Chapter 45

Disclaimer: Just because I own copies of them, doesn't mean I own the originals.

0x0x0x0

Harry woke up.

He then remembered what he did last night, his entire body freezing, before he attempted to remove himself from the bed.

"Don't you dare, Potter," came a mumbled whisper, as fingernails dug into the arm he was almost successful in removing from Etna.

Harry swallowed.

He felt her shift and turn, and then he was looking into her maroon eyes. He was about to apologize when a single index finger touched his lips.

"I will never say this ever again, so pay attention. I love you." Etna pulled her finger away from Harry's lips. "Do you? Be honest. Please."

"I don't know if I do," said Harry. "I don't know if I even can."

"If I can, you can," said Etna.

"I'm... I'm frightened. Of losing you. That you'll go away, and never come back."

"I am, too," said Etna. "That's why Hermione and Luna and I are working so hard to figure it out."

Harry swallowed, before finally speaking.

"I... I love you, too."

Etna pulled him into a tight hug, kissed him, and then pushed him flat onto the bed.

"Umm... before we do that again?" began Harry.

"Yes?"

"I need to pee."

Etna rolled her eyes, giving a theatrical sigh.

"You know how to ruin a mood, Potter."

"I think that would ruin it more."

0x0x0x0

Severus Snape stared into the cauldron with a smile on his face and glee in his liver. Even with all the distractions over the summer, he'd finally managed it. He was certain to achieve a Golden Cauldron for this! His finest work!

He was about to test it on another group of rats (oh, how he wished it could be a few of his students, instead), when his office door slammed open to reveal a disheveled Minerva McGonagall, brandishing her wand like a sword, glaring at him. He had been so involved with his work, he hadn't even noticed her tearing down the wards on his office.

"What do you know about Harry Potter and Petunia Dursley?" she demanded.

Severus paused for but an instant, before downing the vial, knowing he'd need it rather soon.

0x0x0x0

"Harry, you seem... different," said Luna, cocking he head at him.

Sirius immediately looked at Harry, to see the red of embarrassment and Etna's smirk. He then realized that Harry wasn't downstairs making breakfast first thing in the morning.

"Well, did someone have fun last night?" asked Sirius, leering at the pair of them.

"This morning, too," commented Etna, taking a seat without blinking an eye. Harry immediately went to make breakfast. Narcissa stepped into the kitchen soon enough, looking at everyone seated.

"Where is Draco?"

"He's sleeping on a couch in the sitting room," said Hermione.

"Really?" asked Etna. "I thought I left him under the table."

Hermione huffed.

"Well, you are nicer than I am," said Etna in reply. "And he is your brother."

Hermione rolled her eyes, and Narcissa was glad that Hermione's disgust had finally gone away.

"What happened to him?"

"He got into a drinking contest with Harry," said Etna. "Harry won."

"So you gave him a hangover potion?" asked Narcissa.

"Nope," said Etna. "Harry just doesn't get hungover."

Narcissa nodded in understanding and a slight bit of envy before heading to the sitting room to retrieve Draco. A quick wave of her wand drew the curtains shut, reducing the amount of light in the room.

"Draco?" asked Narcissa in a low voice. "It's time for you to get up."

Draco emitted a low groan, his face squashed into a pillow.

"I closed the curtains," she added.

Draco forced himself into a direction that was vaguely upright.

"Come along, let's get you home so you can get cleaned up and drink a hangover potion."

Draco nodded, winced at nodding, then made a groan that sounded affirmative instead. Narcissa lead Draco to the floo, and once the spinning was done, watched him vomit all over the floor.

"Mistress," said a rather green Lucretia, looking on with horror.

"Lucretia, Draco drank too much last night. If you could bring him to his room and get him ready? Once Libby cleans this up, she'll bring a hangover potion to Draco's room."

"Thank you, Mistress."

Narcissa watched as Lucretia helped Draco to his feet, and then lead him to his room.

"You called, Mistress?" asked Libby, having silently popped into being.

"If you could clean this up, and then get Draco a hangover potion from the stores?"

"Of course, Mistress," said Libby, snapping her fingers and then disappearing with another pop. The mess was gone, and Narcissa assumed Libby was already at the potion stores. Lucretia would get Draco ready for his first day of school on time, and then they would all head to the platform.

0x0x0x0

"I thought Narcissa gave him hangover potion," said Harry, trying not to be reminded of the Inferi he saw in the cavern whenever he looked at Draco. Given the number of people crowding the platform, and the fact that most of them were gawking at both him and Narcissa, it wasn't that difficult.

"She did," said Hermione. "It's just that a hangover potion doesn't entirely cure the hangover. It makes the headache, nausea and audio-visual sensitivity go away, but it does nothing for the lethargy or dysphoria."

"Dys-what?" asked Ron.

