Author's Note: Hello. This is a short three-part angsty, eighth year mini-fic. It is complete and will be shared in three installments.

The many different genres and re-writes this story went through over the last few months was almost comical. But this was the piece that left my heart and so I hope you enjoy.

Warning: This story contains the following, to various extents: angst, minor character death, excessive alcohol consumption, allusions to potions abuse, PTSD and sexual content, including smut. Please consider this your warning for the entirety of this fic.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise.

Hermione was alone for the first time in seven years. She struggled to recall the last time her life had been so uneventful. It must have been the early months of her first year, before she had befriended Harry Potter.

Not that she begrudged him the path that friendship had led her down and she certainly wouldn't have traded it for anything although there was a certain simplistic peace behind not being at war.

She hadn't been surprised that Harry and Ron had opted not to return to Hogwarts, instead entering straight into Auror training. And if she was honest, it was probably for the best that she and Ron weren't around one another right now, given the awkward way they had left things. Though they had shared one heated kiss in a moment fraught with tension and emotion, Hermione had not found it to be a conducive start to a relationship.

If nothing else, it had finally enlightened Hermione to the fact that whatever feelings she had thought she had for Ron were simply the result of a youthful crush, developed over time through a kinship of the many things they had faced together. A crush that, it seemed, had finally dissipated following the end of the war.

The only problem was that Ron had seen it another way entirely and, when Hermione had told him she wasn't interested, he had taken it as a supreme kick to his ego and made more of a fuss than had been strictly necessary.

Beyond that, Hermione had struggled deeply with her search for a way to restore her parents' memories. Everything she had read, the healers she had spoken to, all suggested it was unlikely and any attempts could cause permanent damage. The truth had crushed Hermione like a boulder to the chest.

Needless to say, being back at Hogwarts was duly appreciated, if for no reason other than a distraction. She had missed her favourite reading chair, tucked away by the fire in a private alcove of the library.

Hermione had initially been concerned that the school would be unable to open again so soon following the Battle of Hogwarts, but it seemed the ancient, unexplained magic deep within the castle had felt the need to re-open for students that September, and so it had.

Given that Hermione wasn't technically a seventh year, she hadn't been offered the Head Girl position but she found herself more than fine without the extra responsibility. She had been offered Prefect, however, which she had accepted due to her great love for the baths in the Prefects' bathroom. As well, she had been given her own private room off the common room of Gryffindor Tower which was extremely nice.

Hermione had been surprised how few students from her year had returned to Hogwarts. Aside from her and Neville in Gryffindor, there had been a few Ravenclaws, two Hufflepuffs and two Slytherins.

There was something oddly comforting knowing that she wasn't the only student present that had been significantly involved in the war, but the experiences even Neville, Ginny and Luna had faced were so different from her own.

The other benefit to having her own dorm was that, when the nightmares relentlessly plagued Hermione, more often than not, she wasn't apt to wake any of her fellow lions.

Harry had given Hermione the Marauder's Map when he learned she was returning to Hogwarts, citing she would have more use for it than he would. At first, Hermione hadn't intended to sneak around out of bed in the early hours, but after the first month it was remarkable how suddenly breaking a few school rules didn't feel so significant, when considered in the context that the year before at the same time she had been on the run for her life.

Beyond that, when the nightmares grew especially wearisome and staying in her room became stifling, the wide, cavernous hallways with their quiet darkness became oddly comforting.

After a few weeks of being back at Hogwarts castle, Hermione's life revolved around timetables and routines once more. Eighth years attended classes with seventh years and Hermione was always among the first seated. She studied in the library, ate most of her meals in the Great Hall, attended Quidditch matches and traveled to Hogsmeade on occasion. She suspected it was the experience Hogwarts might have been all along, had there been no war.

It was a welcome relief that the most stressful part of school was classwork and exams.

Her morning routine became like clockwork; she would rise early, prepare herself for the day and walk down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Invariably, the only other students in her year awake at that time were Malfoy and Nott, the two returning Slytherin students.

Hermione had decided she would do her best to put old house rivalries behind her. She had attended both of their trials following the end of the war and knew it was probationary for them to complete their schooling. She remained civil although she kept out of their way and they returned the gesture. Just the thought of Malfoy some days caused shivers to run the length of her spine; the memories of being at Malfoy Manor were still fresh.

"Good morning, Firenze," Hermione commented as she walked past the centaur on her way to classes one morning. "How are you today?"

"I am of a complex mind," Firenze replied slowly. "Saturn has entered retrograde and the winds speak of unseasonable warmth."

"Oh?" Hermione asked. "Perhaps I will observe it tonight."

