a/n: I have no idea how this turned from 1,000 word drabble to an 8,000 word fic. I'm so sorry. It's all Sara's fault. Please forgive any errors I may have missed and thank you for reading this.
After Ron insults her for simply trying to help him in Charms, Hermione thinks about going to the girls' toilets for a good cry, but she never makes it that far.
Instead, she steps into the library to find a book on hexes and comes across the rude Slytherin boy she'd met on the train. He barely notices when she walks into his aisle, and she goes to reach for a book too far out of her reach.
"I'm terribly sorry to intrude, but could you please help me?" The Gryffindor in her asks quietly, and when his gray eyes look up exasperatedly at her, she tries her best to appear strong.
"Go find Madam Pince," He says without preamble, but she's more stubborn than he seems to know.
"Why? You're already here and at least eight inches taller than me," She huffs.
He narrows his eyes slightly at this small, bushy-haired nuisance, "If I get your bloody book will you leave me alone?"
Rolling her eyes, she nods and watches as she stands quickly, the silver and green of his tie whirling by her face, one arm outstretched effortlessly.
The heavy book falls into her arms and she smiles appreciatively.
"What are you reading this for anyway? It's at least third year level magic," He asks in what she thinks is an effort at nonchalance.
When she just shrugs, he doesn't seem satisfied so she responds, "I already read the first and second year books as a bit of light reading."
"Well, aren't you just a little know-it-all?" His words are cruel, but his tone sounds more impressed than anything.
Hermione Granger holds her head high for the first time all day and replies, "We can't all rely on our daddy's money to succeed in life."
Before he can manage a retort, she turns on her heel and goes to find an empty classroom.
The Slytherin common room is drafty at best and down right frigid at worst, so Draco spends most of his evenings in the library. Though that bint of a librarian would never allow a fireplace near her precious collection, it's still a warmer alternative. Most of the people in his house didn't even notice, but even as a boy he'd hated the cold.
Getting into the library was harder thanks to Dumbledore's complete incompetence to keep students from being mauled by a giant mysterious creature, so he waits until he's certain all the teachers will be at dinner before he makes his escape.
Of course, the entire school is so far beyond paranoid that no one lingers in the halls, afraid they'll be the next victim. Dirty Mudbloods. He ignores the roar coming from the Great Hall, sure that everyone was discussing the Basilisk's latest victims.
As far as he was concerned, Hermione Granger deserved what she got for sneaking around on her own. He'd see her from time to time, slipping into the library when she thought no one would notice. Idiot girl.
He's too far wrapped up in his own thoughts that he doesn't even notice Lockhart coming directly from the other end of the corridor.
"Draco! What are you doing alone at this time of night?" Lockhart doesn't even wait for a reply, "Looking for the monster no doubt? Unfortunately, Draco, we can't all be heroes. Well… I can, obviously, but you haven't quite-"
Tired of the inane chatter, he blurts out the first thing that comes to his mind, "I'm going to see a friend of mine in the hospital wing. They were petrified."
Lockhart's eyebrows shoot up at this, "I didn't know there were any Slytherin's attacks?"
"They aren't a Slytherin."
"Ah, a little inter-house mingling is one of my top priorities in my classes," He suddenly pulls a long peacock feather quill and piece of parchment out of thin air. "Well no worries, dear boy! I'll write you a note for Poppy, who are you visiting?"
Mentally cursing his memory, he tries in vain to remember the names of the other victims, but coming up with nothing, he grinds out, "Hermione Granger."
Lockhart smiles in what seems like a knowing manner. "Star-crossed lovers, eh? My lips are sealed."
When Lockhart finally hands over the bit of parchment and leaves him, Draco decides he has no choice than to trudge up to the infirmary. Handing Madam Pomfrey the note and trying very hard to avoid eye contact, she leads him to Granger's bed.
For the first time in her life, Granger is blissfully quiet, and for one awful second he thinks he might miss her never-ending motor mouth. Her brown eyes are glossy and open, and he looks over her thick hair and rounded chin. The curious 12-year-old boy traces the contours of her frozen face with interested eyes. He never noticed her freckles, speckled out across her cheeks, standing out against her paled winter skin.
Tearing his eyes away from her small nose, he turns to leave abruptly. He didn't want anyone finding out he had been to see her of all people.
Freeing Sirius Black opens a part of Hermione that she never knew she had inside her. She remembers sitting diligently under a heavy hat debating where she should spend the next seven years and nervously trying not to sway the hat's decision.
