Journals

Disclaimer: All characters, places and objects belong to the incomparable J.K.Rowling. The plot, however, is mine.

Summary: Draco Malfoy, the Head Boy, is depressed and has an unusual method of self-harming to cope with it. Of course it's only so long before Head Girl Hermione finds out about it… but could her wish to help him change into something more? D/Hr.

A/N: This was written for a contest on Fawkes Ashes, the link to which is in my profile. The challenge was to do a long one-shot depicting a first kiss, and I'm proud to announce that I won first place!!! In spite of making it ridiculously long…

Also note that this fic has scenes involving self-harm, and is of a Draco/Hermione pairing. If either of those things bothers you, please click back now. If they don't, then read on, and enjoy!

~*~

Draco Malfoy rolled over irritably in his bed, propping himself up on his right arm – the left was still aching. He peered in annoyance at his clock, the face of which was sharply defined by a convenient slant of silver moonlight. Almost four o'clock. That meant he'd been lying here sleeplessly for just shy of five hours. He muttered a curse, then reached out for the wand lying beside his bed, ready for use.

'Lumos.'

A rather dull light flared into life at the end of his wand, dismally illuminating his Head Boy quarters. The silver highlights of the room glowed eerily in the light, while the deep green colouring of most of the furnishings looked grim and gloomy. Draco sighed, sitting up in bed and leaning into his pillows, playing with his wand, twisting it this way and that, his eyes emotionless.

He pulled back the sleeve on his left arm and held the wand light close to see how it was healing. By now, this night's work was little more than redness and scratches. Other nights had left deeper marks; the imprint of a word here or there, deep lines and just-healing scars. Draco ran a finger across the skin, thinking.

He'd been thinking about the same things for hours on end. Was it any wonder he hadn't slept at all tonight? His arm was already almost healed – the wounds of tonight, at least. The older scarring from worse nights wouldn't heal for quite some time. The pain was already fading, and when the pain faded it was harder to force the thoughts away…

The castle was silent, and his door was locked shut; he was safe and would not be discovered. Even so, he listened intently for any sound of the Head Girl, sleeping in the quarters next to his – Mudblood Granger, of all people to be forced to share a common room with. There was nothing but silence.

Quickly and quietly, he reached to the shelf underneath his bedside table and pulled out a thick book bound in black leather and a quill with a strangely sharp-looking point. He transferred the lit wand to his left hand to give light enough to write by, rolled the sleeve of his pyjamas down, and opened the book.

Some people might have called it a journal, if they didn't know Draco well enough to realise that such things were beneath him. In some senses it was one; certainly some thoughts and feelings he'd never tell anyone were written down here. But there were also doodles, drawings, and on some pages there were nothing but savage, angry slashes of ink.

Except that nothing in this book was written in ink. Every single page was written in blood.

Draco turned to the first empty page, smoothed the spine, and began to write.

Can't sleep. Much the same thing as usual.

He paused for a moment, glancing at his bared forearm, and sure enough the words he'd just written carved themselves into his arm, the blood shining in the wand light, before the wounds began to heal slowly. He grinned grimly, and carried on writing.

I'm thinking too much about that bastard who calls himself my father. As soon as this year's over, I won't even have school to get away from him. And every single bloody thing I do will have to meet with his approval. He wouldn't approve of this. Probably complete indifference, so long as I didn't kill myself, and a 'severe reprimand' for stealing the quill.

He counted that as one of his great triumphs. He'd stolen the quill from his father's private collection of Dark items last summer, and charmed it to work on the left forearm of the victim rather than the back of the hand, a difficult and tricky piece of magic. At first he'd only used it to test that it worked, but the pain was addictive. Even now, he could feel it already blocking the feelings from his mind, covering them in simple sharp pain, the kind he could cope with.

I hate him for trying to control everything I do. I hate him for not giving a damn about me. Like I'm a machine. He brought me up to be a machine and treats me like a machine and I'm sick of it.

The final three words cut themselves deeper than usual into his skin, and he dropped the quill to grab hold of his arm, staunching the blood flow. If anyone saw, if they even suspected what he was doing… he cursed himself under his breath.

Closing the book with a snap, he shoved it and the quill back in their place under the bedside table, and picked up his wand again. The blood flow had pretty much stopped by now, so he whispered a 'Scourgify,' at the bedclothes where scarlet drops of blood had stained the sheets. The evidence was removed, to his relief.

He felt better now, anyway, now that the fresh pain was covering what he felt. It was easier to cope with. 'Nox,' he muttered, turning off the wand's light and plunging the room back into semi darkness. Draco replaced the wand on his table, turned over in bed, and closed his eyes.

He was asleep inside ten minutes.

~*~

'Did you actually sleep at all last night, Malfoy?'

Hermione Granger shot these words at him with considerable force; barely instants after he'd stepped into the common room the next morning. Raising his head, Draco gave her a baleful glare. He was well aware that lying awake well into the small hours of the night had left him looking completely exhausted.

'And you care because…?' he replied with a sneer, falling elegantly onto the sofa. Hermione looked up from her Potions essay, fixing him with one of her annoying Little-Miss-Perfect looks.

'In case you've forgotten, it's your turn to patrol the corridors tonight,' she rebuked him. 'You're going to be practically falling asleep, honestly Malfoy, you're completely irresponsible…'

Draco grabbed an orange from the fruit bowl beside his seat and began playing with it, passing it from hand to hand.  'It's none of your business what time I go to sleep, Granger,' he spat.

'It is if it impedes your duties as Head Boy,' she said primly, scribbling another sentence on her essay. Draco mouthed a few choice insults in her direction and went back to playing with his orange. Why did she have to be the one Dumbledore chose as Head Girl? Of all the people in his year, it had to be Mudblood Granger, didn't it?

Hermione glanced up from the essay again. 'Are you going to actually eat that orange, or are you planning on messing around with it until it turns into pulp?' Draco realised that he'd been passing it harder and harder until the sound of it was a chain of sharp, fast slaps that hung in the air. Obviously, judging by Granger's reaction, it was very annoying. Grinning, he carried on playing with it and answered her question.

'Just considering whether I could knock you unconscious with this one, or whether I'd need something heavier to damage that thick skull of yours, Granger,' he drawled, grinning cruelly.

Hermione glared at him. 'Just eat it already, Malfoy.'

'And what will you do if I don't?'

She reached down to her schoolbag and pulled out her wand. 'I'll hex you into the middle of next week.'

'Literally?' he smirked.

'Don't try my patience. Just eat the bloody orange, and let me get on writing this essay in peace and quiet.' Draco grinned to himself; he'd got her really worked up. Taunting Granger; always good fun when you woke up feeling more exhausted than you had when you went to bed.

He stopped messing with the orange, and began tearing into the peel with his long and elegant fingernails. 'What was that I heard, Granger? Did the perfect, angelic Gryffindor say 'bloody'? I must be having a bad influence on you.'

'I really did mean it about hexing you, Malfoy.'

His reply to this was to grin evilly and pop the first segment of orange into his mouth, biting down hard and savouring the tangy juice. Hogwarts always seemed to have the juiciest oranges, he reflected; he'd really have to find out where the kitchens got them from so he could have a permanent supply at the manor…

Half the orange later, Hermione stood up, grabbing her things and placing them carefully, one-by-one, into her bag. 'Breakfast starts in a few minutes, Malfoy.'

He waved an orange segment at her. 'I'm not going today, I'm not particularly hungry.'

She shook her head, closing her bag and hefting it onto her shoulder. 'First you don't sleep, then you refuse to have a proper breakfast, I don't know how you expect to learn anything…'

'It's called having a brain, Granger,' he called after her as she flounced out of the door. He rolled his eyes, ate the next piece of orange, and got to his feet, eyes glittering as a truly Slytherin thought came to mind. Hermione wouldn't be back, after all, for at least twenty minutes…

Draco crossed to her room and opened the door carefully, his eyes sweeping the room, subconsciously checking for hexes. He wouldn't put it past her if she knew he'd been going in her room. But no, all he saw was a seeming mirror image of his own room in crimson and gold. A few more ornaments, a photograph or two in frames… Very little was different.

Smirking, he crossed the room to her wardrobe, his footsteps as silent as a cat's. He pulled the door open cautiously, still wary of retribution. He could barely believe she hadn't noticed it yet, his frequent trips into her bedroom for a surreptitious read…

He pushed a collection of black school robes aside and knelt on the floor. His quick silver eyes, trained by Quidditch to pick out details, saw almost at once what he was looking for under the general collection of items at the bottom of the wardrobe. A small silver ornament shaped like a proud stag. He knew the significance of this of course; it was the form of Potter's Patronus. An interesting choice.

He pulled it out, swung the wardrobe door shut and seated himself elegantly on the edge of her bed. Reaching into his pocket, Draco pulled out his wand and tapped the little figurine on one antler. 'Mutati.'

The hard surface of the stag rippled, and then fell apart altogether, the formless puddle changing shape, form, texture in the matter of a second. Now it was a plain book, rather worn and battered, in a washy shade of blue. One word was printed on the front in elegant script.

'Diary.'

Flipping through the pages with a satisfied smile, he found his place and began to read.

~*~

Draco muttered their common room password automatically, yawning as he did so, and entered the room. It had been a long and arduous day; the lessons had dragged on for hours, and the amount of homework they'd been given was ridiculous. He'd just finished his Charms essay in the library, and had returned for five minutes of rest before he had to go patrolling the corridors.

Which was why he did not appreciate it when Hermione looked up from her book with a glare and immediately began to rebuke him. 'Where have you been? Did you forget you've got to go patrolling in five minutes, and honestly, you look a complete mess, you really have to get a full night's sleep you know…'

He leaned against the doorframe and glared at her. 'Granger, shut up. For your information, I've been in the library doing homework and I know full well that I have to go wandering around the school like an idiot in five minutes. And of course, many thanks for the wonderful ego-boosting compliment, it was exactly what I needed after a night of bloody insomnia and a day of constant work.'

She had the grace to look abashed. 'Sorry, Malfoy…'

'You should be,' he snapped back, making his way to his door. 'If my head wasn't aching so much I couldn't think straight, I'd have hexed you ten times over by now…'

He pulled open his door, slammed it shut behind him, and slumped against it with a sigh. Five minutes of peace…

He opened his eyes blearily; intent on finding his bed and crashing straight onto it for a well-deserved rest, but something else caught his attention. Something that caused his eyes to open wide with surprise, shock and something like fear. He froze against the doorframe for a moment, staring in horror.

There was an owl at the window; a large owl, dark-feathered, with a malevolent glare. His father's owl. It didn't have a name.

Crossing the room, he opened the window automatically and held out his right forearm for the owl to perch on. It flew in, silent as a ghost, and fixed its claws around his arm as tightly as chains. It held out the leg with the letter on, and Draco took it silently, held it in one fist, crushing the parchment.

He carried the bird to the window. 'Go on, shoo.' he spat at it, his silver eyes glinting. 'Get out of here! You don't think I'm sending back a reply, do you?'

With a stately hoot, the owl flew off. Draco slammed the window shut behind it, so hard the glass shuddered in its frame. He leaned against it, a barely-controlled fire of anger burning inside him.

He knew exactly what the letter would say – the letter, he realised, which was still crushed in his fist, unread. Draco crossed to his bed and sat down hard on it, unfolded the paper and scanned the lines of regimented script.

Draco,

I trust all continues well at school, and that you are continuing your friendships with those I have suggested would be beneficial to your connections in later life. The choice of Head Girl was rather unfortunate, I concede, but you will carry on regardless. Indeed, it may be easier for you torment this girl; she is after all one of the Potter boy's close friends, and hurting her could only hurt him. Put your mind to it.

You will be impatient by now to know of what you are to do once you leave school. Obviously you know or can guess much of it, and there are details too sensitive to be revealed in letters, but know that the important event about which you know already will take place soon after you leave school. Which, in fact, is the purpose of this letter; you will meet me in the usual place next Hogsmede weekend to discuss the preparation you will perform over the Christmas holidays.

-Lucius.

