A/N: AO/OOCishness with Ron being a prat. If you really like Ron, sorry about that. ;p
Harry Potter and the universe as seen by JKR is not mine and I'm not making a dime off this.
Rita Skeeter is still a daft cow, and I still love reviews. :) Enjoy.
This story is now complete. It's been a whirlwind ride, and I'm so very happy for all of your support. Truly. This story has grabbed me by the nose and dragged me along, forcing my fingers to write it. Sometimes, no one was more surprised than I was how things worked out, but from beginning to end, it has been the kind of story where I felt like writing it was coming back to an old friend. The pairing [HG/VK] was utterly unexpected and rare, from what people have told me. (And for those of you that know I tend to ship HG/SS, you would have thought this strange...) But, for those of you coming to this story for the first time, all that I ask is that you give the characters time to prove that in this story, everything is as it should be. Much like in life, sometimes we find ourselves with people we never thought we would.
Chapter 1: Apologies
"At least I'm not a dirty, flea-bitten animagus!" yelled Ron, his face getting as red as his hair. "They're nothing but trouble! Look at all the trouble they cause." He threw down the book he had borrowed from Hermione and cast it into the dirt in his anger.
Harry Potter looked like he was going to deck his friend of uncounted years as Hermione Granger's eyes flashed with dangerous fire that threatened to spread to her hair and set it aflame.
"Ronald Bilius Weasley," Hermione said through gritted teeth as she picked up her treasured book from the mud. "When you are done blaming everyone else for your lack of priorities, try pulling your head out of your arse."
Hermione clutched her book to her chest and spun on her heels, storming out of the courtyard and down the path outside Hogwarts towards Black Lake.
As the figure of Hermione Granger disappeared down the path, a certain blond Slytherin leaned against one of the courtyard pillars. "Good one, weasel," Malfoy goaded with the lift of his chin. "I think you managed to go an entire day without pissing off the only reason you're passing Potions."
"Shut it, Malfoy," Ron replied. "Nobody asked you for your opinion."
"At least I insult her to her face, weasel," Malfoy countered with a sniff. "You insult her without even realizing how horrible you are."
"What the hell are you talking about, Malfoy?" Ron shouted.
"Well there's the rub, isn't it?" Malfoy sneered. "You don't even realize there's a problem. Fft. And you think I have problems."
"Get out of my face, Malfoy," Ron growled.
"Gladly," Draco said with a twirl of his hand. "You're not even worth the breath."
Draco shoved himself off the pillar he was leaning on and left the courtyard, leaving Ron and Harry alone.
Ron grumbled, kicking stones in the courtyard around. "I suppose you have something to say too?" he groused at Harry.
Harry shook his head, running his hand through his black hair. "Sometimes, Ron, you really are an inconsiderate git."
Draco followed the path down towards the lake, letting his mind wander as he let his feet do the navigating by themselves. He wandered off the path after a while, heading towards the side of Hogwarts where a hidden nook remained unseen from the path. He walked into the nook, placed his hand on a seemingly random brick and said, "Neutrality."
The tug on his navel yanked him towards another destination with a disorientating lurch before he found himself on a grassy knoll overlooking the lake from the opposite side.
He squinted slightly as the sun reflecting off the lake temporarily blinded him, but his eyes adjusted after a while. He scanned the area and saw the two that usually found peace at this particular spot. "Hey," Draco greeted softly. "Mind if I join you two?"
The dark colored eagle owl turned his head eerily to the side to look at him and gave a raspy "Whooo." Eagle owls that flew in and out of Hogwarts normally came in shades of brown and had yellow or orange eyes, but this one was distinctly monochrome. His feathers were all different shades of dark save for a small collar of white feathers at his throat. His eyes were obsidian and seemed to pull in all the light around him like a black hole.
The eagle owl was perched on the back what was possibly the only gryphon to grace the skies of Hogwarts. Intelligent brown eyes watched him through an eagle's face. Her curved beak sloped down in a graceful slant off her dark brownish gold feathers that ran over her head and down her back where they disappeared into the tawny hide of a lioness body. Dark wings folded across her sides as her long tail flipped up and back down idly as she regarded him. Her rear legs curled around her belly in typical lion fashion, but her front "legs" were that of a giant eagle. Dark and undoubtedly wickedly curled talons sported dangerous points.
Draco bowed his head, despite knowing that the animagus was not like the hippogryph that required such formalities, but it had become habitual to greet the both of them in such a manner.
The gryphon gave a low chattering call and bowed her head slightly.
Draco flopped down beside her and leaned back against her warm side. "Weasley's a prat," Draco said with a sigh. "You're better off without him."
The eagle owl flipped out his wing and whapped Draco upside the head.
"Ow," Draco grunted. "What was that for, Uncle?"
The eagle owl turned his head and glared at him silently.
Draco took in a deep breath. "I know he's your friend and all, but he really doesn't respect you. He wouldn't even pass potions if it wasn't for you."
