Actions

Work Header

The Lion and The Serpent, Hidden

Chapter Text

“Tell me you’re joking,” he snarled. It was ice cold, as was his silver stare. “That’s who you’re bringing to the Yule Ball, whom you said I wouldn’t be concerned. Of all of them! Of all the ones to pick!”
Hidden away in the dark shadows of the Hogwarts grounds down near the Black Lake, a pair stood decidedly within the dense shrubbery. It was secluded enough. What with the sky turned black, pregnant clouds near to burst. Their secrecy led them into parts that no other student, on purpose, would stumble. If only one of them could keep his voice from rising any higher and louder for the entire school to hear.
Draco Malfoy couldn’t keep his cool. It was enough, just at his limit, to watch his girlfriend from afar as she swirled around the school with a throng of boys and friends, of which he did not belong, but that was his limit. If he felt a shred of her dignity was being given to another…
He shuddered.
His girlfriend crossed her arms. Her lips, puffy and pink, pulled tightly to a thin line.
“You shouldn’t be concerned. He doesn’t even go to this school.”
“That makes it alright, then? Alright for him to waltz you up and down the halls for everyone and their Professor to see!”
She tucked a bushy curl behind her ear. “Would you prefer it to be someone else then? Dean? Seamus? Justin Fletchly? Ernest Macmillion?”
That stopped Draco in his tracks. His anger over the conversation changed to a sudden jealousy over the list she gave so quickly.
He raised his finger. “So help me, Mione, if one of those oafs is asking you, I won’t be in control of my actions.”
“Are you ever?” She spat.
There was a silence that came as the clouds finally gave way. Rain drops pattered against the broad leaves of the leaves down to the grass with large splats. Laps of the lake pushed roughly against the shore. A cool wind whistled through the trees. The density of the shrubbery left the pair mostly dry apart from a few spots where droplets dribbled through. One slid down Hermione’s back, and she shuddered with a small whimper.
Draco looked down as her. Her beautiful soft skin, a tinged blue.
He lifted his cloak off his shoulders and placed it overtop of her thin shirt. With the clarity of the weather’s intention, Draco cursed himself for letting her go out without a jumper. In truth, he’d been too damn excited to spend some time with her that he forgot much else.
Meetings of the pair were always heavily guarded secret. Not a single person knew. They kept themselves so far in line that it wouldn’t be believed anyway. It had been near a week since Draco was able to get alone with her and this was not what he’d had in mind. The little trinket he got just for her still sat in his back pocket.
Of course, the news of Viktor Krum was a shock. He was world famous Quidditch player, Best Seeker in the world, his own position, in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. All the girls who usually followed Draco around stalked Viktor everywhere as a gaggle of patsies and beauties all in a row for his picking.
How had he even had time to meet his Hermione?
“At least I have the decency to make sure it isn’t someone you’ll see every day,” she mumbled.
Draco went rigid. That was new.
“Pansy was your idea.” His voice was cooler still. “Don’t make her any more than she is. My means, to my end.”
Hermione pulled away. She felt her heart pounding now. It was so long she’d kept her jealousy inside. That was always better suited for Draco. It was his mission to remind her each time they were together just why they stayed so trapped in their own swirl of emotion, and yet as she saw him around the grounds or out in Hogsmeade, Pansy was there on his arm giggling in his ear. His ear. The very one that she loved to whimper into as they laid together. His ear. Not anyone else’s, but his. It was like a stab in the heart.
“No, no. I didn’t say Pansy. I said someone. Anyone to help keep us being discovered. To lower any suspicion that might raise. You, Draco, were the one who latched onto Pansy like her knickers were a magnet.”
A little fire ignited in the light of his gray eye. It turned from hardened stone to a swirling hurricane. Draco grabbed hold of her shoulders and pushed her back, back, back until something stopped them altogether. She jolted against a tree trunk. His hands pressed firmer against her flesh as he put himself closer toward her, the body he longed to touch, grab in his hands and never let go.
Just the feeling of him pinning her against the tree, her tip toes barely touching the ground, coursed through her veins like flashes of cold fear. It was an insane pleasure as it tingled her toes, and other parts of her too.
Even in the wet rain and the dirt and leaves, Draco was put together as always. His hair was slicked. There were very few smudges against his tailored slacks. He’d let his tie fall from place. Slytherin green.
Draco brought his lips down close, pushing the hair from Hermione’s ear. “Is that what you think now?”
He smirked as one of his knees was placed between her thighs. “You think of me and Pansy like this, do you?”
One of his hands dropped from her shoulder and gently teased the cool metal of her zipper. He pressed it into the warm flesh of her belly. She gasped, just as he knew she would.
“Draco, please…”
“You know, Granger, this is an awfully thin shirt.” He glanced up overhead. “I don’t know if anyone will believe you’ve been caught in this rain.”
Her eyes widened. She kicked against the tree, a little.
“That’s not fair.”
It was more of a whimper than a statement.
Draco took one of her breasts in his mouth and sucked, and though the taste of cotton wasn’t appetizing, the way he felt her writhe and fight with herself under his touch was delectable. His let himself drool, spreading the damp shadow over her nipple. It poked through, exposed by the wet and cold. He blew on it teasingly.
He glanced up at her tortured, pleading face. “Is this who you imagine it when it’s her and me? Alone in the fucking trees, with not a soul around to hear her screams.”
Hermione’s fire melted away as a few stray tears fell down her cheeks. Draco’s face fell immediately.
“Mione?” Her head dipped down to her chest. “Hermione?”
She didn’t respond. Only sniffled.
Draco carefully lowered her feet back down to the ground, making sure not to snag her on a knob of bark. He watched from above as she kept her face turned away. Goosebumps instantly took hold of him.
“Hermione, look at me,” he said.
She shook her head and croaked, “No.”
His arms gathered around her. Even as she swatted at them, there was no stopping him from bringing her against his chest as she heaved in sobs. Once they started, she couldn’t stop. There was so much this year. The Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry. The Dark Lord. Her classes. Draco.
If there was one thing she couldn’t worry about but couldn’t stop worrying about was him.
Fear laced with everything else was enough to cripple to most solid witches. Hermione felt that it was getting the better of her, and she couldn’t seek his comfort more than a few times a month. It was a part of herself she felt she was losing.
She sobbed harder at the thought of Draco going away. There was so much in her life that made her proud and deserved of all the places she worked for, but Draco was what kept her confident. She didn’t need to be liked by everyone. She didn’t need to feel insecure. She didn’t need to be ashamed of her accomplishments, nor the work she put into herself. Why? Just a bit off to the side was a man who cherished every bit of her.
But then, there was Pansy. She got the Draco in public for everyone to see. The one he picked for his cover story of being attached to a Pure Blood witch, not a Muggleborn like Hermione. It was all so important for their safety. Mostly for his.
Things would happen if Draco didn’t follow the Malfoy allegiance. Bad things.
Hermione knew, realistically, their plan was perfect. It was the only way to ensure his safety, and hers.
She sobbed harder into his school robes, covering her face with the black cloth. His scent lingered there so pointedly, it felt a comfort to her. Instantly she felt it fill her up. The calm of his smell washed through her, and the tears stopped.
Draco pulled her close and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Mione, please darling, look at me.”
The backs of her hands dragged across her reddened cheeks and puffy eyes. Draco filled with hurt. She watched his eyes swim with it as she fidgeted with his tie like an embarrassed child.
“I thought – darling, I thought that’s what you wanted. It’s what we’ve done before. You liked it then.”
A few guilty tears fell down her cheeks and she wiped them away with bitter pride. “No, I did. I do.”
Draco looked on in disbelief. “It sure doesn’t seem like it.”
“Tell me what is the matter with you,” he finally managed to put together after many minutes of thoughts swirling his head. “And it better not have anything to do with that Viktor Krum.”
Hermione choked on a sob. “No! No, it’s got nothing to do with him.”
She couldn’t shut it off now. It was like she just felt him gone, even as he cradled her as his scent filled inside her lungs like a smoke you couldn’t cough out, Draco Malfoy felt a million miles away.
“Then you better tell me what it is about, Hermione Granger. I’m supposed to take care of you, and I can’t do that if you keep things from me. Now come on.” He shook her gently. “Out with it.”
“Draco,” she groaned. She just couldn’t do this now. Her thoughts weren’t gathered, neither was she. The rain poured harder. Soon enough, they’d both be expected back at the castle to go about their days without the other. The Yule Ball was in the heat of the second challenge that approached faster and faster.
Harry needed her more than ever. His life was at stake with each challenge. He barely survived the first. She should have helped him better than she had. Yet the tournament was designed to trick even the best of them.
She felt herself falling in line with the wake that was Harry Potter. Each passing year he demanded more and more of her than she even used for herself. She loved him so dearly and fiercely, but between him and Ronald, she was lucky to be seen as anything beside their ownership. Ronald had flirted with the idea of asking Hermione to the Yule Ball but as he strode around the castle with so many pretty girls in their swishy skirts, the thoughts got jumbled in his mind. She was left by the wayside.
Viktor Krum didn’t hesitate. He spent many days in the library, Hermione saw, but he never came close. However he finally approached her the day before to ask her to the Yule Ball as his date. She was shocked, ecstatic. Mostly she felt hopeful for a new friendship with an unlikely man. Of all people she knew what could come from unusual pairings.
Hermione took a deep breath. The sky overhead was turning darker by the minute. Daylight was fading.
“I really should be leaving soon, you know.”
Draco dreaded those words. They always came too soon.
“Not until you answer me,” he growled.
Her secrecy betrayed even his most stoic of confidences. It felt as though she was keeping something from him, something that he should know. She liked to be that way. Granger was so stubborn and independent that it made his head dizzy with frustration. For once, he wanted to be that for her.
It couldn’t be like she wanted, or he wanted, but it was what he could offer.
Hermione gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “They’ll start looking for me.”
“I don’t give a flying broomstick if they come down here with Dementors on leashes, I’m not letting you go until you tell me what just happened.”
She squirmed in his grip and he held her tighter. He was much stronger than her, that was always the case. It didn’t lessen the fight, just the length.
She straightened her arms against his chest. “It. Was. Nothing.”
He fought her attempts and clung to her, even as she wiggled and flailed. Her hair tossed back and forth as she moved side to side. Her legs unwrapped from around his waist.
“If it was nothing.” He ducked away from a sharp slap. “then you would tell me!”
She started to claw at his shins with her legs with a thought popped in her head. Draco watched it come and take hold of her.
“Don’t you even think about it,” he warned.
A sadness came over her face once more. “Then will you let me go?”
The suddenness sparked another stronger urge to hold her close, but he felt his arms go limp and she slid right out.
She stood in his black cloak that dragged along the ground, jeans and an entirely too thin shirt. It was soaked on the one side still. Below she didn’t wear a bra. Once it had excited him to see her in such a way, but now the reality dawned on him that she wouldn’t just be for his eyes.
Draco watched her gather up her few things.
She turned to leave but stopped. Who knew how long it would be before should could be with him again? Two weeks, three?
Hermione ran to his side and buried her face there. It was a breath or two easier for Draco, too.
If she would have left like that, he would have chased her down and dragged her back to cover her in the deepest kisses he could muster.
“Please toss out that shirt when you get back,” he murmured into her ear.
She looked down and rolled her eyes. “Draco…”
His look was not of pleasure but of insistence. A pleading instruction. “Just please.”
“I won’t wear it around anyone else,” she said. “I promise.”
“Not even Viktor Krum. I swear, if I hear about you and him in anything less than your school robes, I’ll have personally see to it that he doesn’t get anywhere close to your undershirt.”
She wouldn’t ever tell him, but she liked when he talked like that, a bit.
“You’d really do that?” She asked. “For me?”
Draco nudged her, surprised. “Hermione, don’t act so surprised. I can be very frightening. Especially when it comes to you. I’d kill any man who’d hurt you and I’d maim any man who tried. I thought you knew that with that bird buck last term.”
“Buckbeak,” she said. Her eyes suddenly narrowed. “And you didn’t have to have it killed!”
“The damn thing bit you, Hermione!”
She huffed. “Not before it broke your arm.”
“My arm? You think this was just about my arm?” Draco gripped his nose. “The only reason my father asked it to be killed is because I asked him to. Bloody thing was a menace. It was an animal, at a school. It’s lucky I didn’t wring it’s neck when you showed me the bite.”
Hermione ached at the reminder. She knew Buckbeak was alive and well. It wasn’t dead as he knew it to be. He’d be personally hunting it if he did. That was the time she struck him. She hadn’t even meant to. Draco knew how heartbroken she was when she’d found out why Buckbeak was being put to death, and then Draco was there with Goyle and Crabbe the same time she was. She had to keep up appearances. Even when Draco goaded her on about it, as did the other two, but it stung worse from him. Draco knew how much she hated being the reason for the poor animal’s death.
Draco lifted her chin up to face him. His gray stare burned in her brown eyes. They were so sharp and cunning. She saw the soul that danced behind their frame and it wiggled within her heart. It was the very soul that laid claim over every part of her. That was the very essence of herself, owned and protected in body and heart.
“You are mine?” He asked.
She nodded softly. “I am yours.”
“There won’t be anybody else. Not a single one between us.”
Again, she agreed. “Not one, and that applies to you, too.”
It was the second time she’d gone off their usual script just to take a stab at him. As if she knew something that he didn’t.
“Would you mind clarifying that for me?” His voice was on edge, especially since he felt her pulling away from his side. The time had come for her to leave. She slipped his cloak off her shoulders with ease. “Eh? Is there something you want to say to me?”
Anger boiled inside him as she proceeded in silence, trying to hand it back to him. He kept his arms away. It was supposed to make her talk, but instead, she slung the cloak over his shoulder.
“Hermione?” He called. The intensity was hard to hide now. His anger was already ignited. “Hermione Granger!”
His voice was lost in the rumble of the clouds.

Chapter Text

Gryffindor Common Room

The room was warm against the bitter cold touch of the stone walls of Gryffindor tower. A storm raged on outside the windows with tumbling force. More than once, rain was shot against the windows like bullets of a Muggle gun. Hermione glanced out into the blackness that lied beyond and with a shudder, retreated back to the growing warmth of the common room.
The room was filled floor to ceiling with brilliant gold and noble red, browns and worn tans. It glowed in the hot firelight. All was splashed with calming color as the storm shook the school to it’s foundations. She felt the stone move below her.
Could Slytherin feel that in the dungeons, she wondered.
She hated the thought of the damp, cool, dark of the dungeons. It gave her the permanent chill through her blood to think back to the Sorting Hat and instead of the warm fire of the lion, she was given the slick smooth snake. Cold-blooded, living in a hole.
That was no place for a student to live.
Rain turned to snow fall as light as a feather in a sudden minute. Right before her eyes, the world turned blistering white. Trails of gusts cut through the sky, lines of snowflakes pushed past. Tops of the trees turned icy the longer she stared out, thinking about the Black Lake once more. Had the snow fallen earlier rather than now, Draco and her could have snuggled below a blanket together in close embrace. Just the warmth between them as the world froze around them. Perhaps things could have been different.
She staggered a breath. It was so clear. Time together was precious. So rare. Why had she wasted it crying, trying to get away? He was holding her close. The chill in his eye was filled with worry.
Hermione touched her cheek in shame. Phantom tears dribbled down. Merlin, what had she done to him?
In the moment it felt right to distance herself. The hurt was close. It felt slowly descending on her heart, that he’d finally admit his preference and she’d be left without him, a fate so unthought of that she felt broken just to imagine it. Looking back, it was so foolish. Draco pleaded for her to stay. The torture was evident just in the way he howled. He needed her, too, just as much she needed him.
Draco was bound to retreat inside himself, just as a snake slithers back to it’s den. There was no one more fit for Slytherin than him. He loved the black, and dreary. The dungeons were a thing so befitting that it was hard to picture him in a normal room at Malfoy Manor. He was cunning, and sharp with his tongue, and so deserving ambitious. He was that of a snake, so smooth and beautiful. Deadly to touch.
“Hermione!” She heard suddenly.
She jumped out of her daze, still at the window where bits of frost had taken up residence.
“What?” She gasped.
The entire room had shouted at her: Harry, Ginny, Ron, Fred, George. They stared at her expectant of something, but she couldn’t place what. She hadn’t even tried to listen.
She quickly regained her composure, wiping her palms against her pants. “Yes, sorry. What was it now? Ideas to drive Snape batty?”
“Looking out of sorts tonight, Hermione,” Fred said.
“You feelin’ alright?” George asked.
Hermione forced herself to smile, removing herself from the chill of the frosty night.
“Yeah,” she said finally. “I’m just wondering what books I might need to find to help Harry for the next challenge.”
The Tri-Wizard Tournament was something they all worried about. It was not a secret that students had died in it before. That was the reason for the age restriction. It was to keep the younger students safe, and yet, somehow, and Harry swore he didn’t know how, Harry’s name was pulled from the Goblet of Fire.
They all were suspicious of how Harry’s name got inside the Goblet. Dumbledore did the protections himself. It wasn’t any student that could get through, unless they were old enough to enter themselves.
Hermione constantly thought of who would want Harry in the games. She knew it wasn’t a friend. Not a friend to them in any sense.
She sank down with a sigh. Ginny sat on the couch hunched over an assignment with a quill in one hand and a pad in the other. She nudged Hermione with her elbow.
“Do you mind? I can’t seem find it.”
The girls spent the next few minutes scanning through a book as they mumbled amongst themselves.
“Thought you’d be a goner by now, mate.” Fred playfully teased Harry. “Thought we’d be sending you home a soggy virgin.”
The twins giggled. Harry and Ron looked little shy as did the girls. They looked up in disgust.
“Honestly, is that all you two think about?” Hermione chastised.
Fred and George pointed their fingers across the room. “They do it, too.” They answered in unison.
Hot red flushes came to Ron and Harry’s faces as all eyes turned to them. Harry ducked his face away as Ginny’s little eyes lifted. He shook out his hair, focused on the fire, anything to take out the discomfort he felt being red handed. Like he’d just been caught with his hands down his pants!
Ron was embarrassed, being called out in front of his baby sister, but unapologetic. “It’s not like all the other guys here aren’t the same. Don’t look like that Hermione. Why do you think Ernie Macmillan spends all that time studying with you?”
“What?” Hermione gasped. “What is that supposed to mean?”
It had taken her a split moment to even realize what exactly he implied. She, in no way, had ever showed any romantic interest in Ernie and did not expect any either. He was just one of the few who studied as much as she did.
“You’re bent over a book and not looking! The ghoul stares down your shirt. No wonder the man spends so much time studying. Half the time he’s not even looking at the books.”
There was a quiet moment of silence where the group tensed together. Fred and George held their chuckles below their breaths while Ginny shook her head, red in the face. Harry sat in the blinding glare of Hermione as she rose to her feet, arms crossed against her chest. He was too frightened to move.
“Of all the most idiotic, ridiculous, filthy…” Hermione felt tears of frustration coming to her eyes.
“It’s true!” Ron exclaimed. “The wee mate’s a dog!”
Ginny snapped her book close. “Stop it, Ron.”
The tension in Hermione was clear throughout the room. Even those within the dorms heard her shouts and came down the stairs to investigate.
Romilda Vane and Seamus Finnegan came closer.
“What’s all this now?” Romilda asked.
She could see Hermione on the edge of tears in the middle of the room, hair all a mess from her hands tearing at it terribly. Romilda tip toed to Hermione’s side, gently rubbing her upper arms. She forced a smile and pulled Hermione in a hug. It wasn’t like they were good friends, not good enough for it to be normal, but Hermione was the one close female of the legendary Harry Potter. Perhaps this was her way.
Romilda smelled of sharp lemon. Her dark curls stung in Hermione’s nose as she sucked in breath, holding back whatever tears she could. Whatever flood now threatened wasn’t from the stupid ramblings of Ron, but the exact truth as Draco had told her often.
Hermione dropped her face into Romilda’s chest, not caring for what the girl’s motives were, although she felt that the girl’s stare was directed at the boys behind her back rather than at the girl in her arms. She didn’t care. She just didn’t.
“Oi, Ron. What you goin’ makin’ Hermione cry like that?” Seamus asked. “What’s she done to you?”
“I didn’t mean it!” Ron answered.
Romilda tightened her arms. “Tell that to her. She’s shaking.”
“Would you like to go round to the hospital wing?” Ginny asked.
“Don’t be bonkers, Ginny. She’s not in need of hospital,” Ron snapped. “Hermione, snap out of it. It’s not like you can get mad at me for sayin’. He’s the one lookin’ down your shirt.”
Over Romilda’s shoulder, Hermione could see Fred and George with their heads in his hands, shaking away at their brother’s incredible idiocy.
“If anyone’s been looking down her shirt, it’s you, Weasley. We all seen you fawn over her chest when she’s busy reading, or eating, or simply sitting there, unwitting to your drool,” Romilda snorted.
“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Hermione whispered, wiping her eyes.
Things were getting out of hand. She learned things about her friends that were far beyond the line that she cared to be at. Ronald stared at every girl’s chest when opportunity exposed itself, per say. She was hardly shocked he did it to his friend, too.
She quickly excused herself from the scene, sighting a need for a library visit while the boys looked ashamed. Sadly, Harry being moreso than Ronald.
It crawled her skin. Shameless, foul.
Hermione kept her school shirts buttoned high, and all her T-shirts never dipped near her cleavage. There were very few outfits that showed much of her skin at all. Her cold blood was mostly to blame for that. Jumpers were her favorite accessory. It kept the drafts of the castle at bay.
She quickly pulled her cardigan closer to her chest. The halls of Hogwarts were filled with cold spots as she walked the memorized route toward her true sanctuary.
Hogwarts was a magnificent castle filled with magical paints floor to the very tall ceilings. They never ceased to amuse her as she walked. This time of day, when all other students retreated to their common rooms for a nights rest, even the paintings took that same advice and snoozed lazily in chairs, very few footsteps sounded through the staircase. They rumbled as they shifted, but there was no foot shuffling. Apart from her lonely ones.
Madam Pince was accustomed to Hermione’s extended stays in between the library aisles. She was an unbothered woman who loved sugar with her tea, and students to mind themselves whilst amongst the books. She watched the young girl march in with a weary expression. It was torn apart by a pathetic smile and wave as she walked by.
“Evening Madam Pince,” Hermione said with some effort. “A spot of tea at this time of night?”
She wagged her finger. The librarian raised one bushy eyebrow.
“Miss Granger, it is decaf. And it is a bit late for a tad of reading, is it not?”
Hermione lifted a sad smile. “I know it’s late, but I was just looking for a place to relax for a while.”
The large room of the school library was filled with shelves and stacks of books layer upon layer, only disrupted by the fenced off section of the restricted section. It was the one place where books didn’t levitate back to the shelves as Hermione stood alone at the desk. Stacks from tables and desks lifted one at a time, sorted mid-air and floated back to their assigned spot within the shelves.
Madam Pince wasn’t a particularly curious witch. She nodded her head, allowed Hermione to use the library so long as she put her own books back and scuttled back to the librarian’s office to attend to her own affairs.
Hermione wished her a goodnight and retreated into the depths of the library. There was so many on her list to read. Ones that she knew would help Harry for his challenge in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Something in the history of the tournament itself might hold some key.
She set upon the long task of finding anything remotely related, with some help. Fire, Blood and Magic: A Competition for the Best was a title that caught her eye.
Promising, she thought.
The pages flipped by and she promptly slammed the book shut. Another Quidditch book. The other magical competition.
She sniffled. She’d finally overcome whatever it was that haunted her for the day. Buried between the pages of a book she found herself. It was the solidification that she was more than an object, more than nothing. She knew things. Spells, and charms, potions and fact.
There was so much promise for her, everyone said so. Even if she was a friend of Harry Potter, others knew her name, too.
Besides, how many times had she helped Harry survive through the years?
The dust of the books tickled her nose. She brushed it away quickly, intent on continuing all night if she had to.
How did Harry get into the Goblet of Fire? What was the next task? Who was trying to harm them?
It was clear the direction of Voldemort had led to this predicament. That much she knew. Or rather, everyone knew. But the who, how, the why was the more specific kind of question she wanted answered. History of the Tri-Wizard Tournament wasn’t going to yield any of that.
Hermione sighed and dug at her mess of hair.
Another way then. She marched up and searched for information on spells that specifically tainted magical objects. It was by no means any easy task. Only an older student…or Professor could confuse a powerful object like the Goblet. If she found out what spell most likely did it, it might just help her understand their enemy more.
A witch or wizard was only as powerful as their spells, their work.
Three books proved to hold some kind of information, although not a compiled list. She had to sort through the three to discover pieces of the list that might jinx something so powerful. There weren’t that many ways, as it turned out. Too many were fickle, unreliable.
No, this had to be sure if they truly wanted Harry in the tournament.
“Late night, Herm-own-ninny?”
The silence of the previous moment gave Hermione a start. She gasped in surprise.
At the end of the aisle was Viktor Krum in his usual workout T-shirt and maroon sweatpants. Sweat beaded off his forehead, across his bare arms the light glistened. He was calm enough, but there was a rosy flush to his pale face.
“Viktor,” she breathed.
He stood there, expressionless. As he most often was.
“I did not mean to scare you,” he said. His accent was thick from Bulgaria. At times, it made his English difficult to sort out. “I was out for a run. Thought I would find you here.”
Hermione overcame her shock and smiled sweetly. “No, it’s okay. I’m just reading a bit on the tournament.”
“The tournament?” He furrowed his brow. It was often his expression with thought, as she’d noticed. He pulled up his chair alongside her, glanced at the books she stacked. “What about the tournament?”
His finger brushed the pages softly. For how large and strong he was, there was a subtle gentleness to his ways. She guessed he’d be a brute after seeing his attitude at the World Cup, but Viktor Krum was not as he seemed. There were so many who weren’t what they seemed.
So much deception.
“I’m just learning about the Goblet of Fire,” she said. Krum remained stoic. “So that I can learn how Harry’s name got put in without him doing it.”
He leaned forward, interested. “Another student, yes?”
“But it is only supposed to pick three champions.” She flustered, feeling suddenly freed to get excited about it. “There is a way for Harry to have another student put his name in the cup. But why did it not pick three? It always, only picks three. Not four. That means it had to be a powerful person to subject the Goblet of Fire to a spell that strong. The Goblet of Fire was made by very powerful wizards. So powerful that the Goblet has never made a mistake or been fooled before.”
Hermione picked up a book and pointed at the inscription below. “See? They knew it would try to be tampered with when they made it, so they specifically made it to be withstanding to most every spell. So, how did Harry’s name get chosen?”
Viktor sat quiet as he looked over the book, taking the time to examine each image with unnoticeable fascination.
His eyes were a warm brown, like Hermione’s. His face might have been a blank slate but the beauty beneath his warmth was telling. A soft soul.
“Harry is strong to have a friend like you,” he said.
She’d been watching him closely and as his eyes raised, their gazes met.
“He’s strong on his own well enough.” Was she still smiling? Oh, goodness. She couldn’t stop. “I just help him out from time to time. It’s nothing really.”
“How come he did not ask you to the dance?”
Put off by the question, Hermione struggles in the limelight. She’d never thought of why Harry hadn’t asked. It caused him so much stress to find someone to ask, let alone ask them, and yet he hadn’t even considered to ask her as friends. Were all the men in her life pigs?
Her lips struggled to put the words together. “Oh, well, I. We. Harry and I are just friends.”
Viktor slid closer, brushing his knee against hers. She looked down with surprise. A staggering blush covered her cheeks in heat.
The castle fell dead as darkness blanketed the sky. The library remained still and silent as passing steps became fewer and fewer. It was haven, like this. She felt the ground move with each book slid into place with a gentle hum. It traveled up her legs toward her sensitive thighs, edging toward tingly pleasure she felt so oddly another person. Breath caught in her throat with the next big thump.
The heat on her face spread to her chest. Viktor’s eyes followed it there. Down the flesh of her neck to the neckline of her cardigan. There they rested. He searched below the surface, she knew, as he poured into her pink flush with eagerness.
Suddenly his knee rubbed against her thigh.
“Oh,” she gasped.
It wasn’t his knee; it was his hand. The length of his fingers spread down the top of her thigh to the sensitive inside where she nearly quivered in anticipation. That was always the game with Draco.
She pictured it was him, touching her. Krum melted away into the one she yearned for. His brilliant platinum hair teased gently, awry from her hands pulling and grabbing at him, wanting him deeper inside her. The shine of brown eyes, she could see the silver bleed into them like full moons. They bore deep through her. Then there were Draco’s lips that were her most favorite part. How silvery words dripped down them in small teasing falls. He knew just how to make his words tremble under her skin, arch her back and scream out.
He pushed her to the very edge of her anger, often still in character from the day’s charade as Granger and Malfoy, mortal enemies. The skin he pulled off once they finished.
Hermione lost the image as Viktor pulled his knee away from hers. “Sorry.” He said it so honestly.
She looked down and realized it was her own hand that gripped her thigh so tightly. It fell away promptly.
“That’s alright.” She tucked a stray curl behind her ear.
It’s been two months since she and Draco had shagged, and it felt even longer in the nights when she felt that urge inside her belly. Draco’s earlier attempts hadn’t helped either. She received the hardened shell of him during the school days, and the other end of the fun wasn’t being done. It was more like he was truly her school bully. Pansy was his real girlfriend and she was his dirty little Muggle secret.
Her face must have contorted unpleasantly because Viktor slid out of his chair.
“I will let you finish your reading,” he stated evenly.
She couldn’t tell if he was genuine or upset.
Quickly she composed herself. “Yes, yes, thank you, Viktor. Will I see you tomorrow?”
He nodded and turned to leave but a figure appeared in his path. The lean silhouette he recognized as someone he’d met when he arrived at Hogwarts castle. He was a fan of the Bulgarian Quidditch team. Viktor stuck his hand out, and it was clasped by cold fingers, oddly enough they had been in his pockets moments before.
“Malfoy, yes?” He said.
Hermione jumped in her seat to see Draco so plainly near. Her hands trembled as she tried to clean up her books quickly so Madam Pince wasn’t cross.
“Viktor Krum, why what brings you into the library this time of night?”
Viktor received the statement with a subtle lift of his upper lip. Their acquaintanceship was still new that he didn’t sense the sharp edge in Draco’s tone as Hermione did. It practically pulsated off his skin as his eyes snapped toward her. She froze in place.
Draco stood rigid, slightly taller than the Dumstrang champion.
“Late night playing?” Draco asked.
Viktor raised his hands defensively. “No, no. Herm-own-ninny has reading to do. I was leaving her be.”
Perhaps it was the shift in Draco’s shoulders, but something clued Viktor that it was time to leave. He sent a slight wave and jogged out the library. Each strong step vibrated the ground below.
Hermione felt his entire track until he reached the grass. It was so silent, still again in the library. The only change in the air was the thumping of her heart up against her ribs. She eyed Draco carefully as he slid a Granny Smith apple out his pocket. Eyes locked in hers, he continued to eat the entire thing down to it’s core.
He tossed to the ground and leaned back against the shelf.
“What was that about now?” His focus shifted his manicure.
Hermione gulped and shook her head. She wasn’t going to encourage his temper. Nothing came from it, only hurt.
Draco detested the silence more than the worse answers. Suspicion crept up into thoughts, though he knew them to be impossible, they nagged at him.
It was his fault they couldn’t be more. More public so that she might be able to intimidate them with his name. Malfoy. They’d treat her like a queen then.
“Come now. Let’s hear it. What was his excuse?”
She rubbed her eyes gently. “He just got done with his run and came to see if I was here.”
“That it?”
Her nostrils flared. “No, he came to offer me his hand in marriage. Of course, that’s it! We haven’t spoke more than a few times. Most times he’s too shy to say anything. Besides you haven’t any right to be this way. I can be seen with whoever I like.”
There was a twitch in Draco’s face. “Really?”
Silently he raised to his feet and stepped closer, step by slow step. “That wasn’t what we agreed to.”
The tears threatened again. Hermione pushed them back.
“What if I don’t like the agreement anymore?”
It was a quiet whisper, but in the overwhelming silence of the library, she knew he heard it. The fact his eyebrows jumped to his hairline only confirmed it further.
“Pardon?”
He loomed over. The stiff gaze was hard to miss as it burned holes through her skin.
After a deep breath, Hermione raised her gaze to meet his. “I don’t like our arrangement anymore.”
If there was one thing he believed impossible, it was the dissolution of Hermione and his relationship. It was all he worked for, plotted for. They planned it all out just perfect so that they were both protected, shielded from the wrath of their own allegiances. They were unstoppable together with the power of two sides joined in secret.
She was too clever for Gryffindor, too gifted to be Muggle born, too beautiful to be unnoticed and too perfect not to be his.
Draco took a step back. “No. You can’t say that to me.”
“But it’s true, Draco.”
“No!” He exclaimed, forgetting himself. Quickly he stepped closer, whispering just as loudly as he could. “I can’t do this here, right now. I can’t even think.”
He started to pace. “After all this…after everything we’ve done.”
“Draco, calm down. You’re going to explode.”
“Explode? Explode? I’m going to do more than that. I mean, how can you do this? How long have you been planning this?”
Hermione jumped to her feet. “Draco, do you think I’m breaking up you?”
Draco stopped short. “Is that not what you meant by ‘end our arrangement’. End our arrangement means breaking the fuck up to me.”
Hermione clasped her hands around her mouth in shame. “How could you possibly think I’d want that?”
“You mean after this afternoon where you cried your eyes out and couldn’t even look at me!”
“Because I thought you were falling in love with Pansy Parkinson!”
Oh. Draco scowled at the very thought of love with Pansy. He knew what it’d be. It’d be a lot of social functions, a lot of Dark Lord talk and Death Eater socialization. It was enough his father put him through the pathetic formalities, the rest of his life was not going to be that. No, he wanted more. He was more than a follower.
Pansy loved the idea of Voldemort. She talked of his second coming as if it was the cure to all ails. Draco drowned in the boring unoriginality that was Pansy Parkinson just about everyday and the only thing that kept his wand settled was the thought of all of it being worth it for Hermione.
Hermione crumpled down, tears staining her cheeks for a second time. She sat so helplessly sad.
The difficulty was not crawling over to her and wrapping his arms around her and never letting go, not caring who discovered the pair together. What different could his father do to him that he hadn’t already?
Draco calmly fell to the floor and pulled her into his lap. “Come here, darling.”
She shook with each sob, thick wet tears smearing across her face without abandon.
“Shhh,” he murmured as his fingers ran through her curls. “Hermione, come listen. I have to tell you something, and I want you to hear me. Are you listening?”
She nodded against his slacks. A tear dripped down to the dark fabric.
“You know about my father, don’t you? He was a Death Eater when You Know Who reigned?”
Again, she nodded in his lap.
“My dad did a lot of things as a follower of You-Know-“
“Just say Voldemort,” she whispered.
Draco cleared his throat. “Right. Voldemort. My dad worked for him, did lots of things to people, wizards and muggles alike. He wasn’t afraid to use the Unforgivable curses like we use Lumos.” Draco sighed. “A long time ago when my dad was a little boy, he lived at Malfoy Manor where I live now with his dad. His dad, my grandfather, was a right foul git, you know? He’d a been a Death Eater if he got the chance.”
There was a soft groan as wind pushed against the heavy stone of the castle. It gave the castle voice as the storms whipped through the school grounds with ease. Down in the dungeons Draco didn’t hear such noise, but Hermione lived in the towers. She had to listen to it all night.
He kept petting her hair as she listened quietly.
“Well, my grandfather took my dad on holiday. Just the two of them for a little break. Sight-see and those silly things. And at first, that’s what they did. They went over to China and saw that Great Wall that spans miles and miles. Not built with an ounce of magic either. Just one long wall down the horizon thousands of years old. My father said it was unlike anything he’d ever seen in the Muggle world.” Draco paused to see if she was still listening. She was. “One night my father came back from playing with a few other kids in the hotel and found a pair of young Chinese girls tied up on the bed.”
Hermione’s breath fell silent. There wasn’t a rustle of a sniff as he talked.
“My grandfather told my father it was time he learned just what muggle girls are good for.” His voice broke as he said it. Hearing the words aloud sounded so much real than just remembering the story. “My, um, father watched his father soil these poor girls, not much older than my dad’s own sister. They used muggle ways to hurt them, whips and knives in ways I can’t even say. He just kept saying ‘their blood is less than dirt. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter. The only blood that counts is pure magic blood.’ My father recited those words like a broken spell. Over and over again. ‘Pure blood is the only blood.’”
“What happened to them?” Hermione squeaked. “The girls, I mean.”
Draco swallowed. “Well, they did what they wanted with them and eventually the girls died. That’s the worst part of it. They just threw them out like trash. Didn’t find out their names, tell their parents, say a single thing. Just dumped them like they were nothing but dirt.”
It’d been so long since he’d thought of it all. He tried his best to block out the nightmares that came with the story.
“My father told me this Christmas Eve, second year. Thinking of that on Christmas as I opened gifts that were whatever I wanted. My parents gave me the world in exchange for those two girls.”
“Second year? That would mean…”
He shifted his legs so her head tilted up at him. “Yes. It was the reason I felt awful about what I said to you. It wasn’t until I was told that story that I realized just how much I was being a sheep for a mental agenda.”
A single tear slid down his pale cheek. Hermione’s fingers raised and greeted it like a gentle butterfly. It lingered atop her pale nail as she stared at it. The way she thickly swallowed, Draco knew she was trying to hold back her own tears.
“It was after that when you apologized to me,” she said with a sad, understanding smile, “when you gave me that paper about the Basilisk. You saved my life that year.”
“Much good it did.” He grumbled bitterly. Hi cowardice was not something he was ever proud of, but it’s second nature took hold of him whenever it wanted. “You still got petrified.”
“I could have died if I hadn’t known. You saved my life, Draco.”
She was too kind, too precious to believe what really happened after she was petrified. How Slytherin House laughed at her. Pansy was disappointed Hermione didn’t die. Blaise wanted to throw a party. Crabbe, Goyle and Draco made flyers and passed them out to other Muggleborns. The words, ‘You’re Next’ in blood red letters. Her hurt was a big fat joke.
Draco felt so sick to his stomach after that, he went to the infirmary himself. That’s when he saw her lying on the bed, behind a starched curtain. The absolute still of her was haunting. She didn’t blink or breathe. Her body fixed in one position. It was like she was frozen in glass, encapsulated forever as a token of the blood wars that surrounded their lives in constant fever.
His life’s fever, his father’s bane.
He vomited all that night. His guilt was a continuous upheaval of everything he learned.
They were not friends. He thought he hated the girl. She was smarter than him, no matter how hard he tried yet every year he came up short, and then came the familial disgust that a Muggleborn was smarter than their pure heir. Draco envied the way her mind captured ideas with ease. To her, it was as natural as breathing. Not even Potter or Weasley came close. But Draco did. He’d get so close. He’d be so sure he was better just that once, just to have something to bring to his mother and father with his chin held up high, an answer to all the wrongs of his previous years, and then she won.
One night in the hospital wing, he crept over to her bed with tears in his eyes. His fists shook at his sides.
“Why are you always the one whose special?” He asked. “Why are you better at everything? Why? Why? My family is better than yours. I work hard. I deserve all that you get, all that you’ve taken from me. Why is it always you, Granger?”
He shook her bed wildly. “Wake up! Wake up and face me! Tell me why you deserve all that there is and I don’t? Tell me. Tell me how to be like you!”
Back in the library as Draco was lost in memory, Hermione watched him closely. The way his lips lifted in disgust. They always looked like that. He never took it off unless she was around. He’d tease and torment even his friends with it. Always a chill in his voice. How long it’d been since she’d seen him smile, or even laugh.
Draco was changing. She felt it in him as much as she saw it. As the years passed, he turned darker. The bags under his eyes so clear in his porcelain skin. He grew into a lanky shadow as he walked. Class perked him up slightly. It wasn’t enough.
There was something different about him now. Hermione wasn’t sure if it was light or darkness slowly claiming his skin as it’s own vessel, but the war that would rage would not be easy. He was as stubborn as they come. A fighter to the end, but not in the direct way. Just like his House trademark, he was a slithering snake, sneaky and quick.
If there was anyone to bring down Voldemort, it’d be someone like Draco to do it.
But did he have the courage to make that change? Hermione wasn’t sure.

