Sugar and Stress

Blood runs blue, bleeds red, and dries brown. Draco Malfoy never put much significance in the fact that he shared these characteristics with lesser forms of life, like frogs, vermin, and house elves.

But the idea that Mudbloods were intrinsically different had been so deeply ingrained that it was hard to ignore the unthinking part of his brain that was reeling from the sensation of being kissed by Hermione Granger.

Which was so many kinds of wrong that he immediately suspected foul play. Or alcohol. Or a case of potentially fatal mistaken identity when she figured out that she was kissing him. Or . . . someone, who was going to die horribly, had gotten into his store of Polyjuice potion and was doing this to freak him out, or gain enough blackmail material to own him forever.

He processed all of these possibilities in approximately the same amount of time it might take for his life to flash before his eyes in a moment of impending doom. He'd had enough impending doom moments in the last six months that he was starting to become quite the expert at prioritizing his last thoughts.

Not that they ever included Granger before she became the shape of his doom.

The thought that it might be someone who knew that he had a secret cache of Polyjuice potion made him put his hands on the waist of the Granger shaped thing mashing its lips against his and push as he staggered back against the sink, gasping for breath.

It looked like Granger, if you didn't count the bee stung puffiness of her lips, or the fact that it looked like she had been crying. On the other hand, she had looked weepy and furious a lot lately, and most of Hogwarts was a-buzz with the details. Weasel-bee had taken up with Brown, and Granger alternated between shrill and sullen because she was pining.

Kissing random blokes in Moaning Myrtle's lavatory was possibly a slight improvement on moping about, looking constipated with disapproval and repressed jealous rage.

With a quiver of revulsion he found himself licking the taste of her off his Mudblood bruised lips. It was Granger spit, syrupy, with a slightly medicinal burn, and tasting strongly of mint—but still! Spit of Granger! There was spit of Granger stinging his lips, especially the spot on his lower lip that was already sore from the way he had started compulsively peeling bits of dry skin on his lip with his teeth. Wide eyed, he looked down at the neighboring sink and saw a cheap plastic toothbrush resting on the lip of the sink with a bit of frothy white foam on the neck.

She moved towards him and he flinched, but all she did was bend down to pick up her book bag, two bright spots of color turning her face a splotchy red as she avoided his stunned gaze, and then she was gone.

He slumped against the sink, waiting for something to happen. He wasn't sure what exactly, but it fit the pattern of his days to get a nasty shock followed up by a wallow in the bewilderment at the latest injustice visited on him.


The next day in Herbology he found himself at a work table across from Granger, struggling to not be unnerved by her. For the last six months he followed an unstated policy of leaving Granger alone. This had nothing to do with the fact that she was a Mudblood and completely beneath his notice, though he tried to cultivate that impression. He was a little scared of her, which was justifiable since she was notorious for settling scores with devastating results, but it was not something he would have admitted to anyone.

With an inward flinch at the memory of Marietta Edgecomb's face, he was sure that Granger would run out of words to apply to his face to describe the character defects she perceived in him. Moreover, she would probably get away with it too.

This was possibly not the real Granger. She wasn't jumping up and down and waving her hand in the air to answer every question. Consequently, the class had to rely on Neville Longbottom to supply the answers. Granger was an annoyingly spot on walking encyclopedia, but she was sufficiently aware of her irritating-ness to spill the answers in a succinct and speedy regurgitation of a text book extract.

Longbottom managed to evince a variety of Longbottom-ish confidence; he was flushed with tender pride, and semi-coherent with enthusiasm for the subject matter as he stammered through answers to Professor Sprout's questions in a way that made more empathetic souls start to lean forward and nod almost as if they thought they could bounce the words out of Longbottom.

The choppy delivery left Crabbe in a default state of incomprehension, but Goyle, who was normally left behind by Granger's answers, seemed to be struggling right along with Longbottom with flickers of comprehension to the unsteady delivery of information.

For his part, Draco had no idea what the lesson was, nor did he particularly care. He had been well served in classes by his ability to listen selectively. It had not deserted him. His priorities had changed, and his selective hearing tuned out most of his lessons.

He hadn't thought to monitor his Polyjuice supply, so when he checked last night to try to determine if it had been tampered with, he wasn't able to form a conclusion. At least, not based on the unmarked bottle of grayish sludge. Instead, he ran over the short list of people who had access to his belongings, motivation to wreak havoc on him, the wit to execute such a dastardly scheme, and sufficient contact with Granger to produce the essential element for the transformation. The list wasn't as short as he would have wished, but it was rendered slightly improbable. 

He wasn't sure who had assaulted his lips in the third floor washroom, and he had decided to pretend that it simply hadn't happened. Easy enough, but now that he was standing across from Granger, watching her trying to not draw attention to herself in an attention getting way that had Professor Sprout throwing a perplexed look at her, it was impossible not to form the conclusion that it had been her. Or that this was the least improbable conclusion.

At the end of class Granger was delayed by Professor Sprout, stopping her with an almost motherly hand on her shoulder to have a quick word with her. While their classmates rushed off to lunch, Draco loitered on the path from Greenhouse Five to the building, thinking.

He ambushed her inside the vestibule, blocking her path. “What the hell are you playing at, Mudblood?”

Quick as a flash, she had her wand out, digging into his throat. It occurred to him that the expression ‘hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned' didn't begin to do justice to the crazy girl prepared to hex him. It was all horribly unfair. He had not yet begun to demonstrate his scorn—calling her Mudblood hardly counted since it had lost the power to shock her teary-eyed and speechless, and that meant that he was stepping into Weasley's mess.

“Nothing you are remotely equipped to deal with, Malfoy,” she snarled back at him.


On Saturday morning Draco found her in the library, which was mostly amazing only in that he was looking for her. He was looking for her—the mind boggled. Possibly Granger's assault was a cunning plot to distract him. He had more pressing matters to attend to, though it was doubtful that she knew that, and even more doubtful that she inferred this simply because he was who he was. She was incredibly dense when it came to things like grasping his inherent importance versus her obviously inflated self worth.

