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A Thousand Words

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  “You cannot go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Solitude can force a person to take a long, hard look at themselves. While silence can sometimes bring peace, it can also unleash a torrent of thoughts. In the same way, isolation can grant respite from the crazy chaos that life often becomes, but it can also force long-avoided and deeply buried issues to the surface. With nothing and no one to distract from such things, it’s not difficult to imagine that one might spend unending moments mulling over every perception and decision and previously-held notion in an effort to understand how they had reached a particular point. Such was the current situation Draco found himself in.

Weeks had passed since he had seen anything outside the walls of his cell inside the stone fortress of Azkaban. When the Dark Lord fell and the Battle ended, he had sat huddled with his parents at the far end of the Great Hall. His mother had been shaking uncontrollably and his father had looked completely empty, as if there was nothing left behind his steel gray eyes. It terrified Draco. All his life, his father had been a pillar of strength and dignity, demanding respect and instilling fear in anyone who dared to cross him. But when the Aurors had come to arrest them, Lucius had stood there meekly in the Entrance Hall, head bowed, staring down at his manacled hands. Narcissa had taken them in her own and whispered something to him. Draco watched his father slowly raise his eyes to meet hers and his chin trembled. She whispered something else and Lucius took a great, shuddering breath, closed his eyes and gave the slightest shake of his head. As one of the Aurors came around to cuff Draco’s wrists, his father looked at him and mouthed the words “I’m sorry,” as a single tear slid down his haggard face.

Draco had been shocked. He had never, as far as he could remember, seen his father cry. He’d honestly never seen him express any deep emotion about anything. He didn’t have a chance to even consider a response before Lucius was flanked by Aurors and disapparated away. Narcissa had stepped over to him and had clasped his hands in hers, which were cold as ice and trembling. He had looked into her tear-filled eyes and felt a helpless wave of incompetence and failure sweep over him. Everything he had done the past two years had been an attempt to keep her safe, and yet here she was, on her way to prison. If only he had taken Dumbledore up on his offer to hide her. She could be far away from all of this, and maybe even he could have had a different future. Guilt gripped him again as the Aurors disapparated her away before he could say good-bye, before he could tell her how sorry he was. Then it was his turn and in the blink of an eye he found himself no longer in the crumbling castle, where sunlight was streaming through the windows and wreckage, but in a cold, dark, musty cell, for quite possibly the rest of his life.

The very first day (or night, he wasn’t really sure about time anymore), he had been in what he assumed was shock. He had sat on the stone floor, his back against the wall, and just stared in silence for hours, his mind blank. Eventually, thoughts started seeping back in, and along with them came the way he felt about those thoughts. There was still fear and guilt, quite a bit of shame and regret, but mostly there was anger. So much anger. He was angry with himself for his part in all of it, and angry with the Dark Lord for coming up with the asinine plan in the first place, and angry at all the mindless followers who bought into it, but most of all he was angry with his father for dragging his family into the entire mess. For sacrificing his wife and son to the allegiance of a madman.

All at once, as if he couldn’t contain the rage boiling inside while sitting down, he bolted up and started pacing the cell in a manic sort of way. That wasn’t nearly enough of an outlet for the tidal wave of emotion rising inside, so he began destroying anything in the cell that could be ruined. The air around him crackled with his uncontrolled magic and his vision was obscured by a haze of red. He flipped the metal cot over, kicking and stomping on it until it was bent and twisted. He picked up the thin mattress and tore it to shreds, the same with the lumpy pillow. He ripped the woolen blanket into jagged strips, and then rent those into even smaller pieces. He picked up the metal chair and smashed it against the wall until it, too, was contorted beyond use. When there was no more damage he could inflict upon the objects in the cell, he started punching and kicking the stone wall. He railed against it, slamming his shoulder into it, pummeling it with his fists until they were bleeding profusely, but he didn’t notice the pain. He screamed until he was hoarse and then, just as violently as the fury had overtaken him, it left.

As his anger dissipated, the grief and sorrow over all he had lost, that everyone had lost, overwhelmed him. Draco sank to his knees in the middle of the shambles of his cell and wept. He had never felt so hopeless or desolate as he did in that moment and every ounce of it poured out over the wreckage around him. He did not know how long he cried, only that by the time the tears stopped, he felt completely empty and welcomed the exhausted sleep that pulled him under.

When he woke up, he was confused to find himself lying on a cot that was very much intact, covered with a completely whole blanket, and his knuckles bandaged with clean, white strips of gauze. Aside from a slight headache, and the fact that his eyes felt puffy and extremely dry, he seemed to be no worse for wear. Before he could ponder this further, the door to his cell opened and a guard came in with a tray of food, placed it on the repaired chair in the corner and walked back out again without so much as a glance in Draco’s direction.

For the rest of the week, this remained a regular occurrence. He had tried to question the guard as to who had healed him, or what day it was, or if there was any news about his mother, but he was greeted with the same silence each time. In an attempt to keep track of how many days were passing, he would make a small tally mark on the wall behind his cot with his fork after dinner. He didn’t destroy his repaired furniture again, nor did he take out his frustrations on the objects around him. Instead, he had many conversations with himself about the past several years of his life; what choices had been his own, versus what had been thrust upon him, and what he truly believed compared to what he’d been expected to adhere to. He had never been a huge fan of taking responsibility for his actions, typically hiding behind his name and his father’s imposing reputation. That was no longer an option, he knew. He also had come to the stark realization that he was now basically on his own and if he ever had a prayer of getting out of this place, he needed to know his own mind.

 

ooOoo

 

Growing up, Draco had definitely believed himself to be better than anyone who wasn’t a Pureblood. That idea had been ingrained in him since he was old enough to talk, but he’d never expected, or desired, the kind of carnage he’d witnessed recently, nor had he ever envisioned being forced to carry out some of the atrocities himself. He had taunted and sneered at his classmates for their impure heritage, though he’d never considered just how far Voldemort would take his hatred. He had made it seem as if it was the Purebloods’ right to rid the world of anyone that could threaten their pristine line of magic. How ironic that Tom Riddle had been a Half-blood himself, a fact the majority of his cultish followers seemed content to ignore.

As the Dark Lord had grown in power, Draco witnessed his father become more and more enamored with the promises and plans laid out before the Death Eaters. Lucius had volunteered not only himself, but his son for a blood-thirsty crusade, never willing to consider the slightest possibility that it might not end in victory. He watched both of his parents, for his mother had no choice, give themselves over to the control of their maniacal leader until they were in so deep there was nothing left for them to hold onto. And then he watched them begin to drown. After Lucius failed to obtain the prophecy, Voldemort lost faith in him. After Draco technically failed to kill Dumbledore, the Dark Lord seemed to lessen his favor of him, as well.

Not that Draco had complained about that. He had hated being called upon to serve; hated having Death Eaters constantly in his family’s home; hated living in fear every moment of every day that they would finally have outlived their usefulness and the flash of green light would be aimed their way. His father had become a silent sycophant, nodding at everything Voldemort said, and scurrying off to do whatever menial task was given, no longer proud or confident. His mother had become a shell of the woman she had once been, too afraid to say anything to his father or even to him. It sickened him, causing his stomach to roil and his skin to crawl with shame and humiliation. What was it all for? What did they have to show for their blind allegiance? The turning point for Draco had hit him like a bludger to the stomach.

The day Potter, Weasley, and Granger had been dragged into the drawing room.

It was a scene he replayed over and over in his mind as he stared at the ceiling each night in his cell. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to identify them; couldn’t turn them over to Voldemort knowing that while it might end the war between the Dark Lord and the Boy-He-Obsessed-Over, it wouldn’t end the tyrannical reign of that psychopath. If Potter died, Voldemort would gloat and cheer, and then pick right back up with killing Muggleborns and Half-bloods, and anyone else who got in his way. That wasn’t the kind of world Draco wanted to live in.

It still made him sick to think of the way Bellatrix carved that slur into Granger’s arm. Every scream that was ripped from her throat had made Draco feel like his own insides were being torn out. This was who his family had aligned themselves with. Crazed lunatics who were happy to torture an innocent girl. And she was innocent. She was being tormented for who she was, not for anything his aunt assumed she had done. If it was simply about the sword, she could have chosen any of the three to question and play with. Bellatrix chose her because she was supposedly “less” than the rest of them. As her cries had filled the room, he knew this was madness and he wanted no part of it. He might not like her, swotty little know-it-all that she was, but she didn’t deserve that.

In that moment, he swore to himself that he would abandon those ridiculous, pureblood beliefs if he made it out of this mess alive. He was done with the darkness and the fear and the hate. He would spend the rest of his life, given the chance, doing the exact opposite of everything he had been brought up with, the opposite of everything his father had ever done. He would reinvent himself and the Malfoy name, and do whatever he could to right the wrongs he had committed. These thoughts continued as he stared at his cell walls, allowing a sliver of hope to creep into his chest at the thought of doing something worthwhile. Typically, after a few minutes of this sort of pep talk with himself, reality came crashing down again with the knowledge that he would most likely die in this prison.

 

ooOoo

 

In the days immediately following the Final Battle, the Wizarding World had stood relatively still. Families came together to grieve for their lost members, funerals and memorial services were held, and a solid week and a half went by in a foggy haze of tears, choked-out eulogies, determined vows that these deaths would not be in vain, and promises to keep up with each other in the future. Hermione had attended services for Fred, Lupin, Tonks and her father, Lavender, and Colin Creevey. She hadn’t known Colin hardly at all, but Harry had felt particularly guilty about his death, since Colin had basically worshipped the ground he walked on, and had snuck back into the castle to fight even though he was underage. Ron was, understandably, needed at home with his family, so she accompanied Harry to the small service. Colin’s parents and brothers were so very appreciative, and had nothing but kind words for Harry, and she thought he seemed a little lighter afterwards. The remaining members of the Order had held a memorial service for both Mad-Eye and Snape, during which the truth of the former Potions professor’s heroism was revealed to everyone. Hermione had never felt such a conflicting combination of grief and gratefulness before.

After that, she had joined a team of volunteers who had started repairing and rebuilding Hogwarts. Harry had accepted Kingsley’s offer to help round up escaped Death Eaters and prepare for the trials. Hermione had no desire to join that pursuit, but she needed to do something, needed to feel useful, and quite honestly, she needed to get away from the general public. Everywhere she went, people approached her, wanting to thank her for her role in the end of the war. Journalists and photographers seemed to pop out of the woodwork, pressing her for a statement or a picture. And she received multiple invitations daily to speak at gatherings, or make appearances, or support the latest post-war campaign for unity. While she appreciated the sentiments expressed, she found it all to be more fluff than substance. She had attended more teas in fancy drawing rooms with richly-dressed society witches than she could count, all saying the right words about moving forward, respecting all magical people, and the like. Unfortunately, she didn’t see much actually happening to prove they were towing the line. Now, instead of Purebloods looking down on anyone with a blended heritage, it was the Half-bloods, Muggleborns, and Purebloods who had not supported Voldemort, who were ostracizing the others. Wasn’t that just as bad? Didn’t they fight to put an end to all the prejudice and division? Needless to say, when the opportunity arose to return to the castle and help, she’d left immediately.

At first, the castle and grounds were heavy with the weight of all the destruction and loss, and everyone crept around in reverent silence, speaking only when necessary, and quietly working in their assigned areas. Most of the teachers had returned to oversee the process, which helped establish a sense of familiarity. It seemed much more like Hogwarts with Professor Flitwick showing a handful of volunteers how to charm window panes back into place, and it warmed Hermione’s heart to see Headmistress McGonagall instructing the suits of armor to move large stones and heavy beams. After receiving some general information from Hagrid about which areas were still too unstable to venture into, she had traced the familiar path to the library.

The large oak doors were slightly crooked on their hinges, and the light streaming in from the many broken windows mixed with a substantial amount of dust, but the books - Hermione’s beloved tomes - were still there. She had stood completely still for a few seconds, simply taking in the sight before her. Amazingly, miraculously, many of the shelves were still standing, and some even still had books on them, although most of the literary treasures were strewn about the floor, accompanied by splintered tables, shattered ink pots, and innumerable pieces of parchment. As her eyes roamed the scene, she caught sight of a single person, more than halfway down the center aisle, bending over to pick something up. She made her way closer and saw that it was Madam Pince. The severely strict librarian had never been Hermione’s favorite staff member, but seeing the woman now, as she gently held a battered copy of Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean with shaking hands and tears coursing down her wrinkled cheeks, her heart softened towards her.

“Don’t worry, Madam Pince. We’ll get them all back in their rightful places in no time,” Hermione said softly as she approached the older witch.

Madam Pince turned sharply, staring into Hermione’s face with a mix of pain and uncertainty, and after a few seconds, offered a tremulous, close-lipped smile. She took a deep breath, nodded crisply, and said, “We should start towards the back, where the least amount of damage was done, and work our way forward.”

Waving her wand, a very large scroll appeared in front of them. “This is the official catalog of all the books in the Hogwarts Library, organized by subject, and alphabetically by author. Please refer to it when shelving the books.” The matron sounded much more like herself as she quipped these instructions, making the corner of Hermione’s mouth twitch slightly as she reached out to take the parchment. Madam Pince made to turn away, but stopped and laid a bony hand on Hermione’s arm, “Thank you, Miss Granger. I know I can count on you.” And without waiting for a reply, she moved swiftly away to work in another section. 

As the days passed, more witches and wizards had arrived to help, many of them current and former students who were eager to see their castle home restored. During that time, Hermione had spent four solid days in the library, eventually joined by Ernie McMillan and Padma Patil, with Madam Pince regularly checking on their progress. With the space being so vast, and each of them working in their own area, there wasn’t much conversation, but the company was greatly appreciated all the same. The four of them ate lunch together at the librarian’s desk, and learned a great deal about how Madam Pince wound up in that role. Once one got past her hawkish glare and stiff nature, there was definitely a more personable side to her. One might even call her friendly in her own way. Ernie told them about his plans to attend Oxford that autumn, explaining that he needed a break from the magical world for a bit. Padma spoke openly about how hard it was to be at home in the wake of the Battle. Her twin, Pavarti, was struggling deeply with the loss of her best friend, Lavender, and refused to discuss any sort of future goals or ideas, leaving Padma torn between going away and staying put.

“I don’t want to leave her, but I can’t just hole up in the house, you know?” she asked the little group tearfully. “I need to feel like I’m moving forward.” And Hermione knew exactly how that felt. She, too, needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

In the end, the Hogwarts Library was returned to its former glory, with every book in place, every table dusted, and every candle lit. The only testament to the destruction it had endured was a small plaque, hung on the end of a new shelf that contained all sorts of books written about, and by, Muggles. “In memory of Professor Charity Burbage: May her love for all people be remembered as we strive for a more unified world.” 

 

ooOoo

 

Once her favorite space had been set to rights, Hermione sought out Headmistress McGonagall to let her know she needed to be heading home. She found her favorite professor in her office, head bowed over multiple pieces of parchment, but the older witch looked up smiling as she registered who stood before her.

“Miss Granger, I’m pleased to see you. I was going to seek you out later today. I wanted to discuss something with you,” she gestured to the chair in front of her desk, beckoning Hermione to sit, which she did, asking, “What did you wish to talk to me about?”

The headmistress folded her hands on her desk, took a long look at the young woman seated across from her, and began. “The Ministry is contemplating offering an Eighth Year, if you will, for any Seventh Year students who did not get the chance to complete their studies this past year. It would encompass all subject areas, and would include a focus on N.E.W.T. preparation. Students would not be mandated to attend, but any who wish to complete their magical education would be welcome to participate in the program. I was wondering what you would think of such an option?”

Hermione sat in silence for a moment, her brow furrowed in deep thought, and then asked. “Would the Eighth Years live in the house dormitories? And follow regular schedules?”

McGonagall watched the younger witch’s face, noticing the slight strain around her eyes. “Not exactly. At least, that would not be my preference,” she responded. When Hermione simply stared at her, the older woman continued, “I think it would be very hard, at least at first, for students in that category to just jump back in, as if everything was the same as before. I also think we, as an entire school, need to focus less on individual houses, and more on the unification of all magical people. To that end, the Eighth Years would have a dormitory of their own, regardless of what house they had previously been assigned. They would take all their classes together, as well.”

“And the younger students?” asked Hermione.

“They will still be sorted into houses for the purpose of dormitories, Quidditch teams, and class schedules. However, the house tables in the Great Hall will be replaced with numerous, smaller tables that will seat a variety of students from each house at every meal. There will also be intentional opportunities for inter-house relationships to grow. Team-building activities, if you will.”

A small smile had started to spread across the curly-haired witch’s face as her mentor spoke. This was something she could get on board with. This was the kind of healing and positive forward motion the Wizarding World needed, and where better than to start but at Hogwarts? “I think that sounds wonderful, Professor,” she said sincerely.

“Would you be interested in returning to complete your final year?” asked McGonagall.

“Maybe,” Hermione answered honestly. “September first seems so far away, and I’ve got a lot of things to get through before then…” her voice trailed away as she considered all the engagements and commitments she had pending in the weeks to come, none of which interested her in the slightest. “But, regardless of what I wind up doing, I definitely think this is a brilliant idea!”

Both women smiled widely at each other and stood up. McGonagall came around her desk, and wrapped her arm around her favorite student as they walked to the door. “You have plenty of time to decide. Please send me an owl when you do.” Hermione nodded, already compiling a list of pros and cons in her head. She would consider this at length once she was home. She would talk to Harry and Ron about it, too, although she was pretty sure she already knew what their responses would be.

“One more thing,” McGonagall interrupted her train of thought. “Kingsley wanted me to make sure you knew that the international travel ban has been lifted.” She peered intently into the chocolate eyes that widened as she spoke.

“Oh,” breathed Hermione, her shock turning to complete joy as understanding dawned, and a wide smile spread across her face. “Thank you for telling me!” She gave her professor an enthusiastic hug and almost skipped into the fireplace, leaving the headmistress chuckling softly and wiping a tear from her eye.

Chapter Text

Draco heard distant voices down the hall, but he knew it wasn’t time for dinner yet since the guard had been by no more than an hour ago to get his lunch tray. He was curious as to why there were two people, since visitors were forbidden and he hadn’t even seen an Auror down here since his arrival. His unasked questions were answered almost immediately, as his cell door swung open to reveal a familiar, messy head of black hair and a pair of bright green eyes glinting behind round-framed spectacles.

“Five minutes,” barked the guard as he stalked back up the hall.

“Malfoy,” said Harry, nodding his head in the blonde’s direction.

“Potter,” replied Draco, staring quizzically at him. “What brings you here?” He tried to sound as casual as if he was lounging in the Slytherin common room, but knew he probably wasn’t fooling his guest. One look around his barren, musty cell and anyone could tell he was far from comfortable. He also knew he must look grimy and unkempt, which bothered him irrationally under the circumstances. However, ignoring any discomfort, and choosing not to engage in snide banter, Harry just leaned against the doorframe and held out a newspaper.

“I thought you might like to know how your mother’s trial went,” he said.

Draco’s temper started to rise. What was this? Saint Potter here to mock him? To throw his family’s disgrace back at him? He stomped over to him, scowled, snatched the offered paper and quickly scanned the front page. There was a picture of his mother, dressed in prison robes, but her head held high, being led through the Ministry Atrium by a well-dressed and official-looking man he assumed was an Auror. The headline read “Narcissa Malfoy Cleared of All Charges!” Draco felt the blood rush away from his face and he jerked his gaze back up to Harry.

“How,” was all he managed to get out as he staggered back a few steps.

“The details are covered in the article,” said Harry. “We can discuss it next time, if you want.” He pushed himself off the wall, walked towards Draco with his hand extended, and said, “You’ll be next.”

Draco stared at Harry’s face, completely baffled as to what he meant, and it took a solid three seconds for him to figure out he should shake the hand in front of him. When he finally did so, Harry gave him a small smile.

“See you in a few days, Malfoy.” And, turning around, he left the cell, the door swinging shut behind him.

Draco couldn’t understand. Nothing from the last few minutes made any sense whatsoever. He shook his head, as if to clear the fog, sat back down on his cot and began to read the Daily Prophet article about his mother.

“The Daily Prophet’s coverage of the trials against the Death Eaters and Dark Lord sympathizers continues on. The first case brought before the Wizengamot this morning was that of Narcissa Malfoy, wife of Lucius Malfoy, who was sentenced last week to life in Azkaban for his involvement with the Dark Lord, and mother of Draco Malfoy, the Hogwarts student accused of attempting to murder the late Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore over a year ago. The charges brought against Mrs. Malfoy ranged from being a member of the Death Eater’s inner circle, to aiding and abetting a vicious criminal, to participating in the torture and imprisonment of those who fought against Voldemort. In a shocking revelation, none other than Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Vanquished-the-Dark-Lord-Forever, told the Wizengamot that Mrs. Malfoy lied to Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts, thus providing Mr. Potter the chance to face him one last time and rid the world of him for good. Mr. Potter told the court he believed her to be sympathetic to the cause of those fighting for the Light, but was trapped by her position as the wife of an inner circle member. He adamantly insisted that she was in constant fear for her own life, as well as that of her son, and that her bravery in that moment when she lied to Voldemort should be considered an act of heroism, without which, the war would not have had the outcome it did.

While not everyone in the Wizarding World might feel quite as beholden towards Mrs. Malfoy as Mr. Potter seems to, the Wizengamot nonetheless took his words to heart and have released her from Azkaban with a sentence of five years house arrest, the first year without her wand or any use of magic, no international travel during her full probation, and regularly scheduled check-ins with a Ministry-appointed liaison.

The Daily Prophet will, of course, continue to report on the proceedings of these trials, resuming later today with the cases against Theodore Nott, Sr., and Victor Crabbe. One can only wonder if Mr. Potter will come to the defense of any others accused in this courtroom, or if, perhaps, other members of the Golden Trio will make appearances.”

Draco was flabbergasted. If there had been anyone in the room to talk to, he would have found himself speechless. Harry had defended his mother. His testimony had allowed her to escape the confines of Azkaban, to return home. His heart was racing and he felt tears burning in the corners of his eyes. For the last two years, everything he had done had been for his mother. To keep her safe. To protect her as much as he possibly could from Voldemort’s wrath. He had accepted that impossible task in Sixth Year because he knew refusing meant certain death for both of his parents. While he didn’t have much sympathy for his father, his mother didn’t deserve the fate of a convicted criminal. She had never, to his knowledge, tortured or killed anyone. She had allowed her home to be overtaken by a madman, yes, but she never participated in any of the missions the Death Eaters carried out. And now, much to Draco’s chagrin, Harry Potter had come to her rescue while he, her only son, sat uselessly in a cell. A small part of him felt shame for that. But a much bigger part of him felt tremendous relief and gratitude, not that he was ready to admit that to the specky git. He felt like he could breathe a little easier for the first time in months. Maybe even years. His mother was safe. He would thank Harry the next time he saw him, since Harry had said….

“You’ll be next.”

He would be next? What did that mean? Was Potter planning to defend him, too? “Hah!” Draco let out a barking laugh before he could stop himself. Did the Savior of the Wizarding World really think he had enough clout to free him? Unlike his mother, Draco had actually tortured people under direct orders from Voldemort. He had also tried to carry out the murderous plot against Dumbledore, endangering the lives of two other students in the process, and he had let Death Eaters into the school. No, Harry might be living in denial over the list of sins Draco had committed, but he knew. He might not get sentenced to life in prison, since he didn’t actually kill anyone, but there was no way he was going to get off as easily as his mother had. He resigned himself to this fact, and was determined to make Harry see sense next time he came by. After he thanked him, of course.

 

ooOoo 

 

After two weeks in Redland, Australia, Hermione was at a complete loss. Nothing she had done to lift the spell and regain her parents’ memories had worked. At first, she had tried performing the spell secretly from across a small coffee shop. When that didn’t work, she followed them to a grocery store where she was able to stand right behind them in the cashier line. When that, too, failed, she followed them to their home, cast disillusionment and silencing charms on herself, and waited until they went to bed that evening. She had talked herself into believing that attempting to lift the spell in a public place had been too stressful, and that she needed to relax and focus in a more private setting. She stood at the foot of their bed for over four hours, trying over and over again to lift the spell to no avail. By the final attempt, she was shaking from head to toe with repressed sobs and had to leave before she made herself known.

She spent the next week researching anything and everything having to do with memory charms that she could find. She spent three entire days in the Australian Ministry of Magic’s archives, but came up empty-handed. She then compiled a list of the most famous, most widely respected witches and wizards known throughout the world for their work relating to memory spells, and wrote to every single one of them. After sending out a little over two dozen letters, she spent another week simply watching her parents. They seemed happy, content with the life they were living. They were both in good health, had friends, and were actively involved in their community.

Her mother was part of a gardening club, and a book club, and met her neighbor for a walk early every morning. Her father enjoyed fishing, and had taken up cricket with a local club. They had opened a small, but thriving dental office, and truly seemed to be at peace. Hermione tried to convince herself that this was enough; that she would have to accept the fact that she chose to give them this new life, and even if she couldn’t be part of it, she should be glad that they were happy. Every time she had that talk with herself, though, her heart broke a little more. The thought of leaving them caused an ache she didn’t think she could bear, and her resolve to hold onto hope until she heard from all of her correspondence grew stronger.

On Saturday morning, towards the end of her time in their quaint, seaside town, she followed her mother into a local bookshop. She quickly found the gardening section, and grabbed a book about flowering plants off the shelf. She then located her mother a few aisles over, and slowly started towards her. Before getting obviously close, she snuck her camera out of her pocket and snapped a picture, wanting to capture her mom in this peaceful moment as she perused a book about “growing your own herb garden.” After putting her camera away, Hermione softly interrupted her.

“Do….do you know much a-about plants and flowers?” she asked nervously, gesturing to the book in her mother’s hands.

“Well, I’m not an expert, by any means, but it’s become a bit of a hobby for me,” her mother smiled, and glanced at the book in Hermione’s hand. “Are you planning to start a garden of your own?” she asked kindly.

“Possibly,” Hermione’s eyes started to fill with tears. “My mother likes to garden, and she’s….she’s not with me anymore, so…” she couldn’t continue.

“I understand,” her mother replied gently. “Sometimes it helps us do something we know the person we miss loved to do, too.”

Hermione nodded as tears started to make their way down her cheeks. Her mother looked at her with concern. “Are you alright, dear?” She couldn’t account for the surge of protectiveness she felt for the young woman before her, but she knew she wanted to help her in some way.

“Yes,” Hermione took in a deep breath, wiping her tears with the back of one hand. “It’s just hard sometimes.”

“Would you like me to help you find a good book for a beginning gardener?” Her mother suggested with a smile.

“Oh, yes,” breathed Hermione. “That would be wonderful.”

After helping her locate a suitable book, the women sat on overstuffed chairs in a corner of the shop for over two hours. They talked about books, flowers, spring in Australia, and Hermione soaked every second of it up like a sponge. At the end of their time, her mother insisted Hermione let her pay for the book she’d chosen. As they walked towards the door of the shop, Hermione stopped.

“I know this might sound odd, but would you mind signing the book? Just so I c-can remember the very kind lady who h-helped me?” The tears were back and threatening to choke her. Seeing her obvious distress, her mother immediately started digging in her purse for a pen.

“Of course! I’d be more than happy to.” She flipped open Hermione’s book, and wrote quickly on the inside cover:

To my newfound friend,

May all your flowers bloom and bring you happy memories.

Fondly, Monica

She handed the book back to Hermione, feeling a confusing but undeniable connection to her, and wrapped her arms around the emotional girl, giving her a gentle squeeze before pulling back and looking her straight in the eye.

“Your mother was a very lucky woman, to have such a wonderful girl.”

Hermione felt as if her heart would shatter, and before she could say something drastic and cause a horrible scene right there on the front step of the bookshop, she nodded quickly, breathed out a strained “thank you,” and rushed onto the sidewalk, not daring to look back.

 

ooOoo

 

Harry was true to his word. He returned multiple times over the course of the next few weeks as the date for Draco’s trial grew nearer. At first, their conversations were brief and awkward, mainly focused on the charges against him and how those could be opposed. Draco had spent almost half an hour ranting at his one and only visitor during their second encounter, trying to drill into his thick, Gryffindor head that nobody was going to let him off. He’d done too much and even he had to admit he deserved some sort of punishment. Harry sat there, infuriatingly calm, letting him bellow till he was hoarse, and then asked him one question.

“Do you want to stay in here?”

Draco goggled at him. Was Potter stupid? Of course he didn’t want to stay there. He glared at Harry, refusing to answer, but his silence was interpreted as a resounding “no,” so Harry simply countered. “Then let me help you get out.” Then he stood up and he walked back out the door.

Draco had been furious. The audacity of that messy-haired, smug-faced, overly optimistic prat. How could he possibly believe it would all work out like he envisioned, just because he wanted it to? Draco fumed over Harry’s positivity and sure-footedness. The hard truth was that he was scared. Scared to believe that Harry could be right. Scared of allowing himself to grab ahold of even the tiniest shred of hope, only to have it stripped away by the sneering faces of the Wizengamot. No, it was much better, much safer, to be fully pessimistic in this. Better to hope for nothing and maybe be pleasantly surprised in some way, than to imagine the what-ifs of the situation.

Not that he would admit any of this to Harry. Merlin, no. It took every fiber of his being to look the Chosen One in the eye and thank him for helping his mother. To his credit, Harry didn’t give any sign of superiority, but simply shrugged and told him it had been the right thing to do. Bloody Gryffindor. Draco hated feeling like he owed anyone anything, and he definitely felt like he owed Harry now. If he ever got out of here…..no, not going there. He was stuck here and maybe once the trial was over and he was proven right in his negative mindset, he would sit down and write Harry a heartfelt thank you and be done with it all.

As the weeks had progressed, however, Draco found himself looking forward to his visits with Harry. He chalked it up to being starved for company, but their conversations now steered into friendlier topics like Quidditch, Hogwarts, the ridiculousness of Cornelius Fudge, and the audacity of Rita Skeeter. Harry brought him the newspaper regularly, as well as random bits of gossip about old schoolmates. As much as he hated to admit it, Draco was slowly starting to consider Harry his friend (a thought that earned him a loud snort and full-body shiver the first time it occurred to him). He learned more about the Weasley family than he ever wanted to, particularly the Weaslette, Ginny, as Harry was quite enamored with her.

Draco would sometimes wonder, usually after a visit with Harry had left him particularly optimistic, what it would be like to find someone to care about that way. He’d never really had any sort of dating relationships at school. There were girls he knew who wanted his attention, sure, but he always assumed it was the Malfoy name and fortune they really cared about. Then, of course, there was Pansy. She was probably the closest thing he’d ever had to a girlfriend; a thought that made him huff with derision. Pansy had clung to him like bowtruckles on a tree trunk. She fawned over him, showered him with compliments and little gifts, shared her secrets with him. They’d even spent a handful of amorous moments in hidden corners and empty classrooms over the years, but none of it meant anything to him. He supposed, looking back, that she might have thought they had something going on. He had no idea where she was now, but he honestly didn’t care. She, like the rest of his so-called friends, had abandoned him that day. Only Crabbe and Goyle had stayed, and now Crabbe was gone. Goyle had taken off as soon as they had escaped the Room of Requirement, and Draco hadn’t heard word of him since.

That was another thing Draco reluctantly admitted that he was rubbish at; friendships. Relationships in general, if he was being completely honest. He had been raised to maintain a smooth façade, to never let anyone know how he truly felt. As a result, he became an expert at ignoring his emotions and hiding them behind a mask of indifference. He held everyone at arms-length, whether family, housemate, or other. His mother was the only exception to that. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a conversation with someone that didn’t focus on some sort of plot or plan, or wasn’t part of his own agenda to boost his status. Back in his early years at Hogwarts, he’d engaged in chats about Quidditch, or classes, or pretty girls with his fellow Slytherins, but by the time he reached Sixth Year, that all had faded into the background as his every waking thought was consumed by the Dark Lord’s expectations.

With a sharp intake of breath, he realized that his conversations with Harry were the most normal things he’d experienced in the last two years, possibly even longer. This filled him with both irony and dismay. How much time he had wasted, and how much of his life he had thrown away. It wasn’t lost on him that at his lowest point, the one person willing to help him was the very one he had been so determined to best for all those years. If this was one of those “life lessons” his professors had been so fond of referencing, he was pretty sure he had failed, and Potter was graduating with honors.

Chalking it up to the list of things he was determined to change about himself if he ever left his cell, Draco drifted off to sleep with a sense of renewed purpose thrumming through his veins.

 

ooOoo

 

On Hermione’s last day in Redland, she decided to carry out one final plan before her portkey was scheduled to leave. Up before the sun, she made her way to the fishing pier not far from the street where the bookshop was that she had spent time with her mother in. She headed to the bench at the far left end of the pier, knowing she would find him there. And there he was. Her father was already baiting several hooks, his cooler, bucket and tackle box set out around him, humming a contented little tune as he worked. Silently, she sat down on the bench about ten yards away, just watching him. She waited until he had all his lines in the water, and the sun was slowly peeking up over the horizon before she approached him. Leaning against the railing several feet to his left, she breathed a quiet, “lovely morning, isn’t it?”

Looking a little startled at the random girl addressing him, her father quickly smiled and replied. “That it is! You’re up early, aren’t you? If you’re not fishing, that is.” He chuckled genially.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Hermione responded, smiling at him. “I’m heading back home to Britain today, so I just wanted one more…” Her breath hitched in her throat as she met the kind, warm eyes that were studying her face. “One more moment,” she finished with difficulty.

“I understand,” he said genuinely. “It’s a beautiful view.” He looked at her for a moment longer, unable to account for the feeling of familiarity he suddenly had, and without thinking, he asked. “Have you ever fished for flatheads? They’re tricky little buggers but make a decent fry up.”

Hermione chuckled, knowing just how much her dad enjoyed his fish and chips. “No, I haven’t ever fished at all, to be honest.”

“Well, can’t have you leaving here without that experience, now can we,” he stated with authority. “C’mere and I’ll give you a quick lesson.” And so, Hermione found herself standing beside her father for the next three hours as he happily explained all the ins and outs of fishing for flatheads, as well as his favorite recipes for them, and several funny stories about his wife’s dislike of cleaning fish. She cherished every second, and when she knew she was approaching her time to leave, she took her camera out of her pocket and asked if he wouldn’t mind her taking a picture with him. He agreed, of course, which she knew he would, so she set the camera on the railing and set the timer. Once they had finished, she put the camera back in her pocket and turned to face her dad.

“Thank you, so much,” her eyes filled with tears but she was determined to say this. “You have no idea how much these past few hours have meant to me.” With that, she flung her arms around him, giving him a tight squeeze.

He chuckled and patted her lightly on the back. “No problem, my dear, I enjoyed your company.” She pulled away reluctantly, gave him a watery smile, and headed back to the other end of the pier. She didn’t turn around as she went, afraid that if she did, she wouldn’t be able to leave, but as a result, she didn’t see her father wipe his eyes as unexpected, and unexplained tears had filled them.

Chapter Text

Draco’s trial was set for July 18th, and that morning he woke hours before the guard brought his breakfast. He was allowed a change of prison robes and a chance to wash up and attempt to make himself look slightly more presentable, before being escorted to the Ministry. He wasn’t sure what to expect. Harry had said that some trials drew quite a crowd (like his father’s) but others consisted of just the accused, any witnesses, and the members of the Wizengamot. Draco was sure a reporter or two would be lurking around there since all the trials had been covered in the papers so far. He tried to ignore the brick forming in the pit of his stomach as he entered the room.

He was led to a chair in the center of the floor, and as soon as he sat down, chains wound around his wrists and ankles. He glanced about quickly, but only members of the Wizengamot were present, and he started to get nervous. Harry said he would be there. Minister Shaklebolt took his place and Draco’s heart began to pound. Where was Potter? As the Minister called the proceedings into order, Draco heard the door at the back of the courtroom open. Turning slightly, he saw not only Harry, but Ron and Hermione sliding into seats in the front row. Harry caught his eye and nodded his head encouragingly.

Confusion filled Draco’s mind. Why were the other two here? Were they there to provide moral support for Potter? Were they there in the hopes that he would get what he deserved? His cheeks burned with humiliation and anger. He was not going to let them see him weak or defeated. If he was sentenced to fifty years, he would accept it with his head held high and they could kiss his…

“Court will now come to order,” Minister Shaklebolt’s deep voice echoed around the chamber, causing Draco to jump in his seat a little. “Today we will hear the case against Draco Lucius Malfoy, who has been charged with attempted murder, endangering the lives of fellow students, torturing multiple victims, and being in league with Voldemort. We will begin by hearing from several witnesses.” The Minister gestured towards Harry, but Draco couldn’t get past the phrase “several witnesses.” Surely the other two weren’t testifying on his behalf?

Harry sat on the witness stand and addressed the court. He had discussed the basics of what he planned to say with Draco during several of his visits, but either Draco had forgotten the finer points, or Harry had been exceptionally vague. To hear him tell it, Draco was an innocent kid, forced into serving the Dark Lord, brainwashed by his father, and driven by fear for his own life and that of his mother. Harry told of the day he walked in on Draco in the boy’s bathroom. Draco remembered that day, and the duel that took place that left him permanently scarred, but Potter focused on the fact that Draco had been crying and clearly distraught over the task before him. He also described the night at the top of the Astronomy Tower, when Draco had held a defenseless Dumbledore at wand-point, but had lowered his wand and made no move to actually cast any sort of curse.

Finally, Harry talked about the day he and his friends were brought to Malfoy Manor, and how Draco had refused to identify any of them to his aunt, which would have resulted in immediate death for all three of them. He did a masterful job of painting Draco as a sympathetic figure. A young, impressionable boy who was surrounded by the wrong people and forced into a life he didn’t choose. When he finished speaking, a member of the Wizengamot asked one final question.

“Do you believe Mr. Malfoy should receive further time in Azkaban for his crimes?”

Without missing a beat, Harry firmly replied. “No.”

The Minister dismissed him, and as Harry stepped down from the stand, Draco could barely meet his eyes as his cheeks burned again, but this time in shame. He didn’t deserve Potter’s support. And now he owed him so much more than a blasted thank you note. Before he could even begin to consider this, however, Ron was called to the stand.

Ron’s testimony was shorter than Harry’s, and slightly less passionate, but focused mainly on the night at Malfoy Manor, since that was the only event previously mentioned that he was present for. He did add though, that when Draco was sent down to the dungeon to get Griphook for questioning, that he didn’t try anything to make things worse for them. Ron said he knew Draco was terrified and he didn’t blame him for the things that happened. He also stated that he had observed a gradual decline in Draco’s physical being during their Sixth Year; that he thought Draco looked exhausted and overwhelmed, with dark circles under his eyes, and a grayish tint to his skin.

“Malfoy was a lot less of a prat that year,” stated Ron. “I suppose because he was so overwhelmed with what Voldemort wanted him to do. He was missing classes and falling behind in his work, and constantly seemed to be stressed.” A different member of the Wizengamot asked Ron the same final question that had been asked of Harry.

“No,” said Ron. “I’m pretty sure everything that’s happened, and the couple of months he’s already been there have been bad enough.” After that statement, Ron was dismissed, and as he stepped down he glanced at Draco with his brows furrowed and gave a small shrug.

Draco’s discomfort was steadily increasing. It had been bad enough to envision Harry defending him, only to then be sent back to Azkaban, but to have Ron (who he never liked and the feeling was completely mutual) speak on his behalf was a tremendously humbling experience. The members of the Wizengamot quietly discussed the testimony they had just heard as Shakelbolt shuffled papers on his podium.

“The court would like to call Miss Hermione Granger to the witness stand.”

If it were possible to feel any worse; for the brick in his stomach to grow any larger; then Draco did. What in Merlin’s name could Granger say that would help him? Of the three members of their little gang, she was the one he had always been the worst to. The prejudice he had been raised with had allowed absolutely no room for any kind of understanding or tolerance, and he had gone out of his way to prove to her that she was worthless. His heart started racing as he considered the fact that her experience at Malfoy Manor could be enough to dismantle anything Potter or Weasley just said. She had been tortured and crucio’d on his drawing room floor while he stood by and did nothing. There’s no way she could put a positive spin on that.

Hermione took her seat, and Draco noticed she looked worn out. She was missing her usual confidence, and there was a slight slump to her shoulders. She looked reluctant to be there, and he felt pretty sure he could imagine why.

“Miss Granger,” a female member of the court spoke up. “You wish to speak on behalf of Mr. Malfoy?”

“Yes,” she answered, looking down at her hands in her lap.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Miss Granger, but weren’t you tortured by use of the Cruciatus Curse in his home?” Asked the same witch.

Hermione looked the woman squarely in the eye, sat up a little straighter and replied. “Yes, I was, but seeing as it was Bellatrix LeStrange who attacked me, and not Draco Malfoy, I fail to see the relevance.”

Minister Shaklebolt chuckled softly under his breath and cut the Wizengamot witch off from any further questions, instead asking Hermione something else entirely. “Miss Granger, the court knows you were present at Malfoy Manor for the same events that both Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley recounted earlier. It is my understanding you wish to speak on a different matter?”

“Yes, Minister,” Hermione said with a nod of her head. “I wanted to speak to Malfoy’s actions as a means to protect his mother. If anyone understands the lengths a son or daughter might go to in order to keep their parents safe, it’s me.”

Draco was confused. What was Granger going on about? He watched her take a deep breath and noticed her hands clenched together in her lap. He saw her close her eyes for a split second, and then open them to focus on a spot somewhere on the floor in front of her, and then she started to speak. Draco listened as she told the Wizengamot how she obliviated her parents’ memories before she went on the run with Harry and Ron. How she completely erased herself from their lives, moved them to another continent, and gave them entirely new identities, all in order to keep them out of harm’s way. She had been afraid (and rightfully so, he knew) that the Death Eaters would hunt her parents down in an attempt to find her, and that they would be tortured and killed for their lack of information. Hermione then explained, in a quieter voice, that she had spent the past two weeks in Australia trying to lift the spell and get their memories back, but she had been unsuccessful. As she finished speaking, she wiped a lone tear that had fallen on her cheek and took another deep breath.

“Thank you, Miss Granger,” said Shaklebolt kindly. “You are correct; there are great lengths to which one might go to protect those they love.” Hermione nodded and stepped down, keeping her eyes on the floor.

Draco felt like a flattened quaffle; like someone had squeezed all the air out of him. He had no idea, why would he really, about her parents. He felt miserable. An entirely new wave of shame crashed over him as he considered her testimony. Yes, his priority over the last two years had been to protect himself and his mother, but would he have had the courage to do something like that? Would he have given his mother up to keep her safe? Could he have been that selfless? Part of him wanted the courtroom floor to swallow him up, and another part of him wanted to rush after Hermione and beg for her forgiveness. Of course, neither of those things happened, as instead, Shaklebolt turned his attention to the stack of parchment in front of him that contained Draco's written testimony, as well as statements from several Order members and Hogwarts faculty. Draco tuned much of it out as he continued to mull over the testimonies given on his behalf. He knew he didn't deserve any of their help or support, and mentally added it to the growing list of things he would need to make reparations for in some way. The Minister then announced that the court would be taking a break to discuss testimonies and decide on a sentence. Apparently, the accused were meant to remain chained in their seat until the verdict was given.

 

ooOoo

 

The break Shaklebolt spoke of consisted of him casting a silencing charm that spread the length of the benches upon which the members of the Wizengamot sat. Draco tried to school his face to look impassive, as if their deliberations meant little to him, but he couldn’t help watching as they discussed his fate. Many of them looked concerned, nodding along with the Minister’s words. Others looked skeptical, and a few wore expressions of disgust or anger. Several times he caught the eye of various members. One wizard nodded in his direction before turning his attention back to the discussion. The witch who had tried to question Hermione about being tortured fixed him with a beady-eyed stare for several minutes. At one point, everyone stopped talking and focused on Shaklebolt. When he finished speaking, Draco watched as a majority of the members raised their hands. His heart was in his throat. Were these the ones condemning him? Shaklebolt spoke again, and a handful of witches and wizards raised their hands. Draco noticed that they had sterner, harder expressions on their faces. He assumed that was the end of their deliberations, but Shaklebolt continued to speak. As he went on, again, a majority of the members nodded in agreement, and at the end raised their hands. A few of those who had been part of the minority previously raised their hands as well. Only four wizards and one witch refrained this time, all of them looking gravely disapproving, but resigned to the outcome.

Glancing over his shoulder, Draco saw the Golden Trio still sitting in the same spot, talking quietly together. Harry looked up and caught his eye, and raised his eyebrows in a “maybe we’re in luck” sort of gesture. Draco nodded once and turned back to the front as the Minister waved his wand, removing the spell, and prepared to conclude the trial.

“Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members of the Wizengamot, a verdict has been reached in the case of Draco Lucius Malfoy.”

Draco went cold, his mouth dryer than a desert, his heart pounding in his ears to the point he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hear the verdict properly.

“It is the belief of the majority of this court that Mr. Malfoy should not be held fully responsible for his actions while under the command of Voldemort. The tasks he was given were not optional, and he undertook them solely to preserve his own life, and that of his mother. He did not murder Albus Dumbledore, nor did he turn Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, or Miss Granger over to the Death Eaters.”

Draco was pretty sure all the blood had left his face at this point, and his hands started shaking. Was the Minister really giving evidence of his innocence?

“While Mr. Malfoy has undoubtedly made some questionable decisions of his own, it is the opinion of this court that none of his actions are worthy of further time in Azkaban. Due to his age and lack of consent to his situation, Mr. Malfoy will be sentenced to three years’ probation. This period of time will be a combination of house arrest, community service, and the completion of his Eighth Year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He will be appointed a Ministry-approved liaison who will meet with him regularly, and will accompany him anytime he needs to leave Malfoy Manor. His wand will remain in Ministry custody for the duration of the summer holiday.” At this point, Shaklebolt looked directly into Draco’s wide eyes.

“Mr. Malfoy, this court is giving you a second chance. Use it to do something positive with your life, something for the greater good.”

Draco nodded and croaked out, “Yes, sir, I will.”

The Minister smiled kindly, “I’m sure you will. I expect great things from you, Draco.”

With a wave of his wand, the restraints on Draco’s wrists and ankles went slack, and the buzz of quiet conversation filled the courtroom. Draco continued to sit, dumbstruck, in his seat. He was free. He was going home. His throat felt tight and his hands were still shaking. He didn’t know how long he’d sat there when he noticed a pair of trainers shuffle into view. Looking up, he saw Harry standing there, hands in his pockets and a wide grin on his face.

“Didn’t I say you’d be next?” He asked.

“Yeah,” said Draco. “I don’t….I can’t tell you…,” he heaved a big sigh. “Thank you, Potter. I know that’s not anywhere near enough, but…”

Harry cut him off with a wave of his hand. “You’re welcome. It’s over. Let’s get out of here, yeah?”

Draco allowed himself a genuine smile for the first time in what felt like years. His heart, though still pounding, felt much lighter, and he stood and held his hand out to his former rival. Harry looked mildly surprised, but grasped it in a firm shake and gestured to the doors.

After collecting his few belongings from a small room, mainly the clothes he’d been wearing when he was arrested, Harry led him down the hall towards the lifts. As the grill closed, Harry spoke. “Prepare yourself. There will be reporters in the Atrium. There’s a direct path laid out for anyone leaving the trials to go straight to the nearest floo. The first day of trials was a total disaster with reporters bombarding Aurors, witnesses, released prisoners, everyone. Even with this designated path, it’s still intense.”

Draco tried to look calm and unbothered by this information. “Right,” he said cooly.

The lift stopped and as the grill started to slide open, he heard the crowd before he saw them. Flashbulbs were immediately going off, and unknown voices were calling his name and Harry’s. Harry turned to glance at him.

“Fourteen steps, Malfoy. Let’s go.”

Draco wanted to scoff at the silly statement, but as soon as he took one step out of the lift, he was completely overwhelmed. Reporters and interested parties were pressing in as close as they could before the magical barrier stopped them. He could see the pathway, edged by a faintly glowing yellow line, directing him to the nearest floo. Fourteen steps, Harry had said. So Draco started counting, letting his voice in his head drown out the craziness around him.

One, two, three…“Mr. Malfoy, how do you feel? Do you think you deserve this freedom? Does your mother know you’ve been freed?”

Six, seven… “Mr. Potter, why did you feel the need to defend a Death Eater? Do you believe Mr. Malfoy has truly seen the error of his ways?”

Nine, ten… “Where are Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger? How do you think Lucius Malfoy will react to the release of his son?”

Almost there…“Is it true that you will be going back to Hogwarts, Mr. Malfoy?”

Ignoring the slew of questions that was shouted at them as they made their way to the fireplace, they did not even pause as they reached the hearth, both of them staring straight ahead. Draco was determined not to let any emotion cross his face, not to give them a single thing to focus on or pick apart in the articles he knew would be written before the day was over. He hadn’t even thought to ask why Harry was stepping into the green flames with him, and was slow to comprehend that they both stepped out into the foyer of Malfoy Manor. Immediately he was pulled into a choking embrace by someone sobbing his name.

“Draco! I can’t believe you’re home!” Narcissa cried, shaking harder than even he had been earlier.

“Yes, mother, I’m home,” he said quietly, returning her embrace.

When she finally released him, to Draco’s amazement, Narcissa pulled his escort into an equally exuberant hug, exclaiming. “You did it again, Harry!”

Wait, since when did his mother call Potter, “Harry?”

“Well, I do try to keep my word, Narcissa,” said Harry, releasing her with a grin.

What?!?! They were on a first-name basis now? Draco was starting to feel concerned that he had been led into a parallel universe. This was too much.

“So, I guess this is as good a time as any to let you know that I’m your Ministry-appointed liaison, Malfoy,” said Harry with a small smirk. “I asked to be your mother’s after her trial, in the hopes that she could give me some information that might help with yours. Kingsley agreed to let me take you on as well, since I already have to come here every week to comply with the terms of her probation.”

Draco’s head was spinning. He was home. His mother was home. Harry had managed to pull this off for both of them, and now was going to be a constant part of his life for the foreseeable future. He wanted to cry with relief, and laugh at the irony of it all. Instead, he settled for nodding at Harry and giving his mother another hug.

 I’ll let you get settled and rested,” said Harry. “I’ll be back in two days to discuss the details of your probation, and answer any questions you might have. Your floo was connected to the Ministry Atrium just to get you home. From now on, it will only be connected to the floo in the Auror Office. If you ever need to reach me, you can place a floo call and the receptionist will alert me. If I’m not there, she can take a message. You are allowed to send owls, but all correspondence from anyone formerly connected with Voldemort is still being searched and reviewed, which means it takes about twice as long for letters to be received. You’re not actually allowed to leave your house unless I’m with you.” He shrugged apologetically as he said this last part.

Draco nodded, and for the second time that day, extended his hand out to Harry, who took it immediately and gave it a firm shake.

“I’m glad it worked out, Malfoy,” said Harry, and Draco could tell he meant it. The tightness in his throat was back, so he simply clapped his other hand on Harry’s shoulder and nodded again. With that, Harry stepped back into the fireplace and was gone in a swirl of green flames.

Chapter Text

Granger,

I want to thank you for speaking at my trial. I've never been good at these kinds of things, but I want you to know how much I appreciate what you did.

I also want you to know how sorry I am. For everything.

If I can ever be of any help to you in any way, please don't hesitate to ask.

Gratefully,

Malfoy

 

The letter had been sitting on her desk for two weeks. Hermione had been shocked when Harry handed it to her. Not that she didn’t think Draco was thankful for what the three of them had done for him by speaking at his trial, but because she never in a million years expected him to acknowledge it. The first time she had read the short note, she had been flabbergasted. Later, when she read it again, she felt close to tears though she couldn’t understand why. Maybe because he had said he was sorry. Did he mean he was sorry about her parents? Or for being such a horrid bully at school? Or for the way she was tortured and scarred by his insane aunt? Probably all of it, honestly.

Harry had been filling her in on his visits with Draco, both while he was still in Azkaban and after, and insisted the Slytherin Prince had changed. That he was no longer the arrogant, smirking antagonist who used to sneer at them on a daily basis, nor did he hold to the Pureblood notions his parents had been so insistent about. She was glad to hear it, especially since it would seem that he would be back at Hogwarts with her for their Eighth Year, and she really didn’t have the energy to deal with that kind of animosity anymore.

When Hermione had returned from Australia the day before the trial, she had written to Professor McGonangall and officially accepted her offer to return to Hogwarts. The heartache she felt after leaving her parents had been the deciding factor. She was in no fit state to embark on a career path, or try to make any life-altering decisions about her future. Hogwarts had always been a haven for her, and it would be so once again as she worked through the guilt she carried, and as she waited to hear from the experts she had contacted. There were, however, certain things she needed to deal with before she left.

After Draco’s trial, she and Ron had slipped out a side door and had taken a very roundabout way out of the Ministry, as a means to avoid the reporters and onlookers. They had decided to grab lunch at a nearby café, and Hermione used the time alone to broach a sensitive subject.

“I think we need to talk about us,” she began quietly, forcing herself to look him in the eye as he stopped chewing his mouthful of sandwich and swallowed with difficulty. His gaze dropped to the table, and the tips of his ears started to turn pink. It was such an endearingly familiar trait that her heart gave a small tug and tears pricked the corners of her eyes.

“I know,” Ron sighed. “I guess I was hoping we could just…” He trailed off, unsure how to finish his thought.

“You know I love you, Ron,” she reached across the table, palm up in an invitation, and he took her hand in his own. “I’m just not sure I love you that way.” She looked beseechingly into his bright blue eyes, silently begging him to understand. She watched as a parade of emotions crossed his face as he stared at their clasped hands. First, sadness, then resignation, and finally what looked to be relief.

“I know,” he said again. “I’ve loved you for years, Hermione, but I think you’re right.”

“You do?”

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Bet that’s news, huh?” She gave a small laugh and rolled her eyes at him. “Seriously, though,” he continued. “What happened during the Battle,” his cheeks went pink. “I meant it. I wanted to kiss you. But I think it had more to do with how happy I was that we were both alive and had just destroyed another horcrux. Plus…” His voice hitched and she could see tears forming in his eyes. “Every time I think of that moment, I can’t help but think of how Fred….how Fred died just a short while after. It’s like I can never remember one without the other, you know? And I don’t want to do that.”

She did understand, because it had been the same for her. The events of that devastating day were all intertwined in her memory and she knew it was why she recalled their first kiss with a pang of deep sorrow every time she allowed her mind to wander down that road again. She nodded at her red-haired best friend, tears glistening in her own eyes. “I know. I truly do, Ron.” She gripped his hand even tighter, and he returned the gesture, giving her a wobbly grin. “You’ll always have my friendship, you know that?” He nodded his head adamantly and echoed the sentiment with sincerity.

They spent the rest of the afternoon talking at their small table. She told him all about her time in Australia, and he told her about how his family was doing. She also explained her decision to go back to school, which he wholeheartedly supported. “Of course you’d go back,” he announced with gusto, attacking a large piece of chocolate cake. “They probably came up with the idea just so you would!”

Hermione laughed. “I doubt that, but I think it’s the best option for me right now.”

“Just watch out for Malfoy,” Ron warned. “Don’t let him get up to any of his old tricks.”

“Somehow I doubt he’d even try,” she mused. “I think he’ll be alright. Harry says he’s changed, and the Ministry’s got him on a tight leash, at any rate.”

“Yeah, well, still.” Ron insisted stubbornly. “Don’t be afraid to punch him again if he gets out of line.”

“Ronald!” she exclaimed. “You just testified on his behalf!”

“Doesn’t mean I like him,” he grumbled. “I just don’t think he deserves to rot in prison. There’s a difference.” He sniffed, giving an air of superiority, causing Hermione to chuckle again.

“Well, thank you for clearing that up,” she teased him, tossing her napkin on the table. “Walk me to Harry’s so I can floo home.”

 

ooOoo

 

Having Potter as his liaison wasn’t as awful as Draco thought it would be, though he would never admit that if anyone asked. It was obvious that Harry and his mother had struck up a solid friendship during the weeks leading up to his trial, and she looked forward to his visits. At first, Draco simply humored her in her excitement. He supposed she didn’t have much to occupy her time, so having “company” in the form of a Ministry official was about as much of a social life as they were going to get in the near future. However, much to his surprise and chagrin, Harry was an amicable guest. He was always respectful to Narcissa, never once treating her like a convict or as someone who didn’t deserve the freedom she had gained. He brought her the latest fashion magazines, and shared any bits of high-society gossip he had overheard since he’d last been there. He also started bringing Draco articles on Quidditch teams and potioneering, knowing that those were two of his greatest interests.

Harry usually arrived for afternoon tea, and stayed for several hours. He was supposed to meet once a week with Narcissa, and once a week with Draco, so he had standing appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but he usually met with both of them for tea and wound up chatting with Draco once Narcissa had drifted off to see to household tasks. Typically, he would ask his standard, Ministry-protocol questions first to get them out of the way: Had they had any visitors since he last saw them? Had they received any form of correspondence from any former Death Eaters? Had anyone tried to bother or harass them in any way? The answers were always in the negative. If Harry had any news regarding their probations or sentencing, he would share that, and then move on to less formal topics.

The fourth time Draco found himself alone with Harry, he asked a question that had been buzzing around in his head since his release. “Why did they speak at my trial?” Harry didn’t need to ask who Draco meant, but he still looked quizzically at him for a second, so Draco continued. “I mean, I get that you’re the famous, Chosen-Git-Who-Saved-the-World,” Harry chuckled as Draco ranted. “And you felt it your duty to bestow your goodness on those less fortunate, but why the other two? It’s not like any of us were ever friends at school. None of you owed me anything.” When he finished, Draco found himself slightly embarrassed and unaccountably nervous, even though his words had been spoken more in jest than animosity, so he looked down and fidgeted with his shirt cuff instead of meeting Harry’s eyes.

“Well,” Harry began slowly. “Being entirely honest, we, Ron, Hermione and I, didn’t think it was fair, what was happening to you. You were the only one of our classmates to get chucked into Azkaban, but you weren’t the only one fighting on Voldemort’s side.”

“But I’m the only one he branded,” muttered Draco.

“Yeah, but you didn’t volunteer for that, either,” said Harry firmly. “Look, Malfoy, I know there’s a long and nasty history between you and the three of us, but schoolyard taunts and a handful of hexes don’t equal you wasting away in prison. We’ve put those days behind us, and you should, too.” His green eyes continued to pierce Draco even after he finished speaking, and Draco grudgingly heard the truth behind the words. He’d been given a second chance and he wasn’t about to spend it dwelling on the past.

“You’re right,” he started, but Harry interrupted him.

“Sorry? Say that again, Malfoy?”

Draco sighed dramatically, knowing his old nemesis wasn’t going to let him get away with this easily. “I said, you’re right, Potter,” he repeated, rolling his eyes.

“Hang on,” said Harry, making a show of patting his pockets and looking around. “I need a quill and parchment.”

“What in Merlin’s name for?”

“To document this historical event in which you, Draco Malfoy, have clearly stated that I am right!” Harry finished, laughing at the scowl that had formed on the blonde’s face. “Oh, don’t be so touchy,” he continued. “Or I won’t take you with me.”

“Take me? Take me where?”

“Consider it your first bit of community service,” said Harry. “I promised to help George and Ron at the joke shop. It’s been kind of slow-going since Fred…. Well, since Fred’s been gone, and they need some help stocking all the shelves and reorganizing new merchandise. I asked if I could bring you along, and they said it was fine. They’ll appreciate the extra set of hands.”

Draco considered this for a few seconds. True, he hadn’t been out of the Manor since he was released, and before that he had spent more than two months in a cell. It would be rather nice to get out, but the idea of facing the wizarding public was rather daunting. He thought back to the horde of reporters and onlookers in the Ministry Atrium… Harry seemed to read his mind. “We’ll be able to floo directly there. We can go to the Auror Office, and then to the shop. You won’t have to walk down Diagon Alley or anything.” At this, Draco huffed a breath, squared his shoulders and nodded once.

“Alright then. Let’s go.”

 

ooOoo

 

At first, Draco wasn’t sure anyone was in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. He and Harry stepped out of the fireplace in what appeared to be an office in the back of the store, and as they made their way to the front, they didn’t see or hear anyone else moving around. As they entered the main area, they spotted George, up on a ladder, rearranging brightly colored boxes on the highest shelves.

“Oi, George,” called Harry.

“Harry, sorry, didn’t hear you arrive,” George said as he slowly climbed down and shuffled across the room to greet them. He shook Harry’s hand and immediately turned to Draco, offering his hand to him as well. “Thanks for coming, Malfoy,” he said in a quiet, monotone voice.

“No problem,” said Draco, feeling slightly off-kilter by the polite, albeit subdued greeting. While he had rarely interacted with the twins, he knew just how exuberant and boisterous they were. This shop, with all its bright displays and bold colors was evidence of that, and yet, George was definitely changed. He seemed older, and so very solemn. It was understandable, of course, but still unsettling to witness. Draco wondered how difficult it must be for his family to see him so altered. Before he could ponder that thought further, however, the front door jingled and Ron walked in with his arms loaded with paper bags.

“Lunch!” Ron hollered. “Sorry it took so long, Katie Bell was working the counter and we started talking about the Cannon’s upcoming match and….” He trailed off as he realized he and George weren’t alone. “Oh, hey Harry.” He nodded to Malfoy, a slightly skeptical look on his face.

“I’ll take mine in the office, and you can tell our new help what to do while you eat.” George dug through the bags, pulled a couple of containers out, and walked back down the hall Harry and Draco had just emerged from. They heard a door close softly and turned to look back at Ron, who shrugged in a helpless sort of way, and put the bags on the counter.

“That’s about the longest sentence he’s said all week.” Ron started pulling containers from the bags. “And this is the first week he’s managed to be in the store for a couple of days in a row. We’ve gotten a lot done, but it’s slow going, and he holes himself up in the office every few hours.” He spoke mostly to Harry, but obviously didn’t mind if Draco heard what he was saying.

As Ron was talking, Draco glanced around the shop. It was vibrant and almost overwhelming, and every nook and cranny seemed to be bursting with jokes and tricks and the like, but there was a method to it, too. Everything seemed to be intentionally placed; organized chaos, he thought. However, as his eyes roved over towards the front counter, where the cash register stood, he noticed a very large, very blank expanse of wall behind it. It looked like the type of space one would see over a fireplace mantle, where a large, expensive piece of artwork would be displayed. It was painted a flat beige color that didn’t fit in with the rainbow of hues throughout the rest of the store. He stared at it, wondering at its purpose, when Ron broke into his train of thought.

“Yeah, that’s another bit of difficulty,” he said in a low voice, still not looking directly at Draco. “George is the business mastermind behind the shop, but Fred was the artistic genius. He had been working on some new logo or artwork to put up there before… George has the sketches somewhere, but he can’t bring himself to ask someone else to do it. Feels wrong to him. But he can’t seem to decide what else to do with that space, either. I tried to suggest posters, or more shelves, or something, anything, but he’s not quite ready to tackle that yet.” Ron shook his head sadly, stared up at the ceiling for a few seconds, blinking furiously. After taking a deep breath, he looked Draco squarely in the face for a moment, studying him as if he was trying to figure something out. A hard look of resignation crossed his freckled face, a small frown creasing his forehead. Draco wasn’t sure what to say or do, but before he could attempt anything, Ron looked past him and addressed Harry again. “Let’s eat, and then we can get started on the front windows.”

Draco held out a hand to stop Ron from turning away and found himself at the receiving end of a blue-eyed glare. Raising his hand in surrender, he met the former Gryffindor’s gaze and spoke. “Thank you, Weasley, for speaking at my trial.” Ron’s eyes widened and he stared at Draco for a moment, as if waiting for the punchline to a joke. When he realized his former enemy was sincere, he shrugged, nodded, and turned to the bags on the counter.

“What kind of sandwich do you like, Malfoy?”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s childhood home was where she had returned to once the Battle was over, and again after leaving Redland. Being there was painful, however, especially since it seemed increasingly less likely that her parents would join her there anytime soon. So far she had heard back from six of the experts she had contacted, and they had all said similar things. That they were very sorry, but they did not think there was anything they could do to help. That the longer a memory charm was left on a person, the harder it was to remove. Also, since the talented witch had not simply removed one specific event, but an entire lifetime of memories of herself and the relationship they shared, the spell was much deeper and much more complex. One healer had offered to go observe her parents, which she had granted him permission to do, but he had written back shortly after to say that he stood by his original prognosis, and that he, too, had been unsuccessful in lifting the charm.

So now it was left to her to decide what to do about the house and all its contents. When her parents moved, they took very little with them, aside from clothing and a few sentimental items. Hermione couldn’t allow them to take photographs that included her, so she had cast notice-me-not charms on anything in the house that would allude to her existence. As a result, her parents had only taken things that pertained to the two of them and their life as a married couple, and she had planted the idea that they had called in a realtor to deal with the sale of the house.

She had met with Kingsley upon returning from Australia to let him know how it had gone. He was very kind and sympathetic, and offered several suggestions for how she could proceed. She had decided to go with one of his options; the one where she would keep the house for now, and allow herself not to worry about trying to sell it or moving out until after she completed her Eighth Year. She would cast stasis spells on the yard, so the neighbors wouldn’t wonder why no one was cutting the grass. She would also cast notice-me-nots all along the edges of the property so that passersby wouldn’t pay any mind to the quaint, two-story home that seemed to be unoccupied. She needed to pack up some of her own things, because she was not going to spend the holidays here, alone. Instead, she had decided to take Harry up on his offer for her to move into one of the many spare rooms at Grimmauld Place for the year, although he had insisted she could stay as long as she liked.

It was for that reason that she was expecting her raven-haired best friend that afternoon. He had promised to help with all the spell work, as well as the moving of her belongings. Thankfully, they could just take everything through the floo network, so the task wouldn’t be quite so arduous.

Hermione had just fixed herself a cup of coffee, and was sitting down at her kitchen table when she heard the fireplace in the living room roar to life. She turned to see Harry step out of the green flames, and rushed to greet him with a hug.

“Harry, thank you so much for coming to help me,” she began, but he cut her off.

“No problem. Hey, I hope it’s ok, but I’ve brought reinforcements.”

Before she could question his statement, the flames flickered again, and out onto the hearth stepped Draco Malfoy. He looked around for a split second before his eyes landed on her, and he froze.

“Granger,” he nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets and trying not to goggle at the strange objects in her home. He had never been in a Muggle house before and found himself incredibly curious. But his discomfort at being in her presence took precedence, and he stared at the floor instead. She had never responded to his letter, not that he had really expected it, but he had assumed the Gryffindor Princess would have jumped at the opportunity to remark on his sudden freedom. Or perhaps to call upon his repayment of debt in the way of signing up to free all the house elves in Britain, or by funding the construction of some sort of sanctuary for hippogriffs or mantacores. He had never asked Harry if she said anything about his letter; his pride wouldn’t allow him to show that it mattered. So now, here he was, definitely second-guessing his decision to come, seeing as she was continuing to stare at him without saying a word.

Harry broke the awkward silence. “Yeah, so Malfoy’s gonna help move all your stuff. I got permission for him to go between your place and mine for today. Figured we’d get done quicker.” He shrugged and twirled his wand nervously between his fingers.

“Of course,” said Hermione, seeming to snap out of her shock at finding Draco in her living room. “Thanks, Malfoy,” she gave him a small smile, which he returned with a shrug and a nod. She was surprised at his lack of snarky retort, expecting him to sneer at the Muggle-ness of her home, but chalked it up to his supposed change of heart. She turned her attention back to her friend. “I think I want to start with the charms outside, just in case any of the neighbors happen to pass by and see into the front window. People popping in and out of the fireplace might cause some alarm,” she chuckled lightly.

“Sure,” said Harry immediately. “I’ll go get started on that and you can show Malfoy what needs to be done in here.” Before she could protest being left alone with an obviously, increasingly-uncomfortable Draco, Harry had escaped through the front door.

Hermione sighed, and Draco looked at her, unsure of what to do or say. She still had a weary, defeated look about her, which he attributed to the events regarding her parents that she had shared at his trial several weeks ago. He didn’t know how to start a conversation, or if she’d even want to have one with him. He was trying to decide between asking her what the large, black, rectangle in the room was, and making some joke about all the scary-looking items in the kitchen, when she looked up at him and spoke.

“Would you like a cup of coffee, Malfoy?”

“Coffee?” He couldn’t hide his surprise at the unexpected question. “Ummm, sure.” He figured that was the safest answer, afraid that if he refused, they’d just continue to stand there in awkward silence.

Hermione headed back to the kitchen, Draco trailing after her. She took a mug from the cupboard and retrieved a glass pot, filled with dark liquid, from an odd little contraption on the counter. He watched as she poured the steaming coffee into the mug, and started when she asked. “How do you take it?”

“Take what?”

“Your coffee,” she said with a small smirk. “Do you like cream, or milk, or sugar?”

“Uhhh…” Draco was unsure about this. Typically, he drank tea, and on the rare occasion when he did have coffee, it was already prepared on his tray by a house elf. He guessed Hermione had figured out the reason for his confusion as she chuckled slightly and moved to the tall, silver box at the end of the counter. It had two doors, and she opened the one on the right, reached in, grabbed a small container, and shut the door again. She also retrieved a little bowl with a lid from on the counter, and placed both of those on the kitchen table. She then put his coffee mug and a spoon in front of one of the chairs.

“Have a seat,” she told him, not unkindly. As he did, Hermione crossed the kitchen and picked up a dish covered with some sort of silver paper, placing that on the table near him as well. She removed the silver paper and he was greeted with the warm, mouth-watering smell of cinnamon and sweetness. On the dish was a loaf bread that was still steaming, and appeared to have a thin crust of sugar on top. Draco had always been partial to sweets, and any sort of cake or baked goods were at the top of his list of favorites. He eyed the still-warm confection with poorly-disguised longing and looked up to see Hermione trying to hide her own smile.

“It’s cinnamon bread,” she indicated the dish before him. “I made it just a little bit before you and Harry got here. It’s one of his favorites. Help yourself.” When he hesitated to reach for it, she continued, smirking, “I promise, I didn’t poison it.”

Draco stared at her, raising an eyebrow. “You made it,” he said incredulously.

“Yes,” she snorted, “I know how to cook, Malfoy. Most Muggles do.”

Draco went slightly pink. He hadn’t meant to make it sound like that. He was just surprised, since he had never made anything he’d ever eaten in his entire life. He felt embarrassed by this, now that he thought of it, but instead of dwelling on his glaring ineptitude when it came to the culinary world, he allowed his desire to taste the delicious-smelling bread to win out. He cut a small slice and nibbled the corner, just to try it. It was amazing. Warm and dense, but still fluffy, sweet, with just the right amount of cinnamon. He took a bigger bite and closed his eyes while he savored it. He was brought back to his surroundings by a small giggle from Hermione. She had settled herself in the chair catty-cornered to his right, her own mug of coffee in between her hands, her eyes sparkling in amusement as she watched him inhale the rest of the slice.

“It’s ok then,” she asked, smirking at him again. “Not poisoned, yeah?”

Draco allowed himself a grin and nodded. He looked at the carton of milk and the bowl that he now realized contained sugar in front of him, at a loss for where to begin. He glanced over at Hermione’s mug and noticed that her coffee was a much lighter color. His brow furrowed, and she came to his rescue.

“I take two spoons of sugar, and enough milk to make it this color, but if you wanted to start off with less, you could always add more.”

For the next several minutes, Draco fiddled with his coffee, adding a bit more sugar and another dash or two of milk. He felt like he was back in potions class, for Salazar’s sake, but in the end, his concoction held three and a half spoons of sugar and slightly more milk than Hermione’s, making it just a tad lighter. She seemed entertained, watching him the entire time, and he was surprised to notice that she no longer seemed awkward or wary in his presence. He glanced up at her and she chewed her lower lip for a second, as if trying to decide something.

“I got your letter,” she began quietly. “Harry gave it to me a couple of weeks ago. You didn’t have to thank me, or anything.”

“Yes, I did,” Draco cleared his throat and looked back down at the mug he was now clutching tightly. “If it wasn’t for your testimony, and Potter and Weasley’s, I’d still be in that cell.” She didn’t reply, just continued to look at him, so he went on. “I meant what I said to Shaklebolt that day. I plan to use this second chance to do something worthwhile.” He looked up and met her eyes, which seemed to bore into his own. He felt like there was a question in their chocolate-colored depths, but there was also understanding. It made him feel both hopeful and embarrassed, in ways he couldn’t explain to himself. He looked back down at his mug.

“I know,” she said finally. “I honestly believe you’ll make good on your word, too, Malfoy. And I want you to know, I appreciate what you said and,” her breath hitched, “I don’t blame you for anything,” she finished in a near whisper.

His eyes flew back up to hers with a hard, searching gaze. What did she mean? But she answered his unspoken query immediately.

“I don’t blame you for what your aunt did. And I don’t blame you for the way you treated me in school. I know it was what you were raised to believe. You said you were sorry. I accept your apology, and I forgive you.” Her voice was trembling now, and he could see tears ready to spill past her long lashes. He had hoped today would, at best, be spent in some sort of tolerant civility from his former target. He had never expected this. He was honestly, truly, deep down in the dark and hidden places he tried to lock away, sorry for everything he had done and said to her over the years, but he had never imagined she would be willing to forgive him so quickly. His heart was pounding, and he felt light-headed as he listened to her speak.

“We’re going to be back at Hogwarts together in a few weeks, and I’d much rather start the year off on a positive note. After everything that’s happened, I don’t have the strength to hold grudges…” she paused and took a small, shuddering breath. “And life is too short anyway. We didn’t fight so hard and lose so much just to continue hating.” Hermione wiped the few tears that had managed to escape and looked at him, waiting for a response.

“Yeah,” Draco said thickly. “I, uh, I agree. Positive is better,” he finished lamely, still reeling from her declaration of forgiveness.

Hermione took a deep breath, gave him a watery smile, and gestured to the plate in between them. “Would you like another piece?”

 

ooOo 

 

When Harry returned to the kitchen thirty minutes later, he was greeted by a sight he was most definitely not expecting. He had intentionally left Hermione and Draco alone. He knew Draco had apologized in that letter, and he also knew his former rival needed some sort of response to it, as well as he knew his best friend would bring it up eventually. Hermione had been so overwhelmed since returning to Britain, he knew she hadn’t replied to the missive, but he also knew that she was determined to put the horrors of the past year behind her, and having a conversation with Draco was an important part of that. Harry rather smugly told himself that his best friend didn’t often realize how intuitive he really was, and the proof was right in front of him.

Draco and Hermione were standing next to the kitchen counter, staring intently at a small appliance between them. On the kitchen table was a plate stacked with toast in varying shades of done-ness. Several pieces were burnt beyond recognition, while others looked like they had barely been warmed. A few pieces had one or two bites taken from them, and half of the loaf was still in the bag.

“What’s going on,” Harry started to ask, but Hermione waved him off and pointed to the toaster.

“Malfoy’s learning to make toast,” she stated, grinning at him and rolling her eyes. Draco, on the other hand, was concentrating furiously on the metal box in front of him and muttered, “I’m going to figure this out!”

At that moment, the toast popped up, causing all three of them to jump, and Draco grabbed the two pieces and held them up for inspection. The bread was golden brown, slightly darker around the edges, but not the least bit charred. He bit off one of the corners, chewed for a second, and raised both of his arms in triumph. “Perfect!” He exclaimed.

“Finally,” chortled Hermione, gesturing to the stack of rejected pieces on the table. “I made cinnamon bread, Harry, if you want some. I managed to save a few slices before Malfoy scarfed down the whole loaf.”

Harry laughed and pulled out a third chair, while Hermione grabbed him a mug of coffee. In the meantime, Draco was putting two more pieces of toast in the toaster, double-checking the settings before pushing the lever down.

“More toast, Malfoy?” Hermione asked, incredulous. He had already eaten almost half of the cinnamon bread, plus two pieces of unsatisfactory toast before launching this experiment to make the perfect slice.

“I need to make sure that last batch wasn’t a fluke,” Draco stated, very seriously.

Hermione sighed and shook her head, still chuckling. “Do you want butter or jam or anything? I’ve got marmalade, or strawberry preserves…” she started walking towards the pantry.

“Strawberry is good,” said Malfoy, not taking his eyes off the toaster.

“Oh, I’ve also got this,” Hermione reappeared from the pantry and he glanced her way. She had a jar of strawberry preserves in one hand, and a jar of something Draco had never seen before in the other.

“What’s No-tell-ay?” he asked.

Harry snorted into his coffee, Draco glared at him, and Hermione showed him the jar. “Nutella,” she corrected. “Try it,” she offered. “You’ll like it!”

Understanding that he was reluctant to give up his vigil of the toaster, she brought a plate with the two pieces of toast he had previously declared “perfect” on it to the counter, pulled a knife out of a drawer, and plunked it into the hazelnut spread. Draco looked at it skeptically, but spread a small amount on the corner of the piece he’d previously bitten and took a small taste. As Hermione had expected, his eyes widened and his face broke into a brilliant smile.

“Oh, this is good,” he started, but then his toast popped up and he jumped in fright, dropping the piece in his hand on the floor. “Bugger!” he exclaimed, causing the other two to laugh. Hermione picked the piece off the floor and tossed it in the bin, waving to the two pieces that had just finished toasting. “Pretty sure you’ve got enough to work with there.”

Draco took the new pieces and the jar of Nutella, and sat down across from Harry, who was watching him with unabashed amusement. Draco didn’t care. He had just been introduced to the best thing since those Canary Creams the Weasley twins had invented (although he never told anyone he’d tried them) and he’d be tossed if he let Potter distract him now. He spread a layer of Nutella almost as thick as the toast itself evenly across the slice and sunk his teeth into it. Once again, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to be completely immersed in this heavenly experience. There was chocolate. And hazelnut. And the warm crunchy toast. It was fantastic. He hummed to himself, then realized the kitchen was eerily quiet and cracked one eye open. Harry and Hermione were both sitting there watching him, shaking with silent mirth.

“Sod off,” he muttered, his mouth still full, which only caused them to burst out laughing. 

 

 ooOoo

 

The trio spent the rest of the afternoon transferring Hermione’s belongings to Grimmauld Place. She was taking a fair bit; her school trunk filled with robes, books, parchment and quills. She would need to visit Diagon Alley in the coming days to purchase the items on her Eighth Year list, but was bringing most of her other school supplies from previous years. She also decided to bring her own towels and bedding for her room at Harry’s, as well as a variety of knickknacks and sentimental objects. She packed two suitcases full of Muggle clothing, since she planned to spend both school holidays in London, and was standing in the living room, gazing at a large, framed photograph that was hanging over an old, upright piano, when Draco came back through the floo.

“That’s it, I think,” he said, brushing ash off his clothes and walking towards her. She did not turn to look at him, but continued to stare at the picture, her arms wrapped across herself, and made a noncommittal hum in response to his words. Draco turned his attention to the photo, as well, noticing that it was of Hermione and two adults who were certainly her parents. The three were somewhere on the coast; the ocean horizon was spread out behind them, the sun peeking out from the upper corner of the image. The wind had obviously been blowing, as strands of curly brown hair had made their way across both Hermione’s and her mother’s faces, but they were all smiling. Genuinely beaming, like they were in the middle of laughing at a hilarious joke.

For a fleeting moment, Draco felt a twinge of jealousy. He couldn’t remember ever sharing a moment like that with his parents. His father’s version of laughter was no more than a derisive grunt in the general direction of the person or object of his entertainment, and his mother, up until very recently, would never allow herself more than a closed-lipped smile and a small “hmmph.”

Hermione made a slight motion with one hand, and at once the wind was blowing, and they were laughing, and it was almost as if Draco could hear them. Clearly she had developed the photo in magical solution, and then put a freezing charm on it once it was hung in her parents’ home. He allowed himself a split second of admiration for her use of wandless magic, and then internally snorted. She was the Brightest Witch of the Age, if everyone was to be believed, so it shouldn’t surprise him that she had mastered a skill many fully qualified witches and wizards wouldn’t even attempt.

“Have you ever heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words?” She asked him, causing him to snap out of his thoughts.

“Uh, no, I can’t say I have,” he replied, wondering what she was talking about.

“It’s a Muggle saying,” Hermione began. “It’s the idea that a picture, of any sort, is more than just a pretty landscape, or a captured smile. It’s everything the picture encompasses.” She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts before continuing. She gestured to the picture and said, “This photo was taken about a week before I left with Ron and Harry last summer, a week before I erased my parents’ memories. It was taken in one of our favorite spots on the Isle of Wight, where I had talked them into going on a last-minute holiday.”

She paused again, this time Draco could tell, to steady her voice which had become thick with emotion. She pointed to her father. “My dad had gone to the café earlier that day to get breakfast for us and had a ridiculous misunderstanding with the owner, who had a very thick Scottish brogue, and couldn’t understand why my dad would want ‘bangers’ for breakfast. I guess the Scots don’t call their sausages that.” A slight pink tinged her cheeks that Draco was pretty sure he grasped the meaning of. She continued. “So he was telling us the story, and my dad is a very good storyteller, so we were just roaring about it as we walked towards the beach. A little while later, we asked a random person to take a picture for us, and right as they were getting ready to snap it, my dad whispered ‘bangers’ to my mum and me, and we just lost it all over again.” Hermione was giggling and wiping her eyes at the same time, and Draco felt like both laughing and crying as well. He settled for a quiet chortle and looked expectantly at her, sure that she wasn’t quite done.