Chapter Text

Yule Ball

Draco looked in the full length mirror of the Slytherin dorm. He was dressed in black dress robes, as was required for a silly thing like a dance. He’d been forced to go, since it was all Pansy talked about for weeks on end. He hadn’t even asked her to go. She just told him what color she’d be wearing and where they would meet.
He fidgeted with his cuff links.
Damn Pansy and her stupid gossip.
He hadn’t been looking forward to the Yule Ball in the slightest since he’d have to watch his girlfriend swirl around on Viktor Krum’s arm like a prized catch. Pansy had to outdo herself then. She paraded around the article of Rita Skeeter’s proclaiming that Hermione Granger was in love with Viktor Krum and the two were quite the exclusive pair.
“Isn’t it hilarious?” Pansy chuckled aloud at lunch in the Great Hall. It was filled to the brim with plenty of students to hear. “As if anyone were to believe this rubbish. Potter’s mudblood and Krum. It’s preposterous.”
“If I were him, I’d force Granger to apologize,” Blaise said as it sucked on a chicken leg.
Draco looked up with a scowl.
“Soiling a good name like that all for attention,” Pansy said. “I’d do more than make her apologize.”
The noise of the Great Hall was pulsating in Draco’s ears, or was it just him? Under the table, he clenched his fists until they started to ache. He felt the sudden urge to yell. Yell at Pansy for hanging off his arm. Yell at her for speaking, breathing. Blaise deserved a threat. For what, he didn’t know.
“Are we talking an unforgivable?” Crabbe asked.
“Absolutely. Take that Know-It-All down a peg or two.”
Draco forgot to listen after that. He just focused on Hermione as she sat with Saint Potter and the Weasel reading the same paper as he was. There was a pretty pink blush that came to her cheeks, though she seemed to be disgust, he saw that blush in her when she was excited or caught.
Hermione didn’t tell anyone he asked her to the Yule Ball. She told him so. So how did the paper catch hold of the story? Were they seen together? Was Hermione dating him behind his back?
He released his fist before his fingers fell off. They were white for many minutes after as he watched her. It made him sick. Weasel couldn’t help himself. When she turned to talk to Looney, he glanced down at her chest.
That’s it! He had to do something.
Pansy ran a finger along Draco’s jawline. He startled away from her grasp.
“What do you think of it, Draco? Isn’t it just awful?” She asked.
It was awful. His girlfriend was seeing another man.
Draco grabbed hold of the paper and tore away from the table, a fury burning in his chest like none other.
“Hey Granger!” He shouted from across the room.
A few satisfied chuckled sounded from behind him, but that wasn’t what he focused on. All he saw was her. Her with Krum. In love with Krum. Fucking Krum.
Hermione sat wide-eyed as he approached. He saw the flicker of worry spark throughout. She shifted around in her seat, stealing glances at Potter and Weasley who quickly tensed as he stood alongside the Lion’s table of morally righteous champions, as they believed.
“Malfoy.” Weasley snarled. “What do you want?”
Cheeky for a guy who’d just been stealing glances down Hermione’s shirt. Now he was her protector against the big bad Draco?
Potter sat quietly, but not letting his eye wander from Draco, or the newspaper he held.
Draco ignored the two. “Enjoying the fame?”
“What are you talking about, Malfoy?”
He snapped the paper to the table. It echoed through the continued silence of the room. Eyes fell to him so clearly. Every Professor and student sat with the intent of taking lunch but watched in shock as he publicly approached the Golden Trio. It was a crime not to bear a gift, for they were the best of the school. The whole world, it seemed. They just got everything they wanted.
“Why, this of course.” He crossed his arms. “I thought the article was grand indeed. Poor Harry is heartbroken not have Hermione’s affections anymore over, who was it again? Oh, that’s right. Viktor Krum. A pure-blooded champion. Doesn’t seem right, does it?”
“Shove off, Malfoy.” The ginger muttered. He reached over but Draco slapped his hand.
“Mustn’t touch what isn’t yours, Weasel.”
Draco’s eyes turned to Hermione. “It’s her gift. I’m sure she’s very pleased with her work.”
They hadn’t spoke since then. Hermione ignored his every attempt to see her. She practically snapped her wand when she read his note that he slipped her in class. It was lit on fire and stomped to ashes. It was a bit dramatic for her. Frankly, it seemed like he was rubbing off on her.
He groaned as he pulled on his tie. “Can’t wait for this bloody night to end.”
A figure appeared in the mirror behind him, with dark skin and a matching sneer as his.
“Tell me about it. If I have to hear one Muggle song, I will have a spell that’ll teach the DJ to relearn what few skills he’s got.” Blaise touched his hair gently, pushing it into place.
“We should just head to Hogsmeade, ditch this stupid ball.”
Blaise chuckled. “I’d love to see what Pansy would do if you didn’t show up.”
Draco scowled deeper. “I’m not afraid of Pansy.”
Tri-Wizard Tournament or not, the Yule Ball was a terrible idea. They all knew who went with who. It wasn’t shocking to hear everyone’s dates. Like something shocking would happen. As if Draco would march down the line with Hermione on his arm without a care. It was a dance afterall.
He shook his head and finished getting ready as Blaise lurked in the mirror. The boys nodded. It was time to face the music, dance the stupid dance, and retreat to somewhere more fun.
Blaise and Draco climbed the stairs together. Goyle and Crabbe stood near the landing, two cupcakes in each of their hands.
“Already, boys? Can’t wait for the blasted thing to start?”
Goyle and Crabbe looked to each other. “What’s his problem?” Goyle sneered.
Blaise rolled his eyes. “He wants to go to Hogsmeade for a little party.”
Crabbe dropped a cupcake on the floor, splattering icing across all their shoes. Crabbe licked his fingers and brought the fallen cake to his lips.
“My bad,” he said. Then he shoved the cake into his mouth as all stared at him in disbelief. Crabbe didn’t notice. He carried on with his similar attitude. “But a party’s not a bad idea. Thing like this won’t be interesting enough for everyone to stay. Everyone can duck out at the same time.”
“Duck off to where?”
Pansy appeared near the Draco’s elbow, dressed in flowy bright pink robes trimmed in pink fur. It was over the top distraction, just as she was. She smirked at Draco’s notice.
“Duck off to where?” She repeated, eyeing the Slytherin boys closely.
Draco scratched behind his neck. If he was going to throw a party in Hogsmeade, he didn’t want Pansy to be there. She was impossible to get away from during the entire year. One night of drunken fun without her seemed too good to be true. She’d never let it happen. Pansy had to know all the happenings, lest she be out of the gossip.
“Draco’s throwing a party in Hosgmeade,” Goyle explained. “We’re just trying to think of a way to get there without being seen.”
Pansy nudged Draco with her elbow. Great. He sighed and glanced over.
“Why is this the first I’m hearing of it, Draco?” She fluttered her eyelashes.
The main hallway started to fill as more and more attendees filtered in close to the ballroom. The Slytherin group broke the waves of students who washed through. One second year accidently bumped up against Blaise and his bugged twice their size.
“Watch your step before I Imperio your shoes.”
The second year yelped, clearly frightened, and scurried away without a second look back.
“Draco?” Pansy said, still expecting his answer.
He sighed. “Just a lads thing.”
“Promise?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, Pansy. Come on now. Let’s get in there before all those sprites get ideas about who’s in front.”
A satisfied grin crossed her lips. She pushed a first year Muggleborn out of her way and grabbed hold of Draco’s arm. Her perfume was a thick cloud as they walked. Rose water. It stunk each of his nostrils as he tried to breathe.
The Great Hall was transformed into a glittering white ballroom complete with a wintery sky overhead. It was so bright and clean. Round tables in long white tablecloths scattered around the room, apart from the broad expanse of the dance floor. Silver drapes coated the normal stone walls of the hall, swirled around thick evergreen trees decorated in shimmering white and silver ornaments.
Pansy scrunched her nose as they walked around the room. She fingered the tablecloths. The trees were snubbed, too, as she walked by. Even the sky was dissatisfying.
“I hate it,” she mumbled. “I don’t know who the decorator is, but they definitely aren’t pureblood. And if they are, they aren’t from money. Look at these gawdy ice sculptures!”
Draco thought it seemed nice. A winter wonderland befitting the weather outside.
They found their table with the other Slytherins, all dates with each other. Nott took Millicent Bulstrode. Adrian Pucey sat next to Daphne Greengrass with his hands laced in hers. Goyle and Crabbe went stag. Blaise asked Tracey, but they didn’t sit near each other. Draco envied his two friends, who didn’t have a girl to complain in their ear. It was all that Pansy did.
The table was alive with simple chatter of the girls as they looked at who brought who.
“That toad Seamus brought that girl, what’s her name? Lilac?” Millicent pointed to the pair standing together next to Weasley and one of the twins.
“It’s Lavender,” Daphne corrected. “I’ve heard all she does is laugh. Just listen.”
The group quieted as the Gryffindor group bustled closer, as more students flowed in the entrance, and just as Daphne said, Lavender laughed whenever Seamus spoke. He’d just been telling her about his Ancient Runes homework when she burst into a fit of giggles.
All the Slytherins groaned.
“I see one Patil, but not the other,” Pansy pointed out.
“You can see that ghastly orange from anywhere.” Millicent snickered.
Draco noticed Weasley take hold of the Patil’s twin and pull her along.
“Looks like one is with Weaslebee, the other must be with Potter,” Draco scoffed. “Can’t part those two. Not even for dates.”
Blaise sucked his teeth. “Surprised they didn’t both take the Mudblood.”
His attention snapped across the table where Blaise sat, drumming his fingers against the table. Draco couldn’t focus on anything else. Hermione wasn’t there. She wasn’t anywhere. Neither was Krum. No doubt getting another article written about their torrid love affair.
“Think the two of them share her?” Pansy sneered. “One night with Potter, the other with Weasley. I wouldn’t past her. She loves to be special.”
“The center of attention,” Daphne added.
“The center of the orgy.” Pansy snorted.
The table laughed as Draco’s jaw set. He tried to laugh along, even as his friends looked to him, but he couldn’t. Not even for pretend.
It was his girlfriend they were talking about!
“I need a drink,” Draco muttered.
There was a loud humming at the entrance of the hall. Students lined the entrance as Professor McGonagall entered quickly. Flitwick raised his hands to the band.
“Come on, Draco.” Pansy pulled on his arm. The table raised and added to the line of students eagerly awaiting the entrance of the winners. “It’s about to start.”
It was time.
He took a few deep breaths as he joined his friends. There was nothing more uncertain than his reaction impending. If he saw Hermione with Krum, he might punch Pansy just in anger or because she couldn’t stop saying Mudblood. Perhaps he’d run right to her and take her in his arms and tell the entire world that he was in love with a Gryffindor.
All bets were off.
The strings of the band flicked below their bows as a strong melody echoed through the Great Hall. It announced the entrance of the Tri-Wizard champions. He heard the reactions before he had his own.
Many gasps. Hermione’s name was whispered throughout the crowd. Then over the sound of clapping came the exclamation, “Is that Hermione Granger? With Viktor Krum?”
They were the first pair he saw, and even his imagination hadn’t prepared him for just how stunning she was. A fitted dress hugged her body in pale pink ruffles with a softer hue lace fallen from her shoulders. Off one side was a collected gather of her warm brown curls teasing her collarbone gently. One single purple ribbon cinched at her slender waist.
Draco noted how silent the Slytherins were as they watched Krum display Hermione to the crowd. They didn’t have a single thing to say that’d be true.
She was beautiful. Under the white light of the sky, she glowed. The white of her teeth shined as she smiled. So unlike the Hermione he knew and loved and worshipped, yet it was her brilliance that he recognized so clearly. An aura that bewitched him.
Diggory came with Cho. The little French woman came with a Ravenclaw, Roger something. Then the little Potter marched out with Pavarti on his arm, sticking out like a sore thumb to the other competitors. He was short and boyish whilst Krum was masculine, Diggory was wise and Fleur, well she was grown into a body a fourteen-year-old boy only dreamed about.
Hermione, though. She was a woman.
The dainty pale hand rested atop Viktor Krum’s. He kept Hermione close, spinning her gently until she landed right into his open grasp. One hand landed on her upper back and the other kept hold of her hand, raised in the air as the band started to play.
Each pair danced the traditional dance they were taught by the Professors.
Krum was surprisingly agile as he swirled with Hermione in his hand. And even more surprising, she let him lead. Both smiled, though Hermione had a serious blush, as their dance brought them closer to the other students. Draco looked over and saw Weasley averting his eyes as she passed.
Draco snickered to himself. Free enough to look down her shirt, but not when she’s with a bigger man.
The night carried on as more and more couples joined in to dance. The traditional songs bled into newer rock and roll. Non-muggle stuff.
Pansy dragged Draco onto the dance floor, clinging tightly to him then being pushed away when she got too close. She kept trying. Draco kept pushing her away.
He was more interested in what Krum did throughout the night. The man stayed with Hermione the entire dance. She would get embarrassed, ducking her head away into her arm, when she tried to dance like everyone else. Krum grabbed hold of her hands and kept her dancing, not noticing all the glances from the others. Couples had long broken up into their groups of friends. Girls in their groups, guys with their mates on the edge.
Pansy stayed linked to Draco, as did all the Slytherins together. Crabbe and Goyle spread word about the party in Hogsmeade. It was all set, once the Professors split from the door.
They all stood close to the outside when the happy couple drifted near, lost in each other’s attention. Draco doubted Hermione noticed him at all. She hadn’t looked his way, once. But they parted for a short while.
Hermione stood by, her hands wrapped around herself as she watched the others on the dancefloor. Once she glanced over her shoulder at her friends who pouted in the chairs beyond the dancefloor. They hadn’t moved in a while.
“Look at Potter and Weasley sitting over there with their fan club.”
The Slytherins turned and looked, sharing a giggle. The two boys looked pathetic in their dress robes. Their frowns didn’t help.
“What?” A startled gasp ran through his ears.
Draco turned, knowing just who it came from. His heart leapt out of his chest.
Hermione wrapped her arms excitedly around Krum’s neck. “I can’t believe you did. Are you crazy? They won’t do it.”
Krum’s mouth opened to speak but stopped when a tune hummed through the air. It was unlike the live band. A recording. It didn’t sound like their music.
Hermione gripped Krum tightly. Her smile was clear, as was her excitement. They danced closer to Draco, not noticing the Slytherins were all gathered together.
She was so close now, he could smell her perfume.
“I can’t believe they played it,” Hermione gushed.
“I asked them to,” Krum said. “Why would they not?”
He seemed bewildered. It made Hermione chuckle.
“It’s Muggle music.”
“There are many Muggles in Bulgaria,” Krum stated. “It is beautiful in the summer. Have you been?”
Draco stood on edge, his hand clenched in his pocket. That sly git. He didn’t seem so smooth when he talked but he was a guy afterall. Why wouldn’t he try it?
Hermione swallowed by a polite laugh. “No, I haven’t. Maybe for the next holiday.”
What the shit was she talking about? A holiday in Bulgaria!
“Draco!” Crabbe yelled.
Draco turned. “Yeah?”
“Ready?”
He shared a last second to look at Hermione’s happy smile as Krum led her to the punch table. Draco nodded.
“Yeah. Let’s get the fuck outta here.”

Chapter Text

Hogsmeade

Malfoy acquired a room at the Hog’s Head, just a small inn with little to offer other than threadbare rooms at low prices. Draco dropped the bag on the counter and headed up the stairs with a gaggle of students behind him. Most were just the Slytherin boys, a few random Dumstrang’s they picked up along the way. They were a stampede through the hallways. Their steps echoed through the silent halls as they pounded down, chuckling and pulling from the bottle that Blaise brought.

It was Hog’s Head brew, a specialty of the faded old inn, which packed a serious punch. Wizards and witches in Hogsmeade weren’t particularly well-off. The weekends where students arrived caused a surge in most everything within the village. Draco scoffed at the conditions they lived. It was nothing of a life, to await students to make a living.

The dusty floors only proved Draco’s disgust more. It was a rotting place, only kept beating by the constant throng of students. No respectable establishments, to say the least.

“How many?” Blaise asked.

Draco loosened his tie. “Three. Two for this bloody party and one for me after tonight.”

“What about Hogwarts?” Goyle asked.

“Fuck Hogwarts.” Draco swung open the door. “Get it ready. You two, go get more bottles. We’re going to have a lot of guests. Blaise, go get ‘em.”

“Who?”

“Anyone you can find. I don’t bloody care who it is. I want to drink, fuck and forget this whole night.” He ripped the bottle from Goyle’s fat hand.

It burned. It was worse than he remembered.

He turned and walked down the hall, bottle firmly planted between his lips. It was clear he had no intention to remember the night. Draco drained the rest of it and smashed the glass against the floor.

“Where you going?” Crabbe called.

Draco shrugged. “To get some fuckin’ quiet! Have Nott bring me another bottle. Room 25. Don’t forget.”

It wasn’t long before things got started.

The party raged on just as the dance ended, many students trickled down to the village into the party rooms. The inn was swallowed up with students and young locals. The walls of the Hog’s Head throbbed. Somebody had brought in a speaker with a bass line so loud it made their ear drums ache. Draco heard the noise from down the hall. He hadn’t been down yet. He didn’t even care.
There was nothing that the goons of his house could interest him now. His taste for fun was as bitter as he was.

Draco stared up at the ceiling as bits of plaster started to fall down. The rhythmic creaking up above gave light to what it was that was tearing down the building. Like that was going to make him feel any better listening to some people fuck, having a happier night than him.

“Keep it down, up there. Or at least invite me up to watch!” He shouted.

There was a faint knock at the door.

“Thank fuck, I thought you forgot!” He pulled open the door expecting Nott with another bottle of whiskey, but it was a scantily clad Pansy in in what looked like a shimmering veil of silver diamonds and a sheer bra and panty set.

Draco’s eyes widened. “Pansy, what the hell are you doing? Walking down the halls looking like that? Are you mental?”

He quickly pulled her inside his room before anyone else saw. By the level of stench over her perfume, he guessed she’d been drinking already, a lot. Then she opened her open in a smile and he realized just how much.

“Drank yourself a full bottle, did you?”

Pansy snorted like a unicorn. “Ooh, shush it, Draco. Not even you can be so cold to this.”

“Pansy, you can barely stand up.”

She clawed at his arms, untucking his shirt from his pants in the process. Her mascara smeared in a fluttering line.

“Only a matter of time for us. We know it. You know it by the way your pants tighten nowadays.”

He was grabbed by the belt and yanked hard. One long nail scraped down his belly. It left a two-inch line of red through little blonde hairs.

“Damn it, Pans!” Draco growled. “Get out and go to bed.”

Draco, frustrated by the disruption of his agony, wretched open the door. He shouted for Crabbe and Goyle. They lazily walked to help, mouths more interested in snacking than drinking. How had they managed to find snacks in a dump like this?

Goyle strolled in, uninterested by Pansy on the bed splayed like a rag doll. “Say, what do you want this room by yourself for?”

Crabbe belched, and Draco shot him a sharp look. It’d been a long while since he’d taken a look at his two close friends with clarity. They spent most of their time eating and bullying, with not much personality beyond that. Pansy adored the two to do her bidding she enjoyed so much. Draco hoped that she would trust them enough to get her home.

“So I don’t have to fight over the chips with you and Crabbe.” Draco growled.

He was not in the mood for a million questions. All he wanted was Pansy away from him. She’d caused enough trouble for his night.

“What’s Pansy doin’?” Crabbe eyed her thoughtfully.

Draco snapped. “Taking a bloody nap, yeah? What’s it look like to you? She came in and passed out just like this.”

“What you want us to do?”

“Get her the hell out, that’s what.”

Draco directed Crabbe to her left side, Goyle on her right. They groaned at the chore, not wanting to be away from the party so long, but Draco ignored them. He paid for the rooms. He’d do as he pleased with them.

They walked down the hall as Pansy’s feet dragged down the wooden boards. Click, clack. A group of shouts came as they passed the door, a few whispered her name. Bulstrode yipped up a fit as she saw Pansy. She ripped off her cloak and draped in across before they continued.

Goyle and Crabbe passed by the other room just as it exploded with a burst of young Ravenclaws, buzzing with the hum of the music. They wore their gowns from the evening. They all stuck out amongst the ratty, torn appearance of the inn. A good of them gawked at Pansy. Draco nearly slammed the door closed when he saw a bit of curly brown hair part through the crowd, a bottle in her hand and dried valleys down her cheeks. She’d been crying.

She noticed Pansy because her eyes instantly narrowed. She beelined straight for him passing up the other girls, the room. The only thing she set straight for was for him. And by the look in her eye, it was not going to be a playful visit.

Although she still wore the dress of the night she looked so dashing in, it took on a different meaning. It was her chance to rub it into his face. Their game always played, one advantage over the other.

“What’s your pleasure, Granger? Looking for a bit of fun tonight, are you?”

She came closer. Her lips swelled as she raised the bottle to her lips and drank a long swallow. Draco reached for the bottle, slowly lowering it. Her brown eyes flared. Oh, there she was. The boiled anger that was his darling Hermione.

There was a bit of a shuffle down the hall where they both turned to watch. His heart sped. If they were caught, they’d have to fight and she’d leave. Draco didn’t want her to leave. Not now. Now she was so close to his touch.

“Come on before they get ideas,” he said softly.

“Like they might with Pansy?” She shuffled past pulling on his untucked shirt.

Draco winced. “That was noth-,”

“Forget it.” She shoved the bottle into his hands and walked toward the bed. It was tussled up from his lying it, and not from him and Pansy.

Draco pushed the latch closed tightly and added another charm to make sure. The old latch struck a bit of grease down his finger.

“Blast it,” he muttered.

While he was rinsing his hands in the sink, he looked out into the room and saw Hermione tugging at her dress. He thought she was hot, but then he noticed she was ripping every which way. Her ribbon tore in half. The strand fluttered to the floor as she grunted in exertion.

Draco furrowed his brow, grabbing her by the hips, trying to catch her gaze. “Hey, hey. Hermione, stop it! What are you doing? It’s so beautiful, don’t tear it to pieces.”

“I don’t care!” She exclaimed, pulling harder. “I hate it. I want out of it right now.”

She mumbled on under her breath, reaching for the bottle once more. Just at the last minute, Draco pulled the bottle away.

“Have you lost it completely? You trying to get yourself hurt?”

Draco pondered if she’d drank the bottle herself, and if so, she was going to be so sick.

Hermione stopped the tugging for moment. “There is nothing I love more than being hurt! All my friends do it. My peers. Why not get hurt just like every other girl I know? Why not? I’d let you hurt me, if I could feel it right now.”

“I didn’t sleep with Pansy,” he said quickly. “I’d never do that!”

Hermione glared. “I never said you did.”

“Things are always about you, aren’t they?” She put her hands on her hips. “Everything is about you and no one else.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be about us?”

She chuckled harshly. “Us. That’s great. Yeah ‘us’. It just so happens that it all is for your benefit. You get all your dreams to come true with ease, and where does it leave me? Begging. Begging in the stands for you, your attention. I get to live my greatest nightmare everyday when I wake up and see you with her, happy. Happier than you ever get to be with me.”

Draco didn’t understand. She’d been so happy at the dance. He knew she had a good time. Krum danced with her all night. Not one person said a single word about her. Everyone was thrilled with her, like always.

“Hermione, tell me what is wrong. Please.”

She sat on the bed, head in her hands. “Ronald humiliated me, all because he hadn’t gotten the courage to ask me. It was my fault. I can’t be happy with anyone without having someone upset. My own friends. It is Ron, for God’s sakes. My friend.”

Draco edged closer, tense at the mention of the dog’s name.

“He’s just jealous, that’s all,” he said quietly. “Why do you care what that Weasel says?”

Hermione just stared. “Because at some point, he’s going to be all I have!”

There was sudden cluster outside the door. It sounded like Blaise tripped. Draco didn’t bother to open the door and check. He couldn’t have cared about anything except if the inn was on fire. Blaise barfing all his guts didn’t hold a candle to what Hermione had just said.

It sounded like she thought her and Ron were going to be together. Like her and that Weasel would be the only ones left for each other.

“What’s that supposed to be: your lack of faith in me, or you?”

She raised her watery eyes from her hands, holding back whatever flood that dwelled there.

“We’re never going to be together, not for real. Even if this all ends, not a single soul will want us together.” Hermione gasped for breath. “And to top it all off, there is someone out there. More than one someone, actually, who want me and my friends dead. They make me do things I don’t want to do, and worst of all, I’m not ever going to be able to tell you. None of it. Don’t make that face at me. You know it’s true. It’s just as true for you. You can’t truly trust me to keep you safe. We’ll have to do it on our own, with our own associates, but not with each other. That seems wrong, doesn’t it? Two people in love can’t depend on one another.”

They tried to not to talk about things like that. The incident with the Chamber of Secrets brought much backlash against his father and thus much shame. Draco hadn’t meant to betray plans. The consequence he didn’t understand fully until later what it meant. Their loyalty, their ability was questioned. To be questioned as a follower was near a death sentence.

Hermione knew not to ask what he knew. He, the same.

Draco held Hermione’s face in his hands. Her large, brown eyes stared back at him through their glassy red haze. The flesh of her cheeks glistened, even in the gravely dim light. The usual pink luster of her lips was faded pale, chapped.

It was the clear pain across her face, buried within her pupils, burned in the blush of her cheeks that drove his heart to his feet. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to end it.

“Listen Mione, darling. Look at me.”

He waited for her gaze to meet his. “I can’t promise we’ll end out of this together. I can’t. I want to, but it’d be a lie.”

Hermione nodded, more tears dribbling through Draco’s fingers. They raced down to his wrists, wetting his cuffs.

“We aren’t even alike. Not in the slightest.”

"And I know we are different. We care about different things. You like those House Elves, your heart bleeds for all kinds of things. You care. I’m not like that. I hate people different from me. They’re weird, disruptive to the way of things that I’ve always had. And I’m always going to have to fight for all that, even if I don’t want to fight, I have to stay alive.”

“We can keep you safe, too,” Hermione muttered. “I can.”

“No, Hermione.” He pulled her close and put his lips against her forehead. Her sweet smell was like fresh air to the stagnant bitterness of the inn. “No, my sweet, beautiful, love. There isn’t any chance we’ll be on the same side. Not so long as my mother is alive, not so long as the Malfoy’s have anything to them. I’ve got to protect my mum, too. She isn’t like you. There is no other world for her to go to. There are no friends or family to keep her safe should things turn. Us, Malfoys, have to look out for each other.”

She nodded. It was a grimace, but he thought she understood. It was Hermione after all. She understood everything in a matter of seconds, as frustrating as it was.

Draco kissed her hand deeply. “All I’ll ever ask of you is to love me, and not hate me for what I have to do.”

“Oh, Draco.” She leaned forward, wrapping around his neck in a tight embrace. “Of course I’ll love you.”

“And you have to stay safe. Don’t take risks, don’t get yourself hurt.”

Hermione chuckled harshly. “I tried to do that first year. Look where it’s gotten me. Harry and Ron will always make me take risks. We won’t win if we don’t.”

“I want you safe, or else I’m gonna spend my time worrying about you like a ninny,” Draco said. “You know how I get then.”

“Oh, yes which is how you got turned into a ferret.”

Draco growled lightly.

“How my teeth turned into beavers teeth. Or how those awful badges made their way around school,” Hermione pointed out. “You really are a loathsome cockroach, aren’t you?”

The badgers about Potter stinks, Cedric rules was merely an act of jealousy on Draco’s part. He’d gotten so envious that Potter had managed to weasel his way into another spot of attention, just as he always seemed to do without effort. It made Draco’s effort seem non-existent. He hadn’t wanted to be in the tournament, of course. Students died in it. It was just Potter that irritated him beyond words, beyond comprehension.

His own beloved Hermione was the same way. Often times she still got under his skin when she excelled in class, charms, potions, life. So natural to her. He envied her so much more than Potter, yet he couldn’t truly find fault other than that she loved a wizard like him.

“You love it.” Draco grinned.

Hermione bubbled as rum coursed through her veins. She felt every inch of her skin. It tingled under Draco’s wet lips as they ravished her as a fine sweet from the divots of her collarbone down to the sensitive flesh between her breasts. He teased her gently, first with kisses then his tongue. It dragged down one leg and up the other in agonizing slowness.

It was one thing when feel it, but it was another to see it. The one thing that Draco denied her. The sash off her dress was wrapped across her eyes as Draco roamed about her at his leisure. He’d made her warm and sticky sweet with his tongue then just as she felt was going to finally release her, a chilling finger pushed inside her without warning.

“Don’t move,” he told her.

One hand pressed her hip down into the mattress. She whimpered with the sudden surge below her. Draco scoffed, pleased with her response.

“That’s a good girl,” he cooed. “Now don’t move.”

He held her there as he ran his finger inside her once more, gently. She tensed tighter. The folds of her flesh ached to be touched. Even deeper inside herself yearned for his feeling again. He ignored her pleads.

Hermione arched her back, anything to get closer, to have him touch her deeper, but Draco withdrew completely leaving the slippery wet flesh burning with need. Her need. It was the only thing she wanted. There was nothing else on her mind, not Harry Potter, or Viktor Krum, or Ron, or the tournament, or her fear. It was Draco. It was the things that he made her body do. All she had to do was hear his voice, and her body responded in excitement.

The room fell quiet. All she heard was her thick pants she couldn’t stop. It wouldn’t stop now that he’s started. She was too close now.

She reached down, but her wrist was gripped tightly.

“Now, now, Hermione. You know that isn’t how we play.”

Her heart sped. “Please, Draco. Please. Play with me,” she begged.

“No,” he growled.

Her wrist was released, forced back to the wooden spindles of the bedframe. Quiet returned. The thick darkness of her sash, bright burning red need inside her. She writhed as she tried to do as Draco said. The beating of her heart the second loudest throb.

“Draco,” she whined.

There was no answer, only the momentary shudder spanning down from her nipple where she felt the heat of Draco’s mouth as it suckled quickly. Then it was back to the cold air.

His steps traipsed around the room, in the darkness that Hermione was forbidden to see. There were the circling steps of predator around prey. She felt the cold stare of his eye as he took it in.

Hermione’s skin started to buzz as she waited. Doubt flashes through her mind as she thought of herself splayed on a bed, blindfolded, perhaps for the world to see. She pushed her legs closed but then they pulled apart again.

“Feeling shy, Granger?” Draco asked spitefully.

“Is that what you want?”

She trembled. The ancient frame creaked beneath her.

“No,” Draco said, much calmer that time. “I just want to give time for this memory to sink in.”

All memories of him were sunk in her. She remembered every look, every sneer, every kiss, every promise, every threat. The light and dark of Malfoy, a clear cut through the monochromatic tinge of her life. Every piece of that stuck through.

Then came the wicked memories. The gleaming light of moonlight on his bare ass as he shoved his pajama pants over his pale flesh. She adverted her eyes, but never forgot the excitement that she felt.

Draco pulled off the blindfold, appearing over her like an apparition. His two full moons beamed in darkness. She shuddered as she felt him straddle her lap, staring deep into her eyes even as her body wished for something else.

“I want you to remember what you feel in this moment. The way you wait for me. How you want me.” It was so serious now. It didn’t feel like their fun at all. “That no other is on your mind.”

“Draco, please.”

“Tell me, Hermione. Look at me right now and say you’ll only have me.”

Hermione saw the urgency behind his eyes. Dire, haunting need. The raw Draco filled with insecurity only visible in the small moments where his shell was cracked. She wasn’t sure if it was her favorite or not.

“I only want you.”

Draco narrowed his eyes. “Not Weasel, not Krum? Not even Saint Potter?”

“Only you, Draco. It’ll only ever be you.”

He slumped down onto her bare chest in a deep sigh. The length of his body entangled around hers, wrapping his legs around hers, his arms tightly wrapped her rib cage. She blushed a violent red as he nuzzled his face into her exposed breast. She reached for her dress, but the floor was just past her fingertips and Draco had her anchored in place.

It was so unlike him, she thought. He was never clingy. Sex happened in he wanted it, and it was a constant want, too.

That’s how the whole mess started. After the Chamber of Secrets, the pair avoided each other the same though she forgave him. There were unsettled figures the pair had. Hermione hadn’t started it. She merely was experimenting with the newfound high of rule-breaking that her two best friends instilled in her. Late at night she’d sneak to the library for late night reading. It was a thrill to find the entirety of it at her disposal. It was hers. A small bit or peace and quiet, the thrill of trouble with some productive means.

She hadn’t known that Draco Malfoy, of all people, followed her. He had a talent for sneaking round the castle at night, apparently. He caught sight of her entering the library one night and followed to investigate. Draco never did have a talent for keeping his mouth shut.

Once he found her in the library, Draco confronted her. He claimed it wasn’t fair. The two were locked in battle over top grades, and it only seemed fair that they both have the same field. She hadn’t cared to correct him. Merely left him alone each night in the library once he started to be foul. It wasn’t until his manners caught up with him. She found him agreeable eventually, even enjoying the company.
There were many smart witches and wizards at Hogwarts, but Malfoy was brilliant. Despite his attitude and negativity toward anything that sounded like tolerance, Draco proved to be a conversationalist beyond their peers. Hermione felt drawn, no matter how apprehensive, toward the blonde-haired beauty of Slytherin. Her own beliefs of the Hogwarts House having to be reexamined.

Draco taught Hermione a lesson: one that shocked them both.

Sometime Hermione lost track of the time. Eyes grew weary under the lure of alcohol. Draco withdrew from her body, covering her with his cloak and laying flat as a board near.

She heard him murmur, “Can’t sleep with someone touching me.”

Her lips moved to say something to him, but their will was lost to the foggy haze. She lost to it. Clouds moved in as a raging storm within her mind. It pounded against her temples as it whirled through. Hermione staggering through. It’s darkness, consuming.

She awoke hours later, filled with pungent sweat and entangled once again within the limbs of Draco Malfoy.

“Can’t sleep, my arse.” Hermione rubbed her head.

Everything throbbed in pain. Her head was the worst. Then came her feet from the insufferable heels she wore. The dance burned her calves, too. She stretched them carefully before wincing.

Hermione quietly unlaced herself from the corset that Draco provided and rose from the bed. The moment she stood on end, her stomach heaved to her chest.

A hot wash of bile burned through her lips as her head hung in the rusted old bowl in the loo. Every breath poisoned by the stench of vomit tainted with the sweetness of rum. She puked once more for minutes. A never-ending stream of sick. She gagged at the sight and puked some more.

“Oh god,” she moaned. “It won’t stop.”

Draco roused from sleep to find Hermione not beside him. What time was it? He rubbed his eyes. Still at the Hog’s Head. Bits of sunlight glared through the window over his head. He groaned, burying his face into the pillow.

Snape would have his head, anyway. Why not make it count?

His eyes snapped wide when he heard Hermione’s gasps.

“Mione?” He asked suddenly.

Draco jumped to his feet and fled to the bathroom. She was stark naked on the grimy floor, the pale flesh of her body a distinct contrast to the layer of dust over the wood. Her chest heaved. The beautiful curl of her hair was tousled into a humid mess off her head.

She gazed up at him with watering eyes, lifting a single finger.

Once more she leaned over the toilet and heaved into the bowl. Draco crossed softly, pulling her hair away from her mouth.

“Just breathe,” he stated evenly. His knowledge in hangovers was far from new. “You’ll feel better once it’s done.”

Hermione gagged a few more times before being able to take a breath.

“I think I’m fine,” she finally whispered.

Draco nodded. He traced back to the room to grab her clothes, but all he found was last night’s dress, and decided on his robes. It wasn’t much but it’d have to do.

She took it readily, wiping the tears from her eyes. The entirety of her face was swollen red like a plump tomato.

“Doesn’t taste so good coming back up, does it?”

Hermione shook her head. “No.”

It was a tiny squeak in the infinite silence that laid in the inn that early morning. She looked as exhausted as he felt. Frankly, though, he knew that she felt quite worse. If by some common knowledge or educated guess, Hermione was a light weight. Draco kicked himself for not knowing better.

“Are you going to be alright?” He asked. “Maybe you should head on to the hospital wing.”

A flicker of fear captured her brown eyes. “That won’t be necessary. I’m sure I’ll be right as rain in a bit.”

Chapter Text

Hogwarts, Misc.

Note found within the letters of Hermione’s hate mail from Rita Skeeter’s article:
“Got a letter from my mother the other day wondering if you were the same Hermione Granger that was upsetting all the Daily Prophet readers. Apparently, she thinks witches must be falling if a beautiful Muggleborn can steal away two impressive wizards. That’s almost a compliment.”

The note was coined with a silver dragon.

She received a letter from her parents the same next, nearly burning it with all the other hate mail from the article. Hermione clung to the news with all she had.

“Dearest Hermione. Your father and I got your letter and arranged things just as you said. We were a bit shocked, but our hearts are missing you too terribly to be angry. We cleared out the schedule. All summer long we’ll be around to help you adjust. Don’t worry. We’re here for you. Love, Mum. P.S. your father was fascinated with that book you sent. Who knew Muggle studies could be so strange to magical folks?”

Note found within Draco’s pocket, transfigured into the form of a bejeweled comb:
“You’re a filthy liar, Draco Malfoy. My head felt like volcano ready to explode all day long. Funny, my mum was asking me if there were any blood purists she could befriend. Is your mother in need of one? P.S. did you like the comb? It seemed to be your over the top taste. Black, you’re favorite.”

That note ended with a crude picture of a fuzzy lion, more resembling a cat.

“Oh the mighty cat (was that Crookshanks?) stoops to note passing. Thought only the terribly dim-witted passed notes in class. Not rubbing off on you, am I? P.S. loved the comb, wished it could have stayed.”

“You serpent! How did you slip a note into my dorm? If someone else, I’d suspect Lavendar, saw this, they might’ve snooped. We’ve got to be more careful. Meet me in our usual spot tonight.”

The notes stopped for a while.

“Slipped a few Puking Pastels to a first year, heard you must have gotten one too. Are you well? It’s probably all those House Elves you’ve stirred up. They can be a nasty sort. Want me to talk to them?”

“Leave it to you to threaten poor creatures like House Elves. I’m sure it’d feel a bit like betraying the ones at the Manor if you were to take to bullying the ones at school. They’ve been warming up to me after all. I’ve learned to knit, and hidden clothes around the Gryffindor Tower. Looked in the morning and found the knittings gone. I think I’ve made some new friends.”

The lion has lessened into the form of a fuzzy, ugly cat with a bright orange coat.

“Leave it to you to always top my accomplishments. Knitting, the new skill? The Weasel’s mother teach you that? Perhaps his wardrobe might improve with your help. P.S. Have you found a time in the summer? I’ll need to see you some time. Potter and Weasley can’t keep you all holiday.”

“Attached to this note is a scarf, or rather attached to a scarf is this note. I knitted it for you so that it might keep you from turning to a block of ice completely. Must you always be so spiteful? P.S. My parents have booked a summer of holidays and trips to the Burrow. I’m unsure if we’ll meet before the beginning of next term. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Text

Great Hall, Cedric’s Memorial

The halls sat dead outside. All three schools gathered inside the room, rows upon rows of chairs seated with students and professors. There wasn’t the general hum that usually resonated through the hall; it was still. No one dared make a sound.

Walls were left in bare stone. The ceiling stared back as plain vaulted rafters of the castle with pillars looming high overhead. Solid black banners hanged down with a single golden H.

Professor Dumbledore stood ahead, alone.

Hermione sat amongst the crowd alongside Harry and Ron. She hadn’t stopped whimpering since Harry came back with the Tri-Wizard cup and a dead body in his arms. It was all she pictured when she closed her eyes. How easily it could have been Harry, or even both of them. Her hand gripped Harry’s tighter.

They shared a glance.

Her lips parted, all they wanted was to thank him for coming back. She’d choose him over Cedric Diggory every time. Though…

Tears began to fall freely. She held back as much as she could. It was wrong to be thankful. Cedric Diggory was a Hufflepuff, so honest and loyal. He’d been the best of them, and he was defeated.

More so, Voldemort was risen.

Harry held her hand tightly. It was his anchor to the moment. If he pictured that night, or Cedric’s ghostly apparition begging to be brought back to his father, Harry would scream at the pain.

“Hermione?” Harry whispered. There was strain in his voice. It nearly made the tears fall quicker.

“Yeah, Harry?”

He leaned closer in a whisper. “Are your clothes charmed?”

Horrified, Hermione looked down. His hand was near her lap. She hadn’t noticed how close she’d gotten. They moved their hands between them.

“Um, no. What makes you say that?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. It just felt, different.”

Hermione placed their joined hands atop her knee. She knew she’d lose track again, once the memorial started and she couldn’t worry about more than one thing. One thing. One breath at a time.

That night so many fears came true. Hermione trembled when Cedric’s name was mentioned. She tried not to. So many others knew him better and hurt worse. Right in that moment when she heard the POP of the Portkey as it flung Cedric and Harry down to the ground, something in her bones shifted. She felt the air change. It was then that she sensed something was not right.

She felt different. Changed.

Voldemort was back. The hard reality of life now set. People like her weren’t safe, but that isn’t what she felt. It was sudden terror for the ones she loved. Petrified for a second time in her life, frozen cold.

Cedric was just a stronger reminder of what happened when wizards stood in the way.

A thought shot through Hermione in a sudden second. She tensed, gripping Harry’s hand harder than she meant, and buried down the shame in her face.

Draco. Had he known? Was his father responsible for Cedric’s death? Draco told her more than once that Harry was the reason his family wasn’t in glory. As long as Harry breathed, there was shame on the house of Malfoy. Hermione guessed it was a pure blood thing, some pathetic socialite rule, but now it wasn’t so clear. Now it was murky.

She shot him a cold look. Draco sat across the row, back one next to a pretty brunette from Beauxbaton. He was solemn. The usual sneer made departure to a blanker than blank slate. What he was feeling, Hermione couldn’t guess.

No. That was what it was. Draco’s shield, his shell. There was fear in him, deep. His aunt Bellatrix scarred him deeply as a child. She was the most loyal of loyal servants. Hermione winced back more tears.

It was good for Draco. He was so interconnected within Voldemort’s ranks that he couldn’t be hurt, wouldn’t be betrayed. Safe. He’d be safe.

That was what mattered.

“Cedric was a person who exemplified many of the qualities which distinguish Hufflepuff house, he was a good and loyal friend, a hard worker, he valued fair play. His death has affected you all, whether you knew him well or not. I think that you have the right, therefore, to know exactly how it came about. Cedric Diggory was murdered by Lord Voldemort!"

A wave washed through the students. Their gasps split the eerie dead that was Hogwarts. It lingered in the dense air as the shock soaked through clearly. The devastation echoed the same as the night of the third challenge where they all beheld his lifeless corpse a stain amongst the grass. Tattered. He looked tattered that night.

Hermione swore Cedric’s father sobbed in the Hall. Wide-eyed, she looked around the room. No, he was not. It was just her memory. She clasped her hand over her mouth, a sad attempt against the sobs. Thankfully, there were silent. Silence was his death, the death of all in part. They’d never look up at the Great Hall in the same way. The black drapes closed in respect for his memory. There was no way she’d not see his face when she walked by a Hufflepuff. It was everywhere, his cloud, his light.

The day was not so melancholy. The students were given the change to intermingle with the other schools, giving final goodbyes and addresses. Krum pulled her aside.

“Write to me, okay?” He gave a rare smile.

Hermione blushed, taking the paper from his hand. In messy scrawl was an address with his name in bold letters atop. She felt the jealous eyes of girls as they swallowed their tongues at the sight.

Viktor had asked her to visit him in the summer in Bulgaria, but she declined. He still wasn’t deterred. His address was evident of that.

“Promise,” he said.

Hermione nodded. “Yeah, okay. I’ll write.”

She watched his hat bob through the crowd as it joined many others topped with fur-lined caps. The many of the Dumstrang students were gathered together. No doubt they’d gotten many admirers over the course of the term. The Beauxbatons faired similarly. The girls beamed with smiles, glowing in their soft blue uniforms. One in particular buzzed with an extra wide smile. She stood near Draco Malfoy. Hermione recognized her as the same one she’d seen him with earlier.

“Starting summer a bit early, are we?” She mumbled. “Cheeky.”

Draco was a rain cloud on a sunny day; the dark of his tailored suit blared in difference to the bright colors of the courtyard. There were brilliant oranges, pastel pinks, shimmering blues, and vibrant greens. He was always black. His darkness a sign throughout a crowd. It hugged his lean body pleasantly down his legs. Underneath was a deeper black undershirt. It was his skin, his hair, his brilliant gray eyes that radiated him.

She gave him a long look. He was more than handsome. She saw it now as he flirted with the Beauxbaton girl, who was a clear beauty herself. The girl was nothing compared to that tense jawline. Those nimble fingers as they fished a note from between her fingers. He shared a smile, not too eager but happy nonetheless.

“Hey Mudblood!” Pansy shouted. A clear line of students stared off to Hermione, the parting of the crowd as the Red Sea. Eyes widened. Even they knew what came after ward. It was nothing less than what she deserved, too. She stared in the open. What the hell was the matter with her? “Won’t be having Krum to come save you next year. The next time you’re at the bottom of the Black Lake, you’ll be staying there!”

Hermione stopped herself from eye rolling.

Oh, great, she thought. Say that in front of Draco so he can get worked up about it again. He hadn’t been thrilled when she was chosen as Krum’s ‘something special’ for the second task in the tournament. The vein in his forehead near popped. He was hardly gentle when they laid together. She’d been sore a bit. Of course, when wasn’t he a bit rough?

Hermione caught Malfoy’s gaze before she left the courtyard to the safety of Ron and Harry just near the edge. They were talking cheerfully. Ron glowed with an extra redness. Harry seemed risen, too.

“Think there’ll ever be a quiet year at Hogwarts?” Ron asked.

Harry shook his head. “Nope.”

The pair started to walk away with the expectation that she’d follow but something kept Hermione rooted. She touched the worn stone pillar. It all felt different. The entire place seemed so changed, same as she was. Voldemort’s rising changed it all. The steady ground they all expected was shifted. Hogwarts was no longer the sanctuary. It was a battle ground.

Out in the courtyard, Draco approached Pansy Parkinson with a sneer. He seemed displeased. Hermione knew better than to hope it had something to do with her. After all, the Malfoy time was upon them. The Dark Lord meant their ascension to something grander that Draco believed would make him whole. His time for untouchable safety expanded tenfold.

“Everything is going to change, isn’t it?” She asked softly.

Harry patted her shoulder. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Grimmauld Place

“Welcome, welcome dear Hermione!” Molly Weasley rushed forward through the narrow hallway, nearly toppling Hermione back over her luggage.

“Easy, Mum,” Ron said. “It’s not like you haven’t seen her.”

“Not all summer. Those parents of yours kept you away, did they? Well at least we’ve got you now. Ginny, show her where your room is. Ron, pick up her bags. For goodness sake, don’t make her carry them.”

Weighed down by a summer cramped in the house with her parents, Hermione felt the sudden freedom strike her as sad. Her parents left her to her own devices as they bared on with their life as if nothing changed. Of course, it was all changed.

The change among the Weasley’s was nonexistent. Their red hair stumbled through the narrow way of the house as they all parted. Ginny and Ron started up the steep staircase to the left, as Molly and Arthur walked to the back. As they passed through, Hermione caught a glance of Remus Lupin. Remus was a member of the Order and seemed to be content within the walls. She settled a bit. It was all different than she thought. She pictured it all summer. The panic, the chaos. The truth was hidden, even in the papers. There hadn’t been a shred of truth in the Daily Prophet for months.

“Comin’ Mione?” Ron called down from the landing above.

His little head broke through the haunted darkness of the house. All of it was dinged a pale black. It wasn’t cheery like the Gryffindor Common Room or the Great Hall, or even homey touch of the Burrow.

“We’re all the way up here,” Ginny said. “Couldn’t get any closer to the ground. Apparently those rooms are saved for the ones who don’t like going up and down these blasted stairs. There’s four of them.”

“Nothing worse than Hogwarts.” Hermione climbed the stairs with her satchel. She hadn’t known how long she’d be there, so it was stuffed full of miscellaneous things.

“Watch it!” Ginny pointed down to the railing.

Hermione glanced down and saw a letter nearly out of the pocket, ready to descend to the ground floor. She quickly scrambled to grab it, in turn spilling the satchel down the stairs.

“Merlin’s sake, Hermione. Did you bring your whole house?” Ron ascending the next flight, ready to set down her luggage.

Ginny helped clean it up, shoving it back into the bloated bag. It was overpacked.

“Sorry,” Hermione mumbled as she pushed a brush down into the mess. “Guess I got carried away.”

“Why don’t you give it an extension charm?” Ginny asked with a smile. “It’ll help. Keep your letters in at least. Who is this to anyhow? Is this a dragon?”

Ginny glanced up, puzzled.

Hermione blushed. “Oh, that’s nothing.”

She plucked the envelope away. Ginny watched over her shoulder as Hermione flattened the letter and placed it gently within the satchel. When she turned back, Ginny acted disinterested.

“Where’s the room?” Hermione tried to change the subject.

“Just up this way,” Ginny replied. She overtook Hermione on the stairs, leading the way down a narrow hallway to the bedroom both the girls shared, just as they did in the Burrow.

Hermione felt lucky there was a Weasley girl for her to bunk with. If it’d just been the boys, she would have had to take to the floor.

“Wow.”

The room was heavily dated with rich velvet drapes covered the windows, a very Slytherin green. It was everywhere. The walls, the drapes, the glass shined in green hue. Faded wallpapers peeled off the walls, split with golden frames.

There were two single poster beds, a dresser and beautiful vanity past it’s prime.

“I know right? Feels like one of the dungeon rooms in Slytherin,” Ginny commented.

Hermione shivered. It was so very close. Even the accents were silver, same as the Hogwarts House. She knew what the rooms were like from a distinct, small memory. The fireplace gave a more heartily glow in the castle than it did in Grimmauld Place.

Whoa. She stopped herself. It was not the time to go there.