This time he got the drop on her. He had a point to make.

A completely counter-intuitive point that could not be easily dismissed. To wit: she had no idea what he was equipped to handle.

He kissed her.

That wasn't precisely what he meant to do. He wasn't quite sure what he meant to do. All of his plans lately seemed to collapse and coalesce around ideas that were stupid and unworkable. His heart beat too fast, like a dissonant metronome, drumming out units of time that he didn't have. Kissing Granger was a back up plan he didn't know he had until opportunity presented itself. It was like the necklace. Except that the necklace was a plan that he knew he had, that had been rendered unworkable by the unanticipated changes in security within the castle. He had been spurred into using it by the threat of retaliation if he did not show some evidence that he was working on the problem.

It might have worked. But the trap was sprung too early and he discovered that the necklace was not nearly as lethal as he had been led to believe. Bell was still alive, though she was recovering at St. Mungo, and he was encouraged by this because surely, as much as the Dark Lord wanted Dumbledore dead, what he really needed was to have him out of the way, and what Draco really needed was neither a dead nor incapacitated Dumbledore, but a credible show of effort and more time.

Or a complete vacation from reality in which he was the dashingly caddish anti-hero and Granger was a saucy Mudblood vixen who had to be snogged into submission. There was a genre of racy wizarding novels devoted to similar conceits. The Mudblood heroine was invariably some sort of jumped up aristocrat whose Muddy pedigree and title were rendered meaningless in the wizarding world, and in the course of becoming a proper witch, would find herself humbled by the true and ancient superiority of a Pureblood wizard dazzled by her flashing eyes and heaving bosom.

It was all very absurd, but Draco could see the humor in the opportunities for wicked double entendres about the proper way to hold a wand or mount a broomstick that enlivened classics like Reginald Wriothsley's salacious As The Kneazle Is To Cat.

Kissing Granger happened like that. He meant to confront her, now that he was sure that it was her and not some unknown person who was willing to risk his undying enmity. There was unmistakable innuendo in the way she had taunted him. It was bad dialog bleeding into real life in a form of repartee that demanded an equally bad answer.

She saw him stalking toward her, and he watched as her lips curled in a not so delicate grimace of distaste before she spun around with what seemed to him to be a dismissive shake of her poorly managed hair. Madame Pince could have been standing right there, and it would not have stopped him. What he did was pure reaction. Unthinking. Unreasoning. He didn't even understand that he was pulling her hair until she was rubbing her scalp, and then, he understood too late to avoid it, and she kicked him rather viciously in the shin in retaliation for the kiss and the hair pulling.

“You started it,” he meant to snarl at her, but it sounded less snarly than he meant since he was holding his shin with one hand to keep the pain contained to point of impact, and holding her with the other with the idea of shaking her like a rag doll—or keeping himself from falling down.

There were elements of comedy, of farce, in these novels. Possibly he wasn't the dashingly caddish anti-hero but the actual cad, the slimy one that rendered the Mudblood heroine sympathetic.

She rolled her eyes at him and gave him a little push that maneuvered him against the bookshelves where he found that he could lean back and devote more attention to rubbing the hurt out of his shin.

“That was an accident,” she told him, ladling astringency unto exasperation.

“An accident is falling down the stairs. An accident is not kissing me in the bloody toilets,” he retorted.

She huffed at the way he was quibbling over it. “Yes, well . . . point taken. I had no idea that it would make such a profound impression on you,” she said.

He was fairly certain that she was making fun of him, which reminded him that he had a point to make. “You have no bloody idea what I can handle, you filthy little Mudblood.”

Her eyes widened. “That's . . . wow! Scary! Hair pulling, name calling, and amateurish kissing. You taught me, Malfoy,” she scoffed as she flounced away. Poorly managed hair be damned given the way her skirt flipped up to show a distracting bit of thigh.

Now he was positive that she was laughing at him, and he could feel his skin flushing. It always started somewhere behind his ears and crept over his face with enough heat to make him feel his skin go oily with chagrin. There was, he was certain, a correlation between intense embarrassment and teenage acne. If she gave him a blemish for this, his vengeance would know no bounds.


Madame Pomfrey grudgingly healed his bruised shin but refused to be arse'd about the bump that had erupted over his left eyebrow.

Within a week it had grown to the diameter of a knut and gone soft and spongy from excessive prodding, while the skin on his cheeks was flaking from over washing. Under close scrutiny it appeared to have a greenish-yellow cast. He gingerly dabbed more of the ointment his mother claimed was a superior remedy for pimples over the knotty bulge, not entirely convinced that it was a pimple. It was possibly the advance sign of some exotic disease, possibly resulting from his filthy congress with a Mudblood that would cause his skin to erupt in disgusting, suppurating welts.

There was something about this scenario that he found relieving, as it was only right and proper that his skin would literally try to crawl off, and forehead disfigurement and a bruised shin were lesser evils. It could have very easily been a far more hideous oozing cold sore/lip pimple disfigurement and smashed dangly bits.

It was the least of the excessively unfair things that had happened since his father had been arrested. As bad as he felt about the arrest, at some point in his sluggy journey home from Hogwarts it had occurred to him that he had become the man of the house by virtue of his father's absence. At another point in his oozing discomfort he had experienced a mollifying realization; there would be no restraint on his mother's naturally indulgent tendencies when he returned home in post disfigurement sweaty dishevelment in dire need of pampering.

It didn't quite work out that way with crazy Aunt Bellatrix installed in Malfoy Manor to supervise his advanced course in the Dark Arts and occlumency. Aunt Bellatrix had acquired a fair bit of blackmail material before he began to master his thoughts during their lessons. Aunt Bellatrix did not grasp the point of blackmail. Since she was crazy, she tended to blurt out his stolen thoughts and memories, which he felt certain were largely taken as the ravings of a lunatic.

