THIS IS A REPOST. I originally posted this fic a while back, pulled it because all my Dramione-inclusive plunnies died on me. But now they've been stirring back to life, so I decided to give them second chance.
Those who read these works before my mass Dramione Deletion (or who read these works in my Unfinished Dramione PDF), please note that aside from minor changes and editing fixes, the content of the previously posted chapters has not changed. All returning Dramiones will be updated weekly until all previously-available chapters are posted. At that point, the fics will continue until completion, but will fall under my 'sporadic updates' label. Feel free to reference my profile, PM me, or ask in your review and I'll get back to you ASAP, if you'd like a list of which other titles are (or may be) returning.
Fic Specific Note: Dame Blanche was 9 chapters long at the time of deletion, my dumbass didn't realize I didn't have the content of chapters 7 thru 9 saved on my PC, so from chapters 7-onward in this fic will be new content.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, or any affiliated characters, and make no profit, in any form, from this fic.
A Fresh Start
All Harry really knew was that this second chance at their seventh year felt different. Wrong, somehow. More than just Ron's choice not to return; more than Ginny dumping him because of some ridiculous notion about what she called 'the truth of their relationship.'
Perhaps, he thought, as he sat on the floor of the Gryffindor common room, steepling his fingers in front of his mouth as he stared into the roaring fire in the hearth, it had nothing to do with either of those factors. Harry knew there'd been a change in him after the war.
Everyone had welcomed him back with cheers and smiling applause, yet . . . while they were downstairs at the feast, he sat up here in the silent, empty tower, grateful for the peace. Honestly, he hadn't realized he'd changed until he felt the blinding urge to tell all those cheering voices and clapping hands to bloody well shut up.
Hermione had met with the same mind numbing fanfare. Harry simply watched as she took in the barely organized chaos with a shy smile, nodding and murmuring thank yous she didn't seem to mean.
Honestly, what were they supposed to have done? Let Voldemort win? They'd done what was necessary, why make such fuss over it?
He was so caught up in his thoughts, he didn't hear the footfalls of someone approaching him.
"If looks could kill," Hermione said, her voice light. "Honestly, what'd that poor fireplace ever do to you?"
He graced her with a chuckle as she picked up a poker and prodded the kindling. Harry knew she wasn't thrilled being back, either; not after Ron's declaration that he and Hermione didn't fit right as a couple, nor all the welcoming glances she'd received from quite a few of their male classmates. News that she and Ron were over had spread fast, and those who'd—at least in Harry's estimation—previously been intimidated by her intellect, or considered her unapproachable after having dated a world famous Quidditch player, suddenly saw her as attainable.
Or, they'd all finally realized that under that bushy brown hair and the weight of a too-heavy schoolbag giving her an awkward gait, she was rather attractive. He honestly wasn't certain which, but then, if the last few years had proved anything, it was that Harry never quite got the knack of reading people.
"Harry, what's wrong?"
He'd not realized that he'd again been lost in thought. "I think," he said, one corner of his mouth pulling up in what was almost a sneer, "I'm just bored."
The end of the poker caught on something and Hermione frowned, only casting a quick glance over her shoulder at him before returning her attention to whatever stubborn bit the thing had latched onto. "Bored," she echoed, distracted.
"How can you be bored being back at Hogwarts? This is your home, you love it here!"
"Yes, the place. The rest of it? Not so sure." Certainly, he'd plastered on a grin, laughed at all the right points when people were talking to him, but only because he knew they expected that of him.
But he didn't feel like living up to expectations anymore. He only followed along because showing them he didn't care about any of that would only make the simple process of returning to school complicated.
He wanted life. Something to quicken his pulse and remind him that he'd survived hell, but that didn't actually involve anything quite so grueling as the adventures through which they'd been; not the minor, inconvenient irritation of everyone treating him as though they didn't know him.
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Yes, you are. I don't care about any of this anymore. I'm not even sure why I came back. Nothing here is going to hold my interest anymore, Hermione. I'm sorry, maybe . . . maybe my coming back was a mistake."
Sighing heavily, she sat on her knees beside him, the stupid, stuck poker still clutched in her hand. "Don't say that, Harry. Look, it's just weird being back and everyone acting normal after everything, that's all. C'mon, I'm sure you'll find something to 'hold your interest'! Just . . . I dunno, be patient."
"Patient, right." He chuckled darkly, rolling his eyes.
That was when it happened.
