"Do you really think that this is a good idea?" Hermione asked, looking at the boys as if they were stupid. "You're not even pronouncing the spell right!"

"It's leviOsa not levioSA." Ron mocked, imitating her in their first year charms class. She sighed and rolled her eyes going back to reading her book.

The eighth years had decided to spend their Saturday outside by the lake. It was such a lovely day for November in Scotland that they decided to take advantage of it; they were protected by warmth charms and their winter cloaks so they didn't feel the sharp wind against them.

"You're so immature." She muttered.

"Says you." Ron snapped back, she shifted uncomfortably, since the Battle of Hogwarts last year they had not made any type of foundation in their new progression from friends to more; they had slowly slipped back into routine. Things had become awkward around Ron and he had gone back to being his usual annoying thoughtless self. It bothered her a lot at first but as soon as she was back at school she concentrated on her grades and helping to rebuild the castle.

"I agree with Granger, Finnigan, if you blow anything else up, I will spell your hair off." Seamus laughed the comment off unaware that Draco was in fact deadly serious.

Oh yeah, they also had a new addition to their group. Malfoy had called truce at the beginning of the year and had been getting on with everyone, namely Hermione and Harry, he struggled a bit with Ron but the effort was there. But here they were all sat together outside, who would have thought it even just a year ago? Well, certainly not her. Harry had played a big part in keeping Draco out of Azkaban and the lad was eternally grateful and had seemed to have a change of heart.

Ron and Seamus were attempting to re-enact McGonagall's trick of getting the suits of armour to move, they had gotten as far as checking some books out of the library to do some research. Of course, Hermione knew the spell but she refused to participate in such a pointless activity. They were only using it to get them to follow the Slytherins around anyway which was a bit cruel considering Draco was their friend now. When they had mentioned it earlier in the week in the Gryffindor common room she had not missed the look that passed over the blond's face and it made her feel guilty. She had apologised for their behaviour as soon as they were alone explaining she felt bad about it but he had just smiled and said, "You aren't your friends, Granger, you are much too good for that." and walked away. Though she could have been quite offended by this she wasn't, she was strangely touched that someone like Draco seemed to understand her.

Not a lot was different at Hogwarts since the war, the Gryffindors were still rowdy and the Slytherins still acted like idiots, the other houses were keeping to themselves and Hermione couldn't blame them. The only noticeable difference was the amount of people that were attending, the records of the muggle-borns had been destroyed and many letters were not sent out even to the wizarding children waiting for them, McGonagall said it was going to take years to rectify. They had lost many lives in the battle too and somehow it just wasn't the same without Lavender Brown and definitely more than a little strange now that Draco Malfoy was their friend but that was a nice kind of change.

"Shall we go in, Granger? These idiots are giving me a headache." He muttered, his voice low enough only to carry to Hermione who was sat next to him. His face was still buried in his book and when Hermione turned to look at him, it didn't look as though he had actually said anything at all. She looked back into her own book and smiled, she liked Draco, he was funny sometimes.

"Well, I'm going to the library to research the variable differences between stirring chizpurfle fang into the wiggenweld potion anticlockwise as opposed to clockwise and the effect it has on the potency. Would anybody like to come?" She inquired.

"Oh no!" Harry groaned. "Was that in the potions homework? I didn't notice that part!" He complained, banging his head onto the grass in defeat.

"No, I was just curious that's all." She explained, starting to gather her belongings.

"Merlin, Hermione, why would anyone want to do that for fun? Can't you help us with this spell?" Ron whined.

"No, Ronald! Because it is immoral! And I can do what I want for fun! You're trying to do that stupid spell and I think it's a terrible idea and you shouldn't be doing it and I refuse to play any part in what YOU class as fun. I think I'd prefer to have a normal year this year and by the way, I knew YOU would say no, I was just being polite!" She fumed, what Ron had said really grated on her, she was sick of him calling her boring after everything she had done for him.

This year she was determined to get on with her schoolwork and enjoy it while she could, it would be the first year at Hogwarts that something horribly wrong wasn't going on. Or at least she hoped it would. She stood up and threw her bag over her shoulder moodily. She stared at Harry waiting to see if he was going to take Ron's side again. He was still faced-planted in the grass and looking like he was pointedly ignoring all the squabbling. She sighed, she should go easy on Harry, she sometimes forgets how tired he is. She looked sadly at her friends before fiddling with her shoulder bag.

Draco grabbed her books from the floor as he stood too. "Well I for one would be fascinated to know the difference; I'll come with you, Granger." He said kindly, guiding her away and calming her down a considerable amount.