There were interesting parallels in his situation and Potter's, which now included a hideous forehead disfigurement. It was all in how you looked at things. Potter was the supposed hero of the wizard world, presumed to be the antidote to save them all from Lord Voldemort. Likewise Draco had been set an equally unfair, bordering on suicidal mission: kill the blood traitor Dumbledore and save the wizard world for proper wizards and witches. 

He poked at his pimple again, impatient with the vanishing ointment, and his fingernail slid over the squashy surface, sloughing off a disgustingly oozing layer of skin and spritzing the mirror with pimple juice. Blaise Zabini paused in the act of straightening his tie to pull a face at him.

“You are so disgusting, Malfoy,” he said with a hint of revulsion.

Zabini, a nonentity for six years, was suddenly tall. He had grown several inches over the summer, acquired a new step-father, their fat potions professor took an interest in him, and he suddenly decided that he had stature. It was annoying because Draco simply didn't have spare time to work up a plot to disabuse him of the notion that his newfound stature approached Draco's prior, present, or future place in the world.

“Shut it, or I'll make you touch it,” he retorted. The damage was already done, so he squeezed and a fat glob of pus shot out. Disgusting, but oddly relieving, he thought as he watched Zabini back away from him with an expression of fastidious horror. After he cleaned up the bleeding, oozing mess on his forehead he considered casting a glamour to conceal it, and decided that he couldn't be arse'd about it.

A new, vile, evil plan of retribution formed in his brain.


Unfortunately, chasing Granger around and demanding that she touch his blemish was simply the stuff of idle daydreams during History of Magic. Evil? Yes. Disgusting? Positively. Unworkable, however, because he wasn't in a position to act like a complete psycho no matter how appealing it was to get a reaction. He wondered at the mental tension that made Aunt Bellatrix snap. Not only was she oblivious to her insanity, but she seemed to derive great pleasure from her forays across the threshold of what was revolting.

Insanity had its benefits. He was feeling nostalgic for simpler times when he could, with a word, or gesture, prod his minions of Doom into doing vile things for the express purpose of enjoying horrified reactions. As said minions were restive under their current task of adopting the shape of the girliest little girls Draco could acquire hair from in order to act as his lookouts without anyone else being wiser, he had been forced to moderate his demands for them to amuse him.

It was a satisfactory way to entertain himself during a lecture so dull that he imagined that it produced enough inertia to be the source of all spells intended to stupefy.

He was making a proof to that effect, with appropriate illustration, during his study period in the library. Granger was there as well, trying to study with some hulking Gryffindor boy who had mistaken study session with Granger for flirtation. From his place across the aisle he could see one large foot clumsily nudging Granger's primly crossed ankles.

Repelled, he looked up to catch a look of alarmed revulsion on her face too. That was interesting. When he kissed her she looked angry, and contemptuous, but not entirely disgusted. Of course, there was no reckoning on account of his new and repulsive disfigurement unless he kissed her again. Solely for the purpose of being disgusting.

The boy gave up and left with his book bag slung over his shoulder. On a whim, Draco folded his proof of the source of all stupefies into an origami frog and sent it hopping over to Granger. She ignored it until it smacked her in the nose with a particularly violent hop. He smirked at her when she glared her annoyance at him and opened the note, and he surprised himself with the epiphany that some of his facial expressions were surly teen versions of sticking his tongue out at people.

For a moment he felt a wave of nostalgia for simpler times when he had stuck his tongue out at people and entertained himself with rude hand gestures that satisfyingly scandalized adults. Good fun that, he recalled, and the coalescing thought about working up expressions that were not variants on sneering or smirking was put on hold.

He watched her frown as she studied his proof and thought that he saw her lips start to twitch with a suppressed smile as she figured out his theory. That was almost gratifying, until it occurred to him to wonder at why he sent it to her.

It was almost as if he wanted her to notice that he was clever.

She wrote something on it and he watched her pinch and smooth the creases he had made in the parchment between her fingers while she tried to refold it back into his charmed frog. He found himself curious about what she had written as she folded, and unfolded in stops and starts. With a careful look around the library to make sure that there was no one around, he accio'd the note out of her hands.

She had written the name of a book on the margin of the page. It was a volume in the Charms section that had nothing to do with his proof, but he was sufficiently intrigued to go look for the book. He was reaching for it when she joined him.

There was an odd moment, fraught with some indefinable tension, where neither of them spoke.

That stupid warm feeling started spreading again from his neck. She was going to give him another hideously disfiguring pimple.

Right before he kissed her he heard her say, “You look terrible, Malfoy.”

He felt the words flutter against his lips. It was stupid, but he wanted to tell her that he felt terrible.


Another pimple emerged on his chin and the next day Granger took care of it with a bit of scentless ointment squeezed out of a tube. It was a Muggle remedy, and he thought it significant that the Muggle remedy worked, but mostly by tending to his blemish, she reminded him of Pansy.

Pansy was his sort of female. Prone to cosseting, and reserving that treatment for him. On the face of it, Pansy wasn't the most likely candidate for nurturing female. She was spectacularly self-absorbed and mean. That was what made her fussing over him special. She was beastly to nearly everyone else, though he had noticed that she was flirting in Zabini and Nott's general direction of late and had adopted Graham Pritchard as a lackey.

He wasn't jealous. Pansy slotted into the role of significant female person in his life, but that didn't mean that he invested tremendous importance in that role. He concluded that it was entirely reciprocal, and that she thought of him in more or less the same terms. He knew for a fact that she had a huge unrequited crush on Adrian Pucey, and he felt a bit protective of her feelings on that score and never teased her about her infatuation, whereas teasing her about stringing Nott along while being ignored by Zabini and followed by Pritch was within bounds.

He assumed that Granger was Pansy's mirror image in Gryffindor. She had her little coterie of boys that seemed to revolve in an orbit that she encouraged without seeming to. Girls her age seemed to inspire her not so subtle contempt save for the Weasley girl who was equivalent to Millicent as a decidedly junior female best friend.

