Disclaimer: The characters belong to J.K., I'm just manipulating them.

She was wearing her mother's favourite, plain earrings.

Plain. That was how Ronald described her the nights when he wished to go out and party and take advantage of his new "hero" trope. She had a firm resolve to stay in and study for her upcoming exam. He expressed his "need" to conform to society's views on how to fulfill the hero persona; one that she found exhausting after the first year. He tried to pry the freshly inked quill out of her hand, but she refused to resign. He sighed and told her, patronisingly, "Hermione, love, you're becoming too..." (He looked at her appraisingly, with love and disappointment pooling in his eyes, as he chose a word to describe her whole being).

"Too... plain." She wanted to argue that they had been out every night for a fortnight; she wanted to remind him that one couldn't rely on their "hero" status forever, that one day the great Ronald Weasley would become a has-been; she wanted to retort that he barely deserved the title after abandoning she and Harry in the Forest of Dean, that if he hadn't evaded capture, he could have ruined everything and she would be dead; she wanted to guilt him into spending time with her, his fiancée. But she did none of that. She went out; she later stayed up that whole night and received an EE on her exam when she knew she could have earned an O. He received the silent treatment for a week after she thoroughly chewed him out.

But today wasn't about Ron Weasley. Today wasn't about whether she was plain, extraordinary, or repulsive. Today was about burying one of her best friends, six feet under. As she looked at her black ensemble, she nodded at her stony expression with uncanny approval. She refused to cry; she would not let them know how affected she was. If Rita Skeeter had enough audacity to show her face, Hermione would show her wand. This unfortunate day would always be referred to as a national tragedy: the day that Harry Potter returned to the soil where he fought against the greatest tormentor of the Wizarding World. He would rest among other "heroes"— Remus and Tonks Lupin, Fred and George Weasley, Sirius Black, and the honourary graves of Lily and James Potter.

Hermione, of course, forced herself to stay strong, to do all the preparations; Ron began to drink himself into a deep depression, missing his other half; Mrs. Weasley almost relapsed, feeling the grief from Fred's untimely death, George's suicide, and now Harry's murder all collide and rip her heart and home apart; Ginny was in Lyon for the Quidditch World Cup; and Neville and Luna were in America, Neville preoccupied with Luna's one-hundred twelve-hour labour and juggling work. So, of course, it was just Hermione and Crookshanks, choosing the coffin, writing the obituary, pressing the pamphlets, and talking to the press on everyone's behalf (quite literally; she exhausted her Potions supplies to impersonate the most important people in Harry's life because they were all "otherwise entangled in life", she told herself when guilt raised inside her like bile).

She felt the need to put her own grieving on hold as she overlooked every single step of the way to this horrid day. She also wished to Merlin that the Auror department would briskly find his murderer so this great, gaping void in her chest, above her gut but below her heart, would close and she could look at her Hogwarts photo album without feeling an inexplicable blood lust. But everything reminded her of him— of them. The "golden trio" they were once called. She thought that title made them sound like a band. They were a band; a band of lost causes trying to make it through hell. She needed Harry when she broke her engagement to Ron and through the estrangement between her and her only family, the Weasley's; he needed her when he was about to propose to Ginny, for she had more experience than him (in being engaged, in being in love, and in being a "girl... or woman, or whatever"); and she needed Ron when she had nightmares of her torture; Ron always needed him for drinks or Quidditch or whatever they never invited her to. Ron only ever needed her for appearances sake or for sex or whichever came first.

They were better as friends; humans always have a way of forging and forcing love upon each other, they limit themselves to whomever they see first. Ron hated it when she talked like that; she hated how he always smelled like a liquor cabinet. They were better as friends.

The funeral passed relatively well; only a few outbursts from a drunken Ron (nothing less than what she expected), quickly pulled to the side by both Bill and Charlie. Ginny and the other mature Weasley's thanked her, shortly and quickly, while she received a civil nod from Mrs. Weasley; Ron refused to look at her (Bill later came to her side and told her that "it would hurt him too much") which she accepted. At least they were getting somewhere. She continued to stay in the back of the tent, where the rest of the funeral took place after everyone said his or her goodbyes and sifted dirt over Harry's polished, chestnut coffin.

It delighted her to see some people she was relatively estranged from; the Patils, Seamus and Lavender, Neville (who could barely contain his glee as he told her little Lysander Xenophilius Harry Longbottom had finally decided to grace the world with his presence; she didn't mind his smile, which greatly juxtaposed his surroundings and almost thawed her heart), Dean, Minerva (as she forced Hermione to call her) on the arm of Aberforth Dumbledore, and Andromeda and Teddy, who were visiting his parent's graves.

