Severus was quiet the next morning. Hermione thought it best to let it be. She had reassured him as best she could, but knew it would only go so far. When all else had failed, she made a feeble attempt at a joke.
“Just think, love, now you have a reason to be nice to Harry,” she said. He stared at her for a moment before her favorite half-smile slid across his face.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said casually, but he stopped to lay a kiss on her forehead.
She Floo’d back to her own rooms to dress and get her things for Hogsmeade. The students were unaware of Mary’s attack so were still fluttering about her emotional outburst when Hermione joined them for breakfast. Already irritated, she sat next to Harry with a huff.
“I bet he’s loving this,” he said under his breath.
“You don’t know the half of it.” Soon Ginny and Ron joined them and Ginny began laying out their plans for Hogsmeade. They would all do some shopping together and then have lunch at the Three Broomsticks before setting off to do their own browsing.
When they arrived, they wandered through the streets and stopped at a few shops. Lunch was lovely and quite nostalgic, filled with stories of their adventures. Only happy memories were shared, leaving the rest unspoken but not forgotten. After they finished, Hermione told them she could be found in the bookstore if they needed her. Ron would not let her leave until she’d promised not to do a moment of revising.
Are you coming into town today?
I just received a note from Lucius. He wants to meet at the Hog’s Head.
Is everything okay? she said, smiling to herself.
It appears so.
Well have fun, she thought brightly. I’ll be in the bookstore if you need me.
An hour later, she was still happily surrounded by books. Holding several in one arm, she couldn’t quite reach one more on the top shelf. Suddenly, an arm snaked around her and plucked the book from the shelf. Startled, she whirled around to find Draco Malfoy standing close to her.
“That was entirely too easy, Granger,” he said, offering her the book. “Better pay more attention or you could end up taking another swim.” The words sounded no different than any rude thing he’d ever said to her in school. If it hadn’t been for the teasing in his tone, she might have hexed him just for fun.
“Thanks, Draco. I’ll keep that in mind,” she said, crossing to the table where she’d been sitting. She nodded at the empty seat across from her and poured a cup of tea for each of them. The store had begun serving tea like its Muggle counterparts and she was quite pleased with the addition.
“Uncle said you’d be here. They’re having a drink.”
“He could use it,” she said, shaking her head.
“Father said. Do you have any ideas?”
“None. I was going to ask you the same.”
“Tell me what happened. Be specific and maybe I’ll recognize something from the old gang.” He leaned back in his chair, stretching out while he thought.
She told him of the attacks as exactly as she could while they drank their tea. He interrupted with questions when needed until they covered every possible detail.
“I just don’t understand,” she said shrugging. “He can be such a git on his own. Why would someone deliberately make him worse? It’s like being married to a hippogriff. You never know if he’s going to play nice or tear your arm off.” She gestured to his arm. “Or give you a tiny scratch to cry about for weeks, as the case may be.”
Draco looked at her for a moment before laughing openly. “I seem to remember getting another injury that year,” he said, rubbing his cheek. He looked so young and happy at that moment that she couldn’t help but join his laughter. They were two people getting along for once in their long history together and having quite a good time.
That was the scene that met a group of Hufflepuffs who had just walked in and spotted the Gryffindor Head Girl with the former Slytherin, who had once tried to murder the Headmaster. They stared in shock for a few moments and then scrambled out the door to tell their friends. By the time the rumor circulated, Hermione was certain it would have them caught snogging right there in the shop. She rolled her eyes and watched through the window as the group stood outside and stopped every passerby to tell them the latest gossip.
“Well, maybe it will keep the focus off Severus for a while,” she said wryly. “Do you have any ideas, Draco?”
“Not really, but I still have a few connections. I’ll see if they’ve heard anything.”
“Thank you,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. He looked uncomfortable for a moment before he grinned impishly.
“More than likely, it’s some beautiful, powerful witch who’s in love with him and trying to wipe out all the competition. Jealous, Granger?”
“Shut up, Malfoy.”
“I doubt you’ll have to worry. You’re the only person I know mad enough to marry that git. He’s a good man and all, but he certainly can be one snarky bastard sometimes.” He looked up to see the barely contained laughter on her face. “Bloody hell, he’s behind me, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is,” Severus said ominously.
“Sorry, Uncle,” Draco mumbled.
“I’ve come because I’ve just heard that there was a student engaging in illicit activities on the table and here you two are.”
“Bloody hell. I’m going to take a thousand points from those Hufflepuffs.” She began shoving her purchases in a bag with more force than necessary.
“Draco, your father is waiting for you outside. Miss Granger, I would’ve expected better from the Head Girl.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, hanging her head to hide her smile from those watching through the window. Severus followed the two from the store and across the street to where Lucius was waiting.
“Ah, Hermione,” he said, kissing her hand. “How lovely to see you again.”
“And you, Lucius,” she said, smiling. She could almost hear the collective gasp from the group of eavesdropping students nearby. “Narcissa is well, I hope?”
“Quite, thank you. Once we’ve settled, you must join us for dinner again.”
“I would be delighted.”
“You too, of course, Severus,” he said with a small nod to the man behind her. “Alas, we must be going. Come along, Draco.”
Draco turned to Hermione and kissed her hand theatrically. “Goodbye, Hermione. I’ll owl you.” The four waved their goodbyes and the two blondes Disapparated.
