The light streaming through the windows in the Slytherin Common Room was a cold green.
Draco sat slumped deep in an armchair, staring into the murky depths of the Black Lake. There was nothing better for him to do in the empty room.
It was the winter holidays. Officially.
The students returning home for Christmas had departed for Hogsmeade Station a few hours earlier. All the Slytherins who returned to Hogwarts that year had gone home.
All but Draco.
Of all the Slytherins, prefects, and Eighth Years, he was the only one who stayed behind.
He grimaced and pulled off his Head Boy badge, flinging it at the window. It bounced off the glass and made a dull clink as it landed on the stone floor, the polished metal barely shining in the dim light.
He let his eyes slide shut, trying to shut out the cold empty world surrounding him.
The common room was always cold. There was a dying plant near the window; the remaining leaves on it were nearly white from lack of sunlight. It had been vibrant when the First Year brought it in September, but the cold, sunless dungeons had steadily sucked the life from it. Pets in Slytherin rarely did any better.
In the eight years Draco had lived there, the only things he’d ever seen thriving in the Slytherin dorms were poisonous.
Everything else shrivelled and died.
Draco could have left Hogwarts and gone home. Malfoy Manor, however, would be as silent and empty as the Common Room. His father was in Azkaban, ten years before he could appeal the thirty-year sentence. His mother was under house arrest. In France.
Draco was not permitted to leave Britain. The terms of his probation required that he remain at Hogwarts or Malfoy Manor with minimal exceptions.
Given that he’d been a minor and taken the Dark Mark under duress, Draco had narrowly avoided Azkaban. To make up for it, the Wizengamot had elected to place him under lifetime probation and exile his mother.
Separating the Malfoy family had been decided upon as the most appropriate punishment. The treacherous, faithless Malfoys. Every side wanted them strung up and made an example of.
Draco’s chest tightened, and his left hand balled into a fist as he forced himself to breathe in slowly.
He could still hear the thin tinny sound of the family solicitor’s voice as he reiterated for the hundredth time how very fortunate Draco was to have been tried as a juvenile. His mother’s pointed tone, reminding Draco that she and his father had done everything to protect him, that he must not, under any circumstances, do anything to violate the terms of his probation.
Once Draco had taken his NEWTs, he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the Manor unless he had a written letter of permission, which he was ineligible to apply for until he’d demonstrated five years of good behaviour.
Draco was in no hurry to return to the Manor. Hogwarts was the closest thing to freedom he had, even if it felt like a joke. As if finishing school was somehow going to give his life any prospects. They’d made him Head Boy for some incomprehensible reason as if that would mean a damn thing when his case file sat in the public record with the words “Death Eater” stamped across it.
He was dreading the return home. The Manor had been gutted. His parents hadn’t managed to repair all the damage caused during Voldemort's residence there. The floor of the foyer and drawing room were stained with blood. It had sunk into the wood flooring and seeped under the floorboards. Half the rooms in the main wing smelled of rot.
Draco tried not to think about the ruins of his family legacy that was sitting, waiting for him to return and deal with it.
There were other things to think about. School. Head duties. The Head Girl.
Granger had left that morning along with the rest of the students. Bags packed and not so much as a solitary textbook remained in the shared Head Student common room.
Of course, Draco hadn’t been surprised that she left for the holidays. She had a family. Muggles that Draco had seen once in Diagon Alley. Discounting them, she had Potter and the Weasleys to spend her holidays with.
It wasn’t as though he’d expected her to spend her holidays in the castle.
Even if she was sleeping with him.
It wasn’t as if it was a relationship. It didn’t mean anything.
Force two young adults to work together when they were still practically high off the fact they managed to survive a war, it was almost inevitable that they’d start fucking.
Fucking his co-Head neatly balanced out how perfectly Draco was now behaving in all other aspects of life. The exhaustively cautious line he had to walk from the moment he stepped into the hallways until the door to his room closed behind him at night.
