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Draco doesn't like it, but there's no way around it. The prefects have to patrol the halls after lights out, and for the first term, he and Hermione Granger must patrol every Tuesday night.

When Snape tells him, the shock makes him forget. He opens his mouth and says 'But, my fa-" and then closes it again. The air in Snape's office is cold and harsh in his lungs, and Snape's eyes are bright.

"It's Granger, or it's Weasley," Snape says softly. "I could perhaps arrange a swap, but-"

"Granger," he says, without hesitation. Granger is a blot, a foul presence in what should be a pure, powerful place, but at least she's not a traitor. She's true to her dirty blood. Weasley has no honour at all, no sense of right or duty.

Snape nods. "I thought she would be your choice." He says it ironically, but he says everything like that, and Draco doesn't think about it.

At the time, all he can think about is how much he hates this new necessity, even more irksome than his other, numerous obligations. And how glad he is that it's only for the first term. After that, he'll be paired with someone else. He's been promised that.

The night of the first patrol, they meet outside the dining room. He has decided not to speak to her at all, not to acknowledge her filthy presence any more than he has to, but it doesn't seem to bother her. That irritates him. She's brought a map, and they tramp their way around the route Dumbledore has marked on it, wands out and ready.

In earlier years, they would have been hunting for first and second years trying to sneak down to the kitchens, fourth and fifth years trying to find private locations for extra-curricular activities. But the Dark Lord has returned, and everyone knows, and everything's different. Hogwarts is protected, closed up tight. It's the safest place anyone could be. Their teachers are busy at their own tasks, too busy to walk Hogwarts' endless halls for threats that probably won't appear. But there is a risk, however small. Evil has infiltrated these walls before.

And that's why they're there this first Tuesday night, he and Granger. They walk through the dark places of Hogwarts, after all the dormitory lights go out, and Hogwarts' students resign themselves to whatever waits in their dreams.

They've both been taught the alarm that will bring the teachers to wherever the danger is, and when Draco sneaks a look at Granger, he notices that she is silently muttering the incantation to herself, over and over. Her knuckles are white. She's frightened, he realises, and he's pleased.

Then he thinks about why she's frightened, and his own fist clenches. His father would have spared him, but his father isn't free yet. And he knows there are plenty of his father's associates who'd like to cut off the branches of the Malfoy family tree. The words repeat in his head, over and over, and he's scarcely aware of his own lips moving, tracing out the syllables: Divers Alarums, Divers Alarums, Divers Alarums.

On Thursday, Pansy Parkinson complains about having to patrol with Anthony Goldstein, who's so particular, although at least he's a pureblood, oh, poor Draco, I don't envy you and it takes at least ten seconds of blank staring before her stream of sympathy is dammed.

On the second patrol, he notices the torches. There are some parts of their route which aren't lit by Hogwarts' candles, little-used passageways and stairwells. Whenever they approaches those parts of the patrol, he automatically mutters Lumos and lets that ghostly blue glow light his path. But Granger takes a torch from a bracket and uses that, and he remembers she'd done that the last time too. He can't work out why she'd want the weight and the heat and the stench of it, and it itches at him, the not knowing.

He resists asking until the very end of the patrol, but in the end he breaks just before they part at the dining hall doors.

"Why do you bother with the torches, Granger?" he asks, and his voice seems unnaturally loud after the last three hours of silence

She stares at him for a moment, and he's afraid she won't answer, because that would make him the weak one, the one who broke and asked for - instead of demanded - an answer. Then she replies; "Because I'll need my wand free if I'll need it," and he wishes she hadn't answered after all.

Because she's right, of course. If they come across what they both fear, they'll need their wands free for hexes and counter-curses, not producing useless light. But he'll continue to mutter Lumos in the dark. Anything else would be acknowledging that she'd won, and that would be another defeat.

On the third patrol he notices the noise. Granger is wearing heels this year and they click loudly on the stone and wood floors. He can't think that she isn't aware of it.

"You should change your shoes before the next patrol," he says. They are in one of the dark places, a shortcut corridor on the third floor.

She stops. "It's none of your business what shoes I wear, Malfoy." In the flickering torch light, her eyes are dark with dislike.

"They're bloody noisy, Granger," he sneers. "It's not an objection to the unattractiveness of your footwear." He gives the objects in question a purposefully dismissive glance and sniffs. "I suppose your people don't know any better."

She glares at him, and he waits for her to rise to the bait - There's nothing wrong with my shoes; How come you know so much about girls' fashion? What do you mean by 'my people' - but she is silent. After a few seconds, she performs a silencing charm on her feet and stalks noiselessly past him. She doesn't look back to see if he'll follow.

Draco is disappointed. He wanted the fight that tantalisingly threatened, the burning, honest hatred of it. Their mutual hostile silence is passive by comparison, a pallid, lukewarm thing. He has forgotten that he began it.

On the fourth patrol, in the darkness of the Trophy Room, Granger's torch splutters out, leaving them in the dim glow of his wand. There's just enough light for him to see her fumble for her own wand, just enough time for him to catch her widening eyes before she whispers Lumos and her face is lit and her fear subsides.

But that doesn't make sense. He doesn't understand why she should be less and not more afraid, because if they're attacked now they'll both be helpless, both without the use of their wands for whole, crucial seconds. He puzzles that one out on his own, and when he works it out he's glad he didn't ask her because he knows she wouldn't have told him, and because, after all, the answer is very simple. He should have seen it before.

Hermione Granger is afraid of the dark.

Now that he knows, the signs of her fear are easy to spot. The fear is in her hastened breathing every time she passes a dark alcove. It's in the cursory glance she gives the invisibly black school grounds from the top of the Astronomy Tower. It's in her too-tight grip on her stinking torches. She clutches them as she would a lover on awakening from a nightmare, something to provide comfort and protection and assure her that the terror will subside.

