Beta love: glittergrrrl05

A/N: I realize the timeline may be off here and there, but this is an AU, and I'm twisting canon to fit my plot. Thanks for understanding!


Ch. 2

June 1978

Hogwarts School

"I won't pretend to understand how you can even think of marrying a Mu – Muggle born, Sirius. You know Mother and Father will blast you off the family tree for this. Does she mean more to you than our family?"

"Reggie, you'll always be my brother. But those two vipers masquerading as our parents? I don't give a fuck about their opinions. Now, will you be there or not?"

Identical gray eyes met. "I don't know." Regulus turned to leave but stopped before he reached the door. Still facing the exit, he added, "You'll always be my brother, too, Sirius. No matter what." He walked out on silent feet and pulled the door closed behind him.

Sirius stared at the portal long after it was closed. "I love you, Reggie."

Two weeks later at his wedding, Sirius did not see the shadowed figure in the trees watching his outdoor wedding from afar. Nor did he see the man absently rubbing his forearm as if to erase some imperfection.


1 September 1998

Hogwarts School

Harry breathed a sigh of relief to get back to the room. Malfoy left almost immediately, tossing a "I'm going to check out Blaise's room" over his shoulder.

Harry wasted no time digging out his two-way mirror to call Sirius.

"What's wrong, Harry?"

"Nothing, really. It's just different being here. Lots of stares and talking behind hands. And I've got to room with Malfoy." Harry couldn't keep the frustration out of his voice. "He got shirty with Hermione –"

"You didn't let that stand, did you?"

"You think I'd let that stand?" Harry's sarcasm would have done Malfoy proud.

"No, I guess you didn't." Sirius chuckled. "Have you asked her to the Graduation Ball yet?"

"Not yet. I thought I would soon, though."

"You'd better. She's grown into a beautiful young lady. She reminds me of…. Nevermind. That's not why you called me. What do you need?"

"It's a couple of things." Harry paused to consider where to start. He decided to complain about his roommate first. "I'm pissed. I wanted to room in Gryffindor tower, but instead I have to room with Draco sodding Malfoy. It's not like he wants to room with me either. It's some house unity shite."

Sirius absorbed the complaints, nodding his head. "I get it, Harry. But how much time do you spend in your room, anyway? Come to an agreement with him. He might not be so bad now that Lucius is in Azkaban for the next fifteen years. Narcissa wasn't bad until Lucius got hands on her. I know she wasn't happy about blasting 'Dromeda off the family tree. Maybe give him a chance."

"I didn't expect you to say that."

Harry could see Sirius shrug in the mirror. "I know. And if he's shirty with Hermione again, then I'll change my mind. But I want you to have a good year before you settle down."

Settle down. That reminded Harry of his conversation with Hermione earlier. "Hey Sirius, can I ask you a question?"

"Anything, Harry."

"Do pureblood witches and wizards really marry right out of school?"

Sirius looked at Harry with solemnity. "Often, yeah, they do. Actually, it's pretty common in our world. Why?"

"It's…it's nothing, I guess. I just heard one of the girls in my year is already married, that's all."

"Your parents were married at your age, Harry. So was I."

"Wait. What? You were married? What happened? How did I not know about this?"

"I was. She was a Muggle-born." Sirius looked unbearably sad. "She and our daughter." Sirius stopped and wiped away a tear. "She took our daughter and fled with her the night your parents were killed. I told her to take Catriona and go. They found her." He paused to regain control. "Ministry officials found her remains. And my daughter." He choked up again. "I'm sorry, I can't talk about this right now. Can we discuss it later?"

"Yeah, yeah. Of course, Sirius, of course. I didn't know." Harry didn't have the right words.

"I know you didn't." Sirius pulled himself together. "I'll tell you about it at Christmas. But, your question. Yes, wizarding marriages are young. And most families aren't the size of the Weasleys'. If you marry younger, you may have more children. Purebloods, especially, need all the time they can get. Pregnancies are hard, and getting harder for Purebloods."

"Hermione'd probably say it's too much inbreeding," Harry joked, trying to lighten the mood.

"Hermione'd be right. Malfoy's your cousin, you know." Sirius gave him an infectious grin. "You really could do worse than her."

