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Hermione surveyed the cavernous room in distaste. It was white, always so white. She hated hospital wards – whether they were of Muggle or magical origin. She detested them. She always wondered why the walls, the ceilings, the beds, everything, was so clinically white. How could any patient hope to seek comfort and wellbeing when housed in a space so stuffy and sterile?

 

One couldn’t simply awaken from their sickness-induced slumber and find distraction in their environment. It was too honest, too blunt for her liking. The patient could not wake up and be granted that delicious moment of confusion before realising who they were, and why they were there. Instead they were greeted with the whiteness, the scarceness of their world. No, indeed, Hermione Granger did not like the hospital wing. There were too many memories locked within its solid walls. Nostalgia seeped from the air and laced her skin with a heavy coat of memories. She recalled – all too accurately – times when she had been the one coiled neatly under the scratchy sheets of the hospital beds, awaiting diagnoses.

 

This time she was not the patient; he was lying tangled in the white starched sheets of his cot, even breaths escaping each time he exhaled. This time she was a visitor, though she felt just as vulnerable. Hermione Granger was seated on a vacant bed at the far end of the Hospital Wing, situated beneath a large window and a clear night sky. Although the hours had stretched her beyond capacity, she found no temptation to curl into the covers of the spare bed. Instead, she found comfort in gazing at the smattering of lights that littered the otherwise inky ceiling, stretching for days beyond the window.

 

Usually there were no visitors in the Hospital Wing at that hour; however, under the circumstances, Madam Pomfrey had been more lenient than usual. Hermione had attended all of her classes that day, as was expected of her. This was probably for the best, as it gave her something to do, some distraction that prevented her from fixating on the horrific incident she had witnessed that morning. Ironically, it had taken Seamus being rushed to the Hospital Wing for her to go into some sort of shock, achieving the mental blankness she had so craved for weeks. However, as soon as the day’s classes had ended, she had flown back at hair-curling speed to see her friend.

 

He was awake when she entered, a pained expression flickering across his face as he smiled rather weakly. They had said very little to one another, though she stayed by his side. That was several hours ago and though he slept, she knew she could not. She was, therefore, left to make her own music in the silence that had settled. And it was in that silence that her thoughts revisited their favourite topic of late. Him. Draco Malfoy.

 

She knew he was dangerous. She had been told that many times, by herself, and by others, by people she ought to have listened to. Yet she always chose to think of him outside of the context of their lives.

 

It seemed not to matter how many times she acknowledged the aura of dark magic that surrounded him; above all else she had thought of him as a coward. Someone who made threats but did not act on them. Maybe that was what he had learnt from his ‘Dark Lord’.

 

This morning, however, her delusions had been shattered. Yes, he was dangerous and the danger was real. Seamus lying in a hospital bed was proof enough of that. What had she been thinking? He was a Death Eater. Not just any Death Eater either. His family had a long legacy of dallying with the Dark Arts.

 

She knew this, had always known it, and yet she never truly absorbed the consequences of being involved with Malfoy. Sure, she had started out with a mission, a reason to put herself in his path, yet even then, she was supposed to remain stealth. She was the observer and now the observed. Was the hunter but now the prey. And she couldn’t quite figure out when it had happened. Or how.

 

They hated one another, always had. As far as the pretentious Pureblood was concerned, she was a Mudblood, the best friend of Harry Potter and smart enough to take him on. Therefore highly expendable. But they weren’t children any more. There were very real reasons for the divide that never should have been blurred, and it went far beyond the dislike of their respective natures.

 

Yet he had kissed her when he should have killed her. Hermione nibbled anxiously on her lower lip as she pondered once more the game he was playing. She had seen the way his eyes darkened, his pupils dilated; he had not seemed so wholly unaffected. Yet she knew Malfoy to be calculating, cold – never one to give into heightened emotions.