Granger is afraid of those that could be hiding in the dark, but she is also afraid of the dark itself. The first horror she has faced and recognised and named. She knows what it is. The second is a nameless, screaming thing. She fights it with every step through badly-lit passageways. She fends it off with her trembling circle of light.

On the fifth patrol, as he is about to start up a black stairwell so narrow they can only ascend it separately, she speaks.

"Let me go first," she says.

It's the first time she's broken their silence. He looks down at his glowing wand, and sniffs haughtily. Then he reaches for the torch bracketed on the wall, because after all, he won't allow pride to let him face possible danger unprepared and alone. Only a Gryffindor would do something that stupid.

But Granger steps up, holds her hand in front of him and shakes her head. "No," she says. "Even with a torch, you should let me go first."

"Why?" he asks, and there's too much curiosity and not enough animosity in his tone.

"Because I'm better at magic than you," she says, and it's so matter-of-fact that Draco's wand is pointed at her heart before he can even think about it.

"Take it back," he says, and he knows his voice is trembling.

She smiles, and it enrages him further. Granger is afraid of many things. She's afraid of what lies outside Hogwarts, what could be lurking within the walls. She's afraid of Voldemort, and probably of his father. And she is inexplicably, illogically afraid of the dark. But she's not afraid of him.

"Take it back, Mudblood," he repeats, and his wand is quivering in his fist.

Her eyes narrow, but she doesn't stir. "No," she says. "I can't. I am better than you. I'm better than you at nearly everything." She pauses, and he knows it's malice when she adds "I'm a better person than you, too. I'll go up a staircase to protect someone who threatens me. You wouldn't do that. So, no. You can't make me take it back, and you can't make it a lie, even by killing me."

It's true, Draco thinks, and he drops his wand and lunges at her.

He knows it's true, even as he shoves her against the wall, even as he winds her woolly hair in his fist, even as he drags her head back and forces his mouth on hers. He knows it's true, and he's angry, and all that anger is in his kiss, devouring lips and aggressive tongue and the tight painful grip he has on her, fingers splayed along her cheekbone. He takes his rage and he pours it all into her, and when he steps back, he sees his anger in her eyes, and he's pleased.

"Was that supposed to prove something?" she hisses.

Draco smiles. He's not sure what he meant to do, or if he meant to do anything, but the results have been satisfying all the same. Granger has four red marks along the line of her left cheekbone. If she doesn't charm them soon, they'll be bruises in the morning.

She takes a step towards him. "That wasn't a very good kiss," she says, and he flinches, and she sees it and she smiles.

"I bet I can do that better than you, too," she says, and she takes another step and then she's returning the kiss, with all the fury he'd expect in a punch.

She is better. And even knowing that she probably learned this with Weasley, practiced with his traitorous Muggle-loving (Mudblood-loving) tongue, he can't help kissing her back. And when she steps back, he can't help leaning towards her. It's only for a moment, but he knows it, and she knows it.

"I win," she says, and she takes the torch from the bracket, and starts up the stairs.

They are silent for the rest of the patrol, and to Draco, at least, her words echo through that silence, and the faint pressure of her kiss is still heavy on his lips.

That Friday, they get their Potions test marks back. Snape says "There was only one perfect mark in the class. This is not acceptable". Draco stares at the circled 98n his paper, and he fights not to turn and look at where Granger is sitting with Weasley in the corner, but he loses that battle too.

"I'm richer than you," he says triumphantly, at the very beginning of the sixth patrol, and she stares at him.


"I'm richer than you. Even for Mudbloods, that's got to be better. And my blood is purer too, of course." That last one was an afterthought, and he knows it shouldn't have been, but he's so pleased with himself for coming up with the solution that he can't bring himself to care.

She glares at him, and that's satisfying. And then she laughs, and that's not.

"Even if they mattered, those are things you have," she says, and it's not anger in her eyes, it's scorn. "You didn't choose those. You didn't earn them."

She doesn't say, 'they don't count'. She doesn't say, 'I still win'. But the unsaid words impact upon him as solid and painful as any his father ever hurled at his head.

Walking past the Potions classroom, he says, "It wasn't meant to be a good kiss."

She glances across at him, and he sees her eyebrows raise behind the wavy curtain of her hair.

"It wasn't," he insists, excruciatingly aware of how foolish he sounds, aware of the high pitch of his protest.

She laughs. "Just as well," she says, and there's mocking in it.

This time she steps forward to meet him as he rushes at her, so he can't bruise her against the wall. They stand in the middle of the corridor, hands pushing at each other and what they are doing would look like wrestling if their lips weren't joined. It feels a little like wrestling, too, their tongues sliding in a muscular writhing motion that makes Draco's pure blood pound through his veins.

His eyes are screwed shut, trying to shut out the face of the girl he's kissing. Wearing the heels, she is just a little shorter than him, exactly the right height for this. Her hair is warm and smells of lavender, and it yields under his hands like a living thing. When she tries to move away, he tightens his grip and holds her there by her hair, mouth still hard upon hers.

She bites him. It hurts, but it's the shock that makes him jerk back, open his eyes. Her wand is pointed at his throat, her free hand up in the textbook dueling position.

"Never do that again," she says, her voice shaking. "You can't make me do it if I don't want to. There are laws against that. In both worlds."

He nods dumbly.

Granger stares back at him, and he sees uncertainty flicker briefly through her eyes, like their wispy shadows dancing on the walls in the bright candlelight.

"All right," she says, and slides her wand back into her belt. "Let's keep going."

He starts off down the hall, keeping to their automatic, measured pace. It isn't until he's back in the Slytherin dungeons that his obsessive playing and replaying of their conversation inside his head permits that there might just be another meaning in her final words.

That Wednesday, he notices that he and Ron Weasley are very nearly the same height, and that wearing her heels, Hermione Granger fits neatly under Weasley's arm. He notices this on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in the dining room, in the Potions classroom and in the hallway, and on Saturday night he invites Pansy Parkinson into his room and practices kissing with her.

