Hermione paced the room for the longest hour of her life, careful not to wake up any of her dorm mates. Every creak of the floor board echoed the condescending sneer of Draco Malfoy- now so present in her mind. The phantom memory of his haughty snicker brought on a peculiar sense of nostalgia. Draco, however despised, was the only bit of normalcy Hermione had left. Left abandoned Harry, scarred by Ron, and sorely missing both of them in the most twisted of ways, Draco was perhaps the only remnant of a life forgotten. His disdainful sneer, his pompous guffaw, were an ever present whisper, weaving through Hermione's memories. No matter the circumstances, no matter the year, he had always been in the shadow of every moment.

As she paced the floor, she pondered what she might give for a moment of routine. To be mocked by the dastardly Malfoy was better than a million relatively pleasant days spent in abnormality. At least the way "mudblood" rolled off his snake-oil coated tongue was comfortingly familiar. Despite the attempts of Neville and Luna, she remained unhappy, sulky even. Their efforts were appreciated but not beneficial to the grief ridden Hermione. Paranoid, nervous, and ever full of wistful sorrow. Nothing was more important than retrieving the small bit of the usual that was Draco Malfoy, no matter the cost.

For the first time since receiving Malfoy's secretive message, Hermione wondered what the cost might be. He was a wanted murderer after all. The cost might be her own life, for all she knew. Perhaps, he was lurking in a seedy London alley, concealed in wait for his next victim. Or perhaps, he was hiding in the Gringott's vault, a victim of a terrible misunderstanding. She already knew, accepted even, what the minimum payment on her tiny piece of regularity would be. She looked frantically from bed to bed, face to face. She would never see this place, these girls again. At the foot of her own bed slept the furry lump that was Crookshanks. There was no getting around it; she would be forced to desert him. Hermione thought of her teachers, her favorite books, her small batch of remaining friends, her heart sinking as she recognized, one by one, that she must leave them all behind. She envisioned every wall in Hogwarts, every winding stairwell, every winking portrait, and knew this was goodbye.

Yet, what was worth staying for? Ron had disappeared, and couldn't be forgiven for his final sin. Harry had forsaken her in her time of need, preferring to brave his turmoil alone. Ginny had fallen through the veil, where no one could ever follow. Luna and Neville could never replace them, though they made a valiant effort. As for the others, what did they even matter? Lavender, Pavarti, Hannah, Dean, Seamus, what were they, but faces in the hall? What did she truly have left to lose, but Draco's sneer? She saw the last bit of the way things used to be, floating away on the endless horizon, and she would chase it.

A sense of burning urgency grasped her heart. The newspaper code was several months old. Malfoy could easily have moved on, given up on her. With the clock as an eternal enemy, time was of the essence. She grit her teeth together and started frantically around the room. Think, Hermione, think! What is essential? What to take? What to leave? She rushed to her trunk, unlocking it was silently as possible. Every creak, every click and clack, was a jackhammer in the quiet of the witching hour. Hermione trembled, praying to Merlin that none of her dorm-mates would awaken. Her quaking fingers picked wildly through the meticulously organized trunk, until she found what she was looking for. She held up the small, simple bag and muttered an expansion charm under her breath. She reached her hand inside gripping aimlessly for the fabric walls, and finding the bag to be several feet deeper than one would expect. Satisfied, she tossed it haphazardly to the side. She dug through her trunk in a fervor, sorting essential from nonessential. She debated over Hogwarts a History for a solid minute before putting it back in the trunk with a quiet sigh. Not essential.

At the end of the impromptu packing, Hermione's haul included seven galleons, two sickles, a change of winter robes, her spare set of muggle clothes, several useful textbooks, a moving picture from the World Cup, three chocolate frogs, a cauldron, and, of course, the well-worn newspaper clipping.

There were only so many ways out of Hogwarts. Flu powder and apparition were obviously impossible. Walking straight out the front door was unthinkable. With the options of doors, fireplaces, and disappearing acts out of the question, that left one solution: windows. Hermione creeped up to one of the dormitory windows, and figured it barely wide enough for her body to cram through, but doable. The window didn't pose a problem, but the space beneath it did. Outside the glass, a thirty foot fall awaited Hermione, should she make the foolhardy attempt. Hermione pondered tying sheets and pillowcases together to make a rope, and for a moment she was stunned by her own ingenuity, before realizing the impossibility of such a solution. For one, there were scarcely enough such articles to make a fitting rope, and the necessary materials were all currently preoccupied serving their occupants. Her face fell, as she pondered yet more escape routes. There was little time to spare for thought. A tinge of the morning pushed back the stars, threatening to golden the surrounding hills with the dawn. Hermione gulped, realizing the only way out was up.

With all the haste she could muster she firmly gripped her make-shift travel bag, fumbling out the door and down the stairs, in careful alacrity. The last dying embers of the common room's fireplace beckoned farewell, and she kissed each one goodbye in her mind, as she rushed up the stairs to the boy's dormitory. She bust in the door, thanking Merlin when she saw each boy still sleeping. She slunk to Harry's bedside, and a pang struck her heart. She stared into the face of the infamous Boy Who Lived, and knew instantly that this was the true cost. Once she left Hogwarts, all hope for reclaiming their friendship was lost. The pit in her stomach widened as she realized that this was the perhaps their last rendez-vous, and her heart sang its anguish. So many good years, never to be recovered. She bit her lip, gazing steadily into his uncomprehending face. He was the only one left, the only one left that understood. The only piece of normal left. Yet, he was no longer a familiar person of comfort, but a reminder of all she'd lost. He spurned all her attempts to regain their former closeness, cast her away into the depths of the forgotten. With tears in her eyes and regret in her heart, she reached underneath his bed, pulling out his Firebolt. She hoped she could return it one day, and rekindle what was lost.

Grasping her bag tightly in one hand, and the broom in the other, she opened up the window of the boy's dorm. She tittered on the edge of the narrow construct, sticking the broom between her slender legs. She had never been very good at flying. It was questionably the only area of magic in which she lacked (with the obvious exception of divination). But this wasn't a mere flying lesson, this was a change in destiny. She clasped the handle with white knuckles, bend her knees, and sprang into empty space. The surrounding air seemed to swallow her whole as she dropped, cascading to the ground. Hermione shrieked in fear, but there was no oxygen to scream with. For an infinite moment, she was lost in the free-fall, without thought, without fear, without being. An instant before splattering on the ground, she jerked up on the handle with a grunt, successfully pulling herself out of the nose dive. Finally, the airborne Hermione sat upon the broom with struggled finesse, setting off in the direction of the spreading sunrise.

Onward, and upward, she thought with a bittersweet smirk.

Sorry, I disappeared forever. I do love and care for each of you very dearly, and I am very grateful for all the reviews and PMs, and the small number of you who somehow tracked me down on facebook. I tend to disappear and reappear at the most random, inconsequential of times. Sorry for that. I should put a disclaimer on all new stories that I work on, stating that I am an inconsistent updater. I'm pondering the creation of a new fanfiction featuring Draco and Hermione. In short, Hermione becomes Draco's slave (this won't be a humor piece, just so you guys know). I intend to write it very differently than how I wrote this, but it should still be (hopefully) excellent (I hope). So there's that. Thanks for sticking with me! Review if you have the time.