"Yeah, I know. Wait, what? Malfoy is my cousin?" Harry didn't realize that.

"He is. Third cousin or something. I'll check the tree for you." Harry could see the passing walls of Grimmauld Place as Sirius made his way into the Tapestry room.

"Okay, right here…it looks like you are third cousins. That's barely related, but yeah – third. Huh."

"What is it?"

"My picture – look at it." Sirius turned his mirror to show Harry the tapestry. "It's repaired."

"Wicked." Harry was still shocked by the sentient magic that he felt and saw in the Wizarding World.

"I'm tempted to blast it off again." Sirius was only half-joking.

"No, don't do that. Let me talk to Hermi—" Harry stopped because right then, Malfoy walked into the room. "Listen, I've got to go."

"I'll talk to you later then, Harry."

"Yeah, you too, Sirius."

"I didn't know you had a two-way mirror, Potter." Malfoy's voice was devoid of his usual sarcasm.

Harry nodded. "It's good. Muggles have telephones that they can carry everywhere, but this works just as well, at least to talk to Sirius." Harry retreated to his bed to think.


After midnight

8th Year Tower

"Nooooo! Please stop! Don't!"

Harry and Draco sat straight up in their beds.

"What the fu –" Draco began.

Harry was already headed to the door at a dead run, wand in hand; he'd never broken the habit of sleeping with it under his pillow. But he knew that voice and that scream. He didn't slow down in the common room and burst through the door to Hermione's room.

"Hermione, wake up, it's only a dream…" Daphne was trying to wake Hermione, but she refused to respond.

"Move, Daphne." Harry crawled onto Hermione's bed and gathered her in his arms.

"It's okay, Hermione. It's over." He whispered comforting words into her ear. "Shh, shh." At his voice, Hermione's screams calmed to whimpers almost immediately and she began to wake up.

A knock sounded at the door. Daphne got up from her perch on the side of the bed to answer it. Draco and most of the eighth years waited on the other side.

"Is she okay?" Neville was the first to speak. "What happened?"

Harry answered. "Nightmare."

At this point, Hermione realized that she had disturbed an entire dorm and that a shirtless Harry Potter was holding her in his arms on her bed with entire said dorm watching. "I'm okay, I'm okay," she whispered to Harry. He nodded and let her go. She raised her voice so everyone could hear."I'm so sorry to disturb everyone. I thought I was past the nightmares. I'll make sure to get a Dreamless Sleep Draught."

The crowd dispersed back to their rooms, but Draco waited at the door. "It was Bellatrix, wasn't it?"

Hermione clenched her jaw and gave him a single nod.

"I'm glad that bitch is dead, Granger." He turned and stalked back to his room.

Hermione turned back to Harry. "Thank you for coming, Harry. I'm fine now, I promise."

"You're sure? I can stay. I'll stay." Harry had no problem sleeping with her if it would help.

"No, no. I'm fine."

Harry considered her face and decided she was telling the truth, mostly. He kissed her forehead. "Alright. I'll go. But you know where I am if you need me. And I can be here in seconds. Just yell."

Hermione smiled at his small joke as he got up to leave. She frowned when he closed the door behind him. Something was off, and she wasn't sure what it was. She definitely needed that dreamless sleep potion.

"I'm sorry I disturbed you, Daphne. I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Daphne was nothing if not understanding. "Don't think a thing about it, Hermione. We all have our nightmares."

"Thanks for letting him in, Daphne. He's probably the best person to help me with this kind of thing."

Daphne sent her an odd look. "I didn't let him in. The door just didn't stop him."

"That's not … normal. Is it? I mean, have you ever heard of that?" Hermione was honestly confused; she'd never heard of such a thing.


Before Breakfast the Next Morning

Madame Pomfrey's Office

"Of course I'll give you a potion, dear. But these are addictive, so you can't take them for very long."

Hermione nodded her assent. "I'm sure it's just the transition back to school, Madame Pomfrey. I'd just hate to wake everyone up again tonight."

After getting the potion, Hermione thanked Madame Pomfrey and left. She didn't see the considering look on the older witch's face.


Breakfast

The Great Hall

Harry dropped down beside Hermione at the Gryffindor table and immediately began to fill his plate. "What happened last night, Hermione?"

