A/N: This fic was written for the Divine the Future with Draco and Hermione fic exchange at the dmhgficexchange LJ community.

Dedicated to floorcoaster, one of the most amazing D/Hr authors of this time. We love you and your fics! Thanks for the wonderful prompt

it was challenging but not impossible. We hope you like this! This exchange came at a rather busy time, so this fic has been edited by not one but 3 people- April, Wev, and Issa. Thanks very much, guys! They made this fic so much better than it originally was. Also, to zarah, sorry for the inconvenience thingy... you know. Hehe.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all other characters, etc. are property of J.K. Rowling.

Solid Ground

"When I'm caught up in the darkness, it's your hand that's leading me.
You bring me back to solid ground, you lift me up right here, right now."
- Carrie Underwood (That's Where It Is)

"Like your room, Granger?"

Hermione shut her mouth and turned to look at Draco, her brows knit in consternation. "Malfoy, this is too much. A three-bedroom suite in the most expensive wizarding hotel in Australia…" she trailed off as she took in the maroon and cream-colored drapes, king-sized bed, and mini-bar. "Who knows how long we'll be here?"

"Exactly. Who knows how long we'll be here? Could be months." He leaned against the doorframe and studied her. "Would you prefer a two-bedroom suite in the most expensive hotel in Australia? You'd get the couch, though. Or Longbottom would, if he's feeling gentlemanly."

"Malfoy!" Hermione felt a flash of irritation at the amusement on his face. "Maybe a different hotel, or a smaller suite?" she asked desperately. "We're here to find my parents, remember? We're not on a vacation. And no matter what your mother-"

"Just because we're not on vacation doesn't mean we can't be comfortable," he interrupted her, now looking annoyed. "And we're paying for this trip, Mother said so. You wouldn't even have gotten to Australia if it weren't for me-"

"Oh don't make me feel indebted to you!" she said angrily, jabbing a finger at him, her temper flaring up. She, Neville, and Draco were in Melbourne, on a trip financed by Narcissa Malfoy, to find Hermione's parents. That his mother was paying for the trip was one fact Draco never stopped rubbing in. "I didn't ask for your help," Hermione continued. "Your family offered. I refused. But you persisted. If it were up to me you wouldn't be here."

"It's all Mother's doing, Granger," Draco defended himself. "I'm only here because I wanted to get out of England for a change, to go on a trip. She's the one who wants to help you."

Hermione grit her teeth. "I'm not some charity case you Malfoys can take on to prove how reformed you all are."

"My father may think that way, but my mother doesn't. To her, there's a debt to be paid, and I'm paying it," he said firmly.

She shook her head. "I'm going to pay you back," she said firmly. "I've no idea how long it'll take, but I will pay your money back, Malfoy."

Draco shrugged. "Fine. I'm not bothered by the money. Talk to Mother, owl her if you want." He straightened himself and turned to leave. "But we're not moving to a cheaper hotel or a smaller suite. This one is perfect. Let's discuss this in the morning, Granger. We've had a really long trip. And I've got to make sure Longbottom hasn't forgotten anything, like his wand, in London."

"Wait," Hermione called after him, wringing her hands anxiously. He turned back to face her, a questioning look on his face. When she was silent for several moments, he raised an eyebrow, and she blushed. "A-about the room. You asked if I like it, and I'm really sorry, but I don't."

His brows drew together, and he stiffened noticeably. "What's wrong with it?" he asked tightly.

"Nothing," Hermione said, dropping her gaze to the floor. "It's a fabulous room, I just don't like the colors."

"Red and cream?"

"Maroon, actually, but it's red enough for me. I don't like red," she stammered, forcing the words out.

"You got tired of your house color?" Draco asked disbelievingly. "I don't see why it's such a big deal, it's just a color. Or does it remind you too much of your precious Weasley family who forgot you?"

Hermione couldn't bring herself to feel angry at this insult towards her friends. She badly needed to change rooms. "I wasn't always like this about red. I know it's just a color, but I don't like looking at it. It gives me nightmares."

"Nightmares?" he scoffed. "That's a laugh, the Great Granger is scared of red."

"Yes, red," Hermione snapped, both angry and embarrassed that she had to explain herself. "The color of the Cruciatus Curse. When Bellatrix used it on me, all I could feel was pain, and all I could see was red. And sometimes at night my dreams turn red and I wake up screaming, already anticipating the pain." She stared at him, daring him to laugh at her. She could feel the heat in her cheeks and resisted the urge to look away from him.

"Oh." Draco fell quiet, the gleeful smirk gone from his face. "I thought maybe it was about your parents."