Draco barely read the last few lines, crumpling the parchment to a tiny ball in his fist, a tight knot of paper. Every sentence of the letter was laced with orders, both implicit and direct, and inwardly he seethed. You will meet me, you will perform, you will be impatient… Even in what he thought, let alone what he did and said, his father was always controlling, controlling everything that he did. And where did that leave what he himself wanted?

Nowhere. His father didn't give a damn.

Angry now, feeling completely imprisoned by his father's orders, he tore the parchment quickly and neatly into half, quarters, eights, and scattered it on the floor. Then Draco bundled his knees to his chest, pressing his fists to his eyes and trying hopelessly to ignore the rising pain.

It was the pain of being trapped, imprisoned and helpless, something he wasn't supposed to feel as a Slytherin and son of a Malfoy but something he felt anyway. He wanted to scream at his father, tell him no, he wasn't going to do anything he wanted, tell him he wasn't going to have his life dictated like that…. But he couldn't, no more than a puppet can cut its strings and walk unaided, for his father's retribution would be swift and painful.

Twisted by the horrible helpless pain of being able to do absolutely nothing, Draco reached to the bedside table, picking up the book and the quill that lay there. Crossing his legs and leaning the book on them, he shoved the sleeve of his left arm down, driven on by the horrible impotent anger, and didn't bother writing words; instead, he slashed the quill across the page in a huge gash.

The pain of it hit a second later, and he gasped as a thick line of red blood welled along the length of his arm. Too much blood – but no, nothing to worry about, for the wounds would close almost as soon as they were made. His right hand shook as he reached down to the page, drew a second shorter slash beside the first, and then added words in an incoherent ramble…

No, I won't, I won't do what you want me to do, I won't be what you want me to be, I wont let you dictate everything, no, I won't let you…

So focused was he on this one thing, so purposeful in pouring out his blood to cover the pain of his heart, that it took a shocked gasp from the doorway for him to realise he wasn't alone in the room.

He dropped the quill instantly, slammed the book shut and grabbed his arm to his chest, but the damage was done. Hermione Granger stood in the doorway, eyes wide and horrified, hands clasped to her mouth.

Without realising it, he was standing up, advancing on Hermione with a murderous glare in his eyes. She shrank away. 'I was only coming to tell you that you have to go patrolling now…' she gabbled, backing away.

'You saw nothing,' Draco hissed. 'Nothing at all. You understand?

Hermione wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing; she pulled herself to her full height and faced him down. 'N-no, I saw… I don't believe what I saw, but…. Malfoy, this is serious, you could really hurt yourself…'

'Like you give a damn.'

Her eyes widened. 'Of course I do, I mean, you could kill yourself doing that…'

'And the only reason you care about that,' Draco replied evenly, controlling his anger, 'is that it wouldn't look good for you.' He mimicked Professor McGonagall: 'You didn't even realise that the person you share quarters with was slicing his arm open? Not a very good Head Girl, are you, Miss Granger?'

'N-no, I mean, that's not the reason I'm worried, it's because… You could hurt yourself,' she finished lamely. 'And it means something's wrong…'

'Whatever, Granger, I don't care about your psychological analysis,' he spat. 'The important thing is, you saw nothing. Nothing at all. If anyone finds out about this…'

She shook her head resolutely, backing towards the open doorway. 'You can't do anything if I tell the teachers,' she said. 'And I'm going to tell them, they can help you, Malfoy, it's for your own good.'

'I know what my own good is better than you,' he replied. 'And I mean it. You won't tell anyone about this. Not even your precious Potter…'

'I will…'

He played the ace up his sleeve. 'If anyone finds out about this, I'll tell the entire school about your little crush on Potter.'

Her eyes widened, and she said somewhat nervously, her voice a tone too high, 'What do you mean? Harry's just my friend…'

'Don't try to lie, Granger, it's quite pitiful…'

She frowned, knowing that she couldn't deny it. 'How do you know about that?' she demanded.

He smirked. 'I'm not the only one who writes things down in a little book….'

She stared at him. 'Are you trying to tell me,' she asked, sounding completely shocked, 'that you went into my room and read my diary?'

'Of course. It's expected of me. After all, I am a Slytherin.' He grinned malevolently. 'So, you keep my little secret,' he gestured to the book where it had been thrown on the floor, 'and I keep yours. Deal?'

She looked downcast, frowning as if trying to work out whether it was worth it. 'Deal,' she said at last, sadly. 'But Malfoy, you have to try to stop this…'

'I don't have to do anything,' he replied, his voice dangerously soft. 'And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and patrol the corridors.' He pushed his sleeve down over the fresh wounds, still burning but no longer bleeding, beginning to heal, and stalked off. He would have attempted to hide the book he wrote in, but knew that Hermione would manage to read it anyway. No point.

Under his breath, as he stepped into the corridors, he cursed himself for letting Hermione find out about it. This would complicate matters somewhat…

~*~

The next morning was bright and sunny, crisp and fresh as autumn turned to winter. Draco had gone down to breakfast early that day to avoid the crush of people, and was returning to the Head's common room just as most people were going down. Which gave him a perfect opportunity for some Slytherin activities; especially important after last night's events…

Upon entering the common room, he headed straight for Hermione's door. He had returned from patrolling last night to find her sitting at one of the tables in the common room reading; she'd tried to say something to him, but he'd ignored her and locked himself in his room, where he'd discovered – as he'd expected – that his book and quill were gone. That was of little importance; Draco was confident that he'd get them back again.

He shut Hermione's door behind him with a soft click, pulling his wand out from his pocket. Now… Her diary was his first objective; it would give him a better insight into what she intended to do. If Granger showed any signs of leaking what she'd seen to anyone… action would be necessary.

Looking through the wardrobe, Draco tried to remember what, if anything, was there that hadn't been before. She wouldn't use the same trick of the stag figurine, not now she knew that he'd read it. He ended up just tapping everything with his wand and muttering, 'Mutati,' in the hope that something would work. An old dictionary, a silver bracelet, a hair bobble, the wrapper from a Chocolate Frog, a library copy of 'A Brief Guide to Encoding Spells', a broken watch, a souvenir model of the Eiffel Tower, a crumpled up piece of parchment…

Ah, that was it. Where the parchment ball had lain seconds before was the familiar diary, and Draco grinned to himself. That had been far too easy; he still had at least half an hour before Hermione came back.

But when he picked up the diary and opened it, he raised an eyebrow in surprise. Every single entry was now written in sinister symbols that pulsated as he looked at them; in the corner of his eye, Draco was sure he saw them moving. So the game continued…

He would have had quite the problem at that point, but for the fact that Hermione had left 'A Brief Guide to Encoding Spells' in the bottom of the wardrobe. Presumably Granger had used that book to research the spell she'd used, and then thoughtlessly left it lying around where anyone could find it. Honestly, it was all too simple: like it was being handed to him on a silver platter.

Five minutes work with the book enabled him to locate the exact spell Granger had used; with one finger on the Decoding Charm, he tapped the book lightly. 'Expedi.'

He smirked to himself as the squiggles reluctantly reformed themselves into legible English. Maybe next time she'd work on it a little harder. He hoped she did; he could have fun undoing all the spells.

Sitting on the bed, he checked his watch – twenty minutes left before she should come back – and flicked to the most recent page; the entry she'd made last night. His silver eyes scanned the perfectly neat handwriting emotionlessly.

I'm still shaking from what I just saw. It's… I still can't believe it, really, I mean, he just doesn't seem like the type…

I'm going to start babbling; I'm probably in shock or something. But I just saw Malfoy… he had one of those Secare Quills, like the one Umbridge made Harry use in that detention, except he's charmed it to cut his arm and the cuts last longer and it's so horrible, there were so many scars and it was covered in blood…

He was pretty angry that I found out, unsurprisingly. And somehow he's found out about this diary, and been reading it, and he said that if I told anyone about it he'd tell Harry what I feel about him. I still don't know what to do – do what's best for Malfoy and risk getting hurt myself or just keep it quiet.

Either way, Malfoy needs help. I'm really worried; I mean, what if I hadn't walked in? If he'd kept on like that much longer he could have bled to death. He might even be suicidal. I should get a book from the library and try to find out about it, but then Madam Pince would want to know why I was reading it and then everyone would find out, and then Malfoy would tell Harry and ruin everything…

I did take his quill, and the book he wrote things in. They're hidden under my bed, Transfigured to look like Chocolate Frog cards. I admit to reading a bit of the book – for Malfoy's own good – and it's really horrible. Everyone knows that his father's a Death Eater, but he sounds really mean to Malfoy as well; always telling him what to do and not giving him any freedom. I'd never have guessed it was bad enough to make him feel like this though.

I ought to sleep; let the shock of it wear off, though I feel like a nervous wreck.

-Hermione, 12th October

Draco smirked to himself as he finished reading. Not only had she left a description of where his things were, but she didn't seem to be about to tell anyone. All that rubbish about 'should I do what's best for Malfoy' meant nothing; if she was going to tell anyone she wouldn't be agonising with the decision, she'd have made it already.

And she was worried about him! That made him laugh: the very thought of Mudblood Granger actually caring about him was ludicrous. Of course, it was one of these Gryffindor things; it was good and noble to worry about poor Draco Malfoy who sliced up his arm every few days. As if that really mattered; after all, cuts healed.

He put the book aside for a moment and retrieved two ordinary-looking Chocolate Frog cards from under the bed, which a murmured spell returned to their original forms. Then he paused. Fifteen minutes before Hermione would be back. What to do with the time…?

Inspiration struck. With a wicked grin, he grabbed up the diary again and carried it over to Hermione's desk, where he borrowed one of her quills – a normal one - and an inkpot, then began scribbling sarcastic comments in the margins of her entry. She already knew he'd read her diary, and it would certainly infuriate her. Plus it might inspire her to use more inventive charms on it, to stop him reading anything. More fun for him unpicking them.

Scribble, scribble scribble. When he'd finished, he Transfigured it back into a ball of parchment and dropped it carelessly back into the wardrobe along with 'A Brief Guide to Encoding Spells', then picked up his quill and book. He swaggered out of the room, imagining the look on Hermione's face when she realised he'd read her diary yet again.

~*~

Draco was barely five pages into his book – A Christmas Carol, of all things – when the common room door opened softly, and Hermione peered around it, looking almost nervous. When she saw him, lounging elegantly on one of the couches, she gave him a worried smile.

'Are you feeling alright?' she asked, closing the door behind her, and Draco had to fight not to burst out laughing. Her tone was completely ridiculous: all soft and full of mushy concern.

'Of course not, Granger,' he replied, an amused flash in his eyes. 'I was just contemplating climbing up to the Astronomy Tower, giving a long melodramatic speech to the world in general, and throwing myself off. Or do you think hanging myself in the middle of the Great Hall might be more effective?'

She frowned. 'Malfoy, do try and take this at least a little seriously. It's not some big joke, you know, I mean…'

He rolled his eyes. 'You're the one who's got this all out of proportion,' he pointed out. 'It's not that big a deal. What damage has it caused? A little blood loss, a scar or two… pretty much the same amount of lasting damage you'd get from a Care of Magical Creatures lesson, what with that incapable oaf Hagrid.'

'That's not true!' she sprang to Hagrid's defence. 'There haven't been any dangerous creatures this year, well, apart from those Kelpies…

'My point exactly. Didn't someone almost get drowned in that lesson?'

Hermione glared. 'Look, we aren't discussing the danger of Hagrid's classes, although you should remember that Care of Magical Creatures is always going to have some danger involved. Don't try to get me going off on a tangent. We're supposed to be talking about you, and – 'she shuddered, 'that quill.'

'Why the shudder?' he asked, raising an eyebrow. 'Scared of the quill? And I thought you lot were meant to be brave.'

'We are,' she replied defiantly. 'I'm not scared, I just… It just makes me shiver, the thought of it… Malfoy, you really have to stop this.'

'Again, explain why?'

'Because it means you're hiding from your real feelings,' she said, with the air of someone who has swallowed the textbook. 'You're trying to cover them by substituting the physical pain for the emotional one.'

'So you did get a psychology textbook out of the library, then?'

