Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. J.K.R. literally has it all.
Hermione couldn't visit the Astronomy Tower without thinking of Professor Dumbledore.
It had been completely remodelled with the rebuild, but it still reminded her of that terrible day over a year ago. Hermione had only experienced it through Harry, but it still caused chills to roll through her whenever she thought about it. With a sigh, she absentmindedly trailed her fingers along the cool, grainy stone behind her as she stared out across the Scottish Highland scenery. She allowed her brain to numbly drink in the view of the mass of greenery glowing orange as the sun began to set. Hermione inhaled deeply, absorbing the smell and slight coolness of the late-August evening air at the top of the Astronomy Tower. She let out the breath with deep contentment; everything was going to be okay.
The repairs had seemed like a long and gruelling project, but they had received a surprising number of volunteers and with the workload depleted significantly, the historic castle was restored within two months. Hermione had been at the forefront of the damage repairs, along with now Headmistress, Professor McGonagall, and Deputy Head, Professor Flitwick.
Earlier that day there had been a final meeting where after a last minute check-over happened to ensure that everything was truly back in place in time for the opening ceremony at the Welcome Ball the following week. Apart from a few dust piles in empty classrooms, it had been clear. So there Hermione was – finished her task of restoring her home and school – admiring the fantastic view of the school grounds from the Astronomy Tower at sunset on a Sunday evening.
There had not many changes been made to the original structure of the school, but the Astronomy Tower had definitely been one of them. The changes however were not minimal; there was now no roof whatsoever and a short wall had been erected around the circular structure, with a circular stone bench and table in the centre. Below her feet the granite was paved with a white and flecked grey marble flooring. The bench allowed for easier chart-making in the Astronomy class and the white marble allowed for a reflective light to be cast in the usual darkness, but not being disturbingly bright for the stargazers either.
Hermione was sitting on the stone bench, with her elbows resting behind her on the stone table. It had quickly been her new favourite place in Hogwarts, and despite not being a particular fan of the subject itself, she had a newfound respect for Astronomy. This tower could certainly have been a place, if left alone, filled with dark magic. But it now felt like nothing terrible could ever have happened in such a lovely setting.
She had studied it briefly, but in the magical world, places where people die and/or where dark magic is performed are often left soaked in residual magic. This occurs due to the power and emotion that these acts entail, and how both involve an affection of the soul.
Hermione had never experienced it herself, but according to several of the books she had 'borrowed' from Professor Dumbledore, certain spells, usually dark spells, required so much power to be performed that they used some (and if not all) of the caster's core magic. Hermione had found the whole concept very interesting, and would have certainly investigated its theory further if she hadn't been so creeped out by the old Astronomy Tower.
With a deep sigh, Hermione was reminded again of her old headmaster. What in Merlin's name had possessed him to put that damn ring on? Hermione hadn't understood it then and she still was having difficulty with it. What she did understand was the curiosity of an intellectual. But how many lives had been lost over the years to too curious geniuses?
A surprising thought came to Hermione: had anyone told Malfoy that Dumbledore had already been dying? There was a slight pang in her chest as Hermione imagined Harry's description of him that night. Even if it had been Malfoy, no one deserved that.
It was these thoughts she found herself trailing before a glimmer of red at the entrance caught her right eye; Ginny Weasley.
"Hey," Ginny greeted Hermione cheerfully. She perched down beside her friend on the cool stone bench.
"Hey yourself," Hermione replied with a smile on her face, heart pounding slightly at the path her brain had been taking her on.
Ginny gently nudged Hermione's shoulder with her own. "Minnie's looking for you. Wants to see you in her office."
"Professor McGonagall?" Hermione said, attempting to keep calm. The strain of her attempts to hide her stress was evident in her voice as she asked: "Her office?"
"Not like that," Ginny scoffed. "What could you have possibly done?" Ginny laughed but immediately sobered up when she caught the pointed glare Hermione sent her. "If it's any consolation," she continued, "she didn't look mad or worried at all when I spoke to her."
Hermione turned away frowning; what could Professor McGonagall possibly want to see her in such a formal fashion for? If it had been anything less than critical, Professor McGonagall would have simply sent Hermione an owl, or would have even caught up with her herself. I mean, Hermione thought, I've been around the castle for days – she knows where I am. No, something is going on and I already don't like it.
