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A/N: Thank you all for your love and support so far! I appreciate it so much :)

 

Also, Chapter one of my new Dramione fic, 'Vices' is up now if you want to take a look! It's an eighth year post war fic :)

 

With that out of the way, I won't keep you. 

 

Betawork done by AlmondMilkTeaDoubleBoba and LeilahMoon - and a very very special shoutout to lost_poetx for all of her help!

 

xoxo, carmen

 

-

 

Draco was fucking drowning.

 

He was pretty sure that his self-preserving nature was the only thing keeping his mind from collapsing in on itself, but even that was on the brink of extinction. He felt like he was so close to just giving into the insanity that seemed to be a constant threat - not quite enough to cross the point of no return, but enough to make him second guess every last thought that danced across his mind.

 

That bloody party was supposed to help him clear his head, cleanse his palette, and give him one fucking break, but apparently he wasn't even deserving of that. Honestly, with all of the shit he'd pulled recently, he wasn't surprised. All it did was make him wish the earth would swallow him whole. It wasn't like anyone would miss him.

 

He was one step away from throwing some kind of fucking offering into an abyss to get whatever was in there to swallow him alive.

 

Draco wondered if they might like flowers of some kind. Hell, he'd resort to any Muggle ritual just to be able to escape into that abyss.

 

It would be ironic, wouldn't it, if it took on her shape. It would be an act of pure evil that if it did, and he still wanted to plunge into it, past the point of sanity and reason, he would have to leap into her. To toss aside all inhibitions, lower his guard, and just dive into it, her, to give up all breath and grip on reality in order to lose himself.

 

He wondered how long he could stare into it before it started to stare back. He was tempted to try, maybe he'd get lucky and he could just jump.

 

Trying to compile a mental list of people who would miss him if he actually were to shuffle off the mortal coil, he was ashamed to admit that it was very pathetic. It consisted of his mother, Blaise, and Theo. He wasn't even sure if he could put his father as a contender, and, if he were being honest, he couldn't nail down one emotion that described his feelings on the matter.

 

It was upsetting, not to know how you felt. How you were supposed to feel. There were certain labels you could put on things: happiness, sadness, anger - hell, even arousal, for fuck's sake. But what was the word you could use to adequately describe what it felt like to not know if your father, your own flesh and blood, would give more than one fuck about his son kicking the bucket? And, Draco thought, that one fuck would be given to the fact that the Malfoy name would die with his parents.

 

Disgusting, really.

 

Draco had kept his head down successfully for a few days now, keeping quiet and to himself. He needed the space to really try to clear his head and figure out what was going on up there. It was like his mind and body were at war, both rebelling against him. He constantly felt sick as a result of his inner mental turmoil, and it was like a fucking windstorm.

 

He hid away in his room whenever he wasn't in class or eating, and he could tell Theo and Blaise were getting worried. With good reason, too - he was this close to faking his death and fucking off for good.

 

He stared at himself in the mirror, not sure if he liked what stared back.

Nothing he did was helping to rectify the tangled mess inside his head. Everything he did made him question himself. It was fucking torture.

 

He didn't know what he was supposed to do about any of it.

 

Every lick of self-assuredness he'd ever had was completely gone. It had been siphoned out of every cell in his body and dissipated into nothingness. If anything, it had been twisted and warped into self-doubt. He looked in the mirror and had no idea who was looking back at him. It was like he was a shell of himself.

 

She had done that. She'd done that to him. And Draco had no idea how. She wasn't anything special either, and that made it so much worse.

 

Compared to Draco, she was nothing. A filthy fucking Mudblood and, if it were up to him, he would have killed her by now. He had no idea why the Dark Lord wanted her so fucking badly. He pictured wrapping his hands around her throat and squeezing tighter, tighter, tighter, until she was clawing at his hands for release. It made for a fantastic mental picture.

 

But, like everything else, it wasn't up to him.

 

He had no desire to look at his reflection, not when he was so completely decimated from the inside out. Shaking his head, he turned his head away, chest heaving.

