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Draco Malfoy was nervous.

 

The unfamiliar sensation hit him like a ton of bricks once he pinpointed what exactly it was. Of course, this was entirely due to the fact that he very rarely felt this way. This uncharted territory made him uncomfortable - he realized he wasn't sure how to navigate it. He could taste the insecurity leaking into the blood that came from the constant gnawing of his inner cheek. He couldn't figure out what had gone so terribly wrong that his life had come to this.

 

He knew he needed to focus, to center himself. He closed his eyes, breathing, letting himself slowly sink into his meditation. It seemed somewhat trivial, but this helped him immensely with his Occlumency. This was something Severus had insisted it was imperative that he mastered, what with the Dark Lord living in his house and all.

 

The tone of his thoughts were bitter to match the taste that lightly coated his tongue as he continued to accost his cheek. More than anything Draco ached to have control back, but the constant spiral he was stuck in just never seemed to give.

 

He let up on his right side and switched to start in on his left. He sighed internally as he felt the beginnings of a new bad habit forming. Right, he thought snarkily, like he needed another one of those.

 

Everyone had their own sort of ritual when it came to Occlumency. For Draco, he envisioned himself laying on his back in an empty field, as he stared up at a perfectly cloudless night sky. He would lay there as he named as many constellations as he could and buried his memories away in the connections between the stars that formed above him. He found that there was something symbolic about how his mind processed it - he was named after a constellation after all. Full circle and all that.

 

The occasional downside, if one could even call it that, was that it was all too easy a task to get immersed in - which was why he jumped when he felt a hand lightly brush his hair from his face. Draco's eyes shot open to see his mother staring down at him, wide eyed and concerned. She hadn't stopped worrying about him since his fourth year, and it showed in the new lines on her face.

 

"I apologize for scaring you, but we really must be off. I tried knocking," Narcissa said, looking at her son. He looked tired, and he knew it. Draco hated that she worried so much, but he knew there was nothing he could do about it. He was trying to get better at masking his emotions from his mother. He knew her worry was unconditional, and it had only gotten worse with their latest unwelcome houseguests. She did a good job of hiding it - she was a good actress.

 

He nodded, pursing his lips. "How is he?" he said. She knew at once what he meant.

 

"He's...as usual," she said. Her eyes gave her away as they dropped away from his.

 

"Will you be okay once I'm gone?" he quietly asked her. Her eyes flit up to meet his once again. If her baby blues were reminiscent of an undisturbed snowfall, his swirling greys were a torrential downpour. He always hated this part - his mother had always predictably been his soft spot. She gave a wry smile and raised a hand to cup his face gently, her thumb stroking his cheek affectionately in the way only a mother can. "Aren't I always?"

 

She hated to see him like this. She wished more than anything, she could take this from him, to lighten the load on his shoulders. This was never supposed to happen - she should have seen this coming. He was just so young. Her heart ached for what she knew would soon inevitably unfold. As much as she loved her son, she knew this wouldn't end the way he expected. He simply didn't know himself as well as he thought he did.

 

Narcissa was a good actress alright. In Draco's absence - not to mention the more pressing reason of the Death Eaters' ever-intrusive presence - she'd had no choice but to master the art. She'd grown a fond appreciation for the skill as time went on. There was a sharp twinge echoing through her chest where her heart rested as she realized that her own son couldn't see through her anymore.

 

Though, she supposed, that was the point.

 

He always tried so hard to protect her. Now, it was her turn to protect him.

 

-

 

Draco found himself back on the Hogwarts Express all too soon. He'd had weeks to plot and scheme and plan but yet here he was, empty handed. He shook the thought away. Control, he needed control. His mind reeled desperately.

 

He saw the constellations dance on his eyelids and he grasped at them for just a moment before a tall wizard came up from behind and clapped him on the shoulder.

 

"Alright Malfoy?" Blaise said, raising an eyebrow as the pale blonde jumped slightly in his seat. It wasn't like Malfoy to be caught off guard, much less in public.

