Disclaimer: The 'verse and the characters a JK Rowling's – all hail the supreme creator! I'm just gleefully playing in her sandbox, and own nothing except for my original plot concepts and characters, so please don't sue me; you'll get no joy from that anyway :D

Author's Note: Thanks to a plot bunny that a wonderful reader bounced into my head, I'm writing a short Dramione fic. It'll be 16,000 words maximum (probably more like 10 or 12,000 words,) and I'll post it in two or three parts. It's a slightly alternate take on their sixth year, following loosely along with HBP canon, and it's a little bit sweet, a little bit angsty, and a fair bit…strange.

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What He Requires


Wednesday 6th November, 1996

"I still think there's something going on with him, Hermione. Look at him," Harry directs in a whisper, glaring past Hermione's shoulder, and obediently – long-sufferingly – Hermione swivels as unobtrusively as possible to eye Malfoy. He sits at the Slytherin table of course, but Pansy is no longer by his side, and he speaks to no one. He's nudging at his porridge with his spoon idly, but that cold, pointed face looks pinched and ashen, and wears a far-away, drawn expression. Hermione has to admit, Malfoy doesn't look well. She pulls her eyes away from him just as he looks over towards the Gryffindor table, and she flushes faintly, wondering if he saw her staring. She leans forward towards Harry, keeping her voice low.

"Maybe there is, Harry, but I still think you're wrong about him being a Death Eater. He's too young. I just don't think Voldemort would –" Neville sits down next to Hermione and she cuts herself off sharply, smiling widely at Neville and bestowing a cheerful 'good morning' upon him. Their turns to lighter subjects than whether or not Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater, and Hermione is rather glad for that, because Harry has been harping on about Malfoy for ages now. She's sick of hearing about it, when there's nothing they can do to prove whether he is or not – and personally, she doesn't think he is.

Harry is fixated though, and Hermione has to admit he has a point about Malfoy's general appearance and behaviour lately being quite suspicious. Gone is the loud-mouthed, arrogant bully, and in his place is a withdrawn, haggard looking boy who only lashes out in retaliation. He's not with Pansy anymore – rumour is, the Slytherin witch actually ditched him, which was odd considering how much she'd been fawning over him at the start of the year. But the accuracy of the rumour is somewhat in question, seeing as Hermione heard from Luna, who heard it from Cho, who was told it by Anthony Goldstein, who said that Viola Dermott, the Slytherin girl he was tutoring, had been told by her year-mate Astoria Greengrass, who had overheard her sister Daphne and Pansy talking about it. The Hogwarts' grape vine is a convoluted affair but from the dejected air Malfoy has carried around lately, Hermione won't be surprised if the rumour turns out to be truth.

Either way, Malfoy's acting oddly, and Harry's convinced it's because he's a Death Eater and is obsessing over that, in between the times he's not being irresponsible with that mysterious potions book, or trying to do Dumbledore's tasks. And Ron's too busy with Quidditch and snogging Lav-Lav to pay any attention to either Harry or Hermione at the moment, and Hermione is beginning to feel…adrift. Restless. Irritated. She nibbles at her marmalade on toast and chats absently with Neville, friendly and light, but inside she's feeling rather unsettled. Everything seems a little off-kilter, with Harry and Ron both so pre-occupied with their own personal goings-ons, and she without anything to do herself, except study, and that's nothing new – it's just what she's always done.

There's a commotion across the Great Hall – the shatter of a plate on the floor – and Hermione and Neville break off their discussion about the difficulty of getting South American Dilmiliss Ruebenia plants to bloom in the greenhouse to stare across the Hall at the Slytherin table. Malfoy is saying something angrily in a low voice to Blaise Zabini – a denial of something, Hermione wants to guess, from the gestures he's making – and then he stalks off with hunched shoulders, leaving his untouched bowl of porridge shattered on the floor. Blaise laughs, but when the other Slytherin students seem to be querying him, he shakes his head regretfully and smiles a smug smile, mimics zipping and locking his lips. It's only when he sits down, that Hermione notices Pansy Parkinson is at Blaise's side, and she smiles up at him adoringly.

Hermione curls her lip and turns back to Neville with a smile. "You were saying that it's rather prone to root-rot?"