"I can't describe it. I was back at Malfoy Manor, and it was that day. It was like I was reliving the whole thing, but instead of using a knife, she was using a wand to carve into my skin. And I could feel myself changing." Hermione shook her head as if to clear a fog. "I've never had that kind of dream before Harry."

"I get them too, you know. Dreams. That Voldemort is still alive. That Nagini is slithering towards me, mouth open." Harry shuddered. "I don't know if they'll ever go away." After a pause, he continued, "I think Malfoy does as well. He mutters in his sleep, tosses and turns."

Hermione looked consideringly over at the blond who was deep in discussion with his housemate, Blaise Zabini, one of their fellow eighth year students. Malfoy always seemed so incapable of deeper emotions. For whatever reason, it quickly reminded her that Draco had to knock the night before whereas Harry did not.

"Did you notice that you didn't have to knock to get in our room last night, Harry? How did you do it?"

Harry's fork stopped on its way to his mouth. He slowly lowered it to his plate. "I don't know. It just opened."

Before he could finish his thought, Neville sat down across from them. He'd grown up and into his looks. Hermione distantly wondered if he realized how good-looking he actually was. After acknowledging her, Neville turned to Harry and began talking Quidditch. Hermione tuned them out until Neville said her name.

"So, Hermione," he paused and waited for her redirect her attention, "I know it's a bit early, but I was wondering…would you go with me to the Yule Ball?" He paused, and then hastily added, "as friends, I mean?"

Hermione blinked. This was unexpected. But, "Of course, Neville. I'd love to go on your arm."

Beside her, Harry fought to control his face. Bloody hell, I'd better ask her to the Graduation Ball soon. If I wait, then she's likely find another date. Just then, Bill, the new Gryffindor Head, came by the table, handing out schedules.

"Harry, Hermione, and Neville…here you go. I'll see you all later this morning." Bill was very chipper for first thing on a Monday morning.

After comparing schedules, they realized that they all shared the same classes, except Arithmancy, which Hermione alone was taking of the returning Gryffindors. Harry was only taking six subjects: Potions, DADA, Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms, and Ancient Runes. Neville shared the same schedule.

"Are you planning to enter Auror training then, Neville?" Hermione recognized the five required NEWT levels for Auror program, and the addition of Ancient Runes as being very helpful in that profession.

The young wizard stammered a bit. "I had thought I would. M' parents, you know. And helping defeat Voldemort…." His voice trailed off.

"I think you'll make a brilliant Auror, Neville." Hermione reached out and squeezed Neville's hand. He'd led the student army in fight against Voldemort; Harry carried the burden of truly destroying the Voldemort, but Neville faced evil every day here at Hogwarts with the Carrows and their ilk.

"You really think so, Hermione?"

Hermione nodded, and Harry spoke up. "They'd be fools not to take you, Neville. And Kingsley's no fool. We couldn't have defeated Voldemort without you, and I'd go to battle with you any day."

Just then the gong sounded, signaling the end of breakfast; they gathered their books and headed to Advanced Charms.


Advanced Charms

Flitwick's Classroom

Harry had been uncharacteristically quiet on the way to Charms. As they settled into their seats, he appeared to reach a decision and turned abruptly to Hermione.

"Listen, it's way too early to ask this, but I'm going to anyway. I'd like to escort you to the Graduation Ball. We started here together and we've been through so much, and I just – I just want you to be with me as we prepare to leave." This all came out in a rush.

Hermione's whiskey-colored eyes widened, and her lips turned up at the corners. "Oh, Harry. That's so sweet. Of course I'll go to the Graduation Ball with you. But if you start dating someone else seriously and want to go with them, I'll understand."

"Isn't this sweet?" Malfoy's mocking drawl interrupted the moment. He, with Blaise, had settled into the desk behind them. "Asking to the Graduation Ball already? A bit insecure, are we, Potter? Scared of the competition?"

Hermione opened her mouth to blast Malfoy with her temper, but Harry stopped her. "Please, Malfoy. You're just jealous that you didn't get a chance to ask."

"As if I would ask a-" Hermione's eyebrows shot up and Harry's eyes narrowed "bookworm to accompany me to a ball." Malfoy smirked at their obvious assumption. Then he looked over Hermione consideringly. "But you might be onto something there, Potter. Granger has grown up good."

