Disclaimer: Yeah, these characters totally belong to me. They are my children, and I am their god. Worship me, my pretty little minions! Muahahaha! (Just kidding, don't sue me.)
A/N: This is mostly canon compliant, although I have taken a few small liberties with several scenes. There will be at least one more part to this, which may or may not be canon compliant. We shall see, eh?
7 Years of Granger
Draco Malfoy did not love Hermione Granger the first time he laid eyes on her. His 11 year-old self was not awed into life-long adoration by her cleverness or perseverance, so much so that he could see past her bushy hair and overlarge teeth to the 'true beauty' held within. In fact, he hardly noticed her at all that first year, not until the final grades were posted. It was then that he finally matched up the name at the top of the class rankings to the small girl with the large bag, her wide and earnest eyes glowing in triumph.
Behind him, Zabini let out a derisive scoff. "Bested by a mudblood, Malfoy? Should make for delightful dinner conversation back at the Manor, eh?"
Draco's gut twisted, his gray eyes narrowing as the Granger girl bounced excitedly back to Potter's side. He hadn't much noticed her before, but he was certainly paying attention now.
The news spread through the castle like wildfire, whispers carrying from trembling lips, "Another attack, the Granger girl this time…" It took all of thirty seconds for the information to run the length of the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, finally trickling down to where Draco sat with his usual entourage of simpering cronies.
"Mudblood Granger's been petrified? Looks like you got your wish, Malfoy."
Draco shot a darkly amused look at Blaise, muttering "Almost."
It took little effort to sneak his way into the infirmary that night, the halls having emptied of students frightfully early. One of the many benefits of Slytherin's beast roaming the halls, he supposed.
He found the girl propped awkwardly on a cot, hidden behind a privacy curtain. Her wide, glassy eyes stared up at the darkened ceiling, her still-rosy lips parted in shock and fear. She looked strange, a sort of life-sized doll posed in a stance of perpetual alarm.
The sight of her drove his original purpose from his mind, his gloating taunts dead on pursed lips. The twisted pleasure he'd first felt upon hearing of her fate was suddenly replaced with a sick, sinking sort of feeling in the pit of his stomach. She just looked so very wrong, so much like herself, and yet not.
Curiosity extended his arm out, chilled fingers gently brushing the skin of her tightly clenched hand. She was warmer than he'd expected, her skin hard as stone but perfectly smooth. Without thought, his searching fingers trailed up under the cuff of her sleeve to the delicate skin of her wrist. He fingered the taut tendons there while his eyes roamed from the tips of her polished shoes to the wild mess of curls spread over the pillow.
He found himself wondering if it'd hurt, if she felt anything now, if she could feel him, still stroking her tiny wrist beneath her shirtsleeves. He jerked his hand back in alarm, suddenly angry with himself, but unable, as much as he tried, to be angry with her any longer.
Turning to go, he paused on a whim and moved in close to her, his mouth just a hairsbreadth from the shell of her ear. He breathed in deep, smelling books and ink and the faint perfume of her hair, then whispered, "Tell anyone about this and you'll be sorry."
Hurrying back to the Slytherin dorms, fingers still tingling with borrowed warmth, he prayed she wouldn't remember.
That jumped up, arrogant, infuriating, little mudblood bitch!
She'd struck him. His cheek still stung from the slap, the slap she'd seemingly thrown her whole body into, the slap that willingly brought her skin into contact with his for the first time ever, the slap to trump all slaps in Draco's young history.
He was pissed, he was indignant, he was…
Rather inappropriately aroused.
Glaring down at his tented trousers, he swore harshly, earning a puzzled glance from the only other occupant in the other-wise empty dorm room.
Blaise returned his attention to his unfinished essay with an indolent smirk. "Someone got your knickers in a twist, Malfoy?" Draco shot him a glare and continued pacing, while Blaise's smirk grew. "Now, who could possibly get you so worked up? Couldn't be the mud-"
"Shut it, Zabini."
