He is trembling.

And maybe, just maybe...It isn’t because it is a mid-winter night. Maybe, it isn’t because he is soaking wet from head to toe. Maybe, it isn’t because he developed a slight unprecedented fever just the night before this goddamn ball. Maybe it isn’t because he had started feeling cold in his dungeons lately, despite the huge lit fireplace and his favorite books strewn over the bed and his signature perfume wafting in the air, reminding him of the Manor, where it is much stronger.

Maybe it is because there is the very inconspicuous, unwanted presence of a certain little brunette behind his near naked form that makes his hairs stand on end.

“It is not,” He said. Aloud? In his head? He doesn’t care.

Behind him, where his eyes do not reach, he feels her smile.

“It is sad to see the Malfoy heir go to a ball with a girl even more pathetic and miserable than he is himself.”

“Pansy is going to wear her great aunt Barbara Parkinson’s engagement robes today. It’s a special occasion, see? She’s far from miserable.” Draco shoots back somewhat heatedly, summoning an unexpected defense from all the talking Parkinson did stored passively at the back of his mind. It was a miracle he could even reply within twenty seconds, searching for a longer lasting cologne buried somewhere in his five-foot dressing table full of things he never used, in complete disarray, semi-naked in front of Granger, save a flimsy towel around his manliness.

“Care to inform which engagement robes, the twelfth or the thirteenth?”

“Care to inform why Krum’s girl is watching the Malfoy heir apply lotion over his nude form?”

“You are not really nude,” she says lazily, bored, the way she sometimes does when she explains Arithmancy to him in the middle of the night when their being in the library seems like a secret only kept by themselves and the paintings around, that curse their lighted desk for lack of regular sleep. Not once though, in this rather hurried month, did they report a girl from Gryffindor and a boy from Slytherin for being out of their beds hours past curfew.

At her smooth response, he turns around and openly scrutinizes every inch of this infuriating, fascinating creature he was doomed to ever have set his eyes on.

He wants to ask so many things. He wants to understand her.

He wants to believe that she hates him and that she scorns him from the deepest burrows of her heart, and he intends the pun as he smirks to himself.

She is as bad as the Weasley, with her sticking behind Potter, selflessly ushering the idiot to plain safety, without thinking of consequences all three have to face, with her laughing at every lame joke the boys have to offer, with her annoying, infectious happiness. She is as bad as Potter himself, with her reluctance to back down or be silent at the slightest sign of challenge and testiness. She is as bad as he can possibly think of, without gripping his head in his hands and slowly pounding it on the table multiple times, with her righteousness a chain her wit has bound itself with.

And her righteousness. What’s with the godforsaken righteousness anyway? It flows out of her words like mucus out of the flabberworms Snape made him crush in last week’s detention, which he got into, again, because of being too involved in telling Hermione Granger how her hair smells like rotten octopus powder on the days she has to run to class without washing it first.

“The Gryffindor Princess likes to get familiar with ingredients she has to prepare for her Potion the very night before,” he told his sidekicks, who started laughing before he completed the joke. “It’s a custom in their house followed by the intellectuals who, afraid of forgetting their sense of smell have to apply the particular subject in question on their heads for twenty hours at the least before the class so that their brains do not forget- oh yes, I am peeling an octopus today,” He finished, wishing they guffawed a little less louder so that she could hear him, too.

And the hair. Don’t even get him started on the hair. He had particularly high standards regarding hair, being a Malfoy and all, but to be daily confronted by a 5’5” spitfire hissing down his neck with hair as voluminous as Goyle’s neck, who does not understand why he thinks that her favourite subject is basically “number divination”, was a tad bit too much to tolerate.

Though her hair doesn’t really smell all that bad.

It smells like grapefruit and gardenia his mother loves to grow with her own hands in the Manor’s garden.

No. Rotten octopus powder. Rotten octopus powder.

“You have no idea about the subject you have spent a year learning about! Number Divination? You just compared my one year worth of chart making, playing with probabilities and learning the language of numbers, to the patterns that spectacled hag makes her students see in teacups?” She exclaimed, turning a bottle of ink over his parchments in shock. “Do you know that Arithmancers like Bridget Wenlock have successfully predicted years of meteor showers without using any astronomical instruments at all, but through simple numerology?” “What do we do by learning the timing of meteor showers anyway? Plan honeymoons?” he countered, just to rile her up. “Really Malfoy?” She exasperatedly threw herself back on the chair from which she had almost risen from, frustrated. “I know you are bad at Care of Magical Creatures, but it takes a first year to know that dragon habits change with every celestial event and so do the properties of their blood, which you can find in the manufacturing list of almost every item the wizards have not borrowed from muggles. Also the unicorns, another major resource to the all magical industries, display some pretty interesting behavioural changes regarding its ecological relationship with wizards every time, one day before the showers take place.....” He smiled underneath his uncaring smirk, ready to half listen to her rant. After all it was not as useless as that of Parkinson’s.

