A/N: Thank you to my beta readers for making all of this possible and my readers for making me want this to be possible :3
— — —
Hermione's hand found its way into her pocket and she gently caressed the Golden Snitch with her thumb.
When Rufus had left his jacket hanging over a chair in the Great Hall unattended, Hermione had taken it as an open invitation to pilfer the item when he wasn't looking after lunch. He'd been too deep in conversation with Minerva, who Hermione could have sworn saw her take it, to notice her tip-toe around to the chair and slip her hand into the pocket. Either way, her favourite teacher hadn't said a thing.
She noticed McGonagall looking at her as she picked at her dinner in the Great Hall the same evening, but was too lost in her thoughts to smile at the teacher or do anything other than glance back down at her plate.
Theories of how Bellatrix had managed to get inside the castle circled in Hermione's head. Draco was most certainly a suspect after what he'd pulled with the Vanishing Cabinet, although as far as Hermione was aware, the item had been removed under McGonagall's orders.
Regardless, she'd made the decision that it'd be best to keep an eye on the Slytherin from now on.
A part of the brunette told her to tell McGonagall about the Death Eater's appearance, but she knew as soon as someone like Minerva caught wind of the dark witch being in Hogwarts again she would never let the students out of her sight, making Hermione's research more difficult than it already was. She was already struggling to solve the mystery that had been laid out in front of her without a teacher or the Ministry's input.
Once everyone had started filtering their way out of the Great Hall, Hermione abandoned her food and went with them, following Draco. She was far enough behind that he didn't see her, nor did he feel the need to glance behind him.
She was trying to find out if he knew anything, but the blonde seemed to be doing an awfully good job at keeping to himself and acting infuriatingly normal. Confronting him seemed like the best idea, but Hermione had no idea how to go about it.
Maybe if I stare at him long enough, that'll be confrontation enough, she thought, eyes narrowing as she turned the corner after the boy, but– having apparently fallen too far behind him– he was gone and Hermione was left with nothing but the stone walls and the portraits that adorned them to keep her company.
— — —
Draco looked up from his food only to meet Hermione's gaze for what felt like the hundredth time that day.
First it had been yesterday at dinner, then breakfast today, then in the library, then by the lake and now– when he anxiously glanced up from the letter he was writing– during lunch. The glare he received was unmistakably directed at him and, provocative as it was, he tried to ignore it as he wrote a letter to his mother.
The letter covered his week, what he'd been doing and how school was since everyone had left. He asked how his family was and how the Dark Lord was since Harry had been killed. It was just a, "How is He?" but Draco knew Narcissa would know exactly what he meant.
Draco, like many people at Voldemort's side, believed that the world was better now that Harry was dead. Harry, the one person who could possibly defeat Him, and Dumbledore, the man who could tell him how, were both dead. The Malfoys believed that it was best that way, that now Voldemort would be safe. Any attempts on his life would be in vain because, as far as they are concerned, no one knew how to kill him.
The war, however, wasn't over yet. They were within spitting distance of winning, of the power that came with it, but Voldemort was so busy trying to hunt down Harry's true killer that he wasn't taking it as quickly as he should be. He was blinded by rage and that made him vulnerable; it made all of them vulnerable.
Draco looked up again to find that Hermione had left the hall like the rest of the students and it was now only him, McGonagall and Snape.
The two teachers were talking between themselves quietly. Usually, Draco would leap at the opportunity to eavesdrop, but he wasn't in the mood. Instead, he took his letter and headed for the Slytherin common room where he knew he could write in peace.
As usual, it was empty. He was the only Slytherin left in the school and, honestly, he loved it. If he'd been at home, he knew he would probably have spent his time dodging his mother's affections.
While Narcissa only wanted the best for her son, he found her a little much sometimes, which was why the peace and comfort the fire in the green common room provided was so calming. As he settled somewhere comfortable, he continued to write.
— — —
Hermione walked down the hill to Hagrid's hut. She had decided, after watching Draco disappear into what she suspected was the Slytherin common room again, to pay the giant a visit. Barring meal times, she hadn't seen him since Harry died.
Despite the fact that Bellatrix had burnt the hut down, a few spells and charms later it was as good as new. Apparently, Minerva and Snape had spent hours repairing it together, but the thought of the two teachers working together to do anything was odd for Hermione.
Especially since Snape was on their side, Hermione thought bitterly as she knocked.
Hagrid opened the door and the familiar musky smell of the shack that Hermione had come to think of as a second home wafted into her face.
"Hello, Hermione," Hagrid smiled at her. "It's great to see you out 'n' about. Professor McGonagall told me that you haven't been out much."
"Hey, Hagrid," Hermione craned her neck to look at him.
The giant invited her inside and she stepped in. As she did, she noticed something rather floral in the air, a smell that she noticed had been lingering for months, and Hermione couldn't help but giggle when she finally realised what it was. After what felt like an eternity of wracking her brain for some sort of answer, she came to the conclusion that it was the remanence of a woman's perfume lingering in the air.