Hermione looked slightly put off, but swung her schoolbag onto the floor, opened it and drew out a slim, rather modern looking book, which she held out towards him hopefully. The cover bore a photograph of a scarred parch of skin, below the title, 'The Psychology of Self-Harm in Witches and Wizards.'

Draco took the book with a raised eyebrow, flicked through it randomly, read one line, ('Studies show that nearly 34% of all self-harmers do so because…') and threw the book over his shoulder. 'Honestly, you think some stupid psychology book is going to do anything useful?'

'I just thought… It's got loads of information in it, it might be useful,' she said lamely, looking downcast. 'I mean, if you can find out about it… I just want to do something to help,' she finished rather sadly. 'And I couldn't think of anything else that could be any use, I really don't know what to do…'

'If you really want to help, how about keeping your nose out of my business?' Draco suggested. He picked up A Christmas Carol again, but he'd barely read a line of Scrooge's ravings about Christmas when the cushion beside him sank, the old springs groaning under a new weight. He looked upwards irritably to see Hermione looking at him with a fretful expression, holding the ridiculous psychology book on her lap. He snorted.

'If you're going to look at me like a dog that's lost its bone, I'm going to read in private,' he snapped irritably, getting to his feet and walking over to his room. He glanced behind him as he opened the door. Hermione was watching after him, seeming quite agitated, but as soon as she saw his eyes on her she hastily buried herself in the psychology book. Draco scowled and slammed the door behind him.

Oh, she deserved to have her diary covered in sarcastic annotations… 

~*~

An hour later, Draco tossed the book aside in disgust. For lack of a better description, how ridiculous had that book been? Miserly, miserable old man gets shown the so-called Spirit of Christmas by three ghosts, whereupon he is filled with joy and starts running around babbling psychotically about how happy he is and giving people massive turkeys. And, of course, he lives happily ever after, in true fairytale form.

How completely unrealistic. Scrooge had it all right in the first place, anyway: no one ever did anything nice if they could help it, so why do anything nice back? People could ramble on about goodwill and love-thy-neighbour and the Christmas Spirit, but where was any of that? It only happened in books, and people tried to follow it because what the characters did was all sappy and inspirational. It made them believe that there really were good people in the world, and that being good was something it was right to be.

Good, in Draco's opinion, didn't even come into the equation. You did what was best for yourself, what got you the most money, power or success, and tough luck to anyone who got in your way. That was how the world really ran: on selfishness and greed, not on flimsy, idealistic goodwill and happiness.

Of course, he acknowledged that it wasn't the best way. Presumably, people would be a lot happier if everyone went around being nice to each other, but it simply wasn't going to happen. Humans were selfish; the world was basically evil. No one really gave a damn about anyone else.

Take Mudblood Granger out there: she was only being so concerned and caring because it was part of the role she had carved out for herself, the role of a 'good person'. Not being good would devalue her in the eyes of Potter and the Weasel, plus if the teachers found out she'd lose reputation, maybe even the Head Girl position. That much was obvious.

And yet. For a moment, he found himself wishing that the world could be like that, that people really would care for each other, that the idealists and the optimists could be right…

He winced: the thought hurt like a knife stabbed into his heart. Wishing was a stupid thing, a silly ridiculous thing; it did no good and only caused you to lose sight of reality. But yet…

The pain of it clawed at him: he knew that could never happen, that no one in the damned world basically cared for anyone else, that it was all just a sham, a pretence to make people feel better. But that didn't stop him yearning for it to be true, aching to live in a place where people weren't selfish, could actually care…

No, no, no. It ached and twisted inside him, painful and sore, a red-raw wound. He shouldn't be thinking this: it was stupid, it was weak and wishy-washy… Draco reached out a hand, groped for the book and quill where he'd replaced them under the bedside table. His questing fingers found leather, found the icy metal of the quill's nib, and drew them both out.

He pushed up his sleeve automatically, opened the book and found a page, pressed the quill savagely to the parchment and scribbled fiercely, angry words, angry at himself and at the world. The sharp pain seared through him, unclenching the tight bitter knots of hunger for some unattainable thing, for the caring that didn't exist, clearing it all away…

Draco had barely written a sentence before the door slammed rudely open, and Hermione whirled in, eyes wide with alarm. 'Stop it!' she cried, staring, horrified, at the scene in front of her. 'Stop it!'

'Make me,' he hissed, eyes narrowing, glittering with malevolence against her: the irritating, prying, uncaring Mudblood… He slashed a line across the page, just to see the expression on her face when the blood welled on his arm.

'Malfoy, you can't do this,' she pleaded, walking to his side. He was sitting on the bed: she didn't take a seat next to him, but instead sat on the floor cross-legged. She was trying to stay calm: he could see the determination in her eyes, and that annoyed him. 'You're only hiding from the real problem, you know. This may make it better for an hour or so, but it won't work long-term.'

'Oh, how precious,' he sneered. 'Miss Granger, the walking encyclopaedia. Think you know it all, do you? Statistics and studies and psychoanalysis… what utter crap.'

'I don't care whether it is or it isn't,' she replied smoothly. 'But you're hurting yourself. You have to stop this, Malfoy.'

'No I don't,' he spat back, and slowly dragged the point of the quill across the page, relishing the spreading pain from his arm and the look on Hermione's face. She was hiding it, alright, but it was there: horror and revulsion.

'Give me that book,' she commanded, holding out a hand imperiously. 'And that quill.' She looked as though she were asking a five-year-old: Draco gave her a foul glare.

'I won't. It's mine and I shall do as I please with it.'

'Give me that book, Malfoy,' her voice less patronising and more dangerous now, 'or I'll drag it off you by force.'

'Love to see you try,' he remarked. 'Although I'm sure carrying ten fat textbooks at one time has done wonders for your arm muscles, Granger, I seriously doubt you'll overpower me.' He felt calmer now that the heady sharp sting of the cuts was taking effect, and tormenting Hermione was always entertaining. He twirled the quill between his fingers and changed the subject. 'How did you know what I was doing, anyway?'

'I charmed the quill so that I know when you use it,' she replied. 'I assume you sneaked into my room and stole them back?'

'Of course,' he drawled. 'I read your diary too. And annotated it. Very amusing, I must say. Now, what was that line?' He twirled the feather of the quill against his cheek, putting on an expression of mock concentration, and was pleased to see Hermione frowning angrily, forcing herself to contain it. 'Oh yes, I remember. I'm still shaking from what I just saw. It's… I still can't believe it, really, I mean, he just doesn't seem like the type…' he quoted in a high falsetto, smirking.

'I would really prefer it,' she said, in a voice struggling to remain neutral, 'if you did not read my diary.'

'Hide it better then,' he replied. 'And why not? You're reading mine.'

'That's different. You're depressive and I'm not. Now, give me that book, and that quill, this instant before I have to drag them off you.'

He didn't reply, just raised an eyebrow at her. Annoyed, she tried to seize the book and pull it off him, but he had the better grip and the greater strength. Annoyed, Hermione sought an alternative.

Triumphantly, she seized Draco's wand off his table. He spluttered in indignation, but before he could speak she'd pointed it at him and called, 'Accio book! Accio quill!'

It wasn't her own wand, so the magic wasn't as strong, but the objects tugged to get out of his grip all the same. After a brief tussle Hermione won, and they went soaring across the room to her hand. She smiled triumphantly, and Draco glared at her.

'Put my wand down, Mudblood.'

She did so without any complaint at his name-calling – they both knew she'd won. Turning to the most recent page, she scanned the writing for what he'd just written.

Why do people think that everyone's so good and compassionate and perfect, they're blind idiots, no one cares about anyone else, no one bloody well cares

Hermione looked up, and Draco scowled at her. She seemed thoughtful, even pensive, and he didn't like it.

'That's what it's all about, isn't it? I mean, as well as your father controlling you, but it's this as well. No one caring.'

'Shut up, Granger,' he spat, but she went on.

'I mean, it makes sense. Lucius is a bastard, he wouldn't care about you, and your mum doesn't look too nice either…'

'Shut up!'

'… and I bet you don't have any proper friends because you… alienate people… oh.' She finally realised that Draco was livid, glaring at her so violently that she stepped backwards, surprised. 'I mean… it is true though…'

'You have no place,' he hissed, 'to speculate on my life. Alright? It's my life, it's private, and it's none of your business!'

She nodded, looking down. 'It is true though,' Hermione said softly, pity in her voice. 'No one really does care…' She flicked through the journal, quietly reading random passages. 'Father's still going on about joining the Dark Lord… Crabbe and Goyle are basically controlled by their parents, who are just pawns anyway… doesn't give a damn about what I want… honestly, is anyone in this world really bothered about what I do?… almost wish I had someone else to talk to, just to…'

Her voice broke, and a large tear glistened as it ran down her cheek. '…just to break the monotony, just to be able to pretend that someone cared…'

Draco's patience snapped. 'Get out,' he spat, eyes glowing like burning coals. 'Now. Get out!'

Hermione didn't move, just looked at him with tears in her eyes, biting her lip. 'You… you can talk to me…'

'GET OUT!' he screamed, seizing the nearest object – his alarm clock -  in a blind fit of rage, flinging it straight at her with a deadly aim. She shrieked, ducked the clock – which smashed into pieces as it hit the wall – and fled the room, still clutching his book and quill. Draco stormed to the door, slammed it viciously behind her, then leaned against it and slid to the floor, knees curled against his chest.

He leant his forehead against his knees, wrapped his arms around his head, and didn't move again for quite some time.

~*~

From the corner of his eye, Draco saw Hermione shift uneasily in her seat, and gritted his teeth. He was trying to do his Arithmancy homework, which needed a lot of concentration; she was sitting on the sofa beside the fire with a book in her lap, continually glancing at him with a worried look in her eyes, and saying something annoying every five minutes.

Like now. 'I've been thinking,' she said uneasily, 'and would you rather I called you Draco?'

'I'd rather you didn't call me anything at all,' he muttered in reply, scratching another sentence onto the parchment. 'I'd rather you completely ignored me and let me get on with my life.'

'Well, I would normally, but I really think…'

'Just stop it with the stupid analytical psychobabble, alright?' He glared at her darkly. 'I don't want to hear all your rubbish about denial and inner turmoil and getting in touch with the real me and all those other trite phrases. I don't give a damn what you think.'

Hermione bit her lip. 'Look, I'm only trying to…'

'Help?' he queried. 'Well you aren't, you're just annoying me, so take your sappy little concerned psychotherapist act somewhere else. Go rant at Potter about how being a brain-dead git has caused him deep emotional trauma.'

'He isn't a brain-dead git,' she said, sighing softly. It was a mark of her concern that there was no hint of reprimand in her voice. 'And do you really think this is all an act?'

'Everything's an act,' he pointed out. 'You're doing this to make yourself feel better, because you think that helping people makes you a good person, and also you're afraid that if the teachers find out about me, your position as Head Girl could be in danger.'

She smiled, almost smugly. 'Now who's the one with the analytical psychobabble?'

Draco shook his head. 'That was common sense, not psychoanalysis. A five-year-old could have worked it out.'

There was a pause in the conversation, the silence unbroken but for the crackle of the flames and the deep scratching of Draco's quill as he worked through a particularly difficult problem.

'It's not, you know.' Hermione broke the silence, her voice pensive.

'What isn't what?' Draco asked, exasperated.

'This. The way I'm behaving. It's not an act.'

He rolled his eyes. 'Yes it is. And an obvious one.'

'No,' Hermione replied. 'I'm doing this because… because it's what's right, because you're a person too, even if I've never liked you much before, and no one should be miserable.'

'Everyone's miserable,' Draco told her firmly. 'And don't get into all your flimsy Gryffindor ideas about right and wrong. That's nothing more than subjective values that people make up.'

'No it isn't.'

'Yes, it is,' he said. 'If it wasn't completely subjective, not just a part of personal bias and opinion, everyone would agree completely on what's right and wrong. And they don't. That's why you have all these big arguments about abortion and euthanasia and things, because right and wrong depends entirely on your point of view.'