They met un-accidentally while Granger was returning to her dorm upon completion of a prefect patrol. Working out the logistics of accidentally running into her after patrol but before she had reached her dormitory had kept his mind busy through Defense Against the Dark Arts with Snape.

There had been a moment in his dedicated inattention to the lesson when he met his professor's eyes and felt the delicate probing of a skilled Legilimens. He deliberately allowed him to skim off the surface of his thoughts. Unfortunately, his godfather gave nothing away of what he thought on his discovery of Draco's preoccupation with Potter's sidekick.

Granger, showing a sense of humor he never suspected she possessed, took a pretend five points off of Slytherin in the manner of his glory days on the Inquisitorial Squad and let him cop a feel before she smacked his hand off her bum and sent him on his way.

He couldn't imagine what she thought she was up to, but he sometimes thought that when they were snogging she was thinking very hard about something. He wasn't. Maybe it was because what he was doing was so inexplicable that his brain refused to acknowledge it, but the only time he wasn't furiously thinking was when he had one hand buried in Granger's hair and his tongue rooting around in her mouth. Occasionally she corrected his technique, usually telling him to slow down or not to kiss her so hard.

Her mouth always tasted to some degree of toothpaste, and if it weren't for the persistent reoccurrence of pimples he might have been able to persuade himself that her Muggle-ness was merely exotic and strangely appealing in a prosaic way. She was unsentimental and unblushingly straightforward. She had a point about the slowing down and not mashing lips together thing that he noticed when she was applying soft, wet, lip biting kisses to his neck that got him so distracted that he barely noticed that the bulk he was rubbing up against was her book bag.

He was just grateful that she wasn't taking Care of Magical Creatures since the sixth year text was rumored to be even more ill tempered and unpredictable than previous volumes.


She took the hulking Gryffindor to Slughorn's party in a transparent attempt to aggravate Weasley. Draco wasn't jealous, though he was moderately annoyed when it appeared that Weasley was since he had only himself to thank for her defection. He thought of pointing out to her that he would have been far more effective a foil in her cunning plan to incite Weasley to violence. But that was an imaginary conversation that he had with her when he was distracting himself, or when he was cleverly distracting Snape.

Sometimes he let Snape in enough to get little glimpses of his unholy Granger fixation. Just to pay him back in kind for being nosy. On the last evening before the holidays he met Granger after hours. Snape made a rare appearance in the dormitory, looking more dyspeptic than usual.  He glowered in Draco's general direction as he bade his mates a jolly good evening on his way out, savoring his success in provoking his head of house.

Thinking that he had deceived Snape and eluded him for the evening, Draco had been caught flatfooted when his would-be mentor caught up with him at Slughorn's soiree.

Un-chastened by Snape's attempt at a dressing-down, giddy with relief at the launch of another evil and hideously clever plot to take down Dumbledore, and armed with lip balm, he met Granger as planned outside the library. Traditionally, on the night before the school emptied for the hols the curfew was not strictly enforced for upper year students, and he knew for a fact that there was no good reason for that to change despite the added security. She was still wearing her dress from Slughorn's party and she smiled a little when he was inspired to tell her that she looked pretty.

He had nicked a couple of bottles of butterbeer on his fly-by at the party and they went up to the clock tower to sit on the floor above the clock face.

Granger had left her hair down, tamed for once in shiny brown curls that were threaded with tiny seed pearl flowers with crystal centers. Bathed in the soft uplight of the clock face with her skirt spread around her, he couldn't help staring at her. His own hand looked skeletal in the light, too pale and boney against the deep crimson of her gown as he cupped her breast and pinched the hard nipple, pushing her breast up and tugging her gown down just enough to see the pale pink outer edge of her nipple. He wasn't nearly as shocked as she was when he kissed it, seeking out the texture with his tongue.

He grabbed her hand and pressed it up against his erection, rubbing it hard as he tugged her dress down as much as he could manage, and just touching her there, where she was wet from his mouth while her hand was pressed against his bits made him come.

Or possibly it had been from the way she was murmuring to him with her lips against the nape of his neck. He didn't like to think about how it felt to him when she said that nothing made any sense to her anymore either.


The relief and fear he felt upon boarding the train back to London for the holiday was intense. It sizzled in his veins, bubbling merrily in his brain like he'd consumed a bag of fizzing Whizbees. He could swear he tasted sugar in his mouth as he crushed the thick, heavy wool of Granger's coat in his hands. She was wearing a white coat with black buttons and her cheeks were pink with cold from the unheated baggage car where they met.

He got a perverse thrill out of the notion that she was going to use her absence and her kiss swollen lips to amp up her campaign of making Weasley jealous. The idea that she was using him was just . . . delightful. Evil, vengeful Granger was his secret soul mate. He wistfully imagined her tarted up like the variety of normal sexually depraved Muggle girl he had observed in his limited encounters with Muggle mass media. Unfortunately his idle musings on Granger as depraved schoolgirl left him with a fragment of an irritatingly catchy Muggle pop song in his head.

Mostly he was relieved that she wasn't still mad. After he had come last night she had jerked her hand off of him like she had been contaminated by the contact, roughly shoving him off of her while tugging her dress back up. Still dazed by his reaction and all too aware that he was a sticky mess below the waist, he had tried to grab a handful of her skirt when she bolted. He had spent the rest of the evening in a fog of anxiety about scaring her off and vague lustful fantasies fueled by having an orgasm that had been so sudden and unplanned. It had never happened to him before. Normally he got himself off alone and thought that anyone who needed another person to manage something so effortless was living a sad sort of life of dependence on another person's whim for something that was easily obtained with practice and a bit of imagination.

In retrospect he felt ridiculously naïve and oddly exhilarated by the discovery when he wasn't wondering if she had felt anything on her hand and if it had put her off.

