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He was doing it again.

Hermione could feel a dull headache swelling to life in her left temple, and she closed her eyes briefly against the luminous green glare of her potion.

Merlin, he was laying it on a bit thick, wasn’t he? Turning around every five seconds, waiting until she inevitably met his gaze – then whipping right back to face the front of class like he’d been caught in the act. She glared at the back of his head, where neatly combed curly hair was erupting in cowlicks from the steamy potions room. His neck was even turning a dull, brick-red. How on earth had he managed that? 

She felt Lavender sigh next to her. Oh, Merlin. “Hermione,” she hissed, non-too-quiet.

“Present.”

“He’s doing it again.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” replied Hermione stiffly, busying herself with organising ingredients that had already been organised, “who is doing what?”

“You know who.”

“I do not.”

Riddle is looking at you.”

“So?”

“‘So?’” Lavender was agape, the sugar-quill she had been nibbling on drooping from her mouth.

“Yes. So.”

“Well – I – he’s gorgeous. And obviously mad keen on you, Hermione.”

She rolled her eyes. Colour-coded some more eye of newt, which was difficult, because they generally shared a funny brownish hue most of the time. “He is not.” she declared.

“He is.”

“Not.”

“Oh – don’t be childish.”

“Me? Childish? You’re wearing ribbons. Pink ribbons.”  

Lavender patted her hair self-consciously. “You only get catty when you’re embarrassed, Hermione.”

“I’m always embarrassed to be seen with you.”

“Hmm,” Lavender remarked shrewdly, raising an eyebrow as if to say: exhibit A.

“Shut up.”

“Anyway, I have an eye for these things.”

“What, because of Trelawney? Can you see –”

No, you daft – no. Because I’m dating Ron, and I could tell that he liked me.” She fluttered her fingers at the boy in question, who sent them both a cheery wave, leaving poor Harry to dote on their (probably terrible) potion.

Hermione wanted to say something rude, like was this before or after you snogged him in front of everyone but, a) that would definitely be catty, and b) that would prove Lavender’s point. So. She sighed, and settled for: “How could you tell?”

“Well, Ron isn’t very subtle. And he listens to his Mum, so he started giving me sweets, that sort of thing. And staring at me in class when he thought I wasn’t looking,” she said pointedly, and Hermione turned around just in time to see Tom Riddle’s eyes slide to the left and pretend (quite obviously) to give Slughorn’s poster on the wall behind her (the one that declared: Consistency is Key!) some serious consideration.

Hermione glared. Riddle blushed again (warming charm?) and did a very good impersonation of someone who possessed shame. “How revolting.”

“Shut up,” said Lavender fondly, and swatted Hermione’s hands away from the eye of newt. “Stop fiddling with that, our potion’s done. I heard he’s going to ask you to Hogsmeade soon. I hope he asks you to the Yule Ball … oh, Hermione, wouldn’t it be so romantic if you two were dating when you became Head Boy and Girl? You’ll obviously get it. Ooh – Heads share a floor!”

Before Hermione was forced to come up with a socially acceptable way of replying to that, she was saved by Slughorn’s paunch meandering its way to their table. “Miss Granger, Miss Brown,” he said jovially, “how goes your Jealousy Draught?”

“Good, Professor Slughorn. I think we’re finished.”

“Indeed you are, my dears! Ten points apiece to Gryffindor, I think.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Before I forget, Miss Granger,” Slughorn’s voice lowered to what he must have considered to be a confidential sort of tone, “I am hosting a little soiree this Hallowe’en at about eight o’clock … I do hope you can make it. Mister Riddle will be there, if that sweetens the pot for you at all!”

Good fucking grief.

 

*.*

 

By the end of the month, Riddle had everyone convinced that he was some lovesick fool and that Hermione Granger, ice princess of Gryffindor, wasn’t going to give him a second glance.

Which she was. Only not in the way everyone seemed to want her to.

He found excuses to speak to her that were obviously transparent. He gave her thoughtful little presents that everyone agreed were so Hermione. He took points from the Slytherins who hassled her, perhaps two or five more than was necessary, and always apologised profusely on behalf of his house, peering through his lashes and making hesitant little gestures towards her shoulder like he meant to pat it, but was too nervous. (Tripe). He sat next to her in Transfiguration and gave her the bouquet of lilies that had previously been a sparrow.

“For you,” he’d said, with an easy smile. Only – it never quite reached his eyes. And Riddle was smart enough and perceptive enough to know that Hermione despised preferential treatment. And those abortive little half-movements towards her felt less like he was shy and more like he was sending out a warning. And the gifts he got her, while seemingly perfect, always had a touch of derision: a spell-checking quill after she corrected his writing on the chalk board, a book of time-keeping charms when she was (once!) late to a prefect meeting, even a stupid little hair ribbon that claimed it could keep any mane in check.