Hermione rose up on her knees and hunched over, peering into the fireplace to see what was causing her such trouble. He didn't know if it was because she was focused on the sodding poker, or because she had somehow forgotten that her best friend was, in fact, male. Whatever the reason, she didn't seem to notice that her shift in position caused the skirt of her uniform to shift, as well. The hem rode just high enough on the backs of her thighs that he imagined if she lowered her shoulders toward the floor only a little more, he'd get a glimpse of her knickers.
The thought made his pulse thud sharply and caused his breath to catch in his throat. Harry forced a gulp as he realized . . . he was attracted to Hermione. His eyes drifted closed and he sank his teeth into his bottom lip.
"You don't really want to be with me Harry. There's someone else, there always has been. And . . . now that my brother's not in your way anymore, well . . . . I don't need to actually say it, do I? I know what happens next."
"You think I want to be with Hermione?" His eyebrows shot up as he held Ginny's gaze, disbelief puckering his lips. "That's totally mad; she's like a sister to me."
She smiled, sad and gentle, before leaning close to kiss his cheek. "No. That's just what you told yourself so you wouldn't disrupt the balance you three had. I think you started telling yourself that the moment you realized he liked her. It's okay, Harry. I mean, no, it's not really; it hurts, but I understand. Don't have to be the brightest witch in Hogwarts to understand it."
Like that, in a whirl of dark cloak and ginger locks, she turned and walked away from him.
He'd thought it completely absurd and put her words out of his mind, only grateful that Ginny explained away their breakup to everyone as things simply not working out. But now he was forced to wonder . . . .
Was she right?
Then Hermione groaned, her shoulders bunching as she dipped to one side, peering into the fireplace, as near as she could without setting her hair ablaze. And as he watched the movement, his pulse thudded again, fast and sharp.
Harry blinked, green eyes widening behind his glasses. The idea of Hermione—his best friend—bent over in front of him quickened his pulse. She was what he needed.
He cleared his throat awkwardly, pushing away a sudden flash though his mind of simply pulling her into his lap. Though he probably could, after all—he glanced about the empty room—they were alone. What was stopping him?
"What the bloody hell is causing you so much trouble?"
"I think it's just caught on a loose bit of the brickwork," she said, utterly oblivious to the issue her struggle was causing him.
That the mental image of pulling her into his lap led to a dozen other, far more sordid, mental images didn't help his predicament. And yet, again, he found that he couldn't think of any legitimate reason not to—expect perhaps that no one expected him to behave so brashly.
And he wasn't certain that single excuse, alone, was enough.
"A little help here, Harry?"
"Oh, for pity's sake," he said with a laugh, crawling over to settle beside her. As he wrapped his fingers over hers on the poker, he wondered if he'd have done what he was thinking, had she not broken through his reverie just now.
He tugged, and found the metal rod well and truly stuck. "How'd you manage this?"
She giggled, shrugging, her shoulder moving against his. "Oh, just shut up and help me pull."
"Oh, all right. Don't see why you don't just use your wand on it," he said as he shifted position, pressing his chest against her back to get a better grip on the poker.
"Sure, 'cause there's a spell that can dislodge it and not cave in the flue?"
He was quite careful to keep the rest of his body separate from hers as he could manage while kneeling behind her. "Well, of course, when you put it that way . . . . Ready?"
"One, two, three."
They pulled, and the poker came free. Yet, as they fell backward, it struck the inside of the flue, knocking something loose. Soot and rubble fell onto the fire, smothering it and sending up a gritty plume of smoke.
Hermione coughed, waving her hand in front of her face as she dropped the poker. Harry chuckled, and she realized from the rumbling beneath her back, and the feel of his breath against her ear, that she on top of him.
"It's not funny, Harry," she said, despite that she couldn't help a laugh. "Only our first night back, and already we're causing destruction."
She sat up, but as she moved to slide off him, his fingers clamped over her hips, holding her in place. "Harry?" She giggled again, looking over her shoulder at him. "What're you doing?"
He shrugged meeting her gaze, remaining against the floor for the moment. "Dunno, just thought maybe you could . . . stay right where you are."
The way he looked at her caused Hermione's face to flood with warmth. Harry had never looked at her like that; it wasn't that she didn't know what it meant, but that she'd never expected to see it from him.
She faced forward, focusing on her breath. Focused on trying to ignore the warmth of his body beneath her.
He sat up, lifting one hand from her hips to brush her hair away from her neck. When she trembled, but didn't push him away, he took her lack of resistance as an invitation and pressed his lips to the side of her throat, tasting her skin.
"Harry?" she asked in a whisper, her voice shaking. "What are you doing?"
Chuckling once more, he lifted his mouth to speak against her ear. "Oh, c'mon, Hermione. Don't tell me you've never thought about it."
