Paradox

Summary: Draco Malfoy wakes up one night to find Hermione Granger in his bed. But she's really not Hermione Granger at all, is she? Dramione, Year 7, Deathly Hallows AU.

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and claim no profit from this work. Credit where credit is due, Joanne Rowling.

a/n: This story is an expansion of the one shot of the same name from my Amortentia short story collection. It will contain excerpts from the original one shot (including this introduction), but will be almost entirely new material, and will likely update twice a week.

As ever, I can't wait to start another story with you, and hope you enjoy!


Chapter 1: Rude Awakenings

Draco Malfoy woke up at precisely 12:07 a.m. to a set of overlarge brown eyes and tickle of something soft beneath his nose, prompting a sneeze that was immediately followed by a frantic scream (his own, unfortunately).

"Shh," warned the unwelcome intruder, smothering his mouth with her palm. "You'll wake someone."

"Getoiergioffgme," Draco muttered indignantly, glaring up at her. Mudblood legend and Potter-loving idiot Hermione Granger was straddling him in bed, wearing a set of those muggle jeans she apparently loved—tighter than he'd ever seen her wear, but that was an observation that would decidedly have to wait—and a shirt made of soft grey material that drifted unpleasantly above his bare torso. She raised one brow, pursing her lips; a warning.

"Don't scream," she whispered, and he felt something cold slip against the sharply pebbled flesh of his abdomen. "If you do, I promise, I'll leave a mark."

"Whaatuiyifrfuck?" Draco demanded, feeling his eyes widen as he took stock of what, exactly, she'd so casually pressed into his stomach. "Isiyqfwirvbljknyyf?"

"Yes, it is a knife," Granger replied, looking pleased. "Good on you for noticing, Malfoy."

He made a face—Fuck you, he thought furiously, since she didn't seem to be willing to let him say it out loud—and she narrowed her eyes. "Promise not to scream?"

He nodded. She slowly retracted her hand and he jerked up, reaching for his wand.

"Ah-ah-ah, nope," Granger said quickly, shoving him down and then shifting the knife's edge from his stomach to his neck, holding it directly beneath the bone of his jaw. "My fault," she permitted, breathing heavily as she grinned. "I suppose I didn't give you explicit enough instructions."

She leaned forward, her hair tickling his chin as she spoke in his ear. "If you move," she whispered, "if you breathe, if you say anything, if you try anything, I will stab you in the chest, pull apart your ribs, and feed your heart to the peacocks outside." Then she leaned back, satisfied, and spared him an expectant look of finality. "Got it?"

"Fucking hell, Granger," Draco exhaled with difficulty, his heart pounding in his chest. "What on earth happened to you?"

"I need your help," she replied, glancing around, "right now. We need to get out, firstly, and then I'll explain everything—"

"Like hell you will," Draco retorted gruffly. "I'm not going anywhere with you, you—" He paused, flustered. "You intolerable little mudblood—"

"What does that mean?" Granger demanded, and scowled. "Whatever it is," she sniffed decisively, "I certainly don't like your tone."

"Where's Potter?" Draco pressed, ignoring her. "And Weasley? Are they here?" His pulse quickened at that, finally registering what her presence in his house could mean. "Because if they are—"

Granger frowned. "Who?"

"Potter and Wea-" He stopped. "What do you mean who?"

"Potter?" she echoed, blinking. "Wait, do you mean Harry Potter?" She sat back, quietly marveling. "Am I friends with him here?"

Draco gaped at her. "Are you friends with—" He faltered. "Did you just say—"

She sighed impatiently. "I told you I would explain everything," she reminded him, "but we have to get out. There's something we have to find."

"What do we have t- no. No. You know what?" Draco interrupted himself. "I don't know what you're playing at, Granger, but I'm not just going to entertain diabolical guessing games from you all night. In case you've managed to forget, I hate you," he reminded her, "and secondly, the Dark Lord is living in my fucking house, so I really don't think you can afford to—"

"Dark Lord?" Granger repeated vacantly. "Who?"

"What?" Draco asked, and grimaced. "No, I can't—seriously, I mean it, I physically can't," he snapped, as she made a face, obviously skeptical. "Even if I were buying into your little game—which I'm not," he added scornfully, "I can't say his name. There's a taboo."