“You may want to locate Potter. I believe I heard something about him before I heard you were shagging Draco,” he said offhandedly, still glaring at the students near them.
“Oh! He did it, didn’t he?” she said happily. She could hardly keep herself from jumping up and down with glee. She quickly realized where she was and sobered. “Thank you for telling me, sir. I’ll just go find them.” With one last glare at the chattering group, she hurried away. She saw no sign of Harry or Ginny in the Three Broomsticks, but found Neville deep in conversation with Professor Sprout. He told her they were gone, but she thought he was acting strange. She assumed he had already heard the rumors about Draco and sighed. It was going to be a long few weeks until Graduation.
On my way back to the castle. I missed them.
I’ll be up soon. I have some errands.
Did Lucius need anything in particular?
Just checking in...Isn’t that what you told him to say?
Why, Severus, I have no idea what you’re talking about...
Yes, you do.
But you love me anyway.
Yes, I do.
She made her way back up the castle slowly. It was an absolutely gorgeous day so she took her time to enjoy it. She was only about halfway there when she realized how overwhelmingly tired she felt. Sleep had been rather elusive and she knew she hadn’t been eating well. She just hadn’t felt like it with all the stress of revising. She resolved to be better about it. The possibility of being too tired to test well was enough to get her back on track. If she had to start sleeping in Severus’s rooms until exams were over, then that was a sacrifice she’d have to make. That happy thought had her humming the rest of the walk to the castle.
She found Harry and Ginny on their way back from the owlery. After several minutes of hugging and crying, they met Ron for dinner in the Great Hall. The four had their meal and chatted about wedding plans and the summer, but Hermione’s attention was divided by the looks she was receiving from the other Gryffindors. Every now and then, a word or two would float down to her. She had finally had enough and stood up abruptly, glaring at their startled faces.
“I did NOT shag Draco Malfoy in the bookstore!” she said loudly, drawing stares from other tables. “And even if I did, it is none of your business with whom I choose to spend my time. NEWTs are in two days. I suggest you worry with those and less with gossiping about your classmates!” She stormed away and spent the rest of the night in Severus’s rooms, revising where no one could find her.
Hermione spent the next week studying for exams, taking exams and discussing the exams she’d already taken. She only saw her friends at meal times and sometimes not even then. The rest of her days were devoted to NEWTs. She fell into Severus’s bed early each night, completely exhausted, and was glad she could finally sleep through the night. So much so that she decided to spend the week between NEWTs and graduation doing nothing but sleeping. She told Harry as much during breakfast on the last day of testing.
“You should really start eating more too,” Ron said with a full mouth. “I’ve had twice as much as you already.”
“As if that’s unusual, Ronald,” she said sarcastically.
Soon they heard the familar rumble of birds in flight as mail was delivered. Hermione only looked up from her book when a large gray owl landed in front of her. She quickly retrieved the letter from its outstretched leg. She pushed her plate of uneaten food towards the owl and read the letter while it ate. She was halfway through it when she realized people were staring.
“Is that Malfoy’s owl?” Neville asked.
“Well, yes, but—”
“You said it wasn’t true about you two.”
“It isn’t, but—”
“Why is he owling you then?”
“Is there a problem, Miss Granger?” Severus asked, startling them all. Distracted by the tense exchange, no one noticed his approach.
“No, sir,” she said, staring at Neville for a moment before turning to look up at the professor. “Mr. Malfoy sent a note for you in Draco’s letter. Here, sir.” He took the letter from her and slid it into his robes.
“Be in my office at 2 p.m. to start marking exams.” He walked away without waiting for her answer.
“I have to go,” she said, rising. She started to walk away, but turned back. “They really are trying to change, Neville.”
Her last day of testing went well, and she was quite relieved to be finished. The next day’s weather was extraordinary so she Ron, Harry, and Ginny decided to have a picnic lunch. They ate under a big tree near the gates with a spectacular view of the lake and castle.
“I can’t believe it’s almost over,” Ginny said, looking back at the castle. “It’s hard to imagine leaving.” Hermione looked at Harry with raised brows.
“Well, I can’t wait to get out of here,” Ron said, watching the Giant Squid floating on top of the water.
“Um...Gin, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” Harry said hesitantly. “This morning, McGonagall offered me the DADA position for next year.”
“That’s great, Harry!” she said, hugging him. After a moment, she pulled back with worry in her eyes. “So you’ll be living here for nine months out of the year?”
“McGonagall said if I accepted, we could both live here. She’d like to take you on as her apprentice.”
“What? Really? That’s brilliant! What did you tell her?”
“That I’d have to discuss it all with you first.”
Hermione laughed out loud when Ron’s cough sounded suspiciously like “Whipped” and Ginny kicked him in the ribs. Harry quickly attempted to change the subject before the siblings got into a physical altercation.
“Will you be teaching next year too, Mione?”
“Not next year, but I’m sure I’ll be around,” she said evasively. “I better go. I have to go mark Potions exams.”
As she walked, she wondered when she could safely tell Ron and Ginny. She hated not being able to talk about all the changes in her life. She had only finished school the day before, and yet there she was, making plans for a family and career. Not even Severus knew all her worries because she didn’t want to add to his own concerns yet. She’d gone to McGonagall that morning to talk about everything and vent a little. She certainly felt better having someone know everything she was dealing with. They had both cried a little in their tea when—
A sharp pain tore through her back. There was only a second of burning and the sensation of falling before she lost consciousness.