The Great Hall was filled with children enjoying the lavish feast sent up by the Hogwarts elves. Hermione sat with Ginny and listened to her stories of the last couple of weeks at the Burrow.
Mrs. Weasley was giving Ron the silent treatment, complete with making him de-gnome the garden and cleaning out the gutters without magic.
"Oh I think that is a little too much, relationships end everyday after all" Hermione said.
"I think mum is just angry for what he did. That and she's upset because she thinks she will lose you as her daughter now" Ginny replied rolling her eyes.
"I will write to her; tell her to let up on him. I would always want to be involved with your family even if it isn't through Ron. They are my family" Hermione assured Ginny.
"I know 'Mione. Mum's just afraid of losing anyone else" Ginny said and then stopped before she got emotional, she began eating to end the conversation.
Hermione scanned the hall to see who else had come back as what was affectionately known as the "Eighth years". Dean and Seamus had returned along with Neville, Parvati and unfortunately Lavender. The latter was currently sitting alone at the end of the table, it seemed Parvati meant what she had said the night Hermione heard them talking.
At the Ravenclaw table Hermione spotted Parvati's sister Padma, Lisa Turpin and Anthony Goldstein who Hermione knew from Dumbledore's Army.
Sitting at the end of the Hufflepuff table was Justin Finch-Fletchley, Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott, who had missed the previous attempt at seventh year due to the death of her mother by death eaters. Hermione concluded that Professor McGonagall had let the fact that she never took her sixth year exams slide.
Last came the Slytherin table, Hermione was shocked to see so many back. Firstly she saw Theodore Nott; she knew for sure his father was currently serving a life sentence in Azkaban. Next to him was Millicent Bulstrode. Hermione groaned at the thought of the fur balls she coughed up because of a mixture of Polyjuice potion and Millicent's cat hair.
Sitting across from them was Blaise Zabini and Pansy Parkinson. They all seemed a little subdued, possibly due to the dirty looks they seemed to be receiving from the rest of the hall. Hermione was about to turn back to her dinner when she caught a flash of blonde.
There was no way she could believe what she was seeing. She blinked a few times and looked again. It was official; Draco Malfoy was staying at Hogwarts and right at that moment he was staring right back at her.
"….'Mione. Earth to Hermione Granger" Ginny was poking at Hermione and getting frustrated.
"Huh?" Hermione brought her attention back to her table and her friend who was looking at her like she was going loopy.
"I've been calling your names for five minutes. Why were you staring at Malfoy? And why the hell is he staring back at you?" Ginny enquired, stabbing at a potato with her fork.
"I was just shocked to see him here" Hermione answered.
"Why? It's part of his sentencing. I thought Harry told you" Ginny shrugged turning back to her dinner.
"No, he didn't. What was the stipulation?" Hermione asked. During the building work Hermione could handle him, but a whole year at school. That was another story.
"Big fine, community service, constant good behaviour towards anything not pureblood and has to achieve an 'Outstanding' in his Muggle Studies N.E.W.T" Ginny smirked and Hermione had a hard time not laughing.
"Don't you think that the Wizengamot went a bit far on the last one?" Hermione laughed.
"Yeah, but I think its poetic justice" Ginny said. Hermione nodded in agreement.
Professor McGonagall stood at the teachers' table and raised her hands for silence.
"Welcome to Hogwarts. I would like to begin with the usual start of term notices, first years I expect you to listen closely. Firstly the Forbidden Forest, as it names suggests is forbidden. Anyone caught in there will be punished severely. Secondly, no magic is to be performed in the corridors. Your Head Boy and Head Girl this year are Neville Longbottom and Hermione Granger. They have my full confidence and full backing in any punishment they give out so I suggest being on your best behaviour." The professor took a breath and Hermione took the moment to silently congratulate Neville.
"Lastly I would like to welcome back our Eighth Year, I'm so pleased to see those of you who have decided to come back and get a proper education, unlike the rubbish you were taught last year" a nice little dig at the Slytherin table Hermione decided "now off to bed"
The teachers all stood and began ushering the students out of the hall. Ginny got up from the table to round up the first year Gryffindor's as she was the seventh year prefect for the house.
Hermione waved her off and joined Neville to see Professor McGonagall. "Right, let me show you to your room"
Hermione and Neville followed the headmistress out of the hall and up the grand staircase to the fourth floor corridor. They walked down to the bottom of the long hallway and turned to face a painting.
The painting was of the school crest, it was one of the few in the school that did not move. Professor McGonagall whispered a password to it and it turned into a door large enough to walk through, stopping all the crawling they had to do to get into Gryffindor Tower.
They walked through and Hermione shut the door behind them. "Welcome to your new rooms. If you walk through the door opposite us you will find stairs that lead up to your bedrooms. The password to the painting is 'Belladonna' I decided on a plant so that Mister Longbottom here has a chance of remembering it"
Neville blushed immediately and mumbled his thanks.
"Right well you were both already informed of your roles so I will leave you to your evening" Professor McGonagall departed.
Neville went straight up to his room to look around. Hermione took the opportunity to look around their small common room. There was a fireplace with two sofa's and two armchairs placed strategically around it.
The stone walls were covered by many tapestries and paintings, giving the slightly dank room a bit of colour, although nothing biased to any particular house.
There were also two desks, obviously to allow the head students the ability to do their homework uninterrupted as their many duties would take much of their time.
