"Here it is," Hermione said, pulling a copy of Hogwarts, a History off the shelf in Flourish and Blots. "You know," she said, turning to Harry, "It deserves its own table in the front, not some tiny shelf in the back of the store." Harry nodded sagely.
"Indeed," he said, "Where can I file a complaint?" Hermione punched him lightly on the shoulder. Harry laughed, and pretended to rub his arm." "No, seriously, I agree. Better than what Ron's looking at."
"And what might that be?" Harry smirked and pointed towards the front of the shop. Ron was standing over a large book- it had a gold cover, and emblazoned on the front in green letters were the words “Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches”. Hermione sighed, and turned to Harry, putting a finger to her lips. Harry’s vivid green eyes sparked wickedly, and Hermione grinned, and crept silently towards where Ron was standing, his back still turned.
"I can think of a better way to charm witches," she whispered seductively into his ear. Ron jumped violently, and turned, scarlet-faced, to see Hermione grinning, and Harry doubled-over in laughter.
"Very funny ‘Mione," he muttered darkly. His ears were the reddest Hermione had ever seen them.
"Seriously, Ron, what is this?" she, picking up a copy. As she began flipping through its contents, Hermione’s expression became amused.
"Chapter One: Complements are the Key . Chapter Two: Talk and Listen. Chapter Three: Gifts from the Heart. Chapter Four-"
"I get the point," Ron grumbled. "Just looking."
Still laughing, Harry and Hermione walked with Ron across the street to Madame Malkin's. Ron sat in the corner of the shop while Harry and Hermione were fitted for their uniforms. After buying new robes, Ron went to Ollivander's while Hermione and Harry went to the Apothecary to buy potion ingredients for the three of them.
Once they had purchased the appropriate number of rat spleens, Harry went to buy another cage for Hedwig at the Owl Emporium. She had been delivering a letter to Lupin at the time of the attack on the train, and Harry had learned from McGonagall that she was safe in the Owelry. Hermione, meanwhile, purchased the cauldrons they would need for Potions, as well as three new trunks. She also bought Muggle clothing, as some of hers had been lost when her trunk was destroyed. McGonagall had sent the rest from her home, but it was waiting for her at Hogwarts.
By six o'clock, many shops were closing their doors. Hermione walked slowly back to the Leaky Cauldron. She levitated her purchases in front of her, as they were far too heavy to carry, and met Harry and Ron back in their room. Ron was waving his new cherry and unicorn wand in front of him enthusiastically, and Harry was examining his new broom.
"New Firebolt?" Hermione asked. Harry grinned.
"Yep- Ron's got one, too. I got you a Nimbus Two-Thousand - I didn't think you would want something as expensive as a Firebolt. And it was always a great broom for me. The bloke at the counter said I could bring it back if you would like a better broom, but I told him you would kill me just for getting you this." Harry reached onto the bed behind him, and held out a rectangular package for her to take. He was looking at her tentatively, but Hermione wasn’t able to feel anything but disbelief.
"You got me- a broomstick?" She had never owned a broom before, and she knew only the basic rules of Quidditch. And she had never, ever entertained the slightest notion of flying. And Harry had gotten her a broomstick? "Why?" Harry shrugged.
"We've only got a year left - you might like to play sometime." At the look on Hermione's face, he added, "Or just fly around. Whatever you like." Hermione realized from Harry’s expression that he thought she was angry – so she smiled and walked over to him, taking the package from his hands. She slid onto the floor beside him, and Harry watched her as she bent her head over the parcel. Hermione pulled her wand out and murmured a quick spell to open the box, before sliding her fingers beneath the paper inside, and lifting out a shining broomstick. She ran her hands over the perfect handle, and was careful not to touch the flawless broom twigs.
"Will you teach me?" she asked hopefully, looking back up at him. "So I don't kill myself?" Harry smiled back, and Hermione’s heart stopped.
"Course, we wouldn't want to just, unleash you. I’m not that irresponsible, Hermione." Harry laughed, and Ron chuckled. Hermione did a mock-haughty gesture – exaggerating the motion of sticking her nose into the air.
"I would refuse to speak to you for several weeks, but I need to show you your new trunks and cauldrons. I know, it will be so much fun." Hermione gestured to the stack at the base of the wall opposite them.
“Very fun, indeed.” Ron agreed.
Dinner that night was very enjoyable, but Hermione couldn't help but notice that Malfoy wasn’t downstairs. She hadn't seen him at all day, even though she had walked all over Diagon Alley. She didn’t know why, but his absence was conspicuous to her. It put her on edge.
Tom approached the three of them halfway through dinner. His toothy smile made Hermione smile as well - it was infectious.
"Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, Ms. Granger, Professor McGonagall asked me to tell you that she has arranged a connection to the Floo Network. You will use the fireplace in the parlor at nine o'clock tomorrow morning - and you will be arriving in her office at Hogwarts.”
"We still have to wake up early?" asked Ron. Tom laughed, and hobbled back to the bar. "Great," Ron said sarcastically. He hit his head lightly on the edge of the table.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked upstairs to their bedroom, and finished packing their trunks. When they were ready, Hermione placed a tricky freezing charm on the trunks - so no matter how much they were jumbled in transit, nothing inside would be jarred.
Harry and Ron overrode Hermione's objections, insisting again that she sleep in the only true bed again. “Honestly, Hermione, the pull outs are fine,” Harry assured her.
Hermione lay, staring at the darkness for quite some time that night, unable to fall asleep; she had only been awake for twelve hours, after all. Her mind was racing throughout the day. She started with the broomstick, and her mind reeled in reverse. When she reached her conversation with Draco in the morning, Hermione stopped herself. She could hear his voice, all most see his face in the darkness. Even Death Eaters appreciate Muggle brutality. You don’t owe me anything…. Hermione sat up.
"Harry? Ron? Are either of you awake?" The clock read 1:45, so she wasn't sure if either would be conscious. She knew she wanted to talk to Harry, but she didn’t want to hurt Ron‘s feelings by not asking for him if he was awake. Harry sat up immediately, however, while Ron lay still, and whispered back to her.
"Hermione, are you all right? Why aren't you sleeping?"
"Can't," she hissed back. "Harry, can you come here?" She could see his dark form stand in the darkness, and he slowly walked towards her. When he came closer, she could see his green eyes reflecting the light from the alarm clock, his messy jet black hair. Harry sat on the edge of her bed, and watched her carefully. Hermione passed him one of the pillows wordlessly, and he placed his back against her backboard. His eyes didn’t leave hers.
"What's up?" he asked. Hermione thought for a moment, and began close to, but not with her question.
"Harry, I was talking to Malfoy earlier..." she murmured. “And I was trying to thank him, for saving you and Ron. I tried, but he cut me off- told me not to." Her eyes were fixed on her knees, but she felt Harry immediately tense beside her. Then he must know where she was going with this. . Hermione waited for a second, to see if he would relax. He didn’t. But his silence told Hermione to continue.
"He said he hurt you- that he used the Cruciatus Curse on you,” her voice became increasingly panicked, faster, “And he smashed your head. He said-" her voice broke, and she felt the tears falling down her face. Harry looked at her in the darkness, and he could see the tears gleaming on her face. She was hugging her knees to her chest, and biting her lip, determined to stop crying, shaking with the effort. Harry reached out a hand, and placed it on her shoulder, on the blade farthest from him. She looked up at him, her brown eyes shining, and slowly, waiting for a protest that did not come, Harry pulled her to his chest. Stop crying, stop crying, stop crying she told herself. He should be the one crying. But she couldn't stop. She cried into his chest, and he held her.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
"I wish he hadn't told you ," Harry said quietly. "You shouldn't have to deal with stuff like that. Ron wasn't hurt, he didn’t see it, and I didn't want either of you to know – to worry." He was running his hand down her back, tracing patterns over the light fabric of her shirt, trying to soothe her.
"But why did he do it?" Hermione tilted her head up to look at him, and gently placed her fingertips on a large bruise on the side his forehead, panic playing in her eyes.
"Because he had to," Harry said grimly. "When it's thirty to two, you don't really have much of a choice. By hurting me, he kept us both alive." Hermione thought about that for a moment, and tried to keep herself in the present second only, here with Harry, as she answered.
“But then I told him what you told me, about the album. And he said that he only saved it because wanted to take it from his father's body. Did he-” Hermione paused, and took a breath. “Did he kill his father, then?" Harry was silent, and Hermione knew he was choosing his words carefully.
"That's how we were able to escape. Draco's father had placed the charm which prevented Malfoy from being able to apparate us out. So, the only way to escape was to kill him. We were all in the cellar together- that was when Draco was- showing me what concrete felt like - and eventually, all the Death Eaters left , besides his father. They threw Ron back in- they had taken him to another room before Draco started on me. When it was just the four of us – and the door was shut, Draco pulled his wand- and sent the jet of green light. It hit his father square in the chest – and I won’t lie to you Hermione, it scared the hell out of me. I thought he was going to kill us, too, that he had snapped. But…" Harry paused. Hermione knew he was deciding whether to tell her something or not. She waited, listening to him breathe as he ran his hand again over her back.
