Disclaimer: This will be the last time I say this in this fic: I do not own Harry Potter. Guess what, Jo called me the other day and said that she was gonna transfer the authorship of the series to me. We'll just have to meet up and finish some documents before I can officially own HP. Nah, just kidding. Why does J. K. Rowling ever want to do that? Not to mention it's legally impossible. Anyway, you all know that HP doesn't belong to me, so there's no point in repeating it over and over again, right?

AN: Finally, I am able to update again as well as getting all of the old chapters revised with the help of my fabulous beta Olga. The revision was only about grammar, spelling and wording, so it's not necessary to reread the old chappies. Anyway, I'm terribly sorry for all the waiting.

On another note, happy Valentine's Day to you all (and Happy Lunar New Year too if you care about this event). I swear this is totally unintentional (it's just that I've been dragging my feet so long that I won't be able to stand the extra guilt if I let you guys wait any longer.). So this chapter won't be a Valentine's special, I'm afraid (according to Partners's calendar, it's only September 19th 1998, that is *coughs* Hermione's birthday *coughs* too many special days around here :P). But it's still the longest chapter I've written so far, so... enjoy.

Partners – Chapter 9 – Contrast

by Leopion

Hermione tapped her wand absently on each of her V.O.M.I.T. badges while debating with herself whether she still wanted to carry out this plan. It had sounded exceptionally good at the time, but when coming to this phase (placing a charm to make the words flash and glow), she suddenly realised that it was about as immature as what Malfoy had done in their fourth year with those 'POTTER STINKS' badges. A side of her was mentally scolding herself for stooping so low while the other was still screaming for revenge. In the end, her revenge-hungry side succeeded in convincing her that when dealing with the devil, one must use devilish methods.

The following morning, Hermione walked into the Potions chamber with her chest held high, bearing a black badge with glowing red letters: V.O.M.I.T. Malfoy greeted her with his usual sneer. 'Finally decided to take my advice?'

'Oh, yes,' she replied. 'It's a good advice, really. Especially coming from you.'

Malfoy seemed intrigued by her reply, but still kept his usual jeering tone.

'So, what does this little club of yours do? Still hopelessly fighting for the freedom of house-elves?'

'No, that's the aim of S.P.E.W. This one focuses on something entirely different.'

'And what would that be?'

Hermione didn't answer, instead pressed the badge on her chest; and it began to flash separate words in different colours: Voluntary Organisation of Malfoy's Intense Taunter.

Hermione could swear that for a fleeting second she saw Malfoy's face fall, though he regained his stoicism almost immediately.

'Interesting,' he drawled and began striding towards her side of the chamber. 'But with this witty mind and dashing good looks of mine,' smirked Malfoy, running his slender fingers through silvery blonde hair. He was now bending over her stalk of Potions reference books in a quite... distracting manner. 'I doubt anyone would want to taunt me, not that they could,' he continued, clearly enjoying the effect he had on her.

Hermione shook her head to get rid of her unhealthy thoughts and managed a retort.

'Don't worry. Any Gryffindor would love to join, especially Ron and Harry.'

'Really?' Malfoy narrowed his inscrutable grey eyes. (Oh, God! She had to stop thinking of him like this.) 'You think Weasel the Poor will be able to afford the membership fee?'

'Oh, I'm quite sure he will,' she answered, smiling as the conversation finally went back to her safe territory.

'Must be terribly cheap, then. A Knut for a lifetime?'

'No,' she smirked. 'It's actually "Kicking a Malfoy's arse then you can join for a lifetime".'

Malfoy didn't make any remark this time.

Looking up from her thirty-inch (but supposed to be ten-inch) essay on antidotes, Hermione was slightly disappointed to see a huge ash-grey owl instead of Pigwidgeon as she'd expected. The owl was scratching impatiently at the windowpane. Although not at all excited to see what it brought, Hermione hurried towards the window, wanting to get rid of the annoying sound as soon as possible. As she opened the window, the owl stretched out his leg, which was marked with the seal of the Owl Office, to show her a small envelope. Hermione was surprised to see her mother's handwriting. Ever since recovering their memory, her parents had been rather distant and replied to her letters without much enthusiasm, let alone taking the initiative to write. She eagerly tore open the envelope after throwing the owl some nuts from her drawer to keep it occupied.

Dear Hermione,

Your aunt Heather was able to find us a house sooner than we'd thought, and that's why we've already been back to London. Do you want to visit our new home and have lunch with us on your birthday? I understand if you prefer celebrating with your friends, but if you agree we'll pick you up at King's Cross at 9 a.m.