Blaise just chuckled, easily ducking the inkwell Draco lobbed at his dark head. Draco stormed away in search of the showers, thoughts of fiery brown eyes and fast-flying palms lodged firmly in his over-heated brain.
He watched the whole scene unfold from a darkened passageway off the main entrance hall. Scarhead with his ever-present angst, no less dampened from having spent the evening with a beautiful girl on his arm and the attention of half the room, the equally clueless and irritable Weasel sidekick in a set of truly horrific dress robes, and her.
They were arguing, nothing new there, with Weasel spewing barbs until he was as red as his hideous hair, Potty trying to stay out of it and sulk at the same time, and Granger puffing up like an angry hen, her shoulders drawing back and her eyes flashing with righteous anger.
He didn't know what the argument was about, nor did he particularly care. He was content to watch the angry flush spread from Granger's heated cheeks, down the slender column of her neck to her exposed collar bones and below. He'd never seen so much of her before, and he'd found himself unable to look away since she first entered the Hall on that idiot Bulgarian's arm.
This unexpected curiosity, the urge to touch (smell, taste) was so oddly reminiscent of that night in the infirmary second year, with the same feeling in the pit of his stomach, as though he were falling. Pansy had finally thrown a tantrum over his inattention and stormed off to Merlin knows where, leaving him alone to look his fill. And so he watched, perversely entranced as the Weasel stomped away up the stairs, and Granger brusquely pushed Potty after him before slumping down on the stone steps, eyes bright and chin trembling.
And then, like a predator sensing weakness, he moved in for the kill.
"Well, don't you look the perfect mudblood tart this evening."
She didn't startle or even look up at his words, her eyes instead remaining focused on the flowing material of her gown. She drew her knees in closer to her body and gripped at the hem of her dress, twisting and threading it between her fingers.
"You've been watching me. All night." She did raise her head then, cheeks still glistening with tears, but her eyes hard and fierce, stripped of all vulnerability. "Why?"
Draco choked back his surprise at her response, pasting a false sneer on his face. "It's hard not to watch when presented with such an oddity, isn't it? Like seeing a pig dressed in robes and trained to dance. Disgusting and unnatural, yet bizarrely fascinating."
Her eyes flashed dangerously and then she was on her feet, closing the distance between them with her arm drawn back. Draco lunged up the remaining step between them, his hand shooting out to catch her wrist with sure seeker's reflexes, the other latching on tight to her shoulder and turning her, shoving her back against the unforgiving stone wall.
"Not this time, Granger! I still owe you for last year." He growled at her, his face now inches away from hers.
She looked up at him with eyes wide with shock, a little fear, and a lot of anger. He could feel her body trembling beneath him as he moved the hand on her shoulder so that he could drag the back of his fingers down her pale neck, then trace the hollow of her collar bones with a gentleness that surprised even him.
She let out a harsh breath, clouding his senses with the sweetness of it, the softness of her, and the thrill of their closeness. Draco's eyes slid shut as he slowly leaned into her, then jerked open with a cry as a whispered hex sent him hurtling back into the foyer to land flat on his back with a dull thwack.
He lay there, winded, humiliated, and oddly disappointed, when she appeared standing over him, wand clutched firmly in her hand and breast heaving.
"That's one debt you'll not be repaying anytime soon, ferret."
Draco found himself fighting back an inexplicable smile as the sound of her retreating heels echoed in his head until fading into silence.
Draco's head buzzed, throbbed with every horrifying, exhausting, repetitious thought that evening. He'd gleaned a bit here and a bit there, the school gossips were making the rounds with impressive speed, but it hadn't truly sunk in until his mother's owl arrived bearing a terse note.
His father had been captured after a small "incident" at the ministry. He was already locked away in Azkaban, awaiting trial. He'd failed his mission, and the Dark Lord was furious.