"Have you been dating?" she asked, unable to help the grin that stretched across her face.
Hagrid blinked. "No, you know me, I like it here alone with Fang."
Hermione shook her head. "I can smell the perfume."
Hagrid was quiet for a moment, tending to a pot of tea, before he sighed and smiled. "You're too clever."
"Tell me about her," Hermione accepted the tea when Hagrid offered her some. "I'm really happy for you."
And she was. Hermione knew that Hagrid was just as heartbroken about losing Harry as she was. The fact that he might have someone special to help him through it didn't get rid of the pain completely but it would've most certainly helped.
Hagrid shook his head. "Another time."
His usual enthusiasm had wilted. As he looked down at the table they were sitting at, Hermione saw this first-hand. The man who was seemingly so bubbly was now quiet, reserved, his bearded face seemingly more gaunt than it was before.
Hermione spent a while there, talking with him about different things, things like the adventure book she'd been reading and how weird it was being in the school when it was so empty. They were both side-stepping the inevitable, the time when one of them brings up Harry and the conversation turns sad.
"Can I ask you something, something about Harry?" Hermione broke the silence that had fallen, feeling bad when she saw Hagrid's small smile fall into a deep frown.
He hesitated, then nodded.
"Do you really think he drowned?"
Hagrid sipped his tea. "I suppose. Don't know what else woulda done it. Why, you don't think it was something else, do you?"
"Perhaps," she said. "I'm not sure yet."
"Maybe," Hagrid put down his mug, placing a giant hand over hers on the table, his eyes welling with tears, "it'd be best to just leave it be. We can't bring him back. Remember him as he was when he was here, don't think about the other stuff."
She nodded, not wanting to give too much about what she knew away.
For a moment, she wondered how Hagrid remembered Harry. She knew that Hagrid had carried him to his Aunt and Uncle's house when he was a baby, and she thought that he might remember him as a bundle of blankets, before everything became so complicated.
"Thanks, Hagrid," she said with a smile, and the giant nodded his head, going back to his tea.
— — —
The corridors were quiet after dinner and Draco was making his way through them towards his dorm. He had his parchment under his arm and his– finally– finished letter to Narcissa in his pocket.
Suddenly, someone from around a corner grabbed his arm and shoved him into a classroom. He tripped as he was shoved inside, parchment flying everywhere as he fell almost face-first into the floor.
When he finally steadied himself, he drew his wand and aimed at his attacker to find Hermione's wand already pointed at him as the brunette kicked the classroom door closed with her foot.
"What are you playing at?!"
"I need you to answer some questions for me," Hermione said, lowering her wand.
"Why?" Draco lowered his wand slightly, too, although he kept it ready enough to use if the brunette tried anything.
"Your father stole a selection of memories from Dumbledore's office after he died. I want to know why," Hermione could feel the tension in the air buzzing. Her and Draco had never got along, mainly due to his prejudice against muggle-borns, among other things.
Now that Hermione– someone who, from his perspective, might as well be below a house elf in the hierarchy– had cornered him and had the audacity to question him, Draco was disgusted.
"Well?" Hermione asked antagonistically when he didn't reply. "Not very bright, are you? Do you even understand what I'm saying? Well then, it appears blood isn't everything."
Apparently having pushed all the right buttons, Hermione got back a very snappy, "Of course, I understand what you're saying! But I don't know why my father would take a memory from Dumbledore's office. It was probably his, did you ever consider that? Or maybe it was private, meaning none of your goddamn business, mudblood."
She still wasn't a fan of the derogatory nickname, but she ignored it and raised her wand again when he tried to walk past her. "What about Bellatrix?"
"What about her?"
"I saw her by the lake, on Hogwarts' grounds. How did she get in here, past the wards, can you explain that?" Hermione blocked his exit, standing square in front of him.
In that moment, when she was trying so desperately to find answers, she was more of a force to be reckoned with that she usually was.
Draco blinked. "Bellatrix was in the castle?"
"By the lake," Hermione corrected.
Draco went quiet, something that resembled fear flashing in his eyes, before he said, "I don't know anything. Leave me alone."
"Maybe Veritaserum will loosen your tongue," she smiled bitterly, pulling a vial from her pocket. It wasn't the truth serum she claimed it to be, but he didn't need to know that he was merely looking at a perfect replica.
"Tell me what I want to know," she said slowly, patronisingly, "or I'll make you and then I'll use the opportunity to embarrass you as much as I can. Maybe I'll even make you blurt out the secrets about what really happened on that Astronomy Tower that night Professor Dumbledore died."
Hermione didn't know the boy could be paler than he already was and, watching what little colour there was draining from his cheeks, she couldn't help but feel proud of herself.
Draco eyed the vial suspiciously, despite his chalky complexion, and seemed to be contemplating the possibility that Hermione was tricking him. After an agonising silence, however, it was apparent that he wasn't willing to take the risk.
"What do you want?"
"The memories," the witch began, "what are they about and why did Lucius take them?"