Mum and Dad

Hermione sighed. Her parents' words were still not quite as warm as they used to be, but at least this was a start. She couldn't exactly blame them for not accepting what she had done. She had reasoned that it was for their own good. However, there was no denying that it hurt their feelings to have forgotten their own daughter even just temporarily. Hermione's thoughts were disrupted by a hoot from the Owl Office owl, apparently getting impatient again after finishing his treats. She quickly scribbled a few words to her parents, saying that she'd be waiting at King's Cross at nine on Saturday morning and gave it to the owl, which flew away almost instantly.

Her joy at receiving her parents' letters didn't last long as she realised that by agreeing to come home this Saturday, she would fail to keep her promise to Ron. She thought of sending him a letter at first then decided against it. Hogwarts was located much farther from Wiltshire than London, so the letter might not be able to reach him in time; and she certainly didn't want Ron to think that he was being stood up. This left only one means of wizarding communication: the Floo Network.

The Ministry notice she received prior to arriving at Malfoy Manor had stated that after she got there, they would reopen the Floo Network to the Manor for her use (It was still monitored against Malfoy, of course.). However, Hermione suspected the Manor itself also had certain kinds of wards to restrict the use of its fireplaces. She wondered if the Entrusting Medallion would get her past, but didn't want to try. The result would most definitely turn out ugly if it didn't work. In short, only Malfoy would be sure about how she could use the fireplace, and she knew that he wouldn't be cooperative at all, especially after the V.O.M.I.T. incident. That was why she decided to try calling Knobbly first.

'Please tell me, Knobbly, do you know if I can use the Floo Network here?' she asked, careful not to make him feel like it was a command.

'Miss Hermione can if she is knowing the password,' replied Knobbly.

'Do you know what it is?'

'Knobbly is not knowing, Miss,' he shook his head violently, crushing her faint hope. Hermione sighed; she had to ask Malfoy after all.

'Knobbly, could you do me a favour?' she asked, feeling extremely guilty about making use of the poor elf.

'Anything, Miss Hermione.'

'Please tell your master that I need to talk to him. I'll wait in the library,' said Hermione, trying her best to overlook the fear sparkling in Knobbly's eyes at the idea of popping up to his master's room without being summoned.

Malfoy showed up in the library with the usual scowl on his face. 'You realise what time it is, don't you, Granger?'

'I need to use the Floo Network, Malfoy,' she stated shortly.

'What for? Can't wait to draw people to your little club?'

Hermione looked down at her shirt. She had forgotten to remove the badge after dinner. She had been wearing it all day merely to annoy the hell out of Malfoy. After getting rid of it in a rather irritated manner, she turned to Malfoy with a serious face.

'Should I remind you that the Ministry has—'

'Fine,' he snapped. 'I'll tell you the bloody password.'

'So?' asked Hermione expectantly.

'The password is...' he trailed off.

'The password is what?' she demanded, not noticing his change of expression in her own rush to get this over with.

'Narcissa,' he whispered, his voice somewhat cracked.


Hermione felt her stomach churn uncomfortably. Before she could bring herself to say anything else, Malfoy was gone, leaving her staring blankly at the moonless sky outside. With her thoughts still dwelling on a certain Slytherin, Hermione got to her feet and made her way to the recreation room where she could use the fireplace. As she grabbed a pinch of Floo powder and threw it into the dancing flames, it glowed red and warped itself into a shape of a face.

'Password,' it bellowed, glaring at her.

'Narcissa,' said Hermione, finding herself unable to pronounce the name any clearer than Malfoy did.

The flame face softened at the word before disappearing completely into a familiar shade of green.

'Hogwarts eighth years' common room,' she called out before kneeling down and sticking her head into the flickering flame. What greeted her was not much unlike the Gryffindor common room: a room filled with small, round tables and squashy armchairs. The only difference was that the decorating colours belonged to all four Houses. All the occupants of the room at that moment rounded up in front of the fireplace as soon as they spotted Hermione's head. Although there weren't many of them as it was rather late, she was still practically bombarded with greetings and questions.

'Thanks, guys, but I'm kind of hurried at the moment. Does anyone see Ron?'

'He's in the dormitory. Let me go fetch him,' offered Neville before rushing out of sight.

When a drowsy Ron came down the boys' staircase, the common room soon became nearly deserted since everybody seemed to be sensible enough to let the couple have some time of their own.

'Bloody hell, Hermione. Why do you have to call me so late?' grumbled Ron.

'Well, I've just received a letter from my parents. They're already back in Britain and...' she paused.

'That's wonderful, but does it have anything to do with me?' asked Ron, raising an eyebrow.

'They wanted me to come home for lunch this Saturday, so I think we must... cancel our date.'

