Potter and Weasley hadn't come back to Hogwarts in the autumn. Frankly, Draco couldn't have cared less about them getting special treatment once again. He was merely grateful that they weren't there to bother him.
Granger, though – she had come back. Rumour had it that she had turned down the chance to be Head Girl. Most students thought it was because she was swotting for the N.E.W.T.s. Draco knew better, though. He had been watching Granger, and she seemed somehow more relaxed than before. She was still top of her class, but she didn't seem to stress about it anymore. And she smiled. Draco himself had precious little to smile about, but every time he saw Granger smile, he felt lighter in his heart.
When Granger looked at him across the Great Hall, Draco gave her a tentative smile. Granger tilted her head with a questioning look. Then she shrugged and flashed a smile at Draco before turning back towards Yin Li, this year's Head Girl.
It was a Hogsmeade weekend. Draco was confined to the castle, as per the terms of his release from the Aurors' custody. He was sitting in the library when Granger passed him on her way out. She had been there, reading, when he had come in an hour ago.
"Do you want anything from Hogsmeade?" she asked casually.
Draco just kept blinking at her. It was the first time she had spoken to him this year.
"Well?" she said.
"I—, no thank you," Draco answered. "Thanks for asking, though."
Granger shrugged. "No problem."
Then she was gone in a flutter of robes. Draco stared at the closed library doors for a long time.
Granger was screaming her throat sore. She clawed at the rug she was lying on, and her fingers were bloody. Draco ended the curse, for now, and looked at her impassively, twirling his wand. She panted as her whole body kept twitching from the after-effects of the curse. She tried to push herself up, but Draco kicked her in the ribs with his steel-toed boots.
"Serpensortia," Draco hissed, and a swarm of small snakes sprang forth from his wand. They slithered over Granger's body, and she screamed again as they sank their fangs into her. Draco laughed in a high-pitched voice.
There was a soft thump. The pillow that had hit the bed curtains dropped to the floor, and someone growled, "Shut it, Malfoy."
Draco blinked and pushed his duvet away from his body. He shivered, partly from the cool air hitting his sweat-covered skin and partly from the dream. A dream, nothing but a dream... His teeth started to chatter, and he cast a drying charm on himself before burrowing back under his duvet.
"There was nothing I could have done," he whispered into the darkness. Now, if only he could believe it.
He didn't sleep any more that night.
Draco was sitting in the library, by a table that was tucked into the nook between the shelves for twentieth-century Muggle literature and Arabian alchemy. Few people ever came there, so he was surprised to hear quick footsteps closing in. Soon enough, Granger rounded the corner and slumped against the alchemy shelf.
"Bloody Valentine's Day," she muttered to herself.
She didn't seem to have noticed Draco, so he coughed, "Hem, hem."
Granger's spine snapped straight and she hit her head on a shelf. "Ow!" she exclaimed before turning around. "Oh, it's you, Malfoy. For a moment I was transported back to fifth year."
"Nah, no problem." Granger waved his apology away. "I was just hiding from—"
"There you are, Hermione!"
"Ernie!" Granger plastered a bright smile onto her face.
"I've been looking for you everywhere, Hermione," Macmillan said. He then noticed Draco. Draco nodded at him, but he merely curled his lip before turning back to Granger. "Would you like to go for a walk? There's something I'd like to talk to you about."
Granger's smile wavered. "Actually, Ernie, I was just about to, um—"
"She promised to help me with this alchemy translation," Draco interjected.
"Yes, what he said. Sorry, Ernie."
"You are too generous, Hermione," Macmillan told her.
"Perhaps so," Granger said. "Now, if you'll excuse me, Ernie, a fascinating text awaits me."
Macmillan looked like he had swallowed a lemon. However, Granger turned away from him in clear dismissal, and he had no choice but to leave.
As the sound of Macmillan's footsteps grew fainter and fainter, Granger finally seemed to relax. "Thanks for that, Malfoy."
"Ernie is sweet, but he doesn't take 'no' for an answer." She sighed. "Well, as I can't very well go anywhere right now, we could just as well have a look at that alchemy text. In case you had a text in the first place?"
Draco laughed. "Yes, I actually do have a text here."
"Excellent! Let's get cracking, then."
The school year was over, and Draco stared out the train window. He wasn't actually sorry to leave Hogwarts behind. The memories from his years there weren't the best possible.
The door to the compartment opened, and Granger poked her head inside. "Is it free here?" she asked.
"Sure," Draco answered. Inside, he was glowing a little.
Granger stepped inside, followed by Longbottom. "Yin will come as soon as she can," she said. "Is that okay with you?"
Draco nodded. He liked Yin Li well enough.
The journey went quickly for Draco, who spent it listening to Granger, Li and Longbottom talking. It was peaceful, and Draco would have been content to sit there for even longer. All good things must come to an end, though, and soon enough they were at King's Cross Station.
Once on the platform, Draco drew a deep breath and turned around towards Granger, but she was looking past him. He looked in the direction of her gaze: it was Potter and Weasley. Granger pushed past him and walked toward her friends. She hugged both of them and exchanged a few words with them. Weasley took hold of her trunk and apparated away, and a moment later Granger and Potter followed him.
Draco fiddled with the sleeves of his robe. "Would you like to go for a coffee some day?" he said to his cuffs. Then he grabbed the handle of his trunk. It was time to go home.