There was another pause. 'Alright,' Hermione said at last, 'but then, according to my view of what's right and wrong, it's right to help you and wrong not to. And because you shouldn't be miserable.'

He rolled his eyes. 'It's still selfish. Because if you didn't do what you believe to be right, then you'd feel guilty for doing wrong. Thus, to prevent that, you do 'the right thing'.'

A flare of something like anger flashed across Hermione's eyes. 'Honestly, Mal – Draco, is it that hard to believe I could want to help because I actually have a heart that can care about other people?'

'Yes,' he said bluntly, putting down his quill. 'And now, if you'll excuse me, I've finished my work and I'm going to my own room for some privacy, away from you.'

She didn't reply, but looked down at her book with a saddened expression. Draco gathered his things together and made his way to his room.

Once inside, he charmed the lights in the room to turn on with a muttered spell – all the lights in the Head's quarters were controlled by magic – and dropped his parchment into his schoolbag, ready to hand in the next day. Then he turned purposefully to his quill, his special quill, and the book.

Not to use it, not now, not yet. He would, of course, but there was no point in doing it when it was unnecessary, when the pain was under control. But that spell Granger had cast on it was an annoyance; he didn't want her to know when he used the quill, didn't want her to be able to stop him. But of course, spells could be broken…

He'd taken a likely looking book from the library, a book with a chapter on 'Alarm Spells' – to quote the book, 'spells which will allow a witch or wizard to know, within a certain scope, when something occurs.' It also listed the counter-spells. He'd checked.

Turning to the chapter, he began reading.

~*~

Cold moonlight slanted through a slit in the curtains, by now the only illumination in the room. It wasn't late – before midnight – but Draco was tired, and was lying in his bed, the bedcovers wrapped around him, forming a protective shell.

It was quiet: no sound but the noises of Hermione, still working in the common room. Now and then she'd hum a tune, or mutter something to herself, or drop something on the floor: a background noise, restful and human. The only other sound was the constant shush-shush of the trees outside as the wind blew through them like a lullaby, letting Draco fall into a gentle doze.

The silver slit of moonlight was cut off suddenly, and an insistent tap began at the window, boring its way into Draco's sleeping mind. He stirred, frowned angrily at his sleep being interrupted, and threw back the covers grouchily. His pale, bare feet slid onto the floor, sinking into the luxurious carpet, and yawning, Draco crossed to the window, pulled back the curtain.

His father's owl.

Fumbling at the latch with fingers that were suddenly icy and numb, he apprehensively opened the window. The owl flew in, silent as death, and soared to land on the bedside table. It eyed him haughtily, impassively, and Draco shuddered; there was too much of his father in that look.

He took the letter, a bitter twist already in his chest. Another letter of commands, instructions to a machine, written as though the recipient was cold and unthinking, all emotions and wishes and desires dead.

Draco opened the parchment, scanned the few lines of text.

Draco,

            I am not best pleased by your behaviour. You know that a letter requires a reply at all times. You will write a reply to me apologising for your lack of manners, or your punishment next time I see you will be made more severe.

            Lucius.

Draco's blood seethed. Punishment. That meant Dark spells; his father knew a wide and painful variety. The Cruciatius, often. Never anything that would leave a mark. It was simple: obey or suffer. And if ever he disobeyed, Lucius would not stop seeking punishment on him, seeking to force his son back to his rules, back to his mould, back to what he wanted…

Draco seized a piece of parchment and a quill from his desk, scribbled a message, forcing himself to sound genuine.

Father,

            My sincerest apologies for not writing sooner: Head Boy duties have kept me busy, and I have had little time for anything other. I hope that the unfortunate lateness of this letter is not a great inconvenience to your plans.

The Granger girl is an irritating but tolerable roommate, and as you wrote, I take advantage of the time we are forced to spend in each other's company to torment her. It is amusing to see her reactions.

I shall of course meet you at the next Hogsmede weekend, and shall write as soon as the dates are announced. I have great anticipation for the important event you mentioned, which I am certain will be the beginning of a long and successful 'career'.

Your son, Draco.

He folded it sharply, angrily, and attached it to the owl's leg. He was rough tying it on, so that he must have hurt the owl's leg by accident, but it made no movement and showed no feeling: Lucius had it too well trained for that.

Draco carried the owl to the window; let it fly away into the grave-black night, then slammed the window hard behind it. His blood boiled: he had been forced to obey, forced to carry on this charade of being the perfect son, the dutiful heir… he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, but none of it involved following his father's orders.

And now he felt dirty, unclean, because he had done something distasteful and foul and it had polluted him as he did it. He could feel it crawl through his bloodstream, black threads of forced obedience, and the only way to rid himself of that dirt was to let the dirtied blood out…

He crossed swiftly to his bed, pulled out the book and quill, thankful that he'd managed to take the Alarm Spell off them earlier. He opened the book to the nearest empty page, smiling strangely – this was something his father didn't control, something no one but him controlled. He was in control, here: control of his own pain, of when and how he chose to cover it with blood…

A strange light dancing in his eyes, he smoothed his sleeve back and brought the quill to the paper, wrote a word. Control. Wrote it again, pressing harder, cutting deeper, and shivered with delight as the sharp pain of the cut spread through him like ice. He wrote it again, pressing hard, and this time when it healed it left a mark, a thin red line that would be gone by morning. He wrote it again, carving it in deeper, to make it permanent. Control.

There was a lot of blood, crimson even in the pale light of the moon. It seemed sinisterly alive; more alive than he himself was. How much did he have to lose before he died, he wondered? He should try it; what remained in life but submission to an uncaring bastard?

Draco cut deeply into his arm, managing to get the scar right along his vein. Crimson started pouring out in huge amounts – surely this wouldn't take long? The wound began to heal; he cut it open again. This time, it stayed longer.

Once more, this one savage, a harsh slice across the skin. The pain spread through him tantalisingly, he smiled, wondering how long this would take…

And froze.

He might even be suicidal… That was what Granger had written in her diary, wasn't it? And that was what he was doing right now. Suicide. Killing himself.

He stared in disbelief at his arm, the blood still pouring from it. No. No, he hadn't wanted this; this wasn't what he was meant to do. It was supposed to relieve the pain, not be a method to a permanent end. Just a way to cope, just a few cuts, because cuts would heal and it didn't really do anything, but now he'd lost control and his life was pouring away…

Control. That was what he'd carved there, and oh, how it mocked him now, as he stared dumbly at what he'd done, spiralling out of control, losing his head… He had to stop it, but that was part of the magic of the Secare quill; its wounds couldn't be healed by magic. They closed themselves, of course, and normally wounds didn't stay open long enough to cause a problem, but he'd charmed the quill so the cuts would last longer, and now he was dying because of it. His only hope was that the wound would close itself…

It seemed like eternity, and far, far too much of his sheets were stained crimson now, how much blood had he lost? Too much? How much blood was too much, how much more could he lose…

And then, miraculously, the tide of blood began to ebb, dwindle away until the slice closed.

Draco realised he was still holding the book and quill; he flung them away from him, sickened at the sight of them. Pointing his wand at the bedclothes, he muttered, 'Scourgify,' to clean off the blood. Then he dropped his wand, stepped backwards in horror, backing away from the bed where the nib of the quill still glittered wickedly in the light, mocking him.

He had to get away. He turned and made for the door to the common room, which he knew was full of light, with a fire burning warmly in the fireplace. And Hermione was there, she'd stop him doing anything like that again…

Pushing open the door, he was greeted with a wave of heat, rolling towards him from the fireplace. The flickering flames were the only source of light in the room, but they lit every corner with a cheerful golden glow.

Hermione looked up as he entered, brushing an errant strand of hair out of her face, her quill pausing as it scratched across the parchment. She was doing an Ancient Runes translation; he could see the ominous spiky shapes in front of her. Her eyes softened, anxious.

'Is something wrong?' she asked gently. Automatically, he shook his head.

'Nothing.'

An extra crease formed on her forehead, but she didn't challenge him. Draco crossed to the sofa, sank into its soft and welcoming depths. He pulled his feet onto the pillows and curled up snugly, staring absently across the room. His left arm still hurt. Despite the warmth, Draco shuddered.

His gaze came to rest upon Hermione. She scribbled down a few more words, pausing to look something up in a fat textbook, then wrote again. The firelight played on her skin, in her wild, untameable hair, so that it seemed as if she herself was part of the flames.

She glanced up; perhaps feeling the cold of his eyes upon her, and an expression that Draco couldn't place came upon her face. Quietly, she rolled up her parchment – even though it was plain she hadn't finished the work – packed away her quill and ink, and stood slowly. Looking at Draco only once, with a hurried stolen glance as she got up, she made her way over to the sofa and sat down beside him. Picking up one of the fat, soft cushions, she hugged it to her chest and stared into the fire for a moment.

'You're really, really pale…' she said softly at last. 'Paler than usual. Almost completely white. It's… it's blood loss, isn't it?'

He was silent for a minute, wondering what to reply. 'Perhaps,' he said eventually. There was more to it than that, but he wouldn't go into detail: not even if she pressed him for it. He didn't want to tell anyone; it was too close, too personal, too dark…

She sighed, knowing full well that his 'perhaps' was really a 'yes', and turned her eyes towards him. He was slightly startled to see the look in them: warm, compassionate, worried and desperate for him not to carry on like this. An act? Of course, all caring was an act, but… With this act, she had fooled even herself. He could see the sincerity in her gaze; could even see, in the corner of one eye, the sparkling threat of a tear.

'I wish you'd stop… I really do.'

What could he say? After what had just happened… He wanted to stop as well. He'd been out of control, lost his mind…. It had been a horrible feeling, and he didn't want it to happen again.

But he couldn't say that. Instead he shrugged evasively, and Hermione returned to staring at the fire in silence.

It was a strangely companionable silence, sitting side by side on the sofa, staring into nothingness. Certainly better than being alone. Draco tried not to think of what had happened; he still felt shaken, shocked, horrified by what he'd nearly done... The cold room, the silvery slice of icy moonlight, the silent river of blood…

'Would you like some hot chocolate?'

He blinked; Hermione's question had startled him from his thoughts. 'Pardon?'

'Hot chocolate?' she offered again. 'I learnt a spell to make it the other day… just thought a hot drink might be nice, that's all.'

'Sure,' he replied, giving her a weak smile. 'Hot chocolate would be good.'

She smiled in reply – a real smile, genuine and wide – and pulled her wand from her pocket. Using the wand tip to draw a circle horizontally in the air, she intoned 'Potio Calida.' and drew the wand upwards in a spiral. As the tip progressed through the air, a cup formed behind it, and as it finished appearing Hermione took hold of it with one hand and handed it to Draco. It was brim-full of dark brown liquid, and very warm. On the top floated marshmallows and thick cream.

'Thanks,' he said, as she made another for herself, and took a sip. It was rich and dark, full of flavour. 'It's perfect.'

She smiled, sipping her own. 'It took a lot of practice. The first time I tried it, it tasted awful.'

'Cooking spells are very difficult,' Draco agreed, drinking a mouthful, feeling the delicious liquid sear its way down his throat. 'And you have cream on your lip, by the way.'

She hastily wiped it away, looking abashed, and took another gulp of hot chocolate to cover. The conversation dwindled, then, and they went back to their own thoughts, staring pensively into the fire.

Draco felt strangely light-headed, and the whole world around him seemed like a dream. The colours were all wrong, the sounds and shapes… And it kept blurring. He rested his mug on his knee, supported it with one hand, and blinked hard to see if that would make any difference. It didn't. An instant later, the world seemed to melt away, replaced by an interesting pattern of purple and green shapes. He forgot that he had a body, just a mind, and it felt as though something was constricting his mind, tied tight around it and pressing into it, making it fade away…

'Draco!' The wrong volume, but he couldn't say whether it was too loud or too soft He blinked, realised that what was in front of him was in fact Hermione's face, alarm in every feature. She had one hand holding the mug of hot chocolate steady, one hand keeping him upright, and Draco realised he must have been falling forwards.

He sat himself back straight, still feeling worryingly light headed, but Hermione didn't stop. 'What was that? Are you alright?'

