a/n: Rather long one-shot. The author realizes that some bits are extremely unclear. However, that is what she is aiming for.

If some parts are a little too unclear, though, feel free to call the author's attention to them! I did try to keep Hermione and Draco as much in-character as I possibly could...I hope I succeeded.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. That belongs to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.

"I have decided to join the Dark Side!"

And that was how it started.

Draco Malfoy was not a person who was easily forgotten. This was demonstrated by his flinging open the doors to Number 12 Grimmauld Place as rain and thunder boomed behind him, striding across to the fire, sweeping back pale, rain-soaked hair, offering a dazzling smile, and declaring that he was about to fight for Dumbledore and the Order.

In a thoroughly inappropriate manner.

After all, one doesn't commence hero-work with the statement, "I have decided to join the Dark Side; or, if you will, Dumbledore's Sad and Pathetic Group of Heroes. I solemnly promise to vanquish evil, destroy darkness, provide affordable health care for all creatures both magical and not, and declare March 27 'Celebrate Draco Malfoy Day'."

It simply wasn't done.

But then, Malfoy had never followed convention. Even when he was a pale, whiny, spoiled, rude, show-off prat he had never followed convention. He was sneaky. He was devious. He was too advantageous, too ambitious, too lucky and too attractive for his own good. He was the embodiment of Slytherin.

In fact, Salazar would have wept with happiness.

Silence had met his statement as audible thoughts sprang through the air. How did he find us? How does he know about us? He's Lucius Malfoy's son! He must be a spy. What is he doing here? Wands out; it must be a trap! What is he talking about? How did he get here? Why is he here?

He's Lucius Malfoy's son!

And that thought, clearly expressed on the faces of all her fellow companions, was what impelled Hermione Granger to raise her hand when Professor Dumbledore, following closely behind after Malfoy had entered, asked who would be willing to…look after…Mr. Malfoy, here. (Although Mr. Malfoy, Sr., was currently rotting in Azkaban. Perhaps that had something to do with Malfoy Jr.'s appearance?)

Harry and Ron had, of course, been horrified. Hermione could appreciate their sentiments, and could see the many degrees of them. It was Draco Malfoy, and no sane person would trust him as far as they could throw him. Hermione could very well be in danger; her life at the hands of one of their school rivals.

But that was the thing. School rivals. They hadn't ever seen him participate in any Death Eater parties, nor had they seen the condemning mark on his arm. After the Snape Incident in Year One, Hermione had grown more wary of screaming 'Fie, fie!' without second thought. Draco Malfoy was everything people had accused him of, yes—rich, spoiled, manipulative, devious, rude, selfish, cowardly, prejudiced, and downright nasty—but it didn't mean he was a Death Eater.

Yes, he was cruel and spiteful. Hadn't he called her 'Mudblood' repeatedly over the years? The first time had been a childish retort to her (justified, yes, but still) rude comment, and perhaps the young boy hadn't even really understood the implications of his hissed reply.

And so Hermione decided to give him a chance. Just one chance, and should he blow it, then she would do what everybody else had—with reason, she grudgingly admitted—done. She would go straight to Professor Dumbledore, voice her opinion on why he should not, under any circumstances, be allowed into the Order, and wipe her hands clean of him.

He's Lucius Malfoy's son!

But that, Hermione reflected pensively, didn't make him Lucius Malfoy.

The first day was…difficult. Hermione had decided to operate on the basis that the Ignore-it-and-it-won't-bother-you theory worked and had had this theory severely disproved.

In fact, this method only increased Malfoy's already high level of obnoxiousness. He didn't like to be ignored. He was a veritable spotlight whore, in the worst way possible.

"Gra-a-anger." The fifth time he whined her name in that tone, that absolutely infuriating tone, Hermione had cut into the brick with her scraper and had been forced to put in an entirely new one, for the Black Family Mansion didn't take kindly to having any part of it ruined. Fixing it by magic would only make it worse, as Hermione had learned from experience.

"Yes, Malfoy?" She finally turned around, biting her tongue and systematically tying her hair, frizzier from the humidity, up into a tight bun.

"I'm bored."

She sighed, wishing, not for the first time, that she had kept her dratted hand down and allowed Professor—no, not Professor; she kept forgetting that—Moody to be put in charge of Malfoy. After all, Malfoy had never said that he'd known the 'Professor Moody' from Fourth Year was an imposter. She smiled at that, and Malfoy shot a sullen glare her way, sensing that he was missing something. "Well, Malfoy," She started, trying to retain some modicum of politeness, "you could help me."

"What?" The pale boy scoffed, settling firmly back into his chair. He wasn't gorgeous; although he was definitely more than a little attractive. His face was a little too pointed, his hair a little too light, and his eyes a little too cold to warrant the title. "Me, scrub the floors of this vile mansion like a common drudge? The task is infinitely more suited for you, Granger."

"Just standing there certainly isn't going to endear you to the rest of the Order."

"And who says I even want to join your bit of rabble?"

Hermione put down the scraper, flung down the broom, and leaned against the cold stone wall. She passed a dirty hand wearily over her eyes, looking at him with a bit of anger, a bit of curiosity, and a bit of plain sick-and-tired-of-you-attitude-ness. "Why did you join, Malfoy?"

He snorted. "I don't need to tell a dirty m—I don't need to tell you that, Granger."

But at least he consented to scrape off various bits of unidentifiable substances off the brick fireplace. Although never kneeling to scrub the floor. Never kneeling.

Harry was much too tired and much too disillusioned by the war to really notice Malfoy's presence anymore. He was Malfoy, yes, but as long as he didn't destroy anything Harry would manage to tolerate his presence. Ron, after a few outbursts of temper that usually resulted in Hermione or other passing people to physically stop the magical (and on one occasion, physical) battles that arose, settled for glaring venomously at Malfoy whenever they passed.