"Erg, those two can be such snobs." Ron muttered to their backs as they walked away. Draco spun around as fast as lightening.

"No, we're educated, unlike you Weasley who will probably spend your life in a dead end Ministry job that you got from your dad or mooching around your brother's joke shop. You're such a philistine, grow up and stop insulting Granger, try to remember she's your friend!" He grabbed Hermione by her elbow and pulled her along and didn't stop until they had reached the steps at the castle door. He leaned against the outside wall moodily and then sat down, hugging Hermione's books to his chest.

"You didn't need to stick up for me like that."

"Well no-one else seemed to be, Weasley's being a berk, I don't know how you stand him and I certainly don't know why I bother with him. It's obvious to everyone who has eyes that I only hang around with him because he's comes as a package with you and Harry. And for some stupid reason I don't want to end up upsetting either of you. He frustrates me because he doesn't appreciate you as a friend, after what happened we should all be thankful." He ranted. Hermione hesitated before dropping her bag to the floor and joining him against the wall.

"You don't mean that, I know you want to be his friend." She hesitated as she said it but she felt it needed to be said aloud.

"Maybe, I'm not admitting that before he does."

"He's always been a bit temperamental, he speaks first and then thinks later but that's just Ron. I'm sure he'll warm up to you. And he's been worse since his brother died, it's as if he's trying to live for him, all these jokes and pranks, it isn't really Ron, he's grieving but I'm sure he'll stop picking on you." She tried to reassure him but she didn't know what to say so she didn't say any more.

She stared out at the land and was reminded of her third year when Draco's words and actions had stung her so deeply that she had punched him in the face, right against that rock to the left of them, she smiled fondly, now his words bought such comfort to her. It seemed strange for Malfoy to be defending her from Ron but at least she was being defended. If this had been going on before she would have to resort to spending time with the other Gryffindors and it was only really Ginny and Neville she got on with, in small doses that was. "I'm glad that I have you this year. I love Harry and Ron but I think we all need something different after what happened."

"Hmm." Draco hummed in agreement, tugging on his shirt sleeve subconsciously, the mark burned there weighing heavy on his mind. Hermione noticed the action and tried to resist pulling her sleeve too. They sat and watched the snow as it began to fall, Draco still holding her books. They were lost in their own thoughts for quite a while before Draco spoke up. "Did you actually want to go and do that research because you know the theories on it spread across at least fifty books and if we want to do it before Christmas, maybe we should start now?" Draco joked, turning to smile at her.

"Oh, God no!" She giggled. "I just said that so we could get away from them, it was YOU that wanted to leave remember." She bumped her elbow against his playfully before she stood up. "Besides, we both know I've already read them all anyway." Draco laughed.

It was a week later that found Hermione, Harry and Draco sat at the Gryffindor table eating breakfast.

"Has anyone seen Weasley? He's normally first down to stuff his face." Draco commented as he spread cream cheese over a bagel and added some tomatoes before he handed it to Hermione. Harry shook his head 'no'.

"Wasn't in the dorm when I woke up, him and Seamus was already gone." He explained.

"They're probably off doing something stupid, no less." Draco replied. "Speak of the devil." Ron and Seamus stumbled their way in laughing at something and plonked themselves on the bench opposite the other three. "What are you two up to? If I find itching powder in my shoes again, I will bribe the house elves into serving you fruit and nothing else for a week." Draco snapped, stirring cream into his coffee and not even bothering to look up from his morning paper. Ron looked taken back for a second and stopped laughing, a vaguely horrified look crossing his face.

Hermione paused, her hand holding her bagel inches from her mouth and looked at her blond friend. "That's possibly strangest but the most appropriate threat you have ever made to Ron. I don't know whether to shake your hand and congratulate you or lecture you on house elf rights."

"Ah, well let's stick to the handshake; I want to make it to my lessons today." She smiled and punched him in the arm playfully.

"You two should just make it official you know," Harry smiled. "You're so cute and it's even better that you're bonding over what such a twit Ron is when he spends too much time with this idiot." He joked, gesturing to Seamus who took mock offense.

"Harry! Don't take their side!" Ron piped up. "I'm just having fun! You should have seen it! We kind of got the spell working, we tested it on the wizard chess set and the pieces came to life." Ron explained, his mouth overflowing with food, Hermione and Draco shared a look of mutual disgust before going back to reading.

"You have to start small I guess." Harry replied.

"Don't encourage them Harry!" Hermione frowned at him, he shrugged.
Hermione zoned out of the conversation after that, pleased that Draco had not denied their blooming friendship. She smiled down at her plate and savoured the bagel that Draco had made her.