'Fine,' he muttered. 'Just felt dizzy for a moment, that's all…'

Her eyes widened, and she blanched. 'Dizziness…. That's a symptom of blood loss.' She bit her lip; Draco felt her prize the cup from his hands, heard the soft clunk as she placed it on the table. 'Draco, what did you do? What happened?'

'Told you. Nothing,' he said defensively. She knew he was lying – he could see it in her face – but instead of pressing for information, she simply grabbed his sleeve on the left arm and pulled it back before he could stop her, revealing the scars, the drying blood that still stained his skin.

She let out a horrified gasp, and Draco didn't bother to snatch his wrist away, to hide it from her: she had seen already, so what would be the point? Instead he turned his head away, ashamed.

'Draco!' she gasped. 'This…. The scar's really bad… the blood… what did you do?'

He shook his head, still not looking at her, but didn't offer an excuse. She carried on.

'You didn't… Draco, please tell me you didn't try to… you didn't want to…'

The worry in her voice was too much to ignore; it was desperate and horrified, as though what he'd done to himself had hurt her too. 'I didn't mean to,' he said, and it sounded strangely childish. 'I'd taken the spell off the quill so you didn't know when I was using it. I got another letter from my father, I got a bit… I guess I just lost control.'

Hermione was biting her lip, looking completely horror-struck: she could not have looked more shocked and appalled if one of her best friends had lain dead before her. Shaking, she got to her feet. 'I'm… I'm going to t-tell Professor… Professor Dumbledore. You n-need help…' she stammered. 'And… And I don't c-care if you tell H-Harry about what... what I feel. This is m-more important…'

He stood up abruptly, trying to stop the room swaying as he did so, and grabbed hold of her wrist. 'You will do no such thing,' he told her, looking her firmly in the eye. 'I don't need help.'

'Y-yes you do, you're sui-suicidal…'

'I'm not, I told you that,' he said simply. 'And I don't want you to tell anyone. If you do, there'll only be more people dragged into this and prying and trying to find out about it and being all… all patronising and consoling and stuff like that. And I really don't want that, it'll just make it all worse.'

She sniffed, and didn't speak, staring at the floor. Draco swayed for a moment – the room kept moving around – and implored her once again, 'Please. Tell no one about this, no one at all. Most people need therapy, need to talk to someone; well, I don't, that wouldn't do anything useful, because I just don't work that way. It would just complicate things, make it all worse… And I promise you this was just an accident. I don't want to die. Really.'

Hermione nodded, and brought up one hand to wipe away a tear. 'Alright,' she said softly at last. 'I won't tell anyone. But you have to t-try to stop this… Promise me that.'

What could he do? 'I promise,' he said, and she seemed to accept that.

'And… and I can make you a potion, if you want,' she offered. 'To… to help you restore the lost blood…'

'I'd like that,' he assured her. 'That would be very nice of you.'

He let go of her wrist, then, and she flew into her room and came out seconds later with her cauldron and the set of potions ingredients that all NEWT level pupils were required to have. She lit a small fire under the cauldron with a muttered spell – one that wouldn't burn the carpet – and began adding ingredients, her hand only shaking slightly as she chopped the Knarl quills to exactly equal lengths.

Draco, for his part, simply sat back down on the sofa and brooded. He couldn't decide whether Hermione's actions were annoying or… or not annoying. There wasn't a better way to describe it. Useful? Helpful? Desirable? The question helped him avoid thinking of his earlier actions, which he didn't want to think about at all; so he concentrated on that until Hermione pressed a small glass tube full of a thick, colourless liquid into his hand.

'The potion,' she said simply; he thanked her and gulped it down. It tasted like pepper and cinnamon.

'It's late,' Draco observed finally, after an awkward pause. 'We should both be asleep.'

Hermione paused in the middle of packing her Potions kit away. 'Are you sure… I mean, will you be alright?'

'I always have been in the past,' he sighed. 'I should be so tonight.'

They didn't speak again until Hermione had gathered her things together; walking to her room, she paused to say, 'Goodnight,' which he returned. Then the door closed softly behind her and he was alone again.

Draco didn't want to go back to his own room, to sleep on sheets that had been soaked with blood barely an hour before, with the darkness and the cold and the constant glittering malice of the quill waiting for him. Instead, he lay down on the sofa, perfectly warm without a blanket, using one of the cushions as a pillow. He watched the fire ebb and dwindle, until he finally fell into a mercifully dreamless sleep.

~*~

After that night, every day seemed to pass slowly, minutes dragging on for hours. Draco buried the quill at the bottom of his trunk and the back of his mind, swearing he wouldn't use it again.

But it wasn't that easy, he soon discovered: without the quill, without the biting sharp cuts, he had nothing to fight the other pain he felt. He had depended on the quill, and he shuddered to think of how it had controlled him. Without it, the pain plagued him like a knife in his heart, distracting him in lessons, making him toss and turn sleeplessly at night. Hermione tried to help, with sleeping potions and spells to aid concentration, but it never quite left him alone.

Some days were worse than others. On the very worst days he found his every thought straying to the quill where it lay hidden, desperate for just one cut, one moment of silvery pain to cover the constant ache, but he resisted; he refused to be controlled.

On those nights, he couldn't sleep; instead he'd go into the common room, where Hermione was invariably doing homework or reading a book – he went to bed early, trying to compensate for the insomnia, so she was always up longer than he. Hermione would stop what she was doing and come sit beside him on the sofa just as she had that first night, and they'd chatter aimlessly in front of the fire until he fell asleep. In the mornings, he woke up on the sofa with the blanket from his room thoughtfully draped over him.

It was one of these nights. Draco and Hermione sat together in a companionable silence, Draco with his knees drawn to his chest, staring into the fire, and Hermione sitting normally, relaxed yet pensive. The weather was dreadful; rain drummed a never-ending torrent on the window, until it seemed as though it had to break under the pressure. The wind wailed in the distance, and occasionally an angry growl of thunder split the air, loud and deep, so that even when dulled by the glass it still echoed around the common room.

Draco stared into the fire, his eyes unmoving, not even seeing the flame that danced, reflected, in his pale eyes. His mind was far away, worrying and wondering and trying to think of something…

Tomorrow was the first Hogsmede day. All the other students would be out shopping, buying Christmas presents for their friends, drinking Butterbeer and laughing together. Meanwhile he would be making his way down a barely noticeable alley to a forgotten, bleak and barren square, to discuss his induction into the Death Eaters with his father.

It wasn't something Draco wanted; just another one of his father's endless commands and edicts and orders. Of course, Purebloods were superior to those of lesser blood, that went without saying, it was obvious. But Draco didn't particularly want to fight for that cause. Going around killing people and using Dark curses and struggling for power… what was the point? And of course, as a Death Eater, he would be nothing more than one of Voldemort's pawns, his slave, forced to perform whatever orders he was given. Even less control over his own life than he had now…

The fire crackled, and Draco sighed softly. Hermione glanced upwards at him, saw his expression, and sighed. 'Something on your mind?'

He laughed; a soft dry laugh with no humour in it. 'You should know the answer to that by now.'

Hermione shrugged. 'Something else is on your mind, something more than usual…'

Draco raised an eyebrow, shifted on the sofa. 'And since when did you learn to read minds?' he asked, amused.

'I can't,' she replied. 'But you've not spoken all night, and normally you try to make conversation if I don't speak for long enough.'

Draco didn't reply for a bit, staring back into the fire, wondering what he should tell her. While Hermione knew he'd been getting letters from Lucius, he'd never mentioned any of their contents.

But Hermione was a smart girl; she might have a way out of this. And she'd told no one about his secret, so he knew she could be trusted…

'I'm supposed to meet my father tomorrow, in Hogsmede,' he informed her. 'To discuss my initiation into the Death Eaters.'

Cruel as it was, he couldn't help but enjoy with amusement Hermione's shocked reaction; she gasped, clapping her hands to her mouth, and stared at him with wide eyes that reminded Draco of a rabbit. 'D –Death Eaters?' she asked, shocked. 'But… but you can't, Draco, they're evil, nothing but evil…'

'Relax, Hermione,' he instructed her with a good-humoured grin. 'I don't want it, I don't want to be one of them. It's what my father wants.' He filled the sentence with the disgust and anger he felt.

Hermione's expression faded from absolute shock to one of gentle worry and something close to pity. 'Oh…' she said softly. 'That's… but that's…. What are you going to do?'

He shrugged. 'Go, I suppose. Act like the perfect little Death-Eater-to-be, make the plans, discuss preparation…'

'But you can't!' Hermione exclaimed, drawing her knees under her so that she was kneeling on the sofa, facing Draco. 'You just can't, you can't let him control your life like that…'

'Do you think I want to?' he asked bitterly. 'I have no choice. If I resist him…'

He'd never said what his father would do at any sign of defiance or opposition, but Hermione could probably guess; it would be painful and involve a lot of the very Dark curses. But she shook her head, looking determined.

'You should go to Dumbledore,' she insisted. 'He can help; you know he can, he'll stop Lucius doing anything…'

'And how precisely will he do that?' Draco asked, raising an eyebrow. 'Write my father a nasty letter? Tell him he's been a naughty boy? Take points off Slytherin?' He laughed, a hollow, dead laugh. 'He can't do anything.'

'Yes he can!' Hermione insisted, suddenly fiery. 'He can… he can find some way to stop Lucius getting his hands on you, he can make sure you never have to go near him, he can find somewhere other than home to stay at over the summer, you could stay at the Order' – the Order of the Phoenix was now public knowledge – 'he can warn the Ministry about Lucius, they all hate him now they know he's a Death Eater even if he did manage to wind his way out of Azkaban, he can do things…'

Draco watched her outburst silently, considering. 'Do you really believe Dumbledore can help?' he asked eventually, his silver eyes glinting in an odd way.

'Yes,' Hermione replied steadfastly, meeting his gaze. 'I really think he can. He's not perfect… but he can do a lot of things to help, Draco.'

There was a moment of endless silence. 'I'll consider it,' said Draco at last.

Hermione smiled happily, and changed the subject, beginning to chatter on about their Potions homework. When the clock on the wall showed two in the morning, he persuaded an extremely tired Hermione to go to bed, telling her that, 'I'm going myself, in a moment… just having a few more minutes in front of the fire.'

Left alone, he stared once more into the flames, as if in their wild dance they would form words, tell him what to do. They didn't, but after five minutes meditation he stood decisively and left the common room through the main door, heading into the moonlit corridors of Hogwarts. He was going to the Headmaster's office.

~*~

Morning dawned, cold and clear after the storm of the night before, as though the world had been washed clean by the rain. Everything was fresh again: although it was not even past Christmas, it felt as though spring was nearly there.

The sunlight, weak but warming even in the cold season, was shining across the Hogwarts grounds, painting everything faintly golden, as though the weather was trying to make amends for the previous night. It sparkled on rain-soaked leaves, glittered across the smooth lake, gilded the ancient walls of the school and shone with a cheerful warmth into the Head's common room, where Draco sat on the sofa, a book in his hands, attempting to read.

Dumbledore had been quite surprised to see Draco at some hideously late time, and even more surprised when he had voluntarily described the problem and asked for help. Draco hadn't mentioned the quill, however. That was a secret, and he wasn't telling anyone about it.

And, Draco reflected, the world seemed to have turned on its head. Dumbledore was going to organise ways to keep Draco away from his father – ways that Lucius couldn't easily argue against; they'd come up with a few – and while his father would know that he was fighting his authority… well, it was safe at Hogwarts, and there would be plans made for the rest of the year.

Draco had dreamt of freedom before, of course, but never really believed it could happen. But now… Now he was looking at it, spreading out in front of him: a lifetime of not following his father's wishes, of doing what he himself wanted to do. And that was what distracted him constantly from his book; dreams, ideas, plans about what he was going to do now.

He looked up suddenly: the door had opened and Hermione entered, already wrapped up in her cloak, scarf and gloves – in Gryffindor colours; that made him smile inwardly – and looking slightly worried. 'You… you should get ready. The carriages will be leaving in twenty minutes,' she said softly. 'And you have to get to your… meeting…'

Draco closed his book, sighed and leant back, looking at her. 'I'm not going to Hogsmede.'

