** Author's Note: It occurred to me that I forgot to mention some things at the beginning here (sorry!), so I'm adding it in now. In this fan fiction, just a few things are different than in the actual books. Hedwig doesn't die; Harry sent her away a few days before leaving Privet Drive and told her to find him when everything was over. Harry also does not lose his Firebolt—I want him to have it because it was from Sirius, and it's the only thing Harry has left of his godfather. Also, Fred does not die in the end; he's seriously injured and unconscious, so they think he's dead, but Madame Pomfrey revives him. The same goes for Colin Creevey—he still stayed behind for the battle, but he lives, too. The Epilogue never takes place. Everything else is the same.

Also, thanks to everyone who has already favorited my story or set it on story alert! I'm excited that so many of you are already interested! **

It was finally over.

Hermione could not quite wrap her mind around the idea. All of the fear, the death, the pain, the insecurity…it was finished. Harry had finally defeated Lord Voldemort, and both the wizarding and Muggle worlds were safe again. Her best friend had completed the task he was set as a baby, and now…

'What?' she thought to herself. 'What happens now?'

The Golden Trio, as the three best friends could hear the others naming them, no longer had a sword dangling over their heads. They were free to live their lives as they chose. But none of them had thought about life outside of Voldemort and the Death Eaters for so long. How were they to go back to that life?

"We can't go back," Hermione whispered.

Having just stepped off of the rotating steps leading down from the headmasters' office, Ron and Harry stopped walking at her words and turned to face her.

Ron had a quizzical look on his face, but Harry seemed to understand what Hermione had meant. "Can't go back to what, 'Mione?" Ron asked.

"Back to how we were before we left school. Back to being kids who had plenty of time to figure out where their lives were heading. We're not kids anymore, and we don't have time." Hermione took a deep breath, looked at both of her best friends, and asked desperately, "What are we going to do with the rest of our lives? We haven't even finished school!"

If Hermione hadn't looked so distressed—or the day hadn't been so horrendous—Ron would have rolled his eyes. Only Hermione would be worrying about having missed her NEWTs at a time like this.

He decided to try and ease his—was she his girlfriend now?—friend's fears. "Hermione, think of everything we've done in the last seven years. I'm sure that, considering the three of us are the reason You-Know-Who is dead, we'll be able to get any job we want, even without our NEWTs." Ron reached out and laid his hand on Hermione's elbow, trying to soothe her.

It wasn't working. She still looked distressed, and soon she voiced her concerns. "That's not the point, Ron. You both know me; I value education over everything. I want to finish my schooling, but I'll be nineteen barely into next school year. I don't think I'll be allowed to come back. And really, everyone who missed this year should be allowed to return; it's important that we all have the same chances for success that every other year had when they left school."

Harry smiled at his best friend. She was worried, not only for her own future, but those of her classmates, as well. That was the wonderful thing about Hermione—she was selfless.

Harry walked to her and wrapped her in a warm hug. They stood that way for a minute, comforting each other, before Harry pulled away to look directly into Hermione's eyes. "We can talk to McGonagall. I'm sure that she's planning on having everyone repeat their previous year anyway, since even those who were here weren't getting an education. Or, at least, not the kind they should have been getting." Harry was smiling grimly by the end of his speech.

Ron groaned. "You mean we still have to come back to school? Why?"

Hermione actually did roll her eyes. "Ron, honestly, it's not the end of the world. It's just one more year. And anyway, won't it be nice to have a normal, leisurely school year as our last before we leave Hogwarts for good?"

Both boys agreed, and the three set off again for the Great Hall. Hermione wanted to speak to Professor McGonagall straight away about repeating the school year.

After the long string of burials and memorial services, the Trio was finally able to get some time alone. Hedwig had returned from Merlin only knows where, and Harry was ecstatic to have her home again. Harry and the youngest Weasleys—sans Fred—were back to spending long afternoons practicing Quidditch near the Burrow. Hermione had read several books merely for pleasure and was feeling very relaxed. Fleur had announced that she and Bill were going to have a baby in January. Life, in short, was returning to normal.

The Trio had dealt with a never-ending stream of reporters desperately seeking a full scoop on what the young witch and wizards had been doing while off the map for the previous school year. Harry had agreed to only one interview, given to a young reporter named Alex Michelson who had not yet made a name for himself. It was printed in three publications: the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler, and an American wizarding business magazine (which had, apparently, given Alex his first internship). The article read thus:

Boy Who Lived, Chosen One Defeats Dark Lord,

Reveals Secrets of 9-Month Absence

Harry Potter, known also as The Boy Who Lived and, more recently, The Chosen One, has finally completed what he began as an infant—defeating the greatest Dark wizard of our time, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Upon discovering that I will not speak or write his name, Mr. Potter says, "Oh, come off it. He's dead. The name's not Taboo anymore, and he isn't coming back. Can we all, please, just start saying the name?"