 

Fuck that bitch. She was the worst thing that had ever happened to him, worming inside his brain like that. And that was saying something, considering he'd taken the Mark, for fuck's sake.

 

He hated the Dark Lord for making him do this - why couldn't he have been tasked with literally anything else? What's more, he loathed Hermione Granger. Draco seethed as he weighed the amount of disgust between the two, trying to figure out which of them he despised more.

 

It was a close call, but he landed on Granger because she stood for everything he abhorred.

 

She was a sad excuse for a witch - following Potter and Weasley around like a lost puppy that he so desperately wanted to kick. She offered herself up to him at the slightest sign of interest, and that meant she was even more pathetic than he'd originally thought.

 

And the fact that she was lodged inside his head as firmly as his brain was stuck in his skull just made it that much worse. She was showing up in everything he did - he couldn't fucking shake her.

 

Panting as he leaned over the dresser, knuckles gone white, he lifted his head and examined his broken reflection in the glass in front of him.

 

Hermione Granger was going to rue the day she was born when he was done with her. That was a promise.

 

-

 

Pansy was his partner for rounds that night for a change - he was typically stuck with Granger. It wasn't quite curfew yet, but it was nearing. He was hoping to be able to hand out detentions to some third years who were starting to get brazen with the fact that they were no longer on the lowest rung of the ladder and were comfortable enough to push the rules.

 

The good thing about patrolling with Pansy was that she liked to split up. As much as he despised the fact that splitting up was considered 'slacking off' in the eyes of the Heads, no one needed to know. Also, on this night in particular, it provided him with a copious amount of time to think about what had transpired inside his fucked up head. While he was at it, he should really make a timeline of every instance he'd questioned his sanity in the last few months.

 

The common factor to all of it was fucking Granger. He knew it, had always known it, and it was pissing him off.

 

He should never have agreed to this stupid fucking task. It was a pointless endeavor in the first place, and, while he never in his wildest dreams would have told the Dark Lord otherwise, he knew it to be true. Granger was not one to be manipulated, not even by a talented wizard such as himself.

 

It was like she was immune to being used, to being coerced or talked into something she didn't want to do. And, while she seemed the type to throw herself into the flames for someone she cared about, he very strongly doubted that he would make that list in such a short amount of time. Convincing her to fall for him, at least enough to get her to the Manor, was simply an impossible feat. He barely knew the girl, but he knew enough of her character to regard this as a simple fact. It was plain as day.

 

Draco had narrowed the moments of his downfall to two instances in time. The first being when he took the Mark and had accepted the task with all the grace of a Malfoy. The second being when he'd fucked Hermione Granger.

 

Not just fucked her, but liked it. She'd been stuck in his head ever since, and he would be an idiot if he believed otherwise.

 

Wondering if it were possible to snatch her Time-Turner - he just bloody knew she still had that, of course she had to - and go back and undo it, he knew that would rip some kind of irreparable hole in the timeline. He was liable for a lot of things, but he did not want to fuck up some kind of sequence of events because of this.

 

Also, if he were being honest, he couldn't picture himself not having the memory of seeing her like that.

Draco was a sick, selfish man. For now, he found that he was okay with it.

 

He was nearing the Magnis Turis when he heard what sounded to him like a muffled sort of whimper. Something about it sounded off. And something about it sounded... slightly familiar? He sped up, quickening his footsteps to make the turn quicker.

 

And then, he rounded the corner and saw the look on her face. She was backing up into the wall, cowering away from Montague as he walked slowly towards her. She clutched her books to her chest like they were a shield as her eyes darted everywhere but at her accoster. Her eyes met his, and he saw the evident wordless plea in them.

 

Anger swelled, hot in his chest, but he needed to mask it, contain it. Keep his composure in the way only a Malfoy could, had been trained to. Couldn't the bastard take a damn hint? It would be clear to a bloody rock that Granger was uncomfortable. Apparently,

Montague was more daft than an entire bag of them - or he just didn't care. He didn't know which was worse.

