Hogwarts was not what she had expected. Hermione knew it had been a tough year here. Tougher in a way than their search for the Horcruxes had been. What she hadn't expected though was the feeling of being an outsider. Not now. Not after Voldermort had been defeated and the death eaters were locked up and the muggleborns had all been granted restitution.

It wasn't anything blatant. Nothing obvious. In fact, nearly everyone was annoyingly eager to spend time with her or try and make friends with her. She was a war hero after all. No. It was in the small things. That in Defense, she was the only one that didn't immediately tense upon entering the classroom. That in the Great Hall, it seemed her and the first years were the only ones not automatically trained to look away from the Head Table. To look down at your food, across to your classmate, but never, under no circumstances, the Head Table.

They didn't notice. The ticks they had. That in Potions half the class had shaking hands and pale faces as they were forced to use knives to chop ingredients. A boy was late to Defense, and the teacher gave the expected reprimand. Detention. It was something normal, an everyday occurrence. Except it wasn't. The boy had flinched. Gone pale. Looked like he wanted to beg for mercy. But the professor had already turned back to the board, and the moment passed. Hermione, utterly perplexed, found that her classmates had gone still and tense. It felt as if the entire class was held in a panic. Holding their breath, trapped in some memory she didn't share, before they could resume class. It was on that day that Hermione realized not a single other professor used that word anymore. They took off points, and if the action was more severe, were oddly specific instead. 50 lines, written with a standard quill. Clean the floors on the third floor with a mop. Never detention. Never that word, that seemed to have an unfathomable sway over all her classmates.

She had expected the crying. The sobs that tried desperately to go unnoticed. As quiet and contained as possible, anxious to keep attention away. People had lost friends and family after all. Grief she could understand. What she couldn't understand was the staring. The way the students would pass each other in the hall, and share some look that had a wobbling lip immediately stiffen. That had teary eyes dry up as if by magic. It took her weeks to catch on. Occlumency. No matter how young, they had all somehow trained their minds enough in the most basic rudiments of the subject to push their emotions away. To find a little corner of their mind to hide in. She didn't know if it was intentional. If her classmates knew what they were doing. But it was pervasive. Getting too emotional? Remember, put your shield up. You know how. You learned. We all learned. How?

That answer took longer to learn. No one wanted to talk about it. Think about it. It was Ginny who finally cracked under her questioning. Ginny had glared at her, her gaze accusing. How dare you bring it up? Make us talk about it? You weren't here. You don't know. Know what we went through. Hermione felt the accusations. Never voiced, no never any solid proof that there was resentment. After all, she was a hero. And you don't go insulting heroes. It had been a short answer. An answer that only lead to more questions. Because Hermione wanted to know. To understand. And what Ginny had said made no sense. "Malfoy."

She hadn't asked Ginny any more that day. Knew she had already pushed her friend to the limit. So instead she paid attention. Gauged reactions closely as she brought up names casually. Just out of curiosity, who had been Head Boy last year? Malfoy? How strange it was to have so many classmates already graduated. Neville, Seamus, the Patil twins, Malfoy. Eyes narrowed at her every time she spoke his name. Small, hostile glares. Mouths set in thin lines. From second years to seventh years, across Houses, it was nearly all the same. She saw it in their faces. Stop it. Don't talk about him. You didn't know him. Know what he did. To us. For us. We know you hated him. Leave him alone. Her tone when saying his name set them on edge. If she wasn't who she was, maybe one of them would have been brave enough to say it. Tell her that she should shut up. But they didn't. And Hermione was left to figure it out herself.

There had been a fight in the Entrance Hall. Two first years, arguing over some insipid little thing. The hexes weren't going to do any damage. They barely knew how to float a feather. But one of the boys resorted to shoving. The other fell over. Yelled in fear as he crashed into a suit of armor. Cried when the fall hurt. And the other students stared. Stared down with blank eyes, oddly removed from the situation. Hermione realized no one fought anymore. There was plenty of avoiding each other, ignoring each other, but never fighting. Never dueling. The first years hadn't known. Known they had broken this unspoken rule.

At the first sight of a fight. Of anger. Of a wand about to be raised in violence. You retreated. You found that little corner of your mind and you waited it out. Don't look too closely. Don't feel. Just wait. It will end eventually.

In Defense Professor Higgins wanted to move on to practical demonstrations. For his third years to practice getting rid of boggarts. It was an accident. He was only teaching the curriculum that had been taught in previous years. But the curriculum didn't know. Didn't think third years would have endured unforgivable torture. The entire class had been excused from classes for the rest of the day. Professor Higgins had to cancel his next class as well, traumatized in his own way at what had happened. No one would tell Hermione what the boggart had been.

It was Christmas tomorrow. She should have been with the Weasleys. With Harry. Instead, she was here. She hadn't told them. She knew what they would have said. Don't go. Are you mad? You don't have to face it. You never have to see that place ever again. Why torture yourself with the memories? But they didn't understand. She had been crucioed here. Tortured in the cruelest of ways. Been broken more thoroughly than she thought was possible. She had pitied herself. Told herself that she had suffered. And then she had gone to Hogwarts.