The blonde didn't break eye contact when he replied. "I don't know and I didn't know he took any memories, you'll have to take my word on that."
Hermione didn't want to believe it but, under the circumstances, she didn't have much choice. "Would you be able to get ahold of one of those memories for me? Maybe take one from your-?"
She was cut off by Draco laughing, the sound echoing around the stone walls of the empty classroom.
"Not a chance! Not unless you want my mother or my father to find out that you're snooping through our business. I can assure you that won't end well for you. Someone of your… upbringing," Draco wrinkled his nose, "nosing around in our lives? You'd be lucky to draw another breath if you found yourself at my father's mercy and my mother… let's just say you wouldn't want to draw breath at all if you caught her on a bad day."
Hermione stayed quiet for a moment.
"Why are you interested, anyway? I'd like to say it's not like you and your freaky friends to jump to conclusions but that's all you ever seem to do."
The one thing Draco probably didn't mean to be hurtful hit Hermione harder than any derogatory nickname ever could. The mention of her 'freaky friends' only made her think of Harry, which in turn made her heart skip a beat and a lump rise in her throat.
She opened her mouth to speak but the words got caught somewhere and never made it out.
"Oh," Draco turned quiet. He looked down at his feet awkwardly. "This is about Potter, isn't it?"
Hermione couldn't help but notice the lack of eye contact, the lack of confidence and straight up snobbery in the blonde boy's demeanour. Was that sympathy? Guilt? Maybe even empathy? Whatever the emotion was, the stuck up pure-blood didn't appear to wear it well.
"What about Bellatrix?" Hermione jumped to her next question to save them both the embarrassment. "How did she get inside the grounds? Did you help her?"
"What?" Draco's head snapped up and he went back to being his usual self in a split second. "No, of course not."
"You've done it before," Hermione said.
"That was different," he muttered, then sighed. "I mean, the only thing I can think of, it's not really… I can't tell you."
Hermione waved the fake vial of Veritaserum in front of his face. "Can't or won't?"
"Can't. I mean, I could but," the Slytherin's voice became more panicked, "it's just not my secret to tell."
"Tell me," Hermione's voice was level and firm, surprising considering she was such a mess inside.
Draco didn't say anything, he just looked grimly at his peer.
"Did she cast a spell to get her around the anti-apparition jinx? Did someone let her in? I mean it's not like she's…" Hermione trailed off.
… an Animagus, she finished in her head.
But Hermione knew that it was entirely possible that Bellatrix was an Animagus. It made perfect sense. While the ability itself wasn't hereditary, only a particularly powerful witch or wizard would be able to learn such a skill. A Black, perhaps? It was in her blood.
The idea was startling, unsettling, that Bellatrix Black could get into Hogwarts at will was enough to send a shiver up Hermione's spine.
"She's an Animagus, isn't she?" the witch slipped the fake truth serum into her pocket and laughed humourlessly at herself, mumbling under her breath, "I can't believe I didn't think of this before."
Draco didn't say a word.
"Is it true?"
He hesitated before nodding. "But if you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone, she'll find you and she'll kill you, then she'll kill everyone you might have told."
"I'm not scared of her," Hermione laughed internally at the lie.
"Then you're stupid," he said. "Listen, my family had nothing to do with Potter's death. I know how this might look, especially after… Dumbledore… but there is no way a Black or a Malfoy would have been so stupid. Have you ever considered that you might be over-thinking things and seeing what you want to see instead of seeing what it actually is?"
"Why would Bellatrix have been here then?"
"I don't know, I just know my family and I know that anyone who was stupid enough to kill Harry is dead to the Dark Lord. He wanted to kill Harry himself," Draco gestured towards the door. "Am I free to go now?"
Hermione hesitated for a short moment before she nodded.
She watched him leave, staying where she was, slowly processing what had just happened.
It was then that Hermione noticed one piece of parchment left on the floor, a piece that Draco obviously hadn't seen. It was obviously a very expensive type of parchment and it had initials stamped into it on the bottom right hand corner, although they looked more like a signature– the letters "D.M." in a fancy elaborate script.
Hermione knew it was common for richer families to have nice parchment, seals or symbols, but she also knew from what research she'd done before that it could be used as a form of verification. Without a second thought, she smuggled the parchment into her robe and took it back to her dorm with her.
— — —
Come morning, Hermione hadn't managed to catch any sleep at all.
Walking down to breakfast, she sat in her usual seat, listening to the younger students talk about how excited they were to go to Hogsmeade, but Hermione had other things on her mind.
She forced herself to eat as much as she could knowing that this might be her last decent meal, at least for a while. Tapping her foot and drumming her fingertips on the tabletop, she clutched her copy of Beedle the Bard to her chest.
A lot like the Snitch, Hermione believed the book had been left to her for a reason. flicking through it, she'd already found a symbol that had been penciled in. It was a triangle around a line and a circle. Hermione didn't know what to think of it but she knew she'd have plenty of spare time after the trip to Hogsmeade to study it. That is– of course– if everything went the way Hermione planned.