“This year hasn’t been the way I thought it would be,” Granger abruptly said.
Draco looked up from the essay he was working on and found her staring almost blankly at the fireplace. He started to open his mouth to ask what she meant, thought better of it, and merely sat watching her.
Her profile and hair were gilded by the firelight.
There was a long pause broken only by the crackling sounds of burning wood. Granger kept staring at the fire, almost frozen, her fingertips absently running across the cover of the history textbook in her lap.
Her throat dipped. “I thought — if I came back this year — it would be like starting over. That I could just be a student.” Her mouth twisted in the corner. “Just for one year.”
Draco continued to silently study her, uncertain whether she was addressing to him or merely musing aloud to herself. Granger was relentlessly upbeat most of the time.
When they began the school year, she had talked at length about the need to lead by example and had thrown herself into the job of Head Girl with ruthless abandon. She practically lived in the Head Student office.
It had been an exhausting day, and they were both still in the Head Office past curfew, trying to catch up on homework. Granger drew her lower lip into her mouth and gnawed pensively at it. The intense spark that usually emanated from her seemed dimmed.
After a minute, she looked down and sighed.
“Never mind,” she shook herself and stood up. “I’m just rambling. I have an essay due in two days and I haven’t even managed to finish the reading to start it.”
She picked up her book and her school bag and then moved across the room to the curtained window-seat on the far wall, it was the only part of the office that afforded any privacy.
Granger habitually ended up there when she had so much work to do that she spent the night in the office. Draco regularly arrived in the early morning to find her curled up and sleeping, surrounded by reports.
As she disappeared behind the curtain, he stood up.
“Hmm.” Her hum was the distracted one she made when she was half-listening. He pushed the curtain aside and she looked up.
He hesitated for a moment. “What did you think the year would be like?”
She met his eyes for a moment before glancing away and looking tired. “Oh… It was nothing. I was just feeling like all my chances to just be young have already passed and I never got a chance to enjoy any of it.” She gave a deep sigh. “I have to be responsible and lead by example for the rest of my life now. I was realising tonight that I’m probably never going to get to do any things just because I want to, even when they’re things I used to want to do. Now — they’ve all become things I’m expected to do.”
She shrugged and looked wistful. “Even being Head Girl. I wanted to be Head Girl from the first time I read about it in Hogwarts: A History — but when the Board of Governors asked me, it wasn’t because of my academic record. They said it was because they needed a role model for the school, someone with ‘unquestionable integrity’ — “ she gave a forced laugh, “ — to lead the school by demonstrating what forgiveness and moving forward means. So — that’s why I got it.”
Draco’s mouth went dry and his hands clenched as he stood, gripping the curtain and absorbing what she’d said.
It had been a shock to everyone, Draco included, when he’d been given the position of Head Boy. He arrived at King’s Cross Station in a state of dread, but Granger had taken it in stride from their first meeting. She volunteered them for the first patrol on the Hogwarts Express, and moved through the train introducing them as the Head Student team to the students in every compartment.
Now, four months later, she was explaining why.
Their “partnership” was an act.
Of course it was.
She’d been given the job of leading by example by having to pretend to forgive the classmate who’d watched as she was tortured in his home’s drawing-room.
No one was that forgiving.
Draco was delusional to have thought anyone possibly could be.
Here he’d been behaving like an idiot in a daydream charm, while she was spending her school year pretending she wasn’t living a full-time nightmare.
It was like a cavern had been carved into the centre of his chest as he stood staring down at her.
“Granger — “ he finally forced himself to say, trying to keep his voice level. “You don’t have to forgive me.”
Her head jerked and she looked sharply at him. His stomach clenched, and it felt as though his chest was being crushed.
He squared his shoulders, trying to appear indifferent.
“I realise we have to work together as Head Boy and Girl,” he said, “but in private, when we’re off duty, there’s no need to continue acting like you’ve forgiven me. I’ll understand.”
She stared at him and his stomach twisted into a painful knot as he watched her, waiting for the mask fall off.
He’d just avoid her.
For the rest of the school year.
He would just leave her alone. They could alternate office hours to minimize contact. It wasn’t as though he needed to be in the office whenever she was, it had just been — a habit to always be with her.
“I do forgive you,” she said.
Draco blinked and swallowed. “No. It’s fine. I mean it. You don’t need to act like you have. I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”
He’d already had his entire life and belief system smashed to pieces twice in the last year. He may as well round that out by having his lifeline turn out to be a lie too.
The pain in his chest was beginning to stab and the sense of horror curdling in his gut was reminiscent of many occasions during the last several years where time seemed to slow until the seconds were crawling past and he stood helplessly frozen in place.
His entire future suddenly felt narrowed and elongated into something endless and colourless.
He was Draco Malfoy. The youngest Death Eater in history. It was going be the only identity he’d have for as long as he lived.
He was a prop for Granger to model student forgiveness on.
Wrong Hogwarts House.