“Anyway, back to the point,” she huffed a deep breath. “This picture isn’t just a nice photo of my parents and me on a beach somewhere. It’s that ridiculous story. It’s the smell of the sea air, mixed with fish and chips from the stand near the edge of the beach. It’s the sound of the waves behind us and the gulls overhead. It’s my mother’s laughter, and my father’s big hug after we were done. It’s all of those things, and it would probably take well over a thousand words to explain it precisely, but one look at this picture and I feel like I'm reliving that moment again.” She turned and looked him straight in the eye, whiskey-brown meeting steel-grey in an unblinking and slightly desperate gaze. “Does that make sense?” She framed it as a question, but it was more of a plea for understanding. And he did understand. Listening to her describe the events of that day, he felt like he could have been there, too.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “It makes perfect sense.”

They stood there looking at the photograph for another minute or so, when Draco made a suggestion. “Why don’t you bring it with you?”

Hermione looked at him, slightly surprised. “You know, I think I will.” She took the frame from the wall, shrunk it down to the size of a playing card, and tucked it into her pocket. Looking up at him, she gave him a small smile, saying, “thanks, Malfoy.” He shrugged and they both turned back towards the floo. As they walked past the kitchen, suddenly Draco stopped.

“Wait!” he cried. Rushing around the wooden table he reached out for something on the counter. Hermione stifled a laugh as she watched him carefully unplug the toaster, wrap the cord gently around it, and carry it reverently over to her.

“You almost forgot this,” he said with complete sincerity.

“Oh, yes,” she cleared her throat, deciding to be nice and not point out that she really wouldn’t have any need for the Muggle appliance at Grimmauld Place. “Very important, that.” To this, Draco nodded briskly and strode into the fireplace, leaving Hermione shaking her head as she took one final glance around her living room before she followed him.

Chapter Text

Once he’d returned to Malfoy Manor, Draco had wandered the halls for a while, deep in thought. The day’s events had left him filled with a wide and confusing array of emotions and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of it. The old him would have squashed most of them down and pretended they weren’t there, or tried to glaze over their true meaning by making them seem insignificant. Then again, the old him would have never sat down at that kitchen table in the first place, or allowed himself to be fascinated by a muggle appliance. However, his consistent attempts to do things as differently as possible from the way he had previously, seemed to have caught hold and overruled his former habits.

He still couldn’t quite get over the fact that Hermione had forgiven him so easily. Well, perhaps not easily. He could see the pain and heartache swirling in her expressive brown eyes when she’d spoken, but he had also seen hope and determination. He was reluctant to admit that he was glad the war hadn’t diminished the fiery spark he knew had always been inside her. For years he dismissed it as stubbornness, or a refusal to ever be wrong, but he realized a while ago that it went far deeper than that. It wasn’t simply her desire to prove her worth to the wizarding world that drove her, although he was sure that had been part of it at some point, but she was someone who didn’t do a job halfway. He had seen it blatantly on display the day she faced his aunt; her refusal to give up. She finished what she started, stood her ground, and stuck by those she was loyal to.

Truth be told, Draco had never been good at those kinds of things. He had always looked out for himself, just like the Sorting Hat had sung all those years ago…

"Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends.”

Hadn’t he done just that? Hadn’t he spent his first five years at Hogwarts doing whatever it took to make himself look better than everyone else? And then, in Sixth Year, when he’d been given the job of killing Dumbledore, didn’t he attempt that without considering who else he was putting in harm’s way? A red, hot poker of shame twisted in his gut. He had taken such pride in being a Slytherin, assuming the other houses were inferior and ridiculous, but he had been wrong. He had seen the devastating proof of that misconception during the Battle.

He, Crabbe and Goyle had stayed back to try to thwart whatever Potter was up to, but they were the only three from their house who had remained. Every other snake had slithered out of the castle as soon as McGonangall had ordered Pansy to lead the way. Sure, they had been instructed by a teacher, but so had all the underage students from the other houses, and Draco knew that some had snuck back in. Like Colin Creevey, who’s lifeless form he had seen on the floor of the Great Hall hours later. There were countless other Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs who were of age that had stayed to fight, knowing and not caring that they might not live to see how it ended.

Bravery. Loyalty.

There it was again.

Draco hadn’t given much credence to those qualities in the past, but he had learned some hard lessons recently. As he had sat at the table in Hermione’s kitchen, for the first time since he had met her almost eight years ago, he actually listened to what she had to say. Her honesty made him uncomfortable, but he felt himself being drawn further in, instead of pushing away. If it had been anyone else offering forgiveness, he would have been skeptical; would have doubted their sincerity. But not her. He knew she meant every word. And then, after she’d said all she felt was necessary, she turned around and started treating him like it was completely normal for him to be in her house. Like he was a neighbor who would regularly pop by, or even maybe, a friend.

That thought drew him up short.

Friends. With Granger.

He gave a low chuckle as he continued meandering down the hall towards the back garden, where he knew he would find his mother. What would she think about that? He knew she had latched on to Harry, but he’d come to her aid when no one else could (or would, more likely). Draco could understand her gratitude towards Harry, and even her desire to form a good, positive relationship with him. Hadn’t Draco been doing the same thing since Harry started visiting him in Azkaban? Granted, he’d been starved for company when the Golden Boy had first entered his cell, but he quickly realized that Potter wasn’t half bad as a human being. He didn’t lord his lofty position over anyone, didn’t swagger around like the world owed him everything, never did or said things at the expense of others. In short, he was everything Draco was not, and Draco was determined to change that. While he couldn’t bring himself to actually formulate the words admitting that he wanted to be more like Harry Potter, he knew the thought was there and it gave him a goal to work towards.

As he had expected, he found his mother pruning one of her gorgeously blooming rose bushes just outside the doors of the sun room. She glanced up at him as he approached, a smile on her face.

“Hello, dear. Did you have a nice day?”

“Hello, mother. Yes, it was fine.”

She cocked her head in question, encouraging him to share more.

“Potter and I went to help Granger move some of her things to Grimmauld Place.”

His mother resumed pruning, but was clearly listening. “How did that go? You hadn’t seen her since your trial, had you?”

“No, I hadn’t. It was a little awkward at first, but after a bit it was fine.” He paused here, not quite sure how to explain their conversation.

“I was very sorry to hear about her parents,” his mother commented. “I had no idea.”

“Me either, until the trial.” He paused again and just decided to jump right in. “She forgave me.”

Narcissa stilled her movements and turned to face him fully, her eyes wide. “She….forgave you? Just like that?”

Draco nodded, feeling humbled and ashamed all over again.

“Oh my,” Narcissa breathed. “That’s a lot… she’s very… Draco you were horrible to her. We were horrible to her. She almost died...” His mother’s eyes filled with tears as she continued to gaze at him.

Draco nodded again, gave a slight shrug and looked at the ground. What else was there to say? His mother was right.

“Did she say anything else?”

“She told me she wanted to start this year on a positive note,” he began, clearing his throat. “Since we’ll both be at Hogwarts for the Eighth Year, she wanted the air cleared. And then she taught me how to make toast.” He allowed himself a small grin at the memory of the pile of bread on the table.

“How to make toast?” Narcissa’s forehead creased in confusion.

Draco chuckled and sat on the bench closest to where his mother was working. He launched into the story of his time in the Muggle house, even telling her about the picture of Hermione’s parents. As he spoke, he was so lost in thought he didn’t see the way Narcissa was watching him, nor did he notice the twinkle in her eyes. When he was finished, he looked up to see her focused on another rose bush further down the path.

“I’m glad you two had that conversation,” she began thoughtfully. “I agree with Miss Granger’s sentiments; there has been far too much loss, and not another minute should be wasted.” She turned to face her son. “I think it’s rather a good thing that you are returning to school. It will be a chance to start over, and to make amends with the other students who will be in your new house.” She smiled as she walked back towards him. “And I think it will be wonderful to have a friend like Miss Granger in your corner.”

Draco was surprised by his mother’s words, but he was already thankful that Hermione was going to be there. He knew there were a total of ten returning Eighth Years, and with their first interaction positively ended and behind them, he now only had eight other housemates to approach. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, far from it, but perhaps his mother was right. Perhaps having Hermione as a friend was the best thing to have happened to him in a very long time.

 

ooOoo 

 

Grimmauld Place was basically unchanged, Hermione noticed as she settled into what she had taken to referring to as her “holiday home,” much to Harry’s amusement. The bulk of the décor was still dark and foreboding, but the kitchen was as warm and welcoming as she’d remembered, thanks to Kreacher’s continued ministrations. She had been so pleased to see the wizened old elf that she had almost hugged him. Almost. Although Kreacher was no longer disgusted by her presence, and treated her with the utmost respect, he still wasn’t fond of displays of affection of any sort. He did, however, loudly and vehemently praise his master on each and every occasion he could manage. Both Hermione and Harry almost choked on their roast beef the first night she was there, when Kreacher had approached the table saying he had changed his mind about dessert because his “chocolate gateau was not fit for consumption by the Vanquisher-of-the-Dark-Lord.”

As the two friends finished their second helpings of treacle tart, which had caused Kreacher to beam with pride, Harry beckoned her to follow him to the drawing room on the second floor. The room was still very cold and bleak, except for the glow from the fireplace and sconces that Harry had lit upon entering. He gestured around the space and turned to her.

“I want to do something with this,” he waved at the walls, windows, floors, and furniture in turn. “I don’t like coming in here, but this is the only fireplace connected to the floo, so I’m in here quite a lot. It also would really be nice to have a decent living room, instead of just bringing friends down to the kitchen, yeah?”

Hermione took stock of the dingy wallpaper and threadbare furnishings. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s not very inviting, is it?” She took several steps across the space, taking a closer look at things. “Have you tried repairing anything?” She picked up a couch cushion that had a few tears in it, showing it to him.

“No,” he snorted. “I’m rubbish at that sort of thing. And anyway, I don’t just want it patched, I want it to look nice.”

“Hmmmm,” Hermione looked at him thoughtfully. “Planning on having company you need to impress?” She cocked an eyebrow at him playfully. His face went red and she knew she was onto something. “When’s the last time Ginny was over?”

Harry ran his hand through his already-messy hair and sighed. “Not for a couple of weeks. I usually go to the Burrow, or we meet up in Diagon. I’m not home much, except at night, and Molly didn’t really want her coming over here alone in the evenings.” He rolled his eyes. “You’d think she didn’t trust me!”

Hermione laughed. “You know that’s not true. She’s just trying to keep things, you know, respectable, between you two.” At this, Harry’s face turned an even deeper shade of red and he spluttered nonsense at her. “You know,” she continued, “now that I’m here, Molly won’t put up such a fuss.”

“True,” he said thoughtfully. “But then I really do want make some changes in here. Will you help me?”

The next several hours found the new flatmates trying various spells and charms on the décor of the drawing room. The end result had both of them quite pleased with themselves. The dark grey walls were now a light, airy blue-grey, and the heavy brocade curtains were now white linen. The woodwork and trim was all still a deep mahogany, as was the floor, which was now covered with an ornately patterned rug in shades of blue and grey, instead of the moth-eaten black one that had been there before. The end tables and coffee table were still intricately carved, but Hermione had managed to transfigure the horribly uncomfortable couch and wingback chairs into pieces that were overstuffed and squashy. All the fabric was a pewter grey, but the pillows and throws were patterns of light blue and white, which gave all of it a look of cheerful comfort.

Just as they were finishing moving the couch for the last time, as much debate had occurred as to the best way to arrange it all, Hermione bumped into an end table, causing it to wobble, and the heavy potted plant sitting on it to fall over and crash to the floor. This, of course, sent the portrait of Mrs. Black into screams of rage in the landing around the corner.

“Filthy, disgusting, imbeciles, daring to touch my family’s heirlooms!”

“Oh, Harry, I’m so sorry!” Hermione cried.

“Ugh,” groaned Harry. “Hang on.” He hurried from the room as the ranting continued.

“Vile, unclean, unworthy…”

“Shut up!” bellowed Harry, and with a bang, she was silenced again.

Hermione was cleaning up the mess when he came back in. “I’m so sorry!”

Harry chuckled. “No problem. She hasn’t had a chance to throw a tantrum in awhile. It’s usually just me around here, so I steer clear and keep quiet.” He glanced around the room again. “This looks amazing, Hermione.”

She had to agree. It looked leaps and bounds better than it had before. They stood there for a moment, admiring their handiwork. Soon after, since Harry had to be up for Auror training early the next morning, they said good night and headed to their rooms. Harry was still using Sirius’ old room, which Hermione promised to help him transfigure tomorrow evening. She had decided to take Regulus’ room across the hall. She knew Ron still claimed the guest room he and Harry had shared throughout Fifth Year as his own, and she didn’t feel like being alone on another floor.

As she got ready for bed, she started thinking about what she would do to make this room more livable as well. It both energized and relaxed her to do the sort of spellwork she and Harry had used in the drawing room. She enjoyed repairing things, changing them into something better, breathing new life into things that seemed too far gone. All the room had needed was someone to see the potential and help it along in a new direction.

Seemingly of their own accord, Hermione’s thoughts drifted to a tall, pale, blonde and she pulled herself up short.

Where had that come from?

She considered Malfoy as she readied for bed. The hours they’d spent together at her house had started out stilted and awkward, but by the time they were finished moving her things, she was as comfortable with him as she was with most of her other classmates. It was amazing what the lack of taunting and animosity had done to the air between them. She knew he was still on his best behavior, being very careful not to let any of his old tendencies surface. She greatly appreciated the effort he was making and sincerely meant what she had said to him; that she believed he would make good on his promise to Kingsley to do something beneficial with his second chance.

She had also seen, despite his efforts to hide it, how deeply her forgiveness had affected him. He hadn’t been expecting it, and quite honestly, she hadn’t exactly planned to offer it so freely. The words had spilled forth almost of their own volition, but she didn’t regret it. She had felt tremendously lightened after the conversation, and had a very strong feeling that Draco had, too. It was time to move forward.

She climbed into the large, ornate bed that seemed both strange and yet familiar, with her own comforter, sheets and pillows. She snuggled down under the covers, starting to create a list of all the things she wanted to do in her holiday home during the next few weeks before school, and drifted off with a smile on her face.

 

ooOoo 

 

Draco had been doing a lot of thinking lately. An idea had started churning in his brain the day he had gone to the joke shop with Harry, and after his conversation with Hermione in her living room, he couldn’t seem to let go of it. He had woken up this morning with the same thought at the forefront of his mind, and decided to seek out his mother, to see what she might think of it all.

“Good morning, mother,” he said as he strode out to the back garden, where Narcissa was taking her morning tea and reading that morning’s edition of the Daily Prophet.

“Well, good morning to you, too,” she said with a smile. “You’re up earlier than usual.”

It was true. Since being released, Draco had been sleeping rather late. He assumed his body was trying to catch up from the lack of rest it had endured, not just from his time in Azkaban where his cot was barely better than the stone floor, but from the previous two years altogether. Looking back, he was pretty sure the last solid night’s sleep he’d had was probably his last night at Hogwarts at the end of his Fifth Year. Before he’d been given the task of assassinating Dumbledore, before the Dark Lord had taken over the Manor, before the war consumed his every thought, waking or sleeping.

He shrugged lightly as he sat down at the small patio table, and immediate found a house elf at his elbow with a steaming cup of tea and a plate of freshly baked scones and rolls.

“Thank you, Merry,” he said to the beaming elf, who curtsied and disappeared with a small ‘pop.’ After taking a few bites, he decided he should get right to the point.

“Mother, I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

“Of course, dear,” Narcissa folded her paper in her lap, and turned her full attention to her son. “What do you need?”

“You know I went to the Weasley’s joke shop with Potter, right?” Narcissa nodded, encouraging him to continue. “Well, I started thinking about my community service, and our family’s reparations, and how I could potentially tie that all together and do something meaningful.” Again, Narcissa nodded, a small smile forming on her lips. “I think,” Draco paused, trying to figure out how to put his idea into words. “I think I want to paint a portrait.”

Narcissa stared at him, her eyes going wide. “You want to paint?” She was mildly confused, as her son had never expressed any interest in any of the arts, and she didn’t think he was even capable of drawing more than stick figures, truth be told.

“No, no,” Draco rushed on. “I don’t want to do the painting. I want to commission someone to paint a portrait for me.”

Still bemused, Narcissa tilted her head and asked. “Why would a portrait of you help with your community service expectations? I mean, you’re very handsome Draco, but I’m not sure presenting a likeness of yourself to someone…” But he cut her off quickly.

“No, you misunderstand,” he said, chuckling. Although a few years ago he might have thought a portrait of himself would be a fantastic joke as a gift to someone, that wasn't at all where he was going with this. “I would like to have someone paint a portrait of Fred Weasley.”

His mother’s face paled and a pained expression crossed it. She swallowed and nodded. “I see.”

“I want to have it hung in the joke shop. There’s a big space behind the counter and Weasley, Ron, I mean, said it was supposed to be for some new artwork that Fred was creating, but since he….since the war, George has refused to do anything with it.” Draco rushed on, trying to make his mother understand. “He just seems so lost. Like part of him is gone, and I was thinking maybe having a portrait of his twin that he could talk to would help. Would make the shop seem less empty to him…”

He trailed off, looking down at the patio, feeling oddly emotional. Draco wasn’t sure when he’d started to become so aware of his feelings. He was never prone to what he considered softness, mainly only expressing himself through sarcastic comments or angry taunts. The fear that had consumed him over the past two years had dulled everything else, but now that it was gone, it seemed his other emotions had decided to push themselves to the forefront. It was startling and uncomfortable, and made him feel like he had lost a bit of control over himself. He didn’t like it.

It seemed, however, that his mother understood exactly how he was feeling. She reached across the table and placed her hand on top of his, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, son. I think it would mean a great deal to George, as well as to the rest of the family.” She studied her son for a moment, recognizing the struggle to hide his emotions that was taking place. “Draco,” she said firmly, and he looked reluctantly at her. “There is no weakness in caring for people.” His eyes slightly narrowed and his jaw clenched. “Your father is a very proud, very reserved man. I know he instilled his ideas and ways in you from the beginning, but where did it get him? Where did his cold demeanor, his refusal to ask for help, his arrogance, or his stubborn denial at any error on his part get him in the end?” Narcissa’s voice had risen slightly, and her cheeks were flushed as Draco stared at her, never having heard her speak about his father in such a way.

She took a steadying breath, squeezed Draco’s hand and said in a slightly calmer tone, “I love your father with my whole heart, but that doesn’t mean I understand or agree with everything he has done. I regret so many things, dearest. The world may never look favorably on me after all that’s happened, and I can accept that, but you are young and you have been given a second chance to prove that what they have known of us in the past is not what will become of the Malfoy name in the future. Take this chance. Grab it with both hands and hold onto it tightly. Let yourself become who you wish to become, not who you think the world, or your father, expects you to become. Allow yourself to care about people, to love them.” Her eyes were wet again, and there was a fierce determination on her face, as if she was trying to imprint her words on her son’s very soul.

Draco gripped her hand more tightly and nodded, finding his throat slightly constricted. Clearing it, he asked, “Will you help me?” To which Narcissa responded with a glowing smile.

Chapter Text

The last few weeks of August found both Harry and Hermione rather busy. Harry, with continued Auror training, along with whatever tasks Kingsley set him, and Hermione with further upgrades to Grimmauld Place, and preparations for her return to Hogwarts.

She had decided to start with the rooms that were used the most. With the drawing room and kitchen fully functional, she moved on to the rooms on the third floor. It took her a full week to clean and transfigure the three bedrooms, full bath, and the large closet at the end of the hall. The walk-in linen cupboard had clearly been left to rot since before Sirius had moved out and she had uncovered two doxie nests, multiple skeletons from small rodents, and what appeared to be the rest of the house elf heads that hadn’t made it to the wall along the stairs. That discovery had sent her shrieking down to the kitchen where Kreacher had to fetch her a very strong cup of tea, and had even managed to pat her awkwardly on the knee as she sat there shaking.

He offered to help her with whatever she was doing, but she didn’t feel right letting him see the remains of what could possibly be members of his family. After gulping her tea, she had sucked in a fortifying breath and staunchly marched back up the stairs, flung open the closet door and vanished everything in front of her without even looking at it. There was a distinct possibility that spell had also removed a very old tapestry with the Black family crest on it, but she didn’t think Harry would care, and she decided she would just never mention it to Kreacher.

Harry was gone most days, usually coming home shortly before dinner. On several occasions they were joined by Ron and Ginny, filling the house with boisterous laughter and friendly banter. One night, as the four of them were gathered in the newly-redecorated drawing room, Harry mentioned a recent trip to Malfoy Manor.

“You still have to go every week?” Ron asked, looking rather put off by the idea.

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, I think I’ll be checking in with both of them until their probation is up, unless they put someone else on it.”

“But that’s years, Harry!” protested Ron. Harry chuckled at the look of genuine horror on his best friend’s face, and Ginny leaned over and smacked her brother on the arm.

“Be nice, Ronald!”

“But seriously,” Ron looked wide-eyed between the couple, and then at Hermione in the hopes that she’d support him. “How can you stand going there? After everything that happened?” He finished in disbelief, as if there was nothing more that needed to be said for the others to understand what he meant.

Harry shot a glance in Hermione’s direction, but she was studiously tracing the embroidered pattern on the throw pillow in her lap. “It’s really fine, Ron,” he began and held up his hand to stall his friend before Ron could start ranting again. “Narcissa has been nothing but nice to me, and Malfoy isn’t nearly as much of a prat as he used to be. You saw him that day at the shop. You can’t say he wasn’t decent to you, he even thanked you. It’s not like we hang out in the room where it all went down. He’s alright…” Harry trailed off, seeing the glazed-over look on Ron’s face and realizing he wasn’t going to get much further convincing him tonight.

Ron shook his head, again looking to Hermione for allegiance, but she was now looking at Harry with a thoughtful expression.

“I know, I know,” Ron said, still looking dumbfounded. “But just…..just be careful. Malfoy might not be hexing you in the hallway, and I accepted his thanks, but I wouldn’t trust him with my garden gnomes, much less anything else. He’s just on good behavior right now because they released him. What’s that Muggle saying, Hermione?” She looked at him now, cocking her head in question. “You know,” he continued, flapping his hand at her. “Cheetahs having spots or something.”

Hermione laughed, as did Harry a second later when he caught on to what Ron was trying to say.

“You mean a leopard can’t change his spots?” She provided.

“Yeah,” Ron snapped his fingers. “That’s the one. Although in this case, I’d say the snake can’t change his scales.” His eyes narrowed. “I mean it Harry, be careful.”

Ginny sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, Ronald. Thank you for your concern. I’m pretty sure Harry can handle himself around big, bad, scaly Malfoy.” She stretched and stood up, signaling an end to the evening.

Ron threw his hands up in surrender. “Fine, fine, I’ll quit. It’s just, you know, habit.” He grimaced sheepishly and hoisted himself off the couch.

Harry snorted and stood up next to Ginny, taking her hand and leading her to the fireplace. Ron and Hermione faced each other, both feeling slightly awkward as the young couple spoke in low tones in front of the flames. Ron stuffed his hands in his pockets, and Hermione wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at her feet.

“So, I’ll see you around then, yeah?” Ron asked her.

“Of course,” she smiled up at him.

“You need to come back over to the shop and see all the new displays. It’s still slow-going, but George is doing a bit better.”

“I’d like that,” she nodded. “I’ll try to pop over before I head back to school.”

Ron grinned and bumped his shoulder into hers in a friendly gesture. “G’night then.” And he followed his sister through the bright green flames.

 

ooOoo 

 

Shortly after Draco’s conversation with her, Narcissa had contacted the artist responsible for most of the portraits hanging in the halls of Malfoy Manor. The spindly, yet very expressive man had assured her he could have the commissioned work completed in just about a week if she would please give him a picture or likeness of the subject. At this, Narcissa had blanched. Of course, she had no pictures of Fred Weasley and wasn’t sure where to go about getting one without word getting out of what Draco was doing.

Thankfully, Harry was due for tea that afternoon, and over the course of scones and biscuits, Draco and his mother explained to their Ministry-official-friend exactly what they had planned and asked him for help. Harry digested the news with obvious emotion, and had to restart his response several times before he could get the words out without tearing up.

“Malfoy, this is incredible.” Green eyes pierced grey ones in sincerity. “You have no idea… Yes, I can definitely help you. Give me just a moment.” He had immediately rushed out of the room, leaving mother and son to stare bemusedly at each other.

After sitting in thoughtful silence for several minutes, the elegant witch spoke. “I’m glad he thinks it will go well,” started Narcissa, but she was cut short as Harry came bustling back towards them, several items in his hands. He moved his teacup and plate of half-finished biscuits to the side and spread the articles he had brought out for them to see.

There were several photographs of Harry with various members of the Weasley family; in the stands at the Quidditch World Cup, in front of a brightly-lit Christmas tree, hanging around the front garden of the Burrow. There was a picture of the whole family at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, and another one of just Fred and George the night of the Yule Ball. Lastly, there was the picture of Fred the Daily Prophet had used when the names of those who had died in the Battle had been released.

“Will these work?” Harry asked.

“I’m sure they will,” replied Narcissa, wiping her eyes with her napkin as she took in the vivacious red-head whose life had been snuffed out far too soon. She might not have ever been on friendly terms with any of the Weasleys, but as a mother she could not imagine losing her son. It was the main reason she was so supportive of this idea of Draco’s; to try to give that family back at least a small piece of their young man.

“Right, then,” Harry smiled. “You can give these to the artist for as long as he needs, but then I’d like them back.”

“Of course,” Narcissa agreed, and Draco nodded. He, too, had been struck once again by the finality of death and the tremendous loss the past year had burdened them all with. Seeing Fred’s face in front of him like this had reinforced his idea and had given him a sense of purpose.

 

ooOoo

 

The following week, Draco asked Harry to arrange for the Weasley family to gather at the joke shop. Harry had told him that Ron and George were almost ready to reopen, and he wanted the portrait to be delivered before then.

Now that the day was upon him, he was unaccountably nervous. He wasn’t exactly sure why. It wasn’t like he had done the painting himself, but he supposed he just really wanted the gesture to convey a lot of things he couldn’t put into words. The artist had hung the portrait on the empty space on the wall of the shop, but had left it covered with a dark purple cloth, which matched rather well with the store’s interior. Harry had been tasked with getting the Weasleys to agree to meet him there, which everyone except Bill and Charlie were able to manage. Draco and his mother were waiting in the stockroom, listening to the family as they gathered in the front of the store.

“Harry, what’s this about?” asked Arthur.

“Yes, dear, is anything the matter?” Molly looked worried.

“No, no,” Harry assured her. “Everything is fine. There’s just something I’d like to show all of you.”

“I’m here,” announced Percy as he entered the shop, glancing around to see who else had arrived.

“We’re still waiting on George and Ron,” said Ginny.

The front door opened again a second later and Ron greeted the others. “So, what’s up? I’m supposed to meet Katie when she gets off in a bit.”

“Don’t worry, this won’t take long.” As Harry spoke, George exited the office, wiping ash from his trousers and approaching his family with a wary look on his face.

Not wanting to delay any further, Harry called for their attention. “Right, thank you all for meeting me here. I know it was an odd request.” He grinned as they all nodded or chuckled in agreement. His voice lowered slightly as he continued, and though his smile faded, the love he held for every person standing around him was clearly evident.

“I know that these last three months have been extremely hard on all of you,” he began. Immediately, Draco could see understanding dawning on each face. Molly dug a handkerchief out of her pocket, and Arthur wrapped his arm around her. Harry cleared his throat and continued. “While I know that nothing will ever replace Fred, some of us were hoping that maybe a bit of him could be returned to you, in some small way.”

At this, he gestured to the object on the wall. He walked over and gently tugged the corner of the fabric, causing it to slide off and reveal a life-size image of Fred Weasley sitting in an overstuffed chair, wearing one of his mother’s hand-knitted jumpers with a giant “F” on it. At first, he had been resting his head on his hand, which was propped up by the elbow on the armrest, but as the drape had been removed, he had slowly woken up and began to take in the sight of his family before him.

Molly immediately burst into sobs, clinging to Arthur as if her knees were about to give way. Ginny had silent tears coursing down her cheeks and she leaned into Harry’s side when he came back over to her. Ron and Percy were both staring, open-mouthed, eyes overly bright, but George, after a moment of stunned disbelief, had walked over to stand directly in front of the portrait. Without a word, he reached out his hand, placing his palm flat on top of where Fred had stretched out his own. He stood there, his head bowed and shoulders shaking.

Draco watched the entire scene unfold as his heart constricted and a lump the size of a snitch grew in his throat. His eyes burned and as he agitatedly wiped the back of his hand across them, he heard his mother sniff quietly beside him. He turned to see tears making their way down her face as she, too, observed the family.

“How,” began Arthur in a choked whisper, looking imploringly at Harry, who was almost as emotional as the rest of them.

“It wasn’t me,” said Harry, looking past Arthur, to where he saw Draco and Narcissa in the doorway of the stockroom. He nodded, encouraging them to come forward. They did so, reluctantly, and paused several feet away from the Weasleys.

Ron’s face drained of color as he stared at Draco. He looked back at his best friend, who nodded in unspoken explanation. At that, he crossed the shop in several long strides, stopping just inches away from his long-time enemy. His lips were trembling, tears spilling over his lashes, his hands both clenched in fists. For a split second, Draco wondered if Ron was going to punch him, but instead he was wrapped in a rib-crushing hug. It only lasted about two seconds, but it said all the youngest Weasley son needed it to. When he released Draco, he took a step back, nodded once, and then went to stand next to George, flinging his arm around his brother’s shoulders.

Ginny approached Draco next, her gaze roving across his face as if looking for answers to her unspoken questions. She clasped one of his hands in both of her own, looked deep into his eyes and whispered a shaky “thank you,” before standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. She smiled tremulously at Narcissa and then, she too went to stand with George.

Molly had just broken away from Arthur, and was only now realizing the Malfoys were in the room. Her stunned expression flitted between mother and son, before resting on Narcissa, who was looking both very nervous and very tearful herself. Molly closed the distance between the two women and wrapped her arms around Narcissa in one of her famous, all-encompassing hugs, both of them quietly crying into each other’s shoulders.

Arthur had taken off his glasses to wipe his face, and then turned to Draco. He clapped a hand on the younger man’s back and shook his head.

“I can’t tell you…” he began thickly. “This means so, so very much…” He couldn’t continue, but instead, gave Draco a somewhat awkward, one-armed hug before joining the growing group in front of the portrait.

Percy collected himself, walked briskly over to Draco and offered his hand. “Thank you, Malfoy,” he cleared his throat, his eyes still glassy. “This is quite unexpected and very….well… very kind of you.” He seemed to have difficulty finding the right words, but Draco understood and shook Percy’s hand, simply saying “you’re welcome.”

Molly and Narcissa had broken apart, but were still engaged in quiet conversation. Molly was grasping Narcissa’s hands in her own, clearly adamant about what she was saying to the other witch. Narcissa was looking down at the floor, but as Molly tugged on her hands, she met the red-haired woman’s eyes and gave a small, close-lipped smile. Molly gave her another quick hug, and then turned to Draco. He braced himself for what he knew was coming, and sure enough, he was immediately engulfed in her embrace. He heard her choke back a sob, and when she released him, she cupped the side of his face with her hand and pierced him with a stern, motherly gaze.

“Thank you,” she said in a quavering voice. “You’ve done a wonderful thing here, young man. You’ve given Fred back to us.” She pressed her trembling lips together for a second. “You’re part of our family now, I hope you know that.” Without waiting for a reply, she hugged him again, and then went to join the rest of her loved ones, who were all holding audience with Fred.

Harry then came up to Draco and Narcissa, a smile on his face even though his eyes were red.

“I think that went brilliantly.”

Draco nodded, and Narcissa hummed in response, both of them still feeling rather overwhelmed by the whole event, especially the Weasleys’ reception of them.

“Whenever you’re ready to go, we can floo back to the Manor,” Harry began, but was cut off by the appearance of George at his side.

George looked first at Draco, and then at Narcissa. Wordlessly, he extended a hand to each of them, which they took. He looked at each of them a second time, opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again. He looked down at the floor and shook his head, his grip on each of their hands tightening. Narcissa stepped closer to him and wrapped one arm around his back, letting him rest his forehead on her shoulder. His body wracked with sobs again, and Draco felt the tears he’d been holding back the entire time begin to escape. He clasped George’s hand just as tightly and took a step closer to the grieving twin. George lifted his head from Narcissa’s shoulder and met Draco’s eyes with his own. The pain in them was incredibly deep, yet there was hope flickering there as well. For the third time that day, Draco found himself being fiercely hugged by a Weasley, but this time he felt like he was the one who needed it. Taking deep, shuddering breaths, trying to steady himself, he clung to the back of George’s shirt like a lifeline.

After a few moments, they stepped apart. George extended a hand, and managed a hoarse, “thanks, Malfoy,” which Draco accepted with a nod and a firm handshake. He then offered the same to Narcissa, who also seemed unable to speak at the moment.

As George made his way back to his family, Fred’s portrait called out. “Oi, Malfoy!”

Draco, slightly stunned, took a few steps towards the painting, a questioning look on his face.

“Just wanted to say thanks,” Fred grinned. “Don’t be a stranger, yeah?”

“Yeah,” nodded Draco, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “I’ll be back.”

“Well, good,” continued the cheeky jokester. “Since, you know, I’ll just be hanging around.” This quip was met with good natured groans and mild chuckles, and a more buoyant tone seemed to spread over the group behind the counter.

Draco turned back to Harry, who was still smiling, and his mother, asking if she was ready to go, which she was. The trio quietly headed for the floo in the office, leaving the Weasleys to continue their time together.

 

Chapter Text

The day before she was to return to Hogwarts, Hermione made good on her promise to visit Ron and George at the shop. The last time she had been there, George had spent the entire hour behind his closed office door, and the mood over the whole store had been somber. This time, she was greeted by a cacophony of bangs, whistles, chimes, and voices as she entered. It was so very reminiscent of the first time she had ever been there, back at the start of Sixth Year, that it brought both a smile to her face and tears to her eyes.

As she slowly moved into the abundantly-stocked store, she heard voices over the din and wound her way closer. As she neared the counter, she heard her name being called, not by George, who was standing to her right, but by…

“Fred!” she gasped, the tears that had started to form now completely blurred her vision. Harry had told her about the portrait the day it had been hung, but seeing it in person was almost overwhelming.

“Nice of you to drop by,” the grinning twin winked at her, and then waved his hand gesturing to the store at large. “Think we’re ready to welcome customers again, don’t you?”

She beamed at him, tears streaming down her face, and walked over to George who had been smiling over a clipboard as he tallied up a new stack of fake wand boxes.

“Oh, George, how wonderful,” she choked out. He threw an arm around her shoulder and nodded vigorously, glancing up at his brother.

“Yeah, I was completely shocked. Had no idea Malfoy was planning it, and I can’t…” His voice hitched and he shook his head, still looking at Fred who was smiling benevolently at the two of them.

“Clearly, he missed me,” sniffed Fred, causing both of them to laugh.

“We all did,” Hermione said. “We still do, you know.” She looked at George, “How are you doing? Truly?”

“Better,” he heaved a great sigh. “I know it’s not really him, but it’s a damn site better than not having him at all. I can still bounce ideas off him, and he remembers loads about our lives growing up, and going to Hogwarts, and all the products we’ve created. It’s as close to having him here in the flesh as we can get, and for that, I’m eternally grateful to Malfoy.” His eyes were bright again, but he was smiling and there was a peace about him that had not been there for a very long time.

Hermione was so happy and relieved to see much of the “old George” back, she almost started crying again, but was thankfully deterred from that by the sound of the front door opening. She turned as George called out a welcome to see Ron making his way over with a large box in his arms.

“Hey, Hermione,” he grinned at her and set the box on the counter.

“They were ready then?” asked George.

“No,” smirked Ron. “I just felt like carrying someone else’s stuff down the street.” He rolled his eyes and George smacked him lightly on the head with his clipboard.

“What’s in the box?” asked Hermione.

“Our latest prototype,” said George mysteriously. He opened the flaps of the box, but didn’t fold them down, so no one else could see. At that moment, however, a series of small humming sounds reached her ears and she stood on tiptoe to peer inside.

It looked like the box was filled with roughly a dozen, egg-sized balls of fur. They ranged in color from a very light grey, to a chocolate brown, to a sandy blonde, and even a raven black, with varying shades of each in between. As all three humans stared at them, the little lumps began to move. They were packed in very closely, so closely the bottom of the box was not visible, but all of a sudden, one of the grey ones moved enough so that they could see its face. George scooped it up to get a better look at it.

The tiny creature seemed to be a combination of several different things. Its body was roughly the size and shape of a mouse, although its fur was much thicker and longer. It had rather large back feet, but smaller front ones, similar to a rabbit. Its head was round, with eyes that seemed almost too big for the space, and a squashy little black nose. Its ears were also oversized and round like a panda’s. Its tail was long, but fluffy, and was currently wrapped around itself.

“It’s adorable!” squealed Hermione. “What is it?”

George and Ron both chuckled, and Ron scooped a second creature out of the box, handing it gently to Hermione. She ran her finger over the tiny animal, which let out a recognizable purr.

“It’s a cross between a mouse and a pygmy-puff,” explained George.

“We’re thinking of calling them ‘puff-mice’ or something like that.” Said Ron.

“Puff-mice,” said Hermione thoughtfully, looking at the caramel-colored ball of fur in her palm. “Are you a puff-mouse?” She held her hand up at eye level, gazing at the fluffy little thing as it met her stare. He, or she, stood up on its tiny legs and stretched forward as far as it could, as if trying to reach her. She brought her hand closer to her face, continuing to make eye contact. Without warning, just as her hand was about to bump into her own nose, the minute being sprang forward with surprising agility, scrambled up her face and settled into her curls on the top of her head.

Hermione let out a startled “oh!” as all three redheads in her presence guffawed heartily. She could feel tiny feet pattering around on her skull and wasn’t sure she enjoyed it. Not wanting to scare the thing, or harm it in any way, she stood perfectly still and looked imploringly at her friends.

“A little help here?”

“I don’t know,” mused George, tapping his forefinger on his chin, his eyes narrowed in mock-seriousness. “I think it looks rather happy up there. Be a shame to make it move.”

By now, Hermione could feel that the creature had settled down on the crown of her head, apparently ready to resume its nap. She was starting to panic when two new voices reached her ears.

“Oi, anyone home?” Harry hollered as he emerged from the office in the back, followed by Draco, who was happily taking in the finishing touches made to the shop since he was last there. He turned in her direction and stopped immediately, staring at the tiny, furry hat she seemed to be wearing.

“New accessory, Granger?” He drawled, smirking.

“Mmmm, yes.” She rolled her eyes, still refusing to move her head. “George was just about to remove it for me.” She glared at the shop’s owner as he feigned ignorance to her plight, walking further away from her to show Harry and Draco the box of new arrivals. Inevitably, all four young men were crowded around the box, studying the puff-mice, Harry now holding the grey one that George had originally taken out.

“Hello!” Hermione huffed. “I’d like to move from this spot eventually!”

All four wizards turned to look at her, and as if in unspoken agreement, shrugged at each other and looked back at the box. Even Fred’s portrait was staring pointedly away from her. She could see the grins they were all trying to hide and knew they were just giving her a hard time, but she truly was afraid to move. What if it jumped off her head? Would it survive falling to the floor? Worse yet, what if it left a mess in her hair? She’d never live that down.

Hermione was starting to panic when Draco finally stepped away from the box and approached her. He was biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing, but she could see the mirth swimming in his slate-grey eyes. She pursed her lips and carefully placed her hands on her hips in a gesture of impatience. He stood very close to her, mere inches away, close enough for her to smell whatever woodsy cologne he wore. She had noticed it faintly when he was at her house, but it was stronger today. He smelled fresh, like the outdoors, like fresh-cut grass, even. Her brow furrowed as she recognized other scents mixed in there; ink and new parchment….

Her eyes flew wide and her heart thundered so loudly she was sure Draco could hear it. She looked up to see him carefully reaching his hands up above her head, muttering softly, “c’mere, you,” as he gently scooped the puff-mouse into his palms. He huffed a sigh of relief and she caught a whiff of spearmint toothpaste on his breath. Her heart stopped and she was positive her stomach was now in her trainers.

No. It’s not. It can’t be.

Thankfully, Draco seemed to be oblivious to her internal struggle as he lowered his hands between them. The puff-mouse was fully alert now, sitting up on its hind legs, sniffing the air around it and taking in its new surroundings.

“Have to admit,” he drawled, a small smile tugging up one corner of his mouth, “it’s rather cute.” His eyes flickered up to hers and he was surprised to see Hermione’s were wide with a mix of panic and bewilderment.

“You alright, Granger?”

“Uhhh,” she began, swallowing with difficulty and demanding her heart return to its normal rhythm. She took a step back. “Yeah, thanks, Malfoy.” She rubbed her hands nervously on the sides of her jeans, her eyes darting all around the shop.

“I should get going. Still have lots to do.” And with that, she stepped further away from him, over to the others who were now transferring the rest of the puff-mice from their cardboard box to a large cage containing a carpet of paper shavings, several running wheels, and a maze of clear plastic tunnels. The new occupants were already scurrying and bouncing around their home, humming happily.

“You want to grab lunch?” asked Harry.

“Oh, no, but thanks,” she rushed on, her voice unusually high. “I’ll see you later at Grimmauld.”

“Well, give us a hug,” demanded George. “We won’t see you till Christmas most likely!”

“Oh, yes,” she scooted over and gave George a sincere, although rather quick squeeze, and then did the same to Ron. “See you lot in a few months!”

As she spun away from them, she almost bumped right into Draco, who had taken a few steps closer to the counter on his way to deposit the fuzzy friend he was still carrying. Hermione’s cheeks flamed as she inhaled another lung-full of his impossibly familiar scent. Unable to meet his eyes, she blurted, “see you at school, Malfoy,” and almost ran to the door.

“What’s got her knickers in a twist?” puzzled Ron.

“Who knows?” said George as he turned to ask Fred’s portrait something. Harry shrugged, but glanced out of the corner of his eye at Draco, who was carefully placing the caramel-colored puff-mouse in the cage, and wondered.

 

ooOoo

 

Hermione was greeted warmly by McGonagall as she entered her office on the morning of August 30th. The headmistress had requested that she return earlier than the rest to help her with some start-of-term business.

“It’s good to see you again, Miss Granger,” said McGonagall, gesturing to the chair across from her. “I trust you have been well since we last met?”

“Yes,” replied Hermione. “I’ve been living at Grimmauld with Harry for the past few weeks, and I plan to spend holidays there this year. I still haven’t decided what to do with my parents’ home since returning from Redland, and…” she trailed off, not quite sure how to fill her professor in on all that had happened, but she was relieved of the task.

“Kingsley owled me after he saw you,” McGonagall explained. “I’m so sorry, dear. I know that was not the result you were hoping for.” She studied the young witch’s face with concern. “Are you alright?”

Knowing that her favorite teacher was not one for touchy-feely moments, Hermione greatly appreciated the caring being expressed. “Yes,” she assured her quickly. “It was very difficult at first, but I’ve contacted multiple experts and have heard back from less than half of them so far, so I’m not giving up hope quite yet.” She found herself repeating that very phrase quite often in her own head, every time another letter arrived with equally disappointing news.

Just two days ago, she had received the most recent one from a very clinical and severe-sounding witch from Russia. In the brief paragraph, the healer stopped barely short of asking Hermione how she could have been foolish enough to cast the spell herself, being the under-age, unqualified witch she surely was. It took much self-restraint not to tear the parchment to shreds or set it on fire, but instead, she added it to the file folder of responses she had received so far. When, not if, the healer with the solution finally contacted her, she planned to send a letter to every one of those so-called experts who had told her there was nothing to be done.

Bringing herself back to the present, Hermione continued, “You mentioned you wanted my help with something, Professor?”

“Yes, yes,” McGonagall started shuffling through papers on her desk, looking for something. “We are implementing a new program this term. One designed to promote inter-house unity, as well as provide the groundwork for better relations between older and younger students. I believe it is referred to as peer-mentoring in the Muggle world.”

Hermione was rather surprised, but very pleased to hear this. “That sounds wonderful,” she replied excitedly. “How can I help?”

McGonagall smiled at her enthusiasm. “We will need to pair First Years with Eighth Years, and I would like your input as to who you think would partner up best. I realize you don’t know the new students, but you do have a solid history with almost every one of the Eighth Years, which will be most helpful.”

Hermione was intrigued. “Who all is returning for their Eighth Year?” So far, she only knew of herself and Malfoy, and was eager to know who would be joining them.

“There will be a total of ten of you,” the headmistress pulled out a parchment that contained a short list of names and handed it to Hermione:

Hannah Abbott

Anthony Goldstein

Hermione Granger

Daphne Greengrass

Neville Longbottom

Luna Lovegood

Draco Malfoy

Theodore Nott

Padma Patil

Dean Thomas

After looking the list over, Hermione glanced up, "Luna? Isn't she in Seventh Year?"

"Yes," began the headmistress in a gentler tone than she typically employed. "Miss Lovegood came to visit me a few weeks ago and asked if it would be possible for her to reside in the Eighth Year dormitory due to the deep connection she feels to Mr. Thomas, Mr. Longbottom, and yourself. I couldn't bring myself to refuse her, as I'm sure you understand."

Hermione nodded, feeling a surge of fondness for her quirky friend. "I'm very glad she'll be with us." She looked over the list again. “I’m honestly surprised to see two other Slytherins on here. I wonder if Malfoy knows that he’ll have former housemates with him.”

McGonagall studied her shrewdly. “Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Miss Greengrass and Mr. Nott’s letters that they wished to return. Both of them were very good students previously. I trust you will help them settle in and make them feel welcome.” Her gaze, if possible, was even more pointed than usual.

“Of course, Professor,” said Hermione immediately, not wanting her to think she had a problem with the returning Slytherins. “I think this will be a very good year for all of us.” She smiled, but noticed the headmistress still seemed worried. “You know, I’ve actually spent a bit of time with Malfoy recently…” And she proceeded to tell the older witch all about Draco’s letter, his help moving her to Grimmauld, and his new-found infatuation with toast.

 

ooOoo

 

It took several hours to match up incoming First Years with the Eight Years that would be their mentors. The group of new students was smaller than previous years as many parents were, understandably, reluctant to send their eleven-year-olds to live at the site of one of the biggest and most violent battles in wizarding history. Currently, twenty-two First Years were expected to arrive on September 1st, each of them having been given permission by their parents or guardians to participate in the new mentoring program.

The majority of the parents responded to the school notice positively, echoing the sentiments of the faculty that inter-house unity was extremely important as they sought to rebuild their magical community. Only a few parents expressed concern over who their child might be paired with, and one parent stated that in no uncertain terms would her child be subjected to the influence of a former Death Eater. Hermione offered to be that student’s mentor, and McGonagall agreed that she would be the best candidate.

With ten Eighth Years, and a little more than twice that amount of new students, each Eighth Year would have two younger charges. Hermione took three, and suggested that Dean Thomas be given three as well. Being a half-blood, raised by muggles, and having survived living on the run the previous year, gave him first-hand experience with the kind of prejudice they had all fought against and she knew he shared her deep desire to move past it and forge ahead in a more positive, unified direction.

The First Years had filled out a short survey that was used to help place them with their mentor. One of Neville’s students was extremely interested in herbology, and one of Luna’s loved to draw magical creatures. Each of them had something in common with their mentor, which Hermione felt would be a good starting point for forming the relationships she hoped would last throughout the year, and beyond.

The two children assigned to Draco were both avid quidditch fans, and one of them was fascinated with potions. She fervently hoped that they would be a good match. For some reason she was more nervous about their introductions than her own. He definitely seemed to have made some changes over the past several months, and she wanted his First Years to give him the benefit of the doubt so they could see who he was becoming, not base their impressions on what they might have heard about who he had been before.

She tried to chalk this concern for him up to simply wanting the year to get off to a smooth start, and not, she repeatedly told herself, because she was feeling more drawn to the tall blonde every time she was around him. She had argued with herself the rest of the day after leaving the joke shop. Her reaction to the way Malfoy smelled had been ridiculous. It was a coincidence that he vaguely matched what she had identified in the Amortentia potion during Sixth Year, nothing more.

After all, she’d admonished herself, everyone has access to grass and parchment and minty toothpaste.

Forcing her attention back to the task at hand, she read over the list one final time and agreed with the headmistress that it looked to be a good fit for everyone.

Once the matches were complete, McGonagall offered to walk Hermione to her dorm. As they strolled through the familiar corridors, Hermione started to notice the direction they were heading.

“Professor,” she began, “Why are we heading to the seventh floor?”

“Your new dormitories are in the Room of Requirement,” McGonagall replied. Seeing the look of shock on the younger witch’s face, she continued, “The Room of Hidden Things was destroyed by the fiendfyre, but the magic of the Room as a whole remained intact. It took a few days for it to begin to fully function again, but I think you will be quite pleased with what it has come up with for all of you.” She smiled secretively, and stopped in front of a set of tall, ornately carved wooden doors. “We have requested that the Room always leave the doors visible and unlocked this year, however only Eighth Years and faculty will be able to open them, or invite others through them.” With that, she opened the doors and swept into the Room, Hermione following close behind.

 

Chapter Text

The ceiling was high and arched, and the wall at the far end of the room had two gigantic windows that reached almost all the way up. In between the two windows was a large, stone fireplace, above which hung the Hogwarts’ crest, and in front of which were several squashy-looking couches and overstuffed chairs. Plush, deep-colored carpet covered the stone floor, and a waist-high bookshelf created a partial barrier between that side of the room and the rest. Closer to the doors was a long, wooden table, with ten chairs, and scattered around the room were several smaller, round tables, with two or three chairs at each. On the left side of the room there were five wooden doors lining the wall, and at the end closest to the window, one archway cut out with a curtain draped to one side. The right side of the room was similar, with five wooden doors, but the archway was closest to the top of the room, where Hermione was standing. It was a huge room, but still very welcoming and cozy, with the fire already roaring and sconces lit all around the walls.

“The girls’ dormitories are on the left,” McGonagall began, gesturing toward the left. “And the lavatory is through the archway down at the end. The boys’ dormitories are on the right, with their lavatory here,” she pointed to the archway closest to them. “You will take your meals here,” she pointed to the large wooden table directly in front of them.

“Are the rooms assigned?” Hermione asked.

“No,” the headmistress began with a rare sparkle in her eye. “And if you don’t mind, Miss Granger, I would like to see you choose yours.”

Hermione thought this an odd request. “What do you mean?”

“Part of the magic of the Room is that it meets the specific needs of the inhabitants. When it comes to your individual dormitories, it will fashion the room to your tastes, or at least what the Room perceives them to be.”

That sounded fascinating to Hermione, who glanced towards the doors on the left, and back at her professor with a questioning smile on her face.

“Yes, yes,” McGonagall shooed her away with her hands. “Pick one!”

Hermione walked towards the doors and decided, for no other reason than the fact that she liked things to be symmetrical, to take the third room, right in the middle. As she approached the door, she saw that it was not completely closed. She pushed it gently with one hand, letting it swing open more fully, but did not step into the room just yet. She saw that it was a decent size, with the traditional, dark wood, four-poster bed that she’d had in Gryffindor Tower, a nightstand on either side, a large dresser with a mirror above it, a bookshelf on the same wall as the door, and a window on the opposite wall with a tufted chair and footstool in front of it. The one strange thing she noticed, was that all the textiles in the room, the bed hangings, blankets, pillows, rug, curtains, and even the chair, were grey. It was very monochromatic and not nearly as welcoming as the common area.

“You have to step inside,” encouraged McGonagall, smiling.

The second Hermione’s foot crossed the threshold, color invaded the space. The duvet and pillows were at once covered with delicate flowers of red, yellow, and blue, with green vines and leaves swirling throughout a background of creamy off-white. The carpet took on an ornate design in the same, jeweled tones, as did the curtains. The bed hangings were off-white, and the chair was a deep, crimson velvet. In the center of the bed, a small pillow appeared in the same shade of red, with a gold lion embroidered on it.

“Lovely,” remarked McGonagall, looking pleased. “As you can see, all four house colors are represented here, with a slight nod to your Gryffindor affiliation.”

Hermione thought it was perfect. She could not have imagined a room more beautiful, or more to her liking, and immediately felt at home. She noticed her trunk, cloak and handbag were in the corner, and couldn’t wait to unpack and add her personal touches to the space.

“I love it,” she turned to her headmistress beaming. “It’s absolutely perfect, and I can’t wait to see what the Room conjures up for the others!”

“Yes, I might just have to come back through here once everyone is settled to see the finished product,” McGonagall mused. “You can take some time to unpack and get settled in, and then I know Professor Hagrid is anxious to have you join us for dinner. The staff has been meeting in Professor Slughorn’s quarters for meals until school starts and you are welcome to join us.”

“Oh, thank you,” Hermione accepted happily. “I’d like that.”

The headmistress said she would see her later and left the dormitory, leaving Hermione to breathe the first deep sigh of contentment she had allowed herself in a very long time, feeling like she was back home at last.

 

ooOoo 

 

The next day, the other Eighth Years arrived and the Room was suddenly filled with the excited chatter of re-acquaintance and the banging and shuffling of unpacking. By lunchtime, Hermione was seated with roughly half of her new housemates at the long, wooden table. Neville had been the first to move in that morning, shortly followed by Luna and Dean. Hermione felt that their eagerness to be there had a lot to do with the traumatic experiences they’d all had the year before. Hannah had also arrived by late morning, and the last one to appear before lunch was Anthony. As they all tucked into their chicken and ham sandwiches, conversation turned to the remaining members of their new house.

“So,” began Anthony. “Malfoy, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Dean. “It’ll be interesting to see how that goes…” he trailed off.

“I think he’ll surprise you,” Luna’s airy voice trilled and everyone looked at her, surprised by this revelation.

“Why would you say that, Luna?” asked Hannah.

“Oh, I think he’s just as ready for a new start as all of us are,” she replied thoughtfully. “Hermione agrees with me, don’t you?” She turned her wide, soul-piercing eyes on the curly-haired witch. While it was true that Hermione did believe this about Draco, she had no idea how Luna knew.

“Y-yes,” she began falteringly as she focused on the plate in front of her, feeling the eyes of everyone around the table on her. “I think he’s definitely trying to change.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” scoffed Anthony.

“Did you hear what he did for the Weasleys?” Neville piped up. Hermione knew he was referring to the portrait of Fred, but was surprised to find that Neville was aware of it, since Harry had made absolutely certain there was nothing made public about it at all. Narcissa had decided, and Harry had agreed, that it was probably too soon for the Wizarding World at large to start hearing about any generous, kind-hearted deeds the Malfoys were endeavoring to carry out. Neither of them wanted the Weasley family to be bombarded by reporters or nosey neighbors, either.

“How did you,” she began, but Neville smiled sheepishly and explained. “My gran. She ran into Arthur Weasley about two days after Malfoy brought it to the shop.”

Hermione nodded in understanding, but the rest of the table was still in the dark, so Neville went on to explain about Fred’s portrait. When he was finished, Hannah was wiping her eyes with her napkin while both Dean and Anthony looked equal parts impressed and chagrined for their previous opinions on the former Slytherin. Luna, however, was beaming.

“Exactly,” she proclaimed, and no one seemed to need to ask what she meant.

Dean cleared his throat. “I don’t know Theo Nott or Daphne Greengrass at all,” he glanced around the table. “Do any of you?”

Most shook their heads, but Hannah replied. “I was partnered with Daphne for Charms a few times and she was always nice to me. She never made fun of the Hufflepuffs the way most of the other Slytherins did.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m actually looking forward to getting to know her this year.”

Hermione smiled at Hannah appreciatively while Anthony grudgingly admitted something. “Nott and I were partnered in Ancient Runes for a project and he was ok. He’s quite brilliant, actually.” Then he perked up, remembering something. “He would take the mickey out of everyone under his breath. Half the time I couldn’t really hear him, but when I could, it was vicious.” Anthony’s eyes were sparkling with laughter now. “He muttered something about Marietta Edgecomb not having the brains of a troll if she couldn’t correctly translate a two-rune message once.”

Everyone around the table chuckled, especially since Marietta hadn’t earned any admirers when she’d ratted out the DA to Umbridge, which everyone present had been members of.

“I think,” Hermione began slowly, carefully choosing her words in light of the slightly more positive direction the conversation had been taking. “That we should all approach this year as if it’s a brand new beginning for each of us.” She looked around the table at each of her housemates. “I’m sure that every one of us has things we’d like to forget; things we’d like to put behind us. There’s a reason the ten of us are back this year. Professor McGonagall is counting on us to set the tone for the younger students, but it has to start here, in our house.”

She paused as everyone allowed this to sink in, and was relieved to see them all nodding in agreement. She forged ahead. “I’m not naïve enough to think we’ll all wake up best friends tomorrow, but I am hoping that second chances will be offered to anyone who’s seeking to make changes.” Again, her peers nodded, looking thoughtful and contemplative.

At that moment, the doors opened and both Padma and Daphne entered together, chatting amicably. They stopped abruptly when they saw six pairs of eyes trained on them.

“Hello, you lot!” exclaimed Padma cheerfully, while Daphne gave a small smile, looking slightly nervous.

“We just started lunch,” Dean gestured to two empty chairs across from him. “Join us!”

Both girls immediately did as he bid, and were instantly included in the conversation at that end of the table. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief that at least the addition of one former Slytherin had gone smoothly.

One down, two to go, she thought.

 

ooOoo

 

The last two Eighth Years arrived just before dinner, in quick succession. Draco had slipped into the Room as quietly as possible, so as not to draw attention to himself before he could take stock of his surroundings, but to no avail. As soon as the door shut behind him, Dean spotted him from across the space and started making his way towards him. Draco’s heart sped up, unsure what to expect from the former Gryffindor.

“Malfoy.” Dean greeted him in a reserved but not unfriendly way, extending his hand in welcome while his eyes searched Draco’s face.

“Thomas.” Draco shook the offered hand and gave him a small, close-lipped smile. Whatever Dean had been looking for, he seemed to find it because he nodded and gestured to the Room.

“Welcome to our new house. Almost everyone’s here, except Theo Nott.” However, as he said those words, the door opened again and in came the very person Dean had been speaking of. Not expecting anyone to be standing that close to the entrance, Theo bumped into Draco first, and upon trying to right himself, knocked into Dean as well.

“What’s this? You guarding the door?” He grinned at both of his new housemates, his eyes lingering a little longer on his former fellow snake.

“Yeah,” grinned Dean. “Trying to keep out rabble like you.”

“Too late,” crowed Theo.

Chuckling, Dean resumed his introduction of the room, pointing out the basics of the common area and then offering to show the boys how the bedrooms worked. He stopped at his own, indicating they should take a look around. His duvet was all four house colors in wide rugby-stripes, and his curtains and rug had a pattern of multi-colored snitches outlined and overlapping one another.

“Are all the rooms the same?” Draco asked, unsure if he could handle so much color in one space when he was used to a much more subdued scheme of black and green.

“Yes, and no,” grinned Dean, leading them next door to Neville’s room. Immediately they understood what he meant. While all of the furnishings and the set-up of the room were exactly the same as Dean’s, Neville’s bed was covered with a pattern of red, yellow, and green leaves on a blue background. His rug had vines woven throughout a geometric pattern, and the chair under the window had a pillow on it with an embroidered potted plant in the center.

Neville looked up from the small, cactus-like plant he was tending to on his bedside table when they came in. For a moment, a look of wariness crossed his face as he observed Draco, but he stood up and crossed the room to stand in front of both newcomers.

Directing his attention to Theo first, he stuck out his hand. “I’m Neville Longbottom. I don’t think we’ve ever actually met.”

Theo, looking slightly surprised, shook his hand and replied, “Theo Nott.” Neville nodded once, and then turned to face Draco, his hand still offered in welcome.

“Malfoy.”

“Longbottom,” Draco grasped Neville’s hand firmly and felt a simultaneous swell of gratitude and shame fill him. Aside from Granger, Longbottom had been his primary target over the years, and to find acceptance from him in this one simple gesture was extremely humbling.

“Have you picked your room yet?” Neville asked them both.

“No, but headed that way, I think.” Theo glanced questioningly at Dean.

“Sure, sure, just come see Anthony’s first.” He led them to the door at the far end of the Room, two doors down from Neville.

Anthony was still unpacking his trunk, but greeted all of them with a mild “hey” as they crowded into his doorway. His room’s textiles were mostly a deep, dark blue, but all over his duvet were signs and symbols, much like runes, in the other three house colors. His curtains and rug were a similar pattern in a much larger size, and the overstuffed chair in the corner was a lighter blue with silver trim in a nod to his Ravenclaw history.

Clearly impressed with each of the rooms, both Theo and Draco were anxious to see what their own would look like. Theo opened the door next to Anthony’s and saw the same grey fabric that had greeted everyone else upon arrival. Looking confusedly at Dean, Theo tentatively stepped into the room. Immediately the grey was overtaken; his bedspread was now a plaid of the four house colors on a black background, his curtains the same. His rug and bed hangings were mostly green with flecks of the other colors, like confetti had been sprinkled on them. In the middle of his bed was a green bolster pillow with a small silver snake in the middle.

“Brilliant,” he announced, crossing his arms smugly and grinning at Draco and Dean, who had watched the room’s transformation from the doorway. Dean was smiling widely, having known what to expect, but Draco’s mouth hung open, his eyes popping. After spending seventeen years in the magical world, one would have thought nothing would surprise him like this, but he had to admit it was impressive. Theo was right, it really was brilliant.

Now, he was more than a little nervous to enter his own room, which would be in between Theo and Neville’s. What if the Room recognized him as an enemy; someone who had been there the day the fiendfyre destroyed part of it? What if it just left everything grey? Feeling rather apprehensive, he allowed Theo to push him the few steps down to his own door, opened it and took a deep breath before stepping in.

Just like Theo’s, the chamber instantly began to transform. His bed was covered in a silver silk-like material, and in the center was an elaborate woven design in red, gold, green, and blue. At first, he thought it was the Hogwarts crest, but upon closer inspection, he realized it was a coat-of-arms with a dragon in the middle. His rug and curtains were an intricate pattern of all four house colors, and his bed hangings were solid green, as was his chair. Like Theo, he had a pillow in the center of his bed, although his was a square, and it was black with a green snake.

He huffed a sigh of relief, taking this as a sign that the Room didn’t hold grudges, and felt a stab of humility for the second time that day. He had arrived at the castle expecting to immediately have to prove or defend himself in some way to his new housemates, but so far, all of his male counterparts had treated him as if it was all water under the bridge. He knew better than to think he had a clean slate, but he was starting to realize that the brighter future he’d been fantasizing about could really be a possibility.

“It suits you,” Theo announced decisively, clapping a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “Time to unpack, I think,” and he turned back to his own chamber. Dean, however, was still standing in the doorway, watching Draco with a pensive look on his face.

“You really trying to make amends? Turn over a new leaf and all that?” He asked, no hint of sarcasm or disbelief in his voice, just honest curiosity.

Draco look him square in the eye and replied sincerely. “Yes, if you’ll let me.”

Dean shrugged and nodded. “Sure, mate. We learn from our mistakes, yeah?”

"What happened to you at the Manor, Thomas, I," Draco started to apologize but the other wizard cut him off with a wave of his hand.

"Wasn't you, Malfoy. You didn't capture me or lock me in the dungeon, so I don't hold you at fault." Dean stared him down with a look of finality that brooked no argument.

Draco’s throat was suddenly tight and all he could do was nod in response. Dean seemed to understand this and gave him a light, friendly punch in the shoulder. “You should settle in before dinner. And you should go see the girls’ rooms, too. Totally different from our side, of course.” He chuckled, and headed back out to the common area.

The girls. For a while there, Draco had forgotten there were five other housemates he had yet to see, but his thoughts immediately honed in on Hermione. He hadn’t seen her since the day he removed that little ball of fur off her head in the joke shop, but that hadn’t stopped him from thinking about her more often than he wanted to admit. Her reaction to him that day had been puzzling. She had been comfortable around him in her home, but the way she bolted out of the store had him wondering if she remained wary of him. Her forgiveness was something he was still wrapping his mind around, but apparently that sort of thing ran rampant in all the non-Slytherin houses, if the reception he’d received this afternoon was any indication. Still, he knew his history with her was far deeper and nastier than anyone else here, except perhaps Longbottom, who seemed to be equally willing to start over.

Bloody Gryffindors.

He couldn’t stop the small smirk that pulled on the corners of his mouth. He would never completely abandon his emerald green roots, but perhaps it was time to let a little scarlet, gold, and sapphire into his life as well. Obviously, the Room thought it was a good idea, so who was he to question such ancient magic? He started unpacking his trunk, a lightness in his heart that hadn’t been there in ages, his thoughts still turned towards the ruby red side of things.

Chapter Text

That evening, while all ten of them were gathered around the dinner table, the door to the Room opened to allow the headmistress and a familiar red-head entrance to the dorm.

“Bill!” Hermione exclaimed when she saw him, rising from her chair to greet him with a hug. Dean also came over to grasp the eldest Weasley’s hand, and Luna waved from her spot with a dreamy smile on her face.

Professor McGonagall glanced at all of them, making sure she had everyone’s attention and then began. “I would like to introduce you to your Head of House, and your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for this year.” Cheers and applause rang out around the table, and Bill responded with a wide grin. “I shall let him properly introduce himself and answer any questions you might have for him,” continued McGonagall once they had quieted. “Professor Weasley, please stop by my office once you’re finished here.” Nodding briskly to him, and then the group of students, she swept out.

“Well,” began Bill. “As stated, I’m to be your Head this year, and the Defense teacher. McGonagall approached me about a month ago, asking if I would consider taking the position for one year, and it just seemed like good timing. Having been a curse-breaker for so long, I know quite a bit about the Dark Arts, and I was happy to take it on and stay closer to home, since Gringotts was getting ready to send me back to Egypt.”

“Where’s Fleur?” asked Hermione, settling back into her chair.

“She’ll be here tomorrow. She’s finishing packing some things up, and then we’ll both be here. We’ve got quarters in the castle, and she’s taken a job at a shop in Hogsmeade to keep herself busy,” he explained with a smile.

“Will we be battling boggarts in your class?” Neville asked, slightly nervous.

“Neville,” chuckled Bill. “You fought Death Eaters first-hand. You killed that great, nasty snake. You single-handedly created a hiding place for students right here in this room and led a revolt against the Carrows. I really don’t think you have anything to worry about when it comes to Boggarts!” By this time, everyone was laughing, and even Neville seemed to think he was worrying unnecessarily.

“But to answer your question,” Bill continued, winking. “No, I’m not planning to unleash any Boggarts on you.” Everyone laughed again, and Neville breathed a visible sigh, his cheeks going pink.

“McGonagall also wanted me to let you lot know that since you aren’t under any prefects or Head Boy or Girl, that any issues, questions, concerns, and the like, should just be brought directly to me. I will be checking in on you regularly to make sure everyone is doing alright and that no one is getting up to mischief.” At this, his eyes twinkled. “Well, at least not too much mischief,” he chuckled, as did everyone else. “Anyone have any questions about schedules, or need anything here in your dormitory?”

A few questions were asked, but nothing of any major importance, and Bill reminded them about their upcoming introductions to their First Years the following morning.

“Anything else?” He asked the group at large.

“What did you think of the match between Pride of Portree and the Holyheads last week?” Dean asked. And with that, random conversations started to break out around the table. Bill hung around for a little while longer, making sure to speak to each student for at least a few minutes, approaching Draco last.

“Malfoy,” he began as he walked up to the tall blonde. “I heard what you did for George at the shop. For my whole family, really.”

Draco, who was still uncomfortable with all the new, positive attention he’d been receiving, just shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets.

“It was nothing…” he started to mutter, but Bill cut him off.

“It was most definitely not nothing,” he said firmly. “You have no idea what it means to everyone; what good it’s done for George.” He clapped a hand on Draco’s shoulder and shook his head, his voice thick. “Mum said George has been living in the flat above the shop again. Moved back in the day after the portrait was hung. That’s…that’s huge.” His voice constricted even further. “He would still be locked up in his room at the Burrow if you hadn’t come up with that idea. I will forever be grateful for it. We all will.” He stared into Draco’s eyes, his own filled with unshed tears, and Draco found it difficult to meet his gaze. He nodded and stuck out his hand to Bill.

“I’m glad it’s helped,” he said sincerely.

Bill grasped his hand tightly and shook it, his gaze still locked on Draco’s. “I think this is going to be a really good year, Malfoy.” Silver eyes met pale blue, the former with anxious hopefulness, the latter with genuine encouragement.

“Yeah, I hope so.” Draco said with a small smile.

 

ooOoo

 

Before turning in that night, most of the housemates were waffling between unpacking, checking out the other rooms, and preparing for the next day. Draco let his curiosity lead him across the common area to the girls’ side of the dormitory, wondering what their rooms all looked like. The first room, at the top of the hall, he knew was Hannah’s as he had seen her go in and out several times already. She didn’t appear to be in it when he poked his head in the open door, but her apparent love of polka dots was obvious. Every piece of fabric in the room was covered with circles of all sizes. Her bedspread and hangings were a pale yellow, with red, green, blue, and darker yellow dots in various sizes spread all over. Her curtains were pale green with very tiny dots splashed about in a haphazard way, and her chair was blue with a large circle cushion in Hufflepuff yellow.

Draco moved on to the next room, where he found Hannah sitting on a bed that clearly belonged to Luna. The ethereal blonde was digging through her trunk at the moment, chattering about her dwindling supply of butterbeer corks. She straightened and turned upon hearing him enter, both girls now peering at him with interest.

“Um, hello,” he mumbled.

“Hello, Draco,” sang Luna happily, floating over to him and placing her hand lightly on his arm. “Have you settled in alright?”

“Yes, thanks,” he replied, feeling oddly at ease in her company, seeing as he’d never really spent any time with her before. “You?”

“Oh, yes!” She stated enthusiastically. “The Room really knew what I’d like,” she gestured around her chamber.

Like Anthony’s, much of her room was a shade of blue, but the designs were centered around stars and magical creatures. Her curtains and comforter were cornflower blue with constellations clearly visible in pale shades of green, gold, and red. Her rug and chair were both a pewter grey with the silhouettes of bowtruckles, niffflers, fairies, and phoenixes interwoven throughout. On her bed was a large, white pillow with a bright yellow fwooper in the center. Draco couldn’t help but grin; the Room did seem to know its occupants very well. He turned his attention to Hannah and nodded in her direction.

“Hello, you must be Hannah.”

“Yes,” she offered a warm smile. “We’ve never officially been introduced, but I know you’re Draco.”

He dropped his gaze, feeling slightly embarrassed by the thought of what she probably knew of him over the years.

“Do you like your room?” Hannah asked, and he could tell she was trying to help him move past the awkward introduction.

“I do,” he looked up at her and grinned again. “I don’t know what I was expecting our dormitory to be like, but it’s beyond anything I would have imagined.”

Both girls nodded in agreement, smiling back at him. He bid them goodnight and continued his way down the row of doors. The next door down was shut, and he didn’t wish to bother whoever might be in there, in case she was already asleep. He moved down to the fourth door, hearing two voices talking animatedly.

“Hi, Draco,” greeted Daphne with a friendly smile. She was putting clothes in her dresser drawers while Padma was sprawled on the floor with a magazine. She, too, smiled at him in welcome.

“This your room, then?” He asked his former Slytherin companion.

“Yes!” Daphne’s eyes lit up and she glanced around the room. “I absolutely adore it!”

Her bedspread, like Draco’s, was a silver, silken material. But that was where the similarity ended. While his had a single, large design in the center, hers was covered with thick, glittering strands of ribbon in the four house colors. It made an elegant grid of sorts, and her curtains matched exactly. Her rug was black with a paisley pattern of various shades of the same four colors. Her chair was a deep emerald green, and her bed hangings were an almost sheer red. The bolster pillow on the floor near Padma was pale blue with an intricate circle of the ribbons in the center.

He nodded, knowing that this was definitely Daphne’s style. She had always been the most feminine and fashion-minded of the girls in his year in the Slytherin dorm, and this room was right up her alley.

“You can pop over and see mine, too, if you want,” offered Padma. “It’s the last one, next to the girls’ bath.”

“Thanks,” said Draco, surprised that she would trust him with that, but he took her up on it nonetheless.

Padma’s room was like a burst of color after Daphne’s more polished design. Her bedspread, curtains, and rug all contained mandalas and sunbursts in the house colors on a background of pale green. Her chair was a sunshine yellow, with a large, fuzzy cushion in Ravenclaw blue. Her bed hangings were white with dots of red, gold, green, and blue randomly spaced throughout. Draco thought back to the brightly colored robes the Patil twins had worn to the Yule Ball in Fourth Year, and knew this room suited its new boarder very well.

He peeked back into Daphne’s room, addressing the black-haired girl. “You’re room looks great!” Padma simply grinned and nodded in agreement.

That meant that the room in the middle was Granger’s. He glanced over and saw that her door was still closed. He hadn’t actually spoken to her since arriving, except to ask her to send the basket of rolls down to him at the other end of the table. He’d caught her watching him at least twice, but she’d looked away immediately. He didn’t know what to make of it. Taking one last look back towards her door, he headed off to his own chamber across the Room, realizing it was in the middle, just like Hermione’s. For reasons he didn’t try to figure out, that similarity made him smile.

 

ooOoo 

 

Hermione, meanwhile, was struggling. Right before dinner, an owl had swooped through her open window and dropped a letter on her bed. As she was already halfway out the door, she decided to wait until after she ate to read it, assuming it was from Harry or Ginny. However, she had quickly learned upon returning to it, that it was a response from one of the healers she had written to.

This time, a wizard from Peru had replied with what she perceived to be a very sympathetic, yet very pessimistic suggestion. He told her, as the others so far had done, that he did not think the spell could be reversed. He apologized profusely, saying he could not imagine how difficult it had been for her, and that he thought she had been very brave. Unfortunately, he encouraged her to hold a memorial service for her parents in order to give herself closure. He basically wanted her to act as if they were dead, a thought that sent her into hysterics.

As the words on the page had registered, she quickly shut her door and cast a silencing charm so her new housemates wouldn’t hear the sobbing mess she dissolved into. Her parents were not dead and she would not behave as if they were. She would not give up. It took her almost a full hour to compose herself. Several times she started for the common area, only to well up with tears as her hand closed around the doorknob. She didn’t want the others to see her in this state, so she waited until she could be absolutely certain the storm had passed.

By the time she ventured out, only a few people were around. Neville and Dean were playing chess at one of the small, round tables, and Hannah was curled up in a chair by the fire with a book. Hermione decided that looked like a good idea and turned back to her room to grab something to read. As she emerged the second time, she spotted Draco coming out of his own room. He stopped when he saw her, and she gave a small wave in greeting across the vast space. He started towards her, so instead of heading to Hannah, she took a few steps in his direction.

She had observed him during dinner, intentionally keeping her distance so as not to influence anyone’s impressions, and was pleased to see her new housemates had treated him with the same amiable cordiality as everyone else. In turn, Draco made every effort to engage those around him in similar fashion. She’d had to force her gaze away from him several times, lest she be caught staring, but she couldn’t deny that she was drawn to him in some way. The logical portion of her brain tried to pass it off as simply reading too much into the similarity between his scent and that of her amortentia, but the rest of her decided that the coincidence only added to the minor fascination that had already begun brewing under the surface.

“Granger,” he said as he was still a few paces away. She tilted her head with a slight smile on her face. “Haven’t seen you much since I got here.”

“Oh,” her smile faltered. “I was just finishing up some things…” she trailed off as she thought about the letter. She glanced back up and he was watching her, searching her face. She forced a bigger smile and asked. “Are you all settled in then?”

“Yeah,” he said, shrugging. “Didn’t take too long. The Room is rather spectacular, isn’t it?” He glanced around at the high ceiling and stone fireplace.

“Absolutely. You like your room, I assume?”

He nodded. “You?”

“Mmhmm,” she hummed and waved towards her door. “Want to see it?”

Draco tried to play it off as if it didn’t matter if he saw it or not, but he really, really did want to see it. For some reason, hers was the room he was most curious about, although he couldn’t quite put a finger on why. He simply nodded and shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets and following her back over to her chamber.

She pushed open the door a little further and beckoned him inside. He took in the space, noticing the light, airy, and very inviting feel the Room had put together for her. It suited her, just as all the other rooms suited their occupants, but he had an unexpected appreciation for it that he didn’t for the others. It was simple, compared to some, but intrinsically welcoming, and held a warmth that signified coming home. The room was comforting, no frills, but still beautiful.

Just like her.

Draco’s eyes widened and his heart jumped to his throat. Where had that come from? He was very thankful she happened to be facing away from him at the moment, as she had turned to place her book on the shelf. He schooled his features back to a polite look of interest, and met her gaze squarely when she looked back over at him.

“I brought it,” she pointed to the dresser and he followed her direction. There, on the top, next to a wooden jewelry box and a small figurine of an otter, was the picture of her with her parents they had talked about in her living room. The wind was blowing and they were laughing again, and Draco smiled as he had the first time he had watched the small family together.

“Looks great,” he said honestly. He glanced around her room again, turning his attention to one of her nightstands. On it stood three picture frames. The largest contained a photo of Hermione with Harry and Ron, from Second or Third Year by the look of them. They had their arms around each other and were laughing at something unknown to anyone but themselves. Another frame held a moving photo of a squashy-faced, ginger furball he recognized as her cat, Crookshanks. The animal was clearly displeased with having his picture made, as he kept glaring at the camera before turning around and sitting with his back to it. The smallest frame held a Muggle photo, as the subjects weren’t moving. It was another picture of Hermione with her parents, this one from before she would have been old enough to attend Hogwarts. The three Grangers were sitting in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree, dressed in festive sweaters, and grinning from ear to ear.

“Christmas is my favorite holiday,” she explained, seeing what he was studying.

“I can tell,” he said, smirking.

“That was taken the year I was nine,” she went on. “My parents had gotten me tickets to see The Nutcracker Ballet as part of my gift. I had been begging them to take me to see it for almost an entire year. We took that photo right after they told me.”

The Nutcracker?” asked Draco, thinking that didn’t sound like a pleasant or child-friendly thing to watch.

“Yes,” she chuckled at his look of distaste. “It’s actually a magical story. I have the book somewhere. You can borrow it if you’d like.”

“Mmmm,” he mused. “I’ll think about it.” As he continued his perusal of her room, he noticed an envelope on her bed. “Heard from Potter already?” He joked, knowing she’d only been back in the castle a day longer than he, but sure that the friends communicated regularly. He was surprised to see her countenance fall and a small frown crease her brow.

“No,” she shook her head and gave a small huff. “It was another reply from one of the so-called experts I contacted about my parents.” She glared at the letter now, and he guessed what the missive had contained.

“No luck, then?”

“No. None at all.” Her voice was lower and full of disappointment. She continued to stare at the letter, but he could see her eyes were now bright with tears. In that moment he desperately wanted to say or do something to bring the smile back to her face, but he was at a loss as to what would help.

“That wasn’t the last one, though, was it?” He asked, crossing his fingers in his pockets, hoping this was not the wrong thing to say.

“No,” she brightened slightly. “It wasn’t. I’ve still not heard back from fourteen of them. And I won’t give up until I have. And maybe not even then.” As she spoke, she stood a little taller, pushed her shoulders back and raised her chin. He saw a flash of that famous Gryffindor courage and admired her refusal to accept defeat. He wondered what it would be like to have someone believe in him so fiercely.

“Good,” said Draco, causing Hermione to look at him questioningly. “You shouldn’t give up. There are always new magical discoveries, new spells, new potions coming about. Any day something could be found that will help them.”

The hope and gratitude that filled her eyes as he said this made him feel like he could achieve anything. He felt a flicker of that same hope within himself and it brought a warmth he’d rarely experienced. It took all his self-restraint to not move closer to her, even though he felt as if he was being tugged by an invisible rope in her direction. Instead, he allowed his eyes to meet hers for a long moment, as a genuine smile spread across both of their faces.

“Thank you, Malfoy.” She spoke softly, her fathomless brown orbs, still wet with unshed tears, now sparkled with possibility. He didn’t want to break the connection he felt with her, but he also knew he couldn’t continue standing in her room, grinning like an idiot for the rest of the night. So, instead, he nodded, shrugged and took two steps towards the door.

“See you at breakfast?” She asked, still watching him.

“Yeah, sure.” He tried to sound nonchalant, but felt like he was failing miserably.

She nodded, and he took two more steps, passing through her doorway as he heard her call out. “I hope the toast meets your standards of perfection!” The comment was followed by a small giggle.

He grinned to himself as he made his was across the Room to his own chamber, and a smile was still turning up the corners of his mouth a bit later as he fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Meeting their First Years had everyone just a little bit nervous. Since this was a brand new endeavor at Hogwarts, no one really knew what to expect. The morning after the Start-of-Term Feast, which was the first day of lessons, the youngest students would be held back from breakfast in order to find out who their mentors would be. All Eighth and First Years had been given their initial class period off to get acquainted and figure out a good time to meet regularly each week. So it was, that ground-breaking moment found all ten of the eldest students clustered together near the doors of the Great Hall as breakfast was winding down.

The night before, the traditional house tables had been set up since that was the easiest way to conduct the Sorting. However, as they had all been told, today the scene was quite different. Instead of four long tables, there were roughly forty square tables scattered throughout the room, each with eight chairs. The chairs had different colored seat cushions; red, yellow, green, and blue, representing the four houses. Two chairs of each color were at every table, so that during meals, two members of each house would be present. Professor Flitwick had come up with this creative idea to break down some of the barriers between houses. A few of the Sixth and Seventh Years had grumbled about it, preferring to sit with the friends they had grown close to, but on the whole, the change had been taken in stride by the students.