I do not acquiesce, but Mr. Potter says no more on the subject.

As my first question, I ask Mr. Potter how specifically he managed to vanquish the Dark Lord.

"For obvious reasons," he responds, "I cannot give you any specifics. Suffice it to say that the wand he carried in the battle at Hogwarts had more allegiance to me than to him, and so when I claimed the wand and it flew to my hand, [You-Know-Who's] Killing Curse was aimed straight back at him. I suppose you could consider it suicide." Mr. Potter seems surprised at his conclusion, so I assume the idea had not previously occurred to him.

I highly doubt that the wizarding world will see the Dark Lord's death as a suicide, however. Mr. Potter agrees.

I then proceed to ask Mr. Potter what he and his friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, had been doing whilst in hiding over the previous school year.

"Again, I cannot give much detail. I can, however, say this: [You-Know-Who] had taken measures long ago—before he even had left Hogwarts—to prevent his death. These measures included bits of Dark, dangerous, and highly unnatural magic. It is the reason he did not die when I was a baby and his Killing Curse rebounded to him. Hermione, Ron, and I had been seeking out and destroying what was left of these Dark spells. We only returned to Hogwarts when it was possible for him to be defeated."

Mr. Potter is disinclined to elaborate.

"I don't want any other sociopaths deciding to follow in his footsteps. I'm sure the wizarding world has had more than enough danger and death for several lifetimes. I won't say any more for fear of a repeat of the horrors in the last forty-some-odd years."

I have one last question for Mr. Potter: what are you intending to do now?

"Professor McGonagall, new Headmistress of Hogwarts, is urging all who were or should have been students last year to return and repeat the year, as no one truly received an education. My friends and I plan on returning and taking our NEWTs. We still haven't decided upon our futures after school. We'd just like to enjoy a quiet year at Hogwarts for once."

So there you have it, straight from the Golden Boy's mouth. The wizarding world sends its thanks to Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Ms. Granger for their service and wishes them and their classmates a good school year.

Harry had actually had a pleasant time giving the interview. Hermione and Ron had insisted that he do the speaking, but they were at the next table in the restaurant for moral support. Hermione had been paying rapt attention to Harry's responses, and Ron had been paying attention to Hermione.

It was the end of June, and Ron and she had gone on three dates together. He wanted a relationship, but he was too nervous to ask. Hermione refused to bring up the subject—she much preferred for the man to take charge in a relationship (which is why she had accepted Krum's invitation to the Yule Ball in fourth year).

Three days later, when the article was released, the Trio sat in the living room at the Burrow. Hermione was stretched out in front of the empty fireplace with Crookshanks lying next to her, a book on potions in front of her nose. Harry and Ron were engaged in a fierce game of wizard's chess, oblivious to the rest of the world. Ginny had come and sat behind Harry earlier, playing with his hair, but he had asked her in a restrained tone to please stop distracting him, so she had gone out to the back yard to sit with Fred on the porch. He was still recovering and was always in the mood for company, especially when George was needed at the joke shop.

Suddenly Ginny reappeared in the door. "Harry, Kingsley's here to see you. Said it's important. Wants to know if you've got time now."

Harry looked up, confused. "Sure, send him in." Ron moved the chess set to the coffee table in order to make room on the couch for Hermione, who was getting up from the floor and stretching. Kingsley walked in and greeted everyone with a small smile.

"Harry, Hermione, Ron, nice to see you all. I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Of course not, Kingsley, we're just enjoying some relaxing time. What can I do for you?" Harry seemed apprehensive. Hermione guessed that he was concerned someone was going to ask him to be a hero again.

Seeing the look on Harry's face, Kingsley chuckled as he sat in the arm chair next to the couch. "Nothing is wrong, Harry, relax. I'm here to tell you that you've been the recipient of some more property through a will. I apologize for the delay—we would have brought it straight to you, but all the business with rounding up the last of the free Death Eaters has made all other projects be put on hold for a while." The room was silent for a few moments while Kingsley allowed the three to process the information.

Harry was confused. Another will? This would be the third time he had inherited something when someone passed. No, the fourth—if you count the gold in his Gringotts vault and the Invisibility Cloak. Who could it be from? Hermione had already ventured to guess that it was Remus and Tonks' will, but with as famous as Harry was, it really could have been anyone.