On his way home from Hogwarts the fact that nothing made sense anymore wasn't an idea that settled in his throat like a fist. It was a fact. He'd have been a fool to fail to accept it.

Aunt Bellatrix stopped prying into his thoughts shortly after he returned home from the holidays, muttering about what a disgusting little pervert he was.

Before he had left school for the holidays he had set another cunning trap for the Headmaster, but he felt no anxiety or urgency about it when he scanned the Daily Prophet over breakfast. If anything, he had the same feeling he enjoyed when he was younger and his father was away on business and he pretended that he was his father. Occasionally he would look up and catch his mother watching him with a certain lightening of the anxiety that made her seem slightly unbalanced at times, but in a pleasant way, like she was on the verge of doing something extravagantly indulgent.

He missed his father. He had imaginary conversations with him while he sat alone in his father's study, absorbing the comfort of this entirely masculine sanctuary within the Manor. His father would not approve of Draco's dalliance with a Mudblood. He imagined, effortlessly, the way his father would characterize it. Grandfather had kept a Mudblood mistress in his youth and this was a source of considerable friction in the family since it was a polite fiction that he had set her aside when he married.

This was hardly the case. That ‘lady' resided in a house in London and her grandson was at Hogwarts. Immured in pretense, Draco had no trouble ignoring the connection even after the boy was sorted into Slytherin where everyone pretended with a complete lack of effort that they didn't know about the quantum of dirty blood at a remove of two generations, and only because that to acknowledge it in any way was to acknowledge a connection the Malfoys refused to recognize.

He found the notion that there was precedence for his behavior appealing. It was rather like being required to murder Dumbledore. It was what was required of him, and he would carry it off, and in exchange for his complicity, he could indulge himself as he saw fit. His father had forfeited his right to complain; a minor but satisfying point.

There were huge gaps in this logic, but he ignored them. Nothing made sense anymore. It was a caveat that made up for a lot of uncertainty, cloaked in the ghost sensation of Hermione's lips on the nape of his neck.


Many, if not all of these assurances were punctured when they were invited to visit Father on Christmas Eve. This was Draco's second visit to the holding cell within the Ministry of Magic. In the center of the room, within the cylindrical containment of cold iron bars, Lucius Malfoy stood very badly dressed in the striped trousers and blouse of an Azkaban inmate. Aunt Bellatrix had delayed their departure with a mad notion of disguising herself as a distaff Malfoy relation. It was this notion that put the idea in Draco's head that the man in the cage was not his father. It was a ploy on the part of the Ministry to offer up a wretched substitute Lucius Malfoy in order to discompose them.

He could not imagine his father looking quite so dingy and prisoner-ish. Or sullen. Not to mention humorless, though he supposed that there was little to amuse in being very badly dressed in ill fitting prison garb. Still, Lucius Malfoy was Lucius Malfoy and Draco saw no reason why he shouldn't look like he was bound to get the last cold, cruel, controlled sinister smirk while standing about awkwardly in shabby foot ware, drawstring trousers and matching shapeless blouse. The Dementors had abandoned Azkahban, so it couldn't be all that bad. No magic, being forced to do what he was told and being supervised within an inch of his life by an implacable and capricious authority—to Draco it sounded a bit like an echo of his own existence.

The Daily Prophet's lurid pictures of his insane Black relations were almost admirable by contrast. Both Aunt Bellatrix and Sirius Black had a ferocity that bespoke commitment and inspired fear. 

The conversation was stilted under the watchful eyes and ears of several Aurors and a few nosy Ministry officials who were on hand with one pretext or another to observe the humbling of the Malfoys. His so-called father bestirred himself to inquire about his marks.

Draco felt a familiar tingle at the base of his spine. This was the sort of question that his father made a trap out of by asking a question he knew the answer to and leaving Draco to flounder on the impulse to lie or offer excuses.

“I think Goyle may be in a position to tutor me by the end of the year,” he said instead.

His mother tensed at this foray into flippancy, sensing defiance. His father merely stared at him with a vague kindling of amusement lurking in his eyes. Draco had seen it before. He wasn't stupid. He knew that even when his father was uttering a repressive retort, correcting him publicly in an icy tone, often enough that gleam of private amusement was there. It was a game between them. Something private that no one else knew.

Occasionally he was aware that Lucius Malfoy thought he was amusing. His Dad thought he was a funny, smart mouthed brat.

“How gratifying for Mr. Goyle,” his father drawled, breaking the pattern in a way that left Draco feeling pleased by the reprieve while he waited for the rebuke. His mother had not scolded him. She had simply looked at his marks, at the terse report of his Head of House that was probably only the official version. He had no doubt that his mother and Professor Snape had some far more secure way to communicate about him.

There was something decidedly off about both non-reactions. He was drawing too much attention to himself, forcing Snape to run interference for him with his professors, indulging in extra-curricular Mudblood snogging that he had been at no pains to hide from two people who would have no compunction about reporting the indiscretion.

It was almost as if he wanted to be caught. In the glance that his parents exchanged he could see that they knew he was in over his head, and the grim certainty that there was not a damned thing they could do about it.

Given the extra security in place, he returned to Hogwarts via floo. His mother refused to permit the Ministry to open a floo connection between the school and Malfoy Manor, so he found himself in a queue at the Leaky Cauldron. It was a peculiar assembly of students and parents who for one reason or another were forced to use a public floo. Granger and her parents were just ahead of them in the line.

He found that he had no recourse. His mother was shamelessly eavesdropping on the Muggle couple and Hermione—Granger—the Mudblood.

In his head she was easy to separate into parts. He might have thought of her by her given name, but he wasn't sure that he could have said it without stumbling over the syllables. Her surname came more readily.

He caught his mother staring at the back of Granger's head with an expression of wary aversion and knew that Aunt Bellatrix's seemingly lunatic mutterings had been taken seriously. 