 

As he approached, he ran through a list of spells in his head. Unfortunately, none of them were legal, so he filtered everything again. He whispered the Jelly-Legs Jinx under his breath at Montague and watched with carefully masked glee as he collapsed.

 

"Montague, I wasn't planning on taking points from my own House, but you've forced my hand," Draco sighed, albeit a bit exaggerated. "Twenty points from Slytherin, and... detention for being out after curfew."

 

It was two minutes past. But Draco found that, on this particular day, he didn't have it in him to let him off easy.

 

"Next time, if you don't force your hand, I won't force mine," Draco snarled, shooting him his most foreboding Malfoy sneer - he found himself quite thankful for his father in that moment - and continued walking.

 

Granger looked at him, doe-eyed in that way only she did. Damn her.

 

Before he knew what he was doing, he shot her a sly wink that was for her eyes only.

 

-

 

Still shaking, Hermione quickly made her way back to the Gryffindor common room. It wasn't late, so she knew Ginny would still be awake. Her heart was pounding in her chest.

 

She prided herself on being a witch that wasn't easily unsettle, but that had really shaken her for some reason. Montague had materialized out of nowhere as she had been heading from the library up to the tower, and tried to corner her. For what, Hermione wasn't sure, since they'd barely interacted before.

 

Before she knew it, he was spitting scathing insults at her - okay, some of them had definitely been threats - and it had caught her so entirely off guard that she hadn't known how to react.

 

And then Malfoy appeared.

 

She didn't know when he'd gone from antagonizer to rescuer, but she was thankful he'd shown up when he did. He seemed to have a knack for having her back when she was thrown off. If she wasn't so thankful, she'd be suspicious.

 

But, as it was, Hermione was thankful. Until he gave her a reason to question him, she'd continue with that mindset.

 

Whispering the password - as if he were following her - and shutting the portrait firmly behind her, Hermione fought to catch her breath. Choosing not to linger in the common room, she headed up to Ginny's dorm.

 

Propping the door and sending in an enchanted paper airplane, she waited in the hallway. Sure enough, Ginny slid out moments later, shutting the door behind her. "Hermione?" she asked. "What's going on?"

 

"Montague just cornered me," she said, and Ginny's eyes widened. The girl's face already started to show the telltale signs of Weasley anger. Wanting to placate her so she could tell the story, she rushed out the rest. "But Malfoy stopped him. Shot off a jinx and gave him trouble for it." Her cheeks flushed. "I'm fine," she reassured her.

 

Ginny's mouth was wide open. She was clearly searching for words to properly display her level of shock and coming up empty.

"Malfoy... helped you?"

 

"Yes," Hermione said firmly. "There was no hesitation, either. And..." she trailed off, her cheeks deepening in color. "And he winked at me after he jinxed him, too."

 

If she'd thought Ginny was surprised before, she looked like the vision of pure shock now. "He... winked? At you? After helping you?

You're sure?" Her expression was slowly morphing into a dubious one.

 

Hermione fidgeted, tugging at a loose thread on her jumper sleeve. "Yes. Positive."

 

"Wow." It took a lot to render Ginny Weasley speechless. Apparently, this took the cake for her on this particular night. Either that or she was tired. Suddenly, a sinister grin grew on Ginny's face. Hermione didn't like that look at all.

 

"You know what this means, right Hermione?" Ginny hinted.

 

Hermione gulped. "...No?"

 

"Well, it sounds to me like you should thank him," Ginny said, her grin stretching wider. "But make sure you do it properly."

 

Color draining from her cheeks and blood rushing south, she had no words for her friend. Her fingers pushed through her knotted hair and then ran over her face in a tired up-and-down motion as she considered.

 

As much as she hated to admit it to herself... it was genius.

 

-

 

Finally deciding that he was sick and tired of hiding away like a spineless idiot, he trudged to the library and plopped down with his friends. This was a decision he was already beginning to regret.

 

"No, Theo, I don't want to know what you heard from Pansy earlier."