“It is very Slytherin-esque. But I’m sure it’s safe enough. Not every one of them can be bad, can they?”

The Weasley sister looked uncertain. “It still gives me the creeps.”

Hermione agreed. “Let’s sleep with the lights on.”

“The beds are nice. Soft at least. And look at these blankets. I have to kick them off by the end of the night. I’ve never been so warm.”

“They do look lovely.” Hermione fingered the plush fabric between her fingers without thought. It was thick with silver strands cut through rivers of emerald green trimmed with silver snowflakes.

There were patterned designs of green laced overtop silver, locked in some endless battle as they wove through the fabric and each other merrily. It reminded Hermione of waves of the ocean swimming together. Strands moved as water through cloth.

Ginny sat atop her bed as Hermione unpacked her things into the bedside table. She moved quietly and quickly. Sure to shove the letter down quickly whenever it poked out. It was suspicious for Hermione to act so mysteriously. Ginny wondered what secrets it bared, and to who. A dragon wasn’t a particularly popular magical animal.

It was curious. However, she left her friend to her silence. Hermione seemed to thrive with time to think, the more of it, the better.

Frankly she was overjoyed to have a friend to break up the monotony of the summer, Ginny couldn’t have cared if Hermione came covered head to toe in magical tattoos. All summer with Fred, George and Ron as they belched, farted and snored their way through the day. It was hard enough at the Burrow, where the air flowed freely amongst the rooms. Hermione would put a stop to it. Or, at least a distraction.

“Have you heard from Harry?” Hermione suddenly asked.

Ginny startled. “Um, no. No, we haven’t. Dumbledore told us not to tell him what’s been going on.”

Hermione tried to hide her frown, but the disappointment was too much.

“Me too,” she said. “I was at least hoping to hear how he was doing, if he was alright. Not one word. He might need help, you see. With Cedric’s death, Voldemort’s rebirth. All of it.”

“Do you really think he’s back?”

“Who?”

Ginny felt silly, questioning the great Harry Potter about the Dark Lord. After all, she’d follow Harry anywhere. As would anyone who knew him. Things didn’t feel as catastrophic as they should with Voldemort back. The world to stop itself. The Order was a tiny group, not an army.

“You mean Voldemort?” Hermione questioned. Ginny nodded. “I do. Nothing feels the same as it did before. After Cedric…Harry would never lie about something like that, but it felt true because of Cedric. Only a monster would kill him. What kind of person would want a brilliant wizard like him from the world?”

Silence fell to them as both girls remembered that night. Cedric’s death. It was a dream Hermione had almost every night. Ginny kept it pushed out of her mind. She didn’t want to think of him. It was too unreal.

“Things are going to get a lot worse than Cedric,” she said.

Hermione nodded. “Yeah, definitely.”

Ginny and Hermione dropped the subject and left it gone until later that night once they were tucked in bed, hopeful of sleep. Ginny’s soft breaths sounded on the very edge of rest when Hermione muttered something from underneath the dense blankets.

“What’s that, Hermione?”

“I’m scared,” she said softly.

Ginny’s eyes opened to slits. “The lights are still on, Hermione. This place isn’t that bad. At least we don’t hear Ron snoring like a bear.”

“No.” Hermione sighed. “I’m scared of what’s going to happen. To Harry. To the Order. Voldemort is out there right now, waiting for the chance to get to us. What if he’s too strong? What if he takes over wizarding world? What of our loved ones? I’ve tried to but I don’t know how to picture that future. All I see is darkness. Pitch black evil.”

“One day at a time,” Ginny murmured. “Go to sleep. It’ll all feel better in the morning.”

The days passed slowly in Grimmauld Place, as news of the Order came secretly and slow. Molly Weasley kept them all away from the meetings. They were corralled out the way like steers as members of the Order flocked in.

Professor Snape appeared one day, to Hermione’s surprise. She’d never seen him outside of Hogwarts. It felt odd. He looked the same, dressed as he did in the Castle. Head to toe black. His tone, his manner was all very much the same. He ignored them as they passed by. It was notable because the narrow halls made it impossible to avoid anyone. Hermione thought it strange.

Crookshanks ran down from his daily napping spot to greet Hermione with a playful pant scratching. She tucked the fur ball between her arms, aching to hold something so very close to her. The cat meowed. A rough paw touched Hermione’s nose, claws retracted. Big black eyes stared into her soul. She felt their connection pass.

“I know. I miss home, too,” she said. “But we’ve got to get all this sorted first: school, You-Know-Who, Harry. We have to do this first.”

“Talking to your stupid cat again, Mione?” Ron snickered as he passed.

“He holds a better conversation than you,” she retorted. The cat sent Ron a warning meow as he stepped closer.

Ron narrowed his eyes. The cat had, on more than one occasion, went out of it’s way to scratch Ronald and run away. It shredded the sleeve off one of his favorite sweaters when they’d been down for supper. Not only that. Crookshanks also sprayed across the length of his trunk full of school clothes and trinkets. It’d taken Molly a full day of washing to get rid of the smell.

“I miss Harry,” she said suddenly.

Hermione looked to her friend. Ron pushed his lips together in a line.

“He’ll be here. Nothing ever happens to him, Hermione.”

“Everything happens to him. Always!”

Ron shrugged. “Don’t worry, mate. The Order will keep him safe. If he gets into trouble, they’ll go help him out of it. Now come on you nutter. Let’s go on up there before Mum hears us.”

It was days before Hermione caught one scent of news of Harry. She’d gotten tons of news from the papers. The disappearances. The slander of her best friend and headmaster.

There was a sudden meeting of the Order, a chaos of shouting with Harry’s name being center news.

“We’ve just got word that Harry’s been expelled,” Alastor Moody said. It was a gruff recognizable tone.

“Oh my goodness!” Molly exclaimed. “Is he alright? What happened?”

“’Use of a Patronus Charm in front of a Muggle’? That can’t be right.” It was Lupin.

Hermione gasped. She pulled Ron closer in silence.

“Did you hear that?” She whispered.

Ron nodded. “Do you think he’ll actually be expelled?”

A year without Harry sounded awful.

The Order dispatched once news came from Dumbledore that he’d requested a hearing from the Ministry of Magic. Sirius, Lupin, Molly, Snape and Arthur stayed behind to mind the headquarters as Hermione dove deep into her books. She had a rulebook from first year. She’d also gotten a book on the laws of underage wizard restrictions. It made her feel calm until Harry was delivered, though irate at their absence over the summer.

It was awful to see Harry so upset. They’d sworn Dumbledore, or else Ron and Hermione would have told him everything. Or rather, Hermione would have. She wished Harry could see that. His thoughts seemed more focused on other things. He let it go.

Hermione thought he itched to see Sirius, to talk to the Order. He was much more driven than before. No longer content to sit around with the rest of them while plans were made without. He wanted more.

And if Harry Potter wanted to be more, she knew she’d have to be too. He was her best friend. They had to stick together. Voldemort was back.

The letter came sometime later. The letter from Hogwarts. Ron got one, too. Harry did not.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts Express

On the train, the group parted ways. Hermione felt guilty leaving Harry in a compartment alone but Ginny assured them she had new friends: Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom. Luna was a Ravenclaw, Neville, a fellow Gryffindor. Harry looked less than thrilled.

Hermione and Ron, now Gryffindor House prefects, made their way to the prefect car where the other school House prefects would meet.

“Honestly I don’t see why we have to have a separate compartment. It isn’t fair. We’re supposed to be role models accessible to the younger years. How can we do that from a special train car?” Hermione adjusted her fallen headband.

She wore a fitted black skirt, knee-high gray stockings, and a simple gray sweater. The bit of flare was the radiant silver headband with a bejeweled dragon. Ron scowled at it more than once.

“Why you got to wear something like that?” He tapped it again. “It’s creepy.”

“What, it’s not a dancing sausage so it isn’t appealing to you?”

They pulled opened the heavy train door. It was warm in the cabin. Air practically blew her curls back. She stopped to adjust them once more, and her headband again. Her fingers instantly pulled at the hem of her skirt. Suddenly it felt ridiculous.

“All I’m sayin’ is a dragon. It’s a bit dark for you, innit?”

The train rustled. She was forced over the train seat, her skirt riding up higher on her thighs. Ron reached his arms out quickly, but one slipped through his grasp, inevitably greasy from a snack minutes earlier.

Hermione felt her arm swung out wildly, still unstable from her position, and smacked Draco Malfoy right in the face. The look of shock on his face was clear. He’d lengthened over the summer, leaner and even more handsome. The platinum of his hair was moussed, teased in texture. Brilliant gray eyes shined like moons over a night sea. Malfoy was a spitting image of his father, Lucius. Never seen in anything but a darkly dyed suit, tailed to each millimeter of his body as a custom map to cover the wondrous fulfillment that came from his flesh.

She blushed insentiently, apologized amid the confusion. “I’m so sorry.”

Pansy Parkinson stood behind Draco with a venom in her eye. The cool black stare of hatred as Hermione melted into a pathetic heap of Muggle fragility that Pansy, herself, viewed so far below a witch. The scowl came seconds later. She was ready to put the Mudblood in her place, but she’d already been told off by Draco to stop defending him. His actions were his own to do, not hers, he had said. Pansy held her tongue.

“Don’t bother, Hermione. It’s just Malfoy,” Ron said.

“What’s this then?” Draco spat.

All summer without a shred of something from Hermione and being unable to contact her in return made the day especially exciting for Draco. She plagued him as his summer with his parents was filled with more life and laughter and nobility that it was close to unenjoyable. The thrill of Diagon alley, too, was lost to him. All his classmates’ happy smiles as they perused with their friends while he was with his mother to pick out new gear for the Quidditch pitch. That day as they lifted his purchases through the alley, his eye happened to catch view of a shimmering red in a window. It was a gold chain with a single, small emerald encased by thick sapphires. It looked like a heart. There was another chain that dipped down off the beating heart into two pearl drops. Draco was enthralled. He purchased it quickly, not pleased to heat his mother’s many questions behind him.

“I just want it, ok?” He’d told her. “One day I might meet the future Mrs. Malfoy and I want her to have that necklace.”

It kept his mother quiet, at least.

The first day of school came slowly, but he’d awoken early. It was the day he’d finally see her even if it was with Potter and Weasley. Something was better than the nothing he had.

Except he hadn’t expected to see her bent over with the Weasel behind her like she was. He’d forgotten the smack across the face. All he saw was something he did not like.

“Didn’t your mother teach you it’s rude to mount girls on the train, Weaselbee?” Draco said, finally remembering himself. Pansy, beside him. Of all the people, she had to be the one there to witness it. If it’d been Blaise, they could have shared amusement of the moment. “Or is that how you do it in your family?”

Ron helped Hermione to her feet, though she felt stiff as a corpse. She hadn’t expected to see him so soon. All summer and she was still unprepared for the feeling. Her knees turned to jelly. How was he even more gorgeous than she remembered?

It was displeasing to Ron to see just how much Malfoy stayed the same.

“Shove off, Malfoy. You do know this is the prefects car, right?”

Flustered, Draco adjust his tie tightly against his throat. The bit of pinch kept him from saying too much.

“As so happens, I am a prefect. Top of the Slytherin House.”

Ron smirked. “Not of the class, though, are you?”

Everybody knew that Hermione held top of the class every year she attended. She was the brightest witch of the age. Ron put his arm across her shoulder in triumph, as if he himself was the smartest. Hermione rolled her eyes. He was much too thick for that.

“That place still belongs to Gryffindor,” Ron said.

“No, Ronald. It belongs to me,” Hermione scoffed. “And I’m perfectly capable to sticking up for myself.”

Draco felt insulted. Weasley tested his nerves no doubt, but there was no doubt that even the dumb Weasel couldn’t see what the future held. Malfoy was on his way to the top. His family was nearly there, ready to become the elite of purebloods.

He sat down at a window table. Pansy slid across from him. “Yes, well, just you wait. Things are going to be different this year. My guess is, next year there won’t be a spot for you in the train car, Weasley. Enjoy it while you can.”

Hermione and Ron sat in their seats. It was in direct sight of Draco, which was partially his plan. He could watch her the whole train ride if he wanted. However, Pansy hovered above him so closely, he’d have to watch himself.

Every shift in her legs caught his attention. A skirt to show off her shapely legs in soft, creamy skin. Hermione looked filled in. Her hips were wider. The swell in her shirt was more appeasing. She was a vision in the train car, one that almost kept his entire ride occupied with her curves. Thin as she was, he preferred them not to be. A bit of curve to them, just right to their body. Draco thought of her bent over the seat as she’d been, and suddenly a slick took hold of his neck. He loosened his tie ever so slightly.

It was going to be a long ride.

“What you suppose he meant by that?” Ron whispered.

He shifted in his seat, keeping his eye on the two prefects seated directly opposite: Hannah Abbott and Ernie MacMillan. They were the Hufflepuff prefects. The two Ravenclaws sat behind them at a window table. They were Anthony and Padma. All of them felt odd. Ron was by far the odd duck out of the mess. Except for Malfoy, who he felt cheated somehow to become a prefect, Ron was the least smart student of the car. Ernie and Hermione studied for hours at a time. The two Ravenclaws weren’t much better. Hermione got along with them too. Hannah Abbott was a strange egg; he hadn’t spoken to her much.

Hermione opened up a Muggle book, Pride and Prejudice. She settled comfortably in her seat, as did the others. The only ones who talked were the Slytherins, and they always kept to themselves when they were bullying.

Ron tapped on her shoulder, unable to stand the tension. “You think Malfoy’s got some tricks planned? Wouldn’t past him, the git. You ever notice how he wears a dragon ring on his right hand? That’s a bad omen. Mione, you have to take off that headband. It’s got a curse for sure.”

“Stop it, Ron.”

She swatted his hand away and returned to her book. The story was eerily similar to her present situation, without the war and death and chosen one, and it was the only source of guidance she could hope for. There was no guide to handling hated interbreeding of bloodlines, pure and otherwise. Elizabeth Bennett was given a raw deal from the start, just the same as Hermione, that she couldn’t help. Mr. Darcy, the dreamy pretentious ass, was bound to uphold family honor as was expected for years upon years to continue a wealthy line with another. What was his affection supposed to accomplish? What challenges did he overcome? He nearly lost Elizabeth along the way! It was all so simple on the page. Her life was far from it. She feared the cause might be lost with Voldemort’s return. It’d ruined much hope of anything.

The train rocked gently as it glided down the tracks. Hermione felt at ease as they chugged through the English countryside up to Scotland. It was a fine landscape as it passed by. She sighed softly as she watched the brilliant green grass dance through the wind, as clouds passed by in fluffy white.

She hoped Harry was alright without them. By the way Ron fidgeted, he must have missed him, too. The conversation, at the very least. It was quiet in the prefect’s car. Draco was nose deep in The Daily Prophet probably satisfied with the horrid statements about Harry and the headmaster. Ravenclaws studied their new school books. Hannah looked at the window. Ernie was buried within a book, too, taking notes as he progressed.

Time with the Order was not exciting, so Hermione had already skimmed through the textbooks a few times. She felt perfectly content to meander a novel instead.

There was a sudden whispering over at the Slytherin seat. Draco whispered through gritted teeth while Pansy shook her head. Once she looked over and caught Hermione’s stare, the girl was out of her seat in a dead set path for Hermione.

“Take that off,” the girl instructed firmly.

Hermione sat stunned. “What?”

Pansy motioned to the headband. She swiped the hair from her eyes and kept in a hard stare.

“Do it now.”

Ron tensed a bit. “Told you. Just take it off.”

“No,” Hermione gasped. “I will not take it off. It is mine, and I am fit to wear it where ever I like.”

“The sigil of Malfoy House is a dragon. It’s a disgrace to the name of Malfoy to have a filthy Mudblood like you wearing it.” Pansy put her hands on her hips.

Hermione was acutely aware that the Slytherin girl believed Mudblood to be a more pointed term than it actually was. She’d gotten over her sensitivity to the name after Malfoy called her it second year. Now she regarded it with indifference.

Ron gulped down his sudden fear for Pansy. “Oh,” he groaned. “A sigil of Malfoy? Now you gotta take it off.”

A glance toward the other Slytherin prefect revealed he was in his seat. He watched intently but said nothing. He was bound to more than just her. Hermione was stuck to battle it out on her own.

“The House of Malfoy can’t possibly lay claim over all dragons,” Hermione said curtly. “They are magical creatures after all. They belong to all of us.”

Pansy broke out into a harsh chuckle. “They belong to witches and wizards. Not pathetic Muggleborns like you. Now give me the dragon before I rip it out of your hair.”

“No.”

Suddenly Pansy lunged forward, her long nails a forefront to the assault as she gripped the plastic within her hand. Hermione tried to pull away but the seat next to her was filled with Ron. No where to go, she ducked lower. Her head, sadly, was still within reach. Pansy yanked off the headband, sure to pull a few hairs, and stood there in victory. The silver headband crumbled underneath her tight grip. Hermione heard the snap a few seconds later.

The wrath of Pansy not yet dead, she placed it on the ground. “Incendio!”

The small bit of plastic curled and melted as healthy flames consumed it whole. The rest watched in horror as Pansy burned it to nothing but a dense pile of ash. Hermione kept her mouth closed the rest of the train ride, often staring at the ashy remnants of something she loved so much. It’d been a gift from her mother over the summer.

Hogwarts Express arrived at Hogwarts Station, Draco and Pansy were the first to exit. Hufflepuffs were next. They were most anxious to meet their friends.

Ron and Hermione departed in silence. They hadn’t spoken since the incident. Hermione didn’t plan on telling Harry about it. There was enough to fret about other than some typical Slytherin bullies.
Luna, Ginny, Neville and Harry stood in a circle, waiting for them.

“Well, how was it then?” Harry asked quickly. “Who were the others?”

Ron glanced over at Hermione. “Well there’s, um, Ernie and Hannah from Hufflepuff. Padma and Anthony. They’re Ravenclaws. And, for Slytherin, well there’s -.”

“Draco Malfoy is a Slytherin House prefect along with that complete cow, Pansy Parkinson,” Hermione snipped.

Ginny and Neville’s eyes widened at Hermione’s outburst. They left their gaze elsewhere but her face. She looked possibly ready to explode. Harry was dumbfounded that Malfoy, of all people, was a prefect.

“He’s sure to let the power go to his head,” Ron said seriously, “if it hasn’t already. He’ll be having all those Slytherins a gang of Death Eaters.”

The group switched focus from the news to Luna as it is announced that her father is the editor of the looney publication, The Quibbler. Hermione is mortified, after having just called it rubbish. It was twice in one afternoon she felt lower than dirt.

Not long after, Draco brings in his two goons, Crabbe and Goyle, to announce the news to his bitter rival himself. Hermione didn’t doubt it was to make himself feel better. Draco kept a balance within himself. Anytime he started to feel the least bit sad, or guilty, or angry, he lashed out to make himself tops again. Hermione ignored the whole of the encounter.

It was boys being boys. Draco being the worst of gloaters there ever was.

"Well, just watch yourself, Potter, because I'll be dogging your footsteps in case you step out of line,” Draco said.

It gave Hermione a terrible feeling to know that last year, such an interaction would have excited her. Draco Malfoy was so terribly dominant after all. The summer gave her a reinvigorated focus over what he was underneath it all.

He was sad. He was scared. It was all he had to reach for family glory that Malfoy’s had for years, only to end before him. He always told her that he’d die before that happened. No Malfoy can truly hold the name without the status to go with it. Or else, what was the point?

She often told Malfoy that it didn’t have to be that way. There was life outside of money, and purist notions. All he said was that she didn’t understand. Their worlds were too different.

In that moment as she watched Draco shine in the delight that was his unending ambition, Hermione considered that it might be the truth. There might not be any saving for the Malfoy heir.

Chapter Text

The Black Lake

In a familiar clearing of shrubbery aside the shores of The Black Lake, Hermione sat in the faded afternoon light, book in hand. She’d managed to find a time in her first weekend back at Hogwarts to meet Draco in their favorite outdoor spot. The light air of the lake whirled around her in gentle caresses like the kiss of clouds. It was a beautiful day. She arrived earlier than she told Draco to soak up the brilliance of nature. Harry and Ron were at the Quidditch pitch, practicing for the upcoming opening on the Gryffindor team. Harry was a seeker, already a team member, but Ron was hoping of becoming the new Keeper. She wasn’t missed.

Many in the Gryffindor House believed Harry Potter to be a liar, as The Daily Prophet suggested. Seamus Finnegan made it clear that he believed Harry made up Voldemort. Hermione and Ron defended Harry, but he was unappreciative of their effort. Hermione never doubted Harry. She supported him as the others remained apart from the lot of them. She was eager to get away from the house for a bit.

Hermione spread out on the red and white plaid blanket beneath her. Gentle licks of light trickled through the canopy of trees. They teased her eyes as she tried to read.

She wore her brand-new yoga capris, a Muggle fashion trend on the rise. They hugged her thighs, cupped her butt and waist. They were a dense black. Her top was periwinkle blue cut into a deep V. She did wear a white cami beneath so the flesh of her breasts was covered.

Her shoes sat on the edge of the rocky beach of Black Lake. A charm protected her secret spot from being discovered by wandering students so she stretched out comfortably and read throughout the new Defense Against The Dark Arts (DADA) textbook.

“What a load of rubbish,” she groaned.

The book was tossed to the ground. Hermione never mistreated a book before, but the contents were just too idiotic to stand. It was the book for a four-year-old, not fifth year students!

She laid back on the blanket, arm laid across her eyes. The calm manner of the waves as they sloshed against the rocks hummed a tune to Hermione as she laid. Her mind drifted. It wasn’t until a long shadow blocked the sun and awoke her from the day dreaming stupor.

“How long have you been out here?” The shadow asked.

Hermione gazed up with dream-filled eyes. “A while.”

“I’m not late, you know.”

“I know. I came to get away,” she answered softly.

Draco looked down at her with bemusement. “Get enough of Weasley and Potter already?”

“It seems like they’ve had enough of me.” Her tone was thoughtful as she stared off into the lush green of the canopy. Sunlight played with color. “For now.”

“Lucky bastards.”

She felt Draco settle atop the blanket near her right side. His hand brushed against her fingers. Though it was much cooler than skin.

Hermione peeked open her eyes and gazed at a bit of reflection in her hand. It reflected the bright sunlight in shades of red, gold and green.

“What’s this?” She lifted her hand. Draco pushed it back to her.

“A gift,” he said.

“Gift?” She repeated in disbelief. “Oh, Draco. I can’t take this. It’s too beautiful.”

Red gemstones glowed fiery red in her hand, as did the gold. The green stone sat coolly in the middle. The necklace felt heavy within her hand.

“Of course you’ll have it, Mione. I got it for you.”

It was too beautiful for words. She loved it immensely. It was unlike the typical Draco Malfoy style of silver and green and black. This necklace was warm. Like her.

She gazed up at him. “Don’t tell me these are real.”

Draco glanced down at the golden chain. It made him think of her the moment he saw it. The heart of a lion with the small speck of a dragon’s scale between.

“Then don’t ask,” he retorted.

Hermione watched him as his eyes scanned the surface of the lake. The wind was gentle today. Barely any waves broke through the calm blanket. It was a navy blue today, unlike most days where it reflected a dense black color.

A few first years walked round the edge a kilometer away. They watched the boys levitate the rocks over the water. The first few times, the boys lost control of the spell and dropped the stones into the lake with thick clunks. As many more attempts passed, they became stronger. A few times, the rocks skipped out a fair ways away from dropping to the depths.

Draco sat with his legs extended ahead, in a ridiculous suit, with his hands clasped together. He kept himself quiet until the silence drove him mad.

“What’s that over there?” He asked.

She glanced back to the woven picnic basket. “Why, Draco. You’d think you’d know a basket when you see one.”

He glared. “I know what it is. What’s it got in it?”

Hermione lifted her wand and brought the basket between them. “I thought I’d bring us a picnic since it is such a lovely day for it. We never get to do anything like normal teenagers. Sneaking around and all. I got Dobby to bring me some Muggle delicacies, since you haven’t had any Muggle food before. I thought it’d be fun.”

“Get that stuff away from me,” he growled. “I can’t be eating Muggle food.”

“Why? You won’t turn into one.”

“I just can’t, Hermione. You know that we push things enough. This…this is my limit.”

Hermione reached over and plucked a slice of pizza off a plate and shoved the cheesy, tomatoey goodness into her mouth in large bite. It filled her taste buds with memories of her parents, her home, her summer at home. She missed the simplicity then. A whole summer with her family as they bonded closer than ever before.

She moaned in delight as she ate another bite.

“Stop that,” Draco growled.

Hermione groaned again, deeper. The pizza wasn’t that tasty, but it bothered Draco when she was in ecstasy with anything other than him.

“I’m warning you. Stop that right now.”

She pushed the half-eaten slice toward him. “One bite. Then I’ll stop.”

“You dare try to make a deal with me? I said, stop. I meant it.”

There was a singe of excitement when she disobeyed Draco. It writhed his skin. It fluttered her belly. She shoved another sloppy bite into her mouth, smearing sauce out the corners of her mouth and moaned louder than she’d ever done before.

It was mania as Draco pinned her to the ground and kissed the very air out of her lungs. He held his lips against hers until she squirmed for breath. The distinctly odd taste of Muggle food filled his mouth but the taste of Hermione kept him there. He thrust his tongue inside her sticky, wet mouth again and again, wagging it with her own and sucking gently upon her bottom lip.

His swelled excitement pushed against her thighs. She felt it harden as she fought to regain control of her wrists.

One got wretched away from his taut grasp and immediately touched the cool metal of his zipper. She pushed against his erection, running a single finger up and down the outside of his pants. He groaned into her mouth.

“Oh Hermione, I’ve missed you.” He said it between long sighs; her fingers cradled him within her hand. “Won’t be able to go so long without you anymore. Every spare moment should be here, us.”

“I’ll try.”

She toyed with his zipper, nearly starting to pull it down but stopped. Draco groaned in frustration. He took her mouth in his until he was light headed. He didn’t want to stop. More of her. He craved more.

Hermione felt him caress the fabric of her capris gently. His fingers became fascinated in gripping her thighs and butt through the material. Draco even bent down and nipped them.

“Is it bad that I just want to rip these off of you?” He purred.

He kissed the thick band at her hips.

Hermione frowned. “Why? Are they that awful?”

“Awful?” He scoffed. “You’re so sexy in these I can’t stand it a second longer. Wear these for me, always. On our wedding night, I’ll expect you to wear some so I can shred them to pieces with my teeth and take you through them.”

Hermione blushed violently. The idea of Draco ripping her wedding dress off was exciting enough…

“Wedding night?”

It hit her what he’d said, more after the look in his eye.

His silence. She shook his shoulders and asked again, “Wedding night, Draco? Wedding night?”

Draco winced. He had said it, and meant it too, but truly the truth of his word was a promise with no guarantee. There was nothing certain now.

“One day I want that. I want it with you. But that’s if we make it through this,” he said. “Alive, that is.”

Draco shifted. He slid to her side, collected Hermione in his arms and breathed in deep the moment. It was closest to ‘I love you’ the either said aloud. That was never the arrangement. They liked each other immensely, the games were evident of that, but it was never a promise. He said he’d never take another. That wasn’t a declaration, was it?

Hermione sucked in her breath. “Things are going to be really bad, aren’t they?”

She looked up at his solemn face. The sweat of his brow was promptly wiped away. Always the gentleman. Hermione ran her fingertips along his jutted jawbone. The tense muscles below relaxed as she touched over, an instant relief to whatever now captured his focus so strongly. Draco kept quiet a long while. He liked the way Hermione felt as she breathed against his chest. It helped calm the terror that he knew awaited outside the school grounds. Even within, he knew they weren’t protected. Well, she wasn’t.

Draco held her close. “Yeah. It won’t be like before. That’s why we’ve got to spend it all together. As much as we can now. Who knows when it won’t be safe anymore?”

“I’d say it isn’t too safe now, Draco.”

He sighed. “If you kept out of trouble and did as you were supposed to, then I wouldn’t have to be so worried.”

“One to talk, you are.” Hermione playfully shoved him. “Besides, there are plenty who keep their noses down and end up disappearing just the same. It isn’t good enough advice. Not from you.”

“Hermione,” he growled. “We’re getting awfully close to things we can’t speak of. Don’t push it, darling. You’ve already gotten me to taste Muggle food, which was deliriously delicious. What is that?”

He pointed to the other slice of pizza. Hermione grinned. She lifted the wand, the plate followed until it hovered just below Draco’s nose.

“It’s called pizza.”

“Pizza. What an odd name for a dish. And what’s that black rice roll?”

Hermione scrunched her nose, confused at what he meant. It took a moment to remember just what she’d asked Dobby to pack.

She giggled. “It’s called sushi. They put rice around seaweed and stuff things inside. Usually raw fish and vegetables.”

“Sounds disgusting. I will not eat that.”

“Give it a try. It’s very good.”

Hermione popped the sushi roll into her warm mouth. “Go on.”

Draco laughed. “You cannot tempt me with your raw fish rolls.”

“One bite,” she begged. “One bite.”

It stared back at him perched atop a bright red tongue. The white rice looked alright. There wasn’t a particularly gross thing about the piece, no matter what it consisted of.

Draco took the bite from her mouth and chewed it carefully. It tasted unlike anything he’d eaten. He lifted the slice of pizza and sampled a taste, which he liked a lot. It was cheesy, tasted of tomato. Hermione pushed another thing his way.

“What is this meat sandwich?” Draco asked.

“That’s called a burger. And those things are little fried potatoes. They’re called French fries.”

The rest of the basket was sampled and decided to not be as bad as he’d thought, Muggles not being a sensible breed and all.

It was a quiet afternoon they spent in the shade of the shrubbery. The rarity was that Hogwarts grounds bustled with students all year long, warm or cold. Hermione felt the very tension in the ground.
Draco slipped off sometime later, stealing a kiss or two in the process, so that he wasn’t late for Quidditch. It was his true love in life. He wished Hermione could see him in practice. Games weren’t always easy, especially against the Saint Potter.

Hermione packed up her things and left not long after but was stopped by a group of second years. They muttered amongst themselves. Most wore golden yellow ties with a badger badge on their cloaks.
She walked on, interested in reading ahead for her classes. The day belonged to her friends. She’d satisfied the urge inside of her with Draco, a fire no bigger than a merely ember currently.

He seemed to need her, too. He liked to pretend he didn’t, but his hands never left her alone. It was enough to wretch him away from breath. And it was always so urgent. A dire need. As if death waited upon the other side.

Was there something he wasn’t telling her? Well, there would always be things he couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or simply wouldn’t tell her because of her association. Was it more than that? Draco kept secrets deeper than most. It was a rare enough time to get him to admit to any. She felt there were ones down inside that ate away at pieces of him, beautiful pieces.

Draco had everything in the world, wizarding or otherwise. Why wasn’t it enough for him to be happy?

Hermione was no saint either. She held secrets away. In her heart she knew they were just truths to keep him safer in the days, months, years to come. Her, too. It was for her sake too.

She thumbed the letter in her pocket. “Not now,” she hummed. “Not now.”

Chapter Text

Gryffindor Tower

Harry just came back from detention with Dolores Umbridge, the new Ministry-appointed DADA teacher with a distaste of underage magic use, and he looked possibly bothered. Any time with the woman was insulting to anyone with half a brain, but it was still much bigger than the unqualified professors. She was the government’s set of eyes to watch the new generation of magical blood, monitoring them as if they were nothing much than breeding stock. Umbridge assigned Harry detention after one class. He had confronted her with the truth of Voldemort, in front of every single student nonetheless, still her reaction was hardly professional.

Harry slumped down into an armchair near the fire.

Hermione touched his hand gently. “You have to realize everyone has spent their summer reading about you. They believe Dumbledore’s gone mad. You don’t look much better. No one is going to listen right away.”

“When will they, then, Hermione? When more people are murdered? When the very stones of Hogwarts are torn down? Or will it be when I’m struck dead that they’ll finally realize he’s out there, and he wants all of us. Not just me. He wants the world.”

“Easy, mate.” Ron shuffled closer. “Me and Hermione believe you.”

The friends settled in with their books and homework in silence. Hermione settled as she began to scrawl over her parchment when she caught a glimpse of red hair out the corner of her eye. She spun around and saw the twins marketing their rubbish sicky snacks to the first-year students. One boy’s chin swelled near thrice it’s normal size within a matter of a minute. Another chewed something noisily, as red bloated dots appeared through his skin. More and more grew as he chewed. The boils swelled into white pockets, blaringly red and uncomfortable. As a prefect, the duty fell to Hermione to confront the matter.

“You guys cannot test these products on students.” She crossed her arms.

“Oh, come on, Hermione.” Fred whined.

George continued on. “Yeah, come on. We’re trying to make a profit here.”

“Business is business,” Fred said. “We Weasley’s have an obligation to help the poor lowly students of the school gain some fun in these boring halls.”

Hermione gasped. “Barbaric! It’s completely unethical. Did you even tell him what he ate?”

The young student sat against the wall with his face perched over the opening of the garbage bin with a particular green hue across the blush of his cheeks. The small green eyes turned glassy as he hurled a thick wave of vomit into the bin while other students gawked with disgust.

Lavender Brown stood uneasily from her chair. She clutched her mouth with all might, gargling something back in her throat. No one made out a word before she fell to the floor and puked in retaliation. Everyone was shocked. They backed away quickly as she gagged and puked farther across the rug.

“Oh Merlin! I think I’m going to be sick,” Seamus exclaimed.

“Lavender!” Pavarti fell beside her friend, rubbing her back. “It’s okay. Come on now. We’ll get you to Madam Pomfrey.”

The first student vomited again, splitting the crowd of Gryffindors. Madness fell as they all scrambled away from the puke and the puking.

Fred and George chuckled amongst themselves as the tower turned to insanity. Lavender was rushed by, and Hermione caught their amusement with a sharp look. Her arms were still crossed. The tips of her shoes tapped against the floor in a steady hum.

“I should send you both to detention for that,” she explained calmly. “As a Gryffindor prefect, it’s within my power to do so.”

The twins were left unbothered. Detention was nothing to the pair, often being there for their numerous humorous misdeeds.

“Alright, Hermione.”

“Yeah.” George nodded. “Detention will show us.”

“No, it won’t. That’s why I know something better. I’ll just send a letter to your mum and see what she’s got to say about it. There won’t be much profit when you’re bound to the Burrow for the next ten years now, will there?”

Hermione left the twins in stunned silence as she returned to her awaiting school books, warm to the touch from the light of the crackling fire. She continued with her homework as the students dispersed themselves to quiet again. It was peaceful. Calm. She read the pages of her book with contentment with the pride of a lion for being mature enough to ensure her house was not a joke. Back behind her, Fred cleaned up Lavender’s mess.

Thank goodness, Hermione thought. The thought of touching anything but baby spit-up made caused the queasy stomach inside her to gag uncontrollably. One more time of seeing Lavender would have done her in. The twins would have definitely gotten detention then. A fit full of vomit all over a common room because of one Weasley product would have gotten the merchandise banned, too.

Blast! The ideas always came after the fact.

Ron and Harry watched her for a while, bewildered at the unusual calm of the prefect they knew to be an excitable person when the unexpected happened, before they turned back. Quills scratched against their parchment not long after. They muttered amongst themselves, interrupted only when Hermione heard something incorrect. Once or twice a first year came close to ask a question. Hermione smiled happily. The young students thanked her with relief to not test Snape’s patience too soon, and then she turned back to her assignments.

Sometime later the gentle hum of the Gryffindor Tower was splintered by the hardy pace of Angelina Johnson as she stalked toward Harry. Hermione moved out of the way to avoid being stepped on with a glare.

“Heard you got detention with Umbridge,” Angelina said in a tone befitting her mood. “Of all things to happen to the Gryffindor team. You realize you won’t be able to watch tryouts if you’ve gotten detention.”

“I know, but -.”

“Tell her You-Know-Who was a figment of your bloody imagination. I don’t rightfully care what you believe. Just make sure you’re there!”

She walked off without another word. It left an uncomfortable tension in the air. All eyes turned to Harry. The mention of the topic, again, left everybody a bit on edge. So many wondered about Cedric, what happened that night in the Maze, how Voldemort was able to rise again. Hermione felt the questions surface in first years as they sat wide-eyed, ears keenly tuned to sound around them. To them, it was all stories. They weren’t there when Cedric came back, dead. It was a thing they were spared, and Hermione envied them for it. At one point things were so innocent so her, too. That was long ago.

Harry rose suddenly. His face twisted uncomfortably as he walked through the eyes of the tower toward his dorm. Hermione watched in agony. He shouldn’t be alone. That look in him was the pure agony of the situation he always was in, trying to get through. She never questioned he’d make it through; he was strong. But at what cost would it come? Would there be much of him left in the end?

Ron fiddled with the pages of his book, flipping back and forth mindlessly, when he felt eyes on him. He looked up and nearly leapt out of his skin.

“Blast it. Hermione. You scared me.”

He clutched at his chest dramatically.

Hermione was not amused. “Go with him. He needs you.”

“Who? Harry?” Ron questioned. “He’ll be right as rain soon enough.”

“Ronald! So help me, I’ll curse you with Dancing Legs if you don’t get a move on.”

Ron was flabbergasted. “Alright, you nutter. I’ll go. Put your wand down.”

With the boys gone and her tension high, Hermione left the tower in need for some space. She needed it more often as the drama of the world became a thick cloud she couldn’t leave. If it wasn’t the immature rivalry with Slytherin and all things therein, it was the Ministry or the Order or gossip. Hermione kept herself focused on her school and friends, but there was so much doubt. She feared she wouldn’t be enough, not for the next part that was sure to come. It was only a matter of time before You-Know-Who was in full power.

In the end, what would be left for someone like her?

She unknowingly toyed with the smooth gems inside her jumper pocket. Draco’s necklace still rested there. It was too precious for daily use, being far too grand for her, but she still loved it close. It was real. Draco’s feelings for her were real. Her life was real. All of it. Not a lie, or joke, or one of Malfoy’s dumb plots to come out on top; it was more.

Distracted by her thoughts, she didn’t notice a very despicable professor walking down the hall. She heard the small clicks of the woman’s hurried steps. Hermione narrowed her eyes carefully.

Delores Umbridge was a stubby woman who, with heels, only stood to Hermione’s shoulder. She had a plump face, covered in her layers of makeup. Locks of short, wiry hair poked from below a tiny pink hat lined in white pearls. Neither liked the other. Hermione was too smart to be caught off guard yet the Professor tried to stump her every chance she got. It was no real shock that Sirius told them of the awful laws she supported. The desecration of magical beasts and their right to the magical world. It was not so unlike the agenda of the Dark Lord.

“Ms. Granger,” the teacher greeted curtly. “Watch the time of day lest you find yourself in detention. I’d hate to have you accompanying Mr. Potter to my office.”

The halls were silent.

“Is that a threat?”

There came that horrid, girlish laugh from the woman. It rattled Hermione to her core. Something so evil in something to childish. The irony was not lost.

“Ms. Granger, I find it very disrespectful that a half-breed as you could have such aggression toward magical authority. The Ministry has given you so much it seems. Top of your class, are you not?” The woman smiled. No matter how much Hermione wished for it, no line of pink gawdy lipstick appeared across the white of her teeth. “I had more hopes for a bright witch your age. It’s not like many of your kind are given a stellar magical education such as this. A wee bit ungrateful, if you ask me. The Minister of Magic will be quite disappointed at the hostility that Hogwarts breeds in its students.”

“If it’s such a stellar education, why are you trying to prune it?” Hermione asked, undeterred at the clear insult to her heritage. Umbridge made a point to observe that Hogwarts had many of practices the Ministry deemed inappropriate, and her sole goal was to prune the school to its fundamental core.

“Hmph,” was the only reply.

She marched down the hallway with her head still held high. Hermione kept walking, the abandoned girl’s prefect bathroom appeared before her as a gateway of escape. The threat of Moaning Myrtle wasn’t enough to deter her. She sensed the clicking turn back around, toward her.

Umbridge must have changed her mind about detention.

Hermione walked faster. Her slippers made little squeaks against the stone floors as she moved with as much grace as one could have speed-walking.

The echoing clicks stopped. Hermione held her breath. There was no way she wasn’t done for.

A few silent steps of Umbridge, as the woman’s less than pleasant voice sounded down the halls. “Ah, Mr. Malfoy. Good evening. I trust your classes are going well.”

His voice was a spark inside. As it filled the halls so did her belly with the soft warm touches of butterfly wings. Hermione turned and saw the lean figure a bit down the hall. Umbridge a short lump in his silhouette. Her back was turned to Hermione, but Draco was able to taunt her with a few deep looks as he spoke with the professor easily.

“My father is quite well, thank you. He was thrilled you were appointed to Hogwarts.” Draco’s cool eyes settled over Hermione like the silver wash of a moon. She watched him intently. Something above her head caught his eye. She glanced back. The Prefects bathroom? Hermione touched the knob. Draco, never missing a beat, kept the conversation with Umbridge. “The state of the school has truly fallen over the years. I daresay it’s a pathetic excuse of a school that let’s giant oafs like that Hagrid teach class.”

Hermione stopped short. Her tongue quivered to speak. A sweat captured her palms, anger licked higher through her spine. She knew it was bad taste to curse someone behind their back, but Dolores Umbridge wasn’t too high to do it herself. Or so Hermione believed.

However, the action would only land Harry into more trouble, and the whole reliability of the Order into jeopardy. Begrudged. Boiled over. She concluded to confront Draco about it. So help her, she would strike him again if she had to.

She walked over to the sink and splashed her face a few times to stop the flaming hurt.

Hagrid was her friend. He deserved protection in his absence. Draco’s statement might’ve just gotten him sacked.

She turned the water colder. It numbed her hands as she pushed them under.

Elizabeth Bennett why couldn’t your problems be more like mine, Hermione whined.

It was a few minutes before there was the gentle click of the latch. She looked into the mirror where a sneaking figure appeared, dressed head to toe in black, with light blonde hair. He crept up behind her, held her waist and planted a deep kiss on her neck.

“I missed you,” he said. He breathed in her scent deeply. “Mmm.”

“I can’t believe you said that about Hagrid,” Hermione snapped softly.

Despite the disuse of the bathroom, it was still imperative they keep their voice down. Plenty of students walked the halls. None of which they wanted to discover the forbidden secret.

Draco groaned at the very tone in Hermione’s voice. “So this is how it’s going to be? Fighting about what I have to do, something we both agreed to.”

Hermione shrank in his arms. Hagrid was her friend, but so was Draco. He had things he had to do, too. His pretense was as much as hers.

“You’re right. I’m sorry,” she said softly. She bit back a smile as he pulled her closer. “I don’t want to fight. Not with you, anyhow. It’d never end, how stubborn you are. You’ll probably tell our grandchildren how I smacked you in our third year.”

Draco chuckled. “Mmm, every chance I get. Anything to take you down a peg or two.”

The soft gurgling of the pipes alluded to the presence of Myrtle, the ghost that haunted the bathroom with a particular vengeance. Draco and Myrtle were friendly, as was Hermione, but they weren’t certain she would keep herself quiet. They moved toward the darker shadows.

Draco cradled her in his arms. He wanted to worry about Myrtle, but it wasn’t the forefront of his mind. Slowly he slipped his hands under the hem of Hermione’s shirt. Her soft skin glided below as it climbed higher and higher. She gasped as he got close but didn’t stop him.

“How about you and me run a little bath?” One of his eyebrows lifted.

She felt herself smile in the light of his growing (clearly, it was sticking into her stomach) admiration. Mouth open to answer, a small shuffle of feet answered instead.

Draco Malfoy jolted. Someone was there, listening to them.

He pulled out his wand, quietly put his hand over Hermione’s mouth, and glanced to the darkness. The bathroom laid still. The gurgling of drain pipes sloshed softly. A far-off cry of an owl echoed into the distance. There was the hallway, just outside the door, that sounded with the shoes of one person as they ran past.

Draco held his wand out front, ready to strike. The black of the bathroom only split by colored rays of moonlight gave little away. He swung out his arm, holding Hermione directly behind him. She trembled as she leaned into his back.

The corner of his eye spotted a shift in the shadows and he instantly turned, wand out to the ready where another wand floated. Draco kept calm as he watched more than a hand emerge from shadow.
Hermione gasped when she saw who it was.

“Well, well, out for a midnight stroll?” Draco asked with very little play in his tone. He didn’t like being spied on. He was sure this one was sent by Pansy to follow his movements like an owl. “Not like you to break the rules.”

Blaise Zabini remained still. His wand was still drawn, ready to fire, but there was no emotion across his face. Just a blank slate.

“I’d like to say I didn’t see this coming.” He scoffed. “A Death Eaters only son and a Mudblood. Who would have guessed Slytherin’s boy was a blood traitor?”

“Blood traitor.” Draco gritted his teeth. It was a deep insult to all pure bloods. The Malfoy family especially despised blood traitors. They were near as low as Muggle borns. “Not many who’d dare utter those words to me, Blaise, would walk away. What makes you think that you can?”

“You’re the one with all to lose.”

Hermione suddenly found her voice again. “You are in a girl’s lavatory. At night. Alone.”

