This World or Any Other: Book I


Summary: Malfoy's handsome face was contoured into a condescending smirk. "No faith in that giant brain of yours, Granger?" She looked up at him defiantly. "Maybe I don't have faith in you!" she said, raising her voice. Malfoy only looked at her. "You'll find I'm very surprising." Dramione AU, Year 6 with a slow burn and a killer twist. Book I of "This World or Any Other" series. COMPLETE.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, these characters were created by J.K. Rowling and sadly, I was not involved in any way.

a/n: This work is the first in the This World or Any Other series and must be read prior to Book II, Marked.

Chapter One: The Assignment

Ron and Harry were late; no surprise there. Hermione drummed her fingers absentmindedly on the desk, simultaneously bored and anxious. As much as she disliked being late, she especially disliked tardiness in others.

She glanced up, biting the inside of her cheek as she narrowly avoided the direct blow of Professor Snape's signature scowl. His eyes darted quickly from her to the empty seats beside her, and she shifted uncomfortably to avoid his sullen glare.

"Not minding Potter and Weasley quite so successfully this term, are we, Miss Granger?" Snape drawled lazily. "Perhaps the Christmas holidays have had a detrimental effect on their ability to travel through space and time?"

She heard a snicker behind her, and she turned sharply to glare at Theodore Nott and the Slytherins that made up the minority of the class. As soon as she did, she regretted it; she should have known that the simple act of acknowledging Nott's derision would have been fuel enough for his usual taunts.

"Temper, temper," Nott mused condescendingly, his eyes narrow slits under his furrowed brow, "Or are you upset that Gryffindor's golden boy and his weasel boyfriend have finally chosen each other and left you on your own?"

Hermione moved to turn coldly away, reminding herself that neither Nott nor any other member of his house was worthy of her time or attention. She was troubled, however, at the slight pang that resounded from his words. She had, after all, just been with them in the common room; why would they now disappear on their own?

"Hit a nerve, have I?" Nott snickered, garnering the appreciative jeers of his fellow Slytherins. As he turned to the seat next to him, however, his haughty face twisted in surprise to find that its usual occupant – his teammate in pathetic sneering and derogatory heckling – was absent.

"Malfoy not so perfect either then, Nott?" she scoffed, turning her back on him decisively. She grinned slightly to herself then, relishing in the moment. She didn't expect much wit from Theodore Nott, and was pleasantly surprised by the ammunition of Malfoy's absence.

She had had just about enough of Malfoy this year; his absence was out of character – he had, after all, come close to her performance in his O.W.L.s and seemed to find a bit more value in academia than did her two best friends – but Harry simply would not stop talking about him since their run-in on the train. Hermione found Harry's preoccupation with Malfoy utterly laughable; at his best Draco Malfoy was competent. Maybe intelligent. Possibly – and this was already a major stretch - skilled in some areas of wizardry. But capable of carrying out serious damage to anyone, particularly while under Dumbledore's watchful eye?

Doubtful. Very doubtful.

At the sound of feet shuffling in quickly behind her, she turned to face Harry and Ron, red-faced and breathless.

"What did you do, run here from Surrey?" she hissed quietly to Harry as he sat on her left, scrambling for his notes. "Where –"

"We got distracted," Ron interrupted, sitting on her right.

"Obviously, Ronald, I have eyes –"

"Miss Granger. Surely your lecture can wait until after mine is through," Snape said curtly. Hermione blushed, though she fought furiously to prevent it. "and Potter, Weasley – perhaps we should start class on your schedule? Or better yet, perhaps excuse you from my instruction, seeing as you have dealt so many crushing blows to the dark arts already."

Snape was positively dripping with sarcasm. Hermione snuck a nervous glance at Harry, noting that his posture was alarmingly erect while he stubbornly maintained an insubordinate glare. He didn't speak, and Hermione fought the urge to check if he was breathing.

After an uncomfortable silence, Snape returned his attention to the remainder of the class.

"This year," he began slowly, "Professor Slughorn and I decided to attempt a collaboration between Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts." Even without the heavy black robes, Hermione suspected Snape would have a darkness about him. His words, often deliberate to the point of excessive articulation, had the overall effect of being menacing but intelligent. She couldn't help but admire his mind, though she often doubted his character.

"I, of course," Snape continued, "will be the one to determine your success, though if you have any questions pertaining to his subject, you are free to approach Professor Slughorn for . . . assistance."

He said the last word as though the concept of turning to Professor Slughorn was laughable; Hermione hated to agree with him, but it would be a stretch to place Slughorn's abilities above Snape's.

"The assignment is to create a draught that would aid or cure a curse, if you are ever to endure one at the hands of the dark arts," Snape said, with the same vocal caress with which he'd described the dark arts on their first class – that which is unfixed, unnatural, and indestructible.