"A steady wit and a thirsty brain but no desire for power. Oh, and a strong sense of morality, too. Unafraid of being mocked for your intelligence, very interesting indeed. Now I see … yes, it's much clearer than before… better be, GRYFFINDOR."
She'd read all about the houses before arriving and always counted on being a Ravenclaw, but as she clutches Harry on the back of a hippogriff with an escaped convict behind her, she finally feels at home in her house. As a little girl, Hermione never was shy or scared to ask questions and the arrival of her Hogwarts letter just clicked everything into place in her brain.
Days later, when Harry and Ron are busying packing things they should've done a week prior, she's out wandering the grounds, taking in the first bit of summer on the grounds.
"Come to do us all a favor, Granger, and go for a swim with the Giant Squid?" A sneering voice comes from behind her, and she turns sharply to see Malfoy's platinum head shining in the sunlight.
She tuts, "What, no body guards today? I guess they learned from the last time."
The gray in his eyes almost disappears as he narrows his gaze dangerously, "You filthy, little-"
"Do you honestly think your insults phase me anymore? I assure you the novelty wore off months ago, Malfoy." She sighs, causing him to blink blankly back at her, clearly caught off guard.
He takes a menacing step towards her, but she doesn't feel particularly frightened. "I don't care how you feel, Granger, no one hits a Malfoy and gets away with it."
At his words, she laughs, a high-pitched jovial sound, causing his scowl to deepen.
"Expelliarmus," He says lazily, catching her off-guard and easily catching her wand.
"What are you going to do, Malfoy? Hex me?" She prods, a full attempt at bravado.
Grabbing her arm, he starts pulling her towards the Forbidden Forest. "If you scream, I'll just silence you, Granger." His threat is warm and low on her ear, almost a growl.
"I don't know what you're playing at, Malfoy, but if you don't let me go-"
"What? You'll curse at me? Hardly a terrifying prospect." He drawls, still pulling until they're inside the cover of the trees.
He turns her to face him, wand thrust into her neck, "How does it feel, Granger? To be without power."
Glaring at him evenly, she doesn't bow her head. "You're even more of an idiot than I thought if you think I'm powerless."
Malfoy raises an eyebrow, "I'm prepared for a physical attack this time, I won't be taken by surprise again."
Hermione grins maliciously at him, "Oh, it eats away at you that a Mudblood hurt you, doesn't it? Probably keeps you up at night, trying to figure out when it was exactly that you started underestimating me. I guess Crabbe and Goyle are too scared of you to say something about it to your face, but you've overheard them haven't you? Talking about what a coward their little master is-"
Before she can register what's happening, he's moved with lightning precision, pressing his lips to hers so hard, she wants to whimper at the pain. Instead his lips move hungrily against her own and her brain slows to a grinding halt. Her mouth is moving in what seems to be a separation from the rest of her body until her brain finally comes screeching back into action.
She's never been kissed before, and she'll be damned if she lets Malfoy rob her of that experience.
Leaning into him slightly, she takes advantage of his distraction and slips her wand out of his pocket before biting down on his bottom lip.
He jerks away, bleeding slightly, "How dare you-"
"How dare you?" She yells back, pointing her wand evenly at his face. "Don't you ever touch me again."
"I guess it's only the Weasel that gets to see what you're hiding under that sweater of yours, eh, Granger?" He mocks, ignoring the pain in his mouth.
She narrows her eyes, "I hate you, Malfoy."
Turning to walk away, she hears him chuckle a little behind her.
"No you don't." He grins victoriously, "You kissed me back."
The Yule Ball might be the stupidest thing he's ever heard of, and he's seen Weasley try to answer questions in Snape's lessons. He asks Pansy mostly because she's sitting next to him when Snape says with obvious disdain the school is holding a ball, but also partly because he knows she'll say yes and won't annoy him incessantly to dance with her.
He greets her in the common room, not bothering to even comment on her dress. She whines about something, but he doesn't care enough to listen.
As they wait to enter The Great Hall, Pansy gasps next to him and he turns lazily to look at the staircase. Had he not noticed the exact number of freckles on her cheekbones in the past, he probably wouldn't have known the girl descending was Granger. Even her blood status can't stop him from admitting how radiant she looks in her dress robes.
Half-expecting to see Weasley at the bottom of the stairs, his mind reels at the sight of Viktor Krum taking her hand in his and kissing it gently, causing a deep crimson to cover her face.