The eagle owl made a rasping sound and the gryphon snorted, clacking her beak together in some semblance of a chuckle.
"It's true, Hermione," Draco fussed. "Look, I know Potter and Weasley would never believe I talk to you like a normal person, but that doesn't mean I don't see how he treats you. Hell, look at you and Uncle Severus. No one would believe you two could enjoy sitting on a hill together watching the lake and discuss a hundred and one ways to chop potion ingredients together, or… flying off into the sunset together for that matter."
The eagle owl gave his godson a very stoic and piercing owlish gaze.
"Oh you know I don't mean it like that, Severus," Draco said with a shake of his head. "You know that just the fact the two of you get along let alone you teaching her things outside of class would turn Hogwarts on its arse quicker anything. Let's not even get into the fact if they knew I was out here sharing space with 'mudblood filth' without throwing hexes would probably cause most of the student body and my father to have a heart attack."
Hermione turned her head to look at Draco and nudged him with her beak, causing him to oof. Severus extended a wing again and whapped him upside the head with an audible crack.
"Hey!" Draco complained, shoving her beak slightly and rubbing his head. "You know I don't mean that anymore, even if I do have to say it to your face in public."
Draco slowly extended his hand and soothed the feathers on Hermione's head. The were soft and smooth, yielding under his touch like finely wrought silk. "I'm still jealous that you see fit to teach Hermione how to be an animagus, but you won't teach me, Uncle."
The eagle owl make a pffffting sound with his beak, sounding very human.
"Yeah, yeah," Draco said shaking his head. "I know. You saved my life countless times. That was a gift enough. I'm still jealous."
Hermione took Draco's hand in her beak, mouthing it playfully.
Draco smirked. "You really are lucky to be apprenticing under my uncle, Hermione, even if no one can know you are. He really is the best at what he does."
Hermione turned her eagle eyes to the eagle owl on her back. Something seemed to pass between Master and Apprentice.
"I swear you two speak mind to mind," Draco complained. "That's not fair either."
The eagle owl turned his head and gave Draco a very smug owlish look.
The unlikely trio shared a companionable silence as the sun began to set, casting the lake and Hogwarts with a deep orange and red glow.
Severus ruffled his feathers and gave a yawning hoot causing Hermione to echo him, opening her beak wide in an yawn.
Draco rolled to his hands and knees and pushed himself up as Hermione stood on all fours and stretched, her tail swishing back and forth as her wings unfurled.
Severus rasped a hoot and took off over the lake, heading back towards Hogwarts to make whatever scheduled appearance he did at the hour.
Hermione nudged Draco with her head, wedging her beak under his arm and practically lifting him off the ground. She pulled her head back and cocked her head at him, swinging it towards her back.
Draco looked at her, unsure. "Are you sure?"
Hermione's brown eyes glared at him in a manner that made Draco swear that his Uncle's mannerisms were wearing off on her. She'd be pinching the bridge of her nose and calling people dunderheads if she wasn't careful.
Draco bounced off his heels and vaulted onto her back, pulling his legs up and around her wings. She waited for him to settle and hook his arms around her neck for better purchase.
With a surge of her legs, she was in a full run and her wings flipped outward and the thermals carried them upward. Hermione gave a clarion call that echoed Draco's inner exaltation as the wind blew through his hair in a way that seemed so much more intimate than when sitting astride a broom. He chuckled as he remember Hermione once saying that flying was not her thing. Broom flying was definitely not her thing, but what she was doing now… he had no doubt that it was her thing.
Hermione carried him in lazy circles around the lake and then banked down towards Hagrid's hut. With more grace than he would have given a creature with the shared mismatch of legs could have, Hermione touched down with barely a sound. She trotted behind Hagrid's hut where they would not be seen together.
Draco slid off her back and smiled at her, bowing his head in thanks. Ronald Weasley had no idea that he had insulted his friend with his anti-animagus comments. He really was a moron. It brought him some private satisfaction that he was privy to a secret that only his Uncle, he, and Hermione knew. One day, he would be there to gloat when Ron finally figured out the extent of his own idiocy. He hoped it would the same day that Hermione finally dumped his ass. That would be a red letter day.
"Thanks," Draco said out loud. "I'll see you in potions class tomorrow morning where I'll be sure to insult your teeth."
Hermione clacked her beak and nudged him with it.
Draco placed his hand on the feathers of her head and stroked it gently. "Don't let the weasel ruin your evening, Granger," he said softly. "He's not worth it."
Hermione nipped his hand with her beak and met his gaze, her dark brown irises met his cool gray ones.
Draco smirked. "I'll be sure to insult him some more in class, just for you."
Hermione gave a soft eagle whistle and unfurled her wings and took to the air again with a silence that echoed her Master's earlier silent wingbeats.
After watching the gryphon disappear into the darkening sky, Draco allowed the arrogant mask to fall across his face and harden his visage into the face that all of Gryffindor hated and Slytherin rallied behind. He straighten his back, turned his chin up, curled his lip up in a half scowl, and walked back up the path towards Hogwarts.