"It was also the color of one of the spells I put on my parents. That's not the major reason it bothers me, it just adds to it." Unable to help herself, she averted her gaze and fiddled with the hem of her shirt. "Red doesn't bother me so much for small things, especially during the day, but I'll never fall asleep in a room decorated with red." She took a deep breath before asking, "can I get a different room?"

After a moment's hesitation, Draco sighed and shrugged. "Sure. Take mine."

"I'm sure Neville could give me his instead."

"No, it's fine. He's probably unpacked by now. My room's got no red anyway, it's more brown." He left the room with Hermione trailing after him. Within minutes they had transferred their luggage. Hesitantly, almost shyly, Hermione thanked Draco and bid him goodnight. Her head was spinning from exhaustion and lack of sleep- she took a shower, downed a potion to help with the time zone adjustment, marvelled at the wonders of magic, and climbed into the king-sized bed.

Before she fell asleep, she thought about the strange situation they were in. Never in all her years would she have imagined that she'd end up in Australia with Draco Malfoy, who was helping her search for her parents. She didn't want him around, and he definitely didn't want to be around her. He would never have accompanied her if Narcissa hadn't insisted when she found out about Hermione's sorry predicament.

The root of the problem, Hermione thought miserably, were Harry and Ron. After the war, the boys had been preoccupied. There had been Fred's funeral, along with various loose ends to tie up. It was quite natural that they'd be too busy to help her look for her parents. Hermione didn't need their help. At least, she thought she wouldn't, but as she soon found out, she needed money.

The search for the Horcruxes severely depleted her savings, since she financed the entire trip. In everything that was happening, Harry and Ron had forgotten that they needed to pay Hermione back. That money had been well spent, and she didn't like thinking that they needed reminding.

One afternoon, while Hermione was in the Ministry talking to the newly established Department of People Finding, she ran into Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. They were all queuing in front of the Billing Section, and it had been dreadfully awkward until Draco had asked her why she was there. Slightly frustrated by that time, Hermione ended up telling them how she was looking for her parents.

Hermione realized, with some surprise, that the Malfoys were not only accepting that she had done something so extreme as to modify her parents' memories, they actually approved of it. Narcissa went out of her way to help Hermione get through the red tape in the Ministry, to get her parents' affairs back in order. And now Narcissa had supplied the funds, and her own son, to help Hermione locate her parents in Australia. Hermione initially refused the offer, not wanting to owe anything to the Malfoy family, but Narcissa persisted, saying that it was her way of apologizing for Hermione's torture in Malfoy Manor. When Hermione shuddered at the memory, Narcissa became even more adamant.

"Take it from the mother of a family lucky enough to escape the war intact," she said wistfully, "Muggle though your parents may be, they ought to know and be proud of what you've done in this war."

Neville, perhaps being more sensitive than Harry and Ron, or more empathic about the fact that her parents no longer knew her, offered to accompany Hermione on the trip. It seemed like an impossibility at first, since neither of them had much money. Neville couldn't ask for any from his grandmother, as Hermione had insisted they keep things secret for the moment. She knew that what she had done was highly controversial and had no desire of giving Rita Skeeter the pleasure of writing about it.

If it weren't for the Malfoys, Neville wouldn't be with her, and they wouldn't even be in Australia. She did owe them, and she was grateful. She just wished Draco would stop being such a prat. Although he wasn't nearly as cruel as he had been in Hogwarts, he did still tend to lose his temper and snark at the two Gryffindors. But Hermione supposed she could be a bit more tolerant, since he had given up his room, after all. She just wished she would find her parents and get the trip over with as quickly as possible.

It was almost ten o'clock the next morning when Hermione finally woke up. She still felt tired, but forced herself to get ready for breakfast. It was only when she left her room and was about to check on Draco and Neville that she noticed the envelope on the coffee table.

Granger, Longbottom,
I've gone to visit some friends of mine. Here are your breakfast vouchers. See you this evening.

Feeling slightly annoyed that he had gone out to meet friends, Hermione grabbed her breakfast vouchers and crumpled his note. After all, he was supposed to help her, not go gallivanting off with his friends. After everything he had said about paying a debt, she had thought he would at least have offered to accompany her as she looked for them.

She tiptoed to Neville's room and heard him snoring. She hesitated, wondering if she should wake him up, but then decided against it. He needed sleep. She left his vouchers on the table with a new note, explaining that Draco was off with friends and she would go to the Ministry after having breakfast.

She went to the Australian Ministry of Magic after a quick stop at her room after breakfast, and presented the letter Kingsley had given her. The Ministry didn't know where Monica and Wendell Wilkins were, but they promised her they'd look for them.