To Hermione's great surprise, some of the Order members accepted him after a week or two; a few even went so far as to engage him in conversation. And then, to Hermione's horror, the Weasley twins took Malfoy under their wing and formed some sort of unholy alliance that could really only result in more mysterious smells and bangs coming from under the door that led to their 'laboratory'. And then Tonks arrived.

The mysterious smells and noises increased.

There were, of course, some that still watched Malfoy with narrowed eyes and whispered about him behind his back. Moody was one; Professor Lupin was another. Hermione couldn't blame the professor—after all, one of his best friends had betrayed him and now served as Voldemort's closest (however close Voldemort allowed his henchmen to be) servant. It was only natural that the older man would be more suspicious than, say, Tonks.

And then, of course, Malfoy had to go and save Harry's life.

"Petrificus Totalus!" Hermione yelled as a masked man advanced on Ginny, before turning around to shoot another spell at another unidentifiable figure cloaked in black. This was what Hermione despised about the war. The enemy turned into a collective group. The enemy became faceless.

In the beginning, Hermione had imagined each face as the enemy fell at her feet. Did they have a family? Did she know one of their children? Perhaps the unconscious foe at her feet was that child; was a classmate that Hermione had talked with, studied with…maybe even laughed with. And then it had changed, and suddenly it was only that Hermione needed to bring them down so none of her friends would get hurt.

Dumbledore had expressly forbid them to use any killing curses or any curses that…well, that the Death Eaters would use with glee. But how long, Hermione wondered sorrowfully, how long before they would be forced to use different curses than the mostly harmless Petrificus Totalus and Protego and other similar ones that they were using now?

"Granger!" Someone bellowed in the distance, before a shouted, "Mutatio!" turned the boulder flying her way into a cloud of white butterflies. "You idiot!" Malfoy was suddenly beside her. "We're on an effing battlefield here. There's no time for thinking!" and then he was gone, and Hermione quickly sent an Expelliarmus towards a Death Eater about to hit Tonks from behind.

Curses flew about the area, and Hermione told herself to avoid the green streaks of light at all costs before throwing herself back into the fight again. Her fist connected with a Death Eater's mask with a satisfying crack, and 'Vinxi' bound him/her with pale strands of magical energy. "Duck!" George cried, and a freckled forearm was thrust above her head and something pushed into the mouth of a facing Death Eater. A puff of smoke, and then there was a light peep and a bewildered looking yellow canary flew in front of her. George let out a triumphant whoop of laughter, before a Crucio ended it. Moody quickly put a stop to that spell, and Hermione levitated the still twitching George over to safety, praying he would be all right.

Somewhere off to Hermione's right, a crowd of three was gathered around someone. Hermione strained to see who it was while sprinting to the area and shooting curses behind her, but the black cloaks obstructed sight. Ah! One of the Death Eaters moved a little to the side, and through the gap Hermione could see a blur of pale hair and long legs as a fist caught one Death Eater and a Petrificus Totalus! another. Hermione was close enough to hear someone hiss Poena Dare, and then Malfoy was writhing on the floor as grey eyes rolled up into the back of his head.

Hermione didn't stop to think. Screaming "Petrificus Totalus!" at the person inflicting the curse on Malfoy and turning to face another, she found her hands bound and her wand blasted three metres away.

"He's paying the penalty for his betrayal." The only standing Death Eater said, readying his wand. "I suggest you do not interrupt."

And then he was literally run over by Ron, who was frantically clinging on to the sides of a strangely familiar blue car. Her best friend's panicked "Aaaaahh!" drowned out any thank-you Hermione might have voiced as the apparently sentient car reversed on its own and headed for another group of Death Eaters on the prowl.

The spell holding her captive now broken, Hermione retrieved her wand and looked up to find Malfoy, yet again, beside her. "Saved by a Weasley." Malfoy muttered. "Oh, the humanity."

Hermione would have liked to point out that she had come to his rescue before Ron, but she decided not to. It seemed slightly big-headed.

God forbid. Was Malfoy rubbing off on her after all these weeks spent in his loathsome company?

"Come on, you idiot." She shot him an aggrieved, slightly malicious look. "We're on a battlefield here. There's no time for thinking."

And, realizing that they had just teased each other, they promptly headed off in separate directions.

Where was Harry?

With this thought in mind, Hermione jogged through the battleground, searching for the familiar shock of messy black hair and offering a helping hand when it was needed. There it was. She opened her mouth to call his name, but it died on her lips when she saw who his opponent was.

Not Voldemort. Not any of his Death Eaters.

A troll.

Harry had faced a troll before. But he had faced it with Hermione and Ron by his side, and right now…right now he was alone as other Aurors and members of the Light Side were occupied with their own battles, and Ron was still clinging bravely to the now-flying car and Hermione was fighting her way to get to his side. This must've been part of their despicably simple plan…distract everybody else, and send the troll after Harry.

He was facing it alone.

An inexplicable sob found its way to Hermione's throat, and she swallowed it down. It wasn't a metaphor. Not everything in life was a metaphor.

Be safe, Harry. She thought in her mind, stunning another Death Eater and wheeling to her left to help someone else she didn't know the name of, but who still needed the assistance.

Snape was nowhere to be seen. Hermione supposed it was best that way, for he couldn't afford to blow his cover yet.

There were now only a few more Death Eaters to get through—she scolded herself for thinking that way—before Hermione reached Harry. Only a few more…

A cry reached her ears.

Harry lay on the trampled grass, clutching his heavily bleeding side as the troll, with a gleam in his usually dull eyes, raised his mace above his head. She was so close…Hermione was so close, now; close enough to hear Harry whisper feebly, "Wingardium Leviosa."