Harry opened his mouth to retort but Hermione beat him to the punch. "Too bad I can't say the same for you, ferret. Do you even have an escort for either of the Balls this year?"

"Welcome, students!" Professor Flitwick called the class to order, interrupting the exchange at the back of the room.


Dinner

That evening

The Great Hall

"Alright, so we can call a meeting of all interested fifth through seventh year Gryffindors who would like to be on the planning committee. Sunday afternoon, you think? 3 o'clock?"

Ginny took quick notes in her planner. "Yeah. I'll talk to some of them. I think we can get a good group together. Which House is planning the Halloween Masque?"

"Ravenclaw got it. Padma is over at their table now." Both Hermione and Ginny glanced up to see Padma and Luna deep in conversation. "I wonder how that's going to go."

Ginny laughed out loud. "I can't wait to see Luna's costume."

"It's bound to be wonderfully creative, isn't it?" Hermione looked over at the ethereal blond with genuine affection. "What about you, have you decided on a costume?"

Ginny's eyes narrowed slightly in concentration. "I don't know yet. But we could go as a pair. You know, Guinevere and the Lady of the Lake. Or a pair of British queens? Like Elizabeth and Victoria?"

"I think you'd make a brilliant young Elizabeth! You have to do it." Hermione scrunched her nose. "But I don't want to go as Victoria. I like the idea of going as Guinevere, though." She shrugged. "We've got a bit of time. We'll work on it."

Hermione gathered her books to leave, but stopped before she stood. She debated on whether to tell Ginny about Neville and Harry's plans to "be young" and their subsequent asking her to the Yule and Graduation Balls. After a moment's deliberation, she decided that Ginny needed to know.

"Ginny, I'd like your opinion."

The redhead looked at the brunette in anticipation. "Go on, then."

"On the train on the way here, Harry and Neville decided that they were going to enjoy themselves this year." And at right that moment, the pair of wizards in question strode down the aisle towards the eighth year table. Half of the witches in the Great Hall followed the progress of the pair of tall wizards, both dark haired, confident, and relaxed. Ginny and Hermione rolled their eyes at the titters and giggles.

But if titters and giggles followed Neville and Harry, sighs sounded in the wake of an another pair of wizards some distance behind them. Draco and Blaise were a study in contrasts, light and dark. Their eyes roamed the hall as they made their way to the eighth year table. Blaise's eyes lingered ever so briefly at the Gryffindor table, where he caught Ginny's eye and gave her the slyest wink Hermione had ever seen. A small sigh sounded beside Hermione from her friend. She turned to Ginny, "but never mind about Harry and Neville; did Blaise just wink at you?"

"What? No." At Hermione's arched brows, Ginny groaned. "Oh, fine. It's Blaise. He's such a flirt. And he's so…." Her voice trailed off and she shivered. Shaking herself, Ginny turned back to Hermione. "Anyway, never mind that. What were you saying about Neville and Harry?"

"Oh, they've decided to 'be normal teenagers,' whatever that means. Then Neville asked me to the Yule Ball, just as friends. And then, Harry asked me to the Graduation Ball." She gave a small smile. "Harry was pretty sweet – he said that we started here together and he wanted us to end our time here together. I said yes to him, but I just wanted to make sure you're, ahh, okay with it, because, you know. I mean, I'm sure he asked as friends; I just don't…." her voice trailed off.

"You're joking, right? You know you don't need my permission to go with Harry. I might have dated him but he's yours, Hermione."

"What're you talking about? We're just friends. Always have been."

"Oh, just friends. Well, alright. Okay. If you say so." Ginny grasped Hermione's hand as it lay on the table. "Harry and I didn't work, but I appreciate you telling me about the ball." She looked up at the wizards situated at the eighth table. "I'm a bit jealous of the Neville ask, though. He's . . . he's hot, Hermione."

"I know, right?" Hermione tried to keep the gush out of her voice. "I mean, who knew? Puberty was kind to him." Just then the gong sounded to begin dinner. "Oh, I've got to go. You want me to put in a good word for you with Neville? Or Blaise?"

"No need. I've got this." Ginny was supremely confident. "See you later!"