So she’d taken the bouquet and turned it back into a bird. And his gaze had flickered, just for a moment. And he went from handsome to ghoulish, just for a moment, his cheeks hollow and eyes mere black pits. Just for a moment.

Hermione didn’t know exactly why he was pretending to fancy her, or to what end, but she intended to find out.

 

*.*

“You, er, know when I was convinced Malfoy was up to something, earlier this year?” Harry asked innocently.

Hermione moved a pile of books to see him better. “Yes. Why?”

“Well,” Harry eyed her up and down, taking in frazzled hair and columns of heavy tomes either side that blocked the rest of the library (and most of the light) out, “remember what we learned from that?”

“That you’re bisexual and prone to channelling your latent sexuality into detective work?”

He looked mildly put out. “I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t say detective work.”

“Gumshoeing?”

“No.”

“… Sleuthing?”

“Hermione.”

“Well, what is your point, Harry?” She snapped the book she was skimming closed; it was useless anyway. The Hogwarts library – and the magical world, she feared – was woefully lacking in anything close to psychology. Specifically sociopaths. “Honestly.”

He tugged at the neck of his jumper. “I was convinced Malfoy was up to something because I was attracted to him and I didn’t know what to do about it.”

“Yes,” Hermione replied testily, “I know. And?”

And – you’re doing the same with Riddle.” Harry rushed, and immediately moved a tower of parchment in front of him.

“Harry –” she retorted, sending the parchment swirling away with a flick of her wand, “– that is ridiculous.”

“It isn’t.”

“I am not attracted to Tom Riddle.”

“Everyone’s attracted to Tom Riddle, don’t be dim. But he likes you, and you dunno what to do about it.”

Yes, I do, thought Hermione. I’ll hex it right out of him. “Wh – he doesn’t really like me.”

“’Mione,” said Harry, eyes soft, “why wouldn’t he?”

Oh, bloody Merlin. “This is not about my self-esteem –”

“I know Ron and Lavender was … hard for you –”

“Harry, no.

“– I’m just saying, y’know, it was obvious that you were –”

Please be quiet. Please.”

“– I just think it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you gave him a chance, is all!”

“Harry Potter,” Hermione said, voice wavering with irritation, “trust me when I say that Riddle is just – playing a game, or something. I don’t know what.”

He responded with a look that was equally full of pity as it was of discomfort. “D’you think you’re – unattractive, or something? Because you’re not,” Harry floundered, “Krum thought you – well – and McLaggen is pretty vocal about your –”

“Excuse me,” came a voice from just outside Hermione’s self-imposed isolation, “sorry, Granger, but some of your parchment nearly blinded a First Year.”

Hermione stood. Tom fucking Riddle was standing to her left, on the other side of the books. He was wearing a nervous, eager sort of smile, his hair fell perfectly over his forehead, and when Hermione looked into his eyes she saw nothing but dust. “Riddle,” she greeted tensely, “what can I do for you?”

“I… s’pose you could be careful about sending things back to their shelves?”

“I’m sorry about that. Where’s the First Year? Obviously, I should apologise to them.”

“They’ve gone back to their common room. Didn’t catch the name, I’m afraid.”

“Oh,” she said hurriedly, tidying her things with a quick charm, “which House? I can catch them before they get there. What did they look like?”

Riddle’s eye twitched. “I didn’t … notice.”

“Sorry?”

“I didn’t see what House they were in,” he replied a little stiffly, and Hermione couldn’t tell whether he was being obvious about lying for the sake of his act, or because he was genuinely annoyed at having to appear unobservant, “and they were … nondescript. I just saw dark hair and glasses.”

“Oi,” Harry muttered, and slumped low in his chair when they both glanced at him. 

“Right.” Hermione frowned. “Well, if that’s all –?”

“Er, no,” Riddle said quickly, and almost toppled a book-turret over in an uncharacteristic (and quite masterfully disingenuous, Hermione had to admit) display of clumsiness. “I was actually hoping, Granger, if you’d like to come to Professor Slughorn’s Hallowe’en party with me. As – as my date. If you want. We can go as friends, obviously,” he babbled on, ignoring Hermione’s rapidly cooling disposition, and Harry’s slow descent beneath the table, “or separately. Or you don’t have to go, it – well. I would like it if you were there. With me.”

“Professor Slughorn’s Hallowe’en party?” she asked, flatly.

“Yes. I thought it might be – well, not fun, but. He always has an interesting bunch of people there, doesn’t he?”

Hermione shrugged. It didn’t normally fit her, this nonchalance; she was too hot-blooded for that. But something about Riddle made her wear chilly like it was sewn with her in mind. “I’ve never been.”