The new housemates sidled into the hall, and gathered around one of the tables at the back, with everyone sitting except Draco and Dean. As students started trickling out to head to class, they glanced at the mixed group, most with looks of curiosity, although several shot nasty looks in Draco’s direction. After the fourth glare, he started staring at the floor instead of looking around the room. He had expected this but it didn’t make it any easier.

“Don’t worry about them,” said Dean, nudging him with his elbow. Draco nodded but continued to stare at the floor.

“They’ll come around,” piped up Neville from his seat at the table, and Draco raised his eyes to meet the sincere gaze aimed at him. Hermione, who was sitting next to Neville, smiled encouragingly at him and Draco nodded once again. He lifted his chin, fixing his sights on the head table, where Professor McGonagall was getting to her feet. Magically magnifying her voice, she addressed the students.

“Boys and girls, if you are not a First Year student, I need you to please exit the hall at this time, and make your way to your first lesson. First Years, please move up to the tables here in front,” she gestured to the three tables closest to the platform. After much scraping of chairs and shuffling of feet, the tasks were completed and she waved the group of soon-to-be mentors forward.

The First Years stared unabashedly at the older students as they approached, and whispers broke out amongst the youngsters.

“That’s Hermione Granger!”

“There’s Neville Longbottom – he killed the snake!”

“Oooh, I hope I get the pretty one with the bow.”

“Who’s that tall one with dark hair?”

“Is the one with the long blonde hair Luna Lovegood?”

“Isn’t that Draco Malfoy?”

“I really hope I don’t get him.” One particularly smug-looking little boy sneered, as he sat with his arms folded across his chest, his Gryffindor tie clearly visible. Hermione glared at him and was pleased to see that he noticed and turned his gaze away from them, his cheeks flushing red.

The Eighth Years stood off to one side of the hall while McGonagall explained the way the peer-mentoring program was going to work. Each First Year would be assigned to an Eighth Year, who would meet with them every week individually, and also in a small group with the other First Year(s) they were mentoring. Their meetings needed to last a minimum of thirty minutes, and could take place during meals, in the evenings, or on weekends. They could not interrupt lessons or conflict with any school-related groups or clubs that anyone might be part of, and should take place on school grounds in areas that students are regularly granted access to.

“So, no dragging them off to the Forbidden Forest, then,” drawled Theo, winking at the slightly worried group before him.

“No, Mr. Nott, that would not be acceptable,” said McGonagall in a voice that clearly showed she was not amused. The rest of the Eighth Years, however, were chuckling under their breath. The headmistress cleared her throat, causing them to stop immediately and stand up straighter.

“Let’s begin then.” Her eyes roved over the group of ten, resting on each of them for a second before moving to the next. She then turned her attention to the twenty-two seated in front of her. “I will introduce each mentor with a brief description of him or her, and will then call the names of the two or three students they will be responsible for. Once I have called your name, you may leave the hall with your mentor and spend the remainder of this class period getting to know one another.”

At her words, Draco felt the blood drain from his face. What in Salazar’s name could she possibly say about him that would sound any good? If he had been nervous before, he was positively dreading the next few minutes now.

“Hannah Abbott is our first mentor,” he heard McGonagall’s voice as if from a distance. This was a bad idea. Not that he really had any choice, but if he did, he would run right back out those huge, wooden doors and straight into the lake. He could just imagine it now:

Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater, failed assassin, and complete disappointment. Horrid at being a good friend, but could be a professional bully. Used to be top notch as a Seeker. Doesn’t have much to offer in the way of advice or knowledge, but he’s decent at potions.

He must have zoned out because by the time his thoughts refocused on the events taking place, both Hannah and Anthony had already been matched with their First Years and were heading out the door, and McGonagall was introducing Hermione.

“Hermione Granger is someone I’m sure many of you are familiar with.” Draco saw Hermione staring uncomfortably at her shoes. “She has a tremendous love of reading, and is very passionate about the treatment of all magical beings. She has been the top student in her year throughout her entire time at Hogwarts and takes her subjects very seriously.” McGonagall’s mouth twitched as she said this, and Hermione met her headmistress’ proud gaze with a sheepish grin.

“Allison Mackenzie, Darla Jorgenson, and Malcolm Fraser, you will all be with Miss Granger.”

Draco noticed that the sneering Gryffindor stood up, meaning he was Malcolm Fraser. At first, Draco was surprised that McGonagall would stick Granger with such a prat, but then he realized, who better to drill house unity into the boy’s obviously prejudice skull? He huffed a laugh under his breath as Hermione led her three charges towards the exit, the young girls chattering away excitedly and Malcolm looking extremely subdued.

He paid a bit more attention as the next few housemates were introduced, noticing that McGonagall made no mention of any of their former house allegiances. She also steered clear of any reference to the Battle or the downfall of Voldemort, which not only Hermione, but Neville and Luna were also heavily associated with. He could only guess at her reasoning for this, but before he leant much thought to it, he heard his own name.

“Draco Malfoy is another one of Hogwarts top students,” McGonagall was saying, her eyes never leaving his face. “He is an excellent Quidditch player, an avid reader, and an extremely skilled potioneer. Mr. Malfoy has set an important example for all of us in the way he has turned over a new leaf and I, for one, am very proud of him.” She finished firmly, as if daring anyone to question her opinion. Draco felt a lump form in his throat, and barely managed a small nod before dropping his eyes to the floor. On his right, Theo nudged his arm and muttered “too right,” under his breath. On his left, Dean grunted in affirmation.

“Christopher Henson and Olivia Johnson, you will be with Mr. Malfoy.”

Draco stepped up to meet his charges, who both looked at him with a combination of awe and curiosity, which embarrassed him to no end. He waved them towards the doors, having already decided to take them on a walk to the Quidditch pitch. As they strolled, he broke the ice by encouraging them to ask him any questions they could think of about the castle. He figured this was a neutral topic, and knew that when he was a First Year, he wanted to know all about the moving stairs, the hidden passages, and all the rumors and stories that surrounded such a magical place. His younger companions were no different.

After badgering him to tell everything he knew about the Chamber of Secrets, (which included an awful lot about Potter) they asked him an equal number of questions about the events of the Triwizard Tournament, (which, again, included a ridiculous amount of information about Potter) but when they started asking him questions solely about the Chosen Golden Hero, he finally put an end to it. Thankfully, they had arrived at the pitch, so the distraction was automatic.

Draco never tired of coming here. Even completely empty, it held a magic all its own. Eighth Years were not allowed on the house teams, so his fierce desire to play was going to have to be put aside, at least for this year. As they walked onto the pitch, Olivia spoke up.

“My sister played for Gryffindor,” she announced proudly. “Angelina was on Harry Potter’s team for two years!”

Draco couldn’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. Of course, Potter again. But he did remember Olivia’s sister, and told her so.

“She was a right good Chaser,” he admitted, his old self cringing at the compliment he was bestowing on the former Gryffindor. But he forged ahead, “I played against her, you know.” Olivia looked like Christmas had come early.

“Did you?” She squealed. “Who won?”

Before Draco could bring himself to share the details of the game he lost to the scarlet lions his second year, Christopher interjected. “Quidditch is brilliant, but I’m rubbish at flying.” He kicked the ground with the toe of his shoe, scowling.

“Really?” Asked Draco.

Christopher nodded, his eyes on the ground.

“I can help you, if you’d like,” Draco suggested tentatively.

The Hufflepuff’s eyes snapped up to his, intensely fixed on his new mentor. “Would you really?”

“Sure,” shrugged Draco. “I know First Years can’t have their own brooms, but the school has extras you could use for practice.” Christopher’s eyes lit up at this and he nodded enthusiastically.

“What about me,” complained Olivia. “I want to fly, too!”

“You can’t expect me to believe that Johnson’s little sister can’t fly,” challenged Draco. Olivia grinned smugly. “I can, I just want to practice with you, too.” Draco felt oddly bolstered by this statement. His charges’ ready acceptance of him gave him hope that things really could be different; hope he hadn’t felt in longer than he cared to consider.

“Well, that’s settled then. We can meet on Sunday afternoons out here to practice, alright?” Their chorus of joyful anticipation raised his spirits even further, and they climbed into the stands to chat for the remainder of their time, before heading back for lessons.

 

ooOoo 

 

Hermione’s introduction to the world of mentoring had been a mixed bag. The two girls, Allison and Darla were lovely, albeit slightly overenthusiastic about meeting The Hermione Granger. They peppered her with questions all the way to the courtyard, which is where she had decided to take them for their initial meeting. Both of the girls were astonishingly familiar with the details of her life, which she could only, reluctantly, attribute to the many articles the Daily Prophet had published in the wake of the Final Battle.

Malcolm, on the other hand, was virtually silent during the stroll through the castle, making no attempt to engage in any sort of conversation, even though Hermione tried several times to include him. Once they reached their destination, she gestured to a small, grassy spot in the shade of a flowering tree, where they all plopped down. The girls, flanking their hero, and Malcolm off to the side, slightly turned away from them. Hermione asked each of the girls to tell her a little bit about themselves, which they were eager to do, and she found them to remind her simultaneously of herself and of Ginny. Both girls had a good head for academics, and very spirited personalities. She then turned the floor over to Malcolm, encouraging him to tell them some things, to which he shrugged and turned his gaze over the top of their heads.

“There’s not much to tell, really,” he said in a rather aloof tone. “I’m an only child, my parents are purebloods, and they weren’t even sure they were going to send me here once they heard about this mentoring program.” He sneered the last two words. “I mean honestly, no one tried to get those awful Slytherins to try to unify themselves with the other houses the last couple of years, did they? So why are we expected to make nice with them now?”

Hermione was stunned. She hadn’t heard this kind of arrogance since….since…Malfoy.

This boy sounded exactly like First Year Malfoy had; smirking and sneering and boasting about how much better he was than everyone else. One half of her brain was very glad and almost proud to recognize the drastic change Draco had recently undergone, while the other half was completely offended by the attitude of the little prat sitting across from her. Taking a deep, calming breath, she addressed Malcolm.

“Well, the headmistress feels, and I agree with her, that change has to start somewhere, and Hogwarts is often the first place students encounter children from other backgrounds.” Malcolm was lazily twirling a piece of grass between his fingers, as if her words weren’t worth acknowledging. She felt her temper flare and continued on, a little more forcefully. “On a more personal note, I did not give a year of my life, fighting in a war to end Voldemort’s tyrannical reign, only to have the hatred continue.” Both of the girls had gasped at the mention of the Voldemort, and Malcolm’s eyes had widened in shock. She kept going, her tone softening slightly. “We lost so much. Not just in the battle, but all throughout the year, and even the years leading up to it. Yes, people chose sides and many chose wrongly, but the point of moving forward is to do away with the ideas that divided us in the first place.”

She stared into the eyes of her young listeners, willing them to understand. “Hopefully you will never know what it was like, but you need to understand that even those who chose the wrong path often did so because they believed it was the right one. And in some cases, they didn’t have a choice at all.” She thought of Draco again and her eyes stung.

All three students were now goggling at her with amazement. Both of the girls nodded vigorously, but Hermione watched Malcolm who had gone back to twirling the grass, this time with a frown on his face.

“Are you friends with anyone who fought against you?” Asked Allison.

“Yes,” Hermione smiled. “Draco Malfoy.”

The girls exchanged a glance and giggled and she knew they thought he was handsome, which he was. You had to be blind not to see that he was attractive…

“Why are you friends with him?” Demanded Malcolm, apparently unwilling to let his dislike for anyone connected to Slytherin abate.

Thankful for the interruption to her bewildering train of thought, she responded without hesitation. “Because he has changed. No, we did not used to be friends, but he apologized, I forgave him, and we have moved on.” She knew none of these students were aware of her animosity-filled history with the tall blonde, nor did she have any intentions of enlightening them. She had put it behind her and wanted to focus on the future, and Draco had been making a conscious effort to do the same, from everything she had seen so far.

Malcolm still looked skeptical, so she decided it was time to drop the biggest bombshell. “You know, Harry Potter is friends with him now, too.”

It worked. The girls were both grinning from ear to ear, but Malcolm’s entire demeanor had changed. He sat up straighter, looking her in the eye willingly for the first time, and asked. “Truly?”

“Truly.”

“He’s friends with a Death Eater?”

Former Death Eater, first of all, and yes, he considers Draco to be his friend.”

Malcolm studied her for a minute, pondering this shocking revelation.

“I guess I’ll try it, then.” He announced this as though everyone had just been waiting with baited breath for his verdict. Hermione wanted to roll her eyes, and in her mind she did, but she took this for the victory it was and figured her best friend wouldn’t care if, just this once, she used his famous name to move one step further on the new path they were all forging.

 

Chapter Text

Quite quickly, everyone settled into a comfortable routine. Since they attended most of their classes together, all of the Eighth Years had very similar schedules. Breakfast was usually a quiet, more subdued affair than lunch or dinner, since everyone was still waking up and not quite fully functioning. It was during one of those sleepy mornings that Hermione looked across the table to find Theo reading a book while waiting for his porridge to cool. She had learned that Theo was almost as voracious a reader as she was, so his bringing a book to the table wasn’t unusual, but the book itself was.

“You’re reading Tolkien?” She asked him, surprised.

He glanced up to meet her gaze. “Yes, have you read this?”

“Yes, he’s one of my favorite authors,” she smiled. “He’s a Muggle, you know.”

Theo smiled in return. “Yes, I’m aware. I also like C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, and Jane Austen. I’ve even been known to read a Shakespearean sonnet or two.”

Hermione’s eyes went as round as saucers. “You like Jane Austen?”

Theo chuckled. “A few of her works. Others are too frilly and dramatic for me, but I do enjoy Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park.”

“I love both of those, but Pride and Prejudice is my favorite,” breathed Hermione in an awed whisper.

Theo laughed again and tilted his head at the book in his hand. “Did you read The Hobbit, too?”

“Yes, it’s my favorite in that series. I don’t much care for all the wars and battle scenes in Lord of the Rings, but I love the descriptions of Bilbo’s travels and the people he meets.”

“Oh, Tolkien is a master at painting a vivid picture,” asserted Theo. “What do you think about…” But before he could finish, Draco had arrived and plunked noisily into the chair next to him, yawning hugely and reaching across the table to grab a few pieces of toast from the platter near Hermione.

“We have double potions this afternoon, don’t we?” He mumbled around a mouthful.

“Yup,” said Theo. “Which reminds me, I left my book and essay in the library last night.” He started shoveling spoonfuls of porridge in his mouth as quickly as possible, so quickly Hermione was afraid he would choke.

“I need to run by the library on the way to class,” she announced. “I’m happy to grab it for you. That way you can actually enjoy your breakfast instead of inhaling it.” She cocked an eyebrow at him as his cheeks bulged with food. Struggling to swallow, he nodded and eventually managed a garbled “thanks,” and a wink.

She drank a last gulp of pumpkin juice, gathered her bag, and nodded to both of the boys. “See you later then,” she trilled as she headed out the door.

Draco was still thoughtfully munching his toast, staring at the spot where Hermione had just been, and trying to identify the scent she’d left behind…vanilla, maybe apricots, something floral…and she’d done something different with her hair today…

“Oi,” Theo nudged his arm with his elbow. “Earth to Malfoy.”

“What?”

“She’s alright, you know.”

“Who?”

“Who?” Theo chuckled. “Granger. The girl you’re still staring after.”

“I’m not staring,” said Draco defensively. “I’m eating.”

“Sure, mate, whatever,” drawled Theo, smirking at his friend. “I’m just saying, she’s not nearly as bossy or stuck-up as I remember. Granted, I never spent much time with her till this year, but still. She’s alright.”

“Ok,” said Draco, trying to cover his unaccountable embarrassment with snark. “So she’s not quite as unbearable as she used to be. What of it?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“Can I go back to eating my breakfast in peace then?”

“Sure, Malfoy.” Theo chuckled again, shaking his head and resuming his book.

As they continued their breakfast in companionable silence, Draco allowed his mind to drift back to its previous focus. Nott was right, Hermione was not nearly as bossy as she used to be. She also was a lot friendlier and more outgoing than he had originally assumed. Granted, almost all of their previous interactions during the six years they spent at school together had been filled with insults, taunts, and threats, mostly on his part. He had always known she was smart. Even when he couldn’t stand her, he couldn’t ignore the fact that she still bested him in almost every single class, but now that things were different between them, he was able to admire just how intelligent she really was.

She was genuinely nice, too. Having grown up around superficial Purebloods all his life, he had assumed everyone was polite when they had to be, but were really only concerned about themselves. Hermione wasn’t like that. When someone asked her for help, she helped them without any thought as to what she would get in return. She would’ve made a horrible Slytherin, he thought darkly.

She also treated everyone the same, not based on who they were or what position they held. She was kind and respectful to students and staff, and seemed to have an innate awareness of what others needed. Again, this was something rather foreign to Draco, but it was something he found intriguing. He had always thought of her as an obnoxious sort of person, with a sharp tongue and a rigid nature. She was much softer than he had ever imagined….definitely softer. He snorted into his cup of pumpkin juice as he realized where his thoughts were headed and quickly tried to come up with other things to focus on.

“You alright, there?” Theo asked as he starting to pack up his things.

“Yeah,” coughed Draco. “Just swallowed wrong.”

Theo looked at him shrewdly for a second before shrugging and announcing. “I’m off then. See you in a bit.”

Draco grunted in reply, checking his watch to find that he had five minutes to get to class. He stood up, straightened his uniform, grabbed his bag, and headed towards the door, determined to put Hermione’s softness out of his mind entirely.

 

ooOoo

 

On Wednesday evenings, Hermione joined her trio of First Years for dinner in the Great Hall. The first time, she was uncomfortably aware of the amount of interest her presence garnered. She felt like the students at the surrounding tables were trying to listen in on every word she uttered, and was positive several Second and Third Years found excuses to pass by her seat unnecessarily. Deciding that this was unfair to her three group members, the second week she chose a table right up front, as close to the Head Table as she could get. In fact, she even inched the heavy furniture closer to the platform, just to make sure. Her plan worked fabulously, since none of the other students were brave enough to get that close to the staff, for fear of being told off.

Since she met with Darla, Allison, and Malcolm individually at other times, their dinners together were a chance for them to talk about things besides their studies and how they were adjusting to life at the castle. Hermione had introduced them to the game of Twenty Questions, which allowed each player to share information with the others, while keeping the conversation flowing.

Darla had been sorted into Ravenclaw, which was no surprise, seeing as her favorite spot in the entire castle was the library. Allison was a Slytherin. Hermione had been mildly taken aback, since the young girl seemed nothing like the typical Slytherins she had known before. At first, the new student was worried and even embarrassed by her placement, knowing what a negative reputation the house had. Hermione quickly reassured her that many great witches and wizards had come from the emerald green dungeons, and told her the story of her former Potions professor.

Malcolm continued to provide a bit of a challenge for his mentor. Although he now knew better than to degrade other houses or students in front of Hermione, she could tell he still maintained the air of superiority she’d witnessed at their introduction. He was polite and cooperative when they met on Wednesday evenings with the girls, but when she was one-on-one with him on Monday mornings, he was taciturn and even condescending at times. It was clear he still did not see the value in the mentoring program, nor did he seem to be making any effort to become friends with students in other houses. Darla and Allison were the exception, although Hermione couldn’t really say that the girls were friends with Malcolm. They tolerated him, more for her benefit than their own, but both of the girls admitted privately to her that they didn’t particularly like him.

After yet another frustrating session with Malcolm, in which she had taken him on a walk down to Hagrid’s hut to see the enormous pumpkins the gamekeeper was growing, she stayed and talked to the gentle giant (or half-giant, really) to see if he had any advice to give.

“Ah, I know just who yer talkin’ bout.” Hagrid scratched his beard thoughtfully as they sat at his kitchen table, steaming mugs of tea before them. “Gave me some lip last week ‘bout not needin’ ter know the proper way ter feed fire crabs. So, I stepped back an’ let ‘im try on his own.”

“How did he do?” Hermione was pretty sure where this was going, judging from the twinkle in Hagrid’s dark eyes.

“Singed the hair righ’ off his arm, he did.” Hagrid’s laugh rumbled through the cozy room. “Sent ‘im straight off to Madam Pomfrey wi’out a word. Stubborn, lil’ git.”

“He deserved it,” she stated fiercely. “He acts like he’s better than everyone, walking around with his nose in the air. It’s infuriating.”

Hagrid’s beard twitched and he watched his young friend out of the corner of his eye as he remarked. “Seems ter remind me o’ summat else we knew back when you an’ Harry an’ Ron were jus’ startin’ out.”

Hermione looked down at her mug and nodded. “Malfoy.” She felt her cheeks color slightly and hoped Hagrid would chalk it up to the warmth from the tea and the fire in his hearth.

“Too right.” Hagrid agreed, and then pinned her with an inscrutable look. “He’s turned out ter not be so bad, hasn’t he. Talked ter ‘im a few times since he got here. Decent bloke now, I’d say.”

Her cheeks now positively on fire, Hermione tried valiantly to look unaffected by this pronouncement, but felt Hagrid’s eyes on her still. She chanced a peek up at him and could tell, even through the massive tangle of hair that obscured his face, he was grinning at her.

“Yes,” she admitted, unable to hide her own smile. “He’s turned out alright.”

“Well then, there’s hope for yer lil’ goblin, too, I s’ppose.”

“I just don’t know what to do with him!” Hermione moaned. “The girls are wonderful and I truly look forward to the time I get to spend with them each week.” She let out a long sigh. “But Malcolm’s a different story. I’ve tried appealing to his interests, but those seem to change like the shifting staircases.”

“Whadya mean?”

“Well, last week at dinner, he mentioned to Allison that he had never met a ghost before. So, I arranged for Nearly Headless Nick to meet us at our Monday session. Malcolm barely looked at him and I spent an awkward thirty minutes engaging Nick in conversation about his incomplete beheading!”

“Has he done it other times?” Hagrid was looking thoughtful.

“Yes!” Hermione continued her rant. “After I heard him say he didn’t really believe there was a giant squid in the lake, I put aside a whole basket of toast from breakfast and met him down there. He wouldn’t even toss a single slice into the water, and when the squid’s tentacles started grabbing the pieces, Malcolm actually turned around and started walking back to the castle!” The memory of the outing still grated on her nerves and she knew her cheeks were now flushed with irritation.

Hagrid chuckled and covered her small hand with his enormous one.

“I think he’s playin’ yeh, Hermione.”

“What?” She was incredulous.

“I think he wants ter see what all you’ll do fer ‘im. It’s clear you’re trying to impress ‘im, get ‘im to talk ter yeh. I reckon he’s wantin’ ter see how far you’ll go.” Hagrid’s kind eyes crinkled in a smile that was hidden beneath his bushy beard.

Hermione thought about her friend’s opinion. There was definite merit to it, she decided. She had spent an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with things to do with Malcolm to draw him out and get him to open up to her. The girls had been content to meet in normal places; the library, the courtyard, or under a tree on the grounds. Why should her grumpy little Gryffindor get special treatment?

“You’re right, Hagrid.” She nodded her head decisively. “No more bending over backwards for Mr. Fraser.” Hagrid let out a booming laugh and patted her on the shoulder, causing her chair to creak perilously under the force.

“Glad ter be of help,” he chortled.

 

ooOoo

 

Self-discoveries were apparently going to be a regular occurrence for the Malfoy heir during his Eighth Year. Not only had he found himself enjoying the friendly banter and amicable chatter that existed on a continual basis in his new house, but he realized he genuinely liked the people he shared that space with. No longer viewing everyone through the biased and narrow-minded Pureblood glasses he’d been forced to wear all his life allowed him to accept and appreciate his peers in a brand new way. Their reception of him had also proven to be a pleasant, albeit humbling surprise.

He enjoyed his classes and was determined to show his professors that he wasn’t just there because the Ministry told him he had to be. All of the Hogwarts faculty had been supportive and welcoming, and he didn’t take that lightly. As the weeks passed, the rest of the student body seemed to accept his presence in the castle the same as they did his housemates’. In fact, the younger students apparently found him rather interesting and he would often catch First or Second Years watching him as he walked to class, or when he was working in the library. They didn’t seem resentful or hostile, merely curious.

The reason for this upswing in attention was soon realized one Sunday afternoon as he greeted his young charges on the Quidditch pitch. Olivia and Christopher were jogging towards him, followed by three other students Draco didn’t know. He cocked his head in question as Christopher reached him first.

“Draco, these are my friends.” The young Hufflepuff gestured to two of the newcomers, who were staring at the Eight Year with wide eyes. “Aiden Tarklin is a Hufflepuff, like me, and Andrew Creevey is a Gryffindor.”

Draco’s gaze rested on the sandy-haired boy wearing a scarlet and gold tie. He might not have known Colin personally, but he recognized him in his youngest brother. His gut clenched and a lump formed in his throat, not knowing what to say, but determined to push through. He stuck out his hand to the First Year.

“Hey there, Andrew.” The boy shook his hand with a firmer grip than Draco had expected, and met his eyes with a serious yet interested look.

“Hi,” was all he said, but he smiled slightly, so Draco took that to mean he didn’t hate him. He greeted Aiden the same way, and then turned to Olivia.

“This is my friend, Darla. She’s in Ravenclaw. We always sit together for meals and Hermione is her mentor.” Olivia beamed at him, and nudged her friend with her elbow. Darla had been standing there the whole time, staring at Draco with rapt attention, her mouth slightly open and a mildly dazed look on her face.

“Hello, Darla.” He offered his hand to her as well, which she stared at for a few seconds before taking it and gazing back up at him without speaking. He fought back a chuckle, hiding it behind a cough as he looked around at the group clustered before him.

“So, now that we’re all acquainted, what can I do for you?”

“They want flying lessons, too,” explained Christopher, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“What?” Draco asked, mildly confused.

“I’ve been telling them about how much you’ve helped me and they’re both bollocks at it, too, so I told them they could come along.” Christopher seemed to realize he might have miscalculated and a worried look crossed his face. “It’s ok, right?” His eyes held a pleading look that Draco found both amusing and flattering; as if his word would make or break the boy’s day.

“Sure,” he said, shrugging. “Fine by me. But this doesn’t take the place of your meetings with your real mentors.” All five of the students cheered and beamed up at him, Darla still looking a little dazed.

“Everyone have a broom?” He glanced around and five broomsticks were shoved into the air in answer. “Right, then. Mount up!”

The next hour flew by, literally, as he helped each of them gain confidence off the ground. Olivia was a natural, and joined them for fun, but Draco used her to help with demonstrating some of the more basic skills as he assisted those who were struggling more. By the end of their time together, all four of the self-professed failures at flying were successfully summoning their brooms, mounting, kicking off, hovering, and touching down. Christopher had already accomplished those initial skills, but did them again with his friends, after which, Draco asked him to demonstrate a simple lap around the pitch, just five or six feet off the ground.

“Can we have a go, too?” Andrew asked, with Aiden nodding vigorously at his side.

Not wanting to squash their enthusiasm, Draco was hesitant to let them go zooming off, as neither had been terribly steady so far.

“Tell you what,” he compromised. “You can go to the goal post straight ahead, but don’t go more than three feet off the ground, and go slow.” With the goal post only being about twenty yards away, he figured that was a safe enough distance for a trial run, and that they couldn’t pick up that much speed in such a short time. “Do you want to join them, Darla?”

The young girl blushed furiously at being addressed by the tall blonde and simply shook her head. The boys immediately mounted, shot him matching looks of nervous anticipation, and took off. He watched them with immense pride, and chuckled to himself, knowing he could probably run faster than they were flying, but that didn’t matter. The boys reached the goal post, Andrew touching down gently and dismounting with ease, while Aiden jerked to a stop and rather tumbled off, but both were grinning from ear-to-ear as they came running back to the group.

“Can we do it again?” Aiden asked breathlessly.

“Not today,” Draco replied and was immediately met with a chorus of disappointed groans. “I’ve got to get back and finish a potions essay, and I’m sure you lot have other things you need to be doing, as well.” He grinned at each of them in turn. “We’ll meet again next week.”

“Us, too?” Asked Andrew.

“Sure,” Draco answered without a second thought. “Pretty soon we’ll have enough for a whole Quidditch team,” he joked. He waved his arms in an effort to herd the lively little bunch back to the castle. Christopher and Aiden took off at a run, while Olivia and Darla linked arms and started skipping in their wake. Andrew, however, walked beside Draco.

“Thanks for teaching me all that,” the young Gryffindor said quietly, a small smile spreading across his face.

“You’re welcome. You did really well.” Draco cleared his throat and fixed his eyes on the path before him. “I’m sorry about your brother. I didn’t know him personally, but I do know he was very brave to come back and fight…” His words trailed off and he glanced sideways at Andrew, seeing a far-away look on the boy’s face.

“Colin never liked flying.” Andrew took a deep breath, stopped walking, and turned to face Draco. “He loved taking pictures and playing pranks, but he was afraid of flying. Never got on a broom after his one flying lesson during First Year. Dennis either. But I don’t want to be afraid of it. I want to be brave. Like him.” His hazel eyes took on a sheen, and there was a tinge of red to his cheeks, but he squared his shoulders. “My dad always told us that being brave means doing something you’re afraid to do, no matter how it might turn out. Colin did that at the Battle, so yes, he was brave. But I think you are, too.”

Draco’s heart stuttered and his brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

Andrew shrugged. “Coming back here can’t have been easy, not after everything. You knew people would be angry and some would even hate you.”

“Well, I didn’t honestly have a choice,” Draco started to explain. “The Ministry….” But Andrew cut him off.

“I know it was part of your probation. I read the article in the Prophet. I guess it’s not so much that you came back, but it’s how you’ve come back. Dennis said you’re not the same mean, bullying Slytherin he remembers. You could have been. You didn’t have to change.”

Draco felt like he was listening to the words of a much older, wiser person than himself and was astounded at the depth to which Andrew’s words had sunk within him. He nodded, and placed a hand on the young boy’s shoulder as they started to walk back up to the castle. After traveling in silence for a few minutes, he spoke.

“Thank you, Andrew. That means a lot. More than you know, really.”

Hazel eyes fixed on him again, a small smile tugging at the corners of Andrew’s mouth. “I think Colin would be pleased with the changes people are making. It’s what he fought for after all.”

Draco nodded in agreement, again feeling like he was at a loss for words. To say he was impressed with the Muggleborn beside him was an understatement, the irony of which was not lost on him.

Once they reached the Entrance Hall, they parted ways with a friendly wave and Draco began his trek to the Room deep in thought.

He was still finding it a little difficult to express his more in-depth ponderings or, Merlin forbid, talk about his feelings, but he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge them anymore, even if only to himself. Today had felt good. Really, really good. The fact that his little First Years had brought friends with them was flattering, and to see them all make such great progress had filled him with pride. He’d never have guessed that he would enjoy working with younger students. The conversation with Andrew, while not comfortable, had been reaffirming; that he was doing the right thing and moving in the right direction.

For once, Draco felt as if he was doing something positive and that it was making a difference, and that was a very good thing.

Chapter Text

Hermione had been pleased to notice that the beginning of the term had passed without any major issues and a general feeling of amicability between everyone in the Eighth Year house. She had noticed, however, that even though they sat wherever an empty seat existed for meals, and worked companionably on essays and projects, that free time typically found her fellow Eighth Years somewhat divided. Padma and Daphne had definitely hit it off, which was wonderful, and Hannah was often with either or both of them. Anthony was usually with Neville or Dean, who gravitated towards each other. Luna was, well, Luna, and Draco and Theo could usually be found sharing one of the small, round tables, playing chess, or sitting in chairs by the fire, reading. There was nothing wrong with the pattern, per se, but she longed to see a stronger connection amongst the group as a whole.

After contemplating this for almost a week, she went to Dean to see if her friend could help her come up with a way to change it. Her fellow former Gryffindor was always up for games, and his enthusiasm and propensity to laugh were contagious. It was virtually impossible to feel left out or awkward around him, and she knew he would be more than happy to take the lead for any type of fun.

They decided to expose their eclectic group of housemates to Muggle forms of entertainment. Dean and Hermione were the only two who had been raised in non-magical homes, which might have been a disadvantage when it came to their knowledge of the wizarding world, but gave them an upper hand when it came to games and movies. The start of this endeavor took place on the first Saturday of October, when they called a meeting in the common room shortly after dinner. Once everyone had gathered, Dean moved to stand in front of the fireplace.

“Right,” he began, grinning at everyone. “Hermione and I thought it would be fun to introduce you lot to one of the best games on the planet.” He gestured to Hermione, who had been holding something behind her back. She promptly brought the box around to her front and held it up so everyone could see the lid.

“Pictionary!” exclaimed Dean.

As expected, eight pairs of eyes looked between him, Hermione and the box with quizzical interest. He launched into an explanation of the game, which didn’t take long since it’s pretty straight forward, and asked if anyone had any questions. No one seemed to, although several brows were furrowed and Hermione saw Draco whisper something to Theo that he chuckled at. Dean then proceeded to reach into his pocket and pulled out a small drawstring pouch.

“There are ten marbles in this bag; five gold and five silver. Those will determine which team you’re on.” He then began walking around the group, letting each person reach in and grab a marble.

“No trading!” warned Dean as he saw a disappointed look flash across Padma’s face when she saw Daphne had a gold marble to her silver one. Padma rolled her eyes but didn’t protest and perked up slightly when she saw that Anthony had pulled a silver one, too. Hermione reached in and grabbed one of the last two marbles in the bag, a gold one, putting her on a team with Hannah, Neville, Daphne, and Draco. The silver team consisted of Dean, Padma, Anthony, Theo, and Luna.

Since this was a Muggle game, Dean had insisted that absolutely no magic be used while playing. He had set up a large easel with a giant pad of white paper leaning on it. A pack of thick, colorful markers sat on the coffee table along with the little, plastic timer and the game board with two pieces, one for each team. The only exception Dean had made about magic was the stack of cards they would choose from to draw. Most of the cards named magical things: creatures, plants, spells, but one category was Muggle items, which he insisted were well-known enough that everyone in the room should have at least heard of them, so Hermione had agreed to add them in. Once it was all set up, they flipped a coin to see who would go first. The silver team won, Dean strolled up to the drawing pad, Daphne flipped over the timer, yelled “Go!” and the fun began.

Two hours later, the noise level in the common room was reaching “can’t hear myself think,” but everyone was laughing too hard and having too much fun to care. The first drawing pad had long been used up and tossed into the fire. Plates of half-eaten biscuits, candy wrappers and bottles of pumpkin juice were strewn everywhere. Two markers had lost their caps, and a third had gone missing entirely. Neville was sporting a crooked purple mustache, his punishment for not being able to draw an identifiable thestral, and Luna had collected all the marbles and was currently challenging Theo to see who could pick the most up with their toes while the gold team was drawing again.

They were almost to the end of the game; the two game pieces sitting side by side on the final square of the board. It was Hermione’s turn, and if they got this right, they would win. She grabbed a card on her way to the easel.

Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration

Hermione stared at the card. How on Earth was she supposed to draw that? It wasn’t even a thing, it was a theory! She didn’t remember seeing this in the stack when they were getting the game ready. She was going to hex Dean.

“Ready?” asked Dean, holding the timer in his hand.

She scowled at him. “This is ridiculous!”

Dean just chortled and waved his hand towards the paper, indicating she should get on with it. Hermione huffed a breath, and turned to look at her team with an apologetic glance.

“Fine.”

“Go!”

She stared at the paper for a second, and then began to draw. First, she drew a hand holding a wand.

“Magic!” Neville yelled. Draco slapped him lightly on the back of the head, laughing.

“Spells! Casting! Charms!” Hannah rattled off.

“Swish and flick!” hollered Daphne, and they all started laughing again. The silver team, as was expected, began yelling out random things to distract their opponents.

“Butterbeer!” cried Anthony.

“Nargles,” sang Luna, which had been her contribution every time a gold team member was at the easel.

“Snape in the shower!” Theo roared, which sent everyone into fits of raucous laughter.

Hermione smiled to herself as she continued to draw, adding a few question marks next to the wand. It seemed everyone was having a good time, which she was very happy about, despite the seemingly impossible challenge before her.

“Disillusionment charm?” Hannah asked.

“Hang on,” said Draco. “There’s more.”

Hermione then added several “x” marks next to the question marks. She started to draw random food items, first a chicken leg, which she then drew another “x” through. She did the same with a piece of bread, an apple, and an ice cream cone. Her team had fallen silent as they studied the images.

“It’s something you can’t do, isn’t it?” asked Draco. She turned to face him with a wide grin. The person drawing wasn’t allowed to talk unless the correct answer was given, but he knew he was on the right track. She turned back and continued to draw food items and cross them out.

“What can’t you use magic for?” questioned Neville.

“Bringing people back from the dead,” suggested Daphne.

“This is food related, though,” said Hannah thoughtfully. Draco continued to watch Hermione, feeling like he knew where she was going with this, but unable to bring the words to the front of his mind. Her lower lip was caught between her teeth, which was a sure sign she was concentrating furiously. She then started drawing arching arrows between the food and the wand, again, making “x” marks along the way.

“You can’t summon it!” Draco suddenly exclaimed, earning him another beaming smile from her. “Wait, it’s a theory, it’s a rule about not being able to summon or conjure things….” He trailed off, unable to think of the actual terminology.

“Oh! Oh! I know this!” squealed Hannah, bouncing in her seat. Neville and Daphne still looked completely bewildered.

“Ten, nine,” Dean began the nerve-wracking countdown.

“Shhhhhh!” Draco was on his feet trying very hard to reach into the foggy corner of his brain where he knew the answer lay.

“Seven, six,” now all the silver team members were chanting.

“It’s someone’s law…” added Hannah in an excited whisper.

“Four, three,” the silver team was standing up and getting louder. Hermione was now just making “x” marks all over the entire page, because she couldn’t come up with anything else to do.

“Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration!” Draco bellowed, punching both his fists into the air, looking at her for confirmation.

“Yes!” Hermione shrieked in amazement, jumping up and down in shock and elation, her own hands in the air.

Forgetting where he was and that he simply didn’t do things like this, Draco took two long strides over to her, wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up in a celebratory hug. The rest of the gold team converged on them in a crazy, loud, fumbling embrace, in which Daphne got squished and Hermione got elbowed in the eye, but they were all too jubilant to care. The silver team flopped back onto their couch and chairs, groaning in good-natured loss.

“We should’ve won,” grumbled Theo.

“We might have, if your airplane didn’t look like a dying pigeon,” teased Padma.

“Not my fault,” argued Theo. “I’ve never even seen one in real life.”

“Then what’s your excuse for the hippogriff you drew?” challenged Anthony. “Looked like a snake with a feather duster stuck to it.”

Theo stuck his tongue out at Anthony, which caused all the silver team members to laugh, including the lanky brunette.

“So what do we win?” Neville asked Dean as his teammates disentangled themselves.

“Well,” started Dean, glancing at Hermione to see if she wanted to explain this bit. She nodded, taking a small step away from her fellow victors, storing the thought of how nice it felt to be wrapped in Draco’s arms in the back of her mind, and grinned at everyone.

“Well, Dean and I were thinking that if you all enjoyed this game,” to which everyone in the room cheered and clapped loudly, Theo adding one of his famous wolf-whistles, “that we would make weekly game nights a thing and keep a running record of who wins.” Everyone looked at each other and back at her with excited smiles on their faces. She waved her wand at the easel and a poster-sized piece of parchment appeared with a chart of some sort on it. At the top of the page, in big red letters, was the title “Game Night Scoreboard.” All ten names were listed down the left-had side, and there were roughly thirty columns lined out across the page. On top of the first column, she wrote “Pictionary” in tiny letters, and then proceeded to put a “1” in the boxes in that column that corresponded with her teammates' names.

“Every time we play a game, the person, or people, who win will have their points added on here. At the end of the year, whoever has the most points will win something.” She beamed at them, happy to see them all just as excited about this as she was.

“We haven’t come up with a prize yet,” added Dean. “So if you’ve got any ideas, we’d love to hear them.”

“Are there enough games to last all year?” asked Anthony skeptically.

“Oh, yes,” chuckled Hermione.

“Yeah, no worries there, mate,” said Dean.

“I think it’s a terrific idea!” added Padma, who was searching under the couch for the missing marker caps.

“Accio, marker caps,” drawled Theo lazily, and two caps came zooming from under couch cushions.

“Right, then,” said Dean, clapping his hands together. “This concludes our first ever Eighth Year Game Night. I think we can all agree it was a success?”

Concurrence was heard from everyone, as the housemates started to clean up the room and head off to bed, no one having realized just how late it really was. Hermione was tossing the last few crumpled pieces of paper into the fire when Dean came up beside her.

“I think that went really, really well, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yes! It went even better than I’d imagined. Everyone seemed to get into it and have a good time. Although I’m not sure I forgive you for that last card.” She glared at him in mock fury.

“Ah, well, you won anyway!” teased Dean cheerfully. “What should we play next week?”

“Hmmmm….” pondered Hermione. “I’m not sure. What do you think?”

A devilish grin spread across Dean’s face, “How about Monopoly?”

“Oh, no, Dean!” gasped Hermione. “They all got along so well tonight! I don’t want to test them out on that game quite yet.” She shook her head and chuckled. “Not sure these newly formed friendships could handle it.”

“Hah!” burst out Dean. “You’re probably right. Well, I’ll think about it. You, too, yeah?”

“Definitely. Thanks again for helping me with this.”

“No problem. It’s a great idea and I think it’s important. I know everyone is probably tired of hearing about house unity, but it’s the only way forward, really, you know?”

“Yes,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I agree.”

On that pensive note, they headed to their rooms, pleased with the night’s events, and with Hermione recalling that rather enjoyable winning moment.

 

ooOoo

 

Hermione and Ginny had a standing breakfast date every Friday morning in the Great Hall. They typically arrived as soon as the doors opened and stayed until they had to hurry to their first lessons of the day. This gave them a good two hours to catch up on all the goings on in each other’s lives over the past week. They sat at one of the tables tucked into a corner, allowing for the most amount of privacy. Between Ginny’s Head Girl duties and Quidditch practices, both of their very full schedule of classes, and Hermione’s meetings with her First Years and game-planning sessions with Dean, they had quickly discovered that they didn’t have much time to hang out since they no longer shared a common room.

Ginny wasted no time in spilling the latest gossip as the two friends dug into large, fluffy waffles with a variety of toppings.

“Did you know that Cho has started seeing Cormac McLaggen?”

“You’re joking,” scoffed Hermione in disbelief. “She’s got too much taste for that oaf!”

“Totally serious,” insisted Ginny. “Katie told Ron that the two of them came into the café last weekend and were holding hands and acting all flirty.” She pretended to gag over her plate while Hermione snorted.

“Well, she can have him. Maybe he’s learned some manners in the last couple of years.” She thought about Ginny’s words a little more. “Katie told Ron?” She let the question float out there, knowing her friend would grasp her meaning.

“Yeah, he sees her at least three times a week when he goes to get lunch for him and George. I think they’re planning to meet up this weekend.” She grimaced and looked apologetically at her curly-haired companion.

“It’s fine, Gin,” Hermione quickly put her at ease. “Really. We parted on perfectly good terms and I knew it was only a matter of time. I’m happy for him. Honest!” she insisted when Ginny cocked an eyebrow at her.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes. Positive. It would never have worked. Not after….everything.”

Ginny took a deep sigh and nodded. “You’re right. I just kind of hate it. I had envisioned a double wedding, you know.”

Hermione choked on her pumpkin juice. “Wedding?” she exclaimed.

“Well, you know,” the red head’s cheeks were starting to match her hair, “eventually.”

“Hmmmm, yes, eventually,” she retorted snarkily. “Does Harry know of this impending eventuality?”

Ginny turned her nose up and tried to act as if that question was beneath her, sniffing. “Of course he does.”

Hermione laughed. “If he knows what’s good for him, yeah?” Ginny grinned in response.

The girls launched into descriptions of the past week, Hermione recounting a rather violent Game Night when Dean had introduced them all to a card game called Spoons, and filled her in on the plans for an upcoming Halloween Party. As Ginny was finishing her own animated retelling of a particularly awful Quidditch practice, she pinned her friend with a stern look.

“So, how’s Malfoy?”

Hermione choked again, this time on her mouthful of waffle with blueberries and syrup. “What?” she squeaked.

“Maaal-foooy,” Ginny pronounced his name slowly. “The bloke you keep talking about. Tall, blonde, finally grew into his chin.”

Hermione swallowed with difficulty, refused to meet her friend’s eyes, and started viciously cutting up her sausage. “He’s fine, I’m sure, as are all the other members of my house…” but Ginny cut her off.

“Oh, yes, and I’m sure you pay just as much attention to all of them as you do him.”

Hermione finally did look up. “What are you talking about? Of course I pay attention to all of them!”

“Let’s see,” started Ginny. “What have I learned in the past month about Malfoy: his favorite Quidditch team, his thoughts on Slughorn’s lecture about Gorpolott’s Third Law, how bad he is at drawing, how many pieces of toast he eats, what his favorite sweets are, and how he takes his porridge.” She glared furiously at her now-beet-faced friend.

Hermione was gaping, slack-jawed. She didn’t talk about him that much, did she? Before she could defend herself, Ginny continued in a tone dripping with sarcasm. “So tell me, since you insist that you pay equal attention to all your housemates, how does Hannah Abbott take her porridge?”

Hermione refused to even attempt to answer this, preferring to go back to stabbing at her waffle.

“How about Anthony Goldstein? What’s his favorite Quidditch team?”

Again, Hermione ignored her.

“Hah!” Ginny said triumphantly, pointing her fork, which was stacked with waffles, strawberries and cream directly at Hermione. “You know I’m right. Admit it!”

With as much dignity as she could muster, Hermione raised her eyes to her insistent breakfast partner, stuck her own nose in the air and shrugged. A split second later, the two girls dissolved into a fit of giggles. After much hiccupping and wiping of eyes, they settled down enough to resume eating and Hermione reluctantly admitted something.

“He’s really changed, Gin.” She swirled a forkful of waffle in her syrup. “I find myself looking for him sometimes, and I enjoy his company. But we really are just friends.” At this, Ginny made a sound of disbelief through her mouthful of bacon. “No, truly,” Hermione gazed at her imploringly. “It’s much too soon for me to even be considering anything else, with my parents, and just being back here, and even if I did, there’s no reason for me to believe he’d return my feelings.”

“He’d be a right tosser not to!” her loyal friend exclaimed.

Hermione grinned. “Well, I’ll let you know if he turns out to be one. But please promise me you won’t say anything to Harry or Ron. There’s nothing going on and I don’t want them to freak out. I know they don’t hate Malfoy anymore, but I doubt it would go over well.”

“Harry considers him a friend, you know,” interjected Ginny.

“I know,” sighed Hermione. “And I know Malfoy feels the same, which still amazes me, but you know how Ron is.”

“Too right,” agreed Ginny. “I promise, I won’t say a word.”

They continued their breakfast, jumping around to random topics, and eventually agreeing to see each other the following week. As Hermione made her way to her first class, she realized she felt relieved. It was nice to share her feelings about Malfoy, however undefined they might be, with someone else. It made her feel like maybe there was a possibility for things to become more. She shrugged to herself, smiling at the thought.

 

Chapter Text

Even though Draco was at Hogwarts, which was part of his Ministry-ordered probation, he still was expected to check in with Harry every week. Bill had offered his office on Thursday evenings, in order to give the pair a bit of privacy. Sometimes Harry would come through, and other times they talked through a floo call. On this Thursday, Draco entered his Head’s office to find Harry stepping out of the fireplace, brushing ash off his jeans.

“Hey, Malfoy,” he greeted, straightening his glasses.

“Potter,” Draco drawled amicably. The two sat in the chairs in front of Bill’s desk, Harry immediately rattling off his Ministry-required questions. He asked them all in quick succession, not even giving Draco a chance to answer them individually, which had become their routine. At the end, Draco just gave a solid “no,” and they moved on to other, more interesting topics.

“So,” Draco began. “I’ve been thinking about continuing with my family’s restitution.” He paused, wondering how Potter would receive the idea. “I want to have other portraits commissioned.” He glanced at his messy-haired company with a raised eyebrow, waiting for a response.

Harry looked thoughtful. “Okay. Tell me more.”

“I want to have portraits made for every family who lost someone during the Battle or since Voldemort returned to power.” He saw Harry’s eyes narrow slightly and rushed on to clarify. “Every family who fought against him.” A look of understanding dawned on Harry’s face, followed by a smile and a nod.

“I think that would be incredible, Malfoy. You saw how much it meant to the Weasleys.”

Draco still could not recall that day without getting slightly choked up. The memory of George standing in front of the portrait of his brother would forever be ingrained in his mind. He cleared his throat, determined to lay out his plan completely.

“I’ll need your help compiling a list of all those who perished, as well as getting photographs of them for reference. I know my mother would be happy to help with this, as well. If it’s easier to give the information to her, since she is the one in contact with the artist, that’s fine. I won’t be able to be there every time a portrait is presented to the families, but she could be.”

Harry had been nodding in agreement the entire time Draco had been talking.

“Do you know what portrait you’d like to commission next?” he asked.

Draco looked down at his lap, unable to meet Harry’s eyes as he said, “I was thinking about Lupin and Tonks.” The guilt and shame he still felt at the thought of all the loss the Battle had brought and his part in everything welled up in him once again. He had mocked Professor Lupin from the first moment he’d laid eyes on the man, never willing to admit he was actually a really good teacher. And Tonks was his cousin, a cousin he had never met, never been allowed to interact with. The wrongness of the entire situation left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I think Andromeda would appreciate that immensely,” Harry said in a somber but supportive tone. Draco looked up and saw the pair of bright green eyes boring into his own. Potter’s face held a mix of understanding, sadness, and encouragement. It was as if he could tell exactly how Draco was feeling, but instead of feeling embarrassed or irritated, Draco was relieved he didn’t have to explain or hide anything.

He nodded briskly, sat a little straighter in his chair, and launched further into the details of his plan. When their time was almost up, Harry surprised Draco with a seemingly random question.

“How’s Hermione doing?”

Too caught off-guard to think about his response, Draco replied. “She’s good. She and Dean are determined to expose all of us to every Muggle game imaginable.” He chuckled and continued, “Her first years worship her, of course, follow her around like the Queen’s subjects.” He snorted, but rambled on. “She was frustrated yesterday when she got another unhelpful letter from one of the healers she’d written about her parents. I think she’s still waiting to hear from seven or eight more, and she refuses to give up hope.” He smiled to himself, admiring her stubbornness. “She had a fit on Monday when she found out Professor Vector changed the guidelines for our latest essay. Even though the due date is still two weeks away, she, of course, had already almost completed it.” He chuckled again, this time looking up at Harry, only to find his former rival smirking at him in an annoyingly self-satisfied way. He realized with a jolt that he’d probably said way too much, and felt his cheeks burn. He scowled and looked away, trying to act as if none of the information he had just shared meant anything to him.

“Right then,” grinned Harry. “Good to know she’s alright. Thanks for keeping an eye on her, Malfoy.”

Draco snapped his head around, glaring at Harry. “I’m not keeping an eye on her, Potter.”

“Yeah, of course,” came the irritatingly smug response. The Golden Git stood and made his way to the fireplace. “Same time next week?”

“Do I have a choice?” grumbled Draco, feeling extremely out of sorts.

“Nope!” Harry announced gleefully, stepping into the flames and disappearing with a “whoosh.”

 

ooOoo

 

Another Game Night was upon them and Hermione was jittery with nerves. She and Dean wanted to make sure they kept a good variety going as far as the types of games they played. They had introduced their housemates to two board games, two card games, and one evening of Musical Chairs, which had raised the volume in the Room to levels rivaling the crowd at a Quidditch match. Dean had bewitched his CD player to stop and start at random intervals, and had chosen an album of Latin dance music as the background for the night.

They had pulled the chairs from the long, wooden table into the middle of the room, and shoved all the couches and armchairs off to the sides. Once the rules had been explained, a practice round was done, in which half of the group had kept trying to go the wrong way, Neville sat while the music played and got up when it stopped, and Daphne kept scooting around people, trying to pick the “best spot” in line. Once the real game got going, it was utter madness. More than once, Draco found himself sat on by housemates desperately trying to find a seat, and in one horrifying instance, he himself sat in Luna’s lap. He had jumped up so quickly, he had knocked Padma over, which caused Theo to trip and fall into Hermione’s lap.

“Think I’ll just stay here,” Theo announced, crossing one knee over the other and flinging his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. Everyone laughed, but only Draco saw the smirk Theo sent his way and he felt a small coil of anger unfurl in his chest, which then caused a jolt of confusion. There was no time for introspection, however, as the music was playing again and everyone was up and moving, including Theo.

On this evening however, the Eighth Years were going to have a Connect Four tournament. Six of the upright, plastic grids had been set up on tables around the room. The idea was that everyone would play the first round, then all the winners would play the second round, and so on. Since Bill had been so supportive of their Game Night endeavors, even going so far as to make trips into Hogsmeade for snacks each week, Hermione had invited him and Fleur, who were more than happy to join in the fun.

Everyone gathered around the coffee table, where one game was set up, to watch Dean and Hermione play a practice round and ask questions (which there inevitably always were). Luna announced halfway through their game that this was exactly like the game of Snarbglubbins that fairies and doxies often play, leaving everyone rather speechless since none of them had any idea what she was talking about, until Theo piped up.

“Actually, I think it’s more like Horkenfloo, which is a favorite of grindylows and merpeople.” He winked at Luna, who sent him a beaming smile, while everyone else chuckled and turned their attention back to the game taking place.

Once the rules and practices were made clear, everyone paired off and the tournament began. Dean had promised that they would do an entire second set of rounds, and then the final winner of both would play each other. The first game ended with Draco, Dean, Hannah, Anthony, and Fleur moving on. The second found Dean, Fleur and Anthony the winners. Fleur played Anthony and won, but then lost to Dean, making him the champion of the first set of rounds. Padma grumbled that Dean had an unfair advantage since he grew up playing the game, but her complaint was overruled since he had willingly sat out the previous week to make things fairer.

“Don’t worry, Padma,” hollered Dean across the common room, “If I do win the whole thing, I won’t take points for it!”

“That’s madness!” exclaimed Theo, who was by far the most competitive member of their house. Everyone burst out laughing at this, because they knew he'd sooner clean the bathrooms the Muggle way than give up any of his points. 

The second set of rounds began. The first game ended with Hermione, Fleur, Draco, Dean, Padma, and Anthony winning. Neville exclaimed that he was perfectly hopeless at this game, while Hannah sympathetically patted him on the arm. Luna didn’t seem to actually be trying to win, but instead focused on the patterns the red and black chips were making. The second game crowned Fleur, Draco, and Anthony the victors (although Hermione suspected Dean threw his game because he didn’t want to wind up the final winner again.)

Fleur beat Anthony again, much to the former Ravenclaw's dismay, and then faced Draco. For the first time that night, there was a draw at the end, with both players successfully blocking the other until all their chips were used up. They played again, and this time Draco won, which Daphne demanded credit for because she had blurted out “No!” when he was about to make a move that would have allowed Fleur to win. He smirked and told her she could have half a point if he won, and then he and Dean sat down for the final game of the night. Once again, there was a draw, which had everyone on the edge of their seats.

As they started the second game, Dean grinned over the top of the grid and said, “No more Mr. Nice Guy, Malfoy. I’m not taking it easy on you anymore.”

Draco scoffed, “Like that last round was you taking it easy.”

“Might’ve been!”

“Guess we’ll see,” he smirked back.

Hermione was once again reminded of just how far Draco had come and just how much he had changed. To see him sitting across the table from one of her fellow former Gryffindors, playing a Muggle game, engaging in light-hearted banter, was incredible. On the one hand, it made her tremendously happy, but on the other, it made her sad to think of the wasted years they had all spent despising each other. Shaking off the melancholy thought, she turned her attention back to the game which was moving at a much more rapid pace than the previous one, and ended a few seconds later with Dean leaping out of his chair, arms raised in triumph and Draco, staring at the grid with his mouth gaping in shock.

“Told you!” crowed Dean. “Sorry, Malfoy,” he grinned at his opponent and extended his hand to him.

“Well played, Thomas,” Draco grinned back and shook the offered hand.

“All five of the winning points can go to Malfoy, though,” Dean announced to the group. “The glory of triumphant victory is enough for me!”

“Four and a half points,” reminded Daphne, and everyone laughed and started to clean up.

As she was moving one of the smaller tables back to its usual place, Hermione found Bill at her side.

“That was fun, even though I was rubbish at it,” chuckled the eldest Weasley.

“I’m glad you and Fleur came! She seemed to have a real knack for the game,” Hermione glanced across the room where the pale beauty stood in animated conversation with Dean, no doubt discussing the strategy of the game.

“She did, didn’t she,” Bill gazed fondly at his wife. “Did you know the portraits for Lupin and Tonks were delivered to Andromeda last week?”

Hermione turned her attention back to her Head of House. “No, I had no idea.”

“Yeah, Harry went over there with Narcissa and it was apparently quite the reunion.” Seeing Hermione’s quizzical look he continued, “Andromeda hadn’t seen Narcissa since the Battle. In fact, she hadn’t seen her sister in over twenty years, due to their parents disowning her for marrying Ted.”

“I had forgotten about that,” Hermione said quietly. “Maybe now they can start to rebuild their relationship.”

“Based on what Harry said, I think that’s a definite possibility. He said the two women sobbed and hugged for a solid quarter of an hour, while he just stood there holding Teddy, who Andromeda had dumped in his arms as soon as Narcissa entered the room.” Bill chuckled, “He said Teddy’s hair turned black like his about a minute after he had him.”

Hermione smiled at the image in her mind. “Was Andromeda pleased with the portraits?”

“Oh yeah,” said Bill enthusiastically. “She cleared an entire wall in her living room, and had Harry hang them lower than usual so they’d be a better height for Teddy to see. By the time he left, Andromeda and Narcissa were sitting on the floor in front of them, with Teddy between them, while Lupin and Tonks smiled and made silly faces at him.”

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of this, but before she could get too deep into her emotions, Bill changed topics.

“I think what you’re doing here is really, really great.” He smiled proudly at her and then let his gaze roam across the room where everyone was still putting things away and chatting happily. “I never would have imagined a scene like this back when I was in school, nor would I have thought it would have even been possible after this past year.” He turned back to her, his face more serious than before. “The world needs more people like you, Hermione. More people who are willing to forgive and move forward. More people to plan Game Nights.” He grinned as he said the last bit and she smiled sheepishly, slightly embarrassed by his praise.

“I just wanted this year to go well,” she said quietly, “for everyone.” Automatically her eyes settled on Draco, who was sitting on the couch, talking to Neville. Bill followed her line of sight and cocked his head.

“Malfoy’s turned out to be a decent bloke, yeah?”

Her eyes flew up to his face, her mouth slightly open in surprise. Before she could begin to stammer out any sort of response, Bill raised his eyebrows and smirked. “People change, if we give them a chance to. All they need is someone to believe in them to make it stick.”

With that, he started walking towards the door, gesturing for Fleur to join him and calling out a farewell to everyone.

Hermione was still rooted to the spot, trying to sift through Bill’s comment. She couldn’t be sure if she was more embarrassed that he seemed to think she fancied Malfoy, or shocked that Ron’s own brother would be encouraging her to seek out a new relationship. Not that she shouldn’t, she argued to herself, seeing as Ron appeared to be moving on in that area of his life. Her eyes drifted back to the tall blonde as he stood up, gave a general “good night” to the Room and began sauntering towards his chamber. As he reached his door, he turned slightly and met her gaze. Caught staring, her cheeks tinged pink, but she managed a small smile before spinning on her heel and heading to her own door. Had she hesitated for even a second, she would have seen the smile that crossed his own face before he went inside.

Chapter Text

The week of Halloween had everyone in high spirits. The Eighth Years had decided it would be fun to invite all of their First Years to a costume party in the Room, and Bill had given them permission to host it the night before Halloween, so no one would miss the traditional school feast. They had decided on a theme of “magical creatures,” which had all the First Years extremely excited, and their mentors happily anticipating the event, as well.

Hermione had been given the job of overseeing it all, but everyone seemed to have everything well in hand. Padma had designed the invitations, which folded themselves into the shape of bats and flew off to find their recipients. Hannah and Daphne were taking care of the decorations, which consisted of yards and yards of gauzy black, purple, and orange fabric and thousands of twinkling lights. Dean had talked Hagrid into growing thirty-two pumpkins, all roughly the size of cantaloupes, so everyone could carve their own as part of a contest. Luna had managed to tame about two dozen Cornish pixies so that they would wear white handkerchiefs with holes cut out for eyes, and float above the heads of all the party goers like tiny Muggle versions of ghosts. Draco said he would handle the food, and whenever Hermione asked what he was planning, he just smirked and changed the topic of discussion. Anthony and Neville had created a game involving a Mimbulus Mimbletonia and a blindfold, which Hermione was rather skeptical about, and Theo had insisted on being in charge of the music for the night.

The common area had been transformed the afternoon before the party. The couches and chairs in front of the fireplace had been shrunken and shoved into various chambers, so the floor there could be used for dancing. The long, dining table was set along the side where the girls’ rooms were and doubled in length for the food. More of the small round tables had been conjured so everyone would have somewhere to sit, and also for the pumpkin carving. On the boys’ side, Neville and Anthony’s game was set up, as were a few other, more traditional ones like "Pin the Tail on the Sphinx," and an Erumpent "horn" ring toss (obviously not a real one, so no explosions to fear). Theo’s “dance machine,” as he insisted on calling it, (it was really a fairly basic DJ setup that Dean had helped him put together, but as Theo had never seen anything like it before, he was rather impressed and very proud of himself for learning how to use it) took up the corner to the right of the fireplace.

Hermione was running through the final checklist when the door opened behind her and she turned to see a tower of boxes floating into the room, seemingly on their own. A split second later, Draco appeared behind them, carrying one last, enormous box in his arms, while pointing his wand at the stack in front of him.

“Can I help?” asked Hermione, worried that if she touched any of them, they’d fall.

“Nope, just going to set them over……here,” Draco finished, gently directing the boxes to the floor right next to the long table.

“You seem to have brought enough for the whole school,” Hermione said in amazement.

“Well, I wanted a variety.” he said, grinning. “Help me set them out?”

They started opening the boxes and Hermione saw an amazing array of treats. There were the more traditional favorites, like cauldron cakes and pumpkin pasties, but then there were also several things she had never seen in the wizarding world, like three-inch tall marshmallow ghosts, chocolate bon-bon spiders, and...

“Mini caramel apples?” She held up a small sphere, no larger than a golf ball, covered with caramel and skewered on a black stick.

“Yup!” said Draco, as he was constructing a pyramid of small sandwiches. “Do you like those?”

“Oh, yes,” beamed Hermione. “They’re one of my favorites!” She continued to unpack the boxes, finding five jars of Honeydukes sweets in one. “Got enough sugar here?” She asked, jokingly.

“Never,” Draco met her teasing glance with a mischievous grin and gave her a wink. She giggled and went back to the box, a warm feeling spreading through her while her stomach did a small backflip.

Once the boxes were all unpacked, the last one containing a huge bowl of frothy, orange punch that Draco had charmed fake eyeballs to pop up and down in, it was time for everyone to go put their costumes on and wait for their guests to arrive.

Hermione went to her room to get ready. She had decided to go with a bright, whimsical costume for the party; a fwooper. Choosing to go with lime green for her feathers, she'd created the body by attaching several hundred of them to a knee-length, sleeveless, slightly-darker-green dress. She had painted a large, paper mache egg in a vibrant, jewel-toned pattern, with a small ribbon attached to the top so she could wear it on her wrist, much like a balloon-shaped purse. After piling her hair on top of her head in a loose bun, she jammed several extra feathers in it, sticking straight up. She giggled when she looked at her reflection, thinking her First Years would be amused, and proceeded to add some bright pink lip-gloss and black eyeliner to complete the look. She was excited to see what her fellow Eighth Years had come up with. No one had wanted to tell ahead of time, so everyone was going to be surprised. She wondered what Draco would be.

Now why would that matter?

She tried to convince herself that she was just as eager to see all her friends, because that was truly what he had become to her over the past two months. Yet she couldn’t help but think about the way he’d smirked when he’d winked at her. Or the way he seemed to watch her in class when he didn’t think she’d noticed. Or how he would often wait to walk with her, even when there were other students going the same way. A small part of her believed it was because of the conversation they’d had at her kitchen table all those weeks ago. She could tell that her forgiveness had meant a great deal to him, and perhaps he was trying to show her that in his own way. A larger, and steadily-growing part of her wanted to think it was because he enjoyed being around her, and that maybe he might even be interested in her as more than just a friend. 

She knew that Draco Malfoy did not wear his heart on his sleeve, or talk about his feelings, or even show his emotions if he could avoid it. He had a habit of hiding behind a smooth, calm exterior that left others wondering if he ever felt anything at all. But she knew he did. In fact, she had a suspicion that he felt things even deeper than most people, but had just gotten really good at shoving it all down to some unreachable place. He had changed, though, there was no mistaking that. He was still reserved most of the time, but since starting the year, she had seen him relax. He laughed more easily and it was a genuine laugh, not the cruel sneer that used to cross his face. He talked more, too, engaging in conversations with everyone in their house. He would still freeze up when he got uncomfortable, and his temper would flare when he got angry, which rarely happened, but mostly he just seemed softer than before.

Softer was never a word Hermione would have thought she would use to describe her former enemy. He had always been all hard angles and sharp words, but even his pointed chin seemed to have rounded out a little. He still had a strong jaw and chiseled features. She wondered if other parts of him were as well defined… Her eyes flew wide as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.

Nope. Definitely not. We are not going there.

 She scolded herself for her overactive imagination, grabbed her egg, and headed back to the common room.

 

ooOoo

 

Padma opened door to the Room for what seemed like the hundredth time that night as another set of First Years cautiously entered the ostentatiously decorated, deafeningly loud, and mildly chaotic space. Theo had cranked up the music to the point that the very walls and floor seemed to thump with the bass, and the flickering fairy lights caused a rather dizzying effect. By the way the younger students were staring around, open-mouthed and bug-eyed, it seemed clear that their mentors had duly impressed them.

In no time, the room was crammed with brightly colored, wildly imaginative creatures. Hermione spotted several fairies, a few goblins, one troll, and something she thought was supposed to be a hippogriff, but she wasn’t entirely sure. She wasn’t surprised to see the more common magical creatures represented, but she was very pleased to note that many of the students had chosen some obscure species. Neville and his two First Years had all come as bowtruckles, dressed all in mossy green with leaves sticking out of their heads. Luna had apparently convinced her two charges to follow her example and dress like creatures Hermione was pretty sure only existed in her dreamy friend’s mind; wrackspurts and nargles.

She spotted a niffler, a murtlap, and a grindylow in one corner of the dance floor, and turned around just in time to see Draco and his First Years making their way over. She couldn’t stop the chuckle of appreciation that escaped her, both for his creativity, and for the fact that his costume was just so him.

Draco, Olivia, and Christopher had combined their efforts to become a dragon. Draco, of course, wore the head. A shiny red, very detailed, paper dragon’s head sat atop his own, with glittering black eyes and gold horns. He wore a matching red jumper, as did his two teammates. Olivia was the body of the beast, with red wings flapping out from her shoulders. Christopher was clearly the tail, which curved down his back and up again, the point of it reaching above his head.

The tall blonde smirked at her when he caught her eye and pointed his wand at the dragon’s snout, causing a puff of smoke to curl out from its nostrils. Hermione’s eyes widened in delight.

“Admit it, Granger,” he drawled with a hint of his old arrogance, “You’re impressed.” His smile took the edge off his words and she knew he was playing with her.

“Hmmm, yes,” she nodded, scrutinizing the trio. Directing her words to the two younger ones, she winked conspiratorially at them. “I’m impressed anyone could hold that dragon’s head up, big as it is.” The boy and girl giggled and glanced up at their mentor, who was pretending to be highly offended.

“Somehow I don’t think you’re referring to my costume, Granger,” Draco sniffed.

“Whatever would make you think that?” she asked sweetly.

“Well,” he took in her bright green creation with a slow-roving gaze from her head to her feet and back up again until he met her sparkling eyes with teasing in his own. “At least I don’t look like I lost a pillow fight with a kneazle.”

They all burst into laughter, and Draco waved his dragon parts off to go join their friends, turning his attention back to the feathery vision beside him.

“Green looks good on you,” he commented, “but what exactly are you?”

“I’m a fwooper, of course,” she huffed in irritation that it hadn’t been immediately obvious.

“Ah, yes, of course,” he pretended to recognize the species now as he looked at her again.

Hermione rolled her eyes, and poked him in the ribs with her elbow. He let out an exaggerated “oof,” but they both grinned at each other.

“Your dragon head really is quite amazing,” she admitted, “and I love the color.” She winked at him then, and strolled across the dance floor to her trio of First Years who had all decided to be different winged magical creatures. Darla was a phoenix, Allison was a Cornish pixie, and Malcolm was an occamy.

Draco stood there for a moment, watching her interact with her younger counterparts. It was not lost on him that they had chosen to wear each other’s former house color. It had truly been coincidental on his part, or at least he hadn’t consciously chosen the Gryffindor hue. He knew fwoopers came in several bright colors, so her preference for green was intriguing to him. He tried not to read anything into it, but he couldn’t help the smile that tipped up the edges of his mouth. She was adorable, with those feathers sticking straight up on top of her head. And her eyes had appeared even bigger than usual with the makeup she’d worn, not to mention the shiny pink color on her lips.

Stop thinking about her lips.

He gave himself a little shake, allowed one more eyeful of lime-colored cuteness to be committed to memory, and joined the rest of the chaos on the dance floor where everyone was happily occupied dancing, snacking, and chatting, until the current song came to an end, and Dean called everyone to attention.

“All right, you lot!” he exclaimed to a raucous chorus of cheers and applause. “Glad to see everyone is having a good time. We’ve got some fantastic stuff planned for the evening, so let’s get to it.” Again, his announcement was met with whoops and hollers from the excited crowd.

“First, we’re going to have a pumpkin carving contest. Everyone here gets their own pumpkin, and you can create any design you want. The only rule is that you have to do it the Muggle way.”

This proclamation was met with incredulous silence and wide stares from the majority of the First and Eighth Years. “No magic!” Dean continued, grinning broadly. “You’ll find spoons, carving knives, markers, and various other tools in the center of each round table. There’s also a bin at each one for the slimy insides.” Dean was now gleefully chortling at the look of horror on several faces.

“You’ll get thirty minutes to complete this task,” Hermione joined him at the front of the crowd and waved her wand. A larger version of the sand timer they had used for several games appeared on the mantle. “Go ahead and choose your pumpkin,” she directed, and thirty magical creatures started shuffling around, trying to find the perfect canvas for their soon-to-be masterpiece.

 

ooOoo

 

The Halloween Party was a smashing success. The First Years had stumbled out the door just before midnight, most of them nearing sugar-induced comas. The pumpkin carving contest had resulted in three creations tying for first place. Padma won for the Eighth Years, as did one of her First Years, and one of Luna’s. They each received giant bars of Honeydukes chocolate, and shiny, silver ribbons pinned on their pumpkins. Dean had gotten permission from the Headmistress to display all of the finished pumpkins in the Great Hall the next morning, which the younger students were extremely excited about. It was rare that First Years received recognition for anything, and they were all very proud of their artwork. Even Malcolm had admitted it was fun, although he quickly stopped talking when he saw his mentor approaching.

Hermione had made good on her decision to not go to extremes for the surly young boy. Since her chat with Hagrid, she had consistently met with Malcolm in the library. The first time, he had seemed shocked but made no comment about the lackluster spot. She had compiled a list of questions to ask him, and even though most of his answers consisted of one or two words, she was slowly learning more about the belligerent Gryffindor. One thing she knew for sure was that the new student had still not made any close friends, not even in his own house. She wasn’t exactly surprised, but she felt sorry for him all the same.

During one of their sessions, she was telling him a few details about the Triwizard Tournament, which he actually seemed interested in, when she saw his gaze follow someone across the vast expanse of shelves. Draco had started to empty his bag on a table a few rows down from theirs and Malcolm was watching him with obvious skepticism and curiosity. Deciding this could either go really well, or really badly, Hermione crossed her fingers and called her housemate over.

Draco, surprised by the summons, made his way over to their table. “Need something, Granger?” He smiled at her and nodded at her companion, who was staring at him with narrowed eyes.

“This is Malcolm Fraser,” introduced Hermione. “He’s a Gryffindor, and one of my First Years.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Malcolm,” Draco greeted the boy, still wondering why he’d been beckoned over. He recognized the boy from the first day the mentors were paired up, and knew he wasn’t in the presence of an admirer. He looked back at the brunette witch and cocked an eyebrow in question.

“I was wondering if you would be willing to share a little bit about what your time at Hogwarts was like for you, before this year,” Hermione said tentatively. She had a pleading look in her eyes as she met Draco’s, willing him to understand what she was asking. Upon hearing her question, Draco felt his stomach clench, and Malcolm stiffened and whipped his head around to stare at her like she had just sprouted antennae.

Draco studied Hermione’s face for a second more, realizing this was not just some random gossip session he’d been brought into. He nodded and pulled out a chair, settling in next to her and pinning Malcolm with a solemn look.

“Well, I’m sure you know my family were big supporters of Voldemort.” He watched as Malcolm’s eyes widened, some of the smugness sliding off his face. The younger student simply nodded.

“My father has always held extreme Pureblood beliefs, which is how I was raised. I grew up hating anyone and anything that didn’t meet that standard. I assumed I was better than everyone else. Not only that, but I considered Muggleborns to be scum, barely human.” Draco’s cheeks burned with shame, and he felt Hermione shift beside him, her arm now touching his.

“That prejudice mindset kept me from making friends. It made people think of me as a bully and a prat, which I was, honestly.” He chuckled but it lacked any humor, and Hermione nudged his arm a little, giving him a tight-lipped smile. Draco shook his head in response and continued.

“It also led my father to become one of Voldemort’s most loyal subjects. He did whatever he was told, and he offered me up in the same way. I was expected to follow orders, whether that meant spying on, torturing, or even killing someone.” He took a deep breath, holding Malcolm’s now slightly horrified gaze.

“I didn’t have a choice. If I didn’t do what I was told, I would be killed, and so would my mother. So I did awful things. Things I’m not proud of. Things I will never forget. Things I will spend the rest of my life trying to earn forgiveness for.” His throat constricted and he took a moment to collect himself while Hermione moved even closer to him, her knee now pressing against his own. Her close proximity was both a comfort and a cause for yet another pang of guilt to pierce his heart.

“I wasted so much time, Malcolm. I missed out on the last two years of my life because I chose the wrong side. I missed out on all sorts of stuff even before that. I dismissed the mere thought of friendship with anyone besides my Pureblood housemates, but I honestly didn’t even really care about them.” He shook his head and gave another self-depreciating chuckle. “I spent two months in Azkaban figuring out what I really believe and what I would do with my life if I ever got out. I don’t want to be who I was before.”

He pinned the young Gryffindor with a challenging expression. “Don’t ever let what you think you know about someone keep you from finding out who they really are. Don’t judge so quickly. And when you make mistakes, because you most certainly will, be willing to admit it and ask for forgiveness.” Draco chanced a glance at Hermione, who was watching him intently, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears, but also with what looked like pride. It made his heart swell and he wanted to give her a million more reasons to look at him like that. She met his gaze solidly and gave just the slightest nod of approval, the corners of her lips turning up in a small smile, and he felt his own cheeks hitch up the tiniest bit.

Bolstered by her support, he turned back to Malcolm, who was now looking down at the table, his cheeks slightly pink. Without looking up at the older students, he spoke in a low voice. “I do that a lot.”

“What do you do, Malcolm?” Hermione asked gently.

“I judge people. I think I’m better than them.”

“Is that why you haven’t made many friends this term?”

His cheeks flushed even brighter and he scowled at the table, reluctantly nodding.

“Do you think it would be worth trying to do things differently?”

Malcolm looked first at his mentor, and then at her blonde friend and nodded again, more slowly, and with a smaller frown on his face.

Releasing a breath she didn’t know she was holding, Hermione smiled at her young charge. “I think that’s brilliant, Malcolm.” Still slightly embarrassed by the whole conversation, the First Year nodded again and dropped his gaze back to the table.

“Why don’t you head on back to your house? I’ll see you at our group dinner on Wednesday.” Hermione could tell he was ready to escape, which he proved by immediately packing up his bag and practically running to the open library doors.

She turned to Draco, hoping he wasn’t angry that she’d roped him into that awkward encounter, and found him studying her with an piercing look that caused her breath to catch in her throat.

“Thank you, Malfoy,” she said sincerely. “I think maybe, just maybe, you got through to him. Goodness knows I haven’t been able to.”

Draco nodded, still regarding her thoughtfully. “I hope so. The world doesn’t need another me running around sneering at everyone, does it?” He smirked slightly and she knew he wasn’t angry.

“I don’t think there could ever be another you,” she replied softly, allowing herself to get lost in his pewter grey eyes for just a moment. Those eyes widened slightly at her admission and she smiled, tilting her head as if in deliberation. “You’re one of a kind, Malfoy.”

With that, she stood and slid her bag onto her shoulder. Draco remained rooted to the seat, quite flabbergasted. She patted him on the shoulder as she rounded the table, heading towards the doors.

 

Chapter Text

One morning in early November, Draco entered the common room on his way back from the library. He was just planning to grab his potions book before meeting with his one of his First Years when he noticed Hermione sitting on a couch by the fire. She hadn’t looked up when he came in, or made any indication that she had even heard the door open. As he slowed his pace, he observed her. Her back was mostly to him, but he could tell her head was bent, like she was looking down at something. As he continued in the general direction of his room, he heard a very small sniff and saw the slightest shaking of her shoulders. She was crying. Without thinking, he walked directly over to her, stopping just slightly off to her right, in front of the couch.

“Granger,” he started quietly. “Are you okay?”

She gave a small nod, but still had not looked up from what he now saw was a piece of parchment that she was holding in her lap. As he stood there, contemplating what to do or say, because clearly she wasn’t okay, he saw a single tear splash onto the page. Feeling slightly uncomfortable, since dealing with emotions was really not his strong suit, he sat down on the couch with a few inches of space between them and angled himself towards her, trying to see her face better.

“Granger,” he began again.

“It’s the last one,” she whispered brokenly.

“What is?”

She passed the letter to him without looking and he took it, glancing at the writing. He scanned the page, quickly realizing that this was one of the responses from the many experts she had written to, regarding her parents. This one, like so many others, expressed apology and sorrow for an inability to be of any help. And then he understood what she had meant. This was the last response that she had been waiting for. This was the one she had been holding out hope for. His stomach felt like a lead weight had settled in it and he honestly didn’t know what he could say or do that would be any good at the moment.

“I’m sorry,” he said after a brief pause. Because he was, truly, that it had come to this for her.

She nodded again, and another tear fell into her lap. Her curls were mostly pulled back in a loose bun, and he could see the tear tracks on her cheeks. Her eyes were closed, her lips tightly pressed in a thin line and she seemed to be fighting very hard to hold herself together. Without knowing what possessed him to attempt this, he gently placed his left hand on her right shoulder. As soon as she felt the weight of it, she let out a small sob and buried her face in her hands, her elbows on her knees. Her shoulders were shaking harder, but she still wasn’t making any sound apart from quiet sniffles every so often. Still feeling rather out of his element, Draco conjured a handkerchief and held it out to her.

“Here,” he offered softly.

Hermione lifted her face slightly, glanced at the proffered fabric and then at Draco’s face. Her eyes were red and filled with tears that continued to stream down her cheeks. She took the handkerchief, nodding for a third time, wiped her eyes and nose, and then clutched it between her hands as she looked unseeingly at them in her lap again.

“Can I get you anything?” he offered, having no idea what he would get her if she said yes, but figured it was the best he could do.

This time she shook her head and took in a deep breath. Still not looking at him, she started to speak in a quavering voice.

“I just k-kept telling myself n-not to give up.” Her breath was catching in between the words. “That I still had m-more people to h-h-hear back f-from, but now I d-don’t, and…” she gave up trying to talk and once again leaned into her hands, her shoulders shaking even harder.

“I really am so sorry,” whispered Draco. He scooted over, closing the small distance that had been between them. As he did so, he moved his hand from her right shoulder across her back to rest on her left arm, giving her an awkward, side-arm sort of hug. At this, she leaned into him and completely lost it. Her body wracked with sobs and he could feel the front of his shirt starting to soak through with her tears, and there was nothing he could do but sit there and let the storm rage.

Draco couldn’t recall a single moment in his life when he'd comforted another person. Not like this, anyway. His version of comforting was to tell Blaise to “suck it up” when his favorite shirt was dirty, or to punch Goyle on the shoulder and tell him not to worry about it when he’d failed another exam. For as foreign as the experience was to him, he didn’t feel as uncomfortable as he’d expected. He wasn’t sure if that was because this was Granger, and he had become fairly familiar with her recently, or because he was, as his mother liked to put it, becoming “softer around the edges.” All he knew was that here was someone desperately hurting, and she’d accepted the bumbling attempt he’d made to help, and he actually felt rather pleased about it.

Huh, who knew?

 A few more minutes went by, and Draco’s arm was starting to go numb since he hadn’t moved even a centimeter, and Hermione’s tears seemed to be slowing. When she shifted slightly, he gently eased his arm down and peered into her face. Her lashes were wet, and her nose was slightly red, but she seemed much calmer. After wiping under her eyes again, she glanced at him and frowned.

“I’ve ruined your shirt,” she reached out to try to smooth the large wet patch beneath his left shoulder. His skin warmed where her hand rested, and he looked up to meet her still-watery eyes.

“It’s fine,” he chuckled. He took out his wand and waved it over the damp spot as a burst of warm air quickly dried it.

