Draco knew that he had been subconsciously waiting for this Potions lesson all week, and he had hated himself because of it. Since Saturday he had been almost dazed, but he had been forced to admit that he was curious of that bushy haired bookworm who had caused so much of his stress. Curious only in a strictly scientific way, of course. But she didn't make any sense at all. Her words and her actions didn't correlate on any level. Her verbal assault on him and then holding out her hand to help him regain his footing. Her big, confident bravado with her friends and then her attempting suicide only weeks earlier. And most particularly, her knowing about his saving her life and using it against him, but not telling anybody else what she knew. What was she thinking? If she had any idea of the horrific consequences of his actions, she'd stay away from him completely for her own safety. She might be a truly atrocious pain in his arse and a muggleborn to boot, but even muggles had self-preservation instincts, didn't they?
As he marched silently over to his regular space at the back of the dungeon classroom, frowning pointlessly at Granger's head with her nose buried in a textbook, he considered this further. It was certainly true that people had avoided him more this year than any year previously. If anyone came near him, a look seemed to be enough to warn them off. Surely even the most muggle-like muggleborns were driven back by the dangerous aura that surrounded him. The precarious look in his eyes was more serious than it had ever been before this year, and people were repelled by it. He looked over again at the stubbornly oblivious bookworm. Everyone except her. She didn't even seem to notice. He wondered if perhaps that said far more about her view of him than a reaction might. That she didn't even notice.
Slughorn did little more than announce the beginning of class before sending them on their merry ways to work on their projects this lesson, and in a routine Draco was reluctant to become familiar with, Granger dragged him up to the library before anyone else had left their seats.
A few minutes into being seated in the back of the library and assigned a stack of books that Granger had collected upon arrival, the two were sat quietly in the relative silence of the library, with only the sound of pages turning to entertain Draco's ears.
That was until the two most irritating Ravenclaws he'd ever known had decided that the almost entirely empty library was not appropriately empty enough for them to sit, and chose the closest possible table to Draco and Granger's. Anthony Goldstein and Michael Corner discussed loudly the potion they were brewing, taking great care in letting anyone within earshot know that they had overheard Slughorn saying it was his favourite one to brew, and glancing nonchalantly over their shoulders towards the two.
Granger had simply rolled her eyes and ignored their bait. Shortly after this though, Granger decided that they were better off beginning to make their potion in the classroom as long as they had all of the books they needed, so they hauled their loads back downstairs and resumed their studies in the comparative quiet of the classroom instead. Draco was still mildly aggravated, however. This turned to a much stronger annoyance when the two irritants followed them back to the classroom, also. Granger and he began preparing the first ingredients for their potion. Draco was ranting inside of his head. If only their arrogance matched their abilities, Draco could understand it. But these Ravenclaws were the partners that were most closely in competition with them for Slughorn's highest grades, along with Harry, and so Draco couldn't resist a jab.
"Imagine being so insecure in your own intellectual ability that you felt the need to get physically closer to those brighter than you to feel as if you have any hope at all of passing the class. How pathetic."
Granger shook her head but did not look up. He thought he heard her mutter the word "boys" under her breath in exasperation, but chose to overlook it.
"As if you have any actual brains outside of your father's head, Malfoy." Goldstein snubbed.
"Oh please, you morons are the biggest insults to Ravenclaw since Gilderoy Lockhart." The two boys huffily turned back around, clearly out of comebacks and unwilling to engage with the Slytherin any longer. Draco shook his head in irritation. "Those pricks are intellectually closer to hippogriffs than wizards." He muttered.
Granger snorted delicately and immediately stopped.
Draco instantly whipped his head around, intending to put her in her place, how dare she laugh at him? But then his eyes slowly focused and he realised, by the non-rebuttal of his insults towards the Ravenclaws, by the stained colour of her cheeks, and by the way she now refused to raise her head an inch from staring at her chopping board... had she been laughing… with him?
"Did you just… laugh?"
"Of course not!" She flustered.
"You… laughed at what I said."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes. You did,"
"No. No, I didn't."
"You think I'm funny, Granger." One corner of Draco's mouth rose in disbelief.
