Disclaimer: I forget to do these sometimes. I own things, but not these things. The Potter world is JKR's to do with as she pleases and profit. It's mine to do with as I please for free! I make no money but take great pleasure in ignoring the epilogue. Cannon is mostly followed up until this story and then through 6th year though I will take some liberties.

Draco Malfoy is strolling around Hogwarts' famed Black Lake in a somber mood. It is the beginning of his sixth year, not even a week into term, and he is less than enthusiastic to be back.

His summer was...difficult. Of course he'd never let on that he thought so; never give away his discomfort. He'd like to think he's hiding it relatively well. The snake-faced wizard occupying his sitting room seems content enough that Draco is a willing and eager part of his ranks.

Or at least that the young wizard is dutiful or terrified enough to pretend to be.

Now, thanks to his father's failures, he has roughly nine months to do the absolutely impossible. One of the greatest wizards in all of history has asked that he assassinate someone that the He himself had been unable to best. Draco, an underage, barely tested wizard, is to take on his lustrous school's headmaster in the name of Lord Voldemort. And if he fails? Well, he may as well seek out last rights before he shows up on his own doorstep.

He rubs his forearm subconsciously as he strolls, mindful of the stinging discomfort still present where his new Lord left his mark.

Around the lake's parameter, he has been watching the silhouette of a figure come into focus. Merely a person, vague at first, has slowly morphed into what was definitely a female and, now that he is approaching, a most vexing identity at that.

"Granger," he drawls in way of greeting. He takes in her appearance and sneers a bit at her obvious muggle attire. Pants inappropriately tight for a lady, jumper irritatingly ill-fitted, and boots to the knee only called for if she plans to sit astride a horse... or muck out its barn.

Under normal circumstances he most likely would not have addressed her at all. Though something scratches at his brain and it doesn't feel like normal circumstances. Hence the greeting, cold though it was.

"Malfoy." She says it slightly breathless, her dark eyes wide, as if shocked to see him there. His presence at Hogwarts shouldn't come as such a surprise.

"You're looking particularly muggle today," he tells her with mild disdain. "I was given to understand your family is relatively comfortable, you know, for the base animals that they are. Is that jumper of sentimental value or have I been misled as to your paltry level of wealth?"

She gapes a moment before huffing and stomping her foot in a miniature tantrum. "It's comfortable. Is that a concept with which you are familiar?"

He grins. He's never once deigned to grace Hermione Granger with more than a sneer but he feels oddly free of expression today. "I'll have you know I feel amazing in fine silk and well cut garments. The witches certainly don't complain of the result and, of course, what's more comfortable than being inside a warm witch?"

"Oh my God, that's disgusting." She wrinkles her nose at him and plows forward. "I guess this is a subconscious image of what our conversations would be like if we could refrain from blatant insults and hexes."

"What are-" And then he realizes: A dream. The odd sense of freedom, her overly muggle clothing, the eerie calm of the lake and quiet, unpopulated campus...

He recovers quickly and allows himself to indulge in such a tangible, realistic fantasy. Smirking, he continues to move closer until he is skating within "personal space" territory and looks her over. "The trousers though, those are delightfully slag-ish. Muggles like to advertise their nether-regions in general? Or is that just your personal desperation showing through?"

She narrows her eyes. "I am not desperate nor am I advertising anything. These are very common and not at all as lude as you suggest."

Draco shrugs and shifts his weight ever so slightly, leaning his body fractionally closer. He knows he's tall and that it's imposing against someone of her slight frame. Before he can speak she takes a step back, disguising it as a change of her own stance but he knows it was purposeful to create distance. It makes him a little giddy to know that he is affecting the usually unaffected little witch.

"What kind of a ridiculous dream is this anyway? Some kind of introspective nonsense about personal demons?"

He considers her a moment and gives the question his attention. Is she his personal demon? Because she bests him academically? Because she makes him ask hard questions of himself and the Dark Lord's ultimate goals? Because she represents so much that he finds difficult about his own philosophies?