She stared intently at him for a moment, then looked back down at her hands and the crumpled handkerchief they held. Feeling that this might be a good time to excuse himself, he lightly slapped his palms on his thighs and spoke. “Will you be alright?”

She nodded, looking up at him again and giving him a small, tremulous smile. Draco heaved himself up off the couch, saying that he was off to meet with one of his First Years as he strode into his chamber to grab his book. As he headed back towards the door of the Room, he glanced at Hermione one more time. She was still sitting on the couch, but had looked up as he made his way across the space, watching him pensively. When he reached the door and was just about to step out, he heard her.

“Thank you, Draco.”

He turned abruptly and saw that her small smile was a little sturdier now. He nodded and slipped out the door, but stopped in the hall as the realization dawned on him.

She had called him Draco.

 

ooOoo

 

Daphne was one of the Eighth Years Hermione was thoroughly enjoying getting to know. She liked everyone in their new house, but Daphne was a gem. She was funny, outgoing, very bright, and extremely creative. Hermione, for all her book-knowledge and practicality, would not be described as the latter. The former Slytherin had a knack for knowing exactly how something would look before a line was even drawn on a page, or the first step taken in a project. She had made some small changes to various parts of her friends’ chambers, and to the Room at large, which everyone agreed were improvements.

One evening, Hermione was sitting in the pretty blonde’s room, watching her charm ribbons into intricate designs before attaching them to a silk pillowcase. It was a gift Daphne was making for her sister, she’d explained, and offered to teach her new friend the technique. Unfortunately, after over an hour of attempts, Hermione’s ribbons looked much more like trampled worms than anything else, and she was ready to give up (something she rarely did). Sensing the former Gryffindor’s frustration, Daphne took out thicker ribbons, showed her an easier design, and decided to broach a topic she’d long been curious about.

“So,” she began in a light tone, “what’s Harry Potter really like?”

Hermione’s wand stilled in mid-swirl, causing her ribbon, which actually looked vaguely similar to Daphne’s for once, to drop to the rug in an unimpressive heap. Her eyes widened as she took in the look of genuine inquisitiveness on the other witch’s face.

“Harry?”

“Yes, Harry. He’s one of your best friends, right?”

“Yes, yes, absolutely. But what…” Hermione trailed off, cocking her head to the side, trying to figure out what Daphne meant by this.

“Well, I’ve just always wondered what he’s like as a person. You know, not The Boy Who Lived, or The Chosen One, or any of that, but what kind of human being he is. Does that make sense?”

Hermione was still rather baffled, but was starting to understand. “Have you never spoken to him?”

Daphne snorted. “No. A Slytherin speak to Harry Potter? Aside from the guff Draco and his cronies used to give him constantly, how many of us did you ever see talk to him?”

Hermione considered this, knowing full well that Daphne was right. She couldn’t remember a single time that anyone else from the dungeons addressed Harry in all the years they were at school. Draco’s taunts were an almost-daily occurrence, with Crabbe and Goyle grunting alongside, and Pansy Parkinson might have joined in on occasion, but that was it. There were half a dozen other Slytherins in their year who’d never uttered a syllable in her best friend’s direction.

“I see your point,” she conceded. “Well, Harry’s just….Harry.” She smiled as the image of her messy-haired, green-eyed friend came to mind. “He’s just a normal guy. He doesn’t like all the attention he gets for being who he is. It wasn’t his choice.”

“That’s kind of what I thought,” Daphne mused. “He doesn’t seem big-headed about it or anything. The few times I was near him enough to overhear him talking to his friends, he seemed pretty down-to-earth considering everything.”

“He is,” Hermione nodded vigorously. “He’s funny, and kind, and very loyal. And he doesn’t care what other people think about him, good or bad. He’s had to put up with being in the public eye since he first came to Hogwarts, and it hasn’t changed who he is.”

“That’s impressive. I know lots of people who would let all the fame go to their head,” Daphne gave her a smirk and rolled her eyes. Hermione laughed, able to think of several people herself.

“What about Ron Weasley?” Daphne asked, watching the brunette witch’s face closely.

“You mean, what’s he like?”

“Yeah. He really was a regular bloke before he became friends with Harry, you know? So how has all that affected him?”

“Hmmm,” Hermione thought about this for a moment. “Ron always felt like his brothers overshadowed him, like he was an afterthought. Being friends with Harry sometimes made that even worse, but other times it allowed him to share the spotlight. He doesn’t seem to mind the attention quite as much.” She chuckled to herself. “I think he likes when people stop him on the street and ask for a photo.”

“Are the two of you together?”

Hermione’s eyes went wide, surprised by the question. “No,” she replied immediately. “No, we’re just friends. For a while, I think both of us might have wanted something more, but not anymore.” She noticed the melancholy feeling that used to accompany this train of thought was no longer present, and it made her smile. “He’s seeing Katie Bell now, I think.”

“Really?” Daphne’s eyebrows shot up.

Hermione nodded, then decided she would ask a few questions of her own. “Who were you closest to in your year?”

“Theo,” Daphne said without hesitation. Seeing her new friend’s curious look, she continued. “We grew up together. Our mothers were cousins, so we spent a great deal of time at each other’s houses. His mom died when he was eight, and he spent a lot more time at my house after that.” A scowl crossed her pretty features as she went on. “Theo’s father was never very invested in him, to put it nicely. Even less so once his wife was gone. Thought his son was a waste of his time. Nothing Theo ever did was right, or good enough for him.”

“That’s awful,” murmured Hermione.

“You have no idea. But I’ll give you one example.” Daphne sat up straighter and started fiddling with one of the ribbons, rubbing it between her fingers. “Theo would come to my house and he, Astoria, and I would play for hours, mostly hide-and-seek until the house elves got tired of finding us where they were trying to work.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “Usually he would stay for dinner, and if he did, afterwards he would play chess with my father.” She gave a small, humorous huff. “Neither Tori nor I were very good at the game, but Theo was. So, my father would play with him in his study. The night before we were to come to Hogwarts for the very first time, my father gifted Theo with a chess set of his own. Told him to bring it to school and invite his new housemates to play. I’d never seen Theo so excited.”

Her eyes took on a fierce but mournful look and she shook her head. “Apparently, when he got home, his father saw the chess set and asked him where he got it. Theo told him and his father went into a rage, screaming at him for wasting his time playing games, telling him that’s not what he was going to school for. He took the chess set and threw it into the fireplace and forced Theo to sit there and watch the broken pieces burn.”

Hermione’s eyes prickled with tears. She couldn’t imagine a parent treating their child that way. “That’s horrible,” she breathed in a pained whisper.

Daphne nodded. “For the first three years here, Theo barely spoke to anyone, even me. He’d sit with me for meals and in classes, but we didn’t joke around anymore. When he did talk, he was distant and cold. It was like he was a completely different person.”

“What changed?” Hermione asked, trying to reconcile the Theo being described with the snarky, teasing boy she’d grown to consider a friend.

“Were you at the Quidditch World Cup the summer before Fourth Year?” Daphne asked.

“Yes,” said Hermione, recalling the frightening events that overshadowed the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“So were we. Theo and I went together and he found out afterwards that his father was one of the Death Eaters responsible for harming that Muggle family.” She watched Hermione, gauging her reaction to this bit of information. To her relief, her new housemate simply nodded in understanding, so she continued. “He showed up at my house one night, about a week after the match and told me what he’d learned. He was frantic and terrified that he was going to be associated with all of it because of his name. He begged me to let him stay with my family until school started. Of course, I did.”

“Didn’t his father wonder where he was?” Hermione asked.

“Not likely,” Daphne snorted. “He was probably relieved he didn’t have to deal with the inconvenience of being a parent.” She shrugged and started charming ribbons again, weaving multiple strands together in a delicate pattern. “We talked a lot during the days that followed, and by the time we got back to school he was much more like himself, much more like my childhood friend. Last year was rough with the Carrows running things and the Battle and everything, but he’s really happy this year. I think a big part of that has to do with the fact that his father is safely locked away in Azkaban.” She smirked.

“I had heard Nott Sr. was sentenced to life. Same as Lucius Malfoy,” Hermione responded, her mind wandering to the younger Malfoy.

“Yup. Both Theo and Draco really won the draw with the fathers they have,” she rolled her eyes but then pinned her companion with a questioning gaze. “Speaking of, you and Draco seem to be getting along rather well this term, considering your history.” She noticed a slight blush color Hermione’s cheeks and had to stop herself from grinning smugly.

“Uh, yes, we get along fine,” Hermione mumbled, not willing to meet the azure eyes she could feel boring into her.

“You know, he used to talk about you all the time,” Daphne offered, wondering how this would be received.

Hermione grunted. “I’m sure. He made his opinions about me very well-known for the first six years we shared the castle.”

“Hmmm, well, yes,” Daphne agreed lightly. “But one doesn’t typically fixate on someone to that degree unless there’s more to it.”

Brown eyes flew up to meet blue and narrowed in skepticism. “What do you mean?”

“Just that while, yes, Draco did say lots of unflattering things about you, he also watched you. In class, in the Great Hall, in the corridors, in the Quidditch stands, on the train. He couldn’t pass by you without commenting or staring. I think the staring was more telling than anything else, really.” She smiled at the look of shock on Hermione’s face.

“Staring?”

Daphne giggled. “Yes. Quite a bit of staring. Obsessive levels of it, if I’m being honest. You don’t notice that a person’s walk is ‘too bouncy’ or their eyes are ‘too round’ if you’re not paying very close attention.”

Hermione had no idea what to make of this information. She was completely willing to accept that Malfoy had changed, and was very happy to call him her friend. She might even, in the most secret corners of her heart, harbor slightly deeper feelings for him. But to hear that he had been watching her all these years was a revelation she couldn’t reconcile.

Seeing her confusion, Daphne continued. “You know he had a fit at the Yule Ball, right?”

Hermione just cocked an eyebrow in question.

Daphne chortled gleefully and clapped her hands together, clearly enjoying her role as the storyteller. “Oh, yes. An absolute fit. He had been bragging about how he was going to find the best looking girl at the ball and ask her to dance. I’m sure you saw him standing at the side of the dance floor with his thugs and Pansy, who, by the way, was seriously ticked that he didn’t ask her to be his date.” Hermione couldn’t stop the snort that escaped.

“Exactly,” nodded Daphne. “Anyway, Theo and I were near them as the champions entered. Immediately, Draco said something about Krum’s date and how she was the one he was going to ask, as soon as the opening song was over. But about half-way through, you two had come close enough for all of us to get a better look at you and we figured it out.”

“We?”

“Technically, Blaise figured out it was you. Or at least he was the first to say it. He never could keep anything to himself and he just blurted out ‘you know that’s Granger, right,’ and it was like everyone froze.” Daphne chuckled at the memory and huffed a sigh. “By then, we had all endured four years of Draco’s rants about you. You were like the Voldemort of our year; no one ever said your name around him. So when Blaise said that?” She gave a low whistle. “We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.”

Hermione was loathe to admit how intrigued she was by the whole account. She could picture the night so clearly, and even remembered twirling across the dance floor until she was just an arm’s length from Malfoy. She also remembered the blazing look in his eyes and the stony set to his jaw. It was a common expression from him, so she hadn’t thought anything of it, assuming he was just glaring at her as usual.

“Everyone kind of stepped away a little, giving Draco a tiny bit of space. Except for Pansy. Blaise’s announcement seemed to make her think Draco would need her support or comfort or whatever idiotic notion crossed her mind, so she actually latched onto his arm and tried to pull him closer.” Daphne rolled her eyes and shook her head. “He stood there, frozen like a statue for the rest of the song. He was clenching his jaw so tight I thought his teeth would shatter. He’d gone really pale, which is saying something, but his eyes never left you. Not once.”

Before she could stop herself, Hermione asked. “What happened when the song ended?”

“Well, first he ripped his arm out of Pansy’s clutches, glared at her, then at all the rest of us, and then he stormed out of the Great Hall without saying a word. Of course, Pansy was the only one dumb enough to chase after him. She followed him down to our common room, where they got in a huge, screaming row. She accused him of fancying you, which of course he would never have admitted to back then, and he blew up a couch.”

“He….he blew up a couch?” Hermione asked, stunned.

Daphne nodded, a grin tugging at her cheeks and mirth swimming in her eyes. “When we all found them, there were still bits of stuffing floating around the room. It looked like it was snowing.” She studied her new friend for a moment before deciding to share a more recent observation.

“You know, Draco’s a lot happier this year. He’s more relaxed, for one thing. And he truly seems to enjoy being back. I think part of that has to do with the fact that he no longer has his father or a nose-less psychopath looming over him, but mostly, I think it has to do with you.”

“Me?”

“Yes. For all those years, he had to hate you. I know it seems stupid, but it’s the way it was. Now, he can be friends with whoever he wants.” She shrugged and smiled encouragingly at Hermione. “He can be whoever he wants. We all can.”

Hermione pondered her housemate’s words as they resumed charming the ribbons and chatted about the upcoming holiday season and end-of-term exams. She knew Daphne was right. With the war over, and the lines that had been previously drawn erased, it was an opportunity for many to start over. It was a chance to forge new paths and pursue new interests, herself included, and she smiled to herself as she considered the gentle concern the pale wizard had shown her a few days before. 

Pursuing new interests, indeed.

Chapter Text

Flying lessons were going to have to be put on hold until after the start of the new term, Draco thought to himself. This Sunday afternoon at the end of November found him gritting his teeth against the freezing wind that whipped around the pitch. He had cast warming charms on his boots and gloves, as well as those of all his trainees, but it was still bitterly cold. You’d never know it by watching the enthusiastic group of First Years, however. They were laughing and chattering away as they waited for him to give instruction.

“Alright, you lot!” he hollered, clapping his hands and letting his gaze rove across the excitable bunch. He did a quick head-count; he was up to fourteen students now, a fact that he found both endearing and surprising. While he'd truly enjoyed getting to know Olivia and Christopher from the very first day, he’d never in a million years envisioned their little weekend get-togethers becoming something of this magnitude. His old self wouldn’t have been caught dead hanging out with eleven and twelve-year olds, and he took that as a sign that he was most definitely doing the right thing.

He was more than a little pleased with the progress the new fliers were making, as well. A few of them, like Olivia, were naturals on a broom and he knew they only came because they didn’t want to miss out on what their friends were doing. Others, like Aiden and Christopher, had started out shaky, but were now just as comfortable in the air as they were on the ground. He was most proud of the improvement Andrew had shown. The quiet, introspective boy was one of the most fluid fliers he'd worked with, and had made the greatest gains in the shortest amount of time. Draco wouldn’t be surprised if the young Gryffindor tried out for his house team the following year.

He split the group into three sections. Those with the most advanced ability would be doing laps and learning how to perform a sloth roll with him. Olivia would be showing the middle group how to stop short, and also how to dive and pull up from a moderate height. He approached Andrew and gestured to three other students who were still standing nearby.

“Andrew, would you be okay with helping this group today?” He watched as the boy’s eyes lit up and a grin spread across his normally-serious features.

“Me?” Andrew asked, as if there had been a mistake.

“Yes, you,” chuckled Draco. “You’re more than capable of instructing them on how to mount, hover, and dismount, if you’re comfortable with that?”

“Yeah! I can do that!” came his enthusiastic reply.

“Well, then, get to it,” Draco clapped him on the back and strode off to corral his advanced fliers. He’d only taken two steps when he saw a lone figure walking onto the pitch and immediately recognized the chestnut curls blowing in the wind. Hermione wore a red, knit beanie, but it didn’t keep the ringlets beneath from whipping around in a frenzied dance. Her nose and cheeks were already pink and she had her red-mittened hands clasped in front of her, blowing into them as she walked.

He paused, waiting for her, but turned to holler at his group. “Mount up and do three laps, no higher than the side goal posts, and then touch back down.” He watched as all six of them did as he’d said and then turned back to find Hermione now standing next to him.

“What brings you out here? The wonderful weather?” He smirked and cocked an eyebrow.

“Mmm, yes. Thought I’d work on my tan.” She teased back, glancing around the pitch at the groups working on different skills. “I’m impressed, Malfoy. You’ve definitely got them well in hand.” She looked up to find him watching her and her cheeks went a bit rosier. She didn’t understand why lately she always seemed to be blushing when she was around him. It was rather unnerving. As was the way he was currently studying her, his grey eyes never leaving her face, a small smile tugging at his lips.

Attempting to deflect the attention, she waved her hand vaguely in the direction of Olivia’s group, where both Darla and Allison were practicing hovering. “You know Darla only comes here to see you. She told me last week that she doesn’t give a fig about flying, but that she’d take up underwater basket-weaving if you were the teacher.” She giggled and looked back up at her housemate to find him still staring at her, now with a bigger grin on his face.

“And what about you, Granger?”

“What about me?”

“Why are you out here, exactly?”

She turned her head slightly, jutting her chin out. “Just wanted to see what all the fuss is about.”

He let out a hearty guffaw and nudged her with his elbow. “Come to take lessons from me, too, then?” He thoroughly enjoyed teasing her. Their friendly banter was something he looked forward to every day, and in recent weeks it seemed to have turned mildly flirtatious, which he wasn’t sorry about. He knew she despised flying and gleefully watched as her eyes bugged and she started stammering excuses.

“No, no. Thank you. Not at all.” She attempted to push her wayward curls out of her face but her mittens were just creating static and making it harder. “Just wanted to make sure my First Years were doing alright.”

“Well,” he drawled, gesturing to the girls, and then pointing to the group in the air above where Malcolm was doing laps, “as you can see, they’re just fine. So how about it?”

“How about what?”

“Let me teach you how to fly.”

“Absolutely not.” She crossed her arms in front of her, a stubborn set to her jaw.

“Why? Don’t you trust me? If all these students,” he spread his arms to indicate the entire group on the pitch, “can put their faith in me, and not meet their demise, why not you?” He grinned wickedly and her eyes narrowed.

“I do trust you, but I am perfectly fine staying right here on the ground. I do not need to go zooming off into the sky just to prove I have faith in you.” With that, she sat down determinedly on the frozen earth beside him. Draco threw his head back laughing and knew he’d lost this round. There was no way he was going to get Hermione to stand up right now, much less get her anywhere near a broom.

“Fine, fine,” he held his hands up in mock surrender. “I’ll leave you here in mundane safety, then.” He chuckled at the mulish look on her face. “Need to go round up my group, though.” He started taking steps backwards, away from her and towards the center of the pitch where his broom lay.

“Thank you.” She replied sniffily, turning her face to the side, but as he took another step back, he saw her glance at him out of the corner of her eye and he couldn’t resist flashing one last grin and winking at her before turning around and jogging off to gather his young charges.

Hermione watched him for the rest of the hour. She cast a warming charm on the ground beneath her, and on her mittens and boots so she could observe in relative comfort. Draco seemed thoroughly at ease with his eclectic group of First Years. He knew them all by name, and was fully aware of what they could and could not do on a broom yet. He never made fun of them or berated them for mistakes, didn’t get angry or yell. Instead he was kind and encouraging, and extremely patient. He spent almost ten solid minutes with a Ravenclaw boy who had been practicing with her girls earlier. Both Darla and Allison had succeeded in diving and pulling up, but the young student seemed to be struggling with the timing of it. He’d jumped off his broom twice before it crashed into the ground and was obviously frustrated. Draco took him through the paces several times in much slower succession, and finally, the boy was able to do it. When he completed the skill correctly, he hurdled off his broom and flung his arms around the tall blonde’s waist, chanting, “I did it!” The grins on both of their faces spoke for themselves, but Hermione was further warmed by the sight of Draco returning the impromptu hug and tousling the boy’s hair before sending him back to his group.

As the session came to a close, she stood up but remained off to the side. The younger students crowded around their leader in what was clearly a weekly routine. She listened as he listed all of the things they had done well, and reminded them of skills to keep practicing. He then announced that they were going to hold off on lessons until after the holidays, probably until closer to March, when the weather would be turning mild again. The groaning and whining that accompanied this news made her chuckle. They clearly loved their time out here, but she definitely agreed that catching pneumonia was not a worthy goal. She was completely surprised, however, when Malcolm piped up over the hearty complaining taking place.

“Could we still meet, though?” Malcolm asked.

Draco looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“Could we still all get together on Sunday afternoons?” the young Gryffindor glanced around at his peers and found them nodding and smiling in agreement. “I know we won’t come out to fly, but maybe we could do something else.”

His suggestion was met with great enthusiasm, and Olivia spoke up next. “We could still do something Quidditch-related. You know, learn strategies, study other teams.” At this, thirteen heads nodded in agreement, and fourteen pairs of eyes fixed on Draco, waiting for his answer. The look of mild bemusement that had crossed his face was replaced with a warm smile as he chuckled and nodded, resulting in a gleeful chorus from his audience.

“I’ll come up with some plays and maneuvers to discuss next week. And I’ll figure out a good location for us to meet. I’ll send word through Christopher and Olivia.” He nodded at his two First Years, who looked very pleased to be given such an important role. “Make sure you put your brooms back in the shed, and whoever is last, don’t forget to latch the door!” He raised his voice slightly towards the end of his directions, as the group had already begun dispersing, talking happily with one another as they gathered their things and started heading off the pitch.

He walked up to Hermione, who was watching the gaggle of youngsters fondly. She turned to look at him with a beaming smile. “They absolutely adore you,” she announced, her eyes dancing. “It’s precious, really.”

Draco felt his cheeks blaze and hoped she’d assume it was the frigid air causing the blush. “They just like hanging out together.” He shrugged, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and tilted his head in an invitation for them to start walking. They fell in step together as they made their way back towards the castle.

“I don’t think that’s all it is.” Hermione continued. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant that they enjoy being together. That’s the whole point of all the inter-house stuff we’ve been doing this year. But they could get together anytime. It’s you they want to be with.” She nudged him playfully with her elbow. He huffed an embarrassed breath, slightly uncomfortable with her praise. Unable to stop himself, he snuck a glance at her from the corner of his eye. She was watching him, and he chuckled and looked back down at the ground, shaking his head.

“Have you ever considered becoming a teacher?” she asked thoughtfully.

“Honestly, no,” he pondered this for a moment. “The past two years I wasn’t really expecting to make it out alive, and now, I haven’t really thought past this school year.”

He said it so matter-of-factly, but Hermione’s heart clenched. She knew exactly how he felt. She had been well-aware of the possibility that she wouldn’t see the end of the war, and simply surviving had been her only focus. For a split-second, she imagined what it would have been like to come back to Hogwarts without him and the idea choked her. The loss of another young life due to Voldemort’s vengeance was bad enough, but to miss out on this, whatever it was, with the man Draco was becoming, was a heartbreaking concept.

Needing to distract herself from the tears suddenly burning her eyes, she looked around and spotted smoke curling from Hagrid’s chimney.

“Want to come visit Hagrid with me?” She gestured towards the cozy hut.

Draco looked surprised, but pleased. “Sure.” And the two set off to visit the Care of Magical Creatures professor, who would assuredly provide them with tea and rock cakes, and amusing stories of his latest adventures with Grawp.

 

ooOoo

 

Professor Binns seemed to be the only member of the castle’s population to be completely unaffected by the trauma and turmoil of the previous year. He droned on in his wheezy voice as if nothing could ever deter him from the methodical presentation of information he daily prescribed to. The only time any of the Eighth Years could recall something out of the ordinary occurring was when Hermione had brought up the subject of the Chamber of Secrets during Second Year, which the professor’s ghost had vehemently denied the existence of.

This particular class period, the ten eldest Hogwarts students were obediently bent over their textbooks, taking notes on the first Wizarding War, when Voldemort had initially come to power. Most students never got this far in the history class, typically finishing up shortly before that time period, so it was with great interest that they approached the new topic. Unfortunately, their intrigue was replaced by discomfort as the names found in the written account were recognizable. Hermione was the fastest reader, and so was the first to come across familiar information.

“Neville,” she said softly to her friend across the aisle, trying to keep her voice below the monologue of Professor Binns. He turned to look at her, his eyebrow cocked in question. “Did you know your parents’ story is in here?”

His eyes widened and he stretched his neck to see what page she was on. Turning several pages of his own book, his eyes scanned the printed words rapidly until they settled on the passage he was looking for. Hermione watched her fellow former Gryffindor read the paragraphs that detailed his parents’ roles as members of the Order, how they’d been tortured into insanity, and where they were today. She knew the story by heart, but it didn’t make seeing Neville’s eyes widen, his face grow pale, or his lower lip tremble slightly any easier. She reached her hand across the aisle and gripped his arm.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t want you to be surprised hearing Professor Binns rattling off the facts at some point.”

Neville turned to her, placed his hand on top of her own, and nodded. “Thanks, I appreciate it,” he gave her a sad smile. “You know, a few years ago, I would have been mortified to have them brought up like this. But now, I get it. I understand why they fought so hard, and I’m proud of them. I hate what happened to them, but I’m not ashamed of it.”

Hermione’s own eyes grew teary. “You know they would be proud of you, too, right?”

He nodded. “My gran says that, too.”

Hermione gave his arm a squeeze and shifted back in her seat. She resumed her reading, and quickly realized that she had come to the end of the textbook. The sizeable glossary in the back had led her to believe there was more content, but apparently not. The chronicle ended shortly after Voldemort’s attempt on Harry’s life eighteen years ago.

“Professor Binns,” Hermione raised her hand, interrupting the ghost mid-sentence.

“Yes, Miss Galleon?” he wheezed.

“Granger, sir. I was wondering, how often do the history books get updated?”

“Updated?” the apparition seemed befuddled.

“Yes, updated. This text ends roughly eighteen years ago. Much has happened since then, so why has the new information not been added?”

“I don’t know that much has occurred, Miss Gardenia, but I believe the texts are updated roughly every twenty years, unless something of substantial importance happens, and then those accounts are added in a more timely manner.”

The students stared at each other in total disbelief. Not much has occurred? While Hermione could allow that the Battle had only taken place roughly six months prior, possibly not enough time for new editions to be printed, the fact that other major events from the last seven years weren’t considered substantial enough to update the textbook was infuriating. Before she could put her own, irate thoughts into words, however, Draco beat her to it.

“So the return of Voldemort back in our Fourth Year wasn’t substantially important?” He sneered, and for the first time all term, his old Slytherin-self reappeared. “The death of a Hogwarts student during the Triwizard Tournament wasn’t worth a reprint?”

Hermione felt a swell of pride and gratitude for Draco alongside her growing indignation. She caught his eye and they exchanged grim looks of agreement.

“I don’t believe, Mr. Murtlap, a school competition would warrant the same level of historical significance as, say, the Goblin Rebellion of 1612, although the student’s death was regrettable…” Professor Binns trailed away, seeming lost in thought.

“What about Sirius Black?” Dean asked.

“What about him, Mr. Treacle?”

“He broke out of Azkaban our Third Year, after being wrongfully imprisoned for over a decade!” Dean declared in outrage. “He’s mentioned at the end of the last chapter here as being charged with murdering Harry’s parents!” He angrily flipped the pages of his book, stabbing his finger on the passage he was referring to.

“Well, I don’t know anything about…” Professor Binns started mumbling to himself and waving his hand as if it would make them all disappear.

“What about the fight at the Ministry in our Fifth Year?” Neville piped up, and the ghost’s eyes goggled at him as if he’d never noticed him before, which he probably hadn’t.

“Yes, that was rather a big deal,” Luna’s dreamy voice added to the diatribe filling the room. “It was all over the Prophet for days.”

“Now, now,” Professor Binns raised his reedy voice and floated a little higher in the air as if to command their attention. “I do not know the details of these fantastical stories you all seem so keen on telling.” Multiple snorts of derision and sounds of outrage followed his statement. “But I am not in charge of editing these books. My responsibility lies in purveying the information currently found within the pages. So, if we could get back to the topic at hand, I believe we were just about to discuss the formation of the group known as the Order of the Phoenix.”

The class as a whole gave up on trying to get the transparent professor to understand their frustration, and instead turned in quiet conversation to one another. Draco leaned across the aisle to Hermione, whose cheeks were still rosy, and her eyes still flashing with irritation.

“You know,” he whispered, “I never heard the whole story about what happened at the Ministry in Fifth Year. I only know my father was blamed and then basically demoted.” He looked at her, his eyebrows raised in question. She studied him for a moment, afraid he was angry with her or her friends for the part they played in Lucius’ fall from grace, but all she found in his expression was genuine curiosity.

“I can tell you about it, if you want,” she offered shyly. Even though they had spent a portion of virtually every day together for over three months, they had never really talked about each other’s experiences during previous school years. The thought made her a little nervous, since it was bound to bring up the negative nature of their early interactions. She realized, however, that they really should talk about those things if they were to forge a deeper relationship. Before she could overthink the implications of that, he nodded and gave a lopsided smile.

“I’d like that.”

She nodded and turned her attention back to the book in front of her, feeling his gaze still on her and her heart fluttered a little in acknowledgement.

It was a result of that quiet exchange that the two former rivals found themselves later one evening, holed up in Hermione’s favorite alcove in the depths of the library. They had agreed to meet there, instead of in their common area, as neither of them felt the need to share this conversation with the entire house. The out-of-the-way location, and a casting of a muffliato spell gave them the privacy they desired as they settled into the squashy armchairs with the mugs of tea and pile of biscuits they’d snuck past Madam Pince.

“So,” Hermione began nervously, still unsure how to approach this new territory of sharing their pasts.

“So,” Draco echoed, the ghost of a smirk on his handsome face. “Tell me about the Ministry.”

Hermione took a deep breath and met his gaze. “You’re sure you want to hear all this? It’s not pretty.”

“I didn’t expect it to be,” he answered honestly.

And so, taking strength from his encouraging smile, Hermione launched into the events of their Fifth Year. She told him about Harry’s connection with Voldemort, about the visions he saw, about Mr. Weasley getting attacked by the snake. Draco looked horrified as she recounted how close to death Ron’s dad had been. She described in detail the conversation Harry had with Kreacher, and how that led them to rush to the Ministry. She told him about being cornered by Death Eaters and about Dolohov cursing her, and saw his knuckles turn white as he gripped the arms of his chair. She explained how the prophesy was lost, and the fight that broke out. By the time she recounted Sirius’ fall through the veil, tears were coursing down her cheeks and she was staring blankly at a spot on the floor.

She felt his warm hand wrap around her own and she turned to face him, now crouched on the floor in front of her chair, barely visible through the tears clouding her vision.

“I’m sorry,” he said thickly. “I wouldn’t have asked you to tell me all that if I’d know it would upset you so much.”

She swiped at her eyes with her free hand and took a deep breath. “It’s ok, honestly,” she blinked repeatedly up at the ceiling. “It’s not me I’m crying for.” She looked back at him and met his puzzled expression. “It’s Harry. Sirius was his godfather, and he’d only just gotten to know him and spend time with him, and then…” Her voice trailed off as tears threatened anew. “We’ve all lost so much through the past several years, but Harry,” she shook her head and furrowed her brow, “he’s lost over and over again. First his parents, then Sirius, then Dumbledore, then Lupin. Even Fred, and Tonks, and Colin. He blames himself for not putting an end to it sooner, even though we all keep telling him there’s no way he could have. It just seems so unfair for one person to shoulder so much.”

Draco had never thought of it that way. In his younger years, he thought Potter wore the mantle of the Boy-Who-Lived with relish, thought he ran headlong into trouble looking for more attention and glory. He had been furious that Harry and his friends had been the cause of the punishment inflicted upon his father, which subsequently led to the task that had been laid at his own feet. He had never once considered that it had all been thrust upon Harry, or how the weight of it all must have felt. He couldn’t imagine facing multiple losses like that, or feeling like the deaths of numerous people were somehow his direct fault. The gnawing guilt he felt at his involvement in Dumbledore’s demise was bad enough, and he hadn’t even been the one to cast the curse. It gave him a newfound appreciation and respect for his former enemy.

As they continued to sit in contemplative silence, Madam Pince appeared, making her final sweep of the lofty space, kicking out any lingering late-night studiers. She stopped short upon seeing them and a brief look of concern crossed her severe features as she noticed Hermione’s tearstained cheeks.

“The library is closing now,” she said, her usually clipped tone slightly softer. “Is everything alright, Miss Granger?” Her beady eyes snapped back and forth between the two students. Thankfully they had vanished the evidence of their snack long before, otherwise they would have surely incurred a lecture on their irresponsible and disrespectful behavior.

“Yes, thank you,” Hermione cleared her throat and gave the librarian a watery smile. She stood, and Draco followed, the two making their way silently towards the tall, oaken doors. It wasn’t until they reached the corridor and heard the doors close softly behind them that she spoke.

“Thank you,” she said in a quiet voice.

“For what?” Draco asked, taken by surprise.

“For listening. For not being angry.”

“Why would I be angry?”

“Because of what our actions meant for your father,” she stopped walking then and turned to look at him, searching his face for understanding.

Draco shrugged and decided to be completely honest. “I was angry back then. I was furious, really. I blamed Potter for Voldemort’s wrath and the disgrace it brought to my family. But that wasn’t his fault. None of it was.” His jaw clenched and he felt the familiar anger swirl in his gut at how blind and ignorant he had been.

“Someday, will you tell me about it?” Hermione asked cautiously, reaching out and placing her hand on his arm.

“About what happened after?” He knew she understood his broad statement to include not only the fury that immediately overtook Voldemort after the prophesy was lost, but also his being forced to take the dark mark, and the task he was then given for Sixth Year. If that conversation wasn’t like opening a trunk of vipers, he didn’t know what was, but he knew it would need to take place. He nodded, looking down at her hand, wondering if she knew she was covering the faded tattoo that still existed under his sleeve. “I can, if you want,” he echoed a similar sentiment to her previous one.

“I’d like that,” she replied in kind, and the two of them set off again, back to the Room.

 

Chapter Text

Bill Weasley jumped in startled confusion as the door to his office opened at exactly the same time his floo roared to life. At all once, he was staring at two young men he had previously forgotten would be using the space for their weekly meeting.

“Harry, Draco,” he nodded at each in turn. “Sorry, lost track of time. I’ll be out of your hair in just a second.” He stood and started shuffling papers and packing his bag.

“No rush,” replied Harry, flopping down into one of the chairs in front of Bill’s desk.

“Yeah, I think we might even be a minute or two early,” agreed Draco as he also sat down, with slightly more finesse, in the matching wingback.

“Everything going alright for you boys?”

Both responded affirmatively, and the professor slung his bag over his shoulder, and grinned at them before bidding them goodnight and heading out the door.

“So, anything new, Malfoy?” Harry was wiping his glasses on his robes, but seemed to merely be smudging the ever-present fingerprints instead of actually making any improvement.

“Not really,” drawled Draco, “think I’m going to start my own Quidditch team.” That caught Harry’s attention and he gave up cleaning his glasses and turned to face his friend.

“What now?”

Draco launched into an explanation of the growing group he’d been working with on Sunday afternoons. He shared some of the more entertaining moments, and didn’t bother trying to hide his pride in the progress many of his young charges had been making. Harry watched him intently, enjoying both the stories as well as the happiness that seemed to radiate off the former Slytherin as he spoke. It was abundantly clear that Draco enjoyed working with the younger students, which was mildly surprising, but terrific all the same.

“Are all of your housemates’ First Years coming to you for flying lessons?” Harry asked.

“Not all, but more than half. All three of Granger’s, both of Longbottom’s, Luna’s, and Daphne’s. One each from Hannah, Anthony, and Padma. Plus my own two. Thomas actually meets with his on Saturday for lessons, which they started bugging him for after they heard about my group. He also helps a couple of the others who can’t make it on Sundays.”

“Have you gotten Hermione up on a broom yet?” Harry asked with a smirk.

Draco snorted. “Pretty sure you know the answer to that one.”

“I’ve never understood her aversion to it. For everything she’s done, all the crazy, impossible things she’s faced, she flat out refuses to get back on one,” Harry grumbled, thinking about his best friend and her stubborn streak.

“I even tried to play the look-what-a-great-example-you’ll-set card and she just glared at me and plopped herself down on the grass right on the spot.” Draco chuckled at the memory of her curls blowing in the wind, her brows knit in defiance, and her lips pursed together. He’d had a split-second desire to swoop down and kiss her, to wipe the scowl off her face, and had to immediately redirect his thoughts. He didn’t think it would be a good idea to share that moment of temporary insanity with the Chosen One.

“The only way is to trick her,” Harry pondered out loud. “You’d have to make a wager, with her getting on the broom again being one of the outcomes. She won’t back down from a challenge, and she would never renege on a deal.” A mischievous grin started to spread across his face.

Draco barked out a laugh and shook his head. “Sure, and have my arse served for supper? No thanks. I might not have been best friends with the Gryffindor Princess for the last eight years, but I definitely know better than to try to trick her into anything.”

Harry shrugged, but was clearly still considering his idea with merit. “You never know.”

“Yeah, well, you feel free to plot that all out. Let me know how it goes,” Draco chuckled. “In the meantime, I do have something to discuss that can realistically be accomplished.”

“And what is that?”

“The next portrait,” Draco’s tone of voice was immediately less jovial, and he reached into his pocket to pull out several photographs. He handed them to Harry and watched as the green eyes that stared at the images took on a slight sheen. Looking up at Draco, Harry cleared his throat.

“Colin Creevey.”

Draco nodded.

“Where did you get these pictures?”

“His brothers. Andrew has been coming to me for flying lessons since October, and Dennis actually came out to the pitch a few Sundays ago to watch. I talked with him for a bit afterwards and asked him if he had any photographs I could borrow. They both brought me some yesterday.”

Harry glanced back down at the sandy-haired boy who was smiling in each photo. He felt the familiar twinge of guilt he always did when he thought of Colin. He should have been nicer to the boy, more patient with him. He sometimes felt like he should have prevented him from joining the fight, even though he knew that would have been impossible. He had no idea Colin had come back, how could he have? And yet, it was a regret he didn’t think he would ever be rid of.

“Potter?”

Harry raised his head and met the cool grey stare of the least-likely of his friends, and knew he found understanding there.

“I’d like to be there for this one, if that’s alright.”

Harry nodded. “Of course. I’m sure it would mean a lot to Andrew to have you there. I’ll talk to Kingsley and McGonagall and see if we can arrange a day for the boys to go home, and I can come here and bring you with me.”

Draco thanked him and then asked after his mother.

“She’s good,” Harry smiled. “I was just over there on Tuesday and she was telling me about her plans to redecorate a few of the guestrooms. She’s keeping busy. Andromeda and Teddy have gone to visit a couple of times, which I know she greatly enjoys.”

Draco nodded in agreement. His mother had written about spending time with her sister and great-nephew in a letter she had passed through Harry last week. He was very thankful for the renewal of their relationship and knew it meant the world to her. It also gave him some peace-of-mind knowing that Narcissa wasn’t always alone. The manor was a large and lonely place when house elves were your only company.

Harry studied the pale blonde across from him. It was hard to believe this was the same schoolmate who had tormented him and his friends for six years, and who had stood on the wrong side of the war. He knew people could change, but the transformation in Draco over the last seven months was astounding. The trademark sneer was gone, as was the stiff, cold nature. He couldn’t remember the last time a biting or derogatory comment had been uttered, and the prejudiced superiority was nowhere to be found. Harry felt no small measure of pride in the obvious efforts the former Slytherin was making, and it eased the constant weight of grief and remorse he still carried with him. These changes were what he had fought for, what they all had fought for, and to see it so clearly unfolding in front of him made him feel like maybe it was all worth more than he’d originally thought.

 

ooOoo

 

The second Saturday in December, Dean and Hermione decided to switch things up a bit. The Game Nights had been going splendidly and had become the highlight of the week for most of their housemates.

After dinner that night, once everyone was gathered in their usual circle in front of the fire, Dean waved his wand and large, black rectangle appeared on the mantle, having been disillusioned until the time came for his big reveal. Next to it, was a small, flat, black box with the letters DVD on it.

“Tonight, we are going to watch a movie!” he announced happily.

“A what?” asked Neville.

“What’s that?” questioned Padma, pointing to the unknown object.

“It’s a television,” said Draco knowledgeably. He remembered seeing a similar one in Hermione’s living room and her explanation of what it was for.

“I’ve heard of televisions before,” started Anthony, “But they don’t work here, at Hogwarts, do they?”

“We’ve figured out a way to work around that whole magic vs. electricity problem, just like we did for the Halloween Party,” smirked Hermione.

“Of course you have, since you’re a bloody genius,” sighed Theo dramatically, to which Hermione stuck her tongue out at him, causing Draco to frown.

“So, we’re not playing a game?” asked Hannah.

“Not exactly,” began Dean.

“But what about my points?” complained Theo, “I’m in first place!”

Everyone laughed at the look of horror on his face, and Hermione explained, “We’ll have some movie trivia after it’s over, and you can earn points with that. I wouldn’t dream of interrupting your winning streak.” She cast him another snarky grin.

“Well, that’s alright then,” grumbled Theo, settling back in his seat.

“What movie are we watching, then?” asked Daphne, putting an end to the banter between Theo and Hermione, much to Draco’s relief.

Dean pushed a button on the small box, and the screen came to life, “Home Alone!”

Hermione passed around large bowls of popcorn, and Dean produced a bucket of cold bottles of butterbeer. To Draco’s delight, a large assortment of candy sat in a basket on the coffee table, but as he looked at the display, he realized he didn’t recognize any of them.

“They’re Muggle sweets,” explained Hermione. “The kind you can buy in the movie theater. Couldn’t watch a movie without proper snacks.” She winked at him and glanced around, trying to decide where to sit as their friends lunged for the candy.

“Here,” Draco scooted to his right, to the center of the couch, closer to Luna who was humming tunelessly as the opening credits were playing, making room for Hermione to fit.

“Thanks,” she said happily, grabbing some candy and plopping down beside him. “These are Candy Kittens, which are gummy, fruity things,” she showed him two pouches, one that was watermelon flavored, and the other assorted fruit. “And these are actually American Muggle Sweets,” she shook two boxes that rattled. “M&M’s are chocolate candies, and Reese’s Pieces are peanut butter ones. I thought you’d like these best,” she finished with a shy smile.

Draco’s heart was behaving oddly. It felt like it had grown in size and was also trying to beat its way out of his ribcage.

All this over a couple of small boxes of candy?

A part of his old self wanted to scoff at the ridiculousness of it, but a much bigger part of him was quite content to take the box of M&M’s with a smile and a genuine “Thanks!” The fact that she didn’t seem to have picked anything out specifically for Theo didn’t hurt, either.

The movie played, and the group gasped and laughed in all the right places. Draco enjoyed the crazy antics on the screen, but found himself often distracted by the witch at his side. Every time Hermione shifted even the slightest bit, another part of her brushed against him. Her shoulder, her arm, her hip, her thigh. And every time, it sent a subtle tingling sensation coursing through his entire body. He tried to stay as still as possible, afraid if he moved at all, she would shift away from him.

By the end of the movie, she had pulled her legs up, crisscrossed on the couch, so her right knee was overlapping his left thigh, and the entire length of her right arm from shoulder to elbow was pressed against his. During one hilarious scene, she had leant even further into him, giggling hysterically. He found himself laughing along with her, more because her joy was contagious than anything else. He was the most content he had been in ages, a warmth filling him that had nothing to do with the roaring fire. He was honestly sorry the movie was ending. If this was what watching Muggle movies had to offer, he’d be quite happy to participate regularly.

As the end credits began, Anthony asked, “Are all Muggles really that dumb?”

“Yeah,” added Padma, “could a young boy honestly trick those two robbers so well?”

“Imagine if he’d had magic…” mused Hannah, which launched a discussion about what Kevin could have done if he was a wizard. Eventually, Dean asked a handful of trivia questions about the movie, awarding points accordingly at the end that, to no one’s surprise, allowed Theo to maintain his slight lead.

“Before we end tonight’s gathering, though,” called Hermione to the room at large, getting up from her comfortable spot next to Draco, “we have one more thing to discuss.”

All eyes turned to her as she stepped up to the fireplace and turned to face them.

“Dean and I thought it would be brilliant to do Secret Santas this last week, before the Christmas holidays,” she paused, allowing her housemates to process this idea. From the furrowed brows and tilted heads, she knew at least several of them had no idea what she was referring to.

“I know what Secret Santa is,” announced Hannah proudly. She was a half-blood but had been raised entirely in the Wizarding World, so it was surprising that she knew this information. “My dad’s family did this every year, since he’s got nine siblings and they live all over the place. It’s just easier than getting gifts for everyone.”

“That’s great,” interrupted Daphne, “but what is Secret Santa?”

“Well,” began Hermione, “we will each draw a person’s name, and keep it a secret,” she looked sternly at each of them. “Every day this coming week, starting on Monday, you will leave a note, or a small object for your person. Something that might give them a clue as to who you are, or what their present might be. Then, on Saturday night we will have our house Christmas Party and everyone will get to reveal whose name they had and will give them a gift.” She paused here, allowing the chance for discussion and questions.

“What kind of gift?” asked Neville, looking nervous.

“For starters, nothing too expensive,” said Dean. “Let’s set a limit. Gifts should be between fifteen and twenty sickles. The stuff you leave during the week should be handmade or something you have accessible, not anything you have to buy. That good?”

Everyone nodded and made sounds of agreement.

“Where will we leave the clues?” Luna wondered.

Hermione walked over to a bag that had been sitting next to the hearth and picked it up. From inside she pulled out a pile of red and white, very fuzzy, rather large socks. Or at least that’s what they looked like to Draco. She held up the one on top and he saw it had Dean’s name written in silver glitter across the white portion.

“These are the kinds of stockings Muggles hang on their mantles,” she waved her wand and all ten of them floated over and magically stuck themselves to the mantle. It looked very festive, and Draco was irrationally pleased to see that his stocking was right next to Hermione’s.

Merlin’s pants, now I’m getting worked up about the placement of Christmas socks.

He rolled his eyes in his mind, but his attention was drawn back to her as she continued to speak.

“I think it’s safe to say that we have all gotten to know each other quite well over the past three and a half months,” she smiled at everyone. “So it shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with some creative and fun ideas for your clues and gifts. That being said, if you find yourself truly stuck, come to Dean or me and we’ll do our best to help you out.”

“Is everyone ready to pick names?” Dean asked, reaching into the bag the stockings had been in, and pulling out a stack of small, green envelopes. Everyone nodded and sat up a little straighter.

“We really would like to keep it all a secret,” reminded Hermione. “So you can just take your envelope to your room. If by some chance you’ve picked your own name, again, let us know and we’ll fix that.”

Dean walked around the group, allowing each person to pick an envelope from the pile he had fanned out in his hand. He let Hermione pick from the last two, taking the remaining one for himself.

“Alright then,” he grinned at everyone. “This concludes another successful Game Night. I’d suggest you use tomorrow to plan out your clues for the week. Good luck!” And with that, everyone headed towards their rooms, anxious to see which name they had chosen.

Draco closed his door before tearing open his envelope and removing a small piece of parchment. The name in black ink was not the one he had been hoping for.

Neville Longbottom.

He had no problem with Neville. They had gotten along rather well all term, and he found he appreciated the quiet, unassuming nature his new housemate possessed. They’d compared notes over several essays for Defense, and he had to admit Neville was a lot more intelligent, and a lot friendlier, than he’d ever given him credit for. He seemed to accept Draco’s change of heart without question and never dragged up past grievances, although he had every right to. The two had, at the very least, become acquaintances, and might even be considered friends. This thought surprised Draco, but he was pleased by it.

However, if he was being entirely honest with himself, he had really wanted to pull Hermione’s name. For a split second he considered trying to figure out who had her, and if they’d be willing to trade, but she had been so adamant about everyone keeping it a secret that he didn’t want to disappoint her. He would play by the rules for once and hope that she might be just a little bit impressed by whatever he decided to do for her fellow Gryffindor.

Across the Room, Hermione had gone into her own chamber and closed the door. She stared at the envelope in her hand, unaccountably nervous. She had been pleasantly surprised when Draco made room for her on the couch, and tried not to think too much of it. He was probably just being nice. She snorted to herself.

Draco Malfoy doing something to be nice.

Who would have thought that would be a phrase anyone would put together? She shook her head, smiling, grateful for the positive changes the tall blonde had obviously undergone this term.

She had seen a side of him she never thought existed, a side she was actually comfortable around and looked forward to spending time with. The snarky-yet-amicable way they engaged each other made her laugh and the genuine smile those interactions drew from him tugged at her heartstrings. She enjoyed their conversations over meals, which she realized were a daily occurrence. While most of her housemates sat in random places at the table each day, he somehow seemed to always be across from her. She thought about this for a moment. It wasn’t because she was always there first. There were just as many times that he was already seated, and she found herself in the chair across from him, even if there were others open.

Her cheeks burned a little at the thought that her actions might be obvious to anyone, including him. She knew he considered her a friend, but she wasn’t sure about anything beyond that. He used to be a terrible flirt, according to Daphne, and she was afraid she was reading more in his gestures than he meant by them. Part of her really wanted it to be his name inside the envelope, and part of her was terrified that it would be. Ripping it open, she pulled out the parchment and gasped.

Draco Malfoy.

Oh, good Godric. What now? Her heart was racing and her hand trembled slightly. She had wanted it to be him, but now that it was, she was at a loss as to where to begin. She wanted this to be good; something meaningful. But what if he didn’t want it to mean something? What if she was reading him all wrong? She wanted him to know that she genuinely accepted him as one of her friends, but she didn’t want to scare him off with anything more. This was definitely going to take some serious planning.

With that happy-yet-nerve-wracking thought, she put the parchment back in the envelope, tucked it into the back of her sock drawer, and got ready for bed.

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning dawned and Hermione could barely contain her excitement. She had spent the whole of Sunday afternoon in the library, figuring out exactly what she wanted to do as Draco’s Secret Santa. She had decided to focus on his love of potions, and his interest in riddles. As she had sat at a table in the back corner of the library, books piled around her and parchment spread everywhere, the idea had come to her and she wasn’t going to lie, it was a right impressive one. She hoped he would agree. Maybe he’d hug her again. Maybe, if she could manage to give him his gift under one of the bunches of mistletoe Luna had hung…. She choked on the sugar quill she’d been nibbling on.

Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren’t we.

Now, it was time to begin. Hermione had brought her first clue into the girls’ bathroom with her, since that was the closest doorway to the fireplace, and peeked out into the common area. Even though no one was there, she cast a quick disillusionment charm on herself just to be safe, and scurried over to the mantle where the stockings cheerfully hung, waiting to be filled. She dropped a small bottle with a note tied to it in Draco’s stocking and ran on tip-toes back to the bathroom. Breathing a huge sigh of relief that she hadn’t gotten caught, she resumed getting ready for her day.

During breakfast that morning, Hermione refused to look over at the stockings, lest she draw attention to herself. They hadn’t made a rule about when you should leave your clue; simply that it had to be done every day. She forced herself to eat her bacon and eggs as if nothing was new, but completely stopped breathing when she saw Draco come out of his room. For a split second, he looked like he was going to walk over to the fireplace, but then Theo came out of his own chamber, and immediately started talking to him, so the two friends headed straight over to the table instead. She painfully swallowed her mouthful of food and was chasing it with a large gulp of tea when they sat down, Draco directly across from her and Theo next to her on her right. She thought she saw a scowl flash across Draco’s face as he watched Theo sit down, but it was gone just as quickly as it came. On Hermione’s left, Hannah brought up their latest N.E.W.T. study session, and everyone joined in the conversation.

No one noticed that Dean had wandered over to the fireplace until he called out, “Oi! I think some Secret Santas were up early!”

Everyone turned their attention to him. He grinned and pointed to three different stockings.

“Hermione, Luna, and Draco, you might want to check yours!”

Draco met her eyes across the table, which she knew had widened in surprise.

“Ooooh, you have to go check!” squealed Hannah.

“Soon as I finish here,” Draco drawled lazily as he spread strawberry preserves on his toast.

“I’ll go,” Luna’s airy voice floated down the table, and she stood up and drifted over to her stocking. Reaching in, she pulled out what appeared to be a small drawstring bag. She walked back over to the table, stopping at the end so everyone could see. “There’s a note,” she announced, taking a small, rolled up piece of parchment from inside the bag. It was tied with a shiny, blue ribbon. She unrolled it and read:

Making sure the Nargles stay away.

She then reached into the pouch and took out a handful of butterbeer corks, gasping in delight, “I needed more of these!” She looked up at the group, smiling from ear to ear, “I gave my necklace to one of my First Years back in September when she was feeling rather homesick, and haven’t found enough to make a new one, yet.” She looked at each of her housemates sincerely. “Whoever’s my Secret Santa, thank you!” She skipped off to her room to put her gift away.

Hermione was so glad Luna’s gift was such a success. Being the first one, it set the tone for everyone else, and it had been a very sweet one. Other people might have laughed at a bag of corks, but she knew how much Luna loved her quirky jewelry, and obviously the Secret Santa knew it, too. Smiling to herself, she went to take another bite of her breakfast when Neville leaned across from his spot next to Draco.

“Well? What are you waiting for?”

“Oh, well, I was just going to grab it on my way out…” she trailed off as everyone around her started complaining. She glanced up at Draco to find him smirking slightly, as if in challenge. She huffed, planted her palms on the table and hoisted herself up.

“Fine,” she sighed dramatically, and stalked over to her stocking.

Reaching in, she felt a thick envelope. She pulled it out, and saw that it was a pale pink color, with white roses printed in one corner, edged with gold. It was very pretty. She walked back over to the table, standing at the end the way Luna had done. She carefully opened the envelope, not wanting to rip it. She pulled a card out, the front of which was a lovely watercolor scene of two people, a man and a woman, walking in a garden. Their backs were displayed to the viewer, though they were looking at each other, and they seemed to be dressed in clothes more fitting of a century or two ago. She smiled at the beautiful image and opened the card. Inside, a border of gold made a square around a small paragraph that she recognized instantly:

"I declare, there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library."

 Hermione was beaming when she finished; this was a passage from one of her favorite books, Pride and Prejudice. Now the card made sense. The couple on the front looked very much like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. She had to stop herself from squealing in appreciation and instead, settled for smiling widely at the table full of friends.

“This is perfect!” she breathed happily, “Thank you, whoever you are!” Hannah, Dean, Anthony, and Daphne all returned her smile. Theo and Neville had turned their attention back to their breakfast, and once again, she thought she saw a frown on Draco’s face. She hurried to her room to put the card on her dresser, thinking that her Secret Santa could really be any one of them, since it was no secret how much she loved books.

Stopping to admire the artwork again, she tried to remember the last time she had read that particular work. Maybe she would do so over the holiday. She chuckled to herself, excited for the rest of the week, and had forgotten that there was still one more clue to be revealed. As she walked back into the common room, she froze when she saw Draco standing in front of his stocking. Most of the housemates were gone from the table, collecting their bags and heading for the door as they waited to see what he’d received, but he and Theo were together, heads bent over the item in Draco’s hand. Knowing that it was her clue, she was torn between running out the door, and sticking around to see his reaction. Padma made the choice for her.

“Could you help me with this?” Padma asked, walking over towards her, awkwardly holding her long, shiny black hair in one hand and balancing her bag in the other. It appeared that her hair had gotten tangled in the strap and she couldn’t see over her shoulder to fix it. Hermione carefully helped unwrap the silken strands, smoothing them out once they were all free.

“All done!”

“Thanks,” said Padma, relieved. “Draco, what did you get?” she called over to him.

He turned and both boys headed back towards them. Draco had a thoughtful, quizzical look on his face and Theo was grinning. Draco held out his palm to the girls, on which sat a small bottle with a note tied to the top.

Each day will bring you just one more.

Keep them all to build your store.

If you can guess the name that’s due me,

Then you will know just how to brew me.

He then held the bottle up by the top and said, “I’m pretty sure this is Tincture of Thyme,” he gave the bottle a slight shake, causing the greenish liquid to slosh. “It’s used in a variety of potions, which is clearly what I’m meant to brew at the end of the week.” He seemed to be pondering this idea, “But if I can’t guess the name, does that mean I can’t brew it?”

Theo chuckled, “I think you’re taking this way to seriously, mate. It’s not a Potion’s exam.”

Draco rolled his eyes at him, “I know that, Nott, but I want to brew it.” He sounded petulant, like someone was telling him he couldn’t have another cookie. Hermione giggled, and Padma snorted, causing Draco to focus his attention on them, his eyes widening, “We’ll be late for class!” He strode to his room to drop off his clue, and they all met up again at the door as they headed to their first lesson of the day.

By the end of that Monday, everyone had received their first Secret Santa clue. At lunchtime, Dean pulled a small bundle of twigs, tied with a bright red bow from his stocking, which caused everyone to laugh because he had absolutely no idea what to do with them. Hannah had found a pretty, polka dot hair scarf in hers, and Anthony had received a scroll of ancient runes, which he had immediately set to work on.

When they all gathered for dinner, Neville discovered a pot of dirt with a note that alluded to planting something, which he was very excited about. Padma received a lovely peacock feather quill, while Daphne found a small stack of brightly colored fabric squares, tied in a silver ribbon. Theo’s clue was a black chess piece, a knight. Hermione noticed that he seemed to swallow very hard and clutch it very tightly when he unwrapped it from the piece of red tissue paper it was in, but not in anger. The moment passed, unnoticed by the others, and his easy grin was back on his face, thanking whoever considered him to be a knight, winking roguishly at all the girls.

 

ooOoo

 

Friday of their Secret Santa week had everyone in a frenzy. Each of them had received gifts all five days, and everyone was trying incredibly hard not only to figure out who had their name, but who everyone else had as well. Anthony and Theo had taken to guarding the stockings at random times, to try to catch various Santas in the act of leaving clues. Daphne had started asking ridiculous questions, trying to trip her housemates up and get them to admit something. Luna just made everyone slightly uncomfortable by saying things like, “I already know who has you,” and smiling dreamily off into the distance. No one knew for sure if she really did, because she refused to respond to inquiries on the topic. Her main concern happened to be whether or not the mistletoe was being taken advantage of or not. Hermione was uncertain if this meant she was worried too many people were standing under it, or that no one was. So far, she had only seen Neville standing under one bunch that was right near the door to the hall, bright red in the face after having received a kiss on the cheek from Hannah as she left for class.

By the end of the week, Hermione had four new cards displayed on her dresser, alongside the first one that referenced Pride and Prejudice. There was one with a photograph of a lush, green, mossy forest on the front, and a passage from The Hobbit inside. Another had what appeared to be part of a very old treasure map on it, with a passage from what she later learned was a book entitled Treasure Island. She had started to think Theo was her Santa, since they had talked about the first two books earlier in the term, but then the third card threw her off. She had never heard of that book before. She was also only vaguely familiar with the fourth, which turned out to be The Great Gatsby. The quote from that one was the shortest of them all, but instantly became her favorite:

"Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope."

The picture on the front of that card resembled a vintage postcard of the seashore, with the sun peeking up over the horizon. With that one, she started to wonder if it was Anthony, because he was another voracious reader and was often prone to deep, reflective thoughts. But on the last morning, she found a beautiful, ornate image of a young man and woman who could be none other than Romeo and Juliet, and the quote inside proved her right:

"O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!

Did ever a dragon keep so fair a cave?

Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical, dove feathered raven,

Wolfish-ravening lamb! Despised substance of divinest

Show, just opposite to what thou justly seems.

A damned saint – and honorable villain!"

She was back to thinking it might be Theo, since this was another story they had discussed, but then she wondered if perhaps it could be Draco, with the mention of the dragon. Regardless, she knew she would find out the following night at the Christmas Party, and right now, her focus needed to be on putting together the remainder of her gift for him….

Draco, at that very same moment, was pacing back and forth in his room. On Monday, he had received the Tincture of Thyme. On Tuesday, a jar containing a murtlap tentacle. On Wednesday, a carton of occamy eggshells. Thursday brought him a small drawstring pouch of Powdered Common Rue, and Friday he had found a whole ashwinder egg in his stocking, carefully cushioned inside a wooden box. Several of the items were very common in potion-making. The occamy eggshell was curious, as he only knew of three or four potions that used that. The ashwinder egg was even more intriguing, since they were rather hard to come by. He had never brewed anything that used one. He had spent a fair amount of his free time pouring over potions books in the library, but still wasn’t 100% sure he knew what this was. If these five ingredients were all that were needed to create the potion, he was completely stuck. Nothing he had found used only those five. However, if his Secret Santa provided one or two other ingredients tomorrow at the party, he could be well on his way to making one of the most difficult potions of all.

He smirked to himself. Whoever was his Santa definitely knew him well; knew his passion for potions, and his insatiable need to solve a riddle. At first, he thought it might have been Theo, who had knew him better than the others simply because they shared a dorm all those years. But Theo had been rather secretive about his clues this week, and Draco got the sense that it was someone else. Daphne had grown up with him, too, but this didn’t seem to be her style. After several more minutes of pacing and thinking, he decided it was time to put together his final gift for Neville, who had seemed very pleased with all the herbology-related clues he’d received so far. Draco had started off with a pot full of dirt, and the next day he had put a pouch containing puffapod beans in Neville’s stocking. He had overheard Neville tell Hannah that he had used a spoon to plant them, because he couldn’t find his trowel, which gave Draco a fabulous idea for his final gift.

He had to admit, he had felt really good all week, seeing everyone’s smiling faces and feeling the excitement in the Room. It gave him that warm feeling again, every time he saw Neville exclaim excitedly over his latest clue, or when he found his own clue in his stocking. He supposed this is what it must be like to be surrounded by people who genuinely care for one another and are willing to show it. It was a sensation he was getting used to, and was surprised to find he enjoyed.

Speaking of sensations, he was trying his damnedest to keep things light and friendly with Hermione, but found himself searching for her every time he entered the Room. He stopped himself twice just in the last week from inhaling noisily when she walked by, simply because he found her vanilla-apricot-orange-blossom scent addictive. Once, while they were working together over a cauldron in Potions, she had leaned too far forward and her hair almost went into the bubbling liquid. Without thinking, he had caught her curls and brushed them back behind her shoulder. She had jumped and stared at him with wide eyes while he stammered out an explanation, which he barely managed because all he could think about was how soft they were and how he wanted to sink his hands into them again. She had seemed flustered by that interaction, but not upset or repulsed by it. She hadn’t pushed him away. He noticed she never pushed him away…

Draco spent a great deal of time these days waffling between two frames of mind. On the one hand, he was hopeful. Hermione had made it clear that she considered him a friend. She had forgiven him for his past misdeeds, and had treated him with the same open, honest thoughtfulness she showed everyone else all term. He knew she wasn’t afraid of him. He also knew, or at least he thought he knew, that she found him intriguing. He’d caught her watching him more times than he could count. Sometimes, she would immediately look away, her cheeks turning pink at being found out. Other times, she would smile softly and then turn her attention elsewhere. Of course, this meant that he spent a lot of time watching her as well. She also seemed perfectly comfortable with random moments of physical contact; sitting close enough to touch, both reaching for the same book, a friendly nudge over a joke. He’d had his arm around her that one time, a month ago, when she’d been crying, but nothing like that had occurred again and they never talked about it. But, overall, she seemed to enjoy his company and he wondered if she could ever see him as something more than a friend.

On the other hand, he chided himself for even entertaining the idea that someone as sweet and courageous and good as the Gryffindor Princess would ever look twice at someone like him in that way. She might have forgiven him, might believe in his redemption and accept him as a friend, but he knew what he was. He was selfish, prideful, and emotionally repressed. He struggled to let people in, and loathed the idea of anyone seeing his weaknesses. It’s why he never had any real, close friends before. Crabbe and Goyle were more like henchmen, and the rest of the Slytherins in his year had given him a wide berth. He had actually been surprised at how quickly Theo warmed up to him this term, seeing as the lanky brunette had previously kept him at arm’s length. Not that Draco wasn’t grateful. He knew he was a coward and a traitor in the eyes of many, though the opinions of former Death Eaters didn’t matter to him. Hell, he was a former Death Eater.

Not really.

He heard her voice in his head whenever he would go down this negative path of self-loathing. She would try to talk him round from it, he knew. Just that fact alone, the fact that she wouldn’t want him to think this way about himself, the fact that she knew he had never wanted that mark or that title, made his heart swell. He wanted nothing more than to run across the common room, burst into her chamber, declare his feelings and gather her up in his arms, mad as that might seem.

He sighed. That was not going to happen. At least not today. Tomorrow night was the house Christmas Party and he had never been so nervous about a social gathering in his life. He had Neville’s gift all wrapped and ready. He had all his clues – five different ingredients and the riddle from the first day – set out on his dresser. He was really hoping his Secret Santa was Granger. If it was, he had a small gift for her, too. He knew that wasn’t part of the game, and if it was anyone else, he wouldn’t have bothered, but just in case it was her, he wanted to thank her for her brilliant clues. If his Santa was someone else, he would just put her gift away for another time. He paced his room four more times before calling it off as a bad job and grudgingly getting into bed. Tomorrow evening could not come soon enough.

Chapter Text

The revealing of the Secret Santas was in full-swing with the traditional amount of noise and craziness that was found in the Eighth Year’s common room every Saturday night. They had started out with a ridiculous game where everyone took turns trying to open a wrapped gift with oven mitts on their hands. Daphne had run, gleefully shrieking around the Room, waving a fistful of Curly Wurly and Flake bars over her head, as Dean chased her, yelling that he had gotten the last bit of paper off, and the fact that she had just taken the lid off the box did not make those hers.

Draco had just handed Neville his gift; a brand new set of garden hand-tools (including a trowel) and a pair of dragonhide gloves. The former Gryffindor was beside himself, beet-red in the face, mouth gaping like a goldfish. He stood and looked his former nemesis straight in the eye.

“Thanks, Malfoy,” he said sincerely, and flung his arms around Draco in a bear hug. Draco, whose arms were pinned down by his sides, awkwardly patted Neville’s elbows and muttered, “Welcome,” while blushing furiously. Hermione thought it was one of the best moments of the night.

Luna presented Dean with a new pair of Quidditch gloves, which now made his clues of twigs (to represent a broom), a gold feather (snitch wings), a red bouncy ball (quaffle), and a hula hoop (goal posts), make a little more sense.

“But Luna,” questioned Dean after thanking her with a hug and a wide grin, “what’s with the roast chicken leg you left me yesterday?”

“Well,” she replied dreamily, “you need to keep up your strength. Can’t play on an empty stomach, can you?” This sent everyone into peals of laughter, especially since Dean had been rather afraid to approach his stocking yesterday as the juicy chicken had been leaking through the red fuzz, dripping onto the hearth.

When the laughter died down slightly, Hermione looked up to find Theo standing in front of her with a sheepish smile on his face. He held out a package, wrapped in gold paper and tied with a sparkly red ribbon. “Happy Christmas, Granger!”

“I knew it was you!” she exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “Our first conversation about books, back at the beginning of term, although you threw me off with a couple of your clues,” she narrowed her eyes at him.

“Yeah, well, didn’t want to be too obvious,” he drawled. “Go on,” he gestured to the gift she was holding. She immediately unwrapped it and when she saw what it was, her eyes went very wide, and her mouth opened in a perfect “o.” She gazed up at him in disbelief.

“Theo,” she breathed, “I can’t accept this. There’s no way you stuck to the price limit.” In her hands, she held a first edition copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. While it was very old, it was still in pristine condition. The front cover was a pale blue, with the title etched in gold script. The spine was decorated with an intricate pattern of gold and pink lines, crisscrossing over a background of darker blue. It was beautiful.

“Well,” Theo looked a little abashed, “I didn’t actually pay anything for it. This copy belonged to my grandmother, and she left all of her books to me when she died.” He looked into her shining brown eyes, “S’alright, yeah?”

Hermione flung her arms around his neck with an exuberant, “Yes! Thank you!” She kissed his cheek with a loud “mwah” and, still beaming, turned to place the book on her seat. She didn’t notice the scowl that had crossed Draco’s face during their exchange, but Theo did. He raised his eyebrows at his friend, but Draco just looked away.

The gift exchanging continued with Daphne giving Theo a brand new chess set (which he already had received 3 pieces from during the week, as well as a timer and a small book about the history of the game), which had left him slightly speechless and a little emotional. He had given his fellow former Slytherin a long hug, ending with a wide smile on both of their faces. Daphne received a sketchbook and a set of colorful inks from Padma, who she had once told about her secret ambition to be a fashion designer. Padma had given her fabric, thread, ribbons, and fashion magazines throughout the week, which the beautiful girl had raved over.

Neville had been Hannah’s Secret Santa, and had focused on her fondness for polka dots. The hair scarf on the first day had been followed by socks, stationary, a small pouch for carrying things, and a mug. He now handed her a small potted plant; bright green leaves with several delicate purple buds starting to appear. “When they bloom, the petals will have yellow dots on them,” he explained shyly. Hannah had given him a hug and a very gentle kiss on his cheek that left both of them blushing pink as they sat back down next to each other.

“This is for you, Luna,” Hannah said, waving her wand as a small, golden birdcage floated across the common room from the direction of Hannah’s chambers. The cage settled itself gently on the floor in front of Luna, who gasped in amazement at the three tiny creatures hovering inside.

“Billywigs!” she exclaimed, holding the cage up so everyone could see the bright blue insects, floating in midair as the propeller-like wings atop their heads whirred incessantly. Each was roughly the size of a large marble, and they seemed to emit a tiny buzzing sound. Everyone knew Luna’s love for magical creatures, especially unusual ones, which Hannah had capitalized on with her clues; the butterbeer corks to ward off nargles, a new pair of dirigible plum earrings, a painting of a freshwater plimpie, a recent article about crumple-horned snorkacks, and a pair of socks with fairies knitted on them.

While everyone was still admiring the billywigs, Dean jumped up and ran to one of the round tables, picked up small, square box and handed it to Anthony. All week, Anthony had been working on puzzles left in his stocking; a page of ancient runes, a riddle that, when solved, would make something appear (which turned out to be his favorite biscuits), an anagram challenge, a set of silver rings he was supposed to be able to separate but hadn’t yet been able to, and a small jigsaw puzzle that created a picture of Snape in a shower cap. The last one had caused much snorting of pumpkin juice over breakfast that morning when Anthony had displayed the finished product. As he began unwrapping the green paper, Dean excitedly explained that it was a Muggle puzzle.

“Rubik’s Cube,” Anthony read off the object in his hand.

“Yeah,” continued Dean. “You have to make all the sides solid colors.” And he proceeded to help get the cube out of the box, showing Anthony, who was completely enthralled with his gift, how to rotate the sides and was giving him tips. Several others had gathered around them, having never seen one before.

“Wait!” hollered Padma, and everyone turned to see an exasperated look on her face. “Some of us still don’t know who our Secret Santa is!” As she said this, Hermione realized that only Padma and Draco were left.  Everyone knew Padma wasn’t Draco’s, so surely he must be figuring this out. Her hands started to sweat and she began second-guessing her whole gift idea, panicking over whether or not he would like it and bemoaning the fact that it was too late now.

While Hermione was internally wailing, Draco was thinking very fast. Padma had been Daphne’s Santa, so she wasn’t his, which meant it was Granger. He wanted to cheer. He wanted to throw up. He threw a quick glance in her direction and noticed that even though she was seemingly focused on Padma, her leg was bouncing and she was chewing her bottom lip. Sure signs that she was nervous. That made him feel a tiny bit better. But why would she be nervous? Her clues had been brilliant. Surely she wasn’t nervous about giving him his gift?

Before he could ponder that further, Anthony paused his Rubik’s Cube tutorial from Dean and presented Padma with a shiny, silver gift bag, stuffed with red and green tissue paper. She fluttered her fingers excitedly and took it from him, peeking inside at once.

“Ooooh,” she breathed, pulling out a leather-bound journal, and three gorgeous quills that clearly came from exotic birds. Padma loved to write, especially poetry, which apparently Anthony knew about his fellow former Ravenclaw. Her clues had included several well-known poems, a set of colorful inks, a silk bookmark patterned with flowers, and the first quill she’d received on Monday. “Thank you so much, Anthony!” she gave him a glowing smile and hugged the journal to herself.

“That just leaves you, Draco,” hollered Dean.

Hermione took a deep breath and walked over to the Christmas tree in the corner. Going around towards the back, she came out with a medium-sized cauldron in her hands, filled with green tissue paper, a wide, red ribbon tied around the middle. She stopped straight in front of Draco, who was still sitting on the couch, and placed the cauldron in his lap. He looked up at her quizzically and she shrugged, still chewing her lip.

“Did you figure out what the potion is supposed to be?” she asked him.

“I think so,” he began, “but I think I’m still missing an ingredient.” He said the last part as a question, raising his eyebrows at her.

She nodded and looked pointedly at the cauldron. He reached in and felt a small, glass bottle under the tissue. Pulling it out, he recognized it as a…

“Squill bulb,” he said thoughtfully, his brows knitted together and his mind raced. Going over the list of ingredients, it dawned on him. “Felix Felicis?” he asked, meeting her eyes. She nodded, watching for his reaction. A wide grin broke out on his face.

“This is brilliant, Granger,” he stated sincerely.

“Do you really like it?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he said, nodding vigorously, looking at the bottle. “This is one of the trickiest potions to make, and I’ve never tried it before. Always wanted to, though.” He glanced back up at her, and saw she still looked uneasy.

“There’s one more thing in there,” she mumbled, wringing her hands.

He reached into the cauldron again, and felt some sort of jar in there. Pulling it out, he burst into laughter, startling his housemates, but allowing Hermione to huff out a sigh of relief.

“What’s so funny?” asked Neville.

Draco showed them all what he was holding. It was a very large jar of Nutella, topped with a bright red stick-on bow. Confusion crossed the faces of several housemates, so Dean launched into an explanation of the sweet, spreadable treat. Draco’s shoulders shook with laughter as he stood to thank Hermione. He met her eyes, which were trained on his own and sparkling with anticipation, and lifted his arms slightly as if moving to embrace her. Without a second thought, she stepped forward and wrapped her own arms around his waist. For a moment, time stood still for the unlikely pair. She leaned her cheek against his chest and could hear his heartbeat thrumming a little faster than normal. His arms tightened slightly around her and he rested his chin on the top of her head, breathing in her fragrant curls. Hermione was just thinking how nice it all was, when she remembered they weren’t alone, even though the room had gone suspiciously silent.

They broke apart to find eight pairs of eyes staring at them, some in surprise, some in confusion, and one in what looked like mischievous triumph. Those were Theo’s, and were accompanied by an all-too-knowing smirk. Slightly embarrassed, both Hermione and Draco cleared their throats and looked everywhere around the room but at each other. They started speaking at the same time, with Draco mumbling a soft, “Thanks, Granger,” and Hermione squeaking out, “Happy Christmas, Malfoy,” while their friends continued to watch with increasing amusement. Thankfully, at that very moment, the door to the Room swung open and both Bill Weasley and Professor McGonagall strode in.

“Greetings, you lot,” drawled Bill good-naturedly as he approached the group.

The headmistress gave them all a curt nod, but seemed to be at a loss for words as she surveyed the disaster in front of her. Festive music was blaring in the background. Wads of wrapping paper, sheets of tissue, bows, and ribbons littered the floor. A knocked-over bowl of popcorn, random couch cushions, sweets wrappers, and pumpkin juice bottles added to the disarray. The students were draped across the couches, chairs, and floor in a haphazard way, and presents were still being passed around and admired, including Luna’s new pets, which had started to buzz louder as the noise level had increased.

“We were just finishing up our gift exchange, Professor,” Hermione began.

“Yeah, we did Secret Santas all week,” started Dean, but he stopped when McGonagall’s beady eyes landed on him.

“Secret Santas?” she demanded.

Everyone started talking at once, trying to explain while also trying to avoid getting into trouble. They hadn’t done anything wrong, although several of them had snuck out to Hogsmeade to get their gifts during the week. And they hadn’t broken any rules, aside from the fact that it was definitely almost curfew now and they were clearly still throwing a party. Bill seemed to be fighting the urge to laugh, while McGonagall listened intently to Dean, Hannah, and Daphne’s explanations. As this distraction took place, Hermione and Padma surreptitiously waved their wands and vanished a majority of the trash. The rest quietly straightened the cushions and organized the gifts in a much neater array on the coffee table.

By the time everything had been set to rights, McGonagall seemed much less severe and followed Daphne over to the coffee table to examine everyone’s presents. All the students sat down again, with Theo gallantly pulling one of the armchairs over for the headmistress to sit in. Once she did, they took turns showing her their gifts and telling her about the clues they had received and who their Secret Santa had turned out to be. When Draco showed her the jar of Nutella, he had to explain a portion of that day in Hermione’s kitchen. As he was speaking, Hermione noticed understanding dawn on the faces of several of her housemates, and both Neville and Luna smiled at her. Professor McGonagall herself looked quite pleased at the end and told them all how very glad she was to see how well they were getting on with each other.

“As you all know,” she began crisply, standing up and straightening her robes, “tomorrow begins the Christmas holiday. Each of you have been appointed a time to come to my office and use the floo to travel to your holiday destination.” She waved her wand and a scroll unfurled next to her with everyone’s names listed, and their assigned timeslot. She plucked the parchment from the air and handed it to Anthony, who was sitting closest to her. “Please let me know if you have a conflict with your floo time. Otherwise, I shall see each of you off tomorrow. Good night!” With that, she swept from the Room.

Bill was still there, having joined Dean and Padma on the couch, and asked what everyone’s plans were for the next few weeks. As conversation flowed, Hermione found herself struggling to keep her eyes open. She leaned forward to look at the list McGonagall had left, and saw that her floo appointment was set for 10:30 in the morning. Still having things to pack and organize, she decided to call it a night. She stood up and stretched, and announced her intentions to the group at large.

“Thank you all for such a fun week, and a wonderful party,” she smiled warmly at each of her housemates, her gaze lingering just a second longer on the pale blonde across from her.

“See you at the Burrow on Christmas?” asked Bill.

“Of course!” she replied happily, picking up her book from Theo and waving to everyone as she strolled off towards her room.

 

ooOoo

 

Once the party had broken up, Draco had gone back to his room to finish packing. He was carefully placing all of his new ingredients into the cauldron when there was a knock on his door. He opened it to find Theo leaning casually against the door frame.

“So,” smirked Theo.

“So, what?” asked Draco, resuming his packing.

“How long?”

“How long, what?”

“Come off it, mate,” chuckled Theo. “How long were you going to wait to tell me about Granger?”

Draco’s head snapped up. “There’s nothing to tell,” he said stiffly.

“Right,” said Theo, moving into the room and flopping onto Draco’s bed. “So the way she’s always staring at you, the fact that she goes out of her way to sit near you, the elaborate Secret Santa clues she put together – which were right up your alley, mind you – and most importantly, the hug she gave you today that left her blushing like a strawberry… You’re telling me that’s all nothing?”

Draco had stopped in place as he listened to Theo tick off these observations. Were they true? He shook his head.

“We’re just friends,” he started to object but Theo gave a giant snort and sat up, fixing Draco with a penetrating stare.

“You can tell yourself that all you want, but you’ve been moony-eyed over her all term and I reckon she feels the same.”

“I have not,” Draco spluttered, completely thrown off his guard.

Theo snorted again. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize that the stalker-like way you watch her, or the beeline you make to sit across from her at every meal, or the way you sniff the air when she walks by was all just part of this newly-formed friendship.”

Draco went slack-jawed, gaping at his friend who rolled his eyes and stood up.

“I know you don’t like to talk about the last few years,” Theo began in a more serious tone, and Draco stiffened in response, clenching his jaw. “But you’ve changed, and she seems to know that. What’s more, she seems to be totally willing to leave the past exactly where it belongs. Let her.” He moved towards the door, turning one more time to his friend who seemed frozen on the spot. “I think you’d be brilliant together, for what it’s worth.” He smirked again and left, closing the door behind him.

Draco stood there for a few more minutes, contemplating Theo’s advice. It really did boil down to just that; leaving his past behind him. He had successfully, or at least he felt it to be so, turned his back on the prejudice pureblood notions that had formerly ruled him. He had made a genuine effort all term to get to know each of his housemates, regardless of previous animosity, and had been greatly rewarded when they had reciprocated the effort in turn. He knew he wasn’t nearly as arrogant and surly as he had been before, and the nine other people he share the Room with seemed to accept him for who he was becoming, and believed in his desire to change. All of this was true, he realized with heavy humility, but he had still held onto the idea that he wasn’t good enough, hadn’t proven himself enough. He realized with stark clarity that he was the only thing holding himself back.

“Alright, then,” he muttered to himself, quickly finishing with the cauldron and reaching into his nightstand drawer. Removing a small package, he exited his room and strode across to the other side of the now-empty common area.

Hermione opened her door after the second knock and was completely surprised to see Draco standing there. She’d already changed for bed, and knew she probably looked a mess, with her hair piled up in a loose bun on top of her head, and her baggy sweatshirt almost covering her knit shorts.

“Malfoy,” she studied his face curiously. He looked nervous and wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“I, uh, I havesomethingforyou,” he stumbled over his words in his rush to get them out and thrust the gift towards her. Her eyes widened as she looked at it, glancing at his face again before taking it. “It’s nothing, really,” he rushed on, “just something, you know, small, to, well….” But by then, Hermione had unwrapped it and a glowing smile had made its way across her face.

In her hand was a silver picture frame. Instead of a photograph, however, there was a drawing of some sort, on a white piece of paper, the lines and doodles wiggling slightly as she watched.

“This was from the Pictionary game, wasn’t it?” she asked him, amazed.

“Yeah, it was the last one. The one we won the game with,” he smiled shyly.

“Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration,” they said together, and both chuckled.

“I rescued it before it got tossed in the fire with the rest, and I shrunk it down to fit the frame,” he explained unnecessarily.

She looked up at him with shining eyes and the prettiest smile he thought he’d ever seen, causing his heart to thunder like a herd of hippogriffs.