She frowned. 'Not going? But won't your father…?'

'Yes,' Draco replied shortly. 'He'll be angry, but he'll be angry anyway… I took your advice. I went to Dumbledore last night; we're planning things, so I can keep away from my father, stop him having a hold over me.'

Her eyes widened as he said this, and her mouth curved into a smile, so that by the time he'd finished his account she was positively beaming. 'Oh, Draco, that's wonderful!' she exclaimed. 'I mean it, I'm really glad… you'll finally be free of him!'

The expression in her eyes made Draco feel strangely uncomfortable. They were so full of happiness and relief on his behalf that he had to look away, simply because… people weren't meant to care that much about other people, to feel that strongly when something like this happened.

'Thanks,' he said lamely. 'Oh, and since I'm not going to Hogsmede, you get the honour of buying all my Christmas shopping…'

'What?'

'Calm down, Hermione, it's not like you won't be buying stuff in all these shops anyway. And you'll be using my money,' he assured her. 'I've made a list. Some school supplies I need, and various presents… Not yours, of course: I'll think of another way to get that…'

Her expression changed from one of mild annoyance to one of intrigue. 'You're getting me a Christmas present?'

Draco shrugged. 'Is there some reason why I shouldn't?'

'Well, no…' she replied. 'I just, didn't expect it, that's all.'

'Why not?' Draco asked. 'We aren't enemies any more. If I was buying something for Potter or Weasley, it'd be a different matter.'

'I suppose you're right…' she replied thoughtfully. 'I was thinking of getting you a present anyway, but I haven't a clue what you'd like. Any suggestions?'

'None whatsoever,' he replied with a grin, leaning back into the cushions. 'I'm the rich guy who has everything and is absolutely impossible to buy for. Use your imagination.'

Hermione sighed. 'Men are always impossible to buy for…' she grumbled, making Draco laugh. 'Go on; give me the list and the money. Just remember, you owe me one for this!'

He nodded, pulling a piece of parchment and a handful of Galleons from his pocket and handing them to Hermione. 'Thanks, Hermione.'

'No problem.' She gave a brief glance through the list and pocketed it, along with the money. 'How long before the carriages go? Fifteen minutes?'

'I think so, but everyone knows they hang around at least five minutes after they're supposed to go. Twenty, if you push it.'

'Good.' She smiled. 'Excuse me a few minutes, I'm going to go put something in my diary.'

Draco perked up. Hermione's diary was one of the few remaining sources of antagonism between them. He kept sneaking into her room to read it, and always annotated the entries. She had begged, coerced, yelled and threatened; she had pleaded, screamed and hexed him quite a few times, and of course put ever more complex charms upon it to stop him breaking in.

Draco kept on reading, because after all, he was Slytherin and she Gryffindor, Pureblood and Muggle-born, and life-long enemies up until a few weeks ago. Where would they be if he didn't continue, at least in some aspect, to annoy the hell out of her? Besides, it was fun and informative, as well as giving him a lot of practice in spell-breaking.

So he raised an eyebrow. 'Got something interesting to write? I'm sure I'll love reading that. Just think, I'll have all day here as well to work on it…'

She glared. 'Drop de-' she began, but swallowed her sentence. They both knew what she'd been about to say, and there was a moment's awkward silence between them. Draco looked away, stared out of the window.

'I didn't mean that. I don't want you to,' she said at last. 'I just meant… you know it really annoys me when you read it…'

'Yes,' he replied, looking up at her again. His eyes were blank, but for a moment a playful twinkle danced in them. 'That's why I do it.'

Hermione shook her head. 'You're incorrigible,' she told him. 'I'd better go write in my diary, or I won't have time…'

She crossed the room quietly, entering her own room and leaving Draco to attempt to read some more of his book. Fifteen minutes later, after a lot of interesting noises as Hermione hastily cast various spells on the book, she emerged.

'Are you reading that? You've not even turned the page,' she asked.

'Trying to. I'm a bit distracted…'

Her face fell. 'Is it about… what I said before? I didn't mean it, really, I'm sorry…'

'No, no, it's not that. I'd forgotten all about it. Just… well, it's strange. Not following his orders, I mean. Making my own decisions about everything.' He gave her a small smile. 'I'm not used to that.'

Hermione smiled back, and again she seemed to brim over with happiness for him. 'That's good. I'm really, really glad that's happened…'

'Me too,' Draco replied. There was a long pause.

'Well… bye then.' Hermione said, wrapping her scarf tighter around her shoulders.

'Bye. Don't forget my things!'

'I won't,' she promised. 'Don't read my diary.'

'I will.' Draco grinned darkly, and she shook her head, then turned with a final smile and left.

Draco waited ten minutes, until he was sure that everyone was gone from the castle, and then went to read her diary.

~*~

The sheer volume of spells Hermione had cast on the damn thing was awe-inspiring. It had taken Draco the better part of the day to unravel them all, often having to look up counter-spells himself. The diary had been transfigured into ten separate pieces, which were each concealed in separate places; to get them, he'd had to solve puzzles, riddles, and answer trivia questions from Hogwarts: A History, all of which he'd hated.

Then, when the diary was finally reassembled into a whole, there was even more to do. Binding spells, Ichneumon charms and a particularly nasty Biting hex that had made his whole hand swell like a balloon until he'd figured out how to stop it, were only a few of the things he'd had to pick his way through. At least, Draco mused as he finally flicked through the pages to the latest entry, he'd had plenty of practice in spellwork.

The writing was hurried, unlike Hermione's usual style in that it was faster and messier. He supposed she'd been rushed, that morning, to get it written. Smirking to himself, he began to read.

But no sooner than his eyes flickered over the first word of the entry than he heard the unmistakable rattle of the carriages arriving back from Hogsmede. He swore vehemently under his breath, left the diary sitting on the bed, and crossed to the window, which was in the privileged position of having a view onto the Hogwarts drive.

The first carriage drew up and stopped, followed by a herd of others; Draco's eyes narrowed as he saw a laughing Harry clamber out of a carriage, hold open the door, only for Hermione to replace him in the carriage doorway, laden down with bags. Harry reached up and took hold of some for her, and Draco felt strangely bitter as he saw Hermione clearly thank him. He wondered, briefly, if Hermione's crush for her friend might be mutual, and he flinched, although he couldn't have said why.

Ron climbed out after that, and the three friends, their smiles warm in spite of the icy cold, headed for the way in. Hermione would be here in a few minutes, Draco realised with a jolt; she would certainly want to drop off her outdoor things and bags in her room. Which didn't give him much time; he sprang to the bed and grabbed up the diary.

The entry was disappointing.

I can't write much now, I'm going to Hogsmede in a few minutes, and I have to hide this before Draco gets his hands on it. He's not going to Hogsmede – he went to Dumbledore and told him about it, I'm really happy; he'll be safe now.

I have to get Draco's things, which won't be too bad, since I need to buy things from all those shops myself. Harder will be his Christmas present… like he said to me, he's the rich guy it's impossible to buy for. I'll have to keep my eyes open.

I'd love to write more, but there's no time, I have to run.

-Hermione, 24th November.

Draco turned the page experimentally to see whether the interesting things were on the other side; it was completely blank. He snorted to himself, and read through the entry again. Was that what he'd spent hours unravelling spells to read?

Perhaps it was in code? Could the first letter of each word spell something, perhaps? I-c-w-m-n… no, nothing but gibberish. The last letter? I-t-e-h-w… Nothing! A more complex code, perhaps. Maybe if he converted all the letters to numbers… It could be an Arithmancy puzzle?

He was contemplating the possibility when the door burst open, and Hermione whirled in, arms full of shopping and cheeks whipped by the wind to healthy roses. 'Thought I'd find you in here,' she said, attempting a glare, but it was spoiled by her bright and cheerful smile. 'Still no respect for other people's privacy, Draco?'

'None whatsoever,' Draco replieded, and Hermione laughed as she unwound her scarf and unbuttoned her coat. Draco, however, frowned. She was usually far angrier when he read her diary… there was something he had missed. Not a code; she'd had no time for one of those. Something simpler…

'I'd never expect anything different,' she grinned. 'Oh, and I got your things, and there's even some change because the books you wanted were all in the Christmas sale at Flourish and Blotts, they're trying to get people interested in buying books as presents, it was really brilliant, I got so much to read…'

'You love books too much. Hush a minute,' Draco mused, frowning at the page. Not a code, but there must be another diary entry there, hidden…

'You can't love books too much,' she smiled. 'And why do you want me to hush?'

'I'm trying to figure out where the secret entry is,' he informed her, throwing her a Slytherin smirk. As he'd predicted, she paled a fraction, and denied it in far too high a tone.

'W-what are you talking about? I didn't have time for secret entries, Draco, you're being ridiculous!'

'No… Something simple, something easy, something that should be obvious…' He thought hard, putting a hand to his forehead, and then, 'Of course!' he exclaimed, grinning widely, 'Why didn't I think of that sooner?'

'Think of what sooner?' Hermione asked, looking ever more like a frightened rabbit. 'Draco, there's no secret entry, don't be silly, and don't you dare put that wand near my diary!'

He gave her one of his best evil grins, twirled his wand lazily, then tapped the page. 'Aperi.'

The writing seemed to melt together, forming for an instant nothing more than a wavy smear on the page, and then it reformed, making words, a new set of words. Draco grinned triumphantly; Hermione made a funny incoherent sound of anger, and approached him furiously.

'Don't you dare read that!' she shouted. 'Give it here!'

'Make me.' He stuck out his tongue, rolled elegantly off the bed, landing – catlike - on his feet, and began to pace the room while Hermione glared at him and fumed. He read aloud, inserting comments into the text.

'I'm so happy, I could dance!' Draco cracked up at the very first line, chuckling to himself while Hermione glared violently.

'I mean it, give that back or I'll make sure you regret it…'

Draco ignored this threat. 'Dance, Hermione? I'd love to see that,' he teased, before continuing.

 'Draco did it, he went to Dumbledore, and he's not going to Hogsmede today, he's not going to get initiated, he's not going to be forced into being a Death Eater and best of all he's not going to do everything his father tells him to any more!'

Draco paused for a moment, strangely – but not unpleasantly – surprised to find out that he was the cause of Hermione's glee. He didn't show that, however, but instead looked up from the diary and raised an eyebrow. 'You do realise that was a ridiculously long sentence?'

'It was a perfectly sensible length,' Hermione said, folding her arms angrily. 'Bloody, bloody prat…'

'Call me whatever you wish,' Draco said with a strange twinkle in his eye. 'It doesn't change the fact that I'm the one with the wand and you're fairly powerless to stop me. I could use the Leg-Locker curse to stop you going for your wand… indeed, I think I shall, if you try to get it.

Hermione's face fell, anger giving way to misery. She didn't try to fight him; just crossed her arms and sat don on her bed heavily, head bowed. Draco carried on,

'I found out about that last night, I didn't make an entry because we were up until two in the morning and I was exhausted, but basically Lucius was making him be a Death Eater and he had to go to Hogsmede to talk about initiation. But he isn't going to! I could have hugged him; I really could, if he wasn't really a hugs sort of person… I'm touched, Hermione, really I am. Oh, and feel free to hug me, just don't be surprised when I have a heart attack from the shock.'

Hermione didn't reply, just turned her head away from him. Her shoulders shook a little. Draco tossed the diary down on the bed in something near disgust.

'Oh, come on, Hermione, I'm reading your diary for goodness' sakes. You're acting as though I was torturing your cat by slicing open his stomach, pulling out his intestines and using them as guitar strings while the creature was still alive.' He watched her carefully. Even this image had no effect on her; she shuddered slightly, perhaps, but didn't look at him.

After a long pause, she spoke, and Draco was surprised to hear her voice shaking. 'Just leave my diary alone, alright?'

'What's wrong with reading it?' Draco asked, exasperated. He sat down on the bed beside her, trying to get her to look at him. 'It's a book, that's all, just a book where you write down what happens to you. I really don't get what's wrong!'