Harry pinched her on the leg. She cleared her throat and kicked him.

“Yes, I know.” Riddle seemed to search for his words, which was appalling in its dishonesty, because Tom bloody Riddle had every letter in the English language (and probably a few other tongues) swimming around at his feet, waiting for him to do them the extraordinary honour of plucking them into being. “I always wanted – that is, I always hoped –”

He was so clearly doing it for an audience that it made Hermione go cold with rage. It awoke in her the sort of painful humiliation borne from deep-night thoughts where her friends didn’t really like her, it was pity, or Viktor didn’t really like her, he was just using her for her brains to get ahead, or of course Ron preferred Lavender, she was so much prettier and kinder and happier – “Alright.”

She was given a half-second of his surprise. His real surprise, covered up a moment later by a delighted grin and wide eyes. “Great – brilliant,” he said, “I can come by your common room to get you at seven-thirty?”

“That sounds lovely.” Hermione replied, and gave him a tight-lipped smile. You’re fake, she thought, you’re a lie.

Maybe she imagined the wry look that flickered across his face. Maybe she didn’t.

Harry only emerged from beneath the desk when he was sure Riddle had left, a light pink staining his cheeks. Hermione thought of Malfoy, of Ginny, of Cedric Diggory, and realised with a start that Harry might have a type: tall and very pretty. “I’d say it’s good that you’re taking my advice to heart,” he said slowly, brushing dust off his trousers, “but that was like you were negotiating war terms.”

She was tempted to say something dramatic. Maybe it was. “Don’t irk me,” she sniped instead.

 

*.*

Her costume was lost on all of her Pureblood peers, and most of the Muggleborn ones, too. Miss Havisham was hardly very recognisable, after all:

“Are you a ghost bride?”

“Bride of Frankenstein?”

“Dead … fiancée.”

“I’m not dead, and I’m not a bride,” Hermione snapped, fixing her veil. “I’m Miss Havisham from Great Expectations.”

“Who?” asked Parvati.

“If you’re not a bride, why do you have a wedding dress on?” Lavender picked at the hem of Hermione’s sleeve.

“I got jilted by my lover and now I train my adopted ward to break men’s hearts.”

A pause.

“Oh,” said Ginny, recovering quicker than the others, “blimey. Bit of a role model.”

Hermione pressed her lips together. They were painted white like the rest of her exposed skin, a bit of mauve dabbed in the centre to match the circles under her eyes. She looked positively macabre, and hopefully very un-snoggable. “Yes.”

“At least let me tighten the bodice a bit,” pleaded Lavender, who seemed to be trying to get over her shock by prodding Hermione’s breasts. “If you show a bit of tit Riddle might actually swoon.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” scolded Hermione, but held up her hair to let Lavender fiddle with the dress anyway. There was no use arguing with her once she got an idea in her head.

After a few minutes, all of which were spent trying to convince the others not to charm her chest to her chin, Hermione decided her costume was finished. “Go to the feast.” she ordered. “Go on, you’ll be late.”

Parvati and Lavender went easily enough, shooting her a few good-natured eye-rolls in the process. But Ginny lingered, leaning against the dormitory entrance knowingly. “So,” she mused, tapping calloused Chaser fingers against her elbows, “you look sexy.”

“I do not.”

“Please.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Hermione indicated her full-length sleeves, the skirt hem that brushed the floor. She even had a veil.

“Your tits,” Ginny remarked, “are out. And you’ve done your hair all bedhead. You look like you’ve just had a roll in the hay.”

Hermione yanked up the neck of her bodice self-consciously. “It is era appropriate.

“Mm-hmm. Is it era appropriate to get finger-banged by the Slytherin prefect?”

“Ginny!”

“That’s what’s going to happen. I bet you a galleon.”

“You’re on!” she said shrilly. “I hope you’ve been saving up, because this evening is going to be boring, and nothing is going to happen.

Ginny smiled at her, tilting her head in that Weasley way Hermione knew meant trouble. “Famous last words,” she said.

 

*.*

 

He was dressed as a bloody vampire.

Of course he was – hair scraped back in classic Malfoy (circa 1991) style, a black suit and cloak, teeth charmed to appear sharp and whiter than usual.

“You look …” Riddle trailed off, when she swept down the staircase from the portrait-hole.

“Horrendous?”

“I was going to say, ‘very pleased with yourself’.”

“I am. Nice suit, by the way. What are you supposed to be?”

He raised an eyebrow. He looked to be fighting a smile, and there was nobody else in the hall with them, so perhaps it was real. Perhaps not. “The fangs didn’t clue you in?”

Hermione scowled behind her veil. “Of course they did.”

