Chapter 1

This, while a love story about Draco and Hermione, is, at least in part, the story of Pansy Parkinson. Not much is known about her, as no one has ever bothered to ask her opinion on anything other than robe colors. Everything about her life has been expected; her schooling, her beliefs, her house, her friends, her choices, her love life, her future. It has always been expected that she would be the person she was, with the people that were chosen for her, and end up as her parents had so carefully planned. But, with the death of the Dark Lord, the changing of her own loyalties, the return to school for her 7th year, and her upcoming 18th birthday and subsequent engagement to Draco Malfoy, Pansy decides to set some expectations of her own.

This is a story of longing, desire, friendship, and ultimately, of love. Just not with the expected.

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Pansy Parkinson sat back in her seat and glanced around the Great Hall; her brain humming with all the thoughts in her head. There were, of course, the obvious changes, but so much had happened in the past year that practically everything looked new to her. Before the war she had never noticed the beautiful stones that made up the floor or the workmanship it must have taken to get them 'just so.' She hadn't taken the time to think on the amount of work the house elves did to make her life what it had become. It had never occurred to her that something as simple as smaller tables and sitting with new people could make a meal feel so differently. With a heavy sigh she took a sip of her water and slumped in her seat, her head on her fist.

To those around her, her dark blue eyes appeared bored, her impish features haughty. Her dark, almost black hair, had grown out and was now pulled back into a ponytail, and each flick of her head sent it sliding across her narrow back. The only thing about her that people saw as different was that she no longer held her small body so stiffly. She looked to them to be bored, but relaxed; something most had never seen. And, many wondered about the presence of the girl who had tried to hand Harry over to Voldemort.

"Cogle, Barkley," Professor McGonagall called out.

"Looks like a Hufflepuff to me," she murmured to herself as she watched the new Headmistress place the Sorting Hat on the child's head.

"Hey!" a voice snarled behind her.

Pansy turned in her seat to see Megan Jones, a 7th year Hufflepuff glaring at her.

With a sigh and a quick look of regret, Pansy muttered, "Sorry," and turned back to watch the rest of the sorting. She missed the looks of wonder and interest thrown her way from the rest of the table at her apology. None thought her capable of it and several wondered what was wrong with her.

"Hufflepuff!" the hat shouted. Albus Dumbledore nodded at the child and he ran to join a table where a chair glowed brightly for him. Megan sucked her teeth at Pansy's being right, and Pansy simply smiled to herself and took another sip of her water.

The reappearance of Professor Dumbledore had shocked almost everyone in the room. Most of the students and teachers present had attended his funeral and mourned his loss; had feared the future of Hogwarts without him to lead it. The entire student body still awaited an explanation. Pansy found herself smiling up at him, his presence providing her with a comfort she had never acknowledged before then. Next to him sat a pale, frail-looking Severus Snape; another shock for the room of students and teachers. Pansy made eye contact with her Head of House and smiled in greeting as he nodded a bit at her.

As the students continued to be sorted, Pansy got lost in her memories of her re-entry into the newly restored Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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The only students allowed back into the school that year where those who had shown no loyalty to the Dark Lord, or who had, during the war, changed their loyalties and could prove it. Others, like herself, were allowed back only after extensive rehabilitation with Ministry professionals. There had been many interviews for the children and their parents with Ministry and school officials, some involving Veritaserum, to decide who would be accepted and who would have to find other means of schooling. The returning 6th and 7th year classes were noticeably smaller, but the other years seem to have doubled, as parents removed students from Durmstrang Academy and begged their entry into Hogwarts. The past year's 6th year students were now in their 7th year, but had to share it with the returning students from Harry Potter's class.

The train ride on the Hogwart's Express should have given all of them some idea that things were not going to go as they had in the past. There had been no separate small compartments, but instead each train car had been a complete compartment resembling the London Underground cars, but longer and a fair bit wider. The students had at first tried to find their peers and sit in the cars by house, but soon realized each car only allowed a certain number from each house and once you entered the car you couldn't leave again. The new, huge class of first year students were forced into one car at the front of the train, regardless of their high numbers.