“Filthy Mudbloods don’t have the right to speak to me,” he snapped.

Draco pushed his wand further. The hard ice in his eye kept him focused on Blaise in the same fashion as Blaise stared back at him.

“She can speak to you if she wants to,” Draco said. “Don’t ever talk to her like that in front of me.”

“Don’t waste your time on threats, Draco. We all know you aren’t good for them.”

There was a subtle shift in Draco as he changed from the smooth-talking fool she always knew him to be, to a cold calculated person. The risks of dueling on school grounds were high. There was always detention, removal from a House Quidditch team, and the worst of all: expulsion. Draco rode a fine line with duels since it was how he loved to settle scores. He never attacked those from his own house though. Slytherins never bickered amongst themselves. Blaise being the quietest of all of them.

But Blaise made the insult to his family, to his cowardice. Hermione knew that was a dangerous line to overstep. More so for Draco. Expulsion would make him parents furious.

Hermione touched his back gently.

“Draco, please.” She kept her tone soft and calm. Nothing to spark the pair into a full-fledged fight. “Let’s just take a moment. Talk. I’m sure we can work this out.”

The wands remained fixed at one another.

“We don’t need to fight like this,” Hermione said. She stepped out from behind his protection, no matter how many times he asked her not to.

“Hermione, get behind me and grab your wand. Do it now. Hermione.”

She stayed planted between the pair, their wands next to her face. She shuddered. Either one of them could explode and send her to the hospital wing. Still, she raised her fingers up to their wands.

“What’s your Mudblood doing?” Blaise asked.

Draco sneered. “I don’t know, not listening to me apparently. Hermione, move.”

“No. I can’t let you do this.” She crossed her arms across her chest. “If you want to duel, I’ll have to stand right here. Blaise might not care if I get hurt and he’s expelled, but I know you’ll feel like a foul git for it. So why don’t both of you put the wands away?”

Blaise showed signs of relief. “She’s right, you know. We curse her and we’re detention meat, for sure, if not worse.”

“Not if I Obliviate you first!”

Draco raised his wand quickly. Blaise was startled. He dropped his wand, eyes widened in disbelief. A normal student duel didn’t use memory charms. So much could go wrong then. He could end up like Lockhart in St. Mungos forever.

The look in Draco’s eye was not relenting. He kept his face locked in sneer, ready to release all his anger to his fellow House mate for an insult or two, when Harry and Ron insulted him daily with very little to be given back to them except a few in return.

There was no turning back. He’d committed to reaction. Hermione flung herself in front of Blaise, arms spread wide, choking back ragged breaths.

She was scared. There was no guarantee that he wouldn’t shoot anyway. One miss, and she’d not remember a thing, possibly ever. What a cruelty beyond words.

“What’re you doing?” Blaise asked. “Are you mental?”

Hermione felt she might be.

“Mione, please, step aside.” Draco begged her.

She shook her head. “No.”

“He doesn’t even like you. What do you care if I hurt him?”

“Draco, he doesn’t even have a wand. It’s wrong. He didn’t curse you, did he? No. We scared him just as much as he scared us. So, let’s just put the wand down and talk about this.”

Blaise nodded. “Yeah, Malfoy. Put it down.”

“Oh shut up, Blaise.”

Finally after an eternity of silence, Draco lowered his wand. Hermione instantly bent over and took a few gulps of breath. She was sure he’d do it.

Draco pulled her up again, hugging her close. They shared a small moment of relief, for both of them, as Blaise retrieved his wand from the tile floor. He was on his hands and knees grabbing into the darkness. The shadow of on the floor made it impossible. Hermione dropped down to help.

On the other hand, Draco retreated to the sink ready to jump off the Astronomy Tower for actually thinking he’d curse Blaise with Hermione in the way. He loosened the knot at his neck until he stopped choking on air. That was close. So close.

The grimy white of the porcelain sink was cool to the touch as he bent over. Bits of green calcified gunk clung near the drain and faucet. He picked at it incessantly until every piece was scraped clean. There was the gentle slapping of hands on the floor until finally the roll of a piece of wood echoed throughout the room.

Hermione handed the wand over. Blaise tucked it into his pants quickly. There was no need to have another pointed in his face for no reason.

“What are you doing in here anyway?” She asked him. “No one comes in here.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “The same reason why we came here, darling. Blaise was meeting someone.”

The boys’ eyes met in a steady glare until Blaise finally broke away.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I came here because I heard some noise. Never thought I’d find the two of you in here, but hey. Pussy is pussy, right Drake?”

The dark of Blaise’s eye took time to inspect Hermione closely. “No one is going to believe it.”

Draco went rigid. “No, they’re not because you’re not going to tell anyone.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Because I’m going to sit here and wait to see just who comes through that door looking for you.” Draco pulled Hermione to his side. “My guess is that it’s a union that’s not going to go over very well since you’re meeting after hours in a girl’s bathroom. Am I close, Blaise?”

Blaise stayed quiet.

“Is it Pansy?” Draco asked.

A bitter sting of jealousy crept to Hermione’s heart as she noticed that she was always the first person out of his mouth: Pansy Parkinson. He couldn’t help himself. The bitterness took over her as she watched him through narrow eyes with the absolute anger she’d expelled a week prior, after her run in with the Slytherin prefect on the train.

Blaise snorted aloud. “Pansy? For Merlin’s sake, no. That girl could suffocate air with all her talking. I don’t know how anyone could stand her, let alone you.” Then he paused. A series of clicks snapped together in his brain. The truth a bit too clear. “Well, now, that makes sense. You date her to cover for dating Granger. Was it the same for the Beauxbaton as well?”

Hermione’s mood did not lighten. She met Draco’s gaze with a questionable look.

“Brilliant, Blaise. You can’t get laid tonight so you want me to stop getting laid forever.” Draco grumbled. “Just tell me who it is, so I can move along with my night.”

“Oh yes, because you’re the only one with time that’s valuable,” Hermione snipped.

Blaise and Draco looked at her with surprise.

“Excellent. Good work, Blaise.”

“Happy to help.”

Outside the door in the hallway, a familiar tapping of shoe against stone announced the arrival of someone, most likely a teacher roaming the halls for students out of bed. Blaise froze, as did Draco. If they were caught, they were absolute toast.

Hermione raised her wand and softly said, “Alohomora!”

The bathroom door locked close. Neither of the boys thought to move, let alone lock to the door. They looked dumbfounded. She kept still as the footsteps became louder and louder. It was like a taunt. Each step closer to a world of some not so good things to happen.

Harry and Ron finding out about Draco, for one. That was by far the worst. Ginny was a close second, since she hated him with just as much passion as the next one but was far more willing to confront him rather than walk away. The very crawling look of disappointment across McGonagall’s face hitched Hermione’s breath. Oh, it was not going to be good.

Draco and Blaise weren’t much better off. Their Head of House was Snape. No matter how popular of a student Draco Malfoy was with Professor Snape, there was no way they wouldn’t be in trouble. Then there was the rest of Slytherin. They’d be the butt of every joke forever if known to be blood traitors. Muggle sympathizers. It could mean harm to Draco, if word drifted back to his father. Pansy’s big mouth would see to it. Her jealousy of Hermione, clear.

Each of the students saw their lives come to an end as the steps stopped at the door. There was a subtle jiggle of the latch. Hermione ducked behind the stalls, wand drawn. Perhaps a duel was on the menu after all.

Suddenly there came a soft whisper.

“Blaise?” The voice called out.

It was answered back with silence. None of them dared make a sound. Blaise kept his mouth shut even as the advantage was in hand. He glanced over and met Draco’s eye and saw the status quo change back to Draco’s.

“Blaise, it’s Roger. I think Snape followed me down. I can’t stay.”

Hermione cupped her mouth in surprise. Blaise was meeting a man?

She felt the smile come to Draco’s face in the darkness. It was practically a symbol in the sky, the bewildering circumstance that now captured them all, together.

Roger left. Not a few moments later came the obvious march of Snape as he patrolled the halls. He left the bathroom alone. He headed back down the other hall away from Moaning Myrtle’s lair.

“Whoa.” Draco spoke after a full minute of utter silence. “Did not see that coming.”

“Roger Davies?” Hermione was in complete shock. “Roger Davies is who you were coming to meet?”

Blaise put his hands up. “Alright, before you guys say anything -.”

“That is a good choice,” Hermione said.

Both the guys turned in surprise, once more.

Draco’s mouth fell open. “Pardon?”

“Nice work, Blaise. Roger is such a great catch. I mean, he’s got it all hasn’t he? Looks, brains, performance.”

“Performance?” Draco repeated loudly.

Blaise rolled his eyes. “On the pitch, Draco. He’s Captain of Ravenclaw, and yes, his performance is quite exquisite.”

Horrified, Draco took a step back. He didn’t want to know that. Not at all. He has to see Blaise everyday and realize that Roger Davies performs very well. What did that even mean? Was it stamina? Hell, Draco had stamina. Hermione was greatly pleased with his performances, yet her absolute thrall of Roger Davies made him question what exactly it meant.

Hermione beamed a smile. “You’re very lucky.”

“And don’t I know it?” Blaise grinned like an idiot.

“Okay, okay. Let’s break this up before you start swapping panties and tell me what performance means. I know it isn’t how great he is in bed,” Draco said. “I’ve never once heard a girl bragging about his lay.”

“I think we’ve established that for Roger, it wouldn’t be girls doing the talking,” Blaise pointed out. He, himself, was not strictly a guy’s man. He liked them all. With Roger, he kept a more focused mindset.

Draco became flustered. “Well I’ve never heard any of the guys either.”

It was so cute how Draco felt left out. Hermione watched him as he subtly paced with the news of a mate of his in a homosexual relationship. No, it was more than that. Draco now felt compelled to compete with another male so fluid, as he heard it regaled with such admiration. He was jealous.

“Oh honestly, Draco.” She tried to comfort him, but he felt the teasing in her voice. He pushed her away softly. “You have a fair performance, too.”

“Fair? Fair? When Roger Davies has a brilliant performance and I’m just fair? Someone tell me what performance means!”

Blaise chuckled. “We best be heading back, don’t you think? I wouldn’t put it past Snape to start checking beds.”

The halls of Hogwarts had fallen silent in the course of the night. Snape was likely on the sparse rounds of the school. It took about twenty minutes to round each level of the castle, not counting if he followed a stray noise or looked in on the library. There was more than one person on duty, but with so many floors of the school, there was a chance neither group would get caught. Still it was best not to linger in the same spot. Each place had to be checked at least once. The abandoned Prefect’s Lavatory was the perfect place for an out-of-bed meetup. Hermione guessed the professors were privy to the information, even if it was a gross negligence to walk into the loo unannounced.

“He’s right. It’s only a matter of time.” Hermione sighed.

Draco was seriously irate. “Tell me what bloody performance means or else I’m gonna go ask Roger myself.”

“Get off it, Draco. We have to go,” Blaise groaned. “Leave your little lovefest for later. Merlin knows you’ve found plenty of time to get it done over the year. Or probably more accurate, years.”

“Give me your word that you’ll take this to your grave.”

“Didn’t think you were so dark there, Mudblood.” Blaise toyed his eyebrow. “Fine. I’ll take it to the grave if I get the same promise from both of you, blood traitors.”

Hermione was unconvinced. Blaise was pure-blood and Slytherin. He clearly had no problem with spewing hate. She narrowed her eyes. “You’re not going to report it to You-Know-Who when you get the first chance?”

Maybe she should have let Draco Obliviate Blaise.

“You’re hooking up with a loyal Death Eaters son, and you think I’m going to rat you out?” Blaise chuckled at the irony. “I’m no Death Eater, Mudblood.”

Draco tensed, ready to raise his wand yet again but Hermione beat him to it. “Hermione. The name is Hermione, or I’ll be throwing out suspicion of your aspects to every person who will listen. Pansy will have a heyday with that.”

Draco grinned as he listened to Blaise be put into place by his fiery little Gryffindor. She kept on at Blaise until the man relented to her strength. She got him nearly to make an Unbreakable Vow just to protect themselves.

His fellow Slytherin looked to him for help, shaking his head at Hermione. Bemused, Draco finally felt fit to call her off.

“He won’t rat on us, will you, Blaise? He cares too much for his reputation to risk it,” Draco replied smugly. “And I think he’s warming up to you, darling.”

“Piss on you, Draco.”

Chapter Text

Slytherin Quidditch Practice

It was near Christmas at Hogwarts, and the Pitch was littered with fallen snow. Icicles hanged from the stands, and the Keeper’s hoops and nearly every one of the players broomsticks. The wind pushed the team into long streams of fast-moving air as they fought to get out. Crabbe and Goyle complained about the weather, and their fingers being cold, and the wind, and they were hungry. It was their first year on the team. The two struggled to keep up with the rest.

Quidditch was Draco’s favorite thing. He loved flying through the air on his magnificent Firebolt. He cut the wind as he raced through, arm always extended for a tiny ball of gold called the Golden Snitch. He strained his eyes through the white of the storm, hoping to catch a bit of golden reflection off the sun.

Bits of silver gear shined to Draco’s eyes instead. He grimaced and climbed higher into the air.

Up there he was out of the way of the Chasers. At least their practice game continued very well. The Beaters, Crabbe and Goyle, were not so determined. Crabbe slowly putted up to Draco, bumping broomsticks as he stopped.

Draco didn’t speak. He searched for the Golden Snitch.

“Flint’s mad for having us out here in this,” Crabbe groaned. He stretched out his fingers through black leather gloves. “Feels like my mouth is on fire, all this cold air I’m breathing.”

“Breathe through your nose,” Draco said.

He wasn’t in the mood for Crabbe’s nonsense. He was cold, too. Everyone was. But Quidditch was the game, and the game was still on.

Crabbe and Goyle were awesome during games. The two brutes played very well for the Slytherin team. At practices though, the two were goofs.

“Where’s Goyle?” Draco didn’t notice him up with them.

Crabbe gripped a wooden club in his hand. “Ah, down there. Messin’ with Flint, I think.”

“What? What do you mean? You don’t even know where the – .”

A smooth ball flew out of nowhere, past Crabbe’s unsuspecting nose, and right into Draco’s ribs. It echoed hollowly as Draco slumped forward, fingers gripped on the broom with all his might. The storm made it very possible he’d fall to the ground with no one’s notice. He bit through the pain and started to lower himself down. Both hands were needed to direct the broom, but his body splintered with pain all from one spot. The numbing cold only ate at the injury more. He felt every snowflake as they pushed against his flesh, melted down his ribs and absorbed into a dense bruise he was sure to have.

The wind pushed against him. Draco was steered off course, back toward the stands. It felt an open hole in his side where the Bludger had slammed against his bones. He heard one crack. That bone crunch. He bit back bile.

Draco touched down to the ground gently. The ragged breaths of Crabbe followed.

“Got you good, mate, innit?”

Every breath ached, every groan a hot splatter against his lungs. He wanted to tell Crabbe off. It was his bloody job as Beater to watch the Bludgers so they didn’t attack anyone, and he’d just sat there, a mindless idiot.

Marcus Flint flew by on his broom. “Practice isn’t over yet. Get back up there.”

“Marcus, Draco got -.”

“Got what?” Marcus questioned. “What you got?”

Draco scowled. He was not in the mood for any of it. “Forget it. I’m done.”

“Done?” The Slytherin captain said. “No. None of us is done. Now get back up there.”

Crabbe protested but Flint pulled him back onto the Pitch. Goyle flew near, asking what was going on. The entire team lost their focus. Flint spent the rest of his time getting them back to their positions, but when he turned to get Draco back into the air, he was gone. There was a dainty line of tracks that trudged back toward the castle.

He knew there were consequences for leaving the Pitch against the Captain’s orders. Draco didn’t care. It was too hard to breathe. He wasn’t going to stay on the same field as he worked his ass off while his teammates flew around for fun. The team wasn’t fun. Quidditch wasn’t fun. It was a game. And he did not like losing. They lost to Saint Potter and the Weasel’s just last month, an embarrassment to the mark of the Slytherin House when one considered that the Weasel couldn’t even hold his position. He fell apart.

The only reason they lost was because Potter grabbed the Snitch first. It was unfair, the lot of it.

The game, however, wasn’t all bad. The ending was his favorite when Potter and the two Weasley twins were banned from playing. Delores Umbridge turned out to be a great addition to the place.

He grinned, not too broadly, at the look on Potter’s face when she said it.

Draco marched to the Hospital Wing right to Madam Pomfrey where she clucked like a chicken about this and that, wrapped him up and instructed rest for a while until the Pain Droughts kicked in. He laid there until well after midnight and left.

He scoured for a place to go. A place of peace and quiet before he returned to the dungeons to face his punishment. Draco stumbled around the dark corridors after hours, ducking into some places when he heard steps upon the floors. It wasn’t easy. He hunched slightly as he held his broken ribs in place.

The pain was gone for the most part. There was just the matter of the pressure he felt.

Although he wandered the halls with no direction, Draco Malfoy arrived at the Prefect’s Bath with a sigh of relief. Perhaps it’d been his destination the whole time. He slipped inside. Moaning Myrtle awakened as Draco turned the faucets on one by one and began to fill the large depression in the room. She floated in her ghostly shroud into the water and swam closer.

He kept his feet dangled in the water first. It was a task just to take his gear off. His clothes would be an even bigger challenge.

“So many baths with boys these past few years,” Myrtle cooed. “Perhaps death is not such a bad existence after all. Go on, Malfoy. Come for a swim.”

Malfoy forced a smile, though it hurt to even try. “Give me a moment, Myrtle. It’s going to be hard getting this shirt off.”

Myrtle swam up to his legs, poking her ghostly fingers through his flesh. “If only I could help.”

“You’d be just about the only one who’d want to, Myrtle.”

She let out a brusque chuckle. “Not a girl to keep your fancy. The troubles of the beautiful.”

Draco snickered. “Oh, yes. It is always my fault for being born the best of everything, isn’t it? If only my problems were that petty. I’d be lucky, wouldn’t I? A bloody lucky bastard to be born rich and beautiful to a magical family like the Malfoy’s. Wouldn’t that be something?”

The warm water rested calm in the gentle pool. He felt the tension in his ankles release, but the very effort it’d take to undress, and redress became overwhelming.

“No, Myrtle. My life is not so beautiful,” he said. “You’d think of all people, it would be easy for me. But it’s not. I can’t sit and talk to people who aren’t like me. I don’t know a thing to say. How do they live with no House Elves? What is a budget? Why are Muggle things so weird? I don’t understand, any of it. All the friends I’ve got are ones I’ve had for years, except Blaise. Blaise is a bit different with that mother of his. But we’re alike. All us Slytherins. The other houses are just so, varied. The lot of them, a different breed. And now it is bad to be like me? I can’t be happy with my life I was given as a child. I refuse to be ashamed of it. Yet, I am. Whenever I think about who I want in my life, it seems there are parts that don’t fit. A Muggleborn in Malfoy Manor? My mother would have my head! But it’s what I want. There’s such cruelty in that.”

Myrtle sat motionless as she listened. It was not often that she was not moaning and crying about her life, but for once, she remained quiet.

Draco lifted his legs ready to leave, abandoning the idea of a bath altogether, when the door clicked and swung open. He grabbed for his wand, but it fell just out of his reach.

“Oh!” There was a gasp behind him.

Hermione Granger stood in her school uniform, with long robes over a sweater and a white blouse with a pleated black skirt with long stockings and flats. The bush of her curls was tied back into a tight braid. She looked a bit rattled.

Her eyes softened when she saw him there on the edge of the water. It’d been a long while since they’d seen each other. Her spare time, non-existent.

Draco was suspicious. It was well after midnight. Hermione didn’t look like she’d been back to her dorm at all.

“Draco, you scared me! What are you doing sitting alone in the dark?”

“A pool full of bathwater seems obvious enough, even for you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. She patted the sides of her skirt. “Right. I’ll leave you to it, then.”

She turned to leave, then heard a sharp intake of Draco’s breath. He struggled to his feet. He held onto his side where a bit of white bandage poked from below his clothing.

Draco winced as he took a deep breath. “Don’t go. Please.”

“It’s late. They’ll be roaming the halls by now.”

“That’s never stopped you before,” Draco pointed out. His curiosity was heightened. “Have you gotten my notes? I’ve been sending them for weeks. I waited for you in the library, but you never came. What is it, Granger? I’m not good enough for you anymore? Found someone with a better performance?”

“Draco…”

“No, no. I understand. I’m not as famous as Potter nor as dim-witted as Weaselbee. Is that what you prefer? Someone who makes you feel so superior?”

Hermione crossed her arms. “Now if that doesn’t sound like a Slytherin, I don’t know what does.”

Moaning Myrtle chuckled. Her sound radiated off the walls like the evil cackle of an old hag. She enjoyed the fight immensely, though she liked the company of Draco moments before, too. So few wandered into her midst. She had to enjoy it while she could.

The lavatory fell quiet as neither knew what to say.

Secrets. Hermione hated keeping things from him. The whole idea of dating secretly, keeping things from each other well-aware their own secrets could harm the other, depending. She trusted Draco with all she had. But the secrets weren’t only hers. It was not in her right to tell them.

“Alohomora.”

The latch locked.

Draco was surprised when she came closer, a sad smile on her face. She drifted close to his injury. Her eyes drooped down as she fingered the cloth wrappings. The deep sigh of her breath changed the air, lavender and mint. Draco drank it greedily. It’d been so long. He nearly lurched at her touch. The gentle scratch of her nails as she pulled back, sure to check his expression for pain, the dressings on his ribs. She rolled the white linen in her hand until all of it was revealed.

“Oh Draco,” she moaned softly. “It’s awful.”

“Really? It feels wonderful. A high, truly.”

She did not look amused. He gulped back his bitterness, so used to being a rotten git during school. It was hard to turn it off.

Draco replied in hushed tones, “I thought the bath would help. Loosen it up a bit. But I can’t get my clothes off. Can barely reach above my head. Boy, when I get my hands on Crabbe and Goyle, they’ll be wishing they stopped that Bludger with their head.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Come on, now,” she said. “Let’s get you into that bath. I’ll help.”

“Help?” His eyebrows went to his hairline. “You would do that, for me?”

Moaning Myrtle chuckled. Her high-pitched whine started Hermione out of her quiet daze.

“I’ll help you, Malfoy. You can stay in my bath as long as you like.”

Draco winked. “Thanks, Myrtle.”

Hermione grinned. “Now. Don’t move.”

She started with his Quidditch gear, that was heavy and smelled of leather oil. One dropped to the ground and Draco growled. The rest was carefully placed in a neat pile. Slow and delicate, Hermione touched the buttons of his shirt, one by one undone until a muscled slate of pale flesh shined through. Her heart sped. The slick sweat down his sides glistened by the tub-side candlelight. Hermione stared a moment too long, one that Draco noted with a smirk, and she quickly returned to the tender work, pulling the cloth from his shoulders.

She brushed her fingertips against Draco’s lower back and blushed when a sudden knot tightened in her stomach. It pulled her closer to him. The gentle curve of his spine. It was so fragile, so soft. A crack in Draco’s shell, the way he stood in his own flesh, merely the same as herself. A mortal being, filled with emotion and urges.

Her lips caressed the notches of his spine in slow succession.

“Hermione, at this rate, we’re never going to get a bath.”

She grinned. “Oh, yes. Your bath. I expect you can’t take care of your trousers, can you?”

“How’d you guess? These trousers are a bugger to take off alone.”

She faced him with a bitten back smile. It wasn’t easy with his teasing eye, only scarred by a moment of discomfort from his ribs.

“Right. Now no funny business. This is purely for -.”

“Getting me naked. I know, I know. But I’d really like to get in the water before it gets cold. Really, Hermione. Act a little more mature.”

Hermione helped him out of his pants with a scoff. She averted her eyes as he stood bathed in soft candlelight, silvery moonlight. Draco radiated a ghostly glow as he stood proudly.

The black of his bruise grew up his side like a poison through his veins. Bits of his flesh still burned red.

Draco stood on the edge of the steamy water, disturbed only by the silent drip of a single faucet.

“Aren’t you going to get in?” Hermione asked.

“I’m waiting for you.”

She scrunched her nose. “For me? What, you mean…? I can’t!”

“You’re already out of bed after hours, Hermione. Besides, I’ll need your help. I am injured. It isn’t like I planned this.”

It was true. He looked like he needed even more help than he claimed, judging by the way he sucked in his breath and then winced deeper.

Hermione sighed. “Alright, Draco. You win.”

She helped ease him into the warmth. He settled amongst the water and looked up at her, imagining she’d give him some kind of naked show for his trouble. Hermione, however, retreated into a stall. The metal latch squeaked closed behind her. Draco guessed that she was nervous. There was always that nervous look that took her face just as things became heated. If they were second thoughts, she never said. He still had his curiosity.

Her mysterious absence was a large one.

School work never ceased. The O.W.L.’s were especially daunting. Her group for House Elves rights took time, too, but no where near what she used for it. The year was similar to every one before it, yet he barely saw her out of the classroom. The year when they decided they’d be together as much as possible. He knew it would be the last normal year at Hogwarts. Nothing would remain.

Draco frowned as he surveyed his hands through the glassy water. What was going to happen to her?

The stall squeaked open. Hermione crept out, still covered in her long robe.

Draco eyed her carefully. “Are you alright?”

She held her clothes, folded. She put them beside Draco’s.

“Of course. Are you?”

Hermione slinked over to the water. She dipped a toe through the surface. It felt exquisite. Her days felt endless with her classes and studying and Dumbledore’s Army (DA). It was time for a break.

“Not planning on taking a dip fully clothed, are you?”

She stepped in, pulling her robe higher. “And they told me you were intelligent.”

“Then why you have that robe on?”

He scooted on the edge until he could touch her leg. The gentle curve of her calves was gorgeous in pale light, a flower that opened in darkness. She bloomed in the night.

Hermione blushed pink as his hands ran up high.

“For your information,” she muttered, “I am using it for its purpose. To keep myself covered.”

Draco scoffed. “You’re kidding.” He paused. She remained still covered. “This is ridiculous. I’ve seen you naked before. Many times. I could see you naked right now if I wanted to.”

“What?” Hermione gasped, shocked.

The arrogant son of a… if he thought for one moment she’d strip for no reason, he was dead wrong!

Draco closed his eyes. “There we go. Ooh, ah. I remember that. Oh, so naked.”

A sudden rush of mortification hit Hermione’s stomach. She signed up for this. Why had she done that?

“Alright, you made your point. Just, don’t stare at me.”

“But it’s my favorite thing to do, darling. I pride myself on being the only one allowed that privilege.”

She dropped the robe and fell into the slick embrace of the bath. Steam rose in her nostrils, humid air with each deep breath. It filled her belly with ease. She slipped through the bubbly warmth with renewed freedom, energy. Eye closed, she floated to the surface. Water surrounded her in gentle support, cupping the very edges of her body with a love so soothe, she nearly relaxed enough to sleep.

Fingers gently scraped across her lower belly. They tickled. Hermione peeked through one eye.

“You should be resting your ribs,” she muttered.

Draco ignored it. His focus stayed on her. “I’ve missed you. You know that, don’t you?”

Their lips met in a sudden kiss. Hermione held onto his neck as his force pushed her downward into the water. He fell to his knees. She, cradled in his arms, gasped for air.

“I’ve missed you too, Draco.”

Draco rested his forehead against hers. The curve of his bottom lip near kissed the surface of the bath.

“Where have you been lately?” He asked.

It was the question she dreaded. The thudding of heart wildly in her chest filled her ears.

She retracted her body from his support, instead she glided back to the edge where a ledge sat for just that reason. Hermione curled her knees to her chest.

“I’ve been busy. Same as you,” she answered.

Draco was no fool.

“Busy with what, Hermione? What’s kept us from meeting these weeks?”

Her lips fell to a grimace. “You can’t ask me that.”

“Oh.” He hadn’t expected it to be like that. She was doing something, sneaking around the castle at all hours it seemed, and Draco was not privy to what exactly she was doing. He didn’t have the faintest clue what it could be, but he wanted to. The limit to what they could admit to one another was infuriating. One step forward, ten steps back. “Up to mischief already? I thought you were going to be safer this year.”

“I tried. I really tried, but Umbridge is ruining the school.”

His father was a Umbridge-supporter. “Don’t be so ridiculous. She hasn’t been all that bad. You Gryffindors are so dramatic.”

“That’s rich, Draco. Really. I can’t believe you’d be so self-centered to believe she’s a good thing.” Hermione pulled her legs in tighter. “Even coming from you, that’s unbelievable.”

“So she respects pure bloods, so what? It’s not a crime.”

There was a reason they never strayed close to matters like this. Their views were so different, so monumentally different, that nearly every time, both lost their temper in a pretty severe way. Days after were usually full of insults flying in class and in corridors, in the courtyard and even on the Quidditch Pitch. Neither liked to think of the other as the enemy. It used to not matter.

Voldemort’s return meant everything mattered.

“Do you agree with them?” She asked suddenly. Her eyes burned bright with orange candlelight. It took over his pupils in dancing flame.

Draco shrugged. “Them who?”

“People like your father. Death Eaters, Draco. Do you agree with them?”

“We can’t talk about these things. You know that.”

Hermione refused to. “No. I deserve to know your answer. Do you agree with the Death Eaters?”

“Of course I don’t. Now stop it.”

“But you do think Muggleborns are below you, don’t you?” She asked.

The stress in Draco’s ribcage came back. It ached with each labored breath. Draco tried to calm himself, but the pain was a distraction, his head was a mess. Anger started to bleed its way in there, too.

“I see what it is you’re trying to do. It’s not going to work, Hermione.”

She shook her head. “Do you agree with what your father wants to do to people like me? Do you want us to die because we are born this way? Because that is what he wants. You-Know-Who wants me dead. And anyone who stands behind him supports the same cause, whether they believe it right or not.”

“Don’t talk about my father,” Draco said coolly. “He’s a great man.”

“He’s a murderer, Draco!” Hermione cried. “Wake up. He wants to kill me. Does that even make you sad? Does that make you anything, other than proud?”

Draco felt his body turn cold. Mention of his father caused his body to lock, filled with rage at the very inclination that his father killed. His father was a Death Eater, a follower. He hated half-breeds. His prejudice was a far-cry from criminal activity. There was the Malfoy name to uphold. Of all things, his father would never put it in jeopardy. That was Draco’s right. If he was to come up to the name of a murderer, that was a great shame.

Hermione sat, water on the edge of her eyes.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Draco said sharply. “I wouldn’t expect a girl like you to understand. My father is a noble man. He doesn’t murder people, for Merlin’s sake. As if a man like Lucius Malfoy would risk everything, and I mean everything, just to kill a Muggleborn. No, you’re wrong. Potter’s got your head all twisted.”

“I’m not all twisted. You are!” Hermione breathed in deep, pointed breaths. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. It was wrong. But she couldn’t stop herself. “You’re never going to see things for what they are, you aren’t. What would you care? It’s just Muggleborns. Mudbloods to the lot of you. Why would you care what happens to them? You still get your inheritance, your bloody honor. My life is void in all the hopes of Malfoy Manor and its promise of entitlement.”

Draco gritted his teeth. “I do care what happens to you. And I don’t very much care for your tone. My family is respected. We are exclusive, envied even.”

Hermione gasped. Nothing she said made a dent.

“Do you even hear yourself? Do you even realize what you are?”

The pain in his ribcage was unbearable. They ate away at his chest, nipped his breath in half. He felt light headed, unable to focus entirely on Hermione.

Draco gripped his side with a locked grasp. “No. Enlighten me to what I am. What does the Know-It-All think I am?”

“A liar.” She glared.

A flood of water dripped to the floor as she left the bath and covered herself in a dark robe. She shivered slightly in the cool of the air.

Draco remained. His anger blinded him to stopping her from leaving, even as his heart thudded in resistance. Tongue perched at the roof of his mouth prevented any moments of weakness, of his need, slipping through.

“You’re either a liar about me. Or you’re a liar to yourself. Love or hate. And when you pick the side of indifference, as you’ve done with the fate of me and people like me, you choose the path of hate.”

She picked up her stack of clothes and headed toward the door, tears down her cheeks. Silently she wiped them away. After all she’d done for him, she thought there was something more inside of Draco than his arrogant need to be superior. Those hidden moments of quiet security in him, lost. Maybe even they were lies. She didn’t know. Another stream of tears fell.

Hermione didn’t know anything anymore.

“I thought you were better than all this,” she said softly as she gripped the door handle. Cool metal stung the hot of her flesh. “Apparently I was the one who was fooled.”

Night passed as Draco sat in the water, long after it turned cold. Candles melted into puddles of wax. Their wicks extinguished the room into complete darkness as even the moon seemed to retreat behind the sanctuary of clouds before Draco could curse it. In fact, Draco felt no urge to curse anything. He felt nothing.

Starting at his toes and ending at his lips, Draco’s body slowly turned blue. The only place not numbed by the frigid water was his rib cage. That flesh still tender, burned red hot.

Hours passed before Hermione returned to Draco’s thought. He’d kept his mind quiet in the lonely agony of silence. Yet the thought of who’d make him feel better was a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl with a devastating witty charm and all-knowing smile cursed the very being of him.

Who was he? He’d fallen for a Mudblood. He let himself. He willingly fell head over heels in love with a person he knew would never be wildly accepted by his side, let alone the pair of them together in any circle. What kind of life would that be for her?

He shook his head. Why would he care? They wanted each other. It was clear they belonged together.

No, something changed her opinion of him. It all started this year with this blasted mystery project that ate away all her time. There was no time for them to be together, so why not make the separation easier and end it?

Potter and Weasley did something. They took Hermione and focused her on something that made Draco seem more awful than she knew him to be. Those two were up to something. Willing to bring their best friend along for the ride, to give up her own happiness, at the sake of theirs.

He dressed slowly as morning light bled in through the stained-glass windows. The pain was gone. Or rather, he didn’t notice it.

In his head was a plan, hatched in sheer jealous anger, that kept him going. It would be his ticket back to Hermione. He was going to find out just what those Gryffindors were up to, and stop it before it destroyed everything between Hermione and him.

Chapter Text

Great Hall

The morning was blasted. Bright and blurry. Draco hated the cheer of smiling faces as he limped into the Hall, his foul mood drawn like a sword. He scowled at every first year that accidentally glanced his way.

They scattered like rabbits underfoot as he made his way to the Slytherin table. Few were seated. It was still early.

Draco settled in place. It was in direct view of the Golden Trio’s usual place with their endless bounty of laughter and smiles. The bloody Gryffindor arrogance. Not all was joyous. Mornings weren’t dripped in pleasant tidings for the sake of their own selfishness. The young ones, red and gold ties, bustled around the table with small gifts to their friends who grinned equally ridiculous stupid smiles.

It was two days until the end of term. Couldn’t they wait until then?

Draco looked down at his pathetic, limp piece of toast and porridge. It filled him with anger. Why? Even he didn’t know.

He pushed the plate away.

Instead he settled back, arms crossed, and watched the Gryffindor table with calculating notice. Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan sat together, plates filled with pastries and pies like gluttons. Bits of apple and cinnamon wafted over as their pastries crumbled to a mess as they ate greedily, often stopping to talk before shoving more of it into their mouths. Sick pigs.

Usually Hermione marched in with the Weasley girl. She was often up first.

Draco paused. Yeah, she wasn’t there. None of them were. No red-haired brats ran around the Hall like idiots. Scarhead wasn’t anywhere either.

Instantly suspicious, Draco drifted back to Dean and Seamus. Why didn’t they look worried? Their mates were gone. Didn’t that warrant some kind of explanation, some worry to everyone in the Hall?
He bit his lip. Perhaps Hermione was too hurt to come to breakfast. It would be a first for her. She always kept to a predictable routine. She’d have a small bowl of porridge, no sugar. A thimble of tea with a tiny drop of honey. Then she’d be tempted to a piece of toast with some jam, strawberry. He watched her nearly every morning as she ate that exact breakfast.

Where the hell was she?

Sometime later, she entered the Great Hall, in the kindest words, a bundle of nerves. She looked distraught. Just the sight of her eyes, so sleepy and rimmed red, Draco’s heart pounded in rage. That was his fault. Well, technically it was Potter’s and Weasley’s since they’d turned her against him somehow in their subtle way of righteousness.

She sat down at her usual spot, alone. The book in her hand remained closed, a plate left empty.

“Could you be any more obvious?” Blaise whispered into his ear.

Draco startled. He hadn’t felt Blaise sit beside him, or anyone for that matter. The whole section was full of Slytherins absorbed with their breakfast. He pushed Blaise away.

Blaise leaned over again. “Trouble in paradise I take it?”

Draco looked over with surprise. How had Blaise known? She wouldn’t tell him…or perhaps she did.

“I can practically feel the pining over here, Drake.” Blaise bit into a browned sausage link. Grease dripped down to his plate. “What’s the deal, she cut you off?”

Draco glanced around the table. No one seemed partially interested in their conversation, but Slytherins were always so hidden with their motives. He knew someone would perk up if they caught wind of a word.

“Not exactly.”

Blaise shrugged. “So what is it? Because judging by how awful she looks and you looking ten times worse, something must be up.”

Draco sighed. He hadn’t looked in the mirror, but he felt like superior shit. It was no surprise he looked it.

Just then, Marcus Flint approached the table with a notable scowl. When he caught sight of Draco, he narrowed his eyes in disgust.

“Malfoy, next practice, you’re in the stands.”

Many eyes drifted in his direction. The table stared in interest at what he could have done to deserve punishment from the House Team’s captain.

“That’s bull,” Draco said.

“I said stay on the pitch,” Marcus sneered. “Don’t care how many Bludgers hit you. You don’t leave until I say so.”

“No. I won’t sit. Put Goyle and Crabbe in the bloody stands. If they’d do their jobs, I wouldn’t be getting hit by rouge Bludgers!”

Marcus ignored him. “Next practice, you’re out.”

The captain headed down the line to his own seat and left the whole table with smirks, their taunts easily ignored. Draco had more important things to worry about.

He glanced through the ever crowded Great Hall and found Hermione still alone. No Potter or a single Weasley of their enormous brood to comfort her, as she looked withered to the state of a statue.

There was a subtle clicking in his ear. “Is it wrong to venture that paradise has fallen?”

“No.” Oh, Merlin, he hoped not. “It’s just what she’s been up to. Something with Potter and Weaselbee. They’re doing something, something that’ll get them in trouble.”

“Don’t tell me that’s what it’s about,” Blaise chastised. “That’s entirely boring.”

Draco sighed. “Well, that’s part of it. The reason, I suppose. But last night, she just picked a fight out of nowhere.”

“And we all know how much you abhor confrontation, so you definitely didn’t engage her and make it worse, right?”

“Shut up, Blaise.”

“Come on. Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming.” Blaise looked up expectantly, but Draco returned no look of understanding. “What’d you think was going to happen, really? You think you’ll take her home to the folks and introduce her into your family? You’re mental if you even toyed with that possibility. No way either of your parents would let a Mudblood in. No way.”

Draco frowned.

“Oh, yes. Be shocked. How could have love with the most unattainable girl end badly?” Blaise sneered. His point made clear although Draco made no show to agree. “Still, I’ll talk to her if you want.”

Another moment of shock at the Slytherin table. It was, by unspoken law, a disgrace to speak pleasantly to a Muggle born. Even half-breeds were regarded with an unmistakable distaste. If Blaise so much as greeted her pleasantly, his name would be tarnished. Blaise Zabini, an outcast of the house. Of course, he was very much so. He was not very social with many of the others. He spoke when asked, tagged along in Slytherin House activities but he wouldn’t be considered anybody’s friend. No one knew him well enough.

Blaise made it a point to treat everyone as below him. He hated Death Eaters. He hated half breeds, Mudbloods and blood traitors. It was like he hated everyone, equally.

“What?” Draco gasped.

“I’ll talk to her, if that’s what you want. Figure out what’s going on, right? Just don’t go nutter when it’s not pleasant.”

“I’m not fragile, Blaise. Reckon I can handle anything she’s got to say, don’t I?”

Blaise rolled his eyes and rose. “Whatever, Drake.”

There was no way he would do it. Blaise loved his reputation. If he came across as a sympathizer, it’d be tarnished. There was no way in hell he’d get close.

Draco ate his words later in the day when Hermione and Blaise walked to Potions together. They shared a general respect for one another, the name Mudblood withheld from conversation. He sat, mouth wide open, as they paired up for class with each other.

Cheeky git, Draco thought, he’s moving in on her.

“Mr. Malfoy.”

A tall dark figure stood at the end of his table. Piercing eyes watched him pull himself away from Zabini and Granger.

“Yes, sir?” Draco said.

“Is there any reason why Ms. Parkinson is completing your entire assignment for you?”

Pansy squirmed in her seat. “Sir, I prefer to do the preparation myself.”

“The assignment is for two students, Ms. Parkinson, not one. Malfoy, help your partner or I’ll have you in detention before you can say ‘lacewing flies’.”

Hell just froze. He’d never been corrected in Potions class before. It was his class. He trailed Hermione in grades just by a tiny bit.

Draco flipped his book open and nudged Pansy. “Thanks for that.”

She was less patient with him. “Lose any points from Slytherin and you’ll regret it.”

“You mean all the first year’s brooms will regret it,” Draco corrected.

Pansy then smiled sweetly. “I’m so glad we’re not dating anymore.”

“Me too,” Draco said.

The rest of class was silence as they worked through the list to make a Strengthening Solution. Every once in a while, Draco thought to steal a glance at Granger and Zabini as they worked busily over a bubbling cauldron. He knew better. He did anyway and got himself angry.

Hermione didn’t seem so upset anymore. She perked up in class typically, but it was especially infuriating to see her smile so kindly as Blaise nudged her arm, pointing to his parchment. Blaise adjusted his tie looser as he flicked a few bits into the cauldron. She followed his lead by throwing more inside. It was flirty almost. They scooted closer together, their attention focused on their assignment.

Draco sulked.

He waited until Blaise detached from Hermione’s side, and shoved him into a quiet corridor.

“What the hell are you doing?” Draco growled.

Blaise adjusted his shirt, lips pursed together. “Christ, man. Have you been sitting there stewing this whole time?”

“I said talk to her, not fall in love with her. Dammit, Blaise. Everyone saw you.”

“I thought that’s what you wanted,” Blaise said. “Can’t just come out and ask about you two, can I? Had to build her trust so she’d talk. Damn, Drake. I thought you knew all this.”

Right. He did. It was the most obvious course of action. Why hadn’t he thought of that?

Draco sighed. He ran his hand through his hair.

“Right. Well, what she’d say?”

A gaggle of third year Ravenclaws and one Hufflepuff marched down the halls with their potion textbooks in hand, ready to face off with Professor Snape. Draco and Blaise stared daggers until they hurried past.

Blaise moved away from the wall. His books tightened in his grip.

“She’s hurting.”

“Damn it. I know it.” Draco threw his arms up in the air. “It’s over, isn’t it? She’s done with me, isn’t she? I knew it. I’m not going to be able to fix this. Not without something crazy.”

There was a snicker. Draco snapped to attention.

“Something amusing, Blaise? My life in shambles is amusing?”

“Yes, but that’s not it. She’s hurt about something else. I think you’ve noticed the Weasley’s and Potter are gone?” Blaise raised an eyebrow. “They’ve mysteriously been let out of school early for break. Granger was left behind. Word is, something bad happened to the Weasley dad. She’s worried for them.”

Draco scoffed. “So what, she’s just forgotten about me?”

It wasn’t comforting. He’d been passed over for those two plenty of times by Hermione, he knew it well, but to have her aching so terribly and it be caused by them? That was a new one.

Draco paced the hall, clenching and unclenching his hands.

“No. I think she wants to go to you. She’s just to proud to say so,” Blaise said.

He shook his head. “It’s not pride. Not for her. She’s just stubborn. The stubborn lion.”

“Then what’re you going to do?”

“What should I do?”

Blaise shrugged. “How should I know? She’s your girlfriend. If you don’t know how to make her feel better, then leave her alone. It’s for the best, innit? Like I said, what’d you expect to happen between you two?”

The end of term was two days away. Hogwarts would stay crazy until then. Meeting in person was impossible for them two. If they didn’t want to get caught, that is.

Draco grabbed a piece of parchment and his quill. Paper against the wall, he drafted a note for her.

“Can you give this to her?”

Blaise chuckled. “Of course, you write her a letter. Yeah, I’ll bring it if you do something for me.”

“What?”

“Cheer up, mate,” Blaise smirked. “She’s not the end of the world.”

Chapter Text

Gryffindor Common Room

Christmas break was not entirely as relaxing as it should have been. Hermione’s parents planned a ski trip for the family, taking care to plan it all so that Hermione was without any stress. Good family bonding when they needed it. After Harry, Ron, Ginny, and the twins disappeared two days before the term ended, she was unsettled. She was left behind, unknowing what happened to her friends. There were many worries. One being that Voldemort had done something, taken them away from her somehow, and she was left alone in growing turmoil.

Hermione wrote her parents apologies. She didn’t go home for the holiday. It pained her to miss that Christmas specifically. It meant so much. But, things were dire. Everyone had to make sacrifices.