"How did she get him to go with her? Love potion, no doubt." Pansy sneers from beside him, but privately he disagrees.
Though she's always covered with frumpy sweaters, Granger isn't unattractive. After Goyle's stunt with her teeth, he's noticed they're nearly as perfect as his own now and her eyes are a warm round shape; even her hair isn't as awful as it had been in previous years.
Furthermore, she was unashamedly intelligent and confident. He could understand the pull in the back of his mind, though he was loath to admit it.
Pansy disappears approximately two hours into the Ball off dancing with some sixth year. He doesn't care, Pansy is hardly a source of worry for him. She'd always pick the richest bloke in the room, and that was inevitably always him.
He goes to stretch his legs and stumbles upon Granger, tears on her face in the gardens.
"Oh, not you too." She says irritably, crossing her arms at her chest and he rolls his eyes.
"Contrary to popular belief, I do not merely exist to antagonize you and your two dolt sidekicks." He says evenly, no trace of malice in his voice.
She laughs bitterly, "Pansy find someone better to spend her evening with?"
He's fairly certain she means the words to hurt him, but considering her cheeks are still wet and her nose is puffy, he can't even be bothered to feel remotely insulted.
"Most likely." He shrugs. "Krum?"
"Ron scared him off by being his usual ridiculous self, and - why on earth am I telling you this?" She stutters, looking horrified at herself.
Bringing his drink to his lips, he shrugs again. "It's not as if I'm going to go gossip to Pansy about it."
Eyeing him warily, she asks, "Why are you not being - well not nice per se - but not horrible to me?"
"As I said before, Granger, I don't live to insult you, that's simply a bonus." He doesn't mean it, not really, and he thinks he sees her smirk from behind her hands.
Looking up at the clear sky, he sucks in a deep breath full of freezing air. She doesn't move, though he expects her to leave after a little sparring match. Rather than retreating, she huddles herself into her cloak. A pair of seventh years giggle tipsily behind them as they run to find their own bush to occupy.
He feels itchy under her curious gaze and readies himself to leave, and for one small moment he feels sorry for her.
"The Weasel is an idiot, and you're even more of an idiot for listening to his vacuous remarks," He says before he can fully register the words.
"Careful, Malfoy, or I might think you're complimenting me." Her mouth twitched slightly at the corners.
He attentively took notice of her shiny hair falling gracefully from it's tight bun, how the moonlight was framing her face, and the roundness to her cheeks.
"You wish, Granger," He smirked and then continued walking back into the Ball to tell Pansy goodnight.
Getting a prefect letter was probably the highlight of Hermione's entire summer. Never did she dream that upon her arrival back to Hogwarts, she would see Malfoy sitting in the prefect carriage. He looks up at her with the usual sneer and she just scoffs and pushes past him to sit next to Ron. She really doesn't know what on earth Dumbledore was thinking at all when he decided Draco Malfoy a good choice for a position of power.
Even worse was the prospect of patrols with him, as every prefect would be partnered together at least once. She manages to evade being stuck with him until around November and when they meet at the prefect's bathroom, she does her best not to roll her eyes upon sight of him.
"Your lucky night, isn't, Granger?" He says with a half-cocked grin.
"Oh yes, I've been waiting for months and months for this night," She responds dryly.
He rolls his eyes, "Put away the claws, it'll make the night go along much faster."
They walk in silence for nearly half an hour, nothing particularly out of the usual to spot other than a third year roaming around with a pile of Fizzing Whizzbees.
"For Merlin's sake, Granger, I've had better conversation in a graveyard." Malfoy finally says, turning to look at her with an annoying smirk.
"Yes, I hear your father frequents them," She digs back, not looking over to see it land.
That's probably why she's taken by surprise when his hand closes tightly around her arm and he whirls her around in the middle of the fifth floor corridor and stares her hard in the face with his pale eyes and hisses, "I am not my father."
After the initial shocked of being grabbed wears off, she says calmly back, "Yet." At the look he gives back she huffs, "It's a statement of fact! You've spent the last five years calling me a Mudblood, you bully those weaker than you, and you protect your family even though they are awful people-"
"Watch it, Granger, it sounds like you think you actually know anything about me." He growls back.
Hermione just glares in response and says, "I would love for you to give me an example of a contradiction to any of those claims."
When he gives her an incredulous look, she raises a quizzical brow.
"Did someone obliviate you after the Yule Ball?" He says, still holding onto her arm.