It made it all the more thrilling to simultaneously be flagrantly violating a dozen school ordinances by taking the Head Girl into his bed every night, fucking her in the Prefect meeting room and the very hallways and library aisles they were meant to be patrolling.
The biting knowledge that he shouldn’t, that he was making a mistake, just spurred him on.
He was having a fling with Hermione Granger, the last person he would have ever expected to look at him, much less touch him.
It was reckless and impulsive, and it felt like living rather than the stilted, pantomime ”school year” that they were being forced to act out. Acknowledging the war would require the School Governors to acknowledge the nightmare of the previous year which they had permitted to occur unchecked. They couldn’t have that, so instead it was as if the previous school year had never happened.
Despite the facade required, the scars from the war were visible in the very stones of the castle and in the faces of the students that returned. The student population was less than a quarter its previous size, despite the ”eighth-year” class.
The relentless normality felt like an endless scream. As if the entire world were vibrating and just waiting to finally shatter.
Draco couldn’t remember who had moved first. Had he? Or was it Granger? He thought it was Granger, but if she had, Draco had only been a split-second behind.
Their reluctant partnership as Heads had been tense and stilted for the first several weeks, as though they were both waiting for the other person to strike.
Then one day their tense, coerced civility finally snapped and they were both screaming at each other. Then they were kissing
Draco hadn’t realized how dead he’d grown used to feeling until he had Granger pinned against the wall, hands tangled to the knuckles in her hair as he ravished her mouth. His heart had been racing, the blood roared in his ears, and every neuron was alight and attuned to the present in a way that decimated all sense of past or future.
Afterwards, when they were panting, still pressed together and catching their breath, the cacophony of his existence was finally quiet for a few minutes.
Once they straightened their clothes, and awkwardly resumed their meeting, he assumed it was a one-off.
Hermione Granger, good girl extraordinaire, was not going to routinely fuck a former Death Eater no matter how stressed she was.
However, he didn’t remind her of that when, a week later, she abruptly stood up from her desk in the prefect office and straddled him when he was in the middle of writing detention reports. Her fingers made quick work of his belt and trouser buttons, and he was already hard when she drew his cock out of his drawers and sank down with a low, breathy sigh that burned through his veins.
It’s just a phase, he told himself three days later, when he pinned her wrists above her head and fucked her against a bookshelf in the Restricted Section. It’s a phase, he kept telling himself in a mantra that weekend, with his hands tangled in her hair as he showed her the rhythm he wanted as she sucked him off in an abandoned classroom, when he spread her out on the edge of a desk afterwards, sliding his fingers inside her cunt and using his tongue to make her eyes cross and her thighs clamp around his head while she climaxed, screaming through her teeth.
A month later, when a nightmare had made him jerk awake in a cold sweat and flee his room in the middle of the night, nearly ready to ram his head into a wall to escape the constant sense of terror caged inside his mind, Granger was already in the common room, huddled in front of the fire, pale and shaking. They stared at each other as gradual understanding swept between them.
No wonder she always looked so fucking tired.
It’s only a phase, he told himself, when he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, even though the sex was different, not an explosive fumbling rush, but a smouldering burn that kindled slowly until he was lost in it. Just a phase. Even if it felt like the first real thing that had happened in his life.
He didn’t wake up cold with terror again after they fell asleep, bodies tangled together in front of the dying fire.
It’s nothing, he told himself when he woke in the morning with her head resting on his bare chest. He didn’t move until she woke, but he swore to himself that it wasn’t because he thought it meant something.
It wasn’t real. It was just a way of coping.
It was only going to be a phase, he’d reminded himself two days later, when he held the door open, stepping back to invite her into his room when she wordlessly appeared outside his door.
She slept in his bed, in his arms, every night after that, but whenever he remembered, he reminded himself again that it wasn’t going to last.
He’d known that.
He knew that.
He wasn’t surprised she’d left the Christmas holidays. Why would he be? It was temporary. She'd end it sooner or later. Maybe this was her way of ending it without a confrontation.