 

He was entirely contradictory, and she craved so desperately to understand his intentions. After all, she had always hated him for his less amiable personality traits, his cruelty, and his firm allegiances with the worst kind of people. He, however, had always hated her for the most base of reasons, not because she annoyed him, but because she, Muggle-born that she was, simply existed. To sway from believing that her presence was a form of pollution to actively seeking her out, to kissing her, was extreme. Though she couldn’t fathom how she herself had let it happen, had allowed this crazed fixation to occur, his change in behaviour towards her over the past months was all the more extreme.

 

Perhaps it was part of this twisted game he seemed to want to play. They kept circling each other, taking swipes here and there, and dodging each blow. It was a game he seemed to enjoy, and one he had clearly turned to as a way of finding some sort of vulnerability in her. He had too, though she hated to admit it. Whatever else he might have thrown her way, this was something she hadn’t been equipped to deal with. And, judging from his own reactions, neither was he.

 

She ran her fingers through the tangles of her curls in a brief display of agitation. It would be easier for her if he were faking. Gazing around the room, she knew she too needed to be clinical. Unemotional. Surgical. She had to remove the stain of him from her body before her immune system crumbled entirely.

 

This was a game, she now knew. And Hermione Granger refused to be anyone’s toy. She would play his game, and she would win. After all, it was not just her life at stake. Her gut twisted at the thought, fear scorching her skin. What made her think he would hesitate to kill her? He had said it himself. I assure you I will enjoy it.

 

Her skin tingled as anxiety licked her spine, preparing to engulf her entirely. She did not know what blood stained his hands. Hands that had touched her, smoothed over her skin. A whisper of a touch but a touch no less. Had he branded her with the murky residue of his crimes? But no, that was far too messy for a Malfoy. Avada Kedavra was clean. There were no stains of death to mark one’s passing. Clean and calculated, like him.

 

What did it matter what his methods might be? The question was whether he was actually capable of such a thing. She still wasn’t entirely sure. What was the purpose in her contemplating his shades of evil? She knew why. Telling herself he was lost in that shadowy space between good and bad made it so much easier for her to digest everything that had happened between them. All that was said and unsaid.

 

Hermione shook her head, her dark lashes curling onto the high curve of her cheekbones to catch the lone droplet, which had rebelled against her will to stay unshed. She had never felt quite as lost as she did now. Had never felt so void and yet so full of thoughts. She turned her gaze back to the figure lying stiffly in the small bed on the other side of the expansive room.

 

Breathing evenly, he was still asleep and at peace, she hoped, for tomorrow would not spare him the confusion and the anger. He would want answers to questions he could not pose, answers she knew she could not give.

 

Her hand unconsciously slipped into the pocket of her robe, smoothing over the worn parchment it found there. The paper was soft like tissue now from constant creasing and folding. She opened the scroll once more, her eyes glazing slightly as she took in the scrawl of her friend’s penmanship. Harry’s handwriting had always been a touch illegible. She had read the letter so many times that she was no longer sure whether the words came from mere memory or the paper itself. Either way, she basked in the familiar tone as the words rolled gently over her.

 

Hermione,

 

Please don’t worry about us the way you probably have been. We are fine. In truth it’s more your safety than ours that worries me. I don’t trust Malfoy, and it’s not just about a schoolyard grudge. I really think he might be dangerous, more than we thought.

 

I know you always take your responsibilities seriously, but for once please don’t put the extra credit into an assignment. I know you were told to watch him but we both know he isn’t stupid, and he will notice eventually. I don’t want to think about what would happen if he does. Whatever you do try not to draw his attention to you anymore than necessary. Be careful and I promise I will too.

 

Harry.

 

P.S. Watch over Ginny for me, please. I wouldn’t ask but you know she’s as hot headed as her brother.

 

 

Ron’s letter had read more like a list, colourfully detailing the things he would do to the Slytherin Head Boy should any harm come to her. Whether directly or indirectly caused by the blond. The irony was her undoing. The warnings, though pertinent, had come a few months too late. She smoothed her finger over the parchment as she mused further over Harry’s letter.