Tuesday 12th November, 1996

Hermione's late – she can't believe she's late. She's agreed to help a fourth year Muggleborn on their Transfiguration extra-credit essay in the library this free period, and she forgot. So now she's hurrying along the corridors at a brisk power-walk, digging through her bag, hoping she has the book she needs because she's already ten minutes late, and Keenan's essay is due tomorrow, and she's busy the rest of the day, and she promised. She's not looking where she's going, head bent over her bag, hair fluffing out wildly and cheeks flushed, panting as she flies along. It's hardly surprising that when she rounds a corner at a pace of power-walk that her Aunt Gerry would be proud of, Hermione goes slamming into another body.

They collide hard and a shock goes all up her arm, her bag falls off her shoulder and down her arm, tangling in the other person's bag and hooking them together, and she goes tumbling to the floor. A body lands half on Hermione with a thud that nearly cracks her ribs and she oofs as the breath is crushed out of her. Her bum hurts and her elbow stings, and when she opens her eyes to luminous grey ones, her heart nearly stops. They are pretty eyes. Charcoal rings around the irises, and crackled grey like shattered glass to the pupil, framed by long lashes, that are surprisingly sooty for who the eyes belong to. Hermione jerks in a breath as she realises who exactly they belong to, and recoils as much as is possible with her back on the stone floor and Draco Malfoy on top of her.

His eyes flutter and then focus on her face, and horror shapes his expression for a brief moment – and this close, he barely looks like Malfoy anymore. He is just straightness of nose and point of chin, fullness of lips and gaunt angles of jaw and cheekbone, and those fluttering luminous grey eyes beneath brows that are so, so dark compared to his white-blonde hair. He is not Malfoy this close, so close that Hermione can see his pores, and a scabbed over tiny scratch at his temple, and that he has a faint crease etched between his eyes even when he's not frowning. He is a composite of parts, a collection of features that don't seem to belong to anyone at first. And then he sneers and Hermione feels recognition at last, the melding of who she knows him to be and who he appears to be.

Only Draco Malfoy can sneer with such utter contempt.

His hand crushes her arm, his knees shoves painfully into her thigh as he scrambles up as though burnt. He treats her like she's part of the floor to shove off of, and she cries an 'ow!' and glares at him ferociously from her undignified position sprawled on the floor, panting and sore from where she hit the floor, and where he elbowed and kneed and shoved at her to get up. Unfeeling, horrid, evil git…who's currently on his hands and knees swearing in what sounds like panic as he shoves items back into his bag. Hermione sits up, eying Malfoy in his panic, and rather enjoying the sight of him all flustered and – and actually upset. Scared. That's fear on his face and in his voice as he mutters to himself angrily, too low for Hermione to make out the words, bar a curse or two.

She frowns and scrambles up onto her knees, beginning to gather her own spilled items, all tumbled together with his things. She's silent, not saying a single word, waiting for him to turn his anger onto her, but he doesn't – he seems too lost in the frenetic collection of his belongings. It's not normal. It's not natural. Malfoy should be taking great pleasure in mocking and taunting and berating Hermione right now – he should be trying to make her feel like the lowest, clumsiest vermin on the entire earth right now. But instead he almost seems on the verge of crying. Actually crying. If he was anyone other than Draco Malfoy, Hermione would ask solicitously what was wrong. But he isDraco Malfoy, so she just keeps her lips zipped and sneaks puzzled sideways glances at him as she shoves her things back into her bag.

There is something under her stripy jersey – it's a Hufflepuff House tie, and Hermione picks it up, wondering how it got there, amongst her things, when a hand snaps over her wrist. She jerks back but Draco holds her wrist tightly, his eyes filled with an odd, dangerous desperation as he glares at her. "That was in my bag, Granger."

"Let me go." Hermione glares back at him, contrarily clutching tighter at the tie, because he can't just grab her wrist and hurt it, and boss her about. "Let me go!" Her voice fairly cracks the air, and Draco's lower lip trembles, his eyes go all tight with a strange sort of despair, and then he opens his fingers and releases her wrist. "Give it back." He is kneeling right in front of her, and she draws the tie stupidly back into her lap, both in the corridor staring intently at each other barely half a foot apart, and she's rather glad no one has passed them yet. Why does he have a Hufflepuff tie? What's going on? As Harry would say, it's terribly suspicious, and Hermione doesn't like how out of place it seems. What is Malfoy up to?