The stone entrance made a grinding sound, and Draco turned in time to see Granger pop her head around the common room door.
“There you are,” she said, walking over as though it were perfectly natural for her to just appear in the Slytherin Common Room when she was supposed to be on a train headed to whatever godforsaken place the Weasleys lived in.
Draco sat staring at her blankly, his heart pounding. He blinked. When he reopened his eyes, she was still there.
She was looking past him at the two-story window, her eyes wide. “I’ve never been in here. Harry and Ron snuck in once but — “ her cheeks flushed a faint pink, “ — I didn’t go. This is so beautiful. Oh — and you can see the selkies.”
Draco stood awkwardly, watching her, unable to think of an indirect way to ask why on earth she was here.
He shifted and found himself completely at a loss for words as she passed him on her route towards the windows. He watched her reach the glass, and an icy sensation suddenly washed across his chest and sank down into his gut.
She’d come back to call things off. Of course; she was a Gryffindor. She'd never met a problem that she didn't want to confront head-on.
She’d turned around and returned to the castle in order to dump Draco before Christmas, likely because she fancied resuming things with Weasley. Or maybe she was concerned Draco would do something asinine like write pining letters to her.
His throat closed, but he tried to remain calm. It was possible that there was a different reason. It could be that McGonagall had asked her to come back.
Although that wouldn’t explain why she was here, staring at the selkies.
He swallowed, waiting for her to explain her sudden appearance.
Granger didn’t appear to be in the slightest hurry. Her nose was practically touching the glass as she peered into the Black Lake. “If I’d known it was like this here, I would have snuck in ages ago.”
Draco’s mouth went dry, and he forced himself to breathe.
She was obviously delaying because she felt awkward.
Maybe she thought that making small talk and acting like she was there for multiple reasons would spare Draco’s feelings to some degree. Oh god, what if she wanted them to be friends? He'd be forced to sit there and smile and pretend it didn't bother him while she was pawed by an undeserving lumpen oaf.
“Do you need something?” he finally said through gritted teeth as she was reaching out to touch the glass.
Her hand froze and she looked over at him, eyes widening.
He raised an eyebrow and fought against the impulse to snarl at her. “You clearly didn’t come here to see the view in the Common Room, so why not get to the point?”
Her hand drew away from the window, and she licked her lips, suddenly looking nervous.
Oh god. She was going to drag this out.
It’s not you, it’s me...
Ron and I...
I hope you didn’t think...
Let’s be realistic...
He could already hear all the iterations. His chest tightened as though he were being crushed to death.
Granger squared her shoulders. Her eyes were locked on him now, selkies entirely forgotten. Her throat dipped as she swallowed nervously.
When she opened her mouth, Draco was abruptly struck by the fact that he didn’t want to hear whatever excuse she intended to give him. He didn’t need a speech explaining why. He didn't want to know.
If she gave him a reason and then left for two weeks, Draco knew himself well enough to know he was going to spend every minute picking it apart and cross-analyzing each word in case she’d left a loophole somewhere he might be able to crawl through once she came back. His stomach sank further, and he dug his fingernails into his palms.
“On second thought,” he cut her off before she could speak. “Let’s not do this. I never imagined it was anything special going on between us.” He scoffed. “You were available and willing. I imagine I fucked you for the same reasons you fucked me. I didn’t need you to track me down and explain that. Now,” he drew away from her, “assuming that covers everything, I’ll leave you to enjoy the selkies since you’re so desperate to see them.”
He turned on his heel and started bee-lining for the door. The air in the Common Room was suddenly stifling.
He’d come down to the dungeons specifically in order to be somewhere he didn't associate with Granger.
The one place he’d had left in the castle that he didn’t have a single memory associated with her. Well. Not anymore. The entire goddamn castle felt poisoned.
He thought he might be sick.
“Draco, are you breaking up with me?”
He stopped mid-stride and turned. She was still standing in front of the window. The pale glow of the water made her look almost ethereal, her eyes were wide like a startled deer.