After she had finished her business with the Ministry, Hermione explored Melbourne a bit, keeping an eye out for her parents. All she knew was that they had gone to Melbourne - but Melbourne is a big place, and she had no idea where to begin looking. She wasn't even sure if they were dentists anymore, but she decided to look in the directory anyway.

She had no luck.

It was just going on six in the evening when she returned, tired and depressed, to the hotel suite. Draco was there, watching a Quidditch game on television.

"Did you have a productive day?" Hermione asked sarcastically as she trudged in, sneering at his comfortable-looking position on the couch.

"Unfortunately, no," he said, his eyes barely leaving the screen.

"Why, weren't your friends home?"

"They were. But none of them had any information on a Monica or Wendell Wilkins."

Hermione stopped and frowned at him. "I thought you-"

"I did." He finally looked at her, and smirked at her confused expression. "I didn't meet them for a reunion, Granger," he elaborated, switching off the television. "I wanted to ask them if they knew anything about your parents. One of them works in the Muggle News section of the Zodiac- their paper, you know- but he says he hasn't heard of them. He'll keep his eyes open though. And my other friend, who married a Muggle working in the tourism business, asked his wife – but she was no help. They could have used any one of several dozen tourist agencies. Seemed to think I was crazy for asking, especially since I couldn't tell him why I was looking for a couple of Muggles."

Hermione blushed. "I didn't know- sorry, I thought you were off… having fun."

He shrugged. "The sooner we get news on them, the better."

"Well, I didn't have any luck at the Ministry either. I'll go to the Muggle authorities tomorrow."

"I'll go with you."

"You don't have to, I can go with Neville."

"I've got nothing else to do."

She looked at him curiously, and sat down beside him on the sofa. "You really don't have to, Malfoy. You could just leave it up to Neville and me. Your mother would be none the wiser."

"Very Slytherin of you, Granger," Draco said, raising his eyebrows, "but Mother always knows."

Hermione laughed. "Sounds like my mum too. It's pretty unnerving sometimes."

"You shouldn't go around Melbourne on your own, you know."

"Why not?"

"Might get lost."

She laughed again. "Even if I do, I can always Apparate back to the hotel, it's easy."

"Longbottom got lost. He was walking around Melbourne for hours. He even reached some race track before he realized he could Apparate," Draco snickered.

Hermione giggled, and then looked at Neville's room guiltily. "He's like that, but he's really one of the best people I've ever met. So he's in his room?"

"Writing to his grandmother, I believe."

She grew quiet for a while, and Draco turned the television back on. They watched together in silence, until she turned to him and said, "Why are you doing this, Malfoy? Honestly. You and your mother. I know your mother says she has some debt to pay, but I don't get it, and I don't accept it." She had had a lot of time to think things over, on her walk through Melbourne, and had always come back to the same question- why?"

He looked at her, then looked back at the screen. "I don't have to tell you, you know."

"True, but I'm asking nicely."

"Don't be such a Gryffindor. I'll tell you when- if- I feel like it."

"I think I have the right to know why you're with me, Malfoy."

"I'm with you because you need me, all right?" he said scathingly, making her cheeks burn with anger. "Because you're too damn proud to ask your best friends for money; because you're too proud to ask them for help, to let them know that you actually need them. You'd rather have Longbottom and you'd rather have me than talk to them and tell them what idiots they are."

"I know why I need you, what I want to know is why you're fulfilling that need!"

When Draco didn't seem inclined to answer, Hermione left him on the sofa and stormed into her room.

Truth be told, she didn't actually know why she gave in to Narcissa's offer. If her pride prevented her from asking Harry and Ron for help, why did she accept help from the Malfoys and Neville? She figured it had something to do with punishing Harry and Ron- she did want to punish them for practically forgetting about her. They honestly shouldn't have to be reminded that she needed money and company to go to Australia.

She frowned, and took out her journal. Hermione always found that writing down her thoughts helped; it was to her what Pensieves were to other wizards. She began by writing down a detailed description of how she had spent her day, and then wrote about what her general plan was for finding her parents. Finally, she wrote down her questions and her doubts.

It was eight o'clock when Neville knocked on her door. "Hey, Hermione. Malfoy's asking if you have any plans of eating at all tonight."

"I'll just finish up," she said. "Where will we eat?"

"We'll find a place," Neville said. "Malfoy and I will wait for you in the living room."

"Wait, Neville-" Hermione stopped him. "What do you think of… of Malfoy? Do you two get along now, or what? Is it just me or…" She searched for the right words. "He just doesn't seem as… awful as he used to be. He doesn't seem like himself."

