Draco's gaze slid from Weasley, to Potter, to Granger, then back to Weasley again. The dynamic had definitely shifted: for one, they weren't sitting together; Granger was at the head of the table, and the other two close to the middle; for two, Weasley kept darting dark looks towards Granger; and for three, Potter seemed to have decidedly chosen a side, sat as he was next to Weasley. Granger's face was flushed and the area around her eyes was red; every now and then she would draw a shuddering breath and either shoot a reproachful glare in Draco's direction or glance longingly at the vacant seat next to Weasley. Blaise, who was sitting opposite Draco, noticed his stare, and craned his neck round to follow his gaze. Seeing the target, he groaned.
“Not again, Draco... aren't you in enough trouble already? What is it this time? Are you going to throw rocks at them, club the blood traitor over the head...?”
Draco snorted with laughter. “Nothing so subtle, Blaise. As for the trouble... I guess it hasn't really sunk in yet. I haven't had to lie to the Dark Lord....” The thought immediately sobered him up, and he glanced down at his food, feeling decidedly unwell. Blaise noticed his nausea, and leaned forward slightly, lowering his voice.
“This might be a good time to talk about that thing we've talked about before... you could leave them, Draco, the Death Eaters I mean... he's mad, you know he is...”
“This isn't really the place, Blaise,” Draco muttered, glancing around warily, “Plus I have to think about my family; my father and mother; the Dark Lord might kill them if I leave.”
“He doesn't recognise family ties, Draco!” Blaise replied, his eyes boring into Draco's, “He doesn't value them, doesn't think them relevant. He wouldn't see the point in killing your parents, so long as they remained loyal...”
Draco met Blaise's stare with a glare. “I wish I had your confidence, Blaise. I'm not willing to put my family's safety in jeopardy based on what you think the Dark Lord would or would not do. In any case, I'm ending this conversation.”
Blaise nodded calmly, leaning back; he knew when not to press an issue, at least. “So anyway... what's with the staring?”
Still dwelling on the previous conversation, Draco gave him a distracted look. “Oh, right... I'm preparing myself to do something.”
“This time I'm attacking them in the Great Hall.” Draco said dryly, rising to his feet. Blaise's look of astonishment followed him as he circumnavigated the Slytherin table, and began to stride purposefully towards the Gryffindors'.
As he walked, conversations died and heads turned; people began to follow his progress. Several Gryffindors, previously speaking with each other, noticed his approach, and alerted their comrades. Draco made straight for Granger, who eventually raised her head, with the expression of someone who'd just been condemned to the gallows on her face. By now, the majority of the Gryffindor table was staring at him, including Potter and Weasley, the latter looking especially vindictive. Conditioning his face into a smile, Draco ignored them.
“Hey, Granger...” he said, grinning widely. She stared back in mute horror.
He risked a glance at Potter and Weasley, and saw that they were both talking in hushed tones to those aside them; no doubt they were explaining what they perceived to be the situation. When they turned back, Draco made sure to switch his expression to one of triumph; when Potter saw it, he paled.
“What is it, Malfoy?” Granger whispered, the dread evident in her voice.
“Just thought I'd come say hello,” Draco said lazily, “you filthy, disgusting, mudblood.”
That did it. Every Gryffindor at the table rose, as if possessed of a collective consciousness; every Gryffindor, except Potter and Weasley, that is, who remained rooted in their seats with horror; and before long a great many wands were directed towards Draco.
“How dare you?” shrieked Ginny Weasley, her hand shaking with fury. Her eyes were full of regret; no doubt she'd finally realised that she'd fallen for his trick. “How dare you come over here and say that to Hermione? How dare you, after everything that's happened!”
“So you stand up for her now, Weaslette, when it's easy... why don't you ask Potter why I dare?” Draco smirked, “He seems to still think I'm a mudblood-lover. As if I, with my surname, would ever even consider sullying myself with the likes of Granger.
“I confunded her to make her kiss me, but that was all in the pursuit of a greater goal; this scene right here, as a matter of fact. How does it feel to be a traitor, Weasley, Potter? I thought Gryffindors were supposed to be loyal. I guess the hat got it wrong with you two.”
Draco sneered. “See you in Defence Against the Dark Arts.”
He left the Great Hall at a brisk walk, leaving behind a lot of shocked faces. They couldn't hate Granger now. Now, all their anger would be directed towards him. He smiled faintly; the natural way of things had been restored.
The voice was hesitant, even unsure. Draco continued to slide his finger over the spines of the books on the bookshelf, counting each one off in his head as he tried to find the particular one he was looking for. Behind him, his addresser shuffled her feet awkwardly. Draco had travelled to the library to retrieve a Defence Against the Dark Arts textbook; unfortunately, the only copy that Madame Pince had said the library had in stock was an ancient edition, and therefore archived with the texts which were historically interesting, as opposed to the modern texts. Granger must have somehow noticed him searching for it; she did almost live in the library after all.
“I just wanted to say thank you. Even though it was your fault that the problem existed in the first place, it was good of you to fix it. So... thank you. They've forgiven me. I should... warn you though... they hate you.” she paused. “More.”
Draco ignored her, continuing his search for his book; finally, he located it, pulling it from the shelf with a hiss of satisfaction.
“Aren't you going to say anything?” she snapped, her voice rising slightly. Draco turned, in mock surprise.
“Granger! I didn't see you there!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly. She gave him a withering look. They stood in silence for a moment, and then she spoke again.