"Hermione?" Ginny urged warily.
"You say she didn't look at all worried when you spoke with her?"
"Well, no. She looked fine to me," she said with a shrug.
Hermione's frown deepened. She knew Ginny was perceptive, so her saying that the headmistress looked fine meant a lot to her deductions. She sighed. "I'm sure it's alright. When did Professor McGonagall say she wanted to see me?"
"She didn't. But I'm assuming she meant as soon as I found you."
"Ginny!" Hermione scolded, abruptly standing up.
"If you haven't noticed, Hermione, but this castle is awfully large – I'm sure she didn't expect to see you appear right away!"
Hermione groaned as she flew towards the door and staircase beyond.
Ginny Weasley simply rolled her eyes at her friend's retreating back and followed her at a slower and calmer pace.
Hermione's heart was racing. It may have been from the four minute run she had taken in order to reach the Headmistress' office quickly, but it may also have been due to the fact that she was being called to the Headmistress' office.
During her jog/speed walk/sprint to the second floor, Hermione had concluded that this was definitely not a social call. Something was wrong and it involved Hermione. Or someone needed her help. Or there was terrible news to be delivered. But the most common thought she had running through her mind was: they've found my parents.
Her heart pounding loudly through her ears and her cheeks flush from her haste, Hermione took a deep breath as she stared at the gargoyle. She would have been there quicker, if one of the hidden staircases she was familiar with hadn't been blocked up. She was sure that it had been fine only two days ago. Regardless, she knew it hadn't been damaged in the fighting. But she brushed the thought away for a later time.
"Courage," Hermione said, her voice catching in the middle from the concoction of her nerves and exertion. Professor McGonagall had decided that her method of choosing the passwords would differ significantly of her predecessor's… Hers instead were things relating to the four houses. For example, last week's had been Helga.
The gargoyle remained still for a moment, and Hermione was about to repeat the password before it abruptly started turning and revealed the slow revolving staircase. Hermione jumped on, and started taking multiple deep breaths in order to calm herself even more as the anxiety of being told bad news suddenly engulfed her.
I don't know if I can stand any more bad news, Hermione thought to herself, I need them to be okay, I need them to be safe – even if that does mean a life without me. Hermione had decided long ago that she would accept not being able to fully restore her parent's memories of having a daughter, if it meant keeping them safe and happy, even though it devastated her.
Hermione stepped lightly from the staircase and forwards towards the dark-oak door. She raised her hand to knock, but paused to take one last deep breath with her eyes closed.
It's okay, of course it's okay. And if it is actually anything terrible, we can deal with it; nothing can be as bad as before, she resolved.
She stood there for a few moments, taking control over her breathing and irrational thoughts. Hermione was in the midst of scolding herself for thinking too fast when she was suddenly shunted forward in to the door. Hermione hit the wooden door with an "Oomf!" and heard a baritone echo of the grunt behind her; there was someone else in the hallway.
"What the-" a male voice exclaimed. "Oh, it's you." Whoever's voice it was suddenly changed in tone when he noticed Hermione, and she didn't particularly like it.
Hermione whipped around to see the person who had invaded her space so rigorously and recoiled at the sight of him. Malfoy, she thought venomously. But then as her heart-rate started to calm, she said to herself, it's only Malfoy! Hermione blinked at his appearance in surprise at her thoughts, and she wondered at what point during the worst year of her life, did Malfoy become one of the least threatening people she knew?
"Malfoy," she greeted emotionlessly.
"Granger," he replied in kind.
Since Harry had appealed for both Draco and his mother, the public's behaviour towards them had generally been tolerance. There were still a few extreme cases to deal with though. Many were not so willing to forget the Malfoys' strong involvement with the Dark side, and just as many others had personal vendettas against them.
Harry was supportive of their induction back into normality and had publicly thanked Narcissa for essentially saving his life. Ron had supported Harry's decision to be amicable; he understood their unmovable positions. He however, did not feel the need to be as 'friendly' as Harry did. "Sure, they're not as awful as we thought they were, but Malfoy's still a git," had been his exact words.