"Oh, are you talking about Grindelwald?" Granger asked. "And what's a taboo?"

Draco opened his mouth to answer and then, thinking better of it, permitted himself to go limp beneath her blade. "Actually, just stab me," he muttered, exasperated. "Seems easier."

"God, you're difficult," she groaned, redoubling her efforts on the knife at his throat and prompting him to inhale sharply. "And apparently this happens to you often," she added, glancing down at his chest with something he might have flattered himself into thinking was curiosity, had he not known better.

"What?" he asked gruffly. "Being awoken by Gryffindor idiots in the middle of the night? No, frankly, that's new—"

"No, getting stabbed," she corrected, running a hand over the lines of his Sectumsempra scar. He shivered a little at her touch, hoping desperately that she wouldn't notice; luckily, she didn't seem to, or if she had, she clearly didn't care. "This looks bad."

"It was," Draco grunted. "And you know what it's from, Granger, so I don't know why you're—"

"Listen," she cut in, rolling her eyes. "If I explain myself, will you be less annoying?"

"No promises," Draco muttered, though at her menacing lean towards him, he shrank back against his pillows. "Fine, yes," he sighed. "Tell me what's going on and I'll be—I don't know." He offered as close a motion to shrugging as he could manage while pinned beneath her. "Better, I guess."

"Better?" she echoed doubtfully.

"I'll ask fewer questions," he clarified, and she shrugged.

"Close enough. Well," she began, clearing her throat, "I'm Hermione Granger."

He rolled his eyes. "I know that—"

"I'm not that Hermione Granger," she cut in, annoyed. "Whoever she is."

Draco frowned. "So are you—is this Polyjuice, then? Or—"

"I don't know what that is," she informed him bluntly, "because where I come from, I'm not magic. Well, I am," she clarified, "or I should be, anyway, but according to—" She broke off, shaking herself of whatever she'd been about to say. "There's some guy named Grindelwald in charge, apparently, and so I'm not allowed to become a witch."

Draco swallowed cautiously, feeling the edge of her knife once again tease at the arch of his throat. "So where exactly is it that you're from?" he asked, abruptly finding his mouth quite dry.

She tilted her head, considering it. "I think it's technically a parallel universe. It looks like this," she added, gesturing around. "Same world, really. Just—totally different, also."

"So apparently Hermione Granger without magic is a total psychopath, then," Draco noted, gesturing to the knife. "Do I have that part right?"

"I'm not a psychopath," she informed him. "I'm perfectly capable of empathy, I just choose to discard it. Logically," she added, as if she felt he needed the clarification.

"Comforting," he scoffed.

"The thing is, I have to steal something," she said. "And I don't have a lot of time—I made a deal with someone." She shifted slightly, holding up a small silver pocket watch. "This thing," she explained, "is what lets me travel back and forth. Well, it let me go forth," she clarified. "I assume it will work the same way going back, though I haven't exactly tried it yet."

"And what is it you're trying to steal?" Draco asked, the gears in his head not turning quite fast enough to process what was happening.

But then there was a shout from downstairs, and immediately, they both froze.


It had been a long time since Hermione Granger had seen Draco Malfoy, but she'd definitely never seen him like this. He was sweating, nervous, fumbling for words, fidgeting with his hands; his face was deathly pale, and he was visibly shaking.

Which didn't seem fair, really, considering she was the one who'd been taken hostage, and Harry and Ron, too. If anyone was going to be dissolving to a puddle of nerves, it should have been them—not him.

For a moment, she despised him. Loathed him. But then she remembered where she was, and figured she really couldn't expend the effort at the moment.

Malfoy had done a somewhat shoddy job of denying that he recognized Harry—if that had even been his intent, which from her vantage point remained frustratingly unclear. The stinging hex she'd managed to hit Harry with had been relatively effective, but certainly far from miraculous, so Hermione couldn't imagine why Malfoy would not just identify them—unless, of course, he was having some sort of extremely slow-acting moral crisis. He kept glancing into a corner of the room, she noted; checking for something, like he was being watched.

Hermione couldn't imagine what the problem was, but she did know that they were fucked.