"Give it back, Granger."

"Why have you got a Hufflepuff tie?" she asks without her brain consulting her mouth on whether it would be all right to speak, and Draco positively glowers at her with suppressed, frustrated rage.

"None of your fucking business, mudblood. Now give it back," he demanded, snatching at it. She jerks it back, standing, hooking up her bag and staring Malfoy down furiously, shaking with anger at the slur he'd spat at her, and he stands too. He has reached his adult height, and towers over her now, his pale hair dropping over his eyes and his fists clenched at his sides threateningly – but somehow Hermione knows he is impotent, that he won't do anything to her.

"Who's is it?" she demands, for one made second thinking that Harry might be right – that Malfoy might be a Death Eater, and his job is to kill off Hufflepuffs, or something. She shakes away the madness, because there is obviously a reasonable explanation, and puts the tie behind her back, her other hand on her hip as she waits for him to answer.

"Give. It. Back. Granger." He steps forward, leaning over her, a dangerous slither to his voice, and Hermione remembers a little that desperation makes people do things they otherwise never would. But why does a Hufflepuff tie make Malfoy so desperate? "No," she said primly and turned away from him, about to stalk off, because there's no way Malfoy needs a Hufflepuff tie, and it might belongs someone who will want it back. She can check the tie to see if it's labelled with its owner's name somewhere, and if it's not she can ask one of the Hufflepuffs to ask their Housemates if anyone's lost a tie.

Malfoy's hand closes around her wrist, jerking her to a halt, and Hermione whirls on him, about to snarl at him to 'let me go' when he says, "Please."

There's a grinding resentment to his voice, but nevertheless, Draco Malfoy has said 'please' to Hermione, and she blinks up at him in shock as he says it again.

"Please. Granger." He tries not to looks so white and desperate; she can tell. He sighs, still holding her wrist, his hand shockingly warm and dry on her skin, with faint rough calluses from gripping a Quidditch broom. Hermione's world wobbles on its axis. His free hand swipes over his face, and she can see he's trying to suppress his anger, trying to look casual and irritated. But she can see through it, now. "Just give me the damn tie. Or do I have to hex you to get it back?"

She silently hands the tie back to him, the yellow and black fabric slithering through her hand into his large one, that she now knows is warm and dry and callused, and that is something Hermione didn't need to know about Malfoy. She doesn't give it back because of his threat; that doesn't scare her. She gives it back because for a moment she saw him underneath the mask, and he was so very scared and angry. He doesn't say thank you – he just stares at her for a moment, his adam's apple bobbing as he swallows, his grey eyes a little puzzled in with the anger and the fear and the…gratitude that flickers on his face for a split second. And then he turns on his heel and strides away, shoving the tie in his bag as he walks.

Hermione stares blankly after him for a moment, wondering what on earth that was, when she suddenly remembers the Muggleborn she'd agreed to help with his Transfiguration essay. "Oh no!" Her watch says she is now nearly twenty minutes late, and her shoes clatter on the stone floors as she runs for the library, hair flying out behind her, all thoughts of Malfoy's odd behaviour forgotten for now.

Saturday, 23rd November, 1996

"Well, that is strange, 'Mione – very bloody strange. But I'm not sure what a Hufflepuff tie has to do with anything. It's hardly a Death Eater thing, is it?" Ron comments from his sprawl on the floor in front of Hermione's armchair, doodling broomsticks and snitches idly on a scrap bit of parchment with a rather leaky quill, his fingers getting all inky. Hermione is still mad at him about his obsession with Lav-Lav, but she has decided to try very hard to be mature, and suppress her intense irritation. He, Hermione, and Harry are tucked away in a private corner of the Gryffindor common room, which is empty, most of their Housemates having gone into Hogsmeade.