He was taken aback by the vehemence in his last sentence; and even more so when Hermione turned her face towards him, opened blazing brown eyes, and proceeded to rant at him in a loud shrill voice.

'Diaries are private things! Everyone knows that you never, never, never read someone else's diary without their permission, and I keep telling you not to, and you don't listen and you don't care what I feel…'

'Of course I care!' Draco interrupted indignantly, but Hermione ranted on.

'You just read it, and make jokes, and laugh, and it's my diary and I don't want you to see it because it's what I feel…'

'Hermione, calm down!' he said firmly, and to his great relief she stopped. 'Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to upset you. I just… For goodness' sake, I'm a Slytherin. I'm supposed to do evil and immoral things. And Slytherins don't keep diaries, so we never learn that there's any injunction against reading them.'

'Why don't you keep diaries?' she asked in a small voice. He gave a grin.

'Because if we did, they'd be magically duplicated and passed around the common room. That or used as blackmail material by at least three different people. We're an unscrupulous lot.'

She smiled at that; a weak smile at an obvious exaggeration, but a smile nonetheless. Draco sat in silence for a few moments, then reached out to the diary, picked it up, and began reading aloud again.

'I'm really happy for him…'

Hermione turned to him with a shocked look on her face. 'Draco! You said you'd stop!'

'I didn't say that,' he pointed out, 'Just that I was sorry, and didn't want to upset you.'

'You're hopeless, completely and totally hopeless.' She looked about to cry again, so Draco responded with a grin and a joke.

'Hey, I have to do something that annoys the hell out of you, else I wouldn't be me, would I?'

'No…' she agreed in a small voice. He smiled at her, sighed, and carried on reading anyway.

'I'm really happy for him; he's a really wonderful person once you get to know him, and I don't want to see him hurting again. But now Dumbledore's going to help him get away from his father, he might finally be able to get back in control of himself… I'm really, really happy, I can't even begin to describe it.'

There was another silence, this one filled with less anger on Hermione's part and more embarrassment. Draco glanced at her with a grin.

'A wonderful person, am I?'

'Sod off, you prat,' she told him, but this was in a soft tone and he laughed. A second later, she did too; a soft, half-chortle that was over in a second, but a laugh none the less. Their legs were pressing together by now, a situation difficult to get out of because of the contours of the bed, and Draco was suddenly aware of their physical closeness. For a moment, he would have pulled her closer to him, rested her head on his shoulder, even… But her earlier observation had been correct; Draco Malfoy didn't do that kind of thing.

Instead, he read the rest of the entry, in a similarly quiet tone with no mocking in it.

'Drat, I only have ten minutes before the carriages go, and I still need to hex this diary so Draco can't read it… he's an utter prat over that…A prat? Alright, alright, I'll concede I am… but one more thing: Harry sent me a note this morning, asking if I wanted to go have a Butterbeer with him while Ron met up with that Ravenclaw girl he's infatuated with.'

Draco drew in a sharp breath at that, without really knowing why, and his grey eyes turned a shade more transparent. Hermione had been to the Three Broomsticks with Harry? The image of them getting out of the carriage flashed into his mind, Harry helping her down, them laughing together… and, inexplicably, a brief but violent surge of jealousy.

He read on, even though he didn't want to. But what he read was not what he expected.

 'A few weeks ago, if he'd asked me that, I'd have had a complete fit and been reading into it and things… but I didn't even think of it like that for at least ten minutes. I think perhaps… Maybe I'm getting over the crush. I hope I am; I'd only end up being miserable, because it's obvious he thinks of me as a sister. I'm glad I'm over it.'

And that was all, but for the name and date at the bottom of the entry.

Draco wasn't sure what to say; he was barely even sure what to feel. Relief seemed to play a part, though why he should feel relieved he didn't know. And a lot of other confusing things mixed up in there as well…

Hermione shrugged. 'It's not a big deal. It was only a crush in the first place. They do end, you know…'

'Yeah. Just… I didn't expect it. I think the entire wizarding world is waiting for you two to get together.' Draco remarked. 'Especially after all that stuff with Krum. That supposed love triangle in fourth year. Oh, and it means I don't have anything to threaten you with to keep you silent anymore, damn.

'I wouldn't tell anyone, not now,' she replied. 'You're not doing it any more. And I think you're getting better.'

Draco shrugged and remained silent. 'So, do you really mind me reading your diary?' he asked.

'Yes,' she sighed, 'but you'll do it anyway, won't you?'

'Probably,' he smiled ruefully. 'No conscience.' He paused, and then, 'I'm sorry.'

'Don't be,' Hermione sighed. 'You're just… being you. And that's a good thing.'

'Is it?' Draco asked.

'I think it is.'

~*~

It was well past midnight. Draco's room was dark, nothing more than deep shadows, the black only softened by the intrusion of moonlight. In the middle of the darkness, Draco slept peacefully, a shaft of moonlight shining on his hair in such a way as to make it glow like silver fire. Even with the strangely shaped shadows, the minimal amount of light, the overall atmosphere was one of calm.

The gentle silence was broken with a sudden sharp tapping, as loud and startling as a gunshot. After a moment Draco's eyes flew open, and darted to the window, where a dim silhouette was outlined against the soft moonlight. He sat up, apprehensively; he'd been expecting this all day, and fallen asleep expecting it, but that made it no less intimidating a prospect: his father's owl.

On silent feet, he crossed the room, his hair shining silver in the gloom, eyes resolute. His hands, when he raised them to open the catch, seemed thinner and paler than usual, almost brittle, as if they might break at a touch.

Draco opened the window carefully, and the owl soared in obediently. It sat on his desk, and regarded Draco with the kind of expression he had only previously associated with the apparition of a Grim. Trying to push the connotation from his mind, he slowly untied the parchment from the owl's leg. Pulling out a chair, he sat down heavily, staring at the letter in his hands.

He didn't really need to read it. He'd already planned what he was going to say, anyway, and it would only make him feel worse… But no, he reasoned; he was only trying to persuade himself not to read it. And besides, he was curious. Just like he'd been with Hermione's diary. He always wanted to see what people thought, what they were going to do…

Carefully, he unrolled the parchment and began, tentatively, to read. The letter was neither signed nor addressed; from his experience of his father's anger, that was a bad sign.

I sent you specific instructions as to where and when to meet me. And yet you did not come. Idiot boy! The Dark Lord was furious when he discovered this; and it is you that he is displeased with. I need hardly point out that the consequences of your foolish actions will be severe.

Do not waste my time with idiotic excuses; they shall not change the situation. You shall return home as usual on the first day of the holidays, where you shall be suitably punished for your impudence, and then begin the necessary preparations. If you ever dare to do something of this nature again, the consequences for you will be far, far greater.

Draco let the letter fall from his fingers, to land on the desk. He concentrated, for now, on keeping himself perfectly still, perfectly blank. Inside he was shaking, churning with anger and fear and hatred, boiling up inside him, but above all was that hated feeling of being controlled, of being ordered to do everything his father wanted…

His silvery eyes flickered towards the letter again as he wrapped his arms around himself. Suitably punished… what was his father planning, he wondered cynically. Dark spells, it had been, those times in the past when he'd dared to test his father by disobeying… the nastier ones, the ones not in public knowledge, that no one would spot the signs of, that would leave no mark… And the Cruciatius, of course, he would always make use of that…

Draco shivered involuntarily, trying to force the memories away, trying to remind himself that this time, it wouldn't happen. Dumbledore was going to think of something, he reminded himself. Draco had no faith in Dumbledore, but Hermione did, and he had faith in her.

The owl hooted, a dignified but menacing hoot, startling Draco from his thoughts. Pale-faced, he glanced up at the bird, realising he should write his reply. He knew exactly what to say; he'd fallen asleep thinking of it.

He took a quill from the desk, picked up a piece of parchment and smoothed it flat, and dipped the quill in an inkpot. He paused for a moment, as if not quite believing what he was doing, then wrote his message, savagely and swiftly.

I won't follow your orders any more. I'm doing what I want to do now.

He said nothing more than that, and like his father's note, it was neither signed nor addressed. The quill had dug sharply into the parchment, the ink shining in the moonlight – in this grey world, it could have been deep red, the colour of blood. He half expected a matching shard of pain on his arm, but nothing came.

Breathing hard, he rolled the parchment up roughly, tied it to the owl's leg and sent the owl out of the window, then sat down sharply on his chair, shivering. He closed his eyes. Images kept filling his mind now, images of the quill, the pain, the blood on his arm, the ease of it all to cover everything up… His mind strayed to the quill, buried at the bottom of his trunk, and he should take it out, use it, just this once, this one time more, he needed it…

No! he thought sharply, eyes opening sharply. Not again. He wouldn't do that again.

Draco stood shakily, knowing he needed to get out of his room, away from the darkness and the temptation. He wished for Hermione – always good company when he felt this way – but she would be asleep by now.

He opened the door to the common room, sat in front of the fire and stared into the flames, but it was useless. His mind was still back in his own room; he could see the dark shapes and angles at the corners of his vision, could feel the quill in his mind, as though it were sentient and calling him to it. More then once, he found himself standing, as if to go to his room and take the quill from its trunk and… but he didn't let himself think of that.

He wanted Hermione, with her hot chocolate and her fussy worry and her chatter about schoolwork and her comfort and her warmth. He knew he shouldn't feel like that – shouldn't need anyone, especially not a Muggle-born – but it was that or the quill. And besides, Hermione was…

Was what? A lot of words could go there, some of which he didn't want to go in that space, and some of which he would deny could ever fit the gap. Nice? He could settle for nice.

Draco stood, shook slightly as he glanced towards his own room, and crossed determinedly to Hermione's. He didn't bother knocking – she wouldn't hear – and simply opened the door and went straight in.

In the dark, it was too like his own room for comfort, making him feel nauseous. He stumbled to Hermione's bed – thankful to see her, lying fast asleep with a small smile on her face, though he didn't know what else he would have found in her place – and knelt by the bedside. Draco reached out a hand, took hold of her shoulder, and shook her gently with an urgent whisper.

'Hermione? Hermione?'

Slowly, she awoke, her deep brown eyes heavy with sleep. She frowned as her eyes focused on him 'Draco? Is something wrong?' she asked sleepily.

'I… My father sent a letter,' he explained, feeling suddenly silly and childish for waking her up. He should have coped with it on his own, not run to Hermione like a little boy to his mother after a nightmare… 'I just… wanted to be with you,' he explained. 'Sorry.'

'Don't be,' she replied, smiling a little. 'It's perfectly alright, I understand. Here, I'll come and sit with you… what time is it?'

'Late,' he admitted grudgingly as she sat up. Somehow the lateness of the hour made it worse. 'Past midnight, definitely. I don't know more than that.'

Hermione glanced at her clock. 'Half past three,' she noted, wrapping her blanket around herself. 'Why on earth did your father send the letter so late?'

'He… he might have been at a Death Eater meeting,' Draco proposed. 'He usually comes back late afterwards…'

She nodded, needing no more explanation that that, and stood up. Wrapping the blanket closer around herself, she gave Draco a tired smile, which made him feel strangely guilty. He ignored that and crossed to the door, holding it open for her to pass into the common room. She did so with a thankful smile.

They sat down together on the sofa, Hermione unwinding her blanket to spread it over herself better. To Draco's surprise, she threw half of the blanket over him as well. 'You were shivering,' she explained when he threw her a questioning look.

They were silent for a moment, sitting side by side, wrapped in the same blanket. Draco felt surprisingly warm, and as always in her presence, he could resist the pain more easily. At last she spoke, with a small sigh.

'What did the letter say?'

He shrugged. 'Nothing you couldn't guess. He's angry, the Dark Lord's angry, they're going to torture me when I go home for the holidays – except I'm not going home – and various orders never to do it again…'

He broke off with a frown as he realised that Hermione was staring at him in shock. 'What is it?'

'Torture you?' she asked shrilly. Draco shrugged.

'In case you hadn't realised, Hermione, my father is a Death Eater. Not really the kind of person to let you off with a slap round the wrist and no sweeties for a week.'