It was peculiar, but he found himself wondering what it was that his mother saw that she found disgusting. Foul and loathsome as Mudbloods were, Granger was, to the naked eye, a possible exception to the rule, neatly attired in her spotless white coat. Her hair was mostly contained under a vaguely modish fur trimmed hat. She was politely answering her father's inquiries about her allowance.

He had never seen any other Grangers about on the platform or in Diagon Alley before the start of school, so he assumed that she was, like him, an only child. Her mother had her arm laced through Granger's and her father was managing a kind of portmanteau on wheels with a long handle that had Granger's kneazle carrier strapped to it.

Nothing to see there. She wasn't likely to fling her prim coat off to show off a Hogwart's uniform, altered to conform to a naughty schoolgirl costume in the manner of one of Theo Nott's sketches.

Not that she needed to. He smiled at the thought. She was pretty. It was a novel concept, and greatly influenced by the fact that she let him touch her breasts while kissing her, but she really was quite pretty. And smart. Other than being a Mudblood, and her tendency to be somewhat shrill and bossy, she wasn't entirely objectionable.

He rolled that idea around in his mind for a few moments, waiting for something in his brain to snap at the mental strain. Apparently when you went completely around the bend, the sound was not audible. He entertained himself with the idea of Theo drawing Granger, freshly mussed from an energetic snog and showing a fair bit of thigh Draco had only felt through his trousers but hadn't dared to touch since she was prone to violent reaction.

He imagined . . . something normal. His friends teasing him because he was infatuated with Hermione Granger. His parents exasperation—familiar and comforting fussy disapproval with the threat of violent retaliation lurking if he didn't come about. His father wasn't gentle or particularly kind, but there were limits, and he could see a time when the prospect of his father's disappointment would still rankle, but in a manageable way.

He imagined Hermione looking over her shoulder and refusing to pretend that she didn't see him or care about him.

It wouldn't have been the worst thing ever. It wouldn't have been the threat of prolonged and painful death and dishonor. It wouldn't have been twitchy parents and the stench of fear that made The Leaky Cauldron seem even more shabby and depressing than normal.

It was nearly Granger's turn to depart and she had turned to hug her mother. Without waiting for his own hug, her father hugged his wife and daughter. Granger was squashed between her parents and laughing at the mushy farewell.

He felt his mother's hand on his arm, and it was best not to be caught staring, so he looked down at her curiously. The fact that they had not exchanged any word, or thought, or feeling of any significance in a long time hit unexpectedly hard. By no gesture or word had he betrayed what he had been working so hard to keep from thinking for months. 

With a tiny shock he realized that he had to bend his head to allow her to kiss him. There were moments when his body felt like a stranger's, when he felt that he had become too tall too fast and that he had been cheated in some way of the pleasure of noting that he was nearly an adult. Shame scalded him when he thought of the many ways he had stubbornly clung to being a child in her presence. 

She brushed a kiss, sticky with lipstick across his cheek before he took his place within the hearth, her fingers digging into his arm. It was too late to say much of anything. He thought the way she was holding his arm meant that she didn't want him to go. There was no way to apologize other than to squeeze her hand when he might have scowled and brusquely shaken her off for clinging.

Granger wiped the lipstick off later, her cashmere gloved fingers soft and warm on his face, when they were at school, taking a circuitous route to their respective dormitories with baggage left to be sorted by the house elves. Throwing caution to the winds he asked her to meet him before dinner. He had discovered that while his absence was noted at meals, it was the easiest time of the day to wander about the castle without encountering another student or teacher.

In preparation for his ‘date' with Granger he slapped on a bit of cologne he had nicked from his father's dressing table, found a box of cat treats he had demanded of the house elves, and set out with a generous box of pastries packed in with his trunk because his mother thought he was too thin.

He had been avoiding mirrors without any conscious effort, but now he starred at himself at the beginning of what logic dictated was his last term. He was too thin and his eyes were too empty, like he had practiced too long to maintain the mental discipline to resist being caught thinking something he ought not and had stopped thinking altogether. He saw the resemblance to his father, as his father the prisoner had appeared.

He met Pansy as he went out and ducked the hand that reached for his arm, aware that it was exactly what he had not done to his mother and feeling that he had to stop letting Pansy take his mother's place when it probably wasn't at all what she wanted. He might have stayed had she caught him.

If Granger thought a gift for her cat was charming and thoughtful—and he had been torn between charmingly thoughtful and impersonal, so the cat treats could be taken either way, perhaps she was too flustered by her lack of a reciprocal gift to comment. He left the business of finding a quiet place to enjoy their snack to her, curious about her knowledge of Hogwart's many out of the way nooks and crannies.

Nevertheless, it was a bit unnerving to find himself led to the Room of Requirement, even more so when the door appeared and Granger looked at him curiously as he hung back. He found the room smaller than he had ever seen it before, little more than an alcove with a table bearing a tea service and two chairs. The atmosphere was cozy without any hint of preciousness.

She ignored the tea pot and opened her ever present satchel to produce a thermos. “It's hot chocolate. I hope you don't mind,” she said.

He waited for her to open the box of pastries, but apparently Granger didn't feel the need to play hostess beyond pouring for them, so he opened the box himself and peered at the contents.

When he looked up he caught her looking at him with an odd expression on her face that she shrugged off. She was still holding the box of cat treats on her lap. Like any other token that emerged from his parent's home the box itself was a simple fabric covered box with his monogram embossed into the fabric to distinguish it as a gift from him.

The expression on her face defied categorization and he automatically sifted through five years of memory to find something that corresponded to it before he found a memory from first year of her skeptical but stubborn little self struggling to get her broom off the ground during their first flying lesson. He was surprised to find that he retrieved the memory with something on the order of amused affection, when he knew that at the time all he had felt was contempt for the ickle Mudblood doomed to be an earthbound creature because she lacked the essential belief innate in Pureblood witches and wizards that flying was as natural as breathing.