First lesson was ancient runes which she had with Draco and then potions with the Ravinclaws but that was okay because she could sit with Harry and Ron. She had a free period after lunch today as well, she normally met with Draco and Neville, they were gradually going through the extracurricular for each lesson and doing bits of homework together. Draco needed boost his grades a little to reach top marks as they had understandably dipped in his sixth year and Neville needed it to meet a decent grade. She didn't mind giving them a hand and it was good revision for her too.

The bell rang and Draco was the first to stand, drinking what was left in his mug and picking up his and Hermione's book bags.

"I can get that myself." Hermione was surprised as she watched him pull it over his head.

"Malfoy, don't carry her bag, you make us all look bad." Ron sighed. "Have you felt that thing?"He asked Seamus whose eyes widened.

"I think she has the library in there." He whispered, pulling a face.

"It's enchanted, Weasley, you're being stupid again." Draco's voice was a low and un-amused drawl, he pointedly refused to look at Ron.

"But it's a girl's bag..." Hermione rolled her eyes at Ron

"Who cares, I'm carrying it like you should have been for the past seven years, enchanted or not." Hermione was blushing, she was more than capable but she appreciated the small gesture.

"I'll see you all later." She linked arms with him and gave him a bright smile.

"Bye Longbottom, Potter." He nodded at the two of them before they walked off, ignoring Ron and Seamus.

"Bye Malfoy! I love you too!" Ron yelled sarcastically, Draco held his hand up briefly, uninterested.

The two arrived with plenty of time to pick two seats with a good view of the black board, they set up and then playfully bantered until everyone arrived.

"Merlin Granger, we did this work last week, I could do this in my sleep, MUGGLES could do this." The loopy font read. Hermione slipped it under her book so nobody noticed it and gave the blond a disapproving look. She turned her attention back but realised she had no idea what they were actually supposed to be doing with this theory. She had just found her feet again when writing started to appear on the bottom of her page in Draco's font. "Talk to me, I'm bored."

"For god's sake Malfoy if you get me in trouble I'm ratting you in." She wrote back. "...What spell is this?"

"I'll tell you later if you're lucky, also we all know you are the real bad influence here! : )" She cursed herself as she almost laughed, thankfully she caught herself in time but it was too late and Professor Vector was raising an eyebrow at her.

"Sorry." She mumbled, staring back down at her book and hitting Draco in the arm as soon as she turned to write on the board.

"Ouch!" He hissed.

Ancient Runes came to be the best lesson that day.

It was the week before Christmas and the signup sheets for the people staying were pinned in the main corridor on the announcement board. Draco wasn't specifically looking for it but it was pinned next to the Quidditch timetable. It was hard to miss Hermione and Harry's names, they were the only two signed. He had never really thought about their families much, he knew Harry stayed every year and he remembered fleeting comments about Hermione's parents and something to do with Australia. He frowned, saddened at the realisation they might not have homes to return to. He didn't hesitate adding his name too.

It was the day before Christmas Eve and everyone had left to go home, Hermione was feeling down, this would be her second Christmas not knowing where her parents were. She was hiding in Draco's dorm, the two of them lounging in comfortable chairs in front of the fire in their pyjamas eating junk food from the kitchens. Harry had insisted he wanted to spend some time alone so it was just the two of them until Harry joined them in the evening for dinner.

They were slowly reading their way through Draco's impressive literature collection. When Hermione had mentioned she hadn't read any wizard novels, Draco had made it his personal mission to educate her. She was reading a beautiful story about an angel that had fallen to Earth after falling in love with a witch, she was just reading about them building a secret garden together when an insistent knocking rattled the door.

She looked at Draco confused, he had on his 'I'm not amused' face. "That'll be for you then." He said, licking his finger and turned the page of his own novel. Hermione sighed heavily, she was sometimes jealous that Draco had a rather selective friendship with the Gryffindors , as in he decided when he wanted to like them, today was obviously not one of these days.

She placed her book on the coffee table face down and got up to answer the door. The silencing spell was breached at soon as she opened the door to the noisy boys, they were all yelling at the same time and pushing against each other to get through the door. She jumped back as they all came barrelling in. Neville slammed the door behind them and leaned against it heavily. The rest collapsed on the floor, breathing heavily.

"What the hell is the matter?!" Hermione yelled.

"You are aware the train left about an hour ago? I thought you were going home for Christmas." Draco spoke up from the other side of the room. "Are you purposely crashing our slumber party because you'll be sorely disappointed, we're reading romance novels."

"I think you two should just snog already, all this fluffy romance is making me sick." Seamus laughed. "But seriously, we have a problem."