"A general feeling of unwellness," supplied Luna.

"Right."

"Oh, to be young again," said Sirius.

"Do be quiet, Sirius," replied Narcissa. "The adults are talking."

"Ah, ha, you're adults," said Sirius, pointing at all the teenagers.

"Some of us do aspire to that," replied Hermione.

"Oh, fine," said Sirius. "Alright, Miss Black, come here and give me a hug."

"Of course, Uncle Sirius," said Luna, giving Sirius a hug.

Sirius gave her a tight hug, lifting her up off the ground.

"Sirius, you're making a scene," said Narcissa. She turned to Draco and Hermione. She hugged each them. "Draco, Hermione, you know I expect the best of both of you. Draco, Severus will help you as much as he can. Hermione, remember, you're a Malfoy now." In a low whisper in Hermione's ear, she continued, "Which means they can all go fuck themselves."

A prim and proper Narcissa stood up straight, while Hermione was agog.

"Well?" asked Narcissa. "Good luck at school this year, I expect regular letters, and be sure to make those fools regret ever crossing a Malfoy."

A semi-recovered Hermione and a semi-awake Draco both nodded.

"Hermione?" asked Harry, glancing at Narcissa. Narcissa looked both innocent and regal.

"Sorry," said Hermione. "Something surprised me."

"Good luck," said Harry, and pulled Hermione into a hug. "Keep an eye on everyone, and don't let them drag you down."

"Don't worry, I won't," said Hermione.

As the last of the hugs and goodbyes were finished, Hermione and Luna dragged Draco onto the train, and dropped him into a seat in their compartment. His head leaned against the wall.

Ron and Ginny were soon to follow, and Hermione cast a space expansion charm on the compartment to give them enough room for Susan and Neville to fit as well.

"Hermione, how did you cast a space expansion charm on a warded compartment?" asked Susan.

"By not realizing its warded," said Luna, curling up against Hermione.

"Oh, okay," said Susan, as she sat down on the bench.

"Aren't space expansion charms really difficult?" asked Neville.

"Yes, but this is Hermione," said Susan. "You saw the one that Harry cast. He turned that dueling pit into something the size of a Quidditch pitch."

"I'm still not sure how he did that," grumbled Hermione.

"He's Harry," said Susan.

"So he really isn't coming?" asked Ron.

"No," said Hermione. "He has to deal with Voldemort."

Hermione rolled her eyes when Susan and Neville flinched at the name. They hadn't been around Harry and Etna enough to become immune to the name. Hermione supposed she'd have to fix that. Ginny narrowed her eyes, her hatred of Voldemort self-evident.

Ron simply nodded, and stared at the ceiling.

"It's weird, him not being here."

"Yeah," said Hermione. She glanced at the window, and saw a dumbstruck Lavender Brown. Lavender slid open the door.

"How are you still on this train?! You were expelled!"

"I was re-instated," replied Hermione. "In fact, I'm still a prefect."

Lavender's jaw opened and closed several times.

"Also, thank you for informing me of who attempted to have me expelled."

"Hermione, be nice," said Luna.

"Oh, I will be." And with that, Hermione smiled. Lavender shivered, before she spoke again.

"You're just a muggleborn, though," said Lavender. "How could you get the Board of Governors to reverse their decision?"

"Oh, that's simple," said Hermione. "My name is Hermione Jane Malfoy now."

All of them watched as Lavender fainted.

"See, Luna? I'm being nice."

Luna nodded, before turning back to her book and cuddling further into Hermione.

0x0x0x0

Minerva watched as Harry Potter didn't enter the Great Hall. She watched as he didn't sit with Hermione Granger (Malfoy, now) and Ronald Weasley. She watched as he did not witness the first years parade in, or clap as they were sorted into Gryffindor.

She had to wonder if it was well and truly her fault.

Still, she sat at Albus' right hand for the feast itself, slowly eating her food as Albus joked with Olivia Whitmore, an old friend of Filius who had just retired from the dueling circuit. Minerva recalled Albus considering having Slughorn return so that Severus might have the Defense Against Dark Arts position, but Horace was found murdered in a muggle's home in mid-July.

Once the feast was done and the students dismissed to their beds, Minerva returned to her quarters, and lay awake in her bed.

She stared at the ceiling, trying to imagine a family with so little love for its own blood. She knew it happened, she knew it was possible. Severus himself was an example. And it was Severus's cold emotionless voice that echoed through her mind.

"Vernon felt proud in having never hit the boy."

Severus never used Harry's name, when he spoke. It was as though he couldn't bring himself to actually say it in connection to the crimes those muggles committed.

Petunia spoke of how normally they raised Harry, and that they'd done nothing wrong. When Severus pressed for answers (and Minerva consciously did not wonder just what sort of pressing an Ex-Death Eater did) he learned a few things.