No, no, Harry! Hermione thought; an uncanny echo of that muggy afternoon so many years ago. Wingardium Levi-o-sa; not Wingardium Levio-sa"

One more Death Eater blocked her path to Harry.

The mace was raised higher, and then Hermione, and everybody else as action on the battlefield stopped, watched in sickened fascination as it began its quick descent towards Harry.

A pale blur rushed out from the crowd, shouting Protego!, and bracing itself over Harry's prone form as the mace descendedonwards and sped towards the magical shield. The weapon met the barrier and cracked against the bubble with a sickening explosion, shattering it as the body protecting Harry slumped over, unconscious from the impact.

It gave Hermione just enough time to shout, "Domor Nimus!" as the troll collapsed, its weapon dropped, and the rest of the Death Eaters fled while their plan burned down around their ears.

Professor Lupin was the first to reach the bodies; Hermione still too paralyzed with shock to barely breathe—much less move. It was Harry who wavered up on his feet, grabbing onto Professor Lupin's shoulder and then falling back to the ground, crawling towards the unconscious body that no one recognized yet…

Harry turned over the body with effort, and the Professor's eyes widened before closing. "I believe you, now." He murmured, cryptically, before scooping up Malfoy's body.

And just like third year, Hermione sprang to life. "Is he okay?" She whispered.

Harry turned a haggard, awed face to her as he passed. "He saved me. Draco Malfoy…saved my life…"

Hermione gave up. "Professor Lupin, will Malfoy be all right?"

"…I hope so."

The next day, Malfoy recovered in Madame Pomfrey's care to find worried green eyes watching him like a mother hen. Hermione sat a little off to the side, twisting her hands together and straightening his sheets from time to time. Ron sat on the other side of Malfoy's bed, running his hands through red hair and munching on a chocolate frog sent by one of Malfoy's now-numerous fans.

Hermione almost laughed at the tableau they were all in. How many times had she and Ron sat by Harry's bedside, doing the exact same thing as they waited for him to wake up? Never, she shook her head, never would she have guessed that they would one day be doing the same for Draco Malfoy.

"Malfoy!" Harry exclaimed, leaping up and grabbing a 'Get Well' balloon and thrusting it into Malfoy's defenseless hand.

"Malfoy!" Ron echoed, snatching the chocolate frog out of his mouth and starting to offer it to the blond boy before staring ruefully at the half-eaten sweet and putting his hand down.

"Malfoy!" Hermione triple-echoed, jumping up, before changing her mind and sitting down again, before changing her mind and standing up again.

"What the bloody hell are you three doing in my room!"

Just like that, Malfoy was suddenly a hero. Malfoy was suddenly The-Boy-who-Saved-the-Boy-Who-Lived. And Malfoy was not happy about this fact.

Hermione was surprised by this. She would have thought that Malfoy would just drink up the attention, no matter which way he came about it. After all, he had reveled in the attention he had been given when Buckbeak 'attacked' him, even at the risk of appearing a stupid, weak little moron.

But this time around, Malfoy shadowed her footsteps. As Hermione was a rather reclusive person, it was then up to her to ensure that both of them wouldn't be bothered by fans or well-meaning individuals who wanted to shake Malfoy's hand.

She almost pitied the ferret.

One day, when Malfoy was being particularly bothersome as Hermione tried to do some summer revision for her N.E.W.T.'s, she asked him the question that had been plaguing her since he first got out of Madame Pomfrey's care and into the excited world that suddenly welcomed him with open arms and insisted on calling him 'Draco' for his actions. Hermione was now the one and only person who refused to pay him this respect. Which was ironic, she reflected, considering the fact that she had been the first to raise her hand. "Why do you hate all this media attention, Malfoy? I seem to remember a certain Rita Skeeter that you patronized throughout almost the entirety of Fourth Year."

They were sitting in the Weasley kitchen. At least, Hermione was sitting, and Draco was eyeing each shadowed area as if something would attack him any second. He shot her a glance out of pale eyes.

Everything was so pale with him. Pale hair, pale eyes, pale face that struggled to suppress each emotion. But he had never been good at that. Not when he found out he would be given detention in the Forbidden Forest. Not when he had thought that Buckbeak would be put to death. Not when he had found out that Harry was on the Quidditch team in First Year, and not when Ron had made fun of his name, and not when Hermione had beaten him in every single class.

Again, Hermione wondered why he was even here.

Malfoy sneered at her. "I have people congratulating me on how selfless, and how brave, and how noble and good and heroic I am. According to the bleeding media, I might as well be a Gryffindor."

Hermione had to change the laugh startled out of her into a cough. "And I suppose you would rather have had Harry die?" She said indignantly, wondering why she was even indignant, talking to Malfoy about this subject. Really, it wasn't as if she should be surprised. She still didn't like him and she still didn't trust him, even if Harry and Ron had spent rather a long time with Malfoy and even if—dare she say it—the three boys were becoming friends.

"Of course effing not. Why else do you think I risked myself to stop the troll from killing him while you all stood around like blocks of wood? It's up to Potter to finally get rid of the Dark Lord—sorry, Granger; habit—and it's not like he can do that if he's dead." Malfoy frowned. "But then, those prophecies always allow for loopholes when it comes to the hero. Besides, the Dar—all right, Granger, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—doesn't have much of a chance. For God's sake, look at his record. He's been beaten by Perfect Potter seven times so far; and one of those was when Potter was a baby. He-who-must-not-be-named was beaten by something that couldn't even talk, excreted like there was no tomorrow, and probably laughed in the Dark Lord's face when he saw it."