And of course, of course it was Potter. How he even got to the ministry, how he even got away from Umbridge was a complete mystery. And, since Potty was there, she was as well. Only she hadn't gotten away unscathed this time. Some piss-pot little Hufflepuff was telling anyone who'd listen how he'd seen her brought to Pomfrey in the middle of the night, half dead and covered in blood.
So, for the rest of the evening, through all his restless pacing, his feet kept drawing him nearer and nearer to the infirmary, until he stood outside the large double doors, glaring darkly at the ornate handles and trying to talk himself back down to his dorm.
He couldn't remember deciding to enter, but simply found himself standing, once again, at her bedside. She looked deathly pale beneath sterile sheets, her eyes sunken and face pinched, a small, pained crease between her brows. Her eyes darted beneath her lids, fingers twitching faintly as a low moan sounded somewhere deep in her chest.
Slowly, cautiously, he reached out to smooth away the crease with an extended finger. She let out a small sigh, her eyelids fluttering open. When her eyes finally focused on him, she jerked back violently, panic showing in every tense movement of her body. She might have fallen of the bed completely had he not grabbed her arm in time.
"Shhh! Calm down, for Circe's sake…do you want to wake the whole school?"
Hermione clamped her eyes closed, breathed deeply and visibly relaxed her tensed body. She was still trembling slightly when she opened her eyes again. "You…you look like him."
Draco pulled his hand back, nodding. He did not need to ask who she meant.
She moved to sit up but a grimace and small gasp later and his hand was back on her shoulder, gently pushing her down again.
"Are you trying to kill yourself? Just lie still already, I'm not going to hurt you."
The look she gave him then was skeptical at best, but she at last lay still, her trembling just barely noticeable now. Draco shuffled his feet awkwardly, eyeing the large assortment of potions on her bedside table. When he looked back, she was watching him with open curiosity.
He cleared his throat and looked away again. "Who was it?"
"Dolohov, I think."
Draco nodded, relief filling his chest. He hadn't realized the emotion he'd been fighting was guilt until it eased away, guilt that his own father had been the one to hurt her. He was glad that wasn't the case.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" She sounded tired, and so, so young. Draco felt he'd aged at least a decade that night alone.
"I don't know." And he didn't, not really. He just knew he had to see her. Wanted her to know how angry (how sorry) he was. But now that he was with her, he couldn't find anything to say.
"Why…what were you thinking? How could you just…you could have been killed!" A small group of children, running headfirst into battle with Death Eaters—Draco could hardly wrap his head around it.
Hermione sighed, her eyes falling closed again. "It doesn't matter, it's done now. At least…" she fought back tears, some remembered pain he couldn't understand. "The truth is out, now. Everything's changed."
Draco blanched, knowing all too well how right she was.
"The war has begun, Draco. Take care what side you choose."
Draco stiffened, shocked by her use of his name, and then frustrated by her advice. "It's not really a matter of choice, Granger. Some of us were born into this war. Can't expect you to understand that."
He turned to leave, but was stopped short by her hand on his arm. "There's always a choice, Sirius is proof of that."
Draco sneered back at her, snatching his arm away. "Yeah, and look how well that turned out."
He went to bed that night with her face seared into his brain, her expression of grief and deep, crushing disappointment tinting his nightmares in shades of hopelessness.
There was a moment where Draco thought he was well and truly dead. Lying on that bathroom floor, blood pooling and vision fading, he honestly thought it was the end.
And in that moment, just for that moment, he longed for it.
His life had transformed into one long, waking nightmare. He knew no reprieve, no rest. He was tired and terrified and tired of being terrified. Most days, he couldn't decide which would be worse, if he failed or actually succeeded.
He'd been frightened and desperate when Potter found him in that loo, and he'd acted without thinking. He was shocked when the curse hit, shocked that Gryffindor's Golden Boy even knew such a spell, but the shock was quickly replaced with formless thoughts of pain and blood and the vaguest hope of actually dying.
