A bushy haired girl scrambled to keep her trunk from falling off her trolley as she prepared to dash towards the wall between Platform 9 and 10 at King's Cross Station in London.
"Need help with that?" said a silky voice from behind her.
Hermione Granger steadied herself and glanced at the person behind her. Her eyes narrowed and she gritted her teeth. "Not especially."
Draco Malfoy merely nodded at her, his face placid.
Hermione's eyebrows furrowed in apparent confusion, then she turned and rushed through the wall that soon led her to Platform 9 and ¾.
It's been merely a year since the downfall of the Dark Lord, yet the change, the transformation of the Wizarding World, was almost tangible. You could feel it in the air, see it on the faces of the people, smell it in the cool breeze, and you could almost taste it on the smiles that were fixed on everyone's lips.
Though there was much to fix, these were mere trivialities, because in the heart of all wizards and witches, they already knew. The dark days were over. Their days were glorious and hopeful.
The grounds at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were the most brutally destroyed and the signs of destruction was visible everywhere. It took months and months for the establishments to be magically rebuilt, repaired or replaced. And still, more mending had to be done.
But this 1st of September still meant a whole new year of schooling. Technically, this would be Hermione's eighth year at Hogwarts. But since she never really did attend her seventh year, she was bound for another term. And so were the rest of the school since the Ministry of Magic deemed the previous year unsuitable to be considered a full and complete term.
As soon as Hermione stepped onto the platform she craned her neck and kept a look out for Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley, her two best friends. Not a moment later, a quick movement of bright red hair caught Hermione's eyes.
"Ron!" she said out loud as she hurried to the tall boy's side. Ron had grown again this past summer. He was nearly two heads taller than Hermione, and she wasn't what you'd call petite either.
"'Mione!" Ron said, grabbing her in a half hug with his one available arm. Hermione noticed that his other hand was tightly holding on to Pigwidgeon, Ron's miniscule owl.
"Hey there, Hermione," said the brunette who stood at Ron's other side. "How was your summer holiday?"
Hermione smiled. "I'll tell you all about it later, Harry."
Harry smiled understandingly. It wasn't the best time or the best place to tell of her summer and where she had gone to retrieve her parents whom she had to hide and obliviate the memories of when the Dark Lord was up and about the year before this.
"You lot best be boarding now," a warm and cheerful voice said from behind them. "The train will be leaving in a few minutes. Hermione, dear, how was your summer?"
"It was well, Mrs Weasley."
"It's nice to hear that," Ron's mum said as she gathered Hermione into an affectionate hug.
"Come on, then," Ginny Weasley, Ron's youngest sibling, said as she fast approached the group with Arthur Weasley, the patriarch of the huge Weasley family. "Time to board."
Harry smiled at Ginny and took her hand in his own and they led the group to the Hogwarts Express.
Hermione found out a few weeks previously that she had been made Head Girl. This would've meant so much more to her if it came before the entire war. But now, she knew what meant the most to her. It wasn't her grades. Grades, good grades, were nice to have. But what were superior credentials when she had no one to share them with, no one to celebrate accomplishments with. Her priorities have shifted in the past months. She now knew that family, friendship, and love meant a whole deal more than letters on a report card. Her high marks were a bonus, the icing on the cake. Being made Head Girl, the cherry on the top. So she took the Head Girl post in good stride. She was happy, but it wasn't the axis of her world.
That night on the train, they were nearing Hogwarts when Hermione made her last stroll down the corridor to check if everything was going well. She was down to the only remaining car when the last door slid open and Draco Malfoy came sauntering out of the compartment.
Hermione froze mid-step and waited with bated breath for Malfoy to speak first. She noticed that Malfoy looked at her with curious eyes. Still she didn't speak.
"Hey Granger," he said softly and walked past her.
Hermione stood frozen to the same spot. She wasn't used to this from Malfoy. But she knew, as Harry had told her, about how Narcissa Malfoy acted peculiarly in the forest during the war against the Dark Lord, consequently reaching out a helping hand to Harry.
"I'll have two pumpkin pasties, please," Hermione heard Malfoy say softly from behind her. She turned around in her place slowly and saw him bending over the tea trolley carefully studying the assorted sweets that were being offered.
"Is that all, dear?" asked the trolley lady.
Malfoy looked up and saw Hermione watching him. He smiled, turned back to the trolley and took a cauldron cake. "I'll have this cauldron cake, as well. And two pumpkin juice, please."
Malfoy had about everything he ordered in his arms when Hermione started to head back to the compartment she shared with Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood.
"Where are you off to, Granger?" she heard Malfoy say.
Again, Hermione pivoted and turned to face Malfoy, confusion still tangible in her expression. "Back to my compartment. I'm done with my rounds. What's it to you Malfoy?"
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Malfoy clucked at her. "Manners, dear Granger. I only meant to offer you a bite to eat."
"What's the deal, Malfoy?" Hermione asked, taking a step towards him. "Where's the catch?"
Malfoy's face turned serious. He sighed. "No catch. Just please take the food. You don't have to eat it with me. Take it as a small peace offering from me to you. Eat it in your compartment if you wish."