 

He had grown up so much in the months following his mentor’s death. He was warning her not to be brave when usually it was the other way around. Unfortunately for Harry, he’d had no choice but to grow up. No time to mourn his losses.

 

She missed him; she missed Ron. She missed them both so much she ached with the longing. The longing for the familiar, for things to return to the way they had been before, to routine and safety, to the time when she knew herself. Or maybe, she pondered, she had never really known herself at all. Maybe this was her. This insecure bundle of nerves and nerve endings. This socially aware version of her former bookworm self. Maybe this was who she was.

 

The thought gripped her with fear.

 

****

 

He sat with an air of such casual repose that he knew it would only serve to irritate the old woman further. Excellent. He brushed a few stray locks out of his eyes and gazed up from a close inspection of his fingernails. Headmistress McGonagall looked unimpressed. He smirked.

 

“Mr Malfoy.”

 

“Yes, Headmistress?”

 

She pursed her lips in response and Draco could not help but notice the additional hundred or so lines that carved their way into the skin around her mouth.

 

“Mr Malfoy do you understand the seriousness of your actions?” Her eyes bulged slightly. “What did you think you were doing, attacking a fellow student? Your position as Head Boy entitles you to dock House points and hand out detentions as punishment for students. IT DOES NOT ENTITLE YOU TO HEX THEM!”

 

By this stage the old bag was flashing from white to red and back again. Draco could feel black spots appearing behind his retinas; his dizziness caused by the fluctuating colour of her flushed features. He paused for a few seconds, giving the impression of one preparing themselves for an intense session of grovelling for forgiveness. Malfoys did not grovel, and they certainly did not repent.

 

“I was merely defending myself,” he began slowly, as though he was searching for the right words. “Do forgive my ignorance, but I was unaware that such an act had become a damnable offence.” His calm demeanour only enraged her further. Her mouth was clamped shut and she looked as though the pressure of restraining herself from hexing him was about to cause her spontaneous combustion. He was suitably amused.

 

She raised her hand and pointed towards the door of her study and simply said, “Out,” in a rather hoarse voice. The Head Boy extracted himself from the rigid chair and bowed his head graciously before sauntering out through the large mahogany door.

 

Although disinclined to question her reasoning, Draco had to admit he was rather curious as to why he had received no further punishment: no loss of points, no time to be spent bonding with Filch over detention in the Trophy Room. It was curious indeed. He reconciled the necessity to ponder such thoughts to a more suitable time. At the moment, he had far more enjoyable tasks to accomplish.

 

So with that notion in mind, Draco found his lean legs steering him in the direction of the Hospital Wing. He had a very special guest to visit. After sauntering down and past the necessary corridors and hallways, the Slytherin found himself standing in a hollow crevice in the wall just opposite the entrance. After ensuring that his tall frame was indeed blanketed in the surrounding darkness, he checked the time. Seven minutes early. Perfect.

 

He knew for a fact that his quarry was currently seeking refuge behind the large wooden doors. She was – he had no doubt – there under the pretence of comforting her tragically injured friend. Such a good, supportive friend she was, he thought, his head ringing with the sound of his own mocking laughter. So caring, so devoted.

 

Indeed, she had spent all evening in that room, mopping his sodden brow, no doubt. In the past Draco would have rolled his eyes and made some derogatory remark about the melodramatic tendencies of Gryffindors – truly they could be a touch theatrical for his liking. A common cold did not necessitate an army of mourners and a good bed side manner.

 

But he knew better now. Or more to the point: he knew Granger better now. She had not sought approval from the pesky Madam Pomfrey to stay in the Hospital Wing past normal visiting hours just to overlook the improvement of Finnigan’s condition. No, indeed.

 

She was in there plotting, planning and of course, analysing. Oh yes, she was doing what she did best, thinking up solutions to never ending problems. And he, Draco Malfoy, was undoubtedly number one on that list. Just the way he liked it. After all, Draco did not believe in second place. He sighed contentedly as he checked the time once more. Two minutes to go. Tick tock, Granger.