"Of course not. I just thought you might've been drunk." She replies coolly,
He lets out a snort at that, "I am no nicer when I'm drunk, I assure you."
"Reassuring," She says dryly.
His hand is leaving a warm impression on her arm and she distinctly remembers telling him to never touch her again, and yet, here he is. She looks down at his pale and slender fingers and tries not to find them interesting or - god forbid - beautiful. He watches her eyes but doesn't let go.
"I'll make a deal with you, Granger, because we are going to be doing patrols together at least once or twice," He starts, then looks at her expectantly. She nods in reply and he continues, "You don't make any assumptions about me and I won't insult you."
She wonders if this is actually Malfoy? Did someone club him over the head between breakfast and now?
"Okay, but you can also stop calling me 'Granger', it's awful." She agrees.
"What am I supposed to call you? That's your name." He says, his eyebrows scrunched together at this request.
For a prefect, he was a very thick one. "I do have a first name. And it isn't 'Mudblood'." She retorts and watches as the name causes him to wince.
She wonders if he picks up on this olive branch she's trying to extend. She doesn't want him to be evil, in fact she hopes he isn't.
"Very well… Hermione." He struggles. "But don't expect to start swapping gossip anytime."
Secretly, she smirks at his acceptance of a truce.
"Of course not, Draco." She says just to see the look on his face, but rather than getting ornery or angry, his eyes go round and his hold on her is released.
"Alright, let's get a move on or we'll never get to bed tonight." She finally says, resuming their path through the castle.
The Christmas Slug Club party is even dumber than The Yule Ball had been, and of course he's not upset he wasn't invited. He had much bigger plans being laid out for him than some dumb cocktail party. Still, he ends up gate crashing the party and getting called out by his arse of a professor and then cornered by Snape of all people.
He's getting very tired of others trying to control him, whether it be Dumbledore, Voldemort, or Snape. When he manages to get away from his head of house, he rounds a corner and finds Hermione looking rather cross.
"What's got your knickers in a twist?" He sneers and she looks over and rolls her eyes, but not in an unfriendly manner.
"Men." She seethes.
"Scum of the earth, really." He says nonchalantly.
"Look, if you just came here to mock-"
"Actually I turned a corner and was afraid I might be attacked." He shrugs. "McLaggen not your type?"
Hermione looks up and laughs a cold sound. "I only did it to make Ron jealous, but then Cormac started kissing me under the mistletoe and he wouldn't let go, so I forced him to."
Guiltily in the back of his mind, Draco knew he had once done the same thing to her. But she kissed back. She had? Hadn't she?
"Sounds like a tosser," Draco says in return. "You have a thing for tossers, don't you?"
She huffs at him, "Must wound your ego to know you aren't one of them."
"It is a heartbreak I once feared I could not endure, I must admit." He only half-jokes.
And then she just stares at him, it's like she's never seen him before. Her brown eyes go even more round than usual and her mouth is a little less tight.
"Why do you only do this with me? Joke around?" She asks softly and it's so not a question he wants to even think about answering.
"You don't bore me, Gr- Hermione, it's a national tragedy the you chose to befriend Potter, who is at best irritating, and Weasley, who is so thick I could use him as a bludger at the next quidditch match." He quips easily, trying to ignore the searing in his forearm.
Unfortunately, she is the smartest witch of their year and she glances down to where he's rubbing his arm. He watches her brown eyes go wide and prepares himself for the fallout.
"A true Malfoy," It's her turn to sneer, but he doesn't take it to heart, because she's not wrong is she?
"Like I had a choice," He scoffs. "You don't know what it's like, Granger, this has been planned since before my birth. While you were off being hopelessly mundane in Muggle London, I was being groomed for subservience."
It's not a lie, he had spent the majority of his life watching and listening to his parents tell him what to do - or not to do in many cases - in front of the Dark Lord. Having met his new boss, he personally felt that there was no right way to present yourself in front of a mad man. Hermione blinks at his response and looks down.
"You'll always have a choice, Draco." She almost whispers.
He tries not to flinch at his name on her tongue. He turns his back to her, trying not to let the fear in his face override his throat as he forces out, "We can't all be Gryffindor martyrs like Potter. I will never have a choice."
For the first time, it's Hermione's hand that reaches out to touch him. Her fingers are cold even through the fabric of his sweater, but he doesn't pull back. He wants her to hold on as long as she can - he thinks about all the horrible things he's done over the years and like a true Slytherin, though he doesn't deserve this small pardon, he takes it greedily.