Finally, not wanting to allow the dream to take such a serious turn, he just smiles wider and muses, "Sexual fantasy?"

Her nose wrinkles again but this time, instead of keeping up the pretense of disgust, she drops her guard and laughs. It's a genuine sound of amusement that he's only associated with her in rare occasions and only when amongst her boorish Gryffindor friends. "Well that's a silly theory," she finally manages.

"Why, precisely? That lunatic animal on your head that you call hair?" She starts to get offended and he answers his own questions, leaning in as if to impart a secret, "because, if I'm honest I find it more fascinating than unattractive. I imagine it's quite fetching, thrown over your head while you squirm beneath a talented wizard."

Her mouth, open to offer a retort to his original comment, snaps closed and her cheeks pink. Draco is finding this delightfully fun. He can say anything here. Do anything. If there is one thing that the Malfoy fortune could never afford him, most especially in the current, shall we say, "Political climate", it is freedom. So she's a mudblood? True, but still a witch. And even if you want to argue technicalities that, as a Death Eater, he should deny her even that status, she's still a girl. A pretty one despite what he's led her to believe over the years.

"I.. that's..." She takes a cleansing breath and tries again. "That's cute but since I'm real, your made up fantasies are irrelevant."

It's his turn to laugh and she looks as stunned to hear it as he felt watching her do the same. "That's preposterous. I know when I'm in my own head, thank you, and this dream is all mine, muggle girl."

"Muggle-born," she corrects in her annoying, swotty way. "And of course you believe it's your dream. You wouldn't be a very convincing figment if you didn't believe yourself to exist."

"So says the figment."

She stares at him a moment and then waves the thought away. "This is an impossible debate. You think you're real because you have to. If dreams do anything, it is attempt to keep you immersed and accept them as reality."

He wants to point out what a complete know-it-all she is, which in normal circumstances he definitely would have, but he finds he's enjoying himself and instead just argues back with a simple, "I think therefore I am."

"Oh now I know you're a figment. No way in heaven or hell would Draco Malfoy, pureblood extraordinaire, quote Descartes."

"Why?" At her look, merely a questioning raise of her brow and a crossing of her arms, he guesses, "Because he was a muggle?" The brow raises higher and he raises his right back. "I'll have you know pureblood families are very learned in history of both wizarding and muggle origins. Centuries ago, the world was much smaller and more integrated anyway."

She looks like she is questioning herself, eyes searching the distance for answers and finally mutters, "I suppose that makes sense..."

"Don't mumble, it's rude."

She looks back up at him and shakes her head a little. "Even in a dream you are such a prat."

"No. I'm well bred," he answers back. "And mumbling is rude. Surely even your dirty muggle parents know that."

Her mirth vanishes and the teasing quality of the conversation with it. "They are not dirty. You know what is though? The blood on your father's hands. Not to mention the dirt on his knees, bowing to a monster." She clenches her fists and turns to stomp away.

He's a bit incensed, the protection of, and loyalty to, family is like a living thing, writhing within. He's annoyed by her haughty tone as well, looking like she thinks she's just won something with her pithy comment. He's angry and annoyed and tempted to send a stinging hex to her back.

But she's not wrong is she? Well, perhaps about the cleanliness of her parents. He's still of the strong opinion that muggles are little more evolved than house elves or particularly smart monkeys. But she's correct in that his own family has lowered themselves, toiling in the blood and dirt, looking up and begging approval from their knees. He's a bit disgusted with himself and his father if he's honest.

Of course he's not though. Honest.

He grabs her shoulder and turns her back to face him. "My family is sacred and powerful, Mudblood. I'd watch what I say about Lucius Malfoy if I were you."

"Or what? He might try to..." she pauses and gestures as if he might fill in the blanks. Then she snaps as if something has just come to her, "...kill me in the Ministry of Magic?!" Hermione cants her head and drily answers, "He tried that. And he lost." She shakes his arm free and turns to walk away again, this time managing a few steps.