A few less welcome surprise visitors included Blaise Zabini, Theodore Nott, and Pansy Parkinson, all sporting black. Although their presence wasn't completely accepted, she secretly rejoiced that they had the sense to not wear an article of emerald. She briefly acquainted with them; knowing Harry would've appreciated her efforts of "inter-house unity". She wasn't entirely sure that they would take her up on the offer, but now that they were here it was no going back.

As the day progressed and the pitter-patter of the rain fell harder and pounded the roof of the tent, the families began to say their goodbyes, with only Hermione and the Slytherins left to clear the last remnants of evidence of such an event. As Hermione accio'ed the dishes, Pansy magicked the tables and chairs into the corner, Blaise lazily waved his wrist to sweep the floor and Nott (he and Hermione had yet to reach first name basis) organized and packed the food, the quartet fell into a comfortable silence; the only sounds heard were the rain's drumming, the strokes of the broom, and the chairs and tables quietly scraping the floor. Hermione attempted to make conversation a few times, but the group looked so eerie and diverse that she decided against interrupting such a rare interaction. The last time she threw caution to the wind, Pansy looked up at the same time and they both blushed, thinking the same thing— this is so weird.

Blaise decided to end her suffering; "just spit it out, Granger. You look mental." She blushed at his forwardness and how she didn't realise that her companions could see her. "I was going to ask, Zabini, why Malfoy isn't with the three of you." The three serpents looked among each other, like they hadn't noticed their missing member, then Pansy simply shrugged and responded, "he doesn't do funerals", then returned to orchestrating the tables and chairs into neat rows at the edge of the tent. Hermione was temporarily caught off-guard by such a simple answer, then indignant.

"Everyone does funerals," she guffawed after controlling her bout of anger. "No one plans on doing them but when someone dies, you attend their funeral. It's simply the easiest thing you can do for something. It's the last thing you can do for someone." She finished with an odd look on her face when she saw their complementary blank ones. "Did he even go to his parent's funerals?" She inquired softly. "I don't see how that's relevant, Granger," Zabini opined, warningly but decently. "I-It's not—" she composed herself and started again. "I mean, it's not relevant, it's just a question. Did he go to his parent's funerals?"

Again, the ex-House members looked among each other and, again, Pansy spoke for them, this time in a less friendly way, "yeah, he did—" Hermione let out a swift gasp of breath; however, she began to feel like she had made a grave mistake when Pansy continued. "But he didn't stay. He showed up drunk or high— it doesn't matter, does it? Because either way, he went on a tirade and when he finished, he tried Apparating. He splinched himself, leaving behind his left leg. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it, Granger. I thought you knew everything. That doesn't matter, either, does it? What matters is this: Draco, or Malfoy or whatever your House called him, doesn't do funerals. That's it." The entire room fell quiet; that's when Hermione realised that the rain had stopped pouring and Blaise and Nott had finished their chores and were looking at her, disapproval flashing in their faces, they were all there— they had to put him back together.

"I'm—" her voiced cracked. She started again. "I am so sorry."

"Leave it. It doesn't matter. I probably said too much anyway." Blaise came around and hugged Pansy's shoulder. Her rigid physique slowly relaxed under her fiancé's touch. She shook her head and regarded the Muggleborn. "That was years ago. He's better now..." she thought on it again and added, "We're better now. We're better people. This could have— should have— shown that, but I guess it's going to take a bit longer to turn everyone around. I'm sorry that your friend died. He was the reason that Blaise and I are together, sharing our lives instead of a cellblock in Azkaban. If it wasn't for Potter's stupidity," she blushed, "I mean bravery," she added emphasis on the word, "Theo would probably be in worse condition than he is now. He'd be sharing meals with his father instead of being a father. But Draco owes him the most. Ironic how he's the only one of us who's not here, huh?" She ended her monologue with a small smile. Hermione didn't feel the need to respond, Pansy had already done that for her.

The clock on the wall struck the tenth hour.

"Well, Hermione," Blaise tested the waters, "this has been fun, but we need our sleep; have up early tomorrow to put fear in the hearts of the elderly and reign terror over St. Mungo's." Hermione smiled, involuntarily, but for the first time, didn't feel guilty. "Oh, it is quite late, isn't it? Merlin, it's too bad I have a whole day of elvish welfare to check tomorrow. Don't be too surprised if I find my way to your doorsteps." The Slytherins said their goodbyes and departed, insisting they meet up another time at a not-so-depressing venue, while Hermione stayed behind to take down the tent and utter final goodbyes to Harry.