Hermione had to admit that Malfoy had a point.

And so it came to pass that the Golden Trio suffered a change in numbers as a certain Slytherin joined their ranks.

Hermione didn't appreciate this so much. Malfoy—she still insisted on this, although Harry and Ron called him 'Draco', as did most everybody else—was distracting. While Hermione was trying to get Harry and Ron to study for their N.E.W.T.'s, Malfoy was convincing them to join him on a broomstick race. Quidditch. Hermione hated Quidditch. Hermione hated almost everything that made you get up on a flimsy stick and up hundreds of metres into the air with nothing solid beneath you.

While Hermione was cajoling Harry and Ron to research—so many answers could be found in books, and they needed answers as Snape hadn't been able to get back to them for the past few days—Malfoy was convinced that they could spend their time much better by sneaking up to the top of the House of Black and mocking Voldemort by creating a bonfire and inventing an arcane, absurd ritual that involved much dancing around the fires and shouting nonsense words into the air.

Malfoy was a very bad influence, Hermione finally decided, sticking her nose into the air and trying to control her feet as they tapped to the drumbeat the laughing Professor Lupin was pounding out next to the fire. The sparks flew into the air; the night a mix of laughter (she had never seen Malfoy laugh before, and it was…no, she would not dwell on these thoughts…but it was so long since she had seen Professor Lupin smile, much less laugh, and she realized that they reminded the Professor of times long gone; of the times when the Marauders were whole and alive and real and Lupin wasn't the only one left).

And so Hermione finally gave into the urge. She held out her hand to Professor Lupin, who hesitantly took it, and held out her other hand to Harry, and as they all—Hermione and Harry and Ron and Draco and Lupin—linked arms, they danced to a beat only they could hear.

This, of course, didn't mean that Hermione liked Malfoy any more than she did before.

But perhaps she understood him a bit better as their eyes locked across the fire and the laughter rang all around her and for once…for one small, infinitesimal moment they were free of worry and they were all sixteen again, and acting as sixteen year olds should.

"Is this all you heroes do in your spare time?" Malfoy picked up a piece of parchment with two disdainful fingers, carelessly flinging it down and ignoring Hermione's protests. "Paperwork? Research? Merlin, it's boring."

Snatching the paper away from his fingers, Hermione put it back on her pile and glared at him over the tower of books and papers that surrounded her. She was still his resentful keeper, as Dumbledore had asked her to continue looking after him, and she didn't like it one bit. "Yes, Malfoy. Unlike you and a few other males I could name, it is necessary to thoroughly examine your situation from every point of view before rushing into a hasty decision that could cost the lives of everyone else."

He raised a winged eyebrow, before flinging himself dramatically into the chair beside her. "All right, Granger. Hand it over."

She looked quizzically at him.

Malfoy stared back, looking annoyed. "Did you hear me? Hand me over a stack. I'm quite as adept at research as you, if not more so. Please remember that while you are bushy-haired, know-it-all M—Granger, I have always come in second. And care to remember that paper in Binns that I got a higher grade on? Hm? So give me the bloody books."

Dazed, Hermione obeyed and the room was silent but for the rhythmic scratching of quills against parchment.

They fought.

Hermione was the only one who seemed indomitable in her adamant dislike for Malfoy, and Harry noted this with a combination of worry, amusement, and interest. And while 'Mudblood' was no longer used, and 'Pureblood' was also disregarded, they still found other, more creative ways of expressing their mutual detestation for each other. Sometimes they would fight using strange codes that no one seemed to know but themselves, and he would sneer and she would snap and it was their way, Ron thought, of dealing with the war.

And yet, mere hours later, Harry and Ron would drag Draco and Hermione away from studies (for Draco was now officially in panic mode as he stared fiercely at the words in a textbook as if to intimidate them into remaining in his head) for a butterbeer at Hogsmeade, or a picnic on the fields of the Black Mansion, and while nothing changed…something did. It was hard to explain. Something just happened, and while on the outside the two opposites ignored each other on these outings, there was an odd connection.

It was obvious that they didn't even know it.

You could miss that connection, though. One day you'd see it out of the corner of your eye, and when you turned your head to follow that effervescent spark, you'd have to turn your head so fast that you'd get whiplash. Because that was what it was. To Draco and Hermione, the connection was a pain that was only acknowledged when aggravated.

"Would you just stop it, Malfoy? Just this one time?"

"Stop what?"

"Stop that."

"Look, Granger, as far as I know, I'm being perfectly civil. It's a novelty. I suggest you appreciate it."

"That's exactly what I mean. You're being nice to me. You're never nice to me. What do you want?"

"I don't want anything. Besides an endless supply of money, decent clothes, a mansion full of nubile maidens to feed me grapes, world peace and all that rot, of course."

"If Harry or Ron put you up to this, inform them that I am far too busy to baby-sit you right now. School's going to start in a month and a half, and I absolutely must get a head start on the N.E.W.T.'s. Why, I can guarantee that those Ravenclaws are already months ahead of me."

"If I actually cared about you, Granger, I'd be worried."

"Go away, Malfoy."

"But Gra-a-anger!"

"What!" The quill's noise increased tenfold.

"I'm bored."

"I could have sworn we've had this conversation before, Malfoy. Go torture little woodland creatures or whatever you do in your spare time."

Malfoy unleashed his infamous puppy-dog face on her. It was at times like these that Hermione realized exactly why he'd been spoiled so much as a younger child. "But I want you to entertain me, Granger."

"Go find yourself a nubile Eastern maiden to feed you grapes."

"That's the problem, you see. They're all either languishing after Potter or on the other side of the world."

Giving up, Hermione flung down her quill and stood up. "Fine, then, Malfoy. Let's find you something to do."