She went to Grimmauld Place where the Weasley’s were camped out after Mr. Weasley’s attack by a snake presumed to be Voldemort’s right hand lady, Nagini. Harry was there, hidden. Ashamed, truly. He felt at a loss.

Hermione spent her entire break with him. She watched him closely as he descended into dark shadows. Hollow. He thrashed in his sleep. Ginny and she listened from down the hall. Each day felt the day Harry would lose it.

The holiday ended, and they returned to Hogwarts with a nasty worry in their mouth.

Voldemort was close to his hidden weapon. Harry said so. It’d been his searching efforts that got Mr. Weasley attacked while he was on guard at the Department of Mysteries.

Ron and Hermione sat together in the common room as they waited Harry to be done with Professor Snape. It was a troublesome arrangement, but Remus and Lupin thought it imperative. Harry’s mind needed to be strengthened. Hermione wasn’t sure it was time for that. He was so close to the edge of sanity. Alone all the time. It was the most he’d been unlike himself Hermione ever saw.

It was a quiet night in the tower. Most were in their rooms, readying for bed. Ron was the only one in the common room with her. They’d spent so much time together in Harry’s avoidance that year.

Ron stared into the orange flames of the fire as it danced on the edges of its confine. His typical blank stare. Hermione guessed he was sleeping with his eyes open.

She sat beside him on the couch. “It is inhumane what Percy is doing to your Mum, you know.”

He startled. His eyes glanced around the room in surprise. He rubbed them until they glowed.

“Yeah, the git. Mum is just as foul as Harry these days.”

“I can’t believe he returned his Christmas present,” Hermione stated softly. “That was cruel.”

Ron sighed. “You know that letter he sent me earlier this year, the one I burned? He told me stop being friends with Harry since he’s a nutter now. Said I should go with Umbridge. ‘She’s a lovely woman’, can you believe that? My own brother likes that gargoyle.”

Percy was so unlike the rest of the Weasley’s. Never liked to break the rules, or allow his brother’s to get away with much of anything. In another world they would have been good friends, Hermione thought with a grieving smile. The separation of family in a blood war was almost too difficult to bear. All the siblings belonged together, on the same side. But Percy felt they were all wrong in their actions. His denial. He was just as bad as Draco.

Hermione’s smile fell. Draco.

His name brought sudden tears to her eyes. Oh, she missed him. She spoiled her chance at love with a wizard just as stubborn and brilliant as herself, the one reckless choice she made in life that she loved every day. Out of him, she got something more precious than life itself. It was because of him that she fought harder for what she believed in, despite what it was for them. He was her courage. Apart from the rest.

She kept her mind off him during holiday. It was easier. Then she walked up those stairs where she held all her memories of him, sat in the very same room as he breathed, and saw him from afar.

Her heart strained to stay normal. It wanted to curl up inside to a withered and worn empty sack of tissue.

“It feels like we’re losin’ a little piece of him, day by day more of him is gone,” Ron said

His voice roused Hermione from sunken thoughts. “Hm? Percy?”

“No, Mione. Harry. We’re losing Harry.”

“We are not losing Harry,” she said sternly.

Not now. She couldn’t lose someone else. Her best friend. He had to survive. She would make him survive.

Ron leaned closer. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. He’s changed. Not like he usually is.”

“He’s changed because he watched Cedric die. He watched him die and couldn’t save him. He brought a dead body in his arms just to lay Cedric to rest in his father’s arms. Don’t you remember that? I still hear his dad screaming when I dream.” Hermione hugged herself tightly. “Just think, that could’ve been Harry. He felt like it should have been. That changes things, sure. But it’s given reason. It gives him a reason to fight. We have to trust him on that.”

“Easy for you to say. You don’t hear how he sleeps at night,” Ron said. “It’s a wonder he gets any sleep, the way he tosses and turns. I wake up just to make sure he’s not dying.”

Hermione frowned. They all knew Harry battled with nightmares. It was worse with that dream of Nagini being real. He was afraid to sleep, afraid to be something else under Voldemort’s power.

She took hold of Ron’s hand. It was clammy. He wiped them down the seam of his slacks. She forced a smile.

“We have to trust, Ron. We have to trust in The Order and in Harry. It’s all we’ve got now.”

They sat there curled in front of the fire, ankles crossed together, unwilling to break their hold. It felt warm near Ron. He was always a carefree spirit. Aggravating as it was any other day of the week, Hermione took comfort in his view of things. He felt so sure things would be all right. It was faith. She felt faith in Harry, and of all her friends, but doubt was never her ally. Fears of what came next were too black to avoid.

She shuttered as she thought of what’d happen to her family if Voldemort rose to power. Not even the Muggle world was safe. No one was.

“Think I hear him comin’,” Ron said a time later.

The logs had burned down in the fireplace. Hermione hadn’t noticed the orange light was now red coals amongst ash. She awakened from her day-dreaming slumber unsure how long it’d been.

Harry came through the picture hole with a serious sweat to his skin. He looked sick. Hermione urged him to drink something, but he refused. There was something more urgent.

The weapon that Voldemort wanted was in the Department of Mysteries. He saw it during his Occlumency lesson with Snape. Snape punctured his mind and relived through parts of his memory. He hadn’t noticed that the very same corridor that he kept seeing in his dreams was the actual Department. The weapon was mystery, still, but they were closer to finding out what.

Ron and Harry headed off to bed in the boy’s dormitory while Hermione remained in the common room. She was no longer tired. No, strike that. She was exhausted, but restless. News of Voldemort made her struggles come back with vengeance.

A cold sweat lined the neck of her cardigan. The light blue strands turned dark and moist to the touch. She tossed it off. It was too suffocating. She couldn’t breathe. Cardigan gone, it didn’t help her breath. She was gripped to tight by her shirt now, hugged so tight like a breathless corset wrapped round her lungs. No matter how hard she panted, it didn’t stop.

All the work of Dumbledore’s Army wouldn’t hold a candle to Voldemort. He had numbers. Huge numbers of loyal followers and wealthy supporters. The denial of him only gave him more time. He had more time to plot behind the lines with no one looking.

Hermione rubbed her eyes. They stung from the fear. Her fear.

She couldn’t do it on her own. There was no way to keep it up with Ronald and Harry, and all the other needs that the Order required. It was too much. Their fighters, too few.

The Order of the Phoenix was a lost cause before it began.

That night she went to sleep with a sinking feeling in her bones. It was a long shadow that kept at her with delight as she closed her eyes harder against the darkness, the pitch black descended darker still. She forced them away with a little hidden arsenal of happy memories that she looked back on with glee, as a mess of platinum hair bobbed through with unbridled glee.

Classes started the next morning. The Great Hall was packed with eager faces as they regaled word of their holiday treasures like free candy. Colin Creevey explained his holiday was spent on a cruise. The rest of his speech was explaining exactly what a cruise was. Hermione felt a little smile tug at her lips. She felt for Colin, a fellow Muggleborn. He was quite interesting. He and his younger brother joined the DA as eager students ready to defend themselves.

Members of the DA were loyal to Harry. They believed Voldemort was risen and the school was being taken hostage by Voldemort sympathizers. Ernie MacMillan and Hannah Abbott even joined. They’d hated Harry only last year because they thought he cheated to enter the Tri-Wizard Tournament. She suspected that Cedric’s death was a serious motivator for their joining. All the Hufflepuffs, really. They’d been so loyal to their fallen friend that they turned to Harry for strength. They all felt his loss strongly. Cho wept for him, still. They’d only been together for a short time before he was killed, but it was a wound gouged open.

Hermione greeted the Gryffindor table with a light hopeful sliver of joy. The return of routine would be comforting. Classes and the library and homework. It’d keep the short-leased demons at bay.

Ginny sat by Hermione’s side as the boys slowly trudged up through the aisle. She offered a kind ‘good morning’ which Hermione returned, though not in a particular chatty mood. Her mind was too empty. It’d be better for classes to start. All the spare room in her brain would be occupied with questions and curiosities she could pursue.

Harry and Ron, silent, as they ate.

Mail dropped to the tables. A loud hum suddenly rose throughout the hall. Students with newspapers moved about their tables, excited in their tones.

Hermione sifted through her letters to a rolled up copy of the Daily Prophet. Right on the front cover was the mugshot of a most horrendous, fearsome witch. She was dressed in a sack of black and white stripes, taut against the iron chain of her cell. Thick black curls stood on edge every which way. What made her more fearsome was the way her round eyes ignited with hate every moment as she screamed, pulling at her restraints.

It was the report of a breakout. Mass breakout from Azkaban. Ten Death Eaters were noted missing. Ten!

Hermione gasped as she read the list. One name in particular rattled her to the core.

Bellatrix Lestrange.

That was Draco Malfoy’s insane aunt. His mother’s sister, loyal Death Eater and woman imprisoned for torturing Neville Longbottom’s parents. She was mad as a hatter. Her photograph only showed an ounce of her insanity as Draco told it. He was frightened of her. She was a cruel woman who enjoyed pain and fear.

I can’t believe she escaped, Hermione thought. Draco will be under more pressure.

She glanced up, not realizing just who she searched for until their eyes locked. The ice cold grayness gripped the bottom of her spine with sharp claws. He slithered up her spine. She swore he whispered in her ear right in the middle of a crowded hall.

Her gaze broke first. No. She couldn’t do it again. There was much more than what she wanted in the moment. Draco Malfoy would have to wait.

Hermione dove into the article head first, examining every stage of the progression until the breakout. There were noticeable holes. She got an idea. Of course she’d need help from an old rival, Rita Skeeter. It was not easy to swallow her pride to pen that note. When she did, she penned one to Draco, too.

Momentary judgement be damned.

They met in the library just as Hogwarts laid quiet for the night. Draco dressed in all black appeared as a floating head under cloak of nightly shadow. Hermione lowered her wand.

“Hello, Draco.”

“Hermione,” he greeted, not too eagerly. He seemed more annoyed than anything. “Good evening.”

She stumbled with words to say. “I, um, I see you got my owl.”

“I did.” Draco nodded. “Alas that’s why I’m here.”

“Did you have a Happy Christmas?”

Hermione didn’t truly want to ask about Christmas, but the tension in the air was so palpable, it tasted of pure bitterness. Neither felt comfortable as they used to be.

She did accuse him of wanting her dead. She guessed it made sense for him to be angry.

“I did. Thank you. And did you?” He asked. “I see you didn’t break a leg skiing.”

She ducked her head away. “Oh, see. Well, I didn’t go skiing.”

Draco furrowed his brow. “What did you do instead?”

“Stayed in London. Took in the sights, you see.”

There was something about him that seemed strange. He stood away. He didn’t look at her when she spoke. There wasn’t even any attempt to seem interested in what she said.

He leaned back against a desk. “Uh huh. Holiday in London for a girl in Hampstead who probably visited every weekend. What an interesting break.”

“Yes, it was. Very interesting.”

“Hmmm,” was his reply. For the longest time, a silence fell between the two. There was that tension throughout the room. Draco had to feel it. Hermione’s heart struggled to beat under the pressure.
The low moans of the wind pushed against the walls of the castle. It swept by, howling as it passed. Bits of snow blew in through the wind. It bit at the glass with plastered frost around the edges. Pretty patterns cut through the ice as it overtook the panes. She watched in grow out in the winter weather.

Finally Draco cleared his throat. “Right, well. I’m here. I showed up. What is it that you wanted?”

“Oh. I just wanted to see. Well not just see. I wanted to make sure you’re alright,” she said.

Draco’s eyes pricked up high. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?”

“The paper. Bellatrix. She’s escaped.” Hermione stood fixed in shock. “Surely you must have heard that.”

“Yeah it came up once, or three hundred times today. What of it?” Draco snapped.

It was a bad idea to come there. They weren’t anything anymore. He didn’t want her support. She should’ve known better than to offer it so clearly when he wanted nothing better than to get away. Hermione felt flame come to her cheek. She was a stupid girl.

“I thought I’d make sure you were okay,” she stated, “but clearly I’m wasting my time.”

Draco materialized in front of her, blocking her path. “So that’s what I am now? A waste of time? You duck me and I’m the bad one. No. No, no, Hermione. This is you who did this.”

Hermione reared at the challenge. “Get out of my way.”

“The least you can do is face me. Face me when it gets said. We both know it’s coming. Let’s get it over with.”

She spun on toe back around. “Oh, no. I’m not going to be the bad one. I’m not going to break up with you so you can blame me for everything.”

“Well I’m not breaking up with you so you can blame me.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed. “What do you care if I blame you? You’ll still be the same arrogant ass regardless.”

“And you’ll still be the stubborn Know-It-All who’ll never let me forget it!”

A clatter came into the library: the hunched footsteps of the castle’s caretaker, Mr. Filch.

“Who goes there?” He shouted.

Hermione and Draco both froze. They’d been caught!

Chapter Text

Hogwarts Castle

They both froze. Hearts pounded in their chest as the obvious steps of the caretaker crept closer, a dull light in the distance of the grand room, lantern clanked against itself as it rocked in step. A sharp tug on her sleeve and Hermione was pulled down on top of one of the library tables in a way she’d never thought possible. Her knees wobbled.

What was she doing?

Before she could stop and assess the most logical route, Draco tugged her onto the ground and pushed her off through the door, down the stairs and out in the night where rows of quiet greenhouses rested in wait for the start of sun, and of a new day. The air was filled with noise. Wind whistled as it wound through the buildings of glass. Hermione thought their trail stopped, but his hand was still on her. He pulled her behind a nearby greenhouse, peeked from the side to watch and sighed after a few moments.

Hermione just began to unravel, when they shared a gasp, drowned out by the sound of the wind, Filch stepped out of the castle, lantern still in hand. She felt his signature mood: irritation. The man radiated it wherever he went, especially when it considered students in places they shouldn’t.

Draco motioned for her to step back, against the greenhouse. Slowly they inched down the lane. The caretaker’s footsteps echoed through the emptiness in a break of wind, and Hermione froze in fear.

It was over. They were over.

The thought of losing Draco felt like a knife to her chest, but she knew it was only a matter of time. It couldn’t last. All the running and hiding. They were falling apart at the seams with all their fights, ultimately about things out of their control, just their lack of intimacy in each other’s daily lives. It yanked them apart every chance. Somehow, they’d managed to keep it together. How? She felt at a loss what was the magic spark between the pair at opposites on everything possible.

Was it the hormones of puberty that kept them so locked in each other’s own pleasure that they were growing blind to the incompatibility? There was certainly that aspect to consider.

The risk was too great for them to front alone. It was wrong to hold each other apart so selfishly on the standing that they’d be together. Draco was a Malfoy, with family honor and ancient tradition that bound him to a life so beyond anything her Muggle heart knew, and so, he held great respect from himself and his family honor. Her very existence threatened all that. A lifetime, his entire life, built on to a legacy that she would ruin in a split second.

Once the wind pushed through with icy stings, Draco grabbed hold of Hermione’s waist and directed her where to go. His large hands atop her hip bones. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t release her. She opened her mouth to whisper. He was furious. He shook his head violently. They ducked – more like he ducked them both – behind the last greenhouse. Hands clasped over her mouth as Filch was not too subtle with his movement. The man yelled out in the night for them to come forward and accept their punishment.

She glanced up at Draco and he shook his head.

They waited. It felt like ages, perched up against one another in the blistering cold as they heard Filch grunted high and low in search until he finally stepped through the aisle way to the longest stretch of houses. That was when Draco made his move. Hermione in his grasp just as before, hands on her hips as a steering wheel through obstacles like overgrown vines and large pebbles eager to trip someone unsuspecting.

They ran as hard as they could to the castle. He shoved her inside as swift as he could, before jumping right behind her, careful not to slam the door behind them.

Hermione watched in awe as they ran past the bathroom where she’d been attacked by a Troll, first year. She’d taken the blame for Harry’s – Ron was an unwillingly participant – rescue attempt for her, since they’d been the ones to hurt her in the first place. McGonagall was surprised, then, that Hermione found herself in trouble. She long suspected that McGonagall knew from the beginning what truly happened.

The way to the Great Hall and their subsequent dorms was to the left. Draco turned, expecting her to follow. She didn’t.

He was halfway gone before he noticed she wasn’t behind him.

His eyes lit wild in confusion.

“What are you doing?” He whisper-yelled. “Come on, Hermione. They’re going to catch us.”

Hermione shook her head refusing to budge. “No. You go. I got you into this mess, it’s only fair that I get you out, isn’t it? Go. Run. I can distract him a bit longer before he catches me.”

The door to the castle opened. The familiar groan of its hinges as the wood swung open signaled the time was soon ending. A point-of-no-return, so to speak.

“You’re mental if you think I’m letting you take the blame,” he whispered. “Now come on. We can still make it.”

A brash moment of tenderness spawned in the openness of the castle corridor between the pair, detention circled overhead like a vulture. Hermione touched Draco’s cheeks, trailed down the edge of his taut jaw. Warm, brown eyes drooped in sadness as she regarded him, perhaps for the last time in privacy. Her puffy lips parted to say it, but at the last minute, he pushed her into a classroom behind them and closed the door silently.

It was a prayer they wouldn’t be discovered.

He held the latch of the door and listened as Filch hunted their scent down to the corridor. Draco grimaced in disgust as the man sniffed about. There was an echoing meow down the hall. Mrs. Norris, the caretaker’s only friend and beloved pet. He greeted her with a kindness that he never cared to show anyone apart from school professors.

“Now where did they get off to?” Filch asked himself aloud.

Hermione stood, intent to open the door and reveal herself before Draco and her were discovered, but he caught her wrist mid-air and twirled her into his arms. He watched his brow furrow as he listened at the door. The faint touch of his cologne aroused. As much as she tried to resist his hold, she didn’t want to leave it. She examined him, though not directly, as he focused on Filch.

It was clear now by a murmur of voices, more than one person took to the halls. The other, Hermione couldn’t discern who, believed them to be heading toward the Great Hall to get back to student dorms. It was wise, since that had been their plan all along. But Filch’s lollygagging ate up most of their time, revealing that if they had kept running, they’d be back by now. In their beds, warm.
She was warm now, just not in the same way. It was her body that warmed when he neared her. The smell of him as he pulled her close, heart pounded in his chest, Draco made her ache with it.

The voices outside stopped. They’d walked away, each in the same direction.

Draco stepped away from the door, a deep sigh birthed to the room.

He released her hands and she rubbed them, just to make him feel guilty. Pain from him long stopped hurting. It was all pleasure.

Hermione stood as he paced the room. Every so often he ran fingers through his slick hair. The grease was limp, nearly useless now. So disheveled and forbidden. A tug in her belly made her gasp out.

Draco startled.

A thick blush came to her face as she ducked away and said, “Sorry.”

“What were you thinking?” He gushed suddenly.

She jumped out of her skin at the sudden emergence of his voice. It played through her mind like a record, broken and skipping. What has she been thinking? She was not a reckless person. She took calculated risks, ones she felt weren’t truly challenges because she was prepared. Admittedly, she’d thought she was prepared for Malfoy and all the games that came with him, but not the pressure she’d feel on her heart. She was forced to choose a choice that benefitted no one. No one!

“You were just going to take the fall for it? You are a smart girl. You know what Umbridge does in those detentions of hers. I thought you Gryffindors knew better than that.”

Hermione gasped. “I wanted to do it for you. Or are you too blind to see that? No, I guess you’d think it was to take away the glory of being a known outlaw. You and your other outlaws wouldn’t know loyalty for someone else if it jammed you to the ground. But that’s not what we are. Not who I am. I am a Gryffindor. I stand for those that I love, find courage when I have none. All for you, Draco. Don’t want to see you hurt by something I did, not in the least.”

Draco scoffed. His kicked his feet into empty air as he tried to think. What was there to say to something like that? Sure, his heart beat against his ribs with excitement at her declaration. He thought she was lost to him. But there was his pride that tumbled in. It wrecked through all his confidences and reminded him that he didn’t need someone to protect him. It was supposed to be the other way around.
It was the job, the honor bound duty, of someone like him to protect a girl from any harm. She prevented that. She wanted to do that job herself, let him ride off the comforts of her success. There was no way it’d happen.

“You think I’d rather see you in there suffering with the rest of them, like a common hoodlum, than do it myself?” He growled. Draco stepped closer. “It’s like you don’t know me at all.”

She knew he wasn’t angry. His eyes were too soft as they admired her now above her head. He was so tall. Draco kept his neck craned down while she gazed up, a crick in the back of her neck formed. It pushed at her nagging, “don’t you feel me?”, but breaking away from Draco’s gray stare was impossible. He captured her, entrapped her in his vibrant web of entanglement and confusion. He, himself, a very puzzle longing to be worked out, solved.

Hermione grasped his cold fingers. The electric shock zapped hers awake, alive with the memory of beating flesh against hers.

Guilt nuzzled its way inside, too, never letting the moment get too off course. Draco had a right to know. She guarded a secret so precious, so terrible, so…important. There was more behind her actions than Draco understood, but if he knew the dire circumstance, there was no way he would not forgive her. It was for their protection. His protection.

She tried to think of a way to say it. There was no way to break it without it being a shock. The secret was secret for a reason.

Draco watched her struggle with words silently. His curiosity stamped inside his gut ready to charge.

“Do you still want to be with me?” He asked gently.

He winced as he said it, instantly regretful. The last thing he wanted to hear was Hermione’s rejection. She kept him onward more than any other. Hopeful of what the future might be, could be with the right kind of people to lead there. She was one of those. He felt it. Hermione Granger was a revolutionary in a tiny, hidden package.

Hermione swallowed back a lump in her throat. “Of course. There is no place I’d rather be than in your arms.”

“Not even Weasley’s?”

She groaned. “Really? The jealousy game, again? I thought you knew better.”

“He’s a pure blood, too. Dim witted, purely impulsive and not subtle in the least. He is your friend, though. There must be something you find appealing that makes you keep him around, drooling over you,” Draco said. “You do have a reasonable explanation for your friendship, don’t you? Or is it just a guy on stand-by kind of thing for you?”

He knew better than to cross that line, but he’d had the chance to stew all winter break. There were many thoughts on his mind. She hadn’t responded to his letter, in any indication. There was no security. He drifted through the days uncertain if what he felt, what he wanted was in fact aligned with hers.

Current times left little time for anything else, but honesty. They had to trust each other or fall apart.

There was a tiny piece of Draco that suspected she didn’t trust him.

“Wow. Really excellent, Draco,” Hermione chided. “Are there any other objections you care to throw at me while you’re feeling it?”

Draco shrugged, because he knew it’d make her furious. “Just him. Just Weaselbee. Wanna know if you’re in love with him or not.”

Hermione gasped. The same conversation over and over again left little impact. He was so fraught with worry that every boy who paid her the least bit of attention could steal her on glance! Did he think so little of her commitment? He loved to think of himself so highly. It seemed out of character for him to underestimate the degree of animosity that would come from any Gryffindor being even loosely associated with a Slytherin. A Malfoy was out of the question. Out of the realm of possibility. There was nothing worse that that, and that was what she was.

“I am not in love with Ronald. I love him as my friend, because that’s what he is. It is absolutely ridiculous that you have stooped to being jealous of a wizard who is much less qualified and well off as yourself just because you’re so insecure that your arrogance won’t let you see it for what it really is.”

“You love that. ‘How it really is’. You know it all, don’t you?” He sneered with a scrunched nose. “Go on, now. Don’t leave me begging. I want to know about Weaselbee. What is this mysterious truth I simply must know?”

By now, Hermione fumed with disbelief that she could love someone so ignorant of his own feelings. He was so wrapped up in his own world, he failed to see what she did as anything but a chance to make him feel insignificant.

“Ronald Weasley is just a friend. A dear friend, but nothing more,” she stated with venom dripping. Her mouth turned numb with anger. “The only way I’d possibly date Ron would be spite you. Merlin knows, I will be the one left broken hearted after all this.”

“So it’s my fault if you date him, someone I hate?”

He was kicking himself for making her so good at twisting arguments. It was a miracle. In a small moment of pride he realized he’d created a monster with whom he now grappled with for just a small bit forward.

Draco took a few loud breaths. He was heated, but he regained himself quickly. He shifted to a slick mood, suddenly interested with the hall. Again, he pressed his ear against the door. Hermione didn’t hear anything.

“We should go,” Draco explained, “if we don’t want to get caught.”

Hermione bit her lip. “Should split up, right? Less chance of getting caught by ourselves.”

“Man, you just can’t wait to get away from me.” The words rolled off his tongue in distaste.

“But Draco…”

He snapped. “Nonsense, Hermione. I won’t hear of it. I’m not going to leave you on your own to fend for yourself. Just follow me and don’t speak. I’ll get you back to your room undiscovered. Just trust me.”

They rushed into the hall. Coast was clear.

Hermione sighed as he rushed past. “But, I do trust you,” she whispered.

Draco didn’t have time. He pulled her along the walls, careful to silence their steps near the intersections. He’d been out of been after curfew more than a few times. The school was different at night, all still and serene. Draco liked that. It spoke to him as he explored darkness with little fear of being observed and being ratted out to his father back home. He let himself be guided.

The pair watched past the Transfiguration and Muggle Studies classrooms. Hermione felt a lump in her throat rise as they came upon the tower. Dumbledore’s office, McGonagall’s, and even Snape’s was there! She pulled back her wrist. He was insane.

Hermione shook her head with wide eyes. She pointed back to the way they’d come. The look in her eyes told her fear before he could ask. He pushed lips together tightly. There was little to urge her forward. Her knees kept her locked in place.

Discovery would come if they stood still much longer.

Draco gently held her hand in his hand and kissed each knuckle until she bit back a shy smile.

“Please,” he mouthed. “Trust me.”

On track once again, they passed over the covered bridge toward the House dormitories. They were practically there! Hermione started to let her feet roam freely back to her House, but she was pulled back into a nearby closet, smushed against Draco in a very unflattering – that may have been what he was after – position.

“Draco, what are you doing? We’re so close,” she said, flustered.

“I don’t want it to be like this between us. I miss you. I want you.” He pushed his forehead up against hers. His hot breath flushed her skin. “Please, stay.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck, pushed her cheek against his chest and sighed. “Then you have to trust me. More than you trust anyone else, yeah? And I’ll do the same for you.”

His head fell against her shoulder. A damp spot appeared quietly. “I hate this, Hermione.”

He swallowed back an audible sob. Her heart lurched. Draco never cried. He was so strong, so infinitely distant. There was no one breaking through his shell. Never.

Hermione hugged him closer, and he accepted himself deeper in her embrace.

“I know. I hate it too,” she answered softly.

“No. I hate this. It’s killing me to keep it up.” Another sigh. “Every day I feel like a failure, a traitor, a coward. Then I see you, smiling or being just so irritatingly smart, and I feel rotten. Ashamed of who I am. Ashamed of all I’ve done. Know the worst part? The only person I want in those times is you. I just want to smell your hair, and feel you sigh beside me. It’s just so easy. All of it. You’re not complicated, everything else is.”

Hermione held him as he sobbed into her shoulder, sure to cast a silencing charm of the closet to keep them protected. It was the last on her mind, being caught, but she wanted Draco comfortable. He was so pent up within his protection, he never let himself slip through because then he felt embarrassed. She hugged until her arms ache. Her kisses on his exposed neck for a bit of reassurance. It was all she could do. There was no other comfort to give.

“I hate this,” he whispered again.

The world was messed up. Corrupted. Everything their generation and next ones were entitled to was in danger of blowing to ash and leaving the realm of possibility. Even for kids just as Draco, too scared and bound into a world they didn’t chose, forced to destroy it.

She let him weep in her arms for all the bad wills, malcontent and person he had to be, was forced to be, only knew to be before he met her. Draco was chained to the success of the Dark Lord, as she was in truth.

Their lives depended upon outcomes, stacked against the other.

Stray tears splintered the withheld demeanor she constructed. It was Draco’s sorrow that ate its way under her sick as a burrowing tick. It fed on his heartbreak, bleeding to hers.

When his hands absently brushed against her cheeks, tears smeared. He pulled it back. But then he saw Hermione’s face tortured by the same reality that never left his thoughts.

“Oh, darling,” he cooed it so sweetly her pain melted. He rubbed her wet chin, sad smile upon his lips. For a moment he became distracted. She panted against him, teary-eyed and hurt, his despair just as deep. It felt like a moment of pleasure to watch her be so beautiful in the most natural way.

He cleared his throat, and sense of decency. “Listen to me. Listen. I love you, I do. With all my miserable old heart, I love you. And if there is a way, during all this shit, I can come to you, there will be nothing that can stop me. You understand? I will come for you. I will. Don’t give up on me, ok? Promise me you won’t.”

Hermione sniffled back more tears. She tried to logical will them away – he’d said such a great thing – but it made her incredibly distraught. Being away from him in any capacity, not knowing. It was just about the cruelest she could think of.

“Hermione!” He said suddenly. “Promise. Promise me.”

Why did it feel like a goodbye?

She wiped her tears away with a quick swipe. “I’ll always trust you, Draco. There is nothing so black that will change my heart. Nothing.”

“Say it.”

“I promise,” she murmured.

Chapter Text

First Floor Classroom

Trelawny’s sacking came after the article of Harry’s was released in the Quibbler. Hermione guessed the Ministry was under pressure to release teachers not within their own personal political view point. It was a disgrace. So public, in front of the entire school while the professor begged to stay amongst the castle, her home of over ten years as Umbridge gave her the notice of her dismissal.

They watched in disgust, unable to do a thing to stop it. The Ministry’s intervention in the school was the very reason for the D.A. Protection was not within their priorities. Control. They only wanted control. Hermione was suddenly thankful that they’d formed the group. At least some of them could defend themselves when You-Know-Who came knocking.

Trelawny gone. Divination seemed a loss. Hermione wondered what she’d do with the time in her schedule, already devoted to the work of Divination. She hated to abandon it once she’d already started. Harry and Ron were less than worried about their wasted learning time.

Dumbledore announced a replacement teacher for the class: a friendly centaur named Firenze. She’d met him first year in the Dark Forest after Voldemort slayed a unicorn and nearly hurt Harry. Malfoy had run to Hagrid telling them of a monster. Hagrid was upset Draco abandoned Harry with a monster, but the look of terror in Malfoy’s eyes was undeniable. He couldn’t believe that Harry hadn’t followed.

The centaur was large, majestic, with long blonde hair and palomino coat on his back end. Two bright blue eyes shimmered as he looked down at his class with kindness, a startling difference from the Ministry approved replacement, Umbridge. Despite his overwhelming presence purely based on his size, Firenze led his class with a startling softness. He welcomed questions openly. Answers were always informative and unabashed.

Harry liked it.

The girls like Firenze, too, but for other reasons. Pavarti and Lavender whispered loudly as he spoke with Harry.

“Do you think he’s married?” Pavarti asked.

Lavender leaned forward. “How do you tell? Not like he can wear a ring, can he?”

“If he looks at me, I might die.” Pavarti fanned herself dramatically. “It got hot all of a sudden. Or is it just that piece of centaur ass? God, look at it.”

They two stared intently. Lavender watched as Firenze shifted one way then another. Her breath would catch when he backed up, closer to their table. Blonde hairs of his tail neared their grasp and their eyes grew two sizes out their skulls. Pavarti raised her fingers toward the collection of beautiful strands like she was hypnotized, mouth fallen slack, until Hermione batted her hand away.

Firenze heard the slap and brought attention toward the set of Gryffindor girls. Lavender jerked to attention. Pavarti slipped her hands below the table to hide their trembling, although Hermione guessed it wasn’t in fear. It very well may have been from excitement, the urge to jump astride the gorgeous centaur too difficult to ignore. Hermione pinched her sleeve lightly.

“Ms. Granger, it is delightful to see you again.” Firenze watched her brighten at the notice. “I hear you are quite gifted.”

Lavender sighed at the sound of his voice. Her eyes glazed over with dreamy haze, cloudy sparkles, as he stood afront with a close few of his chiseled abdomen. She leaned against Hermione’s shoulder, much to her mortification.

She pushed Lavender right. “Oh, yes.” Hermione blushed. “It is, um, excellent to see you again. I suspect you’ll offer a unique, perspective for class.”

Firenze smiled. “Ah, dream interpretations can be complicated. They can be taken, so many ways, if not focused upon a singular result. I venture to guess you already are most aware behind the truth of dream interpretations. As it is told, you are a gifted student.”

Pavarti and Lavender deflated at this. He did not address them any further, and Hermione offered no insight to attain his attention directly. They tried wrong answers, and correct ones. He regarded them both as students; nothing more. They glowered.

The Gryffindors leaned in close with an assignment, but it was not discussed much. Lavender and Pavarti would not leave Hermione alone. They pestered until she eventually gave in.

“He likes you,” Pavarti said.

“What? Nonsense,” Hermione said. “He’s a teacher.”

Lavender sighed dreamily, watching the centaur closely. “I’d give anything to braid his hair.”

Pavarti groaned. “Me, too.”

“Hermione, call him back over here,” Lavender begged.

Pavarti nodded too, hands clasped together. “Please, Hermione. Let us just be here when you two talk. We won’t make a sound. I just want to hear his voice. Remember it for later.”

“Yes! For later. Oh, let us stay here and watch. No! Ask for a private audience. We’ll hide, like under there, and watch. No, wait, introduce us. Yes! That’s much better.”

The girls got excited. Their pleads were noticed by close peers, many raised their eyebrows with question.

Hermione blushed. “That is just ridiculous. Firenze is a professor of Hogwarts. It is incredibly unethical for interest in a student, and the same goes for you both.”

“But he doesn’t like us!” Lavender whined. “But he does, you. He hasn’t called another student by named apart from Harry and you.”

“Have you noticed his hot body, all those muscles? Look at him.” Pavarti motioned her head. “Blonde hair, and blue eyes.”

“You both are mental.”

She couldn’t very well tell them that she happened to be taken with a blonde hair, blue-eyed, totally irritating and somehow charming in a disarming sort of way Slytherin, could she? Hermione was bound in strictest confidence. Yet there were moments, when there was an off-hand comment or snide remark, that she’d want to announce it, secrecy be damned. She wanted them to know. When they’d look at her thinking she was nothing, but an endless stream of knowledge that never displayed human emotion, in their ignorant eyes, it was all she was. They didn’t see her as a girl. Much less a woman. No, she was a ticket to them. A ticket for homework, a ticket for House Points. There was no developing attractiveness as the years went on. No subtle crushes. Not a single Gryffindor would try it, she knew. Partially it was Harry and Ron’s fault. That came with boy best friends. But wasn’t there anyone daring enough to try it?

Draco was the only one willing to see her like that. It was in his nature to antagonize Harry and Ron in the deepest, most hurtful way. They all did it to each other. Boys fighting over boy things.

Was that what their relationship was about?

She glanced back at him, all the way in the very back of the classroom next to Goyle and Crabbe. They snickered as they read from the textbook. All of them look compliant even though, she knew, Draco did not care for Divination as a school subject. He looked confident. Shoulders were always straight, not slumped, and chin held his face high in the light. That was his vanity. That was the face of a Malfoy, his ticket to lots of things.

Hermione thought about him and his friends with a detachment from the moment. Questions filled her mind where dream interpretation should have been.

Why was he so good at hiding things? Lying? What was it that made it seem so easy for him to hate everyone, save for a few Slytherins that didn’t get on his nerves, yet openly be so vulnerable in front of her? What made lonely so appealing?

The Malfoy’s were bound tight to their social circle, mostly because of their elitist views but also for their own protection. After the war when Voldemort disappeared the night Harry’s parents were killed, Lucius claimed he was under an Unforgiveable Curse to do the deeds he did as a Death Eater. How? Hermione couldn’t say. There was no a shred of decency amongst the man’s bones. He gave Ginny a diary of Tom Riddle’s and left her to be taken over by the horrible man. How anyone believed Lucius did anything against his will was preposterous.

After the war, allies of the family spread thin. Less and less wanted to be associated with ideals as Voldemort’s. Numerous Death Eaters were imprisoned. That’s how Draco’s aunt, Bellatrix, was locked away.

Draco could have been anything. He really might have been anything in the world with his brain and remarkably sharp wit and quick tongue, there was nothing he couldn’t conquer in business, or academics. Even more options were in the Muggle world. But that future. That very future full of hope and undoubted happiness was not an option. The blood in his very veins stopped that. Ever since he was given to the family name of Malfoy, Draco would never know happiness in success.

Hermione felt sadness wash over her like a riptide. It yanked at her heart with violent claws.

It followed her throughout the day. A sunken hole in her chest the more she tried to shake it out, deeper and deeper darkness. That very depth of her feelings for him surmounted that worry, though just barely. It scraped through, sure to leave marks against her body, as she wandered through the day with only a mild interest in her studies.

If Harry and Ron noticed, they never said a thing.

That haze lasted with her all evening. She walked toward the library after evening supper. The D.A. didn’t meet until later. There was plenty of time for her to shake her sadness away before it was noticed during practice. That was the last thing she wanted. All the students in the D.A. were not Slytherin-sympathizers. There was great animosity amongst the Hogwarts Houses, particularly with Slytherin and the rest of the houses.

Hermione found it hypocritical that all the houses pretended to hate the Slytherins, specifically Draco Malfoy, and yet she knew there were plenty of Ravenclaws that day-dreamed of Draco in their bed. A few Hufflepuffs even tried to convince Draco to accompany them into their dorm for a bit of after-curfew fun.

She scoffed. Of course they wouldn’t know he was with her. Not that it’d matter. They’d still try.

A voice shouted up the empty hall. “Hey Granger!”

Hermione gasped in surprise, turned on toe and saw a casually dressed Blaise Zabini, with light-washed jeans embroidered with swirl patterns down his legs with a buttoned-up white shirt that clung to his thin chest. His hair was shorter, too. She hadn’t seen him since end of term so long ago, and he carried himself differently. There was less arrogance, if that made sense, as he walked. The usual taut expression of his face was absent. Possibly pleasant.

He didn’t speed his pace; she waited for him to walk the length of the hallway to talk.

Blaise smiled as he approached. “Too good to say hello? I know your friends are all self-righteous Gryffindors but still.”

There was a general contention between them because of their houses, but Hermione found him more humorous than anything. She rolled her eyes and locked her arm in his.

“Lucky none of them can see us now,” she said. “Now we can be the best of friends.”

“Whoa, whoa.” He pulled his arm away, popping his elbow as he unwound it from Hermione’s tight grasp. “Now, now, Granger. We aren’t that friendly. Confused me with another kind of Slytherin.”

Hermione smirked but said nothing. They kept walking through the abandoned halls, unbothered by the possibility of being seen. She guessed that he knew they wouldn’t. Most students relaxed after supper, hanging out with their friends or working on homework in the common rooms. The library was the last on anyone’s mind.

Blaise watched her closely as they walked. His slanted eyes noticed each glance, each downtrodden look, every sigh.

“Shame about Trelawney, huh? She was a kooky old bat, but Divination is a kooky thing.”

Hermione nodded absently. “Yes, a shame.”

Again they walked in silence. When Hermione turned to go toward the library, Blaise steered her in a different direction. She said nothing about it. Blaise guessed she wasn’t too set to go anywhere.

Their shoes echoed through the halls. Split only by the far-off hum of a throng of students as they marched the halls. None in the direction of the library, though. She knew that much. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. Being sighted with Blaise was difficult to explain to her fellow Gryffindors whom had grown accustomed to their blinded distain for the Hogwarts House. There were few who actually associated closely. In part it was due to their attitude; Slytherin’s kept their own counsel. Yet it was deeper than that. They were a withdrawn sort. They lived in the dungeons of the castle, dark and desolate, and weren’t easy to understand much less relate to. Most came from traditional wizarding families. Because of Tom Riddle’s clear preference toward the House, Slytherin was relevant to Voldemort’s uprising and threat.

Blaise handled himself well around her. She’d grown fond of him, once she got past his uptight exterior. He was a traditional wizard, which was not a crime. Being a Slytherin left him little chance to grow fond of anyone, and even amongst the Slytherin’s, he kept to himself. Hermione wondered why he’d grown in their short friendship unlike his five years – possibly longer due to his mother’s purist views – as a Slytherin in Slytherin House. Draco admitted he knew very little of him, other than what was manufactured in the rumor mill. He cared very little. They were bound by a secret. In the rules of the House of the Snake, that was the basis of friendship.

However differently she felt about friendship, she’d grown accustomed to his demeanor. It was abrasive. It was interpreted as coldness, in truth, she didn’t believe it was an honest observation. He was stilted. It was clear his trust was wary. Slytherin was too subtle for his ease. Hermione kept things straight forward so not to disturb his irrational love of stable ground.

Blaise and Hermione rounded another flight of stairs up to the fourth floor. There wasn’t much up there, but Hermione felt it was a need for them to be in each other’s company than it was about the destination.

She eyed the dark complexed wizard suspiciously. “Is there something wrong, Blaise?”

They continued their walk through the deserted corridors of the castle.

Blaise looked up contemplative. “Things always must be in shambles with you Gryffindors. Can’t I just find time for civilities?”

“I didn’t mean to imply that. I - .”

He rolled his eyes. “First off, I’m sorry about this.”

Blaise reached into his back pocket and produced a folded letter of parchment. It crinkled in her hand. She looked up at him questioning. He just shook her off.

“Had to make sure Draco didn’t regret it,” he said softly. “And also, I’m very sorry for this.”

She moved to ask him what he meant but he raised his wand, a dark ribbon of fabric shot out, and pushed her into a nearby classroom with suddenness. She felt herself fall to the floor in undetermined drop until a strong pair of arms grabbed her shoulders in a calm demeanor that only ever meant one person.

It was always going to be him.

Hermione was brought to her feet but still blind to what exactly it was that required such trickery. It was clear they were in a classroom. The distinct smell of ink wells and parchment were a scent of comfort. Her body laxed as Draco stood behind, breath a hot gust against the nape of her neck. She shivered as it swept down her spine in intoxicating thrill. It’d been so long since they’d played a game like that.

“Alohomora,” Draco whispered.

The lock clicked.

Her sense heightened in anticipation. Below her shirt, two pointed buds poked through the fabric with intensity. As if sensing it through her body, Draco reached forward and grasped them carefully. She sighed in heavy relief as he pulled at her, hard, with strength and need and urge. He always knew. Just the right way to touch her, plead with her in the way that made her agree just about anything so it didn’t stop.

He pressed against her back, a stick poked her.

She lifted a coy brow. “Is that a wand in your pocket or you just glad to see me?”

“Mmm.” He buried his hair in her hair. “Anyone else would be worried with a nine-inch piece of wood in their back, but my girl, mmm, she’s dripping with excitement.”

Breath caught in her throat. Waves of excitement coursed through her. Just the way his tongue snaked through her body in search of heat, always sure to hit its mark, made her shudder at the knees. Thoughts jumbled into incoherent wants. Her body, the singular thing filled with lust for him, was in control now. It waited for his touch in agony, ready to spark a flood with one rub, one grope, one thrust.

Hermione felt his presence in the room. The very air of him was cool and collected and patient. How he kept himself restrained was amazing. Even now she wanted to pounce.

He came closer. The gentleness of his touch startled her.

She gasped out. “Oh!”

Staring into black, all she felt was his light. She pictured the brilliance of platinum hair as it glowed in moonlight so picturesque it made her well with tears. The beauty of a single body so embodied with an inner soul so devoted and passionate, it was no understatement to see him as a demi-god.

Lips pressed against hers parting her lock and slipping a tongue inside. Its need was gentle and caressing though it was clear he planned to stay there as long as breath would allow.

When they both pulled away gasping for air, Draco stayed close. His nose against hers.

Worry trickled through Hermione. As much as her lust wanted to worry, it knew that something was different. Their games were rough and hungry. Draco was insatiable, a true animal. He devoured her like a meal with no end in sight. This Draco, here and now, was soft.

“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” She whispered.

Draco exhaled. “Do you love me, darling?”

Hermione nodded. “Yes.”

“Me and only me?”

“Yes.”

Then he was gone.

He was no longer there. Hermione reached out and grasped nothing but empty air. She was at a loss to what just happened, but it flared into a temper that was much buried in frustration of the ruined opportunity, perhaps their last one. Their end was unknown. Tomorrow, they might be discovered and their lives subsequently ruined. It could be weeks. It could be years. Neither of them knew.

Hermione wished for him to come back to her. Draco made the bad things go away, if even for a moment, they were lost in a realm of other possibilities. She and him.

Just then a pair of hands ran through her hair and the blindfold fell away. She looked back in disbelief.

Draco stood there many moments with his eyes locked in hers. They remained unreadable. He grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips.

“I’m not in the mood to play tonight,” he said.

Hermione openly gaped. “But, then, what’s all this?”

“I want to make love with you, Mione. I want to make love to you and you make love to me.”

She was unsure how to process it but allowed herself to be pulled to a makeshift cot out of fluffy pillows and blankets he’d transfigured. It was a luscious space compared to their usual nights. A faux fur throw overtop a thick cushion. It was white speckled with gray. A pile of pillows so fully stuffed they nearly burst. And there was a shimmering blanket of dragon scales that changed color in the light. They were so small, like a slate of diamonds.

Candles lined around their cozy nest. They flickered as he walked past and fluffed the pillows. She watched as his nimble fingers caressed their fabric and placed them just so, and rearranged them, and then again, until they were up to his standard.