"You're not a very good person," She starts when he finally turns back to face her. "But you could be."
He wants to throw back his head and laugh at that. No. He could never be anything other than this.
"Weasley is never going to deserve you," He says, taking in the pain on her face at the mention of the other Gryffindor.
"No," She shakes her head. "No, I don't suppose he will, but what choice do I have?"
He smirks at the irony, and gently reaching out to hold her chin high and in place he responds, "Gryffindor martyrs, the lot of you. Don't waste your potential on someone who lets you take blokes like McLaggen to a cocktail party."
For one moment, he thinks she might cry, her eyes sparkling in the dim light from the torches lining the dungeon walls. She doesn't, instead she leans forward so quickly he thinks he might've missed it and presses her lips silently and softly to his.
When she pulls away, her eyes are still shining, but she says evenly, "You should take your own advice."
She leaves him standing irrevocably alone and wishing he could've been brave enough to call her back.
This is it. This is it. This is it.
Hermione's mantra is all that keeps her blood from turning cold enough and stopping her heart completely. She tries to breathe, but is instead greeted with the foul stench of the Death Eater currently holding a wand to her throat.
Ron's red hair is so bright in the moonlight it almost blinds her, she knows they'll torture him, too, but at least he's a pureblood. It might be the only thing that saves him in the end. Harry's swollen face is unrecognizable, but it's only a matter of hours until his features come out properly.
Malfoy Manor is just as large and pretentious as she always imagined and twice as cold. They wind their way up to the main room and it isn't until she sees flashes of blonde so pale it might as well be white that her throat closes. Malfoy knows them, he's going to betray them just as he had done on the top of a tower so many months before.
She won't cry. Not here, not now. She struggles to not look at him.
They throw Harry at his feet, for once he is completely at Draco's mercy and they ask harshly, "Is it him?"
There are a myriad of emotions flickering across the pale boy's handsome features, and she only catches some of them. Triumph. Fear. Confusion. Fear again. He must know it's Harry, but he doesn't say it out loud and she thinks that his eyes might have flicked to hers for one breath of a second.
She holds her breath for what feels like hours as Lucius needles his son into confirming what they already know, but then Draco just says, "I don't know."
There is one second, one second that she cherishes Draco Malfoy's existence before they've turned to her.
"What about the Mudblood then?" Greyback says, a leer on his face.
This is it. She thinks. And then her mind is flooded with memories she can't be sure are actually real: Malfoy hexing her in the halls, Malfoy kissing her in the dungeons, Malfoy dragging her to the woods, Malfoy's nose breaking under her fist, Malfoy's easy laugh. Her heart constricts painfully and she wants to beg him to remember.
And then: "I … Maybe … Yeah."
He isn't looking at her, not directly anyway. Instead he's pointedly fixed on the wall directly behind her. When he identifies Ron it's less hesitant, but still tinged with vagueness.
After the spotlight fades from her, she takes in his form: the rail thinness to his wrists and how dark the circles under his eyes compare to his deathly pale skin. He's still handsome, but too battle worn from the last time she saw him all those long months ago. In her slip of mind, they've discovered the sword and she knows by the look on Bellatrix Lestrange's face that they're going to die, slowly and tortuously.
"Except for the Mudblood."
Hermione's blood runs cold. So she'll be the first, she always wondered which of them it might be. In a dark place in her mind she always hoped it would be her. Ron and Harry disappear from her sight and every fiber in her tells her to sob, but she stands, stoic and proud.
"Don't worry, this is going to be fun," Bellatrix laughs, carefully crossing to Hermione's position.
Before she can think, she hears the "CRUCIO" and everything turns into pain. A thousand hot pokers are piercing her sides and eyes and mouth, she can't breathe through this pain. The scream rips out of her body without her control and once she starts, she finds she can't stop. The pain just gets worse, the burning turns into razors on her back, slicing carefully down her spine.
Finally, she answers Bellatrix's questions, all little lies because even in this pain-filled agony all she can think is, "Harry. Harry. Must protect Harry."
He would do the same for her, that was the best and worst thing about him.
Leaning down to her level, the deranged woman in front of her pulls out a knife and grins maliciously.
"Leave some for me." Greyback growled.
The knife upon her forearm hurts, she feels the blade drag through her flesh and she feels like a rag doll: pathetic and ruined. There are feet on the steps and in her blurry vision she sees a blonde head run past her. The sight of Draco Malfoy makes her want to sob. How dare you! She wants to scream at him over and over.