"You should," Firenze said, staring at her. "It will serve you well."

Hermione shook her head as she walked off. The centaur had grown on her during her time back at the castle, and while she still considered divination to be utter bollocks and no longer took the class, she had developed a casual interest in astronomy during her late night wanderings. There was something about the intricate focus of a telescope, the black silence of a night sky dotted with stars, that soothed her soul.

Hermione had begun to notice a certain restlessness within herself, especially during her classes and she often found her day dragging on when that had never been the case before. So it was with a light heart that she left her last class of the day, detouring to her room in Gryffindor Tower to drop off her books before dinner.

Her evening went as usual; dinner with Neville and Ginny, where they were joined by Luna. After leaving the library she retired to her room to read a book before turning in for the night, hoping as always that she might find some rest.

But of course, as had grown common, sleep did not come easily and it did not linger. Wandering the halls, the Marauder's Map clutched tightly in one hand, her lumos'd wand in the other, Hermione was suddenly reminded of Firenze's words at breakfast.

She made her way to one of the tallest towers – she had been unable to bring herself to use the Astronomy Tower – and began adjusting the telescope which she had assembled and stored there some weeks ago. As she carefully fiddled with the lens, aligning it just so, she was grateful for the serenity of it.

Focusing and turning the telescope so that she might observe Saturn, Hermione sank into her task, the silence stark and absolute around her and a smile playing about her lips. She admired the planet and its rings for a long while.

As she was about to return to her dorm, content with her observations, an object flashed through her lens that caused her to jump. Adjusting her distance, she tried to locate the object again, her heart racing from the surprise of it.

She caught sight of it once more, focusing her telescope to see the object was merely someone riding a broom. While it seemed anti-climactic and mundane, Hermione had to wonder why someone was riding a broom at half two in the morning. And it wasn't just anyone – she would recognize that shock of platinum blond hair anywhere.

Hermione swallowed heavily and glanced around her, as if someone were watching, and she zoomed in even closer. Malfoy was drifting lazily on the broom, one-handed, head and shoulders slouched forward, staring listlessly down at the handle of the broomstick.

Against her better judgement, she followed his movement as he descended, slow and shallow, to the ground, stumbling gracelessly from the broom as his feet met the tall grasses on the outskirts of the forest.

Perhaps he was drunk? She wouldn't put it past him. But there was something altogether sober – and sobering – about his movements.

He took a few slow steps towards the forest, so without his usual aristocratic sense of purpose, the broom slipping from his loose fingers and falling from his grip. His back was to her now, and Hermione decided she really ought to stop watching but she couldn't quite comprehend the situation and found herself oddly fixated.

He took another step, falling into the trunk of a sturdy aspen with one shoulder in a sort of lifeless collapse. His head was still bent, facing the ground and Hermione imagined his eyes to be closed.

She felt as if she were intruding on something extremely personal.

He stayed there for a long while and Hermione lost track of time as she held her breath, caught in the moment. It was only when she looked close – and she might have even imagined it, faint as it was – that she realized he seemed to be shaking.

It might have been ten minutes or an hour, but he turned his back to the tree, sliding down the length of it to the cold, sparsely vegetated ground. Hermione couldn't see his face as he dropped his head to his bent knees, arms tossed casually across them.

Hermione realized, as she continued to violate his privacy in the worst way, she had never seen him even remotely vulnerable. He had always simply been Draco Malfoy, Slytherin, pureblood prince, with the obnoxious swagger and the cutting remarks aplenty. Somehow she had never even imagined him to have a vulnerable side.

Even after Harry had shared with her the happenings of that dreadful night atop the Astronomy Tower, how Malfoy had been unable, or unwilling, to go through with his appointed mission, Hermione had never quite imagined him to struggle with anything.

Obviously, she had been wrong.

Maybe she had just never spared any time to think of Draco Malfoy because he had never treated her in a way that merited any time spent. But she found, suddenly, her thoughts racing.

He had been forced into becoming a Death Eater at only sixteen and given an impossible task. His family had played unwilling host to Voldemort inside their ancestral manor and who knows what he might have experienced during that time. His parents had fought on the losing side of a war and Malfoy had been dragged into the thick of it as well. His father was now in Azkaban and his mother trapped within the very same manor on house arrest – and the youngest Malfoy had almost landed in Azkaban himself.

Had she so severely underestimated what he had been through – what he was struggling with – simply because he hadn't been on her side and so he didn't matter?

She briefly tried to place herself in his shoes. If she had been born into his family, a pureblood, under the thumb of his parents, had grown up listening to the prejudiced rhetoric he had undoubtedly heard, would she have turned out so much differently?