There was a small desk near. Atop was a platter stuffed with every kind of fruit she’d ever heard of, sliced thin and arranged in an endless swirl. The green of kiwis clashed with the lovely yellow of mango, then vibrant red of strawberry, to a pale green of starfruit then back to red, only it was an apple that time. A neat stacked pyramid of every color of grapes and blueberries sat centerpiece. The very thing was a work of art.

Hermione wasn’t sure what to think. All the time they’d known each other, it’d been rushed and passionate and just made do everywhere there was room. He gave her little trinkets and gifts for holidays and birthdays, but it was all so informal. It was just love. Their love.

Draco looked at her with expectant eyes.

“Did you do all of this for me?”

He smirked. “Shocked, Granger?”

She swallowed and nodded. It was the most accurate word to describe what she felt. What came second was confused. She also found herself bumbling with questions, but she knew it would ruin whatever Draco had planned so she bit her lip.

He held out his hand with a helpful smile and she took it.

“I know this seems overwhelming,” he stated evenly. “It isn’t like us, is it?”

Hermione laughed in agreement. Her bewilderment still kept her tongue locked.

Delicately, he lifted a thin slice of strawberry off the platter and placed it atop her taste buds. Juice gushed in sugary high inside. It lifted her spirits from definite shock to curiosity.

Draco cleared his throat, fumbling with his tie. “Something, just, made me realize that I’m capable of so much more. You deserve so much more. And I was raised better than that. Broom cupboards and outside in secret. That’s not fit for any witch, much less for a future lady of the house of Malfoy. I mean, we haven’t even had a real date!”

He flushed a color red. It was immediate anger.

“I can’t believe I’ve gone on like this for so long,” Draco said, his voice more bitter than before. Then his gaze suddenly raised to hers. “I’m better than that. You’re a lady. I know how to treat a lady. Wasn’t raised some scoundrel like Weasley.”

Hermione nodded. “You’ve only ever been a gentleman, Draco.”

He scoffed. “A gentleman does not let this go on for so long. A gentleman doesn’t get things started like this in the first place.”

“Please, calm down. Talk to me, yeah? What’s brought all this on? What’s made you think you aren’t good enough to me?”

Draco’s stare turned to deadly glare. He grabbed hold of her wrists, forcing her in front of him.

“Look at me. There is not a bloody part that deserves you. See for yourself. Look!”

“I am looking, Draco. I am.” She spoke calmly as to not irritate the rage that he held for himself. “And you know what I see? I see you for all you are. Smart. Gorgeous. Gracious. Competitive. Ambitious. Loyal, even. And I love it.”

He ignored her comment, drilling holes deeper into her eyes.

“My mother, my father, people like me. They all want you dead. I put you in danger just by association with me. Willingly. What kind of man does that? Leaves his lady with so little protection? A coward. A rotten coward.”

“You’re not a coward. How can you say that?” She yanked her wrists free. They reached out and cupped his face gently. He didn’t retreat, but he didn’t soften either. “You’ve sacrificed everything for loving me. You helped me second year, remember? And third year helped me find routes through the school so that I wouldn’t be noticed with my time turner. You did that, love. You did. Last year you changed my life in so many ways. You gave me something I’ll cherish forever.”

Draco fell still. “What did I give you?”

Hermione felt the word come to the tip of her tongue. She could do this. It seemed right. They were calm. They were hidden. He deserved to know. She knew it’d have to happen sometime. Why didn’t it come?

Hermione forced a smile. “A future. You gave me a future.”

“No.”

He said it so suddenly, Hermione took a step back. “No?”

“No.” He confirmed. “I didn’t give you a future then. Not for real. That’s what I’m doing right now.”

Draco fell to one knee, silver box in hand, and looked at her with need.

“I’m giving you my future, Hermione Granger. I’m giving you a future that will keep you within my protection and the House of Malfoy, and Black. I’m giving you a future with me in it, always.”

The box snapped open and revealed a silver band covered with a crowd of green emeralds bordered with rows upon rows of tiny diamonds. Hermione gasped as he took her left hand in his.

This was not happening. This was not real. There was no way this was true.

“Hermione Granger, will you marry me and become a lady of my name?”

Chapter Text

Abandoned Classroom

“Merlin, Draco. Are you serious?”

Hermione gaped at the ring on her left hand. Hearty emeralds and pristine diamonds all neatly displayed as a boulder atop her dainty finger. It was enchanting. The style was obviously a Malfoy family style: silver and emeralds. Everyone she’d meet would notice the ring like a blinding spotlight magnified by the fact that she never wore anything close that suited the ring. Jumpers and jeans didn’t compare to precious jewels.

He remained on one knee. Black slacks against the dusty disused floor.

She liked when he looked like that, awaiting her like an obedient child.

There was a singular flame that licked her naughty side that very well knew how much Draco hated the agony of waiting. Perhaps it was time for him to learn just what she was capable of. Her own hunger for him was stronger than he believed it to be.

Her flats were kicked off to the side, as her jumper was shed.

Hermione approached him in silence. A smirk on her face. It blossomed wider as a startled look came across Draco’s face. She ate it up greedily, slowly to make every aching moment last longer for him.
She dragged her foot against the inseams of his trousers, inching closer to the joining where a slow tent pitched higher and higher. She chuckled. Now she was above Draco, foot against his heat, and the bewildered, albeit excited, man stared up with icy eyes.

“Well?” He asked coolly. “Am I going to get any answer?”

Her toes rubbed against the zipper of his pants. For a moment, she saw his eyes roll back.

“Hermione,” he growled.

She retracted, a bit of disappointment.

“So, no playing then?” Her bottom lip puffed out. “Pity. I do enjoy a game.”

Draco raised suddenly. “That’s your reaction to my proposal?”

Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. The witch was a wee dementor with this! She loved to make him suffer.

Draco ran his fingers through his hair. “Merlin, Hermione. I’m being serious. This isn’t some kind of joke. I’ve got duties, you know. Expectations. You’re one of those, too. And no matter what I do, I have no right to you. How am I to know if you’ve gotten hurt, or captured? What about if you’re gone? Gone and I can’t find you? No. I can’t do it. I won’t.”

It was an insult to think he’d be separated from her the entire summer, possibly longer. The breakout at Azkaban made things settle in startling clarity. She was his priority. Hermione was his goal.
If they weren’t able to be together in normal succession as they ought, then they’d have to be together with no choice. His mother and father would have to accept her if she was his wife. They’d hide her, protect her. He’d give them no choice.

Hermione roused him out of his thoughts with a gentle kiss to his cheek.

“Make love to me,” she said. “Make love to me and you’ll feel better.”

She didn’t have to ask twice. He peeled off her worn jeans and shirt without a second thought. Hermione nude was a beautiful sight. She was a peachy pink color, curved at the hips and narrow at the waist. Dark buds stuck out at her breasts. He toyed them gently, softly.

Hermione responded to the slightest whisper. She fell into his embrace with absolute trust; his arms wrapped around her spreading warmth. Her hands became busy below them, undoing his trousers with remarkable precision since her face was currently licking the edge of his jaw. He gazed down with pride. He’d done one thing right. He befriended a witch too good for him, who loved him wholeheartedly.

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor

Hermione shuddered against Draco’s arm as they walked through the grand foyer of Malfoy Manor. It was the day she’d dreaded for so long: Meeting Draco’s parents. They were elite, blood purists born and baptized in the ways of the old wizarding world where family pride was as essential as air.

The ancient Manor was cold. It welcomed malcontent and a bitter taste. Wall to floor was decorated in dark accent woods and tiles and trim while emerald greens married silver. Arched ceilings overlooked the center of the house, a long line down the center where the exposed columns and large windows glowed in elegance, while stairs led off into different directions, or “wings” as they’re termed. Expensive rugs, of Middle Eastern craft, sat underfoot almost daring her to step forward and dirty them with her presence.

She doubted any Muggle born had ever stepped foot in the manor.

Draco looked relaxed beside her. He held on tight to her arm as they walked, discrete when he watched her examine everything they encountered including a Malfoy family house elf named Pawcett. He dismissed the elf. He knew Hermione was uncomfortable being served, especially by elves.

He gave her a hidden smile. “Don’t worry. They won’t bite.”

“No, they’ll just kill me instead,” Hermione replied blandly.

He planted a kiss on her knuckle, sadly smiling while his eyes glistened. Instantly she regretted the words. It wasn’t his fault they were there. Well, it was partially, same as hers, but he was trying to make it right. Her safety now hung in the balance, that of their unborn child too. They had no choice, but to seek protection from his parents despite their political affiliation and closeness with Voldemort.

Hermione found out she was pregnant a week before they boarded the train to Hogwarts. She was so stricken with grief, it took Harry, Ron and Ginny to get her to come that year. They worried and fussed over her, making sure to keep everyone else at a distance, as Ginny endlessly handed her books and Ron gave her bottles of water and Harry held her hand. It attracted attention throughout all the students. Of course, Draco noticed. The minute his eyes met hers, he knew something was wrong. He went into a panic. He waited down by the Black Lake shore for four hours until she made her way toward him.

There was a sad longing on his face. It was indescribable hurt. It echoed through his hollow eyes as he collected her in his arms and begged to know why she looked so sickly. He said he couldn’t survive the year without her. She must have mistaken how awful she looked because Draco seemed convinced that she was dying.

The moment had been so right, without Voldemort and Death Eaters and house rivalries, that Hermione felt the words fall out before she could control herself. She poured out her admission of pregnancy onto his shoulders like he’d expected it.

He had absolutely not expected it.

Draco kept her close as they entered a large parlor with three – yes, three – ridiculously posh couches of lush silver fabric cushions and a fuzzy white ottoman. A pair of dainty ankles were crossed over top. They wore heels of matte black, three inches up.

The woman in question was Draco’s mother, Narcissa. Hermione recognized her from Quidditch games and other social outings. In the light, it was easy to see how similar Draco looked to her with the same shade of brilliant blonde and high cheek bones. The sudden thought came to her. Would their child be blonde too?

Across the room near a roaring fireplace stood a man of black with the same blonde shade down the length of his back. It was flat and shiny. Not a hair was out of place as the man stared into the cackling flame with intensity. Lost in thought, Hermione gathered. The man was lost in a daze of thoughts, waiting for his son to appear.

Draco had written a letter a few days before instructing them of urgent, family business that required absolutely no other. He didn’t elaborate what he meant in writing or to Hermione, but she guessed it had to do with his on-the-run aunt Bellatrix, Narcissa’s older sister. She escaped Azkaban and it seemed obvious that she’d turn to her sister in a time of need. Draco needed every Death Eater, crazy Azkaban convict and Dark Lord away from Malfoy Manor that night.

Neither noticed the pair, with Lucius staring into the fire and Narcissa reading a book. She shuddered when a pair of blue eyes clicked ahead. Hermione retracted away, but Draco held her close at his side.

“Hello Mother. Father.” He said it with forced calm they had to notice. Hermione did.

Narcissa stood up immediately.

“Draco,” she hummed with a small smile. “It is so good of you to come home, darling. And you’ve brought a friend.”

She eyed Hermione closely. A feeling sunk in Hermione’s bones that felt exposed. If she didn’t know who she was, Draco’s father certainly would. They’d had run ins before. Many times, since he was the one who always tried to kill her best friend.

Narcissa pulled Draco into a hug. Hermione out of his arms, felt out of place, so she wrapped them around herself in a tight embrace that kept her cowardly guts from slipping out. The reality of what might happen, the very danger she stood in at the moment, came overwhelming. It crashed against her without relief. She fought back tears.

“Are they gone?” Draco asked.

Narcissa nodded, releasing him back to Hermione’s side. He told hold of her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“Good. I’ve got some news,” he said. He glanced down at Hermione. “It might be better if we sit down.”

It was clear that his mother was a polite woman. She smoothed her hands down the side of her skirt and motioned toward the empty loveseat. The nervousness took over a thread of her. Hermione watched her gather herself and force a mask of calm, same as Draco did when he became suddenly threatened with any kind of emotion apart from anger.

The woman summoned an elf for tea. The elf popped back a minute later with a tray of four identical porcelain teacups decorated with small dragons around the rim. Hermione recognized the design from Draco’s own notes where instead of his name, he ended with a dragon. It was near identical.

“Sugar?” Narcissa asked sweetly.

Hermione nodded, still too frozen in fear to do much else.

Lucius hadn’t looked up from flame. He remained motionless surely sweating through his many layers of robes and suit jackets and shirts.

The three drank their tea in silence. Only the small clinks of their teaspoons as they swirled around the dragon teacups sounded through the manor. Draco took only a few sips before setting it back down. Hermione gulped hers in entirety. The more she occupied her mouth, the less she’d feel obligated to speak in the deadly silence.

Narcissa drank from her cup in a relaxed state. She only glanced at Lucius a few times with a mildly irritated look. It seemed the Manor’s quiet was a common occurrence.

The woman looked up eventually with a smile. “I’m so glad to see you. I know it has only been a short time at Hogwarts, but it feels so empty without you here.”

Draco forced a smile.

“Don’t think me plain, darling, but I am a bit surprised by your letter,” she continued with a sly glance toward Draco’s guest on his arm. “We were under the impression something was wrong. It is unlike you to be so vague in your writing.”

“Are you accusing me of being an alarmist then, Mother?”

Narcissa let out a small chuckle. “Oh, dear Draco. I am your mother. I know just how excitable you get. That is hardly new. What is, and what I find questionable, is your appearance. We let you do as you wish, never deny that right to you, but four days back at Hogwarts and we receive a request to come home. That is very unlike you, darling. Especially after this summer. So tell us, what is wrong?”

The absence of Lucius was finally noted. He snapped out of his reverie and turned to greet his only son in a typical distant greeting when a familiar pair of brown eyes met his own in disbelief. His pace paused, but only for a moment, as he remembered himself.

Instinctively, Draco slid his arm around Hermione’s waist in possession, an act that would have typically earned him a shove away, but the security of his grasp made her heart settle inside her chest.

Lucius drifted close to their group. “Ah, Miss Granger. What a surprise to see you here, on my son’s arm.”

She noticed Narcissa’s look of displeasure. It wasn’t clear if it was Lucius’ behavior or Draco’s.

“Good evening, Mister Malfoy,” Hermione answered back.

“Father, I know this is irregular - .”

“Irregular, son? Irregular is showing up for dinner unannounced,” Lucius snapped. “Not bringing a Mudblood into my home.”

Narcissa stiffened. “Language.”

“This is way past irregular. This is highly inappropriate. Do you know what could happen tonight with her here? The danger you put us in?”

The grip on Hermione’s waist tightened. She yelped; Draco quickly apologized. His eyes were flared with a deep rage she recognized. She shrunk in her seat away from it all, knowing just how awful the night would be.

Lucius fanned out his robes upon a leather armchair. He levitated his teacup over to him without a look up. The saucer spun mid-air as he sipped in contentment.

Narcissa, Draco and Hermione watched in utter awe at the switch in his demeanor. Narcissa looked bewildered that she, too, sipped her tea in a similar fashion.

Hermione looked at Draco with pleading eyes. She wanted to leave, to go home. She wanted her mum. She wanted the comforts of home. The idea of childbirth without her own mother to pet her hair and whisper to her calmly as Hermione fought the panic was itself a panic.

She pulled away, ready to jump up and leave, when Draco’s hand gently pulled her closer into his scent. His eyes, though, kept even with his father’s. He waited for the chance to glare into his eyes in rebellion.

However, Draco seemed calmer than that. He was insulted, sure, by the word his father used. Blaise was nearly Oblivated because of using it.

Lucius continued to gaze into his milky tea with the least bit of interest in the pair. “Get her out of here. Now.”

Draco looked to his mother with widened eyes. She read them quickly and touched her husband’s arm.

“Let us hear what he has to say, Lucius. It was not just to bring the Granger girl to upset you.”

The Malfoy elder sighed heavily. “There is no interest of mine that can be obtained to listen to what our son might possibly say about this girl that we need hear. The very assumption we’d listen was a gross miscalculation on Draco’s part.” His eyes raised to his son’s. “Take her away, and do not bring her back.”

Hermione was ready to leave. Her arm looped in Draco’s, raising from the couch with a deep sigh, backing away from whatever fool’s hope they had that they’d succeed in the endeavor. She’d go back to Hogwarts and face it alone. Pregnancy was not so bad. She could do it. Harry would help. Ronald would too, after Harry made him.

She did not get very far when Draco decided to open his mouth in spite.

“I thought Malfoy Manor was open to all those in name,” he said.

Narcissa and Lucius looked up in confusion.

“Whatever do you mean, Draco?” His mother asked softly.

This was it. The moment she’d be cursed. They’d kill her right on the spot, not even caring they’d stain the priceless rug underfoot.

Hermione went to Draco’s side shaking. “Don’t, Draco. Don’t. Let’s just go.”

She fought against his attempts to bring her back down to the loveseat. He was stronger, but she was more frightened than she’d ever been.

The bloody hell with it, she thought.

Hermione turned and walked toward the door but it was slammed closed and locked tight. She gasped.

Narcissa stood, wand in hand.

“Draco, tell us this instant what is going on.”

A smirk grew on Draco’s face. “Well, mother. Meet your new daughter, Hermione. My wife.”

Lucius’ cup clattered to the floor.

“Your WHAT?!”

Draco’s mother was stricken, too. She sat down with a fallen mouth so open and vulnerable. It was very clear that the family was shattered by the news, as was Hermione’s heart. She tugged on the door handles. Latched and locked tight. There was no other escape. This was the only way. She pulled and pulled. Frantic worry came to her head as she pictured running away, away from it all. There was no place in the wizarding world for her. Not her.

A sudden embrace from behind settled her soft sobs. Draco’s arms slid around her belly and held her close. He buried his face in her face and gently shushed her to ease. Well, not ease. She was a trembling ball of something. Rage, fear, anger, embarrassment? Maybe it was all one emotion.

She felt herself pulled back to face his parents. Draco gently placed her by his side, sure to hold onto her thigh so she was grounded to the couch. He was much braver than she was.

It was a few minutes of utter agony until someone found their voice again.

“Explain yourself,” Lucius spat.

The statement wasn’t directed at her, but she felt a sudden knot in her stomach. It was terrifying to hear him yell. He trembled the very foundations of the manor.

“What’s there to explain?” Draco asked. “I’m a married man.”

Narcissa’s mouth fell further. “A wedding? How? When? How?

Ah. Here came the worst part of it all. Hermione felt the urge to be sick. Even when she faced down Death Eaters and Voldemort last term, she wasn’t as scared as she was in front of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, whom looked as though they could devour her whole.

“You’re not even seventeen,” Lucius pointed out. “You’re not able to be married without our permission. Permission we certainly did not give.”

Lucius scowled at Hermione. She let the numbness wash over her. It helped detach from the entire moment.

“You’re only a boy!” Narcissa said. “You cannot be married.”

Lucius then turned his rage to Hermione. He walked up close, face to face, and pointed his pale finger in accusation.

“What did you do to my son? You’ve ruined him with your filth!”

It was Hermione’s turn to be shocked. Her mouth fell open. Eyes widened, with some strong emotion. Of all the things she’d been accused of, seducing Draco seemed like the last thing anyone would believe! Her friends hated Draco. The Order despised him, the entire Malfoy name. They were Death Eaters. Evil. How could a Muggleborn stain the ilk that murder people?

Draco was very quick to pull her away.

“Leave her alone,” he said. “She hasn’t done anything. I’m in love with her. I’ve been in love with her since third year. Maybe even before.”

His mother gasped. Lucius was stunned.

Draco grabbed hold of Hermione’s left hand, fingering the giant ring there gently and pushed it forward on display. “See? I gave this to her last term.”

A flicker of recognition flashed through Narcissa’s eyes. “Is that - ?”

“No,” Draco said quickly. “It isn’t Grandmother’s. That is still safe in the family vaults. No, I had this one made to look just like it. A family heirloom for my new lovely family.”

He kissed the ring gently. Hermione bit back a sad smile. In spite of it all, he really was being so brave. She wished that bit of Gryffindor courage would summon up within her, not cower deep in a cave.

“I still cannot understand how you were able to be married,” Narcissa stated.

Hermione inhaled sharply. This was the moment she didn’t want.

Draco glanced over. “Do you want to tell them?”

She blanched and shook her head furiously. As if he could suggest such a thing!

“Tell us what?” Lucius mumbled bitterly. “That we shall have a Manor filled with half-breeds of your demon spawn? Let us leap for joy!”

Draco’s jaw clenched.

Narcissa glared at her husband with clear cutting edge that made even him sit down quietly. She kept it up for a few more moments until the deadly silence returned.

Hermione was impressed. It seemed that Lucius was tamed by someone.

“Please, continue, darling.”

She said it so sweetly. It sounded like, for a moment, she trusted Draco to make it all go away. A loudly shouted, “April Fools!” and they all celebrated the fact that it wasn’t true, that a Muggleborn was not part of their blood line.

That never came.

“We were granted an exception to the marriage law because of two things,” Draco squeezed her hand with reassurance. “One, because I paid them to do so. And two, because we will soon be finding ourselves in a situation where we will be viewed as of-age, very soon.”

Lucius went rigid. He seemed to understand the implication. Narcissa, on the other hand, did not.

She looked over at her son with confusion. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means that my darling wife here is carrying the heir to the Malfoy name,” Draco said. He touched the flat expanse of Hermione’s stomach in a familiar way though she knew there was nothing to feel below. She hadn’t started showing. She wasn’t due until May of the following year. They were barely pregnant. Barely. Five minutes compared to the rest of the journey that awaited.

Narcissa covered her mouth. “Merlin, Draco! Merlin sakes. At a time like this, with everything going on?”

There was a change in Draco at Hermione’s side. She noticed him tense with the mention of things. It was hardly a guess to what his mother meant. Voldemort was alive. He wanted to take over the world. Lucius was helping with that. Hermione was the very bane of their existence. She was one they wanted to erase. They were all sentiments that Draco did not agree with but was forced to adhere to because of the threat Voldemort had upon his entire family.

Draco rose suddenly, pulling Hermione up with him. “Pawcett!” He called.

The elf popped into the room a split second later. “Yes, Master Draco?”

“Take Lady Hermione to my chambers. Make sure she is comfortable and fed,” he instructed.

The elf bowed his head in compliance.

Hermione felt a sudden rush of fear. She held onto Draco’s hand with all she could, looking into his eyes for explanation, but there was no fear inside him. He was calm. Not rattled. Draco even showed a kind smile.

“Go on. Feed the baby.” He kissed her cheek. “I’ll be up in a second after I make arrangements with my parents.”

An elf grabbed her hand suddenly. She yelped out in fear. The elf apologized profusely, and she was suddenly embarrassed of her outburst.

“Draco…”

He gave her another smile. “I won’t be long.”

Her heart sank as the elf led her away from the parlor, up stairs and down a little hallway. It was agony, each step she walked away from him. She hated the feeling. Even more so, she hated the house. It was creepy. Portraits of long-dead relatives dressed in their best sneered in a very familiar way. Long dark shadows of night perched on every wall. Every turn felt a question whether a Death Eater would be around the corner ready to strike her down.

It would be easier that way. She’d be dead, Draco would be safe. His family would cover it up, for sure. His allegiance wouldn’t be questioned. Of course then, her friends would be without her. They were up a creek without a paddle with her gone. If she died? Harry and Ron would wander through Hogwarts without a clue what to do next.

Hermione thought back to Gryffindor Tower as they walked. She remembered the way Fred and George were always ready to give someone a laugh, most often at the expense of someone else. Ronald was always eating or sleeping. Harry kept to himself but was always up for a talk when she wanted. Just not when she worried. She came off too strong for a teenage boy to handle then.

What would the Order do without her? They’d carry on. As always.

Would they miss her? At Hogwarts? At Grimmauld Place? She was only ever able to give the excuse of health. As a married woman, she wasn’t bound to her parent’s will any longer. Hermione pulled herself out of Hogwarts once she and Draco decided that it wasn’t safe for her to grow their child there. Her threats were too numerous. She cried. She wanted to stay at home. It was the home she loved more than anything. The library, a home away from home but at home. Hogwarts was a place she’d learned who she was beneath it all, and just what she was capable of. Her true place in life. A witch.

But for an infant? Or even, a pregnant student? It was not a safe haven. The students were at risk almost always inside Hogwarts. Cedric Diggory was murdered at a school event.

It was not the place for her any longer.

“Here is Master Draco’s rooms,” the elf, Pawcett, announced.

Hermione noticed the open door. “Oh. Thank you, Pawcett.”

He bowed his head. “Anythings for the lady. I shall be back with your things.”

The POP of apparition and he was gone.

Chapter Text

Hogwarts Castle

It’d been days since they’d heard from Hermione. Gryffindor was a different place without her. Harry felt more alone than ever. After last year with the D.A. and Battle at the Department of Mysteries, Harry was left with an urge to keep the ones he loved close, since it was only a matter of time before his fears became reality. Voldemort wanted war. He waged war. Everyone knew now. Everyone believed him, now. He was their hero once more. But Harry didn’t feel like it.

He felt more loose at the ends than anything.

Hermione. He needed her. She always knew what was the right thing to say, to make all his worries turn into something else like strength. She was good like that. Well, she was good at everything honestly but being a friend, she achieved even better. A take-charge, no-nonsense kind of friend, like an older sister, but who still knew how to have a bit of fun when the time called for it. That was Hermione.

“Where is she?” He mused aloud.

Ron and Harry walked the corridors of Hogwarts aimlessly. Harry left his thoughts to Hermione as they roamed, hoping he’d spot her stepping out of a classroom even though he knew she wasn’t there. She wasn’t at Hogwarts. But that feeling was more depressing than any he felt. He refused to believe she’d just leave on any accord, especially her health. She wasn’t sick. Hermione was a model of perfect health.

Ron trailed Harry as they walked the halls with no particular destination. He only paused when Harry spoke. It wasn’t what they’d been talking about.

“Who?” He asked dumbly.

“Hermione. She wouldn’t just leave. Not this year. Not any year. Have you ever known her to even miss a class? Now she’s missing all of them! It just isn’t right.”

There wasn’t much new on the subject. They’d talked on it for days. Every day, to be exact.

Ron sighed. “We already told the Order. They’re looking into it. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” Harry nearly exploded.

It was Hermione. The brains of their entire trio, the one check they had before all stupidity and impulsivity reigned. She was the balance. And most importantly, she was their best friend, the one whom Ron apparently held feelings for. Whatever they were, they weren’t shown in concern. He’d been at ease since her departure. Like it wasn’t suspicious!

“Hermione is missing,” he said. “What if Voldemort got her?”

His friend scoffed. “What, got Hermione? Out of all of us, she’d be the last one he’d get. She’s too smart for him. You know that. Besides, Dumbledore wouldn’t have given her leave if he wasn’t convinced she was in her right mind and need of it. You know the rules of Muggleborns.”

Harry stopped short. He hadn’t thought of that. His heart raced. Was Hermione Obliviated?

Hogwarts had a rule. Since they accepted Muggleborns into a secret magical world, they reserved the right to erase memories if the student didn’t want to continue. Their families were returned to normal with replaced memories and no sense of what happened in truth. If Hermione decided to revoke herself out of school, she too could be gone for good.

His best friend, gone. The smartest witch of their year, gone. Hermione, gone.

Harry frowned. “I wish Dumbledore would tell us more than she felt for her health.”

“Did dodgy, innit?” Ron scrunched his brow. “But he’s been one man we can rely on always, right? If he says Hermione needs time away, then she needs the time away. It may be a mission for the Order, you know.”

“Without us?” Harry was even more offended.

The halls of the school were now empty, with most students in their dorms or enjoying the beautiful weather outside. Their bouts of laughter on the grounds echoed through the school without abandon. It was lovely. Rays of brilliant sunshine accompanied by a warm breeze, green grounds stretched for miles and the distant rise of a Quidditch pitch glowed with glory as tiny figures of brooms raced through its air. Bits of green reflected in the mid-day sun.

His gut groaned as he thought of Malfoy. He’d been unusual since the start of term. It was unlike him to be, whatever it was that he was being. Withdrawn wasn’t right; all the Slytherins acted withdrawn from the other houses. Avoidant didn’t fit right either. Harry couldn’t place his behavior, but it was bloody suspicious.

Harry couldn’t enjoy the fact he was the new Gryffindor Quidditch team Captain. He couldn’t enjoy the boundless meals offered at Hogwarts, which always lifted his spirits at the start of term. There was no force on Earth that kept up his happiness with Hermione gone. The only thing that even came close was Potions with Slughorn. Thanks to his wonderfully used textbook, Harry was near top of the class. Slughorn adored it. He fawned over the potions with such excitement, ill fit for a man of his age. It was small joy relative to the worry in his stomach.

At the Owlery, Ron and Harry watched the Slytherin’s practice. It was from afar, not much information on strategies or anything. Ron glanced over, uncertainty on his face. It was clear that Harry followed Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy was seeker for Slytherin, their rival team at Harry’s position. There was much competition between the two. It was clear by any student who saw their run-ins or heard what they said to one another.

It was like an obsession for Harry now. Something in his bones told him that Draco Malfoy was a Death. Eater. It was all he thought about.

“Do you think it’s possible that Malfoy took her?”

“Are you barking? There’s no way Malfoy came anywhere close to Hermione,” Ron said. “You know she hates the prat.”

Harry paused. Ron noticed.

“Go on, then. Tell me why you think it’s him.”

It was so obvious. Why couldn’t anyone else see?

“Because, Ron, he’s a Death Eater.”

Ron shook his head. “Now, even Hermione told you on the train that wasn’t true.”

His irritation flared.

“Yeah? Well, what does she know? She was sick out of her mind.”

Ron stared, taken aback. Harry knew it was too late to really take it back. Still, he felt guilty for blaming his missing friend for not believing him. She, of all people, should’ve known like he did. She was smarter. She was naturally gifted in everything. How come she didn’t see it in Malfoy?

Sure, he hadn’t terrorized her much since they were younger but that was hardly an excuse to say he’d changed. He hadn’t. He still mocked Harry and Ron when he got the chance. He’d busted open Harry’s nose on the train, too. What did Hermione say to that? Why, she pointed out just how incredibly rude it was to spy on people, even if they were aware of it. He agreed. It was wrong, for anyone who wasn’t a Death Eater.

The Quidditch pitch suddenly laid silent. Players of the Slytherin team walked off the pitch, brooms in hand. One player stuck out.

No, it wasn’t the limp blonde hair that reflected the very sun that attracted the attention. It was the fact that his pace got slower and slower as his teammates walked on.

Harry pulled Ron out to watch as Malfoy slowed his pace to almost a complete stop. The other Slytherin players didn’t notice Malfoy was no longer with them. They talked amongst themselves, careful not to let their voices carry. Harry and Ron ducked when the players came close. Luckily, they walked right by without a bother.

When they stood back up, Malfoy was on the very farthest edge. He was a speck against the landscape. The only way they knew it was Malfoy was because of his hair. Otherwise, he would have been lost to the blur of vision that came from straining to see that far.

“What’s he doing?” Harry asked sharply.

Something wasn’t right.

Ron shrugged. “Who cares? There’s nothing out there.”

There was a momentary blur and then Malfoy was gone. Something clicked inside of Harry, when he saw Malfoy apparate away. More than anything else he knew to be true, Malfoy was a Death Eater.

His friend by his side didn’t seem to care that Malfoy had broken school rules by apparating on school grounds or where he was going in the first place. Ron shrugged and turned back to the castle. Harry stood, stunned.

“Ron!”

He turned. “What?”

“Did you see that? Did you see what Malfoy just did?”

“He apparated, so what?”

Harry blistered. “He was going to get his orders. From Voldemort. See? I was right. He is a Death Eater.”

“And we were so sure he had to be the heir of Slytherin, too, remember? We were so sure that we made an illegal Polyjuice Potion in a girl’s lavatory to prove it. We snuck into the Slytherin common room, also off limits, to get him to confess. Guess what? He was just a Slytherin. Everything was suspect, but it didn’t hold water.” Ron wasn’t angry. He seemed tired. “Malfoy may have devilishly good looks that get all the girls wet, but that doesn’t make him an evil mastermind. He’s just a bloke who likes to be a rebel, get laid. Hell, we’d be doing the same if it wasn’t for Voldemort.”

A gust ran through the owlery, stirring up an unpleasant smell. Both boys clutched their noses and exited quickly before any spare droppings were stirred in another warm breeze.

Harry thought on Ron’s words in their silence. It was a hard pill to swallow, especially for Harry The-boy-who-lived Potter. He wanted it to be Malfoy so bad. He’d finally best the wizard and have him forever shamed by anyone who met him.

Was he blinded? Perhaps. Six years of bullying would do that to anybody. But Ron was bullied, too. Worse. There was nothing more that Ron wanted than to shove Malfoy’s nose in it. Harry wondered if it meant that he’d just been hoping so hard that he created the belief in his head. It felt so powerful. It was real to him.

But, was it actually?

They decided to go to the Great Hall and lurk for a bit, if just to catch the eye of some witch who might be interested in a ginger sidekick and a disturbed child savior.

“What is it about Malfoy that makes him get all the girls?” Harry wondered.

Ron snorted. “Well besides the fact that witches want a dark, brooding, snippy little whiner? Ah, it’s probably his money. And his hair.”

“Hair?” Harry ran his fingers through his recently trimmed locks. “Think I should do my hair like him? Just to see if it is the hair.”

A pair of witches walked by where Harry and Ron sat. They sat upright, trying their best to seem nonchalant, but the girls walked by without a single glance.

The boys deflated.

“It’s a bit too short now. But my hair. My hair’s the perfect length for it, don’t you think?”

Harry turned green with envy as Ron smoothed out the bright red mop, for the first time of the day. It was the right length to be like Malfoy’s.

Damn it.

Ron couldn’t get all the girls. It just wouldn’t be fair. He nearly died for all their lives. Didn’t he deserve some, too?

“What if it isn’t the hair?” Harry said. “Maybe it’s the suit. The formal look. Hermione says a man who mature will always be more appealing.”

Ron snorted. “Well-dressed. Mature. Educated, presumably. Knows enough to keep up with her. Hm, yeah. That girl’s talking about Professor Slughorn.”

They laughed loud enough for the entire Hall to hear. It didn’t stop when all eyes, horrified or curious, looked over at the two Gryffindor six years bent over a table with tears coming out their eyes. A pair of Ravenclaw second years rolled their eyes, slammed their books closed and left promptly. A few Hufflepuffs came over and asked if they were alright, which made Harry and Ron laugh even harder for some reason.

Professor Slughorn seemed like such a perfect match for Hermione, it was hysterical. They loved their books, reading, learning, talking, getting excited about talking, and talking about what they read. Both had an outdated sense of style, though Slughorn seemed to be a bit more bold with his outfits and Hermione was rather muted.

“Can you imagine the two of them?” Harry wheezed.

Cheeks all wet, face red, and sides cramped up splendidly. It was a joy to laugh so hard.

“Oh, god.” Ron buried his face in his hands. “I can’t get it out of my head. Hermione and Slughorn. It just seems so right, don’t it?”

Harry nodded. “I mean, who else is she gonna go with in our year? Malfoy?”

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor

Draco greeted his mother in a stiff embrace. It was not often that his mother physically held him in a hug. Just the familiar scent of her emboldened perfume set his pulse from steady to racing.

“What’s wrong?” He asked suddenly.

Narcissa Malfoy pulled away from their embrace and studied his face. “I’m afraid that Miss Granger -.”

“Malfoy,” Draco corrected.

“Right. Malfoy. Of course, darling.” She swallowed. “She’s been unwell. She’s not been down for a few days.”

The heart in his chest surged with painful beats.

She’d been fine when he left Monday morning. She slept peacefully, curled inside his duvet, when he rose for class. He kept quiet as he dressed and gathered his things. But, a gentle kiss atop her forehead awoke her from dreamy slumber in an instant.

The worry etched through her eyes just as quick.

Being apart hurt more than anything he thought could. Even the Dark Mark on his arm. Hermione was the true pain in his body, the ache inside, the burning desire to press on even as the world turned dark, and he wanted to run. He stayed. The path of their future was uncertain, unstable, and unmarked with the promise of joy. It was the very beat beneath her breast that kept him locked by her side.

Before his friendship with Hermione, Draco was incredibly angry. He felt anger for the losses that his father complained about almost daily. It hadn’t felt like loss. Draco was never denied a want. He had all that he yearned for and enjoyed it happily without a thought. But his father constantly spoke of lost glory, honor, all that made their family worthwhile. The very family that Draco was apart of, the heir of Malfoy.

He’d been told that the stain of the wizarding world – Mudbloods – ruined the importance of a pureblood family like the Malfoy’s. Their existence was an insult. They were treated the same as any pureblood, the exclusivity of magical abilities and education was given out freely like a charity. It was a disgrace. As heir to the Malfoy name and honor, it was up to Draco to preserve such a view so that they might restore the nobility height of the pureblood families like his.

Hermione changed that. Not right away. It was a long time in the library late at night before he kept a snide comment to himself or ignored the chance to remind her of her blood status. Friendship was different than helping her, like he’d done second year, when he’d been so scared that he’d had a hand in a potential murder. Sure, he hated her. He hated just how smart she was, how easy magic came to her as a Muggleborn. Draco worked exceedingly harder to compare to her. It was never enough.

But it was a while before he admitted, to himself, that Hermione was as intriguing as infuriating. He watched her study with interest. In awe, he saw the witch pour over books upon books, long past homework studies. Most of it was higher level than they studied.

“Why do you do that?” He spat, trying to hide the genuine wonder in his voice.

“Do what?”

A sparkle faded from her eyes. Her eyebrows knit together, gentle curves above big, curious eyes. Hair a fuzzy mess all its own. It moved on its own, apart from her head as she turned to look at him.

He nudged his knuckle against the old textbook. “Read books for classes that aren’t ours. We won’t learn this for two years, at least. What’s it matter if you know it?”

He watched her straighten in her seat, chin lifted higher. Her hands wrapped around the spine in protection. She eyed the book closely.

“It matters to me,” she said stiffly. “I just like knowing.”

“Knowing?”

He didn’t get it then. He didn’t see the bundle of nerves under her skin as she moved through her life in the magical world, one that she had a very limited experience in. It wasn’t easy for her. She struggled to adapt to a world that was unknown and unkind. She worried for her life. She worried what people would say to her if she didn’t know.

He learned not long after that she questioned her worth almost daily. She wondered if she was a waste of talent, of resource, of time. Hermione doubted just about every fiber of her being, and strived to fill herself with knowledge and wisdom, if only to feel like she was, indeed, a witch. Not a mistake.

Draco became her shield to those thoughts of self-doubt. He had plenty of himself, as his father’s son, as a pureblood wizard, as a Malfoy, but he’d never tolerate such beliefs from her. She was brilliant, in every bright shining way. A star. The most beautiful, distant, untouchable, yet fully entranced thing that he reached for.

He felt the pounding in his chest gain power as he stood in the silence of the ancient mansion in which he was raised.

“Mother, what is wrong with my wife?”

He didn’t wait for her answer. He stormed to his bedroom, threw open the door and saw it empty, cleaned like she was never there. Draco froze. None of Hermione’s things cluttered the floor or spread across his desk or even rustled up his sheets.

Where was she?

Wand in hand, Draco entered the hallway. His mother approached him, poised, with a tight scowl.

“Oh, really, Draco. Put that away,” she stated.

He glared. “What have you done to her? I trusted you to keep her safe!”

Narcissa was used to his overreactions. He was dramatic, by nature, as was his father, though he wasn’t prone to insulting his own mother in the process.

She narrowed her eyes. “I thought it was proper to arrange a new suite for you both, since you are a married man, not a young child obsessed with Quidditch.”

His childhood room was covered in Quidditch posters of Viktor Krum, and the Bulgarian players. He begged his parents to let him plaster the players all over the walls even if it was unbecoming to so openly like a thing as he did. It was his favorite thing.

Was.

Draco lowered his wand. “Well, which one did you put her in?”

“Just this way,” Narcissa raised her arm, “I took the liberty to redecorate it in the modern style. It is a bit more garish than I’d prefer, but Hermione preferred it more outlandish. Humph, Gryffindor. Never have a sense of style, do they?” They breezed down the hallway of the family wing, toward the end. “Lucky she is still young. There is a chance we can refine her tastes a bit befitting of our name. She will be lady of the Manor one day, won’t she?”

Draco half-listened. Colors? Furniture? Was she really talking about interior decorating?

He observed his mother in different light. She was very popular amongst her friends and the structure of pureblood hierarchy in the magical community. Not many were ignorant of Narcissa Malfoy. There were few she was ignorant of, too. His mother tended to gather intelligence in the subtlest ways, often without a person’s notice. Her instinct was never wrong. Draco trusted his mother, relying on her judgement in concerns of business, and people, and politics, and life. There was little that she did not understand.

That said, Draco was still in awe at how attached to Hermione she already was.

Narcissa was a Black before a Malfoy, another noble ancient house composed of pureblood witches and wizards. It was a believed tradition that only the purest of bloods should marry amongst themselves to preserve the exclusivity that came with magic. She was not raised tolerant.

Neither was he, though.

His mother wrote every day since Hermione’s arrival, often of her wellbeing. It soothed Draco’s nerves to read her daily observations of his wife as she adjusted to the drastic difference in venue. She noted how often Hermione ate, and what the elves reported. It was reassuring that his mother was past the blood purity prejudice to welcome their newest family members. His family, the one he created for himself. There was nothing that plagued his heart more than the worry over Hermione’s safety, especially since she carried a life inside her that was both her and him in equal parts.

It was the reason she accepted his proposal. She’d rejected him initially. More than once.

Some kind of Muggle stick told her she was pregnant, a plus sign meaning a baby somehow. Draco blinked. Once. Twice. Three, four, five times. Her words sunk in, but it was unreal. There was no way a girl as splendid and gifted and beautiful as Hermione would give him a child. That was more than he deserved. It was more than his family named deserved, after his father and grandfather’s involvement with Voldemort.

He’d almost broke down in tears.

It was too late. Her good news, the hope she offered in a small bundle of magical bonds was not enough to save him. He was ruined already.

He was marked.

Draco pushed the thoughts out of his head. It didn’t matter. There was no turning back. He was hers. Entirely. And he’d exile every light in his life if it kept her fire near.

She accepted him, and they rushed to get married under the tightest of Unbreakable Vows. They were bound together for eternity.

Her sacrifice was greater than his.

Hogwarts was not safe. No place truly was, with the Dark Lord alive, but Hogwarts was a battle field. Good and evil sought to claim the stone walls in victory, followers in tow. As much as she was a fighter, Hermione didn’t belong in that kind of danger.

Did she accept that reality at first mention? No.

It was near a full-on duel in the Great Hall when she got his note, delivered by a school owl with the morning post. Her sweet cinnamon eyes turned to literal flames, smoke poured out of her ears, fists shook, at the very suggestion of retreat. Right atop of Potter’s stack of flapjacks, she pulled out her wand and exploded the note into a million shreds over the room.

Seamus Finnegan made it worst by patting her on the back and apologizing for the apparent breakup she’d experienced. He was daft enough to speak in the quiet silence as everyone stared at the cool-head of Gryffindor on the brink of fury. She glowed with a blush. The eyes of her peers closed in at her sudden notice. Seamus’ words echoed. No one missed the comment. Draco near Stupefied him just for that.

Draco paid for it. At first it was silence, and avoidance. Then came the shouting and yelling. It was completed with a full breakdown, tears and all, as she sobbed into her robes covering her face. He’d stood stunned as the wave of emotions as they progressed over three minutes. Three minutes. Three whole minutes, for every emotion in the human language.

It took a day or two for the heartbreak to wear off. Hogwarts meant everything to her. Draco took that from her, and it tore at his insides worse than any curse.

School was Hermione’s lifeline. She needed it.

He’d planned on making a trip to Flourish and Blotts before the weekend at the Manor, but his mother’s concerned letter ripped him away in an instant. The Quidditch gear weighed against his body as he marched down the hall with his mother. She spoke of Hermione’s health being withdrawn and violently ill within her room.

“I tried to offer a remedy. A fresh brew from my personal apothecary, mind you, and she refused. She’s blocked us all from entering,” his mother stated. “I worry for her. A sudden drop in health does not bode well for the child.”

“She’s not been poisoned, has she?” Draco sneered.

The bite in his tone caught his mother’s attention.

“Is that an accusation?”

Narcissa’s frown cut deep wrinkles in his pale flesh from the corners of her mouth down to her chin. It showed her age in the rare moment of visible displeasure. Quickly, it fell away.

Draco turned colder. “If I find her ill because of anything she’d been given here, and I’ll be a force to reckon with, Mother. Mark my words. I gave strict orders in that regard.”

“I’ll remind you, Draco, that you are not Lord Malfoy and I am not a jealous ninny. I do not harbor any ill deeds in this house.” She squared up with him. “Her safety is more secure in this house than anywhere else.”

They stood their ground for a moment longer before his mother motioned toward a nearby black oak door, trimmed in tree branches, glowing leaves, and rivers of warmer wood swirled throughout. It was once a guest suite, often given to the Parkinson’s when they visited, or his cousin Claire when his aunt decided to visit once per year.