At first he kisses her hard, but she wiggles and squeaks muffled protests, so he tries kissing her softly and is surprised to find he likes that too. He likes her surrender to him and the way she strokes his neck with her fingers and the softness of her voice as she whispers "Oh, Draco". He likes her gratitude.

Pansy is short, and so is her hair, which smells of expensive fruit, but he closes his eyes and she is soft in some places and muscular in others, and that, at least, is right. He is able to hold her and think at the same time, so he goes no further than he intended to, and though he thinks she would stay if he asked, he is happy to let her rearrange her clothing and go.

It is all very satisfying.

In fact, the satisfaction lasts right through the next two days and most of Tuesday. Pansy spends every mealtime and most lessons sitting next to him and smiling and he remembers he forgot to tell her he was only practicing. It seems too much trouble to tell her now, and besides, he likes the congratulatory looks he's getting from the Slytherin boys. The Slytherin girls have a different look - part speculative, part approving - and when he realises that Pansy must have praised his technique, he is even more pleased.

Naturally, the moment he sees Granger outside the dining room on Tuesday night, the satisfaction dies, replaced with a gnawing sense of disappointment. He knows she's seen him with Pansy - he made sure she saw him with Pansy - but she doesn't comment on it. There's not even a look of acknowledgement.

He realises that he must have misinterpreted her final words to him after all. He is harshly aware that he should be glad of this, glad that this Mudblood bitch won't be testing him anymore, tainting him with her lips, and he's almost convinced himself that he is by the time they finish their route. But then she takes a few steps further, waits by a torch-lit alcove and says "Well?" And he follows her in.

This time he knows his kissing is better and from the soft noises she's making, she knows it too. Curious, he remembers what Pansy taught him and slows down, and she responds to that too. He is lost in lips and tongues and hands on skin, and when he finds himself again her blouse is unbuttoned and her bra undone and her breasts are heavy and warm in his hands. He is teasing her nipples, pinching them, flicking them with his fingernails and it is the sound she makes in response that brings him back.

Granger's head is thrown back, and her eyes are screwed shut, her cheeks flushed. He freezes, his hands still against her body, and she lifts her head to stare into his eyes. "What?" she asks impatiently.

He starts to pull away and she straightens, but makes no attempt to cover herself. "Oh," she says, and her voice is heavy with contempt. "Too much for you, I see."

Draco hisses and grabs her, his hands rough on her skin and deliberately sets his teeth to her nipple. Her hands convulsively clutch at his neck, and he smirks, even as his tongue slides over her flesh. He pulls back long enough to say, "Too much for you, Granger?". And when she gasps "No!" and pulls at his shirt buttons, he loses himself again, and this time she is touching him too.

He can't hold her and think at the same time, so he goes further than he intends to, and further still. In the torchlight, her skin is the colour of rich cream, and very soft. When her hands are stroking him through the fabric of his trousers and his are exploring the dampness of her panties under her skirt, he blurts "I want to-"

And she says, "Yes," and her panties are off and she unzips his fly and he fumbles and for a moment he thinks he can't possibly fit, and it's all gone wrong. She huffs impatiently, reaches down and readjusts him, and suddenly the angle is right and suddenly he is inside her.

She is wet, and warm, just like everything he's read about. He holds her against the wall and she clutches at his, looking over his shoulder. He is trembling, aching to reach the fulfillment that is so close, like a Snitch just out of reach, but if he stretches out his hand… His thrusts grow erratic, his breathing loud and rasping. She glances at him, alarmed, and says "Don't-" but he closes his eyes and thrusts one last time, and then it's over. In the darkness behind his eyelids, little stars explode.

When he opens his eyes again he is kneeling on the floor, and Granger is buttoning up her blouse. "You fell down," she observes. "Lucky I was bracing myself."

Her face is no longer flushed, and Draco realises that he didn't feel her come, and from what he's read, that probably means she didn't. He refuses to ask her, but the look on her face is partly triumphant, and he thinks that she's probably won again.

He pulls his shirt on and leaves without speaking.

Later that night, he is sick, thinking about Mudbloods, and the centuries of breeding in the proud Malfoy line. He hadn't even considered contraceptive charms, and if Granger got pregnant, he'd have fathered an abomination. He flushes away the vomit and rests his forehead on the toilet cistern. He might not have thought of charms, but Granger probably has. That both reassures him and galls him.

After that, he tries not to think about it anymore, and succeeds for most of the week. Quidditch practice helps. It's the Gryffindor/Slytherin match on Saturday, and as he pushes himself on the training pitch he knows he's never been quicker. The trouble is that he keeps hesitating briefly before snatching at the Snitch.

They lose the game, of course. Potter is a blur of red and gold as he streaks past Draco and rolls flashily to a halt above the middle of the pitch, Snitch gleaming in his upraised fist. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw cheers swallow the Slytherin groans, and Draco walks to the changing shed, trailed by Crabbe and Goyle, trying not to look at the group gathered around everybody's favourite hero. He catches just a glimpse of curly brown hair escaping from a Gryffindor scarf, a snatch of a familiar voice enthusiastically praising Potter's victory before a shock of red hair beside the figure catches his eye, and suddenly not looking is much easier.

There is a hot flaring in his stomach, a hunger to win, and another, much simpler hunger that he doesn't want to acknowledge. He considers bringing Pansy back to his room and practicing some more, but he needs to know more than Pansy Parkinson can teach him. He spends most of Sunday in his room, furiously studying the texts his mother sent him on his sixteenth birthday. It's another Malfoy tradition this, that the mother should be the one to initiate the son, and the father the daughter. Some of the other Slytherins like to joke that the initiation is physical, or at any rate, used to be. Draco has never bothered to deny it, preferring to smirk knowledgeably.

On Monday, Pansy tries to invite herself into his room. He refuses, claiming study as an excuse. She catches a glimpse of the chart he made for his wall before he can close the door, though, and he knows that a week ago, he might have idly tried to decode the expression on her face for his amusement. Now, he doesn't have time. He has too much to learn.