As she walked the grounds of Hogwarts one last time, she couldn't help but shed a few tears on how her life completely flipped. She and Ron should have married with two kids by now; a beautiful, ginger girl who was Ron's clone named Rose, after him, and handsome brunet son with her wild, hazel hair she would name Hugo, her namesake. They would go over to play with the Potter's kids, their god-brothers and sisters. She would have a spiked cuppa with Ginny and they would complain about their week and their kids and the married life, but have twin, satisfied grins on their faces because they were with their soul mates. Her Rose would be in Ravenclaw and Hugo in Gryffindor and cheer for each other's teams during Quidditch matches. They would never be alone, even in different common rooms, because she would write them, every day and night.

But no— none of that happened. She and Ron didn't make it, Harry and Ginny separated, and now— to top it all off— Harry was dead. Her closest thing to a brother, her first friend, was cold and gone; six feet beneath the soil that they once had adventures on, the soil where he met Sirius, where they studied, where they planned. Harry was dead, Ron was a drunk, and she was lonely. Twenty-five years old and the only thing she had to show for it was smile and worry lines. She had pushed for the same law since she broke the record at youngest member of the Wizengamot (before 19 years and 2 months; now 18 years and 8 months).

She had helped rebuild the new Ministry— in theory, none of her architectural plans had use, but they put her name on the plaque of heroes and heroines— and now the greatest adventure she embarked on was pushing paperwork everyday. When her grief became too great, she sobbed under the beech tree by the Black Lake, where Harry had told her that his father defended his mother's honour when Snape called her a Mudblood. She realized the irony was too great when she looked up and saw Draco Malfoy's face looming over hers.

She promptly fainted.

When she awoke, her eyes wouldn't focus. All she saw was a blurry figure mumbling and muttering like a madman, opening her mouth and pouring something — which tasted how sunflowers smelled— down her throat.

When she awoke again, she distinctly saw the same Draco Malfoy looking cloudy in her freshly roused eyes. She attempted to ask him what was happening, but her throat was so dry that she could barely croak. He noticed her distress, mumbled some more, and gave her another fluid— this one without any smell. It tasted stale in her mouth and after a few sips, she recognized it was water and the rancid flavour was her own mouth. She briefly nodded to Malfoy as a sign of gratitude and to acknowledge that was all she could do now.

He received her message clear enough as he waved it away, not wishing to acknowledge that she practically owed him her life, in her cloudy, freshly awoken mind. She wanted to ask a worthwhile question, like: why weren't you at the funeral but at the gravesite? Why did you save me? Why didn't you poison me (or at least she didn't think he did)? But all that came out of her briefly refreshed mouth was "why?" in a voice that still didn't sound like hers.

"Why?" he acknowledged.

Instead of trying her voice again in vain, she nodded, hoping that his explanation would be long enough for her to test the strength of her voice again.

He ran a hand through his hair, which she noticed was almost back to length it was during the war. "Why?" he continued to mutter to himself as his stroking became more frenzied. When his hair looked in complete disarray and stood up on the ends, he decided to answer.

"I don't know. I guess it would've looked bad if I left you there." Had she have been in her usual mindset, she would've recognised that they were the only two among the living on the grounds; but, she wasn't. She was groggy and cold and tired and smelled like mowed grass and salty tears so she gazed upon him, shell-shocked.

"'It would've looked bad'," she croaked, more to herself than him; but she decided to spite him and say it as loud as she could. Hopefully, he would recognise his own mistake. She repeated it four times, long enough for his blank expression to morph into one of almost rage.

"Yes, Granger, it would've looked bad if the Golden Girl was found unconscious, covered in tears and mud, at the ex-Death Eater's feet. Excuse me if appearance still bloody matters!"

Then, she recognised her own mistake: it didn't matter how many times she said it, what mattered was how she said it. "Quality is more important than quantity" was her father's motto.

"Malfoy, you said that it would look bad if you left me there. Unlike it looking bad that you, 'the ex-Death Eater', swept up 'the Golden Girl' and Apparated her to an undisclosed location—meaning where no one can find me and keeping me here— unconscious, covered in tears and mud. Now, I'll repeat myself: why?"

"Granger, I'm not stupid. I know it looks bad either way."

