“Hey, Mudblood, what happened? Did a potion blow up in your face?”
Laughter echoed down the hall as Hermione walked past as quickly as her dignity would allow her. Stupid, stupid, she though unforgivingly. Of all the ways to fight Voldemort, Harry decided it would be best to leave Hogwarts all together. And Ron’s so busy being team captain that he hasn’t noticed how bad the Slytherins have gotten recently.
“Need an ear?”
Hermione jumped. “Hey, Ginny. Yeah, but you’d only tease me about liking Ron.”
“Of course,” Ginny said with a big grin. “What else are sisters for?”
Hermione laughed with her. “I guess that’s true. I’m going down to the library. You wanna come?”
“Sure.” It wasn’t until they had gotten to the school library that it occurred to Ginny to ask: “What are we looking for?”
“I’m looking for a book on aerodynamics.”
Hermione laughed. “It’s a branch of Muggle science.”
“What makes you think you’ll find anything about that here?” Ginny questioned, content in the Life & Times section. She pulled from the shelf a surprisingly thin volume on Lucius Malfoy. “This is a world where people like Malfoy reign supreme, remember?” she snickered, brandishing the pompous cover portrait.
Hermione pulled down a book labeled The Art of Twigging. “Here it is.”
“You want to build a broomstick?” Ginny said skeptically, putting down the Life & Times book. “Oh, streamlining?”
“That’s one way of putting it, yeah,” Hermione replied with a slight nodded, tucking the volume into her book-bag and moving on to the next row of Quidditch books. “I want to know if there’s some way to craft a broomstick in a way that inhibits its velocity and maximizes its equilibrium.”
“I want to know if you can keep a broomstick from shooting off into the horizon, and also make it really, really stable.”
“You could have just said that,” Ginny pouted.
Hermione could not help but smile. “Where’s the fun in that?” She stopped short. “Since when is there a Mosaic of Magicals series?” The section spanned a shelf and a half, mostly on the children of the people in the Life & Times series. “There’s one on Malfoy,” she said in surprise ― meaning the son, of course.
Ginny snorted. “Well, he is the only son of the second-richest wizard in― Why are you borrowing it?”
“No harm in seeing what ‘they’ say about someone like Draco Malfoy, right?”
“What about the one on Harry?”
Hermione smirked at the her junior. “I’ll leave that one for you.”
“Oh, very funny.”
“ ‘Unlike most rich heirs, Draco possesses a strong sense of duty, and works hard to bring his name honor. His sympathy and compassion would stir any wizard to kindness’?! What kind of biased idiot wrote this?”
“Would you please go to sleep!” her roommates Emily and Tiffany shrieked in exasperation.
Hermione meekly closed her curtains and rolled onto her back. He was, back then.Maybe he just thought I’d be fun for the summer, but he took good care of me. She began to drift off pretty quickly, and the remnants of a memory began to fill her dreams.
“Auntie Bess!” Hermione said, scampering up onto the long porch and bouncing to a stop next to her aunt’s rocking chair. “Auntie Bess, I found a bird’s nest! It got knocked out of tree, and the mummy bird is taking care of them on the ground!”
“Why, that’s wonderful, Hermione,” Auntie Bess said with a smile, putting down her knitting for a moment. “Are you going to watch them all summer?”
“Yeah!” Hermione said, nodding eagerly. “I wanna see the birdies get big and fly away!”
“Well, you’ll need a warm sweater for that, young lady. What do you think?”
Hermione’s brown eyes grew quite round as Auntie Bess held up the partially-finished cardigan. She threw her arms around her aunt and squeezed hard. “Oh, thank you, Auntie Bess!”
She spent three weeks watching the baby birds. But then one morning when she came out to spy on them, nothing was left but a crushed nest and a few feathers. Hermione crept closer until she was standing right in front of the remains of the nest.
“A weasel got to it,” someone announced.
Hermione jumped. “Who are you?” she demanded, finally finding the speaker sitting in a tree a few feet away.
“I’m Draco,” the blond boy said, as though she ought to fall on her face at the pronouncement, and lightly jumped to the ground. “My father owns this land. Who are you?”
“I’m Hermione. I’m staying with my aunt across the meadow.”
“You like birds?”
