now?” She asked politely. He looked momentarily confused, before switching it out for a mask of indifference. 
 

“I suppose so since I’m finished.” He skirted around her and strode off down the hallway. 
 

Hermione smiled to herself. That had been a success in her book. She’d been kind and polite. Of course he’d been an angry arsehole, but before he walked away he’d been almost civil. Progress was progress. There had been no verbal spar and no insults. Maybe her kindness was working. Maybe Malfoy was learning that he no longer had the power to intimidate others. Whatever the reason, Hermione was pleased with herself as she got ready for bed. 
 

Malfoy on the other hand was not so pleased with himself. Why hadn’t he yelled at her more? He’d practically held the door for the freak. This place was killing him inside. He’d stooped  so low as to speak to Granger in an almost civil manner. It was one thing to bait her into an argument to have human interaction. It was quite another to have a normal conversation. He would certainly not allow it to happen again. He was delighted that the other five beds in his dorm had remained empty this year, especially that night. He spent the night tossing and turning and dreaming about Hermione Granger. 

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