As Hermione approached the table, she heard Harry and Neville discussing Quidditch, of course. The first match was between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw this year, and Harry was planning tryouts. Settling down next to Harry and pulling out her Charms book to revise, Hermione was disrupted by a rather pushy Ravenclaw and her friend. About to scold the girl for literally elbowing her out of the way, Hermione closed her mouth with a snap when she began to speak.

"Hullo, Harry! I'm Felicity, and this is my friend Emmeline. We were wondering if you and Neville would go with us on the first Hogsmeade weekend."

Much to her chagrin Hermione felt a twinge of jealousy, but she immediately buried it as she waited for Harry's response. Harry and Neville exchanged glances. Even though they'd decided to enjoy this year, they weren't expecting to be propositioned in the Great Hall. At the same time, a chair scraping on the floor drew Hermione's attention. The entire table and the two Ravenclaws watched as Blaise walked to Ginny at the Gryffindor table and nudged Dennis Creevy to the side.

Before Hermione had a chance to speculate what was going on, Draco leaned forward and spoke to her. "So, Hermione, I'd be honored if you'd accompany me to Hogsmeade on our first weekend." He glanced over at Blaise, who was returning to the table. "Your friend, Ginny, is it? She's agreed to accompany Blaise, and I thought we could have a double date."

Hermione felt her world tilt on its axis. Merlin's hairy balls, had she fallen down Alice's rabbit hole? Had Draco Malfoy just asked her out on a date? She spun around to look at Ginny who nodded at her. What in Godric's name was going on? Just then, she became aware of passing time and the stares from Harry, Neville, and the two Ravenclaws; she made an abrupt decision. "Why, thank you so much, Draco. It would be lovely to accompany you to Hogsmeade." If Harry was going to date around and have fun, then she could as well. Sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose, after all.

Hermione's response spurred Harry's decision. "Of course, Felicity; we can go to Hogsmeade with you. We'll just tag along with Draco and Hermione. Neville, what do you say?"

"Right. Sounds great, Harry. Emmeline, we'll meet you and Felicity in the main doorway at 11 on the Hogsmeade weekend."

If she hadn't been looking so closely at Draco, she would have missed the self-satisfied expression that flashed across his expression before he assumed his usual haughty mask. And for the first time, Hermione realized that Draco's facial expression was just that – a mask. Now what was he up to, the sneaky snake?


After Dinner

Room #1

Eighth Tower

"Want to tell me what you're on about, Malfoy?" Throwing his bag on his bed, Harry wasted no time on pleasantries.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Potter. And if I did, what business is what I do of yours?" Draco spat out.

"Asking Hermione on a date? Really? What. Are. You. On. About?" Harry was seething. "Because we both know you don't think she's worthy of you, a 'pureblood.'"

"Are you saying your best friend is an unattractive witch, one whom I'm not attracted to?"

"No, you tosser. I'm not saying that. Hermione is gorgeous and my best friend. She's too damn good for the likes of you."

"Who's the prejudiced one now, Potter?" Draco clenched his jaw so tightly it was a bloody wonder he didn't crack a tooth. "Why is it so inconceivable that I'd like to go on a date with Hermione?"

"You're taking the piss, right? You've treated her worse than shit for years, you wanker."

"Stop being an arsehole, Potter. You asked her to go the Graduation Ball with you 'as friends'," Draco rolled his eyes. "If you're just friends, why don't you let her make up her own mind?"

It was Harry's turn to grind his teeth into nubs. "I swear to Godric, if you hurt her I will Avada you myself." He turned and slammed out the door.

Draco allowed himself a full-fledged smirk as he watched Saint Potter storm out.


Seconds Later

Room # 2

Eighth Tower

"He's being a right prick, Neville. Why the fuck would Malfoy ask Hermione on a date?"

Neville watched Harry pace the room and rant about his roommate. Whilst he agreed it was certainly odd that given Malfoy's past that he was interested in Hermione, Neville couldn't quite understand why Harry was over-reacting this way.

"He's up to something. I swear I'll kill him if he hurts her."

"Ah, Harry, why are you so worried?" Neville asked the obvious question in his mind. "Hermione can take care of herself."

"I know she can take care of herself against Voldemort, but this is Malfoy we're talking about here. She's the one who wants to give all the Slytherins a chance, remember?" He stopped when Neville laughed at him, one of those full, belly laughs that carried. "What's so damn funny?"