Only the first and second years are left, and Ron's glowering glances at them keeps the younger students from encroaching on their corner. Hermione has, after much private pondering, decided to talk to Harry and Ron about the incident in the corridor with Malfoy, and she doesn't want anyone overhearing. The muffliato Harry cast earlier has ensured their privacy, although Hermione gave her bespectacled friend a glare for using it – no matter how useful it is, she doesn't like him using that book. He is browsing through it absently now as he nibbles on a chocolate frog, listening intently to he conversation. Multitasking – who would have thought Harry was capable, Hermione thinks to herself with a faint smile.

"It's not, really," Harry has to admit. "I'm still sure he is, but that – I don't know what that's about. Maybe he nicked it off a Hufflepuff to be a prat, or something."

She shrugs, snuggling back into the cosy arm chair she's claimed for herself and frowns thoughtfully, fingers curled around the Charms textbook on her lap. She should be doing the required readings, but Malfoy's strange behaviour has been on her mind since it happened. She can't stop puzzling over it.

"Well, no, it's not Death Eater behaviour, but then I don't think he's a Death Eater anyway, Harry. But it's still odd, don't you think? I just can't figure out why he was so insistent about a Hufflepuff tie, of all things. I don't see why he'd get so upset if it was just a tie he'd nicked from someone. He was so terrified that I'd found it, and so desperate to get it back, that it was like he just completely forgot to be a total bigoted arse."

"Merlin's balls, are we going to spend all day talking about that git?" Ron complains, and Hermione glares at him.

"Ronald! And no, we're not – I just thought Harry might like to know Malfoy was acting strange."

"Death Eater strange, Hermione. Not strange…strange," Harry comments with a fond smile to soften his dismissal of the incident, and Hermione bites back an annoyed retort. She listens to Harry go on and on and on about Malfoy being a servant of Voldemort now, and he can't even spend five minutes pondering why Malfoy was so attached to a tie that he had forgotten to do what had always seemed to be his main joy in life – be horrible to Hermione. It hadn't been natural, and Hermione has watched him since, as closely as Harry has been watching him, and she is noticing all these things about Malfoy that if Harry or Ron were displaying, would have her terribly worried. Of course, it's Malfoy, so she's not worried – but she is intrigued, and confused.

Hermione has observed that Malfoy has withdrawn into himself entirely – he is no longer the Prince of Slytherin House, with all his loyal minions. He has become an outsider, a loner, and although that appears to be by choice, Parkinson and Zabini seem to be mocking him without him even retaliating – he just hunches up and retreats further into himself. This is not natural behaviour for Draco Malfoy, and the other students in Slytherin House appear to be as bewildered by this as Hermione is. Watching him in the Great Hall at mealtimes, Hermione sees Malfoy is not eating. He's walking around with bruises of strain and sleeplessness under his eyes, and he's no longer being the least bit cruel or horrible to anyone but Harry on occasion, and even that seems lacklustre.

Well, Hermione decides, as she opens her Charms textbook to pg 102 and begins to read, if Harry and Ron don't think it's worth investigating this aspect of Malfoy's odd behaviour, then she will.

Sunday 5th January, 1997

Hermione is rather enjoying insulting the Minter for Magic in all the clever ways she can think of, trying to best Harry's rather inventive insults. It is a passable way to spend the evening, as long as she ignores Ron and Lavender's behaviour across the common room, which isn't easy. But her mind is only half on what she and Harry are saying – she keeps thinking about what Harry had said about Malfoy and Snape. Harry is right – it is suspicious that Malfoy threatened Borgin by invoking Greyback's name. But Hermione still isn't convinced that something else entirely is going on. Her mind keeps going back to the stark fear in Malfoy's eyes when he saw Hermione holding that tie.

Why? What scared him so much? Hermione is convinced the key to his behaviour is not Snape, or Greyback, but that tie. She doesn't know why she thinks that, but she does. It's ridiculous, and even she can't explain it – she just has a feeling. Merlin, she's just like Harry with his feeling that Malfoy's a Death Eater. Well, now they're back at school Hermione can investigate Malfoy further, and see if she can figure out what his issue is. Before Hermione goes up to bed, she tells Harry that maybe he's right – maybe Malfoy is a Death Eater, and that she'll help Harry watch him, and look for evidence. It sounds a more reasonable explanation for spying on Malfoy than a Hufflepuff tie and a look of vulnerable fear – and it makes Harry happy to know that she thinks he may be right.