"Both the curse and its corresponding potion are open to your choosing."

Hermione had to admit; she was intrigued by the assignment, her mind already buzzing with a mental checklist of the potions in her arsenal. Several years with Harry had left her more experienced at the production of rare potions than she cared to admit (partially out of sheer desire not to be shipped off to Azkaban). On her left, Harry stared forward, eyes glazed; on her right, Ron was picking at his fingernails. Hermione sighed inwardly, shaking her head. This would be yet another assignment that she would have to hold their hands through. It wouldn't be the first time that their homework, even perhaps their academic career, fell to her.

"You will have one month to complete this assignment with a partner, as potions of great difficulty can require some additional time and skill. I advise you to push the limits of your ability, as I will not award points to lazy" – his eyes fell on Harry as he paused, emphasizing the word – "or unoriginal work." That time, he let his eyes sweep over all three of them.

Hermione smiled ever so slightly to herself at that. Snape had a much better understanding of their dynamic than she had ever given him credit for.

She turned her attention to determining the better option of her two best friends. There was Ron – he would listen to her, and do what he was told, but he was entirely unmotivated, and not quite the wizard Harry was. Harry, on the other hand, easily had the skill to complete the assignment, but was headstrong and unreliable – not to mention occupied with private lessons with Dumbledore whilst trying to catch Malfoy in some nonexistent plot of evil. She also considered the possibility that Harry and Ron would choose each other, but it was only a small chance, since she doubted that either of them would pass on an opportunity to have her do the lion's share of the work.

When Hermione refocused her attention on Snape, he was still looking in their direction.

"Do I dare break up the Holy Trinity?" he sneered, tapping his chin with his pointer finger in mock deliberation. Harry had resumed his sullen glower; Hermione poked him sharply in the ribs, a reminder to control his temper.

As she did so the classroom door flew open, revealing the tall, lithe figure of Draco Malfoy. She found herself letting her eyes follow his confident stride, the ghost of an infamous Malfoy smirk on his lips. He had gotten so . . . so striking as the year had gone on. He had always been more polished than the other boys at Hogwarts, even as a nasty first year with slicked back hair, but now it seemed he had grown into his looks; his facial features were chiseled rather than pointy, and his lanky Seeker's build had filled out nicely. Predictably, the line for his amorous pursuit was practically unending, and the Malfoy heir had the complete collection of Slytherin girls in the palm of his hand.

Hermione herself hated Draco Malfoy. She wondered, actually, whether he was even really handsome at all; the appeal of his appearance may have been purely misdirection. He was rich, he was tall, and he had an alluring elegance about him, but that doesn't make someone handsome.

Hermione glanced briefly at the gangly redhead on her right, then back to Malfoy. No, she thought. She was right the first time; he was attractive, and had definitely grown more so as of late.

Stupid git.

As a general rule, Malfoy reeked of wealth and privilege: his uniform was always neatly pressed, and his silver and green prefect badge was always gleaming on his lapel. Today was no different; he looked as frustratingly impeccable as always.

But then she noticed the few silvery-blond hairs framing his face were ever so slightly askew, and there were dark rings under his eyes. She noted that his face also had an unusually odd, ashen hue. The overall effect of these anomalies was that the prince of Slytherin looked a bit more tired than usual this morning.

Perhaps his completely intolerable egotism is finally starting to affect his complexion, she mused.

"Ah, Mr. Malfoy, you're just in time," Snape said, unfazed – Hermione rolled her eyes; Harry being five minutes late was unforgivable, but precious Malfoy, fifteen minutes late, was nothing but unadulterated joy to receive – "I've just been assigning partners for our latest assignment."

Malfoy remained standing, saying nothing. Not even an apology? Hermione thought. His arrogance truly knows no bounds.

Snape glanced back at Harry, Ron, and herself, his calculating eyes narrowed.

"Ah Mr. Malfoy, who should we choose for you . . . Weasley won't do, that's not even worth discussing; Potter –"

Snape paused, bringing his hand to his face to cup his chin, staring intently at Harry.

Don't say Harry, don't say Harry, please don't say Harry . . .

"Not Potter either," he announced finally. "You would only try to murder each other – again."

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She fully agreed with Snape on that count.

"That, of course, leaves Miss Granger."

Her initial exhalation seemed to get caught on the way back in, and Hermione nearly choked. Malfoy's eyes, darkened with displeasure, sought her out, finally resting on where she was sitting. His handsome face contorted itself into a grimace, which she found distasteful. It was a new and unpleasant variation of his usual smirk.

Snape turned on his heel, his robes settling behind him as he retreated to the front of the classroom.