Riddle said nothing, merely shrugged – a gesture that looked as alien on him as it had felt on her, a few days ago. He ambled along beside her silently for a few more moments, before a gaggle of Hufflepuffs who were on their way to the feast nearly bowled Hermione over in their eagerness. With a sharp “steady on!”, he fitted his hand to the curve of her waist and drew her tightly to his side. And kept her there.

“Thank you.” she said, tautly. His hand was very hot.

“I – I’m sorry,” he released her, sort of, drawing back so his fingers merely grazed her hip, “that was a bit boorish, wasn’t it? It isn’t like you need protecting.”

Hermione blinked up at him. “Er –?”

“I just mean you’re very formidable, aren’t you, Hermione?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” she began, wary, and started walking.

“I would. You could probably hex me now without saying a word, hm? Without your wand?” He stared down at her as they went, an unctuous little smile curling the edges of his lips. “Isn’t that what you’ve been practising, in the forest?”

Hermione fisted sweaty fingers into the skirt of her dress. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, rather unconvincingly, “I’m useless at non-verbal spells.”

Riddle laughed. She hated his laugh, even though it was by far the most truthful thing about him. It always set her teeth on edge. “Don’t be coy. I’ve seen you.”

“You – you’re mistaken.”

“I’ve never made a mistake in my entire life.”

“Really? That hair gel begs to differ.”

His lips thinned. “Hermione,” he said lowly, “I’m trying to pay you a compliment.”

“It doesn’t feel like one.” Her chest felt tight. “It feels like you’re – warning me off, or something.”

“Warning you off from what?”

“Practising? You?”

“Why would I want that?” Riddle smiled, as they reached the door to Slughorn’s office. “I’d never ask you to stop advancing yourself. And I’d never,” he held it open for her, forcing Hermione to pass under his arm, “ask you to stay away from me.”

Thankfully, the party was in full swing – even though it wasn’t officially eight yet – so no-one had noticed them enter together, and Hermione was saved from answering by the noise. Celestina Warbeck was having a solid go at that Mariah Carey song, which Hermione doubted Slughorn knew was originally a Muggle’s creation. Riddle murmured something about getting drinks, and she watched him weave through the crowd, his height and broad shoulders catching the attention of several witches and wizards.

The truth was, Hermione had been using her spare periods (when she wasn’t absolutely bogged down with homework) to do exactly as Riddle said. But she always covered her tracks: not even Hagrid knew she popped into the Forbidden Forest to practise spellwork on the trees. So, how on earth did Riddle know?

She was jolted from further ruminating by a goblet of wine being forced into her hand. “Miss Granger!” boomed the jovial tones of Professor Slughorn.

“Hello, sir,” said Hermione, weakly. A bit of elvish red slopped over onto her wrist.

“Here alone?” he asked, although the tilt of his moustache implied he knew very well that she was not.

“… no, sir. R – Tom is my date.”

“Oho!” crowed Slughorn. “Oho! I did see him – are you the bride to his groom? A bit forward, I must say –”

“No! No, I’m Miss Havisham. From Great Expectations?” she tried, when he looked blank. “Charles Dickens? Er – well, Tom is a vampire, in any case. And I’m not a bride, technically.”

Slughorn took a sip of mead, frowning, then seemed to brighten. “So – on a date with Mister Riddle!”

Hermione spied the demon in question just behind her Professor, looking unforgivably smug, and notably sans drinks. “I don’t –”

“We are, Professor. On a date, that is,” said Riddle, edging around Slughorn to join Hermione.

“Tom, m’boy!” Slughorn bellowed. “You cad.

Riddle’s fingers twitched as they brushed against her back. His face betrayed nothing but well-crafted shyness. “Sir?”

But Slughorn had – uncharacteristically – managed to take a hint, even one as manufactured as Riddle’s unspoken plea to have a moment at a party with the girl he supposedly fancied, and was ambling off to speak to Gwenog Jones.

“Well,” Riddle murmured.

“Yes.” Hermione turned to go, perhaps find a wall to flower, but his hand had fisted itself into the fabric at her hip again. As before, it scorched.

“Don’t run off,” he smiled amicably down at her, even as he pressed his thumb hard into the dip of her pelvis, so much so that Hermione jolted at the odd mix of pleasure-pain it sent sprinting to her core, “surely we should dance?”

“Dance?” she asked, distractingly furious at herself. Her goblet was taken from her loose grip by a passing House Elf who had seemingly overheard, and she was so out of sorts she didn’t even say thank you.

“Mhm. Dance. Can you?”

“You know I can, Riddle, and so can everyone else. We have lessons every year.”

“Call me Tom.” he drew her smoothly into the classic starting position, but cradled her right hand to his chest in his left, walking them backwards until they stood in the middle of the dancefloor.