Inside the suite was a spacious amount for a standard room, even for the Manor. There was a sitting room, a master bedroom with an attached loo, a closet under an expansion charm fit enough for the Queen herself, and another small attached room, useful for children. Draco guessed it was his mother’s design for a nursery. It was their own familial suite, fit for their needs.

His attention flickered toward her.

“Thank you, Mother.”

She bowed her head and promptly left toward her own suite farther down. He waited for the click of the latch before entering his own.

The room was comfortably warm. A fire blazed under a solid beam mantle, near a foot thick. Placed atop was a vase plump full of lilacs. Once dark walls were a blaring white, black trim and muted tones on a chaise lounge and love seat. A charcoal grey armchair was nestled in a corner between an overstuffed book case (moved in by Hermione’s overflowing collection of personal books) and an entire wall of pure glass. It was foggy. As Draco approached, the clarity became purer and purer until the grounds of Malfoy Manor were as distinct as a photograph.

A horrid sound raked through the serene.

“Hermione?”

He remembered suddenly why he’d come. Not just to see his wife.

Draco opened the door to the master suite, not caring that he’d banged the bookshelf (another one? Really, Mione?) and startled Crookshanks from his slumber. The cat hissed a warning.

The light below the private bath shined in a single line.

“Go away!” Hermione exclaimed from behind the door. “I don’t want anything. Just please, leave me alone.”

She sounded like she was crying.

Draco swallowed down his guilt. “Not even a kiss? I must’ve lost my touch.”

The door swung open. In the doorway stood a petite figure of smooth brown curls, bare feet against marbled stone floors. A smile emerged despite the sorrow of her eyes. Their red accent the worst he’d seen.

“Draco!” She gasped.

Another second and she was up against him, kissing him eagerly. She wouldn’t stop. His neck, his chin, the length of his gear.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you,” she said between kisses. “Not even the summers seemed so long.”

Finally her lips felt their way to his. He took them gently. She felt smaller in his embrace, her small body snuggled against his chest, it was less. Draco took a moment and made sure. Yes, she was thinner. The flesh of her cheeks was gently fallen. The sharpness of her chin turned sharper.

The worry in his stomach turned tenfold. She was wasting away. The life that he’d given her was killing her like a blasted parasite. He was right. He was no good for her.

He pulled her closer, so she didn’t see him blink back tears.

“Mother tells me you’ve been poorly,” he stated sharply. It was the best he could manage.

“Oh, Merlin. Don’t make me feel guilty for inconveniencing her again.” She groaned. “She’s been so patient and kind. If you didn’t resemble her so much, I wouldn’t believe her a Malfoy.”

Draco softly growled. “Don’t forget you’ve married one, darling, and daresay, become one. Too late for cold feet now.”

She wore striped track bottoms, burgundy and gold for Gryffindor and a loose-fitting tee that fell off her hips. He wondered if she’d been readying for bed or not truly awoken from the night before.
He pulled her chin up to his, so he could check her properly. Hermione had a bad habit of shying away from his gaze as he tried. It set him on edge. If he didn’t know she was totally safe, he wouldn’t sleep for another night.

The red eyeline from salty tears burned his heart. Slight veins of red cut through her vibrant white before it bled into the warm brown of her iris. The puffy pink lips he kissed a thousand times were chapped and swollen.

He asked her if she’d been sick.

Hermione nodded out of his grasp. “Ugh. That is how I know he is yours, don’t I? A needy little bugger from the start. I’ve not kept a single thing down since Tuesday. It all just comes back with vengeance.”

“Did you eat anything that tasted funny?” He asked. “Anything that had a taste not quite right? A personal gift? Something not prepared by the elves? Tell me now, Hermione.”

She startled at his sudden intensity. Blinked in confusion.

“What on Earth are you on about?”

“Just tell me if something you ate made you sick. It’s important.”

Hermione blinked again. “No, Draco. I’ve not. Nothing to be angry about. You’ve only just gotten here. I don’t want to fight. Just come here to the bed with me and rub my stomach and tell me what’s happened at Hogwarts. Please. I can’t stand it away.”

Draco realized his shoulders were tensed high. He lowered them. Relief fell over him in small gentle waves as her words warmed him. He wanted nothing more than to curl up with her on a bed and feel her heart beat below his palm and know that it was all worth it. All the heart ache, and fear, and courage that he pulled from nowhere came with a purpose.

Time at Hogwarts, for him, was not what a fun affair like she believed it to be. He spoke of his classes, though he’d not been interested in a single one of them. The work was pointless. Voldemort would come soon, reign down a reckoning too awful for the world to see. Darkness, a constant cover. Transfiguration was a silly pursuit when a war waged on. Herbology was hardly worth a thought in normal circumstances. No matter how he loved Potions, without Hermione to compete with, it fell short.

He sat in the Great Hall missing her. The walls of dense stone reminded him of all the stolen glances and passed notes. Stepping into the library stomped on his own heart. It was Hermione’s place after all. It was wrong to enjoy it without her there to peruse its depths at her leisure.

“Blaise sends his regards,” Draco said with a side-glance.

They’d shared letters, apparently. Their friendship deepened without his encouragement. Doubt gnawed at him.

“You know his mother’s worse than mine,” he added. “Her reputation is well documented and earned. A new beau always found dead, their gold gone. Funny sort, those Zabinis.”

Hermione laid curled against his abdomen, a neatly tucked ball.

“So if I become a Zabini, I’ll be eaten alive?”

He jolted. Become a Zabini? What the hell was she playing at? Blaise was his mate. A dorm mate of his, for Merlin’s sake! One look at his face left Hermione in a fit of giggles. She covered her mouth, but it didn’t stop the sound. Draco slapped one of the numerous little pillows atop her bed.

“I’m going to strangle him for that one.”

His usual scowl crawled out. Hermione stopped her teasing and quieted to a soft sigh. He avoided her gaze, even as she slowly crawled nearer and nearer his neck. Lavender and mint. As much as he wanted to take displeasure in it, her smell teased his need.

A gentle pair of lips pressed against his cheek. Her words a sickening sweet enticement out of his mortifying vulnerability.

“Come on, Draco. You used to like fun.”

“Fun?” He kept his face pulled tight. “The idea of you with Blaise is fun for you? My own wife with a slick tosspot like that. Just the implication…it is an insult to your own honor to stoop that low.”

Hermione poked his ribs. “Now that wasn’t necessary. You know I’ve not got an interest in Zabini. I married you, Draco. Just you. In spite of everything, I chose you. I chose to tell you about our child and you protected me like any loving husband would. Doesn’t that count for more than just a silly friendship?”

He looked at her expectant eyes where a longing rested just below the beautiful surface in gentle wait. She was a vision even closer, his wife. The general softness of her features, although distinct and angled because of weight loss, kept a general youth about her. Wisdom, on the other hand, radiated from her like years far beyond her own. She was his weapon, little master of disguise. As much as she’d look a trophy on his arm, Hermione was a mastermind. Everything about her was perfect. No matter how tasteless her jokes were.

“Fine. You’re forgiven,” he snipped. “But don’t forget. Malfoy’s are a nasty protective lot. I won’t let you go without a fight.”

“Well now that I’m a Malfoy, that applies to you, too.”

Draco grinned. It was the most ridiculous and adorable threat she’d ever come up with. Far better than the threat of castration when she discovered he was the one who caught Harry at a Dumbledore’s Army meeting. He liked the way she sounded so confident as a Malfoy. The transition was easier than he expected. The first week done with no duels or fires? That was a success.

“Hermione Malfoy.” It tasted like pure bliss on his tongue. “It suits you.”

“Granger-Malfoy.”

Draco groaned. “Oh, please, mighty Merlin, I thought we settled that argument. You had so much fame as Hermione Granger. For once, I’d like you to be simply my wife, not Potter’s brain squeeze.”

“Must you always fight with them? You are not a child.”

“I must and I will.”

Everyone loved Saint Potter. He couldn’t stand to have one person not? One person out of the entire world seemed more than fair.

Hermione sighed, falling onto his chest with an explosion of warm caramel hair streaked with summer highlights. It was smoother than usual. He toyed with it between his fingers in a well-acquainted way, as he did when they laid in the grasses of Hogwarts or a makeshift cot in an abandoned classroom. It reminded him of their earlier days when they were both confused about their wants. The first time for both of them, in total ecstasy and blinded urgency where the other was so familiar yet foreign to the touch. The very beginning of their relationship that confused and angered them entirely. The constant fights as they drug each other into closets to undress with urgency. All the bickering. Name calling. It was all so confusing back then. Enemies.

Her hair wasn’t a mess of frizz as it turned out because she hadn’t bathed in a while. Too sick and unmotivated, she kept her position to either nestled below her blankets with a book or perched over a porcelain toilet expelling every ounce she’d taken in.

No woman of the Malfoy Manor deserved that. Draco summoned up Hermione’s personal elf, Cady. She brought an overwhelmed basket stocked to the brim with bottles and bars of lotions and oils and salts. The small elf offered to run the bath, but it would be a cold day in hell before he passed up the chance to spoil his wife. That time was coming soon enough.

The built in jacuzzi tub was tiled a vibrant black with matte silver finishes. A luscious lather of lavender bubbles filled half the tub while the water continued to flow. He extinguished the lights and set a low haze of candlelight, a bit more romance than he was going for, but it relaxed even his nerves.

Hermione stepped in the bathroom with wide eyes. She dropped the satin robe off her shoulders without another thought.

“Don’t make me bathe alone.” Her bottom lip puffed between her teeth. “It’s just too perfect to waste on just me.”

He toyed his eyebrow. “Now, Mrs. Malfoy, personal bath attendants are hard to come by. Don’t make me file a grievance with my employer.”

Normally a bit shy when exposed, the taste of married life left Hermione a bit bolder.

She stood, naked and teasing. His eyes couldn’t leave her body. Every curve and swell left sweat at his neck. The Quidditch gear was suddenly a metal suit of armor. He fought to expand below the restraint.

“Come show me your skills, and I might hire you permanently.”

Draco shimmied out of his gear; they clattered against the tile. A minute later and he was stark and inside the bubbles. Hermione chuckled and snuggled alongside, even as his throbbing erection caressed her skin. For once, she didn’t duck away in embarrassment.

Embers of hot cinnamon eyes met his gaze. The way they danced while her lips parted in soft pants, Draco felt that shared feeling course through his veins in flame. She’d gently uncross her legs, inviting him closer and she’d start to whisper sweet nothings as his fingers rubbed the spot she craved to be touched.

Her body responded instantly. She arched her back and touched herself against his arm. A gentle moan escaped her lips. Draco took her bottom lip in his mouth before she could catch her breath and sucked until she moaned louder and clenched her legs closed.

“Oh, Draco,” she gasped out. “Don’t. Stop.”

“You like that?” He smirked. His fingers teased her slit, gentle to the touch and tickling her in a way. She sought to push him inside, but he danced them away. “Oh, darling. Don’t tease me like that.”

Suddenly her eyes locked in his. “I want you inside me. Any part of you.”

Draco felt her hand as it wrapped around his wrist and pulled. His fingers breeched, and she jolted with a loud moan. The slick warmth coated his touch, wrist still pulled deeper.

“Are you sure?” He asked. “What about, you know, the baby?”

Her eyebrow darted upward. “You want to go an entire ten months without sex?”

Nope. That was not happening.

He collected Hermione in his arms and kissed her deeply. Her wetness coated his fingers, urged him forward with desire, her hot breath on his neck as his fingers wriggled inside her. She squirmed this way and that. Three fingers dug into her flesh, anchoring her in place and writhe in his full view.

One hand on the knot of hair and the other buried so warmly inside her folds, a way he wished to be. The way her slick coated his cock was a distant memory. One he needed to relive.

Draco lifted his hand from the water, tasting her sweetness. She watched him. A fair blush arose, but the definite invitation came when she reached out and grasped him firmly within her palm, raising up in soft glide and lowering with force, nearly doubling him over in surprise.

“Not so shy anymore, are we, Mrs. Malfoy?” He smirked, withholding a look of utter bliss as she worked his shaft faster. The water lapped against his chest as her hand breached the surface and dove back down. He swelled against her grip.

She bit her lower lip. “Why have this,” her finger swirled the tip of his head, “on call if I can’t use it?”

“Get up right now.”

It was sharp. She gasped.

“Why?”

His eyes turned to narrow slits. He gripped her wrist and yanked her to her feet. A wild need overtook him. Nothing else mattered. It was this soaking, blushing, naughty girl in his way.

“Because you are going to ride me until you cannot stand it, and your legs start to shake and you’re out of breath, ‘til these tits are burned red under my teeth,” Draco breathed as he pulled her down atop his lap. “Then, when you beg to stop because your pussy can’t take anymore, I’ll fuck you even more. I want you to remember me when I’m gone. Remember how I feel inside, the way it feels to cum on my cock, then and only then, will we stop.”

It happened just as he said. Just when she begged him to stop because it was too much, he went harder, and she cried as ripples of pleasure burned her body and drove her hands under the water to rub furiously. Draco neared his end as she fell in exhaustion. Her ragged breaths against his chest, fingers grasping his hair in knots, a spasm after spasm as she laid there, motionless as he filled her with more seed.

He petted and kissed her head. “More than you ever expected?”

“From a husband?” Hermione chuckled softly. “You are fuckboy material, by standard and skill. And that is saying a lot.”

He slipped out of her with a gasp.

Draco smirked. “So, you are saying that you enjoy my performance. Best you ever had or heard.”

“Let’s just say…I’ll kill Pansy if she has the audacity to come onto you ever again.”

After their bath, Draco exited wrapped in only a towel and a sense of bliss. Marriage wasn’t as burdensome as he thought. Screw arrangements and formal betrothals! His parents hated their work with the Greengrass family fell into sour bitterness since his sudden marriage to Hermione rather than the younger Greengrass daughter, Astoria, but it was a blessing. Who knew if he’d connect with her like he did Hermione? The way their bodies moved together in pleasure and primal need was more than aligned. He knew that she was the woman meant for his unbridled need for fucking away the pain.

Hermione took her time in the bath, enjoying the hot water and relaxation. Draco left her to her own pleasures as he dressed in his night clothes, a matching set of silk navy pajamas in his own set of drawers in the closet and snooped amongst the new suite that would house his life for the next few years, perhaps forever if the war turned out favorably.

New clothing hanged in the closet. Robes of every color and style, no doubt at his mother’s request. A few Muggle clothes hung, their white tags still stuck to the sleeves. A pair of pants with a waistband of thick stretchy material. They looked odd. Were they supposed to cover her breasts? Draco tossed them aside.

“I don’t think so,” he muttered.

Her bookshelves were overburdened with common titles he recognized from talks. She spoke often of novels she loved, many of them were Muggle in origin. Tiny trinkets lined the shelves, too. A tiny dragon figurine patrolled the length of the top most shelf, eyeing Draco as he neared. It sparked a tiny flame in warning. From what he could see, it was a Chinese Fireball. He smirked.

The dragon was a sign of his name, Malfoy, and also, the origin of his name. Draco, Latin for dragon, a constellation in the sky. It was not one of Hermione’s favorite animals, yet she’d still adapted an interest in marking herself with dragon symbols. Most were simple. Little trinkets picked up from here or there. It truly was not fit. She needed a dragon of means. It was her right, after all.

Next, Draco moved to the desk. Three separate stacks of books rested there. The titles he noted were the same as his own course load at Hogwarts. He didn’t doubt she was doing her own learning at home. He rolled his eyes. Work, work, work. All she wanted to do was learn every fact possible.

One was opened. He lifted the book, and almost dropped it back. It was thicker than his head. What was she up to now?

He scanned the page. There in a bold title that dissipated all the restored joy he’d built.

Draco stormed into the bathroom, a hideous feeling in his stomach.

“What the bloody hell is this?”

He held up the book for her to see. Her eyes grew two sizes and stumbled over her words, amounting to nothing of comprehension. It fueled him. The guilt was clear. Draco felt foulness leech into his mouth in unstoppable floods.

“No answer? I’ve got one.” He propped open the page and read a passage. “’Annulment requirements on magical marriage: the act of dissolving a magical union contract by terms of dissatisfaction or misrepresentation.’ Really, Hermione? An annulment!”

Hermione’s mouth finally found shape apart from an ‘O’.

“Oh, Draco. It’s – it’s not what you think.”

“What was it, Hermione? What wasn’t good enough for you? My name. No, it must be my money. Or my family, maybe. Could it be my performance you seem to enjoy, but I must be wrong since I cannot seem to fathom why you’d want to marry me in the first place if you planned on divorcing me right away! Without even giving me a chance to be a good husband and provide. Why am I not good enough now?”

She’d risen from the tub and wrapped a towel despite the dense layers of bubbles around her waist and thighs. Her footsteps slapped against the tile. Her hands reached out for the book.

“Let me explain - .”

“Explain something to me! Go on. Explain how you can pretend to give me a chance, pretend that I can fill this role for you, and take it away? I’ve done so much for you. When I warned you about that Basalisk. When I held you as you cried when your grandpa died. When I supported you when no one else cared to get to know you. I bit my tongue, even when I knew Lupin was a werewolf, because you begged me to give him a chance. It was me that picked you up when your friends burdened you down with all their bullshit. I was there for you. I loved you. I loved you more than anything. Gave my everything.”

He couldn’t even think straight. It was just a cold slate. The cool tingles radiated up from his fingers through the tense muscles of his bicep, crept up the side of his neck and turned his face to ice.

There was nothing more to say. His marriage was over.

“I’m out of here,” he spat.

He left his gear, not caring if he never saw it again. New gear, no gear. It didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered anymore.

Hermione scrambled after him, choking on tears. “Please. Let me – just let me explain. It isn’t what you think…Draco, please!”

“Let go of me, Granger!”

Her hands dropped away. She was stunned speechless. He never called her by her last name when they were together, only at Hogwarts in his spoiled prat facade. It’d slipped in the moment of anger. He gritted his teeth.

Everything he touched turned to ash. Awful, thick ash.

Hermione did as he said and kept away as he moved. She didn’t try to speak, though he could see she wanted to. Part of him hated her for being obedient in that rare moment. She never relented away from him easily, always pushing the boundaries of what he was comfortable and making him overcome anxieties. Draco met one now. He wasn’t good enough for the woman he loved so devout. He needed her to come close and let him cry.

Damn it. Why didn’t she love him?

Draco Malfoy left the Manor with the utter despair of a life crashing down over top of him without a chance to catch his breath.

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor

Lucius was often found in his study in the evenings, late into the night some nights when he couldn’t stand to face the fury of his wife for one thing or another. Hermione heard the two of them argue behind closed doors as she shadowed walking paths amongst the darkness of the Manor as she felt trapped in a prison of her own making.

However, she was set on a mission. Lucius Malfoy her target.

The wooden floors creaked as she stomped. She wanted him to hear her coming, his day of humility as she shoved his absolute inflated ego down his throat. Grip on her wand tightened. Her knuckles turned white.

Narcissa passed her in the hall. She watched her with intent. Hermione didn’t try to hide her rage. She didn’t care who saw.

Footsteps followed, echoed with each of hers as she followed the flow of the house until the desired door came to view.

She knew where his study was because not a day after her arrival, Lucius summoned her to his presence for a private audience. The tension was palpable then. It was clear he was dissatisfied with the union of his son and a known Muggleborn whom he openly despised. They’d met many times before. Lastly being in the Department of Mysteries when he’d tricked Harry to get a prophecy. He’d failed the Dark Lord’s task. It was well known. He was smeared through the papers and dragged through a trial, one that Draco was forced to witness in helpless agony. Malfoy became a common distasteful name.
Now she was one, and he’d not let Lucius ruin it any more, if that was still possible.

“Malfoy!” She shrieked.

The doors of the study exploded after her cast. They allowed her entry easily. She marched through. There he was, content under candlelight, a book in hand. The look on his face stretched to a lazy smile.

“Nice of you to join me, Miss Granger.” He set the book aside and raised his attention to her.

“He’s gone! He’s gone and it’s all your fault!” She wailed. No. Not now. Tears were so unbecoming in the heat of anger. Hermione swallowed them back. Lucius did not deserve to see her vulnerability. “You’ve gone and ruined your only son. I hope you’re happy!”

Narcissa’s eyes widened. She quickly casted the doors close and a few protection spells to block their conversation from listening ears, whoever they were.

A grimace set to her lips. “What’s she talking about, Lucius?”

Hermione saw the man shift in his seat, clearly satisfied. Unashamed by his own son’s suffering at his hands just for the chance to redeem himself in Voldemort’s eyes. The coward!

Pale gray eyes twitched to his wife. “I have no idea. I was unaware Draco was home. By any amount, I’ve done nothing to run him off. If anyone has done anything to break him, it would be our lovely young filly here.”

“You liar!” Hermione screeched.

She raised her arm and cast a spell that propelled Lucius’ office chair ten feet in the air and dropped him back down startled and shaken. His long white hairs were disheveled amongst his robes and cloak.
Bristled, the man stood suddenly. He swept his appearance and tugged at his shirt.

“How very Muggle of you,” he snipped.

Hermione didn’t take the bait. She kept her wand raised in defiance. Eyes were narrow slits.

“Both of you, stop this, this instant.” Narcissa scowled at the state of the study. She waved her wand and the disturbed pieces returned to their original states. Dense burns lifted from the wooden slats of the study door from Hermione’s sudden emergence. The office chair and ceiling repaired themselves, bits of plaster lifting back to their original place. When the work was done, she sighed. Her eyes turned back to the pair, still stiff under threat. “I abhor the use of violent magic in this house. Both of you will refrain from harming one another and sit down. Now.”

Her tone invoked a sudden response from Hermione. She sat on the nearest chair. Narcissa smirked. She crossed her arms, the silence the sound of triumph, and glanced toward her husband. He forced a look of bitterness, but when their eyes locked together, his knees lowered him ever so slowly.

Narcissa adjusted her skirt, sighed. “Right. Now that’s all been sorted, I’d like to ask, again, what is going on. Hermione, why has Draco left?”

“Ask him.” Hermione glared at Lucius.

He sat cross legged and entirely unbothered.

Narcissa noticed. Her eyes hardened. “Lucius?”

Finally, a suitable scowl on his face. He couldn’t be the only one not comfortable.

“Well,” he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, “I can allude that Hermione has driven our son away with her incessant need to be a Know-It-All.”

“I did not!” Hermione exclaimed. “I was only doing my best to make sure your scheme wouldn’t work.”

“What scheme?” Narcissa questioned.

Lucius ignored his wife. “It is hardly subtle to leave your research out in the open. It is your own fault he ran away.”

Narcissa became annoyed. She crossed her arms, not befitting a woman of her station.

“Lucius,” she said.

“My fault? He thinks I want the bloody annulment!”

There was a momentary lapse of Narcissa’s well built wall. Her composure rattled by her husband’s complete oversight to her very presence, a seemingly new behavior by the way her eyes widened to the size of saucers. She flustered over her high collar in a nervous fidget, unlike the collected proper woman Hermione knew her to be.

Lucius took no notice. “By scheme do you mean the confidential arrangement I offered you? It hardly seems a fitting title now that everyone knows, thus defeating the entire purpose of said arrangement.”

“You have no dignity! You’ve hurt your son’s heart, put my future in jeopardy all so your bloodline might remain pure,” Hermione said. “And as for confidential, it seems that a husband and wife might share things with one another that effect the other. I’d never hide it from Draco. What mostly preoccupied my thoughts was whether you’d out me and ruin him for your own cursory needs.”

“Cursory needs. A very charming light you paint me in.”

Hermione glared. “Much better than you deserve.”

“I am not some father wanting to prey upon their son,” Lucius said. “I want what is best for him.”

“Then trust his choices!” Hermione exclaimed, her arms thrown up in the air.

Lucius scoffed. “How can I when he’s so clearly diverted from the path of sanity? I mean, of all the bad choice witches, one-night stands or an ugly one even, you are by the far the absolute worst.”

Narcissa smacked his arm in a shocking burst of movement from her previous stoic state. “Lucius! How dare you. This is our daughter, carrying our grandchild.”

“A half-breed! No better than a Mudblood -.”

“Do not use that word in this house.” Draco’s mother turned from the poised woman of class and propriety to a dragon with smoke pouring out of her nostrils, ready to devour her stubborn husband with the next ill spoken statement of stupidity and ignorance, a trait of the ill-bred. Narcissa, then, when her point was taken, and Lucius settled back to his resigned state, smoothed her hair and fanned herself gently. “Now. Lucius, this must be corrected. I expect the task to be completed by you, it was your own meddling that has done it, but to ensure its contents are filled with truth, I shall compose the letter myself before our son decides to make a fool of himself. If said foolery has already been done, you will be held responsible.”

The fixed scowl on Lucius face remained, even as his wife openly glared her dissatisfaction. Hermione smirked when his eyes drifted over to her face. The shared stare was one of intensity, as she refused to break away in guilt or fear. She was unashamed of her actions. Now she knew the ticket to his hurt. The future actions of Lucius would be presented to Narcissa firsthand. There was a fierce look under those light-colored eyes that radiated power as Lucius radiated contempt.

“Apologize,” the woman stated sharply.

Hermione and Lucius gloated, ready to hear an apology from the other. She settled into the loveseat, ankles crossed, remembering every second of the moment when the Malfoy father uttered words of regret to a Muggleborn. She reveled the warmth of the fire, star light as it flickered in through the tall windows of the study, the clicking of Lucius’ cane tapped against the floorboards. He looked too pleased with himself. What for? He was the one Narcissa clearly referred to.

Lucius sat upright, that usual Malfoy essence of self-righteousness. God, Draco was so much like him.

Quiet fell. The Manor laid silent in the dark of night in Wiltshire. The many animals of the stables and grounds settled into their nests and beds in noted difference than the waking hours where the calls of peacocks and whinnies of pampered horses filled the air. Black cast the eerie presence upon the ancient house like a ghost from the grave, it’s darkness a haunting reminder of tragedy.

Narcissa cleared her throat. “Apologize.”

It was not a request. That much was clear.

“Well go on, let’s hear it,” Lucius said.

Hermione scoffed. “She was talking to you, you pompous ass.”

“Certainly not.”

“I’m waiting…” She teased with a gentle smile. “I might even have to dig out my camera. No one is going to believe proud and dignified Lucius Malfoy kissed the boot of a Muggleborn.”

Lucius stood abruptly and shuddered visibly. “I am a gentleman. I take no part in kissing boots or whatever else you might find, apart from my wife.”

Though she was still moderately furious, it was hilarious to watch Lucius Malfoy behind unhinged by a term he clearly was unfamiliar with. He shuddered as if she’d actually require a boot kiss as a part of an apology, not a turn of phrase that it actually was. The horror, the utter shock was enough to simmer her temper.

Almost.
“Fine,” Hermione said with a falsely disappointed smile. “I won’t make you kiss the boot. But I do want that apology.”

“Not on your life!”

The matriarchy looked at them incredulously. “I meant the pair of you. Apologize to one another. You are a family. It is high time we acted like it. As much as you find it distasteful, you will respect one another. We are all we have in this predicament. Both of you will apologize.”

Lucius gripped the arms of his chair. “Why – I’d never – this is ridiculous.”

“He’s the one who owes me the apology,” Hermione exclaimed. “I did nothing wrong.”

The look down the bridge of her nose spoke to Narcissa’s mood. There was tension below.

“Except blast the walls and fixtures of my home. That is an inexcusable use of magic. I’d expect the brightest witch of the age to hold herself better than that. My Draco knows better than that.”

She shrank down in her seat. It felt wretched to be corrected so openly, basically by a stranger. If it weren’t true, she’d have been insulted by the insinuation of her manners. Hermione was not an impulsive, dramatic woman. It was the emotion of Draco’s leaving that propelled the reaction so violently. The more she recalled it, the more she felt shame pool in her cheeks.

“You’re right.” She put her face in her hands. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Narcissa petted the top of her head gently. “Now, now, child. Do not fret. It is all over and done with.”

The attention turned to Lucius. Indecision was clear cut through his sharp features. There was fear in disobeying his wife, and the conflict of his loyalties toward a higher power than refused to acknowledge the humanity of any person like Hermione. Muggleborn. It made the tension gather tenfold before he finally relented with a sigh (perhaps at the harsh glare of Narcissa Malfoy) and apologized.

Tea was ordered from the Pawcett. He delivered cakes and tea, and bits of ginger snaps for Hermione to calm the ache of a weak stomach. She munched crumbs off the sides, careful not to eat too much, while the Malfoy parents sat in silence, calm as can be.

“Hermione?”

A voice raised her from out of her teacup.

“Hm?” She answered back.

She encountered the blue gray gaze of Narcissa as she studied her closely. “Tell us about your parents. Draco has not spoke of them much.”

Hermione swallowed. The topic of her parents was uncomfortable since it was known Death Eaters and blood purists of whom she spoke to. Small bits of porcelain clinked in her hand until it was set on the side table.

She cleared her throat. “I don’t imagine he has because he hasn’t met them himself. He just knows what I’ve told him.”

Narcissa toyed her eyebrow. It reminded her of Draco.

“They’ve not met?”

“No, ma’am. He thought of it as…too much.”

Heat wrapped its way around her chest as she struggled to breathe. She noticed the way both parents occupied their gazes on their own person and not to her, yet she felt their interest drawn in.

Wait. Was this their way of pumping information? For blackmail!

“But, they aren’t too keen to meet him either,” she added sharply.

It caught Lucius’ attention right away. He clanked his cane against the ground. “And why not?”

“He’s a wizard. They aren’t too keen on the whole magic thing. I mean, they love me because I’m their daughter and accept me, but they still hope I’ll rejoin the Muggle world. Go back to pretending that magic doesn’t exist. It is easier for them to ignore this entire world from existence, so they can go on with their lives, with their friends, and work.”

Sudden sadness came as she recalled the way her parents reacted to her ‘accidents’. The bouts of uncontrollable magic when she got angry, or scared. They looked at her like she was a freak. Of course, they were kind and tried to support her as much as possible, but as she got older, it got stronger. The divide, a clear ocean to keep them apart. Did they just hope to ignore her? Would they change her if they could? If she died, would it even matter?

A soft warmth fell down to her shoulders and draped across her back. The afghan hugged her tight. Narcissa’s eyes sparkled a little as she lowered her wand back to her side.

“It is easier that way, for them,” Narcissa said. “Your life is different from theirs in inexplicable ways they’ll never understand. But magic is not to be ignored. That is why it lives within you, apart of your blood and soul. You are magic. Not Muggle. You mustn’t dote on Muggle problems. Besides, you’ve gotten a new family in their place. A new chance to give your child the memories you should have had.”

Hermione was too moved to speak. She nodded, offered a smile and snuggled deep into the embrace of the afghan as silence fell to the house. Once a pestering, mind-numbing experience, it felt a relief. It was no Hogwarts. Nothing would be home as that place. But, there was the slight chance she could make Malfoy Manor her own, if only Draco wanted it. It was his choice whether to listen to reason. Not a strong suit of his.

The group returned to their tea and biscuits and finger sandwiches, in silence. Only the occasional crackle from the fire disrupted the shared quiet, as Narcissa read through a witch’s design magazine, scoffing at parts while Lucius did his best to not seem involved within the moment.

They’d just about retired for the night when ward alarms started ringing through the house. A shrill screaming in signal of someone’s arrival. Someone, not family. Lucius and Narcissa reacted quickly. She summoned the elf to clear the dishes and hide the suite with Hermione’s things. Lucius gripped his wand and twirled it over a collection of rugs near the windows. The rugs lifted and parted. A dark shaft revealed below their once resting place. He motioned for Hermione. She struggled to find the footing to go close.

The alarms raised higher.

“Come, now!” He shouted through gritted teeth.

In an instant, Narcissa was at her side pushing gently. “Go on. Stay out of sight, stay quiet.”

She heard doors burst open, hitting their frames in loud booms. It was from the front, not far away from the study. Her heart galloped.

Death Eaters. They were there.

Draco had warned her that they came and went as they pleased, and to always be ready, but it was terrifying to be so defenseless alongside strangers she didn’t trust. Lucius was as loyal as they came. How could he not turn her in? Things would be the way he wanted, no more baby, no more Mudblood wife. The Malfoy name would be pure again.

Lucius grabbed hold of her arm. “No matter what you hear, do not come out.”

Hermione climbed down into the cool dark without a shred of light to guide her. Her wand was perched at her waist. Both hands were needed to climb down.

Lucius commanded the rugs back overhead, and she was left in complete black.

The bottom was tall. It reached several feet over Hermione’s head.

“Lumos!”

It was a small room, in the basement of the Manor, but not connected to the other parts that were surely there. Truly, it was devoid of much of anything except a thin mat over the concrete floor. No candles. No seating. Nothing to do, not even a book.

I am in hiding, she reminded herself as she slunk into a dark corner.

A few minutes in the dark led to the silence drifting in from other parts of the house. She heard everything in blaring clarity, as if they were just in the next room. There were footsteps. They fled in from all parts of the house. Six, maybe even seven in number.

“Cissy!” A voice rang through Malfoy Manor.

Hermione froze. It was Draco’s crazed aunt, Bellatrix.

On her trail was the sound of Antonin Dolohov, his hoarse voice more distinct that the typical shrieks of the madwoman. “Malfoy. The Dark Lord requests this to be dealt with.”

Dolohov. Dolohov.

Hermione shook as she gripped her wand tighter. She pictured him finding her down in the darkness of the room just to torture her, far out of Draco’s protection and the power to stop him. He was the one who hit her with a curse so powerful that it still made her chest ache when she pushed herself. Pregnancy was bound to exhaust it into severe pain when the time came. His curse was pure evil. And he was here, at her home. Her place of safety! Hermione turned her own wand on herself and silenced her throat. The sobs were incapable of stop. Not on their own.

Overhead, Lucius and Narcissa stood stunned, silent. Their breaths were ragged with surprise.

“Is that…?” Narcissa began but stopped herself short.

“A half breed, traitor!” Bellatrix squealed. Her hands clapped together. “Imperio! Get on your knees, you worthless mutt. Disgusting filth. Cissy, look at the state of the name of Abbott. Half-breeds now.”

Narcissa remained quiet.

Lucius ruffled his feathers, often bothered by things done without his permission. “Why has she been bought here? I’ve not been told of this.”

Dolohov grunted. “You have now.”

“Cruicio,” Bellatrix casted.

The woman’s screams vibrated the walls, raking the tender flesh of Hermione’s ears no matter how hard she covered them. It echoed through her head. Her waves of screams as Bellatrix casted, one by one in small bits as the pain sparked. Fingernails dug into the wooden floorboards, prying up wood and nail. Malfoy cursed.

“This is Malfoy Manor, not a common slaughterhouse!” Lucius scolded.

Hermione heard the tension in his voice. It wasn’t like anger. It was something else entirely.

“The Dark Lord commands it be done,” Bellatrix said, letting Dolohov deal with their prisoner in sharp blows from his fists. “It will be. This family will do as our master commands. Draco. Where is Draco?”

Draco. Hermione gasped. No. They couldn’t have him. He wasn’t theirs to ruin.

Two heels clicked together.

“He’s at school, Bella,” Narcissa stated calmly. “He has his own business to tend to.”

It placated the pair of Death Eaters, for now.

Chapter Text

Great Hall, Hogwarts Castle

Friday. It was supposed to be a great day. Last day of class before a weekend at Hogsmeade, a Quidditch match, all the excitement was palpable through the thick air. The beginning of October chill set through the mornings. Sweaters accompanied most every female student under their arms or wrapped around their shoulders as they munched on a hot breakfast with ease.

Friday. Friday, bloody, Friday.

He looked forward to it all week since dispensing Hermione off at home, and now it tasted like sour bile as he thought of returning. The proud witch was the most stubborn, impossible person he’d ever met! She never gave him anything. He had to fight, and fight, and earn every bloody inch. It was bad enough at Hogwarts. Draco wasn’t given anything. He worked for every bit of his grade, his skill, his relationship.

Did he ride on his reputation like Potter? No.

Did he constantly cheat on homework like Weasley? No.

Still, it didn’t feel like he accomplished anything. Hermione was best in class. Potter, always the hero. Weasley, the sidekick. Those two dummies always held in Hermione’s good graces of faith and trust while they abused her knowledge and helpfulness, forcing her into situations she didn’t like.

Draco stabbed into his flapjack with disgust.

The Gryffindor table roared with excitement this Friday morning. It was their Quidditch day.

“Look at all of them over there, filthy rotters.”

It was Crabbe. He sat to Draco’s left.

“I hope that stumpy Katie girl gets her arm broken,” Goyle snarled.

Draco set down his fork. “Doubt it, mate. Game’s only against Hufflepuff. Nothing they’ll do to ya except ask you nicely to get out of the way.”

The rest of the Slytherin team snickered and turned back to their breakfasts. It was only when Pansy sat, directly across from Draco, that the conversation started up again.

“Where you been at?” She asked him pointedly.

He was not in the mood for this.

“Move on, you. I don’t want to hear it.”

Pansy crossed her arms. “You’ve been dodgin’ us. None of us see you anymore. I thought we were friends, you know.”

He looked up from his plate and saw the many eyes of his House on him. There was Crabbe and Goyle, though their interest was half-ass at best with their breakfast plates in front of them. Bullstrode sat beside Pansy smirking sharply, as if she already knew the answer. Blaise was there, too. He tried to seem more interested in his glass of pumpkin juice, but his brown eyes caught Draco’s gaze more than once.

His stomach grumbled. It wasn’t his displeasure in the food that the elves usually made just right, or the fact that his entire circle demanded something so personal from him, or even the way the Gryffindor team filled the Great Hall with mind-numbing noise. All he pictured was Hermione from the night before. The way her lips bled as she bit back her sobs while he marched around like a prat.

Draco reminded himself swiftly that it was all her fault in the first place. He only reacted because he discovered she wanted to annul their marriage. Without telling him! She acted so pleased with him around, genuine smile and all. But behind his back she was nose deep in all sorts of law books to find a way out of it.

Hermione. The damn woman drove him up a wall and down another. Pretty soon he’d turn grey with all her silly nonsense. It was just like her to start something for excitement, for thrill.

Now was not the time for it. A glance at his covered wrist etched in memory what happened to those who failed. No, he was close. Potter was so close to being overthrown, the Order demolished, the world returned to the way of the ancient houses. It was not time for marriage troubles, or silly fights. And if that was the way Hermione wanted to be, so be it. He’d let her sit at the Manor.

There was no way she’d turn up at Hogwarts. His parents would never allow it. All in her power was a letter. A letter! That wasn’t so scary. A piece of parchment was nothing. It burned in flame without much effort at all.

He was Draco Malfoy, heir to Malfoy Manor and the eventual Lord Black. He didn’t have to try. Someone like him did as they pleased, and everyone else just got used to it.

Pansy Parkinson reached over and held his hand gently. “Come on, Draco. We miss you. Come to Hogsmeade with us this weekend. We’ll hang out, shop. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Just what I want to do with my free time. Hold your bags,” Draco muttered.

It wasn’t bitter. They all sensed that. The table eased back to their own business, sly smirks on their face. Blaise was the only one who remained interested, not obviously. He kept his gaze directed around the table, around the room, never fixed on Draco again, but the way he lingered after he’d long finished his meal left Draco wondering what the hell was up. He looked anxious. Perhaps he had news from Hermione.

A gust froze Draco’s veins. Hermione. Of course, the scoundrel was moving in on her. They were “friends”. She was too trusting to realize just what that meant to other guys. Compliments of Potter and Weasley. They always kept the creeps at bay. Now it was open season with her so far out of his protection; Blaise was ready for the kill. He was no dummy. If he convinced Hermione that Draco was no good for her, then that might be why she wanted an annulment.

His jaw clenched as he glared as Blaise, just daring him to meet his gaze. The coward never did.

Draco stood to confront him, but Pansy’s hold on his wrist (when did that get there?) held him anchored. He sneered at her touch.

“What do you think you’re doing?” He asked, pushing her hand off of him.

“Say you’ll come with us, Draco. I promise I won’t make you carry any of the bags.”

He kept Blaise in his sights as he walked out of the Great Hall, though meander was more the word. There was not rush to his step. The perfect time to catch him off guard. Hermione was off limits to any wizard, especially a Zabini.

“Sure, whatever, Pans. Just don’t touch me. Ever again.”

He couldn’t care less about the fake hurt expression across her face as he marched out of the Great Hall. Blaise hung a left. Draco followed.

From a distance, Draco watched Blaise as he glided down the halls without a care. He’d scowl at others who walked too close and scare off some of the younger ones. Most were so frightened they ran into Draco without notice. Their huge eyes widened in fear. He didn’t have time for their little wobbling knees and pissy pants. Pushed out of his path, the little students went on their way as he went on his.

It was a sunken feeling inside Draco’s chest as he watched Blaise. They were friends. Both played on the school Quidditch team together. There was a general respect for one another as wizards and as men when they interacted, like they didn’t have to worry about the other intervening in their lives. It was what made their friendship worthwhile. He actually took Blaise’s counsel. The wizard was a full-on prat when he wanted, making Draco feel content that he wasn’t the one with the most awful personality. But then came Hermione’s friendship with the man. She was sure to believe all his arrogance as creed, a Gryffindor admirable trait in her book. Confidence, she’d called it.

Draco shadowed his fellow Slytherin throughout the day, both unresponsive and withdrawn. The edges of the classrooms was where Draco sat, uncaring if any other Slytherin’s followed his lead. Blaise kept a fair distance away, but within view so Draco could examine him without effort.

While Draco would doodle or whisper when class got boring, Blaise kept still. His eyes remained fixed ahead, not straying from attention, but kept his arm down when the professor asked a question, or students were given time to discuss amongst themselves. Even Crabbe and Goyle, the two witless wonders, interacted more in class. Blaise was a statue.

He was a curious thing. Sneaky and withdrawn for a Slytherin. Not many of their other House mates acknowledged him in conversation, mostly because he was full of condescending remarks often coined to make himself appear superior. Truly, most everyone ignored him. They stepped out of his way, making sure not to rattle his endless frustration. None dared to look.

Things were opposite for Draco Malfoy. He was a star at Hogwarts. Girls drooled over him when he walked down the halls. They tried to hide their desire with false sneers of disgust, but the lust never left their eyes. They wanted him. Not a single girl would deny him, that he knew for sure.

Except Granger, of course.

She denied him plenty. Even as a couple.

It was partially due to the fact he didn’t play well with Potter or Weasley or their gang of unfortunates of which she was included, a fact he apologized for profusely, but it was deeper than that. She denied him in guilt. What was she guilty for? He had no clue. Hermione didn’t owe any one of those girls a damn thing. Why did it matter if she had him?

“Eh, Malfoy?”

Draco stopped short. He was in the corridor between class, following Blaise and deep in thought. He hadn’t heard Crabbe and Goyle chatting beside him. He scowled.

“What?” He snipped.

“Quidditch tonight,” Goyle said. “We’re gonna make signs telling off Potter. Should get him good and angry then.”

Crabbe and Goyle shared a satisfied chuckle.

“You in?” asked Crabbe as he tapped Draco’s shoulder.

Quidditch. It was just about the last thing on his mind. He had to get to the room of requirement, he had to follow Blaise, he had to obsess about losing Hermione for at least another week before seeing her again. A stupid Gryffindor game was the bottom of the list, non-essential.

“No, mate. I’m not going.”

Goyle inhaled sharply. “What? But you always go if to cheer for the other team to piss off those Gryffs. You know how bright red the little Weasley girl gets when you attack Potter. It’s like a tomato! Remember?”

Back when life was simple and full of fun, that sounded like the best time for a Friday night. Quidditch pitch. One of his favorite places to be when he was younger, flying on his broom was the best feeling in the world.

It was just a silly game. For children.

Draco wasn’t a child. He was having a child. He was on a mission. He had expectations, a family honor to uphold, a world to change. More importantly, he had a wife to protect. If he failed in anything, she’d be murdered. A limp, pale grey, bleeding Hermione Granger-Malfoy kept him up most nights paralyzed in sobs, sure to silence his privacy sheets in his dorm room so his mates didn’t hear the nightmares.

The bags under his eyes were a clear mark of their existence though. Each morning they reminded him that it happened. The lost sleep, the cold swollen body of his beloved as she laid on the burning grass of the Manor as he was pulled away by the tattoo on his forearm.

“I got important stuff to do,” Draco sneered. “You go on, have your fun.”

The rest of his classes, Draco was in an unsalvageable mood. A pure blood wizard, rich and handsome, with the weight of the entire bleeding world on his shoulders. It hardly seemed fair. And like he didn’t have enough to worry about, he’d gone and gotten Hermione pregnant. Within a year, he’d be a father. A father!

A baby born into its father’s mess without choice. Such seemed true for him, too. The true Malfoy inheritance.

Draco laughed bitterly. It was a family curse. His grandfather just as bad as his own.

No matter what happened in the war and with him, Azkaban seeming a good chance, he’d make sure his son was sheltered from it. How? He didn’t know. It might take a lot of money and relocation to settle it all, but he’d do it. He’d make sure that his legacy lived on through his child and wife.