No... Draco was not breaking up with her. That would firstly require them to be in a relationship—which they weren’t. But if they were, the point was that—
Draco was no longer sure exactly what the point was because he was no longer sure that he understood what the conversation was.
He stood frozen and didn’t say anything.
She was walking towards him.
“Obviously — “ she took a deep breath and tipped up her chin, “ — I’ve misread things. I’ll see you after the holidays then.”
She didn’t stop when she reached him, moving past him, towards the door.
“Wait!“ The word was wrenched out as Draco lunged, inserting his body between her and the door. “Wait. I didn’t mean it.”
Her expression was wary.
Draco caught her hand, gripping it. ”Don’t — don’t go.”
Granger pulled her hand away firmly, her face pale in the dim green light. “You don't always get to take things back, Malfoy.”
Draco’s throat closed, and he tried to grab her hand again, but she drew it further from reach. His chest was so tight, he could barely breathe.
”I know... I know. I can explain...“
Fuck, he couldn’t breathe. His lungs spasmed, but he couldn’t seem to hold the air in.
Why did this keep happening? At his father’s sentencing. Saying goodbye to his mother. On the train headed to Hogwarts. It was like his lungs forgot how to work, and he was left gasping.
“I thought — “
His voice died again. He tried to inhale, but his lungs wouldn’t cooperate. He stepped unsteadily towards her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders as he tried to force himself inhale. ”Don’t — go. Don’t — go.”
He squeezed his eyes shut, and his chest spasmed as he held on tighter.
“Malfoy?” He could hear the concern in her voice.
She was trying to twist free from him, but he held her tighter, gripping her shoulders. He dropped his head against her forehead. “Don’t — leave me.”
“Draco — “
He kissed her.
He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t even want to breathe. He just wanted to kiss her.
He captured her lips and pulled her closer. She resisted for a moment, her mouth tense, and her shoulder twisting. Draco kissed her more insistently, pleadingly.
If she’d kiss him back, he could convince her.
Stay. Stay till Eighth Year ends, I'll give you whatever you want.
She stayed tense a moment longer before melting in his arms.
Draco groaned with relief. He could breathe again if she wanted him. Let him have Eighth Year with her. That was all he wanted. He kissed her hungrily.
He inhaled her quiet moans as he brought her nearer, his hands sliding down her body, holding her close.
It’s just a phase. It’s not real. It isn’t going to last.
He tangled his hands in her hair and kissed her more fervently, feeling starved. There was a sense of hunger clawing at him, not in the pit of his stomach but inside his chest. Like there was a chasm in the centre of his being and he’d collapse in on himself if he wasn’t holding onto her.
She was gripping his shirt, kissing him back fiercely as he backed her up, away from the exit, pushing her robes off her shoulders and feeling them under his shoes, followed by her jumper as he pulled it up over her head and left it behind.
There was no one in Slytherin. Draco was the only left, he could take her right there in the Common Room without any risk that anyone would disturb or discover them.
Her back collided with the window, and she gasped. Draco pinned her there, kissing hungrily down her throat as her nails dragged along his scalp. The sharp burning pain melded with the pulsing want rushing through his veins.
He ground his body against hers as he found the buttons on her shirt, pulling open her tie and biting down on the base of her neck. She whimpered and gave a long moan as he sucked hard on the delicate skin there.
He’d always been careful not to leave marks. Permanence had never been an option. Nothing that would show by morning. Nothing that she’d have to conceal throughout the day.
But now she’d come back. She was his. For once he could touch her like she was all his.
He tangled a hand in her hair and drew her head back, dragging his teeth along her shoulder. She gave a soft sound as he bit down again.
She arched into Draco, and he pushed her back against the window as he drew his mouth away and watched her skin darken. Mine.
It’s just a phase, his mind whispered viciously. This isn't real.
She pulled him back to kiss him, a soft moan in the back of her throat as their lips met, her fingers almost electric as they brushed across his skin. He buried his face against her shoulder, breathing her in as she wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders and held him close.
He thought it might be real now.