"Enough, Bella." It's the other woman's voice, she must be Malfoy's mother. "The goblin is here."
Hermione opens her eyes as Bellatrix retreats, her entire body trembling from the after effects of the Cruciatus Curse. Her face is wet with tears and sweat and she wishes she could pull herself together.
"Go make sure the girl is conscious, Draco." His mother says quietly, but Hermione hears it.
Don't touch me! She feels like screaming, clawing at his pale face. Instead she stays limp and tries to breathe in and out.
Malfoy's shoes squeak as he makes his way slowly to her, the sounds of his aunt interrogating Griphook in the background. He reaches her and bends down, that familiar scent filling her nostrils and making it impossible to breathe.
"Are you okay?" He whispers quietly, wand pressing into her ribs, but she knows it's only for show.
What a ridiculous question, she wants to sneer back, but she finds her head tilting downwards once instead.
He leans down under the pretense of listening for her breathing but his lips are inches from her ear when he says, "I'm sorry," so quietly she almost thinks she imagined it.
"Me too." She breathes back through the pain, but it's at that moment that Harry and Ron come charging up the stairs to rescue her.
When they grab onto Dobby, she looks briefly at Draco's face and she thinks what she sees on his features isn't outrage, but relief.
He's released from Azkaban seven years into his sentence on a bright and cold January day.
The wand he receives upon leaving the prison isn't his own, but it doesn't particularly matter. He has no desire to hold that wand ever again. He wonders briefly if it's someone else's who died in the walls of that awful place.
At the end of the war, he and his parents quietly went into custody. Their sentencing was swift: ten years for aiding the death of Albus Dumbledore, his mother received only five in gratitude for saving Harry Potter's life with testimony from the Boy Who Lived himself, but his father, a known member of Voldemort's inner circle was sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss.
That's the last time he ever saw his father: in shackles, completely broken in a court room. His mother didn't even cry. He supposed neither of them particularly cared for Lucius any longer.
"You're one lucky arsehole, Malfoy," the Auror checking him out says tersely. "If it was up to me, you'd rot in that cell for the rest of your life."
He stays silent.
"You're to report back here once every three months, we've put a Trace on you. Don't even think about running."
He nods once and then pushes the doors open, breathing sea air so hard he almost chokes on it.
His mother's five years behind bars didn't do her any favors: her hands shake violently and she jumps at the smallest of sounds. He thinks she got off easy, everyone else they knew was either soulless or insane.
"Draco? How did you-"
"I offered them aid in rebuilding in exchange for early parole." He says simply, looking around at the old house. "They can have all of it for all I care."
Narcissa blinks slowly and then she nods, "I have enough on my own. I gave… Bella's half… to Andromeda. With the baby and all and Ted is… he's… "
She can't finish.
He nods in understanding.
"I got a job in the Ministry." He fills the silence, hoping to make her smile again.
Something upstairs creaks in the emptiness between them. The old house elf was gone, dead or set free, he couldn't be sure. His mother's vodka glass shakes in her left hand as she reaches up to pat his cheek.
"They offered me the position for a committee on house elf rights," He sighs, too grateful to not be in a cell to complain. "Something about not enough man power."
His mother's lips pull together in the ghost of her old self, "Isn't that department headed up by that Mud-"
"Hermione Granger. Yes." He says, cutting her off.
He gets a tut in response, but for once, he doesn't argue.
The first day on the job he gets disgusted looks thrown over shoulders and some outright comments to his face.
Hermione Granger's office is exactly what he expected: red and warm, the scent of cinnamon engulfs him and he smirks at the pile of papers on her desk. Her frazzled head snaps up at the sound of her door shutting and she seems almost shocked to see him standing in her office.
"Oh, is it already ten?" She mutters to herself. "Sorry, I meant to…"
She's aged very little in the past seven years, she might be a hair taller and she looks thin - probably from work and stress. Her hair is still unruly atop her head but she seems to have at least learned how to pull it back with better results than in school.
"Breathe, Granger." He responds.
"Haven't changed much, have you, Malfoy?" She sneers in response.
For the first time in seven years, he throws his head back and laughs.
"Look, Malfoy, I don't trust you, but I won't disrespect you as long as you fulfill your duties competently." She says after about three hours of explaining her cause.
He only nods, too afraid of opening his mouth and saying something he can't take back.
His job mostly consists of reading long and boring tomes on wizarding law. Granger usually stops over his shoulder to check his progress and he smells the faint vanilla on her skin with more than just a tinge of regret.