 

It was time to play this game his way. No more mistakes, not on his behalf anyway. There had been enough of that already. He was willing to admit – only to himself, of course – that she had knocked him back a few steps, surprised and overwhelmed him. Draco Malfoy did not like surprises, particularly when they increased the odds in his opponent’s favour.

 

She had tapped into a weakness, one embedded so far beneath his skin that he had not known it existed. But he did now, and he would use it against her. He did, however, remain convinced of his earlier surmise; she would be hard to break. She was shrewd, far more so than he had ever given her credit for. But he was a Malfoy to the core and nobody could out-manipulate him.

 

This time he had done his research. Weeks and months of watching and observing, noting and digesting her habits and expressions. He was learning to read all over again, only this time he was reading Hermione Granger, page for page. And he knew he would not give up until the story had ended and each chapter was closed.

 

It would take time. He had to wear her down. But he knew, eventually, that he would break her. Until all she knew was his name as she spat it venomously from her lips.

 

He felt, rather than heard, the door creak open as he was jerked from the sordidness of his thoughts. His heavy gaze washed over her slim form as she peeked her head around the side of the door.

 

Tick tock… times up, Granger.

 

****

 

Hermione could not help but feel slightly uneasy as she slipped, quietly, she hoped, through the gap in the doorway and out into the darkness of the corridor. The air was still, as though all the oxygen had been sucked out of the space by someone holding his or her breath in anticipation. Yet there was not a sound to be heard.

 

She pressed her back against the heavy door and scanned the area, allowing her eyes to adjust slightly as she reached her hand into the pocket of her robes. Once she had extracted her wand from the dense fabric, she held it tightly in her fist and inched her body sideways until she was pressed against the stone wall – far better than a potentially creaky door, she thought.  

 

Silence hung in the air. A silence so dense she could feel it, hear it buzzing in the recesses of her brain. She was paranoid. Understandably so. She wasn’t sure whether she was going insane or whether it was a symptom of too much thinking, but she was sure she could sense his presence. It was the silence that scared her above all else. If he was there, lurking, as he often did, in the shadows then what was he waiting for? From what she knew of Malfoy, he did not like to hide for long. And when the time came for him to make his presence known, he made it known. But he never waited this long.

 

He was toying with her, the bastard. But she had to admit his tactic was rather effective – she was so consumed with fear and paranoia at that moment that she could barely think, let alone defend herself. Breathing slowly and silently through her nose, she continued sliding along the wall. She repeated the same process until she reached the point where her corridor intersected with another. She paused to observe the cavernous hollow in her pathway. She had to cross it to get to the dorms.

 

She did not like it at all. It was too… exposed. She desperately wanted to light her wand but she knew to do so would only concede her defeat. It would also highlight her location – if it wasn’t already known. Merlin, how she wanted to run, and she would if she thought she could make it. After all, she’d seen him curse Seamus mere hours earlier. She didn’t like to imagine what sort of torture he might actually inflict upon her.

 

Taking a deep breath, she continued sidling across as though the wall were still behind her, though she knew it was not. She had never been more conscious of her vulnerability before this moment. Harry need not have worried – she wasn’t feeling brave at all.

 

She was halfway across the intersecting corridor when she heard it. A low mocking laugh, it was so quiet and so intangible that it sounded more like a husky expulsion of breath than anything else. But it was enough to cause her spine to stiffen and her eyes to snap back into focus, scanning the darkened area for a sign of life. That was when she felt it, a sharp object pressing into the back of her neck. Checkmate.

 

She didn’t move, in fact she wasn’t sure whether she could have if she tried. The fear-induced paralysis was spreading through her limbs like wild fire. The only sign that she had acknowledged the wand at the nape of her neck was a shiver that racked her spine, causing her to quiver almost imperceptibly. He noticed. He was trained to notice.