Neville chuckled. "He definitely isn't as horrible as he used to be, but I wouldn't say we get along." He shrugged. "Maybe we just need to get to know him more."

"Yes." She drummed her fingers on the table, lost in thought. She wondered if it was just easier to get along with the Slytherin when they weren't in Hogwarts, when they weren't with other people and other influences.

"He was pretty decent to me earlier, after laughing his head off that I got lost."

Hermione grinned. "Yeah, he found that hilarious. Tell him I'll be done in a minute, will you?"

"Sure thing." He closed the door, and Hermione hurriedly ended her journal entry and got ready to go out.

When she met them in the living room a few minutes later, Draco was scowling, and Neville was busying himself reading the newspaper.

"Oh good, you're out," Neville said, relief evident in his face. "Malfoy's been an absolute monster," he added in an undertone. "I wonder if he always gets like this when he's starving."

"Sorry for making you wait," Hermione apologized, feeling slightly guilty. "I lost track of time."

Draco just grunted and walked to the door, leaving the Gryffindors to follow.

"Where are we going?" Hermione ventured to ask as they reached the hotel lobby, and Draco headed towards the Apparation point.

"Merlin's Walk. We can Apparate there, and choose a restaurant. It's like Diagon Alley. I went there earlier."

"We can't Apparate there, we don't know the location!"

Draco sighed. "I'll guide you. Just fix your destination as Merlin's Walk, and I'll guide you." They arrived at the Apparation area and he looked at the two of them, as if deciding which one would be safer to touch. "Right," he said, reaching for Hermione's hand, "Granger, you take Longbottom."

"Why me?" she asked suspiciously, taking Neville's hand. "Why'd you pick me?"

"Because you're less likely to splinch yourself, and drag me into the mess," Draco said matter-of-factly. "All right, let's go."

The three of them turned, and appeared in Merlin's Walk. "So," Draco smirked as both Neville and Hermione gaped at their surroundings. Merlin's Walk seemed slightly smaller than Diagon Alley, but instead of being packed with shops, it was crammed with all sorts of restaurants. There were huge fancy restaurants, tiny delis, and even a few franchises Hermione had been sure were owned by Muggles. "Where do we eat?"

Half an hour later, they were sitting in Spacetaurant, a NASA-themed restaurant that was owned by a Muggle-loving wizard. He was obsessed with NASA and astronauts, spaceships and aliens. Draco was reluctant to go, but Hermione, guessing that neither boy had ever seen anything like a spaceship before, dragged them in.

"I tell you, Granger, I could refuse to pay for this, and then where would you be?" he asked crossly as he took his seat across from her. Neville sat down beside Hermione, looking in awe at the spaceship lamp that was dangling above their heads.

"Oh Merlin, Malfoy, don't lord that over me every time you pay for something. I'll pay you back, all right? And I do have some money, you know." Hermione glared at him as she accepted a menu from the waitress.

"I just would rather have gone to the more respectable Alton's."

"We can go there tomorrow. Besides, this is cheaper, I'm sure." Hermione placed her order, and waited as both boys placed theirs. She had decided to go slightly safe- Pisces and Chips didn't sound too bad, and one couldn't go too wrong with fish and chips. "And anyway, I can tell you all about how Muggles have reached the moon. Even wizards haven't done that! Albert Kolovich did try, but his broom would only take him as far as the stratosphere."

"I don't want to listen to your annoying voice the entire meal," Draco scowled. "I don't want to know about Muggles reaching the bloody moon."

"Then I'll tell Neville, and you don't have to listen. But you know, when Muggles see dragons- or rather, the fire of dragons in the clouds, they often mistake them for aliens."

"They're stupid," Draco snorted. "There's no such thing as aliens."

Hermione smiled slightly. "I know. It's quite funny how Muggles are so quick to say there's no such thing as a dragon, and yet they believe in aliens."

"Hm." It was the closest Draco would go to agreeing with her.

Their food arrived a few minutes later, and they spent the rest of the meal discussing outer space and flying. Their attention was drawn to a nearby table where a young boy was playing with a toy spaceship. He squealed happily when his mother levitated the toy and made it fly around him.

"So adorable!" Hermione murmured, watching the child with a small smile on her face.

"Makes me miss my childhood," Neville agreed wistfully. "It seems like everything changed so fast, but during the war it felt so long."

"It takes twenty years of peace to build a man, and twenty seconds of war to destroy him," Draco quoted softly, his eyes also on the young boy.

"If it weren't for the war, we'd be having this trip to celebrate leaving school, not to find my parents."

The three brooded silently for several long minutes, before Neville sighed. "It seems a bit unfair that some people got through the war without really fighting. People older than us, while the young ones like us and Harry, and even students younger than us had to fight."