 

"But Blaise! I promise you, this is good - I know you're going to want to hear this."

 

"What is it with your incessant need to have to fill the air with words? You know that silence is valuable, right?"

 

"And that, my friend, is exactly why I plan on tainting it. It's much more fun to bother you two when you're in the middle of something."

 

"You get your kicks in the weirdest of ways, Nott."

 

"But you love it."

 

Draco finally lost it. He'd hit his limit and was more than tired of listening to their endless banter. He was just looking for some form of a distraction before he had to deal with Granger today, and this had evidently been the wrong move. "Do you two even know how to shut up?" His head snapped up to look at Theo, who was exuding an incredible amount of nonchalance for how positively annoying he was being.

 

"You already know I don't," Theo said, sounding completely unbothered by his friend's outburst. "I don't know why you're surprised. You've stuck around this long, you know what you're getting into." He twirled his quill in his fingers, feet propped up on an unused chair at their library table.

 

Burying his face in his hands and groaning, Draco said, "I can never catch a fucking break."

 

He heard Blaise's deep chuckle, "You knew what you signed up for when you plopped down at our table in such a huff. If you wanted silence, you could have gone..." he surveyed the room for dramatic effect and gestured vaguely, "literally anywhere else."

 

Draco groaned again. "Why can't I ever have friends who just know how to read the room? Is that really too much to ask for?"

 

Blaise laughed again. "We do know how to read the room, mate. Seems like you're the one who doesn't in this situation." His quill never left the parchment.

 

"Anyway," Theo continued, gesticulating wildly with his hands, as if he hadn't heard a word Blaise or Draco had said. "Doesn't anyone want to hear what Pansy told me?" he was bouncing in his seat like a child who was too hyped up on a sugar rush.

 

"No!" Blaise and Draco said at the same time. Their eyes met before dropping away while simultaneously shaking their heads.

 

Theo pouted, slumping back in his seat and crossing his arms. "But it's really good!" He half whined. "Never mind, I'm going to tell you anyway. You know that one fifth year Ravenclaw? The one with the–"

 

Blaise cut in, holding up a single finger. "On a scale of one to illegal, how does this rate?"

 

Theo's grin was mischievous, his eyes growing smaller with the intensity of it. "I'd say it lies somewhere between questionable and morally grey."

 

"Nuh uh, no way, no thank you. I want to keep my plausible deniability, thanks a ton." Draco shut his book with a loud thump and started to pack up.

 

"You heading out already, Malfoy?" Blaise asked, furrowing his brow. "I feel like you just got here."

 

"Well, I can't very well focus with this one," he gestured to Theo as he slowly gathered his belongings, "talking up the place, now can I?" He scoffed, raising a brow.

 

"Anything's possible if you try hard enough," Theo said with his hands folded together, fingers interlaced, and a solemn look plastered on his face that was oddly out of character for him.

 

"Save it, you prat. Lucky for me, I actually have somewhere to be," Draco said, standing up and stretching, arms shooting up in the air, shirt untucking slightly as his body elongated. He tucked it back in as his arms came back down.

 

"Ah, sounds enticing," Blaise said, his drawl lulling into complete monotone as he gave no indication that he cared about anything that Draco was saying.

 

"You have no idea," he said, muttering under his breath.

 

Continuing to throw things haphazardly into his bag, he turned and headed to the secluded corner of the library where he and Granger studied.

 

As he was waiting for her in the library, he was actively trying to ignore the pit in his stomach. It was like an uncomfortable knot - a stone sinking down to the bottom, weighing his entire spirit down.

 

Of course, she didn't have the slightest idea of what was happening inside his head, but he felt as though he was lost in the storm. This was the first time he'd be talking to her since his failed attempt to get his mind off her. He'd never been so disgusted with himself as he was when he realized that he'd had sex with a girl and thought it was Granger the whole time.

 

That had been like a slap in the face. Realizing that in the light of day had been an incredibly stark revelation that he had in no way mentally prepared himself for.