"We just spent fourty-five minutes trapped in a cleaning cupboard hiding and it's your entire fault! Now I've missed the train and Gran's gonna kill me!" Neville yelled.

"Wait, wait, what's happened?" Hermione asked.

"It was their stupid spell! They bought all the suits of armour to life but set them on Gryffindors instead of Slytherins!"

They all turned sharply at the unexpected sound of Draco laughing.

"It's not funny, Malfoy!"

"No, no," He said, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. "It's hilarious, you realise this is karma—"

Hermione cut him off and glared at the boys, folding her arms. "I can't believe you!" She screamed, she did not look happy. The boys cowered and shuffled back, Harry started slowly sidestepping out of her vision and pulling Neville along by the sleeve of his robe because he seemed paralysed in fear. "I warned you!"

"I know but we didn't think this would happen, we just thought they would stalk the Slytherins for a few hours, it was just a joke." Ron tried to defend himself, Seamus just stared at the ground guiltily.

"Neville, would you like to use my owl to contact your Gran?" Draco asked quietly as Hermione ripped Ron and Seamus to pieces.

The guy nodded gratefully and Draco guided him to the desk. He opened the window and whistled for his owl, holding his arm out and letting her land there as she arrived. He took her over to her cage by Neville, who was looking increasingly stressed at trying to explain to his Gran that he had missed the train. Harry took his only chance of escape at the sight of the open window.

"Well, none of this is to do with me so I'm going to go." He mumbled and grabbed Draco's broom from the corner of the room.

"You don't mind do you, Draco?" He asked, pulling himself onto the windowsill. Draco obviously did mind but his bit his tongue when he noticed Harry's face and just nodded politely, gesturing he could go. "I'll see you later, you're still coming to sleep over, right?" Harry didn't hear him because he had already jumped outside. Draco frowned.

"Now you've upset Harry!" Hermione shouted. "You know he's delicate right now!"

"Well, that isn't my fault!" Ron shouted back.

"Well, you certainly aren't helping!"

"Guys? Can I just ask what your plans were afterwards?" Draco asked.

Ron and Seamus exchanged a panicked look. "Well, erm..."

"Let me guess, you just thought you would leave the magic to wear off? This is old magic!" Draco continued. "This just isn't good enough, you can't barge in here and get us all in trouble, ruin our day and expect Hermione to fix everything for you! This is your responsibility and you need to fix it." He ranted.

Hermione sighed. "No, it's fine, I'm used to it. These idiots wouldn't know how to do it anyway. I guess I'll go but you really owe me one." She got as far as the door before she turned back around looking confused. "You said they're following the Gryffindors now? How am I supposed to do this by myself?"

"Well, maybe you need some help from someone who isn't a Gryffindor?" Ron suggested. Everyone's eyes found their way to Draco who was determinedly sitting down and not making eye contact with anyone. He picked up his book and continued where he left off.

Ron and Seamus continued to stare at him.

He turned the armchair one hundred and eighty degrees and faced away from everyone's gaze, the high back on the chair hiding him easily.

"Come on Malfoy, please?" Ron begged.




"We'll make it worth your while?" Seamus said, sounding more like he was asking him than telling him.

"Yeah, yeah." Ron agreed, desperate.

"I'm listening, though I doubt you could bribe me with anything, you realise I am the richest under twenty-one in Europe?" His voice answered from somewhere behind the chair.

"We'll do something nice, something that will make you happy?" He asked. Draco's head popped over the top of the chair.

"And you'll stop pranking everyone and be nicer to Hermione AND get Neville out of trouble with his Gran because even that is low for you, Weasley."

"Why do I feel like I'm getting most the blame for this?—omphh." Seamus elbowed Ron, effectively shutting him up.

"Okay, fine, whatever you want but I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for Hermione and I was going to go with her anyway unlike you cowards and this nice thing had better be worth it." He said before striding out of the room with a grateful Hermione following him.

The two of them scoured the castle together, taking down the suits of armour one by one, even the ones that proved more difficult. The things really seemed to have a mind of their own but it didn't prove too difficult because apparently Hermione was really good bait. They were doing it a few hours and it become a bit tiring but Draco found it was the most fun he had had in a long time. He felt ridiculous running through the halls in nothing but his slippers, pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt but he felt alive.

He thought back to his days when he was actually integrated in Slytherin house, his boredom and feeling constantly judged for everything he did, he wasn't sure how he had coped living that way. Now he relaxed, he had fun and said things he never would have dreamed before, yes, his tongue was one of the sharpest but when it came to expressing himself and his feelings he was guarded, insecure. He no longer felt that way since he had been friends with Hermione, he read his romance novels and studied late into the night and laughed with an ease he had never experienced.