Hermione nodded, but Draco chuckled. "And here I thought Gryffindors never felt that way."

Hermione felt a flash of irritation at his attitude. "Will you stop saying things like that? 'That's so Gryffindor. Oh, how Slytherin!' You can't characterize people according to their houses. There's no perfect Gryffindor, or Slytherin, or Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff. We're all combinations of each, and as we grow our friends from other houses influence us. It's not right to stereotype people according to their houses. I was almost sorted into Ravenclaw, or Slytherin, but in the end Gryffindor won."

Neville looked at Draco. "She has a point, you know. I'm part Hufflepuff, part Gryffindor."

"But there's a reason you were both put into Gryffindor. It's that underlying factor, that predominant streak of some characteristic that is most likely courage," Draco argued. "I know one can't generalize people and make them into a single perfect Gryffindor, Slytherin, and so on, and there are traits that the members of each house have in common. Whether it's in that person before he or she gets to Hogwarts or whether it develops because it's expected of them, is subject to debate."

"But you can't keep saying 'that's so Gryffindor of you' for the rest of your life. Will we still be defined by our houses years and years from now?" Hermione asked.

"Unfortunately, yes. If one day you need help from a Gryffindor, mention you're a Gryffindor too and they'll jump to help you. Even adults judge people by their house in Hogwarts. Everyone made such a big deal about Dumbledore being in Gryffindor. When a person runs for Minister- take Fudge for example, a Hufflepuff- he proudly advertises that he was Hufflepuff and announces all the virtues Hufflepuffs are supposed to have."

"And if you mess up, even when you're much older, people will say, 'she's ruined the name of Gryffindor', or something," Neville added.

Hermione frowned. "That's not really fair, you know. I doubt my character was as much developed when I was sorted as it is now- if the Hat sorted me again I'm not sure I'd still be Gryffindor."

Draco shrugged. "That's the way it has always been, since Hogwarts was founded."

"Seriously though, prejudices can be overcome. I don't keep categorizing what you two do into whether it's Gryffindor or Slytherin. You can stop doing it too, Malfoy," she said earnestly.

Draco seemed to study her for a while, and she thought he was going to laugh at her. Instead, he said, "you're really intent on changing the Wizarding World, aren't you, Granger?"

For some reason, she blushed. "No. Well, there are some things I'd like to change."

"If you keep at it, you'll succeed eventually," Neville said, and Hermione looked at him gratefully. Draco didn't say anything, but continued regarding her thoughtfully as they finished their meal.

"Do you two want dessert?" she asked the boys when they were done eating. "If Malfoy's willing to pay, that is," she added, teasing him.

"I'm stuffed," he patted his stomach. "Do you want dessert, Granger?"

"How about we explore the Walk instead?" Neville suggested. "We can get dessert at another place."

She shrugged. "No, I'm fine. Let's explore."

They managed to walk the length of the Walk without getting into serious arguments. But as much as Hermione enjoyed their little excursion, her parents were always in the back of her mind. She felt restless, and although it was less than unlikely that they would be in a wizarding area, she still found herself looking around for them.

It was almost midnight when they returned to their suite. Tired but not sleepy, Hermione decided to take a long, hot shower. She was just toweling her hair when Draco knocked on the door. "Come in," she said, setting her towel aside and grabbing her hairbrush.

"Good, you're still awake," he said. His hair was still damp, and he smelled clean and fresh. "I was wondering if you had a recent picture of your parents. Since I'm going to go around with you tomorrow, I figured I'd better know what they look like. Keep my eyes peeled?"

"Oh, right," Hermione put down her brush and got out her wallet. "Here," she said, handing him a small photograph of her and her parents. "It was taken a few days before… before I did it." She swallowed.

He studied the picture, his eyes widening only the tiniest bit when he realized the images didn't move.

"I thought your mum had bushy hair," he said, after a moment.

"She had it straightened," Hermione explained. "I have no idea what her hair looks like now, though."

"With any luck, back to bushy. Much easier to spot, very distinctive," he said. Hermione wondered if he had always said his jokes that way, and she mistook them as insults, or if it was only recently that he began to tease instead of insult her.

"Yeah, we'd be lucky if her hair is big, since your eyesight is so poor," she returned, wanting to make a remark about his Seeking abilities but deciding against it. She tapped the photo with her wand, and a second copy appeared in his hand. "You can keep a copy, Malfoy." Hermione took one picture back.

"Is that- what's that?" Draco asked, frowning at the picture, and then glancing up at her throat. "Is that a necklace?"