“Uh-huh. They’re so amazing, the way they can fly. I know we’ve mastered flight and everything, but there’s just something different about wings.”
Draco tilted his head. “Well, I dunno ’bout wings, but I could show you how to fly.”
“Father finally got me my first broomstick, and I’ve been working on it all summer.”
Hermione stared at him. “A broomstick? What are you, mental? Broomsticks only fly in fairytales.”
An odd look crossed Draco’s pale face. “You’re a Muggle?”
“What’s a Muggle?”
“Someone who can’t use magic. Mother told me about them. She says they’re vile, dirty creatures that I should never speak too.”
“Well, now you’ve spoken to me,” Hermione snapped. “Your mother’s gonna be so mad at you.”
“Not if I don’t tell her,” Draco responded mischievously. “Besides, you don’t looked vile or dirty to me.”
Hermione felt a blush rising in her cheeks. “What do I look like?”
“You look really pretty,” he said after a pause, fidgeting shyly. But then he squared his shoulders and motioned for her to follow. “Come on. I’ll show you my broomstick.”
A player from the start.
Hermione stared up at her canopy for nearly fifteen minutes after she awoke to this thought. It was very nearly daylight, and she got up with a sigh. So much for sleeping in on Saturday.
She looked at her Warlock Three calendar as she pulled clean underclothes from her dresser. The Gryffindors are playing their last game today.
Because she had woken up so early and because the last game of the season was a special occasion, especially since Gryffindor had almost no chance of losing the championship, Hermione decided to spend a little extra time in front of the mirror.
“Wow,” Hermione said, stretching her arms out as they flew over the dragon tor not far from Malfoy Manor. “This is amazing.”
Draco clutched her with one arm to keep her from falling off the broomstick. “Don’t do that! I can’t do magic yet. There’s no way I could catch you in time.”
Hermione shrugged slightly. She really didn’t care. She had never been in an aeroplane, but she imagined that this was many thousands of times better than that.
Draco swerved upward, just barely brushing the edge of a puffy cloud. Hermione shrieked with laughter as the moisture clung to her arm.
“You wanna go in?” Draco asked, gripping the handle tightly with his free hand.
Hermione only hesitated for a moment before exclaiming, “Yes!”
Draco shot up over the cloud, hung there for a moment, then dived deep into the whiteness. Hermione lowered her arms and closed her eyes. The water splattered over them as they sped through the cloud, and when they came out the other side, they were both drenched. Draco set them lightly down on a grassy hill.
Hermione sat down and flopped onto her back, sighing happily. Draco stared briefly, then put his broomstick down and did the same.
“Is the ground always this uncomfortable?” he asked after wriggling for a moment.
“Always,” Hermione said sleepily.
Draco rolled onto his side to look at her. The warm air dried them both quickly as they lay out in the breeze and sunshine.
Hermione scurried down the hallway, holding her Gryffindor jacket close about her. She had buttoned it all the way up and pulled the hood down to her eyebrows, but the red dress she wore showed clearly beneath the golden yellow waistband of the jacket. The dress was quite short ― almost a tunic ― and she wore grayish skinny jeans under it. Her penny loafers were covered in bright gold glitter, transmuted that very morning.
No one glanced her way as she walked out into the sunshine, although a few Slytherins taunted. Hermione drew herself up underneath the jacket, not a little annoyed. She made it a point to attend Gryffindor’s games, as was expected of the captain’s girlfriend. Ron had changed since Harry’s departure. He seemed to encourage rumors of their attachment, but Hermione had never said anything one way or the other.
Now that the season was over, she was of no mind to further indulge this rumor.
Ginny was standing on the field with the other Gryffindor cheerleaders. She looked up at Hermione standing on the edge of the field and faltered. Hermione pasted on a smile, and Ginny relaxed. Evidently she had thought that Hermione’s stormy expression was directed at her.
Draco hovered by the Slytherin’s center goalpost. He saw her standing there and flew close. Hermione didn’t see his wand until it was too late, and she fell backward with a shriek as a rain of gumballs poured over her. Ron very nearly rammed Draco in midair.
“Hermione, are you okay?” Ginny asked, running up to her. She gasped.
Shaking her hair from her eyes, Hermione picked herself up. Her jacket had fallen open; the hood hung limp against her back. Straight, sleek golden brown hair slipped around her shoulders. Golden eye shadow glimmered above Hermione’s flashing steel gray eyes. The tunic’s neckline cut low, curving below a red tube top.
