"I hate this bloody school."

"Not that I'm disagreeing, but what's got you so brassed off tonight?" Draco settles down against the wall of the astronomy tower. "Shove over."

Hermione tosses him a glare but moves over, leaving room for him against the stones, and they both stare off into the sky.

"Well?"

"Would advanced classes be too much to ask for? I mean, at least Neville's not around exploding things anymore, but in potions it still seems like half the class can't even follow the 'put the stuff in the pot in this order' directions and, meanwhile, I'm bored out of my mind. And I'm so tired of proofreading other people's homework. Plus, I don't think most of the teachers even read my essays anymore. Once I stuck a nursery rhyme right in the middle of a long paragraph on the importance of utilizing unity of underlying form in transubstantiation and McGonagall didn't say anything."

"Try that with Snape. I dare you."

She snorts with derision and he smiles for the first time all day imagining Snape's response to a child's poem stuck in an essay between the uses of belladonna and the importance of avoiding cross contamination, or, for this year, right after a paragraph on identifying inferi.

She's continuing on her rampage. "Do you people even have teacher credentialing? Between the parade of homicidal and incompetent dark arts teachers and the divination drunk, I sometimes think they just haul bums off the street, throw them into classrooms and say, 'Well, try not to kill the children.'"

"Technically that would be 'Defense against the Dark Arts.'"

"Whatever. I've learned more from - " she suddenly stops and he tenses. There are some topics, never articulated but clearly understood between them, that they simply never mention. "I've learned more from research than from any of those so-called teachers."

"I thought you liked Lupin," Draco lets his fingers run along the edge of a crack in the uneven stone floor. The stone feels rough and he's pulling his fingers back and forth over it and watching his hand rather than risk acknowledging her near slip. The reality of their days remains that they are at war, that they are not on the same side, that this stolen comradery, this unexpected rapport, is fleeting.

"Sure, I like him well enough, though his boggart lesson may rank as the worst idea ever."

"I thought it was a riot." He pokes at a hole in the floor with one fingertip.

"You'd have probably been less amused," she says, a bit of menace tucked into her tone, "if you'd gotten a turn to have your worst fear exposed to everyone."

He wonders what hers was, what he'd know about her if she'd gotten to have a go at the boggart that day. He knows what his is, all too well. She may, he admits to himself, have a point. Not that he'll say that out loud, of course. That would also be breaking the rules.

"In more 'things about magic school that bother me' news," she's stubbornly turning things back to inconsequential topics and he can feel his body relax again back against the cold stone wall. "What's with the quill nonsense? It's ridiculous. I know, let's ignore all forms of technology and use deliberately anachronistic writing tools, even if they're inefficient and a pain to use."

"Well, that's like the academic robe thing: tradition for tradition's sake. You don't think we use quills at home, do you? Can you imagine trying to run a bloody international conglomerate while writing with feathers?" Draco snorts with a certain amount of deliberate drama. "I don't even think my mother uses a quill, for all that she keeps one ostentatiously on her writing desk."

"Seriously?" He can practically hear her smiling, can picture the way her face opens up when she's pleased and amused without even turning to look at her. He likes knowing he can do that, that he can get her to quirk her lips up in a grin, that he can make her eyes sparkle. It's hard, these days, to get those reactions.

"Cross my heart," he swears.

"Oh, please. You don't have a heart to cross," she's teasing; in any other girl he'd even call it flirting. "You've been well known for your heartless philandering for years, limited only - " she stops for a moment, catches herself but the light tone is gone from her voice, replaced by something completely flat. "- Only by your preference for women in your own house."

Limited only by your blood prejudice, he knows she means. I can file that under 'things she didn't quite say', he thinks bitterly, or maybe 'things she doesn't understand.'

His motivation for limiting his conquests hadn't been any sort of prejudice. Indeed, the discovery at puberty that blood status really didn't impact someone's physical attractiveness had been a strong push towards reconsidering those biases; a hot girl is, after all, a hot girl and any girl whose parents hadn't known him at five was a bit of a bonus. No, he'd been driven to stick with purebloods because of his fervent desire to not reap the miserable consequences that dating someone – screwing someone - 'inappropriate' would garner him at home. Sex becomes a lot less enticing if you know it will be followed by a beating at the hands of a Death Eater or two. He doesn't go into all of that, though. He doubts she'd believe him anyway, and he does realize that 'I got over my prejudices because my cock pointed in your direction' isn't really the best recommendation.

All he says is "Jealous, Granger? And here I thought you had a thing for the weasel."

"It's not like I have a lot of choices, ferret boy. You may have missed this, but boys aren't exactly lining up to take me out. Most of my own house doesn't even speak to me unless they want me to proofread – which sometimes means 'write' - their essays.

"At least you could date from other houses. I'm stuck with girls I've been sick of since I was 12."

"Pansy seems to like you."

"Oh, yeah. She's incredibly attracted to my vault. You, though, could at least look past the redheaded wonder loser, do better. The Goldstein prat seems bright enough."

"Anthony? In Ravensclaw? Are you joking? I like books as much as the next person…"

"More, probably."

"… but I think he might actually masturbate to a vision of piles of books."