They were fucked, and that was not a sentiment she typically used lightly. And if that were not enough, Bellatrix Lestrange had found the sword of Gryffindor—had panicked, too, and turned dangerously paranoid—which meant that she knew.

She knew—ergo they were solemnly, flagrantly, egregiously fucked.

"I'll take the mudblood," Bellatrix hissed, grabbing her arm. Hermione felt her heart plummet somewhere into her intestines; tried to swallow her fear and failed, miserably. Half a whimper wormed its way out of her throat before she managed to clamp her mouth shut, pleading with herself not to cry.

She looked up at Ron, watched them drag him and Harry away, and then slowly let her gaze float to Draco Malfoy—her only remaining option.

Please, she thought, hoping he could read her intent. Please, Malfoy, please—

But then he'd disappeared, and she was alone.

Worse. She was alone with Bellatrix Lestrange.


"You have to help her," not-Granger hissed, her fingers twitching around the worn handle of her knife. "Are you seriously going to let that woman torture her?" she added pointedly, jabbing the blade in the air between them. "Or worse?"

"First of all, 'that woman' is my lunatic of an aunt, and she's not exactly someone I want to mess with," Draco muttered, sparing her a glare, "and more importantly, that wasn't the deal."

Very much not-Hermione Granger (the real one being downstairs, blistering his sensibilities with her screams and thus fully traumatizing him for life) had said she would answer his questions, would explain her presence, if he would just sneak down and keep quiet. She would have murdered his family if he did not, or so she'd claimed (and he certainly believed she was mad enough to do so if she felt like following through, which she ostensibly did) but he'd hardly needed the threat.

A parallel universe? And proven, too, by the convenient appearance of the real Granger herself? Draco would have been a fool not to ask questions. Specifically, the very significant question of whether there was a universe where he was not trapped in a house with Lord fucking Voldemort.

"Well, we obviously need a new bloody deal!" not-Granger spat in response, pacing the floor of the corridor before pausing in place, grimacing. "You have to do something," she pronounced for the third time, as the real Granger let out another excruciating scream that made both of them flinch.

"Perhaps I did not make it clear that I hate Granger," Draco reminded her, "and her friends, and everything that she is, and everything she stands for—"

"Maybe so, but you don't want her to die," not-Granger interrupted bluntly. "I know you don't."

He grimaced.

"Maybe I don't," he permitted, scowling, "but there's still nothing I can do. The Dark Lord resides in this house, as I've mentioned, and as long as we're here, she's not safe—"

"Then we'll get her out of here," not-Granger determined firmly, her brown eyes widening to an unmercifully optimistic degree. "I can get us out, Malfoy."

"Out—you mean, out out?" Draco echoed, his gaze flicking to the pocket watch she'd shown him. "Out of this entire—"

Universe?

He paused, swallowing. "You're joking."

"I don't joke," not-Granger informed him seriously, managing to cross her arms over her chest with the blade of her knife still aimed at him. "I find it a poor use of my time."

Evidently not, he wanted to agree, but determined such a thing was madness. Was he really going to trust her? Even under the best of circumstances, he found the entire situation discomfitingly uncertain.

"Fuck, what are you even like?" Draco groaned. "I don't know you, and I hate her—"

"You don't hate her," not-Granger corrected, with a very familiar (and highly loathsome) degree of condescension. "It's all over your face, Malfoy. You feel bad about this," she urged, softening slightly. "You know it's wrong—"

"Yes, I fucking know it's wrong," Draco snarled, resorting to contempt in his desperation, "but that doesn't mean that I can do anything about it!"

"But I just told you that you can," she retorted none-too-politely, all but accusing him of idiocy. "Malfoy, come on—I know you're not the massive shit you appear to be—"

"Oh, wow, flattery, nice," he muttered.

"—and I know you want to save her," she insisted, reaching for him. "Just—just grab her, and I'll get us out—"

"You don't even know how to use magic!"

"No, but I know how to use a pocket watch," she snapped. "I'm not entirely devoid of thought Malfoy—and I swear," she said, softening again from primacy to pleading, "if you can just get us in there—I promise, I'll get us out."