"I think you look very funny."
He smirked. "As if you have ever seen what I look like through that dense mess of twigs you call hair. The point is, you just laughed at what I said."
Granger stubbornly refused to look up at him and continued chopping her flobberworm, slightly more aggressively than before. "I think your comments indicating your superior beliefs about other students are no funnier than the flobberworm that just escaped off of your chopping board, Malfoy. I pity it above all else."
Draco scowled and bent to scoop said flobberworm back up off of the floor.
He thought he saw a grin on her face as he stood back up and threw the worm onto the chopping board again, but she'd looked back at her own work before he could really tell.
Stuck-up bookworm. "You laughed." He maintained. She just sighed exasperatedly.
She got so lost into her work and the books scattered across the desk that she didn't seem to notice when she accidentally brushed her fingertips across the back of his hand when she reached for another lacewing fly.
It was as if an electric shock had run up his arm and through his spine. Luckily, all his years of calm and collected masking of his feelings allowed him to not jump back in surprise like his body urged him to, but it had been difficult. She had carried on with her work without a second thought. He can't have been the only one to notice that, to feel that.
Just her dirty blood. Dirty blood. He was disgusted, he told himself sternly. His heart palpitating in his chest as if he'd actually been electrically shocked only because he'd have to boil his hand tonight. That was all.
She continued with the rest of their session in peaceful and focused silence, the only conversation being solely based on their project. He spent the time trying to control the almost hot tingles that had broken out through his stomach and chest and telling himself that it was loathing. Really.
Draco lay lifelessly in his bed, the emerald green curtains pulled tightly shut around him as he stared at the dark wood above him. He had thought about going up to work on the vanishing cabinet, but as soon as his head had landed on his pillows he'd known he was not going to be moving tonight, regardless of the immanency of his punishments. He actually felt a small thrill at defying orders, despite no one but him being aware of it.
He'd followed orders his whole life, long before the Dark Lord had returned from the dead. His parents had always been so concerned with their reputation and standing within the wizarding community, he'd never been allowed to go outside to play, even as a child. He had spent his days reading, mostly. His future had been written in stone from the second he was born. Always planned and enforced by his parents, his mother out of love and his father out of pride.
But his father was gone. At least for now. Locked up in Azkaban, how was his father to know of anything in his life? He could do almost anything he wanted, provided he doesn't get in too much trouble, and his father would never know or be able to stop him. But he was not used to this freedom; he barely knew what to do with it. In some ways, having your future planned and enacted for him had been a whole lot easier than having to figure it out himself.
Well, not entirely by himself. Apparently, fate insisted that his and Granger's lives are connected somehow. Until this year, he'd hated her with a burning passion. Her filthy blood, her know-it-all attitude, her consistency in outsmarting him in every way possible, it had been infuriating.
But now… it's not that he liked the girl. At all. But he had no room left for hate. Everything he did, everything he said, everything he felt was just consumed by overwhelming, crushing fear. He couldn't feel hate for anyone anymore. Not the Weasel, not Saint Potter, and not her. Especially not her. Since that night on the tower he'd realised she was almost exactly as lost as him. And it was reassuring to him to know he wasn't as alone as he'd thought. And it was entertaining for him to bicker with her; it took his mind off of the bigger issues, reminded him of easier times.
OK. Maybe there was a very distant possibility that liked her slightly more than he ever had before. Maybe. She was just a little less infuriating now he'd seen a vulnerable side to her, too.
In the quiet aloneness of his bedroom, he felt blissfully alone with his own thoughts. Finally, finally, allowed to think whatever he wanted, just this once. He would go back to a stony-masked Death Eater tomorrow, but tonight, he was Draco.
And he wondered if in another world, another life, one not ravaged by war, he and Granger could have been friends.
He remembered the pulsing inside his ribcage when her fingers had brushed his hand, the jolt of energy he'd felt. He felt dazed.
Oh, bloody hell, if Zabini turned out to be right, he'd never hear the end of it, he scowled.
And just at that moment, in the middle of the only peaceful thoughts he'd had since June, his left arm burned with a familiar scrutinising pain. The Dark Lord called to him.