The crowd parted for him. Hermione thought dimly of a dead-eyed shark and the school of lesser fish that broke rank to make way. “Why?”

“It’d be a bit embarrassing if the girl I fancied only called me by my last name, wouldn’t it?”

She scowled at his shoulder, barely registering the swell of music that signified a waltz. “You don’t fancy me.”

His thumb swept across her knuckles. They started with a simple box step, weaving through the other dancers. Hermione allowed him to lead, too confused to do much else. “Have I not been obvious?”

“You’ve been obviously pretending.”

Instead of looking hurt or insulted like any other boy might have, Riddle simply smiled indulgently down at her. “Clever girl,” he remarked, and leaned down to press a fleeting kiss to her cheek. His lips were dry and cold.

Bastard. “W – what was that for?” Hermione hissed. Her face was aflame. She could see her classmates – mostly Slytherins – turning to stare.

“I think this could be a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said, as if she hadn’t spoken, and urged her a little closer to him. They turned in a tight, controlled circle. “We could learn from each other.”

“How?”

“I have connections that surpass blood prejudice. I could get you into places no muggleborn has even heard of.”

Hermione spied Malfoy next to the punchbowl over Riddle’s shoulder, looking sourly through the crowd. Pansy Parkinson was murmuring something in his ear. His gaze fell on Hermione and Riddle and shrivelled like a rotten apple. “What would you get out of that?”

“The brightest witch of her age on my side, of course.” he came to a slow stop as the waltz ended, staring down at her while the other couples applauded the band. “I like you better as an ally than an enemy. Although you’d make a very worthy opponent.”

It was the only genuine compliment he’d ever paid her – after months of his empty accolades deliberately meant to unsettle, after years of McLaggen (or trolls equivalent) making vapid comments about her body, finally, she felt warm with praise well-earned.

“Oh. Thank you, R – er, Tom.” she said, a little stunned, unwilling or unable to detach herself from him. “I – I suppose you would make an excellent nemesis, too.”

He grinned, a wild anticipation stealing over him. It rendered him gaunt, thin-lipped and, for the only time since she’d first seen him when they were eleven years old on the Hogwarts Express, almost ugly. Hermione wished for the time turner, so that she might turn back the seconds and relive his strange ghastliness – it was the realest she’d ever seen him. “I’d be your undoing.”

She snorted. Tom gave her another feral, heated look, and then he was back to the tall, handsome boy she (mostly) detested. “Should we get out of here?” he asked.

Hermione considered him. To anyone listening, it would be blatant: let’s go snog in a classroom. But she thought she knew exactly what Tom meant.

 

*.*

“Do lumos again,” Tom demanded.

Hermione rolled her eyes but appeased him. Her palm glowed, light writhing and coalescing into a ball that hovered a few inches above her fingertips. She had long since gotten rid of her veil and makeup and, standing in the forest in her dress and Tom’s cape, she felt much more comfortable. It was odd, how much she preferred this slightly too-intense, too viciously intelligent version of the peer she’d known: anything was better, she supposed, than a liar.

He gripped her wrist. His eyes were greedy. “You learned how to do this by yourself?” he asked again.

You did, too,” Hermione reminded him, “don’t act so shocked because I’m muggleborn.”

He made an impatient gesture. “It’s interesting to see how someone else does it. Your light is different to mine.”

“What do you mean?”

Tom conjured his own lumos, placing his arm next to hers. Indeed, it was more controlled, but Hermione’s was brighter. “Oh,” she said, “you mean better.”

“I can hold mine for hours. Yours is already burning out.”

“What’s the point of holding a lumos for hours if you can’t see anything by it, anyway?”

“Don’t be cute.” Tom tossed his ball of light into the air, where it hung low above them. “Can you do that?”

Hermione dragged her eyes from his display to look at him. “Give myself eye strain?”

He shot a stinging hex at her knees. Wandless and non-verbal, just to show off. She didn’t quite dodge in time, and scowled, rubbing her leg. “Prat. I’m not duelling you tonight.”

“When?”

“When I’m not in this bloody dress.

“Constant vigilance, Hermione. Mad-Eye would have us all wear dresses in Defence if he was allowed to get away with it.” He ambled closer, wand dangling loosely from his fingers in that annoyingly cavalier way of his. “I, personally, would be in favour of you wearing this sort of thing more often.”

Hermione frowned at him. “Stop flirting with me.”

Tom’s hair had fallen forward from its gelled style, and he peered down at her through locks longer than usual from the heavy product. “I like flirting with you. It’s good practise, and your nose goes all pink.”

“It does not.”

“Don’t be embarrassed, it’s nice. Far better than that idiot Weasley’s ears almost setting on fire any time his ego is bruised, certainly,” Tom mused, ignoring her indignant hey! in favour of ducking down to kiss her cheek again. “How does that make you feel? If you lie, I’ll know.”