'Are you kidding? It's your birthday and I've been doing every bloody thing to make it perfect for you, and then you just cancel it for a bloody lunch at your parents!' said Ron angrily. He practically yelled the last few words.

'They are my parents, Ron. And last year I almost lost them,' she yelled back, already on the verge of tears. All her guilt about breaking her promise with Ron completely evaporated. How could he be so inconsiderate? Not staying to wait for Ron's reaction, she withdrew her head from the fireplace and went back to her room. That night, Hermione found it impossible to sleep with too many things on her mind: her anger with Ron, her feelings for Draco Malfoy, and the nervousness before meeting her parents.

Draco had heard someone say that the thing about heartache was that it hurt anywhere you go. It was not entirely true, or at least not true to someone like him, someone who had learned to hide his feelings so well that at times he could even fool himself. That was why places played a crucial role to Draco, because no matter how solid his facades might be, they always had their limits. Sadly enough, everywhere he was forced to go these days served as a reminder to some extent. It had taken him months to get used to living in his own house again. Day after day, his immunity against certain places grew stronger: first his room, then the dining room, then the library. Now they had turned back to normal once more... almost.

However, there were places that he still couldn't bring himself to return to, yet he didn't want anyone to disturb the way they were. Consequently, he had forbidden Granger to enter the West Wing—the very part of the Manor that he was afraid to explore himself lest the memories buried there penetrate his numbness and wound him anew. He had forgotten one room, though—the only room in the East Wing that held such an important place in his heart. But that was a story for another time.

Draco knew that he couldn't keep hiding forever. After all, he had to go into his father's study that day. A few days ago, when all the Dark Arts books in the library turned out to be useless, he finally felt impelled to search for Darker books in the study. But with Granger staying in the Manor, Draco felt as if his privacy was invaded even though he knew that she would keep her promise to leave him alone in the West Wing. Only now when Granger had gone out with her little friends did he eventually end his concealment, or perhaps waiting for her to leave was just an excuse to procrastinate. He placed his hand on the doorknob, feeling a kind of static running through his entire body: The door had yet to become familiar with his new master. As the sensation ceased, he turned the doorknob and stepped into the place where he hadn't been for so long.

As Hermione saw her parents getting out of their new car, she simply wanted to rush to them right away, but approached rather slowly instead.

'Hi, Mum! Hi, Dad!' she greeted, feeling the somewhat strained atmosphere between them.

'Good morning, dear!' responded her mother before becoming seemingly at a loss for what to say next. She turned to her husband as if willing him to chime in, but he merely stared at their daughter. Hermione fiddled with her hands nervously.

'Hermione, we didn't mean to be too harsh on you about... that other matter,' he finally said. 'But we just don't want you to endure everything yourself.'

'Just know that we're always by your side,' added her mother softly.

'Oh, Dad... Mum...' squealed Hermione, hugging both of her parents, who returned the hugs warmly. 'I've missed you so much.'

'We've missed you, too,' replied her mother, her voice muffled in Hermione's massive mop of hair. At this, Hermione found tears of happiness rolling down her checks. When they finally drew back, she could see that her mother was wiping away her tears as well.

'Let's get back home, ladies,' said her father. The family got into their car, Mr Granger at the wheel while the two females took the back seats. Before Hermione could fasten her seatbelt, a mass of ginger fur jumped onto her chest.

'Crookshanks?' she exclaimed. 'Did you bring him?'

'No, he must have sneaked into the car when we were not looking,' answered her father with a wink.

'He seems to miss you, too, dear,' her mother observed. 'Why don't you bring him back with you?'

'Eh, Mum, Dad, I was going to tell you...' Hermione hesitated, worrying that her parents would think that she had been hiding the truth from them. 'You must know that I'll never want to shut you out of my life again.'

'It's okay, dear. What is it you want to say?' asked her mother tentatively; her father didn't say anything, but Hermione could see his concerned face through the rear-view mirror.

'I'm not at Hogwarts at the—,' said Hermione before suddenly being plunged forwards. Her father had nearly missed the red light. 'I'm still continuing my studies, Dad,' she added, knowing her father's sensitivity when it came to academia (Her mother had always teased that it was hereditary.).

Her mother chuckled. 'Let's talk about it once we're safely at home, shall we?'

Her father let out a nervous laugh while Hermione gave her mother a sheepish grin, Crookshanks still purring contentedly on her lap. She had truly had her family back; all they needed now was to make up for the lost time.

AN: I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for reading. I'd be even more grateful if you could just leave a review, too.

Perhaps the next installment will be next month. Sorry, I'm kinda caught up in Draco Big Bang right now :D

See you soon!