He felt the line of his mouth tighten, forcefully trapped. "I just—I don't know if—"

"Don't be a pussy," not-Granger interrupted, glaring at him.

"Don't be a cunt!" Draco retorted. She narrowed her eyes.

"Malfoy, if you don't—"

There was another scream, the sound of it slicing firmly through his conscience, and then something in Draco promptly withered, grudgingly giving way.

"Fine," he snapped, scowling. "Let's go, then."


Hermione had been crying; trying not to, of course, but feeling the tears work themselves from her eyes, the pain immense and excruciating and cruel

And then there had been Malfoy again, more sure this time—almost angry, actually, had she been in the state of mind to gauge the little she'd catalogued from the last six years of his emotions—and then there had been… her? And then Hermione had known she'd gone mad with pain, gone absolutely delirious, watching herself spin the dials on a silver pocket watch and then swirling with Malfoy—and herself—into nothing, nothing, nothing, and then landing somewhere, somewhere else, and yet

"Where are we?" Malfoy asked, turning to the version of her who was holding the watch. That Hermione was wearing a tight pair of jeans—quite tight, though she really was pulling it off, wasn't she?—and a grey t-shirt, a knife clutched in her free hand.

A knife?

"Your house," the other Hermione replied, her voice snotty and clipped. Hermione forced her eyes shut, every fiber of her being resolute in its denial of her surroundings. Is that really what I sound like? she wondered, and half-shuddered. No, no, this isn't real—

"My house?" Malfoy demanded, furious. "I thought you said you'd get us out!"

"Well, we're out, aren't we?" countered the other Hermione. "Do you see any insane women carving things into her arm?"

"Still, I thought you meant—"

"It's a parallel universe, Malfoy," she retorted. "We moved somewhere parallel."

No, no, it can't be—

"What," Hermione forced out, slowly dragging herself upright, "is happening?" She paused, frowning, as she realized they were indeed still in Malfoy Manor; only Bellatrix had gone, and Lucius and Narcissa, and that could only mean—

"Harry," Hermione gasped. "Harry and Ron, we have to—"

"Are you really friends with Harry Potter?" her other self asked her. "I've met him," she offered vacantly in explanation, "and I have to say, I can't believe that. I really can't."

"Neither can I," Malfoy remarked, before adding under his breath, "Not that it apparently matters what I think, as I've yet to have anything go my way today—"

"You," not-Hermione informed him, rolling her eyes, "are incredibly whiny. You have no idea how close I am to slapping you."

"It wouldn't be the first time," Hermione murmured, hissing a little in pain as she shifted onto her left arm. "Ouch—"

"Are you okay?" not-Hermione asked, and for a moment, Hermione could only conjure up the energy to stare at her, running through every reasonable (more reasonable) explanation for how she could possibly be talking to herself.

"I mean, I've been better, but—" She paused. "Who are you?" she finally asked, squinting at her. "I assume this is Polyjuice, but I can't—"

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" not-Hermione snapped impatiently, taking a moment to glare at Malfoy. "What the hell is Polyjuice?"

"It's a potion," Malfoy informed her, looking distinctly ruffled at having to explain. "It lets you take the form of someone else. Which is the logical explanation for this," he added, waving a hand between Hermione and… not Hermione, "but clearly I'm still waiting on the truth."

"I already told you the truth," not-Hermione sniffed, and shrugged. "This is a parallel universe. A paradox, if you will."

Malfoy sighed. "Yes, I'm aware that you said that, but—"

"Paradox?" Hermione echoed, frowning. "That's nonsensical."

"Oh, says the witch," her worse version scoffed. "Are you really telling me that you can wave a silly wand around and do magic, and yet you don't believe there might be a way to transfer through alternate realities?"

Hermione blinked. "That can't be," she croaked, finding herself at odds with the very suggestion of such a thing. "That's—"

"If you say impossible, I'll slap you," horrible Hermione sniffed. "I don't care that you look like me, or that you are me, or whatever this is—"

"She's you, but with magic," Malfoy supplied grumpily. "That, and an overdeveloped sense of righteousness, and a fucking unbearable hero complex, and—"

"I have to go back," Hermione announced suddenly. "I have to get Harry and Ron out of there."