Pansy, after saying a subdued goodbye to her parents, had entered the train through her normal door, hoping to find some place to sit alone before having to face her supposed friends and classmates for the first time since that fateful day. Instead, she found herself in the same train car as Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom. She noticed the changes to the train car and immediately started to back out, only to be stopped by some invisible force that wouldn't let her retreat. In a mild panic she had glanced around for anyone from her house and found Millicent Bulstrode, Theodore Nott, and Blaise Zabini huddled at the far end of the car.

Pansy heaved a sigh of relief, mixed with a touch of dread. Theo always made her feel stupid and insignificant with his bookish appearance, sharp green eyes, and cutting words and tone. Millicent was simply mean; not just to those from other houses, but to everyone. Her acid-tipped tongue could wound with words even more than her dark eyes could cut people down. Blaise was Draco's closest mate and, as such, the only one who provided her with a modicum of comfort. She grinned at his lazy smile and wondered for the millionth time why her parents hadn't promised her as a child to the gorgeous, nice, smart, olive-skinned boy. They would have made a good team, if not a love match, because at least they had a friendship; something she and Draco didn't really have. No. All she shared with the boy-turned-man she was betrothed to was a polite relationship, a sad, painful history, and the knowledge that one day they would share a home.

Pansy shook herself and with another quick glance around and saw more Gryffindors; Natalie MacDonald and Euan Abercrombie were whispering and holding hands; and Andrew Kirke and Dean Thomas playing Exploding Snaps near them. With her mind quickly calculating, she counted the thirty-odd mix of students from the four houses, and wondered how many more of each the car would allow. There were already 7 Hufflepuffs, 10 Gryffindors, 9 Ravenclaws and 10 Slytherins, including herself.

Her question was answered immediately. Pansy turned at a sound behind her and watched as three younger Gryffindors were barred entry to the car, just as she had been stopped from leaving it.

"Oi! Pansy!" she heard yelled across the car in Millicent's strong, low voice. It never ceased to amaze Pansy that the attractive, blonde girl could be so hard.

She straightened away from the door and turned to walk to her fellow Slytherins. She kept her back straight and her chin high against the hisses of conversation she heard erupt around her. She knew most of the people she would face this year would hate her for what she had done. No one would know that it was abject fear, not solidarity, which had caused her to call out Harry's whereabouts to Voldemort, because no one ever asked her. She would have gladly explained it had anyone cared to listen.

Unable to stop herself, she glanced once more at the Gryffindor section and her eyes met Ron Weasley's. He blinked once in recognition and went back to his discussion with Hermione and Neville, never noticing the falter to her step.

"Hey, Pans," Blaise smiled at her. "Last one in, huh?"

"I guess so," Pansy answered as she continued to glance nervously around the car. "Any idea what's up with all this?"

Millicent shrugged as she bit her nail, "Dunno. I'm guessing this is some stupid trick to get us all talking or some such shite. Ten from each house from what I can tell."

"Or, what you were told by me," Theo snorted.

"Oh, belt up, Nott!" Millicent answered with a push to his shoulder that knocked him off the seat and onto the floor.

His face reddened in anger and embarrassment as the students closest to them laughed and pointed.

"Damn, Millie, you're such a guy!" he stated as he stood and brushed himself off. "It's really no wonder no one will date you."

His remark caused a titter of laughter from the same students, which was quickly quelled when Millicent turned her stare on them.

"Anyway," Blaise said to stop the impending argument, "Pans, did you see Draco out there?"

She shook her head, "No. He wasn't on the platform when I came through."

"Must be in another car," Millicent nodded.

"Way to state the obvious, Millie," Theo snorted, then leaned away from her swinging fist.

Blaise rolled his eyes and looked around the now full rail car. When his eyes fell on Pansy once again he asked, "Have you seen him since the funeral?"

Pansy had been looking around, trying to not look at the opposite corner of the car, and was taken by surprise at the question, "Who?"

"Draco Malfoy. Your fiancé," Theo answered as if she were a three year old.

"Oh, no," she shook her head. "He hasn't written back and I…I thought it best to leave him alone for a while."

Millicent nodded, "Probably for the best. Draco's got a mean temper and losing his dad after everything else is bound to have made him a right ass."

