Hermione sits on the floor of the classroom as the door shut for the second time. The dull thud brought her back to the present.
She is alone. Her best friends are gone.
She'd hurt one of them in the worst possible way, by turning his dream into something dreadful. This could have been avoided had she just talked to him honestly. She'd lacked the courage, fearing to land exactly where she was now.
Harry had gone after Ron. Of course he had. Nothing changes. Harry might be her best friend but she wasn't his best friend. That was Ron. It always would be Ron.
She doesn't see how they could move past this. It barely registers to her that she's more concerned about her friendship with Ron than her relationship with him.
She's barely aware of the whispers around her. The whole school will know by dinner. The story will be embellished. She'll be hated. She's already lost Harry and Ron. Who else will go? Will any of her friends stand by her?
She jumps as a hand touches her shoulder. Daphne Greengrass has become a tentative friend this year sitting together in Arthimancy and Ancient Runes but rarely speaking outside of class.
"Are you okay?" Daphne asks quietly kneeling down beside Hermione. The whispering around the room increases.
"I don't get to be okay. I'm the bad guy." Hermione replies dryly.
"I'm a Slytherin, I know all about being the 'bad guy' and you aren't one," Daphne replies quietly.
Hermione laughs a little "you? a bad guy? You're the sweetest Slytherin I know."
"Only when it suits me," She laughs "We've got Arthimancy next. Let's get out of here." Daphne offers getting up and holding out her hand.
"Thank you," Hermione says letting the other girl help her to her feet "Yes class. Numbers. Excellent idea"
"Numbers, so much simpler than boys," Daphne smiles pulling her bag onto her shoulder and linking arms with the other girl. Daphne pulls Hermione out of the classroom before the bell rings. They make it to the classroom without meeting anyone in the corridors as everyone else is still in lesson. They go into the empty classroom.
"I could clean you up but honestly I think it's better if you stay looking like shit." Daphne tells her.
"Yeah I get what you mean."
"Are you going to be okay?"
Hermione sighs "ask me after dinner once I've had to face everyone."
"Just so you know, Slytherin can be a safe place. It's different now and you have connections you can use if you need to. I can be your friend. You don't have to be alone," Daphne says seriously.
"Thank you. I already think of you as a friend."
"You do? But we barely talk about anything other than school work."
"But that's fun to me. Do you know how many people will willing discuss a lesson with me? Ron he..." she trails off not knowing how to continue.
Daphne reaches over and gives her hand a squeeze "if we're friends does that mean I get to do your hair sometime?" Daphne asks making Hermione laugh.
"Maybe. Depends what you plan to do to it" the girls are laughing still holding hands when Zabini, Nott and Malfoy walk in.
"Ladies" Zabini bows to them, taking the seat next to where Daphne normally sits.
"Wow Granger moving on quick I see. Just because things didn't work out with Weasley doesn't mean you have to give up on men completely," Nott teases. Daphne smacks him over the head.
"Too soon Nott. Too soon."
"Sorry Granger" he says slinking into the seat next to Zabini.
Malfoy stands with his arms folded leaning against the closed door. Observing them all he asks Daphne "so are you two friends now?"
Hermione starts to answer but Daphne shushes her.
"Yes we are now friends" Daphne replies standing up to face him. He stares at her for a minute, glances at Hermione. Looking back to Daphne he nods.
Zabini let's out a breath that Hermione hadn't realised he'd been holding.
"What does this mean exactly?" Hermione asks suspicious about the tension in the room.
"It means Granger you have new allies."
"Yep. Any Slytherin eighth year is now your ally. Whatever you need we'll help, an extra wand, a fist, a sharp word, study buddy or shoulder to cry on just look to any Slytherin in our year and they'll help. There is no obligation for you to return this but it would be appreciated." Malfoy says stiffly. She can tell he's not overly happy about her inclusion in their group.
"Slytherin are very loyal to their own. You just became one of our own. Congratulations." Zabini says grinning at her.
"In the coming days you'll likely need us," Daphne says giving her hand a squeeze.
They all turn as they hear noise outside the door. The boys move as one collecting the girls bags and arranging themselves on the back row instead of the front where Hermione and Daphne usually sit. Malfoy grabs Hermione's upper arm and steers her to her new seat. She starts to protest.
"They can't stare at you if you're at the back," Malfoy whispers in her ear. She nods recognising the logic in his statement.
Hermione takes the seat assigned to her in between Daphne and Malfoy. Zabini and Nott take their seats on Daphne's other side blocking out the back row. By the time the rest of the class begins to file in, all five of them are sat with their books out ready to go.
