Disclaimer: I (SADLY) do not own Harry Potter.
A/N:
Title borrowed from Green Day.

. . . . . . . .

. . . . . .

His first memory of a smile ended with a slap.

He was sure he had smiled when he was younger – babies smile all the time, after all – but he couldn't remember those first early years. What he did remember was a warm afternoon when he was five, when he and his father had gone for a rather long and boring walk down the street. Lucius had been reading The Daily Prophet, and every now and then he'd make a scathing remark on one of the articles.

"Parker for Minister of Defense? They should just kill us now."

They walked through a neighborhood and passed by a small Muggle girl playing in her backyard. She wore a pink dress and had pink ribbons in her blonde hair, and as they passed by her, she gave Draco a shy smile.

He smiled back. Two seconds later, The Daily Prophet hit him square in the mouth.

The hit startled him and he turned to his father in surprise. One look at Lucius told him it wasn't an accident. The newspaper was rolled up in his hand and there was an angry look on his face. Draco felt the tears coming, stinging his eyes, but Lucius gripped his shoulder and said, "Don't you dare. Be strong. Be a Malfoy."

Later on, Draco would wonder if his father had hit him for smiling at a Muggle, or just for smiling in general.

Over the years, it became a sort of tradition for his father's pep talks to end with the phrase, "Be a Malfoy." Sometimes it consisted of only that phrase – he would be nervous about the exams and the only thing his father would say was, "Be a Malfoy." As if the phrase would give him the strength to do what he needed to do. As if he would magically know what it meant to be a Malfoy.

On his fifteenth birthday, his father gave him one of the family heirlooms: a ring that bore the Malfoy family crest, the ultimate sign that he'd been born and raised a Malfoy. The ring was too big to fit on his thin fingers, but Lucius had already foreseen that and had come up with an easy solution.

"Here," he said, handing Draco a chain. "Hang it on your neck and never take it off, so that you'll never forget who you are. Make me proud. Be a Malfoy."

Growing up, he thought it was normal for parents to say something like this. That Crabbe's parents would pat him on the head and say, "Don't you worry, just be a Crabbe." Or that Weasley's parents would send him owls before his awful Quidditch matches, bearing notes that said, "Make us proud. Be a Weasley."

But they didn't. Instead, the only phrase he heard other parents say was, "Be yourself." Always. Boarding the train, he would hear parents tell nervous first-years, "Don't worry. Just be yourself." Friends would say it to each other in the hallways. Ghosts would say it on Valentine's Day in the form of advice.

He wondered what it would feel like to have someone say that to him, until he realized that he didn't know who himself was. He didn't know who to be outside from what his father taught him. It was the first time he realized that he wasn't really himself, after all. He was a puppet. He was a Malfoy.

. . . . . .

It was when he started failing in Transfiguration that things got a bit tricky.

There was only one person in their year who got consistently better grades than he did, and though it made his stomach knot with something that felt a lot like nervousness, he knew he had to ask her for help.

He waited until he found her in the library alone one night, hunched over a book.

"Granger," he said.

She sat up, startled. He saw her fingers flicker towards the pocket of her robes, close to her wand, but she didn't pull it out. Instead, she watched him through narrow eyes. "What do you want, Malfoy?"

"I need your help."

She looked confused at first. It took her a few seconds to process what he said, and then her face hardened. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm failing Transfiguration."

She didn't say anything for a long time, just watching him. He knew that this was breaking all the Malfoy rules – Malfoys didn't ask for help, especially not from Mudbloods. He shivered slightly and grabbed the ring hanging from his neck. It felt cold in his palm. A reminder.

She asked, "Why would I help you?"

"Because you're too nice to say no." He was banking on this, but the truth was, he wasn't sure she would do it just to be nice. He wasn't sure she would do it for any reason. "I need your help, Granger. I wouldn't ask if I weren't desperate."

She stared at him and he met her gaze, staring right back. He couldn't remember the last time he had looked her in the eye. It was the first time he noticed that her eyes were the color of mud. Mud, or chocolate. He had to get closer to be sure.