She drooped in his loose embrace, feeling the press of his chest against her back each time he inhaled. How could he ask her this so frivolously?
Hermione lifted her face to meet Harry's gaze as he settled his chin on her shoulder. He was so close she could feel his breath on her lips.
Forcing a gulp, she finally found her voice. "Well, yes. Of course, I've . . . I've wondered, but—"
"Then? 'S just the two of us here."
Was he leaning closer? The tip of his nose brushed hers, he was definitely leaning closer. "What would people think? It would be so . . . complicated after everything we've always said."
"Complicated?" Harry smirked. Bloody hell, he'd never realized she could be this adorable—those huge brown eyes, and her bottom lip pushed into a pout. "I'm not talking about anything more serious than snogging, Hermione."
"Snogging?" she echoed, her cheeks flaring once more. "You and me?"
He arched a brow behind the wire frames of his glasses. "Unless you thought I was talking about something else?"
Before Hermione realized it, she tilted her head. Her eyes drifted closed as she felt the brush of Harry's mouth over hers.
The sound of the painting entrance creaking open startled her, and she jumped out of Harry's lap. Propping an elbow against his thigh, he dropped his chin against his palm and merely looked at her, laughing quietly.
"Harry, there you are!" Seamus' voice cut through the formerly silent space. The Irish boy came straight to them, plunking himself down between Harry and Hermione before he noticed the mess in the fireplace. "What did you two just get up to, then?"
"Well, we knew you were coming up and we thought there'd be less chance of burning down the castle this way," Harry said, recovering quickly and offering a jovial smile—though he imagined Hermione was blushing anew from Seamus' choice of words.
Seamus laughed. "Funny. Hey, what's that?" He grabbed up the poker and began digging into the pile of rubble and ash.
Hermione watched Seamus, trying not to mind how Harry's mood had swung around so smoothly. Right now, he looked like the same old Harry, but only a few moments ago . . . .
"Is that a jewelry box?" she asked, mystified by the small, silver case Seamus pulled free.
"Looks like it, but old." He shook it near his ear. "Hey, there's something inside!"
Hermione snatched it from his hands before he could fiddle with the lock. "Honestly, Seamus! What are you, a first year? This was up in the flue, so presumably someone hid it up there. That means whatever's inside could be dangerous." Without waiting for objections, she shot to her feet.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked.
Hermione met his gaze, his usual, innocent, Harry Potter gaze. He didn't arch an eyebrow suggestively, nor smirk, he merely furrowed his brow in question.
"Where do you think? I'm taking this to Professor McGonagall before it can get any of us in trouble. Haven't we learned anything?"
"I'll go with you."
"No," she said a bit too quickly as Harry started to climb to his feet.
Both Seamus and Harry looked at her in surprise.
Hermione met each of their gazes, in turn, before finding her voice. "I just . . . I need a moment to myself. I have things to think about, I could use the quiet."
Seamus made a committal expression and turned his attention back to scooping the sooty mix out of the fireplace.
Harry held her gaze for a few heartbeats longer than necessary. "Sure, because over-thinking has served us so well in the past."
She refused to consider his words until she was outside of the tower. As she hurried down the staircase before it could change on her, she pondered what had just happened.
Harry—of all people, Harry—wanted to kiss her, but not have complication. That had to mean he only wanted to snog, right?
Hermione rolled her eyes at how naïve that thought sounded. Okay, so perhaps not only snogging, but nothing with any sort of attachment, maybe? Oh, that was madness, she fretted as she rounded a bend in the staircase.
They were friends, best friends. There was no way something like that could work. Situations like that always became complicated, didn't they?
She forced a sigh. She was overthinking it. Trust Harry to predict how she'd handle the situation. Frowning, she turned her attention to the box in her hand.
Small and heavy, with beautiful, ornate scroll work lacing the sides. She imagined it couldn't hold much more than rings and earrings, maybe. Whatever it was, she'd let the faculty sort it out.
That look Harry had given her flashed through her head and a responding warmth washed over her skin. Such an odd thing—she wasn't certain if that look made her nervous because it frightened her . . . or because she wanted to see it again.
As she stepped from the staircase, she didn't realize how fast she was moving.
Nor how fast the person hurrying down the corridor was moving. They collided, and Hermione was knocked backward, landing hard on her bum. The impact launched the box from her hand to hit a wall and slip down.
Gritting her teeth, she uttered a strangled, "Ow," as she shifted awkwardly to slip her hands beneath her bottom.
"Merlin's beard! Granger? Are you okay?"
Hermione looked up, startled. "Malfoy?"