"Do you hear yourself? You just said that Hermione could handle herself against the most powerful dark wizard of all time, and then said that she couldn't handle Malfoy. Draco Malfoy. Remember him? Our age? Blond? Sort of ferrety looking?" Neville composed himself. "What's your problem?"

Harry felt his jaw tighten again. "Godric, it sounds stupid when you say it that way. I just don't want her to get hurt." He suspected why he was reacting the way he was, but it wouldn't do to confide in Neville. Not that Neville would betray him, but Harry just wasn't ready to confront his very deep feelings for Hermione. Not yet, anyway. But that wasn't going to stop him from protecting her. "I'm going to go. I need to talk to her."

"Harry." Neville grabbed Harry's arm to stop him from leaving. "I'd not say anything to her right now. You'll just piss her off."

The hand on his arm brought Harry back to reality, and he nodded. Neville was right, so he went to the common room to sit in front of the fireplace. Merlin's rod, he wasn't in the mood to deal with Draco sodding Malfoy right now.


Around Midnight

8th Tower

Once again a scream rang out over the tower. Harry was already on his way by the time the shrill noise finished echoing, and Hermione was in his arms seconds after that.

"Why is this happening, Harry? I took the Dreamless Sleep Potion. I swear I did," Hermione whimpered.

Harry looked over at Daphne for confirmation. She nodded. "Come on, Hermione, let's go sit by the fireplace." Their bed clothes were modest enough for public viewing, not that Harry cared for himself. After settling themselves into one of the oversized chairs with a cushy ottoman, he asked, "Was it the same?"

He felt her shake her head. "No, it was different. This time, Bellatrix wasn't just carving into my arm, she was skinning me. Oh, Godric, Harry, what's wrong with me?"

They talked late into the night, finally dozing off, and neither noticed the pair of eyes watching them. Or a watcher watching the watcher.


Wednesday Afternoon, Before Dinner

Room #4

The Eighth Tower

"Hermione," Daphne dragged her roommate's attention from her revisions. "I was wondering, and you don't have to answer, but why do you always use Muggle make-up? And cover-up? We have spells for those sorts of things, you know."

Hermione smirked and tossed her quill down onto her parchment. This twelve-inch parchment for Slughorn wasn't due until next Friday, anyway. "You won't believe me if I tell you."

"Try me."

"Beauty spells don't work. I can't change my appearance with a spell."

Daphne looked dumbfounded. "That can't be right. You must be doing them wrong."

Hermione responded with a short laugh. "Really? How you do them, then? Because every one I've ever tried didn't work."

Her Slytherin roommate seemed to take that as a challenge. "Alright then, let's start with something simple. How about a covering spell? This is how you do it…."

An hour later, Daphne was convinced. She had only been able to get one spell to stick, turning Hermione's eyebrows a much darker shade of brown, but even then it had only worked for a few moments. But she was pleased for another reason. In the hour in which they worked together, she and Hermione had begun a tentative bond of friendship. The self-serving side of Daphne was pleased because it could only be a positive for her to be friends with a war heroine. The more human side was just glad to be making another friend, one whom Daphne genuinely liked. And she could tell that Hermione felt the same.


Thursday Dinner

The Great Hall

"Good evening, students. I trust your terms have started well. It has been brought to my attention that some students are having difficulty adjusting to a return to school." McGonagall's eyes deliberately skimmed the entire Great Hall, resting on no one person or table. "Consequently, next week we will begin a mandatory counseling programme. Each year and House will have group counseling classes. If individual sessions are determined necessary, they will be arranged on a case-by-case basis."

Harry and Hermione exchanged uneasy glances at this unwelcome news. Neither of them were excited about sharing their nightmares with the group. Hermione could not help but notice that Malfoy looked as if he'd swallowed something bitter himself.

Daphne leaned over and whispered, "Oh, this new class will be a barrel of fun, won't it? Sharing our deepest, darkest secrets with twelve of our closest friends. Yay."

Still unused to having a friend who was a girl aside from Ginny who was almost a sister, Hermione just smiled weakly. Truthfully, it was hard to see how much good could come out of this class and the private sessions sure to follow.