She made up her mind. "Meet me here tomorrow."

. . . . . .

It took her a while to warm up to him. She refused to sit beside him, preferring to keep a safe distance between them. They needed their wands out when they were doing spells, but she kept her wand in her hands even when she didn't need it, twisting it around her fingers. She didn't trust him and he didn't mind. She was helping him. That was all that mattered.

And though she didn't trust him, she would close the books every night and say, "I'll see you here tomorrow?" and they would meet again the next night, and the next, and the next.

He was never more aware of the Malfoy ring hanging on his neck than he was now.

He wasn't sure when she started to relax, but she did. Her posture around him became less tense and the wand was in her hand only when she was using it. They began to talk to each other about things other than Transfiguration. Some of their conversations were serious ("I'm just saying that if something happened to Dumbledore, and McGonagall doesn't fill his shoes, this school is going to hell," Hermione said with certainty,) some were less so ("If the world was coming to an end, I'd stuff my face with strawberry flavored Bernie Bott beans," he said) and some were plain weird ("Of all non-magical creatures, I think baboons are the only ones that really have a butt. The rest of them just have butt holes.")

After two weeks, Professor McGonagall announced that they were having a test. He looked over his shoulder at Hermione, sitting in the back row between Potter and Weasley, and she nodded at him. That night, they met an hour earlier than usual.

"You're doing fine," she told him as he frowned at a plate in front of him. They were sitting in their usual corner in the library and Hermione had convinced the house elves to give her a set of dinnerware. He was trying to turn the plate into a teacup, and every time he did it, it always had a chip somewhere.

"Fine isn't good enough." He tapped the plate with his wand and it began to shrink, folding inwards and upwards until a cup stood on the table in front of him. There was a chip on its handle. "What am I doing wrong?"

"You're not focused. You're doing the spell right, but your mind isn't on it, so it's not working the way it should." She tapped his forehead with her finger. "There's too much going on up here."

"At least I have something going on up here. That's a lot more than I can say for Weasley."

She raised an eyebrow at him, pointing her wand at the cup. It flew towards him, hitting his head before falling into his lap. "Focus," she said sternly.

"That hurt, Granger."

"You deserved it." She watched him try the spell again. "You're not failing anymore. That's what you should be proud of."

"I won't be proud of anything until I have the highest grade in the class," he said.

She smiled at him. "Second highest."

"No. I'm coming for your spot, Granger."

"I can promise you that you won't get a higher grade than me," she said easily, and he liked that she wasn't threatened by him. "We might tie for first, but you won't beat me. This is the one case where the student won't become the master."

She placed a spoon in front of him and told him to turn it into a rose.

"Roses are hardest," she explained as he tapped the spoon with his wand. "The spell is tricky because there are a million ways to do it. You need to know what color you want, what shape you're going for, what size. Does the rose have thorns or not? How many petals are on the outside? You need to visualize it before you can do it."

A few petals popped out of the spoon, but other than that, it remained unchanged.

She rolled her eyes. "I told you to visualize."

"I can't do it while you're yapping on and on about it," he replied.

She took her wand out of her pocket and held it against the spoon. The handle began to turn green as it circled around itself, while the head of the spoon blossomed into a dozen red petals folding into each other.

"Well, look at that." Hermione held it out, smiling. "A perfect rose."

Draco felt the sides of his mouth quirking upwards. He shifted just slightly and the Malfoy ring moved with him, like ice against his skin, and he suddenly panicked. He bit down on the insides of his cheeks, looking away.

She frowned at him. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." He stood up, collecting his things. "I should go."

"Wait, what happened?" Hermione reached out, her hand brushing against the sleeve of his robes. He jerked his arm back. "Malfoy?"

He walked briskly out of the library and once he was out in the hallway, he ran, the chain on his neck bouncing against his chest the entire way.

. . . . . .