On the eighth patrol he arrives well before Granger. Her eyes are blank and when she walks past the alcove where they'd spent their time last week, he realises he was expecting it. All of the things he wants to say are weak, pleading things, so he doesn't say them. He just waits until they're halfway through patrol, high above the parts of the school that are populated, and right in the middle of the hallway, he grabs her arm.

Her eyes are open when he kisses her, and they look resigned, not pleased, and she isn't kissing him back. "Listen-" she says.

"No," he tells her, and drops to his knees in front of her, lifting her skirt up and out. Very delicately, very lightly, he kisses the inside of her left thigh, then her right. For a heartbeat, he is terrified that it won't work, that his books, his very expensive, beautifully illustrated books, might have lied to him about this, but then her hands pull the material of her skirt tight against her waist and he knows they were worth whatever his mother paid for them.

After that, thought flees again. His head is full of the smell of her, the taste of her, the way she writhes and chokes above him. He uses his tongue to explore the nooks and crannies of this secret, dark place. Kneeling at her feet, he maps her out, traces a chart of flesh and moans on the blank parchment behind his closed eyes. He feels her tremble and gasp and his hands tighten automatically on her hips. When she comes, in tiny, muffled screams, he is able to slow and cushion her fall, catch her before she hits the floor.

The flagstones have bruised his knees, he realises. And his jaw aches. The books didn't mention that. But she is fighting to control her breathing, and it doesn't matter that he's sore, because he's won. This time, he was better.

After a moment, she pushes herself upright and glares at him.

"I suppose you think you're clever?" she says acidly.

Draco doesn't bother to reply.

"Well," she says, and her hands go to the buttons of his shirtcuffs. "You're not that clever, Malfoy. You forgot to wash your notes off." And she pushes his sleeves up, and there they are, the fruits of his study, inscribed upon his wrists in his precise, his easy to read handwriting.

He chokes on his defeat, tries to scramble away, but her hands are still tight on his wrists and she's stronger than he thought she'd be. There's something in her eyes, maybe pity, maybe sympathy, and he doesn't want either, but when she leans over to kiss him he finds he wants that. He wants her bare skin on his bare skin and her hands on his cock, and her warm, wet flesh to invite him in while he lies on his back on the cold stone floor.

And she gives him all of that. She rocks above him, her eyes on his face, and he takes his time, he tries to make it last, and when he finally gives himself over to the exploding lights behind his eyelids, he takes the image of her smile with him. And it was a smile of triumph, no doubt, but he thinks there was something of pleasure in there too, so maybe he did win, just a little.

The week passes uneventfully, punctuated only by Pansy Parkinson's increasing attempts to find out what's happened, what did I do wrong, Draco, what about us? On Wednesday she has hysterics in the hallway. He walks away. On Thursday she refuses to talk to him, which doesn't bother him, but she also refuses to pass the salt, which does. On Friday, she sits beside him in Potions, crying silently, which he finds a considerable improvement. He smiles thinly at her at the end of class, and from then on, everything is back to normal, or what passes for it.

Draco doesn't know what to call what he's doing with Granger. He adds this to the list of things he hates about her; the way she stymies his need to categorize. Things need names, so that you can know what they are. But intercourse is too clinical and having sex is too dispassionate and they are certainly not making love. He thinks fucking comes closest - he likes the strength of the word, the way it explodes violently from his teeth - but he's not sure that's right either. It's not clinical, and it's not dispassionate, and there certainly isn't any love in it, but it seems to be lacking something all the same. He needs clarification.

So on the ninth patrol he says "Are we fucking?"

She is composed at the word, as he half-expected. "Well, not right now," she says disdainfully.

He grabs her wrist and tugs her onto a window seat, pushes up her shirt, pushes aside her underwear. "What about now?" he asks, his fingers stroking over her.

"Not quite."

His fingers wriggle and tease until she is breathing in short, sharp gasps. They thrust into her. "And now?"

"That depends… on your… definition!"

He takes his hand away, but only long enough to undo his belt. He turns her over so she's on her belly, legs dangling off the edge of the window seat. She wriggles and twists her head so she can stare up at him and not out into the dark, and he doesn't know what he wants to look at more, her eyes or the seductive curve of her arse or the inviting wetness of her. He stands behind her, grabs her hips and thrusts, and she bucks back to meet him and they both gasp.

"How… about… now?" he hisses, but that's the last coherent thing to go through his mind and if she makes a reply between moans he doesn't hear it.

His fingers scrabble and splay on her back. They trace the elegant architecture of her spine as she writhes under him, her eyes glazing as he finds his rhythm. All this time the words are spitting out of him. Filthy words, words he wouldn't normally use, but this isn't normal and he's not thinking, so the words come gasping with every thrust - cunt and cock and wet and fuck, fuck, fuck.

And she squirms and moans and says yes, yes, yes. But she doesn't come. He is half-aware of this, even in his lost self, and holds on, and holds on. Finally, she does something, moves against him in just the right way and he gasps yes and it's over.

"So, was that fucking?" he asks before he pulls out of her.

Granger pushes herself to her feet and smooths down her skirt. She appears to be considering the question. "I suppose so," she says deliberately. "If you take the phallic view." And she turns her back to him and resumes their patrol.


He follows, in a rage born of humiliation and defeat.

Draco promises himself that on the tenth patrol, he will not give in. If she wants it, she'll have to come to him. She'll have to say something, give him some signal, make it clear she wants it. Make it clear she wants him.

And then he'll laugh at her, and call her a filthy little Mudblood. He'll tell her it was all a game, and that he's won. He'll ask her if she thought his father's son could ever really want to touch her.

I was sick, afterwards, he'll tell her. Just at the thought of you. Every time. It's mostly true, and he knows from experience that true taunts are the ones that burrow under your skin and keep biting. He can't wait to see how she'll react.