There was awkwardness in the silence that was spinning out in warm milk, chocolate, and perspiration. He had experienced this before, though he rarely felt compelled to fill awkward silences when he could watch someone else, someone less composed, struggle with it.

“I'll be missed at dinner,” she said, as if it had only now occurred to her.

He was almost positive that being missed at dinner was one of the more potent inducements to meeting him like this.

“Possibly,” he said coolly. “You'll not know unless you miss dinner and you are asked to account for it later.”

They were, he thought, treading water at the edges of her motivation for meeting him in peculiar places. He wanted to tell her that he knew exactly what she was up to—not to offer the reassurance of his understanding, but because it annoyed him that she thought he hadn't figured it out.

But her troubled, thoughtful gaze seemed to settle on the middle distance as her fingers explored the corners of the box in her lap.

He piled a plate with petit fours, jam filled shortbread baked golden brown, and was tempted to shove an éclair in his mouth before he said something stupid. “I would have gotten you something better, but I didn't know what you would like.”

Like that.

“Harry is convinced that you are responsible for Katie Bell's accident,” she said abruptly. “He thinks that you are working for Voldemort . . . that maybe you are already a Death Eater.”

It was close enough to the truth that he found it hard to think for a moment, and he didn't react at all when she took his hand, turning it over to unbutton the sleeve at the wrist. She paused then, possibly due to his lack of reaction, and then pushed his sleeve up over skin.

She didn't gasp or flinch from touching it.

His gut was cramping with the hollowed out tension of unspoken things. Balanced on a knife's edge, he noted the sensation, surprisingly acute, of impending loss, and forced himself to meet her gaze. He hadn't gone for his wand yet. He wasn't afraid that she'd tell, though it was something he should have been afraid of. She seemed very plain to him at that moment. Because that was exactly it. That was why he sometimes found himself clutching the inside of his arm feeling the dark mark taking root there because even if it was largely inert, it was just a matter of time and it was the symbol of the consequence of what he was meant to do. He liked to think that it was a choice made without his choosing, like being sorted into Slytherin before the Sorting Hat disturbed a hair on his head. He hadn't thought twice about accepting it.

He would have defied anyone to say he had any choice in that or any understanding that there were other choices.

It made him feel like the lining of his stomach was being chewed from the inside out.

The sensation of her cool fingers stroking his arm made the hair on the back of his neck rise. Her fingernails were filed short. Her hands were sturdy looking with a summer tan fading across the back. She ignored the Dark Mark and traced the vein from the bend in his elbow until she lost it halfway down his forearm and followed the tendons there to his wrist.

And she was still, always, eternally intrinsically different, even as her hand warmed on his skin. He could seek and effortlessly find pettiness in her. She wasn't so different from Pansy. She wasn't perfect. She wasn't always good. She was smart, but that didn't keep her from doing questionable things. She was different in that she could run her hand over the place where he was marked by his own lack of choices, and he could feel the differences between them in the temperature and texture of her skin altering as she touched him. He could feel the cold he absorbed from her fingertips all the way to the nape of his neck, and crawling up his shins, and somewhere burning behind his eyes, and in the bile rising to the back of his throat because this was so wrong.

He removed his arm from her grasp with a sharp gesture and returned his sleeve to its normal position, buttoning it at the wrist, squeezing his fingers into a fist to still the tremor he felt in his fingers.

“It's just a matter of time, then?” she guessed, accurately, each word falling like smoothly polished stones into still water. No splash.

She left his gift on the table, and left him there to go back to her life.


It was harder to find the sarcastic voice in his head that glibly rejoiced in his adventure. Granger stopped doing stupid things with an abruptness that he registered as loss in stages. He filled his mind with the problem of the vanishing cabinet and tucked Granger away as unfinished business, knowing that his idea of unfinished business was one-sided.

He tried to get his former house elf to carry a note to her, but the truculent little traitor screwed up an expression of heroic determination, crossed his spindly arms over his chest, and told him to sod off. Then, predictably, Dobby bashed his head against the wall until he was dizzy. Once upon a time Draco would have found this amusing, but on the third go at the wall the bruised knot on the elf's head burst and he started bleeding into the stupid knit hat he was wearing.

His father had been tricked into giving Dobby clothes, so apparently it hadn't completely taken. Draco left him to it, forcing himself to walk away when he wanted to run. He had nightmares of Granger with blood running down her face, looking at him as Dobby did.

After Weasley ingested the poison meant for Dumbledore, Granger's long held grudge seemed to melt away. She was still spending more time with Potter than anyone else, but there was something furtive about her demeanor when Weasley was with them that he recognized with a certain amount of well justified bitterness at the irony of being the unwitting instrument that softened her attitude.

He had to contend with Potter breathing down his neck and Snape watching him when Potter wasn't. Resentment was the aftertaste of sugar in his mouth. He could hardly eat without feeling like he was choking on it.

But sometimes, he caught her looking for him. When she came in for meals, she never failed to look over his way.

He managed to catch her alone, in the library. As soon as he grasped the opportunity and worked out the logistics, he scribbled a note, folded into a small square and slapped it into her hand even as she scooted her chair back to avoid him. He left the library and ducked into the very lavatory where she had first kissed him, where he meant to make her give him back something he had lost without knowing what it was.

He had his wand in his hand without even thinking about it, waiting for her to follow him.

Instead, he was alone with his heart beating in his ears so loud that he slumped against the sink with his hands over his ears in a vain effort to drive out the sound of his own panic.

He knew, as sure as he knew his own name, she wanted nothing to do with him. She had reached this decision in his presence, but she must have been thinking about it all along.

The feeling that he was hard done by, by fate, by the Dark Lord, by his Godfather and his incompetent father and interfering mother, and by Granger, reached a tipping point.

During the holidays and after he had returned to Hogwarts, he sometimes lay awake, staving off sleep by replaying those moments in the clock tower and imagining what might have happened next. In his memory he wasn't the bumbling, awkward, stupid boy tasting his first luscious tit. He was the man who pretended to be that boy since it was the only way he could reconcile it in his head and heart.