In between the desks was a large bookcase. Hermione followed Neville's footsteps and ascended the stairs. She could hear Neville moving around behind the door to her right so she assumed her belongings were in the room to her left.
She opened the door to a large room that held a four-poster double bed with Gryffindor bed linen and curtains, a wardrobe that already held her clothing and another desk. To her left was another door, which when Hermione investigated turned out to be her own bathroom.
It wasn't particularly large, but held a toilet sink and shower, which were more than enough for Hermione's needs. Percy had never let on that the head students had all this.
On closer inspection Hermione saw that her toiletries had already been unpacked and she decided to test out the shower quickly then get into bed, tomorrow was going to be a long day.
The next morning Hermione woke up early from a nightmare. Ever since the war she went most nights like this but slowly it was lessening. She decided there was no point going back to sleep as she would have to get up in an hour so she climbed out of the very comfortable bed and went to use the bathroom before getting ready for the day.
Once dressed and with her school bag packed with the days necessities Hermione left her room to go down to the common room. As soon as she left her room she could hear Neville's snores. At least someone was sleeping.
She made her way downstairs and out of the head quarters and down to the Great Hall. To her surprise there wa already a few students there having breakfast. She sat down and put some toast and eggs on her plate and began eating.
She looked around and saw that Draco was sitting at the Slytherin table alone, staring at his plate. She decided to do what she had done two weeks earlier and join him.
"Good Morning Draco" She said sitting down across from him.
"Hermione" he nodded to her and then began the staring contest with his plate again.
"Is there something wrong with your breakfast?" she enquired as a way to find out what was going on.
"No, I just don't feel very hungry"
"Well I'm sure a little won't hurt, it's a long time until lunch" Hermione coaxed.
Draco picked up his fork and stabbed a piece of sausage with it but still did not eat.
"Okay, I may not exactly be one of your friends, but I know something is bothering you very much, and since none of them are here, would you like to talk?" Hermione asked.
Draco looked up and studied her for a few moments before speaking. "Why do you care? After everything I did to you, why are you even sitting here?"
"I don't really know. I just thought maybe you could use a little bit of conversation, I'm sorry" Hermione made to get up from the table.
"Wait. I apologise, I didn't mean to be so abrupt" Draco said. "I would like to have a conversation, but let's get out of here"
Hermione contemplated the request for a moment then nodded. She grabbed some toast and put it in a napkin after he got up and headed for the door then followed behind him.
She followed him all the way out of the castle and found him leaning against a tree by the lake.
She was a little worried about time, they only had about an hour until lessons began but he had actually agreed to talk to her and she had actually not felt odd about asking him in the first place so she decided to go with it.
She sat opposite him and handed him a piece of toast, "Okay, talk"
Draco took the toast and just looked at it. "Come on Draco, for you to have agreed to this in the first place, you must have wanted to say something"
Draco took a breath "It's just, hard. I was sitting in the common room last night, and actually listening to what my supposed friends were saying. Not so much Blaise, but Pansy and Theo, they just can't let the prejudice go. You would think your parents being in prison would teach something but oh no not them…"
Hermione sat and listened as he vented his feelings, smiling when he eventually gave in and took a bite of his toast.
After a while he stopped, and Hermione decided she got herself into this conversation, she might as well go the whole hog "You know, I wouldn't normally tell people who to be friends with but if your friends make you feel this way then maybe you should rethink the friendship"
Draco just shrugged.
"Well you said Blaise is not like the others, maybe you should consider cementing your friendship more with him and pull away from the others"
"Maybe" Draco agreed. "So what has you up so early?" Draco asked.
"Oh err…"Hermione was a bit uncomfortable telling him, as the dream from that morning had been about her ordeal at Malfoy Manor.
"Come on Hermione" He deliberately made sure to use her name. "I told"
"I tend to wake up early a lot, a habit from being on the run I guess and I err…" Hermione felt very uncomfortable but pressed on "I have nightmares most nights so I just give up and get out of bed if the sun is up when I wake"
"What nightmares? I've heard it helps to get over them if you say them out loud" Draco said.
"Well sometimes just memories from the battles, I see Fred lying dead in the Great Hall a lot and err…" Hermione faltered.
"You can tell me, I promise I'm not cruel like before, it will be between me and you"
"Oh, thank you but that isn't why I….most of my nightmares are about your aunt"
"Ah. You know I wanted to step in. I knew it was Potter even with the jinx you put on him, but I just wanted it all to stop, I didn't want his death on my hands. No matter our history, if I could have stopped her I would have" Draco placed a hand over Hermione's but snatched it back when she flinched.
They stayed silent for a moment, "Thank you for saying that Draco" Hermione whispered.
Draco looked at his watch and informed Hermione that they needed to go back to the castle.
On their way back Hermione broke the silence and said "I wanted to say thank you for what you said on the Astronomy Tower that night, I appreciated the gesture very much"
"Gesture? Hermione I meant what I said. Except for maybe that insane bush on your head, there is not a single thing I would change about you. You're so beautiful, the way you hold yourself, the way you walk, so graceful and I really think that you don't know it at all" Draco stopped in his tracks and grabbed her shoulder to stop her too. "Anyone who does not see these things, no matter friend or enemy is blind and I feel sorry because they are missing out on a work of art"
Hermione's breath caught at his words and it just endeared her more to Draco, he was certain now more than ever that she really didn't know.
Before he really contemplated what he was doing he grabbed her and pulled her to him, and kissed her with every bit of feeling he had.