Some days he tried to imagine who he would be if he had been born into a different family. Would he still be the same person or would he be someone else altogether? Did genetics only rule your physical appearance or did it control your personality, too?

Sometimes he would pretend he was someone else, but he would always be jerked back to reality, like a rubber band that was stretched to its breaking point before retracting with a loud snap. He would suddenly become aware of the cold chain around his neck, the feel of the ring under his shirt, pressed against the center of his chest. And just like that, he would be reminded: he wasn't like everyone else. He wasn't allowed to be. He was a Malfoy.

The problem was how unsure he was of himself. He didn't know how to be anything but a Malfoy, and he wasn't even doing a very good job at being that. He tried to remember all the things his father told him about Mudbloods, like how they tainted the magical society and how their breath smelled of dirt, but he couldn't see any of that. All he knew was that Hermione Granger was helping him get better grades in Transfiguration, and that when she was close enough, her breath smelled of cinnamon.

. . . . . .

They stayed up late the night before their Transfiguration test, going over spell after spell. Hermione made him explain everything he was doing while he did it so she could be sure he had it memorized.

For the test, Professor McGonagall placed a written test next to a series of objects on their tables and left instructions for what they should do. Once the transfiguration is complete, you may leave, she had written on the board. Draco handed in the written test before moving on to the objects. He successfully transfigured a book into a chair, a tissue into a teapot, and a rock into a cup.

He wasn't the first to leave, but Hermione was still scribbling furiously on her written test as he stood to go. He thought she wouldn't notice him, but she looked up just as he walked past her. Their eyes met for one split second and he nodded at her.

That night, Hermione found an owl waiting for her on her bed. Tied to its leg was a perfect red rose.

. . . . . .

He wasn't sure if he could go back to the library after the Transfiguration test. He had no more business with her; she had done what he asked her to and there was nothing he needed from her anymore. But when the night rolled around, he found himself picking up his books and heading to the library anyway.

She was sitting in their corner, her head bent over a book. Exactly the same as the first time he had found her here. She looked up and gave him a welcoming smile.

His heartbeat quickened, but he said, "I thought I could do some of my homework here."

And so, every night, he and Hermione did their homework together. Some nights they didn't speak at all and simply sat in comfortable silence. Other nights, they avoided working by talking.

"I ran away from home when I was seven," she told him one night. "I really wasn't running away, though. My parents thought I ran away, but really I was just bored. I felt like going for a walk, so I went for a really long walk."

She laughed at herself, shaking her head, and from where he sat he could see the light put a twinkle in her eyes. Chocolate colored eyes, he decided. Not the color of mud at all, but a deep, rich chocolate color.

Another night, after he ran into Filch on his way to the library, Draco shared his theories with her. "There's sexual chemistry between Filch and Madam Pomfrey for sure."

She rolled her eyes at him. "You're crazy."

"Deny it all you want. I think those two have had sex on every surface of this school."

"Impossible. The ghosts would tell us about it," she said.

"They don't do it in front of the ghosts. Come on, Granger. Use your head. Imagine Filch naked on this table," he said, running his hands over the wooden surface. "Do you think he's hairy? I think he's hairy. Imagine his hairy, naked body pressing against this surface–"

"You are so gross."

"I can't imagine him doing any heavy lifting, either. Madam Pomfrey would probably be on top all the time."

Hermione shook her head at him, but she was smiling. "Why do you think these thoughts?"

"It's fun," he said. "Oh, come on. Like you haven't thought which of our professors are getting it on behind our backs."

"It's not behind our backs when it's none of our business. And technically, Filch and Madam Pomfrey are not professors." She flipped a page of a book absentmindedly, keeping her head down. "Besides, I thought Filch only had eyes for Mrs. Norris."

He smirked. "Beastiality? That's wild even for you, Granger."

She leaned forward to hit him with her book. "I don't mean he's having sex with the cat, you idiot."

"Your words, not mine."

