I do not own these characters, and am making no money from this story.

I have to thank you, Malfoy.

You see, I've thought about about the things that don't happen for a very long time.

We all think about things we didn't do. I didn't finish my essay. I never went on that cruise.

We also think about the things that we aren't. I wish I'd been better at cricket. I'm glad I'm not clumsy.

But those are small items. Small pieces of huge sweeping tales of all that has never happened. The closest humans come to thinking about possibilities on such a grand scale in a systematic way is in particle physics, and goodness knows people who can discuss sum-over histories are somewhat thin on the ground in the wizarding world.

In a way, the restrictions on time-turner use are an expression of these possibilities. But that's an oblique nod at best. More an avoidance than an acknowledgment.

And it's understandable. Because the stories that weren't are not just things that did not happen by chance or by choice. They are also the things that could not be. The things that science and magic and circumstance and the long series of choices of those who have gone before us made impossible.

They're not simply a vast universe; we live in one of those. They're a storm of universes-- an infinite, shadowy storm of particulate realities which can only barely shiver the tapestry of the real.

It was you who made me realize all this, Malfoy.

Your "filthy little Mudblood" was the real beginning of my realization of so many things I wished hadn't happened, would never happen. The perfect summary, really, of horrors I'd only read about till then. And in Third Year, after my brush with those brief shunnings of extraneous possibility that my time-turner restrictions represented-- not to mention the confluence of your pointy chin and my right hook-- I couldn't help thinking of what hadn't happened because your words couldn't not happen.

You were a pale, pointy little ferret. You really were. But you were smart-- smart enough to make it into more NEWT-level classes than Harry and Ron did. And you were wealthy, your family influential. You were cultured, mannered-- to your cronies, at least. You danced like an angel, as I had occasion to observe at the Yule Ball.

And oh, Malfoy, did you grow into your pale and pointy looks.

Girls swooned over you, of course, from our Third Year onward-- as if you needed anything more to make you swagger. But since our First Year your sneer curled your lip so often I never had any positive impression other than, Nice teeth, whenever you opened your mouth.

But then came Sixth Year, and Ron and Lavender-- and your tense, cold self-containment. No preening, no sniggering, no contempt. It smoothed your features, and occasionally I'd look at them and note, Nice, while thinking half a dozen other things.

And then came the night you supposedly gate-crashed the 'Slug Club' party, and the look I saw on your face as you turned to follow Professor Snape. Smooth, yes, but just morphing into impassivity. Not frightened, but vulnerable. Open.

Lovely. Appealing. For just that one moment, you had a face that begged my touch.

And I thought, Oh. Oh, Merlin.

And after that, seeing you would interrupt my train of thought. Not the way seeing Ron would-- not that helpless longing and the ache of Why can't he see me...I want him for everything he is, and to me there isn't anything he's not-- but that flicker of true attention I brought to bear on my books, and my friends, and keeping all of us alive.

And the summer after you failed to kill the Headmaster-- even with Professor Snape standing beside you and the Carrows and Greyback egging you onward-- the idea of those things that hadn't happened because Voldemort had took hold.

A truce, expressed initially not so much through conversation as through the absence of open insult. A mutual acknowledgment of academic ability. Discussions-- from opposite sides of the table, because Voldemort or no, Purebloods would not easily adapt their customs and hierarchy to allow for Muggleborns-- of wizarding politics and history. Debates, along with Anthony and Lisa, on magical theory.

After years of that-- of tolerance and civility which became acceptance, and then respect-- perhaps even friendship.

If only.

And because you were lovely, because I was a teenage girl and Ron was, unfortunately, a teenage boy, my suppositions-- my wishful thinking-- went beyond that. Would the Malfoy that wasn't have noticed me at the Yule Ball? Paid me a compliment? Asked me to dance? Studied for OWLs with me? Be assigned as my Runes partner for the NEWT project? Be appointed Head Boy to my Head Girl?

Would the Malfoy that wasn't have kissed me, some night? Under the mistletoe at the Yule Ball? Hidden by the draperies at a Slug Club party? In the Heads' Common Room?

He might.

He might, because one of the things that never happened after the respect that wasn't built was the Malfoy that wasn't seeing that I represented the things he wanted in a witch.

Malfoys deserve the best. I heard you say it at least two dozen times while we were at Hogwarts. For the attentive observer it could have gone unsaid: the silk of your ties, the cashmere of your sweaters, the fine heavy wool of your robes, the belting leather of the bag you carried so carelessly...the platinum of the Malfoys' Heir's Signet ring you wore from Third Year on. Even Pansy, and then Astoria, both of whom grew into a sleek, dark beauty which complemented your fairness perfectly. They all shouted it.

But I was attractive too-- or could be, if I chose. The Yule Ball proved it, even to you. My intellectual background and upbringing were far closer to yours than Pansy's, or even Astoria's, were. (And awful as you were to Ron on the subject, I could never say aloud that both that and my socioeconomic status were far closer to yours than to the Weasleys'.)

And what I had over Parkinson and every other girl you had or could have was intelligence and magical aptitude. The things that matter most in the wizarding world, especially in a society in which Purebloods struggle to produce powerful heirs. Things which could have outweighed heritage, for a boy of your intelligence and power.

I had no false modesty about it. I'd struggled for 6 years to prove it, after all, and succeeded far beyond anyone's expectations but mine. And the Malfoy that wasn't-- the Malfoy who had never heard of Voldemort-- would have known it.

If only.

So I never had a crush on you, Draco Malfoy. I never fell for you. I noticed you and thought about you and then fantasized, not about you, but about the person you might have been. Yearned, sometimes, not for the cringing boy who watched your aunt torture me into unconsciousness on your ballroom floor, but for the attentive man who might have shown me your magnificent library four rooms away.

For a man I might have loved.

You never became that man. By the time the War was over, it could not be, not with your parents and their choices and your choices and the number of dead hanging over all of you and how your upbringing had crippled you. The shade of that Head Boy, dance partner, scholar, friend, lover, was one of the things swept away in the tide of death and grieving and rebuilding. One more thing that was irretrievably lost.

One of the things that circumstance and the long series of choices of those who had gone before us had now made impossible.

Everyone thinks it ironic that you, the Malfoy heir, fell in your prime, by accident, a victim of Auror crossfire. But I think the irony is not the same for others as it is for me. Innocent victim, they say with a sneer, as though a meaningless death was a retribution-- or a laughable irony, that the man who'd victimized others should fall so randomly. Almost incidentally.

But to me the victim is and always has been that shade of a boy I never had a chance to laugh with, study with, kiss. Love. And he had always been an incidental victim, brought down by choices and events made long before he was born.

A shadowy thread, cut for a tapestry that never was.

And it is that boy-- that boy, and my knowledge of his absence-- that I've come to thank.

So thank you, Draco Malfoy. For awakening me to the impossible and the unreal, which balance the things that can be and are. For showing me the consequences of rigidity. For giving me the knowledge that allows me to leave paths and possibilities open for others.

For introducing me to the you that wasn't.

For showing me, when I was 13 years old, how to see the stories that weren't.

Thank you.

A/N: Another one-shot, as has become the med-school norm for me. I'm uncertain as to where this came from-- perhaps from the consideration of canon and fanon that drifts through my head every time I read an HG/DM. Please share your thoughts with me; it's both gratifying and encouraging. Thanks for reading.