Who’s he kidding?

She is Hermione Granger.

He always, would be interested in whatever newspaper articles and book excerpts she wanted to recite when there is nobody else to listen who is around and about the library at two in the morning bothered about why two fourth year students would take the trouble of writing out essays by candlelight still having three days left for submission. The same two students who hurl abuses at each other in the corridors by day that no fourteen year old should have the gall of whispering. And yet they join together when all others tucked themselves under their blankets in their five poster beds, waiting for the next day, another day of gossip, frivolity, occasional outrage and procrastination.

To them, the days are never what actually matters. Are they? Or is it merely pretense when his right arm drapes across Parkinson's shoulder, ears try to block out all noise the girl purrs in his side, eyes seek out that one crazy girl he wants to forget about for entirety, that one crazy girl who sits on a table he would never join in his life even if it had the purpose of getting a whiff of her grapefruit and gardenia smelling hair?

To them, the nights matter. It is studying they do, whether one believes it or not. He, to live up to his family’s expectations, she, to learn. The nights matter most. When everything is silent except for the voice of the other. When the only gossip is whether the Ministry of Magic was caught out by that one auror who turned out to be spying on their illegal Gringotts vaults through the International Confederation of Wizards. The nights matter to him. When the only frivolity is his relentless teasing on a small, rare mistake he finds on one of her beloved charts. The nights matter, to her, he is sure of that. When the only occasional outrage is his hand lightly resting on the back of hers, maybe casually, maybe on purpose, maybe just as close as possible to the ink bottle, her trying to retract her hand slowly back without being noticed, then her finally giving up and surrendering to the fragile, tiny, almost not even there contact of skin.

If she was less righteous, she would have been so much fun.

Maybe she would have even talked less about freeing house elves. He runs his fingers through his hair again, ruining it all up in exasperation. House elves were the least favourite topic of theirs, even though they went through it comparably as many times as Dumbledore gave Potter points to Gryffindor.

One tells a boy that a house elf is there to do everything for him as soon as he is born. One can’t just allow him to fall in love with a girl whose sole mission (among many others) is to free all house elves worldwide from “slavery” as she called it from wizards like himself.

Merlin, he is doomed for real. It is so noble a cause, even on her part, that he wants to wail like a baby.

Wait- allow him to fall in the whomping willow of what?

Honest to god, he knew this was coming.

“That’s a lot of silence for someone who stole my paperwork every night this month.” Hermione smiles at him.

The smile is so real, he almost believes she is actually there in his room.

“I already owed you a date with Krum. I heard your exchange with this guy in the very same library where every night, I have to restrain myself from jumping on you and kissing those annoying, cute frowns out of your face. Your exchange with someone who wants to take you out for the Yule Ball. I heard you saying yes and I didn’t move in my place, not even to go and punch the lights out of him. I didn’t do that so that you’d be happy. What more do you want me to do for you?”

She is sad, somewhat. Again, Draco wondered how real this fantasy could be, because he is sure he never exactly saw her sad.

But then there was this time.

“ that their brains do not forget- oh yes, I am peeling an octopus today,” He finished, wishing they guffawed a little less louder so that she could hear him, too.

He waited for another snarky comeback. He didn’t get any.

He turned around; a grin still forcefully plastered on his face and found her trying to hide a tear sliding down her cheek with a rather big strand of hair on one side of her face.

“Oh shit,” he fumbled, all pretence forgotten. “Hermione, listen to me. I....”

“I listen too much to you, Malfoy.” She replied, crying in earnest now, and getting curious looks from her Hufflepuff partner.

“No, I need to say this.” He tried. He did. Seriously.

“You are going to apologize? Heck, I am so stupid for even believing that.” No. Grang- Hermione, you’re not.

“Detention, Mr.Malfoy,” Snape concluded.

That suspicious old man. He never hears Draco’s Slytherin mates snigger. Sometimes Draco watches him look over Granger with a strange expression in those shadowy eyes that immediately flicker to him next.

As if....he was looking between the two of them.

She is smiling a sad smile.

“You owe me more than that, Draco.”

“I don’t,” his voice cracks, as if he is nervous. The Slytherin prince, who is known as the Pianist in some inner circles, mostly comprising of pure-blood beautiful witches, for the way he plays women, is nervous.

“You owe me all your restraints. I want them away. Like that towel.”

And his lovely, ferocious, heartbreaking, mudblood seals the space between them.

“Malfoy is looking really strangely at you,” Parvati remarks, falling heavily back into the specially conjured snowflake like couches adorning the Great Hall as The Weird Sisters launches into another crazy single they are too tired to dance to.

“He is probably figuring out the ways in which he can insult the state of my hair today,” Hermione deadpans, smiling at Viktor holding out the fourth glass of Firewhiskey for her and ignoring the persisting butterflies in her stomach as she catches the eye of one particular blond boy standing far behind her date.

Always too far.

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