Every person who comes in glances at Hermione's usual seat and appears to assume she isn't there. Apparently no one considers she'd be sat next to Draco Malfoy. They don't even glance at the back.
The other members of the class begin to talk amongst themselves. The bits Hermione catches makes it clear there is only one topic of conversation. She goes to say something but Malfoy's thigh presses into hers hard. He shakes his head at her and smirks a little. He leans over and breathes in her ear "Don't draw attention to yourself until the register" she sinks back into her chair to avoid making eye contact and blend in.
The professor arrives and the talking dies down.
"When your name is called a loud, clear simple 'here' and watch everyone shit themselves" Draco mutters close to her ear again. She nods.
"Here" she says loud, clear and steady when her name is called. Every head simultaneously turns to look at her. She pulls up a mask of indifference. The same look the Slytherin's usually keep in place. The red faced class turn back to the front and the rest of the lesson passes without incident. When the bell rings the rest of the class files out quickly.
Hermione takes her cue from the Slytherin's who are dawdling. When everyone else has left Daphne took her arm again boys falling in step behind them.
"I usually drop my stuff in my room before dinner" she says casually.
"Hmm maybe not today." Daphne suggests
"Confrontations in the great hall while much more public can also be safer."
"Allies, teachers and a wide audience can sometimes help people keep their heads a little," Zabini adds.
"I see. Where are we going then? Until dinner?"
"We're loitering" Nott grins "Pansy will be along soon to loiter with us."
"I've never really loitered before," Hermione tells them.
"Aah you Gryffindors, it's always places to be, people to see. But for us? We like savour the moment, linger over enjoyable things," Malfoy says. They make it to the entrance hall with fifteen minutes to go until dinner.
Hermione takes the opportunity to assess her new... friends? Allies? She isn't sure how to categorise them yet. What motive could they have for approaching her now? Daphne has always been friendly enough but the others?
She came back this year swearing to herself to give people a chance to change. If you keep shoving someone into a box that's all they'll believe they can be.
Perhaps she can use this. Show them just how wrong they've been about her over the years. She also admits that Daphne, Nott and Malfoy are all reasonably intelligent. She might at least gain some study partners from this.
Hermione is dreading dinner. Another confrontation is inevitable. It's not like Ron would skip dinner for anything, not even a broken heart. Pansy joins them and doesn't look surprised at Hermione being among the group.
"Where have you been? Class finished twenty minutes ago?" Malfoy asks her furiously "I told you what was probably going to happen in our class."
"I know which is why I've been doing some recon," she replies slyly.
"Recon?" Draco asks dubious.
"Don't you want to know what the rumour mill is saying before we face the entire school?"
"That... was a good idea."
"No need to sound so surprised Draco. What do you keep me around for other than my exceptional knowledge of Hogwarts gossip. So literally everyone is talking about it and sorry but you are definitely the villain of the piece. He was madly in love with you but you led him on and betrayed him. Apparently he has a ring and was planning to propose to you at Christmas. Little Weasley was seen in a corridor ranting about how you've hurt the whole family and that this isn't the way things we're supposed to go. That you're selfish and you always have been. I think we can expect most trouble from her."
Hermione is stunned. Ginny is her friend. All the nights they've stayed up late, all the times they've poured their hearts out to each other. She never expected that she would condemn her before hearing Hermione's side. But then Ginny has always been fiery and quick to jump to conclusions. Was she going to lose the whole Weasley family? Could she bare them hating her?
Malfoy is talking but she barely registers it, it's just whispering noise dancing around her head. Like static.
"Granger? Granger are you listening?"
"What? I.. I heard Pansy."
Malfoy let's out a frustrated sigh as his hands run through his hair.
"Okay Granger the plan is you sit at the Gryffindor table facing the Slytherin table. If you need us just look over and nod we'll come and get you. It's almost time. Are you ready?" He says staring intently at her face.
"Yes. Yes I can do this."
"Remember whatever happens you are not alone anymore." Zabini says as the doors open. He kisses her forehead and walks into the hall first. Hermione reaches up to touch the spot on her head, unfamiliar with such an intimate gesture. Usually Harry is the only one to do that too her. Her heart tightens at the thought of her friend.
Malfoy stares after Zabini, not happy with his friends actions. He seems almost... jealous. Hermione stops that thought in its tracks. She's already suffering from too many thoughts racing through her brain. She's not adding to the strain by analysing Malfoy. It can wait. She has something else she needs to take care of first.
It's time to face whatever it is dinner has in store for her. She is standing alone. The Slytherin's have gone already ahead to their table.
She takes a deep breath and walks into the Great Hall with her head held high.