It didn't take him very long to admit that he looked forward to seeing her every night. He knew he was breaking the rules, but he wasn't sure who put the rules there in the first place. She made him laugh a lot and he always felt guilty about it, the memory of The Daily Prophet hitting him still fresh in his memory, but there was no point fighting it. She made him happy and a little guilt didn't matter. He found himself staying in the library longer every night. One night, as he watched her put her books into her bag, he hoped she would give him an excuse to stay.

She didn't, but she seemed reluctant to leave, too. They'd been having a fun conversation about the possibility of Dumbledore and McGonagall having babies.

"Well," she said finally, swinging her bag over her shoulder. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

He had about half a second to make up his mind and he didn't stop to think about whether or not it was a good idea. "Can I walk you to your room?"

She looked surprised, but then again, he was surprised at himself too. "It's not very far," she pointed out, as if he didn't know. She waited and he said nothing, so she nodded. "Sure. Come on."

It was late, so everyone was asleep. The hallways were dark and silent, lit only by a few torches lining the walls, and the sound of their footsteps echoed through the corridors as they made their way to the Gryffindor common room. Most of the portraits were asleep, but some of them watched with wide eyes as Draco and Hermione passed by them.

All the while, Draco was aware of how close Hermione was, how easy it would be to reach out and hold her hand. It felt like they were the only two people in the world.

In no time, they reached the end of the corridor to the Gryffindor common room. They stood beside the portrait of the Fat Lady, whose eyes were closed. Either she was ignoring them or she was asleep.

"I should go," Hermione whispered, but she didn't move.

In the bare light of the corridor, Hermione's eyes were hidden in shadow. Draco stepped closer to her, running his hand down her arm, stopping to wrap around her wrist, his thumb at her pulse. Her heart was beating hard and fast – almost as fast as his.

He closed the distance between them and kissed her.

His mind went quiet and there was a fire raging in his chest. He moved his hands down her back, pulling her closer. Her hands came up to his sides and made their way up his stomach, to the center of his chest, sliding over the Malfoy ring, and just like that, the fire inside him turned to ice. He caught her hand and jerked it away, breaking the kiss.

She must have been surprised, but her face was still hidden in shadow. He clutched the ring, his fingers pressing the cool metal into his palm, and he willed his heart to slow down, willed the sick feeling in his stomach to subside.

He left her there, turning on his heel and walking away, but he felt her eyes burning into his back, watching him until he turned the corridor and she couldn't see him anymore.

. . . . . .

He didn't go back to the library for eight days, and when he finally did go back, he didn't know what to expect. He wasn't even sure she would still be there. But she was, sitting at their table in the corner, reading a book. It took a few days, but eventually they resumed their normal routine, though he didn't kiss her again for a very long time.

She was too smart not to notice the source of his anxiety. She brought it up one night, a few weeks later. "You touch that ring a lot," she told him, looking at the necklace he wore. His fingers instinctively wrapped around it. "There! Just like that. You do that a lot."

He shrugged. "Force of habit."

"See, that's what I thought too. But then I noticed you only hold it when you're uneasy. It's not something you do all the time."

"Maybe it relaxes me," he said.

"No, no. That's not it, either. You don't look relaxed when you're holding it. You look -," and she paused, looking at his face, as if she would find the answer there, "- guilty. You look guilty." He was surprised that she of all people had managed to see this in him.

He tried to brush past it, but she was too curious. She pressed him for answers, asking him where he got it and what it meant, until he finally opened up about his father and what the ring meant to him. "I guess it's a symbol of loyalty, in a way," he explained. "A sign that you believe in the things that the Malfoys stand for."

"And what do Malfoys stand for?"

"Wealth. Independence. Self-interest."

She scoffed. "Self-interest? You mean selfishness?"

"I mean that you put yourself first. You look out for yourself before anybody else. You don't help someone unless there's some benefit in it for you."

"Selfishness, then." She nodded at him. "What else?"

"Lots of other things," he said. He didn't want to tell her about the pure-blood mania, even though she probably already knew. She was too smart not to know. "Things I'm not sure I believe in."