“Whoa, what did you do?”
Hermione shrugged. “You change your hair every couple weeks. Why can’t I?”
Ginny was stunned. Hermione ignored the puddle of gumballs and climbed to the top of the Gryffindor turret. Draco circled above.
“What’s the score?” Hermione asked Colin Creevey, who was rapidly snapping pictures of the game.
“It’s 87 to 35,” answered a younger Gryffindor that Hermione didn’t know personally.
“That’s unusually close,” Hermione commented.
Hermione’s eyes opened wide. “Are you serious?” she asked, leaning forward over the safety rail.
Colin, who had been aiming at Draco, spun to capture a solid hit by one of the Slytherin Beaters. He bumped into Hermione, who promptly lost her balance and plummeted toward the grass a hundred feet below.
He was sitting in one of the uppermost windowsills, one leg propped up against the frame. Hermione shaded her eyes as she called up to him.
“Hey, Herme,” he called back down.
“Come down and play!”
“Can’t. Mother saw you on my broomstick last time we went flying. She says I mustn’t take you anymore.”
“Did you tell her about me?”
“Course not!” Draco yelled down indignantly. The expression on his face changed as he lost his balance and tipped outward onto the roof. Hermione screamed as he slid down the tiles.
As he tumbled over the gutter, he managed to grab it with one hand. He clung to the edge for one heart-wrenching second, but his fingers slowly slipped free. He twisted into a graceful freefall.
“DRACO!” Hermione screamed. Her fists clenched at her sides and she ran toward where he must land. But when she got there, he hadn’t landed. She stared upward in amazement. A golden sphere encompassed Draco, and he floated down quite safely.
“Herme?” he said uncertainly as the sphere dissolved.
“What was that?” Hermione squeaked. “That was amazing!”
Draco shook his head. “That wasn’t me.”
Hermione looked at her hands. A golden glow was fading from her skin. Though puzzled, she reached out to grab him. “Are you all right?”
He recoiled before she actually touched him. “You can do magic.”
“You’re a Mudblood!” Draco shouted, causing her to draw back in shock. He scrambled to his feet and backed away. “Don’t ever come here again!” He turned and ran back into the manor, leaving Hermione stunned.
“HERMIONE!” Ginny screamed below.
The world was a blur; she didn’t feel as though it was her body falling anymore. She rather like this free feeling, but the grass was approaching at a frightening pace―
Someone snatched her up out of midair, catching her not thirty feet from the ground. She turned around to thank him, Ron’s name on her lips. She gaped silently as she stared into his silver eyes.
“Herme?” he returned a little reproachfully.
Draco inclined his head in Ron’s direction. “He wouldn’t have reached you in time.”
“But you hate me.”
He smirked wickedly. “I can always drop you.”
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. He gasped loudly and flew low enough to throw her onto the grass without killing her. The three-foot drop jarred her none the less, and she glared up at him.
“What?” he said, smirking. “You’re the one who said I hate you.”
Leaving her bewildered, he flew back into the game. Ron hesitated a few yards away, but he turned and got himself back into the game as well.
Ginny had just reached the bottom of the turret, and she sprinted to Hermione’s side. She dropped to her knees and took Hermione by the shoulders.
“Are you okay?”
Hermione nodded breathlessly. “I’m fine.”
“Let’s get you to Madame Pomfrey, just to be sure.”
Hermione got up and allowed Ginny to lead her off the field. Madame Pomfrey confirmed that nothing was wrong with Hermione, but she did say that the Gryffindor’s hip could be sore for a couple days.
“I’ll live through it,” Hermione said with a grimace—the pain was already setting in. “I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot less painful that it would have been if he hadn’t caught me.”
“Actually,” Ginny commented blandly, “if he hadn’t caught you, you probably would have died instantly.”
Hermione turned to give her housemate a stern glance. “I know, Ginny.”
“How’re you feeling?”
Hermione was curled up in the window seat of the Gryffindor common room, reading a book about Robin Hood. Ron had just walked, still in his Quidditch uniform, but the room was otherwise empty.
“Okay,” Hermione said softly, moving her legs to make room for him.
“I’m sorry it wasn’t me.”