One morning he looks at some notes she passes him and sees the pale skin of her forearm.
MUDBLOOD glares up at him and he wonders why she didn't have the scar removed after the war.
"I kept it to remind myself everyday that if I could survive a war, I can survive life after a war as well." She says coldly, looking at him sharply.
"Some scars aren't visible, Granger," He points out evenly.
She just turns back to her book.
Ron Weasley assaults him approximately three and a half months into his research for elf rights.
"If you touch her, you're dead, Ferret." Weasley screams as Potter hauls him away whispering, "It's not worth it, Ron."
It takes everything in Draco to not respond that he should already be dead then as he dabs the blood from his lips.
"Did you marry him? The Weasel?" He sneers over her desk later when she's briefing him on their upcoming presentation for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
Her eyes flash dangerously, "What do you care, Malfoy?"
He shrugs because why should he care? She was free to marry whichever idiot she liked.
"No. I didn't marry Ron. We…" Her voice cuts into his thoughts a few minutes later. "I had a harder time adjusting after than Ron did."
He doesn't respond, but he meets her dark eyes and takes this as a small sign of progress.
There is a picture on her desk of what can only be her mother and father.
She doesn't look at him when she tells him that she lost them a long time ago.
"Death isn't always the worst way to lose someone." She says quietly, looking down at the portrait that doesn't move.
He thinks back to his father's blank look at his trial and his mother's unsteady fingers.
"No, it isn't." He agrees.
"Draco, pass me the History of Enslavement in Great Britain," Hermione asks, distracted over the pile of books she has spread out on her desk.
He raises an eyebrow at her, "Surely you've read it enough to have it memorized by now, Granger." But he obliges at her obvious glare of disdain and forgets to notice that she'd said his first name.
"I've scheduled us a meeting with the Assistant Minister of Magic in two weeks time, so we need to be more prepared. I'm also organizing a fundraiser and awareness event in October. And of course there's the luncheon with the Magical Law relations where we need to outline how ridiculous it is to exploit house elves in criminal trials-"
She prattles on an on, something he's used to, but he can't stop staring at her mouth. He remembers how she tasted in the dungeons all those years ago: warm, like the best butterbeer. He wonders how long it's been since anyone's kissed her lips and savored the way she tastes.
"Do I have something on my face?" Her question pulls him back into the present.
"Too easy, Granger." He smirks and is almost surprised when she returns his quip with a small smile.
They present their case to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, which is only slightly marred by the shock of seeing a Malfoy defending elf rights. It's not his true passion in life, but he understood why he had been given this job. They wanted to humiliate him, but Draco was not easily humiliated.
"That went so well!" She grins when they step back into her office. He hasn't seen her this happy in all the months he's worked by her side - just the two of them and dusty collections of parchment and books.
"You were very impressive," He concedes.
"Me? What about you! That entire bit about the Imperius Curse and how forcing creatures to hurt themselves was just as awful… brilliant." She says, eyes shining brightly.
"Oh God, Granger, you sound proud." He says, only slightly horrified at the prospect.
Her mouth turns up at the ends when she replies, "I admit, I am just as surprised as you are."
"If my hair turns red, do me a favor and commit me to St. Mungo's instantly." He says dramatically, but she just shakes her head, a little smile upon her lips.
"Do you remember that night… with the sword and… your aunt?" She asks one day.
He wants to laugh bitterly and say no of course he's managed to block the sounds of her screams out of his nightmares. No he doesn't feel guilty when he sees her bare forearm. No he doesn't wish he could go back and tell Bellatrix to stop himself.
"Yes." He says simply.
"Why… why didn't you tell them it was Harry? You had to know." She asks.
It's a fair question he supposes. He had known it was Potter even with swollen lips and eyes. The green reflecting back up at him was enough of a confirmation.
"I don't know," He says, shrugging.
"Oh, don't start. You owe me this much!" She says heatedly.
He raises an eyebrow, feeling his own temper raising with it, "I owe you, Granger?"
"Considering you nearly got me killed, TWICE, yes I'd say you do." She yells at him, shaking with her anger. He wonders when she lost control over that careful facade she had worn for so many years. Maybe that's what she meant by being different after the war.
"I don't know why I did it, Granger! We… we were losing, I just knew we were." He spits bitterly. "Do you want me to spew some romanticized bullshit? Tell you it was because my heart changed?" He sneers down at her.