Wearily. "God, I hate you, Malfoy."

"…I know."

And then the worst possible thing that could ever happen, happened.

Hermione became friends with Malfoy.

It was an odd sort of friendship-that-wasn't. They still didn't call each other by their first names in the buddy-buddy sort of way that seemed usual. They still took every opportunity to insult each other. They still made the other uncomfortable every chance they got. The only real difference was that the malice was gone, and that they talked.

Sometimes they talked about nothing. Sometimes they talked about books, for that was Hermione's joy, and Draco tried to comprehend and take part in this joy. Sometimes they talked about Quidditch, for that was Draco's escape, and it was for him that Hermione puzzled over Quidditch Through the Ages and finally tried to understand exactly what was so fascinating about it. Sometimes they had Talk talks, and they left feeling strangely whole because underneath the bantering and the nasty looks they began to care for each other. As friends.

The only thing they didn't talk about was the War.

And then came the Final Battle.

Hermione walked into his room in the House of Black without knocking, her face pale and white. Her hair seemed even bushier than usual, as if the tension in the air increased the life and willfulness in the locks. "Malfoy." She muttered as she headed for his bed and sat down on it, feet hanging off the edge of the side.

"Granger." He replied, lying back on it lengthwise. "How're you holding up?"

She didn't answer for a moment, before turning to face him with perfect teeth bared in what she seemed to think was a smile. "I'm quite fine. We'll come out of this all right…the Good Guys always win."

"I feel like shit." He replied bluntly.

Clearly, this wasn't what she had been expecting.

"I fee like shit," he elaborated, "because while that's what I've been telling myself for the past few months, it doesn't make the fact that I could die any less scarier. I'm an effing Slytherin. I don't throw myself into things for…for whatever you guys fight for."

"Well, it's still very…er, Slytherin-ish of you to fight, anyway." Hermione commented stoutly.

He scowled at her. "How so?"

"You're not running, are you? You're staying and fighting. It's quite genius, really—you're doing exactly what no one would expect. I can guarantee right now that your father and V-Voldemort and all the other people out there all think you're going to run. You're proving them wrong. It's completely sneaky and devious and unpredictable. You've turned yourself into an enigma."

Pausing, Draco considered this. "Really?" He asked in a small voice.

She beamed. "Really." She searched for the right words to use to express her thoughts, and failed, so just let any words tumble out in their jumbled, garbled phrases. "You know, Malfoy…I…I'm a little scared, to tell you the truth. I mean…it's the Final Battle, you know?"

"Obviously, Granger. Thank you for pointing out the obvious."

"No need to be snarky," she snapped. "It's just…I have so many things I want to do, and I'd prefer it if I got the chance to accomplish some of my goals." She peered at him. "What…I mean, do you have any goals?"

"I'm a Slytherin, you absolute fool. Of course I have ambitions. Besides taking over the world, that is."

She looked expectantly at him.

"Sorry, Granger, but I'm not a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff. I'm not going to tell you what I want to do with my life."

"Well, I want to work in the Ministry. I really think I could be useful. After all, Fudge has corrupted so much of it that it will take quite a lot of work to put things right. Dumbledore will help, of course, as will many other Ministry officials that haven't been blinded by Fudge's administration. I think I'd like to work in the Department of Mysteries; or maybe somewhere else where I could do the most good."

Silence. "Huh."

Pointedly. "That's your signal to tell me what you want to do, Malfoy."

"Bloody hell. If it'll get you to shut your filthy mouth, then I'll tell you. I want to become a—and don't you dare laugh, Granger—an Auror."

She smiled, again, eyes crinkling up at the corners as a curl brushed against his smooth locks. "That's wonderful, Malfoy, really it is. Although I do hate to connect the word 'wonderful' with something that is even remotely related to you."

He smirked, although his eyes gave away his relief at her lack of laughter. "Glad to hear it."

They sat in companionable silence for a while, one ear open for the warning signal sure to come. "Oy, Granger."


"If…if we don't make it—"

She sat bolt upright, eyes blazing in fury. "Don't talk like that. Do you hear me, Draco Malfoy? Don't you dare talk to me like that."

He sat upright too, and glared at her. "So what if I do, Granger? You can't live forever wrapped up in that fluffy bit of illusion Dumbledore gives you. You can't be safe forever. Sometime you have to get out into the real world and see what's been there the whole time. So we could die. You know what? Anybody could die; anytime. The only difference this time round is that we'll have a little help with that. So go ahead, Granger. Ask me the question I fucking know you've wanted to ask me since I fucking got here."

"Fine!" She shouted, face getting flushed as she held back tears. She would not cry in front of Malfoy. "Why did you come here?"

"Because I bloody wanted to, Granger!" He yelled back, and dimly Hermione heard the door of the room click shut as a flash of red passed by. "Because maybe…because maybe someone can get tired of being that boy who gets everything he asks for when maybe he doesn't want it. Because maybe…because maybe he's not effing blind anymore and only calls the girl a word because it's a habit, and habits are effing hard to break! Because guess what, Granger. Guess what? Draco effing Malfoy realized that he's not a little boy anymore."

She stared at him.

"And because maybe, Hermione…maybe things aren't in black and white. Maybe somewhere there's this kid who had to choose and maybe he didn't know if he made the right choice and maybe he didn't, but there's no turning back now."

Hermione tentatively put a hand on his shoulder, and he let her. She hadn't ever touched him before, although Harry and Ron and even Lupin had given him those manly-man-we-are-hugging-but-it-is-not-an-overly-affectionate-hug-so-let's-hurt-each-other-while-we-do-it hugs a couple of times. She was a little surprised, to tell the truth…he was medium height; only a little taller than her, and had the lean body of a Seeker. She hadn't considered this before. She hadn't really looked at him as a man before. "We…we might die, right, Draco?"

