Hours, days, weeks, months spent on mending the damages of the war on Hogwarts went by nearly as quickly as the speed of a snitch on the Quidditch field.
Upon the arrival of Draco Malfoy, the atmosphere tensed and naturally, people felt uneasy knowing an ex-death eater was on the grounds with them. However, this feeling of anxiety melted as winter arrived. The ministry of magic practically begged the students and alumni's to leave the work to the ministry and go home to enjoy Christmas. The Hogwarts express - thankfully up and running again - would schedule to arrive later the day to transport everyone (see: the maximum capacity) home (before returning to fetch the rest back to London).
Throughout the days, Malfoy apologised to each and every person he'd hurt physically (though Hermione doubts that happened, considering one punch in the face can send him fleeing), emotionally (mainly those he toyed around with, those he bullied and lied to, the list goes on, but Malfoy acknowledged his wrongs, apologised, and actively asked if they preferred to cut him out of their life "because that works too" he says), and last of all - mentally (probably everyone who spent time around him during their days at Hogwarts because lets face it, it wasn't very healthy to do so when he was such an ignorant git.)
He was to confront Hermione last, she found out, and through Harry nonetheless. Malfoy had grown closest to Harry despite their rivalry a mere few years ago. Two sides of a coin maybe? Hermione guesses. According to Harry, Draco has yet to know what to say. She doesn't blame him, weirdly enough most of her more unpleasant memories at Hogwarts had featured Malfoy either as the main character or a side character in the background. Despite knowing that he would probably confront her today, she was taken off guard when Malfoy offered to help her with her bags to the station. Usually, Hermione would reject the offer - especially an offer from Draco Malfoy, but it was entertaining to see him blink more than necessary in thirty seconds or to see him wipe his hands on his trousers every now and then, or how he gulped nervously like a schoolboy confessing to his first crush. It was awkwardly pleasant. It wasn't very comfortable given the atmosphere, the people and their histories with one another. But it wasn't too bad.
The younger ones were to go first. Seamus, Neville, and Dean were "supervising", although Hermione knew Seamus and Dean were going on a detour to visit a few pubs and Neville would be their chaperone for the day (or night). The Weasleys and Harry went on ahead to avoid a major scolding from Mrs. Weasley. Hermione waited until she could be absolutely sure that the ministry didn't need any other help, only to have Professor McGonagall and Hagrid to shoo her off-campus grounds. Malfoy was reluctant to leave, also stubbornly offering his help not because he could do better, but because the Malfoy Manor wasn't the most pleasant place to be.
In other words, Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy were one of the last ones to board the train.
They found an empty compartment and sat down wordlessly. Hermione was still waiting for an apology of some sort. Malfoy was still internally panicking. They were two silent individuals surrounded by laughter, loud music from the muggle-borns, and the lullaby of the moving train.
"I heard that the Malfoy Manor was under heavy supervision," Hermione says, attempting to break the silence.
"Yes." He answers. "Mother's been a little restless, but she seems happier."
Hermione notes that he says nothing about his father, but doesn't pry any further. They fall silent again. Normally Hermione wouldn't mind, but this was Draco Malfoy, a boy who once never shut up about his family and his pride in being a Malfoy.
"I can feel you thinking, Granger." He says, "Lucius is in Azkaban."
Hermione nods, only managing a soft "I see". There is a cold fury present in his eyes, but if you look closely, there a tinge of sorrow.
He sighs, "Granger," he begins. Hermione can't help but raise an eyebrow at him. "I wish to apologise."
Hermione says nothing. Malfoy's pulse rises a little, presumably out of fear. His gaze drops to the floor before locking them with Hermione's again.
"I understand that I have been a person that only reminds you of bad memories, and I sincerely apologise for my behaviour towards you. I was foolish, arrogant, overconfident, and inconsiderate. I would continue but I don't think there are words in the English language that can summarise my intolerable actions towards you and your friends, but mainly you."
Hermione feels her gaze soften.
"I was young, uneducated, egotistical and probably had a fragile masculinity, and I took it out on you, Granger. You were-forgive me-are much more brilliant than I ever was and will be and I tried to take your pride away. But my age doesn't excuse my actions, and I am deeply sorry for the pain I caused you. As for the unspeakable things that happened in the Manor..." He takes a breath. "I understand if you hate me for not stopping Bellatrix."
Hermione nods once, slowly,m. As if trying to forget the atrocities she had seen, experienced and embedded in her brain.
"I do not ask for your forgiveness, you have every right to not forgive me, but I do hope that you acknowledge that I feel remorse. For everything. If there is anything I can do to make it up to you, do not hesitate to ask. I will try my best. If you wish to part ways, I completely understand and will try to make sure we do not cross paths ever again. Lastly, I thank you for giving me some of your time."
"Conflicted." She mutters. Malfoy unconsciously tilts his head slightly, prompting her to say more. "I don't know what to say." She clarifies.
"You don't have to say anything. I just hope you understand." He says carefully.
"I do" Hermione says, "I'm just not sure if I should forgive you this easily."
Malfoy smiles softly, "Then I shall try my best to earn it."
The rest of the ride consisted of silent reading and small talk. Hermione, although still slightly doubting Malfoy feels more comfortable with him after his apology.
"What are you planning to do when you get back?" The blond asks.
Hermione shrugs, "Try to find my parents, I suppose." Malfoy's eyebrows furrow and he nods, just like Hermione did not long ago. "They're in Australia." She continues, "all I have to do is find their exact location and try to undo the spell."
She could feel Malfoy's gaze on her but she couldn't quite pinpoint why. It wasn't pity nor was it sorrow. She has yet to see that look on him before. It's almost as if he's fascinated or impressed even.
Malfoy answers her internal questions only a moment after. "It's admirable, what you did."
"I've always known you to be brave and decisive, yet your actions keep surprising me." He says. Hermione smiles awkwardly. A nice Malfoy was not something Hermione was used to. She expected mockery, or for him to suggest and better alternative because that was what he used to do. She supposed this is what war does to a person, or maybe Malfoy just grew up. What changed him might remain a mystery to Hermione, and although she promised she'd uncover it, she had come to a conclusion: she wouldn't mind spending time with this Draco Malfoy.