No one mentioned prior to Sorting that who he wanted to be at age eleven was going to determine his entire future.
“Malfoy,” Granger’s voice broke his reverie. Her eyebrows were furrowed enough to make a little v between them, and she was studying him. “I have forgiven you.”
He swallowed and forced a dry laugh. “Granger, there’s really no need — “
“We were all children, Malfoy,” she cut him off, her voice firm. “We were all children when it started. None of us were given any chance to decide what we believed. We were lied to in different ways, and told that we’d lose all the people we loved if we didn’t stick to our sides.”
He chuckled. “And I just managed to be on the wrong side and make all the wrong choices.”
Granger gave a derisive scoff and shook her head. “You weren’t even of age when you took the Dark Mark. And — you did more than most people would have dared to when it mattered most for all of us. We’d all be dead and the war lost if you’d identified Harry. You’ve realised you were wrong, and you’re trying to make amends for it now. That’s a lot more than most people are willing to do.”
She smiled at him and it was enough to send Draco’s pulse racing and send a nervous heat rushing through his body. He shifted.
“I’ve forgiven you, Malfoy. I mean it.” Her voice had that steely, unwavering quality of conviction.
His mouth was too dry to speak. He swallowed and dropped onto the window seat next to her, trying to formulate a reply as a flood of relief swept through him.
“Good — to know,” he finally managed to say.
Her smile vanished and her expression grew pensive. “I’m sorry. I was just rambling to myself. I didn’t mean for you to think any of it was directed at you. I just — ”
She inhaled, her chest rising unsteadily, and Draco tried not to let his eyes wander.
“I wonder sometimes how it could have been. What it would have been like to be a student here without the war hanging over us the whole time. What sorts of things I would have done, whether I would have ever” — her cheeks flushed pink and she looked down — “broken rules just for the thrill of it. I get caught up thinking about it sometimes, what it might have been like. Don’t you?”
She looked up at Draco, searching his face. The glow from the firelight cast a narrow beam of light between the curtains, illuminating her face. It made her brown eyes a glowing amber.
Without thinking he reached towards her until his fingers brushed against her cheek.
He’d never touched her before, excluding that time she’d touched him by slapping him full across the face.
He thought about touching her.
In the morning.
Granger froze, her eyes widening. Draco tucked an unruly curl carefully behind her ear. His heart was nearly beating itself out of his chest, but he leaned forwards, curling his fingers along the curve of her jaw until he found her pulse point with his fingertips and the dip behind her ear.
He tilted her face up and captured her lips with his.
He felt as though he were dying of thirst when their lips met. There was a rushing, ravenous, desperate need clawing through his chest, urging him to grip her close and take as much as he could.
He forced himself to kiss her slowly.
She wouldn’t change her mind about forgiving him if it was just a kiss.
He just wanted to know what it could have been like in that other life where they were simply students without a war. A life where being eighteen would have felt like the start of his life, rather than the beginning of the end.
He wanted to know if it would have been as good as he thought it would have been.
There was piercing, bitter ache in his chest as he found that it was.
Her pulse thrummed against his fingers like a snitch when its delicate golden wings unfurled fluttering. He felt her breath catch, her lips parting and moving against his and he nearly groaned from the effort it took not to deepen the kiss and wrap his arms around her as though she was his. He wanted to trace his tongue along her lips and slip in to taste her.
But he couldn’t.
Hermione Granger wasn’t for him.
He kissed her a moment longer, and began to removed his hand.
Her fingers were suddenly tangled in his hair, and she was hungrily kissing him back, pulling him closer. Her fingers combed through his hair, twisting and tugging at it, deepening the kiss. He wrapped his arm around her to steady them, his palm flat against her lower back and sliding up her spine as he memorized the feeling of her body pressing against his hand. Her robe was sliding off her shoulders and she shifted further back on the window seat, her fingers gripping his shoulders, drawing him with her, still kissing him.
He nipped at her lower lip and drank in the soft moan she made in response. Her lips were silken. She sank onto her back and he followed her, running his hands down her shoulders and then up along her waist as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He was kneeling over her, his body over hers. He pulled his lips away in order to kiss across her face, running his teeth and tongue along her jaw in order to taste her skin. She whimpered and the sound sang through his veins. He nipped at her throat and her hands tightened in his hair, pulling him down against her.
She drew his mouth back to hers, her kisses fierce and burning. Her feet were sliding against his calves as she squirmed under him. His hand found her breast through her jumper and he squeezed. She moaned and the vibrations ran through him like a jolt of electricity. His fingers tangled in her wild hair, kissing her recklessly with everything he had and everything he felt.
It was the first time in his entire life that there was nothing in his past that he wanted to have changed.
There wasn’t a single moment worth the risk of rewriting.
Because somehow his wrong life with all its wrong choices had brought him to the point where Granger was wrapped in his arms and wanting him.
His hands were nearly shaking as he cradled her face with his fingers and kissed her again.