“That’s okay. I’m alive. That’s what counts.”
“He likes you.”
Ron paused painfully. “Malfoy likes you a lot more than he lets on.”
“Ron,” Hermione laughed, “a lot more than he lets on would be utter indifference. I would actually kind of like that.”
“Hermione— Oh, never mind.” He sat there, silent, for several moments. “I guess I was deluding myself to think you would go out with me.”
“What makes you think I wouldn’t?”
“I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
Hermione’s eyes opened wide. “What?!”
Ron put his hand on her knee. “Listen. I don’t think even you know it, but there is something there. I hoped you would be the girl for me, but I don’t think you can be.”
“Ron, I really like you.”
“Just not as much as you like him.”
“I don’t like him!”
They were speaking in heated whispers, and didn’t hear Colin walk up. He got a picture of them just as Hermione grabbed Ron by the arm. Ron jumped up.
Letting out a yelp of horror, Colin dashed away toward his dorm room. Hermione leaned back against the window.
“Malfoy, huh?” she said softly. She was too sore to go all the way upstairs, so she summoned a blanket and went to sleep in the window sill.
When she woke up in the morning, a curtain had been drawn over the window sill, and she was as good as frozen. She hobbled over to the fire and sat down in front of it, shivering out loud. By the time she got thawed out, she was already late for her first class, so she decided to skip it and went to the Astronomy Tower instead.
“What are you doing up here?” she and Draco both said, surprised.
“I don’t have a class after breakfast,” Draco replied. “But you do. Why are you here?”
“How did you know I had a class?” Hermione demanded.
Draco shrugged. “I see you go in the classroom from here.”
“Oh. Do you come up here every day?”
“Most days, unless it rains.”
Hermione paused awkwardly, Ron’s comments in her head. Draco was leaning against the parapet wall, hands in his pockets. Hermione had to admit that he had filled out into a good-looking young man since they had met so long ago.
“So why are you up here?” Draco asked finally.
“I don’t really know. If I had known you’d be up here, I probably wouldn’t have come.”
Draco looked hurt. “I saved your life yesterday. The least you could do is show some gratitude.”
“Thank you, then.”
“I don’t think you meant it.”
“Draco,” Hermione said in exasperation, “how am I supposed to prove that I’m grateful?”
He looked slyly at her. “Close your eyes.”
Against her better judgment, Hermione obeyed. She was shocked to feel cold, soft lips pressing against her own. So shocked, in fact, that she couldn’t move. Draco pulled back.
“Now I believe you,” he whispered huskily.
“I didn’t even do anything,” Hermione protesting, trying not to give away her pounding heart.
“That’s all I needed,” Draco said with a smile. Hermione was shocked yet again. He looked so different when he smiled.
Hermione didn’t even say anything. She just turned and fled from the tower. It was several days before she saw Draco again. When she did, he quickly switched directions and avoided her altogether.
“This is ridiculous,” Hermione said aloud one evening while she and Ginny were studying in the common room.
“What is?” Ginny asked, startled.
“I— That is, he— Oh, never mind.” Hermione closed her book and got up. “I’m going for a walk.”
Hermione walked briskly toward the Astronomy Tower. The chances of Draco being there were very slim, but it was worth a chance, wasn’t it? Hermione stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Was it?
She shook her head and started up the stairs. The Astronomy Tower was cold and abandoned, hidden even from the light of the moon by a dark cloud. Hermione sighed softly and turned to leave.
“Are you looking for someone?”
Hermione spun and found Draco leaning against the wall. She looked silently at him. Draco pushed off the wall and walked toward her.
“Were you looking for me?” he asked softly. When Hermione didn’t answer, he said thoughtfully, “I guess we’re even now.”
“What do you mean?”
“You saved my life. I saved yours. We’ve even.”
“Well, you are the one who made me fall. Sort of.”
“So are you. Entirely,” Draco said, leaned close. His forehead was icy against her own burning one. “But you saved me, and I saved you.”
Hermione took a shallow breath. “We’re not even.”
Draco pulled back. “We’re not?”
Hermione threw her arms around his neck and pulled him down into a tender kiss. Draco nearly withdrew in shock, but he slowly wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in close.
The cloud passed the moon, washing them both with pale light. Hermione pulled back and smirked up at him.