“I wasn’t going to,” she grumbled, and he raised an eyebrow. “It’s … nice. A bit unnerving.”

“Because it’s me?”

“Yes.”

“Hm.” He pushed his cloak off her shoulders and indicated for Hermione to sit down on it. He crouched in front of her as she did so, eyeing her intently. “You’ll need to act less appalled in future.”

“Why?” Hermione crossed her arms. He glanced at her chest, then away.

“We’re going to be a couple.”

Her mouth dropped open. “What.

He busied himself with loosening the tight collar of his shirt. “Everyone already thinks we are,” he pointed out to her, a fact she couldn’t deny, “we might as well benefit from it. None of the pureblood prudes will bother me, and you can get that idiot McLaggen off your back.”

“Everyone only thinks we’re an item because you made them! With your bloody – flowers, and acting all bashful –” Hermione was at a loss for words, pressing her free hand over her eyes.

“Bashful?”

“Yes. Oh, Granger, I – I do like what you’ve done with your hair –

“I never sounded so sycophantic.”

“You did. Even Harry picked up on it.”

He looked a little bit shocked. “Potter doesn’t even know where his own glasses are half the time.”

“Stop insulting my friends! And that proves you were overdoing it.”

“Well,” Tom snarked, “maybe I would’ve been more subtle if you hadn’t been so ridiculously cold towards me. Honestly, Hermione, a man can only take so much rejection.”

Hermione threw her light into the air, grimly satisfied when it knocked his off-balance and made him scowl. “Don’t pretend you have an ounce of shame. You trained yourself to blush on command and now everyone thinks you’re in love with me, and now we’ve bloody disappeared in the middle of a party, so I don’t really have much choice – and you orchestrated the whole bloody thing!”

Tom gave her an unapologetic shrug, denying nothing. “Still. A fake relationship gives us time to be alone without people getting suspicious.”

“You – you’re ridiculous.”

“No, I’m not. We can sneak off and people will just think we’re having a shag –”

“Don’t say shag!” she shrilled, although the thought made her hot all over.

“– and we can make extra time.”

Merlin, she was going insane, because he was starting to make a solid case. As much as she resented the thought of people thinking she was wasting time being snogged in abandoned classrooms, the thought of being able to disappear off into the forest without having to bother with crafting an alibi was – well – tempting. “For practising spells?”

“Among other things,” he said slyly, and pressed his hands to her shoulders. He guided her backwards so she was lying flat on the ground, probably getting all manner of things in her hair, but Hermione was having trouble giving it any serious thought, because he was staring quite intently at her mouth and it was – interesting. 

“What –”

“We’ve already performed enough spellwork for this evening. Feel like moving on? To other things?”

Hermione swallowed, and nodded. He smiled and moved to lie next to her. He placed his head on her shoulder and aligned his body, so it was pressed to hers completely. “So, we’re pretending to be together, then?” she asked, tremblingly.

“Mhm. Holding hands, sitting together at meals, all very nauseatingly sweet. I expect you to be convincingly enamoured with me.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Contrary, aren’t you?” Tom scraped his fingers over the pearl buttons that held her costume together, from bodice to hem. “You did this on purpose, to throw me off,” he murmured, somewhat accusingly.

“I did not.

“You did. It worked.”

He pressed his cheek to her shoulder, carefully undoing the fastens until he could gently peel back the sides of her dress. She was wearing cotton underwear, mis-matched and ordinary. His breath was hot, fanning out over her collarbones, and her heart threw itself against her ribcage like it was trying to pack it all in. “Tom,” she managed.

“Yes?” he propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at her, his left hand resting on her stomach.

She swallowed. “Could you – be quicker.” It wasn’t quite what she meant, but she felt some comfort in his irritation.

“Have somewhere to be?”

“No.”

“Well, then.”

“But I could be reading right now, or –” Hermione had to cut herself off, then, because Tom had rolled his eyes and moved his hand down to flirt invitingly with the elastic band of her knickers.

She stared up at him. He was so bloody pretty. His hair was so bloody perfect. “Hermione?” he asked.

She reached to tangle her fingers in his curls, which made Tom look inordinately pleased with himself. “Wait,” she whispered, and brought him down to kiss her.

He wasn’t actually very good at it. His head was at an awkward angle, and he didn’t seem to know what to do with his tongue, but Hermione was breathless when they broke apart anyway. He looked down at her, calculating, then leaned in again.

They spent a long time like that, with Hermione’s dress open like strips of flesh on a coroner’s table, Tom hovering above her macabrely, exchanging kisses that were chaste at first but got progressively more impure. She wondered what a passer-by might think: an incubus and his evening meal.