 

Draco narrowed his eyes at Zabini and gave a curt nod. No need to give him more reason to question his sanity, or rather what was left of it. The fact that he'd skipped the usual accompaniment with a scathing insult was reason enough for Blaise to be more curious than he should be.

 

He let himself settle into his seat and pretend to be invested in making noncommittal small talk with the other sixth year Slytherins he sat with. He stilled for a second as he came to the realization, with a nasty pang in his gut, that he couldn't relate with most of the things they said anymore. It's not like anyone else had the fucking Dark Lord shacking up in their spare wing.

 

Draco thought, with a cruel twist of fate, that he finally got his wish - albeit a few years late. He finally had something that no one else did. Unironically, he also realized that this was the most alone he'd ever felt. He eventually gave up his pretense, staring out his window at the countryside as it whizzed by, a blur of color. He let his eyes unfocus and he permitted himself to try to enjoy the ride for once.

 

The whole time he gnawed at his cheek, trying his best to keep the empty, crushing loneliness at bay.

 

-

 

Malfoy's eyes slowly raked over her from across the Great Hall. The wide, lengthy tables that had always separated them suddenly seemed too short a distance. Draco watched as she laughed at something the Weasel said, her eyes glittering as her head tilted back to let the pretty sound evaporate into the space above her head. Weasley looked positively smug.

 

He, for one, simply couldn't imagine that the Ginger had said something that was even mildly worthy of coaxing that sound from her, or anyone for that matter. Most things that could prompt people to laugh like that were at the expense of Weasley himself, not to mention how hilarious his reactions could be. He rolled his eyes, dropping the intense gaze that was accidentally lingering on her.

 

He felt a hand stroke up and down his left arm once as he brought his eyes back to the plate in front of him. He bit back a growl before tearing it away from her curious fingers - it was still more sensitive than he wanted to admit. Daphne just didn't know when to stop. He really thought she'd have taken the hint by now, but apparently the thing they say about blondes must be true if she's being this daft.

 

Blaise cleared his throat, blessedly interrupting her unwelcome at flirting before it went any further, his green eyes inexplicably hard when they met his grey ones. "Hey Malfoy, wanna give Dumbledore the slip? I bet we could get into Hogsmeade no problem and have ourselves a night." Blaise waggled his eyebrows as he made the offer, his eyes warming at the prospect of getting into some trouble.

 

Malfoy snorted, "I wish. It would save me from this annual loss of brain cells that we're subject to. I should really think about having a word with the old man, maybe threaten to pull our donations if he doesn't make it more worth my time."

 

Dumbledore, as if somehow hearing this, seemed to take it as his cue to finally commence the festivities. "Welcome back. Before we begin, let me say a few words." A hush fell over the crowd instantaneously, falling under his spell.

 

Malfoy muttered curse words under his breath as his companion nudged him, "Here we go."

 

The Headmaster continued on, only leaving them with "If you think you know who the most powerful player on the board is, think again. Now, let the feast commence!" His tone of voice seemed a bit too jovial to fit the odd message.

 

Malfoy shifted uncomfortably. He didn't know just how smart the old man was or how much he knew, but that hit just a little too close for him to be comfortable with. How would he have known? He felt a sense of immediate unease and quickly jumped to test the invisible lines between his stars just to be safe. He didn't feel like he'd been breached, but then again, Dumbledore was one of the brightest of the era and he'd always seemed to be at least one step ahead.

 

A low chuckle to his right broke him out of his trance, "Don't tell me you bought that Malfoy? I'd hate to have lost you too," Blaise mocked.

 

Malfoy winced at the implication that he'd been caught out of sorts - again. "Zabini, if I ever listen to a word that man says, send for St. Mungos' best healers immediately."

 

-

 

Draco Malfoy had been classmates with Hermione Granger for the last five years, yet he realized that he had never really looked at her before. He stared at her from his obscure vantage point in the library while she devoured the worn potions textbook, her big curls falling into her face. He couldn't see her eyes, he realized. He didn't even know what color they were, now that he actually thought about it.