She ran her finger over the wooden table, tracing shapes into the wood. "You don't have to be like your father, you know. There's nothing wrong with being different. You don't have to believe in anything you don't want to believe in." She shrugged and looked up at him, smiling slightly. "You know. Just be yourself."

He looked at her and his heart gave a painful squeeze. When he looked back on it, he thought that must have been the moment he first fell in love with her, though he didn't realize it until much later.

. . . . . .

Over the years, Hermione would joke about the 'Malfoy curse' every time his hand flew to the ring. She said it lightly, never taking it seriously, but sometimes Draco wondered if his father really did put a curse on the ring, an iron fist to jerk him back whenever he stepped out of line.

He shared his thoughts with Hermione once, who just laughed. "If there is a curse on it, it's not working very well, is it?" They were lying naked in his bed. She wrapped a leg around his, resting her head on his shoulder. The sheets slid lower as she shifted, exposing the smooth skin on her back, and she lifted the ring off of his chest, holding it between her fingers. "There's no magic in this. It's all in your head."

If there was a curse, it wasn't strong enough for him to care. He wrapped his hand around hers and rolled over so that he was on top of her, her naked body under his. He kissed her and the conversation was forgotten.

. . . . . .

In the end, it all came down to the day at the beach.

They had wanted to take a vacation together and Hermione insisted they go somewhere sunny. "Somewhere close to the shore, where we can listen to the ocean and the sand is so hot that it burns our feet."

"Sounds awful."

"Oh, shut up. It sounds great. You'll love it."

He did love it. The days were warm and the nights were crisp, and the pier was always crowded with people – tourists, street dancers, people walking their dogs, musicians, fishers. Homeless people, too. Draco and Hermione walked along the pier a lot and they always passed by a balding homeless man wearing faded jeans and a baggy T-shirt. He sat on a white bucket and glared at people as they walked by.

On one of those sunny mornings, Draco and Hermione were walking arm in arm when a dog – a lanky Labrador – barreled towards them. It knocked into the back of Hermione's legs but continued scrambling forward, chasing a flock of seagulls standing around on the edge of the pier. Hermione tripped backwards, reaching out to grab something for balance. She clutched the front of Draco's shirt, and a cold dread gripped Draco just as he heard something snap. The chain slid smoothly off his neck and the ring clattered to the floor, rolling around Draco's feet until tipping over in front of him. Hermione straightened herself, holding the chain in her palm.

"I broke it," she said softly, holding it out to him. "I'm –"

"It's fine," he said quickly. He picked up the ring and turned it over in his hand.

"You could wear it," she said. "It'll probably fit on your finger now. Or we could get the chain fixed. I'll buy you a new one, even."

He stared at the Malfoy crest and shook his head. "I have a better idea."

They walked down the pier until they found the homeless man. He gave them a hostile look until Draco went up to him and handed him both the ring and the broken chain. "Here. The ring should get you some good cash. The chain's broken, but they'll buy that from you, too."

The man looked from Draco to the ring to Draco again. "Are you sure?"

Draco nodded. "I'm sure." He took Hermione by the hand. "It'll do you more good than it ever did me."

"That was nice," Hermione said as they walked away. She leaned in closer, whispering, "Has the curse been lifted?"

He gave her a sidelong glance. She tried to keep a straight face, but she couldn't do it. She started to laugh, dodging him when he moved to give her a light shove.

"Come on," she said, laughing. "Now that you're allowed to decide your own fate, let's go get some ice cream."

He rolled his eyes, but for once when he felt that familiar tickle on the corners of his mouth, he didn't fight it. He looked at her and smiled.

. . . . . . . .

. . . . . .

A/N: Went to visit my parents for spring break and had absolutely nothing to do (they have no internet there – IMAGINE HOW I SUFFERED), and I found this little story waiting for me in my old computer. It took a while, but I fleshed it out and this is the end result. Hope you all liked it!