He sat on the floor, maybe a meter from her, in much the same position.
"I think I'm all right," she said as she looked herself over for any other damage. "Luckily I landed on a spot where I've got at least a little natural cushion."
Draco chuckled in spite of himself. Pushing up to stand, he then held his hand out to her. "I'm sorry. I wasn't looking where I was going."
Only when Hermione had placed her hand in his and allowed him to put her to her feet did she register his words. As though trying to get her bearings, she clung to his fingers, pressing the palm of her free hand to her chest. "Did you just apologize to me?"
As though startled, the pale-haired Slytherin suddenly glanced around the corridor. "Yes," he said, after assuring himself they were alone.
"And you . . . a moment ago, you sounded like you were actually . . . worried you might've injured me?"
He fidgeted as he pointedly dropped his gaze to her fingers, clamped tight around his. "Well, I—I was."
Hermione seemed to shrink, pulling in her shoulders to fold in on herself, though she didn't step back from him.
The effect made him arch a brow at her. "What?"
"You're asking me what? In the last minute you've treated me more like a human than you have in all the years we've known one another."
He opened his mouth, but no response came. Instead, he merely closed it again, his shoulders slumping as he shook his head.
As quickly as she'd gotten distracted—standing in an empty corridor, holding the hand of an apologetic, concerned Draco Malfoy—she remembered why she was here in the first place. "The box!"
Her sudden shout alarmed him. "What box?" He watched as she relinquished his hand and spun on her heel.
"Oh, no," she said, her voice soft as she hurried to the small, silver case and knelt to retrieve it. "It opened."
"Is that bad?"
Hermione stood, peering into the open box. "I don't know. It was hidden in Gryffindor tower, so I was bringing it to the Headmistress' office. I just didn't think it was wise to open it, since whoever hid it locked it in the first place. Whoever knew a witch or wizard to bother locking something without reason?"
Frowning, Draco peeked inside, as well. "What is that?"
Her mouth twitched to one side as she traced the small wooden figure with her gaze. "I don't know," she said, snapping the case shut. "And I . . . don't care, either."
His brows shot up. "You, Hermione Granger, don't care to know something?"
She rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine. I wouldn't mind knowing, but only if Professor McGonagall sees fit to share it with me. I'm not going out of my way to get involved in anything."
"Well, they do say war changes people."
Hermione recognized the snarky, veiled insult—implying that she couldn't help poking her nose where it didn't belong—but his phrasing was what caught her attention. "Is that what happened to you?" Now that she thought on it, that was probably exactly what had happened to Harry, as well.
Casting his gaze to the floor, he blinked several times in rapid succession before responding. "A lot has happened to me. Um, you should—you should probably get that to Professor McGonagall. Be careful with it, whatever it is. Just . . . just in case."
Hermione felt her eyes go wide and her heart seemed to skip a beat. "Draco Malfoy, are you actually worried about me?"
His expression soured. "Oh, shut up."
She couldn't help but smile at the expression that so reminded her of the old Draco.
"But, I . . . I am sorry, Granger."
She was about to brush off his words—her pride was probably more bruised than her bum, anyway, she was fine. But then she noticed the direction of his gaze. He was looking at her throat. Instantly mindful, she lifted her free hand, tracing the tips of her fingers along the thin scar on her throat.
"You mean for what your aunt did?" Her voice came out a soft tumble of words.
He met her gaze, his grey eyes pained, but clear. "I . . . ." He shrugged, stuffing his fists in his pockets. "I meant for . . . everything."
Hermione didn't know what to say. She was only able to watch him, her brow furrowing, as he turned and started to walk away. "Draco?"
He halted and turned his head, but not quite enough to look at her.
At that, he pivoted slightly, catching her gaze. "You're welcome, just uh . . . I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone I said that."
In a blink, she understood. Just like Harry acting like he was still the same around everyone else, Draco Malfoy being kind to her was likely to cause an uproar among the few of his friends who'd returned. "Complicated, right?"
A short, quiet laugh rumbled out of him, one corner of his mouth lifting in a half-smile. "Exactly."
"Sure." She nodded. "It'll, uh, be our secret."
Again he gave that little, breathy laugh. Nodding—she'd ignore that she could swear she noticed his smile widen—he turned fully and disappeared down the corridor.
Only after she was certain he was gone, did Hermione continue on her way to the Headmistress' office. Her thoughts slipped around in her head, crashing into one another.
Harry was acting like a flirtatious letch, and Draco was being kind and concerned? Blinking hard, she pressed a hand to the side of her head. And she was the only one privy to either of those bizarre, downright alien aspects?
What was the world coming to?