But then, on Tuesday night, before he can even begin to ignore her, she says "Not tonight, Malfoy. I've got my period."

And he is hard before he takes three steps.

He is hard when they walk past the bathrooms on the second floor, hard when they walk past a statue of a one-eyed witch, hard while they walk through the a hall lines by sleeping portraits. When they ascend the steps of the Astronomy Tower, she walks ahead of him, as always, and in the torchlight he stares up at her arse and is so hard that he groans.

She turns around and glares down at him. "What?" she asks.

"I want you," he says, as simple and devastating as that, and her face is pleased for a moment before she remembers that she doesn't like him.

"I told you," she say, appropriately impatient, but she doesn't turn away.

"You did," he agrees, and stares up at her. Her eyebrows are raised.

"Tell me how much you want me," she says, and though he knows he'll hate himself for it later, he obeys.

"I want you like food," he tells her, taking a slow step towards her. "I want you like poison. I want you like I want the Snitch. I want you like knives and knots and air." He takes another step. He is at breast height now, and those breasts, those glorious breasts are rising and falling from the quick breaths she's taking.

"More," she says.

"I want you like flight," he says. "I want you like the Quidditch Cup, the House Cup, the Head Boy badge. I want you like autumn and power and glory," he says, and then he says the last, the unforgivable, the traitor's words: "I want you like I want my father back home."

She stares at him, eyes wide, and he cannot help the anguished sound that come from his throat as he reaches for her, balanced on the narrow steps. She kisses him back, fierce and deep, and then pulls away. "Not here," she says urgently, and he sees her eyes flicker towards her torch.

He doesn't care, as long as he can have this. "Back in the light," he agrees.

"How did you-" she blurts, then catches herself. "Back in the light," she says tersely. He is pleased that he has managed to surprise her with his perception, but that pleasure is a dim light beside the burning of his need for her. He half-drags her back down the stairs, but she doesn't seem to mind. It's she that pulls him into the nearest alcove, ablaze with light, she that loosens her belt and tugs down her jeans, she that tugs off her shirt and lies before him naked, wet and bloody.

He can't bring himself to taste her, nor to touch her there, though after all, there isn't much blood. Instead he lavishes attention on her breasts, traces his fingers over her belly, spirals his tongue around the outer edge of her ear and down her neck. When he enters her, she is warm, and wet, and to his body, there is no difference.

In his head, the difference is real, and profound. Her blood, her dirty blood, surrounding him. It's all he can do not to let go the minute he's inside her. Yet, he sees her flush, sees her hands scrabble for purchase on the stone floor, and he holds back. This control will kill him; he believes this, ludicrously and sincerely. He will die before conceding yet another victory to her. He would rather die.

But she arches under him, the noise from her mouth too low to be a shriek, too loud to be a moan, and he feels hidden muscles clamp down on him, bringing noises through his own clenched teeth, helpless thrusting from his own hips. He comes inside her, mere seconds after her own climax has subsided. They pant together, their breath mingling as his head hangs over hers, exhausted.

Afterwards, although he won't count it a victory, Draco cautiously acknowledges that this might have been a tie.

On Friday afternoon, with an electric thrill that he tries to ignore as soon as he recognises it, Draco sees that Granger isn't sitting with Weasley, but with Lavender Brown. Weasley is holding hands with Parvati Patil and looking at Granger, who is not looking back. Patil is not stupid, for a Gryffindor, and the set of her jaw promises trouble for Weasley after class.

Draco can't remember a better Potions lesson.

"Aren't you afraid I'll tell?" she asks out of nowhere on the eleventh patrol as he's tracing his name on the skin under her breasts with his tongue. They're in the warren of corridors on the fourth floor, and it's all torches up here.

It seems an odd question, odd enough to make him stop what he's doing with his hands. "If you tell, then everyone will know," he says. "Won't that hurt Weasley?"

She flushes. "Ron and I aren't going out any more," she says flatly.

"That isn't what I said," Draco purrs, and he pinches her nipple.

She gasps and arches under him, her expression going blank with desire, but he's not fooled. He leans over her and pins her to the stone floor by her shoulders. He's off-balance, and she could easily get free, but he knows she won't. "Won't it?" he asks. "Hurt him?"

She stares straight at him. "Yes," she says finally.

"So, you're afraid I'll tell," Draco says quietly, and he's thrilled. She's afraid of something he can do, and it's only a short step from that, surely, to being afraid of him. If he can make her frightened of him, then he might be able to win after all.

But her eyes are blank. "Of course not."

She's surprised him again, and he hates it, he hates how she always does what he doesn't expect, even when she's taught him to anticipate the unexpected.

"Why?" he demands, and his hands are hard on her skin.

"Because if you tell, then everyone will know," she says, and she sounds puzzled with his stupidity. She's even more confused when he gets up and pulls his clothes on and moves away from her and out the door. She doesn't call after him, and he doesn't stop to explain.

But he has to think about the trap he's in, and he can't think when she's near him. He doesn't think when she's there, he just acts, speaks, without thought. It sickens him. It's not how a Slytherin should ever act, much less his father's son. But he can't afford to think about her or him or his father or anything at all because if he did he might stop. And if he gives up now, he'll never be able to win.

All week he writes lists out alone in his room, all the things he hates about her, all the poisonous things he'd like to say to her that he fears he never will. Afterwards, he sets them alight, rubbing the ash into the fine parchment of the books his mother sent him. It's the nearest thing he can have to a record of what is happening to him, with her.

The ash stains his skin, brings the whorls and spirals of his fingerprints into sharp relief, so that for a while, Draco leaves a mark on everything he touches. The obvious reminder of his presence makes him happier than he's been in months. He wonders, fearfully, if he might tell Granger about this pleasure. He knows she will understand; he fears she will, once again, make it her victory.

He thinks about this through the weekend, and by Monday evening he has decided, probably rashly, but finally, to tell her. That night he is awake for a long time, feverishly rehearsing the conversation, trying to map the myriad twisting paths the conversation will take them, tries to predict her unpredictable responses.