The word son came naturally to his mouth. It felt as though his son awaited the world. Draco felt perplexed by the idea it could be a girl. A daughter. Things didn’t seem to funny when he thought of his daughter having to reside in the life he’d made.

Already he was wildly in love and utterly terrified being a girl’s father meant to protect her from vultures of men. Hermione would have to slip him a calming draught before her first date. He’d be a mess.
He fell into a listless sleep after visiting the Room of Requirement. The sun just began its descent down to the edge of horizon and he roamed a haunted dreamland of his own design. Fire. Bright orange flame everywhere. Leaves burned black as bark turned to endless fire, burning and burning until black pillars billowed into clear blue sky. The very grounds of Malfoy Manor a vast expanse of nothing but death. Squawks, full of pain and sorrow, moaned. Draco searched high and low for their source.

His mother’s beloved collection of peacocks, their gorgeous feathers eaten alive by flame. Their bodies pushed against their cage, trying to escape. But there was no escape from the hungry fire. It devoured bodies one by one, spreading from one bird to another. Then, suddenly, it turned quiet. Their pain ended.

Draco swallowed back thick gulps of tears. His mother adored those birds. He played amongst them as a child, often scaring them and having to fight off their alpha as he pecked at Draco’s head. He rubbed his eyes. Pale gray eyes lined with violent red.

He walked and he walked the expanse of his childhood play yard with a heaving chest. Each pump was a knife stabbed deeper through his ribs up to the fleshy bleeding muscle. He fought back bitter tears. It was wrong to cry as a man. Men don’t cry. Even as their favorite place was lit up with engulfing fire, endlessly fed by his beloved memories, and killed every dear thing to their heart. No tears.

The Manor laid dead silent in the distance. He dreaded its gaze. Nothing within the walls bared good will to his already dying heart.

Grass crunched underfoot as it remembered the path back to home. A path walked by Draco a dozen times after a long day of play. He pictured his mother out a window from the second story, billowing white robes in a gentle breeze, calling his name. A summer sun beating down against the luscious white blonde hair fallen free from tight curls. The smell of fresh cut grass in his nostril, a summer day on his mind. A team of elves rummaging through rows and rows of flowers as they hunted for gnomes and the start of weeds.

Malfoy Manor was none of that now. A charred crisp of nothing.

Draco watched himself walk through a burnt-out house up black stairs toward a suite down a long corridor. He tried to stop. It led to Hermione’s room. He didn’t want to see.

He pulled at the wallpaper and trim as he passed. Anything to stop his path. To stop him.

The suite was so close now. He smelled the remains of heavenly lavender in the air. It ignited fear so deep inside him that his bones ached.

No! He wouldn’t see Hermione. He couldn’t.

One look at her and he’d unravel.

He forced his eyes closed as he drew upon the threshold of her door. He kept them closed, even as the door creaked open. It dragged against the wood floor and banged against the wall.

Draco didn’t need to see inside. His body already responded. Knees buckled underneath. He fell to the floor. His hair splayed out all around as he ground his forehead against the floorboards, pushing and forcing the thoughts out of his mind. Sobs choked him. Each breath, a struggle. A burning suffocating mess of air and ache, in and out, as Draco tried to gain some control. It wouldn’t come. There was no place to summon it up from. He was drained dry.

He failed. He failed everything.

Hermione was gone. His home, destroyed. The only thing left to remain was him. A world of loneliness and knowledge that he’d caused it all to end because he was weak. A weak man. An even weaker husband.

He loved Hermione with all that he was, believed in her with all he had, yet he couldn’t keep her safe with his own life. It was a fate worse than death.

As he cried amongst the dirt and ash, he felt the floor bend gently under his palms. He almost sighed in relief when he raised his eyes and saw a shadowy mess of brown curls overhead.

“Oh! Thank Merlin, you’re alive,” he choked, drying his eyes.

The shadow cocked its head to the right in curiosity or confusion. Her face was still shielded but he knew Hermione anywhere. It was her. She was alive. He hadn’t failed.

A genuine smile lifted his lips. “I’m so sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean it. I was just, angry, hurt. I thought you didn’t love me. But it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? We can be together.”

She remained silent, frozen. Draco watched her shift back straight, keeping her hands close to her chest. No, something was inside her hold.

Draco gasped. “Is that the baby? Was it a girl? Oh, Hermione. I should have been here. I’m so sorry. I love you, darling. Can I see her? Is she awake?”

He pushed his arms forward, awaiting his child. For a moment, Hermione looked confused, but she finally relented and laid a bundle of blankets in his arms. Draco pulled them close to his chest. He cuddled his cheek against the surface, the soft velvet a gentle reminder of his own baby blanket tucked away in his own room.

For once, Draco hadn’t failed. His family was safe.

He pulled back the blanket, finally ready to see his first child for the first time, his heart warmed by the love he was ready to give and screamed when he saw what lied there.

“No!” In his arms bundled in layers of baby blankets was a puddle of red gelatinous stuff. He dropped it to the floor and the strange Hermione collected it quickly, clutching the being to her chest. Draco was shocked. “Who did this? Who did this to you?” He wailed.

Everything. Everything was ruined.

Hermione leaned forward exposing her greyed flesh torn in the cheeks and down the bridge of her nose, ripped apart to the darker depths below. She didn’t shimmer with her peachy color. Her eyes weren’t lit with cinnamon warmth; they were milky, diluted orbs.

Flakes of flesh fell as she contorted her face to a sweet smile. “You, Draco. You did this. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Me?” He gasped. His heart started to thud louder and louder. It rattled his chest. Shaking and shimmying every bone, down to his fingers. Draco reached out for his wife, tears down his cheeks. “No, Hermione. I’d never do this to you. This is the Dark Lord’s work. He’s the one who was here, who hurt you. It was the Dark Lord.”

Hermione paused. She reached out a crooked finger, dripping crimson, pale bone protruded from flesh. He let her touch his lips ever so gently, just like she used to when he was flustered, when she resembled a woman. Not a corpse.

“But Draco,” she said ever so softly, “you are the Dark Lord.”

Something strangled him. It wrapped around his body tightly as he fought, screaming harder and harder. There was no way. He’d never turn so dark.

Draco choked on sobs as he tried to free himself from a linen prison. It held his legs and torso tight. He couldn’t stand. He pushed and pulled until he fell to the floor. Without a thought, he grabbed hold of his wand.

“Incendio!” He screamed, salty tears staining his skin.

A fire ignited. It swallowed up the contraption in brilliant blue magical flame. Ash and smoke pushed through his nostrils. Flecks of paper shed from the walls and fell like snow throughout the room. He watched as the blue flame ate away, more and more. All of it in flame. It all deserved to burn to death.

Suddenly a door kicked open.

“Listen, Drake, we’ve got some th – hey! What the bloody hell are you doing?” Blaise held out his wand and murmured. A white spread grew through the air and flung through the air and doused flame.

It was his bed. At Hogwarts. He’d set it on fire. Draco gripped the sides of his head in disbelief. Now he saw the dorm room like it’d been for six years. A place he became accustomed to even more than his home. Why’d he not see it before?

He stood in a daze as the fire turned to puffs of smoke, sucking away red embers to leave nothing but charred bedsheets. Feathers of his mattress lurked within a giant hole.

Blaise lowered his wand and stole a glance at his friend. He noticed the deep purple flesh beneath his eyes, the fallen way his shoulders sagged, still dressed in a long sleeve shirt when it felt boiling.

He approached Draco with great caution. “Hey. You alright?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?” He asked.

Draco shrugged. “Spontaneous combustion.”

Blaise snorted. If Draco thought he didn’t understand what was going on, he truly mistook him for a fool.

He looked over at the mess. The bed was a wreck. There was no way they could repair it themselves. Something like this was meant to be mentioned to the Head of their House.

A groan escaped his lips. “Snape is going to throttle you.”

The tears on Draco’s face were quickly wiped away in swift motion. He grabbed hold of the collar of his robes. Thankfully they’d escaped the wrath of the fire. The stitching costed much more than the bedding of Hogwarts. His mother would kill him if they had to be replaced so soon.

Draco made his way to the door.

“Where are you going?” Blaise scoffed. The things that would happen if he left this mess would not end well for any Slytherin. “You gotta tell Snape about this.”

A forced sneer came from Draco, which Blaise recognized right away. It wasn’t genuine. Something wasn’t right. He’d been different, but now it was much worse.

“Just tell him that some first years thought it would be a good prank,” he replied lazily. “Can’t sleep here like this, not tonight. I’m going home.”

“Home?” Blaise echoed.

Draco nodded. “My parents will want to hear how Hogwarts lets students sleep in beds so easily tainted.”

The threat wasn’t even given much emotion. It fell so bland out of his mouth. Blaise never knew Draco to fake anything, much less a threat against another. If it truly was a first year, he’d go send them all to detention for years. He did things like that. There wasn’t once when Draco left school to go home. He hated the Manor.

Blaise’s suspicions were already sparked when Hermione disappeared from the castle, but now Draco’s behavior overfilled the cup. There was something going on.

He grabbed Draco’s shoulder. “Is Granger in danger? Is that why she’s not here?”

There were few people Draco Malfoy considered a threat, competition for Hermione’s heart. Potter and Weasley were her best friends, apart from him, but he knew quite well that her feelings for them was nothing other than what he felt for his cousin, Claire. It was love, but family love.

Macmillan liked Hermione. She was the only witch who studied as much as he did. He lusted after her like a deer in rut albeit quiet and oblivious to her. However, there was no chance. He was too awkward and too much a Hufflepuff. Hermione wasn’t looking for a pushover.

The prat Cormac McLaggen looked at Hermione like a predator does prey. Something so dark and blood chilling when he saw Cormac follow her with his eyes, where ever she went. It’d been hard to hold himself back when the bloody Gryffindor came close. Draco wanted to grab hold of Hermione and claim her as his for them all to see. McLaggen would stop then. Prey upon another girl, but not his. Luckily, she didn’t notice, and he wasn’t about to worry her for nothing.

Then came Blaise Zabini, a fellow Slytherin. It was hard to bite his tongue when it came to Zabini. Those other clowns weren’t on the same scale as him, but Zabini was just like him without the Dark Mark. He only had one disproving parent to deal with, although she was a Black Widow. He was smart, just like Draco and Hermione. Charming, rich, pure blood, handy in a duel, ferocious. They got along. It was an exact match up to Draco, and he felt crippled with doubt. How could she love him and not Blaise?

Draco hoisted up his shoulders, some air of dignity left after being so confused that he set his own bedchambers on fire. “What’s it matter to you, Zabini?” He sneered. “One more Muggleborn off the streets, isn’t that how you and your bloody mother see it?”

Blaise eyes turned cold. “One to talk, you are. Isn’t it your own father who’s done the cleaning of the streets? Honestly, Drake, could anyone hold themselves higher at the gallows than you? You ought to climb down than jump.”

It was odd for the Slytherin dungeons to be so quiet this time on a Friday. Draco guessed the Quidditch match still played. Crabbe and Goyle must’ve rallied the entire House.

“Your point, Zabini. Get to it quick. My time is valuable these days.”

Blaise scoffed. “Sulking around the castle and sitting in silence must be quite the pricey hobbies since it is what you spend your time doing. Since Granger left that is.”

“It’s none of your business,” Draco snarled. “She and I are none of your concern.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, isn’t it? Because both of you are my friends.”

Draco toyed his eyebrow. “Friends?”

The Slytherin scratched the back of his neck. “Yes, well. Bloody Gryffindors. They rub off on you, don’t they?”

Draco snorted in agreement. That was how he even opened himself up to love Hermione in the first place. He lusted after her first. That was easy. She was beautiful, despite her blood status. The more he was around her, the more he accepted her company like a friend. She wasn’t as insufferable that way. Seeing her in class always fighting to answer questions or leading the way with exam scores met him with amusement rather than frustration. But then came the way he noticed she smiled at him in the corridors when nobody was around. Her laugh filled his ears in the Great Hall like a pleasant song. He’d watch from the Slytherin table as she gasped for air, tears clouding the edges of her eyes as she laughed with her friends.

Time in the library turned to a reprieve. It was time that he finally got with her, without another to interrupt except the occasional inspection of Filch or Snape. That was a rush. Space so limited underneath, Hermione and Draco squished up against one another without a thought. Hiding in silence as footsteps echoed through the empty room. Her body became as familiar as his own as he held her in his arms or chest to chest as their hearts beat in sync. She blushed until her entire face turned cherry red. He loved it. He couldn’t turn his eyes away. The rest of the study time was kept at a distance, by her, while Draco wanted to be closer and closer. It was under the table that he became entranced with her scent like a childhood memory, so warm and delightful.

Of course, after that came the intense need to protect her, claim her from all the other wizards. Weasley’s tactics became enraging. Using her, trailing after her, stealing glances at her changing body like a piece of gold he’d never seen before. Draco taunted the trio more than before. Each night in the library, Hermione confronted him with a pointed finger and a flare in her eye. He’d find his belly getting lighter as she bickered.

Still, he noticed the noticing glances from other wizards. The Weasley twins stared once or twice as she walked by. All she did was flash a friendly smile. Back then it’d seemed like an invitation. Hermione and the Weasley twins? Not on Draco’s watch. It was his turn to confront her in the library about the twins and her encouragement of their leering. She was blown away. Hermione sat stunned. Stunned, that was, until he took it too far and accused her of trying to start a fight with him, which it certainly did.

That was the first time they snogged. It just happened, mid-argument. One breath he was snarling a snide reply and the next, he was plastered against her puffy lips as her fingers ran through his locks. It flared his senses, senses that developed fully not long before and yearned for an experience more than a snog, and he kissed her hungrily with a prying tongue. He tasted the inside of her mouth and sucked the air from her chest, but he didn’t care. He wanted more. Needed her.

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Draco chuckled lowly. There was a pause in the conversation as Blaise still looked expectantly. “I still don’t like you moving in on my woman behind my back.”

Blaise’s jaw fell completely open.

“Now you’ve gone and lost it!” He exclaimed. “I am not trying to move in on anything of yours. I’ve got my own little fling going on, remember?”

“How? Roger graduated.”

“Drake, I’m with a Ravenclaw.”

Draco leaned in closer. “How. Roger graduated.”

“A new one!” His arms burst in air. “Come on, mate. Keep up.”

“Well how was I supposed to know? Not like you blast it for the whole school to see. Who is it?”

“Marietta Edgecomb,” he said.

That name was known to him well. She’d been the one who turned in Dumbledore’s Army to Umbridge and forced him with the rest of the Inquisition Squad to confront them. She was a traitor.

Draco made a face, one that rattled Blaise.

“He-whose-fingers-are-not-clean points at me. Really, Drake? Of all people, I thought you’d get it. She’s an exile to her entire house and friends. They think she’s on our side. She’s got nobody. It’s not fair.”

Sounds thundered up the stairs. The game must’ve ended. Bouts of laughter and cheer made Draco guess that Gryffindor had lost. Slytherin was bound to be rambunctious all weekend because of it.

Suddenly he felt drained. Exhausted. He hadn’t slept for shit, he was hurt by his wife, he missed his wife, he still had to find some way to fulfill his mission for Voldemort and the last place he wanted to be was Hogwarts. He rubbed his eyes. Nothing ever got easier, did it? Time wore on against him. As always.

He eyed Blaise carefully, unsure why he bothered to tell him. It didn’t matter to Draco who shagged who so long as it wasn’t his wife they were trying. Not that she’d let them get that close.

Finally, he sighed. “Whatever, Blaise. If that’s what you want, so be it. I got you.” He nodded toward his fried bed. “Mind telling Snape for me?”

“Yeah, sure. But hey, you didn’t answer about Granger. Is she alright?”

Draco pondered a moment. She was married to a Death Eater, a secret she didn’t even know, living at Malfoy Manner where the Dark Lord loved to frequent, and pregnant. Alright was not the right word he’d use to describe the situation.

Two large figures barreled through the door, laughing heartily singing a song they made up last year about Weasley. They danced a jig together. Signs fell from their grasp. The pair didn’t stop until they noticed Draco and Blaise in the center of the room. Their smiles fell away.

“What’s going on?” Crabbe asked.

Goyle noticed Draco’s bed. “Get a little rowdy in here, did you?”

Draco ignored them. He didn’t have time for Dumb and Dumber. He had a witch to rejoin.

He turned to leave but then remembered Blaise. And as much as he didn’t want to compromise Hermione’s safety or her condition to anyone because it wasn’t their right to know, he felt that she’d take comfort in knowing a friend was worried for her. One that she could actually speak to.

Draco gave him one final look. “As much as I can make it, she’s safe.”

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor

Draco apparated to the edge of the driveway. Rocks crunched crisply underfoot. The frigid weather of the late-night October where temperatures dropped quickly once the sun set ate at his robes. His hands turned blue. He dipped them both into the long pockets of his robe. The stick of ten-inch Hawthorn rested against his knuckles. It offered him some solace. The witch of his wife was a formidable opponent and nasty with a temper.

Not that he didn’t deserve it.

She was sure to curse him the second he stepped in the door. He prayed he’d at least come to within the next few days. Professor Snape would have his wand if he came in late to classes, again. After that time in Hogsmeade after the Yule Ball, he’d gotten four detentions just for that. Hermione, somehow, slipped in unnoticed. And unpunished.

He stepped up the rocky drive toward the main door. The two torches were lit. Their flames casted long shadows against the ground. Draco stopped short.

They weren’t expecting him home. Why were the lights on?

There was only reason why…

Draco opened the door to his home quickly, letting the replica of Andrew Groppgin’s statue catch it on the backswing. He tossed his long robes aside on the settee. Pawcett popped in the room with a humbled bow.

“Master Draco, what an honor to see you.”

He nodded. “My parents expecting me?”

The house elf bowed near down to the floor. “No, sir. Mrs. Lestrange is in present company.”

His blood turned cold. Not Bellatrix. She couldn’t be here. The woman was deranged. Unstable in the politest of terms. No one hated Muggles, Muggleborns, and blood traitors like his mother’s sister.

Hermione wasn’t safe. His child was not safe, not even with his own family. He panicked, thinking of nothing but grabbing his wife and shielding her body with his. No, not that. He’d take her away. Kill anyone in his path: Lestrange, Voldemort, even his father. No one would stand a chance.

He stepped quickly. The suites were close. Stairs only a few feet away. He could dash up quick and check on her, floo her away. Hell, the way he felt right now, he’d go away with her.

Draco stepped through his home, noticing the typical silence that filled his memories like a thick blanket. It was a sound he dreaded when he left Hogwarts. The castle always bustled with students and staff, tiny creatures and moans of the outside wood. Malfoy Manor sat desolate, quiet, dead.

His hand touched the railing, ran up halfway then was yanked down a step.

“Mother?” She never handled him that way before, even as a child.

She pressed her finger to her lips. “Come, darling. You must leave. Quickly. Before they hear you.”

For a moment, he wanted to follow. Aunt Bella was the apex of nightmares. She, not Voldemort, scared Draco into compliance wrought with trembles. The shrill ring of her voice raised the hairs on the back of his neck like a sense screaming for him to flee. A giant lump at the back of his throat surfaced his fear. He dared take a step forward, but a tug in his belly pulled him back with sharp digging claws. The tug in his belly fought that icy fear in deadlock as he stood paralyzed, gulping breath. His mother touched his cheek with a sad frown.

“You must go. You only have a moment,” she whispered.

The bitterness coated his tongue. “Like a bloody coward. What would she think of me if I did? She has the courage of a lion. A Gryffindor. She didn’t shy away. She doesn’t run. And she has more reason than I.”

“Hush, now, Draco. You’re hysterical.” She waited, breathing deep breaths in sync with his until it returned to normal. “She doesn’t have to know you were here. There is no shame in protecting yourself.”

A clatter came from the parlor. It was clear that the wench was in there, breaking fine china like a game. No doubt Mother hid the nicest pieces before Bella arrived.

Draco wiped his cheeks. “I’ll know, Mother.”

“Listen, son. There is no shame in self-preservation. You can save yourself. Witches are aplenty. Anyone you want, you can have,” she said. “Please. Do not ask me to watch you suffer for one.”

Any witch he wanted. It was not an understatement. They all wanted him. They all begged for him to visit them in their nightclothes with their friends fast asleep upstairs. Some cornered him in Diagon Alley with a faint suggestion of heading onto one of the many inns for a momentary romp. It was so easy for him to pick through the crowd and shag his way into infinity.

But he didn’t want those ones. Not a single one interested him, got his cock hard like Hermione did.

“I’d suffer a million deaths if it meant I could keep her safe,” Draco muttered. “Likewise, I’ll willingly spend time with Aunt Bellatrix if it means I can see my wife.”

His mother’s eyes widened. “Is that true, Draco? Would you defy your family, stand up to the Dark Lord, turn your back on everything just to keep her safe?”

He was not known for courage. That was a dominant trait in Gryffindor, but not Slytherin. It was everyone for themselves. Loyalty was as fickle as gossip. Self was number one, no matter what. Each person acted their own self interest and it wasn’t taken personally.

He’d hold his tongue if it was his mother or father, Pansy, Crabbe, Goyle or even Claire if he had to. But Hermione? No. He couldn’t even think of it. His arms shook with rage to think a spell befalling her whilst he tucked away in hiding.

Draco bowed his head and replied in a deep tone, “I would.”

As much as she resisted the idea, Narcissa Malfoy led her only son into the presence of her deranged sister in casual air. Her chin raised higher, lips kept tightly pursed together.

Bellatrix wore a black leather trench coat, smudged with mud along the edge. Underneath were robes of black lace layer upon layer, wrapped around her petite frame cinched tightly at the waist with a short, patterned corset. She smiled as she beheld her grown nephew. Jutted brown teeth glowed in the candlelight. Draco fought back a scowl.

“Draco,” she cooed.

The star constellation of his birth name etched upon a globe rested in her gritty hands. Inches of black dirt rested below her nail beds, buried deep. She wasn’t one for gardening. How had it gotten there?

His breath caught in his throat when she tossed the globe back and forth in amusement.

“Good evening, Aunt Bella. Popping in for a visit, are you? In from the country?”

It was the most pleasant he could muster.

He nodded toward his father. Lucius nodded back. A place was set for him beside his mother on the loveseat. Her hands quivered as she dropped a sugar cube into his steaming cup of tea.

“Oh. I been everywheres, Draco. Our master finds so much work to be done,” she said exasperated. She dropped down to an armchair, swinging her mud-caked boots over an arm. Narcissa tensed at the sight. “We find ourselves in a position, this family. A place that we must operate as the most loyal. Our lord demands it after all. Just last week, I had to turn on one of our own. Let a little Muggle brat get away. That can’t be tolerated.”

She chuckled. The crystal ball hopped over her hand as she tossed it joyfully. Draco kept his eyes ahead. One look at his parents and he’d be overcome with fear. Bella was a witch of many tricks. Insane, yes, but blind she was not. There was a point she had to make.

“What are you saying?” Lucius asked, impatient. He sat perched like a noble lord in his chair though the hair on his head was thinning, his eyes sunken to his skull. “What does the Dark Lord demand of this family?”

Bellatrix sat up suddenly. “Cissy, do you remember the summers we’d have to go and visit our cousins house? That dreadful place, Grimmauld Place?”

Narcissa straightened, tea cup gripped firmly in hand. “Yes, I do, Bella. Why? Has something happened to it?”

“No,” her sister said casually. “I was just remembering how much I hated those two. Sirius and Reg. I wished I’d seen them both killed long ago, right after Sirius ran away to be with that filthy Potter house. A white mark on the very name, Black. Grandpa should have exiled them all.”

Draco noticed his mother’s discomfort. She hadn’t like them particularly either. She never spoke well of Sirius Black. But Regulus was a Death Eater, same as Lucius Malfoy. And Bella. What was so wrong with him?

“Then we’d have been disowned, too. Because of Andromeda.”

Bella spat at the mention. “That’s different. She ran off with a Muggle. He should have just killed her. But Sirius. A blood traitor! Unbelievable. I’m so glad I was the one to kill him. It was funny to watch his face turn sullen, like ash. I’d only wished I used something harsher, let him bleed a bit.”

It was uncomfortable to hear about Sirius, especially since Hermione had to witness his death firsthand at the Department of Mysteries. Sweat poured down his spine. Its hot path down each vertebra burned a fire that sank through his bones into his blood. Blood turned to fury.

He bit back his tongue, hot iron covering his taste buds in a slick blanket.

Lestrange babbled on for a while about her hatred of the Black brothers, spitting on the carpet despite her sister’s disapproving looks, and tossed a precious family memento, crafted on the night of Draco’s very birth, around like a cheap Muggle artifact. Her disregard of her own family was despicable. Draco looked to his father in frustration. Malfoy Manor was their home, not hers.

Lucius Malfoy examined his nails with profound interest, not bothering to observe her sister in law as she tainted and touched priceless family heirlooms. His father’s gray eyes flicked to a smudge of dust against his robes. Long pale fingers brushed and brushed the emerald velvet.

“So, to what do we have the pleasure of your company this evening?” He said after a while. “To hear that whistle of your nose every time you breathe?”

Draco swallowed a chuckle. It was impolite to laugh at guests, even if they were his deranged aunts.

Bellatrix casted a sharp glare intensified by her two bulged eyes. Lucius sat straight, unafraid. He’d cowered from the Dark Lord, but to his wife’s mental sister, it was laughable. No Malfoy ever gave a woman the luxury of fear. It was an insult to the family honor that Lucius still bared as a proud crest on his chest.

The woman settled back after a moment. “The Dark Lord questions this family. With your failure at the Department, he’s grown tired of waiting. It is true all our hope rests with dear Draco.”

Narcissa inhaled sharply, barely audible to the room, but her son felt her fear leech under his skin like a plague. He swallowed up her fear and let his thoughts race. His heart pounded in his ears. The Dark Lord. Tired of waiting. Hope? What hope? He was set to fail. He failed at everything.

He didn’t want Voldemort to come. The man billowed evil as easy as breath. Surrounded by a dark cloud of blood and screams, their master commanded undying loyalty or else, just as his victims, his minions paid the price. They were killed with purpose. Most often, to make a point. Voldemort liked to make them suffer. He relished their pain as their bodies spasmed uncontrollably, pissing themselves and stinking the entire scene with their filth.

It was his turn. He felt it. The Dark Lord knew. He knew of Draco’s deception. His failure.

Draco felt the panic bubble through as he forced himself to concentrate on his aunt’s words.

“…So, it seemed prudent to offer up Malfoy Manor as a gathering place for the Dark Lord and his faithful, until Draco completes his plan, we are vulnerable. It is all too clear his distaste over you, Lucius, after one mistake,” she chuckled heartily and then continued, “the tides changed on you. The Dark Lord finally realized what I knew all along. You were a coward, no better than that slithering creature Snape.”

Lucius gritted his teeth, grinding them to a fine powder. No reply was given.

“You’re a goner. No use in saving you now. You’ll go down in a way He sees fit,” Bellatrix sneered. “But Narcissa and Draco must be protected from your mess. They must be more loyal than you. Or else, they too, will be dragged down to your filthy depths.”

This rattled Draco’s father a step farther.

He stood from his chair. “You intend to offer my home without my permission! I am Lord Malfoy of Malfoy Manor and I do not tolerate this kind of treatment.”

Although a look crossed through her eye that was sheer delight, Bellatrix remained seated. A glance over to his mother showed just why. Her glare was colder than a winter breeze, and it was fixated on her sister. As Lady Malfoy she was bound to the fate and insult of the Malfoy name, the same as her husband and son. Now daughter and soon-to-be grandchild, too. All Malfoys. Their name was worth more than it’d ever been.

Lucius kept rigid, perched in fury like a moving statue, but Bellatrix ignored his presence completely in favor of her nephew. The elder Malfoy was done. Now, it came to his son to fulfill their family destiny at Voldemort’s side.

Intensity washed over his face as she beheld him. It crawled over his limbs, across his face, into his eyes. He even felt her dig into his mind. Draco pushed her out with fury.

Bella seemed indifferent. “How go things? I haven’t seen Hogwarts fall yet so that man must be alive. Still.”

“But he’s only just gotten there,” Narcissa stated. “Can’t expect his mission to happen over night? Albus is a wizard beyond Draco’s years and experience.”

It sounded like she lacked confidence.

Draco sneered. “I can handle the old tosspot.”

“Good. Make us proud, boy.”

Bella sat with the funniest smile on her face content with reply as sweat drained from Draco’s skin in floods. What if Hermione heard? The look he shared with his mother confirmed that she realized, too, what it meant to reveal him. Narcissa offered a pair of sad eyes before turning back to her tea.

Warmth pulled into his mouth. Saliva gushed up from his cheeks and poured over his tongue as he tried to swallow back the rising bile. If she had changed her mind about the annulment, this night was bound to convince her back again.

He had to go to her.

Draco retired to his childhood bedroom to calm himself down. He bent over a toilet bowl, choking and gasping for air, twice. The calming was not going well.

He walked the length of his wall back and forth into a tired old path, one he’d made throughout the years when he was angry or scared. Stressed, too. It was all there. Every emotion on the tip of his tongue. His wand ached for use, and so did his tears. All at once, his body trembled with fear.

Hermione was all he had, the only bit of good left for him in the world. He was condemned by everyone else. A Death Eater, a Death Eater’s son, a Slytherin, a wealthy heir, a traitor, a Muggle sympathizer. Not a single side would take him; he was in too deep for both. No one trusted him. What’s worse is that it was better than way. Draco didn’t even trust himself. Each choice was a deeper lie he’d spun himself in.

There was nothing else he could do for the night. He laid atop his Bulgarian red comforter and fell into a lucid dream that lifted when he felt the pop of a ward go off.

Bellatrix was gone.

Draco ran to his wife below the study, dropping through the hole without holding onto the ladder. He levitated just before landing. It was black. Pitch black. He grabbed his wand ahead of himself.

“Lumos,” he said softly.

A room ignited in his white shining light. It was bare, stripped of everything except a simple floor covering. Some old carpet it seemed. It scraped below his Oxfords as he walked. Smoky clouds fled his mouth. Each breath, a denser fog throughout the nothingness.

It was so different now. As a child, he’d had a hideout in the very same space with a collection of miniature dragons in their cages and a fort composed of sheets and old curtains from the attic that his grandmother ranted about for ages. He chuckled in the memory. It was the very best of times below the study.

Now it was an empty shell.

He couldn’t believe Hermione stayed there. How could his mother find it acceptable?

There were no candles on the walls, not a single place to sit. It was bloody colder than a blizzard.

“Hermione?” He whispered out. “Hermione, are you here?”

Silence answered back. Draco swore. She had to be there.

He searched the room which wasn’t hard, until he noticed a lump of blankets on the floor. They moved through gentle motions as he came close. Her breath, a slow sigh.

Draco pulled the blankets back as Hermione’s sleeping form revealed to darkness. Goosebumps speckled her flesh as the cold rushed against her. She moaned softly.

“No,” she said, eyes still closed.

The gentle bump of her stomach raised with each breath as a mountain through the plains, it struck Draco as noticeable. It wasn’t fleshy. The skin didn’t jiggle. He just knew that throughout his years of observing her through the castle and class, Hermione never carried weight there. It was his child that pushed through her body ever so slight and measured. His child that ate away at her. A parasite that changed the brightest, most honest, and smartest woman of his school into his wife, a carrier for an unwanted heir.

Pain of the years worked their way closer, peeking through happy memories of love and intimacy as black disturbing claws. He remembered her face when he called her a Mudblood. It’d cut through her much sharper than he ever expected. His father used the term with ease in passing through conversation at breakfast, but once Draco uttered the word, it was much harsher than he thought it to be. The way her lovely brown eyes sloped in hurt, water held at the brim.

Not long after, Hermione was a paralyzed corpse in the hospital wing. Her flesh was ice cold to the touch. There was no usual flush of anger or embarrassment when his long fingers dragged along her cheek. Just a blank slate. Emptiness. A shell.

But she came back alive, as she always did (Potter was a saint after all) and Draco hadn’t managed to get her out of his head no matter how hard he tried to. Nothing worked. There was such a rage inside him that he tried to push out so forcefully it nearly shred him to pieces. It was a betrayal to all he’d known, his entire lineage, to care for a Muggleborn so strongly, even if she was uptight and rightly vocal about her intelligence, as if the entire world didn’t know she was wonderful!

Then came the overwhelming feelings to protect her and hate her at the same time. It’d been easier when they hadn’t snogged. Once that happened, it was the collision of suns to tear worlds apart. She hated him at the same strength he hated her. He pressed his lips against hers just the way she kissed his. Two fires danced in the gasoline of their counterparts, they were.

Nothing changed between them. The love was there. Draco knew it always had been. For him, at least. He loved her with every part of his soul. Yet, they couldn’t let go of their anger. Choices they made in the opposite direction of each other.

But the swell of life that she grew each and every day was proof there was much more invested between them than the average teenaged couple. He tapped his wand against her lower abdomen when Hermione started to rouse from her sleep. Draco froze. A sweat came to his neck. Suddenly, he felt the need to explain himself for being there so near, without invitation. It was his child, but her body.

A few moments later resulted in low sighs once more and Draco finally exhaled.

He tapped his wand, gentler than before. “Revelare,” he murmured.

First there was just the subtle glow of her peachy skin. It shined as it would in healthy sun on a summer day, perhaps at a beach, as the light grew and grew into a beaming shine darkened only by a faintest spot buried inside her. It wiggled and danced alive, kicking little limbs out and bouncing its head to an imaginary beat. Draco touched the dark ball.

The dark ball swirled and played happily within the protection of his mother’s belly as Draco hovered closely in watch. He touched his finger down to the ball and it suddenly stopped. Draco blinked hard. The dark ball interacted with his finger like it was conscious! He gasped as the dark ball swam close to him with interest, suddenly reacting happily and bouncing against the bulge in its private pool.

It knew. The tiny child knew he was its father. Draco swallowed back a few shallow sobs. His head fell into his palm while the ball danced with glee below his touch, inside his beloved wife, so in love with its parents, so blind to just how rotten its father truly was.

He wept as his child reveled. Tears pooled in his palm and dribbled down to the floor. A puddle of dark gray fibers appeared below, but his care was elsewhere. His thoughts, elsewhere.

What was he doing? How wrong was he to do this?

A warm hand touched his face, and he jumped back with a gasp. He looked through his blurred vision for a thing he yearned the most. Two shimmering brown eyes gazed at him filled with love. They sloped in sadness at his tears.

Her fingers ran across his cheek. “I know, Draco. I know.”

“I’ve royally messed up. Messed up everything because I’m selfish. Can’t let you go on without me, but I can’t keep you close either. It isn’t right, is it? Bloody torture to keep you down here in the dark like a prisoner. All because you were cursed to carry my child like a host to a parasite. All for something so worthless as I.”

Hermione clutched his face as he wept some more.

“A serpent kills everything close, with venom and suffocation. I can’t even look at you without seeing what’s been done. I suffocate you here in this stupid house while my venom consumes you from the inside,” Draco said. “You’re Hermione Granger. Any wizard out there can give you better than I can.”

He didn’t know why words kept flowing out of his mouth without thought; they took on a life of their own. It tore his heart from beneath his ribs to even think of her without another, but if there was someone who’d love her better and protect her, she had to go.

Draco buried his face into her silky silver pajamas, dotted with his dark tears.

He quivered in violent spasms as she wrapped around his body tightly, so tightly he couldn’t push her off. She’d turned into a snake. Legs locked tight and arms wrapped around, head on his shoulder. Hermione held him as he cried into her, cradled him in warmth as his fear kept him frozen cold.

“I can’t do this,” he cried.

Hermione whispered softly to his ear, “Yes, you can.”

“It’s so easy for you to say. You’ve got a whole army behind you. I’ve got one after me.”

“That’s not why you’re sad,” she said.

Eventually his tears stopped. He breathed, ragged, but enough to get by. She loosened her grip around his body and slid down into his lap. Draco pulled the blanket around her and rubbed her shoulders vigorously, ignoring her look, embarrassed he’d cried. Again. In front of her.

He was a weak man.

Draco wiped his cheeks. “And why does my pregnant prisoner of a wife think I’m sad?”

“Because you love things. Now you have something to lose,” Hermione answered. “You love me, and our unborn baby and we can be taken away by so many things. It’s been so easy to be a wild boy when you have nothing to be taken away, nothing to be lost in rages of war. Now you’ve got everything on the line. It’s scary. You’d rather find a way to peel your heart out of your chest and not love us anymore. It’s easier to live that way.”

He looked down at his brilliant, intuitive wife and scowled at how easy she read him. He was the Slytherin. Wasn’t he the one supposed to read people?

“Is that why you wanted the annulment? To protect your heart too?”

Hermione touched his cheek. “I’m not afraid to love you, Draco. I don’t care that it’s hard or that I have to suffer for a while to ensure that you live. I won’t support your side. That much I will not. But I won’t risk your life for anything. My husband is meant to live to see his child be born and love us until he cannot anymore. I am terrified, I really am, that it will be all taken away from me. That you will die without me there to save you. That the world will fall in shadow, you a prisoner in a privileged palace, me dead. But… I’d risk it all for you, Draco.”

His heart warmed. He nuzzled his cheek against hers and stole a feisty kiss.

“I love you Mrs. Malfoy,” he smirked. “But, my tricksy Gryffindor, you still did not answer the question.”

She shifted in his lap. Hands clamped down onto his shoulders in a tight squeeze. He braced for something awful, something she’d want to restrain him from. Was she in love with Blaise? Did she want his money? Did she want to go back to Hogwarts?

He thought and thought of all the reasons that Hermione would want an annulment, none of them positive in any light. Pulse jumped inside, pounding violently.

“Can you promise me something first?” Hermione bit her lip. She was nervous.

Oh Merlin, it was something terrible. Awful. Viktor Krum wanted to marry her, didn’t he? The Bulgarian was on his way to take her on some luscious getaway in the tropics. That was it! He was losing his wife to the world’s most eligible Quidditch player.

Draco kept his cool, despite the rage boiling in his hands.

“As you wish,” he said carefully.

“Whatever you want to do, because I won’t be able to stop you, just, don’t leave me tonight. Leave in the morning. Just stay the night with me.”

He sneered. “Oh, Granger. You are so selfish. A piece of Malfoy flesh all to yourself? I might not survive until morning.”

She was not amused. Her eyes turned stiff.

“Promise.”

Draco sighed. “Alright, alright. I promise. Now tell me this secret before I turn all the house elves into dancing Bludgers.”

It was low to threaten the elves since it was his wife’s pursuit in life to grant them freedom. All the time of being so kind and thoughtful was exhausting. He wanted to intimidate someone to get something easier rather than working at it. There was much too much on his plate already.

Hermione bit her lip, a sign of discomfort. Draco felt his pulse pool in his ears as tingles leeched through his body. Hot surges of adrenaline. It tightened his hold on her shoulders. Whatever it was, Hermione was afraid to tell him and that often meant something much more than another guy. She was baffled when he was bothered by such ‘insignificant’ things as she put it. No, it was much bigger.

Draco pulled her chin upward, forcing her eyes into his. “Something is wrong. I can feel it. Now tell me. Is someone hurting you? Is it blackmail? You’ve got to tell me these things, Mione. We’re married. Our fates are one now.”

“It’s…it’s your father, Draco.”

His mind went blank. “My father? What about my father? I want to know about the annulment!”

“He’s the one who threatened me with annulment,” she sighed. “If I didn’t take his bribe and annul the marriage myself, he’d do it himself and toss me out into the streets, obliviated. I only read up to make sure he wasn’t within the power to do so. I admit I am not well versed in the laws of magical marriage as I am with Muggle marriage.”

His father? His father. Of course he’d do this! It was Lucius’ main goal in life to provide a ‘clean’ lineage. Draco clenched his fists. The man was impossible to change, even in the face of definite change. He had to. Their heir was being born from a Muggleborn. There was nothing to change that.

If he wanted to play that game, he would. There would be a request put in on his own marriage. Perhaps, a curse. No, a definite curse.

Draco started to rise, but Hermione’s gripped his body and held him down.

“Your promise,” she said. “Remember. You promised. Tonight.”

As magic flickered in his hand ready for use as his Malfoy fury coursed through him, Draco fingered his wand. It all ached for his father. He needed to show the man he’d become, the man he was for Hermione. She deserved nothing less.

Her bad side, though, was a stinking place to be. He was eternally gracious for not being on it now for the other day’s outburst. He’d been harsh beyond reason. Hurt her without a doubt. There was so little room left for him to maneuver on her good side before the Gryffindor nature reared its ugly head.

“Alright, then. Come on. Let’s get to bed,” he said. “We’ve got a busy morning ahead of us anyway.”

“Do we?” Hermione rose from the floor. A larger bump than before filled her belly. Draco’s eyes protruded out his skull nearly as he saw it grow before his eyes. She didn’t notice. “What’s in the morning? Breakfast in bed, I hope. I never sleep well done here in this place. Feels like a dungeon.”

Nothing about the space was like the dungeons in Hogwarts where the Slytherin dorms laid. They were warm and cozy. This place was just, empty. Black, dreadful.

Draco yawned suddenly. All the darkness did was make him tired. He was already exhausted from everything and didn’t want to continue on without a nice sleep with Hermione by his side, for sure safe and breathing. The fight to be had, would be had in the morning when he was bright eyed and sharp as a whip. That’s what it’d take to convince her. His aunt’s news was hard enough to accept, let alone realize that preparations had to made for his wife.

He grabbed her hand and levitated her up into the library. She swam in her silk pajamas. The long length dragged behind her feet as she walked the halls.

Draco noticed the difference in attire. “Are those, mine?”

Hermione blushed, breaking his gaze. It was so adorable when she did that. Draco held her hand tighter, pulling her up against his side.

“Were you missing me that much, darling?” He asked with a smirk. “You might’ve wrote. I would have sent something to keep you company until I returned. An enticing photo, perhaps. I know how you like those.”

Her feet stopped completely. “Draco Lucius! That is absolute hogwash. I’d never!”

“You were in need of a little relaxation. Nothing to be ashamed of. All us teenage boys do it. Admittedly now it’ll bring me much more excitement from mine knowing you might be doing the same thing. Do you scream out? Do you pull your hair like you do with me? Tell me how you do it. Oh, no. Tell me what you picture you get do it. Is it me?”

Hermione turned ten shades of red that gave Draco immediate pleasure. He ate it up as she pulled the collar of her shirt up over her cheeks. She marched passed him. Her bare feet slapped against the bare floor.

“I can’t believe you! What if your parents hear?” She whispered.

Draco let out a hearty laugh. Tears even welled in the corners of his eyes.

Hermione stared in total disbelief. “What are you doing? Stop that. Stop it right now.”

They were near the suite door. Leaves in the trim glowed as they came closer, opening the door to their parlor. Draco was unable to stop laughing for a full minute while Hermione ripped off the pajamas, popping buttons off as she grabbed, and stalked into the bathroom. He followed her out of habit and watched as she turned on the stream of hot water inside the shower. She made a show of the pajamas before she tossed them into the water and ruined the fibers.

It was a quite dramatic way, even for her. Draco found it all more hilarious when he came close and pinched the heat of her cheeks.

She grew flustered. Her hands pushed his chest away with a loud huff and she dove into her bed.

“You, Draco Malfoy, are a deviant!”

Finally, he was able to speak.

“You’re worried my parents will know we have sex, when you’re the one standing with my child inside you and my ring on your finger? Hermione, please. They may be thick, but they’re not idiots. They know that we…shag.”

Hermione’s face flashed a deeper shade of red unseen to the naked eye before. “I know that. I just don’t think they’d appreciate hearing how their son likes to, tease himself.”

“Is that what you’re so worked up about?” Draco laughed. “Because I do what all other guys in the world do? Come on, Hermione. Potter and Weasley do it, too. I bet your precious Krum is too dumb to know about it, but every other one does it. Girls, too.”

She scrunched her face as if suddenly aware that every guy she knew was a subtle freak. It was funny and frightening at the same time.

“Potter and Weasley haven’t shagged anyone though,” she stated. “You, on the other hand, have! What would you need to do that for?”

Draco raised his eyebrows. “You’ve got to be joking. You and I were barely ever able to get together, but maybe once a week.”

“I could have committed to once a week.”

Wow. This conversation felt like it was head diving straight for an argument. Draco knew the warning signs, yet it was so absurd (were all girls so innocent?) that he had to continue.

“I couldn’t have gone a day,” he said. Below their comforters, Hermione flustered and ducked herself under. There was no winning the argument. “No guy can. At most, two. Listen, though. It doesn’t compete with a girl. Not even close. I’d never choose myself over you, so why is this even an issue?”

Hermione peaked her head from the blankets. “Because!”

“Because why?”

“Just because.”

Draco sighed. “Well it just so happens I can prove it. Let me show you, and you’ll see it is nothing better than what we do together.”

Hermione screeched an unnatural sound underneath the blankets. He grabbed hold of a bunch that looked like her leg and pulled it toward the edge. It kicked, inches from missing his groin, and retreated back into the blankets. Her body wriggled and rolled until she was a solid mass of comforter and sheet taut together. Draco lifted his wand and untangled it with ease.

She looked him straight in the eye. Finger pointed out in blame. “I do not want to see that.”

He rolled his eyes. “Not on me, you prat. On you.”