Harry finally decided he could wait no longer. "Who?"

Kingsley took a deep breath and responded quickly. "Severus Snape."

All the Trio could do was blink at the Minister.

Hermione's mind reeled for a moment, but she soon regained control. 'I suppose it makes sense. He did save Harry simply because Lily was his mother. Maybe Severus thought Harry was the son he should have had. I wonder what he left to Harry…'

Kingsley answered Hermione's unspoken question. "He has left you all of his possessions, which includes Spinner's End, his home, and an extensive library"—Hermione squealed softly in excitement—"that includes, as I understand it, several hundred volumes of his own notes and research. This visit is just a formality, as the house is officially yours. You may visit any time you wish. The Floo address is simply 'Spinner's End'." Kingsley sighed as he got to his feet. Harry, Ron, and Hermione rose, too, and the Trio took turns shaking hands with the Minister of Magic. Shortly thereafter, Kingsley departed.

Hermione was in heaven. "Oh, Harry, think of all that original research! Think what could be done with that knowledge! Please, please let me go there sometime and read straight through the library!"

Harry chuckled. "Alright, alright, stop bouncing around Hermione! You look like a little kid that needs to use the toilet!" Ron howled with laughter.

Hermione gave Harry a playfully stern look. "Harry, I'm serious, I really want to read all of Severus' notes. He was such an amazing potioneer, and I really like the idea of his research being brought to light. It would help clear his name in the public eye. Please?"

"Yes, alright Hermione, spend as much time there as you like. Just promise me that you won't make me read it all, too, yeah?"

Hermione gave an excited yelp and threw her arms around Harry's neck. The boys laughed along with her. That was their Hermione.

The day after Harry's eighteenth birthday brought the Hogwarts letters. Hermione was sitting on the porch reading one of Severus' countless potions journals when she heard Ginny call her inside. When Hermione got to the kitchen, she saw Harry, Ron, and Ginny admiring Harry's Quidditch captain badge. Hermione shone with pride. Her best friend deserved every honor he could be given, and this was one he was actually willing to receive.

Ron and Ginny were holding onto their usual Prefect badges as well as their book lists. Ginny looked mildly interested as she read down her list; Ron just looked disgusted.

'I don't understand why Ron hates learning so much. It's so wonderful experiencing new things! I don't think I'll ever completely comprehend his mind,' Hermione thought to herself.

Harry handed Hermione her envelope, looking at her oddly. Ginny and Ron suddenly stopped their perusal of their own letters to watch Hermione, as well.

Confused, Hermione raise an eyebrow at her friends before opening her envelope. She pulled out the letter—just a normal Hogwarts' letter and book list. Then she realized that there was still something in the envelope. She gently turned it upside down over her hand, catching the small, round pin that slid out.

The pin was purple with white calligraphy lettering, spelling the words Head Girl.

Exactly four seconds later, Hermione shouted for joy and started dancing around the kitchen. Ron and Harry just laughed and congratulated her, but Ginny joined in the celebratory prancing. Molly came down the stairs in a rush, hand over her heart, to find the source of the noise. When Hermione showed off her badge, Molly pulled her into a bear hug and shouted with happiness as well.

That night, the Burrow was filled to the brim with Weasleys, order members, and friends from Hogwarts. The celebratory party lasted well into the night, and Hermione finally crawled into bed in Ginny's room around two in the morning. Suddenly realizing that she had not checked to see who would be her partner for the school year, she reached over to her nightstand and grabbed the letter. Going under the covers and lighting her wand—so as not to wake Ginny—Hermione read through her letter for the first time.

Dear Ms. Granger,

I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected as Head Girl at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for this school year. I am very proud of the woman you have become, Ms. Granger, and I have no doubt that you will be an excellent Head. You will be pleased to know that I speak for all the staff when I say that we are all very proud yet hardly surprised.

Your duties will be explained in full upon your arrival at Kings Cross on September first. Please note that, as Head Girl, you are expected to arrive at 9:30 in the morning in order to be instructed before overseeing the loading of the train. You, along with the Head Boy, will have meetings with Headmistress McGonagall on the second Tuesday of each month, and you are expected to hold weekly meetings with the Prefects. As there will be many more students this year than is regular, we decided that, in addition to calling new Prefects at the fifth year level, all those who had previously been prefects—whether they would have graduated or been released from their duties-will continue to serve in this capacity. You and the Head Boy will need as much help as possible to keep all of the students in line. We expect to have about seventy students in the first year alone.