He never considers that she simply might not be there.

When he sees Potter waiting for him by the dining hall door, he realises he should have expected this. He hadn't seen her at breakfast, lunch or dinner, but he knows it is not uncommon for her to miss meals, foregoing food in favour of poring over old tomes. It is, however, uncommon for her to miss every meal in a day.

"Hermione's sick," Potter says abruptly. "The Headmaster asked me to fill in."

Potter's wand is tight in his fist, and his face is drawn and white. He looks like someone undergoing torture, which Draco suspects is true. But he also looks self-consciously noble. Potter the hero, suffering this geas, forced to work with his enemy, and willing to do it for the greater good of the school.

Draco wants to snap his stupid noble glasses in half. Kick him in his heroic balls. Stab him in the throat with his own miraculous wand. He knows that even if by some chance he could do it, none of these will serve to diminish Potter's sense of unassailable righteousness, but he would like to try.

"Let's go," Potter snaps.

Something clicks inside Draco's head. "What's wrong with Granger?" he asks, striving for concern. He can only achieve neutrality, because he knows very well that Granger is not sick. She is punishing him for not completing their tryst last Tuesday.

Potter's expression falters a little. "None of your business, Malfoy," he retorts, but his voice lacks a certain authority it had moments before. He did not expect civility.

"Just worried," Draco says mildly. "She seemed pretty tired last week."

Potter's jaw stays closed only through sheer force of will, he knows. But there's something in his eyes, something hunted. Draco waits. Granger has taught him many things, not least of which the need of people to fill up silences.

"She gave me a note for you," Potter mutters finally, and fishes a scrap of parchment out of his pocket. He obviously had no intention of giving it to the other boy, but Draco's unusual politeness has put him off-balance, and he scrabbles for known things.

Draco takes it, remembering to murmur, "Thank you", and notices even through his dreadful anticipation that Potter's brows draw momentarily together in confusion. The note reads:

"I am really ill. Not a game. Sorry."
- H.G.

"What are you smiling at, Malfoy?" Potter demands.

"Nothing," Draco says mildly, sliding the note into his pocket. "She apologises for missing patrol, that's all."

"Why would she apologise to you?" Potter counters.

"Because she's polite?" Draco queries, his expression as courteously disinterested as he can make it.

Potter sneers at him. "And what does she mean, 'Not a game'?" he asks.

Draco is genuinely shocked. "You read the note?" he blurts out before he can stop himself. Potter, the hero, the golden boy, reads other people's mail.

"Yeah," Potter says defensively. "She didn't seal it or anything."

"Ah," Draco says non-committedly, regaining his composure. He has recalled that Potter has a gift for poking his nose into places it doesn't belong, and discovering information he shouldn't acquire, and he is disappointed with himself for being surprised. Granger probably wouldn't be.

"And anyway," Potter blusters. "Hermione's my best friend. We don't have secrets."

"Of course," Draco agrees blandly, and decides to torture him by being incredibly pleasant for the rest of the night.

By the time they reach the dining room door again, several hours later, Potter is looking distinctly rattled, and Draco is almost glad Granger couldn't make it tonight.

"Well, that's it," he says. "Good night, Potter. Sleep well."

"Good night," Potter mumbles and turns away, his wild green eyes shifting away from Draco's smile.

Draco lets him get a few steps down the corridor, and releases the final sally he's been holding back for an hour. "Oh, Potter!" he calls, and Potter, reluctantly, turns. "Good luck against Ravenclaw next term," Draco says merrily.

It's beautiful, watching Harry Potter snap. "Shut up, Malfoy!" he shouts.

"It's such a pleasure to watch you and Chang fly," Draco continues.

"AAAARGH!" Potter roars, raising his wand. "Stop being so fucking POLITE!"

Draco wonders if some things might be better than sex. "Are you all right, Potter?" he queries innocently.

"I'm going to KILL YOU if you don't STOP!"

It's at that point that the dining hall doors open and Dumbledore steps out. Draco would like to believe that this is coincidence, but suspects this would be placing far too much credence in Dumbledore's daft old man act.

"Is there a problem here, Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy?" he asks mildly, stroking his beard.

"HE WAS BEING NICE TO ME!" Potter raves. He has lowered his wand, but he keeps stabbing his finger at Draco, probably wishing his finger was a blade.

"Is that true, Mr. Malfoy?" Dumbledore asks sternly, but his eyes are twinkling.

"It certainly is, sir," Draco chirps.

"Excellent. Ten points to Slytherin."

Potter's face makes Draco want to do a little dance, right there in the corridor.

"Good night, then," Dumbledore says, and stands there until both boys leave. No, Draco thinks, not daft at all.

Draco spends the walk back to the dungeons blissfully replaying select parts of the evening through his head, and his mood is buoyant right up until he curls up into his cold bed. The house elves do not enter the Slytherin dungeons since that nasty incident with Blaise Zabini in fourth year, and consequently, Slytherins must fill their own hot water bottles. Draco usually forgets.

But on Tuesday nights, he is always alive and warm with the memory of her flesh, and even if he is humiliated and defeated, there is always that sheer sensory pleasure. He's grown used to it. Worse, he's grown used to her, their sharp conversations, their constant negotiations around the whos and whats of who they are and what they're doing. Or not doing, these past two weeks. And tonight, not even a kiss, not even a poisonous comment or raised eyebrow. And he's cold.

Draco buries his head under his pillow, and tries to stop thinking. But he can't, and the thoughts are like icicles inside his head. He can't help the realisation that he is enjoying the game itself. Winning is still important, but suddenly it isn't everything.

"This can't be happening," he whispers to the dark. "This can't happen." The dark gives him neither comfort nor advice. Eventually, he falls asleep.