"Could." He said, quietly twirling his wand.

"Oh," she uttered, feeling stupid, before the words struggled to her lips. "If it makes any difference…"


"I…I think you made the right choice." She was avoiding names. She didn't know what to call him.

"Do you?" He turned to her, grey eyes desperate as they sought her brown ones. "Do you really?"

She thought about it. Outside the wind howled as if in preparation for this fateful day, and she remembered all the times he'd encouraged her original aversion for him and all he stood for—had stood for. Images flitted through her mind as green clashed with red clashed with silver clashed with gold.

"Yes." She whispered. "Yes, I think you did."

They said the rain was red that day. It was the color of the day. Red was the colour of the Dark Lord's eyes; red was the colour of the sky as war reigned supreme. Red was the blood as it seeped into the ground.

They said that every single one of them fought until the only two left standing were the Boy-Who-Lived and the Dark Lord. They said that the last to go down were the two who had been beside the boy's side since almost the very beginning, and another one who no one recognized until they saw his distinctive white-gold hair. They said that these three collapsed beside each other, with triumphant expressions, and they said that the last of the Marauders passed while defending his charge; the last remnant of the legacy four boys had started so many years before, as a rat bit the finger of the Dark Lord in one last grasp for redemption before igniting in a burst of green flame.

They said that as the Boy-who-Lived and the Dark Lord faced each other for the final time, their connected wands flew out of their grasp and it was suddenly not a battle of magic, or of race and blood, or of what was dirty and what was pure and what was good and what was evil and what was black and what was white. That day as the two men stood on the hill, it was simply a matter of a mistake one man made long ago, and one man's desire to reverse that destructive cycle.

They said that when the Dark Lord fell at the feet of the Boy-Who-Lived, the sky opened up and the sun shone through the rain and turned it gold.

When Harry opened his eyes, he saw not the twinkling blue of Dumbledore nor the warm, teary brown of Hermione nor the anxious, freckled face of another one of the people he cared for most in this world.

He saw grey.

"Hey, Potter." Draco's mouth twisted up in a smirk.

Harry laughed, weakly. "What the bloody hell are you doing in my room?" He whispered hoarsely, a huge grin that he was unable to suppress decorating his features.

Draco grinned back. The smile stretched across his narrow face until the blond wasn't sure he could hold all these squishy, thoroughly Hufflepuff-ish feelings in. "We won, eh?"

"Yeah." Harry sat up, taking the 'Get Well' balloon Draco put into his hand. "We won."

Hermione was sitting in her hospital bed, nursing her injured right arm as she frantically wondered how it would heal in time for N.E.W.T.'s when the door popped open. "Ron!"

"Hermione!" She was bombarded by the entire Weasley family—minus Percy. Her face saddened when she remembered. Percy…after all he had done, he was still their family. He was still that over-pompous, overbearing, yet well-meaning Prefect who had told the bushy-haired First Year witch that not everything in Hogwarts was as it seemed; a lesson that Hermione had carried over into real life. She was returned to the present by Ginny's excited, "Harry's awake!"

"Oh!" Hermione cursed the fact that Madame Pomfrey had expressly forbid her to leave the bed. "Ooooh…tell him that I'll be right there to see him as soon as Madame Pomfrey lets me out. I, er," She looked sheepishly at Ron, "I left bed too many times to get more revision books, so she cast some variation of a binding spell on me."

She was good-naturedly laughed at, and spent the next hour happily chatting with the Weasley family before there was another knock on the door and Draco Malfoy stuck his head in.

He hastily put it back out after his eyes met a whole row of Weasleys sitting around Hermione's bed and creating a red-headed wall between himself and the muggleborn he had come to regard as…well, he wasn't sure what, exactly, but it was a nice feeling. Another warm, squishy sort of feeling that Draco wasn't sure he had a name for.

Ron's younger sister opened the door and looked up at him. "Oh, it's you!" She stated, as if that explained everything, and pulled the door further back. "Mal—er, Draco's here to see Hermione."

He immediately went into defensive mode. "Why would I want to see her? How do you even know I want to see her? How do you know I didn't come here to murder her while she lies vulnerable and defenseless in the hospital bed? Merlin, and this was the side that won the war. How perfectly ironic." He was ignored.

The Weasley family almost ran him over as they bulldozed their way out the door after lots of noisy good-byes to Hermione.

After that little experience in Survival-of-the-Fittest was over, Draco strode into the room and looked around, disparagingly. "This is the wretched room they've got you cooped up in?"

"Yes, Malfoy." She raised an eyebrow; an expression, Draco realized, that she had most annoyingly picked up from him. "And what, may I ask, brings you here?"

He waved his hand dismissively. "Oh, the usual. A round of mockery. Then a round of mother-henning. Followed by another course of mockery, just for kicks."

Hermione rolled her eyes. The boy was hopeless. "How very nice."

"I'm not supposed to be nice, Granger." Draco turned to her with a glint in his eyes. "You seem to have forgotten that in recent times."

Munching on a chocolate frog—a novelty, for Hermione didn't usually eat sweets, due to her dentist upbringing—she laughed and sprayed chocolate crumbs over her bedsheets. "Drop the act, Malfoy, and do what you came here for. Why is the great Draco Malfoy by the lowly muggle-born know-it-all's bedside, anyway?" She could laugh at it, now, when before indignation would course through her veins at even the smallest slight towards her upbringing. This wasn't to say that she would suddenly embrace the term 'Mudblood' with open arms—no, never—but with Draco…Malfoy…Draco, she wouldn't leap at his throat for a comment meant in good jest.