Pansy nodded absently and pulled a book out of her bag. The others, sensing she didn't want to talk, went back to discussing the strange set up of the train cars. Pansy was relieved to have gotten them to ignore her for a while and angled her head down as if she was reading. In truth, she was staring across the car, wondering what conversations were taking place over there.

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"I just don't get it," Neville sighed with an uneasy glance around the car. He had grown taller, stronger, more comfortable in his own skin, but his innate shyness made situations like these barely tolerable for him. "Why set it up this way?"

"No idea," Hermione shook her head at him. She looked around the car and noted the consistent separation of the houses, "If this is Professor McGonagall's way of promoting inter-house unity, I would say she's failing miserably."

Ron nodded at Hermione before he answered and reached out to touch a ringlet of the soft, brown hair that fell across her shoulder. What had been an uncontrollable bush as a child, has lengthened and become a mass of curls. She still had no idea what to do with it and like today, simply pulled it back with clips, so that it wasn't in her face, letting the curls lay naturally around her shoulders and down to her back. When her brown eyes glanced at him and then moved quickly away, he lowered his hand.

He sighed, "That's the truth. They might as well have kept the train the way it was. The only thing that's different this way is we have no privacy."

Hermione avoided his eyes when he said this as she knew why he wanted privacy; time alone for the two of them. She was suddenly very happy about the new train setup. They both acknowledged that things were not quite right between them and hadn't been for the last few months. But, the loss of Percy had been a real blow to the family, and after the war, and his death, neither wanted to rock the boat with more change. Harry and Ginny had finally gotten back together and seemed content, but neither Ron nor Hermione felt settled. Ron's reaction was to get more physical in hopes of forcing a spark to form between them. Hermione's was the opposite; she simply wanted to pull away from the man who was her best friend and first real boyfriend.

Ron had grown and changed into a nice-looking man with a good, strong build. His soft hazel eyes could melt the stoniest heart, and a rich laugh from his full lips never failed to make her smile. But, she knew things were over for them romantically; they had simply missed their window of opportunity. They loved each other, but were no longer in love. And, as loathe as she was for more change, she knew she wouldn't be able to take much more before she exploded. There was no fault or blame, but she knew if she didn't handle it correctly, words could be said that couldn't be taken back and then they could also lose their friendship. As much as she wished he'd stop groping her, was just as much as she wanted to hold onto him as a friend.

Rather than answer, she smiled distractedly and turned to look around the car once more. She listened with half an ear as Neville and Ron got into another discussion on what they thought would happen in the upcoming year. She noticed all of the Ravenclaws sitting on the floor in a circle not far away in deep discussion. She didn't recognize most of the younger students, but smiled and nodded at Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein. Looking past them she saw the Slytherins. They were spread out across the back of the car in small groups and appeared to be as disgruntled by the changes as she felt. Just as she was about to turn her head to check out the Hufflepuffs, Pansy Parkinson caught her attention.

Hermione felt the familiar anger bubble and ebb as she looked at the young woman across from her. Because of her, Harry could have been killed. Taking a deep breath she forced the anger away. Harry had said many times that summer that things had happened the way they were supposed to happen. The only blame for it was to be laid solidly at Voldemort's feet. If Harry could forgive, then so could she. With a small shake she refocused on Pansy and tried to figure out what had called her attention to her in the first place.

Hermione finally realized it wasn't what Pansy was doing, so much as what she wasn't doing. She wasn't reading the book she held in her lap, even though she turned pages every once in a while for effect. She was staring at someone through her bangs. Hermione followed the line of her eye and blinked in shock. Pansy was looking at Ron. And, her face wasn't twisted in its normal Slytherin sneer, but instead, held a relaxed, tiny smile. Hermione blinked again as her mind finally processed what she was seeing. Pansy Parkinson was looking at Ron Weasley almost…wistfully!

A/N - Thank you for giving this new story a chance. For all of you who read my last story, this one is completely different, so I hope you like it. I can tell you already there will be a sequel, as these characters had a lot to say and stories to tell. Last, an early thank you for reading and any reviews you want to give. I sincerely appreciate each one!