When he wakes up he is disorientated. He's had one of those fearful dreams that feels real for minutes after he wakes, and he can't remember exactly what it was about, which only makes the feeling worse. He knows only that he was trapped somewhere dark, alone in the blue glow of his wand. Somewhere dark and cold, with the wandlight pinning him like a butterfly against the wall.

He's beginning to think he'll never be able to win. This week he watches her all the time, now, covertly, never going out his way, but she's in many of his classes, and she's there at every meal, and he sees her in the library. Infuriatingly, although his skin itches with her scrutiny, he never once catches her looking back. And although he's planned a thousand things to say, he can never find her alone. Potter is always there, or Weasley, or one of the nauseating, giggling girls she seems to be friendly with, and their presence stifles him as surely as a bit against his tongue. When Pansy Parkinson catches him staring she assumes he's planning something against them all.

"You're going to get them at the Quidditch match, aren't you?" she says triumphantly. "Oh, that's clever, Draco, everyone else will be watching the game. That's why you haven't yet done anything this term."

The match is Hufflepuff versus Ravenclaw, and it's a great game between evenly-matched teams. Pansy was right, it would be clever, if he'd thought of it. With the other two houses focused on the match, it would have been the perfect time to embroil Gryffindor in some scheme. At the very least, he could still lead a sortie, get Crabbe and Goyle to land a few blows on Weasley, break Potter's stupid glasses.

But Granger is sitting between them and even with Pansy's little, sharp eyes eager on his face, he can't find the will for violence. What he'd really like to do is amplify his voice and shout I'm fucking Hermione Granger, and none of you knew for the whole school to hear. The thought of everybody's shock gives him enough momentum to get to his feet, but his father's face flashes into his mind, and then Granger's, and he sits down again.

In the end he mutters "Missed the right moment," to Pansy and leaves before the match ends. He knows there will be whispers in the Slytherin common room that night. Draco's lost his nerve, they'll be saying. Now that his father's in Azkaban, we can't count on him anymore. He tells himself he doesn't care, but he goes to his room, and when Pansy knocks on the door and calls his name he pretends to be asleep.

On the thirteenth patrol, they meet at the dining hall doors. She smiles at him. Something has changed in the time they weren't touching, and this smile is part of it. He finds that he is smiling back, and is annoyed that this has happened without him noticing.

"I really was sick," she says.

"I know," he replies.

"What did you do to Harry?" she asks curiously. "He wouldn't tell me."

Draco shrugs, unsure about what tales Potter might have spread. "Nothing. Well. I was nice to him."

Granger considers that. "That would have done it," she says, and her voice gives nothing away, but after two months of obsessive scrutiny he knows her face very well now, and he knows what that tiny dimple in her upper right cheek means. She is trying not to smile.

"Excitable, isn't he?" Draco asks. He is seized by the urge to break that control, get a grin out of her. But he goes too far; "I expect he's under a lot of strain."

Granger's mouth purses. "Yes," she replies distantly, no longer looking at him. Her shoulders have stiffened. "He is. And whatever you did added to it."

Draco thinks about protesting his innocence, claiming only pure intentions, but he is suddenly very tired. And she isn't Potter. She'd see right through him. "Fine," he says, and turns away. After a few moments he hears the rustle of her skirt as she follows him.

And there, somewhere between the dining room and the Transfiguration classrooms, he privately and totally concedes victory. She's taught him with every step through these hallways, lessons on self-control and malice and manipulation and spite and passion and maybe some other things he doesn't want to think about yet. He could shatter Potter into twisted scraps with what he's learned from these dark patrols. But he could never win against Granger.

The real irony, and maybe her surest triumph, is that she did all this unknowingly. If she'd been in Slytherin, she'd have taught them all. If only she wasn't a Mudblood.

"What did you say?" Granger demands, and he comes back to himself and realises he has spoken the last words out loud.

They're on the third landing of the Astronomy Tower stairwell. For the first time ever, she's let him go up first, but he doesn't have time to ponder what that might mean, because she has completely lost it and slapped him with her free hand.

"You bastard, Malfoy," she hisses. "I thought that after all this, you might have learned something about-"

"I can't forget what you are!" he shouts back. "I just can't, all right?"

"You arrogant-" she begins.

"Am I a fucking reform project?" he asks bitterly. "Like your House Elves?" He mimics her voice, savagely. "'Oh, poor Malfoy, I think I could do him a lot of good!' Is that why you did it? You wanted to teach me to be better? Who's really arrogant?"

Her cheeks are two flaming spots of red in the pallor of her face. "That's isn't why, and you know it!"

"I don't know it!" he shouts. "You never talk to me! Congratulations, Granger, you managed to completely fuck me up without us once having a real conversation! How in Mordred's name am I supposed to know why? I don't even know why I did it, and I'm the one living in my head!"

"You and your father," she snaps, and his head jerks backwards.

For a long moment they stare at one another, one bathed in her torchlight, the other in the light from his wand, and it is as if the darkness around this one bright point is frozen, holding its breath.

"Yes," he says softly. "Me and my father."


She takes a deep breath. "I shouldn't have said that."

"It's true."

"But I-"

"Shut up, Granger," he says, and is astonished when she obeys. He would love to take this chastened moment to tell her exactly what he thinks of her, but all of his venomous lists have gone right out of his head. All he can do is look at her, and they stand still, and silent.

Until, without any warning, Granger's torch sputters out.

He has no time to think, only time to act. She is already reaching for the wand in her waistband. Nox, he says, and as the light from his wand dies he drops it on the floor, grabs blindly for her hands and says "No."

She whimpers, and her wand hand jerks under his. He tightens his fingers on hers, feeling them yield unpleasantly under the strain. "No," he repeats, and he has so many things to say, but they somehow all fit into one word, so he says it again: "No."

She is rigid, trembling, and he pulls her against him, embraces her, traps her hands against his chest. It feels awkward, like everything he's done with her for the first time. Unlike everything else they've done for the first time, she feels awkward too. He doesn't know how to hold her, and she doesn't know how to be held by him. He slides one hand between them, tugs at the end of her wand.