“I just thought it was a nice way to remember the first Game Night, and all the craziness, and Longbottom’s thestral, and Nott’s airplane, and…” he trailed off, looking at the floor, unable to think of any more words that would make sense at the moment.

“It’s worth a thousand words,” she said softly, taking a step towards him so he was looking directly down at her, into her warm, chocolate-brown eyes. She still held the frame in one hand, but she reached her other hand up and placed it on his chest, over his heart, which now felt like it was climbing into his throat. She gazed into his eyes for a second longer before closing her own, rising on tiptoes, and pressing a soft, sweet kiss on his lips.

He stopped breathing. He was pretty sure his heart stopped beating. And then it was pounding and roaring in his ears when – much too soon – she pulled away. She was still smiling at him and hadn’t moved her hand off his chest. He swallowed with difficulty and covered it with his own, allowing himself to memorize her face; the freckles splashed across the bridge of her nose, the slight pink tinge on her cheeks, the cupid’s bow of her upper lip. His gaze roved over her features, finding their way back to the long lashes that fringed her sparkling eyes and he felt himself smiling back.

Not wanting to end this perfect moment, but knowing he didn’t want to say something stupid and screw it all up, he decided to play it safe.

“My floo appointment is at 11:00 tomorrow. When’s yours?” he asked her, still holding onto her hand.

“10:30,” she replied, her eyes never leaving his face.

“So, breakfast tomorrow, before you go?” He asked this, realizing how mundane it sounded since everyone would be eating breakfast, but he hoped she understood what he meant.

“Yeah,” she breathed, “breakfast.”

He squeezed her hand gently, lowering it to her side, and taking a step back over the threshold of her room, said, “Well, then, good night, Granger,” with a soft smirk, quietly shutting the door behind him.

He wanted to do cartwheels across the Room. Wanted to sprint through the halls, or yell from the top of the Quidditch stands. Instead, he settled for barging into Theo’s room with a ridiculous grin on his face and announcing, “Happy Christmas, Nott,” in a very loud voice before sweeping back out the door and allowing it to bang shut behind him. Theo, who had been reading on his bed, just smirked and shook his head, pretty sure he knew exactly what that had been all about.

Meanwhile, Hermione hadn’t moved. She had closed her eyes again after Draco shut her door, allowing her mind to replay the last few minutes. A very small part of her was mildly mortified by the fact that she had made the first move. She never did things like that. But the rest of her was floating on a cloud. She had to believe he felt something for her after that. The hug earlier today had made her hopeful, but this…. The way he had looked at her, studied her face. The way he had held onto her hand. The picture he’d saved for her. These might be small gestures in the grand scheme of the world, but when it came to Draco Malfoy, she knew just how huge it all really was. And it was more than enough for her.

Chapter Text

Everyone gathered for breakfast before the floo appointments were scheduled to begin, chatting happily about holiday plans and recalling funny moments from the night before. When Hermione arrived at the table, as usual, there was a seat right across from Draco available. She met his eye and they exchanged bashful smiles. Theo, having noticed the awkward silence that was threatening to consume his end of the table, immediately started in on the topic of muggle Christmas traditions, asking what they should all now do with the stockings that were still hanging on the mantle.

“Oh,” spoke up Padma, “I was hoping to save mine. We can keep them, can’t we?” she looked first at Hermione, and then at Dean.

“Of course!” Dean approved, and Hermione nodded in agreement. Dean then launched into a funny story about the stockings his family used to have when he was little, and the elderly aunt who kept knitting more, even though he only had two sisters. During his tale, Draco glanced at Hermione, who was paying extra close attention to her porridge. At first he was afraid she was regretting their interaction from the previous night, but he saw the corners of her mouth tilt up and her cheeks start to turn pink. Taking this as a good sign, he took a deep breath.

“What time’s your floo, Granger?” he asked, knowing full well it was 30 minutes before his, as they had discussed this last night, but figuring it was a safe conversation-starter.

Her eyes flew up to his, realizing he already knew this information, her cheeks turning even rosier, “Um, 10:30, I believe.” She glanced back down and gave her porridge a stir. “Yours?” she looked up again, searching his face, he was sure, to try to gauge his thoughts on everything, too.

“11:00.”

“Oh, ok!” She smiled and looked back down again.

Theo, who was finding the whole thing increasingly painful burst out, “Why don’t the two of you walk up to McGonagall’s office together since your slots are right next to each other?” He rolled his eyes and plunked his chin in his hand, elbow on the table, as he munched a piece of bacon noisily in their direction.

Hermione grinned at her bowl, glanced up, and saw Draco goggling at Theo like he was a nutter, but Theo had been watching her and gave her an exaggerated wink. She giggled, causing Draco to turn his attention back to her. He cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow in question. She shrugged happily in response and nodded.

“Well,” announced Theo dramatically, wiping his hands off each other and standing up. “My work here is done. My floo is at 9:30, which is in roughly 13 minutes, so I’ll be off. Happy Christmas, you lot,” he hollered to the entire table and ambled off to collect his stocking before going into his room to gather his things.

Shortly after Theo’s departure, Hermione made to get up from the table. Slightly panicking, Draco blurted out, “Do you need any help?”

“Help?”

“Packing or….anything,” he finished lamely.

“Noooo,” she said slowly, watching his face fall a little, “but I was rather hoping to go to the library, and then down to the Great Hall to see the trees Hagrid brought in yesterday. They should be all decorated by now, for the students who are staying for the holidays.” She tilted her head at him in a silent invitation, and he shot out of his chair so fast it fell over. The conversations around the table stopped abruptly as he turned crimson and bent to pick it up. Hermione caught Daphne’s eye, and the other girl winked and grinned at her. Dean chuckled and shook his head while Neville asked, very sincerely, if Draco was ok. He nodded profusely, smoothed down his robes and huffed a breath as he came around the end of the table to meet Hermione.

The new pair wandered through the corridors for the next hour, stopping in the library so Hermione could return one last book, and then visiting the Great Hall and admiring the twelve, gigantic, beautifully decorated Christmas trees. They chatted, haltingly at first, about different Christmas traditions they had each had as children, but by the time they reached the Room again, the nervous tension was gone and it was as comfortable as it had been for the past four months. They both grabbed their stockings from the mantle, said goodbye to the housemates that were still there, and collected their things before meeting back at the door to head up to McGonagall’s office.

On the way there, Draco was trying to put his feelings into words, which was turning out to be a nightmarishly difficult task, when Hermione suddenly halted. He almost tripped in an attempt to stop and turn around to face her at the same time. She gave a small chuckle and smiled up at him.

“Will you write to me over the holiday?” she asked sweetly.

“Write….to you….” He seemed to be having a hard time processing her words. She frowned slightly at his lack of response. He immediately forged ahead, words tumbling out before he had time to consider their meaning. “Of course, I want to write to you. I like writing, and I’d like to write to you, if that’s ok, while you’re gone. I mean, I’ll be gone, too, but you know, while we’re apart. Not that we’re together, officially, or anything, unless, you want….” She placed her finger on his lips, ending his slew of nonsense, her smile even more brilliant than before.

“It’s ok, Malfoy,” she said softly. “This is….new…for both of us. I’m not in any rush, I don’t expect any big declarations or grand gestures. I’d just like to get to know more about you.”

“More about me?” He asked stupidly.

She chuckled again. “Yes, typically, when people come across something that interests them, they want to know more about it.”

“And I interest you?”

“Yes,” she answered boldly, “very much.”

“What do you want to know?” he asked. He would tell her anything and everything right now if she wanted. Maybe not about how horrid he was to his house elf as a child, or the fact that he used to hide flobberworms in Blaise’s bed when they were First Years, or…

“Whatever you want to share with me,” he heard her say over the cacophony in his brain. “Things like earlier, when we talked about Christmas traditions, or the other day when we were discussing our favorite shops in Hogsmeade.” She shrugged. “Anything.”

Making a tremendous effort to slow his heart rate and calm the marathon of thoughts charging through his head, he took a deep breath in and nodded. “I can do that,” he smirked.

“Glad to hear it,” she said, and standing up on tiptoe, kissed his cheek.

He stood there, stunned for a moment, until he saw she had started walking towards the Head’s office again, and he jogged a little to catch up. When they reached the stairway, they gave the password and stood on the same step as it circled around to the upper level. He watched her out of the corner of his eye and saw the same little smile curve her cheeks as before. His heart was like a bubble, trying to float to the ceiling. When the stairs stopped, she knocked on the door and was bid to enter. They both did, causing McGonagall to do a double-take.

“Miss Granger, I believe your floo is at 10:30?” she asked, a little confused as to Draco’s presence.

“Yes, Professor, it is,” Hermione replied as she headed over towards the large fireplace. “I hope you have a lovely holiday,” she addressed the older witch, who smiled and nodded and responded, “You, too, my dear.” Draco had trailed after her, aware of the headmistress’ eyes following him intently.

“So,” she said a little shyly, looking up at him through her long lashes, “Happy Christmas, Draco.” She beamed up at him, stepped into the emerald green flames, announced, “Grimmauld Place,” and was gone with a loud “whoosh!”

“Happy Christmas,” mumbled Draco, smiling to himself. That was the second time she’d used his first name. Was he ridiculous for keeping track? He continued to stand there, staring at the spot where she had vanished until the clearing of a throat interrupted his reverie.

“You’re a little early for your floo, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall was seated behind her desk, studying him. She gestured to the chair across from her. “Why don’t you sit for a few minutes while you wait your turn?”

Draco had never spent time with McGonagall unless he was in trouble for something, and aside from Transfiguration class, his interactions with her had been negligible during his previous two years in the castle. He felt more than a little uneasy, but took the seat and tried to look like he wasn’t guilty of anything, which he wasn’t, but sitting there made him feel like a reprimand was on its way.

After looking at him for several long seconds, the headmistress spoke. “How are you finding your Eighth Year to be going?”

He thought about this for a moment. A small part of him, the old him, wanted to scoff and smirk and act like it was nothing. But, in his continued attempt to do the opposite of what he might have done in his earlier years, he met her gaze and replied honestly.

“Really well,” he gave a small smile. “Better than I had expected, actually.”

She raised her eyebrows slightly, curious. “I see. In what way?”

“Well,” he paused here, unsure of how to put it all into words. He realized, as he sat there recalling his housemates and the last four months together, that he truly did feel a certain fondness for each of them. They had become better friends to him in this short amount of time than most of his Slytherin counterparts had in six years. He smirked a little, recalling Game Nights, and the practical jokes Theo was always up to, and all their meals shared in noisy camaraderie, the Halloween Party, the Christmas Party…

McGonagall cleared her throat slightly, bringing him back to the present. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “I’m not sure where to begin.” She continued to stare questioningly at him. “I think I came here expecting the other Eighth Years to be civil, at best, but mostly to just ignore me.” He frowned a little as he admitted this. “I would have understood that….. But that’s not at all what’s happened. They’re great, the lot of them,” he met her gaze and smiled genuinely, which caused a look of mild surprise to flit across her stern features.

“We get on well, and not just for studies. We hang out together, too,” he shrugged, knowing that sounded trivial. “Granger and Thomas started up a weekly Game Night and that has really brought everyone together, I think.” McGonagall nodded, encouraging him to continue. He decided to be totally transparent, “It’s been brilliant, honestly.”

“I’m pleased to hear it, Mr. Malfoy,” she said crisply, but with a slight upturn to her lips and what he was certain was a twinkle in her eyes. “I had hoped the ten of you would be able to work well together, and even form the basis of new friendships, and it would seem that my expectations have been vastly exceeded.” She paused and fixed him with another beady-eyed stare. “Would you say you and Miss Granger are particularly close?”

Draco’s eyes flew wide and his mouth went dry. He knew his cheeks were flushing and his heart started to race. How do I answer that? Would she approve? Granger’s her favorite – what if she thinks I’m not good enough for her? Seeing the look of absolute panic on his face, the headmistress decided to let him off the hook.

“She’s quite an amazing young woman, isn’t she?” her penetrating gaze never left his own.

Draco nodded, swallowed with difficulty and croaked out, “Yes, she is.”

McGonagall nodded, as if in confirmation of something, checked her watch and announced, “It’s still a few minutes early, but you are welcome to take the floo now, if you’d like.”

Draco stood, nodding dumbly, and walked across the room. As he reached the hearth, he turned back to see her watching him.

“I look forward to hearing more about your experience in the Eighth Year house next term. Enjoy your holiday, Mr. Malfoy.”

“Thank you, professor. You, too.” With the announcement of “Malfoy Manor” and a flash of green flames, he was gone, leaving behind his headmistress, who was chuckling to herself as she glanced back down at her desk.

 

ooOoo

 

After a day or two of wandering around the annoyingly silent hallways of the manor, Draco realized with a twinge of surprise that he missed his housemates. In all his years of attending Hogwarts, he had always looked forward to coming home for the holidays. Well, until Sixth Year, when the Dark Lord and his minions started showing up uninvited. But he could not remember ever wishing he was back at school. He knew a great deal of this melancholy was brought on by being away from his favorite bookworm, whose presence was like his own personal ray of sunshine, but he admitted that he simply missed the camaraderie of the other Eighth Years. Meals were much more subdued with just himself and his mother, and while he truly enjoyed spending time with her, it seemed very tame compared to the boisterous chaos that often infused the Room.

He waited three days before deciding he could now write to Hermione without seeming too eager (even though he had been thinking about doing that very thing since he had left her in the headmistress’ office). He penned roughly twenty different missives, each one more lacking than the previous, and all of them ending up in the fireplace. Finally, after fervent pacing, one lunch break, much muttering, and a small pep talk that included glaring at himself in the mirror for a solid five minutes, he made one last attempt.

Granger,

  I hope your Christmas holiday is off to a good start. The manor is excessively quiet compared to the Room, but the tree in the parlor is festive and every time I look at it, standing next to the fireplace, I’m reminded of our common area and the party right before we left.

  I know I thanked you for your Secret Santa gift that night, but I want you to know how much I truly appreciate it. I don’t think anyone has ever put so much thought or effort into a gift for me before. I’ve actually started brewing my batch of Felix, since it has to sit for six months before it can be put to use. I’ll be able to set a stasis charm on it right before heading back to school, and by the time I get home in June, it will be done. Any suggestions for what I should try it out on?

  My mother has invited Aunt Andromeda and Teddy over for Christmas Eve and I believe they’ll be staying for a few days. I haven’t seen her this excited about something in ages. I used the fact that we were having houseguests as an excuse to request a variety of biscuits and pastries, which I’m pretty sure she saw through. Not about to pass up an opportunity for a few extra cream puffs, though, am I? By the way, I let her try the Nutella and then had to hide the jar in a warded trunk in my closet after I caught her eating it by the spoonful in the kitchen. You might have to tell me where I can get some more of it.

  What are your plans for the holidays? I heard Professor Weasley mention seeing you at the Burrow, which I’m guessing is the home of his parents. Will you be going anywhere else?

  I hope this finds you well, and wish you a very Happy Christmas.

  Malfoy

There, he thought, not too sappy, but still mildly sentimental. Appreciative, but not gushing. Conversational, but not wordy, and he even managed to add a few things that might make her laugh. Not bad for the first real letter he’d ever written to a girl. For some reason, though, his heart was racing and his palms were sweaty and he was coming very close to wadding it up and tossing it in the flames where all its predecessors had landed. He just wanted to do this thing well, whatever that meant.

Steeling his resolve, he made his way to the floo in the foyer, threw in some green powder and hollered for Harry. Almost immediately, his rival-turned-friend appeared in the fireplace.

“Caught me at a good time, Malfoy, I was just getting ready to head home. Office is closing early since it’s the Ministry Christmas Party tonight.” Harry said all of this by way of greeting as he brushed ash off his robes and turned to face Draco.

“Oh, good,” said Draco, now feeling rather nervous, since he typically only called on Harry when he was supposed to check in with him, or when something serious had come up.

“Did you need something?” Harry looked quizzically at him, noticing the mildly panicked expression on the pale face before him.

“Just wanted to wish you a Happy Christmas,” Draco blurted out before he could stop himself. Harry raised his eyebrows and seemed to be holding back a laugh.

“Well, Happy Christmas to you, too, Malfoy.” A few seconds passed in awkward silence. “Is there anything else you needed?”

“Could you….could you give this to Granger,” Draco thrust the small scroll at Harry, refusing to meet the green eyes he knew were sparkling with mirth, and feeling like a massive patsy for it.

“Sure thing,” said Harry, grinning and accepting the letter. “Enjoy your time with Andromeda and Teddy over the next few days!”

At the change of subject, Draco gratefully met Harry’s gaze and nodded. “Thanks, enjoy your holiday, too.”

With that, Harry stepped back into the flames and Draco let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. There was nothing for it now except to wait for Hermione to respond. He reminded himself that she would not write back before the holiday weekend was over, what with celebrating with the Weasleys, and Potter being with her. He chastised himself; he was a grown wizard. Surely he could wait a few days for a reply without going barmy. As he strolled back up the hall, he started making a list of ways to occupy his time in the coming days, just in case he started missing a certain curly-haired witch a little too much.

Chapter Text

Christmas at the Burrow was almost as loud and hectic as Game Night in the Room, and Hermione enjoyed every moment of it. She and Harry had arrived in time for dinner on Christmas Eve to find most of the family already assembled. They jumped right in, helping Molly with last-minute touches to the elaborate buffet of finger-foods and snacks she had spread all along the scrubbed wooden table. As the evening progressed, the gathering grew until the teetering house was almost bursting at its seams. Along with the six Weasley siblings and two parents, Harry, Hermione, and Fleur were joined by Kinglsey, Professor McGonangall, and, rather surprisingly, Gawain Robards, who was head of the Auror department, and Harry’s boss. Apparently he was tied up with an extremely difficult case, accompanied by a mountain of paperwork, and wasn’t going to be able to meet up with his family, who were visiting relatives in Germany.

“Potter all but dragged me out the floo yesterday. It was only after I swore on a pair of new Quidditch gloves that I’d come today that he finally left me alone,” the middle-aged, stocky wizard chuckled gruffly. Hermione got the distinct impression that the man came across as somewhat abrasive, but had a much softer side underneath his no-nonsense exterior. She knew Harry held him in very high regard, and considered him a mentor, as well as his superior. She found herself sitting next to him on the sofa for a portion of the night, and was very interested in hearing about the cases he was working on.

“You interested in a career as an Auror?” He asked her, after answering several of her thought-provoking questions and appreciating the quick, sharp way her mind worked.

“Honestly,” she admitted reluctantly, “no.” She cringed, not wanting to offend her best friend’s boss, but not about to lie. “I actually have started to think about doing something in the realm of magical creatures. Particularly working on behalf of part-humans, like werewolves and veela, and other fully sentient beings such as house elves or goblins.”

Gawain chuckled again, not seeming the least bit offended or even surprised. “Potter’s told me about your passion for house elves. Said you created a group one year at school. Splat? Or Spit?”

“S.P.E.W.” Hermione grudgingly admitted, remembering her brief attempt at rallying her classmates to the cause. “I didn’t accomplish much with that, but it’s still something I think needs to be addressed. Perhaps not as drastically as I’d originally planned,” she continued quickly as she saw Gawain raise his eyebrows and quirk an amused smirk, not wanting him to write her off as some idealistic or naïve little girl. “I think there’s always room for improvement, no matter what cause one fights for.” She was pleased to see his expression take on a more thoughtful appearance.

“You’re right about that,” he agreed. “If that’s truly where your heart is, then I can introduce you to a couple of folks in the department that will point you in the right direction.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful,” Hermione smiled sincerely, greatly appreciating the gesture.

Gawain waved his hand as if to say it was nothing. “Be happy to. Once you’ve finished at school, come to the office one day with Potter and we’ll continue this conversation.” He smiled genially, and heaved himself off the couch in search of a refill for both his plate and cup.

Hermione barely had a split second to reflect on the invitation from Gawain when his seat was taken up by her ginger-haired best friend, the plate in his hands heaped with at least two of everything his mother had set out.

“Got enough there?” she teased.

“Maybe,” Ron shrugged and winked at her. She let him to finish chewing before saying anything else.

“How’s the shop? And George? He seems happy today.”

Both of them allowed their gazes to wander over to the twin who was seated on the steps, chatting animatedly with Harry.

“He is,” Ron began. “He’s been doing really well. The shop is always busy, and he’s constantly coming up with new ideas. He was up till about two o’clock this morning, talking with Fred about a new and improved version of the Fanged Frisbees we used to get a Zonko’s. His plan is to give them the ability to spit, too.”

“That’s disgusting!”

“Yeah, but you know kids would love it. Can you imagine Filch trying to catch one as it sprays slobber all over his greasy head?” Ron was chuckling now, and Hermione couldn’t help but join in at the awful thought.

“Mom didn’t know he was planning to bring Fred along today and was in floods for the first hour after he arrived.” Ron nodded his head to the other side of the room, where Fred’s portrait had been hung in front of a tall bookshelf, and was currently in a friendly argument with Percy and Charlie, one which Percy seemed to be losing.

“I’m glad he brought him. And I’m really glad to hear he’s doing better.” She leaned into her favorite redhead, resting her head on his shoulder. “How’s Katie?” she asked, wondering how he’d handle this new topic of conversation.

Ron gave a small cough and cleared his throat from whatever he’d been eating. “Katie?” he asked in a strained voice.

Hermione rolled her eyes and sat straight up again, looking him full in the face. “Yes, Ron. Katie. Katie Bell. Former Gryffindor, works at the café you visit multiple times a week.” Ron’s ears were turning red and he was staring intently at the pile of food still on his plate.

“Ummmm…she’s good…I guess…” He trailed off and reluctantly met the brown eyes that were staring him down.

Hermione sighed and shook her head, a small smile playing at her mouth. “Ron, it’s fine! I’m happy for you, honestly. I don’t want this to be weird.” She saw him relax a little. “We’re fine, yeah? We’re always going to be fine.” She gripped his arm and peered into his wide, blue eyes. “You don’t have anything to feel bad or awkward about.” She knew that even though Ron clearly had moved on from their not-even-really-a-relationship, he still felt guilty and didn’t want to hurt her. She appreciated it, but it wasn’t necessary, truly.

Ron heaved a big sigh and gave a low chortle. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you already heard about Katie. I just….I just didn’t want things to be awkward.” His gaze roamed across her features, looking for any indication that she might be upset or cross with him. Finding none, he grinned. “She’s good, Katie. We’re not serious or anything. We just have a lot in common, and I see her a lot because we get lunch from there, but we’ve only even been on one date so far.” His grin turned slightly sheepish. “We didn’t even get Christmas presents for each other. Instead, decided we’d just go to a Chudley match sometime and buy each other’s tickets.”

“That’s terrific, Ron,” Hermione meant it. She was happy for her friend, and was glad they had maneuvered this small hurdle fairly easily.

“What about you?” Ron asked, taking another huge bite of a meat pie.

“Me?” Hermione squeaked, not really sure how to answer what she knew was coming.

“Yeah, got your eye on anyone?”

“Ummmm,” she stalled. “Not really. Nothing serious. Nothing worth mentioning at the moment, no.” She was mumbling, which she rarely did, and was desperately hoping Ron would just drop it because she wasn’t ready to tell him about Draco, nor was she sure what she would even say if she did. They weren’t officially a couple. They were barely more than friends, although she was definitely hoping they could become something more. She wasn’t comfortable explaining all of that, and luckily she was saved from having to do so by Charlie hollering that it was time for three-on-three, glow-in-the-dark Quidditch. In response, Ron thrust his still half-full plate into her lap and went charging out the door, leaving her to huff in great relief as she picked up an abandoned sandwich and took a bite.

Her eyes wandered around the space, and she drank in the familiar warmth and comfort she had always found at the Burrow. Arthur, Molly, Kingsley, and Professor McGonagall were seated around a small table, tucked in the corner of the sitting room. Gawain was being peppered with questions by Percy, and Fleur appeared to be heading out the door to watch the Quidditch match. Taking the opportunity to have a moment to herself, Hermione slipped upstairs to Ginny’s room, where she would be spending the night. She went straight to her bag, which was sitting on a trunk in the corner, and pulled out the letter from Draco.

She had read it almost immediately after Harry had given it to her the day before, but hadn’t yet responded. She didn’t want to just jot down a quick reply, so she had mulled it over while she finished wrapping presents and packing for her time with Ron’s family. While Draco’s note wasn’t remotely romantic, it was very thoughtful and friendly, and shared more about himself than she’d expected. She had laughed out loud at the image he’d painted of Narcissa sneaking his Nutella and made a mental note to pop into a Muggle grocery once she was back at Grimmauld to pick up some more.

She glanced down at the parchment in her hand, rereading his thoughts for the fourth or fifth time since she’d received it, while petting Crookshanks absentmindedly. Her ginger pet had made his home at the Burrow while she was horcrux hunting with the boys, and she’d hated to uproot him again. He thoroughly enjoyed stalking the gnomes in the garden, and seemed to have attached himself to Molly, most likely due to her incessant need to feed any living creature within her line of sight. Hermione had spotted Crookshanks curled up in the Weasley matriarch’s lap on more than one occasion and it warmed her heart to know that he brought comfort to the sweet woman.

Focusing on the letter once more, she smiled and her heart fluttered the tiniest bit. If anyone had told her back in Fifth or Sixth Year that she would one day be getting amiable letters from Draco My-Father-Will-Hear-About-This Malfoy, she would have questioned their sanity. She chuckled to herself, refolded the note and tucked it back into her bag. She preferred to keep her correspondence out of the prying eyes of the Ministry, so her response would have to go through Harry. Knowing that wouldn’t happen until they were back at Grimmauld, she decided to wait a little longer and hoped she’d have something interesting to share about her time at the Burrow.

 

ooOoo

 

Draco never knew babies could be so loud or so messy. Teddy Lupin was nine months old and possessed a very strong set of lungs. He was generally a happy little chap, but his cheerfulness was typically expressed through high-pitched shrieks and bouts of hollering at anyone in his near vicinity. He was fairly easily distracted, but seemed to prefer mundane items like wooden spoons and copper pots to anything his grandmother, aunt, or cousin could conjure.

Currently, Draco was sitting on the floor in the parlor, surrounded by random kitchen supplies, an inordinate amount of brightly colored blocks, and a menagerie of stuffed animals. Teddy had decided his cousin’s lap was the most comfortable spot and was currently sprawled across it while gnawing on a teething biscuit. Draco tried, unsuccessfully, not to flinch as soggy crumbs attached themselves to his trousers every time the wiggly boy shifted. Abandoning the last bit of cookie and planting it firmly on the previously-clean sleeve of his human chair, Teddy rolled himself over, grasping Draco’s knee with his sticky little hands, leaving sugary fingerprints behind as he lunged towards the carpet and the collection of toys there.

Giving a slight huff of exasperation, Draco glanced up to find his mother and aunt watching the whole thing, chuckling at his predicament.

“He seems quite taken with you,” Andromeda observed as her nephew tried to wipe his wool trousers clean, but to no avail. “His hair has matched yours for over an hour now, which is rather unusual.” She waved her wand and the evidence of Teddy’s snack vanished.

Draco stopped searching for his wand amidst the topography of toys to glance back at the youngster, who sure enough, was still sporting white-blonde locks. He couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. His baby cousin might be messy, but he was rather entertaining. His gaze shifted to his mother, who he was surprised to see had tears in her eyes. Cocking an eyebrow in question, she waved her hand and sniffed, giving a watery chuckle in response.

“Don’t mind me,” Narcissa huffed. “I’m just remembering you at this age. With Teddy’s hair that color, it’s hard not to. You were just as active and boisterous.” She gave a small laugh and shook her head. “Once you started crawling, the house elves refused to allow you into the kitchen. You would make a beeline for the lower cabinets, and take all the pots and pans out. Drove them mad.” She wiped the corners of her eyes, her smile growing. “Then, when you began walking, they insisted on blocking the stairs so you couldn’t go up or down on your own. They were so very worried you would fall. I once caught you about three steps up, yelling at the top of your lungs, because three of the elves were barring your path. Very stubborn you were.”

Andromeda was laughing along with her sister, and Draco, although slightly pink in the cheeks, was chortling, too. He knew he had been quite a handful as a small child.

“Dora used to disappear,” Andromeda stated in a rather far-off voice. She was watching Teddy with unfocused eyes as she recalled her daughter’s antics. “She loved to hide, even as a baby, no older than Teddy. I’d find her behind chairs, in closets, under the bed. The first few times it happened, it scared me witless. Thought she’d somehow vanished. After multiple episodes, though, I came to accept this new game of hers and learned her favorite spots.” She chuckled sadly. “She would have been such a wonderful mother.” Tears fell silently down her cheeks as she continued to gaze at her grandson. Narcissa clutched her sister’s hand, her own tears making similar tracks.

Draco felt his eyes prick and, by way of a distraction, resumed his efforts to locate his wand. After a few seconds, he found it underneath a particularly floppy stuffed dragon. The green plush creature was incredibly soft, and almost as big as Teddy. He set it on the floor, directly in the baby’s path, and pointed his wand at it. The dragon’s wings slowly flapped up and down, and tiny swirls of mist appeared to come out of its felt nostrils. Teddy froze at the sight. He scooted closer and watched as the dragon’s tail waved lazily from side to side. Draco kept an eye on the boy, not wanting to startle him with any sudden movements. Teddy leaned forward and gently touched one chubby finger to the dragon’s fuzzy snout. Draco flicked his wand, and the dragon let out a small snort. At once, the room was filled with Teddy’s contagious belly-laugh, which caused all three adults to join in.

After three quarters of an hour of charming various stuffed animals to amuse Teddy, Draco excused himself to stretch his legs. He wandered off towards his quarters and decided to check on his Felix Felicis, which was brewing in the study across the hall from his bedroom. Pleased with the progress he found, he stirred the thickening potion a few times and then sank into the leather armchair by the window. He let his gaze wander out to the grounds where everything was covered in a blanket of pristine white snow. It glittered slightly in the fading Christmas Day sunlight, reminding him of fairy lights. That reminded him of the Halloween Party, which reminded him of a bright green, feathery bundle of happiness. He couldn’t escape the smile that tugged on his lips as he recalled the way Hermione had looked that night.

He had noticed his thoughts turning to the curly-haired witch with increasing frequency over the holiday, and every instance brought a feeling of buoyancy and contentment. He had always sneered at other wizards who seemed to go soft over girls, positive that he would never succumb to the fluttering heartbeats and flowery sentiments his peers were obviously too weak to fend off. He remembered giving Goyle a particularly hard time when he found out his fellow Slytherin had a mild crush on Millicent Bulstrode during Fourth Year. Goyle’s flushed cheeks and glassy eyes as he trailed behind her in the corridors made him snort with derision. If only Goyle could see him now, he chuckled lowly and shook his head. He didn’t even know what exactly he and Hermione were at the moment, but she made him smile, she gave him hope, and he had never been happier in his life.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Draco didn’t have a plan or an agenda. He didn’t know what would happen in the days, weeks, or months to come. He didn’t know what the next step was for him and his favorite Gryffindor, but he was perfectly okay with that. For once in his life it was the journey, not the destination that he was looking forward to.

 

Chapter Text

Draco,

Happy Christmas! Although, I suppose by the time you get this it will be several days after Christmas…. So Happy Belated Christmas! Or, Happy Almost New Year, I guess.

Regardless, I hope you are well and that your holiday has been enjoyable so far. I’ve been at the Burrow for three days now, which is similar to the Room with the high volume and constant stream of people. It’s been mildly chaotic, but good to all be together again.

Tell me about your time with your mother, aunt, and cousin. I haven’t seen Teddy in months. He must be so big now! Did he change his hair to match yours? Is he crawling yet? What did he get for Christmas? What did you get? I received several books, (no teasing!) a Weasley jumper, a new set of colored inks, lots of Honeydukes sweets, (maybe I’ll share…) and a lovely bracelet. That was from Ginny and it’s silver with tiny animal charms on it. The most unusual gift I got was from George (with input from Fred’s portrait, apparently) and you’ll never guess what it is. All I’ll say is that it’s currently sitting on my pillow, which is much more comfortable than my head, I’m sure.

I must admit, I laughed rather hard at the idea of your mother stealing your jar of Nutella. I promise to replenish your stock when we return to school. I might even bring some cinnamon bread back with me. Harry has asked me to bake some before I leave. Have you eaten your weight in cream puffs yet?

I’m so very glad you liked your Secret Santa gift. I had a lot of fun putting it together. Too much fun, probably, but I knew you’d enjoy the riddle. I also hope you know how much I love the Pictionary memento. It was extremely thoughtful, and you didn’t have to give me anything at all, seeing as you were Neville’s Santa, not mine. Still, I’m very glad you did.

As for what you should try the Felix on…. I’ll have to think about that. Is there anything coming up that you’ll be needing good luck for? I wish I’d had some back at the start of the year when I first met Malcolm. Might’ve helped me sort him out sooner. I’m hoping this term will be better for him.

I’m going to sign off here. It’s rather late and I have to pack everything up so I’ll be ready to leave after breakfast. Harry is supposed to be back at the office by noon, so we want to get a fairly early off. I hope your holiday is going well. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Hermione

 

Draco had to refrain from sprinting to the foyer when Merry alerted him to Harry’s arrival. He was incredibly thankful that no one other than the house elf was present to watch him jump out of his chair (where he had been sulking for the past hour, resigned to a letter-free day, even though it was only barely past noon) only to lose his balance and fall back into it with less grace than a mountain troll. Instead, he took several deep, calming breaths and walked casually down to greet his Ministry liaison.

“Potter,” he called while still approaching, training his face into a bored-yet-friendly smirk.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry straightened his glasses and held out a hand in greeting. “How was your Christmas?”

Draco shook the offered hand. “Good. Yours?”

“Slightly crazy, as things usually are at the Burrow, but nice.”

Draco bit his tongue to keep from asking the one question he was burning for an answer to. As a result of his obsessive train of thought, he couldn’t come up with anything else to say to cover the unusual pause in conversation. After months of weekly catch-ups, he rarely found things stilted with Harry, but the dark-haired Auror was looking at him curiously and he was starting to feel rather warm.

“H-how’s Ginny?” he finally ground out.

Harry grinned, a little too knowingly, but answered all the same. “She’s good. She’s actually going to be spending the next three days as a guest of the Holyhead Harpies. They’ve got a charity event at the end of January, so they’re training right now and invited her to shadow their Chasers.”

Impressed, Draco actually forgot about his need for confirmation and replied with genuine sincerity. “That’s brilliant! Good for her.”

Harry’s chest puffed up a little with pride for his girlfriend. “Yeah, she thinks they might offer her a spot once she’s done with school, so she was really excited about this.”

“Fantastic! Truly, I mean it.” Draco was mildly surprised by how much he really did mean it. His interactions with the youngest Weasley had been fairly negligible all term, but he knew Hermione was very close to her. Obviously, Harry was besotted, and since he considered him a friend, he was honestly pleased to hear this good news, and not the least bit appalled that he was reacting so positively.

Merlin, I’m turning into a bleeding Hufflepuff.

Harry chuckled and gave a good-natured huff. “Thanks, although I didn’t really stop by to brag about Ginny.” He reached into his cloak pocket, grey eyes fixed on his every move. “Hermione asked me to deliver this.” He handed a small, folded piece of parchment to Draco, who tried to look like this was nothing out of the ordinary, but knew he had no control over the blush creeping up his neck. He stuck his hand out rather jerkily, feeling like he had left his fine-motor skills back in his study, and had to remind himself to not snatch it and run away like a toddler caught with a biscuit.

“Thanks,” he said, horrified at the way his voice cracked just a tiny bit. Where was his trademark Malfoy suave? Where was his dispassionate observance? Since when had he been reduced to acting like a prepubescent gargoyle? Blessedly, Harry ignored his bizarre reaction and simply nodded.

“I need to get back to work. I’m sure the world is about to end after so many days without Ministry offices open. I’ll be back tomorrow for our regular session. Give Narcissa my best, yeah?”

“Sure, of course.” Draco was using every facet of his considerable talent to stay focused on the man in front of him, and not the square of paper currently burning a hole in his palm. Silently thanking all the Hogwarts founders when Harry turned back towards the fireplace, he raised a hand in farewell and waited until the Chosen One had vanished before heading back to his quarters. This time, he really did sprint.

 

Hermione,

Granger,

Dear Granger,

 

Draco was ready to scream. He had been staring at the parchment in front of him for an embarrassingly long period of time (long enough for his tea to have gone cold thrice, as Merry had already come back again to reheat it when she saw he hadn’t touched it). Yesterday, he had been so pleased with her reply, immediately drafting his own in his mind to include an amusing recounting of Teddy’s antics, and had gone to sleep chuckling about what he assumed was her new, pet puff-mouse. This morning, however, reality had slapped him in the face like one of Peeve’s soggy spit-wads.

She had called him Draco. Again. This was the third time. Granted, it was in a letter, but still. He had never called her Hermione, at least not out loud, and he didn’t know if he wanted to do so for the very first time in written form. That sent him into a spiral of panic, which he fended off by convincing himself that breakfast would help him sort this out. Joining his mother, aunt, and banana-coated cousin at the table, he tried to engage in conversation as though everything was perfectly fine and his thoughts were not zooming in every direction like Filibuster’s Fireworks. Apparently he was pants at pulling it off.

“Draco, dear,” Narcissa set her fork down and gently placed a hand on her son’s arm. “Is something wrong?”

“No, everything’s fine.” Draco’s wide eyes flickered to his mother, and then to his aunt, both of whom were watching him with mildly worried amusement. “Why?”

“Well, for starters,” his mother nodded towards his plate, “you’ve put marmalade on your slices of ham, and you’re toast is sitting in your coffee cup.” Her lips quirked as she tried not to laugh at the look of complete mortification now spreading across his features. “Did you not get enough sleep last night?”

Draco cleared his throat, removed the soggy toast and rotated his plate so the jelly-slathered meat was furthest away. “No, I slept fine, thank you. I must just be distracted this morning.”

“And what’s got your wand in a knot, dear nephew?” Andromeda asked, her eyes glittering with mischief. “Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Harry’s visit yesterday, could it?”

At his aunt’s teasing query, the pale blonde promptly choked on the slightly oversized bite of egg and tomato he’d just taken. Swallowing it whole, his eyes started to water, his face turned red, and his baby cousin laughed uproariously at the commotion. Teddy’s mirth was accompanied by a spoonful of porridge flying through the air, as his grandmother had just been trying to get it into his mouth and his waving arms had collided with her own. The greyish blob landed with a squelchy splat on a nearby portrait of one of the Malfoy ancestors who was obviously irate at the besmirching of his visage. Before he could utter a single, derogatory syllable, however, Andromeda waved her hand and silenced him, leaving him to rant without an attentive audience.

“Potter?” Draco finally managed to force out, deciding to plead ignorance for a moment to buy himself a few seconds to compose his thoughts and his digestive system.

“Well, yes,” Andromeda continued. “He was here yesterday, wasn’t he? Just after noon? I heard his voice when I was getting Teddy changed.” She looked thoughtfully at her nephew, watching closely for his reaction. She could sense something was going on, but wasn’t quite familiar enough with the young man yet to know all his tells. His cheeks were flaming red, and he was staring at his breakfast as if it might burst into song at any moment, slightly panicked and even a little fearful.

“Yes, Draco,” Narcissa chimed in. “You told me at dinner that Harry said hello. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already? You’re too young for your memory to be going.” She cast a teasing glance at her sister who was hiding a grin as she continued to shove porridge in Teddy’s mouth.

Knowing he was not going to be able to get out of this unscathed, Draco sighed heavily and glared at his half-eaten breakfast and steeled himself for the onslaught of questions he knew would come next.

“Potter just dropped by to bring me a letter.” He muttered this rather hastily and then immediately took an excessive bite of toast, quickly followed by a forkful of eggs, so his cheeks were bulging and he clearly would not be able to speak for the next few moments, relying on his mother’s unrelenting expectations when it came to manners and decorum.

The sisters exchanged another glance, eyes wide, mouths tipped up in interested smiles.

“A letter? From whom, dear?”

Draco shrugged, continued to chew and held up a finger signaling he needed a moment. Andromeda chuckled and Narcissa cleared her throat. After making quite a show of swallowing and wiping his mouth with his napkin, he then picked up his coffee cup. As he was bringing it to his lips, he simply stated, “Granger,” and then took a giant swig of the warm beverage.

“Hermione?” Andromeda raised her eyebrows and looked between her relations with interest. She hadn’t seen the clever witch since the beginning of the summer, during the early stages of rebuilding the castle. She had learned a great deal about her through Harry, as he came over regularly to visit and often shared stories of his earlier school days, and even some of the more recent events. Almost every single one of his tales included the brilliant Muggleborn and Andromeda was extremely impressed with the young woman’s talent and heart. Both Remus and Tonks had spoken highly of her also, and it seemed she was very well regarded for her academic achievements. She knew her nephew was no slouch when it came to intellectual ability, but she was aware of the animosity that used to exist between him and Harry, and knew Ron and Hermione were part of that, too. To say she was surprised that the spunky girl was of interest to Draco was a bit of an understatement. Even more so, the fact that Narcissa did not seem to be surprised in the least.

“Ah,” Narcissa smiled serenely, a knowing look gracing her elegant features. “How is Miss Granger?” She was rather amused to see her normally-cool-and-collected son squirm a bit. It was adorable, really. She’d never seen him display any sort of interest or fondness for a witch before. Honestly, he hadn’t shown much of anything for anyone over the last two or three years. It had been a very long time since he’d even mentioned friends, and that thought saddened her. She thought back to his musings about the conversation in the Muggleborn’s kitchen, and remembered feeling like there was a possibility there. Perhaps that was what now seemed to be developing between the two young people. She grabbed ahold of this new piece of information like a lifeline and hoped with every fiber of her being that fate was dealing her son a better hand these days.

“She’s…..uhh….she’s good. Good.” Draco nodded, staring down at his fork as he pushed bits of sausage around on his plate. He couldn’t hide the small grin that pushed his cheeks up, but the thought of a pair of warm chocolate eyes, and a head full of the softest curls kept him from caring if his mother and aunt saw it.

“Was she at the Burrow for Christmas?” asked Andromeda.

“Yes,” Draco finally raised his head and met the entertained and intrigued gazes of the two women. “She and Potter spent Christmas Eve and Day there, as well as the weekend. Left yesterday before Potter had to be back at work.” He tried to sound like this was just random information, but he wasn’t sure he carried it off.

“And she wrote to you?” Narcissa asked. Seeing her son nod in affirmation, she continued. “Had you written to her previously? Or did she initiate correspondence?”

Inwardly, Draco groaned, knowing how his mother was when it came to things like this. He knew as soon as he admitted that he had written first, that his mother would assume (albeit correctly) that he was interested in Hermione. Perhaps, that he even fancied her. And once she reached that conclusion, she was going to be unbearable. Desiring to get it over with as quickly as possible, he met his mother’s brilliant blue eyes and stated firmly, “I wrote to her the day before Christmas Eve. Potter delivered it for me.”

Draco watched as Narcissa processed this information. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she studied his face, a small smile playing about the corners of her mouth. She tilted her head, as if questioning something, and he could almost hear her brain whirring with thoughts and queries. Andromeda, he saw out of the corner of his eye, was watching with interest, and smiled as she wiped Teddy’s face and hands clean from the remains of squashed banana and porridge.

“Have you replied yet?”

“No, not yet. I was planning to after breakfast.” No need to tell her that he’d already been trying, and failing, before he had joined them. He wasn’t ready to give his mother that kind of ammunition just yet. The thought of her exclaiming over his new-found obsession, or worse, offering romantic advice, made him want to hide in the cellar. No, he had told her quite enough for the moment. He knew she wasn’t one to give up easily, though, so he braced himself for the interrogation that was sure to be launched any second.

To his shock and great relief, Narcissa simply smiled, winked, and said, “Well, you’d best be off then. Wouldn’t want to keep her waiting. She might think you don’t miss her.”

With that, she sipped daintily from her tea cup, her glittering eyes watching him as he gaped like a fish. Andromeda chuckled lightly and handed Teddy a spoon, which he happily started banging on his highchair tray. Draco took this as his cue to leave and stood, nodding at all three of his family members, and strode to the doors. As he reached the hallway, he heard his mother and aunt chuckling quietly and knew they were going to spend the next hour or more discussing him and his apparent fondness for one Hermione Granger. Surprisingly, the thought didn’t bother him in the least.

 

Chapter Text

Granger,

Thanks for your letter. It was lovely to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoyed your time at the Burrow. What have you named your puff-mouse? I can’t believe George gave you one. I’m sure he was thoroughly pleased with himself. Will you be bringing it back to school?

Christmas here was actually really good. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect with father gone, and not really knowing my aunt, but Andromeda is terrific, and mother has been so happy to have her here. Teddy is loads of fun. Noisy, messy, constantly-moving fun. He got lots of toys and books, some clothes and a small wagon he likes to push around on his knees. Most of the time, his hair is dark brown, like Andromeda’s, but when he’s with me, he does change it to match. He also turned it blue one afternoon, like the hat my house elf Merry was wearing.

I’m almost afraid to ask, but what is a Weasley jumper? And I would never tease you about getting books as gifts, especially since I received several myself. I’m most looking forward to reading one on the history of the Montrose Magpies, which I’m happy to let you borrow when I’m done. I know how much you adore Quidditch.

Yes please, to the Nutella replacement (I accidentally left it in my study and my mother took it, shared it with Andromeda, and now it’s completely gone). Also, yes to the cinnamon bread, and don’t be ridiculous, of course you’ll be sharing your Honeyduke’s haul.

Any idea what the first Game Night of the New Year will consist of? I tried explaining The Game of Life to my mother and aunt, but failed miserably since neither of them quite understand the Muggle concepts of university, investments, or retirement. They were very interested in Scrabble, though, and I think I’d like to get a set for them. They could play in the evenings when Teddy’s asleep after I’ve gone back to school. I’m not sure if Andromeda’s officially decided yet, by my mother invited them to move into the Manor permanently. I think it would be brilliant, and I get the impression Andromeda likes the idea.

Well, going to sign off here. Potter should be arriving shortly for our Ministry-required check-in. He’s not too bad, really. But don’t tell him I said that.

Do you have any plans for New Years? Looking forward to seeing you Sunday. What time will you be getting back?

Malfoy

 

He had chickened out, he knew. He just couldn’t bring himself to write out her first name. Surely, she knew that “Granger” was a term of familiarity now, not anything negative. He still called Harry “Potter,” although he sometimes thought of him as “Harry,” in his head and he wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. But he just felt horribly awkward writing out her given name when he’d never said it to her face. And if he had written it, would he then be expected to use it all the time? The thought made him break out in cold sweats. Perhaps it was their shared history that made this shift so dramatic to him, but regardless, it felt like a big deal. The fact that she had used his name three times now did funny things to his heart-rate and stomach. It made him feel inordinately pleased and, dare he say it, giddy.

Salazar, he was a goner.

 He rolled up the letter, tied it with a red ribbon he’d rescued from Teddy’s sticky little fingers on Christmas Day, and slid it into his pocket as he headed down to meet his personal Auror for their weekly chat. He arrived in the foyer to see the Boy-Who-Avoided-Death-Like-it-Was-a-Profession hugging his aunt and reaching for Teddy, who was squealing with delight, and whose hair immediately turned Harry’s trademark shade of inky black.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry greeted with a grin.

“Hey, yourself,” Draco grinned back. “I see your godson has taken a step backwards in his sense of style.” He drawled good-naturedly, nodding at Teddy’s raven locks. Harry chuckled and gave the baby a gentle squeeze, which was promptly responded to by the smacking of a tiny hand on his glasses and a gleeful shout.

“I’ll let you boys get on with official business,” Andromeda smiled and scooped Teddy back into her arms. “Narcissa has tea service set out in the library.” Her voice trailed behind her as she headed down the hall.

True to what they’d been told, Narcissa was found in the library, sitting in a wing-backed chair in front of a roaring fire. There were two other chairs, and a low table in the center, laden with full tea service and several plates of biscuits, scones, and tiny cakes.

After their typical initial pleasantries, Harry settled back in his chair and asked if there was anything either of the Malfoy’s needed his assistance with in the coming weeks. Narcissa shook her head and thanked him, but Draco stayed silent for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. After a few seconds, he looked to have made a decision and sat up straighter while glancing first at his mother, and then fixing his pewter gaze on Harry.

“I want to help Granger with her parents.”

Harry’s eyebrows disappeared into his fringe. He had clearly not been expecting this declaration. Nor had Narcissa, who set her cup and saucer down on the table with an uncharacteristically loud clank.

“Malfoy, you know she’s heard back from all the experts,” Harry began, his palms spread out in a gesture of dismay. “I’m not sure what else there is to do.”

“I know about the letters. I just can’t help feeling like there’s got to be something else, or someone else, who could potentially help.” He took a deep breath and explained his thoughts a little further. “I’ve been doing some reading, and there have been healers and potioneers and charms experts over the years who have attempted to reverse all sorts of spells and curses using a combination of techniques, instead of just relying on one tactic.”

Narcissa was studying her son closely. She hadn’t seen him this passionate about anything in a very long time. He had mentioned the tragic story of Hermione’s parents and her efforts to receive help a while ago, but hearing about it again now set something to niggling at her memory. Suddenly, she stood up and strode over to a section of shelves to the right of the fireplace.

“Mother, what are you doing?” Draco’s question was merely met by Narcissa raising her index finger as she perused the spines in front of her. Shrugging, he turned back to Harry who was also watching him intently.

“Have you spoken to Hermione about this?”

“No,” admitted the blonde. “I don’t really want to get her hopes up, only to have them dashed again.” He then told Harry about that day, back in November, when she had received the final correspondence. She had never talked about any of it again; not her parents, nor the letters from the so-called experts, nor any plans to continue searching for a cure. It seemed as if she’d resigned herself to the fact that her parents, although alive and well, were no longer going to be part of her life. He knew it had to be eating her up inside, but she did a marvelous job of keeping her grief buried.

“I agree with you, actually,” admitted Harry. “I don’t want to see her hurt again, either.” He pinned the former Slytherin with a firm stare. “Why do you want to do this, Malfoy?”

Draco knew Harry wasn’t looking for an easy answer. Telling him “she’s my friend” or “I feel sorry for her” wasn’t going to cut it. However, he wasn’t entirely ready to make any grand declarations either.

“I care about her,” he said simply, meeting those emerald-green eyes with sincerity. “I don’t know what the future holds for us, if anything, but I know that right now, she’s the best part of my world. She’s…” He was at a loss for words, but was rescued from trying to express himself by Narcissa sweeping back over with a rather small and very worn book in her hands. She slid gracefully back into her chair and held the book out to the young men before her.

“He might be able to help,” she nodded at the book, which Draco took and opened to find it was actually a journal, not a published work.

“Who is ‘he’?” Draco asked.

“Alcott Faolan Black. He’s your grandmother’s cousin, and although he’s a bit eccentric, he’s always been extremely intelligent.”

“Ok,” said Harry slowly. “How does this help?”

“Alcott was a healer for over seventy years, specializing in mind healing for most of that time. When he quit his practice, he began researching his theories about healing or reversing spells that had damaged ones memory. He’s been somewhat successful using a technique that combines verituserum and incantation, and has theorized about the use of legilimacy as well.”

“How have we never heard of him? You would think a discovery like that…” But Narcissa waved her son off impatiently.

“The work he’s done for the last twenty years or so has been very selective and incredibly private, for the exact reason you just alluded to. While he has made some great strides in this realm, not everything has been successful, and he does not want to go public with his findings until he has stronger results to present.”

“Do you think we should contact him?” Draco asked while turning the pages of the journal he still held. His relative seemed to take meticulous notes, at any rate.

“Why not?” Narcissa asked. “I wouldn’t use Miss Granger’s name or specifics at this point, but there’s no harm in asking him what he thinks the possibility is of reversing any of it. He lives just outside the small village of Yvoire, in Haute-Savioe. He’s a bit of a recluse, so I doubt very highly that details of her role in the war, or the testimony she gave at your trial would have reached him.”

Both Draco and Harry pondered this in silence for a few minutes. Finally, grey eyes turned to meet green and they both nodded in agreement.

“Let’s do it.” Harry affirmed.

“Should we draft a letter now?” asked Draco, feeling antsy and wanting to get started.

“Sure, why not?”  Harry shrugged.

“Lovely.” Narcissa stood and began taking steps toward the door. “Let me know if you need any help.”

Over the course of the next hour, Harry and Draco started and scrapped a dozen letters to this obscure wizard, unsure of exactly how to explain the situation and what bits of information were most important to include. Eventually, they edited and rewrote the missive enough to be reasonably pleased with the result. Since it was Draco’s distant relative, he simply explained that he had a friend who’d had their memory modified to a rather significant degree. That this friend now no longer remembered a beloved family member, and that attempting a reversal of the original spell had been unsuccessful. He also made sure to include that the caster of the spell used no dark magic, and had not done this with harmful intent. He spoke of Alcott’s prodigious skills and the impressive reputation he had, since flattery never hurt, and asked that he reply at his earliest convenience, and to please send his correspondence to Auror Potter at the Ministry.

Folding the letter carefully, Draco placed it in an envelope and sealed it with the Malfoy insignia. He handed it over to Harry, who tucked it in the pocket of his robes with a promise to send it off as soon as he got back to his office at the Ministry. They both stood there for a second or two, feeling as if they were about to embark on some sort of journey together, silly as that might seem. In some ways, it was rather true. For all the months they had spent getting used to each other’s presence, they had never really worked on anything together in a joint effort. The portraits were somewhat of a combined task, but he was rather removed from it, being at school. It felt a little bit odd, but mostly it gave Draco a deep sense of confirmation that he was doing the right thing. He had felt similarly when Fred’s portrait was unveiled, but this ran deeper since he was actually the one who wrote the letter, and would be the one his distant relation would (hopefully) communicate with.

For Harry, without question he was happy to be doing this for his best friend, but it also gave him a very real glimpse into the heart and soul of this reformed Draco Malfoy. He knew the pale Slytherin had changed from the first conversation they’d had about his pending trial while he was still in prison, but this was different. Harry was pleasantly surprised to discover the depth of his former rival’s feelings for Hermione, especially since he had a sneaking suspicion she felt the same way, even though she’d yet to reveal anything of the sort to him.

His internal musings were further solidified when Draco pulled a small scroll out of his pocket and sheepishly held it out.

“For Hermione?” Harry asked, unable to keep the smirk off his face.

Draco nodded and gave a lopsided grin.

“I should start charging you. I’m not a postman, you know.”

“What’s a postman?”

“Never mind,” Harry huffed good-naturedly. “See you in a few days, Malfoy.” He disappeared in a whirl of green flames, and Draco turned back down the hall to the library, whistling to himself as he went.

 

ooOoo

 

Harry was coerced into hosting a New Year’s Eve party by his bossy best friends, and his very persuasive girlfriend. At first, he had thought they just meant to invite a handful of people and have a small, friendly gathering. Within hours of the idea blossoming however, it was clear that it was going to be a full-blown celebration with no less than two dozen people, food, drinks, music, and whatever else they had decided was necessary. He took it in his usual, good-natured stride, making only one request.

“We need to find a way to silence that horrid portrait of Sirius’ mother for the night.” He demanded. “She’s going to have kittens every time someone comes in the door, or walks down the hall. We won’t be able to talk above a whisper if we don’t do something about her.”

Hermione, Ron, and Ginny knew he was right. They were sitting around the scrubbed, wooden kitchen table, trying to come up with a fix. Silencing charms only lasted until a noise loud enough to penetrate them occurred. With a houseful of guests, that was going to be an ongoing problem. Ron was in the midst of trying to describe the makings of some sort of sound-proof box to put over it when Kreacher approached them.

“Kreacher would be honored to help Master and his guests, if Master would like,” he bowed low, his squashy nose almost touching the floor.

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. Sirius’ mother had long been a favorite family member of Kreacher’s. When the Order first moved into Grimmauld Place, the elf would mutter endlessly about her, parroting her beliefs about blood purity. He was as devoted to her as Dobby had once been to Harry.

“What would you suggest, Kreacher?” he asked of the wizened elf.

“Kreacher could sit by her and stop her whenever she begins to speak, if Master thinks that would be useful.” Again, the elf bowed and then straightened up and peered at Harry, waiting for his orders.

“Well, yeah, that would be brilliant, Kreacher,” Harry was grateful, but still bemused by the offer. “You won’t mind silencing your mistress?”

Kreacher shook his head vehemently, his bat-like ears flapping about his head. “My mistress is no longer in charge here. She does not know the glorious deeds of my master. She does not understand how noble, how clever, how….” Kreacher stopped for a moment and glared at Harry with what could only be described as furious pride, “how courageous my master is. Just like Master Regulus.”

Harry realized that there could be no higher praise from Kreacher than that. He met the elf’s eyes with deep appreciation, but before he could thank him, Kreacher continued.

“Kreacher would be very proud, very proud indeed, to help Master and his friends who have done so much to save us all.” His loyal stare roved over Hermione, Ron, and Ginny, making eye contact with each of them in turn. The three companions turned their stunned expressions onto Harry, who was equally amazed. While Kreacher was faithful to Harry, and had accepted the others as an extension of The Boy Who Lived, he had never openly displayed anything more than polite service to them.

“Right then,” Harry stammered. “Kreacher, if you would be okay with helping us during the party that would be great.”

Kreacher bowed one last time and shuffled from the kitchen, leaving the four friends gaping at each other. After a second or two, they all let out little chuckles, shaking their heads, unsure of what to make of this new development.

“What brought that about?” asked Hermione.

“No idea,” said Harry. “But I’m not complaining.”

“Me either,” agreed Ron. They launched back into the planning of the upcoming bash, now focusing on the guest list.

Hermione wanted to send invitations to everyone in the Eighth Year house, since several of them, like Neville, Luna, and Dean, had already been mentioned.

“We can tell everyone to bring a friend or two, so no one will feel awkward,” she suggested.

“That means Malfoy, too, I suppose?” Ginny asked, sending a suspicious glance in her friend’s direction. Before Hermione could do more than feign innocence, however, Harry interjected.

“I’ll have to get permission from Kingsley, since technically Malfoy isn’t supposed to go anywhere without me.”

“But you’ll be here,” began Hermione.

“Yeah, but it’s a party, not community service or anything.” He saw the stubborn set to her jaw and raised his hands in surrender. “I think it’s a great idea to invite him, I just have to make sure it’s ok.”

Hermione nodded and went back to adding names to the guest list while Ron reverted back to the menu, a topic that had been discussed at length multiple times already. In the end, Kreacher was brought back in to finalize the list of snacks, which he seemed very pleased to help with and even made some suggestions of his own. The girls made their way up to Hermione’s room to write out the invitations, while the boys headed to Diagon Alley to pick up several cases of butterbeer and anything else they deemed important.

As Ginny settled into the overstuffed chair by the window, she studied the curly-haired witch across the room, currently rummaging through her desk for parchment and quills.

“Sooooo,” she began in a lazy sort of drawl. “Heard from Malfoy at all?” As she expected, Hermione’s hands froze and her head snapped around in Ginny’s direction.

“What?”

“I asked if you’ve heard from Malfoy at all over the holiday.”

“Oh. Yes. Twice. Right before Christmas, and then again yesterday,” came the staccato reply. Hermione resumed her search with a slight pink tinge to her cheeks.

“Hmmmm,” Ginny fought a grin at her friend’s obviously flustered state. “You know, you never finished telling me about the whole Secret Santa thing. How did he like his gift?”

Hermione shoved the desk drawer shut with difficulty, then stood there clutching a stack of parchment in front of her like a shield from the red head’s curiosity.

“He liked it, I think.”

Ginny cocked her head in question. “You think?”

“Yes, yes, he liked it. He said he did, and…” Hermione’s cheeks flushed even brighter, “he gave me a hug.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows, the grin now twitching at the corners of her mouth. “Oh really? And did you hug him back?”

Hermione fixed her eyes on the paper in her hands and nodded, mumbling something under her breath that Ginny couldn’t make out.

“What was that?”

Hermione flung her head back, as if speaking to the ceiling, and said in an only slightly louder tone, “I kissed him.”

Ginny sat bolt upright in the chair, her mouth hung open, her eyes like saucers.

“You what?”

The brunette witch closed her eyes and nodded her head, then took three steps and flung herself on her bed, crumpling the parchment and quills beneath her as she lay, face down on the comforter.

“You kissed him? You kissed Draco Malfoy? And you didn’t think to tell me until now?” Ginny was incredulous.

Muffled words sounded from the bed.

“Sorry, you’ll have to do better than that,” she demanded.

Hermione sat up, swiping her curls out of her face and huffing a great sigh.

“Yes, I kissed him. He came to my room after the party to give me this.” She reached over to her nightstand, where Ginny had seen the silver picture frame, but didn’t think anything of it. “It’s from our first Game Night, and has to do with a conversation we had about pictures, and…” she flapped her hands in impatience. “That’s not important.”

“But it was worthy of you kissing him?” asked Ginny, still rather stunned.

“It’s not like I snogged him senseless!” protested Hermione. “I just kissed him. Once. Well, twice, but the second time was just on the cheek so that doesn’t really count.”

Ginny’s face had gone from stunned to completely shocked as this news was imparted.

“Twice? Now you’re saying you kissed Malfoy twice?”

“Not really. Just on the cheek.” Hermione’s own cheeks were flaming red by now, and she buried her face in her hands.

“So….so what does this mean, then?” asked Ginny, now grinning from ear to ear at this unexpected, yet delightful news.

Hermione groaned. “I don’t know. He walked me to my floo appointment, and said he would write to me, which he has, but that’s where we left it.”

“He walked you to….” Ginny shook her head. “There’s clearly more to this story than you’re spilling.” Hermione looked at her sheepishly, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.

Ginny climbed on the bed next to her friend. “I think you need to start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

Grimmauld Place hadn’t seen a party like this in ages. Music played through the entire main floor, and platters of food covered every flat surface. Kreacher had been set up in the hall in a comfortable armchair, right next to the portrait of Mrs. Black. Harry had placed an end table next to it, topped with a plate heaped with snacks and a large mug of pumpkin juice. Every once in a while, Kreacher could be seen snapping his fingers, and the curtains that had flung open as his mistress began another rant would whip shut again. Thankfully, the noise level throughout the house kept any of her insults from being heard by anyone other than the elf, who allowed himself a small, pleased smirk every time he shut her up.

The gathering was in full swing when Draco stepped through the floo into the noisy, crowded drawing room. Neville happened to be close by and welcomed him by sliding a plate of sandwiches in front of his face before he could move any further. He happily took one and stood there chatting with Neville and Hannah while scanning the room to see who else was there. Perhaps it would be better to ask who wasn’t there, since it seemed like everyone he’d known at Hogwarts was present.

Many of the guests had taken the host up on his offer to bring someone. Draco spotted Daphne and Theo sitting with Pansy Parkinson and Blaise Zabini across the room. Dean was circling the food-laden table in the dining room with George, Angelina Johnson, Oliver Wood, and Alecia Spinnett. Ron and Katie Bell were playing a round of Exploding Snap with Seamus Finnegan and Susan Bones on the coffee table, and Harry was chatting with Anthony, Ginny, and two other Seventh Years in front of the Christmas tree. Just as he was starting to wonder where she was, Hermione appeared in the hall at the opposite end of the room, followed by Luna. The two girls were carrying trays of assorted biscuits, which they squeezed onto a low dresser that already contained a large punch bowl.

Once she had set her tray down, Hermione wiped her hands on her jeans and turned to glance around the room. Her gaze fell on the newest arrival and a smile immediately appeared on her face. Even with a room full of people between them, Draco could feel the pull towards her. She was happy to see him, there was no doubt about it from the way she looked at him, and that thought alone made his heart swell. They had exchanged a few letters during the holiday break, but he wasn’t exactly sure where to go from there. Their conversation on the way to McGonagall’s office had given him hope, but had also made him extremely nervous. He didn’t want to mess this up.

“Oi! Malfoy!” Theo hollered and waved him over. Draco approached the four former Slytherins, pulling up a chair to join them. He nodded at each of them, his gaze settling on the two newcomers, who still seemed to be taking in their surroundings with a mixture of curiosity and nervousness.

“Good to see you, Pansy, Zabini,” he greeted them both.

“You too, Draco,” Pansy raised an eyebrow at him. “Hanging out with Potter now?”

Draco shrugged, refusing to be baited into insulting someone who had genuinely become a good friend over the past seven months. “He’s a decent bloke. He’s done a lot for me.”

Pansy’s eyebrows almost disappeared into her fringe, but Blaise was studying him intently.

“And the rest of them?” he asked, waving a hand in vague gesture to the crowd at large.

Draco looked around the room, shrugged again and nodded, “Yeah, they’ve all been decent, too.” He smirked at the look of incredulity that flashed across both Pansy and Blaise’s faces. “Ask these two,” he jerked his chin towards Daphne and Theo, looking for confirmation.

“I’ve been telling you all night, Pans,” began Daphne. “Everyone in our house is terrific, and the rest of the group here tonight has been nothing but friendly. You can’t disagree.”

Pansy sighed rather reluctantly, “You’re right, I suppose. I just have a hard time admitting it; I’m at a party with a bunch of Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs, in Harry Potter’s house. Never thought I’d see the day.” She rolled her eyes, but chuckled wryly.

Blaise was still staring at Draco, who raised an eyebrow in question, “What?”

Blaise shook his head, “You seem different.”

“In what way?”

“I’m not sure. Not yet, at least.”

“I told you, Blaise,” began Pansy. “Draco is working to rebuild his family’s name and reputation. Of course he’s not going to revert back to acting like the arrogant arse he was in school.”

“Thanks so much, Pans,” drawled Draco.

“Nah,” said Blaise, shaking his head. “That’s not it. I’ll figure it out.”

Theo, who had been watching the entire exchange, winked at Draco, raised his cup in an unspoken toast, and smirked when the blonde’s cheeks turned pink. His amusement continued when a certain curly-haired witch appeared behind his friend and he was afforded the opportunity to tease him further.

“Granger! Happy Almost New Year!” he exclaimed, thoroughly appreciating the startled jump Draco gave.

Hermione grinned at Theo, and then smiled welcomingly at Blaise and Pansy before addressing Daphne. “You’ll have to check out the Christmas tree in the study. I tried charming the ribbons the way you showed me. It didn’t turn out too bad.”

“Oooh! I’d love to!” agreed Daphne, who then turned to Pansy and started explaining the technique she had taught her new friend.

“What have you been up to lately, Blaise?” Hermione asked, not being very knowledgeable about him, other than knowing he was very tall, very rich, and very fashion-conscious.

Blaise seemed slightly surprised that she would engage him in conversation, but recovered quickly and began telling her about spending the last several months in Italy with his mother.

As they talked, Draco could feel her hand on the back of his chair. She wasn’t actually touching him, but she was as close as she could be without it, and it was driving him mad. He wanted to turn and watch her while she talked, but Theo’s eyes were boring into him, gauging him for any reaction to her proximity and he refused to give his friend any more leverage. Instead, he fiddled with the cuff of his jumper, trying to seem disinterested.

“I think Dean is planning a game for everyone in a bit,” Hermione was telling their small group. “He said something about Charades, or Pictionary.” She poked Draco lightly in the shoulder and he looked up to find her smirking at him. “We’ll have to be on the same team again if he picks that one.” She winked at him and walked away to join another group of friends.

Draco turned back to his companions to find two of them smiling in understanding, and two of them goggling at him as if he’d grown a second head.

“Since when are you and Granger on the same team?” asked Pansy in disbelief.

Daphne quickly came to his rescue, diving into an explanation of their house’s weekly Game Night, while Theo chuckled into his drink. Blaise, however, was now watching Draco with a shrewd expression on his face. Refusing to get cornered into answering anything, he got up and announced he was going to get something to eat.

In the dining room, he came across George, who introduced him to Angelina.

“My sister talks about you all the time,” the former Quidditch chaser chuckled. “Imagine my surprise when she told me you were her mentor!”

Draco gave a slightly embarrassed smile, “Olivia’s great. Seems to be enjoying her first Hogwarts experience.”

“Oh, she definitely is,” agreed Angelina. She fixed him with a serious look. “Thanks for looking out for her, Malfoy. I appreciate all the time you’ve spent with her.”

Draco shrugged, feeling a mixture of pride and unease. Angelina placed her hand on his arm, causing him to meet her open, honest gaze. “I mean it. Thank you. You’re alright, Malfoy,” she smiled and he returned the gesture, nodding in appreciation.

At that moment, Katie entered the room, apparently looking for Angelina, but froze when she saw Draco. The two had not spoken after the events of Sixth Year, when his cursed necklace had landed her in St. Mungo’s. She approached him warily, her eyes flitting between him and her friend.

“Was just telling Malfoy how much Olivia loves having him as her mentor,” Angelina offered by way of inviting Katie to join them. Her former teammate continued to look at him with a mixture of skepticism and distrust.

“Maybe we should see if Kreacher needs more snacks,” interjected George, grabbing Angelina by the hand and pulling her away.

Draco took a deep breath, knowing what needed to happen, and met Katie’s eyes. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. I never meant for you, or anyone else, to get hurt. Truly, I…” his voice faltered. Her dark eyes hadn’t left his face, but they were now filled with tears and her lower lip was trembling. “I regret all of it so, so much,” He dropped his gaze to the floor, waiting for her to rail at him.

Katie sniffed, cleared her throat and said, “Thanks, Malfoy.”

He jerked his gaze back up to hers, surprised at the lack of anger or reproach in her voice.

“I never thought I’d see the day when Draco Malfoy apologized for anything,” she continued, wiping her eyes and huffing a small laugh. “I know you were going through hell that year. I know you didn’t target me. It took me a long time to understand the bigger picture. While I still think you should’ve gone to Dumbledore for help, I get it.”

Draco nodded, his throat tight and his eyes stinging. These sodding Gryffindors and their forgiveness. He was never going to get used to it. “I’m glad you’re ok,” he managed to choke out.

“Thanks,” she nodded. “Me too.”

From the other room, Dean’s voice came booming, “Game time, you tossers!”

Both Katie and Draco groaned out a laugh, signaling the end of their conversation. Ron poked his head around the corner, reaching out his hand for Katie in a gesture for her to join him. “You coming, Malfoy?” he asked.

Draco nodded, gave himself a little shake to clear his head and his heart from the myriad of emotions that had just stampeded through over the short period of time since he’d arrived, and went to join his friends.

 

ooOoo

 

With only about an hour to go before midnight, Hermione was surprised to hear the chime signaling someone was on the front steps. Kreacher, who had dozed off in his chair, immediately startled awake and snapped his fingers before Mrs. Black could say more than “filthy sons of!” She opened the door to find the Patil twins standing there. Padma, with a strained smile on her face, and Pavarti, who looked like she’d rather be anywhere else.

“Hey, Hermione,” Padma said with forced cheerfulness. “Sorry we’re late.”

“No problem at all,” Hermione opened the door wider and stepped aside, inviting the sisters to come in. Padma physically forced her twin over the threshold, where the girl stood with her hands in her pockets, staring at the floor. Hermione looked questioningly at her housemate.

“We, um, we haven’t gone out a whole lot over the holiday,” explained Padma, looking downcast. “Or at all, really.” She shot a sideways glance at Pavarti, who still hadn’t moved.

“Well, I’m glad you came,” encouraged Hermione. “Everyone is in the drawing room watching a movie, if you want to join us.” Padma’s face lit up, but her sister continued to scowl at the rug. “Or you can go get something to eat first,” Hermione offered, pointing towards the location of the food.

“Let’s do that,” said Padma decisively, steering her twin in the direction of the dining room.

Hermione made her way back into the drawing room. She had been sitting on one of the couches before the girls had arrived, and carefully climbed around and over the other guests who were sprawled around the room, a task made even more difficult by the fact that the only light was from the television screen.

Finally, she sank back into her seat next to Draco, who glanced at her and smiled before turning his attention back to the screen. Dean had chosen to show the classic musical, “Holiday Inn,” which had the room full of witches and wizards completely captivated.

A short while later, the end credits were rolling and Harry lit the candles and sconces once more. The music picked back up, and everyone was encouraged to grab one last plate of food before the midnight countdown was to take place. As Draco was making his way over to the punch bowl, he came face to face with Pavarti.

“You,” she breathed out in a shocked and angry whisper.

Draco’s eyes widened. He didn’t remember ever interacting with Padma’s sister before, and wasn’t quite sure what was causing her reaction to him. He watched as her eyes filled with tears and a look of pure hatred filled her face.

“You have no right to be here,” she continued in a low, furious voice. “You’re the reason my best friend is dead. You’re the reason the others are too. You should be rotting in a cell…” but her tirade was interrupted when Harry happened to walk by and overheard her accusations.

“Pavarti?” he asked quietly. “Is everything okay?”

“No,” she spit out. “No, it’s not okay, and it’s never going to be okay. I can’t believe you would let this,” she gestured to Draco with a flick of her wrist, disgust clearly etched on her features, “into your home.”

“Malfoy is my friend, Pavarti.” Harry said gently. “I invited him.”

“Well, you’re wrong to.” Her voice started to rise as the tears began spilling down her cheeks. “He’s the reason Lavender is dead. How could you be friends with him?”

By this time, several others had stopped nearby, witnessing the exchange. Padma came rushing over and wrapped her arm around her sister. “Pavarti, let’s just go home.”

“Why didn’t you tell me he’d be here? Why would you make me come?” Pavarti completely dissolved into sobs, clinging to her sister who looked apologetically up at Draco. She mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to him and to Harry before leading her twin out of the room. In the stunned silence that followed, Draco spun on his heel and headed out of the drawing room, through the front hall, and out the front door.

Once outside, he took a shaky breath of frigid air. It had started to snow, the front steps covered with a thin layer of fluffy white flakes. He descended the first three stairs, then sank down to sit with his arms on his knees, his head bowed. His heart was pounding and the guilt and shame roiling in his gut made him feel sick. He shouldn’t have come. He didn’t really belong here, with all these people who fought on the right side of the war. No matter how many of them forgave him or accepted him, he was still an outsider. Still a screw up.

He heard the door open behind him and felt someone sit down next to him. He lifted his head and saw Potter in his periphery.

“Sorry about that,” said Harry.

Draco snorted. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for, Potter. I’m the one who’s sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”

“What are you on about?”

“I shouldn’t have come. If I’d stayed home, Patil wouldn’t have gotten upset and…” But Harry cut him off.

“No, Malfoy. This wasn’t your fault. Just like Lavender’s death wasn’t your fault. Pavarti has been holed up in her house since May, grieving the loss of her best friend. Padma told me she blames everything on everyone these days. She just can’t handle moving forward. Her parents have started taking her to a mind healer, trying to help her process her grief, but it’s slow going.” Harry sighed deeply and pinned Draco with his bright green eyes.

“There are always going to be people who can’t forgive. There are always going to be people who hang onto their anger and their hatred, and who refuse to believe someone can change for the better.” He pointed to the house behind him. “But the rest of the people in there? They’re the majority. The ones who believe in second chances and changes of heart. The ones who can forgive and who believe in you.”

Draco looked back down at the steps below him, his eyes stinging and his throat clogged for the second time that night. Harry clapped him on the shoulder. “What happened tonight wasn’t your fault, Malfoy. And neither was what happened in May.”

With that, he stood and went back inside.

Draco continued to sit on the steps, watching the snow fall silently around him. He thought about what Harry had just said. He reluctantly saw the truth of it, and was ashamed of his knee-jerk reaction to Pavarti’s outburst. Even after all this time, after so many months of building relationships with his housemates, and making a consistent effort to change the way the world perceived him, one negative interaction sent him scuttling back into his cave of self-loathing and iniquity. For someone who spent the first seventeen years of his life caring so little about what others thought of him, he needed to develop thicker skin.

He realized, however, that for all the progress he’d been making within the safe, protective walls of Hogwarts, the rest of the Wizarding World was not nearly as forgiving or accepting as his housemates and their friends. Tonight was a stark reminder of that fact, and it settled like a heavy weight on his shoulders. He still had a very, very long way to go if he wanted the Malfoy name to be even remotely respected again. The thought of his mother facing such vengeful animosity made his eyes burn again with regretful tears.

He took a deep breath, knowing he wasn’t going to solve all his problems in one night, especially not sitting out in the freezing cold. He decided he would go back inside, thank Harry for inviting him, and try to slip out without too many people noticing. He wanted to wish Hermione a Happy New Year, but…

He heard the door open again and sighed, “I’m coming, Potter.” But as he turned to start to get up, he saw that it wasn’t Harry who had come outside this time, but Hermione. His breath hitched in his throat as he took in the look of concern on her face and he felt slightly self-conscious, knowing his cheeks were probably flushed and his eyes still wet. He looked back down at the steps as she settled next to him, her hip touching his. She made a small motion with her hand and he immediately felt the step he was sitting on warm up, along with the air around him. He glanced at her.

“It’s cold out here,” she shrugged. She watched the snowflakes as they fell from the sky. “Are you okay?” she asked without looking at him, which he appreciated.

“Yeah,” he grunted, then cleared his throat. “I’m fine.”

“She was wrong, you know,” Hermione began, still not looking at him. “It’s not your fault Lavender died, or anyone else that day. Greyback was responsible for her death, but ultimately, it was all Voldemort’s fault.”

Draco nodded, blinking furiously.

“Harry said you thought you shouldn’t have come here tonight,” she turned to face him now, but he still stared at the snow-covered steps. “But you have just as much right to be here as any of us, and I’m glad you did.” She paused as if deliberating whether or not to continue. In true Golden Girl fashion, she forged ahead, determined to get her message across. “All of us have baggage and scars and nightmares from the war. We all have regrets, we all made mistakes, and we are all trying to cope and move forward the best we can.” Her voice faltered the tiniest bit and Draco’s stomach clenched, hating that it was painful for her to say these things, but too selfishly clinging to the lifeline she was offering to tell her to stop.

“You aren’t in this alone, Draco. The changes you’ve made since last May aren’t wiped away just because others refuse to see them. The friendships you’ve made don’t dissolve just because one person drudges up your past. You left so quickly, you didn’t hear Neville, Angelina, and Dean all immediately jump to your defense, not that they even needed to. No one in that room blamed you for what Pavarti said. Please believe that.” She looked imploringly at him, willing the tears that had filled her eyes to stay put.

Again, he simply nodded and continued to stare at the steps.

“Do you really believe me, or are you just agreeing to get me to shut up?” She asked, a slightly teasing tone now infused her words.

He turned his head the slightest bit, just enough to see her face. Her eyes were warm and kind, her perfect lips tilted up in a tiny smile. He quirked a lopsided grin and nodded again. From inside the house, he heard Dean holler something about the countdown starting soon. He looked straight ahead at the empty street, still battling the emotions warring within him.

“You should go back inside. You don’t want to miss the countdown,” he said in a gravelly voice.

“Well,” she said softly, watching him closely, “there’s no one in there I want to kiss at midnight.”

Draco’s heart lurched and he snapped his head around completely to meet her gaze. She was peering up at him shyly though her long lashes. Did she really mean what he thought she meant? Even after the humiliating scene inside?

“Ten! Nine!” He heard the revelers inside begin the traditional chant.

She still wanted this? Wanted him after he’d skulked away like a coward?

“Eight! Seven! Six!”

She was close enough for him to feel the heat radiating off her, close enough to see the golden flecks sparkling in the deep brown of her irises.

“Five! Four! Three!” The partygoers were getting louder.

He knew he didn’t deserve this moment, but he’d be hanged if he was going to let it slip through his grasp. He turned slightly towards her and she leaned in just the slightest bit, her eyes still on his.

“Two! One!”

Draco bent his head and pressed his lips to hers. The cheers and celebrating going on inside were drowned out by the pounding of his heart. He was engulfed by the apricot-vanilla scent of her, and he felt like he’d found something he hadn’t known he’d been missing. A shiver ran up his spine that had nothing to do with the wintery air around them and he pulled back just enough to gauge her reaction. Her eyes fluttered open and a dreamy smile floated across her face.

“Happy New Year,” she whispered.

“Happy New Year.” He moved his hands up to cup the sides of her face and brought his lips to hers again. He felt her slide one hand around the back of his neck where her fingers wove into his hair. He angled his face slightly, deepening the kiss and heard her sigh. This was it. He was never going to move from this spot. Potter could use a different door to get in and out of his home.

Speaking of, the Famous One had an impeccable knack for interrupting life-changing events, because the front door opened then, causing their blissful moment to come to a screeching halt.

“Uhhh, sorry,” Harry stammered, realizing he had clearly barged in on something. “Just making sure you’re alright then, yeah?”

Hermione had turned to smirk at her best friend, while Draco dropped his hands and glared at the dark-haired distraction.

“Yup, good.” Harry shot them both an apologetic grimace and quickly shut the door. Hermione chuckled and looked back at Draco, who was now nervously toying with the sleeve of his jumper. She placed a hand on his cheek, forcing him to look at her. She regarded him for a second or two with a look he couldn’t quite decipher, then leaned in and kissed him softly once, twice, three times before pulling back and making to stand up. He watched her soundlessly, unsure of what to say, or if he could even formulate the words if his brain came up with them.

She held out her hand. “Come inside with me?”

He looked at her hand and back up at her face, open and inviting, and nodded. He knew this was more than a simple invitation to go back to the party. This was them, moving forward, together. As he stood and intertwined his fingers with hers, he marveled at how perfectly their hands fit, and couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face if he’d tried.

Chapter Text

After Draco and Hermione went back inside, they joined in the merriment as Dean taught the less informed members of their party how to play Musical Chairs. With so many people there, they had to get creative in the placement of seats, and the dining room became a holding area for unnecessary pieces of furniture and home décor. Finally, everything was determined to be ready, and Dean blasted a collection of lively Christmas music as the game began.