'Yes, but… torture?' She looked horrified, which vaguely annoyed Draco for no apparent reason.

'He didn't say torture in so many words. 'Suitably punished', I think, was his phrase.' He shrugged. 'Forget it, it isn't important.'

'Not important!' she exclaimed, looking absolutely astounded. In an instant, she had wrapped her arms round Draco, buried her cheek against his shoulder, and squeezed him tightly.

Draco blinked and stared down at her. 'What are you doing?' he asked curiously.

'Hugging you?' she offered, adding defensively, 'You said I could earlier.'

Draco shrugged. It wasn't an unpleasant experience. 'I suppose I did,' he replied, and then, because he felt rather strange with his arms lying uselessly at his side, he carefully curled them both around Hermione.

There was a moment of silence. 'What kind of…' Hermione began, tentatively, but Draco interrupted her question.

'Don't ask me. I don't particularly want to go dredging the memories up again.'

He felt her shudder – an unusual thing, to shudder for someone else's pain – and they fell into silence again. The rather awkward hug shifted into something softer, something gentler. Her head rested warmly on his chest, and Draco found it convenient to rest his chin on top. Her arms relaxed, so that instead of squeezing him tightly, one arm now rested across his chest, her fingers curled around the fabric of his pyjama top. Draco's own arms found a more natural placement; one hand at her waist, one on her shoulder. After a few minutes, he began playing absent-mindedly with her warm brown hair. Hermione sighed in contentment and closed her eyes.

It felt… strange. Wonderful, but strange. He liked it, Draco realised; it was warming, familiar and close. His father seemed a million miles away, and the events from earlier that evening were like a dream.

Hermione spoke, eventually; her voice was soft and sleepy and made Draco smile. 'Draco,' she asked, 'do you still think that there's no such thing as caring? That people only pretend it so they aren't always being selfish?

He was about to say yes, there is no such thing as caring, but paused before he spoke. Did he really think that, or was it what his father had told him to think?

'I'm not sure,' he said at length. 'I think… I think that people do care about each other. But they still help each other for selfish reasons. Because, if they didn't help someone they cared about, they'd feel bad.'

'You're never going to change that view, are you?'

'No,' Draco replied, and laughed. 'I'm too used to seeing the bad side of people, seeing selfishness and meanness and greed… Forgive me for it.'

She shook her head. 'No. There's nothing to forgive. You're just… being you, and you don't need forgiveness for that.' After a pause, she went on. 'What about someone who dies for someone they don't know or don't like? Like… if a Death Eater attacked in a public place, and I fought and died to save people I didn't know? Or if… Harry saved you, or something?'

'That's just a different kind of caring,' Draco replied smoothly. 'Caring for… for humanity in general. I read a book about that once,' he laughed, 'but I thought it was rubbish. Now I see what it meant. Caring about other people, even those you've never met, so much you'll fight for their lives… that's why people become Aurors, isn't it? Because they care about everyone.'

He felt, rather then saw, her smile. 'You're right, I guess,' she said, 'but you're far too cynical about people doing things selfishly.'

'Everything a person does benefits them in some way. If they help someone, they feel good for helping. It's selfish, but it's a good kind of selfishness, because it helps other people.'

She laughed a little, and didn't reply. Draco could tell she was falling asleep, and tried to stay still, so as not to wake her up.

'Draco?'

Her voice was very soft and very sleepy. 'Yes?' he asked, trying to make his voice gentle.

'Do you care about me?'

The question surprised him. He blinked a little, and then answered tentatively, 'I think I do.'

She was silent, then, and in a minute or two her breathing fell into the slow, soft, regular pattern of someone fast asleep. Draco smiled to himself, stayed as still as he could so that he didn't wake her up, and closed his own eyes. The lateness of the hour, the warmth of the fire, the softness of the blanket and the special feeling of Hermione curled up in his arms made him fall asleep quickly, arms still tight around her, a smile on his face.

~*~

The Hogsmede trip had been on a Saturday, which meant that the late night hadn't been a problem. They'd both woken at around ten o'clock the next morning, too late for breakfast, unfortunately, but neither really minded.

Hermione had been acting oddly that morning; glancing up at him all the time, fiddling with her hair, distracted from her work  -and since when was Hermione Granger distracted from work? Perhaps she was embarrassed because she'd fallen asleep in his arms, or worried about what Lucius was going to do, or…

To be honest, Draco didn't really have a clue. What he did know, however, was that she'd spent a good half-hour in her room, and when he'd peered through a convenient knothole in the door, he'd seen her writing in her diary. And at the present moment, she was outside watching the Gryffindor Quidditch team's practice.

Draco opened her door quietly, peering around for any visible traps she'd set for anyone entering her room. There was nothing, and so he closed the door behind him, and wondered where to begin looking.

He needn't have. As soon as his gaze fell upon the bed, he saw it; in one piece and not obviously hexed, lying conspicuously upon the covers. Draco frowned. This had to be a trick; a decoy, with some kind of spell on it… he cast a few hex-identifying charms over the book, but not one of them came up with any result.

Hermione wouldn't do anything really dangerous, would she? Cautiously, he extended one long, pale finger and touched the cover, half expecting it to explode or attack him or…

The diary did nothing.

Feeling slightly braver, and slightly more confused, Draco picked the book up, sat down and opened it. Still nothing happened. Obviously, the entry would be in code, or protected some other way… Hermione was too clever a witch not to do something to stop him reading it.

Or maybe she'd given up, after yesterday's incident when she'd got back from Hogsmede? It would make sense. He grinned to himself at the thought; it would make reading this a lot simpler in future…

He found this morning's entry and read.

Last night, Lucius wrote to Draco. I didn't see the actual letter, but I imagine it was bad, especially from what he told me. Threatening him and being angry with him and things like that… Draco even told me that his father tortures him! He said it didn't matter, he didn't want to talk. I can't imagine how anyone could consider that unimportant…

So I hugged him. It was about four in the morning, and I was exhausted and wasn't thinking straight, but I hugged him. And then he hugged me back, and then we talked, and then I fell asleep. And I guess he did too, because we woke up together on the sofa this morning.

And… I don't know how to say this any other way. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was warm, and happy, and… and it was right. To be hugging him, I mean. For him to be hugging me. I can't explain it properly. It was like… as though it was going to last forever. As if that moment was all there was, and nothing could touch it. As if no one could hurt us, not even Lucius, not even Voldemort himself. As if…

I couldn't stop looking at him this morning. Every time I glanced up, I looked at him. He wasn't doing anything, just reading a book, but I couldn't stop watching. I couldn't concentrate. I don't know why…

No, no; I do know, I do know why. I'm just… in denial, I guess. It is very hard to believe. I need to make myself write it, to stop trying to deny it or trying to think of another explanation, because I know that this explanation is completely, completely true. So here it is:

I think I've fallen in love with Draco.

It's been going on for some time, now I think of it. It isn't sudden. I should have seen it coming. But I just didn't think like that – I did have a crush on Harry at the time – so now it seems like so much more of a shock.

I really don't know what to do. Should I tell him or not? I want him to know, I want him to love me back, but…but it's hard. If he doesn't feel that way, it'll be so awkward… Oh, if only I knew how he felt! He did seem quite happy, last night, when we were talking. And he said he cared about me. I don't know how many people he's cared for before, but I'd guess it wouldn't be many…and if he does care about me, then I think he could overlook how… how I feel, if he didn't like me back…

Alright. I'll tell him. But… I don't think I can just tell him, I'd be too afraid. I'd stammer, or stumble over my words, and end up not telling him and changing the subject abruptly.

Later on, I'm going to watch the Quidditch practice. So he'll be alone here while I'm out… and he'll want to read this. So if I leave it out, and don't hex it like I was going to…

I'll do that. I'm terrified of him finding out, but I will. Draco, if you read this – when you read this – then…

I don't know what to say to you. Except I mean it, I do love you, and… I just hope you love me back. And if you don't, that's okay – but please don't act awkward, and please don't avoid me, I still want to be your friend.

-Hermione, 25th November.

Draco reached the end of the entry and found that he was staring in disbelief at the page. He turned back and read it through again, and then again, as if unbelieving of what he'd seen. Finally, his eyes came to rest on just one sentence.

I think I've fallen in love with Draco.

What now? He asked himself. What did he do? It was so unexpected, such a surprise… he'd had no idea… Did he love her?

Draco frowned, trying to think.  She was kind to him, and helpful, she was always concerned about him – sometimes an annoyance, sometimes a good thing – she forgave his faults, she made him smile and sometimes laugh, she was always willing to sit with him when he was depressed…

The listing of her virtues was meaningless to the question, but remembering how she sat with him brought back the memory of the previous night; Hermione, getting out of bed at an unearthly hour to sit with him, shuddering when he'd mentioned torture, hugging him and asking whether he cared about her and falling asleep…

And he remembered looking down at the sleeping girl and smiling gently to see how peaceful she looked, how happy in his arms.

And that was his answer.

Draco laughed to himself; the room rang with the unexpected noise. Smiling, he stood up, taking Hermione's diary with him, and left the room.

~*~

He was sitting on the sofa waiting for her, with the diary open on his knee, when she came back from the Quidditch practice, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. His fingers, which had been endlessly worrying the edge of the page, stopped moving as he looked up at her. Their eyes met, silver and brown, and everything else faded to a meaningless blur.

Hermione looked away, going red. 'I… I'm sorry,' she said, sounding upset. 'I just wanted to tell you…'

'Don't be sorry.' He said it more forcefully than he meant to; she winced and Draco felt her pain hurt himself. 'Don't be. Did you… did you mean it? Honestly and truthfully?'

Hermione nodded, biting her lip. 'I still want to be friends,' she whispered, sounding as though she were about to cry. Draco didn't reply. Instead, he took his own leather-bound journal out from under a cushion, stood up and walked to her.

'Read this.' He whispered, handing her the book. She took it with shaking hands – he hoped she wouldn't cry – and opened it to the latest page. Something was written beneath the vicious slashes of that one near-fatal night, but written in ink instead of blood, a few rows of his neat handwriting. Draco could read it upside-down, but he didn't need to: he knew exactly what it said.

I read Hermione's diary, and she said she's in love with me.

I think I'm in love with her too.

It was all he could say, and the only way he could say it. How could a Malfoy, a Slytherin, speak of love? But the journal was his secret place, where he'd written all his most hateful, painful, treacherous thoughts, and ultimately, the thought that would mean an end to the pain.

Hermione looked up at him, shaking a little, and looked as though she was about to speak. Draco didn't let her. His arms moved, almost of their own accord, to rest around her waist, in her hair; he stepped closer and did what he'd been aching to do since he'd read her diary.

Their lips met, and the journal fell to the floor, forgotten, as Hermione brought up her arms to wrap around him in return. He kissed her with all the passion he'd never let himself feel, with every emotion he'd never been allowed to experience, powered by the emotions he'd experienced too much of. Into the kiss went everything he would never be able to tell her, everything he could never manage to say, everything he couldn't find the words to describe.

And he felt her return the kiss with just as much passion, such a simple meeting of lips and tongues, of his hands in her hair and her hands on his skin, saying everything that would ever need to be said.

And when the kiss ended, and they stood together silently, arms wrapped tight around each other and eyes still tight shut, Draco took the chance to whisper lightly into her ear,

'Thank you.'

'For what?' she asked, just as softly.

For stopping me hurting myself. For helping with that pain. For showing me that people really do care. For telling me to go to Dumbledore. For giving me my freedom. For loving me.

'For everything.' He murmured, and kissed her again.

~*~

Latin: 'Mutati' – change. 'Expedi' – disentangle. 'Secare' (the quills) – to cut. 'Potio Calida' – hot drink. 'Ichneumon' (charms) – mongoose (no, I've no idea why either.) 'Aperi' – to appear.

Other Notes: The book 'A Christmas Carol' is of course by the genius of Charles Dickens. Kelpies and Knarls, both mentioned at some point, are to be found in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a wonderful book for anyone.

Thank you all for reading! And please, before you go looking for your next fic, spare the time for a review? I would be eternally grateful.