She cries out, a soft choked sound, but she lets him take it. She cries out again when he pulls her clumsily to the landing floor, still wrapped in his one-armed embrace. He carefully puts her wand to one side, trembling with the control that takes, grabs her hand, taps it on the wand.

"See?" he whispers.

"I can't see," she whispers back, voice on the edge of a moan. "I'm blind."

"Feel, then," he suggests, and falls back, tugging her on top of him. Then he lets her go. For a moment she is still, poised above him, and he is sick with disappointment and loss.

Then her hands are on his shirt, tugging and tearing until she reaches the flesh beneath and her mouth is hot and wet on his and he knows that he has finally won. The hard triumph of it makes him moan and he grinds his hips up to meet her and she slides willingly against him, but it's flesh on cloth on cloth on flesh and it's not close enough.

His hands go to her skirt and he pulls it at the zipper. She lifts her hips and writhes, and as he pulls her skirt down and off, fumbling at the straps on those ridiculous heels on the way her own hands are busy at his belt. She ducks her head and bites down his throat, little nips of pain that bring choked noises from both of them.

She is trembling with fear and other things, and he can't see her, but that's all right. After so many nights, his hands know the way, know how to touch and tease her until she cries out and jerks her pelvis against his fingers. Blind, he lifts her hips, and blind, she wriggles on top of him, and when she plunges down on him it is so liquid and hot that his gasp is half a groan.

Her hands are suddenly on his face, tracing his features. "You're here," she says, and there is so much terrified uncertainty in her voice that he brings her hands to his mouth, and one after another, kisses her palms, her wrists.

"I'm here," he promises her, and grips her waist firmly. She plants her hands beside his head, so close he feels her fingers tangle in his hair, and begins the slow, rocking rhythm that drives them both insane, drives them both towards desire's height. They fall over it together, she gripping his final thrust tight and wet, defying the cold dark with their warmth.

After that, neither of them want to move. She lies on top of him. He can feel the tears on her cheek where it lies upon his chest, her eyelashes flickering as she opens and closes her eyes. His arms are secure around her, no longer uncomfortable with their embrace.

Her wand is beside them all the time, but she doesn't reach for it. Instead, she clutches at him as she would a torch.

After what feels like a long time, they dress and walk silently, but side by side, through the rest of the patrol. Every now and then, Draco catches her watching him out of the corner of his eye. At the end of the night, she smiles at him.

"Good night," she says.

"Yes," he responds, and watches her walk away.

On Wednesday morning at breakfast, Pansy Parkinson says Oh, poor Draco, the term's nearly over, you must be relieved. I have to patrol with Weasley next, how about you? And he remembers. He wants to laugh. He wants to die. This is the best joke he's ever made, and he's the only one who could possibly appreciate the humour. The waste of it makes him want to cry.

On Thursday, Snape informs him he will be patrolling with Hannah Abbot after the Christmas break. Or Ernie Macmillan if he'd prefer. He says "It doesn't matter, sir," and his voice is empty. Snape's eyes are very bright, and that's when Draco remembers what he'd said about choices.

On Friday, he has Potions. She is right there, three benches away, and he cannot touch her. After class, he walks up to her, tongue heavy with the things he cannot say - what will we do? can we continue? why? why? why? - but Weasley is there, bristling, and Potter stares at him in disbelief, so instead of the words that fill his mouth he spits out Mudblood slut. When Weasley's fist breaks his teeth through his lip the blood is real and bitter on his tongue. He is pleased until he remembers the expression in her dark eyes.

On Saturday, he stays in bed, and suffers through Pansy's sympathy. She brings him tea and bread toasted over the common room fire, and tells him about her own plan to get back at Weasley. He nods, which she takes as encouragement, and she's kissing him before he can think of a way to stop her. For a moment, he spitefully wonders how Granger might take the news. But after all this time, Pansy's mouth tastes wrong. He pushes her away.

"No," he says, more harshly than he'd intended. Then, feeling like a fool, he adds "Sorry."

"Sorry?" Pansy stares at him, more astonished than offended. Then she whirls and runs out of his room.

On Sunday, Granger finds him in the library. "Did you mean it?" she asks harshly.

"Mean what?" he says, then, "No."

"Then why?" she demands. "Why? Why?"

He laughs then, he can't help it. And when he stops, he points at himself, and at her and asks "Why?"

She takes a deep breath, and when the answer comes he knows what it has cost her. "I don't know," she says, and leaves.

He stares after her. He has always thought she had the map to the territory they were exploring, that she knew the secret rules of their game. Now she is revealed as directionless as he, and this is both satisfying and deeply, deeply terrifying.

Draco sits, and thinks for a long time about uncharted regions.

On Monday, she is waiting in his room. He doesn't ask how she knew where the Slytherin dormitories are, or what the password was, or how she got through the common room without anyone seeing her. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't know how to use words in ways that won't hurt her, or him, and they don't have time to learn.

He removes her clothing, piece by piece, and she removes his. Naked, they light all the lamps and naked, they make love in the light. It is gentle (except when he bites her collarbone) and soft (except when she draws her nails down his spine) and when they are both done she rests beside him for a long, long time. When she leaves his bed is warm, and he sleeps dreamless through the night.

Draco thinks that is all he can expect of anyone.

On the fourteenth and last patrol, as they approach the first of the dark places, Hermione Granger automatically puts her hand out towards a torch on the wall. She pauses. Draco looks at her.

"I don't need this any more," she says, and walks unhesitatingly into the blackness, the torch flaring on the wall behind her.

Draco stares at his wand, then tucks it into his belt. There is just enough light for him to catch up with her before they can see nothing at all.

They know the way. After so many nights in the twisting maze of their school, this blind knowledge is something they have earned. They do not speak, but when her hand brushes against his, Draco seizes it fiercely, and feels Hermione return his grip.

Fearless, they walk together for the last time into the dark places of Hogwarts, after all the lights have gone out.