Just as it had during Game Night in the Room, the volume and excitement level rose to heights of crazed exuberance. The ten housemates, being old hat at this game, were in tearful hysterics as their peers attempted to grasp the basic rules. Ron kept tripping over his own feet, Oliver landed in Daphne’s lap, Angelina lost a shoe, and Pansy refused to get up after successfully securing a seat during the very first round. As a result, Theo levitated her, chair and all, and left her suspended in mid-air for the next several turns. At some point, George unleashed three of his patented version of Muggle whoopee cushions, which zoomed around and slid under unsuspecting players right as they went to sit down. A chorus of obscene sounds filled the air each time Dean stopped the music, causing everyone to laugh until their sides ached.

At the end of the game, which Blaise won and received a whoopee cushion as a prize for, everyone helped put the room to rights and set about refilling their plates for the fourth or fifth time that night.

“I think we should have a dance party!” Theo announced to the group, cutting through the friendly chatter that had commenced as everyone settled back into chairs and comfortable spots on the floor.

“But we just moved all the furniture back!” Ginny, Anthony, and Hannah all whined at the same time. Chuckles broke out, but Theo, undeterred, forged ahead.

“Not in here,” the lanky former-Slytherin sought Harry’s eyes across the room and jerked his head towards the entrance hall, beckoning an audience with him.

Everyone watched with mild curiosity as the two stood, heads bowed together, while Theo spoke animatedly. At one point, Harry looked up and glanced around the room.

“Hermione!” he called, “can you come here?”

She did as he asked, and made her way across the crowded space to her friends. Cocking an eyebrow in question, she simply waited to hear what they needed from her.

“Nott has an idea,” Harry began.

“Actually, it’s an ingenious plan, not just an idea,” Theo sniffed in mock offense.

“He wants to turn the rooftop into a dance floor,” Harry spoke over the other wizard.

Hermione’s eyebrows now were both raised. She hadn’t even realized Grimmauld had a rooftop, but she supposed of course it would. All the homes on the street had the same rectangular shape, reaching up three floors above street level, and ending in a flat surface on top.

“Ok,” she began, “what do you need me for?”

“Because you’re bloody brilliant!” exclaimed Theo.

Harry chuckled and nodded towards the living room where everyone was gathered. “Remember how you helped me transfigure that whole space? And all the other rooms in this moldy, old house?”

Hermione nodded and grinned, understanding the request. “Lead the way then,” she shooed the boys forward towards the stairs.

Upon reaching the top of the last staircase, they had to resort to blasting the warped door off its rusted hinges. What they found was a completely empty, snow-covered rooftop. The entire space was hemmed in by a brick wall about four feet high, which made Hermione feel better about people being up there.

“What do we need to do?” Theo asked her, his eyes dancing with anticipation.

“Vanish the snow, cast a shield charm over the entire space, as well as concealment and muffliato. After that, cast warming charms every five or six feet. Reinforce the floor, and maybe string some lights by the door.” The moon was almost full, and the clouds had parted when the snow stopped, leaving the sky clear and full of twinkling stars.

“We’ll get started on that,” Harry confirmed. “Do you want to have some of the others bring chairs up here? And Dean should bring the music.”

Hermione nodded and headed towards the stairs, only to meet George, Angelina, and Luna on their way up. She pointed them in the direction of Harry and Theo and skipped back down to round up the others.

Magic is a wonderful thing. In less than fifteen minutes, the rooftop had been transformed (literally) from a boring, snow-laden space to a warm, welcoming party hub. Everyone who had still been downstairs helped bring chairs, cushions, and of course, snacks up to the new location. The procession of levitated items making their way up three flights of stairs was quite a sight, and the shiny parquet dance floor Theo had conjured impressed everyone as soon as they stepped onto the roof. Dean set up his cd player at the far end, and magically magnified the volume in the outdoor space. Within seconds, everyone was lined up for his crash course on the Macarena.

Hermione greatly appreciated Dean’s quick thinking. By starting them off with a group dance, he not only guaranteed participation, but also alleviated the awkwardness that often accompanied these situations. After the Macarena, Hermione taught everyone the Electric Slide, and then Oliver showed them the Boot Scootin’ Boogie, which he claimed one of his teammates had taught all the Puddlemere players. By the time the line dance lessons were over, the friendly and comfortable atmosphere carried over as Dean started to play some popular Muggle club music. Everyone who had stuck it out thus far was moving to the beat, talking animatedly with one another, simply enjoying the next segment of what was turning out to be an absolutely amazing night.

Draco watched Hermione as she side-stepped and bounced along to a song he couldn’t make out the words to; it sounded like the artist was simply repeating “da ba dee,” but surely there was more to it than that. Her eyes were sparkling and she was chatting happily with Blaise and Katie, gesturing with her hands and eliciting a chuckle from both of them. She let her gaze wander and locked eyes with him, a slow smile spreading as she tilted her head. He felt his answering grin and took a few steps in her direction as he noticed the song change. Apparently Dean had decided to slow things down and Draco hesitated slightly, still a step or two away from her.

Would she want to dance with him? With everyone around? Wouldn’t that tell everyone they were officially together? Did she want that?

She must have read the hesitation on his face because she closed the distance and placed her hand on his arm.

“What’s wrong?” her dark brown eyes filled with concern as she studied his face.

“Nothing,” Draco gave a nervous chuckle. “I didn’t know if you’d want to dance.”

“Haven’t we all been dancing this whole time?” her lips quirked and she raised her eyebrows.

“I mean like this. A slow song. With me. With everyone around.” He could feel his cheeks heating up and couldn’t meet her gaze, instead staring at her shoes, which he noticed were shiny, black flats with tiny bows on the front.

“Of course I want to dance with you. Why wouldn’t I?” she asked quietly. He shrugged, unsure of how to answer that.

Hermione slid her hand down from his arm and twined her fingers into his. She gave a small tug and tilted her head towards the center of the dance floor. His heart was pounding with the force of a stampeding centaur, and his arms and legs felt stiff and uncooperative, but he followed and before he knew it, she was in his arms and everything else disappeared. His hands had found their way to her waist of their own accord, and hers were clasped together behind his neck. She was gazing up at him, her eyes never wavering from his, a small smile playing on her lips.

“This isn’t too awful, is it?” she asked teasingly.

Draco shook his head, “No, not awful at all.” His voice was slightly lower than usual, and he was hyper-aware of how petite and delicate she seemed, now that she was in his arms. He’d spent plenty of time near Hermione over the past four months, but most of it was walking through corridors, sitting in classes, or across the dinner table. He’d never been this close for longer than a few seconds, and definitely not in this manner. They swayed from side to side, moving in a small, slow circle. He was appreciating the way the lights reflected in her deep, umber irises when she shifted closer and laid her cheek on his chest. As she moved in, his arms automatically wound around her, crossing behind her back. She was a good seven or eight inches shorter than he, so the top of her head reached right under his chin. He felt her give a contented sigh, and allowed himself to relax, resting his cheek on top of her silken curls.

Never in all his eighteen years had Draco felt so at peace. It was more than just a feeling of happiness, more than the butterflies that come with first loves. It was a sense of rightness, like everything in his life had led up to this moment. He knew how mad it sounded, but he felt whole, complete. He had no idea what he had done to gain the trust and friendship of the amazing woman in his arms, but he was going to do whatever it took to earn the right to keep it.

Up until the Christmas Party, he had simply enjoyed the easy camaraderie and flirtatious banter they engaged in. He knew he liked her, or fancied her, or had a crush on her. Whatever anyone wanted to call it, regardless of how vehemently he’d denied it. After she’d kissed him though, he allowed himself to hope that she liked him, too, and even started to imagine what it would be like to pursue a relationship with her. However, her words to him on the front steps earlier had sunk deep into his soul, making him feel like she really saw him and was still choosing to stick around. His feelings for her ran far deeper than he’d originally acknowledged. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, especially since he doubted she was in as deep as he was at the moment. That was okay, though. He would wait. He would take things as slowly as possible; would let her set the pace.

His eyes flickered up from the random spot on the dance floor he’d been focused on, and he scanned the rooftop. Most of the group was partnered up in similar fashion; Harry and Ginny, George and Angelina, Ron and Katie, Neville and Hannah, Theo and Luna (now that was an interesting pair, although Theo seemed to be perfectly at ease as he twirled his fairy-like partner around). He also spotted Pansy, Alecia, and Daphne chatting off to one side, and Blaise, Oliver, Seamus, and Anthony over with Dean by the music player. As he watched, the song changed over to another one of similar tempo, and Oliver made his way across the floor to stand in front of Daphne. After a quick exchange, the two made their way to the middle of the floor and began to sway in time, chatting and smiling at one another.

Draco’s gaze landed back on Pansy, who was now sipping her drink and watching everyone else. She turned in his direction, jaw dropping slightly and eyebrow raising in her classic Pansy smirk. He just grinned lazily back at her and winked. She shook her head and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. He knew she didn’t understand his choice, but he also knew she wouldn’t make things difficult if she thought his mind was made up. Which it was. Very much so.

 

ooOoo

 

New Year’s Day was half over by the time Hermione dragged herself out of bed and down to the kitchen where Kreacher met her with a steaming mug of strong coffee and a heaping plate of breakfast pastries. She yawned her thanks and settled into a chair just as Harry came shuffling through the door, equally as exhausted.

“Morning,” Harry muttered, sinking into the chair catty-cornered to hers.

“Mmhmmm,” she hummed as she sipped her coffee.

After taking a fortifying gulp of his own beverage, Harry grinned at her. “I think last night was a success, don’t you?”

“Last night, this morning, all of it,” she agreed, smiling back at him. “I can’t believe they didn’t all leave till almost four o’clock!”

“I know,” Harry went to take a bite of pastry, but had to allow a massive yawn to pass first. “I’m grateful they helped clean up, though. I swear we’d still be moving furniture back if it had just been us.”

“Definitely.”

It really had taken an amazingly short amount of time to set Grimmauld Place to rights again after they all officially decided to call it a night. Draco and Ginny had been the last to leave, spending a few quiet moments with Hermione and Harry respectively. Hermione had been so exhausted by that time, that all she could manage was to wrap her arms around Draco’s waist and mutter a muffled “see you Sunday” into the front of his shirt. She had felt him chuckle and press a kiss to the top of her curls before he peeled her arms off him and winked as he stepped through the floo.

She was smiling to herself, remembering various moments from the party, when her messy-haired flatmate interrupted her thoughts.

“Soooo,” Harry began slowly. “You and Malfoy?” He let the question linger and watched her face as she considered how to answer him.

Keeping her eyes on the steam swirling up from her mug, she felt her cheeks heat and a grin tug at her lips. She shot a sideways glance at Harry and saw a knowing smirk gracing his familiar features. She simply nodded and looked back at her coffee.

“And?” he pushed.

“And, what?”

“That’s all I’m going to get? I might not need all the juicy details like Ginny, but I expected something!” His look of disbelief was comical.

Hermione giggled. “What would you like to know, Harry?”

“How do you feel about him, truly? Is this serious?”

She thought for a moment, tilting her head and gazing at her best friend. “I think it’s much too soon to call it serious. We’re really still getting to know each other. I know I like him a lot.” She shrugged, but then her brow furrowed and she looked at him with a worried expression. “You think he’s changed, don’t you?”

“Most definitely,” Harry didn’t skip a beat. He was willing to bet he probably knew even more about the depths of Draco’s change of heart than Hermione did, simply because of the nature of his relationship with the renounced Death Eater. He also had a sneaking suspicion that he had a better understanding of Draco’s feelings towards his best friend than she did, but he wasn’t about to spill any of that.

Hermione smiled again, looking relieved. “I think so, too. He’s so, so different from who we used to know. I sometimes wonder if this is who he’s been all along, but was never allowed to show it.” She bit her lip, deep in thought for a few minutes as Harry finished off another pastry.

“Ron asked me about you two last night,” Harry suddenly remembered.

Hermione’s eyes widened. “He did? What did he say?”

“He just asked if there was something between you and Malfoy, and I told him I thought maybe there might be, but that it was too soon to tell for sure.”

“Was he alright with it?”

“Seemed to be. He just nodded and shrugged. Kind of cringed a bit, but said he supposed it could be worse,” Harry chuckled. “Pretty sure he was thinking about Goyle or McLaggen in comparison.” Hermione rolled her eyes, and he continued. “He might not come right out and say it, but ever since Fred’s portrait, he can’t hate Malfoy anymore. I don’t think they’ll ever be best mates, but he doesn’t avoid him or try to provoke him like he used to.”

Hermione considered Harry’s words. She knew Ron’s acceptance of Draco would be the hardest to come by out of all her friends, and if this was already his take on of it, then she’d been worrying for nothing.

“He did say something about hexing him six ways to Sunday if he ever hurt you, though,” Harry smirked at her. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. That didn’t surprise her in the slightest, but she appreciated Ron’s defense of her, unnecessary as it was.

“Has Draco said anything to you about what he wants to do once we finish our Eighth Year?” Hermione asked, surprising Harry with the sudden change of topic.

“Oh, it’s Draco now, is it?” he grinned at her and noticed her cheeks turn a bright shade of pink. She pursed her lips and glared at him, refusing to rise to the bait. He decided to play nice and not give her a hard time. “No, we haven’t talked much about that. Right now, he’s been focusing on the portraits he still wants to commission.” He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “We presented Colin’s portrait to his family right before the holiday break.”

Hermione’s eyes immediately teared up. She knew the young Gryffindor’s portrait had been in the works, but hadn’t heard anything about the finished result.

Harry’s voice was thicker when he spoke next. “Malfoy wanted to be there for it, since he’s gotten to know Colin’s youngest brother. We met with Mr. and Mrs. Creevey, Dennis and Andrew at their home. They were overwhelmed, to put it simply.” He removed his glasses and swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Andrew hugged Malfoy for a solid three minutes, I think,” he gave a watery chuckle. “You know how fond he is of outward displays of affection, especially from other blokes.”

Hermione couldn’t help but giggle as she wiped the few tears that had trailed down her own cheeks. “I’m sure they were very appreciative.”

“Oh, very much so. They insisted we stay for tea, and Dennis gave Malfoy one of Colin’s old cameras as we were leaving. I’ve rarely seen him so humbled or speechless.” Harry cocked his head as a new train of thought occurred to him. “You know, I don’t think Malfoy knows how to handle forgiveness.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.

“I don’t think it’s a trait most Slytherins experience often. I think, for the majority of them, once someone’s wronged you, that’s it. There’s no going back. I don’t think apologizing is a common occurrence, either. Malfoy has spent the past half-year trying to make amends with people, and he’s done really well, but I think the concept of them actually forgiving him is harder for him to handle than making the apology himself.”

“He doesn’t feel he deserves it.” Hermione murmured softly, remembering the shocked and deeply-shamed emotions swirling in the blonde’s eyes the day they sat at her kitchen table and she told him she forgave him. She knew then that he didn’t feel like he was worthy of it, and she was positive he felt that way about the other people who had offered it as well.

“Well, he does,” Harry stated firmly. “That mess with Pavarti last night was awful. I felt horrible for him. I could tell that he agreed with her and the things she said to him; that he didn’t belong here, that it was all his fault. But she was wrong.” He shook his head in frustration. “It’s no more his fault that Lavender died than it is mine that Colin died, even though I have a hard time believing that some days.” He sucked in a steadying breath and met the warm eyes of the girl who had been like a sister to him for the past eight years. “I gave Malfoy a bit of a speech on the steps after all that, but it was just as much for my own good as his. I can’t keep blaming myself for things I had no control over. I still hate that things ended the way they did for so many of our friends, and I will never not miss them or mourn the life they could have lived, but I won’t carry the guilt that doesn’t belong to me anymore. My New Year’s resolution, so to speak.” He gave a small, wry smile and Hermione felt her eyes once again fill with tears, although this time with pride and gratitude.

“Oh, Harry,” she leaned over in her chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, giving him a long, heartfelt squeeze. “I’m so glad to hear that.”

Harry hugged her back fiercely, “I know it’s still a process. For all of us. But I feel better than I have in a long time.” He pulled back and looked her square in the face. “I want you to know that if you want to pursue this thing with Malfoy, you’ve got my full support. You deserve to be happy, you know?”

Hermione hadn’t realized just how much she needed to hear those words from one of her oldest and dearest friends, but as she recognized the sincerity and love in his gaze, she felt something lighten in her chest. She nodded and hugged him once more. “Thank you,” she whispered, willing her eyes to stay dry this time.

As they pulled apart, Kreacher shuffled into the kitchen with a disgruntled look on his wrinkly face. “Pardon me Master Harry, Miss Hermione,” he nodded to each of them in turn. “The small creature Miss keeps in her room is making very loud noises and Kreacher does not know what it wants.”

Hermione chuckled, “Thank you, Kreacher. I’m sure he’s just hungry. I’ll take care of it.” As she started to head for the door, Harry called after her.

“Have you named that thing yet?”

She paused, glancing back at her best friend with a smirk on her face, “I think I’m going to call him Roy.”

“Roy?” Harry looked puzzled.

“Yes, short for Gilderoy. You know, because he’s pretty to look at but not much good for anything else.” With that, she flounced out of the kitchen, Harry’s hearty laugh echoing after her down the hall.

 

Chapter Text

The Sunday following the start of the New Year brought a steady trickle of students back to the castle throughout the day. While many took the Hogwarts Express, a fair amount traveled to Hogsmeade with family or friends, and then made their way back up to the school as the day went on. Most of the Eighth Years took advantage of the privilege of a direct floo appointment back to the Headmistress’ office, and the older witch was given the enjoyable opportunity to greet and chat with each of them upon their return.

Shortly before lunch, a tall blonde appeared in the green flames as she glanced up from her desk.

“Hello, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall said.

“Hello, Professor,” he grinned at her as he brushed soot off his robes. “Happy New Year!”

Slightly surprised by his exuberant greeting, she raised her eyebrows and took in the countenance of the young man before her. He seemed genuinely happy, and even more relaxed than he had been the last time he’d sat in her office. If she wasn’t mistaken, it almost seemed as if he couldn’t contain the smile etched across his face.

“I trust you had a good holiday?” she asked him as he came closer and stood behind the chair across from her, placing his hands on the top of the rounded back.

“Yes, thank you. And you?” Draco responded politely.

“Oh yes, we had quite a few students remain for the duration, which is always pleasant.” She pinned him with an inquisitive look, “Any plans to fill the rest of your day since you’ve returned quite early?” She was amused to see his cheeks turn slightly pink and his gaze falter away from hers as he shook his head.

“No, not really. Just going to head off to the Room to unpack and have lunch with whoever is back,” he trailed off and couldn’t quite bring himself to look her in the eye, instead focusing on the fabric of the chair he was currently gripping.

“Hmmmm, yes,” the Headmistress mused. “I believe several of your housemates have returned already.” Draco’s head whipped up in her direction at this announcement and she decided to let the poor boy off easy. “Miss Granger has not yet arrived, but I believe she is scheduled to come through in about an hour.” She actually had to stifle a small laugh at the way his entire face seemed to light up. If she wasn’t much mistaken, some sort of development in the relationship between the two students must have taken place over the holidays.

Draco reigned in his enthusiasm with no small degree of difficulty and tried to school his features into his more traditional mask of indifference, but gave up when his cheeks refused to relax from the ridiculous grin he knew to be stretching his face.

Why hide it?

“Thank you, Professor,” he nodded courteously and made his way to the door, mentally debating if he’d have enough time to unpack before coming back up here to meet Hermione when she arrived. He was so engrossed in his own thoughts, he didn’t hear the quiet and uncharacteristic chuckle coming from the other side of the desk as the door closed behind him.

Roughly an hour later, Draco was heading back down the corridor towards the Headmistress’ office to find his favorite former Gryffindor when he saw a figure striding towards him. Something about the broad shoulders and swaggering strut was familiar…..

“Malfoy! Is that you?” a booming voice called to him and he recognized the owner at once.

"Pucey, what brings you here?” Draco stopped walking as his former Quidditch team-mate came to stand in front of him, extending a hand in greeting, which Draco shook firmly. Adrian had been two years ahead of Draco, and a talented Chaser on the Slytherin team.

“I’ve been granted a seat on the Hogwarts Board of Governors,” Adrian responded proudly. “Just been up to see McGonagall to fill out the paperwork.”

“Really? A school Governor?” Draco was more than a little surprised. Adrian wasn’t exactly a trouble-maker during his school days, but he also wasn’t a serious student. He had a bit of an aggressive streak in him, especially when challenged by others. More than anything, Draco just thought he was really young to be given such a grand title. He remembered his father referring to the other Governors as “feeble-minded old men.”

“Well, several of the seats were vacated after their previous occupants were sentenced to Azkaban, weren’t they?” Adrian smirked slightly as he watched Draco for a reaction. He remembered his younger housemate often using Lucius’ prominent place as a bragging right, or even as a threat. The elder Malfoy wasn’t the only member of the Board to be caught up on the wrong side of the war, and the remaining members had been quick to decide that younger, less prejudiced voices would be the wise choice to fill those empty seats. The Puceys, although in the upper echelon of Pureblood society, had greatly distanced themselves from Voldemort’s notions and had spent the better part of the last two years abroad.

Draco didn’t feel like responding to the quip about his father, instead changing the topic entirely.

“How was your Christmas?”

Adrian seemed mildly disappointed that he’d failed to get under Draco’s skin, but shrugged it off. “Good, good. Spent most of it at our family’s place in Switzerland. My mother and sister are still there, but father and I returned home yesterday. Back to work tomorrow.”

“Are you working with your father?” Draco asked.

“Yeah, since I finished here. Investment banking isn’t the most exciting job in the world, but it’s not all bad. Plus, it allows me to travel since a lot of our clients live outside of Britain.” Adrian wiggled his eyebrows conspiratorially. “Ever seen the witches in Mykonos?”

Draco chuckled wryly, remembering his former housemate’s relentless pursuit of every witch he deemed pretty enough to garner his attention, whether they wanted it or not.

As Adrian launched into a description of one of his recent romantic conquests, Draco saw another figure coming down the corridor towards them. Even at a further distance than he’d spotted Adrian, he knew exactly who it was and his heart both sped up and dropped to his feet at the same time. He really didn’t want Hermione to be subjected to Pucey’s typically-boorish behavior, but he had no way of stopping her approach without drawing even more attention to her presence. Before he could begin concocting a plan to avoid an interaction, she was at his side, smiling at him with such genuine happiness that he felt his breath catch. His gaze flickered between her and Adrian, who had also noticed her arrival and had stopped mid-sentence to stare unapologetically at her.

“Pucey this is…” he began, but Adrian cut him off.

“Hermione Granger.” Adrian’s dark eyes roved slowly from the curls escaping the bun on top of her head, to the tips of her trainers that peeked out beneath her jeans, and back up again to rest on her face with a predatorial gleam. He reached out to take her hand and raised it to his smirking lips as he bowed slightly. “A pleasure to officially meet you. I’m Adrian Pucey.”

Hermione snatched her hand back with as much grace as she could manage and returned his gaze with a stiff smile, “Nice to meet you, Adrian.” She turned to meet Draco’s eyes which were flashing with annoyance, his jaw clenched in obvious irritation. He softened a little when he looked at her and she gestured beyond them.

“I’m going to head to the Room to unpack. Find me for lunch?” her eyes sparkled as she spoke and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smirking. She liked that he seemed bothered by Adrian’s attention, not that he had anything to worry about, but it was sweet all the same.

Draco nodded and both he and Adrian watched her walk away.

A low whistle came from the older of the two young men. “She’s definitely grown into her looks, hasn’t she?” his eyes were still fixed on the retreating figure now further down the hall. Draco glared at him and his hands balled into fists at his sides. Adrian finally quit staring and looked back at his former team-mate and noticed the less-than-friendly expression on his face. “What? You don’t think she’s hot?”

Draco inhaled deeply through his nose and reminded himself that punching a School Governor was not the best way to start off the new term. Before he could formulate a response, Adrian seemed to have reached his own conclusions.

“You fancy her, don’t you?” he crowed with great amusement. “You actually like the little swot!” He guffawed loudly and gave Draco a seemingly friendly punch in the arm. “Good luck, mate. You think the Gryffindor Princess would pick you, the school bully and a disgraced Death Eater?” He chuckled again and placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder, causing the tall blonde to bristle. “Don’t worry, I won’t get in your way. But once she turns you down, let me know. I’m sure I could find a few ways to impress the Golden Girl.” He sneered and Draco shrugged the weighty hand off his shoulder, his entire being now pulsing with anger.

Channeling every non-Slytherin trait he could think of, Draco coldly regarded his former team-mate and spoke through clenched teeth, “Good luck on the Board of Governors, Pucey.” And with that, he spun on his heel and stalked off towards the Room, leaving Adrian still chortling in the empty corridor.

Upon reaching the Eighth Year’s dormitory, Draco took several deep, calming breaths before opening the door and entering the familiar common area. He hadn’t felt that angry in months, and he also couldn’t remember the last time he had been at such a loss for words. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to put Pucey in his place; he definitely did; but he knew that if he’d made it clearly known that he was interested in Hermione, Pucey would have taken that as a challenge. For all Draco knew, he already had.

Draco let out a small, frustrated growl and made his way to his room. He needed a few minutes to cool down and collect his thoughts. As he sat on the edge of his bed, he reminded himself of the things Harry had said to him on New Year’s Eve, and the support he’d found from his housemates and other newly-forged friendships. He was not the person Adrian described anymore. He knew it, and clearly Hermione knew it or she wouldn’t be interested in a relationship with him.

Speaking of, now that they were back at school, he wondered what this would mean for them. Obviously, they would still have classes and meals together, but should he offer to carry her books for her? Would she let him hold her hand in the corridors as they walked to class? Could he take her to Hogsmeade for a date? His mind was swimming with ideas and visions of the two of them walking down a snowy lane, or curled up in chairs in front of the fireplace, or strolling around the lake in the spring. Maybe he could see if Professor Sprout had any flowers he could put into a bouquet for her.

Merlin’s baggy pants, he was becoming a hopeless romantic.

He knew Hermione was very practical and definitely not the sort of prissy, high-maintenance girl who needed constant trinkets or compliments to make her feel secure. He was positive she would prefer a quiet cup of tea and a few hours browsing in a bookshop to a five-course, candlelit dinner, but he wanted to do those things for her. He wanted to take her to the biggest library in the world, to fill her room with roses, to go for moonlight strolls on a beach, to….

“Hey.” A soft voice jolted him out of his reverie, and he snapped his gaze up to find the witch he had just been daydreaming about leaning against his door-frame with a mildly concerned look on her face. He jumped up and strode over to her.

“Hey. I didn’t hear you come in.” He couldn’t understand why he felt so nervous all of a sudden and stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep them from shaking.

“I knocked, but the door wasn’t shut all the way so it pushed open. You looked seriously deep in thought. It actually took three tries to get your attention,” Hermione raised an eyebrow in teasing inquisition. “What’s got you so contemplative today?”

He met her compassionate gaze and huffed out a sigh that seemed to help dislodge the figurative snitch that was fluttering inside his ribcage. Before he could stop himself he answered honestly, “You.”

Her eyes widened a little, “Me?”

Draco cleared his throat and shuffled his feet, looking off past her shoulder now. “Yeah, just, you know, now that we’re back here and all, just wondering…” His voice trailed off as he failed to come up with a way to express his questions in a manner that didn’t make him sound like an amateurish dolt.

“Wondering what people will think?” she supplied for him, watching him carefully as he continued to struggle to meet her eye.

“No,” he blurted out quickly. “Not what others will think, exactly. I guess I just wasn’t sure what you wanted people to know about us or…whatever,” he finished lamely.

She studied him for a few seconds and then surprised him by grabbing his arm and gently steering him to the side of his bed where they both sat down. She continued to stare at him as if trying to figure out a puzzle. She had a pretty good idea where this random bout of insecurity was coming from and she wanted to alleviate his fears without making him feel bad for having them.

“Draco, I’m not the least bit concerned with what other people know or think or any of it.” She saw him peek at her from the corner of his eye, which had been fixed stubbornly on the floor since they’d sat down. “If I was worried about anything like that, I wouldn’t have danced with you at Harry’s, seeing as almost all of our housemates were there.” His cheek twitched with the beginnings of a smile and she allowed herself a small smirk. “As for the rest of the school, I’m pretty sure all the First Years already think you’re my boyfriend, so it won’t really be big news, will it?”

He turned to see her eyes glinting with mischief, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. “Your boyfriend?” he croaked out.

“Well, if you want to be, that is,” she nudged him playfully with her elbow. “Draco, I don’t care about labels. I don’t care about what other people think we might or might not be. Like I said the day we left for the hols, this is all new to us and I’m not in any rush to give it a title or a timeline or what have you.” She turned to face him more fully, placing both of her hands on his arm and peering intently into the pewter eyes she’d grown so very fond of. “I’m just happy being with you and seeing where this goes, yeah?”

He exhaled rather more dramatically than he’d intended, not realizing how shallow his breathing had been for the last several minutes. He covered her hands with his own and finally, solidly met her sincere gaze. “Yeah, that sounds brilliant.” He plucked up his courage and leaned in to give her a quick, soft kiss, which he was pleased to see caused her cheeks to blush prettily. “And I think I do want people to know I’m your boyfriend. Just, you know, to keep all the other blokes away.” He smirked at her and she giggled.

“Whatever makes you happy,” she joked before giving him a kiss on the cheek and hopping off the bed. “Let’s go eat lunch. I’m starving!”

Draco chuckled and shook his head as he allowed her to tug him from his chambers into the Room to join their friends.

 

ooOoo

 

It’s amazing how, once you return from being somewhere else, in a matter of hours it’s like you never left. Routine is a relied-upon and often embraced familiarity, and that sentiment was no different for the students at Hogwarts than the rest of the world. Within the very first week back to school after the Christmas Holidays, the Eighth Years’ days were filled with classes, homework, meals, N.E.W.T. preparation, and meetings with their First Years.

Hermione had decided to have their group time first, before meeting with them individually, and their hour around the dinner table was filled with stories of their weeks with their families, presents they received, and thoughts about the new term ahead of them. She asked if any of them had made any New Year’s resolutions, simply to find that Darla was the only one who knew what she was talking about.

“What’s a resoluting?” Malcolm asked.

“Resolution,” Hermione corrected. “It’s a sort of goal you set for yourself. Something you wish to do, or change, or try, in the coming year.”

“My mum made one last year to redecorate the drawing and dining rooms, and to clean out the two big closets upstairs,” Darla looked thoughtful as she speared a piece of chicken with her fork. “I don’t think she ever finished the closets.”

“What about the redecorating?” Allison asked.

“Well, she changed the wall color in the drawing room, and the drapes. But she and my dad got in a big row about the furniture. Apparently it’s been in his family for generations and he refused to get rid of it. There’s even some sort of charm on all the pieces to keep them from being altered in any way, so they’re still the same horrid shade of mustard yellow, which doesn’t really match the new green walls.” She scrunched up her nose at the thought. “We don’t spend a whole lot of time in that room.”

Hermione chuckled and glanced over to see Malcolm frowning at his mashed potatoes, which he was swirling with his fork.

“Something wrong, Malcolm?”

The young Gryffindor met her eyes, brows still creased, but more in thought than in anger, “No, I’m just trying to think of a good resolision to make.”

“Resolution,” Darla and Allison said together.

“Yeah, that,” Malcolm sat up a little straighter. “I want to do something new this year.”

“That’s terrific,” Hermione smiled encouragingly. “What do you want to try?”

“I’m not sure yet, but I think I might have an idea,” he smiled secretively. “But I don’t want to say just yet, in case I change my mind.” The girls groaned in annoyance, but quickly took over the conversation with their own ideas for resolutions. Hermione watched them all fondly, particularly proud of the friendlier and more optimistic side of Malcolm that was making an appearance. She knew his participation in Draco’s flying lessons had helped him forge several friendships, and was very glad to see that the time away from school hadn’t dampened his more amicable tendencies. She was curious to know what he’d been thinking about for a goal, but was happy to wait till he was ready to share that on his own.

“Hermione, what resolution did you make for this year?” Allison asked her, interrupting her musings.

“Hmmm,” she thought for a moment, knowing she was definitely not about to share anything too personal with her young charges. She knew for a fact that anything she said would be passed around every First Year dorm in the castle before the end of the day tomorrow. “I definitely want to do well on my N.E.W.T.S.” she began, and her statement was met with rolled eyes and snorts of “of course,” and “how boring.” She chuckled and held up a hand to stall the protests. “I also would like to travel somewhere I’ve never been before, and I would really like to get a job in the Department and Control of Magical Creatures.”

As she had expected, this launched a discussion on places they all wanted to travel, and an endless array of questions about what she wanted to do if she got that job. Unbeknownst to the animated trio at the table, their mentor’s thoughts were rather stuck on one particular wizard she wanted to include in all her future plans.

 

Chapter Text

Game Night was back in full swing, much to everyone’s delight. The first Saturday of the new term, the Eighth Years had gathered to catch up over an abundance of snacks and multiple rounds of a rather tame card game called “Uno.” Dean had specifically chosen this one so that everyone could talk without getting confused by the rules, or interrupted by the usual craziness. Neville had just finished telling everyone about the trip he and his gran had taken to Italy.

“Did you take any pictures?” Anthony asked.

“No, I don’t have a camera,” said Neville, rather disappointed that he didn’t think about getting one before.

“Oh!” Hannah exclaimed and jumped up from her spot around the coffee table. “I forgot to show you all!” She scurried to her room as they all watched her, amused by the enthusiastic display from the normally calm and quiet girl. In just a few seconds, however, her excitement was understood as she returned to the group with a sizeable camera in her hands.

“This was my Christmas gift from my mum and dad,” she said proudly, placing it on the table so everyone could see it clearly. It was the type that needed to be held with two hands, possibly professional-grade, and had a long lens, and large flashbulb. “It’s a brand new model, and it can take still pictures like Muggle cameras, or moving ones like ours. There’s a switch on the side that lets me pick. I can also take them in color, or black and white.” Everyone was peering closely at the impressive device as she continued. “I can also zoom in or out at distances ten times that of similar Muggle cameras.”

“What does that mean?” asked Theo.

“Well, for example,” Hannah looked around the Room for a moment and pointed in the direction of the boys’ chambers. “Everyone look over there at the doorknob on Draco’s room.” All ten pairs of eyes focused on the round, bronze knob of his closed door. “You see how it looks from here, right?” Nine heads nodded. “Now, if I were to take a picture without changing anything on my camera, the photo would show the doorknob exactly as we all see it. But if I zoom in,” she picked up the camera and pushed a button, causing the lens to slowly slide forward, stretching out from the front of the device. “Look,” she passed the camera to Neville, who was sitting directly next to her and indicated that he should look through the tiny window at the top of the camera.

“No way,” he muttered in disbelief as he peered through the viewfinder.

“What?” asked a chorus of voices.

“I can see the scrollwork etched into the knob, and the woodgrain in the door behind it.”

The astonishment and disbelief that met his statement was unsurprising, seeing as they were all sitting at least twenty yards away from the door in question and could definitely not make out those kinds of details at such a distance. Hannah graciously allowed her new possession to be passed around and everyone was thoroughly impressed with its capabilities. Once the camera had made its way around the table, she demonstrated the “zooming out” feature, which created something akin to a panoramic view of the Room. Again, this feat was met with great enthusiasm as they all had a chance to take a look for themselves.

Upon claiming her gift once more, Hannah announced an idea to the group.

“I was thinking it might be fun to put up a photo board in here,” she gestured to a blank section of wall, right next to the door leading to the corridor beyond. “I’d love to get pictures of our Game Nights, and any whole-group events we do for our First Years. Even just random pictures of all of us. This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing we’re part of, yeah? I mean, when else are they going to offer an Eighth Year?”

Her suggestion was met with mutual agreement and understanding, and Daphne immediately suggested they take some group photos right then. After several minutes of maneuvering, and Hannah rushing off and returning with something she called a tripod, they were all seated on or standing behind the biggest couch, arms flung around each other and grins on their faces. They took three pictures, just to be sure at least one would be good, and then disentangled themselves to continue their momentarily-forgotten card game, with Hannah promising to develop the pictures the next day.

As they settled back into the game, Luna asked Padma how her sister was doing, which caused a mildly uncomfortable silence, and Draco’s hand froze in mid-air as he was getting ready to draw a card from the deck. His eyes flew to Padma’s and she met them with a small, apologetic smile on her face.

“She’s alright, I guess. I really am sorry about New Year’s. I shouldn’t have pushed her to come. I honestly thought she would feel better if she just got out of the house and saw her friends.” She shrugged and gave a defeated sigh. “She barely spoke to me the rest of the holiday. She hugged me goodbye before I left to come back here, but I think that was only because mum was standing right there. My parents don’t know what to do to help her.”

“Is she still going to a mind healer?” Hermione asked quietly.

Padma nodded. “She doesn’t like it, but she goes. I don’t know that she says very much to the healer, but I know my parents are hoping that with time, she’ll open up and then they’ll be able to truly help her.”

“Has she spoken to anyone else who lost someone that day?” Hannah posed the question gently and Padma looked at her, bemused. “I just mean, sometimes it helps to talk to someone who has experienced the same thing.”

Padma looked to be considering this suggestion. “I don’t think she has. She’s barely spoken to our immediate family, so I doubt she’s talked to anyone outside of it.” She glanced around the table at her housemates. “Do any of you know anyone she could possibly talk to?”

Silence fell for a few moments as they all thought. Hermione spoke up, “The Weasleys lost Fred, so Ron would be someone her age that she could potentially talk to. I could ask him if he’d be alright with that. Ginny, too.”

“Dennis Creevey lost his brother, Colin,” suggested Dean. “He was a couple of years younger, but he was a Gryffindor, too.”

As the conversation swirled around him, Draco thought of Crabbe, who had died in the fiendfyre that had demolished part of the very Room they were currently sitting in. He highly doubted that Pavarti would ever feel comfortable talking to him about anything, much less the loss of a friend, and he was slightly ashamed to acknowledge that he must not have been a very good one since he hadn’t thought of Crabbe in months. Suddenly, he felt Hermione lean into his arm and glanced sideways to find her peering at him speculatively.

“Everything ok?” she whispered.

He nodded and quirked a small smile, thankful for the hundredth time that she had come into his life. She always seemed to know when his thoughts were dragging him down, and even though he knew that was simply part of humanity, the fact that she cared enough to notice meant the world to him. He hoped she knew how much he appreciated her, but more importantly, he wanted to be that for her as well. He wanted to be a source of encouragement and comfort. He wanted to be someone she could depend on; someone she could trust with unwavering certainty. Surprisingly, he realized that he honestly wanted to be considered a good friend to each of his housemates sitting around the table, and he decided to make that a New Year’s resolution of sorts.

 

ooOoo

 

Draco had just entered Professor Weasley’s office when the floo roared to life and his Ministry-approved-friend appeared looking rather winded and, if possible, even more disheveled than usual. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from making a snide comment, knowing that Harry would jump right into whatever explanation the situation warranted.

“Potter,” he drawled amicably as he stretched out in one of the chairs they regularly occupied.

“Malfoy,” Harry attempted to flatten his hair but gave up when the pale blonde snorted and smirked at him for it. He flung himself into the empty chair and dug a thick envelope out of his pocket. “We’ve heard from Alcott.” He handed the still-sealed letter to Draco who immediately sat at attention, his heart racing. “I was just on my way out when Robards flagged me down with this.” He nodded to the missive he’d brought. “It had been delivered to his office by mistake and I didn’t want to come without it since I knew we’d both want to read it, but I didn’t want to be late…” He sucked in a winded breath and waved his hand in a vague way that meant to encompass everything leading up to their current point.

“No problem. I’m surprised to hear from him so quickly. It hasn’t even been two weeks.” He was muttering more to himself than Harry, but the former Gryffindor hummed in agreement as Draco carefully opened the flap, admiring the gold seal his distant relative had used. Three separate pieces of parchment were contained within, and Draco stood to spread them out on Bill’s desk so the two young men could peruse everything at the same time.

The first page was a letter from Alcott dated just two days after their own note had been sent. He thanked them for their inquiries and was very interested in hearing more about the people being referred to. The second piece of parchment was a very detailed description of the aged wizard’s most recent discoveries regarding the reversal of deep-seated memory charms, even going so far as to share the exact wand movements, incantations, and potion ingredients he had used. The third was another letter, dated just the day before, in which he offered his assistance in any way they might need. He suggested that perhaps they could meet sometime soon, as long as they were willing to come to him since he tried to limit the amount of international travel he engaged in these days.

Both Harry and Draco were buzzing with excitement after ingesting all the information and gaped at one another for several seconds, quite overcome by this giant step forward in their hopeful plans.

“Ok,” Harry started pacing the office. “He wants to meet. I don’t think there’s any way I can get permission for you to come with me for something like this. You’re not allowed any international travel except to school, and since this isn’t an emergency for your family or anything….” he trailed off, grimacing apologetically at Draco.

“No, no, it’s completely fine!” Draco exclaimed, not wanting the other wizard to waste any time worrying about his feelings on the matter. “You go as soon as you can set it up. You know even more about her parents’ situation than I do, anyway, so it should be you, out of the two of us.” He met those now-familiar green eyes with insistence and Harry huffed out some of his pent-up energy.

“Alright. Let’s draft a letter to him, explaining you’re at school and that you are sending me to meet with him. You should write down some questions or thoughts for me to bring along, so he acknowledges that you’re actively invested in this, too.”

Draco nodded. “I can do that, but let’s get a response sent out to him first.”

With that, they spent the next hour drafting a reply explaining their current situation, as well as several more details about Hermione’s parents, and Harry’s preference to meet as soon as possible. Once the final draft was complete, as Draco had insisted on sending a letter with no ink blotches or scratched-out phrases, he handed it to Harry who promised to send an owl as soon as he got back to the office.

As he made his way back to the Room, Draco couldn’t help feeling anxiously hopeful. Maybe this distant relation of his could help them, maybe Alcott could actually reverse the spell for Hermione’s parents. He could imagine how elated she would be, and he wanted so badly to be the one to give her this. In his mind, being able to fix this for her was part of his atonement for all the wrong he’d inflicted on her over the years, as well as his way of thanking her for everything she had done for him in such a short time. He had only been on friendly speaking terms with her for roughly six months now, and yet he struggled to remember his life before her. It seemed as if she had always been there, and while in a very different way that was partially true, her presence nowadays brought him a sense of peace and contentment he’d never known before.

He grinned to himself as her beautiful smile and chaotic curls came across his mind, and he picked up his pace as he continued down the corridor.

Chapter Text

“I can’t reach it!”

“Ow! Anthony, that’s my eye!”

“Don’t move, or you’ll knock me off my dot!”

“Oi, Thomas! Spin it already!”

The chorus of exclamations and complaints had been going on for almost twenty minutes, punctuated by breathless laughter and good-natured groaning. If someone, say the Headmistress, were to walk into the Room at that very moment, they would find themselves staring at a massive jumble of arms and legs sprawled out in odd, contorted positions across a bright, polka-dot mat on the floor. Indeed, nothing said “house unity” quite like crouching under or stretching over formerly unfriendly classmates. And yet, that’s precisely what was happening.

Dean and Hermione had decided their housemates were ready to tackle the Muggle game of Twister, and the results did not disappoint. They had originally taken turns, since the mat could really only hold four or five players at a time, but once everyone had gotten the hang of it, they decided to enlarge the playing space with additional dots, so everyone could play together. Dean had made a concession to the “no magic” rule so that the spinner would whirl with a flick of his wand, thus allowing him to join in the game with the others.

This was the second whole-group round to be played, the first having been won by Luna, who seemed to have an unnatural flexibility in her delicate limbs. The winner of this round would then face off with her back on a normal-sized mat. The ethereal blonde was currently balanced in a perfect back-bend over one of Neville’s outstretched legs, her upside-down face resting on Padma’s elbow. To everyone’s amusement, Theo was one of the worst players, which was highly irregular. The lanky brunette had held the Game Night points lead virtually since the beginning, and had a competitive streak a Quidditch pitch wide, so his consternation at being awful at this particular game was extremely entertaining.

“Left hand, blue!” Dean hollered from his frog-like squat in the center of the mat.

“No, no, no!” Daphne squealed and lost her balance, coming down on her knee and bumping into Hannah, causing her to fall over as well. Both girls dissolved into giggles as they untangled themselves and carefully picked their way over to the edge of the mat, so as not to cause anyone else’s elimination.

“It’s ok,” Hannah grinned. “Now I can take some pictures.” With that, she brandished her camera and began making her way around the perimeter, the shutter clicking away.

“Right foot, red!” Dean wheezed, his face turning slightly purple as he had spent several seconds now virtually upside-down.

Hermione glanced around and took stock of her situation. The only real way for her to accomplish this was to turn over into a sort of crab-walk position. While she was carefully attempting this maneuver, Draco was calculating his own move without being fully aware of what anyone near him was doing. As a result, by the time the two players finished moving, Hermione was facing upwards, braced on her hands and feet, and Draco was facing down, his tall frame stretched completely across her, his face mere inches from her own.

“Well, hello,” Draco drawled when he realized where he’d landed. His grey eyes sparkled with mischief and he reveled in the pink tinge blossoming across his favorite witch’s cheeks. While they regularly held hands and had exchanged a handful of kisses since returning to the castle, neither were particularly comfortable with blatant displays of affection in front of their friends, and they were still taking their relationship very slowly. The position they currently found themselves in, though completely innocent, immediately charged the air between them with something more than friendly competition.

“Hello, yourself,” Hermione let out a breathy whisper. She lost herself for a moment in the steel gaze fixed on her and forgot about how her hands were going numb, and how close her head was to Anthony’s backside. All she was aware of was the pounding of her heart, the smell of Draco’s woodsy cologne, and the fact that his lips were very, very close to her own and were slowly curling up in his trademark smirk. Somewhere in the distance she heard the click of Hannah’s camera and the whirring of the spinner, followed by Dean’s voice as if from far away.

“Left hand, yellow!”

The tension was broken as several housemates collapsed like dominoes. Theo had tried to stretch his ungainly self too far, causing Padma to topple over into Anthony, who bumped backwards into Hermione, who lost her balance and landed flat on her back under a still-perfectly-poised Draco.

“Looks like you really did fall for me,” he grinned and winked at her as she rolled her eyes and huffed a resigned sigh of defeat. She, along with the three others who had been eliminated that turn, carefully scooted to the edge of the mat. This left only Draco, Neville, and Luna to play, however, since Luna had won the previous round, she decided to forfeit the current one in order to gain an opponent.

“You two continue on,” she trilled airily as she flowed to a standing position and settled into a nearby chair.

Dean spun the arrow again. “Ready, Neville?”

Neville grunted from his spot on the mat, his legs crossed awkwardly and his arms behind him, bearing most of his body weight.

“Right foot, green!”

“Thank Merlin!” Neville huffed a huge sigh of relief as he was able to switch to a much more comfortable position, similar to Hermione’s last one. Draco, however, was not so lucky and after several attempts, wound up over-extending his leg and flopping over onto his stomach.

“Neville wins!” Luna cheered from her seat, and everyone applauded and chuckled at the shocked expression that had crossed the gangly former Gryffindor’s face.

“Didn’t see that coming!” he chortled as he stood up so Dean could shrink the mat back to its original size.

Everyone except for the two finalists found seats around the edge of the multi-colored game space, chatting happily and taking bets on who would win. The majority thought Luna would be victorious, her agility far outweighing Neville’s luck in the last round. As the game commenced, talk turned to upcoming events.

“Valentine’s Day is just a little over two weeks away,” Padma announced to the group at large. “What would you lot think about doing something for our First Years?”

“Like a party?” Daphne asked, her eyes bright with excitement.

“Why not?” Padma shrugged. “The Halloween bash was a huge success, and it would be fun. We don’t have to go quite so big with the decorations, and costumes aren’t necessary, but we could play games and have music. They really seemed to enjoy the dance party last time.”

Her suggestions were met with nodding heads and sounds of agreement, and even Neville and Luna called out in support from their precarious stances on the dots. She clapped her hands and beamed at everyone. “Right then, we should start planning. Hermione, make a list?”

As the game continued and the upcoming festivities were discussed, Draco allowed his mind to wander just slightly off topic. Valentine’s Day was coming up. He hadn’t really thought about that at all and mentally berated himself for it. Granted, he’d never had anyone to share the sappy day with before and quite honestly had always thought it to be rather ridiculous. However, with Hermione in his life now, he found he really did want to make it special for her. He considered the traditional offerings of chocolates or flowers and decided those would not do at all. This would take some serious thought and effort, which he was more than happy to put forth.

His musings were interrupted by the boisterous cries of his housemates. The game was officially over, with Luna somehow managing to keep her balance as she stretched across the mat in a half-upside-down twist, with most of her weight resting on one hand. Neville, it seemed, had made a desperate attempt to stretch further than was wise and wound up flat on his face. He was a tremendously good sport, regardless, and was quite content with the three points Dean awarded him as a second place winner, while Luna took five. This put her only two points below Theo, the closest any of them had come to the reigning champion since well before the holiday break.

“Catching up to me, Lovegood,” Theo drawled as he considered the pretty witch still standing on the polka-dotted mat. “Might just have to keep my eye on you.” He winked at her and gave her a lopsided grin, which she returned with a beaming smile.

“Go right ahead, Theo,” she responded sweetly and floated off towards her chambers.

 

ooOoo

 

Hermione glanced up at the knock on her door, which was partially open, and saw Hannah standing on the threshold with one hand behind her back.

“Hey, Hannah! Come in.” Hermione sat up from where she’d been relaxing on her bed while reading the latest chapters for her Transfiguration class.

“I have something for you,” the cheerful former Hufflepuff announced with a smile. She whipped her hidden hand forward and held what looked like a small, white rectangle out to the other witch. Hermione took it and turned it over, realizing at once that it was a photograph. Looking at it, her breath caught in her throat and the longer she studied it, the warmer her cheeks seemed to get. She met Hannah’s eyes and found twinkling mirth there and an all-too-knowing smile twitching at the corner of her mouth.

Hermione swallowed with a bit of difficulty and looked back down at the image. “Thank you. This is…” she couldn’t quite find the right word to describe how she felt about what she was seeing, but Hannah seemed to understand.

“Oh, it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? I was quite captivated by it myself, but I figured you would appreciate having it for yourself instead of me tacking it up on the photo board for everyone to goggle at.” She gave a soft chuckle as Hermione’s blush started creeping down her neck and up to her ears. Hannah pushed off the four-poster she’d been leaning on and headed back towards the door. “See you at dinner, yeah? If you can tear your eyes away!” She gave another friendly laugh and exited, leaving Hermione to continue to stare at the picture in her hands.

Hannah had captured a moment during the housemates’ recent game of Twister that was currently robbing Hermione of the ability to form intelligible thoughts. It was a snapshot of the few seconds that Draco had been stretched across her during the second round, when their eyes had met. Hannah had zoomed in so that just their faces were visible, and the angle she had managed to take it from displayed Hermione’s profile and Draco’s full visage. She had also developed the photo magically, so the small scene played out repeatedly. Image-Draco’s eyes met Image-Hermione’s and a small smile tugged at one corner of his lips as he spoke. Her lashes lowered and rose again as her eyes roved his face, and her cheek turned up in an answering grin. There was nothing intentionally seductive or overplayed from either of them, and yet the heat emanating from their interaction was tangible. There was a level of familiarity and intimacy visible that made Hermione feel like she was intruding on a private moment, even though she was one of the people she was looking at.

At the time of the actual encounter, she had gone a little fuzzy as she’d stared into the grey eyes she had become so familiar with over the last several months. She hadn’t registered much of anything beyond how good he smelled, how close he was, and how much she loved the little half-smirk he often pulled. Now, looking at his face as he watched her, she saw something more. There was a depth to his gaze that she hadn’t noticed; more than just friendly banter or light flirting. She wasn’t entirely sure what she would identify it as, but it made her heart flutter and her cheeks burn again.

She fought the urge to fan her face, thinking that would be far too dramatic, however she did stand up and started pacing around her bed, feeling like she needed to release some energy. She knew she liked Draco. A lot. She also knew she found him to be attractive. Extremely so. She knew he liked her, as he had told her so on several occasions, and his actions proved it, but that look… She wondered if he felt more strongly about her than he was letting on, which in turn made her wonder about her own feelings. They had agreed to take things slowly and just enjoy getting to know one another, and she was consistently more intrigued and more comfortable with him the closer they grew.

Deciding that she might be reading too much into things, and not wanting to disrupt the entirely enjoyable status of their current relationship, she took one final look… one rather long look… at the photograph before placing it carefully between the pages of her text book and heading out to the common area for dinner.

Chapter Text

In what had become true Eighth Year fashion, the plans and preparations for the upcoming Valentine’s Party were anything but simple. Padma had created invitations that sprinkled pink and red confetti over the heads of their intended recipients before allowing to be caught and read, and Dean thought it would be hilarious to make each First Year recite some sort of love poem before they could gain entrance to the Room. Meal times leading up to the party were full of outlandish ideas and bouts of raucous laughter.

It was during one such dinner hour that the doors to the Room opened, admitting Bill Weasley as an unexpected guest. The lanky redhead approached the table with an amused grin as he took in the scene before him. One of Padma’s invitation prototypes was currently hovering over Theo, dumping what seemed to be an unending amount of confetti on top of his thick, dark brown hair. He was pretending to ignore it, while allowing the pile to steadily grow, forming a small mountain of pink and red that almost looked like a party hat.

“What are you lot up to?” Bill asked the group at large.

“Party planning!” Daphne enthusiastically replied. “We’re hosting a Valentine’s one for our First Years.” She gestured first to the snack list Anthony was creating on her right, and then to the sketches Hannah and Luna were working on for decorations at the other end of the table.

“You and Fleur should come,” Dean suggested with a nod.

“Oh, yes!” Hermione agreed. “We’d love to have you.”

Bill met her eyes with a mischievous smirk and shrugged, “Maybe, if we have time after the romantic dinner I’ve planned.” His admission was met with wolf whistles from the boys, and fluttery sighs from the girls, causing him to chuckle. “Do you need any help with anything for it?”

The housemates pondered his offer for a moment, most eventually shaking their heads, unable to think of anything, but Neville piped up, “We were thinking about a game using Amortentia.” He rushed on to explain as Bill’s eyebrows shot into his hair and a cautioning look crossed his scarred features. “Not to give it to them or anything, Merlin, no!” He laughed nervously and Bill’s countenance relaxed. “We wanted to do a sort of guessing game with it. We would tweak it to smell like certain things and see if they could identify them. The student with the most correct answers would win a prize, yeah?”

Bill looked thoughtful and slowly started nodding his head, “I can see how that could work.” With that, he pulled out a chair and engaged Neville, Dean, and Anthony in conversation, since the three of them had been tossing the idea around together.

At the other end of the table, Draco was attempting to calm his heart rate, which had rocketed like a Seeker zooming after a snitch at the mention of the powerful love potion. He was absolutely positive that any batch of Amortentia he came within a broomstick’s length of would smell like apricots, vanilla, orange blossoms, and Obsidian #5, which was a brand of ink particular to one curly-haired witch, who happened to be sitting next to him. He hadn’t dared to look at her during Neville’s description of the game, for fear that she would see the panic in his eyes. He had known since New Year’s Eve that he was falling hard for Hermione, but he hadn’t let on at all, lest he scare her off. Being back at Hogwarts had allowed them to settle into a wonderfully comfortable routine with each other, and he wasn’t about to muck that up by telling her he was in love with her.

Draco choked on the pumpkin juice he had been attempting to casually drink while masking the internal circus that had commenced with Neville’s announcement.

He was in love with her?  

It was a question, truly, because he wasn’t entirely sure that was what he was feeling. He liked her tremendously. He thought her beautiful, witty, incredibly intelligent, and kind. He enjoyed every moment with her, even when they were bickering over class notes or literary opinions. She challenged him and encouraged him. She was the first person he thought of when he woke up each morning, and the last one he let cross his mind each night as he fell asleep. He knew he wanted to be everything she needed, and give her everything she wanted, but in love with her?  Is that what this was?

Regardless, it was definitely something that would require deeper consideration and introspection, which was not going to occur around the noisy dinner table, and most definitely not while the witch in question was gripping his arm and watching him with concern coloring her whiskey-brown eyes. His cheeks were flaming and his eyes were starting to water while his esophagus rebelled.

“You alright?” she asked as he continued to splutter and cough. He nodded feebly, unable to get words out while hacking up a lung.

“I think he must have swallowed a wrackspurt,” Luna interjected solemnly. “I saw a few buzzing around before, and they’re very fond of pumpkin juice. One might have gotten in his cup.”

As a means of stalling and deflecting, Draco picked the offending beverage up again and looked into the goblet as if there might really be one of the ludicrous creatures in its depths. He shook his head and offered the cup to Luna to inspect for herself, while using his other hand to wipe his streaming eyes.

“Uuugggghhhh,” he let out a low groan and cleared his throat. “I’m fine. S’all good, right?” He chuckled, coughed again, and thumped his chest with a fist. Hermione was still watching him carefully, but now with a small smile curving her lips.

“You sure?” she asked.

“Mmhmmm.” He cautiously took another sip of juice, wanting to clear his airway and praying to all the founders that it wouldn’t cause another bout of gagging. Taking a deep breath, he turned to face her fully. “There. Totally fine. No choking to death today.”

She grinned and turned her attention back to her plate, “Good. I quite like having you around.”

If possible, his cheeks flamed even hotter.

 

ooOoo

 

Hermione’s First Years were beside themselves with excitement over the party. They were currently gathered for their weekly peer-group dinner in the Great Hall and no matter how many times she tried to steer the conversation towards their academics, or their interests, or anything she considered to be a worthwhile use of their time, they chased another rabbit down the unending hole of gossip and speculation.

“I really think Aiden should ask Emmeline to go to the party with him,” Darla stared dreamily at the enchanted ceiling, her fork paused halfway to her mouth.

“But I think she wants to go with Mmm….someone else!” Allison stumbled over her words and shot a sideways glance at Malcolm, who was lost in his own thoughts as he swirled his mashed potatoes around his plate.

“What?” Darla asked, apparently unaware of this bit of news. “Who does she want to go with?” She watched her friend make a frantic gesture, clearly wanting to drop the subject. The young Ravenclaw continued to stare in confusion as Allison darted furtive yet pointed glares in the direction of the only male member of their table. After her third delivery, Darla’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped in shock. “You mean…”

But Allison cut her off by blurting out in a much louder voice than necessary, “Who are you going to the party with, Hermione?”

The older witch had been watching the entire exchange with exasperated amusement and was caught mildly off-guard by the sudden swing of the spotlight.

“Me? I’m not…. I mean… All of the Eighth Years are throwing the party, so we’ll all be there together.” It was a feeble answer, and she knew her girls wouldn’t be satisfied with such a banal response. Case in point, they both scowled at her in mock irritation and immediately challenged the truth of her words.

“You mean you won’t be going with your good friend, Draco Malfoy?” Allison wiggled her eyebrows as she spoke.

“Yes, since you two seem to go everywhere else together,” Darla joined in.

“What do you mean we go everywhere?” Hermione started to question their accusations but they rolled right over her, continuing in their disbelief.

“I saw him carrying your bag across the Entrance Hall the other day.”

“I saw him hold the door for you when you were going into your Potions class yesterday morning.”

“You always sit next to each other in the library.”

“Yeah, usually off in some dark, secluded little corner.”

“Well, I saw them holding hands when they were walking down by the lake last weekend,” Malcolm had finally joined the conversation and shared this impressive bit of information with the air of a cat who just got the canary. The girls were stunned into silence for roughly four glorious seconds before rounding on Hermione, who was trying to think of an excuse to escape, before they started squealing and bouncing up and down in their seats, demanding to know all the details.

Hermione glared at Malcolm who just crossed his arms and grinned smugly. Sighing deeply, she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her lips as she thought of the tall blonde. They had gone for a very nice walk around the lake, even though it was freezing cold and there was snow covering the ground. Warming charms can do wonders, after all. While she and Draco had no qualms about other students or faculty finding out about their relationship, they hadn’t exactly broadcast it. She supposed it was a miracle her little gang hadn’t found out before now, seeing as they had been back in the castle for over a month.

“Ok, ok,” she raised her hands in mock surrender. “I will answer three questions about my relationship with Draco and that’s it.” The girls looked slightly mutinous while Malcolm chortled and rolled his eyes. “Take it or leave it,” Hermione stated firmly.

“Fiiiiine,” both girls whined out a half-hearted agreement, but immediately perked up and started whispering to each other, clearly trying to decide what questions would be most important to ask. While they were debating, their mentor turned her attention back to the young Gryffindor at the table.

“So, Malcolm, have anyone in mind for a valentine?” Hermione smirked as his cheeks turned red and he visibly gulped.

“Nope, no one, no, not at all,” he rambled, not meeting her eyes, and she was positive he was hiding something and she was curious. He had never expressed any interest in any of the First Year girls as far as she had seen.

“Really?” she pressed on. “You sure? It’s not too late to ask someone to come to the party with you.” She hid a grin as his embarrassment clearly increased. “Or, you could always wait until you’re at the party and then approach her.” His eyes grew wide and she got the distinct feeling she was honing in on something. “You could chat with her over snacks, or ask her to dance, or offer to get photos made together….” She trailed off, leaving the possibilities floating out there.

Malcolm’s face had taken on a dreamy quality for a split second, but then he shook his head and pinned her with a serious look. “There’s going to be dancing again?”

“Yes, of course!”

“And we can get photos made?”

“Yes, Hannah Abbott got a new camera for Christmas and is setting up a fun backdrop with props and everything,” Hermione stifled a laugh as Malcolm’s face broke into a grin, clearly pleased with this bit of news. “Someone you want a picture with, then?” she teased.

He stared at her for a beat and boldly replied, “Maybe.”

At this point, Darla and Allison had come to a conclusion about their three most imperative queries, and Hermione’s attention was drawn back to the giggling girls.

“When did you two become an item?” Allison asked briskly.

“An item?” Hermione chuckled, feeling like she was being interrogated by an aged aunt.

“Yes, when did you officially get together?”

“Oh, I suppose over the holidays,” Hermione thought back to when it all began. She guessed their house Christmas party was really the start of it, but it was made official at Harry’s party on New Year’s Eve.

“Are you, or are you not, attending the Valentine’s Day party together?” This was serious business to Allison, who continued to pin her with a firm stare.

“We actually haven’t talked about it,” Hermione mused, wondering if they needed to make a formal thing of it since they both were clearly going to be there. The rest of their housemates knew they were together, so was an actual invitation necessary? She really had no idea, seeing as she’d never been in any sort of serious dating relationship before. Viktor had asked her to the ball, and then they had been pen-friends. She had asked Cormac to Slughorn’s party, and then avoided him like the plague. She and Ron never progressed beyond that one kiss, and had only ever been the best of friends, so she had nothing to compare her current situation to.

Darla’s nervous giggle broke into her thoughts and she focused on the young girl who now had a faraway look on her face. “Is he a good kisser?” It was obvious the First Year was still holding fast to her crush on one particular Eighth Year. Hermione’s eyes bugged at the question and she could feel the heat rushing to her cheeks. She tried not to let her mind wander back to the very sweet moment they had shared right before she left the Room to meet her charges that evening.

“I’m not about to divulge those kinds of details…” Hermione started to splutter, but Allison, ever the Slytherin, cut her off.

“He is, then!” she crowed. “If he was rubbish you would have said, or at least made a face, but you smiled and blushed and tried to pass it off.” She look triumphant, while Darla looked ready to swoon, and Malcolm was studying his mentor with new interest.

“Did he ask you if he could kiss you?” the young man looked very serious, so Hermione decided not to remind him that her three-question limit had already been reached.

“What do you mean, Malcolm?”

“Before he kissed you for the first time, did he ask you? My mum says a gentleman always asks for a lady’s permission.” The bold Gryffindor was blushing by then, but had such an earnest look on his face, Hermione was compelled to be completely honest.

“Well, not exactly…” Malcolm scowled at this news, so Hermione rushed on to clarify, lest he think poorly of his volunteer flying instructor. “You see, the very first time we kissed, I was the one who initiated it.” The girls were now staring at her in awe and wonder, but Malcolm looked confused. “I kissed him first.” She watched as this registered with her young friend, his eyes going wide and his brows slowly climbing up into his fringe.

“Really?” he marveled. “Girls can kiss first?”

At this, Hermione really did laugh. “Yes, Malcolm, girls can kiss first. But you are right, it is always a very nice idea to ask someone if you can kiss them.”

“Who’s kissing someone?” a deep, familiar voice came from behind her, sending a curl of warmth swirling through her. If she wasn’t so surprised by his sudden appearance, the looks on all three of her First Year’s faces would have been comical. Malcolm looked guilty, as if he’d been caught asking something he shouldn’t, Allison was slack-jawed with shock, and Darla looked like someone had spiked her pumpkin juice as she ogled the handsome wizard standing there.

Hermione couldn’t help the giggle that escaped, and rolled her eyes in exaggerated annoyance. “Apparently, we are,” she met his amused gaze with a mischievous wink and was rewarded with a lopsided grin as his cheeks flushed lightly.

“Oh, really?” he cleared his throat and stepped aside as she slid her chair out from the table, and stood to leave.

“Yes, although I must apologize for a grievous oversight on my part,” she snuck a sideways glance at Malcolm who was watching the exchange intently.

“Apologize?” Draco was completely bemused. “Whatever for?”

“I never asked your permission the first time I kissed you, quite possibly besmirching your honor.” She tilted her head to the side, a playful smile on her lips. “Do you feel besmirched?”

“Very much so.” Draco replied seriously, jutting his chin out and sniffing disdainfully. “I shall require a great deal of recompense, witch.” He peeked at her out of the corner of his eye and could tell she was holding back a laugh. Allowing his inner Slytherin to make an appearance, he wanted to see what she would do if he pushed a little. “I think a formal, public acknowledgement is in order. I do not deserve to be handled like some ill-gotten trinket!”

Hermione was now trembling with suppressed mirth and biting the inside of her cheek to keep from losing it all together. Draco was being adorably ridiculous. The looks on her charges’ faces were priceless, but they were no longer the only audience. Students at the surrounding tables had now taken an interest in the goings on, as had some of the staff at the front of the Hall. In her periphery, she could see Headmistress McGonagall and Professor Sprout, heads inclined towards each other while they watched the two Eighth Years. She decided she might as well give them something to talk about.

Taking a step closer to him, she widened her eyes in mock surprise and chagrin, “You are absolutely correct.” He turned his face back to her, but still kept his air of righteous indignation, his arms folded across his chest. “You most certainly do not deserve to be treated in such a paltry and trifling way. Perhaps this token of my affection will prove my devotion?” She raised herself up on her tiptoes and placed a soft, lingering kiss right at the corner of his mouth. It only lasted the space of a heartbeat or two, but it was long enough to garner a reaction from more than half of the occupants in the Hall as gasps and whispers started swirling around. When she lowered her heels, she was pleased to see he looked a little gobsmacked. Clearly, he’d not expected that from her.

Grinning, she turned back to her First Years, who were now in fits over the whole display, and reminded them about the time of the party three days hence. Not waiting for a coherent response, which she knew would be lacking, she turned back to her boyfriend.

“Shall we go?” she tilted her head towards the doors, and held out her hand. He immediately entwined his fingers with hers, a beaming smile gracing his features as they exited the Hall.

 

Chapter Text

In the days that followed the silly antics of her dinner with her First Years, Hermione completely forgot about the fact that she and Draco had still not officially stated whether or not they were attending the Valentine Party together. She had arranged a small gift for him, something mildly cheesy, but she hoped he would appreciate the gesture nonetheless. She had no idea if he’d gotten anything for her, and decided she would wait a little bit before giving it to him, not wanting him to feel bad if he hadn’t. They had only been together for a little over a month, and she wasn’t entirely sure what was expected at such an early stage in a relationship. She tried not to overthink the whole thing, but that was like telling Filch to be in a good mood; virtually impossible.

February 14th dawned freezing cold, and with a blanket of new snow covering the grounds. As she rolled over in her bed, Hermione heard a quiet rustling near her and opened her eyes to see a large white envelope hovering above her head. Smiling, she pushed herself into a sitting position and gently took hold of the missive. As soon as her fingers touched the corner, the envelope burst open, sending a shower of pink and red confetti hearts all over her bed, as well as herself. Before the last ones could touch down, a larger heart zoomed out of the envelope and floated in front of her face. It contained two words, written in silver ink, in a familiar, looping script.

“Be Mine.”

 Her smile grew and she felt her cheeks blush. She reached out to take the heart just as a second one flew out of the envelope, this one also containing just two words.

“Look outside.”

Slightly bemused, she got out of bed and went to her window. The sun was just peeking up over the tops of the mountains in the distance, but its early rays gave enough light for her to see what she was meant to. Down on the ground, seven stories below her window, a gigantic heart had been drawn in the snow with “D.M. + H.G.” etched in the center. She couldn’t help the giggle that bubbled over at the sweetness of the gesture and marveled at the fact that Draco must have gotten up extremely early, and braved the frigid temperatures just to do that for her. She gazed at the simple, yet meaningful message for a few seconds longer before turning back to find the envelope still hanging in mid-air. Once again, as soon as she made contact with the heavy paper, a third heart appeared, this one with three words written on it.

“Open your door.”

Eager to find out what was waiting on the other side, but not wanting to look like she had just rolled out of bed (which she had), Hermione stopped long enough to throw her curls into a messy bun, splash some water on her face at the bedside basin, and do a quick cleaning charm on her teeth. Then, she slid her door open just a crack before allowing it to swing wide as she stared at the sight that met her still-sleepy eyes.

One of the small round tables had been placed directly in front of her chamber. It was covered with a white cloth, embroidered with tiny red flowers around the edge. A vase of red and pink roses sat in between a plate of heart-shaped scones and biscuits, and a bowl of strawberries and cream. A cup of steaming hot chocolate was accompanied by a bowl of tiny marshmallows and glass shakers filled with sprinkles and sugar crystals, and a small pyramid of dark chocolate truffles was stacked nearby. As she stepped closer, Hermione noticed yet another paper heart, propped against a silver pot that contained more of her favorite beverage.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

The thoughtfulness of the entire endeavor brought joyful tears to Hermione’s eyes. She had never felt so cared for before, or had someone put so much effort into a gift. For all his stoicism and swagger, her boyfriend was apparently a romantic at heart. She chuckled quietly to herself as she reached for the cup of cocoa. Taking a sip, she glanced across the Room to Draco’s door, not the least bit surprised that it was closed, making it seem as if he was still asleep like everyone else. Contrary to what she had always assumed about him, he didn’t like recognition for things and compliments seemed to make him uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure if it was because he wasn’t used to positive attention, or if he felt he still didn’t deserve it, but she was determined to help him change that. He was kind and thoughtful, extremely creative, and more compassionate than a lot of other people she knew. That was one of the things she loved most….

Wait. What?

Did she love him? No, she was just saying she loved that about him. She liked him, absolutely. Immensely. Very, very, very much. But love? She wasn’t quite sure about that yet. Or, at the very least, she wasn’t ready to consider feeling that strongly about someone she had only been dating for roughly six weeks. It took longer than that to fall in love with someone.

Didn’t it?

Ok, so maybe it didn’t. Maybe she did love him a little. Maybe more than a little. She didn't think she was ready to say it outloud yet, however. All of these thoughts were swimming in the brilliant witch’s mind as she stood by the table outside her room, sipping on her hot chocolate and staring unseeingly at the door across the way, a blissful smile tugging on her lips. Unbeknownst to her, the giver of her gifts was tucked in a far corner of the Room, hidden by a disillusionment charm, and finally allowing the knot of nerves that had taken over his stomach for the past two hours to detangle itself as he grinned smugly at the obvious happiness he had brought his favorite Gryffindor. She looked adorable, standing there in her pajamas, her eyes wide and her cheeks pink as she had taken in the arrangement of some of her favorite things.

He continued to observe her as she sipped her cocoa, nibbled on a scone, and leaned over to delicately sniff the bouquet. She found so much enjoyment in the simplest things, and Draco admired her greatly for it. When the idea for the snowy message had first come to him, he almost dismissed it as juvenile, but the more he thought about it, the more he knew she would appreciate the effort he took to etch the handful of lines out there, more than any lengthy declaration he could have written on a scroll of parchment from the comfort of his chambers. He watched as she refilled her cup, grabbed another scone, and gathered the roses and paper heart in her arms as she turned to go back into her room. She sent one last beaming glance across the common area, and even though it was aimed at his door, it went straight to his heart. He allowed himself one more self-satisfied smirk, knowing that she would be reading the final heart any second now; the one officially asking her to be his date to the party that evening.

 

ooOoo

 

Draco wasn’t sure what he thought about so much pink and red being contained in one space, regardless of how large it might be. The Room looked like the inside of a strawberry, or like a cloud of cotton candy had collided with a trainload of cherry Bertie Bott’s. The same confetti that had daintily sprinkled the First Years when they received their invites now drifted down from the ceiling continuously, creating a coating of tiny paper bits all over the floor, the furniture, and the food, which irritated the pale wizard immensely. He had jumped at the chance to organize the snacks again, since everyone seemed so pleased with his selections last time, and even more so because it gave him a chance to show Hermione just how well he’d been paying attention over the past few months.

He had always known she’d been particularly fond of sugar quills, since she was rarely without one during lessons from Second Year on. He had ordered five dozen of them for the party, in shades of white and pale pink, and had used them in tall, narrow vases as endcaps for the buffet he’d created. Since they had become housemates, he had also noticed she preferred fruity, chewy candies to things with nuts, and that like himself, she was a big fan of chocolate. As a result, he had ordered seven jars of Honeyduke’s sweets; four were gummy and fruit-flavored, and three were chocolate based. He had two towers of prettily decorated petit fours (all with pink icing hearts and flowers, of course) and several platters of heart-shaped biscuits. There were piles of truffles, mini fruit tarts, cream puffs that he’d asked the house elves in the kitchens to fill with Nutella, and in the center was the crown jewel of his display; a chocolate fountain. Surrounding the waterfall of gooey decadence were offerings of strawberries, shortbread, pineapple chunks, and marshmallows, all waiting to be speared and dunked.

He stood back from the table to survey his handiwork and was joined almost at once by Theo who gave a low whistle as he observed the sugary feast before him.

“Sure you got everything?” the tall brunette bumped shoulders with his friend and gave him a cheeky grin.

“Pretty sure,” Draco drawled.

“And how many of the items on there are your witch’s favorites?”

Draco felt his cheeks turn pink as he shrugged, although he couldn’t hide the grin tugging at his lips.

Theo chuckled and shook his head, “Never thought I’d see the day.”

“What?” Draco turned to look at his fellow former snake, cocking an eyebrow in question.

“You, the Slytherin Prince, totally besotted.”

“That’s not…. I am not!” Spluttering his defense, he turned back away from Theo, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing just how right he was.

“You keep telling yourself that, mate,” Theo clapped him on the shoulder. “Just be sure to send me a wedding invitation, yeah?” With that, he strolled off across the Room to see how Neville and Dean were doing with the love potion game they’d created.

Draco continued to stare at the dessert spread without really seeing it. Theo’s comment had caused his brain to stutter to a halt. Wedding? There’s no way they were headed in that direction. They weren’t even out of their teens yet! He had no intention of getting married at such a young age, and he seriously doubted Hermione did either. For Merlin’s sake, he hadn’t even told her he loved her yet. Theo was just riling him up. No one was thinking about things like that right now, while they were still in school and didn’t have careers or anything. It was preposterous.

And yet…. The longer he mulled it over, against his will, his mind conjured images of them on what was clearly their wedding day. Hermione in a simple, yet elegant gown, their friends and family gathered around them. The two of them sitting at a kitchen table, similar to the one in her parents’ house, sharing the paper while drinking their morning coffee. Her, sitting on a plush carpet and reading a large picture book to a tiny, curly-haired child.

Stop right there. You’re putting the carriage way before the thestral.

He couldn’t reconcile the panicked drumming of his heart with the sense of longing he felt for the images his traitorous brain had conjured. Hadn’t they agreed to take things slow? To simply enjoy getting to know one another? To relax and see where this led? Their relationship was ages away from anything even remotely serious, so why in Godric’s good name would he be envisioning something like that? He shook his head as if to clear away the confusing thoughts and headed back to his chambers to change for the party.

 

Chapter Text

At a quarter to eight, Hermione heard a knock on her door as she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. The Eighth Years had agreed that the dress code for this party would be mildly fancy. No costumes, like Halloween, no ball gowns or dress robes, but no jeans and trainers either. As a result, the girls had all gathered in Daphne’s room earlier in the week to finalize their wardrobe selections and have the stylish witch help charm and alter their outfits accordingly. They had decided to wear shades of red and pink, to match the decorations, which was easily achieved by changing the color of dresses they’d brought from home. Padma had charmed a grey cashmere sweater-dress into a deep fuchsia, and Daphne had added delicate ruffles around the cuffs and hem in the same color. Luna wore a pale pink, cap sleeve frock with slightly darker pink hearts dotting the full skirt, and a matching ribbon woven into her long, loose braid. Hannah chose a shade of dusty rose for her A-line, sleeveless, previously-blue dress, and Daphne had transfigured the former Hufflepuff’s yellow and black scarf into a champagne-colored wrap in a light, sheer fabric. The designing witch herself had chosen a deep burgundy color for a form-fitting, sequined dress with three-quarter sleeves that sparkled with every move.

Hermione nervously took in her own appearance. She had allowed Daphne to talk her into going with a shade of scarlet red identical to that of her Gryffindor heritage. Not one to wear dresses typically, she had gratefully accepted a borrowed one from her fashion-forward housemate, but was now second guessing her decision. The fitted velvet dress had long sleeves, a hem that stopped a few inches above her knees, and a wide, rounded neckline that almost reached the tips of her shoulders. While the front was very modest, a low-cut “v” that went almost all the way to the small of her back showed off a bit more skin than she was used to. She had pulled her curls into a low, side ponytail with some wisps escaping around her face and neck, and while she had flat-out refused to wear the crimson red lipstick Daphne had tried to convince her would look perfect, she did apply a shiny clear gloss, as well as some eyeliner and mascara.

A second knock sounded at her door and she took a deep breath, blew it out in a jittery huff and shook her arms and hands a little to get rid of some of her nerves. She cautiously made her way to the door, wondering why on Earth she agreed to wear heels as she constantly felt like she was about to fall over, and shyly opened it to find Draco anxiously fiddling with his tie. His head immediately snapped up and he froze as he took her in, his pewter gaze roving from her somewhat-tamed hair to the shiny black pumps she was precariously balanced on and back up again to meet her eyes.

“You look amazing,” his words came out barely above a whisper.

She beamed at the compliment, all nerves forgotten, and took a moment to appreciate the impressive wizard before her. He’d chosen black trousers, a black vest, and a black tie, but his button-down shirt was almost the exact same shade of red as her dress. He looked like he’d stepped out of the pages of a magazine, with his perfectly tailored clothes, his platinum blonde fringe falling artfully over one eye, and his teasing smirk gracing his ridiculously handsome face. For a split second she marveled at the fact that someone as smooth and polished as he would be interested in someone as chaotic and frizzy as herself, but she refused to spiral into a self-degrading comparison. This night was meant to be fun and lighthearted, and was actually their first real “date” if one could call it that, and she planned to enjoy every second of it.

“You look pretty great, yourself,” she replied cheekily. She opened the door a little wider. “I have something for you.” She turned around to pick two wrapped items up off her dresser, giving him a glimpse of the back of her dress, which caused his eyes to bug and his throat to make an odd gulping sound.

Merlin, that dress.

 He had a fleeting thought of simply stepping all the way into her room, shutting the door, and completely abandoning the plans they had that evening in favor of snogging her senseless. Before he could act on his impulses, however, she returned and held out two rectangles, each wrapped in cream-colored paper with a red ribbon tied on top, one slightly smaller than the other.

“It’s just something little,” she began in a rush. “Just something I wanted you to have. Open the bigger one first.”

He did as she requested, and unwrapped an 8”x10” dark wood picture frame. The photograph it held was one of the ones Hannah had taken of the whole group of Eighth Years the day she had shown them all her new camera. The ten housemates were squished together on and around one of the couches in the common area. Hannah was perched on one arm, with Neville on the cushion closest to her. Next to him sat Daphne, Hermione, and Draco. On the other arm balanced Dean, and behind the couch were Padma, Theo, Luna, and Anthony. The magical image displayed a continuous loop of laughter and fidgeting. Daphne flipped her hair over her shoulder, catching Hermione in the face, causing her to lean away and into Draco, who turned to press a quick kiss on the top of her head. At the same time, Neville had reached up to intertwine his fingers with Hannah’s, while both of their cheeks flushed slightly. Padma was fussing with her shirt, while Dean and Anthony were gesturing animatedly at each other, and Theo, after watching Draco, leaned down and kissed the top of his fellow Slytherin’s head, causing those nearby to laugh hysterically. As the giggles subsided, Luna turned and placed a soft kiss on Theo’s cheek, causing his eyes to goggle comically before the image reset itself.

At the time the picture was taken, Hermione hadn’t even registered Draco’s kiss with all the insanity going on around her, but when she had asked Hannah for a copy of it, she was pleasantly surprised. They looked so comfortable together. Not just the two of them, either, but the whole group. The friendly interactions, the genuine hilarity of the moment, the physical closeness that hinted at the bonds they had all formed that year, all made her feel a rush of affection and pride for the housemates who had grown to feel more like family than she had realized. It meant a great deal to her that they had come so far since the previous year, and she knew it meant just as much, if not more, to Draco, whose acceptance into this eclectic group had played a huge part in the changes she’d seen in him over the past five and a half months. She wanted him to see it for himself, which was why she chose the photo as part of his gift. If the intense way he was studying the image was anything to go by, she was pretty sure she’d hit her mark.