"So just tell me why you did it. You honestly should know better: Harry, the saviour of the Wizarding World, the most cautious and conservative person that I know," her chest constricted with new understanding, "knew, is dead and I was kidnapped at his funeral."

"Granger, you weigh at least 50 kilograms; you're no kid. Us proper adults use the terms abducted, I thought you knew that," he returned, sounding like his eleven year old self.

"Congratulations, Malfoy, the galleons your father spent to keep you afloat in your education did have impact."

When she saw the scandalised look on his face, she thought she would feel better, that they would be even now that she took grief's sharp blade out of her own heart and plunged it into his, but she must have twisted the handle because the stormy expression that took his face didn't say even or equal; he looked at her like there was liquid shit in her veins. He graced her with such disgust that she believed, for a few moments, that it was possible for her to have mud coursing through her body instead of rusty, fresh blood. She felt worse than when she heard that the grand, new Auror department told her not only did they know how their chief, Harry Potter, fell dead at age 24, but that they had no leads, no direction to look in. She then accepted that no apology and no childish "sorry" could take back her jab at the unspeakable.

When he registered what she knew, she wished she were strong enough to Apparate and remove herself from this surreal Malfoy, an undiscovered breed of pure hatred and rage. For a second, she could have sworn she saw a piece of Voldemort in him; his grey, almond eyes could have turned to red, serpentine slits and they still would be more horrific than any disgraceful act of Voldemort's. When he grabbed hold of the crew neck on her black, satin Peplum blouse, she knew that she had never been shameless enough to discover this new Malfoy. She didn't discern that he was choking her, she couldn't suspect that she was rapidly losing air or fathom that feeling was lost in her lower body. All she grasped was his few words "you don't have the fucking right." Each different syllable of his detests, each heavy with abhor, each too much for her to handle.

As the dreary, grey room around her began to turn uniform onyx, she wished he would be kind enough to pour her more of the floral substance or throw her on the bed; but, in the same moment, she was grateful that he refused to show anymore mercy toward her, except giving her the chance to reunite with Harry and possibly her parents. As she began to give in and hold her breath, he loosed his grip, pushed her back to get a better look at her, cursed her existence, then threw her on the ground. As she coughed and choked, wishing she had the strength to wipe her eyes and not look so weak, she placed his steps, trailing away as he ascended up a stairwell she hadn't the time to notice before.

"I hate you" was the last phrase to fumble from her swollen lips as she descended into the abyss; sleep.

When she awoke— finally on her own accord— there was no Malfoy. She was still on the cold or damp floor (maybe both, she could barely see the difference between the two). When her eyes focused, she righted herself and began to try to recognize her surroundings. Something about the environment gave her the feeling that her presence was unwelcome there; that— she realized— was the remnants of decades of Dark Magic used in… whatever she was in— a house, maybe?

Hermione blinked a few times, wishing her eyes would better accommodate to the dim lighting. She noticed that the sky was black— no, not the sky. She blinked more. She squinted her eyes; when the wall parallel to her exploded during the Final Battle, rubbish flew and disfigured part of her left cornea. At this point, her eyes were so squinted, she looked as though she was winking at the ceiling and—to her surprise— and something small and silver winked back at her. Someone bewitched the ceiling to emulate the night's sky; Hermione swallowed a biting chuckle, of course a Slytherin— no less, probably Slytherin himself, produced one of her favourite features of the castle. She wiggled her fingers and toes, hoping that if she had the strength to move her extremities, she could move at least parts of her body. She took a deep breath and heaved herself to her side, swaying and squirming until she was on her belly. The energy-consuming process lasted until she hit her target— the solid, albeit fragile, wall.

She flipped her lower body around, so that her back was flat against the papery wall, and delicately rested her head upon it. In dead center was a four-poster bed that had long-lost its earlier grace. The frumpy duvet withdrew; the sheets looked grey and disheveled. From what she recalled, they were soft enough for her to fall into a deep, peaceful sleep. She deduced that it had to have been one of the Black's houses; the Dark Magic, the infinite stars and constellations, and the incredulous grandeur. She felt like the building stood erect and pompous, intimidating even those of blood "purer" than hers. It made her want to scrub her skin and pretend that none of this was happening; that Harry wasn't dead, that Ron wasn't fading, that she had a proper family, that Malfoy hadn't saved her.

She struggled to her feet twice; the first time she lost her balance, hit her head on the cardboard wall, and fell into a graceless heap. She knew wherever Malfoy was in the place, he had heard her but defiantly decided to leave her to her own devices. When she tried standing again, her muscles protested, but she persevered and made her way to the door a yard from her spot on the wall. The hall— which looked more like a Hogwarts corridor— was more narrow than she expected, but wide enough to fit six people in a row.