 

With a start, he realized that she had become his new bad habit.

 

Fuck.

 

Starting back in on his cheek as if he could reverse that discovery, he tried to wipe the thought from his mind entirely. If only it were that easy.

 

Breaking his concentration, she sat down at the library table, completely out of breath. Glancing over at her, her face was flushed, curls frizzing out. Draco couldn't stop himself. "You look more disheveled than usual, Granger. What's got your knickers in a twist?"

 

Still breathing heavy, she replied, "I'm just late. Harry held me up." She rolled her eyes. "Sorry about that, I did tell him I had somewhere to be, but he wouldn't stop rambling. I swear, that boy loves to hear himself talk," she smiled to herself as she pulled out her notes.

 

"And I'm assuming you purposely left out that you'd be with me, is that right?" Draco kicked back in his chair, twirling his quill in his hand.

 

Granger shrugged. "No, he knows I'm with you. He just doesn't care."

 

Draco stilled. He hadn't expected Potter to let her go quietly - something was amiss. "He.... doesn't care that you're with me." His voice was cautious, questioning, flat.

 

"No," Granger said. "He knows we're studying together," he wondered if she phrased it that way on purpose because she knew how much he hated feeling like he needed someone, especially her. "It's not like anything else is happening here." Her cheeks flushed a little bit at the statement, and he smirked, biting back a snarky comment.

 

"Hmm," Draco let out a noncommittal hum, trying his best to adhere to her rules. They worked in silence for a few moments, getting organized before they began.

 

Abruptly switching gears before he could think too much about it, he spoke lowly, "What did Montague want with you?"

 

He saw from his peripheral that she immediately stiffened at the mention of his name, fingers clenching tight around her quill. Draco almost feared it would snap under the pressure. "I don't know," she said, voice hard. Her eyes flashed. "He never really got to the point."

 

"Good," Draco said. And he simply left it at that. The last thing he wanted was to make it look like he actually gave a fuck about what happened her. Even though the irony lay in the fact that that was exactly what he should be doing. Be that as it may, it was a completely unimaginable prospect.

 

Time flowed easily as they moved through the motions of their study session. They argued about pointless aspects of their classes, he poked fun at her for the company she kept, and she retaliated in jest about how disheveled he looked, just because she could.

 

He loved it. It was natural, as easy as breathing, and it was so very predictable.

 

By the time they wrapped up, he had almost pushed everything from the other night out of his head entirely.

 

But now it begged the question: when had Granger become his palette cleanser?

 

-

 

Hermione's head had been a mess during their entire study session. She was still reeling from the idea that Montague wanted something to do with her - and she was sure it was nothing good. And then the fact that Malfoy had, for whatever reason, defended her? It was like she'd entered an alternate dimension and she'd just failed to realize.

 

It had gone as smoothly as could be expected for the two of them - they bickered as usual, but it had started out more pleasantly than it normally did. She had chosen not to push the matter, since she knew it would get her nowhere with him.

 

They packed up at the end, and left the library at the same time before turning to part ways for the evening.

 

Ginny's words echoed in her head. Make sure you thank him properly.

 

Damn it. Damn it all to hell.

 

Before she could overthink her decision, Hermione made the hasty decision to call after his retreating figure. "Malfoy!" Heart thrumming in her chest, she was hoping he wouldn't make this awkward for her.

 

As much as she was dreading this idea, she had to admit that Ginny really was a diabolical asset to this project. She'd given Hermione the idea when she had come back to the dorm and told her everything, voice and hands still shaking more than she'd have liked.

 

It still pissed her off.

 

He turned slowly, having the gall to look irritated with her. "What, Granger? I'm hungry and I'd like to try to eat before I disintegrate right in front of you." His foot was tapping on the cobblestone floor, and he had his arms crossed defiantly across his chest.

 

She walked up to him cautiously, like approaching a wild animal you didn't want to scare off. "I just..." she hesitated, eyes flitting away from his face. It was dark in the corridor given the late hour, and for some reason, it gave her courage.