In reference to the Head Boy: your partner for the year will be Mr. Draco Malfoy. We understand the poor history between the two of you in the past, but in light of the occurrences at his and his parents' trials, we have decided to give the two of you the opportunity to work together. As Heads, you will share a dormitory. Headmistress McGonagall has asked me to have you approach her immediately should any serious problems arise, though she doubts that there will be any confrontations that you cannot resolve between yourselves.

You may find enclosed a copy of the book list for your classes this year, as well as directions to and a temporary password for your new dormitory. Please enjoy the remainder of your holiday. We look forward to seeing you on the first.

Filius Flitwick

Deputy Headmaster

Hermione stared at the page. When she had first read that Malfoy would be Head Boy, she was dumbfounded. Why would he be chosen? Then she was angry: he is the son of a Death Eater! Then she was ashamed with herself. She knew that Lucius Malfoy had sincerely regretted his involvement with Voldemort for some time before the snake's death, even if he did nothing to stop him. And Draco was not his father; he could have easily turned Hermione, Harry, and Ron over to Voldemort when the Trio was brought to Malfoy Manor, but he refused to identify them. Hermione knew it was because Malfoy was aware that Harry was the wizarding world's only hope for survival. Even if he only did so out of self-preservation, Malfoy had saved her life that night, along with the lives of countless other innocents.

Eventually, Hermione felt nothing on the matter of the Head Boy at all. She really didn't know Malfoy. Before Voldemort returned, he was an arrogant prat, rich and spoiled. But he had been a little boy, and children are often cruel at that age. Then, in fifth year, Malfoy had begun to get nastier. He outwardly supported Umbridge, but he could surely see that she was in a position of power, and she certainly wasn't opposed to Voldemort's views. Malfoy had been raised to value "blood purity" and call Voldemort the "Dark Lord," and so who wouldn't expect him to follow in those footsteps?

In sixth year, he was forced to leave boyhood behind and become a man.

And that's when he started to change.

He suddenly knew first-hand the horrors that Voldemort unleashed on not only his victims, but also his followers. Malfoy was given an impossible task—to kill one of the greatest sorcerers of all time—because Voldemort wanted a reason to kill the boy, thereby punishing Lucius for failing at the Ministry. Draco, when his eyes were opened, became something different.

He was not like his father, and he had proven it.

Hermione didn't know where these thoughts had come from, but she couldn't help but be grateful to them. She felt now that she would have no problems getting along with Malfoy for the year. As she drifted off to sleep, her last thought was a hope that he would find it equally as simple to get along with her.

Two weeks before classes were to begin, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were walking through Diagon Alley, shopping for school supplies. Hermione had brought along her beaded bag to make carrying all of their purchases much easier. She was beginning to truly appreciate her little creation. She no longer had to worry about her school bag falling apart because there were too many books and supplies shoved inside.

The foursome was having a pleasant day of meaningless conversation and leisurely shopping. Mostly the supplies they needed were their books and refills on quills and ink, so much of their time was spent looking into shops that had nothing to do with school. Eventually the boys and girls separated. Harry and Ron headed into Quality Quidditch Supplies to look at a new broom and better keeping gear for Ron, and Hermione and Ginny went to look into the windows of the various rob shops, hoping to find some new dress robes.

Ginny eventually noticed that Hermione seemed to be off in her own world, and she tried to gain her friend's attention. Pulling roughly on her sleeve, Ginny managed to get Hermione to look at her.

"'Mione, are you alright? I think I lost you for a minute there." Ginny giggled softly.

Hermione took a deep breath. "Sorry, Gin. I was just thinking about…well, the Head Boy, actually." Ginny rolled her eyes, and Hermione grinned sheepishly. Hermione's preoccupation with concerns over serving as Head Girl opposite Draco Malfoy was bordering on obsession over the past few days.

Hermione continued, defending herself. "Well, not so much about him specifically. I was really thinking about how to get my friends to accept the fact that I'll be spending so much time with him. You know, this could be a great opportunity to promote inter-House unity if everyone can learn to get along."

Ginny smiled brightly. "Hermione, you always look at the bright side of things. And if by 'your friends' you mean Harry and Ron, I'm sure they'll come around. Actually, I really think Harry already has. He testified in all the Malfoys' favors at their hearings. I think he's realized that they aren't as evil as he always considered them to be."

"What about Ron?"

Ginny's face fell. After a few seconds, she murmured, "He'll come around. I think he's mostly jealous that Malfoy will get to spend more time with you than he will, since you'll be sharing a dormitory with the Slytherin sex god." Ginny was smiling again and in a fit of giggles.