Tom was not urgent: his kisses were slow, deep. Hermione allowed herself to become lost in them, in the languid sensual pass of his lips on hers. She could sense nothing outside of him – his scent, that simple musky tang of boy-sweat, his taste, the locks of hair she still had twisted up in her hands. 

Eventually he broke away, having learnt what he needed. Hermione pushed herself up on her elbows to survey him where he crouched at the edge of his cloak. “Was that your first kiss?” she asked, hoarsely.

Tom nodded. “Obviously. Have you ever seen me show interest in another witch?”

“I never really paid attention.”

He sent her a scathing look. “Well?” he asked, after a moment.

She wasted no time in pretending they weren’t on the same wavelength. “Good,” she said truthfully, “I enjoyed myself.”

“How clinical of you.”

“What would you rather I say? Oh, Tom, you set my loins ablaze –

He grasped her by the calves and drew her to him, rough. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of gratitude,” he said, vitriolic, and placed his hand back where it had been previously.

Hermione gulped, her belly in knots at the mere press of his fingers over her. He didn’t bother taking her knickers off, merely lay back down to slip past the elastic, parting slick folds to find the burning heat at her centre. She gripped his shirtfront, holding her breath as he paused.

“It’s – warm,” he said, a note of surprise edging into his voice. His fingers withdrew, the pads brushing up against where her clitoris had become swollen and sensitive. Tom registered her groan and moved his hand again, making a few more passes before he identified the source. “Here?”

“Yes,” she managed. Her nipples had hardened to the point of pain, and her cunt was twitching involuntarily with need of him, but how could she articulate that? How could she tell him, surrender herself so?

Tom watched her hungrily. “How does it feel?”

His fingers were moving in tight, torturously feather-light circles. Hermione felt icy frissons of pleasure begin to build, and she was barely able to choke out: “good.” Sweat covered her like dew. “It – oh, merlin – it feels good.”

He kept his maddeningly steady pace even as he took her nipple between his teeth. Hermione whined and bucked her hips: she liked the sight of his dark head bent over her breast far, far too much. Tom hummed when she scraped her nails over his scalp, pressing a finger into her. She felt his breath stutter when he felt her cunt grip him. “I,” he began, and swallowed, “I want –”

Hermione pulled him to her and kissed him messily, sighing at the feel of his cock hard against her hip. “Yes,” she whispered, when they broke apart. She felt brazen, wild as the forest. Her hand found his belt and then his cock was in her hand, smooth and warm and perfect. Tom’s lips parted. He stared down at himself, at her hand wrapped around him. He bucked slowly into her fist.

“What does it feel like?” she asked him.

He didn’t answer, just made little sounds at the back of his throat while she pumped him.

“Tom?”

“It – I want to feel you,” he admitted, “I want to be inside you.”

“Come on, then,” was all Hermione could reply, and let go of him.

Tom nodded and, rather than move on top of her, simply rolled her onto her side. Tom had one arm wrapped around her waist, the other pinning her back to his chest. “I read that it was more pleasurable this way,” he said, at the surprised look she sent him over her shoulder.

“You read porn?” she asked.

“No. It was a textbook. The sexual education at Hogwarts is lacking.”

Hermione couldn’t disagree with him. She had relied mostly on Victor to guide her back in fourth year: he had taught her everything, been the first to touch her intimately, give her an orgasm.

Tom’s eyes narrowed as her attention wandered. He yanked her knickers out of the way and pushed in, slow. Hermione’s head fell back onto his shoulder, blinking disbelievingly upwards. “Oh,” she gasped, “oh, oh –”

He panted into the crook of her neck, his mouth open and scorching, when he was fully inside her. Her cunt throbbed. It was, at first, uncomfortable – but Tom kept still, and she relaxed around him, and everything was so overwhelmingly full and soon she was telling him to please, move.

He did, and it was unhurried. He braced a hand on her hip and drew out a little, then thrust back in deeply, paced. “You’ve done this before?” he asked. His voice was cracked.

Hermione was unable to reply at first, an aching heat spreading throughout her body. She managed a breathless nod.

“Who?” Tom paused again, pressing his forehead against her shoulder. He raked his nails across her stomach when she didn’t answer. She yelped. “Who?”

“Victor,” she hissed, “Victor Krum.”

Without warning, Tom pulled away, and Hermione made a humiliatingly wanton sound at the loss. She barely had time to adjust before he was pulling her onto his lap, so they were facing each other, sheathing her on his cock again. He curled his fist in her hair and swallowed her cry, kissing her senseless. His lips were slick and red and hot. “You fucked a Quidditch player,” he said disbelievingly, when they broke apart. He grasped her hips possessively.

His hair was ruined. His eyes were dark, hooded. He looked to be almost within the same dictionary as dazed. “I did.”