“Well? Aren't you even going to say anything?” Draco could hear a faint hint of frustration in her voice; the frustration he loved to elicit in her. “Perhaps 'you're welcome' or 'it was the right thing to do'?”
“You're welcome.” he parroted, “It was the right thing to do.”
She stared at him deadpan. “You are such an-”
Draco stepped forward abruptly, a thought entering his head. “Such a what, Granger?” he asked, having shortened the distance between them considerably; she now had to look up a little to see his face. Stubborn to the end, she held her ground admirably, not moving a single inch.
“Such a ferret.” she said defiantly, staring at him.
Draco smiled, and then, very deliberately, traced the knuckle of the index finger of his right hand across her left cheek, tucking a stray lock of brown hair back behind her ear. His fingertips gently brushed her earlobe as he retracted his hand, and he thought she shivered slightly.
“What are you doing?” she muttered, nervously, taking a quick step back. Pressing his advantage, Draco stepped forward, laying a hand on her arm.
“Something wrong, Granger?” he said silkily, and saw her eyes narrow in response.
“Listen, I know your game, Malfoy. I'm not going to play it.” she said haughtily, turning swiftly away from him, clearly intending to leave.
Stepping forward once more, Draco grabbed her trailing hand, spinning her forcefully back around to face him. Slinking a hand around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides, he drew her closer and, with a heady rush of inspiration, pushed her up against a bookshelf, glaring into her soft, shocked eyes.
“Still know my game, Granger?” he whispered softly, in the sudden tension, and she swallowed nervously.
“I don't know what you think you are doing, Malfoy, but it's not going to w-work, I'm not going to fall for whatever trick you are planning, so you might as well just-” she began, averting her eyes desperately from his face, as if trying to pretend that she was elsewhere.
Draco wasn't listening. The close proximity of their bodies was causing him some thinking problems. She kept shifting, which wasn't helping. His eyes wandered across her face in fascination, moving from the vulnerable curls of her brown hair to the faint blush on her velvet cheeks, before drifting slowly down to linger on her lips, which were plump and looked very soft. Dimly, he noticed that she had finished talking, and his drifting eyes met hers, which were now watching him with an expression close to stark terror.
“W-what are you-” she began, drawing in a shuddering breath when he simply shook his head.
He leaned in towards her, seeing, as he approached, her eyes flutter bewilderedly shut as she conceded the battle.
When their lips met, the silence exploded in Draco's head. His mind went sweetly blank, all tactics abandoned, and he grabbed a fistful of her brown hair with his hand, wanting to devour her, to have her, more than he had ever desired anything before. They kissed deeply and strongly, his need intensifying when she moaned gently against his mouth. Dragging her towards him, he made sure that no gaps existed between them, utterly consumed by a desperate hunger. He was vaguely aware of her arms around his neck, but far more conscious of the tentative movements of her tongue against his own and the heat between their bodies.
After a timeless interval, they pulled apart, and gradually, some semblance of rationality began to return to Draco's head. Granger was blinking slowly and dazedly as she stared at him, her cheeks very red and her delicate lips slightly parted with surprise. Draco's mind was still drifting in a confusing heat-fog, but he managed to stagger clumsily away from her, releasing her hair from his grip. He very nearly knocked over a bookshelf as he reeled backwards, managing to stabilise it and himself just in time.
“Stay away from me.” he managed to croak, eventually, seeing her eyes widen with shock and, perhaps, hurt.
“W-what?” she said, in a small voice.
“I SAID STAY AWAY FROM ME, GRANGER!” bellowed Draco, suddenly furious, and she jumped with fright.
Filled with confused anger, he turned sharply and walked rapidly away, leaving the library, willing himself not to look at the expression on her face. He didn't hear footsteps following him, for which he was grateful, but a small part of him wondered how long she was going to stand against the bookshelf. Livid at himself and the entire situation, he found the nearest empty classroom and hurled open the door, striding inside and slamming it behind him. As soon as it was shut, he ran his hands frustratedly through his hair, leaning his back against the door and sliding slowly down into a sitting position. He'd just wanted everything to go back to normal; for Potter, Weasley and Granger to hate him, for school to go on as normal; but everything had already changed. Everything was different, and had been ever since that night on the astronomy tower last year.
There was no returning to the Hogwarts of two years ago. He realised that now. The Dark Lord's slow ascendancy, and the chaos of his ultimate return, had turned the school into a place where fear and doubt were omnipresent. And worse, it had been he, Draco, who had helped bring about that state of affairs; if he had not been around, the headmaster would not have died, and perhaps there would yet have been some measure of hope for everyone. In the many restless months he'd endured after letting the Death Eaters into the castle through the vanishing cabinet, he'd spent tears, money and respect on convincing people that he truly regretted what had happened, and the truth was that he hadn't needed to use Occlumency very often. The only thing he'd wanted from this new year at Hogwarts was for everything to go back to the way it had been before.
He'd kissed Granger, so that was now doubly impossible. He had no idea what had possessed him to do such a crazy thing; she was a mudblood, after all, and Potter's friend, not to mention the person he was now committed to protecting from the Dark Lord. It had to have been a purely physical thing, he decided, and even if it wasn't he was going to ignore it; she would go back to hating him, whether she liked it or not. There were still some things he could keep the same. Calmly, he got to his feet, smoothing out his robes, determinedly avoiding thinking about the way his hands were shaking at his sides. Hate was easy; he could handle hate.