A blush crept over Hermione's face. Ron was jealous? Why would he be? There was certainly never anything romantic between her and Malfoy. Even if Hermione did find the git attractive, she never had any designs in that area. Though, Ron was a teenage boy, so Hermione could see how he might feel inadequate when she'd be sharing a dorm with a boy rumored to be promiscuous. However, she doubted that he would actually try something on her, Hogwarts' biggest bookworm. No, he definitely wouldn't…would he?

Hermione's ruminations were interrupted by the door to Madam Malkin's opening and Ginny's amused whisper. "Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear."

When Ginny's comment registered—which took all of .6 seconds—Hermione looked behind her at the door to the shop. Indeed, Malfoy was just exiting the shop. Hermione couldn't help but notice that he looked much healthier than he had at his and his parents' trials earlier in the summer. Then, he had appeared gaunt and sickly, as if all his time was spent in the dark and he wasn't eating—which, now that Hermione thought about it, he probably was.

Ginny was covertly glancing between the pair, wondering what this first meeting after being named partners would entail. Ginny loved Hermione like a sister, and she sincerely hoped that everything with Malfoy this year would go well. Her friend had worked harder than anyone she knew and deserved both this position and the opportunity to enjoy her last year at school.

Malfoy just stood, staring at Hermione. She noticed that there was really no emotion in the look at all. No interest or kindness, but also no hatred or annoyance was visible.

'Perhaps he has decided to start over this year, as well,' Hermione mused. 'Well, here goes nothing.'

"Hello, Malfoy," Hermione said cheerfully. She smiled serenely at her once-enemy-now-roommate. "Having a good holiday?"

For a moment, it looked as though he wouldn't answer. Then, hesitantly and formally, he said, "Good afternoon, Granger, Weasley. It has gone very well, especially since the beginning of July. Thank you for asking. Have you both enjoyed your summer, as well?"

Ginny's face was all shock; firstly, was Malfoy actually being polite? Then, did he seriously just make a reference to his summer being better after the trials were over? He must have come a long way towards accepting what happened to his family in the two short months since the verdict if he could joke about it. And thirdly…did he really just ask how Ginny was doing? He should ask about Hermione, sure, because they would be working together all year, but Ginny? Who was this guy?

Hermione was slightly surprised yet certainly pleased. She could see that the best way for Malfoy to show he deserved the mercy dealt by the Wizengamot was to befriend the classmates that he had belittled before. If he could convince the school that he was a changed man, the wizarding community at large would be more accepting of him and his parents, as well.

"It has been lovely, thank you, Malfoy." Hermione couldn't help the genuine smile that crossed her face.

Ginny didn't know how to respond. "It's been alright, I suppose. I'm ready to get back to school for once, though." It occurred to Ginny that the two might want to speak about their upcoming duties as Head students, so she made a snap decision. Turning to her friend, she said, "Hermione, I think I'm going to head over to Quality Quidditch, I just remembered that I haven't bought Charlie a birthday present yet, and if I'm going to send it to Romania to him, I want to get it early. You can finish your shopping alright without me, yeah?" Without waiting for an answer, Ginny set her hand lightly on Hermione's arm before turning and walking away.

Hermione didn't know what Ginny was up to, but she didn't think it was anything good.

Malfoy snorted softly. "Well, that was subtle. She really is a Weasley."

Confused, Hermione glanced back at Malfoy with her eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Rolling his eyes, Malfoy muttered, "Maybe that's why she thinks she's subtle." Before Hermione could retort, he continued, "She was leaving to give us time to talk alone. Though why she thinks we need privacy, I'm not entirely sure."

Hermione was still confused, but she didn't want it to show.

Apparently, Malfoy wasn't fooled. "She walked away so we could talk about Head duties, Granger." A little of the old Malfoy's drawling voice crept back with this comment. "But like I said, I don't know why she thinks we need privacy for that."

The two were silent for a few moments, contemplating the strange situation into which they had been thrown. Hermione decided to take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the coming months with Malfoy before reaching school. "Would you like to get an ice cream? Mr. Fortescue's old place has been redone. It's a new owner, but it's still the best in Diagon Alley." Hermione smiled with something akin to hope.

Malfoy, without noticing his answering smile, responded with, "Sure, I suppose an ice cream couldn't hurt." The two began walking towards the ice cream parlor in companionable silence. They both noticed the good two-foot distance between them. Hermione thought it interesting; Malfoy was merely amused. 'She still unconsciously steers clear of me. Hopefully that will change soon.'