Wednesday 29th January, 1997

Hermione is exhausted. It has been a long, tiring, horrid day, in which it feels like everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and she is feeling absolutely miserable. Ron has been an utter cad and inadvertently made her cry twice today, Malfoy – who looks even more stressed and haggard as the weeks pass – ran into Hermione on the way to Transfiguration and knocked her down, sending her books everywhere. She wouldn't have been upset by it because it was only an accident, except Malfoy took the chance to sneer at her and snarl, 'Clumsy mudblood bitch' before stalking off. It had been so unexpected after Malfoy's retreat into himself lately that Hermione had actually felt tears spring to her eyes – she is no longer inured to being called a mudblood and pushed around. She has let her guard down, and that comment has cut her to the quick.

So Hermione has decided to go up to the prefect's bathroom to have a nice, long soak and try to forget her misery. She doesn't use it often, but when she does she always feels better afterwards, it's so luxurious and relaxing. She treads her weary way up to the fifth floor, and thankfully when she says the password the door swings silently open – the bathroom unoccupied, or the door would have been bolted shut. Hermione steps inside with a quiet sigh and slams the heavy bolt home, and then spins around flattening her back to the door when she hears a wretched gasp all choked with tears. Oh Merlin. Malfoy is sitting on the floor – fully-clothed thank Merlin – leaning against the wall and desperately wiping at his tear-streaked face with the cuffs of his oxford shirt.

Hermione bites her lip, stunned into stillness. Malfoy is crying. His nose is snotty and red, his eyes are watery and bloodshot, and his breath is hitching wildly as he tries to calm himself. She doesn't know what to do. She's never seen him like this before. She's never even imagined Malfoy could cry like this, could look this miserable and…furious. He glares at her, scrambling to his feet and sniffling angrily, seemingly just as horrified and stunned as she is right now. He is crying and filled with mortified defensiveness, and Hermione reacts on pure instinct. She doesn't wonder how he got in, or tell him off for being in the prefects' bathroom, or laugh at him, because she's too busy staring at him with round, stunned eyes.

"I – I'm so sorry. I didn't know – the door was unlocked. Are you – are you all right?" is the first thing that comes out of her mouth, and Malfoy rears back as though she's slapped him and his lips form that familiar sneer of contempt. It's not quite so effective though when he's teary and snot-smeared, and his hands are shaking, and his shoulders heaving as he tries to steady his breathing.

"I bet you think this is really fucking funny, don't you?" he snarls, crossing the room towards her with jerky-quick movements, a disjointed prowl, and Hermione shakes her head fast. She feels sorry for Malfoy. She actually feels sorry for him. She doesn't think any of this is funny at all. She wishes desperately she'd never come up here. And he's very angry. She fumbles in her robe for her wand and can't find the pocket before Malfoy reaches her. He's suddenly in front of her lightning-fast, and his hands slam against the door either side of her head, and his face is just inches from hers. She gasps and turns her head away, still scrambling for her wand in the folds of her robe, flattening herself further back against the door.

Malfoy doesn't seem as impotent now as he had in the corridor that day she'd seen the tie. Now he seems frighteningly dangerous. Hermione looks up at him and glares, her eyes narrowing. She puts her hand to her chest and tries to push him back, and her hand splays over his heart, and he is warm through his shirt and his chest is heaving raggedly, she can feel his heartbeat as she shoves at him and he resists for a moment. Hermione's breath wrenches in as his heart thuds against her palm, and suddenly her throat is dry and her mind is screaming at her that this is far more weird and embarrassing than find Malfoy crying. He seems to realise the intimacy of their position at the same moment as her, because as Hermione drops her hand, he steps back fast, and they stare at each other for a moment.

"No," Hermione says it in a voice that shakes a little. "I don't think it's funny. I'm not a horrible person who takes delight in other's suffering…" like you do, she finishes silently, and from his expression Malfoy hears those unspoken words just as clearly as she thought them.