"—and the worst friends in the entire universe," Malfoy finished. "All the universes," he corrected himself, opting to ignore Hermione's subsequent glare at him. "Look, you have a lot more questions to answer," he continued, turning back to not-Hermione, "like what, exactly, you were instructed to steal, and who it was that told you to find me—"

"I believe I can answer that," inserted a new voice—only it wasn't a new voice at all.

"Malfoy?" Hermione gasped, watching him come into view. He was wearing a uniform of some kind, looking even smirkier (and smarmier) than usual. His name and some unidentifiable rank were stitched in prominent letters on his chest, beside a symbol she'd seen before—something uncomfortably familiar—

"That symbol," she said, her right hand flying to her mouth. "That's—that's Grindelwald's symbol," she realized, stunned. "The Deathly Hallows—"

"Very good, Miss Granger," not-Malfoy cut in, smiling. "And speaking of Miss Grangers," he added, his tone cooling with notable distinction as he turned to not-Hermione, "you'd better have good news for me."

"I... hit a bit of a snag," not-Hermione admitted, not particularly shamefully. "But as I promised—"

"Wait a minute," the real Malfoy interrupted, tugging at his tie—his tie, Hermione registered, rolling her eyes; it was the middle of the night and still, he was in a full black suit—"Are you telling me that he's your source?" he asked, staring in disbelief. "Me?"

"Ah, lovely to meet you," not-Malfoy supplied, taking a jaunty step forward and extending a hand. "Charmed, I'm sure."

"I am not charmed," Malfoy retorted. "You decidedly do not charm me."

"Well, that's just as well, I suppose," not-Malfoy said, grinning. "But as it happens, I will need you to cooperate."

"Are you threatening me?" Malfoy asked, his brow furrowed. "Because if you are—"

"What?" not-Malfoy drawled lazily, glancing briefly at his cuticles. "My father will hear about it?"

Malfoy gaped at him, staring, as Hermione slowly gave in to laughter that shook inside her ribs, devolving instantly to sobs.


"Is she okay?" the Draco Malfoy who was so very obviously not him ventured carefully, watching Granger burst into tears on the floor of what was also very clearly not his own family home.

"No way to tell for sure," Draco replied drily, "though I would imagine torture doesn't generally sit well with anyone's psyche."

Not-Draco's smile flickered; a telling glimpse of irritation that Draco guessed was not entirely foreign to his own countenance.

"So, is this what I'm like when I'm important, then?" not-Draco asked him, his gaze sharply appraising Draco. "An utter cunting snot?"

He drew back, affronted. "I am not—"

"Yes, he is," not-Granger ruled definitively. "That about covers it."

At the interjection, not-Draco turned back towards her, arching a brow. "Well, back to you, then," he mused, with an obvious tone of impatience. "What are you doing back here without the wand?"

"I had to get her out," not-Granger said, gesturing to where Granger was now curled in a ball on the floor. "She was being tortured, Malfoy—"

"And that's my problem why?" not-Draco prompted, crossing his arms. "I thought we had a deal, Granger."

"We still have a deal," not-Granger replied, unfazed. "That hasn't changed. I just had a bit of a setback, that's all."

"Mm," not-Draco permitted, smirking. "Just a bit of a setback, hm?"

"What is it you're looking for?" Draco asked, stepping towards his other self. It was amazing—astounding, really—how strange it was to see himself, as arrogant as ever (or so he assumed) but in an entirely different way. This version of himself was notably unburdened; as if he, unlike Draco, were not living beneath the shadow of something sinister.

A tyrannical Dark Lord, for example.

Not-Draco glanced at not-Granger for a moment, calculating something, before swiveling to face Draco. "I need to procure a wand," he determined curtly, apparently judging the information (or the audience) worth sharing. "I believe in your universe it is currently being used by Tom Riddle—"

"Who?" Draco asked, just as Granger managed to hiccup out of her hysteria, sniffling and lifting her head in apparent recognition.

"Ah, yes, in your world he is called Lord Voldemort," not-Draco said coolly. "Here, of course, he is nobody in particular. In fact," he added, laughing, "I was quite surprised to uncover that he becomes anything of note under other circumstances. Here, he's little more than a smuggler," he explained, his nose wrinkled distastefully. "A nuisance, at best."