Since his and his parents' verdicts this summer, Malfoy had been taking stock of his life. He realized that, as he wanted to turn over a new leaf and be accepted into wizarding society for his own worth rather than his blackened surname, he would have to befriend the 'right sort' of people—oh, the irony—and let them shape him into a better man. He wasn't foolish enough to think that he could change everything on his own; he'd have to gain, not just the ethical, but also the social acceptance of the Golden Trio—or at least the Golden Boy—in order to clear his family's name and live a normal life. He saw the fortune of being made Head Boy opposite Granger to be Fate giving him a last chance to not screw anything up!

And screwing things up—again—was the last thing he planned to do.

They had barely walked ten steps when Malfoy broke the silence. "Do Potter and Weasley know that I'll be working opposite you this year?"

To say that Hermione was shocked at his question would be an understatement. Yes, she had hoped that the two of them could be civil co-workers, but for him to actually take an interest in her life and her friends was unprecedented. Deciding not to let him see that he had taken her by surprise, Hermione confidently responded, "Of course. They're my best friends. Why wouldn't I tell them?"

"You misunderstood me. I didn't expect you to keep it from them. I was merely leading into the question that I really wanted to ask."

"Which is…?"

Malfoy took a deep breath before responding. "How did they take it?"

Hermione was floored. "Why do you want to know?"

He looked over to her as he continued. "I just want to be sure that we have nothing to worry about from the two of them. I don't want their disapproval of me to get between us, especially if it's going to affect our working relationship."

Though she did not point it out, Hermione noted that he was only mostly concerned about their working relationship. Could he mean that he wanted to be friends as well as partners?

"Well, Harry actually took it fairly well. He was certainly worried for me at first, but I told him that I wasn't concerned too much over the situation, and he's fine now. He did, however, offer to hex you into the next Tuesday if I ever needed someone to straighten you out." Hermione giggled softly. After a moment, Malfoy began to chuckle as well.

"I'd expect nothing less from Potter, I suppose. What did the weasel say?"

Hermione gave him a disapproving look.

"Sorry, what I meant to say was, 'What did the Weasley King say?'"

Rolling her eyes, Hermione said, "He didn't take it nearly as well. I understand that Ron's temper is the more volatile of the two, but I couldn't quite understand it. I asked Ginny about it, and she suggested that maybe Ron is jealous because you and I will be spending so much time together during our Head duties." Hermione blushed, remembering the 'sex god' comment that Ginny had then made, but Hermione didn't go into it. 'No need to give him any ideas,' she thought.

Malfoy missed her blush, but he understood what Hermione had not said. He smirked and thought, 'So the weasel is jealous of me? I think I can live with that. I don't want to purposely antagonize him, since I'm trying to get into the Golden Trio's good graces, but it will be nice to make him steam without actually doing anything to him.'

Just as Malfoy was thinking this, the pair walked into the ice cream shop. They ordered two scoops each and were walking down the counter to pay. Hermione reached into her pocket for three sickles but Malfoy stopped her.

"Let me pay for you."

Shocked, Hermione said, "No, I can't ask you to do that!"

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You didn't ask, I offered."

"But I still don't want you to."

"Come on, Granger, let me pay. Think of it as a business outing. I promise, you can pick up the next one."

Hermione thought for a few seconds before nodding her head slightly in acquiescence. The two took their bowls of ice cream outside to sit underneath an umbrella while they enjoyed their treat. Malfoy again broke the silence that had fallen.

"Which NEWT classes will you be taking?"

Hermione swallowed her bite before responding. "Runes, Arithmancy, Potions, Defense, Charms, Transfiguration, and History of Magic." She took another bite before asking, "What about you?"

Malfoy raised a single blonde eyebrow at Hermione's listing. "All of the same." He looked down at his bowl before continuing. "And…."

Hermione looked up and tried to catch Malfoy's eye, attempting to look politely curious. In reality, she knew what it was that he had trouble admitting aloud. "And…what?"

He cleared his throat. "Muggle Studies."

Again, Hermione tried to catch Malfoy's gaze, but this time he silently refused. Without knowing why, she reached across the small table and rested her hand on his shoulder. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Malfoy. You made some mistakes in the past, but you did an incredibly brave thing when you refused to turn us over to Voldemort last year. The Wizengamot saw that, and they gave you a light sentence. Learning about Muggles will be interesting for you, I'm sure, and you're so intelligent, I'm sure it won't be difficult for you to get that E on the NEWT exam. Just try not to think of it as a punishment, and everything will be much easier." Hermione removed her hand from Malfoy's shoulder and went back to her ice cream, leaving him to his thoughts.