"My soul was just as black after that night! It's still that black!"
She recoils as if he had slapped her. "I don't believe that."
"Well you better start believing it or else you're going to be bitterly disappointed." He doesn't want her to trust him. He doesn't want her to look at him like cracked china anymore.
"The old Draco would've never even considered this job, let alone working with a Mudbloo-"
"Don't." He says evenly.
"You called me that every day for seven years and now you can't stand the sound of it?" She laughs bitterly.
He glares at the floor, "I have my reasons."
"I can't possibly fathom-"
"Because every damn day I spent in that cell all I heard were your screams echoing in my mind! Always you screaming as my aunt carved into your arm and I watched it happen and never said anything. I thought I would go mad, I started screaming too after a while." He tells her, eyes trained on her face.
It's not easy for him to be open, but now he has been and it feels like the brick he carried around on his chest has been lifted a little.
A few years after the war, Harry told her about Snape's memories.
He told her about a boy and girl who went to Hogwarts and were separated into rival houses but still loved each other. A Slytherin boy who made one bad decision and lost the love of his life to a man he hated. She doesn't think Harry understands fully, but her heart twinges with the idea that she probably does.
"Goes to show everything happens for a reason, I s'pose." Ron says, sitting across from Harry at his parent's old rickety table.
Hermione tries to shake the image from her brain, tries not to think that maybe if Lily had given Snape another chance…
She looks at Draco, one desk length away from her, busy pouring over a piece of parchment on Goblin Wars to try and further their point of magical oppression when something inside of her melts. They've worked together for a year, and he still comes in everyday at 8 a.m., sometimes he's even holding coffee for her.
After years in Azkaban, he's less handsome than he might once have been, and his hair was almost fully white despite not even being thirty yet.
"If you stare at me any harder, Granger, I think I might spontaneously combust." He says, not looking up from his reading material.
Her lips twitch and she puts her eyes back to her own parchment.
His mother commits suicide two years after he joins the Ministry. He isn't surprised by it, she often cried out at night. Sometimes she woke up to him shaking her and thought he was his father. He thinks she was probably insane long before Azkaban, but now there's a hole in the world now where his family used to be and all he's ever known were his family's expectations.
"I'm sorry." She says when he comes into work the next day.
"I'm not a broken toy." He snaps back.
"I know." She whispers gently.
Her hands press softly to his back and he slumps over the desk. "I don't want to remember her as a broken woman."
"Then don't." Hermione says evenly, always the logical one. "Remember the mother you loved."
It's easier said than done. His mother was as equally doting as she was aloof. Some days she would laugh and shower him with love and then there were days she wouldn't get out of bed.
"If you need any help with the arrangements-" She begins and he can't help but turn and stare blankly at her. His mother had hated Muggle borns as equally as his father but she doesn't care about that. She just wants to help him.
They kiss in cemetery after his mother is laid to rest along with all the other generation of Blacks. She walks by the marker in Sirius' memory and she tries not to cry but she can't seem to hold it in any longer.
Draco's hands steady her as she sobs. She feels like that rag doll again, and his hands on her face are so similar to how Ron held her at Dumbledore's funeral that she can only cry harder.
"Don't do this, Hermione," Her name falls off his tongue easily and she wonders why he hasn't said it before now. "They're dead and you're not." His words are harsh, but she knows he doesn't say them out of cruelty.
"I'm going to kiss you, Granger, try not to assault me." He says, a ghost of a smile on his face.
Suddenly she's sixteen again, her hands sweating at the idea of a boy kissing her, but when his lips touch hers she thinks this has been in the works for years and years. Every fight and bad name led up to this cemetery, with ex-Death Eater and now-reformed Draco Malfoy's mouth moving warmly over her own.
She doesn't love him yet, but she could. Someday.
He tastes like mint and she thinks she probably tastes like salty tears, but he still holds onto her face so tightly it might bruise her. Nothing about him would ever be soft, she thinks, but she likes that about him, too.
"I will never deserve you," He says in a low voice when they part and she smiles.
"Maybe not, but what choice do I have?" Her words echo in the silent graveyard, but they are nothing compared to the laugh he lets out.
"I would've never let you take a Neanderthal like McLaggen to a Christmas party, Granger." He rebuffs.
She grins and doesn't think about the future for once. She doesn't worry about Harry and Ron's reaction or about all the people she saw die and when she presses her mouth back to his for the first time since the war she feels warmth pool inside her again.
It's enough. She breathes into his mouth. It's enough.