The bed sunk under his weight as Draco glowered crossly at her. "Stop making fun of me, Granger." He whined.

Her eyes twinkled in an infuriatingly knowing, mirthful, Dumbledore-ish way. "Get used to it, Malfoy." She popped the last of the chocolate frog into her mouth. "You've become part of the group, whether you like it or not, and I'm afraid you'll have to endure the mockery for a long, long time."

"Oh, damn. Bloody Griffindors; I should have known better than to get involved with them. And you smell sort of funny, Granger, after being bedridden for the past few days," He added.

She threw a large textbook at him.

They didn't have to board the train to Hogwarts the following week, as they had been in the Hogwarts' infirmary, but they did anyway. It was their last year of schooling, after all, and for once they would be able to take the traditional ride to the place where so many memories lay without fear and without anxiety and without apprehension.

So they boarded the familiar red train anyway.

Besides, it was tradition, and tradition didn't like being broken.

Luna Lovegood had been present at the Final Battle, and had lost the sight in one eye for it. It was the thestrals that the girl had summoned to bring down a horde of Death Eaters as it threatened to engulf Ron, and Hermione suspected that this was not done out of purely platonic feelings. In fact, Hermione glanced at Luna, and back to Ron, and back to Luna, perhaps Ron was beginning to reciprocate the feeling?

She shook her head, laughing to herself. Wonders never ceased.

"Hello." The girl turned her head as they entered the compartment. She was looking mainly at Ron. "The sun's coming up, you know, and soon we'll be able to see the Nimphrods celebrating the coming of autumn. It's their season, you know." Some things never changed. Hermione looked at the younger girl with an almost-fond glance, although she still didn't appreciate the girl's wandering from reality. Luna's large eyes surveyed the group passively, before resting on Ron once again. "It's very nice to see you, Ronald."

Ron's ears turned red. "It's, uh, lovely to see you too, Luna."

Lavender and Parvati burst into the compartment. "Is it true?" They gasped. "Oh, Harry, you really are on the train!" Harry was immediately swamped by embraces as Hermione looked on in pity and mockery. Her best friend's head could get swollen with all the attention he was sure to get.

Neville looked up from his seat at the noise, and grinned shyly at the group. "Hey, guys."

"Neville!" Ginny bounded over to him. "Isn't it fantastic?"

No one had to ask what she meant. Neville gave her another timid smile. "Yeah. My mum…my mum's doing a lot better, now. She, er…" He blushed. "She said 'hello' today, and St. Mungo's has put her out of 'Hopeless Cases'. Dad's about to be moved with her."

"Oy, Harry!" Dean stomped in, immediately locking Harry in a head-grip as Seamus sat beside Ron and started talking about the latest in Quidditch news. "This is bloody terrific, mate! I say we pay a trip to Hogsmeade when we get to Hogwarts…have a drink or two, just us guys," he motioned to the males currently in the compartment, "to celebrate."

The compartment was getting notably crowded, and as Hermione shouted over to Ginny at the top of her lungs, she found herself getting increasingly squashed against more and more people.

There were two cracks, and suddenly Fred and George were in the room, too, perched on top the ceiling lamps. "We heard you had a right party over here, and seeing as how we have our newest products developed, we supposed that someone would be gracious enough to test them for us?" Fred asked, hopefully.

Their statement was ignored, but they were thrown up a Butterbeer.

"Brilliant, whoever is supplying the party materials." George nodded briskly. "Now, from what we've heard, ickle Ronniekins has found himself a girl." The two twins leered at their little brother, and Ron paled.

Luna looked impassively up at the boys swinging on the lamps, and enunciated clearly, "Oh, yes. Ronald has promised to take me to Hogsmeade to buy a new necklace." Her bottlecap necklace had been lost during the aftermath of the battle, as a dying Death Eater had grabbed it off her neck before his life finally expired.

The door to the adjoining compartment was flung open and Draco Malfoy strode in. "All hail the conquering hero." He announced, before flinging aside more people (who were quite unnerved to see Draco Malfoy—looking especially Slytherin-ish, dressed completely in black with nothing but his house badge to add in color—bobbing about a large party comprised predominantly of Griffindors) and making his way over to Hermione.

"Are all your parties so bleeding loud?" He asked, when he finally got to her.


"I said, are all your parties so loud?"

"This is loud to you?"

"It's not exactly as if Slytherins make especially good conversationalists, Granger. And right now they're either glaring at me or plotting to take over the world—and it gets rather tiring after a while—or under house arrest or simply ignoring me. Excuse me. Does it actually get louder? Bloody hell, no wonder you spend so much time in the library."

Hermione paused, before frantically wringing her hands and trying to push Zacharias Smith out of the way. "Oh, Malfoy! I can't believe this! My N.E.W.T.'s! Oh, shitoshitoshit, I'm doomed! My prospects are utterly destroyed!"

Draco followed calmly behind her as she struggled through the gyrating bodies towards her book bag. At least, where she thought her book bag was… "So I was thinking, Granger."

"What? Oooh, no time for thinking, Malfoy! This is a disaster!" She whirled on him, jabbing a finger into his chest, eyes wide and frenzied. "Have you reached 'A Detailed Analysis of Herbology and its Many Uses' on your booklist, yet?"

"Of course, Granger. I read it weeks ago."

"Oh! Oh! Oh, sweet mercy! Oh, God in heaven! Oh, death, doom, destruction, chaos! Woe is me!"

"Is this your bookbag?"

She peered at it. "No. Oh, where can the dratted thing possibly be?"

Continuing as if he hadn't been interrupted, Draco said, "So I was thinking, Granger. When you're done studying for your N.E.W.T.'s and ridding the world of evil again and all that sort of crap, why don't we go out sometime?"