"My parents gave it." She showed him the pendant that hung around her neck. It was in the form of a small red book, with the image of a wand on the cover. "It means a lot to me."

"I thought you didn't like red."

"I don't," she admitted, "but as I said, small things don't bother me so much, and I use it to remind me why I'm here, what I'm working for."

He scoffed. "You don't need a necklace to remind you to look for your parents, Granger."

"It doesn't remind me to look, it reminds me why I'm looking," she snapped. "It has several meanings. It's got a wand on the cover, which shows that my parents really, really have accepted the fact that I'm a witch. And it's red, for two reasons-"

"You're a Gryffindor."

"No," she waved the interruption aside impatiently. "My parents always said I'm like the color red - brave, passionate, and er-" she blushed, "loving. They say that when they see red, they remember me. And the second reason is because red is the color of love and they love me," she finished quickly, her cheeks flaming. "Lame, I know."

"Do you like being compared to the color you hate so much?" he asked curiously.

"I don't hate it, I just… I'm scared of it," Hermione said the last part with difficulty, her pride making her cheeks redden. "I used to love it. Now I…" she shook her head. "I know it's irrational."

Draco was silent for a while. "You wear it all the time? I never noticed."

"It's tucked under my shirt usually, but I put a protective spell on it so I never have to remove it even when I bathe." To distract herself, she studied the picture. "Sometimes I worry," she admitted softly, feeling the need to tell someone about her fear, "that I won't recognize them anymore."

"Don't be daft, Granger," Draco said brusquely, having no patience to deal with a female wallowing in insecurity. "Of course you'll recognize them, they're your parents. You've known them for eighteen years, for Merlin's sake. Not to mention you look enough like your mother to be her younger sister. I'm going to my room, all this indulging in self-doubt is bad for my ego." He left, and although she didn't want to admit that it was because of him, Hermione felt a little bit better.

The next day the three of them went around Muggle Australia, Apparating here and there; visiting the local officials. Hermione couldn't afford to be too inquisitive, because she didn't want to say the real reason she was looking for the Wilkinses, but she did ask about them in the British Embassy and the Australian Dental Association. No luck there.

Four days later, Hermione was beside herself with worry and regret. She didn't want to keep pestering Neville with her anxiety, and Draco's patience with her was already wearing thin.

"You're worrying again, aren't you, Hermione?" Neville asked one morning, entering the living room and seeing her staring listlessly out of the window.

She gave him a half-smile. "Sort of. But honestly, Neville, if you were my parents, would you forgive me? Would you still love me?"

Neville sighed and sat down beside her on the window seat. "You know, Hermione, I used to ask myself that question a lot. Back when I was a student, when I was failing every subject except Herbology, when people would laugh at me for being such a… well, for being who I was. I would ask myself if it weren't better that my parents are insane, so that I wouldn't be an embarrassment to them, like I was to my grandmother."

"She wasn't embarrassed by you, Neville-"

"I thought she was, at the time," he said. "If she wasn't embarrassed, she was certainly disappointed. And I thought my parents would be too. Sometimes I'd think guiltily that I didn't want them to get better, because then they'd be disappointed in me too."

"Oh, Neville."

"Exactly." He looked sternly at her. "Do you see how stupid this is, Hermione? They're your parents, of course they'd love you. And you're definitely not an embarrassment, or a disappointment."

Hermione hugged him. "Thanks. I guess I needed to hear from someone else's point of view."

Neville shifted awkwardly, putting his arms around her. "I just wish you'd realize that what you did was for the best, and it'll turn out all right. And that your parents could never hate you."

"I know," she whispered, tears filling her eyes. "I just wonder if sometimes, it's me hating myself."

"Don't do that to yourself, Hermione. What use is it if everyone in the world forgives you, but you don't forgive yourself?" He patted her back soothingly. "Besides, you have to get your parents back. Otherwise you'll have to tell Malfoy that he wasted thousands of galleons on nothing."

Hermione laughed. "You're right." She let go of him and wiped her eyes. "Thank you."

Often, though, she didn't want to burden Neville with her doubts, so to let out her feelings, she would take to her room and write in her diary.

"What if the Death Eaters found them? I ought to have found a spell so I could trace them, but I felt bad enough altering their memories… I thought I'd have heard something of them by now. What if I can't get them back home by October? I have to go back for my last year at Hogwarts. Harry said in his last letter that they're rebuilding Hogwarts already, so it'll be ready for next term.

"I hope they're okay, really. I miss them so much- and I hope they won't be angry when they find out what I did. I wouldn't want anyone to modify my memory, but then again I'm not a helpless Muggle. Oh, that reminds me, Draco asked me earlier what an electric torch was earlier, said someone tried to sell him one and he almost hexed the man."