Draco cleared his throat and looked up to meet the earnest brown eyes watching him carefully.

“This is fantastic, Hermione. Thank you.” He was slightly horrified to feel his eyes stinging and blinked rapidly to try to alleviate it, but was sidetracked by a pair of arms wrapping around his waist and a cheek being pressed to his shoulder. Still holding the frame in one hand, he returned her embrace, resting his own cheek on her head, careful not to mess up her hair. He knew she understood how much the friendships he’d forged in their new house meant to him, and the fact that she could acknowledge it in such a sweet and meaningful way overwhelmed him.

What had he done to deserve her?

He knew the blatantly truthful answer to that; nothing. But before he could dwell on how much he really didn’t deserve the wonderful witch in his arms, she spoke, her words muffled by his shirt.

“Say that again?” he teased.

“You called me Hermione,” she looked up at him, her eyes glittering and her smile blinding.

He froze for a second, realizing she was right. He often thought of her as ‘Hermione’ in his head, but he really hadn’t ever called her that before. Since returning to school, they spent so much time together that he rarely needed to address her by name, and the few times he’d had to get her attention, he’d resorted to ‘Granger,” out of habit.

“I guess I did,” he admitted with a smirk.

“I like it.”

“Oh, do you?”

She nodded and stretched up the tiniest bit, seeing as her high heels helped bridge the gap more than usual, and placed a soft, lingering kiss on his lips. Before he could deepen it, however, she stepped back and held up the second, smaller package he still had yet to open.

“Better hurry up. The First Years will be here any minute,” her voice declared no nonsense, but her eyes held a teasing glint that told him she knew what he’d rather be doing.

Knowing he didn’t really have a choice in the matter, he heaved a dramatic sigh, causing her to giggle, and opened his other gift. This, too, was a wooden picture frame, although smaller than the first. It contained a photograph of Hermione, standing outside somewhere on the castle grounds, bundled in her heavy cloak, woolen beanie, and mittens, her Gryffindor scarf wrapped around her neck. Snow was falling gently, and the lighting made it seem as if the sun was just beginning to set. Her nose and cheeks were slightly pink from the cold, and her curls danced about in the wind. She was pointing her wand at the camera and after uttering a spell, moved it in the shape of a heart while gold sparks flashed at its tip. The effect was similar to that of Muggle sparklers, leaving a trail of light behind the movement that fades away after a moment. Because of the continuous replay, the shape of the heart was clearly visible.

Draco grinned at the joy on his witch’s face in the picture. She seemed so very pleased with herself, probably because she had come up with the idea on her own and had possibly even created the spell herself. She really was something else.

“Thank you, again. I will treasure them both.” He swooped in and gave her a quick kiss.

“You really like them?” Hermione fiddled with the cuff of her sleeve, seemingly nervous.

He placed his hand on top of hers, causing whiskey brown eyes to meet slate grey. “Yes, I really like them.” He kissed her again gently. “But not as much as I like you.” He kissed her a third time, pleased to notice she leaned into him as he pulled away, as if not wanting it to end. “I really, really like you.” One final kiss, which he forced himself to stop or he’d never leave the room. He chuckled as he took in her mildly dazed expression. “Don’t we have a party to attend?”

That shook her out of her fog as she jolted slightly, blinked a few times, and grinned back at him.

“Yes, we most definitely do.”

With that, Draco turned to the door, offering his arm, which Hermione took, and the two of them headed out to the common area as the First Years started to arrive.

 

ooOoo

 

Malcolm was hovering at the end of the buffet table, trying very hard to look like he was enjoying himself while simultaneously attempting to work up the nerve to do something he considered to be stupidly brave. Or was it bravely stupid? Either way, at that precise moment, all of his supposed Gryffindor courage seemed to have scuttled back to his dorm room up in the tower.

“Hey, Malcolm,” Hermione greeted her First Year friend, causing him to startle slightly. She noticed he looked like he was about to be sick and put a hand cautiously on his arm. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yes,” the young boy croaked. His cheeks were pale and his eyes wide and almost fearful. She could tell he definitely was not alright, no matter what he said.

“Can I get you something? Is anything bothering you?” she gently probed, her voice clearly filled with mounting concern as he refused to meet her gaze and kept swallowing with what seemed to be extreme difficulty.

“No. Thanks. ‘M fine.” Malcolm now looked like he was turning slightly green as he stared at the group of friends and classmates on the dance floor before him.

“Are you having a good time?” Hermione felt like she knew the answer to this question, but his odd behavior was extremely puzzling and she wanted to get to the bottom of it. Her young charge nodded his head in jerky affirmation, but remained fixated on the partiers. She turned her own attention to the small sea of people, trying to figure out what he was looking at with such intensity. At that moment, her favorite wizard came strolling towards her, drawing her focus away from Malcolm.

“What happened? I turned around and you had disappeared,” Draco teased good-naturedly. “Have my dancing skills regressed since New Year’s Eve?”

Hermione laughed and shook her head. “No, not at all. I was just checking on Malcolm here,” she gestured to the younger student who remained frozen and silent next to her. Draco observed the boy for a moment, noticing just as his girlfriend had, that the poor kid looked absolutely miserable.

“Alright there, mate?” Draco leaned down a little to get right in Malcolm’s line of sight, causing those wide, hazel eyes to flash over to his own in a panic.

“Sure. Yeah. G-great.”

The tall blonde shot the curly brunette a look that clearly indicated something was up, and then turned to look upon the enthusiastic group of party-goers. After several seconds, and multiple glances between Malcolm and the dance floor, a knowing smirk tugged at the corner of Draco’s mouth.

“Let’s get some punch, shall we?” Draco gently but firmly took Malcolm by the elbow and steered him towards the other end of the buffet table, shooting a wink and a grin at his date over his shoulder as he walked away, leaving her completely confused as to what had just happened and why she had been abandoned. She didn’t have more than a few heartbeats to try to make sense of it before she was joined by her other First Years.

“Hermione, you look gorgeous!” Allison looked her up and down, nodding in approval of her mentor’s outfit for the evening. “No wonder Draco can’t take his eyes off you!”

Hermione choked on the heart-shaped biscuit she’d just picked up. Before she could insist that Allison was exaggerating, Darla added her two cents as well.

“Oh yes,” she sighed dreamily. “He follows you everywhere, and whenever he’s close enough, he’s either holding your hand or has his arm around you. He’s played with your curls a couple of time, too. I’ve been watching him.” She nodded vehemently, not having the slightest clue that her insight made her sound like a stalker.

The older witch chuckled slightly, knowing she couldn’t deny any of it. For whatever reason, Draco had been a little more physical with her since the party started. They often held hands when they went for walks, and sometimes he would put his arm around the back of her chair when they sat next to each other, but neither of them were very comfortable with outward displays of affection, nor did they wish to become one of those couples who made everyone nauseous due to how overly affectionate they were. Tonight, however, Darla wasn’t wrong, not that Hermione was complaining. If anything, she liked it, how it sent the message that she was his, how it showed that he wanted to be near her. She’d never had someone be that way with her before and it made her feel special, which was nice.

Forcing her attention back to her young friends, she caught the tail end of Allison’s question about why Malcolm was with Draco. All three witches turned to glance at the unlikely pair at the other end of the table for a moment, before the First Years looked expectantly at Hermione for an explanation.

“I’m honestly not sure,” she began. “I came over here to check on Malcolm, because he looked rather ill, but he insisted he was fine. Then Draco came over, noticing the same thing, and all of a sudden they’re walking off to get punch and I’m left standing here!” she finished in mock indignation. She truly didn’t mind, as she knew Draco was trying to help the younger student.

“I bet I know what’s going on,” Allison said in a low voice. “He’s been mooning about all week and we,” she gestured between herself and Darla, “think he fancies someone here at the party.”

All of a sudden, the lightbulb went on in Hermione’s head. She remembered Malcolm’s questions about what would be taking place at the Valentine’s Day Party when they had all met for dinner the last time. He had definitely seemed like he had his heart set on asking someone to dance, or get a photo made, or something. Hermione immediately scanned to group on the floor, trying to figure out who exactly that could be. The girls had mentioned another First Year named Emmeline who had a crush on him, but those feelings didn’t seem to be mutual. As she studied the other younger girls scattered throughout the Room, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye.

Malcolm was walking – no, marching was more like it – towards the dance floor. His chin was up, his shoulders back, and he looked like he was about to storm the gates. Hermione cast a fleeting glance at Draco who was still standing by the punch bowl, arms crossed in front of himself, a smug little grin on his face. He caught her gaze, his eyes dancing with mischief, and Hermione felt a pang of worry for her young charge.

What has he talked him into?

 The determined Gryffindor didn’t slow his pace until he had stopped directly in front of Daphne, who had been engaged in conversation with Dean and two younger students. Hermione watched as the striking witch’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, immediately followed by a quick look at Draco, who gave the tiniest of nods. Daphne nodded then, a smile spreading across her pretty face, and Malcolm stood even taller, if possible. He offered his arm to her, which she took while clearly doing her absolute best not to laugh at how serious the boy was being, and they took a few steps into the center of the dance floor.

Even though the song being played was a typical, Muggle, club-style song, Malcolm acted as if it was a waltz at the palace. True to his Pureblood upbringing, he bowed to Daphne and offered out his hand. She, in turn, gave a small curtsy and took it. They moved into a traditional dance position, with a solid nine or ten inches between them, as Malcolm started moving them slowly in a small circle. The sight was too precious for Hermione, whose eyes prickled with tears. She knew Daphne was only humoring the young wizard, but the kindness her friend was bestowing was surely something he would remember fondly for years to come.

Darla and Allison were beside themselves over the events unfolding in front of them, and dashed off to discuss it with some of their classmates, leaving Hermione alone in the exact same spot for the second time that night. Before she could even begin to feel sorry for herself, however, her own dance partner was at her side once more.

“Think that’s just about made his year,” Draco chuckled, but quickly stopped when he noticed the sheen in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing!” she quickly reassured him. “I just think it’s so very sweet, is all.” She sniffed, dabbed under her eyes, and gave a small, huffing laugh. “How on Earth did you figure out it was Daphne he had his eye on?”

Draco jutted his chin and spoke in a superior tone, “I have my ways, my intuition, my keen skills, all top secret, of course.”

Hermione couldn’t help but giggle as she swatted his arm playfully. “Yes, yes, of course. Very impressive, you are.”

He pinned her with a smoldering gaze that caused her stomach to flip. “I don’t think you’ve had a chance to experience all my impressive skills yet,” he smirked as she blushed prettily and looked down at the floor.

“Perhaps we should schedule a demonstration, then?” she suggested coyly, peeking at him from under her lashes and pleased to see the look of mild yet eager surprise that crossed his face before he schooled his features into a mask of cool indifference.

“I think that could be arranged,” he was doing a stellar job of playing aloof and unaffected, but she knew him better than that by now, and could tell his brain was already whirring with ideas and possible scenarios.

“Why don’t you begin with your obvious talent for party menus and buffet set-ups?” she gestured to the incredible spread of snacks and desserts he had amassed for the event. “Tell me how you narrowed it down to these specific offerings, many of which are my personal favorites, I’ll have you know.” She watched him struggle to refocus his attentions on their present surroundings, and fought the urge to laugh when he scowled at the tray of cream puffs directly in front of him. When he raised his eyes back to hers, however, the crease in his brow was gone and a genuine smile spread across his face.

“I picked them for you, of course.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“The Sugar Quills?”

“You always have one with you in class.”

“True, I guess that one’s kind of obvious. And the cream puffs have Nutella, don’t they?”

“Yes, I figured you must like it too, since you had it at your house, though quite possibly not as much as I do,” he chuckled lightly.

“But how did you even know I like Strawberry Squids? Or that Fudge Flies are my favorite?”

“I pay attention,” His grey eyes seemed to grow darker as they bore into her own. Hermione thought back to Darla’s observations earlier and once again felt her heart skip and her stomach perform gymnastics. She wanted to come back with something quick and witty, but all she could do was blink owlishly, blush furiously, and bite her lower lip while her gaze dropped down to the table where one of his hands was resting.

“Good,” she whispered.

“Good?” he questioned in a quiet voice.

She nodded and reached over, intertwining her fingers with his, “Yes, good.” She lifted her eyes to his and smiled, having no idea how utterly overwhelmed he was in that very moment. “I like when you pay attention to me.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek, inhaling his familiar cologne and reveling in the fact that her boyfriend, Draco Malfoy, had made such a tremendous effort to impress her tonight. She thought it just might be the sweetest, no pun intended, thing anyone had done for her before.

Draco felt like he was floating. Like perhaps he was having some sort of out-of-body experience. He had watched the various emotions flit across Hermione’s face during their exchange; she had been surprised by his admission that the treats really had been picked with her in mind. Then she had seemed simultaneously pleased and embarrassed. He guessed she’d never had anyone pay her that kind of attention, which he felt was stupid since she deserved all that and so much more, but the smile she’d given him made his heart swell to bursting. He really was a goner and he knew it; completely head-over-heels for this witch, who honestly had no idea the effect she had on him. Merlin, if there hadn’t been a roomful of people around them when she mentioned a “demonstration,” he would have swiped half the desserts off the table and…

“Great job, you two!” Bill greeted the young couple as he and his wife walked towards them. Both he and Fleur were glancing about, taking in the decorations, guests, and food that filled the Room that evening. Hermione greeted both of them with a hug and immediately started a conversation with Fleur, while Draco wrangled his thoughts into something more appropriate as he faced his Head of House.

“Thanks, glad you and Fleur could make it,” he said sincerely. Since the school year had started, he had grown to appreciate and respect the eldest Weasley tremendously and viewed him as a bit of a mentor.

“Wouldn’t miss it. The Eighth Year’s parties have racked up quite a reputation, you know,” he winked. “Had to have something to tell my rabid Sixth and Seventh Years in class this week when they badger me for details.” The two wizards chuckled as they surveyed the goings on around them.

“Who is Daphne dancing with?” Bill suddenly asked, squinting into the throng of students.

Draco gave another low chuckle and told Bill the story of Malcolm and his single-minded goal for the evening. The older man couldn’t contain a hearty laugh as he continued to watch the unusual pair. The slower song had ended, and now the First Year was showing off a few of his very own dance moves while Daphne bopped along beside him, grinning in amusement.

“Oh, that’s priceless,” Bill sighed. “To be so young and unencumbered by life’s bigger schemes.” He sounded wistful as he continued to watch Malcolm and the others. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that carefree, although this year is probably the most peaceful and uncomplicated I’ve experienced in quite a while.” He turned to study the tall blonde next to him. “How about you?”

Draco considered the question for a moment, nodding his head thoughtfully. “Yes, I’d definitely agree with that.” His eyes wandered back to the beautiful brunette still engaged in animated conversation with Fleur. He smiled warmly. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

Bill grinned knowingly and clapped a hand on Draco’s shoulder. “I’m glad, Malfoy. Truly. You deserve the same chance at happiness as everyone else. Even more so, I would say, after everything you endured the past few years.”

Draco started at this, turning skeptical eyes on the red-head and wondering how he had come to that conclusion.

“I know you didn’t have a choice; that your path was chosen for you the same way Harry’s was chosen for him. It’s unfortunate that you boys landed on such opposing sides, but the trauma and turmoil you’ve each experienced is not diminished by the roles you were forced to play.” Bill studied the young man beside him. “I hope you are healing. I know what a long and arduous process that is, but I hope you’re able to reconcile it all so you can move forward and be whole.”

Again, grey eyes rested on the Gryffindor Princess and a feeling of immense gratitude and peace flooded through him. He nodded, “I’m working on it. There’s days where I still wonder when the joke will be up and I’ll be carted off to Azkaban again, but most of the time I’m just thankful to be here, alive, with her.” He tilted his head in the direction of his favorite witch, not even bothering to try to hide how much she meant to him, knowing Bill was already aware.

“Now that is something I understand better than most,” Bill replied, a smile gracing his scarred features. “For what it’s worth, Malfoy, I’m glad you’re here, too.” With that, he turned and gestured to his lovely wife, beckoning her out to the dance floor, which she enthusiastically agreed to, leaving Draco and Hermione alone once again.

She turned to face him, her eyes sparkling and her hand reaching for his. “We should dance, too, check on our First Years and all that,” she winked as he laced his fingers through hers, and he grinned as he allowed her to drag him into the center of the crowd.

 

 

Chapter Text

Harry came stumbling through the floo in Bill’s office, a stack of parchment clutched in his hands. Draco, as usual, was already there, sprawled comfortably in a chair, twirling his wand between his fingers absently.

“Hey, Malfoy,” Harry huffed out as he strode across the room and plunked the papers down on the desk.

“What’s all this?” Draco stood and peered over the pile that had started to tip to one side, causing the top few pieces to slide off. Seeker reflexes kicking in, both wizards reached out to catch them before they fluttered to the floor, each catching one in their outstretched hand.

“Looks like a tie,” Harry chortled. Draco snorted and returned the piece he had rescued to the desktop and turning an inquiring gaze on his companion.

“So,” Harry began, inhaling a deep breath, “several things going on here at once, so bear with me.” He began sifting through the stack, making several smaller piles in a filing system only he understood. The tall blonde simply stood to the side, watching and waiting for the explanation he knew would eventually come.

“Alright,” the raven-haired wizard pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and turned to peer at his counterpart. “Where do you want to start; Alcott, the portraits, or your weekly update?”

Draco scoffed, “There’s nothing to update, so let’s get that out of the way. I’ve had no correspondence from any former dark supporters, nor has anyone tried to harass or bother me. Good?” Harry nodded, smirking. “Moving on, then,” he tilted his head towards the array of pages covering Bill’s usually-neat desk. “Let’s start with Alcott.”

“Ok,” Harry gestured to several pieces of information before them. “As you know, I met with him last week and gave him more details about Hermione’s parents. I passed along your questions, too, and he asked for a day or two to look into some things before getting back to me, which he now has.” He picked up one of the pages and handed it to Draco. “This is his proposed plan of action. He’s come up with a timeline and a treatment course for Edward and Jeanette.” He paused, giving his friend time to read over the lengthy description before him.

Draco was amazed. Alcott had not only described the methods he thought would be most productive, but also mapped out a regimen in which he would treat the Grangers himself over the next several months. It was more than Draco had ever considered they’d receive, especially in such short order. A spark of hope flared to life in him as he looked back at Harry. “He thinks it will work, then? He thinks he can reverse it?”

Harry nodded, grinning. “As you can see, it won’t be a one-time meeting, but a lengthy process. He’ll need to see them regularly over a period of roughly three months. If you think this is all a good idea, and something we should move forward with, then we’ll need to discuss all the logistics.” He now waved to another pile of papers that seemed to be ministry-related, with official seals and signatures.

Unable to fully contain his excitement, Draco started pacing the office. “Is there any way this could backfire? Any way his treatments could harm them, or cause further damage?” his gaze flickered back and forth between Harry and the floor as he wore a path in front of the fireplace.

“No, from what Alcott explained, the worst-case scenario is that it simply doesn’t do anything at all; that nothing changes. The only other negative possibility is that they might start to remember a few things and then come to a full stop, in which case, he would simply remove those recollections and discontinue his attempts. That’s why he needs such a long time. He says he will do things in very small segments, so as not to overwhelm their memory functions. He also needs to make sure that each session sticks with them for a few days before moving on.” Harry was also rather jittery with nerves and kept carding his fingers through his already-messy hair.

Draco continued to prowl back and forth, one hand shoved in his pocket, the other rubbing the back of his neck. “How will he instigate a relationship with them? He can’t just show up on their doorstep and announce he’s moving in, yeah?”

Harry chuckled, “That’s what all this is,” he pointed to the legal-looking pile. “I’ve filled Kingsley in on all of this, and he’s fully supportive. He’s signed any and every form we might possibly need to make this happen, and has basically given me free-reign to do what I need to in order to get the ball rolling.” Draco shot him an exasperated look with an eye-roll thrown in for good measure. Harry shrugged unapologetically, “Hey, sometimes it pays to be the Chosen One. I can pull strings and help my friends.” He smirked meaningfully at the pale blonde who nodded and acquiesced, focusing back on the topic at hand.

“If we tell Alcott it’s a go,” Harry went on, “I will travel to Redland with him sometime before the end of the month, and get him settled in a flat somewhere near the Granger’s home. I was surprised he agreed to move, since he seems a bit of a hermit, but he was rather looking forward to it.” He chuckled and shook his head. “We'll need to work out the exact details, but the plan would basically be to create an opportunity for them to meet, during which Alcott would use a very mild form of a Confundus to get them to agree to spend more time with him. He’s an extremely accomplished Legilimens and will use that skill to plant certain ideas in their minds that will lay the foundation for an ongoing friendship. Once that’s all established, every time he sees them, he will work on reversing the spell, planting specific images, and if necessary, slipping them some veritaserum so the images are regarded as fact and not mistaken for dreams or other inconsequential thoughts.”

“Does he have any memories of Hermione to give them?”

“I’ve offered as many of my own as he needs. He has a pensieve, and I already took him in to see several recollections from when we were in First and Second Year. I actually had a few that included her parents, which will be really helpful.”

Draco pondered all that for a few moments and finally came to a halt in front of Bill’s desk, piercing Harry with a penetrating gaze. “He has to try. We have to let him try.” His voice came out hoarse but filled with emotion and Harry knew as he met the steel grey eyes across the way, that his former rival was as determined and as invested in all of this as he was.

He nodded solemnly, “I agree.”

Draco blew out a long, heavy breath. “When can all this be arranged?”

“I already have all the forms signed, so really, I just need to let Alcott know that we’re on board. I can send an owl soon as I get back to the office, and we’ll go from there. Like I said, we should be able to leave for Redland in a week or so. I already have a portkey granted to me,” he rustled through some of the papers until he found the portkey form. “I just have to fill out the date.”

“Alright then, let’s give it a go.”

Harry grinned and nodded again. “Brilliant.” He arranged all of the papers concerning Alcott and Hermione’s parents in one, slightly neater pile, and then turned his attention to the other stack that had so far remained untouched. “Now, about the portraits,” he walked around the desk and sank into one of the wing-back chairs as Draco slid into the other. “The one for Mister and Madam Malkin was presented last week, and Lavender’s was delivered two days ago. Your mother accompanied me for that, and it went very well. Her parents were incredibly gracious and welcoming, which I know Narcissa was touched by.”

Draco nodded, knowing it was equally as important to his mother to rebuild their family’s image in the Wizarding World as it was to him, and he was grateful the Browns had been so receptive towards her.

“That brings the commissions up to forty-five so far. The only other person who died in the actual Battle whose portrait we haven’t talked about yet is Snape.” Harry paused here, knowing this particular project was slightly different than all the others and wondering what the former Slytherin’s thoughts would be about it.

“Why did his portrait not appear in the Head’s office after he died? Dumbledore’s did.” Draco wondered aloud.

“I asked McGonagall that same question a while ago. From what she’d surmised, the magic of the castle refused to acknowledge him as an actual Headmaster due to the nature of his position and his role in Voldemort’s ranks. He was seen as a traitor, which we all know now was not the case, but the window of time for a Head’s portrait to appear is limited.” Both young men fell silent as they considered this. After a bit, Harry spoke again.

“You know, I honestly don’t think he’d even want his portrait in that office.”

“You’re probably right,” Draco mused. “Do you think we could put one in the Potions classroom? Or outside the Slytherin dorm? Somewhere in his domain.” His lips quirked in a wry smile. “Honestly, sometimes I still expect to see him skulking around a dark corner, waiting to throw someone in detention.”

Harry chuckled, “Or striding down the hall with his cloak flapping around him like a bat.” They both huffed quiet laughs as they remembered their former professor. “Yeah, I think the Potions dungeon would be a perfect spot for his portrait. We could plan to unveil it at the memorial service.”

Draco froze, his face losing what little color it typically had. “Memorial service?”

“Yeah, on the one-year anniversary. Kingsley said it’s been in the works since the New Year started.” Harry’s brow furrowed as he took in the pallid complexion of his friend. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just didn’t realize,” Draco trailed off, unsure how to explain the dread he felt at the idea of hundreds, maybe thousands of witches and wizards converging on the castle grounds to commemorate the events that had taken place last spring. Once again, he was reminded of how very far on the wrong side of it all he had been.

“It’ll be fine, Malfoy,” Harry stated firmly. “It’s not a whole-day event or anything. Just a short program where the names of the fallen will be read, followed by a few words from Kingsley, and a light reception afterwards. We can have Snape’s portrait available for viewing in the Entrance Hall before it’s permanently hung in the dungeons.”

Draco nodded stiffly, still not comfortable with the thought of being surrounded by so many who probably, rightfully, blamed him and his family for their losses, but he knew it was months away and he wasn’t about to start dwelling on worst-possible-scenarios right now. He shifted in his seat and met Harry’s concerned gaze with a determined nod. “Since we’ve basically completed the portraits for the Battle victims, I’d like to start a new list.”

Harry’s brows rose in question.

“I want to have them done for anyone who died at the hands of Voldemort or his Death Eaters after he came back to power, starting with Cedric Diggory.”

Now it was Harry’s turn to feel the blood drain from his face. Even now, four years later, the memory of Cedric’s lifeless eyes staring up at him from the ground in the graveyard sent a tremor of fear down his spine and caused his gut to roil. All he could do was nod and swallow thickly in agreement. He knew how much the Diggorys would appreciate this.

“I’ll need your help again,” Draco continued, watching Harry carefully. He knew the Hufflepuff’s death had been traumatic for him, and guessed that entire event still replayed itself every once-in-awhile in Harry’s dreams, much like several particularly nasty memories visited his own from time to time. “I only know of a handful of people who were targeted specifically for their allegiance to Dumbledore or the Order, though I’m sure there were many more.”

Harry nodded, pulling himself from the dark thoughts swirling in his mind. “There were definitely more than the number of Battle victims. It’s going to be quite an extensive list.” He wondered if the Malfoy vault still contained enough gold to cover all these portraits, but didn’t want to offend Draco by asking. Thankfully, his question was answered without his interference.

“That’s fine,” Draco waved a hand dismissively. “I had already talked to Mother over the holidays about liquidating some of our assets to make more funds available for this endeavor. She was happy to do so, although our solicitor was reluctant to sign off on it.” He scoffed, “Seemed to question her authority, since he had only ever previously dealt with my father, but she’d been expecting some push-back and summoned copies of the documents that were signed long before Lucius ever went to Azkaban. The only precaution my father took in all this mess was to make sure that if anything happened to him, the estate would transfer to my mother until I was able to take the helm after I marry. If something were to remove her from that capacity, I would be jointly responsible for the estate, along with the solicitor, until I’m wed.”

Harry frowned in confusion, “Why does it matter if you’re married or not? Why doesn’t it just come to you once you’re of age, which you already are?”

“Because my father wanted to make sure I would be at a place in my life where I would take my responsibilities seriously,” Draco rolled his eyes and let out a mirthless laugh. “Didn’t want to hand over his legacy to his young, careless, frivolous son. Guess he figured if I was mature enough to take a wife, I would be able to handle running the estate as well.” He snorted. “As if that’s any indication of capability. I’ve got plenty of relatives who’ve been married for decades and have done a stellar job of squandering their fortunes and ruining their families.”

“Interesting,” Harry murmured. “So that’s not a Pureblood thing, just a Lucius thing?”

“Yup,” Draco waved his hand again as if to dismiss the entire notion. “Suffice to say, we have more than enough to commission all the portraits, and keep the estate running, and pay the salaries of all the Ministry employees for several years if the need should ever arise, so don’t worry your pointy little head, Potter.” He grinned as he said it, though, so Harry took no offense and was relieved to know the aristocratic family he had grown rather fond of would be no worse for wear after all their philanthropic efforts were complete.

Harry reached for the last stack of parchment and handed it over to Draco, “These are just letters we’ve received from the families who have been given portraits. I’ve already shared them with Narcissa, and wanted you to have a chance to read them, too. I don’t need them back, so you can keep them, or return them to her, or whatever you want. They’re all very appreciative and supportive of your family.” Draco’s eyes shot up to Harry’s at that unexpected comment. “You’ll see, when you read them.” He stood up to leave, gathering the other pages he still needed to sort through as he made plans for Alcott in the weeks to come. “I’ll let you know what happens with all this, and when we’ll be heading to Australia. I might have to….mislead,” he chose his words carefully here, not liking the idea of lying to one of his best friends, “…Hermione a little, if by some chance she expects to see me and I’m gone to meet Alcott or something. I might need your help if it comes to that.”

“Whatever I can do.”

Grey eyes met green in solidarity, both young men nodding as they shook hands in front of the fireplace, Harry disappearing in a whirl of green flames, and Draco was left standing with a stack of apparent thank-you notes in his hands and an unexpected swell of hope in his heart.

 

ooOoo

 

It was Friday morning, and that meant breakfast with Ginny in the Great Hall. As Hermione scanned the room for her fiery-haired friend, she breathed a deep, contented sigh. She truly loved sharing meals with her fellow Eighth Years in the Room, but there was still something to be said for the enchanted ceiling, marble scrollwork, and impressive architecture that met her eyes as she stood inside the double doors. This was truly the first space she had been introduced to in the castle, and it would forever be one of her favorites.

She spotted all three of her First Years sharing a table with one of Daphne’s and both of Neville’s, smiles on everyone’s faces as they chatted animatedly over their plates. It warmed her heart to see evidence of inter-house friendships so clearly displayed and was simply another reminder that everything they had all endured really had served a purpose.

“Hey, sorry I’m late,” Ginny huffed as she came barreling through the doors. “Wanted to get a letter out to Harry before my first lesson.”

“No worries,” the older witch smiled and roped her arm through her friend’s, steering them in the direction of an empty table nearby. “I only just arrived, myself.”

The girls sat down, and immediately the center of the table was filled with a variety of breakfast offerings; poached eggs, smoked kippers, thick slices of toast, baked beans, and glazed fruit. They each filled their plates and launched right into a discussion about the upcoming trip to Hogsmeade the next day that Ginny was supposed to patrol as part of her prefect duties.

“Don’t forget to check the back room at the Hog’s Head, and the alleys near Zonko’s and Scrivenshaft’s,” Hermione suggested as she speared a few beans with her fork.  “Those have always been popular spots for new Third Year couples.”

“Good idea,” nodded Ginny. “What about popular spots for Eighth Year couples?” A teasing smirk spread across her pretty face as she gleefully watched a pink tinge color her companion’s. Hermione’s eyes widened and she tried to look as if she had no idea what was being suggested.

“I don’t have any idea where Hannah and Neville go when they’re in town,” she sniffed in a superior fashion and began cutting up her egg with far more vigor than was necessary for such soft fare.

Ginny burst into laughter, “Oh, yes, that’s exactly what I was wondering about. Hannah and Neville. Of course.”

The brunette witch couldn’t stop the smirk that tugged at her lips as a result of her friend’s mirth. She kept her gaze on her plate while she pushed bits of food around with her fork, as she decided to admit something to her best girlfriend.

“Draco and I aren’t big on open displays of affection, really, you know? But lately,” she trailed off, unsure how to explain the shift she had noticed.

“Lately?” Ginny prompted.

“I don’t know. He just seems more…attached to me?” It was voiced as a question, because she honestly wasn’t sure what was going on with her favorite wizard. All she knew was that over the past few days, there was definitely an increase in their physical contact. Just the day before, halfway through their Arithmancy class, he’d linked his pinky with hers on top of their shared table and had sat like that for the rest of the lesson, which wasn’t a big deal, but it was totally uncharacteristic of him. She described the scene to Ginny who listened with a thoughtful expression on her face.

“And that’s just one example,” Hermione continued. “He about scared me witless in the library on Tuesday when he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I hadn’t heard him at all and almost screamed and dropped the book I was holding! Madam Pince would’ve had my head!”

The youngest Weasley chortled at the recounting, knowing her friend would have been more distressed about dropping a moldering text than anything else. She considered her curly-haired table-mate for a moment before deciding to ask a few questions.

“Has he told you how he feels about you?”

“Well, I mean, he tells me how much he likes me at least once a day,” a shy smile spread across her face, her cheeks heating up once more. “And he’s always thanking me for listening to him, or helping him, or whatever.” She shrugged and swirled a bit of toast around in the egg yolk on her plate. “I know he cares about me a lot.”

“Has he told you he loves you?” Ginny probed a little further and was unsurprised to see Hermione’s eyebrows shoot up as a startled look crossed her face.

“No, he-he hasn’t, and I haven’t, and it’s just too soon for that,” she spluttered frantically and flapped her hand as if trying to wave away the thought, but the younger witch narrowed her eyes and studied her friend for a moment.

“What do you mean it’s too soon?”

“We’ve only been together since New Year’s Eve, really, and before that we’d only been friends since the start of term, and that’s just not long enough to, to,” she gave up, let her fork clunk down on her plate, and let her head fall into her hands, her elbows rested on the table.

“You love him, don’t you?” Ginny asked quietly, knowing full-well that her typically-level-headed and very pragmatic friend was struggling to handle emotions and feelings that were probably overwhelming her sensibilities.

“Maybe,” a tiny voice squeaked from behind her hands.

“You know that’s okay, right?”

Both pairs of brown eyes met, one sparkling with kindness and understanding, and the other wide and searching.

“You don’t think I’m mental? You don’t think I’m rushing things?”

Ginny shook her head vehemently, “You can’t control how you feel about someone, or how fast you fall into those feelings. It doesn’t mean you need to start planning your wedding tomorrow, but it’s ok to admit that you love him and that you’re serious about him.”

At the mention of her wedding, Hermione choked slightly and took a big gulp of pumpkin juice to clear her airway, “No, definitely not planning a wedding anytime in the near, or even mildly distant future.” She paused and considered the redhead across from her. “When did you know it was Harry?”

Ginny grinned and huffed a small laugh, “Seeing as I’ve had a thing for him since I was ten, you mean?” Both girls giggled at that, remembering how tongue-tied and awkward she used to be around the raven-haired wizard. “At first it was just a crush, but by the time he hit Fifth Year, I knew I was never going to be rid of my feelings for him. Even when I went with Dean, or Michael, or any of the other blokes, it was always him.” She propped her chin up on her hand and stared unseeingly across the Hall. “Our time together during your Sixth Year solidified that for me, even though he ended things after Dumbledore died. I knew why he needed to do that, and I also knew he’d come back.” She shrugged and smiled, her attention now focused back on her friend. “He did, and now we’re together again, and I don’t plan for that to ever change.”

Hermione nodded and smiled, understanding more than she’d expected to, and also knowing just how head-over-heels Harry was for the sweet witch she thought of as a sister.

“Does he know?” Ginny pinned her with a serious look suddenly.

“Know what?”

“That you love him.”

“I don’t think so. I haven’t told him. I don’t want to say it if he’s not there yet, if that makes sense.”

“Oh, I think he’s more than there,” Ginny replied confidently. “I think he’s been there for quite some time.”

Once again, Hermione’s eyes bugged. “What makes you say that?”

“Merlin and Morgana, Hermione, the way he looks at you could set this place on fire! He can’t seem to keep his eyes off you, or stay more than a few inches from your side, and that’s just the glimpses I get in the corridors or on the grounds!”

Her cheeks flamed but she couldn’t hide the smile twitching at her lips. “Really?”

“Would I lie to you?”

She shook her head and breathed a deep sigh, “I guess we’ll see what happens, then. I’m still not entirely ready to just blurt it out to him, but if the moment should arise…” she trailed off, shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Thanks, Gin.”

“Well, good,” Ginny tossed her napkin on the table, “Glad to be of service.” She smirked and winked as they both stood and made their way towards the doors. “You have to promise to share all the glorious details once you finally declare your love for one another,” she feigned a dramatic swoon and gripped Hermione’s arm as the other witch giggled and poked her in the side.

“Yes, yes, I promise,” she grumbled good-naturedly, knowing she’d never be able to keep something like that from her persistent friend, even if she wanted to.

Chapter Text

Draco had never in his life considered himself to be a physically affectionate person. In fact, quite the opposite. His father’s most extreme display was a firm clap on the shoulder, and his mother typically expressed herself through a gentle touch on his arm or a caress of his face, although since the war, she was definitely prone to more maternal actions like hugs and even kisses on his cheek. Being raised in Pureblood society, where rigid formalities were far more common than familiar gestures, had caused him to view anything beyond a handshake or offering ones elbow to be superfluous and annoying.

He had staunchly held to those beliefs until he’d hit puberty. More precisely, until the first time he and Pansy snuck into a broom closet on their way back to the dungeons. Obviously, snogging someone meant you had to touch them, and he had discovered that he didn’t mind it too awfully in those circumstances. Though, admittedly, most of the touching he and Pansy did was fumbling and awkward, neither one of them really knowing quite what to do with their hands, and he found he didn’t enjoy her grabbing his face, or mussing his hair. What he truly despised, though, was her abhorrent attempts to keep touching him after they’d left the confines of said closet. Apparently, in her mind, kissing him meant she then had the right to drape herself all over him whenever she pleased.

As any hormone-driven young wizard would have done, Draco had tolerated her attentions just enough to keep her happy so that she wouldn’t turn him down when another opportunity in a dimly-lit corner presented itself. He’d flinch and grimace the second he felt her snake her arm through his, or grind his teeth when she played with his hair, and normally after counting to ten he’d extract himself from her clutches. He absolutely refused to allow her to sit on his lap, however, and the only time he’d ever played along with her groping nonsense for a prolonged period of time was on the train at the start of Sixth Year, mostly to put on a show for Potter, who he had known was hiding in the luggage rack.

No, he was not a touchy-feely person, although living with so many Gryffindors had significantly heightened his tolerance for such gestures. It seemed like high-fives, fist-bumps, shoulder punches, and arms slung around necks were an additional language to the scarlet and gold clan, with hugs thrown in there for good measure every so often. And that was just the blokes. Girls from all three of the other houses were far more physically interactive than those of his former lair. They played with each other’s hair, laid their heads in one another’s laps, even held hands or linked arms as they walked down the corridor. It displayed a closeness he’d never experienced before and took quite a while for him to get used to, if he was honest.

When it came to actual couples who were in dating relationships, Draco used to sneer at and mock any overt displays of affection. Regardless of the fact that he now considered Weasley somewhat of a friend, memories of him slobbering all over the Brown girl during Sixth Year still made him gag. Holding hands always seemed childish and clingy, and a bloke who constantly walked around with his arm flung around his girlfriend’s shoulders seemed to be sending out some Neanderthalic message to any other male who might approach “his woman”. He couldn’t understand the need to constantly be touching someone, nor could he conjure up any desire to experience it. He enjoyed his personal space and was content to keep at least a few inches between himself and his fellow magical beings. Or at least he always had been, until recently.

Since the Valentine’s Day party, he had noticed an alarming upswing in his desire for physical contact, particularly with one specific witch. It wasn’t even about snogging her; which was extremely enjoyable whenever they found themselves in a private moment; but it was the non-snogging contact that was driving him barmy. When she wasn’t in the room, he was fine, but as soon as she entered his line of sight, it was as if every fiber of his being strained to be as close to her as possible. He had lost count of the number of times he’d snatched his hand away as it had crept closer to her, seemingly of its own accord. It wasn’t like he was trying to grope her or anything, nothing indecent by any means. Simply seeing her hand on top of the desk made him want to hold it; watching a curl fall into her face gave him the urge to twirl it around his finger; sitting next to her on the couch set off an impulse to pull her in close and tuck her into his side. Each and every one of these inclinations made him feel like he was going slightly mad, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could control himself before he gave in and became one of those suffocating idiots he used to loath.

It was due to this ridiculous notion of propriety and respectable distances, and not wanting to be a grabby oaf, and the fact that he simply didn’t do things like that, that he was currently, literally, sitting on his hands on the couch in front of the fire in the Room, next to his favorite brunette, while she studiously perused the textbook in her lap. Her legs were crossed under her and she was wrapping one of her wayward curls around and around her finger as she read, and Draco was absolutely itching to touch her. He wanted to play with her delicate fingers and interlace them with his own. He wanted to run his thumb down the smooth column of the nape of her neck. He wanted to tug her hair out of the wonky bun on top of her head so he could bury his fingers in her soft curls. He wanted to scoop her up into his lap and snog her breathless; wanted to wrap his arms around her and never let go. His elitist upbringing and detached demeanor had all gone out the window the first time Hermione kissed him apparently, because now, being close to her seemed to be the only thought taking up residence in his previously impressive brain.

He was just trying to think of a way to tear her attention away from her homework when she closed the book with a satisfied “thud” and set it on the floor.

“Done,” she announced with a smile as she stretched a little this way and that, after being in one spot for so long. Instead of making a move to go anywhere, however, Hermione turned slightly towards him and rested her cheek on his shoulder, leaning her knees over in his direction and stifling a yawn. Before he could even consider his reaction, he had wrapped his arm around her, tugging her a little closer, and placed his other hand on top of one of her knees. She responded by placing one of her hands on top of his and began tracing random patterns on the back of it.

He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if his Sixth-Year-self had walked in on a scene like this, he would have scoffed at the poor, ridiculous sod and wondered where he’d left his manhood, and yet, he couldn’t care less. Right here, in this moment, he was completely content, and he didn’t care how sappy or clingy or vomit-inducing anyone else might think it to be. He was happy, genuinely happy, and it had everything to do with the petite witch curled up at his side. Seeing as there currently wasn’t anyone around to witness his total abandonment of ingrained decorum, he pressed his lips to the side of her head and inhaled the sweet scent of her shampoo.  

“You’re quiet,” she observed, tilting her head to study his face. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, smiling down at her. “Everything is perfect.” He bent his head and kissed her on the tip of her nose, causing her to giggle.

“I think I’m finally caught up on everything. The party took up more of my time than I’d anticipated, but I think I’m back on schedule now.” She started to lean forward to glance at her color-coded study chart on the floor next to her textbook, but he gently grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back, wrapping his arms securely around her so she couldn’t get away.

“Draco,” she giggled again, “what are you doing?”

“Homework time is over,” he mumbled into her shoulder, reveling in the feel of her in his arms.

Hermione huffed in mock-indignation. “If I fail my Defense test later this week,” but he cut her off before she could finish what would surely have been some sort of warning or mild threat.

“Like you would fail anything, ever.” She started to protest, but he silenced her with a finger pressed to her lips and shifted so his face was right in front of hers. “You’ll have plenty of time to study again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. You’ve been at it all evening and now it’s time to focus your attention on something else.” The whole time he’d been talking, her eyes had drifted back and forth between his eyes and his lips, and when he removed his finger, freeing her to speak again, she shifted a little closer.

“And what would that something else be?” she whispered.

Without answering, he simply leaned forward and kissed her and was once again filled with a sense of rightness and completion and all the warm fuzzy feelings he swore he’d never succumb to, and the only thought in his brain was that he wanted repeated moments like this for the rest of his life. He wanted her for the rest of his life.

That thought froze him on the spot. It was like a bolt of lightning had struck him and he fought to keep his hands from shaking as he drew back from their kiss. Her eyes were just fluttering open when he stood abruptly, muttering something about needing to use the restroom, and walked as fast as he could towards the boy’s bath without looking like he was running from a stampeding hippogriff. Once inside the mercifully empty space, he began pacing the length of the tiled room, trying to force his thoughts into some semblance of order.

For the rest of his life?

Had he seriously thought that? Yes, yes he had. Did he mean it? He pondered that for a few seconds. He tried to envision his life after Hogwarts. He knew he would get a job, even if he didn’t have the slightest clue what that job might be at the moment. He knew he eventually wanted a house of his own. As much as he loved his mother, he had no desire to live in the Manor permanently. He also knew that someday he’d like to have children, or at least one child, as was his family’s tradition. As he considered these possibilities, the person by his side was always the same beautiful, curly-haired, brown-eyed witch that was sitting on the couch, probably wondering if he’d gone round the bend, the way he’d fled from her side. This was not the first time he’d had a thought like this, but it still hit him like a bludger out of nowhere, mostly because each subsequent time this errant daydream snuck up on him, it only solidified his resolve for it to become a reality, and that very notion terrified the stuffing out of him.

I’m eighteen, for Salazar’s sake.

He scrubbed his face with his hands as if to wipe away the far-too-vivid images in his mind, or the longing they stirred in his soul. The rational side of his brain had no desire to get married straight out of school, and wanted to have something – a substantial something – to offer his witch before he ever broached the subject with her. He needed to have a steady income and a place to live, for starters. He had no intention of simply living off his family’s estate; roaming the halls of his abode day in and day out would drive him mad. Even though his pragmatic nature stood firm on these points, the other side of his apparently besotted and useless brain only whinged at the prospect of not being able to be with her every day. Merlin, he was a mess. A complete and utterly ridiculous mess, and he felt like if he didn’t do something to solidify at least a tiny bit of a promise of a future with her, he’d go barmy before he made it to breakfast tomorrow morning.

Refusing to argue with himself any longer, he marched out of the loo and straight back to the couch, where Hermione was still sitting, nibbling nervously on her lower lip and watching anxiously for him to return. A flash of relief crossed her face before her brows furrowed in concern at the serious look on his face and the determined posture that carried him across the Room. Her eyes didn’t leave his face as he sat back down in the spot he’d vacated, turning to face her fully and taking both of her hands in his own, watching as their fingers wove into one another’s.

“Hermione,” he began, only to immediately stop when he heard her inhale sharply. He glanced up to see her eyes widen with a questioning look. While he was more comfortable using her given name as of late, he tended to reserve it for important moments, a habit she was clearly aware of. He smiled then, softening his features, which seemed to set her at ease as the worry faded from her expression, leaving it open and affectionate. Staring into the eyes he adored, he felt his heart begin thudding in his chest and his mouth went dryer than a desert, but by Godric he was going to get this out.

He started again, “Hermione, I know we’ve only been together a short while, but there’s something I need to tell you, and I really hope it doesn’t send you running for the hills.” He watched her intently, but her expression didn’t change. She simply gave a small nod, inviting him to continue. “I know I’ve told you how much I appreciate you, and enjoy spending time with you. I hope you know, too, how deeply I value your friendship, and that you believe me when I tell you all the things I admire about you. But I need you to know that it’s more than that, that this is more than just a dating relationship, at least for me.” Her gaze turned slightly more thoughtful, as if trying to gauge where he was going with this. By now, his heart was positively trying to climb up his throat and his hands were embarrassingly clammy, but he didn’t care.

“I realize we’re still rather young, and we’ve no idea what’s going to happen once we leave this place, but I have every intention of pursuing you outside the castle walls. You have become such a huge part of my life, the very best part, and I can’t imagine it without you. I don’t want to imagine it without you.” He saw her eyes start to swim with tears and had to force a swallow around the lump in his throat. “I like you, Hermione Granger, a whole lot, more than I can even begin to explain. In fact, to be entirely honest, Merlin this sounds insane, but I’m pretty sure I love you.” Her eyes flew wide at that and he forged ahead. “So…so that’s that. I love you, and I needed you to know.”

He took a huge breath, feeling like he’d run a marathon, and also feeling rather sheepish about his uncharacteristically sappy bout of word-vomit, but all his insecurities vanished a second later when she crashed her lips into his, her hands holding onto either side of his face, the force of her action causing him to thump backwards against the arm of the couch. It was all he could do to wrap his arms around her as she showered his face and neck with kisses for several heartbeats, feeling rather amused at her exuberance, and extremely pleased that his profession had been so well-received.

When she righted herself, she wiped the tears that had fallen on her cheeks with the cuff of her sleeve and sat back to look at him. Her eyes were still glassy, and her nose was a tiny bit pink, but he thought she was perfect all the same. She huffed a deep breath and gazed at him with obvious, blissful elation.

“Do you really?” she asked quietly, her brown orbs pinning him with a steady yet wondering stare. He nodded, a small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He ran his knuckles gently down the side of her face and took her hand again. “That’s good, then,” she continued, “because I’m pretty sure I love you, too.”

If Draco had thought his heart was full before, it was ready to burst now. He had hoped she would return his affections, but had no idea how much it would actually mean to hear her say it, and now that she had, he felt his own eyes start to sting. Refusing to sink further into his feelings than he already had, he simply gathered her up in his arms and pulled her against him in an embrace. He pressed his lips to the top of her head, blinking furiously to clear his vision and trying to take steadying breaths to calm his racing heart. She loved him. When he felt like he could speak without choking, he gently teased.

“So, we’re pretty sure about this?”

Hermione chuckled, “Yes, almost positive, but you know, I’ve never really been in love before, so I didn’t want to just assume that’s what was going on here.” She tilted her head back to look at him. “Will you settle for 98% sure?”

“Where’s the other 2%?” he grumbled.

“Margin of error, room for improvement, that sort of thing, you know,” she shrugged, a teasing glint in her eyes.

“Well, as long as I get to pick what area to improve upon,” he didn’t finish his statement, and instead claimed her lips once more, deciding that this would be a good place to start.

Chapter Text

The snow was just beginning to melt on the castle grounds, and the tiniest whiff of Spring could be detected in the air every once in a while, if one was paying attention to that sort of thing. And someone most certainly was. In fact, over a dozen, very enthusiastic, ready-to-start-flying-again someones were chomping at the bit to get back out on the Quidditch pitch with their fearless leader.

The First Years still met during the winter months, using the empty room on the ground floor where Firenze had held his lessons a few years back. The Headmistress had allowed the magic that had transformed the room into an outdoor space to stand, and although it wasn’t nearly as large as the pitch, it at least gave the feel of being outside and provided enough room for small group practices and maneuvering demonstrations. When they weren’t taking turns learning to roll or zig-zag, the group would sit in a circle in the middle of the enchanted clearing and watch as Draco charmed a team of Quidditch figures (his own from when he was a child) to play out different strategies and fly in formation.

Their volunteer instructor had been pleasantly surprised at the level of enthusiasm they had all shown over discussing the history and rules of the game. While he had always been fascinated by the sport, he knew not everyone shared that interest, especially not his favorite witch. Whenever the topic came up in conversation around the dinner table, a glazed look would come over her face with almost comical immediacy and he knew she was off somewhere else in her mind. He wasn’t bothered, though. He didn’t share her passion for freeing house elves, or color-coded study schedules, so he figured they were even. The first time she had found him preparing for one of these indoor sessions, however, she commented about his “lesson plans” and that took him by surprise. Granted, he was sitting at one of the round tables in the common area, surrounded by books and parchment, and every so often would flick his wand and send a few of the figures into some sort of play, which he then would furiously scribble notes about, in preparation for what he would be sharing next time they all met.

As he took in the young faces before him, Draco was once again struck with how vastly different this school year was from all his others, and how glad he was for it. He had grown surprisingly fond of this gaggle of eleven and twelve-year-olds and knew they were going to go berserk at the announcement he was about to make.

“All right, settle down, settle down,” he hollered good-naturedly and gestured for them to take a seat on the grassy floor of their classroom. “Got some news for you today before we discuss the World Cup of 1997. First, this will be the last time we meet in here.” Wide eyes and gasps of dismay met his statement and he couldn’t hide his grin as he continued, “We’ll be back on the pitch next week.” As he had expected, they exploded. Several of the boys had rocketed up from their sitting position and were jumping around, pumping their fists in the air. “Yes, yes, quite exciting,” he chortled as they settled back down. “But that’s not the only news. I’ve been given permission from Headmistress McGonagall to let you form two teams and play an actual game.” He covered his ears as he finished speaking, knowing what was about to happen, and he was right. For a split second, there was complete silence as mouths dropped open and eyes bugged. And then they lost their minds. Every single one of his First Years was on their feet, whooping and cheering and hugging their friends. Christopher had tackled him around the waist with a vice-like grip, and Olivia was wringing his arm and repeatedly shrieking “Really?”

He allowed the insanity to continue for a half-minute longer before shooting off gold sparks with his wand to get their attention once more. As they all flopped back down on the ground, he grinned at their exuberant faces and started to explain the plans he’d made. The idea had come to him a few weeks prior, but he had seriously doubted that McGonagall would allow it. Amazingly, she not only supported his scheme, but offered Madam Hooch to referee, and said that if things went well, perhaps they could even play a match for the rest of the school to attend. Draco was dead chuffed and couldn’t wait to tell the younger students. He knew they weren’t anywhere near as fluid or coordinated as older players, and they hadn’t even begun to practice defensive maneuvers, which were crucial to a match, but it was more about giving them a chance to try than anything else. He knew they would take this opportunity seriously and practice hard for it, and that was all he asked of them.

They spent the rest of their time together discussing the logistics of teams, positions, and practices, never once broaching the topic of the World Cup he’d prepared for that day. He chuckled and shook his head as he gathered up his bag full of supplies, listening to their excited chatter as they left the room. He’d just have to save that for a rainy day, he supposed.

 

ooOoo

 

Professor Slughorn wove his portly self in and out of the rows of desks in his Potions classroom, leaning over cauldrons, perusing notes, and observing the ten students currently occupied with the brewing of one of the most intricate recipes he’d ever given them: Intentus

The potion consisted of fourteen different ingredients, most measured in miniscule amounts, and the bulk of its substance containing a combination of boiled Devil’s Snare vines and diluted manticore blood, neither of which were quick to process. If the potion was brewed correctly, Intentus worked like a combination of Veritaserum and Felix Felicis.

It did not force one to speak the truth, or give them luck in all their endeavors. Instead, whoever drank the prescribed dosage would be able to tell the true intentions of anyone they interacted with over a specific period of time. The potion would basically give them the ability to know someone’s innermost desires, although not reading their mind, and would also grant them a limited amount of power in steering the other person in a certain direction. In essence, it gave the imbiber heightened intuition and powers of persuasion.

This particular potion was not as well-known as many of the others Slughorn had assigned his most advanced class, but he felt it was an important one for them to learn. Unlike its more potent counterparts, Intentus was not illegal or banned in any way, mostly because it did not possess the strength to so drastically alter one’s behavior like the other two potions did. The only side effect of taking too much was a lingering fixation on whoever the witch or wizard was trying to “read,” and a slightly foggy feeling until it left their system completely.

The professor was pleased to see everyone’s cauldrons contained similar shades of mint green liquid, which meant they were all successful so far. Granted, they still had quite a bit to go, but he had good faith in each of them that they would accomplish the task. While the verbose wizard had previously focused his attentions on the students he considered to be most promising, or most influential in their future endeavors, the disastrous school year prior had distinctly shaken his preconceived notions and ideologies to their core. He had spent less time teaching potions and more time comforting terrified first years, or healing battered rebels, or meeting secretly with fellow faculty who opposed Voldemort’s newly appointed minions, than he could account for. All he knew at the end was that titles and positions and long-revered names meant nothing. Blood status or the size of a Gringott’s vault meant nothing. Whether someone was famous, or they had never been heard of beyond their home village meant nothing.

What did matter, he understood more clearly than he’d ever considered necessary or possible, was what one believed in and how they acted on it. The bravery and compassion he had witnessed in so many of his students last year had impressed him, and their acts of selflessness brought more than a little shame on him. He had stood on the sidelines, thinking only of himself, for far too long, afraid of drawing negative attention and petrified of the possible consequences should that have happened. When the dust settled, he had wallowed in self-degradation as he convalesced and determined it was time to make some changes. He had accepted Minerva’s offer to stay on with more enthusiasm than she’d obviously expected, if her raised eyebrows were any indication, and decided from that moment on to invest his time on all of his students equally, and to focus on himself far less.

The results of this change of heart did not disappoint. His younger students were much more relaxed around him, and his older charges, though skeptical at first, quickly warmed to his inclusive attempts and often sought him out beyond the classroom. The group of Eighth Years currently under his watchful eye, however, were his favorite. He had intentionally spent a portion of each class period during the first few months of school engaged each of them individually as they worked. Some of them were more known to him than others already, of course, like Miss Granger, or Mr. Longbottom, although much of that information was what everyone knew due to the nature of their involvement in the downfall of the Dark Lord. He chose to set those bits of biography aside as he approached them, however, wanting to get to know them as the young adults they were, not as the Wizarding World perceived them.

Over the months, Slughorn had learned that Neville was a dab hand at herbology, and that he was passionate about finding uses for magical plants that could improve the care of those suffering long-term effects of curses. He realized that Hermione’s ability to recite portions of textbooks verbatim was not, as he had unfortunately assumed, based on a desire to best her fellow classmates, but instead was simply part of her deep love of knowledge and her insatiable need to understand the way things worked. Likewise, his conversation with Dean taught him the young man was an avid sports enthusiast, both in the Muggle and Magical world, and that he desired to pursue a career in sports commentary or journalism in the future. Most surprising, however, were his encounters with Draco, who not only proved to be an excellent potioneer, but had also completely shed the arrogant and sneering persona he had worn like a suit of armor in previous years. Slughorn grudgingly admitted to himself that he had written the boy off as a pompous, entitled bully, whose family connection to Voldemort had caused the professor to tolerate him as a student, but dismiss him entirely as a person.

From their brief but deeper-than-surface-level conversations, Slughorn could clearly tell he was not the only one to return to the castle that year with a drastically altered heart. He also started to notice partway through the Fall Term that the tall blonde seemed to be developing a bit of an attachment to the lovely Muggle-born he often shared a table with, and this observation was solidified after the holiday break when classes resumed. Whereas they previously might have worked with one another, or with other classmates, now they only shared a table together. They also appeared to be more familiar with one another, exchanging knowing glances, working together in tandem as if they knew the next move the other would make. He’d even spotted the young man reaching for his partner’s hand under the table a time or two, which had made him smile. He was a bit of a romantic himself, truth be told.

As the lesson came to a close, each cauldron was placed on a shelf under a stasis charm until their next class. The professor sent them out the door with a genial wave, and watched as the unlikely couple he’d grown rather fond of headed out together.

Once in the corridor, Draco took Hermione’s hand as they walked towards the stairs.

“I’m heading to the library to meet Allison for our weekly catch-up before I go back to the Room for dinner. What’s your afternoon look like?”

“I’m due to meet Christopher in his Common Room for a game of chess,” Draco gave a dry chuckle. “I can honestly say I never envisioned myself ever willingly entering the Hufflepuff’s dormitory.” He snorted, “If my Second Year self could see me now, he’d be completely horrified.” They both chuckled at that, knowing he wasn’t wrong.

“I suppose I never thought I’d enjoy spending time with little Slytherins either, much less consider one of them my friend,” she admitted, thinking about her young charge.

“Is it awful of me to be thankful for the things that happened?” Draco had stopped walking and turned to face Hermione fully.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not thankful that people died, Merlin no,” he shook his head vehemently, hoping she understood what he was trying to say. “But if the war hadn’t been waged, then nothing would have changed, would it? We would have graduated last year and simply gone on with our lives, never knowing…never having…” His voice faltered as he took in the witch before him. He could not imagine his life without her, and he knew they would never have crossed paths this way if the atrocities last year wrought had not occurred. He also felt a pang in his gut thinking about never meeting his First Years, or taking on their flying lessons, or even being back at Hogwarts for this year at all. He still felt horribly guilty for his part in the war, but he couldn’t help feeling more grateful than he could ever put into words.

As he met the chocolate-brown eyes that were studying him with such a deep level understanding and compassion, he knew he didn’t have to explain himself further. Hermione pushed up on her tiptoes and kissed him, her hand squeezing his more tightly. When she lowered herself again, her eyes were shining and a soft smile graced her features.

“Christopher will be waiting,” she tilted her head towards the stairs.

He nodded, “Allison, too.”

They made their way to the Entrance Hall, where Draco gave her a quick hug before heading off for the other set of stairs that would take him down to the Hufflepuff dorms, and Hermione began to ascend the ones that would take her to the library. Partway down the empty hallway, she spotted a figure heading her way. She didn’t think anything of it until she recognized who it was and inwardly groaned.

“Well, if it isn’t the Gryffindor Princess,” Adrian Pucey greeted her from several yards away. He strutted up to her as if he owned the place, and stopped directly in front of her, his eyes roving over her as they had done during their previous encounter. The act made her skin itch, regardless of the appreciation infused into his leer.

“Hello, Adrian,” she responded politely, thankful for her armload of books, otherwise she would have already pulled out her wand, which there really was no need for and she didn’t want him to know how much he got under her skin.

“Where are you off to, all by your lonesome?” he smirked and quirked a brow in what she was sure he felt was a flirtatious way.

“I’m meeting one of my First Years in the library.”

“One of your First Years?” he looked confused for a moment, but recovered quickly. “Ah, yes, the mentoring program, right?” He sneered as he said it, making it clear that he didn’t find much worth in the idea. “Not sure what McGonagall is trying to accomplish with that, but if it makes her happy,” he shrugged as if he was personally placating her by going along with it.

“It’s actually a brilliant idea, and has been extremely successful,” she bit out and then clamped her mouth shut, not wanting to continue the conversation. He didn’t seem to care that her tone was less than inviting.

“Yes, yes,” he waved a hand dismissively, “house unity and all that. Fantastic. I’m glad you’re enjoying it at least.” Suddenly the gleam in his eye was back and she didn’t like it. “You know, Hermione, I’d love to hear more about how well this endeavor is going. Perhaps you’d have dinner with me this evening? I should be done with my meeting with the Board in time.” Once again, his eyes traveled down her length and back up again, a smirk on his lips.

“Oh, thank you for the invitation, but I already have plans,” she willed her voice to remain steady as she considered the multiple ways she could hex the pompous wanker.

He chuckled, “Plans? Those plans wouldn’t happen to include a former housemate of mine, would they?” Her eyes narrowed before she could stop herself and he could tell he’d hit a nerve. “Malfoy still trying to gain your affections? You know, just because he’s in your year doesn’t mean you have to give him the time of day. You could have your pick of Wizarding society, being the Golden Girl and all.” He took a step closer, as if getting ready to tell her a secret, leaning down slightly so his face was only inches from her own.

“I’m sure a witch such as yourself would appreciated the experience someone outside the school walls could offer,” he twirled one of the curls near her shoulder around his finger and lowered his voice so it almost came out as a snarl. “I’d be more than happy to show you,” but before he could continue whatever abhorrent thought his mind had conjured, they were mercifully interrupted.

“Miss Granger, I was just looking for you,” Professor Slughorn was huffing and puffing his way down the corridor, and Hermione had never been so happy to see the Potions Master in her life. Thank Godric, I’m saved!

 She immediately took a giant step back from Adrian, forcing him to let go of her hair and stand up straight again as he scowled at the stout wizard who had halted beside them.

“What did you need, Professor?” Hermione turned to face him and prayed to all the founders that he would see the desperation in her eyes and remove her from the situation at once.

“Your essay on the Inentus potion,” he began, nodding firmly at her as if answering her unspoken plea. “I wanted to discuss the final paragraph. Have you considered the merits of Borage’s theory on using a shrivelfig? There’s a chapter on that very subject in a comprehensive guide that Madam Pince has only recently acquired.” He gestured in the direction of the library, “We can take a look now if you have time?”

Hermione tried not to exhale a sigh of relief too loudly, but nodded enthusiastically, “I was just heading to the library anyway, so that would be fine.”

“How fortuitous,” Slughorn chuckled in his dramatic way, as if the stars had aligned just for him. “I hope you don’t mind, Mister…” He eyed Adrian suspiciously, unsure who he was or why he was there in the first place, but definitely not liking the way the younger wizard seemed to be imposing himself on Hermione.

“Pucey,” Adrian grit out, clearly annoyed, “Adrian Pucey. I’m on the school’s Board of Governors.” He puffed up a little, as if this impressive bit of information should put the older man in his place.

“Ah, of course, there’s a meeting today, isn’t there?” Adrian scowled at the fact that Slughorn knew his purpose in the castle. “Don’t want to keep the others waiting, do you?” And with that, the Potion’s Master gently placed his hand on Hermione’s arm and steered her around the intruder. She bit the inside of her cheek at the look of annoyance on the former-Slytherin’s face and simply called a cheerful “Bye!” over her shoulder as she ambled down the hall with her professor.

Once they reached the library doors, she turned to make sure Adrian was well and gone before turning a beaming smile on her Good Samaritan.

“Professor,” she met his concerned gaze with mischief dancing in her eyes, “You know we haven’t written an essay on that potion. We haven’t even finished brewing it!”

He winked conspiratorially and tilted his head, “Nor would Borage ever suggest using a shrivelfig for such a task.” They both chuckled and Hermione shifted the books in her arms to free one of her hands so she could place it on his arm.

“Thank you, Professor, your timing could not have been more perfect,” she gave it a small squeeze as a genuine smile spread across her face.

“Yes, well, you’re very welcome, my dear,” he seemed slightly embarrassed by her earnest gratitude but very pleased to have been of some help. “Wouldn’t want anything to come between you and Mr. Malfoy, now would I?” Her eyes widened at his observation as he continued. "You two work so very well together, your potions are always top notch.” He studied her thoughtfully for a moment before going on, “It’s important to acknowledge when we’ve found a good partner. It’d be a shame to miss out on what you two might be able to accomplish in the future.” He gave her a knowing look and a fond smile as he patted her hand. “Off you go,” and with that he turned away and set off back down the corridor, leaving Hermione to wonder if he was only talking about their potions lessons anymore.

Chapter Text

Bill and Fleur entered the Eighth Year dorm one Saturday night in March to unusual silence. All ten of the housemates were gathered around the coffee table, looking rather tense and worried, and no one was talking. In the center of the table was what appeared to be a tall stack of wooden blocks that was leaning ever so slightly to one side. As the couple cautiously approached, so as not to interfere with whatever was going on, Anthony leaned forward and poked at one of the blocks in the middle of the tower. It wiggled loosely, and he grinned before carefully pulling the brick out of its place and setting it on top of the wobbly structure. A collective sigh of relief swept through the group and Bill took the opportunity to greet them all.

“So, what’s this, then?”

“Jenga,” replied Dean. “You stack the blocks a certain way, and then have to take turns removing them and building it higher, without knocking the whole thing down.”

“This is our third round,” explained Hannah. “Whoever causes it to fall is out of the next game. So far, Padma and Neville are done.” She nodded towards one of the couches where Neville was perched on the edge of his seat, still clearly invested in the game, while Padma was flipping through a magazine, only occasionally glancing at the rest of the group.

Bill and Fleur moved closer to the table in order to see better, just as Luna successfully slid a block from the lower half of the tower and placed it next to Anthony’s on top. For a heartbeat or two, the tower swayed but didn’t fall, allowing Luna to huff out a breath she’d been holding, while flapping her hands to alleviate some nervous energy.

“It’s harder than it looks,” the former Ravenclaw admitted. “If you touch a block, you have to remove it or forfeit your turn. You can’t go around prodding them, trying to see which ones are loose. You have to guess.”

“That’s how I lost,” grumbled Neville in mock irritation, earning a chuckle from the group at large.

“Can I give it a go?” asked Bill.

“Sure!” Hermione scooted over so both he and Fleur could stand right next to the table. She was next after Luna, and then the newcomers could try, so long as she didn’t pick the wrong block. She leaned around, trying to see the other side of the column. She settled on a piece almost exactly in the middle and just as she was about to put her finger on it, was interrupted.

“Sure you want to do that?” drawled Draco from across the table. Her eyes flickered up to his and the teasing glint they held. She smirked at him and gently pushed the block out of its current home.

“Yes, I’m sure,” she winked at him and delicately placed her piece on the uppermost level, causing it to shift again, as it had after Luna’s move.

Bill rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he studied the pillar before him. He tilted his head towards his wife asking, “What d’you think?”

Fleur had also been considering the pile of wooden pieces thoughtfully, her brows furrowed and her arms crossed. “Maybe somezhing near here?” she gestured to a few rows below where Hermione had just taken one from. “Nozhing too close to zhe bottom, and nozhing zhat already has another missing.”

Bill nodded and went for a brick in the area she had suggested, pleased to note that it was loose enough to slide out easily. As he raised his hand to set it on top, Dean instructed him.

“Turn it the opposite way as the row beneath it.”

The red-head nodded and carefully set it down. Amazingly, the tower didn’t budge and everyone gave a polite round of applause which their Head of House met with a theatrical bow. Fleur pursed her lips and bent down to get a closer look at some of the lower levels. After a few seconds, she nudged a piece further down than Bill’s, which surprisingly shifted without resistance. She had to raise up on tiptoe to set it on top, and once she completed her turn, she clasped her hands in front of herself, her eyes going wide.

“Zhat was much too stressful! Zhis is supposed to be a game?” she asked in mild disbelief, garnering a laugh from everyone around her.

Play continued around the table until Draco poked at a brick that apparently wasn’t ready to move and the whole structure came crashing down. Good-natured groans filled the air as everyone set about picking up the fallen pieces, many of which had disappeared under couches and chairs. As Dean set about restacking the blocks for the next game, Bill addressed the group.

“I’ve been talking with McGonagall about getting permission to bring you all on a bit of a field trip that would coincide with what we’ve been studying in our Defense class.” This grabbed everyone’s attention, as none of them had ever heard of a class leaving the castle for further instruction before. Knowing they would want all the details, Bill continued. “One of the blokes on my team in Egypt has recently returned to Gringotts with several heavily cursed objects. There are so many layers of magic surrounding them, that a specially modified room has been created to contain them while the curse-breakers work to remove the spells. I told McGonagall I thought it would be a great opportunity for you lot to see what dealing with dark magic looks like, and the level of skill it takes to do what these guys do. She agreed.”

Murmurs of interest and intrigue broke out across the housemates as they took in this interesting news. As far as they knew, Professor Moody (who wasn’t really Professor Moody) had been the only teacher to show them the power of the Dark Arts in class. Snape had focused more on nonverbal spells and combatting curses, and the Carrows had simply inflicted them on their students, not bothering to teach much of anything at all. Bill’s idea was unprecedented on several levels, and the Eighth Years were both excited for the opportunity, and impressed that he’d been able to pull it off.

“When will we go?” asked Theo.

“Next Friday. I’ve gotten permission to take you off grounds after breakfast, and have to make sure you’re back before dinner. We will be flooing directly from McGonagall’s office to the curse-breaking office in Gringotts. Just there and back, no side trips.” His blue eyes twinkled as he imagined a least one or two of the students before him had probably already been considering another stop or two they’d like to make while in London, but that wasn’t part of the itinerary. While he had no problem giving them some free time, it had taken considerable persuasion to get the whole thing set up as it was, and he didn’t want to give McGonagall any reason to regret granting her permission for it.

“So, that’s that,” he announced, wrapping his arm around his lovely wife’s shoulders and nodding at his charges. “I’ll remind you towards the end of the week, but if you have any questions, just come see me after class.” A chorus of thanks followed the couple as they made their way to the door, and once it closed securely behind them, unrestrained conversation broke out among the excited students.

“I can’t believe it!”

“This has to be a first at Hogwarts.”

“I wonder how they’re testing the objects?”

“How close d’you think they’ll let us get?”

“Wonder what we’ll do for lunch?”

“Really? That’s all you got out of Bill’s announcement?”

As the housemates continued to speculate about their upcoming adventure, Draco sank quietly into one of the chairs by the fireplace, a dozen thoughts running through his mind. Knowing the restrictions of his sentencing, he wondered if he would be allowed to go on this outing, since technically he was only supposed to travel internationally from home to school and back again. He also was more than a little concerned about being out in public for the first time, even if it was just inside the bank. The goblins probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to see him, since they’d never liked his father, and any other patrons would probably hex him on the spot. As he gazed at the flames flickering in the hearth, his brow furrowed in consideration, he felt a familiar hand card through his hair and looked up to see Hermione watching him with concern clearly written on her face.

“You alright?” she asked softly.

He nodded and quirked a small smile. She came around the chair and settled herself on the floor in front of him, angling towards the fire and resting against his leg. She leaned her head on his knee and spoke without looking at him.

“You’re worried about it, aren’t you? About going into London, being seen in public?”

He didn’t know why he was surprised by her intuition. She always seemed to know exactly what was going on inside his head, at least in moments like this. There were other times, when his thoughts were far from polite or modest when it came to her, and she seemed completely oblivious to the effect she had on him. He was thankful for that, but often wondered how she could be so deeply in tune with him on so many levels, reading him like a book, and yet have no idea how much he wanted her. It was as if she didn’t believe she could warrant that sort of reaction, which he found absurd, and had definite plans to prove otherwise at some point…eventually…in the not too distant future, he hoped.

In the meantime, however, his thoughts were dragged back to the pensive silence he was sitting in while she patiently waited for him to find the words to explain the doubts and misgivings swirling in his brain.

“A little, yeah,” he admitted as he reached down to play with one of her curls.

“Talk to Bill,” she suggested. “He’ll understand, and it sounds like he may even already have it all figured out so we won’t have to interact with many people.”

“If I get to go at all,” he voiced his other major concern.

“I don’t think he would have made the announcement in front of you if he wasn’t including you,” she tilted her face up to meet his gaze. “Bill’s not tactless that way.”

Draco hummed in agreement, not having considered that angle, and allowed himself to be hopeful about the whole thing. It really would be an amazing opportunity, and he didn’t want to miss out. He decided he would talk to his Head after their next class to see if he had any thoughts about keeping a low profile. Having set his mind on that, he felt some of the tension leave him and shifted his focus to the wonderful witch in front of him. Leaning over, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and rested his chin on her head.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

“For what?”

“For getting me out of my head.” He gave a wry chuckle. “For somehow always knowing what’s dragging me down. For wanting to help.” He planted a kiss on top of her curls and she shifted to look up at him, her eyes warm and full of a sparkle he had noticed she reserved for him alone.

“You’re welcome,” she replied softly.

He kissed her on the tip of her nose, causing a giggle he knew would come forth, and then leaned further to place one on her lips. Just as she tilted her head back to deepen it, they were reminded they weren’t alone.

“Oi! We’re starting the next round!” Theo’s voice boomed across the room, startling the pair and they jumped apart, grinning sheepishly at their housemates who all burst into laughter at their reaction.

Hermione pushed herself up off the floor with a smirk. “Guess I’m being summoned.” She headed back to the circle around the coffee table, while Draco, who had lost the previous round and was out of the game, plunked himself down on the couch next to Neville. The two wizards launched into a discussion about the merits of trying to pull bricks from the middle versus the bottom of the tower, taking bets on who would be the next to lose, and all the tall blonde’s worries about the upcoming excursion were happily forgotten.

Chapter Text

Malfoy,

I’ve just returned from Redland and getting Alcott set up in a flat there. He is right across the street from the Grangers, and has already introduced himself to them. We were unpacking his things and happened to see Edward go out to his mailbox (where Muggles get their mail – everyone has one outside their house – anyway) and decided to go say hello. I was worried they might recognize me, but he said I would’ve been erased with all of Hermione’s memories, and it seems he was right. Edward totally bought Alcott’s line that I’m his great-nephew, and that I’ll probably be visiting from time to time. Jeanette came out while we were talking, so she met him, too, and they’ve all made plans to have dinner tomorrow night. Apparently Edward is going fishing in the morning, which means they’ll have a big fry-up and were more than happy to have their new neighbor join them. Alcott was very pleased with how quickly it all fell into place, and the fact that he didn’t have to confund them to gain an invitation. I just had to keep reminding myself to call them “Wendell and Monica” which was weird. But hopefully that will only be for the next few months.

While I was gone, the portrait artist confirmed the commissions for Snape’s and Cedric’s paintings and said we should be able to deliver the one to the Diggorys by the end of next week. I’ll be home for several weeks now, unless Alcott needs me, but he knows he can owl or floo-call anytime. I left several memories for him, and a pensieve, as well as three photo albums from the Granger’s house. I’m really hoping Hermione doesn’t hate me for basically breaking into her childhood home and stealing some of her stuff. I just keep adding to the list of things I’m going to have to ask her to forgive me for when this is all over. I’m planning to head back to Redland the third week of March, just to check in on the progress Alcott is making. He said it’s easier to see it first-hand than to read it in letters, although he will keep me updated that way, too.

Kingsley said the plans for the Memorial Service are almost completely finalized. I should have an order of events for the day in my hands by the end of the month so you can see what will take place. I know you’re worried about it, but really, it will be fine. You read all those letters, didn’t you? A lot of those folks will be there, and they appreciate what you and Narcissa are doing tremendously. They’ll be pleased to see you and thank you in person. And if anyone causes trouble, they’ll have quite a few people to answer to: your housemates, the faculty, the other students, everyone else from New Year’s Eve, you get the picture. They’d be severely outnumbered. Not to mention the fact that your girlfriend is one of the scariest people on the planet when she’s jumping to someone’s defense, so I think you’re covered.

See you Thursday.

Potter

Draco chuckled slightly at Harry’s letter. He wrote exactly the way he spoke; blunt and honest, no flowery descriptions, and rather haphazard, jumping around from topic to topic and back again. He appreciated it, though. He had been wondering about Alcott and how he was settling in, and was very glad to hear the initial meeting with the Grangers had gone so well. He knew he and Harry were taking a gigantic risk with this. For starters, there was always the possibility that it wouldn’t work and all their correspondence and planning, and all of Alcott’s time and efforts would be wasted. But the even bigger gamble was if it did work, which would mean telling Hermione, and that could turn out a myriad of different ways. Both wizards assumed she would be thrilled to have her parents back, but they also knew she could be completely furious with them for not including her in the process. That was a chance they were willing to take, however, because neither of them could stomach the thought of bringing her in, only to have it fail, and then watch her go through the process of losing them all over again. They also knew how important the N.E.W.T. exams were to her, and there’s no way she’d be able to concentrate on that if she knew what was going on with her parents currently.

No, Draco let out a determined huff, this was the best option and he would take whatever resulted in the form of Hermione’s reaction when the time came. He just hoped that if she was angry, that she would still be able to understand he did this because he loved her, and that she’d one day forgive him. There was the added bonus that he wouldn’t be alone in facing her wrath, at least. Harry would be in an equal amount of hot water, a thought that he allowed a wry snort over. Who’d have ever thought he’d appreciate having the Wonder Boy to commiserate with if the need arose?

Seeing as the end results were months away, however, he decided not to dwell on possible negative outcomes, and instead refolded the letter and placed it inside an old textbook he had charmed specifically to hide missives from Harry and Alcott in. It was a copy of their standard Third Year spellbook that he had hollowed out, yet it still looked like a regular text from all outward appearances. The chances of any of his housemates, or particularly his girlfriend, needing to borrow the book were slim-to-none, but he still put a locking spell on it of his own making so no one else would be able to open it. He was saving every piece of parchment, every letter, every bit of notes, everything having to do with what Alcott was attempting, because he knew Hermione would want to understand it all, going back to the very beginning.

Thinking of his favorite brunette brought a soft smile to the pale wizard’s face. Though their interactions hadn’t changed since their conversation on the couch a few weeks ago, he had felt a definite shift in their relationship. He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly it was, but he felt more certain about things, more sure of the direction they were moving in. He was still nowhere near ready to contemplate marriage or children or any of that, but the random daydreams of a future together didn’t send him into a panic like they had previously. He assumed this was because he now knew she felt the same way he did, and that they intended to pursue their relationship after finishing school. Just having that certainty made all the unknowns, like a career or his place in society, much less worrisome. He felt like he could accomplish just about anything with her by his side, and he doubted that would ever change.

 

ooOoo

 

The day had arrived for the Eighth Years’ trip to Gringotts, and everyone was just about as excited as First Years boarding the boats for their initial journey across the lake. Bill had planned out and coordinated the entire schedule, and had finally resorted to writing it all down and making copies for everyone so they could stop badgering him with questions about everything. He’d also had a brief conversation with Draco, in which the younger wizard expressed concern about being out in public for the first time since his trial, and Bill had reassured him that very few people would have access to their group.

The housemates were still finishing breakfast when their Head breezed through the doors to the Room and greeted them with a wide smile, his typically-scruffy hair combed more neatly than usual, and his traveling cloak perfectly pressed.

“Morning, all!”

A jumbled chorus of greetings met him as he walked over to stand at one end of the table.

“We’ll need to head up to McGonagall’s office in about fifteen minutes, so finish up and then go do whatever you need to do before we leave.”

Chairs started scraping back from the table as everyone took final gulps of pumpkin juice or tea, and last bites of toast were shoved in. Everyone scattered back to their rooms to get their cloaks, or off to the baths to wash up. In what was probably record time, all ten of them were once again gathered around Bill, watching him with expectant expressions on their excited faces.

“Right then, off we go,” he pulled the door open and ushered them out into the corridor. Most of the students and staff were still at breakfast, so the halls were empty and quiet, save for their own footsteps and murmured conversations. In short order they were spiraling up to the Head’s office, where the door stood open for them in welcome.

“Ah, good morning, Professor Weasley,” McGonagall stood from behind her desk and met him and his charges near the fireplace. “Everyone,” she nodded to the group at large and gave what could almost be considered a smile as she surveyed them all. “Your floo connection will open in roughly one minute. Professor Weasley will step through first, and the rest of you will follow in pairs, so please arrange yourselves with a partner.”

Immediately, everyone started pairing off. Hannah with Neville, Padma with Daphne, Dean with Anthony, Draco with Hermione, and Luna with Theo. That last combination caused McGonagall’s brows to shoot up under the brim of her ever-present pointy hat, but she didn’t comment on it, and instead, forged ahead with instructions.

“Once you arrive, you will step out into the office of the Head Curse-Breaker, Daniel Carson. He will give further direction and accompany you for the entirety of your time at the bank.” She pinned them all with a stern glare, “I do not need to remind you that although you are of age, you still represent this school, and I expect nothing less than your very best behavior while you are outside its walls.” The Eighth Years squirmed slightly under her scrutiny, feeling both annoyed that she felt the need to treat them like twelve-year-olds, yet also chastised as if they’d already done something wrong. In response, however, they simply nodded meekly, which seemed to mollify the formidable headmistress.

“Well then, off you go,” she gestured to the hearth where the emerald green flames had already roared to life.

Bill turned to the group and grinned, “See you in a bit!” Stepping into the fire, he firmly announced “Gringotts,” and spun out of sight.