"Hm? Oh, sure. I'll ask Harry and Ron for you. Where is that bag?"

Draco paused, a light flush spreading over his cheeks as he tried to hide it and rubbed the back of his neck. "Actually, Granger, I was thinking, er, just the two of us. Maybe. If…if you'd like."

That did it. Stopping dead in her tracks, Hermione looked up at him with parted lips and terrified eyes. "V-Voldemort? You've possessed Draco!"

"No, you effing moron! I'm Draco Malfoy! And I'm asking you out on an effing date! Unless you wanted Voldemort to ask you out, because then, Granger, I think you need therapy." Draco managed to cover his mouth before he uttered any other potentially degrading remark.

Another pause. Hermione squinted at him, before stepping back when she realized that he was quite serious. "Oh, Lord, you really are reformed."

He ignored her, and shifted from foot to foot, looking at everything but her. "So what'll it be, Hermione?" Draco murmured.

There were so many reasons why it wouldn't work. After all, Hermione had only really known Malfoy—Draco for the summer. Perhaps they had spent enough time together to last a lifetime, yes, but it didn't change very much. Draco was still as rude and obnoxious and whingy as he had been before, although little amoebas within him were beginning to clot together to form a very basic conscience that operated only when it needed to. And he was mean to her. And she was mean to him.

But he had also been there for her more times than she could count. When she had been unable to reach a spot on a painting in the Black Mansion, Draco had searched half an hour for some sort of stool or chair, and when he was unable to find one, had locked his fingers together for her and allowed her to step on them to reach the smudge of soot that marred the otherwise beautiful work of art. Yes, he had done so with some sort of bastard comment that involved her obsession with schoolwork and her two best friends, like always, but still…

And she had been the one who nursed him after he'd received the letter regarding his now deceased father and gotten rip-roaringly drunk. She had wiped his mouth free of puke and given him a potion to clear his head. Yes, she had done this after lecturing him about the evils of drink and how she really shouldn't be surprised, given his character…

But hadn't they been there for each other, in their own odd sort of way?

Preparing to take the leap, Hermione opened her mouth and looked up into his piercing grey eyes. She held out her hand. "I…well, if you…I mean…" She floundered some more, trying to figure out how, exactly, to say 'yes', when she was interrupted by Harry.

"For Merlin's sake, Hermione, just say yes."

Her face split into a grin, and she lifted up a hand to Draco's cheek. "Would 8 o'clock tonight be alright with you?"

Did they end up living happily ever after with each other for the rest of their lives? Maybe they didn't, because fairy tales don't always happen in real life.

But then again, maybe they did.

Hermione graduated first in her class, with Draco following, a close second. Hermione didn't get her dream job…but it was replaced by something much sweeter, for she had worked hard for it. She became the Potions professor when Professor Snape was finally given his coveted office—professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts—and often delighted in giving students essays three metres long, for she hadn't quite realized that not everyone was as enthusiastic about study as she was. (Luckily for her students, her zealous enforcement of their education was tempered by a rather important person in her life who was somewhat lazy and, while significantly amused by the torture undergone by the younger members of Hogwarts, sympathized with their plight and persuaded her to decrease the length to two metres. This was mainly because it was upon this important person that Hermione dumped a large portion of essays to grade, and he wasn't very fond of wading through essays quite that long to give a truthful grade. In other words, the absolute worst grade he could get away with giving the unfortunate recipient.)

Draco did become an Auror, but quit after the first year as being an Auror was rather boring now that Voldemort and his forces were dead, didn't look like they would be rising back up anytime too soon, and no other Dark Lord was in sight. Besides, being an Auror involved too much travel and took him farther away from his pretty wife and brown-eyed daughter than he would have liked. And Aurors got significantly crappy pay and were forced to stay in dismal lodgings while on the road.

It was amazing Draco even lasted the first year, actually.

Ron and Luna dated through their entire seventh year and well into the summer before differences caused their split and Ron became engaged to a Muggle he had met while on an excursion into Muggle London with his father. Harry, on the other hand, remained a bachelor for most of his life, although he was surrounded by enough friends and nieces and nephews to keep him busy for a long, long time.

Professor Dumbledore turned down the post for Minister of Magic yet again, preferring to remain in the school he had reigned over for longer than most could remember. Sometimes he remembered a group of four boys whose friendship was stronger than words could explain, until one betrayed that trust and started the beginnings of a long war that would go down in history books. He would look at the grainy photograph and the carefree people waving up from it; one with messy black hair, another with a devilish grin on his face as he leaned against a motorcycle, the tallest one with a perpetually harried, nervous smile and a small one looking up at his surrounding companions with worshipping eyes, before that worship was replaced by a twisted loyalty born of fear of the Dark Lord. A girl stood in the middle, beaming up at the camera and waving enthusiastically as red hair flew into the annoyed face of Sirius and James flung an arm around her shoulders.

Cross over to the right side of his desk, and another, newer photo took its permanent place on the corner. A thin, gangly boy, short for his age, with round glasses and a rather infamous scar leaned against another boy with freckles and laughed with him. Harry's right arm pulled a certain blond into the picture, as the blond scowled into the camera and looped an arm around the bushy-haired female with a pretty, heart-shaped face in front of him as if to strangle her. She, in turn, was mock-glaring up at Draco and laughing whole-heartedly at the same time; an older man with careworn features sat in front of Harry and looked up at the faces of his young friends. And in the background, Dumbledore could make out, very faintly, a slight shadow shaped like a deer and a dog looking at the group and laughing.

Old blue eyes smiled, and Dumbledore quietly set the two strikingly similar photos next to each other and popped a lemon drop into his mouth.

a/n: So. Comments, criticism, anything?

Please review!