When she noticed the portraits on the wall, her posture immediately became unyielding; she remembered how cruel and vile Mrs. Black was, even in the afterlife. She proceeded down the carpeted path, repeating soothing encouragements to herself, then stopped and realised that the only voice she could hear was her own. She glanced left and right, finally comprehending from the outraged and disgusted faces on Malfoy's ancestors' faces that he had silenced them, maybe before she awoke. Maybe before any of this happened. She didn't care whether it was the former or the latter— whether it was for his comfort or hers— and she felt the flood of epinephrine in her body still while serotonin streamed through her blood. She felt marginally more comfortable, but continued her stroll; as if she deserved the new victorious high she was on.

Hermione realised that she should have just waited for Malfoy to find her before she attempted to adventure around a house she'd never been to; she had passed the same hallway and went up and around the same spiral staircase four times. On her fifth try, she noticed a quick shock a blond ahead of her. She wanted to resign and fall to the plush, light carpet, feigning sleep so Malfoy would carry her back to her room. She wanted to call his name, but she was too tired to sound scary; she would sound desperate, which she wasn't (she was but refused to admit it to him). She stealthily followed him up a different staircase; when he pulled out his wand and cast a placement spell, she looked at him with awe and anger that he hid her wand before he left her on the floor.

The stairs took them to a less formidable landing, with photographs instead of portraits and bouquets on the tables beneath them and . She counted five rooms on this floor (all probably larger than the one he took her to); two on each side and one in the middle, at the end of the seemingly elongated passage. This hall looked more used and lived in than the one on the landing below; she recognised that it was more intimate; he was heading to his bedroom.

"Malfoy," she tried.

He didn't seem surprised that she followed him. He stopped, gave a frustrated sigh, and pivoted. "What, Granger?"

"I— err— where am I?" She decided against bringing up what happened, at least for now.

"You're on the fifth landing, about a yard from the threshold of the one place I refuse to let your presence sully. Now I'll ask you again, 'what, Granger?'"

She rolled her eyes. "Thank you for the insight, Malfoy. Now I'll ask you again, 'where am I', Death Eater?"

Malfoy's chuckle was dark but his face barely changed. He smirked and retorted, "my, Granger, I thought we passed that. Aren't you Gryffindors all for 'just and equality and fairness'; you're ruining your reputation by judging me, even worse, in my house."

Her cheeks reddened but she pushed back. "First off, you prat, that's the Hufflepuff motto. And—"

"So you're the 'chivalrous' lot, are you? Where is your bravery now? You slunk and stumbled behind me for half an hour, not even asking me where I was leading you."

She stomped her foot and crossed her arms in indignation. "I do not slink. I walk perfectly fine, thank you very much. And you weren't being too cunning either, I suspect, when you kidnapped me. The juxtaposition between our reputations is quite astounding, it's amazing that you thought it was a proper choice of actions."

"Granger, Granger, Granger," he chided. "I thought that we agreed that you're not a child. It's embarrassing that you keep referring to yourself as one. Almost disgraceful, really, that you'd really rather fantasise about your childhood than grow up and face your issues, like a normal person.

"Nevertheless, it's also amusing that you forgot that you've never been normal; you've always been an eerie varmint. Personally, I think it's astounding that Voldemort didn't find you and kill you himself. You always were an easy target." He finished with a self-satisfied smirk— he obviously hadn't forgotten about earlier.

Neither had she; she lunged for his throat.

In her fit of rage, Hermione hadn't noticed him raise and flick his wand hand; throwing her back two yards, back on the floor.

"No, it seems you haven't forgotten your motto; you've forgotten the denotation. You 'lions' seem to always confuse bravery with stupidity. Let's see, shall we. Pray tell, Granger; who has the wand?"

She bit her lip in defiance.

He tut-tutted and shot her a Stinging Hex. "It seems as though I've answered my question. Sleep well, insufferable know-it-all."

Once again, she greeted darkness on a hard, wooden floor.

A/N: Hey guys :)

I know I promised not to do anymore multi-chapters until the end of the school year; I'm a smidge-bit of a liar.

This is really just a prologue, I think. What I'm trying to spit out is that this story will be very long, time-consuming, and difficult so the updates probably won't frequent, but this is really just to fulfill my compulsive need to update something every month.

I'd love to know what you guys think :)

Till next time,