"Oh fuck you, you high-and-mighty, self-righteous fucking mudblood," he spits and Hermione feels her blood go cold and her skin crawl horribly as he sneers at her. "You lying bitch. You're going to go running straight back off to Potter and the Weasel and tell them all about how you caught Draco Malfoy…" He stops and hitches in tearful breath and smudges his cuff over his eyes again, his ashen, thin face all pinched with anger and humiliation. "And you're all going to have a fucking good laugh."

"No I'm not!" Somehow it seems important that Hermione defend her honour to the Slytherin – she doesn't want even Malfoy thinking she is a liar, and a horrible person. That isn't who she is. "I would never tell anyone that I saw you – well. I wouldn't. That would be wrong."

"That would be wrong?" he asks, in disbelief, as though she is an alien and he can't understand her at all. Hermione supposes in Malfoy's mind, there would be no comprehension of it being wrong to kick someone when they were down; to him, there was probably no better time. She folds her arms across her chest, gaining a little mental equilibrium, and nods. "Yes. I know that's a foreign concept to you, Malfoy, but some of us actually have moral standards. So, I'm not going to tell anyone about…this, but only if –" She breaks off and squeaks as Malfoy's hand slams into her shoulder and pins her back against the door, his face jammed up close to hers again.

"But only if what, Granger? But only if what? Are you seriously trying to blackmail me? Because I swear to Merlin, I will make you fucking regret it." His voice is snarling and ferocious and his bloodshot eyes are hard, and Hermione is suddenly actually frightened of him as he snaps out those last two words. Her hand slips back down into her inside robe pocket, finding it at last, and closes around the butt of her wand.

"Oh shut up, Malfoy," she snaps, as though utterly fed up with him instead of just a little bit scared. "Merlin, you're a git. I was going to say, but only if I don't catch you in here again, because you're not supposed to be using the prefects' bathroom, and I'll have to report you if I see you doing it again."

He blinks those grey eyes and straightens, looking down at her in confusion. "Oh." He wipes his eyes again and steps back, turning his face away, his breath coming normally now, as though he's finally calming down. "Oh."

Hermione cocks her head to the side and tries to catch his eye, and says without thinking again, "Are you, um, all right?" Because he was crying and so upset and she's never seen him like this before, and whether he's Malfoy the git or not, there's something about seeing the utter misery of another human being that makes Hermione want to reach out. He stares at her in disbelief, and a snarky, mean retort seems to hover on his lips, before he swallows and shakes his head.

"No. No I'm not, Granger," Malfoy says simply. There's a sarcastic little twist to his mouth. "I would think that would be obvious."

His simple honesty rocks Hermione to the core, and she just gapes at him for a moment, before snapping her mouth shut and then asking what social convention says she is supposed to ask next. "Do you want to talk about it?" she inquires in a small voice, and Malfoy gives her a look that is more exasperated than disgusted.

"No. No I don't. Now can you move, or are you determined to trap me in here with you while you torture me by asking me about my feelings, and using me to stroke your do-gooder ego?" He arches an eyebrow at her and his expression is superior and scathing despite his still rather teary looking state, and Hermione feels like an idiot. She shuffles out of the way of the door, and stares at him speechlessly as Malfoy stalks up to it, jerks the bolt back and the door open. And then he pauses and facing the corridor, with his head bowed, he says something very low under his breath, and then strides out, slamming the door behind him. Hermione gulps and blinks, and then steps forward to bolt the door again, wandering absently to the enormous bathing pool, feeling as though she is in shock.

She strips and sinks into the water – she may as well enjoy her bath, and frankly, she needs to unwind even more after that. Hermione spends the next hour soaking in the steamy hot water and running over and over the confrontation in her mind until it seems to have lost all meaning, or gained meanings that really aren't there; and Malfoy's face as he looked up at her that first moment is emblazoned in her mind. What was he crying about? What is making him so miserable that he's acting the way he is, and crying in the bathroom? Is it the strain of being a Death Eater, maybe? And had she just hallucinated what he'd mumbled when he'd paused on the threshold, or had Draco Malfoy really said 'thank you' to her?

Hermione takes a deep breath and slides beneath the surface of the water, her hair fanning out around her, trying to clear her mind and forget about it all for now.

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Author's Note: Reviews are appreciated :)