Friday Breakfast

The Great Hall

The owls swooped down, delivering their burdens. Hermione opened her Daily Prophet to a most unwelcome sight. The headline screamed:

GOLDEN TRIO NOW THE GOLDEN DUO?

Details inside on 6A

The headline was accompanied by an old photo of Ron, Hermione, and Harry taken after the Battle of Hogwarts with Ron torn from Hermione and Harry. A smaller photo showed Hermione and Harry boarding the Hogwarts Express and waving good-bye to Ron on the platform. Harry spotted the headline at the same time as Hermione and they wordlessly flipped to page 6A to view the damage.

It was worse than either of them expected.

The two have apparently grown closer since their return to Hogwarts, and Mr. Potter was spotted in Miss Granger's bedroom, half naked. Dear readers, what has happened to the standards of morality parents expect from the ancient school of Hogwarts? Can they be trusted with our children?

Even worse, the couple appears to be very public in their affections as they have also taken to sleeping with one another in the commons room for their house. Unfortunately, our top secret source inside Hogwarts was unable to obtain photographic evidence of the scandalous trysts….I ask again, given lax moral standards in evidence, can we trust Hogwarts with our children? Headmistress McGonagall did not immediately respond to my request for comment on this story. I am on the job and will report any news.

Titters were growing around the room.

"I'm going to kill Rita Skeeter. She's going to Azkaban. I warned her," Hermione hissed to Harry. "And who told?"

"She's not the author, Hermione, it's this Babette Varrette woman." Before Harry could continue, a familiar voice interrupted their sotto voice conversation.

"Mr. Potter, Miss Granger, after breakfast, please meet me in my office immediately after breakfast. The password is loyalty. Professor Weasley is aware of your appointment with me." The Headmistress briefly squeezed Hermione's shoulder; it was a comforting gesture, but Hermione was hollow inside. Someone had betrayed them; someone made their innocent relationship into something sordid and wrong. She felt her anger morph into hurt and the hot tears built in her eyes.

Harry draped his arm around her shoulder. "We'll fix this, Hermione, make her print a retraction."

Daphne rose from her seat at the Slytherin table with Blaise, Draco, and Pansy. She came to sit beside Hermione. "We'll help. We'll deny the rumors. There's no proof. And we'll find out who is behind this and make them pay."

"What can you do, Daphne? There's a bit of truth to them all." Hermione sounded a little broken, but Harry knew her; she'd bounce back from this stronger than ever.

Daphne glanced over at Draco; whatever she saw in his eyes must have satisfied her. "Hermione, whoever this person is won't know what hit them. I give you my word as a Slytherin and a Greengrass, we' will find out who did this."

Neville, from Harry's left, leaned forward to add his support. "She's right, you know; we'll figure it out. They'll pay."


After Breakfast

Friday

Headmistress's Office

Harry and Hermione sat before McGonagall's desk feeling a bit like second years being called in front of their head of house. But it was a gauge of the seriousness of the situation that they were, in fact, in front of the Headmistress as opposed to Bill, their Head of House.

McGonagall, hands stacked on her desk, viewed them over the top of her spectacles, allowing the uncomfortable silence to stretch. Even the normally chatty portraits were quiet, awaiting the confrontation. Snape's sneer was firmly in place while Dumbledore's eyes twinkled at them, apparently amused at their discomfort.

"Which of you would like to explain to me what is going on in the eighth tower? Frankly, I expected better of both of you."

After exchanging a brief glance with Harry, Hermione spoke up first. "Headmistress, I've been having nightmares, you see. And the first night we were here, I must have screamed in my sleep."

Harry picked up the tale. "I was in my room, asleep, when I heard her and so I ran to her room to see what was wrong. I didn't stop to put on a shirt. So that's why I was in her room 'half naked.'" Harry used air quotations to bookend the article's accusation. "Headmistress, you can ask any of our Tower mates; they all heard it and most of them saw exactly what was going on. It was perfectly innocent."

McGonagall's expression remained stern. "And the next bit? Sleeping together in the commons?"

Hermione shook her head. "It sounds so tawdry. I had another nightmare. Harry and I were sitting in front of the fireplace, and he was holding me. Nothing happened!"

"I'm quite sure you are telling the truth, Miss Granger. However, I must deal with the repercussions of this." She held up a copy of the newspaper with its half-truths.