Hermione paused and bit her lower lip gently. Draco was another topic entirely, one she didn't even want to talk to Neville about. She set her quill to the paper once more.

"Draco's been great, honestly. I didn't expect him to be so understanding, but he obviously tries to control his temper when my worrying starts to annoy him. He and Neville are actually getting along now. I didn't expect him to be like this. He's being so helpful. I remember what happened at his house, being tortured- and I looked at him then, wondering if he would help me, but he didn't. He wouldn't even look at me at first. But our eyes met once, and I thought he looked sorry. I had no sympathy for him then, of course- he had both his parents, he hadn't been tortured, and basically I thought his life was easier than mine. I found out later (from Narcissa) that it wasn't. At least my parents were relatively safe, whereas if Draco, or Narcissa or Lucius did anything that displeased Voldemort, one of them might have been killed. I can't imagine living with that responsibility. I suppose it taught Draco a lesson, somehow, about valuing his parents. Maybe that's why he's so sympathetic towards me."

A knock on the door interrupted her from her musings. "Granger?" Draco called softly, opening the door a little. He saw her at the desk and opened it further. "I thought you might be sleeping already. I got a letter from my friend who's in the Ministry- he gave an address we can try."

Hermione's heart froze. "Really? That's…fantastic," she said at last, closing her diary. Now that the news had come, Hermione wasn't sure she could face her parents after all, no matter what Neville said. As much as she wanted to see them, she didn't know whether she wanted them to see her.

Draco frowned. "Are you all right?"

Hermione nodded and took a deep breath. "I'm fine. Just emotional. Let's go and see them."

"It's rather late, isn't it?" Draco pointed out. "Can't we go tomorrow?"

"Malfoy, they're my parents. If our roles were reversed, they'd come to see me whatever the time, day or night. I'm going."

"I'm going with you," Draco said, although he was shaking his head. "It's bloody freezing out there. Longbottom's asleep, let's leave him- he gets whiny when he's cold." He gave her a rueful look and closed the door behind him.

Ten minutes later they were standing outside the Wilkins' house. Both of them were shivering. Draco glared at Hermione. "Let's go in," he said through chattering teeth. "It's bloody cold out here."

Hermione hardly felt the chill. She was more focused on the house and its occupants. After a few moments where she still didn't move, Draco gave her a little push. "All right," she muttered, forcing her stiff legs to walk closer to the house. Halfway to the front door she stopped and turned around. "Wait here," she told Draco. "I'm going to have a peek in the window, I think they're having a party."

She approached a window and peered inside, trying to stay hidden. Draco heard her give a soft exclamation, presumably when she saw her parents. For several long minutes she didn't return to his side. Realizing this could take longer than he had expected, he cast a Warming Charm and gradually felt himself stop shaking. By the time Hermione came back, he was feeling pleasantly drowsy.

"They do have guests," Hermione informed him, chewing once again on her lip, "and they look so happy. I'd like to go inside and speak to them…I miss them so much. Maybe I will."

"They're having a party, Granger." Draco noticed her shivers, even though she didn't seem to feel them herself. "They wouldn't want to be disturbed. Let's come back tomorrow. A few hours shouldn't make a difference. Besides, you're cold."

"But then I saw them, Malfoy," Hermione pleaded. "I want to go inside. Please. What if we wait for the party to end?"

Draco shook his head and gave her an incredulous look. "Are you crazy? It's winter here, in case you didn't notice! It may not be as cold as winter in England, but it's still cold! And besides, maybe you've forgotten, but they won't exactly be happy to let you in this late at night because- because of you- they don't know who you are! They'd be suspicious, because after all, you are a stranger to them."

Hermione felt as if he had slapped her. His words were true- she had made her parents forget her. On its own it sounded bad, and she wondered if her reasons justified it. Hermione thought they did, but she realized that it wasn't her opinion that mattered ultimately. It would be her parents' views on the situation that mattered.

"You're right," Hermione said in a strangled voice. She averted her eyes from Draco's and stared at the ground. "Tomorrow." She Disapparated with a crack, and by the time Draco realized she was gone and arrived back at the suite, he only saw her door closing behind her. With a sigh he retired to his own bedroom.

Hermione quickly removed her outer layers of clothing and sat at her desk. She opened her diary with trembling fingers, hoping that by writing down her feelings she would be able to sort them out.

"Even if my parents don't hate me for what I've done, will they stop trusting me? I told myself when I planned it that their safety was worth it, but I'm starting to think that I can't live with their mistrust and disapproval. It almost makes me not want to face them, which is awful of me. Neville says they'll love me no matter what, but I wonder if trust is a different matter altogether. Trust is earned, and broken. Love is born, or dies.