To his disappointment, he never dreamt about it. Instead, he dreamt about flying and Quidditch and he never remembered much of it except a vague feeling of dread. Once he resigned himself to the fact that she was simply being sensible and that anything between them was pointless, he started dreaming about her in excruciatingly banal detail. She was never doing anything noteworthy. She was just there, unaware of what he was doing while he stared at her face and listened to her talk and felt like he owed her something that didn't measure up to betrayal.

And he dreamt of betrayal. In his worst dreams, in his nightmares, they let him keep her and she kept smashing her head into the wall until she was bleeding red and it wasn't remotely funny to realize that he recognized that the horrifying idea about her blood wasn't that is was too similar to his to distinguish. It was that it was leaving her body, running down her face.

He didn't speak to her until he was in the hospital ward after his duel with Potter. He thought she was there with him a couple of times, but when he woke up it was always Pansy until one late night when it was his mother.

He loved his mother.

He might have told her then what that cost him, and he might have found the grace to assure her that the cost was never too great, but Snape was there and Madame Pomfrey, and his mother channeled his father, upbraiding them for allowing Harry Potter to attack her son. Refusing to listen to any excuses offered.

It was true after a fashion. Potter's presence had certainly felt like an assault, though given Madame Pomfrey's free hand with Dreamless Sleep, he was almost inclined to be grateful to Potter for landing him in the ward.

He didn't know if Granger told or not, but it no longer mattered because there could no longer be any doubt that they knew that he was marked and they weren't going to do a damned thing about it.

What that said about where he stood shook him to the core. He wanted to rail at them for the sheer fucking injustice of it. Was there no responsible adult left who would grab him by the collar and shake him until his teeth rattled for being an idiot?

And then Granger was there, looking like she would rather be anywhere else than caught coming to visit him. Or caught prying into his affairs as his mother concluded. He roused himself to ask if she had copied her notes for Potions for him. She caught on quick enough and delved into her ever present book bag to find her notes and use an obscure, advanced replicating spell that made his mother look at him in consternation at what was so obvious about Granger that anyone who wasn't stupid was bound to figure out.

She had a way of turning all your assumptions upside down.

And that was it. That was all that passed between them. He didn't see her again until she was in his house, and he didn't know if it was Potter or the lingering connection from his incomplete freedom that made Dobby appear and disapparate with Granger. Both were possible. He had never wanted anything so much as for Granger to disappear at that moment.

In her safe passage Dobby discharged his obligation to the house.

She was safe with Potter and Weasley, and they survived the end of Voldemort. To Draco's surprise, so did he, and he got on with his life. He married Astoria Greengrass and produced the one son to carry the name, and he loved them both.

It came easier than he expected. It was what he chose.

He felt his wife's eyes on him as they watched their son dance with Ron and Hermione Weasley's daughter. She had something sparkling in her hair and his son had his heart on his sleeve as he held her stiffly at the correct distance. Draco was a pessimist by nature, but his son's temperament was sunnier, for which much was owed to the boy's mother. He thought that the girl was certain to break his son's heart, but either his son was untouched by the idea of fate or he was prepared to defy it.

He swallowed to clear his throat and managed to say to Pansy, with a slight smile, “Did you know that I fancied Granger when we were their age?”

Pansy had not acquitted herself well at the Battle of Hogwarts, but neither had he, nor any of their other friends. He learned to live with it. There were things he had never found the will or courage to be good at and a great many of those failings were no longer too hard to bear.

Pansy had not. She looked appalled. “You never did,” she refuted.

He watched his wife laugh at something Ron Weasley was saying to her and wondered for a moment where Hermione was. It still felt a little odd to see them together. He always had the feeling that they were better friends than lovers and only barely that.

“She reminded me a bit of you, Pans,” he told her.

She glared at him for that, and he didn't bother to tell her that it had been a compliment once, and that the choices they made had erased the similarity as time passed. She was still his friend. He liked his friends. They weren't necessarily the best people in Slytherin to surround himself with, but he hadn't just dropped them for better, more stylish friends. He might have. Potter had spoken for him when he faced the Wizengamot over his juvenile transgressions, and their sons were friendly.  Neville Longbottom, the hero of the band of students who had defied the Carrows, had shown him a wary cordiality after Scorpius went to Hogwarts that was undeserved and appreciated.

None of his old friends, individually or severally, ever had any notion of stopping him. They were collectively less in awe of the idea that he was entrusted with some sort of top secret Death Eater mission than they were simply reassured in their expectation that he should be in charge of the top secret Death Eater mission, leaving them free of similar weighty obligations.

Goyle had never entirely forgiven him for Crabbe's death and Draco hadn't forgiven himself for it either. Pansy hadn't quite forgiven any of them for the way things turned out, but he forgave her for not understanding that they had come off better than they deserved.

He wasn't so naïve to think that his son was inoculated against the bigotry that had been used so effectively to divide them once. In the depths of his pessimistic heart he hoped. He dreamt.

He fell asleep beside his wife, and he still dreamt the dreams of the boy he had once been, and he was visited by the memory of a girl he never really believed he was allowed to know. In the hallowed space between what was and what might have been he told her what he learned to articulate in the years between their parting.

She called into question the foundation of his world and he had survived and prospered in its remaking. This was the work of his life and it was hard, but he had been raised to believe that he lived to rise to great purpose, so he was grateful that it had not come easy, and that he might never be done. He was glad that he had not been able to overcome his bigotry with the right measure of sugar and stress sipped from chapped lips to hormone scoured brain else he might have gone on thinking that it was only that she was exceptional and that he loved her no matter what she was.

He was honest enough to admit that he no longer knew if there was a real difference between the blood of wizards and Muggles, and that the fear of the difference faded  when he looked at his son and knew he could not have loved him less if he had been half hers instead.