"Perhaps if you had some – confirmation that these two were telling the truth, you would be in a better position to handle the situation." Even in death, Snape's voice held a sneer. "I suggest you call in their roommates."

Harry was singularly unenthused at the thought of asking Malfoy for help as their relationship had devolved from chilly to icy in the past two days.

"Thank you, Severus; I believe I will. If you don't mind, would you let Professor Slughorn know we need them?" McGonagall An awkward ten minutes later saw Draco and Daphne enter the office, with Professor Snape arriving in his portrait frame just moments prior to the students.

"Miss Greengrass, Mr. Malfoy, thank you for coming so quickly. We are trying to sort out why the paper has printed such a piece, and I would like your versions of the events in question." McGonagall looked at the Slytherins, waiting for them to begin. After a beat, she continued. "Perhaps you first, Miss Greengrass."

"Of course, Headmistress. I assume you are referencing our first night?" At McGonagall's nod of assent, Daphne continued, "well, we retired around ten and Hermione screamed a couple of hours later; I remember because the clock tower was tolling when she woke me. Harry came running in almost before I could get to her, and he managed to wake her and calm her down. Pretty much everyone was at the door and saw him holding her. Then he left a few minutes later." She shrugged. "The next night was the same, except I saw her take a Dreamless Sleep Potion. I guess it didn't work. They went to the common room to sit so they could talk. And I when I woke the next morning, Hermione was already dressed for classes. We really didn't talk about it."

"Mr. Malfoy, what do you have to add?" The Headmistress turned her attention to the young wizard sitting beside Daphne.

"It was the same. We," he gestured to Harry, "both woke up to a scream. I didn't know who it was, but Potter was already out the door by the time I recognized the voice." He paused to consider his next words. "By the time I got to our door, he was going through theirs. I got there pretty quickly and most of the eighth years were right behind me. Everyone saw it. He was back in our room ten or fifteen minutes later."

"And the next night?" McGonagall prompted him to continue.

"Same. Except, he didn't come back. I saw them talking in the common room. Figured they were trying to sort something out. I went back to bed." Draco debated if he should keep what else he saw to himself. "I haven't heard her scream since."

Professor McGonagall stared at Draco narrowly as if trying to discern what he might be hiding. But Draco had lived with the Dark Lord for a year, and he had learned to hide his feelings and thoughts and hide them well. He showed not a flicker of emotion on his face.

"Very well. I am expecting a message from the Board soon; I'm certain they will want an explanation." She turned her compassionate gaze to Hermione. "Miss Granger, I need to speak with you, but the rest of you may return to class."

"Prof – I mean, Headmistress, with all due respect, I'd like to stay." Harry remained seated as his Slytherin classmates rose to leave.

"You may wait for her at the bottom of the stairs, Mr. Potter." She smiled, not unkindly. When Harry started to object once again, she reiterated, "Thank you, Mr. Potter."

"Yes, ma'am. Hermione, I'll wait on you." Harry picked up his bag and left with Daphne and Draco.

Daphne broke the impasse as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "If you don't mind, I'll stay with you, Harry. I want to make sure she's alright."

"What? Right. Of course." Harry was startled at the offer from the usually aloof blonde. He hadn't thought she'd care. He noticed that Malfoy stopped as well. "You can go on, Malfoy. No need for you to stay."

Malfoy's mouth quirked into his trademark smirk. "I think I'll stay, Potter. You want me to stay."

"I doubt –" Hermione's arrival cut Harry's tirade off before it could really get going. "Hermione, are you alright? I wanted to stay."

"Harry, stop. I'm fine. She just wanted to go over a few things with me."

Draco spoke up. "I think we all need to have a talk. But not in the corridor."

"What could –" Harry was still suspicious of the blond wizard but stopped when Hermione hit him in the arm.

"Fine, Malfoy; when and where?" Hermione wasn't a shy and retiring miss; she had been sorted into the house of lions for a reason.

He considered for a moment before speaking. "Room of Requirement, 9 o'clock tonight."


Thanks for the lovely reviews and reading again this week! If you like what you've seen, please let me know. :) This story is not finished, so if you have something you are just dying to see before the end, let me know that as well. Happy reading!