Hermione, on the other hand, was torn. She was of the same mind as Harry; she believed that they deserved niceties. "They need for us to accept them. Imagine they were shunned again in a world they wanted to escape to for so long – they could just so easily revert, Ron!" she had replied.
The only problem that Hermione saw was that they wouldn't want her acceptance or friendliness. While they may not have been so upfront about their beliefs any longer, she knew that they didn't think of her as any more than a Muggle-born high-riser – and that was at best. Thus left her wanting to be nice and actually speak to them, but knowing at the same time it was worthless because they wouldn't respect anything she said.
Maybe it was due to her strange thoughts earlier, or the current physical reminder that Malfoy was actually a warm-blooded human (she could feel his body-heat from their close proximity, and her skin was neither crawling nor did she want to flee). But there, standing right in front of her in the gloom of the narrow hall, was the same pale, thin, blonde boy who had tormented her early teen years. Hermione knew that, but looking at the tall young man who stood in front of her at that moment, she just couldn't bring herself to think that's all he was anymore.
Hermione blinked and realised with slight panic that she had been staring. Goodness, whatever he might have thought of her before, he must surely think she was out of her mind now. But as she glanced up at his face, Hermione saw that Malfoy was instead looking at her with mild curiosity.
She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing would come out. In this millisecond of brain failure, Hermione suddenly realised something.
"Did Professor McGonagall ask you to be here, too?"
Malfoy blinked and took a small step back, "Too?" he replied in surprise.
Hermione fell against the door. "Oh no," she mumbled.
"McGonagall wants to see us both at the same time?" Malfoy said coldly. "I thought I was here to see her about coming back." He spoke quietly as though to himself.
"Well I thought she wanted to see me about my parents," Hermione muttered. She almost clapped her hand over her mouth at the revelation, but was grateful when Malfoy didn't push her for an explanation. Why she thought he would was beyond her, anyway.
Both parties stood as far apart as was possible in the small, gloomy hall with similar expressions of confusion and disgust on their faces for a few moments before they were suddenly interrupted with the opening of the oaken door.
Hermione stumbled back with a quiet whimper, before regaining balance and finding herself suddenly face to face with the newly appointed Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"Miss Granger. Mr Malfoy," Professor McGonagall said, nodding at each in turn. "The quiet was disturbing. I was afraid one of you had incapacitated the other."
Hermione was still reeling from the sudden appearance of her headmistress and the light streaming from the office in contrast to the dark hall. Professor McGonagall had known they were out there the whole time? And hadn't intervened?
Malfoy on the other hand seemed to take it in his stride and strolled into the pink-lit office with a lazy debonair grace that only Malfoy was capable of.
"Professor–" Hermione started to apologise, but as she caught Professor McGonagall's gaze, she saw the sparkle in the Transfiguration teacher's eyes and realised her teacher was teasing. "Oh," Hermione said, and smiled weakly.
She was appreciative of the usually stern teacher's attempts at humour, but it also made her uncomfortable to have her use it around herself and Malfoy. Did the head teacher's obvious trust in him show that he was indeed a redeemed man? Hermione's mind was having a strange day.
"Surely Professor, you didn't mean to call us both here at the same time?" Malfoy said, lazily waving a hand between Hermione and himself. "Unless we've made Head Boy and Girl, I can't see any other reason for us both to be here."
Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise at him, to which he replied with the same action. But he was right; the two of them certainly could have been candidates for Head Girl and Boy. Nothing else could possibly fit. She was suddenly flooded with an elated feeling as she imagined herself as Head Girl and all the responsibilities it would entail.
Hermione stared expectantly at Professor McGonagall, but the older woman wouldn't look at her, and her hopeful excitement quickly faded to worry. So it was something terrible that involved both herself and Malfoy.
"The Head Boy and Head Girl have been chosen from the new seventh years, I'm afraid. If you and Miss Granger would please sit, Mr Malfoy," Professor McGonagall said, throwing Hermione a sympathetic glance and indicating towards the seats Hermione had not noticed in front of the desk. "I would rather have to only explain myself the once. I am expecting others, so I'm afraid I cannot give you answers until they arrive." The Professor then exited the room through a door to the right of the large, golden desk.
Hermione was about to start hyperventilating. She didn't understand. She couldn't figure out what was happening. Usually, she had a clue as to what was going on, but this was the first time in a long time she had been so... unknowing.