 

Everything was easier in the dark. You could hide in the dark. The dark couldn't burn you.

 

"I just wanted to say thank you for earlier... you know, with Montague." As much as she wanted to repress it, she blushed. And while her thanks was entirely genuine, she knew he would perceive it as a threat.

 

Probably because he wasn't used to legitimate appreciation.

 

As she predicted, his eyes narrowed. "Why are you thanking me? Anyone would have done it," he said.

 

"Well," she scoffed, growing a bit defensive despite her efforts not to, "apparently not everyone would have. And I would hate to think about what would have happened had you not rounded that corner when you did."

 

He laughed once. "Granger, I did it because I'm a Prefect. I have a responsibility to care about shit like that." His eyes shuttered, face going flat as he continued speaking. "It had nothing to do with you."

 

As harsh as the words were, they lacked their typical bite. He sounded almost vulnerable to her, like he was putting up some sort of a front. It didn't sound at all like he meant what he was saying, and it produced a tiny spark of hope in her chest, right near her heart.

 

Hermione heaved a sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Whatever you say, Malfoy. I just wanted to say thank you, regardless of your reasoning." Releasing it and looking back up at him, he was still staring at her. "And you know what?" she asked, braving a step forward. "I don't buy that it had nothing to do with me. I think it was because it was me that you did it." Her voice was quiet, breathy.

 

Malfoy seemed enraptured. He stared down at her, eyes molten silver, but his face was still flat. "No."

 

"No?" she echoed, pushing on and taking another small step towards him. "Then why don't I believe you? You're usually a better liar, Malfoy, but you've been slacking lately. I'd up your game if I were you," she teased lightly. "And do you know why I'm so sure I'm right?" she pressed.

 

"I'm sure your theory will hold no water, Granger, but fuck it, let's hear it," his voice was snarky, but it once again lacked the typical conviction that it always seemed to carry.

 

"Because as much as you hate to admit it, I'm yours to mess with," her heart was pounding, eyes wide as she stared up at him. "And I was since that night, wasn't I? Maybe I always have been, but that's something only you can answer." His eyes had never left hers, but they were the only expressive thing about him. She couldn't get a proper read on him, so she was praying that this would have the impact she was hoping for.

 

"You can admit it, Malfoy," she whispered softly, her gaze dropping to his lips. "I'm not afraid to. Why are you?"

 

"Because I can't." His voice was so low, she almost missed it. She caught a flash of what seemed like anguish before it disappeared.

 

Giving a shaky breath, she whispered, "You don't have to."

 

Mustering every ounce of courage she had, she took a deep breath, pushed up onto her toes, prayed to Merlin himself that this wouldn't backfire, and kissed him.

 

His lips parted in a gasp before snapping and willingly devouring her. It was like he had been waiting for this but was hesitant to chase her. Malfoy's hand reached up to cup her neck, pulling her closer into him. It was supposed to be a chaste peck, but he wasn't going to let that happen.

 

Malfoy's arms were a steel trap, but she found that she wasn't complaining. The possibility of being caught only added to the thrill, and the tense atmosphere thrummed through her veins.

 

Her fingers ran themselves through his hair of their own accord. His lips were soft against hers. Malfoy's body was molded to hers so she didn't have to reach as high for him. He kissed her more slowly than she'd expected, seeming to savor it. Afraid to linger on that thought, she shut her brain off for a moment and sank back into the kiss. She'd first thought this would be quick, painless.

 

Hermione wasn't often wrong, but this was one instance she was happy she had been.

 

Detangling herself from him before he could take things further and have a repeat of last time she'd pushed him, Hermione stared up at him wide eyed and panting, melted chocolate meeting molten silver. She brought her lip between her teeth, worrying it, searching for words that wouldn't come.

 

Before she found them, she instead turned on her heel and left the way she came, making sure to keep the confident sway in her hips and her slightly upturned chin for his eyes to linger on as she left him there, watching her.

 

-

 

A/N: Vices ch 1 is up!

 

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