Draco looks after her a moment and then falls in to follow. "You're on the wrong side of this war, you know. The Dark Lord is the most powerful wizard that ever lived. It's futile: The Order. All of this."

She stops and looks at him, incredulous. "So you suggest that I what exactly? Switch sides? Not an option for me is it? I'm on the wrong side of this war on Voldemort's say so." He flinches at her casual use of the name which she seems to notice and she slips on a wicked grin. "You don't like when I say it? What does that say when his name strikes fear in your heart, but not in mine?"

"It says you're stupid and have no idea what he's capable of," he bites back.

"Oh and you are? All protected in your pureblooded dungeons..."

"Yes I'm well aware." He's quiet for a moment and she seems to have been silenced by his uncharacteristic blunt and sincere tone. They stand for a while, staring out over the lake in an oddly comfortable silence.

"You shouldn't even be here you know."

"I have every right to be here-" He can feel her climbing up on a proverbial soap box and cuts her off quickly.

"No, you stupid bint, I mean if you were half as smart as you like to tell everyone, you would have left wizarding Britain by now and found a nice safe muggle island. This war is going to kill you, one way or another. Possibly your family as well."

She's properly stunned. As well she should be, Draco thinks. The real Hermione Granger should have thought of the same thing by now. But then she was sorted into Gryffindor, not Ravenclaw. Intelligence only takes you so far with you don't have a lick of actual sense.

"It's all going to change this year, isn't it?" she questions.

He's not sure if it begged an answer, being so very obvious, but he returns a softly spoken, "Yes. Everything."

XXXXXX

He wakes momentarily confused, the dream having come to an abrupt end. In front of him, the cabinet looms over his head. His first day with the cursed block of wood was less than encouraging. It seems hopelessly broken and Draco doesn't even know where to begin. The library perhaps. Research.

It's that or save The Dark Lord the trouble and tie a noose around his own neck.

Leaving the safety of The Come and Go Room, as he has heard it called, he finds Crabb and Goyle leaning against the wall in the corridor and looking at him expectantly.

"Alright, Malfoy? Howsit look?"

"Like something Mother would have thrown out with the rubbish. But it has impressive magic. Might take some time to fix what's been broken, being so complicated." He speaks with haughty confidence. As if, they can't possibly understand but of course he will be able to conquer the furniture in question.

"So back tonight then? After dinner?"

Draco shutters the annoyance on his face. He hasn't been able to shake these two since the Express and he's had it with their overbearing questions. He suspects it is more than idle curiosity and that they have been instructed to keep to him like barnacles on a ship.

"Of course," he sneers. "It wouldn't do to shirk my mission. I'll be here as long as it takes. You can tag along if you feel the need, just don't get in my way." They nod in response and, when Draco moves to leave, fall in step to either side and slightly behind. Like jailors walking their charge to his last meal. He can't shake the feeling throughout breakfast that at some point during the year, he may indeed experience his last instance with food in a very real way, but the smirk doesn't budge from his face.

Parkinson, bats her lashes at him at some point during the meal, her pug nose wrinkling in what he imagines she must think is cute. She hasn't paid him much attention in the last year but seems to have found renewed interest. He has no doubt she, like his lumbering "friends", is under instruction to solidify alliances, in case of a political upheaval. Nott doesn't say much, which is relatively typical, though he's still seems more withdrawn if you know him well. The rest of his house, and in fact Hogwarts in general, is rather business as usual.

He chances one fast glance to the curly-haired witch he hasn't thought of all summer yet now finds on his mind. She slipped in a bit after his own arrival and now is talking with her hands in that swotty way she has. No doubt she is instructing her cohorts in proper study skills or scheduling their days to maximum efficiency. She seems as blissfully ignorant of her impending doom as every other muggleborn in attendance. Stupid girl. Obviously not as astute as his dream version.

It will all change this year. All of it.

And when Zabini asks for the jam, if Draco drops it on the table harder than necessary, no one gives indication that they notice and everyone's mask stays intact.

A/N

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