A minute or two passed in silence before Hermione heard a soft, timid, "Thank you."

Hermione had just looked up and smiled at him when the two heard an excited shout.

"Hermione! There you are! Where have you been all this time?" Ron reached the table first and pulled a chair next to Hermione but as far from Malfoy as possible. He plopped down and put an arm around her shoulders, causing her to blush.

Hermione was pleased that Ron was so happy to see her, especially since they had only been apart for little over half an hour, but his blatant display in front of Malfoy was a little embarrassing. They weren't even an official couple yet! She really wished that Ron would just get on with it.

Malfoy, on the other hand, understood perfectly what the weasel was up to. Hermione had already told him that the weaselette suspected her brother to be jealous, and here was the proof. Weasley was nearly literally green with envy upon seeing the two Head students together, enjoying an ice cream, and his girl—were they officially dating?—smiling at the 'arrogant prat,' as Weasley had often referred to him.

Ginny and Harry soon followed, both pulling seats up as well. The new seating was crowded, to say the least. The table was really only meant for two, and five young adults were now squished around it. Malfoy was wedged between the two Weasleys, and Harry sat between the girls.

Malfoy was incredibly uncomfortable.

Hermione could tell. She quickly formed an escape plan for her partner that would let him know she was doing it for him, not to get rid of him. "Hey guys! You have impeccable timing. Malfoy, are you sure you can't stay longer? You could join us. We still have some shopping to do before dinner, and you're welcome to come along."

The reactions around the table varied greatly. Ginny was surprised, but given that she left the two in hopes they could establish some kind of truce, she was truly happy with the result. Hermione actually was reaching out to Malfoy, and the talk must have gone well if Hermione thought extending him an invitation would be a good idea.

Harry, on the other hand, understood exactly what Hermione was doing. They had been friends long enough that Harry knew that Hermione always got that particular glint in her eye when she was scheming. Harry didn't expect Malfoy to accept, but he knew Hermione was doing right by him in offering this escape.

Ron was silently fuming. His face was changing to a delicate red as he processed the idea of sharing his time with Hermione with that git before classes had even started. Why did Fate do this to him? He thought Malfoy would probably accept just to have the chance to torture the four Gryffindors.

Malfoy, like Harry, knew that Hermione was offering him an escape route. However, Malfoy's understanding went one step deeper in that he knew, from her phrasing, that she wasn't opposed to his presence, but rather she understood that he was uncomfortable. She was letting him know that he was welcome to leave whenever he chose.

Now Malfoy had a dilemma. On the one hand, he truly needed to start building a relationship with these people, and what better time than the present? There was an open, unopposed—well, verbally, anyway—invitation. On the other hand, he had just started getting to know Granger, and even in a one-on-one setting, that was intimidating. Tackling all four of them at once might be more than he was ready for. So Malfoy decided to graciously bow out.

"Thanks, Granger. I wish I could take you up on that, but I have one last quick stop to make, and then my mother is expecting me home. Perhaps another time?" Malfoy raised an eyebrow to Hermione, hoping that she understood the sincerity of his last comment.

She did. Hermione smiled genuinely and said, "It's an open invitation. What's your last stop?" Hermione hoped that he would invite her to tag along for the last store so that they could make plans for September the first.

"My mother needs some potions ingredients, so I'll be stopping by the apothecary. Did any of you need to pop in there? You're welcome to join me. I'll only be a few minutes, though." The invitation was really only for Granger, but Malfoy couldn't very well ask her along without the others. Too much suspicion would be raised.

Hermione grasped at the opportunity. "Actually, I do need a few small things from the apothecary. Harry, Ron, Gin, I'll fill up your stocks while I'm there, as well, and then I'll meet you at Ollivander's. Harry, you'd said you wanted to go there today, yeah?"

Harry answered the question in the affirmative, and the three headed toward Ollivander's while the Head students worked their way over to the apothecary. Ron was unhappy with the arrangement, but he reasoned with himself that Malfoy couldn't do anything nasty in public if he wanted to clear his name, so he allowed Harry and Ginny to drag him off to the wand shop.

Malfoy and Hermione were walking down the shelves together, occasionally reaching for the same item and then insisting that the other take it. Eventually, Hermione convinced Malfoy to take most of the ones they had disputed over as most of what he was buying was for his mother. Hermione, on the other hand, could order her ingredient needs through the post because she wouldn't need the materials until classes began. As they were standing in line, waiting their turn to pay, Malfoy turned to Hermione one more time. "Thank you, Granger. Back at the ice cream place…I know you were trying to let me escape without making me feel unwanted, and I really appreciate that."