She continued to watch him though her eyes were now glazed, her mind rampant with these thoughts, tempered with a creeping sort of doubt. Was she so cold, so self-righteous that she hadn't ever considered what he must be going through? All because a silly house rivalry had left her with a bad impression?

So caught up was she that Hermione almost didn't notice he had stood, gathered his broom, and began to drag himself with leaden feet back towards the school.

Feeling a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold breeze coming into the tower, Hermione tucked her telescope back into its storage and activated the Marauder's Map once more. Though it was likely Malfoy would be headed to the dungeons, she did not want to accidentally cross his path.

After a hurried and uneventful trip back to Gryffindor Tower, Hermione sunk back beneath her covers, falling asleep with relative ease and she dreamt of great snakes and falling chandeliers and a frosty forest at dawn.

Hermione began to hear the rumours the next morning. Lucius Malfoy was dead. She had already heard a variety of accounts through breakfast by the time the morning post arrived. An argument with another inmate; an altercation with a guard. The new guards of Azkaban had proven themselves to be far worse than the Dementors had been and it had become a common occurrence.

But the Daily Prophet confirmed the rumours. It was sparse on details but it had happened the evening before within the confines of the prison.

Hermione unwittingly glanced to the Slytherin table as she chewed a slice of toast that had suddenly lost its flavour. Malfoy was not in attendance at breakfast, though she wasn't particularly surprised. While she felt no great loss at the death of Lucius Malfoy, she knew her schoolyard rival had always looked up to his father.

Though she had to wonder whether things had changed over the course of the war.

He was not in potions that morning, nor was he in arithmancy that afternoon. Hermione found herself wondering why she was so attentive to Malfoy's class attendance and the only conclusion she could make was because of what she had observed the night before. The loss of his father certainly explained Malfoy's late night ride and his countenance following.

But she had never been particularly concerned with Malfoy or what he had faced and she supposed the only reason why she cared now was the revelations she had reached in that tower.

That Malfoy must have struggled so much more than she ever imagined.

She was surprised, at the end of the day, to see Malfoy at dinner, staring blandly into his mostly untouched plate, his expression neutral.

While some part of her debated the idea of approaching him, she quickly stopped those thoughts before they could go too far. She and Malfoy had said next to nothing to one another all year and there was no reason for that to change now, when she still had nothing valid to say to him. He most certainly would not want her condolences.

She averted her gaze as Nott attempted to engage Malfoy in conversation and the blond looked up from his plate to his dark-haired friend, uttering a response that she could not hear. The last thing she wanted was for him to notice her staring.

Hermione spent the evening in the Gryffindor common room, watching Neville and Ginny play a heated match of Exploding Snap, attempting to read a book. Finally she gave up, setting the book aside, too many unwelcome thoughts rampant through her mind.

When she found herself wandering the corridors after hours, as usual, she fought a failing battle with herself and wondered whether Malfoy might be flying again. As her feet absently carried her towards the same tower, she activated the Maurader's Map.

Cursing herself as her eyes scanned the small print, Hermione noted that while he was inside the castle, he was not in the Slytherin dorms but rather a small classroom in the dungeons along the potions hallway.

She halted in her walking, wondering if she should perhaps see what he was doing. The answer came back, instant and resounding: of course she shouldn't. She had no business even looking for Malfoy. They were not friends, they had never even been acquaintances and she ought to go straight back to her dorm before she did something idiotic.

She returned to her dorm, but did not manage any more sleep.

Over the rest of the week, Hermione caught herself observing the blond Slytherin far more often than she would have liked. He had returned to classes, taking notes as usual; he kept to his meals in the Great Hall, chatting idly with Nott. But she hadn't heard him so much as speak, not in class nor the hallways in between. Once she had caught his eye and before she averted her gaze, embarrassed, he had simply stared at her, his brow furrowed a little. He looked empty.

He had been withdrawn from potions on Thursday by a Ministry official and did not return through the duration of the class. When she next saw him, he had been fiddling with a heavy signet ring that she had never noticed before and he looked unfamiliar with.

The Ministry official, then, had presumably been there to grant Malfoy his father's last will and testament. She wondered what that meant for him, with Narcissa on house arrest. Whether he was now in charge of the household and the family vault.

Not that she had any place in wondering such things. The sordid politics of pureblood households went back incredibly far and Hermione had never had an express interest in such things until she found herself observing the Malfoy heir far too extensively.

Determining she really ought to forget about it all, Hermione decided to avoid him by any means necessary until this strange and idle habit dissipated.

But it had already become so ingrained into her routine and Hermione found it almost impossible to shake. She could not force her eyes away from watching him, or her mind from dissecting everything he did.