"It was more than that," Harry said. "The look in his eyes when he killed his father, it was so - I can't even describe it. It was terrifying. Did you know Draco's mum died, a couple of weeks after Dumbledore?" Hermione shook her head.
"The Prophet said that she had died in her sleep, but I think something else happened. People under fifty, especially wizards, don’t just "die in their sleep". I don't know, but - I can't think of anything else that would make Draco look at his father like that." Hermione's breath caught in her throat. She was shocked, utterly still. A minute passed before she was able to speak.
"You think Mr. Malfoy- killed Draco's mum?" She was horrified, stunned, paralyzed.
"I think so - and knowing Mr. Malfoy makes it all the more plausible," Harry said, his voice full of revolution. His words chilled Hermione's blood, and she thought about them for several minutes as she listened to Harry's breathing. Her own breathing had steadied by now.
"I don't know, Harry," she conceded, finally."But I'm so glad you're safe." Harry nodded, and made to stand, but Hermione grabbed his tee shirt, not allowing him to leave her side. He realized what she meant.
In one a fluid movement, Harry silently readjusted himself so that he was lying flat, Hermione’s head still on his chest, his arm still around her. She lay against him, and Harry felt another tear fall onto his skin.
“You don’t know how scared we were, Hermione. That you were hurt. I never stopped thinking of you- what was happening to you.” He wished he could see her face.
“You shouldn’t worry about what’s happening to me. I’m always fine.” Harry sighed.
“Hermione, if Draco hadn’t told me you weren’t in the Manor, I wouldn’t have disapparated at all. Not without you – I would never have left you.”
“But that’s silly…” Hermione whispered. She couldn’t make out Harry’s response, she felt as if she was spinning. Exhaustion was taking over her body, and slowly, everything faded to black.
The alarm clock went off much too early the next morning. Hermione cursed, reached over to the bedside table for her wand, and sent a silencing charm at it. Ron let out a groan, and Hermione opened her eyes. It took her a moment to realize why her bed felt so empty. She looked around, she saw that Harry wasn't anywhere in the room. She immediately sat up, and when she did so her hand collided with a note.
Hermione- I'm downstairs, in case you wake up and worry. Tell that to Ron if he wakes up, too.
Hermione checked the clock again, and swung her legs off the bed. "Ron! Come on, we've got twenty minutes. Wake up!" Ron groaned again, his red hair barely visible over the blankets.
In fifteen minutes, Hermione and Ron were both dressed, levitating their trunks down into the parlor. When they walked into the room, Harry was sitting across from Malfoy, talking earnestly. He stopped abruptly when he saw Ron and Hermione, and they both moved immediately. Malfoy stood, and turned his back on them, walking over to the corner of the room by the fire. Harry, on the other hand, walked over to the two of them, grinning.
"Hey- we thought we'd send the trunks first, and Malfoy's going to go with them, and get them out so we're clear. So, Hermione, can you shrink them?" Hermione nodded, and raised her wand.
"Reducio!" Suddenly, all four trunks were shrunk so, together, they were the size of one.
"Thank you," Malfoy murmured, still facing the wall.
"You’re welcome," Hermione replied. She was watching him carefully, but looked away when she noticed that Ron was staring at her.
"Let's go, then," Rona said, but there was an edge to his voice that Hermione didn’t understand.
After Malfoy disappeared with the trunks, Ron turned to Hermione. "You next," he said cheerfully. Hermione nodded.
"Give him a minute," Harry said. "You wouldn't want her to hit the trunks, would you?"
Hermione stepped into the grate, and Ron tossed the floo powder. "Hogwarts: Headmistresses' Office."
When the spinning stopped, Hermione opened her eyes and found herself in Dumbledore's old office, as it now belonged to Professor McGonagall. She quickly stepped out of the fireplace, and waved her wand to clear the soot from her clothes. Professor McGonagall was standing up, but a quick glance around the room showed Hermione that Malfoy must have already left.
"Ms. Granger, please sit down," Professor McGonagall said, gesturing to one of the chairs across from her desk. We will just wait for Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley." A second later, Ron appeared in the fireplace.
"Mr. Weasley, I hope you're well."
"Yes, Professor," Ron said in a respectful tone.
"I need to speak to Ms. Granger and Mr. Potter, so please feel free to make your way to Gryffindor Tower. The password is 'Gillyweed'. Ron nodded, but he looked suspicious, all the same. Harry came into sight in time to see the door shut behind Ron. He also stepped out of the fireplace, waved his wand as Hermione had done, and then walked over beside Hermione and sat down.
"Hello, Professor," Harry said, looking from Hermione to McGonagall.