If Hermione hadn't spent the last half hour being amazed at many of the little things that Malfoy did that showed he wanted to be a better man, she would have keeled over for the shock of hearing him give her a genuine 'thank you.' Hermione wondered if that was the first time in his life he had said it with such feeling. Then she cut off her train of thoughts, pulling back into the conversation.

"Anytime, Malfoy. That's what friends…and almost friends, are for."

Malfoy smiled, stepped up to the counter to pay, and then turned to leave. Just before he reached the door, he looked back at his partner and almost-friend and said, "See you on the first then, Granger. And do try not to be late. Time is galleons, and I could use some!"

Hermione laughed lightly at Malfoy's joke, thinking of his smile as he left.

When Hermione had finished paying for her and her friends' supplies, she went to meet them at Ollivander's. Ginny smiled at her as she walked in, but the boys didn't notice, as they were speaking with Mr. Ollivander in the rear of the shop. Hermione went over to join them, exchanging a few pleasantries with the shopkeeper and checking on his recovery. He was feeling much better, which made Hermione both pleased and grateful. So much had been lost during the war, and it was nice to know that some things were already greatly improved.

A few minutes later, the four friends left the shop and Apparated back to the Burrow. Molly had just finished a special back-to-school supper and sat everyone down around the table. The meal was boisterous and noisy. The four friends, Molly, Arthur, Fred, George, Andromeda, Teddy, Kingsley, and a slightly-pregnant Fleur were seated around the table. She was there alone because Bill was working on a special assignment from Gringotts. The atmosphere was light and comical, thanks mostly to the twins, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time together. Harry was developing a strong relationship with Teddy, and Ginny, Hermione, Molly, and Fleur all watched with shiny-eyed approval as he played with his godson.

Eventually everyone cleared from the living room except the four students. Ron, who was sitting in the arm chair, gestured for Hermione to join him. She got up from the floor and sat on the arm of his seat. Harry was sitting sideways on the sofa and pulled Ginny down to lay next to him, her head resting on his shoulder.

Harry addressed Hermione. "How did everything go with Malfoy this afternoon?"

Ron fidgeted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable with this topic. Hermione ignored him and said, "It went really well, actually. We didn't get a chance to talk about Head student duties, but none of our conversation was really uncomfortable. We actually got along, surprisingly enough. I really don't have any serious concerns about this school year anymore."

A few seconds later, both Harry and Ron yawned widely, and the group headed upstairs to bed. Ginny smiled softly at Hermione as they said good night, but there was something in her eyes that Hermione couldn't place.

It was suspicion. Ginny couldn't help but notice that Ron hadn't actually asked Hermione to be his girlfriend, and Ginny knew that Hermione wasn't the type to make that step on her own. Malfoy, git though he may be, was considered the most attractive guy in his year, and while Ginny knew that Hermione wasn't shallow, it wasn't a stretch to worry that a romantic attachment could develop, since they would be spending so much time together this year. Ginny wanted Hermione to be happy, of course, and knew that she was capable of making her own decisions, but Ginny worried for her brother. She decided to talk to him in the next few days and convince him to officially ask Hermione to be his girlfriend. Maybe if he staked his claim now, there wouldn't be any problems in the future.

Ron snorted as he lay in bed, and he said to Harry, "If she's wrong and something does happen this year, she'd better not be angry when I say 'I told you so.'"

Harry rolled his eyes and kept his mouth shut. He didn't understand what was bothering Ron so greatly. Ron had told Harry of both his concerns and his jealousy, but Harry didn't think Ron had anything to worry about. Regardless of Malfoy's reputation with the ladies, there was too much ill history between him and Hermione for anything to develop there.

Hermione lay awake long after the other three had fallen asleep, thinking of all that had happened that day. She thought of her two best friends—one of which had yet to ask for a commitment—and her closest girl friend in the bed next to her. Their concerns were legitimate. Hermione may have sounded confident out loud, but she still was worrying on the inside. She knew that there was bad blood between her and Malfoy, and one afternoon of civility wasn't enough to make her think that they were past it. She knew that there would be struggles, and she assumed there would be a few straight-out fights, too. She just hoped that they could become friendly enough that their last year would include as many apologies as insults. 'Okay, maybe that's a little too optimistic. Still, I hope we can finish this school year as at least cordial acquaintances,' she mused to herself. She drifted into a contented sleep not long after that thought.