Harry Potter's first Hogwarts Letter was addressed to "The Cupboard Under the Stairs." When they moved him upstairs to the smallest bedroom (not the guest bedroom, but the smallest bedroom), they put locks on the door, and installed a cat flap so that he wasn't allowed to contaminate the rest of the house.

And the amount of food they fed him...

Minerva couldn't imagine it. She couldn't imagine living such a way. She couldn't envision not living, but surviving.

Worst of all, the mask that Harry wore every day, the mask that McGonagall assumed was arrogance, wasn't. It was protection. He couldn't be harmed, if no one was close enough. She had to wonder just how close Harry was really was to Hermione and Ronald. And given the way Ronald acted, she doubted Ronald was close at all to Harry... at least in Harry's mind.

A whole new dynamic for Ronald, Hermione, and Harry appeared in Minerva's mind. Ronald was not Harry's best friend, but instead was the person who made Harry seem... normal. Hermione was Harry's friend, the one who stayed with him through thick and thin. Who watched out for him, even when he didn't expect it or ask for it.

And now that Harry was gone, she realized there was nothing she could do about it.

0x0x0x0

"Hello, Hermione," said Parvati.

"Hello, Parvati, Lavender," said Hermione, sitting on her bed and crossing her arms. "So. You sent a letter."

Parvati and Lavender looked at each other, and then looked at the door. The door slammed shut, and lock clicking into place. They both looked back to Hermione, realizing her wand wasn't out. In fact, it was sitting on the nightstand next to her bed.

"Well, at least I'm not a Malfoy," said Lavender, hoping to get in a single barb before Hermione killed them both and then had Professor Snape cover it up.

"This is true, actually," said Hermione, thoughtful. "It's not pleasant. I've had to learn how to eat about twenty different types of food, learned how to chatter inanely, and also have been forced into the most ridiculous garments imaginable. But that's not the real point. The real point, is that you decided to try to expel me from school."

Lavender realized that this wouldn't be the usual argument fueled by emotions. This was Granger (well, Malfoy) after all. This would be an argument of reason and logic. Not something Lavender and Parvati were the best at.

"Well... we didn't want you, you know... looking at us," said Lavender. Not her best effort.

"Looking at you?" asked Hermione, her brow furrowed.

"Well, yeah. Looking at us, you know, that way, while we're undressed and stuff," said Lavender.

Hermione stared at Lavender as though she'd grown a second head.

"So you got me expelled?" growled Hermione.

Lavender and Parvati both shrank as they felt a flare of magical power.

"Me. Expelled," she continued to growl. "The only reason you aren't winding up like those bitches in Ravenclaw, is because Luna would mind. Is that clear?"

Lavender and Parvati both nodded.

"Good. Now, let's talk about this. Like reasonable adults. How does that sound?"

They both nodded again.

"Last year, did I ever look at any of you that way?" asked Hermione.

"Well, not that we saw," said Lavender.

"Change that, when have I ever looked at anyone like that?" asked Hermione, wondering if she ever actually had looked at anyone that way.

Parvati started to say a name, but Hermione immediately cut her off.

"Besides Lockhart?"

Parvati frowned, but went back to thinking about it.

"Viktor?" said Lavender, although it was something of a question, as well.

"Not really. Besides, Viktor's already married," said Hermione.

"Wait, what?" asked Lavender.

"Well, he was engaged when he went to the ball," said Hermione. "He probably got married sometime last year. His family has a contract with some old friends of theirs, and Viktor's marrying their oldest daughter. He said he picked me because he was more interested in conversation."

It was Lavender and Parvati's turn to stare at Hermione like she'd grown a second head.

"Oh, I know I'm not good at conversation, but still. He wanted to talk to someone that wouldn't ask about Quidditch, and name another girl in this entire school that wouldn't ask Viktor Krum inane questions about Quidditch?"

"But... but... what about..." began Parvati, her brain attempting to re-engage.

"Ronald? It was like kissing a slug. I'm pretty sure Elizabeth straightened him out on that, but it's not one of those things I'd be interested in finding out."

"I was going to say Harry," said Parvati.

Hermione blinked at that, her own brain coming screeching to a halt. She then promptly made a face.

"I'm sorry, but dating Harry would be like dating a brother."

"But he's good looking!" said Lavender.

"Yes, he is," said Hermione, nodding in agreement, "but how weird would it be to date Steven?"

Lavender started to comment, before stopping.

"Alright, I can see that. But how can you see Harry as your brother? I mean... he's... not your brother."

"I think..." began Hermione. "I think it's because he's the family I always wished I had."

"Oh, your family couldn't be that bad," said Parvati. "At least, not as bad as the Malfoys."

"Well... with Lucius gone, and practically an order from Narcissa to... oh, what was that Etna said? Oh! Right, to 'beat the stupid' out of Draco, it's pretty good."