"Mr. Potter, I wanted to speak to Ms. Granger and yourself. You are our new Head Boy and Girl." A smile broke across Hermione's face at McGonagall's last sentence. Harry shot an amused glance at her, but then focused his attention back on the Headmistress.
"You will have several new duties: advising the prefects, arranging holiday decorations, assigning prefect patrol times." As she spoke, she passed Harry and Hermione two, very thick binders.
"I actually went to a Muggle supermarket to buy them." McGonagall smiled, obviously pleased with herself. "So, I suppose you both need to get settled in. I'll see you two later, then - and your schedules are also in the – folders?”
“Binders,” Hermione corrected her, smiling. “Thank you, Professor." Harry nodded, and they both left. When Hermione was several corridors away from the Fat Lady, she stopped. She turned to Harry, her expression radiant.
"Can you believe it?" she asked excitedly.
"Of course, Hermione. Who else would be head girl?" Harry's tone implied it should be obvious. "I was just surprised that I got picked, without being a prefect.”
"Oh, that didn't surprise me," Hermione said, beginning to walk again. "You're smart, talented, honest, brave, honorable-" she stopped suddenly. Harry saw her face burning, but he kept his face forward.
"Thanks, Hermione. That means a lot."
"You're welcome,” she replied, her voice determinately calm. “Gillyweed!" Ron was waiting in the Common Room. It was only 9:30 on Sunday - so no one else was awake yet, and the room was otherwise empty.
"McGonagall sent our trunks upstairs already," he said. "What'd she want with you two?”
"Well," Hermione shot a glance at Harry, "She wanted to tell us that we're Head Boy and Girl."
"That's great!" Ron sounded sincere, and Hermione felt a surge of relief.
"We should wait until everyone's awake to put our trunks away," Ron said.
"Harry, can I borrow Hedwig? I want to write Mum and Dad."
"Oh- I guess she'll be in the Owelry by now. Yes, go ahead."
"I'll be back later then," Hermione said, smiling at the pair of them.
Hermione walked up to the Owelry, thinking of what she would write. She wouldn't tell them about the attack on the attack on the train - but she could tell them that she had arrived safely, apologize for not writing sooner, and not mention the time frame. Once she arrived, she quickly saw Hedwig in one of the high rafters. Hermione climbed two sets of stairs, but without warning, a large, eagle owl dived at her, talons extended. She reacted instinctively, whipping out her wand.
"Stupefy!" It was so close to her, Hermione reached out to catch the bird before it hit the ground. She lay the bird down, then tried to figure out why it had attacked. The other owls were staring at her with unblinking eyes- it was unnerving. Then, as she gave up, walking up the stairs, she saw a piece of parchment sticking out from between two nearby rafters.
Hermione stopped, looking at the piece of parchment. She wasn't sure whether or not she should read it, but an owl might have dropped it - and a student or professor might be looking for it. Hermione realized she could just see who it was addressed to, without opening it or invading the privacy of the recipient.
"Accio!" When the parchment soared towards Hermione, she caught it, then realized it wasn't an envelope at all, just a piece of parchment. She thought a second before she turned it over. If it was harmless- she could bring it to whoever it was addressed to, and if it wasn't she would leave it.
She flipped the parchment over and read:
You deserve to die. Just like him.
Hermione stared in horror - she knew that handwriting. She had seen it a thousand times in potions class - she knew he had written it. Her eyes darted from the owl, to the parchment. If his owl was carrying it, hiding it, then was it going to be delivered back to him? She felt her stomach rapidly turn into knots. Hermione dropped the piece parchment, raised her wand, pointed it at the eagle owl, and yelled "Enervate!" before running from the Owelry.
She was running, but she wasn't sure why she was running, or where she was running to. Images were flashing through her head, some images that she'd never seen, but could vividly imagine. Mr. Malfoy advancing on his wife with his wand, the Death Eaters on the train, Harry and Ron's unconscious bodies floating behind them, Harry's head being beaten, Draco yelling "Crucio!", Draco's eyes as he'd told her not to thank him, the way he had stopped when she yelled that she knew about the album, the spasm which crossed his face before he'd asked her to call him Draco, his back as he'd turned away from them in the parlor.
And it was wrenching her heart apart. The letter's tone, the self-hatred emanating from it… It's because he thinks he's his father. That's the only reason he saved them. It's because he thinks he's his father.
Hermione burst through the doors, finding herself at the top of the Astronomy Tower.
"But he isn't!" she screamed. She slid down the wall until she was sitting on the stone, pulling her arms over her head.
"He isn't what?"
Hermione looked up, and her heart stopped.
Draco Malfoy was standing six feet away from her, his expression weary.