Hermione raised a single eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"Just take it, Granger," Malfoy said, reaching out his hand to her. He was giving her one of the pumpkin pasties, the cauldron cake and a glass of pumpkin juice.
Hermione slowly stretched out her hand. Then hesitated for a moment.
Malfoy sighed again. He put down his own food and grabbed Hermione's hands, placing the two sweets and the glass in them. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he whispered. Then he bent over, took his food off the ground and entered his compartment.
Draco Malfoy sat alone in his compartment. He sighed as he brought the glass of pumpkin juice to his lips. He wondered how people would react to him being back in school. He knew it would be hard for them to accept him. They would have trouble listening to him, much less to believe in him. They all knew his father, Lucius Malfoy, stood by the Dark Lord during the terrible war. But they also knew how, at the last moment, his parents turned their backs on Voldemort. Better late than never, Malfoy thought to himself.
Still, he knew that people would have difficulties in forgiving him. His father and mother have been having their own difficulties adjusting to life after the Dark Lord's downfall, and blending once again into society have been a horror for them. And his own encounter with Hermione proved just that.
So he understood why he sat alone in the compartment since Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle, his two so-called friends, decided to forgo of completing their studies and went straight to working for their fathers. Only he was brave enough to face the school and the scorn he was sure people had for him.
There were, of course, other Slytherins who would still be there for him. Pansy Parkinson, for example, and Blaise Zabini. But he couldn't stand being around them. And he definitely didn't want to have Tracey Davis along either.
Tracey, a witch in their year, was a nice enough looking girl. She came from a decent family – decent, of course meaning pureblooded and wealthy. But the downside to her was that she was betrothed to Malfoy. And he hated that. He didn't hate her; he just hated the fact that his parents expected him to marry someone he didn't know well.
Though deep down Malfoy also knew that he had no choice in the matter. And that Tracey was a good match for him. She was smart, she was friendly (even to non-Slytherins) and she was independent. Malfoy even thought that maybe, one day, he would learn to love her.
He was quickly pulled out from his reverie when someone slowly slid open the door to his compartment.
"Malfoy?" he heard Hermione say softly as she poked her head in. "Can I come in?"
Malfoy looked up at her and felt startled to find her curiously peering inside the empty compartment. He composed himself and smiled. "Sure, come on in. Have a seat."
Hermione steadily walked to sit across from Malfoy. Once seated, she uncomfortably shifted in her place and took a bite from the cauldron cake. She looked down at her hands.
Malfoy had no idea what to say. But she was there, so that meant she obviously wanted to talk. Did she really expect him to start the conversation? He winced. She most probably did. He had been starting all conversation with her that day. But he racked his brain and still couldn't think of something smart to say. So he made do with the first thought that popped into his head. "You have been standing outside my compartment a long time, haven't you? Ever since I got in?"
It wasn't really a question. But Hermione nodded as she took a sip from her own pumpkin juice.
Malfoy was annoyed. Did she expect him to not only start the conversation but to be the only one in it as well? He sighed then continued with his soliloquy. "So what made you want to come in?"
Malfoy smiled despite of himself. This was a true and valid question that required a real answer. He was going to squeeze a word or two out her. But to his chagrin, Hermione merely shrugged.
"Aren't you going to say anything but at all?!" he exclaimed, finally giving in to his annoyance.
Hermione looked up at him, aghast. Then her face drooped. "Sorry. I… I wanted to say something, but when I came in, I couldn't bring myself to say it anymore."
"What is it?" Malfoy asked encouragingly.
"I… Why did you buy me food?"
Malfoy laughed but stopped when he saw that Hermione looked hurt. "Sorry, I didn't mean to laugh. But I thought you had something serious to ask me. Then all you could come up with is why I bought you food?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It is a serious question, Malfoy. If you haven't noticed, you're not suppose to be buying me food, or anything at all, for that matter. It's out of the ordinary. So, why?"
"Like I said, Granger," Malfoy said with a lazy smile. "Peace offering. That's all there is to it. And I didn't think you'd really expect anything but extraordinary."
Hermione nodded and seemingly accepted his answer as truth, which had surprised him. He thought it would take longer for her to accept his words and believe that he was, indeed, as sorry as he claimed to be.
"Thank you," Hermione said softly, taking another bite of the cauldron cake.
"No problem, Granger," he said.
She smiled and looked out of the window. It was dark outside. She brusquely stood up and turned towards the compartment door. "I best be heading back, we're near Hogwarts already."
Malfoy nodded though she couldn't see him. She was halfway out the door even before she finished her sentence. Malfoy smiled to himself. It was going to be an interesting year. And he was hopeful, even though he rebuked himself for it. He shouldn't hope of finding a new beginning, starting anew. But no matter how he chastised himself, he couldn't help it. He was, as so many few had before, been given a second chance. It was a new beginning.
Author's Notes: Thank you for reading. I hope you return for more. I'm also praying that I do finish this one before the year – or next year, for that matter – ends. Kindly leave a review. Thanks! Tata!