"Why would you want the Dark Lord's wand?" Draco asked, frowning, and a smile—no, a smirk, which Draco was realizing was an infuriating facial expression, particularly on his face—twitched on not-Draco's mouth.

"Because that wand's not his," he said softly. "It's yours."

"What?" Draco repeated. "But—but how—"

He looked helplessly at Granger, perhaps because she was the only familiar thing in the room that was so ironically identical to his own home. She swallowed, slowly sitting up.

"That wand," she said, half to herself. "It's the Elder Wand, isn't it?"

It must have been an answer of some significance, as not-Draco proceeded to take a step forward and crouched to look her in the eye, his fingers carefully tracing his mouth as he eyed her. "Yes, it is," he murmured, watching her curiously. "I wasn't aware anyone in your universe knew that."

Granger's eyes flashed as she glared at him. "I know a lot of things," she said flatly, and to Draco's horror, the other version of himself began to smile, seeming to process that information in a way that decidedly did not look promising.

"Look, our deal doesn't have to change," not-Granger cut in sharply, looking annoyed at having lost the other Draco's attention. "I can still get that wand for you, Malfoy, and then you'll teach me magic. Right?" she prompted, her fingers tightening threateningly around her knife hilt.

"Yes, yes," not-Draco replied impatiently, not taking his eyes from the real (though, what was reality anymore?) Granger. "Give me a moment alone with Miss Granger, would you?" he asked, turning to let his gaze flick over Granger's scowling doppelgänger. "I suspect she needs tending to."

Draco frowned. "Wait a minute—"

But it seemed his curiosity was considerably one-sided.

"Let's go," not-Granger said, grabbing his arm. "We'll be back in a few minutes, yeah?"

"Sure," not-Draco replied impassively, barely sparing a fleeting nod as not-Granger dragged Draco away.


Hermione glanced up, startled by the look in the eyes of the man who was most certainly not Draco Malfoy. He was quietly appraising her, gaze falling slowly over her face; his grey eyes traveled with meticulous calculation, taking in the landscape of something he'd never encountered before.

"Stop staring at me," she said bluntly, skirting his attention. "I need to go back," she added. "I need to get to Harry, and Ron—"

"They're not your friends in this universe," not-Malfoy informed her, his tone needlessly blunt. It struck her with a hard blow, followed by a trickle of uncertainty that slid from the back of her neck. "Nobody is, in fact. Aside from me," he clarified, his teeth flashing as he smiled at her.

She recoiled. "You're not really friends with her," she said, with more certainty than she felt. "You made a deal with her, that's all—and it doesn't seem like she really understands it, either—"

"She's curious," not-Malfoy said, shrugging. "She can't help it."

"Well, she's smarter than you think she is," Hermione told him, a bite of irritation reaching her voice without warning. "You shouldn't underestimate her."

Unfortunately, the warning only seemed to amuse him. "Oh, sweetheart, I know precisely how smart she is," not-Malfoy assured her. "I wouldn't have sought her out otherwise."

Hermione frowned. "You sought her out?"

"Of course," he said. "I needed someone from here who also existed in your universe. Specifically, someone who was clever enough to do the job," he clarified, "but who would still have an incentive not to turn against me. Someone who might have an incentive, in fact, to join me." He gestured over his shoulder, nodding at where the other version of herself had disappeared with Malfoy. "Voilà."

Hermione bit her lip. "But how did you—"

"You're hurt," not-Malfoy interrupted, as he reached out to take her wrist in his hand, startling her with his touch. "M," he murmured, the motion of his thumb absurdly gentle as he let it float above the single letter Bellatrix had managed to carve into her wrist. "M for Malfoy," he mused, glancing up at her with a curious look in his eye.

She said nothing, holding her breath at his touch.

"Look at that," he remarked, his lips curling up in a sly smile. "It's a sign."

Abruptly, Hermione's senses returned with a vengeance.

"It's not a sign," she grumbled, tearing her wrist from his grasp. "It's an abomination."

He shrugged, perennially unbothered. "Yes, well, so am I," he agreed, his smile unwavering. It was unsettling, really, seeing a version of Malfoy who smiled. "That doesn't mean it can't still mean something."