"Potter – you'll be paired with Nott. Weasley – you're with Corner."

Hermione wanted to slam her head on the desk; it was as if Snape was trying to bring about a new and entirely different war. Harry with Theo Nott? Already the two were sizing each other up, the inevitable clash of personalities already visible on the horizon.

Against her better judgment, she turned back to where Malfoy had been standing. He had taken a seat in the back – surprisingly, away from his friends and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, that insufferable twat Pansy Parkinson – and was looking out the window, clearly distracted. Snape had continued to list off pairs, and the entire room became slowly engulfed with the sound of shuffling students, all rearranging to join their corresponding partner.

The noise wasn't enough to break Malfoy's reverie; Hermione frowned as she realized she would have to go over to him, aware that Snape hadn't bothered to actually assign him the assignment. She stood up, smoothing her skirt, unwillingly eyeing her partner; Ron patted her sympathetically on the shoulder, mouthing "I'm sorry!" as he joined Michael Corner.

Hermione was acutely aware of the sound of her footsteps, though she shouldn't have been. Malfoy wasn't listening. She cleared her throat loudly, perhaps a little obnoxiously, as she hesitantly sidled up to his desk. Malfoy finally looked at her, setting his sharp jaw aggressively as she approached.

"What?" he snapped. His eyes were a dark shade of grey, with what she thought might be some flecks of green – Slytherin green, she mused. Even while in a daze his eyes were alert, not dreamy or pensive.

She turned her attention away from his more enviable features to his much more relevant and insufferable sense of self-importance.

"Don't you want to know the assignment?" she said exasperatedly, placing her hands on her hips – like a child, she thought regretfully.

He rubbed his forehead, smoothing his brow impatiently. "Yes, fine."

"We have to brew a potion that would heal a curse."

"Fine," he said dismissively. "Let's talk about it later."

Hermione gaped at him as he stood up to leave.

"You're joking," she said flatly.

He looked her dead in the eye, and all she saw was exhaustion, though it was cleverly masked with bravado.

"Granger, when I tell a joke, believe me, you'll know."

"It's one thing to not take me seriously but it's completely another to ignore an actual school assignment!"

He brushed her shoulder as he pushed past her, unfazed by her frustration. Hermione looked helplessly to Snape, who was occupied, and then to her friends, who were oblivious. She emitted a small groan of frustration and stalked after him, her footsteps heavy with fury.

"Draco Malfoy, you horrible, vile, egotistical, narcissistic, loathsome excuse for a man!" she shouted as the door to their classroom secured shut behind her. "I don't want to work with you any more than you want to work with me, but you will NOT get in the way of my grades! You WILL come back here and you WILL do this assignment!"

He stopped walking, though he kept his back to her.

"Sanare Pura."

"I'm not finished with you, I – what?" she said, as his words registered. "Sanare Pura?"

"Yes. Sanare Pura." He turned now to face her, expressionless. "It heals wounds."

"I know what Sanare Pura does," she exclaimed in frustration, her hands returning to her hips. "You realize – "

"Yes," he said curtly. "I realize that it will be difficult."

"That potion is more than difficult, it's nearly impossible to make – "

She stopped as he finally saw fit to walk toward her, his stride aggravatingly confident. She became uniquely aware of every inch of herself as he reached her, stopping no more than a foot away. The top of her head barely reached his shoulders.

"Granger," he said quietly, "are you telling me that the 'brightest witch of our age,' has a crack in her bookish facade?" His handsome face was contoured into a condescending smirk. "No faith in that giant brain of yours?"

She looked up at him defiantly. "Maybe I don't have faith in you!" she said, raising her voice.

Her words echoed through the hall as they stood in silence. Hermione shifted her weight nervously; Malfoy only looked at her, vaguely amused and thoroughly unimpressed. Should she apologize? She wasn't sorry. She didn't really mean it, either; she doubted anyone else in the class would even know what that particular potion did. Harry and Ron certainly wouldn't. The fact that Draco Malfoy knew, and seemed to comprehend how to make it, shocked her.

"You'll find I'm very surprising," he said, his tone even.

Then he turned on his heel and walked away from her, without looking back.

a/n: This is my (very) first fic; be gentle. Expect the story to take a hard left from the HBP plot after a slow build. Errors/inaccuracies are made to allow for a Dramione romance while they are still at Hogwarts. Hope you enjoy!

[Post-submission edit, July 2016: I do play with the layout of the castle, which I mention in a later author's note. Ron, Hermione, and Draco all have their own rooms within the Prefect dormitories.

At the point I am adding this additional note, Clean has both a completed sequel (Marked) and a Marauders era WIP prequel (Youth).]