 

He snapped back to reality as he realized with disdain why he was giving her the time of day, even though she didn't know it yet. How the hell was he supposed to do this? He's a Malfoy damn it, he wasn't supposed to be reduced all the way down to the first rung of the ladder. He'd very well proven himself many times over by now. He seethed in quiet anger. At least his irritation was a skin he was comfortable in. He was constantly pissed about something or another these days.

 

But this...this was a peasant's job. And that was something he absolutely refused to reconcile with.

 

What he couldn't - or wouldn't - wrap his head around was the fact that he had been assigned something of this caliber. He shook his head. Draco knew that it was far too late to wallow in self pity, his Godfather had made that abundantly clear.

 

He needed a game plan. Draco was acutely aware he'd stalled more than he should have - he knew this was going to take awhile, especially if his target was Hermione bloody Granger.

 

He needed to make what he was doing from here on out seem as natural as possible. How would he work this if she were anyone else? Not, of course, that he'd ever needed to work at seducing anyone before - he admitted that was a new one. Girls usually fell at his feet just because of who he was - one of the very many perks to carrying the Malfoy name. Women either wanted what was behind his zipper or in his pockets, and he'd had no complaints thus far. There was a smug undertone to his thoughts as he considered all of this. The size of his ego never surprised him anymore, he knew it far too well.

 

Granger though, was different, he mused. He could tell as much simply by the way she carried herself and just in who she was. What Draco was unsure about was if she would want to think this whole thing was her idea, or if she would surprise him and actually be into the sopping romantic shit. He knew she liked to work for what she had, and she always felt like she had to prove herself. He recalled the smug little smile she'd get on her face whenever she had something done long before anyone else had. It never failed to put him in a sour mood.

 

His lips lifted in a tight smirk as he stared at her and plotted. He did love a good challenge, and she was as good as they came - all he needed to do was plant the seed. Should be easy enough.

 

-

 

The excited roar of the crowd rang in Hermione's ears as the wind buffeted around her. It was slightly chilly for the first match of the year, but that wasn't very surprising considering Scotland's typical climate. Hermione thought the low temperature was due to the ferocity of the wind. She was sitting in the front row all the way to the right of the Gryffindor section as Madam Hooch went through the rules, already hoping for this to be a quick game.

 

The reading of the rules was a rather trivial formality at this point. Everyone knew by now that when it came to the Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch match, it was anyone's guess as to how many fouls there would be. They all knew the rules well enough by now. It was just a matter of which ones they would break.

 

Hermione herself was betting on at least eight by the time the Snitch was caught. She knew that her number would only go up the longer the game went. Judging by the way Malfoy and Harry were eyeing each other while Madam Hooch briefed them, it would be a quick game. She hoped so, it was colder than she would have liked. She cast a warming charm as well as a weather-repelling charm on herself as the whistle blew.

 

They had kicked up in the air with amazing speed. Hermione knew that she was never going to be agile on a broomstick. She was almost jealous of how graceful they all looked, how at ease they were as they flew.

 

Flying was the one thing she couldn't learn from a book. To say that she hadn't been able to master flying on a broomstick was giving her too much leniency - she was awful. Hermione had come to accept that over the years - from many, many futile attempts when no one was looking - that she was rather okay with that reality. No one needed to know. It was her secret.

 

It was at that moment when she realized the arena had suddenly gone deathly quiet. She snapped herself out of her daze only to realize that the bludger was coming right for her. She fumbled for her wand, but it slipped through her fingers, clattering at her feet.

 

Hermione completely stilled, frozen in shock. This wasn't like her. She was always the first one to have a defensive spell at the ready. For her age, she was unusually good at wandless magic, but her mind was its own hurricane and so she couldn't think twice to channel what she needed. She wouldn't have had the time.

 

An impossibly fast green and blonde blur streaking out in front of her broke her focus. He somehow had a wand in hand, and he'd sent a simple Reducto flying at the bludger that was only mere feet from her face.

 

Draco briefly met Hermione's eyes, and then turned and flew away without so much as a breath in her direction. She vaguely registered the arena erupting before she sank back down into her seat, still quaking.

 

She'd had enough of bloody Quidditch to last the rest of the term, thank you very much.

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