He almost chokes at that. "Fuck. I'm never, ever going to get that image out of my head. I had no idea you hated me so much, to subject me to that vision." But he's smiling, the second smile of the day.

He picks up her hand and starts tracing one finger over and around each of hers. "I wish – I wish that things were different."

"Me too." She closes her fingers around his, "but they aren't."

"Afterwards?" he turns, looks at her directly for the first time. She's leaning her head back against the wall, eyes closed. She looks so tired. He wonders, not for the first time, what lies she tells to slip away up here, how late she stays up correcting essays for other people to carve out this space in her day. No one really cares where he goes; no one ever has.

"It's a long time to get to 'afterwards'."

'Hermione, I promise…"

"Don't promise me anything." He starts to protest and she yanks her hand back, pulls her knees up, and wraps her arms around them. "Promises are things that break. Just make it through. I don't care what you have to do, just come out alive on the other end. We'll deal with this... thing… then."

"What makes you think I'll have to do anything?"

She sighs, a long sad sound, then reaches her hand over to his arm, places it on top of the Mark, hidden under his clothes; he stiffens against the wall. "Because I know."

"Have you told anyone?" He hates how numb his voice sounds, how utterly devoid of hope. His mother is dead. He's made a mistake somewhere, Hermione Granger guessed, and now his mother is going to die because of his failure.

She shakes her head and pulls her hand back, wraps herself back around her knees.

"Are you planning on it?"

Another shake of the head.

"Why?"

"I'm pretty sure Dumbledore already knows. You're just another pawn to him. Nobody's on anybody's side any more, not as people, not really. Nobody's on your side. Not the Death Eaters, not the school, not even me, though I'm trying. I really am." Her voice hitches a bit before she goes on. "Nobody's on my side either; I'm just another knife Dumbledore's been honing to shove into Voldemort, the disposable muggle-born sidekick. I don't know what to do, other than let him wield me. I don't know how to help you." She's lowered her head to her knees and closed her eyes. "Do you want me to tell him?"

"It wouldn't do any good." He's thought about that, thought about asking for protection but no matter how he twists the issue, no matter what side he looks at it from, he's still got a brand on his arm that can be used to torture him and his mother's still living under the 'protection' of an army of ideologues, including her own sister.

"So – just make it through. Make it to 'afterwards.'"

"You too." He hears her huff into her knees and he mutters, "You're always in the middle of everything Potter does. Just… don't go and get killed while you two – you three – muck about saving everything."

"Or ruining your life. You know, if we 'save everything' as you put it, you lose. Your side loses."

He shakes his head. "I'm royally fucked no matter how this goes. All I want to do is survive, keep my mother alive through the end."

"Is that your boggart?" She's looking at him, her head tipped on her knees so she's resting on her cheek. "Your mother's death?"

"Don't go broadcasting that," he mutters, glaring at her. "I'll know it was you - "

"And you'll do what?" she's actually smirking at him and he feels his lips tweaking upwards; not a complete smile though, maybe this one counts as a half. "Tell people, 'Oh, I meet up with the mudblood at night sometimes and we share secrets.'" He cringes a bit at the slur – somehow hearing her call herself the name makes it seem worse - and she reaches over and hooks her fingers into his. "I wouldn't, you know. Try trusting me a little."

They sit there for a bit, silent. The wall, that previously inviolate wall of 'things we don't talk about' has been breached, torn down to the point it's lying in metaphorical rubble at their feet and if he doesn't know quite what to do at least it's clear she doesn't either.

"Is that how he controls you," she finally asks. "Your mother?"

He nods. She's figured it out, there's not much left to hide now. "She's the only person who's ever really loved me; I'd do anything to keep her alive, even - ." But he stops there. There's such a thing as too much honesty; there are things he knows the girl next to him will have to report, even if she's willing to keep his Mark a secret.

"That's not true, you know," she whispers and he turns sharply to stare at her but her eyes are closed and she's shutting him out again. Whatever she'd meant, she's not going to expand on it.

"What's yours?" He looks down at their touching hands, biting the inside of his cheek. When he turns back to look at her, her eyes are open and searching his face for something and he finds himself wishing he hadn't asked. "Never mind, it's probably something stupid like flying or - "

"Failure," she mutters. "Though I'm no big fan of flying either."

"Some day I'm going to get you to like flying," he reaches out towards her face, then stops, his hand awkwardly hovering in the air between before he drops it back down.

"Never going to happen," she closes her eyes again, pulls both her arms up around her knees. "Me liking flying, I mean. But you can try."

"I'll do that," he turns to look back at the sky. "Afterwards."

They sit in silence, not quite touching, not looking at each other for a long time. He can hear her breathing, hear the little sounds a person makes shifting on a hard floor, and he's closed his own eyes when she gets up to leave.

"Granger." He can hear her pausing at the door, waiting. "Don't fail."

He looks up at her at that, and they stare at one another before she nods, the smallest of grim movements, and then leaves him, going back to the light of her friends while he sits in the astronomy tower, alone in the dark.

. . . . . . . . . . .

A/N - I used to bury random crap in my written work in high school and never once got caught.