 

“The first thing they teach you in a war, Granger, is to always, always watch your back.” His voice, like his laugh, was little more than a rustling wind in the empty corridor. However, he was solid. Very solid. “It seems I’ve rendered you speechless… or are you just too afraid to talk? Has all that Gryffindor bravery deserted you?”

 

He paused for a split second before laughing in that haunting manner once more. This time she could feel his presence behind her. He was closer now. His breath tickled the outer shell of her left ear as he continued taunting her.

 

“But no… I had you pegged all wrong, Granger, didn’t I? If you really were brave, you wouldn’t be here, at this school, playing games you don‘t even know you‘re playing. You’d be off with your little friends planning to save the wizarding world from indescribable peril. Tell me, Granger, are you afraid, or do they just not need you anymore?”

 

He was trying to push her buttons. He was succeeding. As much as she knew she should ignore his taunts she could not help but acknowledge the truth in his words. Or at least the truth in her fear of them. She gripped the wand in her hand tighter and made to move her head quickly away from his aim.

 

“I don’t think so, Granger,” he drawled as he pressed the wand further against her neck. “Here I am thinking we could have a nice chat and you’re trying to be tricky.” He clucked his tongue in mock disapproval before swiftly muttering a body-bind curse.

 

At any other time, she would have been in awe of such excellent spellmanship. At that moment, however, she truly was paralysed from the neck down. She could hear him chuckling to himself in appreciation. At the same time, she felt the tip of his wand drag like slow torture down her spine.

 

It was agony. The shiver she normally would have felt was unable to manifest itself in tingles on her skin. Instead, each minute shiver seemed to implode inside of her. Magnified, the mini eruptions felt like a pre cursor to something bigger. Something beyond her capacity to even conceive.

 

The wand tip traced the length of her arm and around to her collarbone. The flash of his grey eyes – darkened to obsidian in the shadow of the corridor – cut through the haze of unfamiliar sensations, and then she made out his form. He was smirking, as usual, but there was something far darker than normal etched in his features. Far darker than she had encountered before. She did not like it.

 

Her lips parted slightly as his wand dragged lower across her skin to the centre of her collarbone, pausing, ready to dip into the valley below at any moment. He did not wait long to strike.

 

“I told you once not to mess with me, Granger. You really should have listened.” His voice was rasping now as his darkened gaze watched her brows furrowing, her teeth gnawing on her lower lip.

 

The tip of the wand traced lower and her eyes rolled back unconsciously as it dipped in and out of her belly button, before pausing and then slipping just slightly under the fabric at the top of her woollen skirt. More tingles, explosions, unfamiliar sensations. She couldn’t breathe from the intensity of it coursing through her bloodstream. Her eyes darkened as she arched her head back, whimpering softly. Oh Merlin, she thought, I am going to die.

 

And just as the sensations caused her nerve endings to explode internally, she had one final thought before her world went black.

 

*

 

Amidst the groggy recesses of her mind, Hermione managed to reign in some form of conscious thought. The realisation that she was alive was the first.

 

Her head jerked up from its lolling position and she realised with a start that she was still in the empty corridor. Her body felt weak and yet it was upright, the body-bind clearly still in effect. Malfoy was still there, staring at her with an intensity she could not begin to fathom.

 

La petit mort. Little death,” he whispered somewhat hoarsely at her before continuing, “but you don’t have to worry – I won’t kill you really. Not yet…” With that parting comment he turned and began to walk down the corridor she knew lead to the dormitories.

 

He turned back and said, almost as an afterthought, “That bind should wear off in about 40 minutes or so… I hope you’re not too afraid of the dark.”

 

And he was gone, fading into the darkness as he always did. Only this time he had left her behind, more vulnerable than she ever had thought possible.


**********

Author's Note: La Petit Mort literally translates from French as "The Little Death". Just to alleviate any confusion this term (now popularised in modern culture) refers to a post orgasmic fainting spell, not death itself.

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