Hermione's mouth tightened. "That's not the word it was going to be."

"Was it Aunt Bellatrix, then?" not-Malfoy asked, settling himself at her side on the floor. "It looks like her handiwork."

Hermione's breath caught at how easily he could make such a pronouncement. "Yes," she said, and swallowed heavily around seven years' worth of injustice that had been so effortlessly reduced to nothing. "She was carving the word mudblood into my arm," she accused, lifting her chin in defiance before pausing for a moment, registering the distinct absence of something she was surprised she hadn't noticed sooner. "You're not calling me a mudblood," she realized, feeling her brow furrow. "You haven't—you're almost—"

"Nice to you?" not-Malfoy guessed, grinning. "Is it really that shocking?"

Hermione stiffened, not wanting to answer the question. Instead she shifted, avoiding eye contact with him, and promptly changed the subject.

"Are you really going to teach"—me, she thought, and swallowed—"her how to do magic?"

Not-Malfoy shrugged. "Maybe."

Hermione straightened, making a wordless sound of protest. "What do you mean 'maybe'?"

"Well, it depends, of course," not-Malfoy said slowly. "If I'm going to defeat Grindelwald, I really may not have the time." He shrugged again. "Priorities," he clarified, flashing her another cutting smile.

"But—" Hermione stammered, disbelieving. "But you made a deal with her, and you're—you're making her do your dirty work—"

"Yes," not-Malfoy confirmed, unfazed. "And?"

Hermione gaped at him. "You're—you're tricking her!"

Not-Malfoy yawned widely, leaning back to nudge his shoulder against hers. "I thought you said she was smart," he whispered in her ear, chuckling softly.

"Is this—is it because of her birth?" Hermione demanded, pulling away. "Because she's a mudblood like me?"

"Of course not," not-Malfoy assured her, waving a hand. "I couldn't manage to give two fucks what's in her blood, so long as she can give me what I want. See, the thing about blood," he added, shifting to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear and smirking as she drew away, flinching. "The thing about it is that it can only take you so far. For example, my pureblood status means something in your universe, but here I'm simply one of Grindelwald's many well-born minions, and he doesn't care much for England. I was summoned to attend Durmstrang," not-Malfoy explained, waving a hand carelessly. "I was well-born enough for that, it seems. But I was passed over for Prefect, and for Head Boy, and for Triwizard Champion, and I'm quite certain I'll be passed over in the future, too."

His smile faded then, melting to a grimace. "I do not enjoy being passed over," he remarked flatly, and then glanced at her. "And that's where she comes in."

Hermione frowned, realized she'd been holding her breath throughout the entirety of his outrageously tyrannical speech before registering, briefly, that this Malfoy was also in dire need of a slap. She stiffened, clenching a fist.

"You're still using her," Hermione muttered. "Whatever your motivation is—and whether or not you're not judging her for her birth," she clarified roughly, "you're still using her."

"Well, we should all aspire to be valued for our talents, don't you think?" not-Malfoy replied carelessly, reaching for her wrist again and letting his thumb brush over the M that was now permanently carved in her skin—or so Bellatrix had promised, cruelly, and several times over. "Surely you of all people can understand that," he added quietly, drawing her towards him as she held her breath, frozen, wondering why—why, why, why—she was letting him get so—

So close.

His lips quirked up in a smile at the notion that she was not immediately pulling away, just before his eyes dropped to the still-bloody letter in her arm. His breath skated lightly across her wrist, warming her, and flooded her with something unknowable as he lowered his head, pressing his lips to the wound; softly, gently. Intimately.

Like a lover.

She shuddered, pulling away.

"You may not be the Draco Malfoy I know," she said, her voice clipped, "but you're something just as awful, if not worse."

He chuckled, looking delighted by the assertion. "No, I'm not the Draco you know, sweetheart," he agreed, and nudged her with unforgivable ease, his lips brushing against her ear. "I'm better," he whispered, laughing.

She bristled. "You're evil," she managed to croak, pulling away.

His unerring smile only broadened. "Like I said," he assured her coolly. "I'm better."


a/n: Thank you for joining me! Second chapter will post sometime midweek. Hope to see you there!