Dean and Anthony were closest, so they went next, followed by Hannah and Neville, and the pair of witches. As Theo and Luna stepped towards the grate, Luna studied him for a second before announcing, “You know, Theo, I haven’t seen any nargles around you in a very long time.” The lanky brunette simply grinned, shot a wink at Draco, and pulled his partner close to his side as they disappeared.

Both Hermione and Draco chuckled at the exchange as they positioned themselves among the flames, his armed wrapped familiarly around her shoulders as he stated their destination. As they spun, she caught a fleeting glimpse of a genuine smile on her favorite professor’s face.

Chapter Text

Gringotts was just as vast and impressive as it had ever been, although the group of visitors only caught a passing view of the marble hall, lined with towering columns, never-ending counters, and dozens of windows, each commanded by a goblin, as they were led through the maze-like hallways.

Carson (as he insisted everyone call him), was an intense yet likeable wizard. He greeted each of them with a friendly smile and eyes that seemed to be trying to read their innermost secrets. Bill had gestured to his teammate and said that there’d yet to be a cursed object the bloke couldn’t solve. Apparently one of the key factors to being a top-notch curse-breaker was the ability to study something without touching it or manipulating it in any way, and figuring out what was going on below the surface, in order to combat it. Carson was one of the best.

The wiry wizard had laughed off the praise, welcomed them to his department, and ushered them further into the depths of the bank, indicating various offices and pointing out interesting things like artifacts they had already cleared, or the ancient texts they looked to for answers. Draco had to tug Hermione’s cloak sleeve to get her to follow along, as she had frozen at the sight of hundreds of books and scrolls spread out on work-tables and stacked up in corners. He knew she was probably itching to get her hands on them, and chuckled at the look of consternation that crossed her face when she glanced over her shoulder one more time as they followed their housemates.

Eventually, Carson brought them to the end of a long and rather empty corridor where a set of heavy, metal doors looked out-of-place among the decorative scrollwork and tiled floors. On the wall to the left of the doors hung a sign that said “Curse-Breaking Vault: No Entry Beyond This Point Unless Proper Clearance Has Been Presented. Violators Will Be Stunned And Arrested On Sight.”

That warning drew everyone up short and ten pairs of eyes flickered nervously at each other. They were immediately put at ease, however, when Bill explained that they had all been given permission to go in with Carson, and that the team working on the cursed objects had all been notified as well, so there would be no stunning taking place when they entered. A sigh of relief was audible after his announcement, and they all shook their jitters off a little and looked to their chaperones for further instruction.

Carson suggested they all hang their cloaks up on hooks further down the hall, and then line up behind him at the door in pairs, as they had done to floo into his office. In no time they had done just that and eagerly awaited whatever was on the other side of the protective doors. Bill swung one of them open and gestured for his students to follow Carson through, as he brought up the rear.

Draco wasn’t sure what exactly he’d been expecting, but the sight before him was unlike anything he’d ever seen. They entered a gigantic space, easily five stories from top to bottom, but they walked in on what appeared to be a catwalk about three stories up, and running around the perimeter of the entire arena. The ceiling was open to the sky above, but a barrier of magic was shimmering across it, so no wind or rain from the outside could permeate it. Down on the ground floor, there were multiple desks, tables, and rolling carts, all cluttered with a variety of tools and texts. There were several other balconies and partial catwalks around the other levels, too, with metal stairs connecting them to either the main one the students were on, or the stone floor at the bottom. Roughly twenty witches and wizards were busy moving about the space, and voices could be heard indistinctly as they echoed through the cavernous room.

The most amazing part, however, was the object floating in the center of it all. Just slightly below the level they were standing on, a large, rust-colored trunk hung suspended in mid-air. It was rotating slowly inside a pulsing pale and translucent cloud of white vapor, and was visibly tethered by blue cords of magic that streamed from wands trained on it by half a dozen curse-breakers. As the students watched, a chime sounded from somewhere below, signaling an apparent shift-change. Immediately, each of the wand-holders was approached by another coworker who shifted into an identical stance and cast their own magical rope, in turn allowing the former to lower their own.

“We change out every thirty minutes, so no-ones’ arm goes numb,” Carson explained with a wry chuckle. “Only needed to make that mistake once!” He waved his arm, inviting them to follow him as he made his way around the metal walkway. As they proceeded, he pointed out various things like the spells being used to contain the trunk, the magical protective barrier that was not only on the ceiling, but also ran around the entire perimeter of the room, keeping anyone on any of the stairs or platforms safe from accidental danger. He demonstrated that particular feature by taking a silver sickle from his pocket and tossing it lightly over the railing. It hit a wall of air about six inches out and bounced back towards him with a slight hissing sound. Ten pairs of eyebrows raised in impressed surprise and he grinned in response.

“Since so much of what we deal with has vastly unknown qualities, especially at first, it’s important to take as many precautions as possible. A few years ago, at one of our on-site facilities, a wizard got hit with a small piece of a cursed object as it exploded during a routine diagnostic spell. Even though the shard was no bigger than a newt eye, it embedded itself in his arm and immediately started to spread the curse throughout his body.”

Gasps and sounds of shock and concern were heard among the group and Anthony voiced the question on all their minds.

“What happened to him?”

Carson frowned and looked extremely serious, “They were able to contain the curse in his arm, but in an attempt to keep it from reaching the rest of his body they had to amputate it.” His amber eyes scanned the attentive group before him, “Dark magic is nothing to take lightly, especially when it comes to objects like the ones we often deal with. If a witch or wizard went to such great lengths to conceal or protect an item by infusing it with dangerous and even deadly spells, you can bet the object itself is just as worrisome.” With that ominous warning, he turned and continued to lead them towards a staircase at the end of the walkway.

They followed him down to the ground level, where he gathered them together at a spot several feet from where most of the work surfaces and curse-breakers were stationed. He indicated the protective barrier, which seemed to be slightly thicker down at that level than where they had previously been standing.

“In a few minutes, you’ll be allowed to enter the testing and observation area,” Carson stated. “Or the Pharaoh’s Tomb, as most of the team likes to call it,” he gave a small, amused huff.

“Why do they call it that?” asked Padma.

“Because of the explosion I caused during a job in Egypt,” Bill admitted, a tinge of annoyance in his voice, but the teasing smirk he gave showed he wasn’t really bothered by the moniker. “One of my very first digs, and before the team started using some of the more advanced protective measures, mind, I was helping another wizard diagnose the curses, got a little too enthusiastic, and,” he used his hands to mimic something getting bigger and made an explosive sound. He shrugged and waved towards the activity taking place before them, “So now they use all these fancy spells, lots of defensive wandwork, and set up safety perimeters to keep anything like that from happening again, regardless of the size or known quantities of the object in question.”

“So, what you’re saying is that we should really be thanking you for all the additional time and effort we put in as a result of your ardor?” Carson ribbed his former colleague and grinned.

“Exactly,” huffed Bill, and everyone laughed at disdainful sniff he gave.

“Well, in any case, each of you will have to undergo what we call the ‘walk-through charm’ which will allow you to pass through the protective barrier, and will vanish immediately once you are inside. It will need to be reapplied in order for you to leave.” Carson met the eyes of each of the young witches and wizards before him. “Please understand, that while we do have multiple safety measures in place, once you are inside the Pharaoh’s Tomb, we cannot guarantee that nothing will go wrong, or that you will not be vulnerable to the dark magic within the object. If you would rather not put yourself in such a position, which is completely understandable, you may stay on this side of the barrier to observe. It is entirely up to you.”

He gave them a few moments to consider their options while he conversed with Bill off to one side. A few of the Eighth Years, like Dean and Theo, had no qualms whatsoever about entering the arena. Anthony and Daphne were debating the pros and cons of each option, while Padma was firmly set on staying right where she was.

“Aw, come on, Padma,” Theo encouraged. “When are you going to get a chance like this again?”

The dark-haired girl folded her arms firmly in front of her and shook her head, “No thanks. I have no desire to get in the way of accidental curses.”

“Do you really think something’s going to happen?” Theo scoffed, smirking at her.

“I’ll stay with you, Padma,” Luna floated to her fellow former-Ravenclaw’s side, “I’ve encountered enough dark magic to last a lifetime.” She looped her arm through Padma’s and the witch visibly relaxed. Theo’s expression softened as he watched the pretty blonde tug her companion toward a few metal stools standing several yards away.

“What do you think?” Hermione turned to Draco, her eyes filled with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

He shrugged and tilted his head toward the activity taking place before them, “It looks like they’ve got it all well in hand, and hopefully, if something were to go wrong, the protective spells would handle the worst of it.” He watched his girlfriend chew nervously on her lower lip and knew she was chomping at the bit to get in there, and yet he could also tell she was afraid. “What’s worrying you?”

She shook her head slightly, “I’ve just seen too many things go badly in recent years, I guess. It automatically makes me start calculating negative scenarios and escape plans and,” she trailed off, her mind whirring with memories. Images flashed behind her eyes; the snake in Godric’s Hollow, Dolohov’s curse at the Ministry, Katie Bell suspended in mid-air, Bellatrix’s face inches from her own.

“Hermione, breathe,” Draco gently gripped her shoulders and stared concernedly into her wide, unseeing eyes as her breath came in sharp bursts. The color had drained from her face and he was afraid she would faint, but instead she seemed to come back to herself as she met his gaze.

“Sorry, I,” but she couldn’t put words to the terror that had swept over her, and found her eyes stinging and her limbs trembling. She anchored herself in the slate grey eyes that were boring into her with tremendous concern and took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m fine, truly. My mind just ran away with me for a bit there, that’s all.” She gave a small smile, but his hold on her didn’t waver and his brow furrowed with worry.

“Are you sure you’re alright? You don’t have to go in there, you know.”

“I want to, though!” she exclaimed, the thought of missing out on such an amazing learning opportunity drawing her from her discomfort and renewing her determination to participate. “I’ll be fine. I just got caught off-guard for a moment.” She wrapped her hands around his wrists, “If I get overwhelmed again, I’ll sit out, okay?”

The tall blonde finally relaxed and nodded, allowing his hands to drift from her shoulders, down her arms, giving her hands a small squeeze before letting go entirely. He could only imagine the horrors that had just crossed her mind and he was once again reminded how courageous his little lioness was, as well as faced with the unpleasant thought that in some way, he had probably been connected to the events that had caused her reaction. He hated that notion and forced it from his brain, refusing to go down the path of self-loathing in the middle of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

By then, Carson had called for them to gather around him again, and asked if everyone had decided whether or not they were going to enter the Pharaoh’s Tomb. In the end, Padma, Luna, and Hannah had decided to stay on the periphery, none of them particularly interested in getting so close to a powerfully cursed artifact. Anthony and Neville asked if they could go up on one of the second or third-story balconies and observe from there, instead of on the ground floor. Carson was happy to oblige and introduced them to one of the curse-breakers who had just come off spell-casting duty. She shook the young wizards’ hands and beckoned them to follow her to one of the higher vantage points.

“So you lot are the daredevils, hmm?” Carson turned his attention to Theo, Dean, Daphne, Hermione, and Draco. Bill chortled at that and muttered that it was one way of looking at it, but he winked at all of them and even looked a little bit proud of their decision. Carson lined them up side-by-side and explained that he’d be casting the walk-through charm on each of them, and that they were to immediately walk through the barrier once they felt it take effect. He did Bill’s first, as a demonstration, and they all watched as their Head of House shivered slightly before stepping through the invisible wall of magic. It shimmered for a second or two and then was smooth once again, as Bill turned and stood to wait for them to join him on the other side.

“Right then, here goes,” Carson approached Dean and tapped him lightly on the head with his wand, saying, “Perfringo.” Dean’s eyes went wide and he also gave a little shake before grinning hugely and stepping across.

“Feels a bit like a disillusionment charm,” he told his housemates.

Theo was next, followed by the girls, and then Draco, who agreed with Dean’s description of the sensation. It felt like an egg had been cracked over his skull and the contents trickled down over his entire being. It was slightly cold, and as he walked through the magical shield, he felt a flicker or spark as the two spells collided. As soon as he was completely through, all sensations stopped entirely.

“Everyone’s in one piece, yeah?” the wiry curse-breaker approached the group with a smile. “Brilliant. Onward, then.”

Over the next few hours, the students were introduced to the other members of the team, and told what each witch or wizard was responsible for. They were given the opportunity to read notes, inspect other previously-cursed items, and ask any questions they had about the general process of curse-breaking. Carson had magically amplified most of the conversations, so that the housemates outside the barrier could still participate from a distance. Once the broad overview was complete, the group gathered back near where they had entered the arena.

“Now, let’s focus on the task currently taking place,” Carson gestured to the trunk that was still suspended above them all. “This particular object was found in a crypt, miles below the surface of the desert, in the southwest corner of Egypt, nowhere near the Valley of the Kings, where most of our other work has been done.” He waved his wand and a large map that had been rolled up on top of a nearby table unfurled itself and hung in front of them. They could clearly see multiple markings in and around the Valley where teams had unearthed artifacts over the years, but a great distance away were three red dots in a seemingly empty portion of the country.

“How did you even know they were there?” Hermione asked.

“We didn’t,” Carson responded. “It was quite by accident. Somehow, the International Portkey Office miscalculated the coordinates and several of our team members wound up there, while the rest arrived at the usual spot. Once they figured out what had happened, they sent a patronus saying they would camp there for the night and then apparate to us the next morning. Instead, during breakfast we received a second patronus requesting assistance at their location.” He paused to turn around, clearly looking for something, or someone as it turned out, when he waved a dark-haired, olive-skinned witch over to them.

“This is Galini, and she was one of the team that spent the night out there. I’ll let her tell you what happened,” he grinned and stepped aside for his cohort to take center stage.

“Well, it was unnerving, I can tell you that,” the petite and curvy woman huffed a wry chuckle, her Mediterranean accent lilting over them. “At first it just seemed like any other plot of desert; dry, treeless, and full of sand.” They all chuckled along with her. “But shortly after we settled in for the night, we started hearing things. Odd things, considering there’s absolutely nothing out there. No roads, no cities, no farms, not even any wildlife. We hadn’t seen a single living thing since arriving, so any noise that didn’t come from the three of us was cause for alarm.”

The students nodded in understanding, hanging on her every word. She continued, “We listened from inside the tent for maybe an hour. The sound would come and go, like it was getting nearer and then fading away. It was a whirring sound, like wind in a tunnel, but the air was not moving. After that first hour, we ventured outside, trying to determine where it was coming from. We walked in a circle around the tent, then made a bigger circle, and a bigger one. The sound seemed loudest behind the tent, to the south, so we focused on that area. Eventually, Rafi, one of my teammates, determined the sound to be coming from underground, so we used magic to move the sand and get below the surface. He was right.” She gave a small shudder at the memory.

“The hole we dug was more than big enough for the three of us to stand in, and the deeper we went, the louder the sound became. The ground vibrated along with it, and you could feel it humming through your whole body. Being exposed to that for minutes at a time eventually made us all feel like our hands and feet were going numb. That was when we climbed out and decided to call for reinforcements.” She nodded towards Carson, who stepped back up to her side and picked up the story from there.

“Four of us joined them out there as quickly as we could. Sven and I,” he pointed to a tall, broad-shouldered blonde across the arena, “and two others who are still in Egypt. We found everything to be exactly as Galini described. Erring on the side of caution, we chose to dig from outside the hole from that point on, just in case the ground opened up quickly, or whatever was below us would react to physical contact.” He paused and scrubbed a hand over his face as if still exasperated by the ordeal. “It took us a day and a half to finally reach what we eventually learned was a crypt. The hole wound up being deeper than this vault,” he threw his hand up in the air, indicating the enchanted ceiling five stories above. “The amount of sand,” he snorted, “Let’s just say I still don’t think I’ve gotten rid of it all.” Galini nodded vehemently and the students chuckled at their antics.

“After all that, the crypt was ridiculously easy to open. Too easy, we all think,” Carson continued in a slightly ominous tone. “Only a simple alohamora was needed to open the door, and the trunk was just sitting on the floor inside a room only a little larger than a broom cupboard. The other objects we collected were in a small alcove behind it.” He gestured to a wooden crate on the floor halfway across the room. “We haven’t dealt with those yet, until we figure out what this big one is.” All eyes once again were trained on the trunk hovering above.

“So how do you know it’s been cursed?” Dean asked.

“Before we even stepped foot into the crypt, we cast some basic diagnostic and revealing spells. The readout was so dark we couldn’t pick it apart at all in that environment. The other items aren’t quite as cursed, but we still didn’t want to take any chances. We levitated all of them out, and brought them to our base camp without coming within less than a foot of them.”

“What have you learned so far?” asked Hermione.

“We’ve stripped off all the basic repellant charms, and a few of the less dangerous curses,” Carson began, but Galini cut him off.

“He says less dangerous, but I think being thrown fifty feet in the air, or having the air choked out of you are pretty dangerous results, myself.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Seriously?” asked Theo, incredulous.

“Yes, and honestly, those are pretty common results and fairly easy to recover from. It’s the ones that turn your veins black or melt your skin that you have to be careful of.” If possible, the eyes of the students in front of him grew even wider.

“Is it the trunk itself, or whatever is inside that is cursed?” Draco asked, feeling rather unnerved by his proximity to the artifact now.

“Ah, now that is a very good question.” Carson eyed him thoughtfully. “We’re trying to determine that very thing right now. You see, whatever is inside is heavily cloaked. Any sort of penetrating spell we cast only shows us the most basic outline, and it’s not a recognizable one. Nothing as commonplace as a book, or a goblet, or even a sword or dagger. If anything, it looks like a large rock, or a broken chunk of a statue. Something lumpy and uneven.”

“Could it be wrapped in something? Like a tapestry?” Daphne asked while her eyes stayed fixed on the trunk.

“Possibly,” Galini nodded. “The problem is that we can’t open the trunk until its magic is separate from the object inside. They seem to be interwoven, which is making the task more difficult than usual.”

Without realizing it, as the group had been observing and questioning, they had also been shifting slowly closer to the middle of the arena. Currently, they were right in line with the team members who were tethering the trunk with blue cords of magic. As they continued to watch, the chime sounded once more for wand-holders to swap out. This act was carefully choreographed so that there were always at least six ropes binding the trunk at all times. As a new cord was cast, an old one would be released. The Eighth Years had seen the routine take place four times already, but this time something was amiss and Draco was the first to spot it.

The wizard immediately to his left had been joined by his replacement at the same time as the witch across the floor from him had been approached by hers. However, before either of the new arrivals had cast their jet of blue light, both wand-holders released their own. At exactly the same moment, a third wizard two spots over released his cord, but his cohort had overshot hers, causing it to fizzle out when it missed its mark. As a result, only three ropes bound the trunk and whatever magic had been contained recognized the shift in its bindings.

“Quick!” Draco shouted and pointed, drawing everyone’s attention to the trunk, which had started to vibrate, the haze around it pulsing violently until it suddenly disappeared entirely. The three curse-breakers who still had their wands trained on the rust-colored box were now clearly struggling to maintain their hold, each of them using both hands to steady their frantically trembling wands. The other wand-holders around the perimeter immediately raised their own and tried to cast more magical cords, but to no avail. Each time the spell was cast, it rebounded inches away from touching the cursed object, instead of latching itself on as it had done before. One of the wizards was actually thrown back off his feet at the force of the rejected attempt.

Bill, Carson, and Galini had all raised their own wands, though instead of attempting to add more bindings to the trunk, they seemed to be casting protective spells between it and the people below. With quick glances at one another, the five students beside them did so as well, spreading themselves out so they were in between the other curse-breakers around the circle, each casting a shield charm over themselves and the witch or wizard on either side of them as the team continued to try to contain whatever magic was building in the trunk. 

In the meantime, Neville and Anthony had barreled down the steps of the second-story walkway they had been observing from and sprinted around the outside of the protective barrier until they reached the trio of girls who’d been watching the events unfold with increasing trepidation.

“Anyone know how to cast that spell to walk through the barrier?” Neville asked, waving wildly in the direction of the invisible wall.

“I think so,” Padma began, “But what if I get it wrong?”

“Then we get tossed back,’ Anthony shrugged. “They need all the help they can get, I reckon.”

Cautiously approaching the entry point they had seen their housemates go through, all five took deep, steadying breaths and glanced at one another. Padma squared her shoulders and gently tapped Anthony on the head, saying, “Perfringo,” just as she had heard Carson do earlier.

“It does feel like a disillusionment,” Anthony remarked, and then before anyone could try to persuade him, spun on his heel and marched through the protective shield. When nothing awful happened, he turned and grinned and gave Padma a thumbs-up before grabbing his wand from his pocket and jogging off to help.

Turning to the others, she repeated the spell and watched as each of them followed suit. Finally, she was the only one left standing, wide-eyed on the outside of the arena. Muttering to herself about being dragged into such nonsense, she tapped herself on the head, shivered at the odd sensation, and stomped through the barrier to join her friends.

With the addition of five more qualified witches and wizards in their ranks, some of the curse-breakers were able to attempt other spells and counter-curses to try to wrangle the magic of the trunk back into submission. Unfortunately, each subsequent trial only seemed to increase the activity within. The three wand-holders who were still tethered by blue cords were now unable to break the connection. No matter what they tried, no incantation would stop the spell, and their fingers were physically unable to release their grasp. Each of them was visibly trembling, whether from physical exertion or the magical connection was unknown, but probably both.

The other team members had decided that perhaps containing the object would be their best bet now, and rolled out a large, metal box, easily four times the size of the trunk. The idea was that they would lower the trunk into it, and seal the lid. The box itself was imbued with a tremendous amount of magic and warded against a myriad of curses. Even if the trunk exploded, it would be confined to the box. It seemed like a good plan, in theory.

Bill, Carson, Galini, and two others began circling around, instructing the other witches and wizards on what to do. The Eighth Years were asked to maintain shield charms throughout the entirety of the process. Two-thirds of the curse-breakers were going to focus on bringing the trunk down and getting it into the box. The rest were tasked with making sure the box was closed and secured before any connections were broken. The three wand-holders were simply supposed to hang on as best they could and hope the cords broke once the trunk was sealed away.

Everything started smoothly. The trunk was being slowly lowered, the shield charms were steadily holding, and everyone was still on their feet. As the distance shrank, however, the trunk started emitting the whirring sound Galini had described to her young audience earlier. It began softly but quickly rose to uncomfortable decibels. The vibration caused by the sound traveled through the stone floor and penetrated the soles of every pair of shoes standing on it. After a minute of such constant thrumming, the effects were already being felt as fingers tingled on the verge of numbness, and arms started to tremble.

The housemates met one another’s eyes around the circle, asking with arched brows if they were okay, smiling encouragement, and grimacing unease at the unfolding events they found themselves caught up in. Across from each other, chocolate brown orbs met slate grey as Hermione sought out Draco’s familiar gaze. As often was the case when she had found herself in difficult or frightening situations, she didn’t focus on her fear, but instead on her determination to come out on the other side in one piece, and to bring as many of those around her along as well, the tall blonde currently piercing her with his molten stare being paramount in her efforts.

Draco was not thinking about himself or his own safety at all, but solely of Hermione. The cursed object was throwing out waves of dark magic, and while he couldn’t identify the specific spell or the power it contained, he could still recognize the heavy, choking feeling. It was an all-too-familiar sensation that harkened him back to the days when his home was the headquarters of a madman; a hub of evil incarnate. The very idea that she could come in contact with that sort of vileness again, after everything that had happened to her last year, made him see red. He refused to stand by and allow any harm to come to her again, so long as he could help it, and his brain went into overdrive trying to come up with a way to thwart the force they were battling.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bill step into place beside him and raise his wand.

“What now?” Draco hollered over the whirring.

“Just still trying to get it in the box,” Bill replied through gritted teeth. “Really not sure how this is all going to play out.”

“Can that box withstand anything?”

“Yes, even unforgivables. Nothing penetrates its walls.”

Draco had an insane idea, and almost let it slide, but decided it might be better than nothing, “What about Fiendfyre?”

Bill’s eyebrows flew up into his fringe as he grunted in effort against the magic he was combating. His gaze flickered to the wizard beside him and back quickly as he considered this suggestion.

“You mean put it in the box? With the trunk?”

“Yes, right when they go to close it, conjure it in there with it. It should demolish whatever is in there.”

At that moment, one of the witches across the circle collapsed to the stone floor, seemingly overcome by the vibrations of the noise, and the physical strain from holding prolonged spells. Her teammate nearby assured the others that she was alright, just shaken and weak.

“I don’t think she’ll be the only one we lose if this keeps up much longer,” Bill stated, almost as if to himself. His thought was punctuated by a wizard five people away, who crumpled to his knees, no longer able to stand on his shaking legs. “Right, then, I need to speak to Carson,” he told Draco and then slowly started making his way around the outside of the circle of magical folk, his wand still raised, his attention still focused on the task at hand. Draco watched as his Head of House approached the other man and a brief conversation was held, followed by a quick glance in his direction from Carson, and identical nods of affirmation. A few more words were exchanged, and Bill began making his way back around to his previous spot.

“Carson likes your idea. He and I are the only two here who have ever been trained in controlling Fiendfyre, so he’s going to cast it, while I provide additional support if necessary.” Draco nodded in understanding. “That means that neither of us will be focusing on the trunk or the box at that point, so I need you to help pick up the slack there.” The blonde furrowed his brows and cocked his head in question, waiting for further instruction. “I’m going to have you switch from your shield charm to a powerful locking and barricading one; clusura. Soon as the bottom of the trunk lines up with the top of the box, you’ll drop your shield so you’ll be ready. Got it?”

Nothing like a crash course in spellcasting, but Draco refused to let his nerves get the best of him. Nodding stiffly, he repeated the incantation over and over in his mind, knowing that he would need to say it aloud when the time came. There was no way he was going to attempt this nonverbally, not the first time he used it, and definitely not in such dire circumstances.

The trunk continued to lower, although it was now shaking and rotating in a jerky and haphazard fashion. Two more curse-breakers hit the ground, completely spent, and another dropped his wand as he clutched his head in agony.

Hermione could feel the vibrations pulsing through her body, from the tips of her toes, to the ends of her curls, and everywhere in between. She felt as if she’d gotten her finger stuck in an electrical outlet and was just continuously getting mildly shocked. It wasn’t necessarily painful, but it was definitely uncomfortable, and extremely exhausting. She had seen the exchange between Bill and Draco, then the one between Bill and Carson, and lastly the second one between the former two. While she trusted Bill with her life, she didn’t like the look of things and was afraid the two wizards had concocted a dangerous plan.

She watched, along with everyone else who was still standing, as the trunk slowly approached the top edges of its metal destination. It had stopped twitching around, and now instead seemed to be fighting against its forced descent. The majority of the team that was trying to lower it were obviously struggling more to do so now. Two of the curse-breakers who had collapsed were back on their feet and added their efforts to the task. Inch by inch the trunk sank until it was visibly now entering the box. She saw Draco drop his shield charm and her heart leapt into her throat.

What was he doing?

Then, everything seemed to happen very quickly. Almost as if the trunk gave up, it stopped vibrating, the whirring noise ceased, and it hit the bottom of the box with a loud, metallic thud. Immediately, Carson whirled his wand above his head and bellowed, “Fiendfyre,” sending a stream of cursed flames into the depths of the metal crate, while simultaneously, the rest of the curse-breakers, and Draco, all aimed their wands at the box and shouted, “Clusura!

The lid slammed shut as tendrils of flames had just started to climb the walls inside, and a high-pitched screeching sound emanated from its depths. Everyone stood in stunned silence, aside from the heaving breaths many were sucking in, as the roar of the cursed fire could be heard outside, the metal walls muffling, but not canceling out the sounds of some sort of massive struggle within. Thumping, scraping, banging, and something that resembled nails on a chalkboard were all audible, even through the thick walls and magical shields.

And then, just a violently as it all began, it stopped.

Chapter Text

The silence surrounding them pressed on their ears almost as much as the whirring sound had previously. Everyone stared, wide-eyed and shaken at the metal box that had suddenly gone silent. Anxious eyes darted around the circle, making contact with others that mirrored their own shock and fear. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Carson spoke.

“Is everyone alright?” His gazed roamed the collection of curse-breakers and students around him, landing briefly on each of them as he took a mental inventory of everyone in the arena. Most nodded and gave him tremulous smiles or shrugs of affirmation. Even the team members who had succumbed to the effects of the artifact were back on their feet and seemed to bear no ill aftershocks, though their expressions were more somber than the others. After making sure everyone was accounted for, he addressed them once again.

“Before we even begin to figure out what just happened here, I want to thank each and every one of you for staying level-headed and on task. That was an extremely dangerous set of circumstances, and I appreciate your calm and focused attempts to handle it.” He met the eyes of each of his teammates in turn, and then focused his attention on the Eighth Years. “As for our guests today, I am beyond certain that this would not have ended anywhere nearly as well as it did, had you not been here to help. Your shield charms protected my team and allowed them to do their job without having to split their attentions or worry about potential dangers, and for that I will be forever indebted to you.” Again, he stared intently at each of those whom he was addressing, his eyes landing on Draco last.

“As for you,” he spoke with a fierce kind of admiration, “Your observation at the onset was the first indication that anything was wrong, and gave us time to adjust. Your idea to use the Fiendfyre was ingenious and most likely saved everyone in this room from a disastrous outcome.” He made his way over to the tall blonde, who was looking mildly embarrassed by being singled out. Carson stuck out his hand to Draco, who remained stunned for a second before shaking it and nodding his head.

“Thank you,” said the older wizard with deep sincerity.

“You’re welcome. I’m just glad everyone is okay.”

“Me too,” Carson breathed a sigh of relief. “If you’re ever interested in a career in curse-breaking, you come straight to me. I’d put you on my team tomorrow.” He clapped a hand on the tall blonde’s shoulder and turned back to his team once more, immediately giving instructions for what needed to happen next. As he did so, the students converged on the hero of the day with cheers of gratitude and pride.

Draco’s cheeks were pink and he sheepishly grinned at the floor while his housemates clamored around him. He had his neck hugged, his cheeks kissed, his hair ruffled, and his back slapped by everyone more than once, and when they finally finished, he found one hand still held his, its fingers entwined with his own. He glanced to his side to find Hermione, eyes sparkling and a beaming smile spread across her face. In that moment it hit him, how close they had all come to a potentially horrible end, and he was just so very glad that she was safe. It was all he could do not to burst into tears, punch the nearest wall, or snog her senseless, so instead, he settled for smothering her in a tight embrace while he took several deep, calming breaths. Her own arms wrapped around his waist and he could feel her trembling with residual adrenaline.

As he stood there, his chin resting on her head, he saw Bill approaching and gently disentangled himself, though refusing to let go of her hand.

“Incredible, Draco,” Bill shook his free hand firmly, an impressed smirk on his face. “Absolutely incredible. That was a risky idea of yours but I’m glad we tried it. You kept a lot of people safe today.”

Draco nodded, unsure how to reply but Bill seemed to understand. “You should be proud of yourself. I know I am.” The redhead clapped him on the shoulder before moving off to address the rest of their house, leaving him with just Hermione once more.

“I am too, you know,” she said softly. He looked at her quizzically for a second so she continued, “Proud of you. You came up with a brilliant plan and helped carry it out. You probably saved all our lives today.” At that, he scoffed as if she was being dramatic but she wouldn’t have it. “I mean it. We have no idea what’s in that trunk, or what kind of curse it contained, or the damage it could have done.” She tugged on his hand and squeezed it tighter. “We are all very lucky you were here today, and that you’re so quick on your feet.”

He allowed himself a small teasing grin at that and pulled her closer into his side, “It was a pretty good idea, I suppose.”

“A very good idea, I’d say,” she dropped his hand but wrapped her arm around his waist, while he draped his across her shoulders.

“Guess I am rather brilliant,” he smirked, puffing out his chest a bit and reveling in the fact that his heart rate seemed to be back to normal and he could breathe evenly again.

“Yes, yes, a regular genius,” she giggled and poked him in the side, causing him to twitch and toss a mock glare at her.

“All right, you lot,” Bill’s voice rang out in the cavernous room. “Gather up, please.” He waved both his arms, gesturing for them to come around him. Once everyone had, he continued, “We need to be heading back, so partner up and follow me.” They did as he bid, and began following him to the staircase that would take them back up to the third-story catwalk. Along the way, they were stopped by multiple members of the curse-breaking team for handshakes and well-wishes. Several of them even hugged various members of their group, with Draco receiving the most attention by far, something he seemed pleased and embarrassed by in equal measure. Eventually, they had crossed the vast arena and were once again met with Carson at the bottom of the stairs.

“After you,” he swept his hand up, telling them to go first, which they did, and in no time they were all packed into his office once more. As he positioned himself by the large fireplace, he turned to the group.

“Thank you all, again. It has been a pleasure to have such a polite and interested group of guests with us today, as well as such a ready and willing bunch. My team and I are immensely grateful for your help and you are always welcome to visit us, should you decide to put yourself in mortal danger again.” He chuckled wryly, as did all of the students and Bill let out a snort.

“You all joke, but I have to fill McGonagall in on what happened today,” his mouth set in a grim line at the thought and ten pairs of sympathy-filled eyes turned his way. They all knew the Headmistress would not take the report of the day’s events lightly.

“It’s not like we planned it that way,” Carson elbowed his former coworker in the arm. “Just keep pointing out that everyone is perfectly fine. All’s well that ends well, and all that toss, yeah?”

The students laughed openly at his optimistic idea of their formidable professor’s reception of the details, and Bill rolled his eyes.

“You clearly have never met Minerva McGonagall.”

Carson shrugged good-naturedly and grinned at the group. “Well, I know I’m very pleased with the way it all ended.” He tossed a large handful of green powder into the flames and looked at them once more, “Thank you, again, sincerely.” He nodded and stepped aside so they could begin their return trip to Hogwarts. Bill shook his friend’s hand and reluctantly went first, taking a deep breath as he entered the hearth. The pairs of students followed in quick succession, with Draco and Hermione going through last.

Carson clapped him on the shoulder one more time, and winked at Hermione while saying, “Keep an eye on this one – he’s going to do fantastic things.”

Draco’s cheeks were bright pink again as they stepped out of the fireplace into the Head’s office. They both nodded a greeting to their Headmistress, but silently filed out the door with the rest of their housemates. It was clear from the furiously shocked expression on her face, and the way she kept opening and closing her mouth without sound, that Bill had already begun his recounting of the day, and none of them wanted to be there when she found her voice again.

They traveled the corridors quickly and quietly, all eager to get back to the comfort of the Room so they could relax and discuss the whole adventure amongst themselves. Once inside their familiar space, they all collapsed on couches and chairs, and Theo simply flopped face-down on the floor to stretch out. For a moment, no one spoke amidst the quiet sounds of stretching, yawning, and settling in. They all felt like they had been gone for days instead of just hours.

“What time is it?” Hannah wondered.

Anthony looked at his watch, “Four-thirty-three.”

“Really?” asked Padma.

“We never got lunch!” Theo’s muffled complaint rose from his spot on the floor, causing everyone to laugh.

“It’ll be time for supper soon,” Luna reminded him, and was rewarded with an unintelligible grumble in response.

“D’you think we’ll ever find out what was in the trunk?” Dean wondered. “Or what the curse was?”

“I’m sure we can ask Professor Weasley,” Padma suggested.

“Yeah, I bet he’ll keep up with Carson anyway,” Neville remarked thoughtfully before turning his eyes on Draco, “You really were brilliant today.” The pale blonde’s cheeks were going to be permanently flushed if the stream of compliments and heartfelt thanks didn’t stop soon, but he couldn’t deny the warmth in his chest as his housemates all agreed with Neville. He allowed himself a small smile and shrugged as he looked at his friends.

“I didn’t even know if it would work, I just had to try…” his voice trailed off as he met Hermione’s eyes. They were sitting on the same couch, but angled at each end so they were facing one another. Before he could get lost in her sparkling gaze, however, Hannah spoke up.

“How did you even come up with Fiendfyre? I’d never heard of it till last year, and I know nothing about it.”

Her question was innocent, but it caused Draco’s insides to clench. He had forgotten that not everyone knew the details of the scene that took place in that very Room during the Battle, nor did they know that he’d been forced to handle the deadly curse himself during Voldemort’s extended stay at the Manor. He wanted to be completely honest with his housemates, but didn’t know how they would react. He looked at Hermione again and she gave a small encouraging smile and a tiny nod, so he took a deep breath and met Hannah’s inquisitive stare.

“You know that during the Battle, the Room of Requirement was heavily damaged by Fiendfyre, right?” Hannah nodded and continued to look at him curiously. “I was there when it happened. I was here,” he gestured to the floor in front of him as a wave of shame and guilt crashed over him, but he pressed on. “Crabbe, Goyle, and I were in here trying to find Potter, and Crabbe conjured it but lost control of it almost immediately. It’s what killed him.” Draco had shifted so he was sitting with his arms resting on his knees, his hands clasped together as he stared unseeingly at the floor in front of him.

Several quiet gasps were heard around their circle, and Theo sat up and was watching his fellow former-Slytherin closely. Hermione had also moved so she was sitting right next to him, her presence giving him courage to continue, yet also reminding him that she had seen him in one of his worst moments. His eyes stung with tears of remorse as he went on, his voice lower than before, “I’ve cast the curse myself before…I was forced to learn how…but I had never used it anywhere besides one of the cells in Manor’s dungeons. I had no idea Crabbe even knew the spell, and he definitely didn’t know how to control it. It got out of hand the second he cast it.”

No one was moving, they were all riveted on Draco’s recollection, yet not one of them were looking at him with contempt or disgust, which was what he had been expecting. When he chanced a glance at his friends, he found sympathy and acceptance, not anger or loathing. It shocked him and caused a lump to form in his throat that he forced his words around.

“Potter saved me. We, Goyle and I, had climbed up a pile of discarded furniture to try to get out of the way of the flames. Somehow he found a broomstick and flew back around to pull me out. Weasley was on the… the other one… with…” here he faltered, remembering how close they had all been to being swallowed by the enchanted blaze, how close the witch by his side now had been to having her life ended by the actions of his so-called friend. He choked and covered his eyes with one hand, unable to continue.

Hermione gently wrapped her arm through his and spoke quietly, “Ron and I were able to get Goyle out, but Crabbe was already lost.” She paused for a moment, never having liked the trollish boy, but also never wishing him dead, and shook her head at the reminder of all the unnecessary loss they endured that day. “The Fiendfyre destroyed the Room of Hidden Things, but not the Room of Requirement as a whole. It took a while for its magic to come back to full force, but it did.” Her eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she looked fondly around the common area they shared. She was so very thankful, and yet her heart hurt for the wizard beside her who clearly still carried a very heavy burden from that awful day.

“I had no idea,” Daphne admitted quietly.

“Me either,” Anthony agreed.

“I’m sorry, Draco,” Luna addressed him softly, and he raised his head to meet her wide, blue stare. “I’m sorry you lost your friend, but I’m very thankful you survived and that you were able to use your knowledge to save all of us today.”

Hermione was once again grateful for her fairy-like friend’s ability to say the perfect thing in the midst of a difficult moment. Draco seemed rather stunned by her words, but his breathing had calmed and he was able to offer the former-Ravenclaw a tremulous smile.

“I think we all have a lot to be thankful for,” Neville stated firmly, his compassionate gaze pinned on his former tormentor. He stood up and walked over to stand in front of Draco, who was watching him with mild trepidation. Neville held out his hand and Draco stood to shake it, immediately finding himself pulled into another of the gangly wizard’s rib-crushing hugs.

“Here, here!” exclaimed Dean and everyone got to their feet, forming a massive huddle that basically turned into a group hug.

“Just want you lot to know I love you all, and this is the only time I’m ever going to admit it!” hollered Theo, which caused everyone to burst out laughing as they broke apart once more, several of them wiping their eyes, and all of them smiling.

“So it takes a life-threatening situation to get you to admit you really do care about us, huh, Theo?” Daphne teased her childhood friend.

“Well, you know,” he sniffed, “Drastic times call for drastic measures and all that.”

“Theo, did you just use a Muggle saying?” Hermione stared at the lanky brunette.

“Haven’t you learned yet? I’m just full of delightful surprises.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, earning another chuckle from the group at large as they made their way to the long wooden table to sit for the meal they all fervently hoped was soon to come.

As they settled into their seats, the surface was immediately covered with a wide variety of delicious offerings. It appeared that the house elves must have known they’d skipped lunch because there seemed to be twice as much food in front of them as usual. No one was complaining, however, as they all began filling their plates.

Hermione turned to Draco, who was sitting quietly beside her and had made no move to take any food.

“You okay?”

He nodded and gave her a small, lopsided smile, his eyes still swirling with emotion.

“Today was a lot,” she offered, knowing he was probably more overwhelmed than the rest of them by everything that took place, and rightfully so. “It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling about it.”

He looked down and pulled her hand into his lap, lacing his fingers through hers, “I’m not even sure how I’m feeling at the moment.” He paused and thought for a few seconds. “I was terrified that something was going to happen to you today,” he admitted in a hoarse whisper. “I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so I started thinking about what could possibly destroy the dark magic contained in the trunk, and the Fiendfyre was the first thing that came to mind.” He rubbed his thumb in circles on her hand as he continued, “I’m extremely thankful that it worked and that everyone is fine, but it just brought back the last time I came in contact with it and…” he huffed a wavering breath and squeezed her hand tightly. “You could have died, Hermione. Just like Crabbe. And it would have been my fault for being so hell-bent on thwarting Potter.”

She covered their hands with her other one and waited until he raised his eyes reluctantly to meet her own. She could see the guilt there and she refused to let him carry that around any longer.

“Crabbe chose to use Fiendfyre that day, not you. As unfortunate as his death was, it was his own fault. You didn’t tell him to use it, you didn’t cast it yourself, it was not your fault. Just like the fact that you know how to cast it is not your fault. No one here is blaming you or holding anything against you. In fact, they’re all incredibly glad you were there today.” There was a fierceness in her eyes that he had rarely seen before, and it held him transfixed. He wondered how he had ever managed to earn her favor and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be ruined if he ever lost it.

She leaned even closer to him, her curls tickling his cheek, her breath ghosting across his jaw as she continued, “I am so very thankful for you. Not just today, but every day, and I’m glad our friends got to see a glimpse of the intelligent, quick-witted, and courageous wizard I get to call my own.” She nuzzled his cheek with her nose and he turned slightly to meet her lips with his, forgetting in that moment that they were at a table with eight other people, and that this was very uncharacteristic of them.

Several heartbeats passed before she pulled away, smiling softly at him as his heart swelled and he felt much lighter than he had earlier. He squeezed her hand and returned her smile before tilting his head towards the array of food spread out before them.

“Shall we eat?”

She nodded vigorously, both of them suddenly realizing how hungry they truly were. As they filled their plates, they were oblivious to the indulgent smiles, quiet chuckles, and knowing glances that passed between their housemates as everyone continued on with their meal.

Chapter Text

The First Years were up to something, there was no doubt about it. Every mentor had noticed a shift in behavior regarding their young charges as the end of March approached. They still had all their regular meetings, individual as well as whole-group, and the eleven and twelve year-olds were still just as energetic and quirky as ever, but there was definitely something going on. This strange phenomenon was the topic of discussion among the Eighth Years one night over supper.

“Emmeline just about ran away from me today,” Padma told her housemates. “It was the oddest thing. I came out of the library and turned the corner to see her walking towards me. I waved, she froze, and then turned around and scurried off like I had tried to hex her!”

Several of the others nodded in understanding while Neville shared his own recent experience.

“Andrew had been bugging me for weeks to bring him to Greenhouse Three so he could see the new batch of Mandrakes Professor Sprout recently re-potted. I met him outside his Charms classroom yesterday to let him know we could go down after lunch and he stared at me like I’d grown an extra head before saying he couldn’t. He took off running – literally running – down the hall.” He shrugged, unable to account for the bizarre reaction from the typically-calm and even-keeled youngster.

“I came upon Olivia and Yasmine whispering in an alcove on the third floor a few days ago and you’d have thought I’d caught them setting off fireworks or dungbombs,” Daphne interjected. “They looked absolutely terrified and started talking over one another, giving excuses and tripping over themselves to get away. I actually felt bad about it, but now that I know they’re all barmy this week, I’m not taking it personally.” She chuckled and shook her head. “It’s like they’re all in on some big secret or something.”

Hermione considered this idea for a moment, “Has there been any big announcement made recently? Any major changes to anything in the castle?” Being in their own house meant the Eighth Years were slightly removed from the goings-on in the rest of the school, including news that might be shared by the Headmistress at meals in the Great Hall. McGonangall had made a point to inform them of anything that pertained to them, and Bill kept them in the loop as often as possible, but there was always a chance they’d missed something.

They all pondered her question for a few seconds, but no one could come up with anything, at least nothing that would cause the sort of secretive or adverse behavior they’d been noticing.

“Maybe they’re planning something,” Theo suggested with a mischievous glint to his eyes. “Something they don’t want us to know about.”

“Like what?” asked Dean.

Theo shrugged, “Who knows? Maybe they want to throw a party, or have a Game Night of their own. Maybe they’ve finally decided to revolt against Filch and are planning to set up Portable Swamps on every floor.” Everyone laughed at that, remembering how furious the caretaker had been during their Fifth Year when Fred and George had left one as a parting gift to Umbridge.

“You might be onto something there,” said Anthony thoughtfully.

“The Portable Swamps?” Hannah asked, incredulous.

“No, no,” the former-Ravenclaw chortled, “the idea that they’re up to something that involves us. That’s really the only logical reason they wouldn’t want us to walk up during a conversation, or catch them doing something related to it.” The housemates hummed in agreement as they considered this angle.

“So let’s play along then,” suggested Hermione. “For the next few days, let’s try to give them some space. If you see them at the end of the hall, take a different route, or only interact with them during your regularly scheduled times, don’t seek them out otherwise. Let them think we’re completely oblivious to their scheming.”

“Or,” Theo smirked widely, “We could make it our mission to stalk them and show up ‘coincidentally’ even more than usual. See how many times we can catch them in the middle of something.” Again, his thoughts were met with laughter, but Hermione countered his argument.

“That’s not nice, Theo,” she chastised lightly, “If they really are trying to do something for us, we should let them without stressing them out unnecessarily.”

“I agree with Hermione,” Luna trilled as she looped her arm through the lanky brunette’s and leaned her head on his shoulder. “We should be supportive of their endeavors.”

“Fiiiiiiine,” Theo let out a long-suffering sigh, but no one could miss the smile that curved his lips as he glanced down at the tangle of long blonde hair that covered his arm.

Their plan of action decided upon, the housemates finished eating and set about their various evening activities. Several of them were headed back to the library for a N.E.W.T. study session, Hermione, unsurprisingly among them. She pressed a kiss to Draco’s cheek as they parted ways from the table, and he headed back to his room where he planned to finish the latest History of Magic essay they’d all been assigned.

After settling on his bed, his textbooks, quill and parchment spread before him, he noticed a quiet conversation taking place outside his door, which hadn’t fully closed behind him as he had thought. He normally wasn’t one for eavesdropping, and went to close it, but stopped when he heard his own name. He shifted slightly and could barely see the edge of the round table closest to his room, where he knew a chess game was always set up. It seemed Dean and Theo were starting a new match as they discussed their friends.

“So,” Dean began conversationally, “Draco and Hermione?” He said it as a question, and Draco could tell he was wondering what Theo’s take on their relationship was.

“Yup,” replied Theo without hesitation. “About time, really.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, he’s had a thing for her for ages.” Draco inwardly groaned at Theo’s admission. While he had never openly admitted to fancying Hermione before this year, apparently his younger self hadn’t been quite as subtle in his fascination as he’d thought.

“Seriously?” Dean sounded completely surprised.

“Yeah, started Fourth Year, I think. He was jealous of Krum.”

Dean chuckled, “That’s understandable.”

“You had a crush on the Gryffindor Princess, too?” Theo was the surprised one now.

“No, no,” Dean was quick to correct him, “But no one could deny she looked amazing at the Yule Ball. Krum was one lucky bugger that night.”

“I’ll agree with you there,” Theo admitted and Draco’s cheeks heated at the thought of his friend admiring his witch, but his jealously was immediately eased. “She’s not my type, but she did look lovely. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her this year and I think she’s really good for Draco.”

“How so?”

“It’s hard to explain, but most of us – Sacred Twenty-Eight that is – grew up in less-than affectionate families. The last couple of years brought even more darkness than normal. Draco got the worst of it by far.” He paused and Draco couldn’t deny his friend’s description. “She, Hermione, brings a lot of light. He needs that. We all do. I’ve never seen him happier.”

“I get it,” Dean said after a few seconds of silence, broken only by the quiet movement of chess pieces. “I think he’s good for her, too.” This definitely surprised Draco, since he still didn’t feel like he brought very much to the table when it came to his relationship with her, and he never would have thought her friends would think so.

Again, there was a pause as Dean considered his explanation, “Hermione’s tough. She’s been through a lot over the years. More than most of us. She’s lost a lot and had to face most of it on her own. I think Draco gives her security, someone to stand by her side. Not that Harry and Ron didn’t or still don’t, but it’s different, if that makes sense.”

“It does,” said Theo.

“Plus,” Dean continued, “Draco’s just as brilliant as she is, which is good. She needs someone to challenge her and debate with her. The rest of us just can’t keep up.” He chuckled wryly and Theo snorted in agreement.

“What about you and Luna?” Dean asked.

“She’s….” Theo trailed off for a moment and Draco could hear the smile in his voice when he went on. “She’s one of a kind, that one. I never would have imagined connecting with her on any level, but she gets me like no one else.” More game movement filled the silence. “What about you?” Theo questioned.

“Me?” Dean seemed surprised.

“Yeah, you got your eye on anyone?”

“Nah. I went on a couple of dates during the hols, but nothing came of ‘em. It’s alright, though. I'm not looking for anything right now. Want to finish up and get a job. Then maybe I’ll put some effort into it.”

Draco stepped away from his door as Theo began questioning what qualities Dean looked for in a significant other, a smile on his face as he considered all he’d overheard. He agreed with everything that had been said, and was pleased to find that his friends saw such value in his relationship with Hermione. It also helped him shake off some of the lingering doubt that others probably thought she’d been slipped some Amortentia or been Imperiused at some point in order to agree to date him. He was very glad to hear Theo’s thoughts on Luna. He knew his fellow former-snake struggled with many of the same things he did in the wake of the war, and felt that Luna was the perfect antidote to much of darkness and negativity Theo dealt with.

As he settled back down to work on his essay, he was once again thankful for the chance they’d all been given by coming back to Hogwarts this year, and couldn’t help but feel optimistic about whatever the future held for him and his housemates.

 

ooOoo

 

Hermione was up to her elbows in textbooks and parchment, holed up in her favorite corner of the library one rainy evening. She had decided to split her weeks in half from now until exams, spending Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on class assignments, and Thursday and Friday on N.E.W.T. preparation. This meant that she needed to get all reading assignments, essays, and projects done by Wednesday night, even if they weren’t due until the following week. Her housemates thought she’d gone ‘round the bend, and her boyfriend refused to join her in her academic mania, but it was actually comforting to her to have a set plan in place, and a strict schedule to adhere to. Several of their professors had started giving assignments that were directly related to the upcoming exams, which was tremendously helpful and gave her some wiggle room to work with regarding deadlines, but all-in-all, she did much better when she had charts to refer to and lists to cross off.

This particular Wednesday found her scribbling furiously on a three-foot roll of parchment, stopping every few minutes to refer back to one of five different tomes, all of which lay open on the table before her. While she knew Professor Slughorn had only asked them to explain whether dittany or fluxweed would be more effective to use in a healing potion, but she had been sidetracked by a chapter about comfrey and wanted to include her findings regarding that oft-used plant as well. She was so immersed in her own thoughts and the continuous scratching of her quill that she never heard footsteps approaching, nor did she notice any movement nearby. It wasn’t until Daphne cleared her throat delicately that Hermione started and looked up to find her housemate seated in the chair across from her, a knowing grin gracing her pretty face.

“Taking it easy tonight, I see,” the blonde witch eyed the cluttered workspace and stacks of books with amusement, very accustomed by now to her friend’s intense study habits.

Hermione relaxed in her chair and let out a sigh, “I know, I know, I’m a nutter.” Both girls chuckled and the brunette stretched and tossed her quill onto the table. “What brings you here, Daph?”

“Do you know what tomorrow is?” blue eyes glittered with mischief.

“Umm, Thursday?” Hermione peered over at her calendar just to be sure and didn’t see any sort of note that marked the day as something special.

“Yes, Oh-Brilliant-One,” Daphne smirked, “It’s Thursday. But do you know what day it is?”

Hermione looked at her planner again and noticed that tomorrow was April 1st. She looked back up at her companion, her brow arched in question.

“April Fool’s Day!” Daphne squealed as quietly as possible. “We’re going to prank the boys!” She clapped her hands and bounced in her seat, looking much less like the perfectly poised beauty she usually did, and much more like an excited little girl. Hermione couldn’t help but catch some of her enthusiasm and inched closer on the edge of her seat.

“What do you mean?” she whispered, and Daphne leaned in conspiratorially.

“Padma suggested it, actually. Nothing mean or nasty, just for fun. We decided we want to take a page out of Kevin’s book.”

“Kevin?” Hermione was confused.

“From that Muggle movie we watched at Christmas. You know, Home Alone!”

Hermione couldn’t help the laugh that burst from her, quickly covering her mouth and looking around for signs of Madam Pince. She knew exactly the kind of tricks Daphne was referring to and was rather pleased her friends had found some merit in the non-magical ideas presented in the comedy.

“Oh, this will be too good,” she chortled. “Let me just clear this up and I’ll come back with you.” With a wave of her wand, the books were neatly stacked and her scrolls, quills, and inkpots all stored back in her bag. Madam Pince had taken pity on Hermione’s nightly raiding of the shelves for the same books over and over again, and had uncharacteristically allowed her to keep the ones she needed on “her” table in the back corner.

As the two witches made their way back to the Room, Hermione asked what had already been planned.

“Well, we really just started talking about it after dinner. Hannah said something about Theo’s latest prank, you remember, the one where he charmed the kippers at breakfast to move so everyone thought they were still alive?” Joint groans of disgusted amusement rumbled between them as visions of twitching fish flashed across their minds. “So I said we should charm his whole plate of food sometime, and then Padma said we should just prank all the boys.”

“There’s no shortage of ways to do that, but I think using some Muggle traps would be hilarious,” Hermione giggled at the thought.

“We figured you’d have lots of great ideas, so I told them I’d come get you,” the former-Slytherin looped her arm through her friend’s as they strolled down the hall. “We will happily defer to your expertise.”

Thankfully, none of the boys paid any attention to them when they entered the Room, apart from Draco winking at his witch as he glanced up from the Runes homework he was translating with Anthony. She grinned and headed straight for Daphne’s chamber, which was where the other three girls were already gathered. Shutting the door tightly behind her, she cast a quick silencing charm so no one would hear their conversation and plopped down on the floor next to Luna, who greeted her with a warm smile.

“Alright, what do you think, Hermione?” Padma began at once, her dark eyes dancing with anticipation.

“Well, first let’s lay the ground rules,” the pragmatic brunette began, “Nothing harmful, nothing dangerous, and nothing that would ruin their clothes or books or anything else. Agreed?” She glanced around the room and was met with four heads nodding in unison.

“Just some funny, light-hearted pranks,” Hannah explained. “Something that will catch them off guard, but that they’ll laugh at later.”

"Maybe a combination of magic and Muggle?" Daphne smirked mischievously.

“Perfect,” a grin spread across Hermione’s face as she reached into her bag for a blank piece of parchment and a quill, poised to make yet another list. “Here’s what I’m thinking…”

 

Chapter Text

Sunlight streamed through the tiny space between the curtains in Daphne’s room as all five of the female members of the Eighth Year house slumbered on. They had put on a good show of getting ready for bed and going about their typical nightly routines after they had finished brainstorming and compiling a list of supplies. Hermione had even stayed in her doorway saying goodnight to Draco for slightly longer than usual, drawing his attention away from the other girls scuttling back and forth between their own rooms and Daphne’s.

Once they were absolutely certain the boys had all gone to bed, they put their plan into action. Hannah and Luna were sent off to round up a few things, while Padma and Daphne started testing their ideas to make sure they’d work. Hermione set to work transfiguring several things into Muggle items that would never have been found anywhere in the castle. Once everything was gathered, they tiptoed across the Room to the domain of their targets and set to work. It took a few hours, and by the time they were finished, they were a giggling and exhausted bunch. They left Daphne’s door open a few inches, so as to hear any signs of stirring from their counterparts, and all fell asleep almost immediately.

Hermione woke to a muffled yell and immediately sat up and poked Padma and Hannah who were sleeping in the jumble of blankets next to her on the floor. She stood and nudged Luna and Daphne on the bed as well before creeping to the door and peeking through the crack.

Across the Room, Dean had apparently been the first to wake and upon opening his door, had walked straight into a wall of feathers. His entire front, from his forehead to his feet, was covered in little white tufts. The more he tried to wipe them from his face, the more they clung to him. Hermione had shown the girls the wonder of plastic-wrap the night before, and how it was almost invisible when stretched tight enough. They had created a barrier in front of each of the wizards’ doors with the ingenious kitchen tool, and then filled the thin space in between with feathers that had all been charmed to stick when brought in contact with another surface. That surface just so happened to be each male student as he made to exit his room.

Hearing the commotion Dean was making, both Neville and Theo opened their doors next and walked right into their own downy destruction. The accomplices were in silent stitches, tears rolling down their cheeks as their housemates hollered and complained, and tried in vain to rid themselves of the fluffy nuisances. Draco was next to open his door, but having heard the increasing sounds of displeasure coming from his mates, he did so much more cautiously and was rewarded by only a dozen or so of the feathers attaching themselves to his t-shirt and pajama pants. Though the plastic-wrap wall blocked him from view, Hermione could tell he was studying the trap before him as his shadow shifted behind it. All of a sudden, a small “bang” was heard and Draco’s door was free from any impediment. He glanced quickly across the common area, but apparently didn’t notice Daphne’s door cracked open, as he strode over to help Theo, Dean, and Neville. Just as he cleared Neville’s path, Anthony opened his own door, and was met with not just the wall of feathers, but a loud chorus of warnings that only served to startle him further, causing him to actually walk into the plastic and get completely tangled in it. Once again, Draco came to the rescue and put him to rights at once.

The five young men stood together outside Anthony’s room in varying stages of disarray. Feathers still floated down between them, Neville’s face was bright red from trying so hard to rub them off, and Theo had lost a slipper somewhere in the struggle. While they were talking in tones too low to hear across the large space, it was clear they were speculating on how their housemates had carried this off.

As quietly as possible, Hermione closed the door and threw up another silencing charm. The girls burst into fits of giggles, howling at the scene that had unfolded before them.

“Oh, that was even better than I’d thought,” Hannah heaved, tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes.

“Did you see Anthony?” Padma choked.

“That worked almost as well as a body-bind curse,” Daphne wheezed.

“Oh, that was too funny,” Luna was giggling and wiping her eyes.

“And that’s just the beginning,” Hermione reminded them, still clutching her stomach from laughing so hard. “I wonder if they’ll be on their guard, or if they’ll think that was all we did?”

Five pairs of wide eyes stared at each other and in unspoken agreement, the girls crawled back over to the door, none of them wanting to be the one to open it, lest it draw attention to their hiding place.

“Wait!” Padma exclaimed and she scooted over to a bag she’d tossed in the corner the night before. After digging around in it for a few seconds, she extracted what they all recognized to be a pair of Extendable Ears from George’s shop.

“Perfect!” Hermione clapped and shifted over to give her friend room to sneak one end of the flesh-colored string under the door. Everyone watched the dark-haired girl closely as she put the other end to her ear and listened. A grin broke out on her face almost immediately.

“They’re still all talking, trying to figure out how we did it, and Dean is explaining what plastic wrap is,” she chuckled and handed the listening end to Hannah who promptly began eavesdropping.

“Now they’re wondering if that was the only trick,” she reported. “Wait,” she held up a hand as something was clearly taking place beyond the walls of Daphne’s room. “They’ve decided to get dressed and then go hunting for more pranks. They don’t want us to see them covered in feathers and still in their nightclothes.” That set all the girls giggling again, as Daphne took the “ear” for her turn to listen.

“Sounds like they’re heading back to their rooms,” she nodded in affirmation, “Yes, I’ve heard three, wait, four doors close now, so they must all be going to change or get their stuff to take to the bath.” She waited a few more seconds, “I think it’s safe to open the door now, but just the tiniest bit!”

Hermione did as instructed with extreme caution and peeked out through the crack. “Draco just went into the bath,” she told her accomplices, “And there goes Theo and Neville.” She inched the door open just a few centimeters more and gave a knowing smirk to the other girls. Almost as if on cue, the voice of her favorite wizard came bellowing from across the Room.

“What in Slytherin’s Seven Hells is this?”

The witches lost it and fell on each other in a heap of hysterical laughter, only to have it increase when Theo and Neville’s voices joined the unhappy chorus.

“Buggering hell!”

“Urrggghhh! That’s disgusting!”

Their cries alerted the other males, who of course promptly ran to the loo to see what all the fuss was about. Stall doors could be heard banging, water was running, and much muttering and groaning came from that corner of the Room.

Once again, Hermione carefully closed the door and recast a silencing charm just to be safe before they all broke into excited chatter about their housemates’ predicament.

“I guess the shaving cream on the seats worked then, yeah?” Hannah pressed her palms to her cheeks, “Oh, my face hurts from laughing so hard.”

Padma let out a long sigh and flopped back to lay on the floor, “I’m wiped out and we haven’t even had breakfast yet.”

“Breakfast!” cried Luna, startling her friends. She looked at them with wide, blue eyes, “We have to get dressed for breakfast! The chairs!” That was all it took for all five girls to jump up and start gathering their things. Everyone had brought whatever they would need for that morning to Daphne’s room so as to avoid going back and forth between their own chambers any more than necessary with irritated wizards lurking about. Safety in numbers, and all that.

Items in hand, they crowded around the door once more, holding their collective breath as Padma eased it open and checked to see if the way was clear. Nodding silently, she swung it wide enough for them to slip out and they made a hasty escape to the girls’ bath without making a sound while the boys could clearly still be heard in their own washroom.

As quickly as possible, they readied themselves and, after checking to make sure it was a reasonable time to do so, made their way to the table for breakfast, each choosing their seat carefully. As usual, an assortment of breakfast foods immediately appeared and they began filling their plates and pouring goblets of juice, more as a way to fill the time and have something to do with their hands than anything else. They knew the boys would be joining them any moment and were positively trembling with giddy anticipation.

After what seemed like an eternity but was really only five or six minutes, Anthony emerged from the lavatory and froze mid-step when he saw them. The girls pretended not to notice him, and he was quickly joined by Dean. The two cast a wary glance at each other and slowly made their way towards the table.

“Good morning!” Luna greeted them airily, taking a bite of her apple and wiggling her fingers at them.

“Oh, hello,” Padma pretended to only just have seen them and smiled as if nothing was amiss.

The two wizards stopped a few feet away, clearly eying the table for signs of more pranks and watching the movements of their housemates very carefully. While they remained there, Neville exited the loo and, like Anthony, halted when he took in the half-full table. He approached with extreme, almost comical caution, his eyes wide and alarmed. He kept shooting furtive glances at Hannah, as if to gauge her reaction or confirm his suspicions, but the former-Hufflepuff was wholeheartedly invested in cutting up her ham and seemed quite oblivious to his scrutiny.

Draco and Theo were the last to leave the washroom and, unlike their mates, came stalking directly up to the table where they towered over its occupants, arms crossed, scowls lining their faces.

After several heartbeats of thick silence, Draco cracked, “Well?” he demanded.

“Well, what?” Hermione asked pleasantly, meeting his gaze as she bit into her toast, her eyes twinkling and her brow cocked in question.

“You know perfectly well ‘what’!” he hollered.

“I’m quite sure I don’t,” she replied serenely, helping herself to another serving of eggs.

“Theo, are you going to join me?” Luna asked sweetly and looked pointedly at the empty chair beside her. Theo’s furious demeanor faltered as he looked at her, and then at Draco, and then at the other three boys, none of whom had actually been brave enough to sit down yet.

Heaving a deep and exasperated sigh, the handsome Pureblood pulled out the chair with more force than necessary, and flung himself into it. The Room was immediately filled with the loud, indecent sound of horribly wet flatulence, compliments of George’s newest whoopee cushion model that had been disillusioned on the seat. Theo was so startled he fell right out of the chair while the girls erupted into fits of laughter once again. Dean and Anthony couldn’t stifle their own chuckles, and Neville was grinning widely. Even Draco seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face.

“Ha, ha, very funny,” snarked Theo as he picked himself up off the floor. “Is that it, then? Can I sit down properly and eat breakfast now?” His indignation only set the girls off again, but Luna did manage to take his hand and pull him gently back down beside her, even though she was still giggling as she did so. This time his chair only made a lengthy, sputtering sound, which he promptly ignored and proceeded to dig into his breakfast with extreme superiority.

With one of their brethren having finally managed to secure his spot, the others decided it was safe to do so as well, though still with mild trepidation. Neville walked around to his usual seat next to Hannah and put his hand on the back of it but wasn’t quite ready to sit in it yet.

“Is this one going to trump, too?” he asked his girlfriend.

“No, it’s not,” she replied decisively.

Taking her at her word, he pulled the chair out, only to have it slide a good six feet away. Arching a brow at her, he approached the piece of furniture again, this time grabbing by the front underside and pulling it behind him up to the table. Unfortunately, as soon as he let go and went to sit down, it rolled back again, leaving Neville sitting rather soundly on the floor. The look of surprise on his face caused everyone to laugh as he glared at Hannah in mock irritation. She just shrugged and smiled prettily as he went to retrieve his chair again.

Anthony and Dean pulled out their own seats and watched intently to see if they would behave oddly. Anthony sat with no problem whatsoever, which bolstered Dean’s confidence, even though he patted the cushion to make sure it wasn’t going to make any odd noises. When it remained silent, he breathed a sigh of relief and sat, only to immediately spring back up as a muffled buzzing sound was heard, rubbing his backside as if he’d been shocked.

“What the,” he turned and studied the offending station. No matter where he touched the wooden frame, it didn’t repeat the noise or the vibration. Figuring it was done, he tried a second time, only to shoot up once more when it happened again. Suddenly Anthony hopped up, face red, and spun around to glare at his seat.

“It’s burning up!” he complained loudly, and sure enough the cushion appeared to be mildly smoking.

The chaos around the table was rising to levels that matched even the most exuberant Game Night. Neville was still warring with his escaping chair, Theo’s kept emitting small, yet recognizable, wheezing and puffing sounds every time he shifted even the slightest bit. Anthony could only sit for thirty seconds at a time before needing to cool off, and Dean kept trying to perch precariously on the very corner without setting the buzzer off again.

The girls had given up trying to keep their reactions quiet or polite and were openly roaring with glee at every turn. Draco was the only one still standing, refusing to subject himself to whatever ridiculous prank he knew his chair contained. Instead, he proceeded to fill his plate and eat his breakfast while standing at the end of the table. This only served to make Hermione laugh harder, a fact he ignored with as much sophistication as possible, munching his toast with his nose haughtily in the air.

Since the witches weren’t completely heartless, the chairs had a time limit to their antics, and after about ten minutes of insanity, the noises, movements, and triggered actions ceased, allowing them to settle into their breakfast comfortably.

“Where on Earth did you come up with the idea for the feathers?” Dean asked with mild admiration.

Home Alone, believe it or not,” snickered Daphne.

Good-natured groans of understanding rumbled around the table as the four seated young men admitted to being impressed with the level of detail and the covert operation in general.

“I assume this was all because today is April Fools’?” Anthony asked in a resigned sort of way.

“Yup,” Padma supplied cheerfully.

“Do we have any other….surprises waiting for us today?” Neville looked almost fearful as he asked.

“No,” chortled Hannah, patting his arm, “it’s all over.”

“Maybe for you it is,” groused Theo, “but as far as I’m concerned, it’s just begun.” His dark eyes glittered with mischief as he leaned towards Luna who viewed him with a shocked expression.

“But Theo, April First is also the only day to watch for the Blibbering Humdinger migration. We’re supposed to head down to the south lawn after lessons, remember?” Her voice was so worried, her expression so earnest, that all he could do was shake his head and shrug as a gentle smile crossed his face.

“Of course we will, I haven’t forgotten,” he wrapped a lock of her long blonde hair around his finger and her answering smile could have lit up the night sky.

“Don’t worry, mate,” Draco drawled, “We’ll work out a plan of retaliation and fill you in when you get back.” He smirked at Hermione whose eyebrows shot up as he walked around the table to sit next to her, clearly assuming the pranks were over and it was safe to do so.

As soon as his backside hit the seat, the sound of a foghorn echoed through the Room, causing him to topple over just as Theo had done. The girls, who had all known what was coming and had covered their ears, were in fits over the expressions on the boys’ faces. Neville had slopped pumpkin juice all down his front, Dean’s spoonful of porridge was sliding down his forehead, Anthony was half in Neville’s lap after jumping so violently, and Theo was recovering several pieces of bacon from various locations. Draco, however, was still seated on the floor, panting and clutching his chest and glaring at his girlfriend.

Now it’s all over,” she giggled and offered him her hand, which he scowled at before accepting it and getting to his feet.

“It most certainly is not,” he grumbled as he took his place in his now-silent chair once more.

“You have to admit we got you,” she nudged his arm with her own, watching his pewter eyes as they narrowed thoughtfully.

“Yes, yes, fine,” he huffed and only marginally managed to sound annoyed. “You’re all bloody brilliant pranksters.” The girls beamed at one another and high-fived around the table as the boys rolled their eyes and snickered, knowing they really couldn’t argue the point.

 

Chapter Text

“Keep your eyes closed!” Allison admonished.

“Alright, alright,” Hermione sighed as she squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as possible and held out her hands, allowing Darla and Allison to each take one and guide her along.

It was the first Sunday in April and apparently the Eighth Years had been right when they’d guessed that their young charges had been planning something that involved their mentors. Throughout the day on Friday, each of the older students had received a rather vague invitation, requesting that they meet their First Years in specific locations throughout the castle. Hermione had been summoned to the library, where she found all three of her little friends waiting with enormous grins on their faces in front of the tall, oaken doors. The girls had explained that it was a surprise, while Malcolm had run ahead for reasons unknown.

Eventually, after much shuffling and bumping into corners, and stifled giggles from the younger girls, they came to a stop. Hermione had absolutely no idea where they’d taken her, having lost track of which floor they were on, or how many turns they had made. She stood patiently, eyes still closed, as Allison and Darla whispered to one another, each continuing to clutch one of her hands. In the distance, she heard more shuffling and excited voices and knew that her housemates were being brought along in similar fashion. She heard the creaking of a door as it was opened, and her arms were gently tugged forward. After several steps, she could tell she was no longer in the corridor, but somewhere that confused her senses. It did not feel like a stone floor under her feet, and the air around her was not typical of a classroom, yet she knew for certain that they had not gone out the front doors of the castle. Curiosity peaked, she tilted her head this way and that in an attempt to hear what the others in the room were saying, all while still obediently keeping her eyes closed.

After several minutes, her hands were released, though she was firmly instructed to stay right where she was and not to open her eyes yet. Sounds of movement and anxious whispers carried as if from a small distance, and all at once everything was still and silent.

“You can open your eyes now!” Malcolm announced and the Eighth Years did as they were told. The sight that met them took a few seconds to process. They were in the classroom Draco had been using during the winter months for his flying lessons, which explained Hermione’s confusion regarding the floor and the space in general, since it remained a forest with a sizable clearing inside. In the center of that space, four long tables had been set up in the shape of a square, their corners meeting, and they were clearly all decorated for a birthday party. It looked, she thought quite happily, like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland.

Ten of the chairs, scattered amongst the others, had brightly colored balloons tied to their backs, and each of the balloons had one of the Eighth Years’ names on them. The tables were covered with white linens, and each place setting contained rose-patterned china teacups, saucers and dishes. Down the middle of each table, plates and platters filled with an assortment of pastries and treats took up every available inch. In the center of the empty square created by the placement of the long tables stood a single round one, holding the largest, most decadent birthday cake any of them had ever seen. It was seven tiers of confectionery bliss; buttercream roses, ganache drizzles, edible pearls, spun-sugar butterflies, and crystal sprinkles. Magical sparklers had been lit on the very top, so they glittered and popped without fading or burning out.

The mentors had only been given a second or two to take in the incredible display before their young friends burst into a boisterous chorus of “Happy Birthday,” followed by all of them exclaiming “Surprise!” at the top of their lungs, clapping and cheering wildly, and grinning at the looks of shock and amazement that graced their guests faces.

“But, who’s birthday is it?” asked Neville, thoroughly bemused.

“Everyone's!” responded several of the First Years happily.

Olivia stepped forward from their little group and explained, “We wanted to do something for all of you before you got too bogged down with N.E.W.T.s and end-of-year stuff, and we realized none of us had celebrated any of our mentor’s birthdays.”

“So we decided to do one, big, combined party for all of you together,” Aiden chimed in from the other end of the cluster of younger students. “You already gave us a Halloween Party, and a Valentine’s Party.”

“And you got each of us something for Christmas,” continued Darla.

“And you’ve brought birthday treats for those who’ve already had theirs,” Emmeline interjected.

“Plus,” Andrew stepped forward now, his eyes roaming across the Eighth Years, “You’ve spent a great deal of time with us all year, between individual meetings, group sessions, flying lessons,” he nodded at Draco as he said that, “homework help, and just generally being available whenever we’ve needed you.”

“This is our way of saying ‘thank you,’ for making our first year at Hogwarts so wonderful," Yasmine’s soft voice added to the litany, the butterbeer necklace Luna had gifted her so many months before hanging around her neck.

The older students were speechless and deeply touched by such a heartfelt gesture. More than a few eyes were swiped and throats cleared as they made their way towards their young friends. After many hugs and words of appreciation were exchanged, everyone took their seats and the party commenced.

“So, is this why you asked what my favorite color is?” Hermione gestured to the periwinkle balloon floating above her chair.

Allison grinned and nodded.

“And your so-called survey about cake flavors last week on the pitch?” Draco was asking Christopher, who burst out laughing, caught out for his sleuthing attempts.

“Wait,” Dean hollered from down the table, “I was part of that questionnaire, too!”

“Me, too,” admitted Hannah.

“I asked all of you,” Christopher chortled, obviously pleased with himself that none of them had figured out what he was up to.

It turned out that the clever Hufflepuff’s plan had been successful, as each tier of the elaborate cake was one of the flavors selected by the subjects of his seemingly-random inquiries. The largest tier was chocolate, as that was by far the favorite, but the other flavors represented displayed a variety of preferences; apple spice, strawberry, pistachio, hazelnut, vanilla, and coconut. Two house elves appeared to slice and serve the cake, since none of the party guests were brave enough to attempt it for fear of ruining the sugary masterpiece.

The party continued for over an hour longer, with conversation flowing non-stop and multiple servings of cake being consumed. They also played a game that Theo’s students had come up with; similar to Bingo, but using only party-themed items, and if someone yelled “Happy Birthday,” everyone had to get up and find a new seat. The scrambling and laughter that filled the room could be heard down the hall, and everyone cheered loudly when Daphne and Aiden tied for the win, each receiving a large box of Bertie Botts as a prize. In the end, everyone was completely stuffed and on the verge of the typical sugar buzz that accompanied their get-togethers. Hannah, who had snuck out for a few minutes, returned with her camera so they could take pictures. She set the timer for several whole-group shots, but then also had each mentor pose with their First Years as well. Another round of hugs was given, and Luna gathered up all of the balloons to bring back to the Room.

As the party-goers went their separate ways, the Eighth Years began their trek back to their dormitory, quietly conversing about the events of the day. Each of them had been sincerely moved by the actions and efforts of their young counterparts, and knew that this would be one of the most treasured memories they carried with them once they left the castle.

 

ooOoo

 

Draco relished the feeling of Hermione’s fingers interwoven with his as they strolled around the banks of the Black Lake one sunny afternoon. While he truly enjoyed the company of his housemates, and the Room felt more like home to him than the Manor had for the past few years, he treasured the moments he got to spend with just his witch, with no one else around to interrupt. Not that they were having a deep or important discussion or anything, he simply liked being with her in such a quiet and peaceful way. They were currently on the far side of the lake, which meant that even the sounds of laughter and conversation from students on the castle lawn weren’t reaching them as anything more than a whisper on the breeze. As they had made their way around the edge of the water, Hermione had told him about the second task during the Triwizard Tournament, where she had been put into an enchanted sleep and sent to the bottom of the lake for Krum to find. She had been mildly irritated that, due to her unconscious state, she’d not been able to see anything for herself and considered it a wasted opportunity to learn about the merfolk and their environment. He couldn’t help the chuckle that had risen in his throat at the indignation of his adorably swotty bookworm.

They came to their favorite spot, a large boulder that was flat enough on top for two people to sit comfortably, and while it provided a perfect view of the lake and the castle beyond, it was tucked back from the water’s edge and shadowed by trees on both sides, allowing for some privacy. They climbed up and in a fit of gallantry, Draco took off his cloak and spread it on the rock’s surface for them to sit on, even casting a cushioning charm so it would be more comfortable. Hermione beamed up at him when she sat and patted the space beside her for him to join her, which he was more than happy to do.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, watching the sun reflect off the water’s surface, sparkling like so many diamonds, simply basking in the warmth of the early Spring rays and enjoying each other’s presence. He turned to look at her, thinking to ask her about the reading assignment they had for Defense, but the words got lost as he took her in. The gentle wind was causing a few stray curls to dance around her face, as they had escaped from the loose plait she’d arranged them in earlier. She had her eyes closed and her face tilted up towards the sun, highlighting the sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her long lashes rested on her cheeks which were the tiniest bit rosy from being outside, and her pink lips were turn up in the most delicate of smiles. She was beautiful, and she was his.

In moments like this, Draco still felt like he needed to pinch himself. Whatever he’d done, whatever fates had smiled upon him, whatever convoluted series of events had led him here, to her side, he would be forever grateful. He loved her so much it took his breath away and filled his heart to overflowing. He let his gaze roam over her as she sat there, her legs crossed under her, her hands loosely in her lap. She looked completely at ease, which was something else he often marveled at. The fact that she was so comfortable with him, considering their history, was no small miracle. It spoke volumes to her unwavering trust in him, and he did not take that for granted.

Not wanting to disturb her, but unable to keep his hands to himself any longer, he tenderly tucked a curl behind her ear and brushed her cheek with his knuckles. Her smile grew and she leaned her face into his hand as her eyes opened and met his. He stared into their chocolate depths for a heartbeat or two before leaning in and capturing her lips in a soft kiss. She angled her head to deepen it, and brought her hand up along the side of his face. He wrapped one arm around her waist and brought her closer to him, while trailing kisses down her jaw and earning himself a contented sigh. When their lips met again, she shifted so she was straddling his lap, which both surprised and pleased him tremendously. They were normally pretty innocent during their snogging sessions, both determined to take things slowly since neither of them had much experience in that department. Add to that the fact that the highest echelon of Pureblood society held to some extremely rigid and formal (to the point of archaic) ideas when it came to appropriate courtship behavior, which had been ingrained in Draco since he was old enough to understand what his father meant by “urges.” If that hadn’t been the most awkward conversation of his young life, he didn’t know what was.

He could, however, currently identify with his father’s cautioning regarding not getting “carried away in the moment,” as he reveled in the feel of her. Her fingers were carding through his hair as she peppered a series of kisses down his neck and back up again. Her lips caught his once more with fervor, and he wrapped both of his arms around her waist and pulled her even closer. The tiny sounds of pleasure she was making as their tongues danced caused a series of images to flash through his mind, and he knew if they didn’t slow down he might not be able to stop. As much as he wanted her, and Merlin did he ever, he did not want their first moments of deeper intimacy to take place on a rock out in broad daylight.

Cupping her face with his hands, his fingers tangled in her almost-destroyed braid, he slowed his kisses to a less feverish pace, finally stopping altogether and resting his forehead against hers. Both of them were breathing rather rapidly and when he pulled back, she was smiling shyly at him through her lashes, her arms still wrapped around his neck.

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Why would you be sorry?” he was completely befuddled.

“Got a little enthusiastic there,” she huffed a small laugh.

He crooked a finger under her chin and lifted it so her eyes met his, “I greatly appreciate your enthusiasm.” He gave her a lopsided smirk and she grinned, her eyes twinkling and her cheeks blushing. Lowering one hand to her back, but keeping the other on her cheek so he could stroke it with his thumb, he continued to gaze at her with open wonder.

After a few seconds, she tilted her head, “What?”

“How did I get so lucky?” he mused quietly.

“I think we’re both pretty lucky,” she leaned in and brushed her nose against his, causing him to smile. He pulled her into a tight embrace and rested his cheek against her curls, breathing in her familiar apricot-vanilla scent and allowing himself to savor the moment.

A cloud passed over the sun, taking some of the day’s warmth away, and a chilly breeze stirred the air around them. Hermione lifted her head from his shoulder and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“We should head back. It’ll be time for dinner soon.”

“Do we have to?” he grumbled petulantly, tightening his hold on her, which caused her to giggle.

“I suppose we could stay, but I don’t know if the house elves will bring us food out here, and I didn’t bring any of my homework, and I don’t know…”

“Alright, alright, I get it,” he groused good-naturedly and looked down at her playful grin. “Let’s go then.” He kissed her one last time before gently shifting her off his lap and standing, holding out a hand to help her up before grabbing his cloak. She reached out her hand for his, their fingers once again finding their familiar places in between one another as they made their way back to the castle.