“I hate that.”

“Why?”

Tom leaned forward and kissed her once, bruisingly. He slid his hands up from her waist to fill his palms with her breasts. They ached from his earlier attentions, but Hermione still found herself growing – if possible – slicker when he razed a warm, wet path around her nipples with his tongue. He sucked one into his mouth, groaning a bit when Hermione’s hips bucked. “That idiot got to feel how tight you are,” he whispered, urging her with his hands on her arse to rise up slowly, until only the tip of him was still inside her, “he got to feel your hot little cunt before I did.”

Hermione braced her arms on his shoulders. She was dizzy, drunk, quivering at his filthiness. She lowered back down and watched him bite his lip. “Keep talking.”

“I want to kill him.” Tom replied immediately, and she started to move a bit faster, revulsion and arousal spiralling through her, “I – fuck – I don’t want anyone else to know you like this.”

She tipped her head back, gazed sightlessly at the star-dusted night sky above that was veined with foliage. He kissed her throat. “I’ll kill him,” he vowed raggedly against her skin, so close she could feel his teeth, “and you won’t let anyone else touch you, because you’re for me –”

Hermione merely clutched him closer. She wound her fingers in his hair and leaned down to press her cheek to his crown, gasping when he began to meet her move for move. There was so much overlapping – the ache building in her belly, his lips at her collarbone – that she could no longer speak, only make whimpery little cries that came from the back of her throat.

Tom was breathing like a wounded animal, bucking up into her, his words becoming garbled – possessive litanies interwoven with curses – nobody else can have this it’s mine it’s mine – he bit her shoulder when he spilled inside her, but a harsh sound still tore itself up from his chest. Hermione reached down between them and found his hand already there, and it was barely a few seconds before she broke too, pulsating around his cock and his hot come.

He kissed her through it, quivering. When he finally pulled away he was still breathing heavily, lips swollen, eyes pitch black. There were spots of colour high on his cheeks. He found his wand and tapped her dress; it buttoned itself back up, though Lavender’s charm on the bodice had long-since worn off. “We should go back to the castle.” Tom said, after he’d cleaned them both up a bit.

Hermione took his outstretched hand and stood, wobbling a bit on weak legs. “Shut up,” she muttered, at his smug smile. “Oh, look – my lumos held.”

Tom glared up at the luminous ball of light, still a smidgeon brighter than his own. “It wasn’t that long.”

“Well, at least you can admit to your faults.”

“Hermione,” he said warningly, but was obviously more annoyed about her spellwork than his stamina.

Tom walked her back to Gryffindor tower, shrugging her off when she asked about his curfew. They’d been outside longer than she’d thought: the Hallowe’en feast had long since ended, and they encountered no stragglers from Slughorn’s party. Still, Hermione was wary about postponing her withdrawal to the dorms.

“Someone could see,” she hissed, the third time Tom stopped them to press a searching kiss to her neckline, “a teacher could –”

“Isn’t that a good thing? Start the rumour mill going?” he asked. He moved up to her throat, his hands cupping her shoulders.

“I thought you said hand-holding and sitting together at meals.”

“That was before.” He replied, bluntly. “This is more preferable.”

Hermione wondered aloud if they would ever actually get to practice their wandless spells. Tom rolled his eyes and kissed her.

“More practise?”

“Just trying to shut you up.”

“Prat,” she said, without heat, and grimaced apologetically at the Fat Lady, who had apparently heard them coming up the stairs.

“What time do you call this, then?” she demanded.

Hermione sighed and permitted Tom to kiss her – sweetly, chastely – goodnight. Their first witness. He left with a promise to see her at breakfast. The Fat Lady uttered a quiet my goodness and swung open without further comment when Hermione gave her the password.

The whole school would know by morning, then.

The fires had long died to mere smouldering ghosts of themselves when she climbed through the portrait hole, and Hermione felt strangely ghost-like as she drifted across the empty common room, up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. She was glad there were no first years that were quite as studious as she once was, prone to staying up past everyone else to read by those fading embers, or there might have been some poor eleven-year-old absolutely terrorised by the unfamiliar spectre currently haunting Gryffindor tower.

Hermione fished out a galleon from her bedside table and placed it on Ginny’s, thankful that her dorm-mates were asleep. Heaven knew the shenanigans that would ensue if bloody Lavender had been conscious to take notice of her bedraggled appearance.  She would catch wind of it tomorrow, of course, but Hermione’s nerves could hardly take such a beating at this hour – and that was saying something, as they could take a lot.

She siphoned off the worst of the dirt and twigs that had gotten tangled in her person over the course of the evening, changed into pyjamas, and fell back into bed. Her costume – and his cloak – pooled on the floor, snow and pitch.

She slept.