By the time they were finished tracking down the last one in the Great Hall, the Professors walked through the doors looking merry from their drinks in Hogsmaide and they sighed in relief.

"Afternoon, children." McGonagall greeted, they smiled and nodded politely, waiting for them to pass by before bolting down the corridor as soon as they could. They ran until they were at the end of the corridor and then fell into a slow stroll.

"Well, that was the last of them." Hermione beamed up at Draco. "I am going to kill them when I get back though." She said, her face falling into a more serious expression. "I'm thinking maybe bat-bogeys or singing pimples..."
Draco laughed.

"I hate your friends but I have to admit, it was fun to join in doing something crazy for the Golden Trio." Draco smiled as they walked back, they were side by side and arms brushing together as they swung in tandem.

"Hey! They're OUR friends. You love them really." She reminded.

"Hmm, suppose they're okay." Draco admitted. They came to a stop outside Draco's room. They were quiet for a while and Hermione couldn't stop staring at Draco, at his smile. She tried not to make it obvious but today had been such a lovely break from everything, reading novels, eating lunch and even chasing down pranks.

"You look better when you smile, Draco, you should do it more often." She blushed and her hands came together, fiddling with her robe sleeve.

"Don't know about that, I have a reputation to keep, I'm a grumpy, mean Slytherin you know." He said, taking a step forwards and using the tips of his fingers to lift her chin gently to look at her properly.

"Maybe, I quite like you this way." She licked her lips, they were suddenly unbearably dry and as she looked into his eyes, his expression so open and honest, her breath caught. His hand lowered slowly and then her hands were separated from each other, held so gently between large, cool hands. He was licking his lips, his eyes flicking down and leaning forwards impossibly close until she could feel his breath tickling her.

The moment was ruined when the door was suddenly pulled open and Ron and Seamus came face to face with them, hands full of mistletoe. They both froze, caught in the act and stepping away from each other embarrassed.

The two boys roared with laughter, leaning against each other for support, mistletoe on the floor at their feet.

"Looks like you didn't need our help, man!" Ron grinned, slapping Draco on the back.

"Get out, both of you." He whispered, looking mortified. "This is private and doesn't concern you."

"Alright, alright!" Seamus said, holding his hands up in mock defence. He shooed them out the room. "You did sort out the –"

"GET OUT!" He screamed, pointing out his room. They scrambled from the room, laughing. Neville awkwardly stood up and stared at the floor as he went to leave.

"Have you sorted arrangements for your return home, Neville?" Draco asked kindly as he reached the door. "Yes, thank you." He answered, talking to the floor.

"You know I wasn't shouting at you, right?"

"It's fine, Malfoy, I'll just go..." He mumbled.

Then it was just the two of them, Hermione leant against the doorframe awkwardly.

"I'm sorry about my friends, they don't think about privacy and such."

"OUR friends, Hermione, they're our friends and they only meant well." He smiled and reached for her hand again. "Would you like to stay and finish our evening? I don't know if it's appropriate, considering, you know..." he trailed off, making vague gestures. She stepped forwards and closed the door, stepping around the mistletoe. Hermione took his hands.

"You can kiss me, if you like. I would like you to." He grinned and leant forwards, pressing a closemouthed kiss against her lips, holding it for a few seconds and gripping her hands tight. When they pulled away he grinned again and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close, both dizzily happy.

When they continued their evening they shared one chair and one book and didn't hide it when Harry returned. It made his mood soar at the sight of his friends happily snuggled together. He was happy they finally got a clue and he was happier than he had been all year.

"You know, today has been pretty good I think." Hermione said later that night as she picked the foil off a mince pie. They were sat in a row in front of the blazing fire.

"I think you should totally get some revenge on Ron and Seamus though." Harry laughed, once they had finished retelling the story of their armour hunting. They all exchanged a look.

The next morning Ron and Seamus decided to go and crash Malfoy's slumber party and banged on the door obnoxiously loudly at just past seven o'oclock in the morning hoping to draw them all out of their slumber. They were disappointed to find the three hadn't even been to bed yet and Hermione and Draco opened the door cheerfully. Draco was smirking menacingly at them and then looking pointedly above them.

They freaked out at the expression, what the hell was Malfoy planning anyway? They tried to step back but hit an invisible wall, they tried to step forwards but the same thing happened and they were unable step into Draco's room. Hermione giggled and pointed up. They looked up at the same time to see why Malyfoy was so happy, faces turning white as they noticed the mistletoe floating on the doorframe, shimmering with an unbroken spell.

"Pucker up boys," Draco grinned. "Or not, we have all day."