"Still, better than your old family?"

Hermione stared at her bed for a moment, before speaking.

"When Narcissa and I approached them with the adoption paperwork, they asked us to witness signing their divorce papers."

Lavender blanched at that, while Parvati furrowed her brows.

"Divorce?" asked Parvati. "What's that?"

"It means her parents legally ended their marriage," explained Lavender.

"You mean..."

"They married about two months before I was born," said Hermione. "They told me they were waiting for me to go to University before filing. When Narcissa approached them... well, they practically jumped at it."

"What about... well... Luna."

"They're both okay with it. My dad just wants me to be happy. My mother... well... I think she was proud to have a lesbian in the family, so that she could show her friends how 'progressive' she was."

Lavender nodded, confused but understanding.

"Still... it feels, well, weird, to have you in here with us, knowing you like... well, Luna."

"Why would I even look at you?" asked Hermione.

"Well, you like girls. Why wouldn't you?"

"I don't even look at Luna that way!"

"You don't?" asked a disbelieving Parvati.

"No! Do I look like Dean or Seamus?" said an exasperated Hermione.

"Well, I suppose Luna isn't much of a looker," said Lavender.

"I never said that," said Hermione. "You've never seen her bum with only a pair of knickers on."

Silence filled the dormitory.

"Maybe we could set up a privacy screen?" suggested Hermione, and immediately set to work with her wand. She conjured a set of screens that reminded them all of the ones in the infirmary. She furrowed her brow, before changing the color and pattern to a nice red and gold paisley. "Does that look okay, or should we change the pattern and color?"

Lavender and Parvati blinked in surprise before examining it.

"This would be good..." began Lavender. "How long will it last?"

"I was planning on making them permanent, but I would have McGonagall double-check since my permanent conjuration isn't as good as Harry's."

Both Parvati and Lavender saw Hermione's frown at the mention of Harry, and Parvati couldn't resist asking about. She immediately smiled when Hermione began ranting.

"Everything! Everything he conjures is permanent! He doesn't even mean to do it, he just does it! Do you have any idea how annoying it is, to work so hard at something, and then have someone do it, Every. Single. Time. By accident?"

Lavender and Parvati were trying not to laugh at Hermione as she paced back and forth.

"Oh, it's not that funny," groused Hermione.

"Yes it is," replied Lavender. "We haven't seen you rant like that since you've been... well... with Luna, and it's funny to see it now."

Hermione blinked at that statement.

"I really haven't, have I?" she said aloud, dropping into her bed.

"No, you really haven't," added Parvati.

Hermione thought back to the entire summer, trying to think of a single time she'd really ranted about something, and there just wasn't anything there. And now, the first time she'd be spending the night without Luna, she'd done it.

It surprised her, just how much she was effected by Luna.

"Are you alright?" asked Lavender.

"Yes, I'm fine," said Hermione. "I'm just... I'm just realizing something, that's all."

Lavender and Parvati looked at each, remembering their own talk about how Hermione changed.

"You've... you've got it bad, don't you?" asked Lavender.

Hermione nodded, knowing exactly what Lavender was talking about, and realizing just how true it was.

"It's... it's weird, is all," said Lavender.

Parvati gave Lavender a sharp look, which prompted an entirely silent discussion between the pair of them that Hermione paid no attention to whatsoever.

"Is it... you know... not weird in the muggle world?"

"No. It's weird there, too," said Hermione. "My mother is... off."

"What, like Dumbledore off?" asked Parvati.

At this, Hermione couldn't help but laugh.

"What?" asked Parvati.

"Dumbledore's the same way," she said.

"What? Liking... you know... boys?" said Lavender.

"Men, I would think," said Hermione. "He told me a few months before school got out that he'd fallen in love with another man, but, well, it didn't work out according to him. Luna's dad seemed to know who, though."

"Wow," said Lavender. "Really?"

"You can ask him," said Hermione.

Parvati and Lavender both looked at each other, before nodding.

"I think we will," said Lavender. "And... um... I think the screen looks very nice. We should definitely keep it... just... I don't know if we'll need it later on in the year."

"Yeah... maybe," said Parvati.

Hermione nodded, knowing that was probably the best she would get from them.

Author's Notes: Well, this is finally over. The chapter, that is. It's a terrible place to end a story. I still need to cover Draco's first day. I'm pretty sure you didn't just hear maniacal laughter.

I know I said this in my latest thing in the Bin, but I figure I'll repeat it here. I normally take the train to work, and that's when I get my writing done. Instead, I was driving to training everyday last week. End result? No time for writing. Followed by this bitch of a chapter (McGonagall is difficult for me. Mostly because I'm not sure how to treat her form chapter to chapter.)

Odd thought: Omake about the three-way relationship between Severus Snape, Firewhiskey, and his Liver.