Blindly, she sat down in the nearest leather arm chair and put her head in her hands. Hermione had a lot of thinking to do in a short period of time. She was so lost in thought she missed the fact that there were four chairs placed in front of Professor McGonagall's desk.
"Granger, if you're going to throw up; don't."
Hermione looked up sharply at the Slytherin sitting in the armchair next to her and found herself surprised; instead of his sitting in his usual non-chalant manner, he looked as uptight about this situation as Hermione felt. Malfoy was leaning forward, with his elbows on his thighs and his hands clasped together. He had also gotten a few shades paler in the few minutes since they had entered the room, making him appear more translucent than ever.
He's got just as much to worry about as me, if not more, Hermione thought as she visibly relaxed into her chair at Malfoy's discomfort. She sighed and turned away from him.
"I'm not going to throw up," she replied bitterly.
There was a pointed silence before Malfoy spoke again. "Good," he said simply. This was then followed by more silence. Hermione sighed again. A few more minutes in silence passed.
"I swear, if you sigh like that one more time, Granger, I am going to hex you so bad, you'll be dragged out of here drooling."
Malfoy's sudden outburst broke Hermione out of her deep reverie. Heart racing erratically (for what felt like the hundredth time that day), she took a few deep breaths and looked again at Malfoy to find that he was staring blankly at the floor. Even although he had been the one to comment on it, Malfoy was actually the one out of the two of them who looked like they were going to throw up.
Her obvious discomfort was making him even more nervous about this 'meeting', Hermione deducted. Was it pity or empathy that made her decided not to comment on it and instead help him? She would likely never know.
"I just don't know!" she exclaimed, sighing again. Pretending that she hadn't seen him seemed like the best option for the both of them.
"Oh, la-dee-dah, Miss Know-It-All-Granger doesn't know something for the first time in her life. We're all fucking doomed."
Hermione snuck another glance at him; he was still staring at the floor, but she could see a smirk forming on his face. Turning away, she began to smile. But she made sure that there was no trace of it in her voice when she spoke again.
"You can't be as smart as I thought to not have noticed my besting you in every class. There's reason enough alone for me to trust my brain enough to come up with rational explanations."
"I think that bloody title has gotten to your head, Granger."
"What?" Hermione asked. She turned to look at him: what bloody title?
"The Brightest Witch of Her Age crap." He scoffed at the floor.
Hermione stiffened. She didn't know that Remus' term was being used in public or that it was known at all. "I don't need to defend myself to you," she replied curtly. "But in any case, that was promoted by the press and I have in no way encouraged the use of it. Personally, I think it makes me sound like a bloody light bulb."
Malfoy finally turned and looked at her. He raised one eyebrow before fully sitting up. "A what?" he said harshly.
Hermione stared blankly at him for a moment before bursting into a sudden fit of raucous laughter. Tears were streaming down her face when a familiar voice interrupted her.
"Hermione?" the voice said incredulously.
Hermione immediately sobered and sat up. She shouldn't have laughed at him, and when she caught his look of disgust as she turned around to look at the new person, it only confirmed her thoughts.
"Harry?" she replied in the same tone.
Hermione stood up. Harry was standing in the now open doorway, looking confusedly between her and Malfoy. He had caught her laughing with Malfoy, smiling at him, willingly conversing with him. No wonder he looks perplexed, she thought. Hermione was stumped and for the first time in her life, she didn't know what to say.
"I don't know about you two, but with Potter here, I'd say this situation just got around ten times shittier."
Harry and Hermione both turned to look at Malfoy, who was now also standing; he was right. The three flummoxed teenagers exchanged similar looks of horror before Professor McGonagall re-entered the room through the same door she had exited, except now holding what looked to be tattered rags.
The Sorting Hat, Hermione thought excitedly before she started laughing again. This is all so incredulous!
The three others in the room all stared at Hermione with the same expression of confusion on their faces. Their golden girl was surely losing her mind.
"Professor please tell us what's going on," Harry finally said, eyeing Hermione warily, who was now clutching her side almost bent over double. "Before we come up with insane conclusions of our own."
A/N: Gah! There's not much explanation to this one! All I'll tell you now is that it's a biggie. I hope you enjoy and please review!
Holly - xo