"They looked so happy earlier, part of me wonders if I should leave them as they are. Is reverting their memory back to normal just as bad as casting another modifying spell? I don't think so, but it still proves I have the power to change their memories. It's actually scary to think that I have that power- and not just me, but all other witches and wizards who can perform a complex spell like that. I wouldn't want my parents to be afraid of me. The part of me that wants to leave them as they are is the cowardly part, because I'm afraid they'll be mad at me when they find out. And if there's one thing I've hated ever since I was a kid, it's disappointing my parents."

Hermione only stopped writing when her tears made it impossible for her to read and see what she was writing. She changed into her nightgown, grabbed a box of tissues and slipped into bed.

Wrapping the blanket around her tightly, Hermione hugged a pillow and sobbed into it as quietly as she could. Hot tears poured from her eyes down her cheeks, and she was shaking so hard with suppressed sobs that the entire bed was trembling. She went through tissues at a rate that frightened her, but try as she might she couldn't stop crying. As soon as she would regain some composure, she would think of her parents and the tears would flow again.

The words she had written in her diary played over and over in her mind. Hermione shook her head in an attempt to clear it, and took several gasping breaths to calm herself down. It was to no avail.

I'm over-reacting, she tried to tell herself. Of course they'll still love me, even if they don't like what I did. I'm sorry I had to do it, but I don't think I'm sorry that I did it. So calm down, Hermione, and get some sleep. Draco and Neville will hear.

Hermione took a deep shuddering breath. In her haste, she had forgotten to place a silencing charm around her room, to avoid disturbing the boys. She groped for her wand and sniffled quietly, trying to concentrate on the correct charm.

Before she could cast the spell, there was a soft knock on her door. Hermione sighed and wondered who had heard her; she hadn't been able to concentrate anyway. Draco stuck his head around the door and peered at her through the darkness.

Hermione turned over to lie on her side, not wanting to face him. Soon she felt one side of the bed sag beneath his weight as he sat down beside her.

"It's okay, Hermione," he whispered. He tentatively patted her back and handed her several tissues. Hermione only cried harder, but this time she held him and he held her.

Now that Hermione had calmed down, she pulled away from Draco's embrace and wiped her eyes with a tissue. "This is really embarrassing," she managed to say.

"Why should it be? I understand why you're crying." Hermione raised an eyebrow, so he elaborated. "We saw them earlier, and you're frustrated that you couldn't fix their memories then, because I said it was too late, that we should wait for morning."

Hermione nodded slowly but averted her eyes, not wanting to meet Draco's gaze. "That's it, partly."

"Then what else? You can tell me."

"It sounds really silly, but I can't help thinking…that maybe they're happier," Hermione said softly, "as they are now." Draco tensed, immediately ready to refute her words, but she shook her head. "Hear me out. They can't remember the war, the worry, the pain of having a daughter who lives in a world they can't relate to."

"You can't seriously believe that," Draco said, taking one of her hands in his. It felt warm against her cold skin. "True, they'd remember all that, but they'd remember the good times too. Like maybe when they first found out that your mum was pregnant; when you were born; when you learned how to read, or when they heard year after year that you were top in your class."

"Stop," Hermione sniffled. "You'll make me cry again." She sighed, and squeezed Draco's hand. "You're right, I don't really believe that. It's more that I'm afraid…that they'll be angry at me. What if they didn't want their memories to be, well, edited? What if things aren't the same between us again after what I've done? What if they're afraid of me?"

"You just have to explain it," Draco said firmly. "Explain why you did it, how dire the circumstances were, and that you'll never do it again. And of course, how sorry you are you had to do it in the first place."

"It'll be hard, but you're right. I can't leave them as Monica and Wendell Wilkins forever. God, it was so hard to be near them, once I'd made up my mind. Even harder to face them and cast the spell."

"So this should be easier, right?"

"I don't know. It depends on their reactions. But I think it will be worth it to see them recognize me again."

"It will be," Draco promised. "Now go to sleep. Take a potion, if you'd like."

She sighed, suddenly exhausted. "No, I'm fine. I guess I just needed to talk…" She wiped her nose and Banished the used tissue into the bin. Her swollen eyes threatened to close, but she kept them open to watch Draco as he left the room. "Thanks, Malfoy. Thanks for listening."

And perhaps it was that she was so emotional, or that she was too tired to think straight, but the smile he gave her as he wished her goodnight made her heart skip a beat.

Author's Notes: The quote Draco said was from Baudouin I. :)