Her classmates couldn't avoid the halls. Avoid the rooms. They couldn't even avoid each other. They lived day in and day out in the same places they had bled. In the places they had shrieked for mercy. Begged for the pain to stop. They had to live with the people that had seen them ripped open. With the professors that hadn't been able to protect them. With the classmates that had been forced into being their torturers. With the students they themselves had been forced to torture. There were no fights at Hogwarts. No duels. Because what is a schoolyard rivalry when you've made them thrash in agony under your wand already? When you've heard them swear they'll do anything, just please, please, please stop? When you realize that you want nothing more in this world than to be able to help them. But you can't. Because the Carrows are right there, and you both know that there is no choice. Tomorrow, next week, next month, this will happen again. Except you'll be the one of the floor this time begging them to stop, and you'll both cling desperately to that little corner of your mind that promises numbness. That small escape, without which, you're sure you both would have gone mad by now.

Hermione is only slightly shocked to see it's him who appears at the gate. She didn't know why, but she expected a house elf. Idiotic. Harry took their house elf years ago. "May I speak to your son?" Hermione tries to be polite. To not be irritating or intrusive. But she feels it regardless. These accusations are different than the ones she faces at Hogwarts, but the feelings are similar. Why are you here? Don't you know we want to be left alone? Haven't we suffered enough? Go away.

But she doesn't. Instead, she follows him silently through the yard and into a house that feels as if it shouldn't be as comfortable as it is. Stupid. No matter what happened here, who lived here, it was still a house. There had been no dungeon or cells for prisoners. There had been no room dedicated to interrogation. She had thrashed and cried on an expensive rug, under a chandelier, next to a sofa. Had they gotten a new ceiling fixture? Done repairs and tried to move on as Hogwarts had done? Did they sit on that same sofa she remembered and read by firelight? Or maybe sip tea while trying to forget the screams that had echoed through that room.

She watched as Lucius tugs a chain, and a distant bell peal can be heard somewhere upstairs. "Wait here." She stares at the chain, and thinks what a clever idea. There are three of them. One for each family member. No doubt spelled with some sort of location charm to find the wanted occupant in this place. Because calling it a home doesn't quite encompass it. It is, very much, a manor and shouting must get tiring.

He pauses on the stairs as soon as he sees it's her. Shock. Fear. And isn't that funny? That after everything, he's the one that fears her? Her gaze flicks over him. He's tense, his hand working very hard to not reach for his wand. He knows pulling a wand on her would be a terrible mistake. That she might take it amiss. Not realize he only meant it for protection. Her lips twitch. Is she amused? She doesn't know. But she does know what she needs to say. Because Hermione Granger is no slouch at figuring out mysteries, and her conclusions are almost always, nearly, correct.

"Thank you." His brow furrows, not so much at the thank you, but at why she needed to bring it up. He had tried to save Harry. Give them all time to escape. And in return, they had pulled him away from a fiery death and helped him escape a murderous death eater. Weren't they even? Or at least in mutual agreement to leave it all in the past and ignore it? Let it wither away the same way they hoped all war memories would.

"When did you teach them all?" Malfoy blinks at that, trying to remember what she's been doing these past months. And then he understands. Hogwarts. Of course. "Detention. They put me in charge of the ones that involved knives and whips and chains. Hanging by your wrists all night, gives you a lot of time to practice shielding your mind." Right. Of course. Head boy. She should have known. Put it together. When the students were cut down in the morning, the Carrows saw the cuts. Saw the blood. Saw the bruises. They never thought to check the mind. Never realized the mind had strengthened.

She berates herself for wanting to ask why. Why he did it. Because as she stares at him, she knows. Knows that he was just as sick and disgusted by the Carrows as everyone else. But she still needs him to know. To realize what he did, unintentionally or not. Harry had saved the world. But Malfoy had saved its future. To use an unforgivable, to use the dark arts at all, it was known to warp minds. To lead perfectly decent witches and wizards down slippery slopes. An entire school of students having been forced to use dark arts? An entire generation of minds tainted by the pull of it? What was a bit of torture? Hadn't you been able to survive it? Hadn't it felt so good to cast those spells, all that power racing through you? No. It hadn't. You hadn't felt anything. Because when your mind should have been exhilarated, high on power, it was hiding in a corner. A little pocket of numbness that kept you safe. You watched behind your little barrier of Occlumency, just enough separation that you could see the horror of it. Hate yourself for it.

Second semester, Hermione never mentioned Malfoy again. Didn't ask any more questions. She knew now. Knew that his name would never be an easy thing to hear. He had carved them up. Obeyed the Carrows to the letter; twenty lashes? Gouge their stomach? Make sure the manacles bite into the skin? Of course. My pleasure. Should be fun. Of course they never said not to whisper. Not to teach them to build shields. To create an escape. For those talented enough, to sink deep enough so that the knife was no longer as sharp and the whip no longer bit. To give them a safe spot to go so that they would never become obsessed with the dark.

You might not like him. You might be sick at the thought of calling him a hero. But in the end, you know he saved you. And for that, you'll be forever thankful. You may never recover from that year, but at least you haven't lost yourself. And you suppose that's something.