So when he woke later that night to find Hermione Granger hovering over him in the dark and quiet, he didn't immediately realize what had happened, or that he was, in fact, still alive. His foggy, tired brain could only process so much at the moment, and every cell was dedicated to her. The worry in her dark eyes, the smell of her hair where it fell, tickling his nose, the gentle, upward curve of her lips as he cupped her cheek with a hand he couldn't remember moving…she was everywhere and she was everything, and Draco knew peace for the first time since his father's imprisonment.
She whispered his name, just once, (a question or a plea, he wasn't sure) before he silenced her with a press of his thumb over her lips. She closed her eyes and pressed back, a barely-there kiss against the pad of his thumb that made his should-have-been-dead heart sing in his chest. With the hand still cradling her cheek, he pulled her down until he was returning her kiss with one of his own, a soft press of lips and mingled breath and not enough, never enough and then she was pulling away with tears and understanding in her eyes.
Draco smiled the smallest of smiles, blinked once and fell asleep again.
Some weeks later, as he stood on the Astronomy tower, wand trained on an unarmed old man who'd only ever offered him kindness, he remembered her mouth on his and lowered his wand.
Oh please, please no. No no no no NO!
Draco's nails bit bloody crescents into his palms, his head pounded with every beat of his wretched heart, and his stomach churned and heaved and tried to turn itself inside out. And still, she screamed.
His deranged aunt screeched and spewed questions and accusations, wand trained on the shaking, writhing girl beneath her, eyes mad in her sunken face.
Hermione's screams filled the manor, echoing down corridors and off vaulted ceilings and Draco promised himself, when this was over, if ever this was over, he would never set foot in that house again.
She never pleaded or begged him to help her, she never even looked his way, and this somehow made his cowardice even more unbearable.
Draco choked back a sob and clenched his eyes tight, praying for a miracle, for the courage to help her. When Potter and Weasley reappeared with that barmy elf in tow, he could have cried with relief were he not so horrified. And when Potter wrenched the wands from his hands, he screamed silently at him, "Get her out, get her away! He's coming!"
She disappeared, held securely in the Weasel's arms, and Draco braced himself for the Dark Lord's wrath.
Year Seven and a Half
Draco sat huddled between his terrified parents, silent and shaking amidst the revelry of the Great Hall. All around them the Light was celebrating its victory, but there was mourning, too. Mothers, fathers, friends crying and toasting to lost loved ones, embracing one another, holding each other up through the night. Their grief and joy was almost a physical thing, filling the cavernous room until the air was positively humming with the energy of it.
At the center of it all, bruised and bloodied and generally wasted, sat the trio. Potter, his pale face blank and gaunt, sat with Granger on one side and Weasley on the other, their arms linked together over his back as though sheltering him from the tumultuous energy of the room around them. Hermione laid her head against Potter's shoulder, tired brown eyes falling shut, lips just barely moving, whispering something meant only for the three of them. Weasley nodded, and as one they stood, arms still linked, hands grasping one another as they weaved their way to the doors.
Countless people turned to approach them, gratitude and well-wishes written all over their grimy faces, but they were intercepted by the Lovegood girl, then Longbottom, and a rising tide of classmates, all forming a sort of barrier, allowing the trio's exit.
They were just passing by the Malfoys when Hermione's hooded eyes fell on him. The falter in her step drew Potter's attention as well, then Weasley's, as the three of them came to a dead stop just across the table from Draco and his parents. He felt his mother's grip on his arm tighten painfully, his father's back stiffen in anticipation, but Draco couldn't take his eyes off of her.
Potter looked to Narcissa, bottle green eyes gentle as he spoke, voice hoarse and soft. "I won't forget what you did for me. It's going to be alright, now."
Hermione looked from Narcissa to Potter with a slightly puzzled, yet undeniably pleased expression. Potter looked down at her and squeezed her waist affectionately while she reached up on her tip toes to place a kiss against his cheek. Weasley tugged them forward again, and Hermione just had time to look back, with a small smile and tears in her eyes before the large doors closed behind them.
Draco's wasted heart splintered in his chest while his mother broke down into silent tears beside him.